Monthly Archives: February 2011

Progress Report for February

At the end of January I wrote a post on eight projects I hoped to make progress on in February. Here’s my progress report:

1) Water Quality Assessments/Lessons with Middle School Students: As of last week, the Ministry of Health had called the doctor to inform him that all the water we tested, including samples from ditches and the river,  was “potable.” I’m really not sure how that’s possible; I asked to see the report. The doctor said he’d try to get me a copy. As for the Middle School lessons, the administrator also wanted to use the results in the lesson, so he’s waiting to see the report as well. We’re both very curious as to what the ministry tested for and what the standards for potable water are.

2) English Club at the Middle School: This is a long time coming, but I have seen the registration sheets, talked with the school administrator, and heard about it from everyone in town – Molly and I are leading are first English Club with third year middle school students tomorrow, and the club for first and second year students on Thursday. The sign up sheet for Thursday’s club is overfilled, but the sign up sheet for tomorrow’s club didn’t have many names on it – I didn’t see the names of a few girls that I know will come, without a doubt – so possibly the third year students just didn’t feel like signing up? I have no idea what the turnout will be tomorrow, but both I’m excited and nervous  – and we’re making alphabet pretzels as treats : )

3) Earth Day Planning with both Middle and Elementary Schools: I’ve pitched Earth Day ideas at the Middle School, and have a meeting planned tomorrow to discuss Earth Day with the administrator of the three Elementary Schools in my area. We touched on it before, but he wanted a solid plan. I know that there will be tree planting at the Middle School (40-45 native trees, insha’allah); everything else is up in the air. I’m also hoping to meet with the administrator of the Elementary Schools in Molly’s town – there are 6 schools in our towns combined, and 6 days in the school week. As Morocco has Earth Week, rather than Earth Day, I’m hoping we can go to a school a day and plant trees/do a trivia contest/paint a mural/etc. Things are looking good.

4) Organizing a Meeting to form a Rosemary Cooperative: A representative from my community and I went the Ministry of Water and Forests and discussed the idea of the Rosemary Cooperative further. This is a very political and personal issue for a lot of people in my area, and I’ve learned a lot more on the topic in this past month (in the last few days, especially. I was given a small lecture by another guy in my community on the recent political history of my area and why the idea of the Rosemary Coop has been presented before and failed very, very miserably). This is absolutely not a project that can be pushed through quickly, as I was originally led to believe – but hopefully, through the cooperation of a few neighborhoods and associations, the community can be led to understand how a well functioning coop can be beneficial to their lives and, most importantly, their profits.

5) Finding Women Leaders in town for a Women’s Association: This is an ongoing project. Most of the women who seem to want the building most seem least interested in starting programs before the building is had – it’s difficult in my slow Tashelheet to give them a convincing speech about working with what they’ve got before they build a fancy building with outside help. Imik simik, as they say. Little by little.

6) Meeting with new Agricultural Associations: The Associations don’t have their official stamps yet, so they’re still inactive. Hopefully they can do things (like have meetings) before the end of March.

7) Research about Solar Ovens: Sadly, everything I looked into pretty much showed that solar ovens aren’t a good option here, despite the amazing amount of sun. Solar oven projects have been tried repeatedly in Morocco and none were successful – there just isn’t any convenient technology that replicates the current baking method closely enough.  I am a little intrigued by biogas, though… it has some serious flaws (such as water requirements, and the output of a liquid fertilizer), but it works well in many parts of the developing world and may have potential here.

8) Creating a project plan for a GLOW Camp: This one got put on the backburner.

Unexpected Projects:

1) English Library Books: I had asked around about English books for the Middle School students in the fall, and this month I received a big box of books from the American School in Rabat! They’re now all part of the (or perhaps the entire) library at the Middle School. They’re all above the level of the kids, but as the kids get more exposure to English, hopefully in future years the kids might be able to read some on their own. As for now, Molly and I can certainly use passages from the books in English Club.

2) Errachidia Music and Culture Festival: PCVs will be working with various organizations at the festival – local small business volunteers will be there with their cooperatives, and health/youth development volunteers will be leading activities at a youth center close enough to the festival that it will be receiving a relatively large amount of festival traffic. I’m planning Environmental Education activities for the youth center – hopefully we’ll be talking about watershed health (and constructing a Stream Table!), pollution, and local ecosystems (including native flora/fauna).  I’m hoping to come up with fun activities for kids as well as information for adults that stop by.

3) Knowledge: This is not a project, but I feel like people have been dropping all sorts of information on me this month. I don’t know if that’s because my Tashelheet has reached some new benchmark or if it’s because people are used to me and therefore trust me more, but I feel that I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about my community’s social and environmental history these last few weeks. It feels good to actually KNOW something.

This is not an exhaustive list of everything I’ve been involved in/considered working on, but I think it’s a good list of the highlights. I’m finding motivation from nearly being at the one year in country (10 months in service) mark, and trying to brainstorm/organize projects in a way that will allow the second year to be more fruitful in terms of both capacity building (getting people to talk to each other and set goals, mainly) and actual project work (the catch on this is that I need to find a community counterpart who wants to take the reins – that’s hard to find).

While sometimes the glacial pace at which things seemed to move here annoyed me, I’m practicing patience and trying to do the best in each situation as it comes to me. When a third party was standing us up for a meeting we had very clearly made the day before, one of my Moroccan counterparts commented that by showing up prepared we had done the best we could do, and all the rest was out of our hands and did not reflect on us. I’m choosing to take that to heart, so overall I feel that February was a relatively productive month. Here’s hoping March goes even better!


L’3id n l’Mulud

Yesterday was the prophet Muhammad’s birthday! Of course, this can’t go by without at least a little festivity. The biggest holiday is still L’3id Axatar (which I still haven’t written a post about! Shame on me!), but this is still a cool holiday in a relaxed sort of way.

As with most holidays here, the celebrations started the night before. I went to my host family’s house, where Rachid prepped an exceedingly large bowl of chicken, onions, and spices for kebabs. As usual, the grill was taken into the room we were eating in and all of the skewers were eaten with bread as they came off the grill. If there had been a large crowd, someone would have been going around with the skewers so that each person could pull off a piece of meat in turn – but there were just the four of us, so we got our own skewers as they were ready. In the summer (or with a large number of guests and therefore a long cooking time), the smoke from the grill can get really irritating. However, since it was pretty cold in the house, the grill made for a nice and cozy room for eating and relaxing. Again, due to the lack of guests and the fact that it’s winter, we all went upstairs to sleep pretty early.

Souad brought up some henna for us to put on before bed. It’s traditional that for any holiday the majority of females get henna’d up the night before, and this was no different. Souad applied henna carefully to my hands (right hand first, always), and then Fatima helped tie my hands in plastic bags and then rags to sleep in.  At that point, I’m pretty helpless, so they tucked me into bed. In the morning I woke up around 7 – two hours after Fatima, who wakes up at 5 to pray and then take care of the livestock, and a good hour after Souad, who had kneaded bread at 6 and was cooking it by 7. Fatima pulled my mitts off, then took off most of the still wet henna. I was then instructed to go hang out by the small wood stove they heat water on in order to dry all the remaining henna, which helps make it darker. I hung out there for a good 10 or 15 minutes, and then I was made to rub in a small amount of oodi (homemade butter). That serves as a protective coating and a moisturizer – half of the reason the henna is so popular here is that it softens the skin.

Still without washing my hands (as the game is to stave that off for as long as possible), we had a fancy breakfast of lmsmn (or er ghaifs, a oily almost filo-like bread), bghrir (like pancakes, but with yeast and lots of bubbles), cake, and noodles w/ oodi (the butter mentioned above). There was also very delicious morning coffee – milk, of course, which Fatima had coaxed from the cow that morning.

After breakfast, Ikram and I went to Mama’s house. Mama had invited me the day before, and it turned out that she did have lots of guests – two of her husband’s sisters, their children, and her husband’s mother were all there. Her husband’s mother actually lives in Molly’s town and is the neighbor of Molly’s host family – I’m always finding out that people are connected in so many more ways than I think is possible. Anyhow, this lady had just returned from a 2 1/2 month journey to Marrakesh and the surrounding areas, so she was regaling us with tales of everything she’d seen (the splendor of the city, gorges lined with hotels, tourists, etc.). Mama’s son was also home – he’s a high school student, and has dreams to study abroad, so he takes his studies seriously. He busted out his English book and we went to town, doing impromptu lessons on pronunciation and grammar on whatever page he flipped to. I was impressed at the level of his studies – he’s studying for The Bac, a difficult test required to pass high school (tons of people don’t pass), and he’s studying calculus (integrals, trig, functions, logarithms), chemistry, physics, and engineering (complete with fairly complicated mechanical specs). This is on top of the three languages he needs to prove competence in, none of which are his native one.  I need to make it back there this weekend to help him more with his English before he returns to high school – a kid that motivated deserves all the help he can get!

Anyhow, back to the holiday. We had tajine at my host family’s, and then we went to the next neighborhood to convey holiday tidings to extended family. We only made it to one house, though – we started going to another one, saw something involving a car and a man near the house, immediately presumed the worst, and rushed back into the previous house before we could be seen.

From there I went to my friend Aziza’s house, thoroughly filled with tea and coffee (I was on something like 13 cups of tea and 5 cups of coffee). Her mom is recovering from knee surgery, but seemed to be in good spirits, and there were a few other people I know from my neighborhood there. Snacks were once again brought out, but thankfully with this family I can indeed beg off eating due to the condition of being very thoroughly full. (I try this in other houses, but it often does not work). My brain was starting to shut down at this point – I’d operated at full speed in Tashelheet from 7 to 5:30 – so when everyone got up to get back home before dark I was a little relieved. We managed to hitch a ride up the hill in the back of my neighbor’s van (which was filled with sawdust and a few tires – they’re doing some construction), and I got back to the comfort of my own home just before dark!

The “Two Hour” Hike

There’s a hike that people in my town do quite regularly – they have family over the mountain; there’s a livestock souq over the mountain, etc. As to get over the mountain by any sort of regular motorized transportation you need to go from my site to my souqtown, over to the next big city, and then back up into the mountains (total time if speeding: at least 3 1/2 hours), the clear choice for the physically able is to hoof it – either by foot or by livestock.  For the last nine months, I have been told that it’s a wicked tough hike, but it only takes two hours – maybe four. I now have a theory that either all of the men in my village are secretly marathon runners in their spare time – either that or pretty much everyone rides a mule and therefore no one has any idea how long a path it really is.

The hike finally came to be after my landlord’s brother started on a little hiking kick – he started walking with the village doctor to random springs out of town, and he invited me to do this hike. Not about to do a hike alone with a Moroccan man for both safety/security and town reputation reasons, even one as respected as this guy (he’s the ambulance driver), I invited Molly and we set a date.  On Saturday morning we set out with the idea that we’d hike up and over two mountains, eat lunch, and then head back to town and arrive, exhausted, before the sun set and we were eaten alive by wild dogs.  As with most things in my service, upon pursuing this activity we found that the plan was utterly ridiculous and to be scrapped, but the day ended with a lot of new sights seen and a couscous dinner (complete with a freshly slaughtered chicken in our honor!).

At 8am, we set out to conquer the mountains. Around 9:30, we stopped to admire some “zwak,” which is also the word used to describe henna designs on people’s hands:

I'm really not quite sure what's going on here, geologically. Anyone?

Around that time, the rosemary poaching  started become really obvious – aside from the fact that there were dropped bits of poached rosemary on the trail lower down, as we climbed further up the mountain the rosemary clumps got larger and were almost all in bloom:

Still not over the winter flowers - these were gorgeous!



Somewhere around 3 hours into the hike, we reached the top of the mountain behind my house. I’ve been told it only takes an hour to do this – again, either they run, they’ve never done it, or they’re talking about the small crest in front of the big mountain (that does take about an hour to summit). If you squint, you can sort of see Molly’s town on the left side of this picture, and the outskirts of my town a bit to the right.

Looking down into my valley.

About a half an hour after that (3 1/2 hours in), we ran into our first tree – which we took wonderful pictures next to, but lamentably on Molly’s camera. I’ll get those pictures later. After our first tree, we realized that there was a whole hillside of trees – mostly dead, but a few were still hanging on. Interestingly, I learned that the hillsides were covered in trees down to my town (and populated with Barbary Sheep) within the memory of our guide – and he’s not that old. Discussing this with my host family later, I learned that one of my favorite host family members has fond memories of coming up to this area with friends and bringing down wood from the branches. Why there are some remaining is difficult to say – there was a little more vegetation in general on that side, possibly owing to the north facing slope, but it’s possible there are some trees remaining just because you’d have to walk uphill from there to lug the wood back to my town. Anyhow, here’s the picture:

"Tawelt" in Tashelheet. Not sure on the English/Latin.

Shortly after, we started running into a plant called “Azzazer,” which sort of reminds me of something in the heath family. I was thinking it was only on this side of the mountain due to the north facing slope, but i saw it later on lots of south facing ones… a puzzle. Maybe, like the trees, people hacked all the azzazer to death on my side of the mountain?

Molly admiring the azzazer.

From there we kept descending until we hit the valley floor and a teeny tiny town called Itto Fezzou. Naturally, this town being named after me (my name here is Itto), it was filled to the brim with baby goats.

This is where baby goats go to be adorable.

As an aside, goats and sheep here are one of the main environmental problems – all the mountains here are heavily overgrazed. A fellow environmental volunteer offered that rather than posing, it would have been more helpful to bash all their little brains in with a rock. While I disapprove of their damage to the local ecosystem, I cannot support baby goat brain bashing. This is my official stance on the subject.

Another interesting thing about Itto Fezzou is that it was considerably higher than my town.  As I have no GPS system, I judge elevation in trees. Eric and Tim’s site are filled with date palms (and delicious dates), which are simply decoration when they exist at all in my site. My site is mainly olives, almonds, and figs – slightly colder than dates, but still warm weather plants. Itto Fezzou only had two kinds of trees that I saw – walnut and apple. Apple is more heat tolerant, so not much of an indicator, but walnuts here require a substantially colder winter than my site can offer – walnuts are hard to find and expensive where I am.  Without technology to tell me temperatures or elevations, I’m really enjoying learning about the climate of a site through it’s agriculture.  This can be done to a lesser degree through the plants on the mountains, but since they’re so overgrazed the plants that remain tend to be relatively homogenous.

After Itto Fezzou, we crested another ridge and got a great view of Ait Haini – home of the livestock souq and one home of the Ait Hadidou tribe, a very famous, strong tribe among the Amazigh people that speaks a slightly different dialect than I know (g’s change to j’s, everything sounds mumbled to me, and simple questions (are you cold?) change completely). They also have a salt mine – if you’re eating rock salt in Morocco, it may come from there! Here’s the picture of Ait Haini from the pass in between it and Itto Fezzou:

Woohoo! Those clouds snowed on us not long after this picture - my first snow of the season!

Other notable events in the last week have included meeting the head of an association with Molly, experiencing an earthquake, Valentine’s Day, and L’3id n l’Mulud – but those are all for a different entry. Ar tikklt yadn, insha’allah! (Until next time, God willing!)

Laundry, Glasses, Surgery and Thorns

Today a few fun things happened, which I will enumerate in this post.

  • I snuck out of the house early in order to get my laundry done before anyone else came to washing area of the ditch… I thought I was doing really well, until one lady came… and then another… and then, somehow, I’m on my tiptoes because conditions have crowded to the point that there are literally wheelbarrowloads of laundry (actual wheelbarrows) by the ditch and someone is washing a rug where I was squatting! The lady with the rug (who I like quite a bit) tried to get me to move so she could get the whole platform for her rug, but another lady next to me told me I needed to stand my ground, so that’s exactly what I did.  I’m learning that attempting to get some solo ditch time is quite futile, and gradually coming to accept that fact.
  • I went to the middle school today to set free the final five pairs of glasses from a locked drawer where they’ve been for over a month. The planets were apparently in their proper formation, because it actually happened! I went around with the equivalent of the vice principal, and we interrupted four classes in order to deliver all the glasses. They seemed to all fit and be the right prescription, hemdullah!
  • On the way to the middle school I ran into an elderly gentleman in a large pair of sunglasses. I didn’t know him, but he stopped to tell me that he went to the clinic while the eye doctor was in our town, and as a result he was one of the people that went to a nearby hospital for free eye surgery. He told me his eyes were recovering well; it was a successful surgery. While I didn’t directly have anything to do with the surgery, that was a great upper for my morning!
  • Also near the middle school, I ran into a few girls who had just been in the mountains collecting thornbushes to be used as firewood.  They caught me attempting to take pictures of a lizard (none of the pictures turned out, the guy was too far back in a hole) and told me I should come pose with one of their loads.  I gave Rkia my camera, and Turia fixed up the cloths on her bundle that protect her back from the thorns. Then she and another girl, Hannan, helped me stand up. It turns out that, due to the nature of the thorns, the bundle wasn’t all that heavy – just hard to balance. It was also a little spiky. The ladies doing laundry nearby had a very good laugh : )

This was the smaller of two bundles, and it's very lopsided on my back.


My New Bookshelf

Today I went down to my souqtown to pay my internet bill and check my mail. I’ve been pricing out bookshelves for a while, and either they are intrinsically expensive or all the woodworkers think I want something fancy despite my protestations otherwise.  When I went to the post office I picked up two packages of books from the Peace Corps library, and decided I must have a bookshelf now – no more books on the floor! As I was waiting for my transportation back to my site to arrive, I ducked into the nearest furniture store and bought a somewhat unstable particle board and cheap metal bookshelf (which I had been eyeing for a month) for far more than it was probably worth (I’m a terrible haggler. I tried bargaining, failed, decided not to buy it, and then ran back in at the last minute and paid full price.). My books nearly fill it up! Without further ado, a picture:

The new bookshelf in all it's glory, protected by its own little Dol Hareubang.