Thursday, December 31, 2009

the next big move

So long 2009, onto a bright new year, inshallah. I've been trying to write for ages but it's all been coming out too whiny, lame, or just disorganized (but I guess that's not really new). This past month has been very busy; full of positive happenings but also great difficulty. Readjustment sucks (picture me as the scrooge), and I just haven't been able to work through it all with much grace, except on the farm. This time with family has been wonderful to reconnect- my mom, my grandparents, my brother and sister, Bill, some friends from way back when, Linsey from the Peace Corps, my dad and Gail and my other two sisters, and the list goes on.

But I could not be more ready to get to work. The work I've been planning to do for over a year now. After a wonderful visit to the Northeast, I have taken a full year apprenticeship position at Moon in the Pond Farm in Sheffield, Massachusetts. I am enormously eager to begin. And I'm leaving it at that for now. There is so much more to tell about this decision, how I came to it, what we do in these cold months (because yes, farming is a year-round job) but you're just going to have to wait until I get everything all worked out in my own darn head first. I'm in Washington now, I'll be back down to California on the 2nd, I leave the 6th for Indiana, have a few days with my Ashley, and then on January 13th I move to Massachusetts. I wish you all a wonderful new year; let's make it a good one!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

back on American soil

I told you all I'd be a basket case. My body is back on American soil, but my heart still lingers in Morocco. How can it be the wettest week of my life when the sky has only been clear and beautiful? When the water is falling from my face.

It's been the most painful week of my life; insanely busy, full of tragedy, some great highs and deep lows. I had some of the best meals, last tea dates, and introduced the new volunteer (I hate calling her my "replacement") to Ait Hamza and tried so hard find a way to say goodbye without it hurting so much. Well that proved to be impossible. On top of it all, the evening of November 16th, while sitting at one of my favorite families house for the last time, Natalie and I got news from Peace Corps that So Youn Kim, a fellow PCV, had passed away. I had only met her once, and it was horribly shocking and terrible to hear one of our peers had passed away. I don't have any details except that it was an unexpected illness and left her no time. My heart goes out to her family for I can't even imagine their pain. When Natalie and I told the family we were sitting with they were deeply saddened as well and voiced many phrases having to do with God helping her parents.

In such a family-oriented society, Moroccans are always asking about our families and how we can possibly spend so much time away from them. I have spent over two years in Morocco without my family, so when So Youn passed away, they understood that her parents had not seen her for some time before it. It was just so awful, and I had no idea how to deal with it on top of the emotional rollercoaster I was already on. Natalie and I headed back to my house and we tried to keep things light while I packed my bags and spent my last night in Ait Hamza.

The next morning we headed to my host families house where I was given nearly two kilos of homemade shabakia and a beautiful pillow before heading to my favorite woman's house, Khalti Khshu's. I kept my composure at her house, and she accompanied us to the Cooperative. We took some pictures, made promises of reunion, and then I made it through approximately three goodbyes before I totally lost it and became a heaving ball of tears. The women fell into the same shape and I felt like my heart was being completely torn open. I could hardly look at half of them, and just hope they know how much I love them.

(last moments at Cooperative Atma)

My mom and sister accompanied me back to my house and I continued to weep as I said goodbye to my mud abode and went to wait on the road for transport. Normally getting a ride out of Ait Hamza takes no more than ten minutes, but this morning, when I needed it most, it took nearly an hour. With the help of Natalie and Emily (the new PCV), I managed to mail a giant package in Ifrane, and get into Azrou in one piece. My transport luck only worsened that day as the bus I planned to take to Rabat was full, so another PCV and I had to pay nearly double and take taxis the whole way, it was awful.

(my ma and me)

The next morning, Wednesday, November 18th, my entire staj met at the Peace Corps office for our "72hour checkout". COS (Close of Service) is normally a sad and exciting time, but this morning we were all quite solemn. With the unexpected loss of So Youn, our wonderful Country Director, David Lillie, kept the meeting simple and talked about plans for her memorial service a couple days later. Many PCVs began to arrive that day and the next for the service and general volunteer support, including one of my best friends, Moira. Though I wish it were under more positive circumstances, it was great to see her again. She's one of those people who makes me happy every time I see her.

(this is our dear Moira here)

On Thursday I finished all my medical stuff and Natalie arrived with my baby boy. Around midnight Casey flew back from Cairo, and by morning we were all together again. After some last signatures, around 2pm I stamped out and became an RPCV (which stands for Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, not Retired a my mom thought). All wobbly, we headed back to the hotel and had a nice time at a big restaurant with most of my staj. Lots of hugs and goodbyes, none of it seeming very real, and completely drunk after one beer, we went to bed around midnight to prepare for the long trip ahead.

(stamping out)

(Qasiminu d Naimanu)

Not going to the Memorial service for So Youn Saturday morning was a difficult decision, but it went very well and I hope everyone is grieving and healing as best possible. Instead Nat, Casey, Bu and I kept our plan to head down to Essouira for our good friend's birthday and my last night in Morocco. I felt like a real adult as I rented a car and we headed south. Essa was beautiful and keeping all the pain and tragedies at arm's length, we had a fine evening of dancing, music and drinking. It was wonderful until late in the evening the awesomeness of my friends got to be too much for me and I hid away with the water works flowing again. But Casey and Nat are just too wonderful; they found me, we hugged, soon curled up on ponjes and I fell into a short but comfortable sleep knowing my best friends were near. Sunday we explored Essa a bit, ate some good food, and bid goodbye in the afternoon and began the long drive back to Casablanca for my late flight out.

(Casey and I in the Essa medina)

(us)

I had the idea somehow that saying goodbye to my American friends would be less painful than my Moroccan friends because I was sure to see them again sooner, oh how very wrong I was et again. I don't think either was more painful than the other, and I really thought there was no moisture left in my entire body for tears, but in that darn airport, having to say goodbye to the two people I love most in Morocco, it all became real and this time my heart, already torn open, was now being pulled completely out of my chest. I have made so many incredible friendships in Morocco, and will hold onto them, but knowing we will never live alongside one another as we did there, ever again, is what hurts most. I'll never come into my ferno room with a big pile of yummy food to Casey and Natalie's happy, waiting faces. So, snotty and soaked, and with the deepest hugs ever, I went through the most difficult goodbye of my life. I did want to see my family stateside, but I couldn't want to see America less. After they left I crumpled, tried to calm Bu as the tranquilizers took effect, and wept until I somehow managed to make it on the plane.

Completely exhausted by grief and lack of real rest, I slept through most of my flight to Rome, and the next to Paris. I even slept the first seven of my 11 hour flight from Paris to LA. Bu did so well most of the way, it wasn't til the last ten minutes, as we began our decent into LA that he finally lost it and emptied his entire bladder in his carrier and onto my lap. Reeking of cat piss, depressed and exhausted, I got through customs in about a minute and spotted a gigantic figure crossing the street outside. I couldn't believe it was my brother, but sure enough it was. He grew at least a foot since I left, my god. Being probably the worst version of myself I greeted him and mom with deep hugs and we spent the next couple hours in the welcoming traffic of LA.

We went to my grandparent's house for a bit, and I had some amazing broccoli despite my terrible plane-food stomach cramps and then headed off to Costco. Costco is certainly not the first place of business I felt comfortable entering upon return to the states, but it was as good a time as any to get on my mom's family plan and a new phone. I have absolutely no idea how to use the thing. My favorite and only fancy aspect of my beloved Moroccan phone was a flashlight on the top. In my opinion, a phone needs nothing more. The phone I have now was free with the plan, but comes with all sorts of shit I'll never need or want and opens up into a whole other computer like gadget I don't understand. Ugh.

Feeling worse by the moment, passing billboards and so many white people and so much concrete, we finally arrived at my mom's new place. I got Bu settled in and soon headed to bed with the awful ache of change. Like some huge beak-up, this awful ache you feel will never subside, of being back in this world that you had left so long ago, been completely changed, and never wanted to return to. The ache of not wanting to get used to it all again, of not wanting to become tolerant of the American way of life I so despise. I've got to get back to the soil soon, and I will.

Jet-lag woke me up around 4am because it was noon in Morocco and I felt like smiling may forever be impossible. A few hours later mom and I got up, got the horses ready and took off for a ride downtown. It was the best way to spend my first morning back. It was a fine, crisp morning. I looked around at the beautiful mountains surrounding Ojai and my eyes welled with tears as the first thing I thought was, "I gotta get Nat and Casey over this weekend to go hiking". My heart wrenched again and I felt sick. But on a horse, surrounded by beauty, and alongside the woman that gave me life, I really could not complain.

We arrived at the sweet little downtown coffee shop and mom held the horses while I went in. The cute young girl behind the counter couldn't possibly understand how insane I felt holding a $20 bill and about to make my first purchase in America. Eyes wide, I managed to order (in English it felt so weird) and fumbled with the change like a three year-old. It was a delightful breakfast. I ordered a small mocha, but it was the size of a soup bowl in Morocco, and a cheese-ridden bagel with cream cheese on top. I tried to not feel guilty for enjoying it.

We hopped back on the horses, and as we rode back home I felt an shwiya bit of comfort and faith that I might one day feel ok here. Now I'm hiding out in the house and chattin with Bu in Tamazight because I miss speaking it aleady. I'm organizing my trip next week to Massachusetts and this afternoon I'll see my sister and practice driving in America. I love you all; can't wait to see everyone at Thanksgiving, others sometime soon and my beloved ones in Morocco, know that I miss you like lost limbs already.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Things I’ll Miss

5 days left in Ait Hamza, 11 in Morocco. So sad and nervous, but also excited for what is to come. The contradicting feelings are forming the worst emotional soup. Bubbling and burning but inshallah it will come out alright. Reverse culture shock is going to be a bitch. There's no other way to put it. However, prospects are looking good, and if all goes well I'll be spending my first season back as intended-in the dirt. Of course these jobs entail far more than dirt, but it's the start. After not even a full week at home, I'll be flying to the northeast for interviews. I'm hoping I can articulate my desire to farm despite all the English I've lost. Nervousness spans all right now. My question is, what does one wear to a farming apprenticeship position interview?

The past couple months, among my many list pilings, I've made some about Morocco. Here, in no particular order, I share Things I'll Miss, which FAR outnumber the Things I Won't Miss. Enjoy.

The greetings; the confusing kissing, the hand to ones heart, the no-less-than 6 ways you must ask how the other is doing

Time with Khalti Khshu, time with all the ladies really

Chickens roaming everywhere

The light switches

Sitting on the ground and FOB squatting

Waiting for sheep and goat herds to pass

Hanging laundry on the roof

Donkey brays

The Turkish toilet

My kitchen floor

Swings inside my house

My bamboo ceiling which allows for hanging such things as swings

Our mountains

Time for reading

Time for thinking

Wool jellabas

The 3am drummer boy during Ramadan

The Boojlood

The hammam

Being congratulated for learning Tamazight rather than Arabic

My aquarium painted house

The buta bomb that is my oven

Couscous

Sleep over's

Men riding donkeys with their feet hitting the ground

Cracking my own walnuts and almonds

My inferno

Living without a fridge, or microwave; actually, living with only one kitchen appliance which needs electricity-a blender

My wonderfully depleted anxiety

Living among Muslims

Reusing jars (though I will keep this up)

All the many delicious fried breads

Couchsurfers and the side of Morocco they are able to experience here

Reading Arabic even though I don't know the meaning

The call to prayer

Paying with cash and never getting receipts

Eating chicken mere hours after slaughter, same goes for sheep and goat

People who don't waste because they can't afford to, if only we could all be so aware

Living in the Middle Atlas

Teaching Moroccans how to use ziplocks, and learning how silly and unnecessary they are

Baking for the cooperative and them enjoying it

The sound of the taska (the handheld beater for weaving)

Words in Tamaight and Arabic that don't exist in English

Kneading dough for bread

hiking

Fresh olive oil sold in soda bottles

Living somewhere where I can leave a passed out cat behind the counter at a café, come back hours later to pick it up and everyone is fine

TRUST

Eating in the cyber

The few moments at dusk when the mountains turn pink

Being Neddia

My guard dog Harry

Being able to tell by sight how fresh the bread I'm about to eat is

Homemade butter

Children's home-made toys; milk carton purses, oil bottle string instruments and scrap metal cars

My host mom's pitch

Dogs on roofs (they are also far less dangerous this way)

Excitement over red-ball cheese

Casey's tooth brushing complexities

Women walking cows on leashes

God phrases

My sitemate Natalie

Telling them how much I've walfed and don't want to return to crazy America, and being called miskina (poor thing)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

walf

I am finding it so hard to stop myself from doing what is most painful - thinking in endings. Oh my goodness, this is my last full moon in Morocco, this is the second to last time I'll hamam, this is the last time I'll have tea at so-n-so's house. I'm cracking. I'm frozen and numb with fear of leaving and the missing. I'm crazy busy wrapping up the life I've built here. I'm scrambling to organize the life there is to begin in the states.

Mostly I'm sad. So overwhelmingly sad to leave a place and people I love so much. It's such an impossible to remedy pain too, for I don't want to stay, or leave. I hate limbo and that's where I am. Changes, ugh. A good amount of the sadness comes from knowing I'll never be able to be right here again. Everything will be different when I leave. When I return it will be just as a visitor. I won't ever live here, with these people, at this age, ever again. I hate change and yet I'm someone who willingly walks into impermanence. Like "expiration dating" (Casey's term), I hate it! Arg!

I don't mean to whine, but I am. I've walfed. Walf is the verb in Tamazight "to get used to", and I have been hearing it every day lately. They have walfed to me, I have walfed to them, oh transitions. I don't want to apologize for the very different person I am returning to America, for it's a far more focused, happy and balanced person, but I am sorry if I offend. If I'm un-relatable and complainy, or sad and withholding. Who knows. I'll walf back to the states, but it's going to take some time.

I have 12 days left in Ait Hamza and I can't comprehend this.

Monday, October 26, 2009

shoof gr taddartinu

Here's a little video i took of the lovely mud house i've made my home these past two years. I apologize for the very poor lighting, but you get the idea. I leave Morocco one month from today and am still scared shitless. I fall more and more in love with this place as i come closer and closer to leaving it. It hurts. And it's going to hurt more.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ait Hamza illa taman ulinu ku yas

It's a good week. After a long crafty weekend with friends I finalized my letter, resume and references and on Wednesday applied to a number of farms in Massachusetts. Inshallah I'll hear back soon and begin the next round of the application process (don't worry, I'm still going to apply to some on the west coast as well). Thursday I helped Nat teach health lessons at the school in one of our further douars and then today, after months of wanting, I finally got my tattoo!

For those that don't know, ahdjamn (tattoos) have always been a big part of Amazigh (Berber) tradition, but, like weaving, it's a dying art. Nearly all the old women in my village have beautiful facial tattoos. (check this out to see pics of a couple ladies in my village, the one on the right is Khalti Kshu, one of my favorite women in the world!) Some even have tattoos all around the jaw line and on their chin. Many have them on their arms, hands and feet as well. So for a number of reasons, I have wanted a tattoo myself and have had a design picked for months. In the usual Moroccan fashion, the ordeal was made out to be so much scarier than it actually was. I was told all the tattooers had come to pass for no one wants them anymore (it doesn't exactly jive with Islam) and the women that did know were skittish and kept repeating, "idamn, idamin!" ("blood, blood!")

But even with the expectation of gushing rivers of blood, I still wanted it, and my host ma agreed to do it. So this afternoon, after a morning of sorting wheat, we went to the roof. My ma held a sewing needle, Nat had two fully charged cameras, my host niece and nephew had their energy and I had my wits, or most of them anyway. Despite my wannabe daredevil persona, it was relatively painless and took all of about 10 minutes. She then rubbed in some kind of green plant, then the charcoal, wrapped me up, warned me to keep it covered until it was healed (its harem for men to see a woman bleeding) and sent me on my way. I met up with another woman I know well on my way back and she added another green plant "for color." She warned me to not drink any milk until it healed or it would turn white and we wouldn't see it. How I love these people. In the following photo you can see our beautiful mountains, my adorable host nephew Morad and a bit of my ma's facial tattoo. Close-up's and video coming soon.

Ah, and the title of this blog is Ait Hamza is next to my heart every day. After shaking hands here, you bring your hand to your heart, a habit I really don't want to break upon return stateside. Due to the placement of my tattoo, I will be bringing Ait Hamza back to my heart every day, no matter how far away.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

rabbit rabbit!

So I have been doing a fair amount of research lately, as you may well know, on farming internships and just wanted to share an article from Civil Eats entitled Farming Apprenticeships: Payment Beyond the Dollar by Mary Kathryn Wyle, a fantastic gal doing just what I plan to be doing next season. She's very articulate so I share her words justifying this lifestyle I'm embarking upon (her blog is great too, read it!).

And Civil Eats is awesome, as they put it, "Civil Eats promotes critical thought about sustainable agriculture and food systems as part of building economically and socially just communities. In our efforts, we support the development of a dialog among local and national leaders about the American food system, and its effects abroad. Civil Eats can be humorous, serious, academic, philosophical, conversational – its style of conversation is as diverse as its 40+ contributors – but it is always thought provoking, innovative, and focused on food politics."

I know many people back home worry that this may not be a proper venture for me, but I assure you it is! I have never been so excited and driven to move from one part of my life to another. My experience here has been wonderful and as it ends I gratefully turn to the next chapter; bri learns to farm. Hope you enjoy the article and this most beautiful first day of October!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

East or West?

Alongside the total trauma of knowing I will be leaving Morocco in two months, I have the exhilarating and stressful task of deciding where the heck I'm going at that point. Farm internships begin around March or April and I need to begin applying now, but ack! Too many opportunities are not something to ever complain about but I am feeling quite overwhelmed. The beautiful problem is that I'm too open to whatever and wherever. So many places and farms and things going on on those farms and in those places are interesting to me and I just can't whittle it down.

Indiana would be great since Ashley's living and going to school there. I've also always been intrigued by Montana and the Dakotas. Colorado is definitely a must but I think I'll wait until next season (I found a farm I definitely want to work on but want to have a season of experience before applying). Then there's Florida and the Southwest which I have no friends or interest in except that I love humidity and continue to dream of manatees.

The best I can really narrow it down to is the Northwest and the Northeast, which isn't narrowing it down much. By the Northwest I mean northern California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. California of course is home; it's what I know and much of what I love but I'm tempted to stay away for I may end up there. I love it, but don't know that I'm ready to return for good yet. My dad's in southern Washington and my brother is living in Oregon now (and he has more interest in farming than most of my family), so either of those could work. Then, far from both sides of the family, but still within reach, I could go to northern Washington and southern Alaska, wherein lie some very temping farms.

And then there's the opposite coast, particularly Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. I've always had a desire to spend some time in the Northeast; to know for sure whether I'm really a west coaster. I think I am, but I just want to have a taste of the east. A big pro is that my older sister-like-cousin Danielle is currently at Harvard and it would be really cool to live near her. As we grow older I feel like we have more and more in common while seeing one another less and less. There is a dizzying number of amazing farms to work with there, in Maine alone I could be kept working for years. So is it silly to want to move somewhere new and unknown for awhile when really all I want to do is begin to settle down and find my own place? And how shitty of me would it be to pack up and move halfway back to Africa three months after returning home? Or is it also what I need to do- to be "home" in America, but not under the same roof? To get a taste of someplace new in a land that isn't? I just don't know. If I did the Northwest first, would I still want to try the Northeast? Or vice versa? And what if I did fall in love with the Northeast? I don't want to live that far away from family forever…

I continue to wait for some outside source to influence this important decision, which is often my method, but I know it's really my responsibility. I so want to have a real plan for when I step off that plane in America. I'm terrified of the readjustment period, the reverse culture shock, the many moments I will face such a deep missing and fear that I won't be able to continue living simply in a land where nothing is simple.

My tentative plan (have I mentioned it here before?) is to spend our wonderful giant family Thanksgiving in the usual park, bum around southern California, spend time with family and long lost friends, and work the horses with mom in her new business until mid-December. Then I'll hopefully convince someone to road trip up to Washington with me, visiting my old Peace Corps buddy Linsey and my dear brother along the way. I'll probably stay around my dad's until a bit after the New Year and then I'll have to find my way to the mid-west. It would be great to road trip out there too, but I don't know who'll be up for it. I'm going to do some talks at KCAI, to open those poor art school kid's eyes to other options with their silly art degrees, and visit all my wonderful professors and friends. Then I'll head to Indiana for some serious time, hopefully a couple weeks or more, with my dear Ashley. After that its intern time; the time I begin real work on the life I've dreamed of fully living.

Monday, September 14, 2009

two years on African soil

That's right; Friday was my two year anniversary of living in Morocco. I haven't been able to get my head out of the, "holy shit I'm leaving" hole since COS conference and this great landmark just keeps me going. These worries and something about Ramadan have been keeping me far away from sleep so the other night I gave up on my to-do list, plopped on a ponj and opened up my old journals. From my last year of college to the present, I reread the past three years of my life.

Reading old entries is like watching really old episodes of a show you've nearly forgotten about. You remember the basic events, but by watching it you relive the details, the things you only record in the moment. It's sweet and nostalgic, and incredibly eye-opening; it's far easier to recognize your growth when you see how young and naïve you once were. I've been writing a lot lately, which is no new thing, but particularly on how much I've changed. Most of my bad habits remain, but I feel my character is so much stronger, my values defined, my commitment to a direction strong. And this is good.

Two years down, two and a half months to go. Here is a photo (courtesy of Natalie) of the way I've been passing these long Ramadan days of fasting, and I absolutely love it. Khalti Aicha, Khalti Khshu and Sfia, some of my favorite ladies and best weaving company.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

the last day of August

(written last night)

Sorry I haven’t updated recently; it’s Ramadan and I’m moving slowly. I am fasting except for water, and no that doesn’t mean I don’t eat for a month. We break the fast at sundown and have fdur (breakfast), and then a drummer boy comes around town around 3am to wake everyone up to eat “dinner” before sunrise. It’s a crazy upside down and backwards month and terrible for your body, but whatev, here’s to cross-cultural experiences! I’ve been doing fine so far, minus some belly unhappiness with the new deal and the heat combined with fasting tends to leave me a tad grumpy.

Though it’s a lazy time, it’s also totally crazy! The second day of Ramadan my whole staj had to meet in Rabat for our COS (Close of Service) Conference. And I really didn’t wanna go. I’m not in denial about leaving, but still don’t want to talk about the reality all that much. The conference was fine, a lot of feeling talk, blah blah blah, I don’t want to get into it as I was actively making myself dislike it. Plus I was fasting.

But anyway, the reality remains-I’m leaving Morocco and home as I know it in less than three months. To sum up the feeling quickly, it’s a rumbling belly. Yes I have to use a food metaphor because my belly spends most of these days rumbling away. I’m caught between two grand meals-Morocco and America. Ok this metaphor so isn’t working, maybe just queasy describes it better. I’m hungry to start my life; I am living in the real world here, but in America I’ll be able to put what I’ve learned into practice and begin my “real” life there. I hate being so inarticulate. I just had a huge fdur at my neighbors so I’m bloated on bread and high on coffee, forgive me.

I am completely terrified of returning, how’s that? I said that to a fellow volunteer recently and he said, “Oh don’t worry, soon after you go back, everything will go back to the way it was,” and that’s when I realized my true fear-I don’t want to go back to the way it was, not in a million years! I fear taking things for granted again and getting used to the wasteful way of living that I despise so much and that I’ve learned I live so happily without. I fear returning to the drama; of maintaining healthy relationships and healthy distances.

I’m currently reading The Art of the Commonplace; the Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, and, well, what can I say? I love that guy. His case for community and building a household, oh it just makes so much sense and it hurts to think of how fragmented family back home is. If you can’t understand why the hell I want to farm, read some Wendell Berry. He didn’t tell me to be a farmer, I decided that, and it’s the way I would like to put into practice what I believe and much of what he teaches.

I suppose that’s it for now, I’ll update again soonish. Maybe once my long days of fasting are over. Right now it’s just a few hours of work here, some cuddling of Bu and napping there, and some random freak outs about leaving in-between. I hope you’re all well and if you know any Muslims, don’t eat in front of them right now, k?

Sweet second to last note: For an idea of the less cynical representation of COS conference check out my dear friend Liz’s most recent blog post.

Funny last note: Most stajes put together superlatives for PeaceWorks (PC Morocco’s quarterly newsletter) in the last issue before we leave. I didn’t help put it together as I am not very witty, but enjoyed what was written of me immensely. Only slightly embarrassing(ly true) but totally sweet. I also noticed more people asked how he, rather than I, was doing, while in Rabat, ha. I only hope my luck changes and he won’t be my only wonderful companion when I return stateside… “Briana Godfrey - Most likely to gush about how wonderful her companion is, leading you to believe that her companion is some rare man, until you learn he’s a kitty – a lucky kitty for getting to spend so much time with Briana”

Sunday, August 9, 2009

isn't it ironic?

So Thursday I bought my ticket home, and as my last post says, I felt like I was gonna barf. And it was true I felt quite woozy and emotional over the very tangible proof that my life in Morocco would so soon end. However, I didnt really think I was gonna puke. But that evening I got a little carnival food happy at the Boulemane Amazigh Festival, and yesterday, Saturday, I woke up not feeling so hot. By afternoon I was puking my brains out and more fun stuff. I was pretty sick the rest of the day and evening, but this morning-my birthday!-i woke up just fine and dandy. I think I'll stick to bananas and water for a couple days though. Anyhow, thats it for now. Love and miss you all!

Friday, August 7, 2009

bittersweet?

I did it, I booked my flight home to the states, and i feel like im gonna barf. just thought id share that with you all. Mid afternoon November 23rd ill be back on american soil. too crazy to think about. also ill be 24 this sunday and that really freaks me out too. iwa

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ireland

Ya I know it'd been over a month since I got back, but here, finally are my blabberings on the wonderful big trip. I highly recommend you check out some of the photos here however, as they represent the trip in a far more concise and interesting manner.

The first person I was to meet in Ireland was Leilani, the Australian gal who was the first to couch surf at my house, (and ended up soaking wet! Reread this post if you don't know what I'm talking about). She still lives in Ireland, so she came to meet me my first night in Dublin and show me a bit of the town. My flight ended up being over an hour late and, though exhausted, we began the night at midnight. We went to a bar with great live music, and I had my first Guinness ever (lame I know, but to have it on tap in the country of its birth can be the only place to start right? No really it's ruined me for life because it will never taste as good anywhere else). It was wonderful and I was so happy to be at a bar, with a buddy, and didn't feel like a creep talking to friendly locals! It was a fun time getting hit on by a sweet Irishman; even with the drink he was sincere and adorably humbled by what I do. It was quite refreshing to be hit on actually, and not in a gross or expecting way. Leilani and I wandered the city that seems to stay hilarious and drunk all night before grabbing quick pizza at around 4am. I know it was over-processed hardly passable as food food, but it was delicious at that hour, and as the sky grew lighter we returned to the hostel and I didn't even hear my head hit the pillow.

We awoke with just enough time to eat a few bites before checking out and heading to the hotel where I would meet my family. I was shaking with excitement. I didn't know the full extent of how much I missed them until I was waiting for the elevator. I knocked on the door and nearly toppled Hanna with a hug, then Mia, and Gail and my dad. I love that moment when everyone is reunited, yay! Leilani stayed for a bit and we were all chatty and dizzy with tiredness (my late night/their long flight) and then, having all kinds of different ideas of time zones, we headed to lunch.

After wonderful pesto and pizza and mushrooms and all different cheeses we came back and passed out for the afternoon, knowing there was no point in pushing ourselves to see Dublin in such tired states. I should mention here as well that by crazy chance and lots of frequent flyer miles or something, we ended up in the Princess Grace Suite at the hotel. I've never stayed somewhere so fancy. The pictures show it better, but I have to say the bathroom was most shocking. A shower head the size of my own head! A bathtub! Bathrobes! It was huge (though I must admit, after the hamam, a bathtub is seriously gross). Anyhow, we had one fine night there and then headed out the next morning for Baltimore.

Getting out of Dublin was…interesting. My dad was a champ at managing the very narrow country roads and the oddness of driving on the left side, and so was Gail at navigating. I was just happy to have a whole seat to myself! And not squished, but pleasantly buckled and seated between my two sisters. The drive was beautiful and Baltimore was more than we could have imagined. My eyes could hardly handle all the green. We stayed right on the waterfront in a wonderful house which, to my pleasure, had a fully equipped kitchen. Baltimore is a sweet little harbor village, with only a few restaurants and some great sights. Again, the pictures tell it best, but primarily we wandered around an enjoyed the weather. I should point out here just how incredibly lucky we were with the weather. We were informed over and over how rainy and muggy the past few summers have been and then we were met with only clear skies and plenty of sunshine. It drizzled maybe three times throughout our whole trip.

Since we had a whole week in Baltimore we took some day tips out. One day we took a ten minute ferry ride from the harbor to Sherkin Island for some much needed beach time! After a hike to the beautiful beach I couldn't contain myself and headed straight to the water. I have never swum in such cold water in my life, but I had no choice! The water calls me and I must obey. Everyone waded a bit but only Hanna and I were crazy enough to go under. Every dunk caused us to scream because it was so cold, there was no getting used to it, but we had a good time. When we returned that evening I made couscous! I steamed it like I do in Morocco, candied some carrots, and sautéed onions and peppers in rich Irish butter. Gail sautéed mushrooms, roasted copious amounts of broccoli (YYEESS!!) and a pork roast (haram!). Mia found a big platter and I served the couscous Moroccan style-where we all eat off the one big serving. It was delicious and fun. We also took trips out to Mizen Head (absolutely gorgeous), Blarney Castle (only Mia and I didn't kiss the stone, I think I'm fine with my lack of eloquence) and to another wonderful beach.

After the week in Baltimore we headed out to Killarney in County Kerry for a few days. The second day we went horseback riding in Killarney National Forest, which was amazing. It was so beautiful, the horses were fun, and we even saw the Kerry Cow (a nearly extinct breed that's just coming back due to the national forest being there). We also saw many deer, fawns and some huge bucks! Because we were on horses they weren't so afraid of us and we were able to pass them far closer than one could on foot. What was not so fun was how sore my arse was for the next three days; most painful was just realizing how far gone my riding muscles were, I can't wait to get back on horses more regularly in the states!

Another day we did the most kitchy touristy thing possible, and though I was skeptical, it was actually awesome-a bus tour. My dad was quite tired of driving, and we just didn't have time to make it to all the places we wanted to see. The bus tour offered us a quick look at the Ring of Kerry, narrated by a very entertaining Irish fellow. I never would have imagined myself on a bus tour, but I'm really glad it happened. It was touristy, and every stop was a money trap, but one of the stops ended up being one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. It was a farm with a true herder doing short talks on the breeds kept in Ireland and showing the skills of true sheep herding dogs. I was fascinated. He showed about ten different breeds and talked about where they came from and whether they were raised for wool or meat, and shoot I wish I had taken notes. Then he showed the dogs and how each has only a few commands and with that the herder can direct his dogs to move the sheep anywhere from a great distance. It was just such a grand sight to see them work and made me sad as well that it's a dying art. Back on the bus my eyes grew drunk with green and I felt sure if a charming Irish farmer came by I could easily disappear into those gorgeous rolling hills for a very long time.

Killarney was a manageable-sized town and we were able to see good live Irish music and have plenty of good food. A couple nights I braved the scene alone and had a good time watching more live music with a cold pint in my hand. Still awkward, but able to enjoy myself nonetheless. Another night my dad joined me, which was grand! We met a quintessentially Irish couple that just cracked us up, and completely refused to believe he was my dad not my date.

After our stint in Killarney we headed back to the big city-Dublin-to really tackle it. My dad happily handed back the car and we got city bus passes so we could see all the sights. We did the Guinness Storehouse, the horribly manned Dublin Zoo, The Book of Kells and Trinity College and plenty of beautiful churches. We ate tons of good food from around the world and Dublin was quite easy to navigate. The exception of course being the half day we spent completely lost in industrial factory-land outside the city trying to find the Harley shop for my dear dad. We did finally make it but it wasn't a very fun trek. Overall it was wonderful and what I most enjoyed was just goofing off with my sisters and being able to hang out with them. They are so incredible.

Thanks to couchsurfing I found out about the CS Dublin weekly meet up happening a night when I happened to be there. So one night after dinner I headed out to Temple Bar and met up with fellow young travelers and Dublin residents for a night of mayhem. They were wonderful and so much fun! I haven't hung out with a group of young people that aren't in Peace Corps (and therefore have different topics to discuss than bowels, gossip, the heat, barf on transit, etc) in a very long time. Many were from Brazil and Argentina and gave me crap for our team almost beating them recently in football (which I knew nothing about of course). After a few drinks we wound up at some metal bands show at another place and danced like crazy. I also went out with my dad a couple nights which was fun too. My goodness he is a magnet at bars for hilarious people and goofy questions! Some Americans came up to us, convinced he was Irish, asking about football. Once they realized we were tourists too they decided to explain, in full, how to get at least four free pints out of one ticket to the Guinness Storehouse.

Our last night, after an amazing meal, Leilani actually made it out to Dublin again. Though we went out for a night on the town (my last for quite some time) we were both embarrassingly exhausted. We managed a drink and had a good chat, but headed home well before Dublin's bedtime. My family and I headed out before dawn the next morning, July 3rd for our very early flights and I had to bid my dear family yet another goodbye. Though the wait will not be nearly as long this time, I will see them all before the holidays!

And that's that. I had an amazing time, but I also greatly looked forward to returning to work and my silly PCV buddies and talking about bowels and barf and all that fun stuff again. I also had a great deal of culture shock, but I'll discuss that another time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Brussels; beauty and blues

Continued from the last post…

Still in a fog, I felt drearier than one should in an airport on their way to a new destination. Since I had to stop somewhere on my way to Ireland, I'd decided I may as well pick a nice place and have a couple night layover in order to tack on another destination to my list of travels. I hadn't picked Brussels for any particular reason, and didn't know much of anything about it aside from a map I'd printed and taped together (a really great map, it turns out, and I highly recommend the site- use-it). I spotted a couple Americans on my flight, and dropping my usual inhibitions, I got out of my seat and went up to talk to them in hopes that they might have a guidebook or any tips on where I was so blindly headed to (for the record, I was far from blind, I'd read about Brussels beforehand, I just hadn't made any real plans and hate not having a set plan).

Thank goodness I went up to them. They, Slade and Dustin, quickly welcomed me to the empty seat and duty free Heineken they'd gotten in Morocco; though they'd only been in Morocco a week, they were desperate for beer, haha, welcome to my world. Of course, after my night of whiskey beer was the last thing I wanted, but heck, I was on vacation. We also had a long night ahead of us; Dustin was studying abroad in France and had been through our intended airport destination before. In usual Ryan Air fashion, though they consider the airport Brussels, it's actually in Charleroi, about an hour outside Brussels. And like many small airports, transportation options for the young, car-less traveler evaporate long before the arrival of the flight you'll undoubtedly be on. We arrived at 11 and already the last everything had gone, so we settled down for a long night before the first options around 6am. They were smart to buy two six-packs in preparation, but somehow didn't think to buy real food. Between us we had enough coinage to buy some humble snack machine food, including cheetos and my first Belgian chocolate waffle. We quickly began to envy some girls nearby totally out in sleeping bags and eye masks; apparently it's common to stay the night in that airport for early morning flights as well.

Not having slept for a couple nights in a row by then, tiredness hit me like a ton of bricks. We set up a sort of area, me expecting the least since I'd slept in far worse conditions before, and passed out until the bright morning sun hit us directly in the eyes. We stumbled onto the first bus out of there and into the train station and on our separate ways. Despite my nervousness in the new city, I surprised myself and after a couple tries found an empty bed in a fine hostel near the center of Brussels. Knowing the day was long I took a wonderful hot shower and slept a couple hours before heading out to see the city.

I treated myself to a very touristy order of Belgian waffle with whipped cream and chocolate, which was quite a leap from the snack machine one from the night before, but still not incredibly exciting. I wandered the city by foot, and it was surprisingly easy to navigate (which is really something for me, who could get lost in a swimming pool). The map from Use-it, was truly phenomenal and I did practically everything on it that didn't require money. I enjoyed my first ham in ages (I don't even like pig all that much, but I ate it nearly every day I was in Europe) on a wonderful panini with mozzarella. Oh how I love cheese! The guys there, and actually people all over Brussels, spoke Arabic, and on occasion I heard Tamazight. I actually followed a woman for a block or so because she was speaking Tam and I already missed it. By dark after plenty of sight-seeing, gawking in supermarkets, confusion in clothing stores, beautiful cathedrals, comic strip walls, etc., I went back to my hostel room, which, unfortunately, was still empty.

It was actually June 17th, my mom's big 45th birthday, and the birthday of one of my good Peace Corps friends, so I'd promised to drink to them. I headed back out for the Delirium Bar, highly recommended by friends. The name of the bar comes from the famous Belgian beer, Delirium Tremens, for its light and delicious, seemingly harmless taste, despite its 9% alcohol content. The point is you're drunk before you know it. A few years back I worked at a little brewery in Ojai, (this was back before I drank or did anything really) and a band called The Delirium Tremens played there. Because it was of course their favorite, my boss got the beer and had it available just for that night. Though I didn't try it then, I certainly saw its affects, and the band was pretty good. So there I was, at the fabled Delirium Bar, trying to be excited about being in Brussels, and drinking my first Delirium Tremens. It was absolutely delicious, but the fact remained- I was lonely. Traveling alone is no longer appealing to me, and drinking alone is just sad. The beer was great, but I had no one to enjoy it with but myself, and I know my awkward vibe steers away any other fellow lone travelers. I wanted to chat with people, but in a bar, particularly if you're alone, it's assumed you're only there to be picked up, or that's how it felt anyhow. Awkward. Some kind French military boys chatted with me a bit, and I enjoyed a very light and sweet cherry beer (for I was already woozy from one pint of Delirium) and soon after meandered back to my hostel, buzzed but blue. By then it was full of nice Asian gals, but they didn't speak much English and we all fell asleep by midnight.

Leaving my bag and checking out, I went out again for more sights before heading to the airport (the real airport, actually in Brussels) for my evening flight to Dublin. I passed most of the day simply sitting at great sights and people watching. It's fun to do, particularly when you're alone and have only time to pass the day with. I must say again, the absolute greatest thing about being in a city, what I enjoy most, is the silence-the lack of harassment, the fact that I walk through it completely unnoticed by anyone. I just can't express enough how much I love that. The harassment is what I hate most about Morocco; it gives such a bad perception of the country to visitors who may never know the beautiful people of Morocco, those I've come to know by living here. Aside from that, the little time I spent in Brussels just reaffirmed my dislike of cities in general; I never want to live in one again, the way it all works there is just not pleasantly livable to me, visits are enough. But don't listen to me! Despite my grumblings and self-inflicted loneliness I do highly recommend Brussels, it's a beautiful place and the people I did meet were wonderfully friendly.

It wasn't until I was boarding the plane to Dublin that I realized something very interesting. The tingly feeling, the excitement, the anticipation; I realized the flight to Brussels was the first flight I'd ever been on that I wasn't excited about, and it wasn't because it was Brussels, it had nothing to do with the place, it was because it was the first destination I went to with no one I knew. Every other time I've gone somewhere there was at least one person there I knew and missed (except Morocco I guess, but that was quite different). Anyhow, maybe that's an odd thing, but it was comforting. Next post- the big trip! Reuniting with my dad, stepmom and sisters and travelling around the great greenness that is Ireland!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

before the big trip

Before I get into the awesomeness that was my trip to Ireland, I just want to share some great events that took place just before I left and I just didn't have time to post.

  • On the 10th, after over four months away, one of my dearest friends in Morocco returned! Casey was medically separated due to an accident, which pretty much means he had a slim chance of coming back, but after recovery and lots of bureaucracy to deal with he was reinstated and got to come home to us! I am overjoyed of course because he is one of my best friends' here-keeping things upbeat, enjoying my cooking, and travelling with. But I was also very happy because he is a great volunteer. Casey is a quintessentially super volunteer. We can all be easily bugged by it, but I've learned here that we all have different ways of working. He's very outgoing, loves his community and is absolutely superb at the language and so he has had a big and positive impact as a volunteer. So for the sake of his community for sure, I am very grateful he was able to return and complete his service.
  • On the 11th, my only brother Michael graduated high school! I'm very proud of him, so sorry I couldn't be there to congratulate him in person, and can't wait to see him again. We've recently discovered a lot more of our similarities and I hope that he can accompany me on some of my WWOOFing adventures and I cannot wait to see the man he becomes. Mbruk brother!
  • Also on the 11th, elections took place all over Morocco, including my humble little village. My counterpart, and the most amazingly motivated and all around awesome Moroccan woman I know, Fatima Fufuli, ran and won by a landslide for a position in the commune. I don't know her actual title, but some things she wants to work on are better water sanitation in farther douars, better trash management, and the possibility of a high school in the village. Anyhow, it all sounds pretty awesome and she's perfect for the job, though she's also the overworked treasurer of the weaving cooperative so we'll see how she handles both!

After all that excitement I went into a packing frenzy and left my site early Monday morning to drop off my cat with another volunteer and head towards Tanger for my flight the next day. I kinda planned to get to Asilah, but for a variety of reasons plans changed and a thousand degree train ride later I ended up in cool and drizzly Rabat for the night. The whole environment staj just happened to be in Rabat for their Mid-Service Medicals, so I hung out with them and had a fine time. I was also relatively easily coerced into drinking really terrible whiskey, and set out the next day feeling only slightly muddled, and very nervous about leaving Morocco again. The train ride to Azilah was easy enough, but when I got off in the supposedly delightful, arty, beach town, I was met with the absolute most ignorant and awful verbal harassment I've ever received in Morocco. It was one of those moments that make you question how humanity has even made it this far carrying such anger. The rest of the long, hot walk to the Tanger taxi stand didn't help as I was met with the usual harassment a lone female traveler with a big backpack undoubtedly will receive, but I swallowed hard and tried to focus on the Morocco I'd come to know and love, the people that do make this country great, and moved on. Stay tuned for a post on the trip abroad itself…

Thursday, July 9, 2009

3:32 am

Yep, its 3:32 am and I've no idea why I'm up and wide awake exhausted. I've no caffeine in my body or reason to have my eyes open; I just can't sleep, or concentrate on reading, and have written too much in the old journal so now I'm tapping out nonsense to you all. A long post (or two or three) will be out soon on all the excitement prior to my recent trip abroad, the trip itself, and all the stuff that freaked me out about being in a westernized country. But right now I'm sitting here trying to devise ways to make me fall asleep. I suppose Benadryl may work, but I don't wanna do that. I was a dummy earlier and left my melon seeds and innards out and my dumb cat ate them and barfed all over my sleeping room, so now my eyes are watery from the incense I lit in an effort to cover up and clear the cat melon-barf stench. My minds amuck.

You know those days when you realize you thought everything was one way and really it's all quite not? Sometimes I picture life back home as something different and more pleasant than it really is. Like my finding balance and happiness here somehow meant that back home was balancing out too. It's not a crazy big deal, and probably more info than necessary on my blog, but it's late and I'm drunk with sleepiness. Family drama I've got nothing to do with but feel the weight of anyhow. I don't really know where I'm going with this; I suppose I need to vent (where's my Ashley??) but my cats growing bored of my tossing and turning.

Learning to let go, even from thousands of miles away, is amazingly difficult. I just realized recently the sanity I have found living here is unlike any other time in my life. It's not easy or wonderful here, and yet I feel it's the most stable home I've found for myself. I know that Morocco is not my home, that I am not Amazigh, and that soon I will return to the country of my birth, but I'm reminded now that I'm not going home home. The people I love are all still there, lhamdullah, but the collective is all over the place, there isn't some cozy living room where we'll all meet, cuddle, and mull over the time spent apart. It is with a good amount of shaky faith in the universe and a new sense of freedom that I look toward the future and the opportunity and responsibility I have to begin building my own life there. Who knew that joining Peace Corps-in order to help people-would in fact be the first time and place in my life in which I would not be helping/taking care of anyone; that really what I've done and learned is how to take care of myself.

4:10 am- the pre-call to prayer is going off now (a song before the morning call to prayer to wake people up before the actual call). The voice is muffled and not exactly musical, but it's comforting and beautiful. I normally sleep soundly through this and the call to prayer, but when I was in Europe I noticed and greatly missed its absence. Soon the sky will lighten as the sun rises to welcome another day. This particular morning my beautiful little sister Mia (or not so little-she's nearly as tall as me already!) turns 12, and this same day next month I'll be double that. 24 years old. It's hard to believe and I admit I feel old, or just worried that I won't get it all together and settled in soon enough. Sleep still hasn't come to pull me into bed; I fear I'll be a zombie today.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

changing it up

I know I just said I was checking out for a bit, but you should never really listen to me. As you can see, I’ve given my blog somewhat of a makeover. Partially because I’m too annoyed with my writing to do a real post, but bored enough with the layout that I had to futz with something. But perhaps the bigger reason was to save the world!-one kilowatt at a time. Sounds ridiculous I know, but check out Blackle and you’ll see I’m not totally full of shit. It’s an energy saving search engine run by google, therefore it’s the same as google, so go set it as your homepage! Maybe it’s a tiny and seemingly meaningless difference, but I’m a firm believer in every little bit meaning something. I’m a weaver anyhow, and any good weaver knows that just one thread out of whack changes the entire piece. If you’re oober annoyed with my dark new blog, let me know and I suppose I could change it back. Then again, maybe I’ll keep it and ignore you.

I realized late yesterday that I’m way closer to Ireland than I thought! Two weeks to be exact. I am really excited for this trip, and in these crazy days of crisis, I can’t believe I have the opportunity to go. I’m honestly not as excited as I maybe should be for all the fancy stuff-my own seat in a car, daily showers, eating out, wearing shorter skirts and tank tops-I’m pretty much over all that. It will be great of course and I will enjoy it, I just mean I’m not bleeding every minute here for those things. I live and love the rural life. What I am excited about is ait uxaminu! (my family!) My dad, stepmom, Mia and Hanna. I haven’t seen them in ages and I’m terrified another two sisters will be taller than me. I’ve really missed out on their growing up and I always treasure the short times I do have with them. I also gotta take in all that I can from this trip because it’s only the 2nd, but likely the last, trip I will take to Europe. Oh and beer. Real, good beer. Did I mention I’m hitting Belgium for two nights before Ireland? Chocolate and beer look out, I mean to consume you!

And, as has been the delightful case lately, I’m just as excited for my return. I have much going on now and am trying to make the most of the time I have left. One of my last nights with the above mentioned family we went to dinner with their friend who was an RPCV (and her beautiful kids-she actually married a man she met in PC). And one of the most important things she said to me was something a volunteer had told her before; that we have a choice to make early on in PC, a simple one, about priorities and time; between the people of the country in which we serve, and the easy comforts other Americans or big cities might provide. I wish I was as articulate as her, but what she said really stuck with me and I’ve thought about it a lot in my time here. I’m sorry I didn’t spend more of my service as committed as I am now, but I also acknowledge that I wasn’t quite the person who could at that point. Early on I sought Americans for fun, bonding and a break, and saw my relationships with Moroccans very differently. I also spent a lot of time in my mud hut and being shy. But now, mostly due to time, because it’s certainly not language, I feel so at home here and seek my community more than other volunteers or even the many great sights of Morocco I have yet to see. In fact, it looks like I won’t even use more than half my acquired vacation days by the end of my service because at this point, all I want to do is stay in town! But who knows, I may do an unexpected back-flip sometime.

Friday, May 29, 2009

busy bee

I apologize in advance for not updating this so much now. I want to more than ever for these are very exciting times and there is so much I want to share with you all, but its good because its busy and I don’t have as much cyber time as I used to. It’s too true what I was told before-that the last six months are the busiest. Busy as a bee, only rather than a field of flowers I’ve got a roomful of looms! Pattern weaving is going well and I’m putting in very long days and enjoying staying in site. I really have so much to tell you all about sheep shearing in the middle of nowhere, all the babies and the maternal instincts they have been inspiring in me, all the new podcasts I’m in love with (Savage Love is like crack), all the WWOOFing prospects I have and how excited I am to get to them, and the way I am humbled and taught more and more by this country each day. Oh and the list goes on. But in truth, as kind as you are in reading and possibly even enjoying my writing, it’s horrendously tortuous to write. Some things we love come easily, and others not so much. I do love writing but it stresses me out and I have countless blog posts started on some grand thought or event, but then I never have the energy to make any sense of it and appropriate for posting. So I may or may not be less present here for a bit, sorry!
Now for a fun little numbers update, because though many are excited for my return, they can never seem to remember when I am coming home. Nine days less than six months from now I will be an RPCV, so six months from today I will have been home for a couple days and even passed Thanksgiving with you all, what!? The 19th was my two year college graduation anniversary. The 19th also marked one month before I will be meeting my dear dad, stepmom and two sisters in Ireland. Uhh, less than 100 is the amount of dirhams I’d spent in the past couple weeks, and 0 is the number of times I’d left my village in two weeks (not counting my souk town 6k away) until our mandatory consolidation drill in Fes a couple days ago. Three is the number of babies I’ve held and fallen for in the same amount of time. Infinite is the number of weddings, baby naming ceremonies, and tea dates I have promised to attend in the coming months. 3 is the number of months there are before Ramadan. 25+ is the number of how many water bottles I have filled at any given time in preparation of summer days without running water. About 8 is the number of fruits now available and I really can’t get enough (I’m even making peach pie tonight). 5 is the number of times I’ve climbed the mountain in my site. (I hope to more than double that before I leave). Unknown is the number of people I can’t wait to see yet I know it’s equal to the number of people I will sorely miss. 6 is the number of days I hosted people in a row last week, and it was wonderful but it’s nice to be alone. I’m out of numbers, ask me something new.
As always, I love and miss you all, I’m really on the home stretch now!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

baby season

I love spring. It’s glorious. And after, by far and thus far, the most difficult winter of my life, it is equally the most beautiful spring of my life. And I have never been so thankful for earth’s great lessons of birth and renewal. The landscape is flying upward with new life. Since it was such a wet year its greener than ever, the mountains a richer brown than I could ever imagine. The fields are high with wheat and other grains, soon enough they will turn brown, be harvested and replanted with corn and grow even higher. Other fields are alive with the sweet scents of onions and garlic. There are red poppies popping up everywhere, brilliantly contrasted against all the green.

The storks have been back awhile, building nests, and now, in ones low enough for me to just barely see, are little brown chicks with eager beaks. There’s the usual overabundance of sad kittens and puppies as well as the happy, chirpy abundance of turkey and chicken chicks running down the dirt alleys. Then there are all the bigger animals; sheep, goats, horses, cows, donkeys; all are giving birth now. The dirty brown flocks of sheep are now juxtaposed by the fresh white fleece of new lambs. The kids never quiet. The few ponies and mules are adorable. The calves are cute enough to kiss. But there is nothing cuter than a baby donkey.

Donkeys work mighty hard here and just about every family in town seems to have one. While they aren’t overly cruel, since these animals need to stay healthy enough to work, they certainly lead no charmed life. They get quite sad and dirty real quick, but when they are young, oh my. During the transit strike Natalie and I walked to the next town for souq and on the way saw an adorable baby donkey near the road. The babies are not tied up, since they keep to the mother anyhow, and for a few months at least, they are as close to being free as they ever will be. On our way back they were still there and the baby donkey seemed to have found his way to the cookie jar because he was bouncing of the field. Almost as if he was playing with us. He’d look over, then bound up and frolic across the road, out a bit, and back, and then again. All of this clearly alarmed his mother, who was tied up near a rock shed. As we got closer he started running around the shed, hiding behind, then bounding out again, like a game of hide and seek. It was wonderful.

Fun fact you may or may not know-donkeys and llamas are excellent guard animals for herds of sheep, alpacas, and the like. Better than a dog even, they will guard flocks from wolves, I even hear they will break a predators back. So, if I can be successful and fortunate enough to have a small fiber animal enterprise as part of my way long distant future farm, I will certainly have one. Donkeys don’t provide fiber, but my goodness they have character.

Baby season does not end with the great births outdoors. Inside, women are popping out kids like crazy. Wedding season is in summer, almost no one gets married outside of summer, so many of the new brides get pregnant fast, and are having their first child somewhere between April and June. And this means sadikas, or baby naming ceremonies. One week after a child is born it is named and the family throws a party. Not in the sense we might think of course. This party is just a grand lunch for tons of people. Every family brings a cone or two of sugar (yes, literally a cone of sugar, weighing a kilo each) as a gift to celebrate the birth and hope for a sweet life. The men are served tea, pray, are fed lunch and pray some more. The women, in another huge room, chat, have a couple rounds of tea, kiss the baby, maybe dance, are fed, and leave. It’s the standard two course meal. The first usually a giant plate of meat and juices with olives or prunes and hard boiled eggs. The second is couscous, usually with milk and chickpeas and sweet boiled raisins. This kind of ceremony is very similar to a death ceremony; they are wonderful get togethers and remind you of how much you’ve integrated into the sweet little community and gotten to know such a different set of ceremonies. My counterparts sister in law just had a healthy boy two nights ago and I’m excited to attend the naming ceremony next week.

And so it is spring. Alive with renewal and rebirth and very happy people. Happy because the crops will be so bountiful this year, because it is warm, and because I understand them just a bit better than last year. It’s a good time of year. The year I went to college you could say is the first year I spent with real seasons. In southern California we do in fact, aside from popular belief, have all four seasons, they are just not very different. We generally have a wet and dry season, but the change is fairly moderate. So it’s true I never had to live in snow or endure months of incredible heat, nor truly experience the short but beautiful season of autumn and the turning of the leaves or the great green rebirth of spring. I considered myself quite lucky in California after my first winter in Kansas City. I got over the pretty snow soon after my first, of many, falls flat on my ass on the ice.

Now I just don’t know. After surviving such a harsh winter, the gift of such a glorious spring makes up for it and then some. To be a farmer is to live according to seasons and at the mercy of the weather. I don’t know where I’ll end up, and even though seasons exist everywhere you go, I don’t know if moderate California will be it. Or at least the weather paradise I am from. Time and experience will tell.

Side-note on being thankful: abundant bugs are a part of spring and I’ve been dealing with them rather well. I welcome spiders, my cat catches flies, roaches are few and the ants aren’t here just yet. But there is another critter I have no tolerance for and yesterday morning I kinda flipped out. Dozily waking up, I randomly felt behind my ear and discovered a tick! I don’t think he’d actually bitten me yet, but was certainly curled up in a prime spot for feasting. I smashed him to smithereens and then checked my whole body and Bu. I freaked out because besides being nasty, ticks are very dangerous. You may remember a post sometime two summers ago when I was working for the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy and my boss and I accidentally found ourselves in a tick infested wood. He taught me a lot about the dangers of lime disease, and drove me straight home, ending the workday early, and ordering me to shower, scour my body and be sure to get any buggers off. It’s a good thing he was strict because I did find two or three crawlers which otherwise may have latched on and provided me with the chance of an awful lifelong disease. I’m very thankful for my health, and the doctors assure us lime disease does not exist in Morocco, but I’m still going to be extra careful.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

you wanna piece of Morocco?

4 May 2009

I’m enjoying a night by myself after a good, long work week. Last Tuesday Alia Kate, founder of Kantara Crafts, came to Morocco yet again. Some months ago she put in orders with the Cooperative I work with and came by for a few days to hang out and pick up the work. She was very happy with the results and bought out the other great hanbils they had (including one for the Caid, which wasn’t actually available, but they like her so much they said she could buy it, the Caid could wait!). An important part of her business is to understand the women and the culture as well as supporting them by purchasing their work; her site is much more informative and accurate than I of course, so visit it! Here’s what she writes as Kantara’s Mission: "Kantara Crafts imports fair-trade rugs and textiles directly from women's cooperatives, thereby empowering the artisans to promote their financial independence as well as their creative freedom, while spurring growth and development in rural regions of Morocco"

In the process I too learned a lot about organizing command orders with the women, and have since begun thinking about what I am going to order to bring back with me to the states. I emailed my immediate family about what they might want because I do want to be able to have something tangible to give those I have missed and have missed me for over two years, but have been informed that more of you may want to order something. These women are incredible and the product is of the highest quality. You know I’m not a business person, and I’m not advertizing or even asking because it will benefit them. I’m just being honest. You really get the better deal. In fact it even kinda sucks for me because it’s a pain in the butt to ship stuff from here, but I’m of course happy to do it. Anyhow, I have put up an album entitled Cooperative Atma on facebook so check that out if you’re interested.

Be specific, or at least give me a guide. With a command order with these women you will get just what you ask for. If there is a particular color scheme or design you like then let me know, and the size. Prices vary greatly and depend on size and the complexity of design; areas of solid color, for instance, cost less than areas of pattern. They are all cotton warp and wool weft (meaning, the tassels you see on the end are cotton, but all you see in the rest is wool). They can do solid wool warp and weft but it would cost a decent amount more money and time because they have to process and spin the warp yarn very differently than the rest. If you are interested in that let me know. I just wanted to open this up to anyone. I figure anyone who dares read this ridiculous blog is among those that might be interested in a product of the amazing women and community I live among. If you do want something email me, comment on this post, or on the facebook album, or any other of the various ways you can think of to contact me. I’m not getting a cut or anything so the money will go directly to the women who made the work and shipping (unless of course someone wants to visit me sometime this summer-to see beautiful Morocco and take some rugs home, hint, hint, HINT)

above photo courtesy of Alia Kate

Now onto the rest of the weeks work…On May 3rd the first annual SIDA (AIDS) marathon was held in Midelt and it was a hit! Some other awesome volunteers and an awesome Moroccan association have been planning it for months and I just went to help out. I arrived to find I was on dinner crew, ha, but what’s new. I’m way out of shape so I happily took the photography job rather than running. The Moroccan support and interest was phenomenal, the kids were excited, and the whole thing really went well. It really helped to promote SIDA and STI awareness and I’m so grateful I could take part in it. After the great success and hard work we (just Americans) had a grand evening of drinking and dancing. I’d been holding off on drinking since returning from Europe, not only did I want to savor the memory of truly good beer, I’ve also been trying to save extra money and staying in site keeps me from both drinking and spending. Wonderful how that works actually.

And now I’m home, with my wonderful boy Bu and the great calm I feel when back here. Among the many glories of spring I’m discovering once again that veggies actually mold and go bad when not frozen, and I need to do some house fixing like the screens on my windows, to keep flies as well as foreign cats out. Work is going great and my only sadness stems from thought of how much I’ll miss this wonderful place. I’ll post again soon on the wonders of spring.