Training of Trainers Project

July 11, 2011

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Since my last entry (which I wrote several weeks ago but didn’t get around to posting until now) there have been several major advancements in my project, and a major work/fun week.

First the project update:

After returning from the VAST training in Rabat I needed to pick up the data Jed collected on condom usage and distribution of medication for STIs in Itzer. I invited my counterpart Abdlrahim to come with me to Itzer so we could get the data and any last advice from Jed who was about to head home, bringing to a close his three year service. Well an easy pick up turned into 3 hours of project planning, assisted by Jed but largely run by Abdlrahim and Zineb. Our little project of teaching HIV and STI prevention in Itzer ballooned into a major training of trainers (or ToT, a type of project heavily pushed by Peace Corps with the “teach a man to fish…” proverb in mind). In this case it will be a training of nurses, youth center directors, health association presidents and members, and PCVs. If all goes according to plan the training will be two full days in the second week of September, run with material support from Peace Corps, and train around 50 people all together. After the training participants will return to the communities they work in and do six weeks of data collection like what was done in Itzer, before doing community focused trainings of their own with PCV support. After this second tier of trainings we will wait three months, for information and behavior change to hopefully disseminate in the communities and then do another six weeks of data collection to see what sort of an impact we’ve had. This major training will be to my knowledge the largest Peace Corps training of HCN (Host Country Nationals) on how to teach about HIV/AIDS and STIs in recent history. Daunting? Very, but so far everything is going without a hitch.

Last Tuesday I spent all day with Abdlrahim in Midelt meeting with Ministry of Health (MoH) officials. First we met with his direct boss, the head doctor in Midelt, who was extremely supportive of what we are doing, believed it was important work in our region, liked our project model specifically, and even introduced us to the president of an HIV/AIDS Association in Midelt who has experience teaching about HIV/AIDS and is excited to help us with the logistical side of things (and better yet he has a lot of volunteer friends and is the first English speaking member of the project!). In the afternoon we met with the Ministry Delegate (aka the head honcho of health in Midelt), who asked some great questions to flush out our plan, advised us on our selection of towns to bring people from in order to better represent the whole province, and provided us with names of health related associations in each of towns who were registered with MoH. All together it was an very successful day of meetings.

Last night I met briefly with Abdlrahim, who had met earlier that day on his own with Zineb to go over the materials they received from Peace Corps, and found out that he had been approved to take 20 days of vacation from his normal work duties to work solely on this project. This was an exciting development as the true role of a PCV is not to organize and run projects solo, rather our job is to support Moroccans to organize and run projects on themselves. I am now on the train to Rabat for a medical exam (hurt my wrist while playing capoeira at the Gnaoua Music Festival, after work that is) (update on wrist: no fracture! Just hurts so I’m getting a brace). I hope to meet with Mustapha, my programming staff, to talk about the project and work out what resources Peace Corps can provide, and to nail down the logistics of the event.

Ten months left and if all goes according to plan, this whole project will be done just two weeks before I finish my service. An exciting year ahead, and as a result there will likely be more frequent blog posts to come.


VAST training

July 11, 2011

June 5, 2011

Well I just got back from a full week in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco and home to Peace Corps Headquarters. Arriving last Saturday, the work week started with a Sunday-Monday ToT (Training of Trainers), where we were the ones being trained to work a health table at the Gnaoua music festival in Essouiara at the end of this month. The training was run very well and focused on talking points for advocating anti-huffing and convincing people to get tested for HIV and other STIs (a service we will be able to provide on site with the help of the Moroccan NGO ALCS). I had a free day on Tuesday that was spent on the beach, where I went kayaking and played capoeira. Wednesday was my Mid Service Medical Exam that went smoothly with the exception of a brief torn meniscus scare that was resolved with a clear MRI. That night I moved in to an extremely fancy hotel for training on HIV/AIDS (SIDA in French) related projects (a normal price for a double room at hotels I stay at costs around 150Dh this one cost 1700Dh!).

All the PCVs at the training brought one or two Moroccan counterparts with them whom they hope to work on a SIDA project with back in their sites. This was a great opportunity to talk candidly about HIV/AIDS, the transmission of the virus, and the misconceptions about the virus held by many Moroccans. The nurse I have become friends with in Boumia, Abdlrahim, met up with me in Rabat and actually ended up being the only counterpart there with a medical background. The training covered a lot over the three days including what I’ve already mentioned as well as project planning and design. The most interesting part was our “field trip” to Casablanca on Friday to meet with Association du Jour, an HIV/AIDS association started by HIV+ Moroccans that provides support to people living with the virus. Two of their more impressive services are free counseling by a professional psychologist, and a boarding house where people from outside Casablanca can stay while they have medical appointments. This was the first time almost all of the Moroccans in our group, as well as many of the volunteers, had met HIV+ people, their reactions during discussion the next day very interesting. The most universal one was the realization that there is no way to tell from looking at someone if they have HIV. So many doctors and other health professionals here talk about symptoms of the illness that you can see, so our counterparts assumed they would see at least some of these signs, but there were none, the people were just like them. Another take away was that everyone is at risk not just poor people.

To close the training we all worked on project planning for our own sites. Abdlrahim and I partnered with Margo and her counterpart Zineb from Itzer (a town with very similar problems as mine and only 20 minutes away). We will begin organizing activities in Itzer first since there has been data collected on condom sales, which will be our baseline to measure success from. At the same time we will begin the same data collection in Boumia before engaging in projects so as to measure success rate. With Abdlrahim fully engaged as he is in the project, and the desire of Zineb to work on issues in Itzer I have high hopes for this work to start moving along. I am very excited to finally have what feels like real work to be doing. The challenge of increasing condom usage is great but I think we can at least start to make some sort of impact.

Dad’s Visit and Couscous

July 11, 2011

This is the first of many back logged updates I will be posting this evening. I will not be fulfilling all of the teasers from the last post but at least this one will have a major cooking portion. Read up and enjoy. The most recent post without a date attached was written today.

April 9, 2011

Last month I had the joy of a weeklong visit from my Dad and Uncle Jimmy, aka James or JB. Our first three days we spent in Fez. Having picked up my Morocco guidebooks for the first time just nights before, I was able to take us to beautiful treasures in the medina that despite my many stays in Fez I had never seen. (Most of these sights can be seen in my facebook photo album “Fez with Dad.” When I find the time to change the link to the right to Flickr instead of Picasa so I can upload straight from iPhoto, you’ll be able to find them there.) However, more than just showing them the beauty of the maze that makes up the old medina, I was excited that they were able to experience the sense of community at the heart of why I love Fez. Right after they arrived, while waiting to meet up with the building manager of Dar Bennis, we ran into David Amster, the owner of Dar Bennis and Director of the American Language Center in Fez, as well as one of my close Moroccan friends Camilea who works at Café Clock. Then when we arrived at Dar Bennis, a beautifully renovated medina home, I noticed we were located literally around the corner from my good friend Omar Chennafi, a rising freelance photographer and native of Fez. During our stay we ran into Omar several more times out and about as well as many Peace Corps volunteers in town for both work and play.

While in Fez we had the treat of spending a good deal of time with David who gladly shared his bountiful knowledge of the architecture and history of Fez. He also gave us a tour of his current renovation project, a true medina palace, photos of which can be seen in the album mentioned above. As we made our way through the medina it seemed as though every shop owner told us they knew David and so would give us a good deal.

Leaving Fez we made our way to my site Boumia. The true highlight here was what I have mentioned before as the “food experience.” My Dad and James wanted to learn the Moroccan way of making couscous and my host mom, Halima, was more than happy to oblige. You see here in Morocco couscous is not a 10 minute meal where you boil the dry grain in some water and serve. Here it is a 2-3 hour process. First, the veggies, meat, and spices that will be the center piece of the dish are all placed in a tall cauldron like pot of water and placed on the stove top. Once brought to a boil the couscous, with a small amount of oil worked in, is placed in a metal pot with a perforated bottom that fits on top of the steaming cauldron with all the goodies cooking underneath. After 30 min over the steam the couscous is dumped into a large ceramic dish and fluffed by hand. A small amount of water is added by way of quickly dousing your hands before fluffing, primarily to counteract the heat, possibly to add more moisture to the mixture, but sometimes this is left out, depending on how tough you are feeling at the moment. This fluffed couscous is then returned to its place over the steam and the process is repeated two or three more times as needed. All the mixing is done in a large ceramic dish and when the cooking is complete the couscous is spread over the whole dish, and the contents of the cauldron are then ladled on top. At all the key stages of the process, James took video while Halima explained through me what she was doing and why. She was delighted to share this integral part of her culture with us. Two questions that came up were what spices are used and do you leave the meat in the whole time? The spices are the typical Moroccan spices mentioned earlier, the most notable being cumin. Halima basically pointed at her spices and said all of them. As for the meat, whether it is chicken, lamb, or goat (or fat, or utter, or lamb head, or any other part of the animal you feel like tossing in), Halima’s response was you take it out when it’s done, aka figure it out.

A word of warning James can attest to: be very careful when fluffing the couscous! It gets just as hot as our couscous does in boiling water and my host mom just digs her hands in, but I think it’s safe to assume she just a bit tougher than the rest of us. I’m sure it would be fine to use spatulas or some other utensil to fluff the couscous. This is a very important stage for Moroccans and the couscous definitely turns out… well to put it simply, fluffier. And the last thing Halima would want me to tell you, is that while you can have it any day of the week, you can expect to have it on Fridays in Morocco.

Food and Cooking in the Maghreb

March 7, 2011

One of the best things about Peace Corps has been the food experience. I’ll explain later why I clarify with the food “experience.” The Moroccan cuisine is pretty straightforward and very similar from region to region. The staples are Tajine, cous cous, beans, soups, and something volunteers like to call fat bread. The beans and soups are simple, the cous cous takes many hours of steaming and tossing and steaming and tossing to prepare, and fat bread is exactly as it sounds: bread cooked with a layer of fat, oil and limited veggies in the middle and if you are lucky ground beef or chicken. Tajine is a dish all tourists know they have to try in Morocco, and is truly the daily staple dish. The dish is cooked in a ceramic cone and base of the same name, in the center is a piece of lamb or chicken, piled on top of this is a pyramid of sliced potatoes, carrots, turnips, and other veggies that may be in season, often this means pumpkin or cauliflower in my region. Everything is generously doused in oil and some water and then cooked on a stovetop on medium heat for 30 minutes or so. After the veggies have been cooked far past any real nutritional value the meal is placed in the middle of a table and the whole family eats it using bread as a utensil. That is right, every bite of the meal contains a piece of bread and most of the meal consists of potatoes… that is a lot of carbs.

All of the dishes are cooked with a similar array of spices, the most prominent and signature of these being cumin. With all of the carbs, cumin, and oil consumed when eating with host country nationals, and the ready availability of truly fresh ingredients, I find that volunteers develop exceptional dishes of their own. As a result, when volunteers get together one thing you can always count on is good food. Next week I’ll tell you about one such experience I had recently at a Volunteer Support Network training. Oh and I’ll also talk about the training.


And We’re Back!

August 28, 2010

And we’re back! Since the last time I posted an updated a great deal has happened.  For starters, not long after my last post I finally decided my nagging wrist pain needed a real checking out. It had been about two and a half months since arriving in country, and still not feeling it get better (it hurt when I put weight on it but otherwise was fine) even with the wrist brace the PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) had quickly provided me with. So just a couple of weeks into my second home stay I found myself headed to Rabat to get an x-ray. I made the journey with several environment volunteers headed there for mid service medical exams, who were kind enough to show me how to get there and then show me around the city. On the way we joked that one of them knew the our hotel manager already because he had made the trip to Rabat seven times during his service in just his first year. Little did I expect to find myself just over two months later in the same family of volunteers who know the fair capital city of Morocco oh too well. I left at the end of the week with a good ol’ hard cast most people remember from childhood. Turns out I had a scaphoid fracture in my wrist, an injury commonly associated with bar room brawls. But the week was not entirely a bust. My timing not only coincided with mid service medicals giving me the rare opportunity to spend almost a week with an entire stage (gatherings of which only occur four times in each stage’s Peace Corps experience), but also lined up perfectly with the annual Mawazine world music festival.  In what I liked to see as a silver lining to getting a cast at the start of summer I saw two amazing west African concerts, Thievery Corporation, and… wait for it… Elton John! All for free! I will admit that a great portion of the Elton John concert included songs I had never heard, but his encore of first the Lion King’s “Circle of Life” (nice Africa call out) and then “Your Song” was the perfect way to end a trip and a week spent with new friends. (Of course the incredible DJ at the after party mixing Red Hot Chili Peppers into a club dance song only to be joined by one of the best Spanish guitarists I have personally ever seen didn’t hurt either).

My return to site found me back at home with my wonderful host family getting settled into my life here. These tasks included locating an apartment (no I do not live in a mud hut, there are volunteers here, a large number who live in mud homes, which is actually preferable in the freezing winters, no indoor heating and all that), applying for my Carte de Sejour (Residency Permit) so I wouldn’t be deported (requires much more than just waiting in line), working on my language, and learning how to bathe with a cast (bucket baths are actually easier for this than showers). I made it out of site a couple of weekends, including an Alice in Wonderland party, and a trip to the Sacred Music Festival in Fez for the headline opener, it was supposed to be Ben Harper but I was more than happy to find out he had canceled last-minute and been replaced by Amadou and Miriam. Known as the “blind couple from Mali” they put on a phenomenal three-hour performance with no breaks. While the tickets may have been expensive (at 300Dh they tickets are a normal concert ticket price of $35 but generally far out of a PCVs price range) the concert, set in an ancient castle where the volunteers in attendance started the movement to get the seated crowd of tourists and wealthy Moroccans up and dancing in front of the stage (really there was no other option, just listen to the music on their website The whole experience reminded me a) why I rarely regret the purchase of any concert ticket, and b) how much I love the friends I have made in Peace Corps.

I’m sure this is starting to sound the same way it did to my parents when I would give them updates: like the movie “Volunteers” isn’t too far off point. Well I had the same feeling when I arrived at my Post Pre-Service Training at the end of last month (you’d think they could come up with a better name right?). On my way to the two-week training in Ouarzazate with the Health stage back together again in our entirety (well minus two) I had spent twice as many nights living in a hotel in Rabat than in my apartment I had moved into on the first of July, and that’s not including when I got my cast on. I spent a full two weeks in Rabat expecting to stay only 3 days. Luckily I quickly became friends with housekeeping who gave me a much larger room with a balcony, and for a small fee would do my laundry for me, a much-needed service in mid-July even with a shower. By the end of training I’d spent four out of five weeks in a row living in hotels. This left me at a fresh beginning point when I finally arrived back in site, three days before the start of Ramadan.

Ramadan has been interesting, fun, and not as difficult as expected, but with it’s unique annoyances. The schedule of eating breakfast at 7:00pm, then again at 1:00am, only to come home to sleep under a window with no curtains and wake up at 7:00am, makes afternoon naps necessary, and life painful if you miss them. Luckily the food is not as sweet as I had expected, although in no way is it healthy for you. To break fast (they actually use the same word for breakfast even though I’m almost certain it doesn’t break down into parts the way it does in English) we pretty much eat the same thing every day. First you must have at least one date, or two+ depending on how hungry you are at the moment, then out comes the fat bread (bread baked with a middle layer of fat, chopped up carrots, olives if you’re lucky, and sometimes chicken meat or chicken liver), hardboiled eggs with salt and cumin, and chebakia, which is essentially a fried sesame cookie soaked in honey (couldn’t handle it the first time I had it but now love it, much to the chagrin of my teeth). Then after stuffing yourself with all of the fat bread etc, out comes the harrira, which is a spice and salt heavy soup with chick peas and, if you’re at my family’s, some noodles, delicious but with the prospect of having two bowls forced on top of an already full stomach it starts not sounding as good.

On the work side of things I have just started making a routine out of spending time at my sbitar (health clinic), and hope to start working with a nurse from a neighboring town next week. More on all of that later, as well as on the regular TV shows on during Ramadan meals and their accommodating nature. I hope to blog more regularly now that I feel more or less fully settled in, so I would love comments and questions about Morocco, Peace Corps, or anything in general really (I’ve kind-of been having a craving to do research on the economic situation of Rwanda recently so that might tell you where I’m at on answering any and all queries). Hope you enjoy this and what’s to come.

PS. I may have gotten the title for this post from the gchat automated comment after a disconnection… well either way it’s firmly imprinted in my mind at this point as a catchy return.

Taxis, PCVs, and Mountains

May 17, 2010

16 May 2010

Sorry I haven’t updated in a while. I could go back and do a summary update of everything that’s been going on the past several weeks, but I’d rather just start fresh with the thoughts of today.

Riding in a taxi full of PCVs, some brand new like myself, others on their way to Rabat for COS (Close of Service) medical exams and departure home, the beauty of my surroundings and my place in them struck me. Rising majestically to our right were the High Atlas Mountains coated lightly with a fresh layer of snow. Yes that’s right, fresh snow in late May. There we are filling the old Mercedes Benz with the standard Moroccan seating arrangement: two people in the front passenger seat, and four in the back seat. No taxi will leave until all six of these positions are full, you may choose to buy out a seat if you are in a rush, but all six of these seats must at least be claimed by either an occupant or cash before departure. Leaving a town at the foot of the Mountains we were all wearing multiple sweaters with jackets and many had donned their long underwear for the weekend. Not the blazing hot desert climate that often comes to mind when thinking about Morocco. Bordering the one lane, two-way road our taxi was speeding along (dropping to first gear of course and occasionally stalling out in the process of crossing potholes as slowly as possible to preserve the ancient loaded down machine) were the rolling grass fields, which have brought some new volunteers to the conclusion that our Morocco more resembles Switzerland or Ireland (when the mountains are hidden from view) than the Morocco of our stereotypical imaginations. With shepherds and their herds of sheep and goats spotting the fields or taking up half the road, and not a single complete home structure in sight (occasional structures lacking roofs used to house livestock), even in the direction of the mountains, we were truly out there. And to think such open undeveloped spectacular land could be found during the mere 45 min ride back to my site.

This morning we said goodbye to Duncan, a superstar of a health volunteer who we will all wish to be as integrated and successful as, and who I will most certainly pester with questions and ideas about my new and challenging site. He is the person most responsible for my placement here, the decision for me to learn Arabic in a Tamazight/Arabic speaking region, and who has entrusted me with pursuing the health issues surrounding sex-workers he wished he had been able to do more of. I hope that with the guidance of his blog, and the team of dedicated and hard working volunteers in my region, we will able to at least make some first steps that can be built upon in the years to come by other volunteers.

But of course before all that can happen I need to get a letter from the Ministry of Health that says I am actually working with them before my guest Visa runs out on June 3rd… but more on that situation and on my meeting last week with the Ministry of Health in Khenifra in my next post.

(Pictures of the aforementioned landscape will be taken Tuesday, inshallah, and I will try to post them soon after. Please let me know if there are any particular questions, or topic areas you would like me to address.)

Site announcement

April 19, 2010

Starting just before our last hub (hub is when we go back to ouarzazate) we began being invited over to each host family for tea after school. While we had already had tea at most of the houses just by chance, this time it was planned so there was a good deal of preparation that went on. We recently learned in a meeting with all the host mothers (as well as other women and two men, my father one of them) that if you tell someone ahead of time that you are coming over they will go out and buy food from the store and do a lot of preparation for your visit. Here it is completely ok and less imposing if you just show up, because then both parties know to expect only what happens to be on hand.

The tea visits began at my house actually. My family had me make the tea for the first time, which involves a lot of sugar, basic Chinese green tea, and a sprig of fresh mint or absinthe or a plant they call louiza (the last one is the strongest flavor and my favorite, but I’m really not sure what it is in English). With our whole group, my family, and others who had come to prepare, I was pouring tea for about 15 people. In addition to the tea there was delicious sweet breads, fried bread, honey, jam, cake, peanuts and almonds, olives with oil and red pepper seasoning, and much more. We had a wonderful time. My family is truly amazing, fun and kind. Then last week, we proceeded to go for tea three more days. Each time the offering of sweets became more and more bountiful. There are a few pictures from tea at my house and then several from the last place on Friday. Capping off the competitive vibe, Aisha (pronounced Aeesha), Avery’s host mom, decided to invite us over for dinner on Friday instead of tea. For dinner there were two full chickens, fuls (pronounced fool) beans (not sure what they are in English but the are very large and green), and warm kanoon bread (partially whole wheat, cooked in a large ceramic bread oven, flat like pita). For desert buttered and oiled vermicelli pasta with powdered sugar and cinnamon, followed by fresh oranges and bananas.

On that Thursday, we all played soccer with the kids in the town, all of whom are our siblings or friends of siblings, girls against guys. Tina (Mina) organized it the day before when she played with them. It was the perfect stereotypical image of American PC volunteers playing soccer with local children. We were on a dirt/rock field, which is really just a flatish open space across the road from the mosque, 25-30 kids ages 8-14 playing, 10 kids ages 2-7 watching/playing on their own next to the game, and a group of mothers watching and laughing from a distance. At the end of the game we said we might be able to play on Friday at 6:00 again and boy were they mad when we didn’t show because we had tea! Immediately after tea on our walk back we ran into the group of girls who grilled us on why and made us promise to play on Monday after we were back from our weekend off. Then on Saturday as I walked to school I saw three of the ringleaders of the soccer boys in the road on their way to school too. They stopped and waited for me to catch up and then made me explain why I wasn’t there and explain why I couldn’t play over the weekend, until they agreed that it was ok as long as we played the next Monday (aka today). The main one of those three that I know the best and is most forward checked with me again yesterday to make sure we were still on for today. We are continuing to play with them both because it is fun but also because we are incorporating the activity into our final project we have to implement in our CBT community. We will organize a game on one of our last days in town, make it official with timed breaks, and teach about the importance of staying well hydrated in the heat. We have also made a poster on the topic that Peace Corps can use and duplicate in the future.

This past weekend we had off, so our group decided to go to a town about 45 min up the road where the annual rose festival takes place in late May, Kelaat Mgouna. We talked with other CBT groups before the weekend about our plan, and ended up seeing easily half of all of the health trainees in the same town, most at the same hotel. Ben also came down from his site just 10 min up the road so that was a lot of fun to catch up with him. On Saturday, a group of us walked around the town, went to a dagger cooperative where a current PCV has done a lot of work, and just explored generally. It was really great to experience walking around with a group of about 6 people who were all just so relaxed and easygoing that we were all completely comfortable wandering aimlessly through a town we didn’t know and turning where we felt might be right to get back, more on this topic soon. Saturday evening, 9 of us made dinner at a local PCV’s apartment. He was an artist and had a pretty big place, small business development sector; he was the one who worked with the dagger cooperative. He had built a lot of furniture, like his main dining room table, a freestanding desk like counter in his kitchen, and stepladder. I took pictures of how he made some of it and talked to him about materials/tools. I definitely hope to build some things in my own site too.

On Sunday, Avery, Adam, and I got up early and headed up the valley to Hidida with Nina (who knows a friend of mine from CMC), Alyssa, and Ben. Hidida is the site of another CBT that we had heard was beautiful but we didn’t really know what to expect. It ended up being absolutely amazing. I have pictures to post from there as well as some that Avery took that I’m going to get from him. We walked down to the river and crossed two bridges. As we were figuring out how to cross back over, four young boys forded the river. Walking up the cliff over the side of the river we went through fields to a small village, the boys followed and by the time we were in the center of the village the four had grown to a group of about 12 children. They led/followed us through the village, probably wondering who the hell we were, speaking five different languages (English, French, Darija, Tamazight, and Taschelhight) and only understanding Tam and Tasch. Made our way back across the river and through yet another town and into more fields. Eventually the boys told us they had to go home for lunch and left us to continue on, at about the same time we reached the foot of the nearest tall set of cliffs overhanging the valley. Nina suggested we head up, and when asked why she simply responded, “just to go up.” When the group response was “ok” we all just turned and headed up the mountainside. Nina was amazed, and pointed out that all of her friends back home would have complained and never gone along with the idea. As our trek up continued, with a break on top of a large rock cliff for peanuts and oranges, we kept talking about how great it was to be around so many other people who are always up for a random adventure, especially those that involve leaving the beaten path, often literally. All in all the break weekend was amazing, we had no idea what to expect in Hidida and were just blown away and had a perfect exciting and long hike there.

On that note, I’d like to mention that the current trip planned with everyone in my CBT as well as a bunch of other volunteers who jumped at the idea, is a West African Music Festival in Timbuktu, January 2012. The other one that is definitely happening at some point is Paris, because we have at least two places to stay there and it’s super cheap from Marrakech.

Daily type stuff:

Today we went to souk like we do every Monday. We walk an hour and a half to get there and then take transit back. We have started being referred to as “the hiking group.” Souk is fun and definitely doable, not overwhelming like you might imagine. Everyone is fairly relaxed, sometimes we see people we know, for instance today we saw Caity’s Mom and Dad, and my father as well. Caity’s mom hit her on the butt with her souk bag, and my father got my attention while I was buying peanuts by running his shopping list back and forth across the back of my neck. Today was a little different because after all of our shopping was done, Aziz (our LCF) took Avery and I to buy jellabas, the robe things. I spotted a blue summer one that Avery ended up really liking as well so we both bought the same one, paid 200DH for it. Our plan is to wear them over our nice clothes for swearing in.

We head back to Hub this Thursday (the day I’ll be emailing this) and find out our final site placement at 4:00. We had our final interviews last week, and mine went really well I think. A lot of our placement is based on our resume so my interview consisted of a lot of focus on my leadership and organizational training, and some on health. I was asked in a round about and then direct way if a larger site would intimidate me and I said no, so I’m excited about that if it pans out. Rashid, the head of site placement and training for health who also did the interviews, said that my interview only confirmed the site he had in mind for me, which is very encouraging for me since I feel like I really conveyed my ideal situation to him. In the end it all comes down to Thursday though. Everyone is getting really excited to finally know what our next two years are going to look like. In an attempt to cut the stress of the announcement a bit, Jackie (who you met on skype) with the help of Adam from my group came up with the plan to have a silent rave/dance party on the roof of our hotel for half an hour before the announcement. So everyone will have their own iPods and dance to their own music but all together at the same time. It should be really fun. After announcement we’ll be in Ouarzazate for two nights, and head to our sites for a week on Saturday. We come back the next Saturday to Ouarz, CBT (Oulad Elarabia) on Sunday, and spend our last week in our CBTs. We then return to Ouarzazate next Sunday, have swearing in that Wednesday, and head to our final sites on that Thursday.

Email turned Blog post

April 2, 2010


Email turned blog post:

Apparently Morocco is one of the most desired programs and I can tell why. We are well funded and strongly supported by the Moroccan government. There are about 250 volunteers in Morocco split between four categories: Youth Development, Small Business Development, Rural Community Health, and Environment. My training stage totals about 70 people and is split between Health and Environment. The big news this month has been a raise of $50 per month to our resettlement pay, which is given upon completion of service. Our total resettlement pay comes to $7,150 (26 months at $275/month). Of course, the lack of information provided by Peace Corps before training about schedules, placement, expectations, etc continues through training. We work off of an irregular pay system for walk around money and food right now (annoying the CMCer inside of me), and still don’t find out about our final placements until April 15th. And while I complain about the pay system, I definitely feel like I have plenty of money for eating out when I’m back at the Hub site from my home stay.

I am definitely one of the lucky ones who get to learn Darija/Moroccan Arabic. Out of 38 people in my Health stage only seven of us are learning Arabic. The rest are learning one of two Berber dialects. Also, as a health volunteer I feel as though my job is more set up for me than volunteers in other sectors. At my site I will be paired with a local health clinic, or ‘sbitar’. When I start at my site I will have work hours at the sbitar, most likely 9-5 Mon-Fri. I have weekends off and after the first three months in site can use those weekends to travel within Morocco without taking vacation days, which accrue at 2 days per month. During this time I’ll also be working on getting my bearings in the community, establishing myself, and either doing research on what the community needs or continuing a project started by a previous volunteer. There is about a 50% chance I’ll be at a new site verses replacing an existing volunteer.

As for those travel days, my CBT has already made a pact to celebrate Halloween in the far south site of Tata with whichever of us ends up getting placed there. Then in January, discussion has begun on trekking to Timbuktu for an annual West African music festival in the desert. It’s going to be a great two years.

Sbitar visit

March 25, 2010


So who would have thought there would be other perfectionists in the Peace Corps? Well my perfectionist tendencies were well satisfied today with my CBT’s community map. Straight roads (bending reality), perfect color-coded buildings, palm trees, and even a compass rose and distance scale. This map is just one part of our community analysis project we are working on over this twelve-day stretch. Over the past week we have been meeting with school teachers, city security administrators, educated community members we encounter in the fields, asking questions of our families, and capping the week with a trek to the local health clinic. The sbitar (health clinic) was very small and was inoperative for five years until four months ago when a new building finished construction and a single nurse was assigned to the jurisdiction of 17 villages, with a total of 5,600 people. After walking about an hour to get there (mind you this is the closest health service location people in my town have and they can’t deal with any emergencies) we spent several hours asking questions. Well we actually only asked about six questions, the rest of the time the only nurse there was addressing the constant stream of locals coming in for services. This single nurse sees 50 to 60 people in the clinic a day. For the few hours we were there we counted about 20.

After another absolutely delicious lunch we took our post lunch break/naptime, resulting in a very groggy and probably our least driven language session to date. After our afternoon coffee and tea break we had the energy to create the aforementioned map of our community and surrounding area. I absolutely love my group. I spent all day today bonding with various people during the course of our walks. I feel very lucky to be with working with such driven people. Our time at the sbitar gave us a very clear idea of what our next two years might be like. When we asked the nurse/manager what she would have one of us do if we were assigned to her clinic, she had very clear jobs she needed done: community outreach for the clinic involving education about vaccinations, sanitation, and pre and post natal care. Talking with yesterday’s birthday girl Caity reminded me of how happy I am to be here and how many opportunities we have lying before us, both in the next two years and in the years after. Being surrounded by so many driven and well-travelled people is very inspiring. We sit around the lunch table swapping stories about Spain, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Georgia (the country), Jordan, Oman, UAE, Mali, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, China, South Africa, Columbia, Australia, France… and more I’m sure that just haven’t come up in discussion yet.

Well it’s now time for me to get back to writing up business/economics portion of our community analysis report.

Day 13

March 25, 2010

(Hopefully my post titles will become more creative…)

Day 13

Wow, only 13 days? (tltash, I’m supposed to be memorizing numbers 0-1000 tonight so I might as well practice) It feels as though months have gone by, and with how much I have seen, done, and learned they may as well have.  I am currently living in a small town (think 300 people), about 40 minutes west of Ouarzazate, where so far I have encountered only four different families. I am not alone yet. I have a wonderful training group of seven people and a Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF) with whom I spend my days 8-5, Monday thru Friday, and 8-12:30 on Saturdays. The rest of my time I spend with my host family. My family consists of my host mother, father, 20 yr old brother and 24 yr old sister, as well as whoever else from the extended family happens to stop by. In peace corps tradition they have given me an Arabic name, so around here I am known as Saiid.

The town is on a sort of hill in the middle of a desert valley overlooking an oasis with three rivers running through it. Hopefully when I get a chance to post this I’ll have a strong enough Internet connection to upload some pictures. Just to give you some stats, according to the local authorities there are a total of 59 towns in the area of the oasis with a total of 22,000 people. The fields, fdadn, by the river are just beautiful, I am at a loss of words right now to describe them besides zuina (zweena) bzzaf, which means very beautiful in Darija (Moroccan Arabic).  The language is really difficult but for every time I am frustrated or exhausted from struggling to communicate I am amazed by how much I can actually understand and say after only 10 days of training. When it comes to communicating, I have found my French experience to be extremely useful as the schools here start teaching French in second grade.

The people here are so welcoming and nice. Everyone wants to have the volunteers over for tea. I think the children in the town have finally become more used to having us around. They have shifted from staring at us in silence while we tried to engage them in the ritual greeting conversation, to starting the greeting themselves, and have cut back on calling out Bonjour. The greeting is really a wonderful thing here. While it may be just as superficial as the American exchange “How are you?” “Fine and you?” they sure spend a lot more time on it. In terms of bonding, I think just the amount of time you spend looking the other person in the face while you go through it definitely increases your connection. Here is what I am talking about:

A: S-salam aalaykum

B: Wa alaykum s-salam

A: Labas?

B: Labas, lHumdullah, bixir?

A: Labas, lHumdullah. Shnu smitk?

B: Smiti Saiid. Unta?

A: Smiti Muhammad. Tourist?

B: La, ana mashi tourist. Ana mutatawei Merikan mn Hay’at Ssalam.

A: Ah, mezien, mtshrrfn

B: Mtshrrfn


A: Peace be upon you

B: (reversed)

A: Fine?

B: Fine, thanks be to god, good?

A: Fine, thanks be to god. What’s your name?

B: My name is Saiid. And you?

A: Smiti Muhammad. Tourist?

B: No, I am not a tourist. I am an American volunteer with the Peace Corps.

A: Ah, good, nice to meet you.

B: Nice to meet you.

Of course the second half varies depending on how you know the person. When I came here I was of the understanding that to get through this and then the process of asking about one’s family and health would have to take several minutes at least. However, in reality the whole conversation is done while talking over the other person, with a series of labas, bixir (same thing basically), lHumdullah and Inshallah (God willing), so the whole thing is over in less than a minute and you have either moved on down the road or the conversation turns to the weather or the activities of the day.

Well having just finished dinner (a description left for another post) I’m going to check in with some volunteers at other sites by text message and review my numbers a couple more times.