I feel like I have been hitting the snooze button on my blogging for quite a long time now, so here is a rather long entry that does not actually bring you up-to-date. I wrote this entry on September 11, so I should probably get some credit and appreciation for the amount of procrastination involved. Either way, the events begin with the most recent.
Ramadan is a Muslim holiday, based on the Islamic calendar and beginning with the new moon. It involves a month of no eating, drinking, smoking, or having sex during daylight hours (thank you Wikipedia). It’s a time of self-reflection, prayer, and for me, a greater appreciation for the hydrating powers of water. The fast is broken at sundown with lftur (breakfast), and let me tell you the food during Ramadan is a-ma-zing. Traditionally there are dates, shbekiya (doughy cookies covered in honey), and a tomato based soup called hrira. Boiled eggs, milk, and juice are also typically present, but the table fare varies after that. I’ve had pizza, fat bread (thick, fried pastry bread filled with spices, peppers, and grease), something similar to baklava, savory pastries filled with chicken and onions, and the list goes on. Temperatures got up to 105 F where I was, which makes fasting from water the most difficult. There is a second meal around 3 am, and then at the last call to prayer around 4, all drinking and eating must cease again until sunset.
One of the main reasons I didn’t fast, besides being Baptist, was the enticing alternative I had on my hands. Through the Peace Corps grapevine, I had heard about a Huck Finnesque rafting trip. It was to be this great adventure on a handmade raft, floating down a river I didn’t know, with volunteers I didn’t know, to a destination I didn’t know, and everyone was to set off at a yet undetermined date; it sounded like the trip of a lifetime! It wasn’t until summer camp a month later that I met ‘Finn’ himself and got an official invitation as well as details. The plan was this: we would cut down a tree and build a raft in a day, set out from Ksabi on the
Moulouya River with our food and minimal supplies, stop at towns along the way to replenish our food, and make it to Saidia, where the river hits the Mediterranean, in ten days. Now, for those of you who bothered to look at a map, you are probably shaking your heads, laughing, or both. But what you don’t realize, or maybe what you do realize, is that making it to Saidia in ten days wasn’t our first problem.
Trusting an axe from souq with the word ‘quality’ carved on the side turned out to be our first problem. Half the tree was chopped – without my help of course – when a passing shepherd commented on the illegality of our actions. At first we weren’t deterred, but with the combination of the axe head flying off every other minute and the impending ticket and jail sentence, we decided to call it quits. We then tried to gain permission from the Ministry of Water and Forests to cut down a tree (obtained for a specific type of tree, none of which were available), we tried to find dead trees to pick up off the ground (illegal), and we also found out that the type of axe we were using was illegal. After about four days of brainstorming, failing, and being told on numerous occasions we would drown no matter what we did, we were finally given the brilliant idea of tying tire tubes together and floating.
So that’s what we did. We had a tube each with one additional tube for supplies, tied the three tubes together, attached sticks on top to elevate our bags, tied everything down, and finally set off. Despite the guilt I feel in leaving out the numerous details and therefore cheating the story, the quick summary is this: We floated along, staying with welcoming Moroccans who picked from their fig trees, offered us fresh honey, and gave us water to take with us, all the while hoping we’d stay with them forever. One of my favorite mental images is of Moroccans waving us off in the morning after having stayed with them the night before, while their children chased after us along the cliff face as far as it would take them. We (as in my travel buddy) tried fishing, and that failed due to extremely muddy waters. We had a slingshot. Yeah that’s right. A slingshot. We floated and walked through a lot of shallow, rocky water, which meant bruised butts and feet. But we made it. And by made it, I mean we made it 5 days until we almost got to the first major landmark, decided it would take more than a month to get to Saidia, and we’d had enough of the river. We then got out and caught a bus, spending a few days in the beach towns of Saidia, Ras el Ma, and Nador. Many moments of this trip stick out in mind that I worry I will forget. For example, the sweet Moroccan that continued to call us even after we were out of the river to warn us about the weather. Or when I got a fever and the shits and we stopped in the middle of nowhere, and Moroccans still found us and brought us soup and tea. Or just laying on the riverbed, staring at the sky with no one around. I have another year to go in my service, and, God willing, many more years to live in my life, but this trip will be hard to beat.
In July I traveled to Al Jadida to work for about a week at a summer camp. The camp consists of daily clubs and activities, such as geography, aerobics, journalism, debate, leadership, as well as English classes almost every morning. There are excursions planned throughout the week, and in the evenings, either the Moroccan or American staff coordinate ‘spectacular’ events. The great part about the camp is that it is a mix of both scholarship and city kids. Scholarship kids are nominated by volunteers, and therefore are usually from rural areas. So when they come to Al Jadida, which is a larger, less conservative city located on the beach, they are blown away. I was able to see kids swim in the ocean for the first time, girls play dress up with each other, and even the city kids who thought they were too good for activities in the beginning, lightened up and engaged in camp as the week progressed. It was a great opportunity for all the campers and counselors, and I’m really looking forward to doing it again next year.
Both of these events took place in Essaouira, a small beach town pretty close to my site. Gnaoua is a yearly music festival that attracts artists and tourists from all over the world, and as someone who only held the All American Rejects in her concert repertoire (thanks Disston), I was really looking forward to it. My college friend and fellow Russian Studies major flew in on her way back from Georgia (the country), and she came along for the fun, so it made the trip a million times better.
I returned to Essa some forgotten period of time after the festival in order to do an English workshop with the Small Business Development volunteers. As I mentioned in a previous post, PC is streamlining the sectors into Youth Development next year, and SBD will therefore cease to exist after our group leaves. This announcement was made to the Moroccan artisans for the first time during our session, and I, along with several other YD volunteers, taught a two-day workshop to artisans on basic greetings and customer service techniques in order to aid in their sustainability. It was the first time I had done something like this, and it was not only fun, but actually a success. We gave them advice, seasoned artisans chimed in with what they had learned over the years, and all seemed to enjoy the sessions. We had several of our students come up to us afterwards and tell us PC had held workshops like this in the past, but ours was by far the best. Score!
Afterwards we volunteered at the
, handing out brochures to tourists and Moroccans, sitting in for artisans if they needed a food or bathroom break, and going on lunch runs. It was a nice change to do cross-sectoral work, and I wish them the best of luck in building a self-sustainable program in the next year. Marche
Back In Site
I know I said I would start with the most recent, but I thought I would mix things up and keep it fresh. I am now back in site after an amazing and eventful summer. My dar chebab opened in September, and my site mate and I are getting activities going and keeping the kids out of trouble. I received two separate donations of books as well as one donation of art supplies, so I was able to start a library. The kids like the books, but LOVE the art supplies. My site mate and I are putting up the kids’ artwork all over the dar chebab, and the kiddies thrive on the encouragement of simply asking them about their drawings and telling them how great they are. It’s amazing how far a little support can go.
Along the same line, last week I started a kids’ craft class. The ages ranged from about 5-10, so I am keeping the activities simple and I am aiming to use simple art materials and household products. The first activity, drawing and decorating your own hand, went over really well and this week’s activity will most likely be Halloween-themed.
Other potential activities include a science club, soccer tournaments, my site mate is putting together a women’s empowerment blog (sweet idea, right?), English classes (also my site mate), and anything else we can think of. The last week has seen a huge spike in attendance, so my site mate, the newly hired guardian, and I are struggling to keep all the kids entertained before they lose interest in us and we find ourselves without any youth to develop.
And that’s it for now. I’m slowly making changes to the blog, adding some things here and there. So take a look-see.
|Artwork from the OWS exchange, now hanging in my DC.|
|We carved pumpkins from Halloween in my DC. Strange for them at first, but they really got into it.|
|From Summer Camp (July). We had a Halloween Night, which involved bobbing for apples.|
|Pictures from around my site. This is a door.|
|More of my site.|
|Me and a DC buddy.|
|This was my DC Halloween activity for the kids' art class. These were my examples.|
|Walking to the equivalent of the city fair in my site.|
|More Summer Camp Halloween night.|