Sunday, May 14, 2006

1000 Apologies

I know, I know, I know, I know! It’s been a really long time since I’ve written in here. Actually, it’s been 3 days shy of 3 months. Please believe me when I tell you that I hadn’t even realized that 3 months had gone by already. I guess time just goes on by when you’re having fun…and keeping busy. Thanks for all the emails and phone calls to remind me to blog. I especially liked the emails that just had “Blog”, “Bloggers” and “Bloggin” in the subject line but nothing else in the body of the email. You know, when it takes me 10-15 minutes sometimes to actually open an email and then realize that it’s blank, well, let’s just say that it puts a damper on the rest of my internet day. (That’s for you, lil sis!) It finally occurred to me that I should actually write when I was in Rabat with Aura, a volunteer that was going home, and her mother called. Aura told her mom that I was with her and she said, “oh, tell that girl that she needs to update her blog!” Aura’s mother lives outside of Seattle and I have never met nor spoken to her before. Somehow, she must keep a tally of all volunteers with blogs and that is how my reprimand came about. So, here it is. Here’s what I’ve been up to for the last 3 months…

Ok, I’ll start with the M’hamid International Nomad Festival. Uh hmmm. M’hamid. If ever you stumble across a map of Morocco and feel so inclined to look up where M’hamid actually is, you will find that it is a hop, skip and a jump away from Algeria. That is correct. Algeria. Closed borders and all. My artisan and I, along with several other volunteers and their artisans, ventured down a long, dusty and isolated road and ended up in the middle of nowhere, literally. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the festival were actually organized. However, as some things are in this country, it was all over the place. We were collaborating with a non-government organization (NGO) called Aid to Artisans (ATA). ATA didn’t even want us to go to this festival because 1.) It was so far away from everything and 2.) There were other well-known festivals that our artisans could profit from attending. However, the director of the festival went to ATA personally and asked them to help bring artisans to this festival because he felt that it would be beneficial to everyone. He even offered to help support the volunteers and their artisans by supplying food and accommodations. ATA took the risk and invited the Peace Corps volunteers to attend. Declaring this a mistake would be an understatement. Well, I shouldn’t be so harsh. There were some good aspects to the trip but they were few and far between. After arriving in M’hamid, we realized that the accommodations that were provided for us had no electricity or water. This was obviously a challenge. ATA did manage to find us a place to stay. It was a campsite facility where we all slept in Berber style tents. Actually, most of us slept in these half adobe, half tent rooms. That wasn’t so bad.

Nomad tents for some people in our group to sleep in. All I have to say is, Andy, you're a trooper!
Half adobe/half tent "rooms" that we stayed in. Trust me, it was VERY hard to keep the bugs out! Also, these morning doves, which we first thought were owls, were quite obnoxious in the wee hours of the morning.

After getting that all sorted out, we then realized that the tents that were supposed to also be provided for us by this oh so infamous “director” were also nowhere to be found. We eventually got the tents the following day and that’s when we helped our artisans set-up all their products. So, at this point we’re thinking that the worst is over. We have a place to stay, we have our tents, our artisans are set up and ready to sell their products…but wait, there are no tourists anywhere to be found. There was nobody actually there to buy the products. Another thing that this director promised was tons of tourists, bus loads in fact, that were being shipped in from the bigger towns surrounding, which were going to be there for the sole reason of buying products. No, no my friend, that didn’t happen. In fact, nothing happened. Instead of being engulfed with a myriad of tourists, we were bombarded with all the local children that apparently had nothing better to do than constantly harass us and throw the occasional rock our way. At one point I actually snapped and asked these kids where the local gendarmes (police) were so that I may scare them into leaving us alone but they were more than happy to oblige and show me the way. When I got to a fork in the road, half the children said that the office was one way and the other half insisted that it was the other way. Irreverent.

Apparently, I didn't get the memo that day to wear white. Some of the girls trying to stay out of the heat.
My host mom/artisan Ouardia at her table with products. The women in the organization weave rugs and traditional jalaba material.
Assu, treasurer at the handicap association in Tinghir with some products. The members of the association make handmade candles and jewlery.

Although most of the artisans didn’t sell any products, if any, and the desert sun was scorching us all, the artisans did get an opportunity to see what other products were being made outside their region. This, I believe, gave them an idea on how to improve on their products and to perhaps collaborate with other artisans in the future.

Sign to Tombouctou (Mali). It's a 50 day journey by camel from where we were in M'hamid. Think I might cross the Sahara one day on that journey. I can't seem to find anyone else that would do it with me. How bad could 50 days on a camel across the vast desert be?
My favorite thing in M'hamid was this camel. It was just chilling behind our tents for a while.
Had to take a picture with him and no, he didn't spit on me!
Anne having a heart-to-heart with the donkey and feeding him a fig.

So, that was M’hamid. I’m still trying to recover from that experience. Heavens! Next up is the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday, which is a 2-day Moroccan holiday. Cha-ching! Vacation time. A few of my friends and I, whom are all located in the southern region of Morocco, opted for a change of scenery and decided to head north for the holiday. Our expedition began in Cabo Negro; a quaint beach town nestled on the Mediterranean Sea. This town primarily consists of really nice beach houses owned by wealthy Moroccans. There are a few hotels, one of which we stayed at, that ordinarily we would not be able to afford, especially on a Peace Corps salary. However, because we were there in the off-season, we were able to negotiate (actually, Andy and Brian did the negotiations while Victoria and I waited in the taxi) with the hotel manager and get a price that we’re able to afford. There was one other room in the hotel that was being occupied so we got a really good deal on oceanfront rooms!

View of Cabo Negro. Most of those are private condos but our hotel is at the far right, along the cliff.
It was such a change to be surrounded by water. All I did was stare at it. I couldn't help it. I MISS THE WATER!!
I just couldn't leave this place. I wanted to sit there all day and just look at the water.

We spent the day walking up and down the beach and enjoying not being in the desert. It was a bit chilly to get in the water but that didn’t stop us. Oh no! We did it anyway. Though cold, it was quite the experience.

Walking on the beach. It was hard to believe that we were still in Morocco.
Andy's first time ever being in the Mediterranean.
Victoria and me. Like I said, we eventually didn't care about the cold water and got all the way in.

After frolicking in the Med for a bit, we realized that we were hungry and it was time to eat. Hmm, swiya mushkil (little problem.) Because we were there in the off-season, there were no places open for us to eat, no grocery stores, nothing! We sucked it up and went down to the little hanut (7-11 type of store) and bought some cheese and crackers and a little deli meat. Thank goodness for the hanut. We would have gone hungry for the night if it wasn’t open. The next morning, we decided to walk 4 kilometers along the beach to the nearest town of Martil and we had breakfast there.

After Cabo Negro, we ventured across to Chefchaouen. Now, this place, this place, this place! It’s an amazing little town snuggled in the Rif Mountains. The name Chefchaouen actually means “look at the peaks.” It’s so close to the border of Spain that most the Moroccans there spoke Spanish as a second language. It was certainly a nice change from all the French that I’ve been hearing in my region. In my region I get harassed in French all the time. It’s constantly “ca va, gazelle” or “bonjour ma’dam” everytime I walk past a group of guys but hearing “hola seniorita”, instead, was almost music to my ears. I know that it doesn’t make sense and that harassment is harassment, but, I liked the change in language.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing. I know that it may not seem like that took 3 months but in between excursions I did have some regional meetings with my programming manager, meetings with my delegate and the president of the chamber of artisans and some medical meetings that I had to go to in Rabat (don’t worry, nothing serious.) If it’s one thing that I’ve learned by living in Morocco is that things definitely take time! The winds have been picking up latlely so that means that we've had plenty of dry, nasty sand storms. Also, I haven't had running water in my house for over 2 months now. I was in a bit of a crisis the first couple of weeks, not knowing how to adjust, constantly trying to turn on the faucet. However, now I think I have my system worked out. I get water from my landlord. They have a well so they always have water. In fact, they've been supplying what seems like half the community with water. Anyhow, I go to them every other day and I fill up a big jug of water that I use for everything; washing my face in the morning, brushing my teeth, doing dishes, bathroom water, and yes, even drinking water. It's even gotten warm enough that I've been able to bucket bathe in my house. Also another fun experience! I boil the water for everything except to use in the bathroom. Even though this system is time consuming, it's what I have to do. I'd say you get used to it but I still forget and try and turn on the tap every now and then. I guess it's just a habit I'm having a hard time letting go of. However, my many years of hurricane experiences have trained me well for this, and hey, at least I still have electricity!

One of my favorite blue doors in Chefchaouen
Blue alley of houses. Everything was blue and white in this town. So beautiful.
We took a hike to this really old, falling down mosque. It was really tiny so the stairs in it were super steep. I felt like I was going to fall.
Along the path of our hike, there was this random door that was locked. The funny thing is that if anybody wanted to get through, they could just hop the fence or even the door itself. It may have not been efficient but it was really pretty, and come on, isn't that what really matters!?!
Blue, Blue Blue!!! Such a calming color. I think we should paint all our towns blue and white.

I just want to say HAPPY MOTHERS DAY to the world’s best mom. I love you and I miss you. I wish that I could have been home to celebrate today with you but please know that I’m always thinking about you and that I couldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you. Your phone calls, emails, letters and care packages make it all easier for me to be here, so far away from home. Lots of love and kisses!!! M’wah.

There is a gorgeous river that goes through the town in Chefchaouen. Have I mentioned that I did not want to leave this place? Must be the water. Gets me everytime.
Houses on the hill that made it seem like we were in Italy and not Morocco.
The main river being put to use to do laundry.