Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Sleep Deprived Photo-Driven Entry

Hello all! It’s 2:35 am, and I’m still awake – packing, reading, daydreaming, digesting… thought I’d give you a quick rundown of my past week! No point in sleeping before the transit now anyway…

Once again, I’m not responsible for the order of the pictures.

Chronologically, the first picture in this set was one of me dropping by a friend’s house in my souq town. Dan is leaving soon, and we’re all preying on his stuff – pictured here is Will on Dan’s shoulders, working on getting a stained glass style orb attachment to fancify an otherwise plain lighting arrangement. If you’d like to judge fancify, I’ll let you know that after uploading 6 pictures it is now 3:08am. Very late. Anyhow, this was highly amusing to watch, and seemed appropriate to put into my ‘what have I been up to for the past week’ photoshow.

Next, it rained in my town on the mountain, and things were quite cold. I ended up in a scarf, jacket, and blanket not of my own while unexpectedly stranded at a friend’s house for about 4 hours as the storm raged around us… when it ended, my mountains were all enshrouded in beautiful low clouds. As with most landscape pictures taken with a point and shoot, the picture really doesn’t do it justice.

I finally learned what okra looks like in a field!

The final three are cave pictures – Kyle, Dan and I ascending into the mouth of the cave, Kyle looking demonic and sporting an excellent dust-beard, and Kyle, Sam and I inside the large bat-filled chamber – the goal of the journey.

Three days ago my downstairs neighbor had a baby girl. The baby girl has been henna’d and has amazing black eyeliner, traditional for all babies here. Today was the ‘hey, she’s been alive three days so let’s slaughter a sheep and have a feast!’ party. We had various meat (and organs) kebab style, then on couscous with raisins, and then in douez (everything pressure cooked) with prunes. All delicious, but oof! That was a lot of food! It was also a lot of time, which started my late-night craziness to begin with.

Here’s hoping I flesh out stories and grammar check this later. It may or may not happen. Either way, hope you enjoyed this whirlwind run through my week!

OK Go – White Knuckles

I assume most of you have seen OK Go – Here It Goes Again (and please, look it up if you haven’t), but I was just introduced to White Knuckles and had to share.

Anyone want a modem?

Before I talk about my failed attempt to give up my internet, I will briefly mention my project news! Eric and I went to the Ministry of Education in Errachidia, which handed us over to the Ministry of Health – it sounds like all things are go for getting an eye doctor up to our sites to do free eye exams on the kids who need it! We need to write up a proposal/schedule, have our boss in Peace Corps sign it, and then (insha’allah) some high-up guy in the Ministry of Health will approve and put the official stamp on the paper, granting us our free doctor.  Things are looking very good, so wish us luck!

Now for internet news.

Anticlimactically, when I strode into the Maroc Telecom store on Monday, I was informed that there was no way to break my contract. I told them that I had been originally informed that 99Dh was the total monthly price of the contracts I was signing, and I later learned that it was more like 270Dh.. quite a difference! I made the case that the internet is much slower than advertised (the contract is for 153Kbps, but it only tries to connect at 115Kbps.. and I don’t think it really runs that fast). They told me that the only way to ‘end’ the contract is to pay the next 20+months of the contract up front! Ouch! As for the speed issue, there’s a number to call – although I sincerely doubt the person at the other end would speak English or my dialect of Tashelheit. However, he did offer me one promising alternative – if I can find someone who wants the modem, with a modest fee (100 or 150Dh, he didn’t look it up) I can switch the contract over to them. With that in mind…

Are there any PCVs with Maroc Telecom service at their site who want a modem? The stick modem didn’t work at my site, but they were able to make some calls from the office to confirm that the wireless phone modem would. If you have concerns about the functionality of the internet at your site, Maroc Telecom does actually seem to know where it can work and where it can’t. I’m going to take the modem to IST if no one claims it before then. A main advantage of taking my modem over buying one is that there won’t be any set up charges, and the clock is already running on the contract so there won’t be a lot of time left when you COS.

Goodbye, Sweet Internet

I’ve decided to get rid of my at-home internet. I know most people (save Sarah, thank you darling) think this is a terrible idea, so I’ll tell you why.

First and foremost, I love the internet too much. It has a pull. When I have better things to do, I’ll still get online to see if maybe I have e-mail or if there’s a relevant facebook status update, or maybe read some news to feel educated on what’s going on with the world. Honestly, though, even the news is irrelevent – news about the states, China, Nicaragua, or even the headline grabbing Chilean miners is utterly unimportant to my life right now. And yet I read on.

(I also do silly things like update my blog – I hope you enjoy the new layout! I found a better picture for the banner, but my internet is still too slow to load it well, so the current banner will have to do. The new look probably won’t change for quite a while.)

I also feel the pull of it from afar – maybe I could eat dinner and spend the night with the nice family inviting me to do so, but I was also thinking of skyping/chatting/interneting… and so I go back to my house, when I could be out with other people.

Also, spending too much time online makes me think too much in English! I believe it has actually slowed my acquisition of Tashelheit. Without internet I also know that I’d do a better job keeping my house tidy and read more books!

Getting rid of at home internet doesn’t mean I’ll never be online – I’ll still go down to Tinejdad roughly once a week, at which point I can sit at a cafe, drink some coffee, and use a USB modem to check my e-mail and post blog updates during the 2 hours between the time the tranzit drops me off and the time shops open in the morning. I’ve done this before, and most of the time I get bored of the internet after 1/2 an hour or so – as it turns out, when I’m not on the internet all the time, I don’t feel it’s loss! Now that I’m used to the internet again, if I don’t get on for two days I start getting that mental itch to check my e-mail. This is exceedingly lame.

The bottom line is that I can’t imagine finishing my Peace Corps service with my major regret being that I spent too little time online.

I’m going to Errachidia tomorrow to wander around eye doctors offices, looking for a doctor that might be willing to give free exams to kids from our area. The next day, I’m going to return my modem and break the contract with the phone company. I’m crossing my fingers that my trip to Maroc Telecom will take less than three hours… but I’m not sure if this is reasonable or not. My cell phone also stopped delivering texts, again, a problem for which they switched my phone number before – maybe I just need a new phone? There’s a ‘restore factory settings’ option on my phone, but I need some security code I don’t have.. maybe that would work? As the entire staff of the Maroc Telecom office in Errachidia knows who I am due to previous issues I’ve had, I imagine they’ll all groan in quiet despair behind their desks when they see me walk in. Oh well.

As a final note on the internet topic – I still love e-mails, so keep ’em coming! I don’t always know when I’m going to be online, and it’s always nice to have a few e-mails from family and friends. Even more awesome are real letters and the occasional phone call.  I love you all!

Corn

It’s corn shucking season here in the maghrib! I’ve spent multiple afternoons with my host family (and my host family’s family) sitting around/on large piles of corn and shucking for all I’m worth. Corn in Morocco isn’t exactly as I think of corn in America (not that most corn in America is really corn on the cob style… ethanol or HFCS, anyone?). Most corn in Morocco ends up turning into cornmeal/flour, with all the excess parts of the corn turning into livestock food. How is this done, you might ask?

Well, first the corn gets planted around June (it was not knee high by the fourth of July), generally accompanied by a lot of manure on a field freshly tilled by a team of two mules, a huge wooden/metal plow, and a team of three or so men. There are no rows of corn here, the corn is sown evenly across the field.  The men seem to be in charge of the planting, manure allocation, and then making sure the fields get watered appropriately (by diverting ditches, which is done by moving dirt/rock piles from one place in the ditch to another). The fields are watered by flood irrigation. The ladies make sure the field is weeded appropriately (all proceeds go to the livestock) and then, when they feel the time is appropriate, start harvesting the corn. The harvest started in September and is finishing up now – most of the fields are given a month to rest before wheat or barley is planted in it’s place (which is in turn harvested just before corn planting time).  To harvest corn, the ladies either pluck the stalks of corn from the ground (if the ground is wet), or, more commonly, cut the base with their scythe. Once a large amount is gathered, the stalks are taken to a location generally near the livestock (sometimes in the home, or near a drying surface). At this new location, all of the ears of corn are taken off the stalk – the stalk is now cow/sheep/mule/goat/chicken food. Then all of the corn gets shucked – this is made easier by the fact that most of the corn husks have been given the opportunity to dry on the stalk. A dry husk is infinitely easier to shuck than a wet husk.  After the shucking, the corn is all laid outside to dry. Not all families are so fortunate, but most families have a piece of flat land on which to dry their crops – the shucked corn goes here, mixed with a rake at regular intervals until it’s sunbaked and dry. At some point after this – and I’ve only seen this from afar once, although I suspect it will start happening often – the ladies get together to rhythmically beat the living bejeesus out of the corn with large pieces of wood (I hesitate to call the pieces of wood sticks or paddles, although they have properties of both.) This serves the purpose of separating the kernels from the cob, and provides the ladies an opportunity to bust out some call and response songs of the like I had not heard before. I have no idea how the corn gets seperated from the cob after this – I’ll have to report later, but I assume they use some sort of sieve. Or maybe a machine? I’m also not sure if the corn gets washed immediately after – I’m guessing not – but, like the wheat, I’m sure that the ladies wash the corn in the ditch before taking it to the ‘motor’ to get ground into flour.

My current favorite part of that process is shucking the corn, because it is the one agricultural activity in which not only am I not slower than the average Moroccan, but I show a certain finesse and my speed is remarked upon positively. Besides, there’s something a bit meditative about sitting by a big pile of corn and shucking for several hours straight.  There’s also something very delightfully ‘fall’ about shucking corn with a very conversational family as the sun sets behind the mountains and the chill sets in… the only thing that could make it better would be mulled cider. Mmmmm apple cider.

On an unrelated note, fall is also quince season here. Quinces quietly made their appearance as the figs went out of season – late Ramadan, so early September. They’re still going strong (I think).  It’s possibly they’re still not ripe, because they’re really hard and almost always cooked in sugar water until they are sweet and soft and delicious – maybe if they were harvested in November we could eat them like apples, I have no idea. But I love them.  And that’s really all I have to say about Quinces.

On a book related note, I just finished Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, a read I highly recommend to my environmentally minded friends, particularly if they are of the type to love the desert. There are a few places where my not-so inner modern environmentalist cringes – must he roll that tire into the canyon? – but mostly I just love his passion (and his prose).  I’ve started on Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, a book which I had never heard of but whose cover announces itself as a National Bestseller. I picked it up as I got home today and promptly devoured the first 70 pages – can’t love this book enough.

I had intended, originally, to veer this entry to another subject entirely, but as normally happens I wrote in a rather unfiltered train of thought sort of way. As I’d rather be reading than writing right now, I’ll just leave with a promise of another update tomorrow. Au revoir!

Fall has Fallen!

Sorry for the incredibly lame title to this entry, but it’s true! People are saying it’s the beginning of winter at my site,  and some of my friend’s sites have already received snow! Of course, down the mountain in my souq town it was still hot enough to sweat while standing a few days ago – but climb the mountain up here, and I’ve broken out my long underwear, hat, and amazingly wonderful wool blanket from the Imilchil Wedding Fest! Brr!

That being said, I’m loving the weather. I never can decide between fall and spring as my favorite.. in spring, true, I get ecstatic over 55 degree days, heralding them as heat waves and have the opportunity to celebrate all the green shoots and leaves and beautiful flowers that come with the heat and the rain. Now, I’m happy about cool days, which here means less sweating and  therefore more time between bucket baths (which, as it happens, are a little chillier right now… I might start using the hammam [bath house] in my souqtown soon), watching the walilis go to their incredibly large seeds, eating pomegranates of increasing deliciousness (not ripe yet!), spending afternoons shucking corn with my host family, and starting to help with olive harvesting… and warm foods! I think I may start making soup (chili!) soon.

The weekend after the Imilchil Wedding Festival, I went to the Erfoud Date Festival.  These two festivals had very little to nothing in common. The date festival was more of a date exhibition: there were some tents with information about agriculture and climate followed by an exceptionally large tent filled with dates and date products. I ate more than my fair share of free date samples – dark, light, hard, soft, moist, dry, fresh, baked, patte, jam, etc. – then bought a few presents and headed out.  Seemingly unrelated but secretly related was a craft fair a kilometer or two down the road, where again health volunteers had set up an exceedingly popular table. It was fun to see friends, but other than that there was nothing exceptional about the date festival, so thus ends my recap.

In my town, I’ve finally started to get some work going. Kind of. I set up a meeting with a local association, but it was cancelled the day before – I’m trying to get it rescheduled now. I’ve met with the muhdir, or president/administrator/boss, of all the local schools (of which I though there were four, but it turns out there are five! One is a half an hour walk away from town, in a neighborhood I shamefacedly didn’t know existed). The muhdir of the elementary schools had a PCV teach him english in the town where he grew up! He’s happy to be working with a PCV, and when I offered my help for Earth Day, glasses, hearing aids, or whatever else he thinks I might be able to help with, he seemed to be more than willing to accept that offer – he even said he knows of a few environment-related projects that people are wanting to start in the spring (March/April) that he wanted to talk to me about later – I’m meeting with him to tour the elementary schools tomorrow at noon, so maybe I’ll hear a little more then. I’m talking to the volunteers in my area about glasses/hearing aids for the kids that need them. Unfortunately, I’d been relatively confident (because it had worked for other volunteers before) that we could get free glasses from the department of education – today we were told that we couldn’t. I’m looking for sources of free glasses, particularly if they can be customized to the prescriptions of the kids, and sources of free hearing aids – let me know if you have any ideas!

I’ll leave you with a quick and easy recipe for tortillas. I’m playing with the consistency a bit – I think I get better results if they’re a bit on the dry side.. but they’re always delicious.

Tortillas:

  • 2 cups flours
  • 2 tsp baking powder (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 3/4 cup water

Mix the solid ingredients, add the oil, and then slowly knead in the water – you know the dough is good when it’s a little elastic and bounces back when you make a finger imprint. The dough should be smooth rather than sticky. Seperate it into egg-sized balls, cover with a cloth, and wait for 20-30 minutes (I like to make the dough, then make whatever I plan to put in my tortillas, then move on to the next step. I do not time this). Lightly flour a flat clean dry surface – I use my cutting board – put one of the egg sized balls of dough on it, and roll out with some sort of smooth rolling device (I use my Klean Kanteen).  It doesn’t need to be super thin; I roll mine out until they’re about the size of the bottom of my frying pan. I have a teflon pan and don’t use any butter or oil on it – once each tortilla is  rolled out, it goes straight onto the frying pan. It should bubble up a bit, you can bust the bubbles to make it lie a bit more flat if you want. Once they’ve got a few brown spots on each side, they’re done!

Happy tortilla cooking!