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.

Marriage Musings Part II - Heather

Heather grew up in the village, the very beautiful daughter of a young single mother whose husband had abandoned her a few months after her daughter was born. At eighteen, she decided she was bored with village life and went to live with her aunt in one of the big cities, helping her aunt take care of the children and working occasionally at a call center. Living with an aunt busy with her own children, and having the excuse of work allowed her an enormous amount of freedom to hang out with friends and to start dating secretly. For five years, she dated a man that she was madly in love with, and they had secretly rented an apartment so they could spend time together out of sight of her aunt and cousins, and his four children from a previous marriage. Though he loved her and they appeared to have a wonderful relationship, he claimed he was never going to be able to marry her, because of complications with the children, and other problems I never really understood. Heather accepted this situation and turned down the many offers of marriage that came to her, because she loved her boyfriend.

This past year, however, came an offer from a man who had come several times before to ask for her hand, was a little older and had a well-established small business, and was extremely nice. Heather was faced with the choice of staying in a relationship that would have to stay secret, meaning years of lying to her aunt about where she was going and maybe never being able to have children herself, or leaving the man she loved to marry a man she didn't love but that she knew would be good to her, provide her (and their children) with a nice house and a comfortable life, and allow her to live a life in the open without lies or secrecy. She chose marriage and is now pregnant, but confesses that she still thinks about her old boyfriend all the time even though she knows she has a wonderful husband who loves her more than anything.

Marriage in Morocco - Musings, Part I

One of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers just got married to a Moroccan and held a completely traditional Berber wedding, which I attended. This got me thinking it's about time I wrote about marriage in this country, and not just a recounting of the different weddings I've been to and how many hours of dancing I participated in. I've been skirting around writing about this issue for two years, afraid of judging another culture's traditions before I fully understood them. And while I don't claim to understand everything even after two years, I don't think my understanding is going to deepen much in the next month, so I'm going to go ahead and write. There are a lot of things that turned me off about Morocco and Moroccans two years ago and that I have since learned to appreciate and even like, but at the end of the day, there has never been a moment when I wished that I was girl born in rural Morocco. The next couple of posts are going to be marriage stories about some of the girls I've gotten to know really well here and who have shared their "boy problems" with me (I've changed their names).

(I fully acknowledge that these girls' experiences are not universal across Morocco and may not even be typical, as cities are quickly evolving and becoming more and more "Western" every day, with more and more liberal values. But it's still hard to listen to my friends tell me these stories and ask for advice, when I have no idea what kind of advice to give.)

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's Apple Season in Midelt, the province so proud of its apples that it built this lovely fountain in the center of town:

The month of the year when everyone is employed full-time, and when literally every time I leave my house I come home laden with the sweetest, juiciest apples I've ever eaten, freshly picked from one of the village's orchards. I eat at least four or five apples a day and still acquire them much faster than I'll ever be able to consume them.

I find the apple trade here fascinating - it's well known that the richest people in the area (after the corrupt politicians) are the apple farmers, many of whom have orchards with thousands or tens of thousands of trees. An orchard right outside of my village has 45,000 trees and brings in over a million dollars a year in apple sales. Every morning during picking season, they send trucks out into the surrounding villages at 5am to load up hundreds of workers who then pick apples all day, taking precisely-timed breaks, and then drop them all off in the afternoon, "Grapes of Wrath" style. The richest farmers also build giant refrigerators to store the apples and sell them throughout the year as prices rise.

The perfect, happiest time to be spending my last month in Morocco.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

God-Sanctioned Month of Laziness

Fasting Ramadan would be awful if I had to wake up before noon and leave my house before 5pm and had actual important things to do. But since I don't, I've been accomplishing a lot of lying around and watching TV shows and movies. (Or, "reintroducing myself to American life and culture...") This year's Ramadan accomplishments include:
Season 3 of 30 Rock
Season 3 of How I Met Your Mother
Seasons 5 and 6 of West Wing
The past eight months of Infomania
2 books (making my book-to-tv-episode ratio is about 1:50, embarrassingly low)
At least fifteen hours of Spades, the card game, in its two-, three-, and four-person forms
Seven feature-length movies

In my defense, I start every day at noon, (or one or two pm) by stepping outside and contemplating leaving my house to go do something more useful, but invariably the super hot sun drives me back indoors and back into my nice soft bed. I attempt this venture several times throughout the afternoon, always retreating defeated, to more TV show watching, until 5, my official jogging time (which, in the lazy spirit of the month has turned into a casual walk/jog).

Learning to Pray Well with Others

The big event of this year's month of Ramadan was the opening of a women's prayer room in the mosque. Previously, the men would pray five times a day in the mosque while the women would have to pray in their own homes because they can't pray with men. So this room was a big deal, and for the past few months, all the women have been looking forward to finally being able to pray together in the mosque, and listen to the (equivalent of a) priest give the sermons. No one had any idea how much drama this room would create, however. Basically, a whole village of women have to figure out a set of norms for how to comport themselves in the mosque. Some women have never prayed in a mosque before, some have only when they've traveled to visit relatives living in cities, and everyone has a different idea for how one should act.

Questions that need to be resolved soon because they're making people upset:
• What should one wear to the mosque? When they pray in their own houses, women usually just wrap a sheet around themselves, but is that appropriate for a mosque or should women dress up in their fanciest jalabas?
• What's the appropriate pace for the prayer? Should everyone pray at the same speed since they're all together, or should everyone follow their own pace?
• Is it appropriate to leave once you're done, or do you have to wait until everyone finishes?
• Is it appropriate to bring your young children with you?
• Is it appropriate to answer your cell phone in the middle of the prayer?
• If you come late, should you just jump into the middle of the prayer or start from the beginning by yourself? Should you greet everyone or try to sneak in inconspicuously?
• Is it appropriate to talk amongst yourselves before/after the prayer, or should everyone leave in silence and not talk until they're outside?
• Are there "assigned seats?" Should you give up your place in the front row if one of the old and prominent ladies of the village comes in and wants it?
• Is it appropriate to correct an old lady who isn't following all the right prayer steps in the right order, or should you let her keep making the same mistakes?

As do most dramatic situations in this village, the mosque drama amuses me, as every single night after the evening prayer, the women come home and then spend the next hour ranting and gossiping about who was wearing what, or saying what, or doing what during the prayer, who greeted or didn't greet whom, who knelt next to whom, who came late or brought naughty children or did other shameful things. I've heard a couple of women swear they're never praying in the mosque ever again because of XYZ that so-and-so did. I suppose any big change requires some time to work out the norms, and for everyone to adjust the way they've been praying privately their whole lives to fit the new norms. This is an interesting time, and would be a fun study for some psychologist, because I'm sure that in a few weeks everyone will be following the new unwritten rules of prayer in the mosque as if they'd been praying there forever.

Friday, August 27, 2010

All of Midelt is Chuckling Right Now

The biggest news in our new Province of Midelt is that the president of the province (more or less the equivalent of a state governor) got caught on webcam demanding and accepting bribe money. Here's a link to the video, though if you don't understand Arabic, it's probably not that interesting to watch.

The president is the one who spends the whole time shining his shoes, the other guy is his vice president, and the old man on the left is a guy who runs a little carnival. The carnival guy I guess wanted to keep the carnival up and running in Midelt, but every time they get to the agreed-upon closing date, the president makes the guy give him bribes to keep it open a little longer. The video goes more or less like,

Old man "So how much do you want from me this time? I've already given you a million and a half" (about $1200). I'll give you another million."
President "A million? That's nothing, two! Two million or we don't even have a conversation"
Old man "A million is all I have right now. I'll give you each half a million, and give me til the afternoon to go round up the rest." (hands over the money, bill by bill)
President "This stays between us, if I find out you've told anyone. . . "
Old man "Of course! Who would I tell?"

So now we'll see what happens. Once this video got uploaded to YouTube, the president immediately released a response video, denouncing the video as a fraud, that the old man spliced and diced voices that weren't the president at all, trying to frame him, that he's just a humble former Islamic studies professor who's trying to work to make Midelt a better place for everyone. Last I heard he's waiting to be tried in the big court in Meknes, the nation (or at least me), crossing its fingers hoping a big example will be made of this guy, finally starting a serious and long-overdue war against corruption in Morocco.

Ramadan Reflections, Part II

Surprisingly, the hardest part of the day isn't late afternoon when it's hot and the fast is coming to an end. In my opinion, the worst part of the day is waking up, knowing that you have X number of hours before you can eat or drink. As those hours pass, it gets easier, as I find things to fill that time, and once there's only an hour or two left, I go running, and then sunset comes. The other worst part of the day is right before the sunrise call to prayer, when I'm not hungry or thirsty but feel the need to eat and drink, knowing it'll be fifteen hours before I can eat again. (And knowing that the more water I drink at 4am, the more times I'll have to get up to pee in the middle of the night).

It does feel wrong to be unhappy going to bed every day and then wake up unhappy every morning.

Ramadan Reflections, Second Time Around

For the whole first week of Ramadan this year, I seriously regretted my decision to fast again this year. I had great memories of last year, playing cards all night and getting invited over to break fast at different houses all the time, and feeling this big sense of accomplishment at the end of the month. I think I'd conveniently suppressed the memories of hunger and thirst and days that seem to drag on for weeks. This year just seemed harder and less rewarding. But then I got back to the village after a week of fasting while traveling, and things got easy again. Almost too easy. I could once again sleep until noon and hang out in my nice and cool mud house in my comfortable bed all day. I think I'll survive the month after all.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Naked Chicks

The new biggest joke in the family is how my baby chicks are growing up American, just like their "mother". Proof:
The chicks I brought hang out in a group by themselves and don't seem to like hanging out with the village-born chicks
My chicks refuse to eat bread, eating only expensive chicken food
(And the best one, in my opinion), as soon as it started to get hot out, they pulled out all their feathers and ran around almost naked for a month (I'm pretty sure I could hear the other chicks muttering "hashuma!" (shame on them) under their breaths the whole time)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Nice Guys Looking for Wives

I loaned my camera to some of my host cousins for a couple of days, and when it was returned to me, I found it full of pictures they'd taken of themselves with the express purpose of my showing these pictures to my friends in America who would surely see the pictures and immediately want to marry them. I tried to explain that that's not really how we get married in America, but they were so sure that this tactic would work that I said I'd give it a try. So here are my cousins who are hoping to get married next summer, and are therefore on the hunt for wives. Let me know if you're interested.

Wedding Season Again, and this time I'm Ready for it

Last year I spent who knows how many hundreds of boring hours in hot, stuff, cramped rooms full of women waiting to be served a meal that would almost certainly make me sick the next morning. This year I've decided that wedding season is too short to spend attending the boring parts of weddings, and this year I'm refusing to go anywhere near rooms full of women, and also refusing to eat dinners. The plan is to sleep until about 2 or 3 am, then go to the wedding, hopefully missing the boring parts and showing up just in time for the dancing. We'll see how that strategy works.

Some random wedding reflections I've had this second time around:
Weddings last all night, not because there's anything all that fun happening, just because they're for some reason supposed to. There are often several empty hours in the evening when it feels like people are just waiting for it to get late enough for the wedding to start. The day after a wedding, it's entirely acceptable for an entire village to sleep and lounge around doing nothing literally all day. Sometimes I think maybe just having the excuse to be lazy the next day is the real reason for holding an all-night wedding.
One of my new favorite wedding traditions, which I'd never witnessed until this past weekend, is the public mocking of all the groom's wedding presents to the bride and her family. A representative of the groom's family opens the suitcase full of clothes and gifts, and presents them one by one to the crowd, all the time saying how beautiful each one is, and how lucky the bride is to have such a generous husband. Meanwhile, the men of the bride's family ridicule every article of clothing and the audience dies laughing, except me, since I still don't really understand Moroccan humor.
If you're putting on a wedding, it is extremely important to fairly distribute the wedding cookies. The biggest faux pas in a wedding seems to be accidentally giving one of the guests more or fewer cookies than the other guests. At the wedding my family held for my host brother, we counted and recounted every little dessert plate of cookies to make absolutely sure that everyone received exactly nine cookies, one of each of the nine varieties. At a wedding in Rabat I helped at, the women spent hours the night before arguing about how to arrange the 30 varieties of cookies on trays for each table, so that every guest would eat not only the same number of cookies, but the same number of "fancy" cookies (ones made with almonds). At some point around 3am in the middle of the cookie arranging, I was like, "seriously, guys, are people actually going to get upset about the number of cookies they do or don't get?" The answer was yes.
After a wedding, no matter how nice or fancy or expensive or fun it was, everyone spends the next few days talking about how it was nothing compared to their wedding, or the wedding they just held for their son/daughter/sister/brother, etc. When I got back from this wedding in Rabat, which to this point was the nicest, fanciest and most expensive wedding I'd been to, everyone in the village saw the need to bring out pictures and videos from previous weddings, and to point out all the flaws of the Rabat wedding.
Weddings are supposedly the best place to meet a future husband/wife, and girls get really excited about the possibility of getting noticed by some guy at a wedding. And yet there is zero interaction between young men and young women at weddings. The women and girls sit on one side, and only dance with each other, and the men and boys hover around the edges and also only dance with each other.
I have a Moroccan "kaftan" that I wear to every wedding. When I wear this kaftan in the village, I'm among the best-dressed women there. I wore this same kaftan to the wedding in Rabat a few weeks ago, and felt like a big country bumpkin next to the super fancy, sparkly dresses the women were wearing. I found out later that most people when they go to a fancy wedding rent a really fancy dress just for the night, and they're only like $10-15 to rent. The bride also usually rents her outfits, and throughout the night will change clothes several times, but all the dresses are brought by the wedding planner and returned in the morning. Pretty good system, actually.

Cutest Pastime Ever

Every spring, souk is full of baby chicks for sale. And everyone thinks the same thing: "this 6 dirham chick will grow up to be a 50 dirham chicken, let's buy a bunch". I decided to do a chicken-rearing experiment, and bought 50 chicks. Within the first two days, 41 of them had died inexplicably. Within the next week, another two got eaten by one of the neighborhood cats. I admit I've become a little obsessed with making sure nothing happens to the seven that remain. Which means several hours a day of babysitting chicks, protecting them from cats. Not as boring as it sounds, actually. My seven hang out with the 12 chicks that my neighbors are raising (all that remain from an initial 37) and each of the 19 has its own personality (one really likes to hunt ants, one really likes to go exploring in my house, one likes to sit in the corner by itself and stare at the wall, some sleep standing up and some sleep like ducks with their heads under their wings, one likes to stretch its legs a lot, a couple like to run sprints back and forth across the courtyard, and they all have their own best friends that they hang out with.)

My favorite little quirk: A few of them think they're turkeys, since one of our turkeys accidentally sat on some chicken eggs until they hatched; neither the turkey nor the chicks have noticed yet that they're not actually related.

What Might Have Been

I went back to the states for two weeks with the express purpose of not thinking about couscous or associations for two whole weeks. My plans were foiled by an email that arrived the minute I arrived at my brother's house: Williams and Sonoma was in the market for a hand-rolled couscous to sell in their 260 stores across the states, and had found our association through a Google search on hand-rolled couscous. To make a long story short, we didn't end up getting the contract, but for about a week, all I could think about was how I could deliver 1000 pounds of couscous per month (about the same quantity that we made in all of 2009) to the US. Daunting, yes, but I think I could have pulled it off. This is how:

Williams and Sonoma would pay us about $2.50 per pound of couscous (more than double what we normally sell it for in Morocco), packaged and labeled to their standards and delivered to the port in Casablanca. They would then ship it to the states and to their stores, where it would sell for about $10 a pound. In order to crank out a thousand pounds a month, we'd set up at least two satellite rolling-centers, in two of the other villages (the Izzies and the Tabbies), and each group would make 300-400 pounds, or as much as they could. With a group of 4-5 women able to roll about 40 pounds of couscous in an afternoon, they'd have to work rolling 2-3 times a week, for 5-6 hours a day. I'd come gather the couscous weekly on a donkey, put it in huge sacs, and then when we'd finished the 1000 pounds, hire one of the sheep vans to drive it to Casablanca. A handful of my brothers and other guys from the village and I would go to this glass company that makes glass jars, go to the lid company to buy lids for those jars, then probably rent a hotel room and spend a couple of days jarring and weighing and sealing the jars, labeling them, then delivering them to a waiting container at the port headed for America. Since as a Peace Corps volunteer, I wouldn't be able to take any of that money for myself, here's the impact an extra influx of $1200 per month (after you subtract from the $2500 the price of ingredients, jars, labels and gasoline to transport them to Casablanca) would have on this tiny village:

15-20 currently unemployed women would have an income of 400-500 dirhams per month each (more than what my host family of 8 spends per month on food, or enough to pay the room and board and tuition to send two children to middle or high school).

My brother who currently sells dishes in souq would make as much in a weekend of transporting couscous to Casablanca as he makes in several weeks now

A handful of young men who currently do nothing but hang out on the street corner would have a week's worth of work per month

The association would still have some money left over to invest in community improvements or activities every month

And the giant "Couscous" sign we installed at the dirt road turnoff into the village wouldn't be quite so ironic

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Vote for my Summer Camp Project

This will only take a second, and might help me get $500 to hold a summer camp in my village this summer.

I applied for a grant from Kids to Kids, an organization that raises money for kid-related projects led by Peace Corps volunteers. The projects that get the most votes will be funded, so it would be great if you could take a second and go vote for my project.

click on "vote now". (you have to put in your email address, but you don't have to confirm subscription to the mailing list if you don't want to)

My project is called The First Ever Iztat Summer Camp. You can find it easily if you filter by country and only look at the Morocco projects.

Thanks! I'll let you know how it goes!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Presenting the 2010 Kookie and Izzie running teams

Some volunteers in nearby Midelt decided to put together a race. Each little village could bring ten little kids to participate in the 1km run. I decided this would be a fun thing to make a big deal out of in my villages, so we started training in late March, and then in late April, a few days before the race, held qualifying races in each village to pick the official 10-person team. The qualifying races themselves became a village event; parents came out to watch and all the teenage boys served as referees or track markers or pacers.
Pictures from the qualifying races:

Painting jerseys for each team:

The Official 2010 teams:

Singing all the way home:

The Camels at Last!

After more than a year of hearing about the camel herd on top of the plateau but never seeing them with my own eyes, I decided a few months ago to make it a point to go find these camels. I asked everyone I knew where they were, and the answer is always, "take this path, go over those hills and they're right there." Three times I set out in search of them, following those directions and trekking up and down hills and through canyons on my bike, finding nothing, and every time I'd come home unsuccessful, all the people of the village would tell me, "just take that path, go over those hills and they're right there." Then one day, one of my neighbors came running into the house and told me to get my bikes, we're going to the camels. And there they were.

Me milking one

Collecting camel urine (supposedly medicinal)

Playful baby camels

The Land of Rainbows

Maybe one of the best things about Morocco is its incredibly high frequency of rainbows. They happen all the time, several times a week. Here are a few I've managed to capture on camera; for every rainbow I catch on film, there are dozens that go by unphotographed, but still very appreciated.

And Now I have Two Curly-Eared Friends

My goat Chantel had her baby! Here are the first baby pics:

Her name is Dolce, because she looks exactly like the cute little girl from my favorite Mexican soap opera:

It doesn't get any more "Classic Peace Corps" than this

A few days last month, the volunteers in the area and I decided to go into all the tiny primary schools in the area and talk to the kids about tooth-brushing and handwashing, and about not smoking. 7am on Wednesday, I left my village and biked three hours to the big dam/lake halfway between my village and Midelt, where the other volunteers were coming from. Though I'd done this bike trip before, I'd never actually reached the dam, which turns out to be one of the most impressive sights I've seen so far in Morocco, though oddly it's closed to the public.

We biked back three hours to my village, rested for a few minutes, then got back on our bikes to head out into one of the even smaller villages nearby, to a school of 20 kids, backpacks full of toothbrushes and toothpaste to distribute, feeling like we were those classic Peace Corps volunteers from the 70s, biking hours through the brush, dodging mean dogs and carrying our bikes over ditches and through swamps and sand to go help children in places with no roads and taxis. (We of course could have arrived at all of these schools in cars, on relatively nice dirt roads, but that wouldn't have been nearly as fun, would it?)