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I’ve been running in circles trying to get some work done, which means I’ve made several trips down the mountain in the last week or so – and I have to be in Er Rachidia again on Monday! Oof! Because of limited transportation up to my town, I’ve gotten to spend a little downtime wandering in the flatlands below. Without further ado, here are the pictures:
That’s all for today! Hope you enjoyed the show!
I had the opportunity to go to the Peace Corps office in Rabat a few weeks ago, and while I was there I picked up some Vetiver to try out in my town. Vetiver is a non-invasive grass species native to India which my program manager (and NRCS, as it happens) likes to use for erosion control, owing to their humongous roots (up to ~3m). I asked my host family if I could plant it in their fields, and they said yes (picture deleted).
Since I was already there, I spent the rest of the afternoon helping to harvest some alfalfa for the animals. While it may seem silly, I love my time in the fields – on top of being great mentally (and good exercise), it’s also good for my community image. How does one harvest alfalfa here, you may ask? With a sickle! It’s called a ‘tamughurt’ in my dialect of Tamazight, and it looks like this:
I would give you a picture of Moroccan women using it, as they have a slightly different stance from me, but if you’ve been here before you know by now that I don’t put up pictures of adults on my blog – so you’ll get a picture of me that my host sister Selma took yesterday, when I returned to harvest a pretty puny crop of alfalfa and weeds:
Selma and Ikram took turns carrying my bag, which I have to carry around now in order to have a 5 liter plastic jug with me with which to water the Vetiver – it needs to be watered frequently at first, and it turns out the ditches are nearly always dry in the part of the fields we planted it in! So every day or two I haul water a few kilometers out to the Vetiver. (picture deleted, sorry)
I had a very dull Tamughurt yesterday, which means I had to pull extra hard to cut anything. I have several blisters on my fingers, strengthening my resolve to buy one of my own soon. The hope there is that then I can go around helping random people with field work, an idea I never got around to implementing last year. I spent the night with my host family last night, and then on my way home today I saw someone I didn’t know handpicking weeds from a wheat field. After the initial greeting I was continuing on home, and then I saw a path leading down to her field about 20 feet in front of me. I decided to go and offer help and see if she would accept – which she did, although she said I was a little crazy for working in the fields for free. I’m slower picking through wheat for weeds than I am at clear cutting alfalfa, but I still managed to help out a bit in the half hour before she decided she had enough to bring back to her livestock. Success!
I’m going to leave you with a picture of a sheep I found the other day, contentedly munching grass while tied to an Alily bush:
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.
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!
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:
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:
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.
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:
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?
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.
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:
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!)
The work of an Peace Corps Volunteer can be difficult to explain (as well mocked in this video), and I often get asked what exactly it is that I do here. I’ve been doing a little organizing the last few days, so I thought I’d share a few of the projects I’ll be working on this month:
1) Water Quality Assessments/Lessons with Middle School Students: Molly and I took nine water samples from various places around my town in late December; hopefully the results will be coming back from the health department soon. Then we’ll partner with a science teacher from the school to teach the lesson (and this is not a requirement for him, so if he doesn’t want to I get to try to teach the lesson). We’ll talk about where the water is coming from, sources of contamination, why uncontaminated water is good, and ways to prevent contamination. Hopefully we can do lessons for all the classes in the middle school.
2) English Club at the Middle School: This is another thing I’m working on with Molly – we discussed English Club with the administrator of the school in December, but due to various things (as happens) it hasn’t gotten off the ground yet. School is currently on a winter break, but it will resume Wednesday – hopefully we can resurrect this idea and start doing English Club next Tuesday.
3) Earth Day Planning with both Middle and Elementary Schools: Granted, Earth Day isn’t for a few more months, but I know a few other volunteers are planning with schools and youth centers already, so I’m hoping to talk to the administrators of both schools this week to see if they want to start planning as well. Earth Day activities could include things such as art projects, murals, environmental trivia contests, environmentally themed skits, garden/tree planting, etc.
4) Organizing a Meeting to form a Rosemary Cooperative: This is something the Ministry of Water and Forests (DWF) wants me to do. I’ve been talking to people in my town and Molly’s, and I’m hoping to have them do most of the legwork on this – I want to make sure we have all the proper people present (rep. from DWF, rep. from the government branch that forms coops) and that only people from the community interested in participating in the coop as officers (rather than everyone from the community) are there. It’s a little slow, but I’m hoping it can all be arranged.
5) Finding Women Leaders in town for a Women’s Association: This is a very tea based goal, as in I am going to need to resume wandering around with the goal of meeting new people by tea invitation. I tried to hold a community meeting in the way everyone told me I should – talk to the Khalifa, get a room at the Xiria (sort of like a boarding house for the middle school – it has a big room good for meetings), and have the town crier announce it. Women told me they’d come, and then they didn’t. I’m taking a new approach – I want to find at least one woman in each neighborhood who is actively interested in taking a leadership role, and then have the 3-5 of them arrange a community meeting. This is a much longer approach, but I think it will work better in the end. The women don’t necessarily want an ‘association’, per se, but they talk to me about wanting preschools for their children, literacy classes for women, and income generating opportunities. These are all things a women’s association can provide, so I’m really hoping that, with persistence, this idea will work.
6) Meeting with new Agricultural Associations: The Ag department recently swooped into town and created Associations in my town, Molly’s town, and Eric’s town. The main goals of these associations, as far as I’m aware, is erosion control along the rivers and improving ditches (which are very, very important here). I would love to help them with tree and bamboo planting along the rivers, if possible, so I’m hoping to attend the next meeting they have, both in my town and Molly’s town. We’ll see what happens from there.
7) Research about Solar Ovens: Deforestation is a major environmental problem in my area, and there are organizations and government agencies in Morocco that are working with the idea of solar cooking as a way of reducing firewood consumption. I’d like to learn more information to see if anything available would be a feasible option in my town – even those who have switched to butane based ovens (the richer families) are spending quite a bit of money on butane and would be interested in alternatives.
8) Creating a project plan for a GLOW Camp: GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World, and is a Peace Corps initiative in many PC countries. I’ve been tossing around the idea of creating a camp for middle school girls in my region this summer, and there are a few other PCVs possibly interested in helping after they complete a major project of theirs in late February. I’m hoping to have looked through the vast amount of materials on GLOW Camps and have a basic camp outline including cost and staffing factors to consider by late February in order to have a starting point for a GLOW Camp discussion.
Of course, none of these ideas are guaranteed to pan out – not even the water quality lessons, for which over half of the work is already finished. These are simply the projects which I have scheduled time for and set goals for myself to work on this month.