Sunday, November 14, 2010

Here´s where my Village is

Since I´m not there anymore, I think it´s now okay to show the exact location of my village, Khoukhate. I´ve marked all the important places, bike trips, running routes, and others, and put up some pictures.

Here´s the link to the map:,-4.784546&spn=0.433129,0.883026&t=h&z=10

Here are some of the pictures that are shown on the map, that correspond to places I´ve marked:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Three villages, six irrigation ditches, and ten days before I leave

A couple of months ago, I began a project to improve some irrigation ditches around the Izzie village. Our valley is fed by dozen of natural springs that gush water all day every day, all year long. Most of these springs are channeled through dirt ditches to get to fields, but along the way, the majority of the water seeps into the ground and never makes it to the intended destination. A few of these ditches have over the years been improved by concrete, preventing loss of water and reducing the amount of time it takes for this water to travel to the fields. My favorite institution the Rural Commune has funded these projects in the past, with the following results:
$6000 constructed a channel 150 meters long
$15,000 constructed a channel 400 meters long
I had a few thousand dollars to improve a major central channel that serves the majority of farmers in the village, or as much of it as we could with these limited funds. My results:
$1500 finished the 400-meter original project (10% of the cost of the project had the Rural Commune financed it)
The other $2500 has financed five other smaller irrigation projects, for a total of probably about 650 meters, almost all constructed within the past week.

This project, though stressful in that I'm about to finish my Peace Corps service, is fun for me because I get to watch these three villages compete for my approval, all three asking about the progress of the other ones every day. It's also fun because it gives me plenty of opportunities to shake my head disappointedly at my favorite institution.

In Memoriam

My second and final attempt at raising a kitten in Morocco has failed - this one got caught in a glue mouse trap, stumbled around for a day stuck to a piece of cardboard, then probably died of a heart attack or inhalation of glue fumes, I'm not sure. This picture was taken a few hours before the unfortunate incident:

Day One of the Saffron Harvest

I'm a notoriously bad gardener, but finally something that I planted grew! It also just so happens to be among the world's most valuable plants. If things don't work out for me in America, saffron farming might be the way to go. I literally gave them zero attention after planting them, and just about every bulb blossomed. The two kilos of seeds I planted will probably yield less than a gram of saffron, and I'll probably be gone before at least half of that is harvested, but I'm still really excited.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

26 Down, One Month to Go

Some days, it feels like the past two years flew by, other days I feel like I've aged ten years in the 25 months since I wrote my first "Couscous Chronicles" email to you all. I won't even try to sum it all up in one email; you should check out my blog if you want a fuller picture of what I've been doing here in this tiny village for two years. (

Top Ten Things I'll miss about Morocco: (see attached corresponding photos)
1. Long, non-hurried jogs down empty dirt roads between plateaus with my dog
2. My dog (even if he is arguably the world's worst dog; his favorite activities appear to all my neighbors to be biting little children and eating kittens)
3. Waking up whenever I wake up, without an alarm, and then sometimes having nothing better to do than sit all day with my baby chicks.
4. Eating fruit right off of the trees, olive oil straight from the stone press, and vegetables right out of the ground
5. Wowing (or at least amusing) everyone with my awesome Moroccan dance moves (a still picture can't really do this one justice. Ask for a demonstration when I get home)
6. Manual labor and its tangible results
7. Camel burgers
8. This little girl who squeals "SEEENTEEEYA!" every time she sees me.
9. Endless village drama over minor things (my under-$2000 projects result in endlessly entertaining drama)
10. Sunsets like this one from Thursday, over these snow-capped mountains

My post-November 12th Travel Plans: I'll be spending a week in Portugal and a few days in Spain before embarking on a trans-Atlantic, 14-day cruise that arrives in Puerto Rico. After a few days in the rain forest, I'll be flying home to Cincinnati, where I'll be until I figure out my next steps. At some point in the near future I'll start looking for a job, but also plan to spend some time visiting friends in DC and my brother in San Francisco. Depending on how long the job search takes, I may have more time to visit more of you in all your random places. My temporary address will be my parents' address: 5556 Nickview Dr, Cincinnati, OH 45247 in case you want to send me anything. Starting December 17th, I'll be reachable by cell phone at 513-504-6680.

Finally, several of you have asked if there's any way you can help out with my projects or if there's anything you can send to people in the village, and after thinking this over and talking with the director of the primary school, I've decided that the best thing would be, if anyone is interested, to provide scholarships for the girls in the village who want to continue their studies past the sixth grade but can't afford to pay for room and board at the closest middle school, a boarding school about 50 miles away. Currently, there are a handful of girls who still come to class at the primary school every day even though they should be in middle school because they really want to be in school. It's sad because the costs only come to about $30/month per student, so approximately $300 for the whole school year, which includes room, board, and transportation back to the village to visit their families for holidays. If any of you might be interested in sponsoring a girl for a month or two (or for a whole year), let me know and we'll figure out logistics.

So, thanks for all of your emails and letters and wall posts over the past two years. I'm sorry that I've been slow to respond, and I'm sure I've over-used the "I don't have internet access" excuse. I hope to see you all and catch up soon!

Marriage Musings Part IV - Jessica

Danielle's younger sister Jessica is fifteen. This spring she finished her last year of middle school and was preparing to start high school in the fall, when her aunt proposed that she marry the oldest of her cousins, 29. Since she was born, it was assumed that she would marry one of her cousins, as she was one of only a few girls in an extended family of dozens of boys, but we didn't know that her aunt wanted her for her son so soon. In the course of a couple of weeks, she had to decide (at the incredibly unstable age of fifteen), whether she wanted to drop out of school and get married, and move to the city to live with her husband/cousin and his whole huge family.

She had been almost a little project of mine - I was teaching her English and drilling her on her homework, always talking to her about being the first in her family to get a high school diploma and even go on to college, about all the possibilities she had for careers and futures. We talked news and politics and pored over my map of the world. I honestly intended to invite her to spend a summer or a year with me in America someday so she could learn English and see a bit of the world outside of the village. And then came the marriage offer. Her aunt insisted that even though they wouldn't have the wedding until next summer, she would have to quit school and move in with her husband's family immediately, to help out around the house and get used to her new life. The legal age for marriage in Morocco is 18, but no matter how many times I brought this up and tried to argue that there's a reason for this law, the family would just bring up examples of women in the village who had married at 13 or at 14, and they're happy.

My (unconfirmed) interpretation of the situation was that the aunt had wanted this girl as her daughter-in-law from the beginning, and was afraid that if she were to finish high school, she would not be satisfied marrying one of her uneducated cousins. I think her aunt was also getting older and tired, and with only one daughter and a house full of boys, wanted an extra hand with the housework as soon as possible. Jessica had to decide whether to stand up to all the pressure from her aunt and her own family, finish her education and possibly not ever find a husband (since there definitely is a preference for uneducated, young wives), or marry her cousin, who she knows is a good man from a good family, where she would be treated well, not have too hard of an adjustment to make, and she would still see her own family all the time.

Marriage Musings Part III - Danielle

For the first year I knew her, I never knew that Danielle had ever been married. She never talked about it and I just assumed that she was another of the many unmarried women in their 30s in the village. Her story is that she married young, at I think 16, to a man she had never seen before the wedding. She wasn't married long before it became clear that he was an alcoholic and soon after, began to treat her poorly. She was faced with the choice of staying with him, even if he was a terrible husband, or leaving him and moving back in with her family in the village, knowing that as a divorcee, she may never get another marriage offer. She left and came back to the village. Now, at the age of 30, she's still unmarried, wants nothing more than to be married, but has no real way to go about meeting men, and no one wants to arrange a marriage for their son or brother or nephew with a woman who is clearly not "pure".

A misdialed number led to a conversation that led to a secretive text-message relationship with a man that went on for several months before they agreed to meet. She spent a weekend with him, lying to her family about going to visit an aunt or a friend somewhere, and then later I helped her meet him again by telling everyone she was going with me to Fes and then sending her off to his town instead. Even at the age of 30 and even though she was divorced, she still could not tell her family that she was going to see a man. After their second meeting, he told her that his mother disapproved of his marrying a divorcee (he was almost 40 but still couldn't stand up to his mother regarding whom to marry). But he continues to send her texts, urging her to come visit him. She has to decide whether having a secret lover who will never marry her is better or worse than having no one at all.