Saturday, April 25, 2009

The goings good

Recently there was a week and a half or so long country-wide transport strike, meaning no public transport. So unless you were a richie in the city with your own car, you couldn't get anywhere. First I was real bummed, as it canceled Pesach at my house, but then it was kind of nice. I stay in site as much as possible, but without even the possibility of leaving, I really relaxed into my complete lack of control over the situation and happily hung around town. I am so in love with my site right now and it's wonderful. Actually the more I fall into the rhythm of life here the more terrified I become of the life I must return to. I'm not on a high, just finding the swing of things and hoping to make it a wonderful ride for the remainder of my service. Being a PCV is so unbelievably different than I ever imagined. I don't even know what I imagined before. RPCVs told me before I left that the 2nd year is when you really start working, the first is just getting over it all. Well, I feel I've got it now and it's a good feeling. Amazingly, I've found, as I'm sure you're already tired of me saying, what I really want to do in life, and it's incredible how much I've relaxed just knowing that and having the time to develop my vision. I also know that's had a big impact on my commitment as a volunteer here. I'm writing this, I suppose, as a bit of a check-up, a reflection on my service thus far, and what I'm doing with the time I have left.

I work with a really well established, incredibly motivated and quite successful weaving cooperative. These women are insanely strong-willed. A lot of money has been put into this cooperative over the past few years from ONUDI. Along with large metal looms for making traditional work they were also given European horizontal looms for making cloth and wearables. They got some basic training on the looms, but have since just been doing stripes in plain weave for jellaba fabric, shawls and bread cloth. In my time here I've learned a lot about development work, and though I do think the idea is good, the method often isn't. I'm not going to get into this too far because its complicated and irritating to try and work out, but essentially I don't really see myself as working in development any longer. I don't think I ever really did actually. I've been torn from the start about whether I think these European looms and money given to the cooperative have benefited the women or just the beneficiary's consciouses. Whether bringing this community into a more modern world and global market is right. I don't really know that it is. But that's a really long and tedious discussion we should have another time.

As a PCV, an important part of my work here is to assess the needs of my community and how I might help them to get those needs resolved. Being human, what that translates to is a lot of not so objective need finding. In weaving for example, I saw the European looms they had and that they were not using them nearly to their capacity. In my mighty high-college-degree-in-fiber chair I saw what they needed and would benefit from is learning to use the looms properly and do all that they can do on them. So about a year ago I tried to accomplish that. I set up a loom with the simplest pattern possible and wove. But the project didn't generate much interest, and I was too shy to push it, and let the project go after one sample. I see now the many reasons that attempt failed, the primary one being it was really my idea of what they should do, not theirs.

When asked by my Assistant Program Manager on a recent site visit why I haven't been teaching them how to use these looms, I expressed the change over the past year in what I see as genuine; that those looms do not work toward their image. All they know is that those looms work faster, but they can't make the traditional, unique, individual designs and symbols that have been a part of their culture and their lives for generations. He was remarkably receptive to my resistance to trying the project again, and later when we went to the Cooperative the women actually told him that they are thinking of not using those looms so much anymore because the product is not profitable. I was happy to hear that they realize the value of the traditional work, and that the work from the European looms was no different from cheap material imported from china. With that, I was able to step into the picture again.

Like déjà vu from last year, the project began, only now I had a completely different relationship with the women, and very different expectations. No real expectations actually. Relaxed, I simply brought in The Handweaver's Pattern Book, my old drafting book and tattered old tam notes. I set up a counter balance loom, just like last year, and had my two "trainees", Mhajouba and Miriam, pick a relatively simple pattern. I tried to throw in bits about how the designs in the book were pretty but not Amazigh, that we could add some designs, but not change the overall look. I really wanted to stress that pattern weaving was not better than the plain weaving they were doing, just different, a door to possibility. My idea is that if they could understand more about how the looms work, and how to use them to get the image they want, they would feel more ownership over these foreign looms and the products they make.

I'm ashamed to admit my surprise at their immediate proficiency. The threading was only 12 steps before repeating, and they very quickly got the hang of it. After some miming I got the point across on why there are only rb3 n quadr (four harnesses) but stta n sbat (six pedals). The counter balance loom requires a lot of, you may have guessed, re-balancing, all the time, but they wove with patience and interest. Throughout it all I should add, partly on purpose, I didn't explain much about anything until they asked. Particularly with the language barrier, it was easier to answer questions than come up with explanations beforehand, and they were full of great questions.

Mhjouba took the book home and the next day had already chosen designs she liked and pointed out where they would lay, for instance, on a headscarf, and how beautiful that would be. Of course, those lovely patterns were quite complicated overshot, which I had to re-teach myself before even beginning to explain to them. But she's a very fast learner and isn't shy about asking questions-she wants to get it. I was having great difficulty explaining to her that the first two pedals were for tabby, or plain weave, and the other four were for the pattern. With overshot, you have to do a shot of tabby between each shot of pattern. It's tricky in English, far trickier in Tam. She then said she didn't really understand how the pattern worked on the piece we already had on the loom, well let me tell you! Ecstatic that she truly wanted to understand how this mess of threads and pedals became woven shapes, I showed her how to draft the pattern; from the tie up, to the threading, to the pedaling, to drawing out the design it would make. She understood instantly and it was then easy to show her the pedals for tabby, when they are used in overshot and why. (I know this is a lot of weaving garble, but I've been dying to say it in English, I don't care if no weavers read and get this, but there you go)

What's happening now is a fun little conversation in the co-op; these two women got it quite quickly, and are explaining it to the other curious faces. This includes plenty of yelling and laughter and I love it. And of course that is the point, for them to teach each other. Soon they want to set up a loom and make a whole cloth of one pattern. I don't know what will come of this; if they will let it go and continue with the products they have, start weaving patterns straight from the book or better, draft their own patterns and use them in harmony with the current work. But I am happy to just have some part to play each day when I go to work. They have also been keeping up literacy classes, and I can't begin to fully express the delight I observe in a class of 15 or so middle aged women learning script. It's hilarious and wonderfully inspiring, I attend often as I can and participate as well, which just cracks them up.

But the true beauty of this place, aside from the women of course, are the traditional traditional Amazigh carpets and rugs they have been creating for generations. It's a beautiful scene to watch them weave together; hard on their bodies but good for their souls, I see the important bonds they have with one another. And sitting with them, learning some knots and attempting to understand the way this harp playing adds up to a beautiful piece is inspiring. My views of my service have changed and evolved a lot over the past year and some months, and the most comforting realization, though not exactly fulfilling, has been that they don't actually need me. They enjoy my company, love that I am here and find humor in everything I do. I have learned so much from them about family and community, weaving and cooking, there isn't really all that much for me to teach them. I'm no super volunteer, I know there are far bigger ways I could impact, help, teach, etc. here, but I'm just not doing it. It's not that I'm a bad volunteer, as I believed myself to be for the greater portion of my time here, just a different breed. I will never be that big smiley active jumpy creature of a volunteer pictured on the website. I don't initiate, and don't love that character trait, but I've been working with it 23 years now so it seems to be set. Because my language hasn't improved much, I've become far more integrated into life here mostly due to just time and being present. I love them and respect their work and way of life more than I ever did my own in America, and so I have no overhead view of how I think they would be better off here. It's quite simple everywhere really, people want to live a good and comfortable life and hope for better opportunities for their children. I work with a generation of women set, progressive yes because they work outside the home and contribute to the income of their household, but they're not wishing for millions or life in a big city.

I guess I wrote this blurb because I feel bad for often not having answers to the simple questions loved ones back home often ask about how work is going, or what I actually do here. I end up sounding like I'm not doing anything, and oftentimes that is the case. Justifying to Americans, including myself, the importance of just hanging out someplace real different for a couple years is a tough sell. But it all depends on how you look at it. And it seems just as I've come to embrace it, the situation changes and I now have something most people might actually classify as work. For the moment anyhow, this is my state of affairs: uncharacteristically and wonderfully content. We shall see what next week brings…

Friday, April 24, 2009

got lost on the information super highway…

Now I have no freaking clue what the heck twitter is but I feel pretty dang special to have recently become a podcast fanatic. Not having a TV and never picking up anything in English on my shortwave radio I've been out of the loop for some time. But a few months ago, due to far too much time spent in bed to keep warm, and a new ipod gadget from family I finally started getting into podcasts, and I'm obsessed. It's not like I read the newspaper everyday in the states, but there's a danger in being uninformed, so I'm catching up. Ashley and I had a nice ritual of watching This Week with George Stephanopoulos on one of two stations we picked up on Sunday mornings (so long as our Saturday night hadn't gotten too crazy, though George's cute little smile was always a great cure for a hangover, even if it was the only productive thing we'd do on a Sunday).

Anyhow, that and Obama's Weekly Address are the only video podcasts I take time to load, and they take FOREVER. This weeks This Week, on April 19th was alright, but I laughed out loud and complained to my cat about John Beohner's asinine answers, or lack thereof really. I fully admit I don't have a real opinion on what is being done to combat the various current crises because I'm certainly not well enough informed. But to say the issue of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is laughable as a contributor to climate change? Ugh, it was too ignorant to stomach.

But anyway, the point is, though I am mighty integrated into bled life here, I'm keeping well informed about your alls whereabouts and issues too. Much of it gives me a headache, but ignorance is not bliss, so I keep downloading. My favorites, for anyone with some time to hear some great stuff are: the hilarious How Stuff Works guys, Radio Lab which is just too awesome to be free and yet it is, This American Life of course, Green Festivals Radio whose interviews I don't like so much, but the speeches are awesome, particularly Van Jones and Deepak Chopra, there are some good interviews on's GreenTalk Radio, the recent ones with Sam Bozzo on his film Blue Gold: World Water Wars were amazing. I also get plenty of PRI including The World: Science, Living on Earth, To the Best of Our Knowledge, and NPR's News Summary, Fresh Air, On Health and On Science. I also download The Onion sometimes and am trying out some new agriculture news and BBC podcasts. I feel overwhelmed trying to keep up with these and then I think of how much time most Americans spend watching TV, and it's really not so bad. At least I'm getting educated while being entertained. Let me know what other podcasts you consider necessities!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Barcelona to Berlin; a summary of my eurotrip

I guess I need to remark on my trip before continuing on about life back in Morocco eh? Quick summary-it was wonderful. And now for the long-winded account…

I arrived in Girona, Spain and met up with a wonderful Slovak girl named Veronika studying at the university there for my first time couch surfing (I’d hosted, but never been hosted). It was a bit late, but she still made an awesome meal including her grandfather’s own homemade sausage, and was actually delighted to share them with someone since her Spanish friends weren’t fans of those types of meats. She thought it was hilarious how excited I was to see cheese and was very generous with it. The next morning she showed me around the medieval city a bit and up the ancient wall and to her university before I caught a train to Barcelona.

Barcelona was overwhelming the moment I arrived. I felt the usual travel nervousness and anxious confusion set in a bit. I called my next host and found out how to get to his house. Being the loon I often am I didn’t know how to make the doors open and so missed the metro stop, ugh. Luckily the stops aren’t far from one another and I managed to open the doors at the next stop and eventually found my way to his house. After greeting and taking a breath he had to continue to work and I set out to explore Barcelona. Annoyed with the metro already, and the expense, I decided to walk back to the center. It was a long walk but well worth it as I don’t feel like I know where I am unless I’ve gotten there by foot.

Finally alone, I was fully aware of all the weirdness. Or really, all that was normal in America, but had been absent from my life this past year and a half. The women are smoking! They have crazy high heels and fancy fancy clothes and free flowing hair and all kinds of skin showing. Dogs are on leashes and look like they’ve bathed more recently than me! Everything is clean. No one is staring at me, and even better, no one is yelling at me. In fact, I would describe this later as my favorite part of Europe. In Morocco I associate cities with higher levels of verbal abuse. Really you can learn to tolerate anything, and I have, but man it was nice to walk down the street and not be on the defense, it was so pleasantly quiet in this way.

The first place of business I walked into was a supermarket and I stared at the packaged food as if I’d never seen it before. I stood in front of sliced bread longer than should be allowed. Oh wait, now they are staring, not at my dumbfounded-first-time-in-a-supermarket expression, but at my hands. The Tuesday before I left was the Prophet’s birthday and I got the Berber smear (henna is most known as being done in elaborate and beautiful line designs on the hands, but the Amazigh tradition is to have one big swipe on your palm, as if you were going to make handprints on a wall, and to paint on and around the nails as well. I love this style now far more than the patterns) so my hands and nails were rust red. I suppose if I hadn’t been living in Morocco and saw a person with deep red hands I might wonder and worry too. A couple people asked if I was okay, and another even asked if it was blood.

Passing all the big famous and fancy shops I couldn’t even afford to look at, I walked all the way down to the harbor to sit at the sea. It was the third country I had the fortune of seeing the Mediterranean from. Despite the swirl of languages and people and loudness of a city surrounding, and the cluttered harbor before me, I still fell immediately under the spell of the ocean. Every time I come back to it after far too long gone I have to sit quietly for some time to take it all in again. The vastness of it always puts me into a trance of reflection, about the worlds immensity, my tininess, and how it all works together. At that moment I felt excited for the future; for the long term as well as for the next couple weeks on this new land. And a few deep breaths later I got up and started walking back.

I returned to Eduard’s house that evening and we went out for tapas. He told me where they came from me and which were the best. I had my first beer in Spain, the cheapest and national beer, and it was glorious. I told him how to say a couple odd things in Tam and talked some about my experience. There was no way to convey just how odd it felt to be there. Outside, drinking beer with a platonic male friend, at night, trying my best to know that wasn’t hashuma here; everything I’d come to know was worlds away. He streamed the Colbert Report on his fancy big screen and I laughed my head off and felt even closer to one home, further from another home, and all while actually being somewhere I’d never been before. I slept on the finest couch ever and left the next morning to explore the city some more before Danielle and her friends would arrive.

I met them at the hostel, and they were all great! Seeing Danielle was so wonderful, I miss everyone so much and I felt the comfort of my entire family in our greeting. She and her friends had all left immediately after finals so of course none had slept in a couple weeks or so. We all rested a bit and then went out to dinner. I felt like a plastic 7-11 cup among wine glasses, the place was so fancy. But luckily it was delicious and not obnoxiously expensive. We took our sweet time eating and chatting, wandered the city a bit then suddenly it was well after midnight and we stumbled upon a good looking club. Of course, in my sad attempt to look nice I'd worn my “new” heels (bought for 20dirham a couple days before at used souq) and not surprisingly both soles were coming off and laughing at me as I walked. So, rather than turn lame and still hoarding my money, myself and a couple others turned back to the comfy hostel.

Before continuing on about my lovely trip, I must say Barcelona is a very different place after hours. Drunkads amuck, men selling beers singly off a six-pack, and the women. I know more than I'd like about the culture of prostitution in Morocco, but it was a whole new kind of openness in Barcelona. It’s a part of humanity I just cant swallow or attempt to deal with in any way, so I walk past and comment to my friends on how sad it is, and that’s the extent of my involvement. We can’t fight in every battle, and I really hate that sometimes.

The next few days were a blur of wonderful sightseeing, unending foot pain, delicious food, and getting to know five awesome new people. Then we picked up a rental car and planned to drive to Figueres to see the Dali museum, and then dip our feet in France and do some wine tasting. Bright and early that morning though, Danielle's friend Tim and I decided to go down to the beach before leaving Barcelona. We went on the other side of the harbor so we could actually get our feet in some sand and seawater! After collecting some shells and sea glass the crazy swimmer actually jumped in. I am never the one to not get in, no matter how cold, but I hadn’t brought a swim suit, nor very many changes of clothes so I actually had to resist. And ya, it was freezing. After that lovely little adventure we headed back to the hostel and the sleepy eyes of the rest of the group and soon headed north. Unfortunately our Dali plans were not to be. Turns out that very day the prime minister of Spain was visiting the museum and it was not open to the public. Darn it! So plans change. Our dip in France was unplanned and had some odd decision making moments but we made it to Carcassonne, the incredible medival city within a castle, and one lovely little winery before I had to turn back to Spain and they continued on.

I rode the train back to Girona to meet up with Natalie, and it was the most beautiful train ride of my life. It went along the coast and in and out of breathtaking coves, oh and it happened to be sunset. So that was wonderful. Natalie and I found one another at the station, I squealed a few too long held in words in Tam and we were relieved to see we both had the berber smear. We wandered for the afternoon and then met up with our very last minute couch surfing savior of a host, Shanti. We had dinner with him and his wonderful friends, Kristina and Alfredo (who offered to host us on our way back through). Shanti had been to Morocco and was very interested in the Amazigh culture and much of our experience there, and we learned a lot about Catalan culture in Spain. Then we all went to a great, crowded bar with live music, all of which was in Catalan and Spanish, so I didn’t understand, but I've grown quite used to not understanding so I didn’t care and it all sounded good. After a couple hours of sleep we left super early the next morning for the airport onto Germany!

I have a lot to say about how much I dislike Ryan Air and particularly Frankfurt airport, but will just sum it up as an experience that cost me way more than it was supposed to due to an unannounced policy change, and Frankfurt stole my beloved pesto (and yet let my razor through? What the hell!?). Anyhow, I'm thankful for getting to my destination. Berlin was incredible. If I was as lost as I was six months ago, Berlin would definitely be a place I might look to for some time and answers. And I love German. Maybe its just that its not English or Arabic or Tam so it sounds lovely to me, but I really think everyone was wrong who ever said it was an ugly language.

Anyhow, Natalie and I met up and stayed with her friend Ruth, who is currently studying abroad there. She was awesome and hilarious and full of smiles and I'm so very grateful to her for being such a great host and tour guide! It was funny actually that first night we went to the infamous hole in the wall, or middle of the street rather, Burgermeister for delicious, and way long overdue burgers and German beer. Chatting as we stuffed our faces, I found out she’s from Ventura as well! She went to Buena (lame, ha) and we even have a close mutual friend, small world.

The next day happened to be beautiful and we had a whirlwind tour of everything-from Reichtag, to a memorial, the wall, I'm beating myself up for not writing it all down as we went, but I have pictures! The weather was lovely and in order to see it all we didn’t go in any museums. The wall was one of my favorite places, its now also called the East Side Gallery, referring to the art on the wall. The whole length of whats left of it is covered in all languages and colors and politics going on throughout the world.

Another great thing about being hosted by someone living there is they take you to all the best places to eat, we had the best doner ever! Also known as shwarma. Later we went to, haha, an American bar and met up with some of her school friends and some Germans and had a very late night (and one of the worst but most memorable shots of my life!)

Along with many other great sights the next day we went to a Bauhaus Museum, which was pretty cool. My college, KCAI, uses the Bauhaus as a model for the freshman year. We often called it art boot camp, but they righty called it Foundations; you’re pretty much thrown into every aspect of the field possible, made to fall apart over and over again, and see what happens when you get up. I don’t really remember much, I didn’t sleep that entire year. Anyhow, the museum was alright, I of course was disappointed by their itty bitty textiles section, but what's new? I had the great fortune of having broccoli pizza and the best pesto of my life (I know, not exactly German cuisine, but I had some needs to fulfill!) and we saw the reconstructed temple and went to a crazy squatters place. Many places we went to were recommended to me by Annika, a girl from Berlin who I hosted from couchsurfing recently. She told us about a place called The Teahouse Project, part of Volxkuche, which translates as the kitchen for the people and we went, and of course, it was amazing.

The next morning we went to the flea market and then had the most amazing brunch of my life! A very crowded little place with all the kinds of people you want to spend hours getting to know. It was all vegan and all delicious, and you decide how much you can pay. The setting is so that you meet people and one guy we sat with was working on a sustainable energy project I really want to look into, but I'll write more on that later.

And for our last night, of the very short trip, we had the most wonderful, but most un-german Vietnamese dinner. I'll admit I've actually never had Vietnamese, but I am surely a fan. Though I have witnesses that can attest that my head popped off a number of times for I am a true weakling when it comes to spicy. In our short time back in Spain we made it to Figueres to finally see the famous Museu Dali. It was overwhelming and unexplainable. All I can say is I am now a big fan. We went back to Girona and spent the night at wonderful Kristina and Alfredo's house and set out bright and early the next morning. Oh and I forgot to mention that I was terribly sick by this point. Due to my cheapness, when I met up with Natalie that first day I drank from her water bottle, knowing full well that she was terribly sick. But I was being cheap and I was thirsty, so a few days lalter when I got an awful cold I only had myself to blame. And I gotta tell you, three flights while you're really congested=blinding ear pain.

I did have an amazing time, but I felt by the end of the trip as I thought I might. I didn't have any crazy new revelations about life and all the places I'd rather be, in fact it was really comforting to know now that I am not a traveler. All the moving, all the unknowns, all the confusion, it's not really all that fun to me anymore. It was a wonderful little trip with amazing people and places, but I can say for certain now the real adventure I'm yearning for is my future, inshallah, in farming.

What I didn't expect was just how freaking much I loved Morocco. I had started missing Morocco the moment I left; as I took the various cabs further and further from my site I tried to picture it was the last time I'd see the mountains, and the donkeys, and the sheep, etc., etc. What an awful little game to play on myself! And I'm terrified now of how hard leaving it for good will really be. My first meal back was a simple and cheap bowl of pizara and a coke and it warmed me and brought me back home in ways I never expected. I even had some awful cat calls in Fes, which reminded me of exactly why I am here, to see the Morocco beneath the big cities. I am so amazed by how much I have fallen for this country and in ways no one can ever fully understand.

Being back is good, but also the same. Same in the way that I'm not fulfilled by the work I'm doing, disappointed by how little I know or try at the language, but most of all just how much I love it here but will never be able to express that to them fully. I have grown in incalculable ways, but haven't found a way to give back in any meaningful manner. So, we’ll see. I have just over 7 months left, my goodness, its like nothing!

Oh and even though I'm not a huge traveler anymore, I'm really excited about the trip, inshallah, this June to Ieland with my dad, stepmom and sisters. I started reading about Ireland, oops, and it sounds like a glorious country. I can't wait to see you all!

Friday, April 3, 2009


sorry! yes i'm back and safe and happy and all that and the trip was awesome, but ill have to post about it later, im off to couscous, but i did update the other blog. so go eat something and check back again later!
love ya all!