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My Host Family

Ama is a gourmet chef, I think, or at least a masterful sukuzina (cook). She served me cupcakes with chocolate filling for kaskrut (tea) after I arrived. That’s the best pastry I’ve had in Morocco, no exaggerating. She offered to teach me how to cook, and I was thrilled to say yes. [Note from later – her couscous is also the best I’ve ever had, in Morocco or anywhere else. Wowsers.]

Bba is a tour guide. I’ll learn more about him when he returns. I’ve heard that he speaks some French and English, lHumdullah.

There’s a 16-year-old sister, the daughter of Banu’s previous marriage. She goes to college (junior high) and lives with her grandmother.

Then there’s 11-year-old Mohammed, a 9-year-old brother, and a 5-year-old sister. I don’t know them yet, but that will come.

The current topic of conversation is my Moroccan name. The one my previous host family gave me, Eliaz, has bee universally rejected, mostly because Elias (which sounds pretty much the same) is a boy’s name. On the table are Naddia and Yasmin – both nice, though I’m leaning towards something Biblical. (Is Quranical a word?) Elizabeth isn’t in the Qur’an – I checked, and her husband Zachariah and son John the Baptist both are, but she got left out – but Sarah and Miriam (Mary) are. I wish I’d thought to ask H** what other women are in the Qur’an…

Berberville’s Hills Are Alive

I just looked unto the hills, and remembered that I haven’t said anything about my surroundings. There are mountains on every side of me that I can see from my stoop. I’ll head up on the roof in a minute and see if it’s true up there, too. They are folded and faulted in ways that would make any structural geologist’s head spin all the way off her shoulders. Recumbent folds, thrust faults, overturned beds, anticlines, synclines…all these terms from Geo 11 and Structure resurfaced today as I rode across the High Atlas Mountains in the tranzit (shuttle bus from area villages to souq towns). Someday in the next two years, inshallah, I’ll bike or hike the 140 k to SouqTown so I can take pictures of all these textbook-worthy places.

I can understand why the folks who came here on field trip described it as ugly – but I beg to differ. The mountains are naked, yes – no trees, no grass, hardly any shrubs – so they lack the organic beauty of the Appalachians…but these exposed rock layers are a geonerd’s dream. The sere hillsides are more reminiscent of the Black Hills than Memorial Hill, and the muted tones pall against the startling hues of the Painted Desert…but this place is beautiful.

Welcome to Berberville

…and now I’m in Berberville. (For some reason, that nickname keeps making me think of the Barber of Seville, which is not an allusion I’d make deliberately. Oh, well.) Sitting on my back stoop, watching the trees in my courtyard sway in the breeze. For the record, the sound of leaves in the wind is just fantastic. There are sfsaf (poplar), tfaH (apple), khokh (peach), plus some of the famous lwrd (roses) of Kelaat MaGouna.

My host families are very dissimilar in obvious ways – this one is very wealthy, the dad lives at home, the house is enormous – but both are warm and inviting, and both have made me feel welcome despite my repeated failures to communicate. My host dad is a mountain guide for tourists, and he’s off in the mountains this week, so I won’t get to meet him until after I swear in (inshallah).

My language skills are nowhere near sufficient, but lHumdullah they’re light-years ahead of where they were when I went to RiverVillage for the first time. My conversations are short, choppy, and ungrammatical, but I can have conversations, which counts for a lot.

Welcome to SouqTown

I've changed my mind - EAC is too impersonal name for my nifty souq town. So from here on out, I'll refer to it as SouqTown. Without further ado... The news:

I wish I’d brought a pen that didn’t bleed through the paper; I’m stuck taking notes and journaling on only one side of a page. Otherwise, my life is pretty fantastic right now. :)

SouqTown is mumtez (wonderful). I can see why so many volunteers in the region spend their free weekends here. Not only is the company great – SouqTown PCVs rock the casbah – but the town itself is pretty perfect. It’s big enough to sell everything you’d need, from stoves to mattresses to tupperware to teapots, while still small enough that you can walk the entire city center in 15 minutes. Plus, the gorgeous mountains rising up at you as you walk up the main street…take my breath away. It’s reminiscent of Boulder, with the Flatirons looming on the horizon.

Site assignments!

Humdullah! We've gotten our site assignments!

Friday morning, our program staff gave us our sites and assignments, telling us where we'll be and what we'll be doing for the next two years (inshallah). Not surprisingly, since I'm learning a Berber language, I'll be in a Berber village in the High Atlas Mountains. Berberville, as I'll call it here (for purposes of safety, adherence to Peace Corps Policy, and just because it seems like a good idea).

Yesterday, Saturday, I left Mountain City to come to Berberville. Berberville doesn't have internet access, sadly, but [Eastern Atlas City] does, and that's where I spent last night. :) I'll be going back and forth between Berberville and EAC fairly regularly - probably once a week - for things like shopping, internet access, and language tutoring. (Why not find a tutor in Berberville? Two reasons: There aren't many available - my sitemate is not thrilled with hers -
and more importantly, because H**, the language and culture facilitator I've worked with (and been hugely impressed by) for the past two months, lives in EAC! :D So I get to keep studying with her! (She's fluent not only in Darija and Berber but also in Classical Arabic and French, the other two languages I'm going to want to be working on over the next two years.) lHumdullah!

So I haven't actually seen Berberville yet. We'll head out there in the next hour or two. I've spent the past 18 or so hours in EAC, spending time with the other new PCTs assigned to the area and with the PCVs who have been here for the past 5-23 months. (Youth Development and Small Business Development volunteers come to Morocco in the fall, so they arrive in site in November; Health and Environment volunteers come to Morocco in the spring, so we get to site in May.) It's a great group of people. I'm sad that none of my Environmental buddies will be too nearby - the other three PCTs are all Health - but the volunteers here are pretty fantastic, so I'm looking forward to making friends with them. And with my Environmental friends scattered so broadly, I've got people to visit all up and down the country.

The social aspects of last night and this morning were great, but at least as wonderful (in my opinion, because I'm a big nerd, and like to feel like I'm doing productive things) is that I made contact with people I'll be able to collaborate with on my projects. There are two environmental volunteers, married to each other, (K&D) who live on the opposite side of the National Park I'll be working with. K&D don't come into EAC very often--I think this is their second visit in the year they've been here--so it's wonderful that they were here when I was, and we were able to talk about our projects and plans. We've already decided to collaborate on their plans - which include hiking the five days from their site to mine and marking the trail and surveying it, plus doing a count of the Barbary Sheep that live in the park - and mine.

About my plans...

Friday morning, after I knew where I'd be coming, I talked with the Environmental Program staff about what their vision was for Environmental Education (EE) in Berberville. And they've got one. As most of y'all know, I'm a certified science teacher, back in the States. Apparently, there aren't many certified teachers who have been EE PCVs in Morocco, so they're excited to take advantage of my training. (Oh, and coincidence #23: D**, of K&D, is also a certified teacher. Science teacher. Who taught middle school. And he also has a M.S., but his is in Wildlife Ecology. This collaboration, inshallah, is going to be iHla bzzef.)

So what are these education-intensive EE plans?

They want me to meet with teachers from each of the schools in the National Park. (The Park is less than 20 years old, and the government wanted to include large swathes of land--53,000 hectares, but I don't know what that means in acres or miles--so there are many villages and towns that are entirely within the boundaries of the Park.) Inshallah, these teachers will work together as a Park-wide EE committee, determining which environmental issues the students in our region need to learn. We'll create EE clubs in the schools and create EE curriculum to target the issues that the committee decides are important. And then I'll monitor the implementation of this curriculum.

It's ambitious, but then, I knew our staff had big goals. :) There are challenges, not least of which is the sheer scope of the Park and the virtually nonexistent transportation between these villages. (I may well be getting to most of them on foot, and they range from a two-day hike to a five-day hike away.)

So...ambitious. But this is good work, and the work that I've been called here to do. Which means that I've got legions of support to make this happen, not to mention another certified teacher who lives on the opposite side of the park. lHumdullah. :D


Bedecked and bedazzling...

Tonight I picked up my tjlabit, aka jelabba. I went to the fabric shop and tailor the last time we were here in [Mountain City], and now that we're back from CBT, I returned to pick up the finished ... garment.

Imagine a cross between a dress and a monk's habit, and you'll more or less have the right mental image. It reaches to about 6" off the ground, and has just enough of a v-neck to show off my necklace. It's blue-grey, with a slight sheen, and I found a fabric with an interesting texture and a very subtly embroidered flower every foot or so. The result is something that's understated but pretty. Of course, I haven't seen myself in a mirror bigger than the palm of my hand, so I'm mostly basing this on other people's comments. But I'm willing to believe that they're not lying, and I really do look zweena. :)

Tomorrow morning we'll get our site assignments, inshallah. Some of my PCT friends have been really tweaking out over this, but I'm staying pretty chill; I haven't yet seen a part of Morocco that didn't have its own natural beauty, and wherever I am, I'll have the opportunity to do good. So what's to stress over? :)


Back from CBT Week 3

Hi! I'm typing this entry live, which makes it different from the ~15 pages of material I just uploaded, which I typed in my village. Yeah for laptops!

If you'd like to read any of the new stuff, use the handy index on the left side of the page. The material is dated from when it took place, so the dates go as far back as 3/20. Basically, everything from the end of March and from all of April is new. Nearly all, anyway.

I promise I'll learn soon how to upload photos. For now, though, you're stuck with my descriptions. :) Enjoy!

How Drinking Water Came to My Village

It started with German tourists. They were in my souq town for a festival (the one I’ll be going to soon, inshallah!), and heard that there was a huge flood on the nearby river. They came to River Village to take a look, and were shocked at the terrible quality of the water, which was the only water that people had to drink. It turned out that these weren’t just any German tourists; they were members of an NGO that focused on potable water in third world regions. They said to the villagers, “We can’t work with individuals or with the local government. If you can put together an association, give us a call and we’ll bring potable water to your village.” The association came together quickly, and the Germans put their famed engineering skills to work.

Before long, my little village had two water chateaux (aka water purification towers) and plumbing bringing the purified water to the center of town. That was used as a communal well briefly, but since then, plumbing has been run to each of the 80-some-odd homes in the village, so that everyone in town can turn a knob in their home and have potable water gush out. :) The water consumption is metered, but over half of the households can’t afford to pay their water bills, so the association quietly takes care of it. (They didn’t specify how, and I didn’t ask.) Everyone in my little duwar has clean, safe water to drink, right in their own homes. It may not sound like much, but it’s huge to my host family and to everyone else in town. Much of the sky-high Moroccan infant mortality rate is blamed on bad water. Some say that every child is his (or her) parent’s whole world…which means that if bringing potable water to my village saves even one life, it has saved the world.

OK, now I feel cheesy. But I’m still awfully grateful that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens decided that they could do something for a small village 1,000 miles away in the mountains of Morocco.


Evening Perambulations

Lots of goodness today. Great discussion of Peace Corps issues, great walk to the assif (river), where D** taught us how to balance rocks – yeah for a nifty new hobby that makes my inner geologist glow happily!

After l-mdrasa today, Mma wasn’t home, which meant that everything was a little more relaxed. This week I came to realize that, while Mma looks a lot like an old friend of mine, she’s different in lots of important ways. She’s great, but she runs a nishan household, with rather more yelling than her apple cheeks had led me to expect. When she’s not home, there are more smiles and the atmosphere is just generally lighter.

After kaskrut (tea break), my aytma (siblings) and I went out for a walk. I finally got to meet the secret girlfriend of Teen Bro. After our meeting – which, since this relationship is still secret, consisted entirely of shaking her hand, smiling at each other, watching her greet the assorted brothers and sister who were with us, and then walking on – Teen Bro asked my opinion of her. With nothing at all to base an opinion on, I decided to agree that she was tHla (good, sweet, nice, kind, and beautiful – really a very handy adjective), mostly because she’s studying to become a doctor, which I firmly approve of. :) Oh, and he invited me to come to their tamghra (wedding) in four years, when they’re old enough. I gave him a hug. Fifteen-year-olds really are a universal phenomenon.

Then we walked to the edge of the bluff, where we listened to the tagruts in the river. I asked where the frrtdo (bats) were, since they usually fly around. Not long afterwards, Teen Bro and Little Sis ran off, leaving me and Middle Bro to look at the lights of the town across the river. When they didn’t return soon, we began calling for them. Turns out they’d been looking for bat caves for me. :D I love my family!

After we came back to the house, I discovered that my brothers had captured a sparrow and were holding it in a box about 4”x4”x2”. Didn't love my family quite so enthusiastically at that moment. I told them to set it free, which they very reluctantly did. :( Then we went inside and read the Newsweeks that B**’s family had sent her. They were a hit. Sis-in-Law loved the pictures of pregnant women and newborns, in the article about surrogate mothers, and the boys are looking at the pictures of Barack Obama. “He wants to be the President,” I was able to say, correctly.

“Bush is the president!” Teen Bro argued.

“Bush is President now. Barack Obama wants to be President in the future.”


Yeah for complete sentences! Actual communication! Ideas being shared, one Tamazight word at a time!

Oh, and remind me to tell you about singing the National Anthem. :)


Village Analysis

Right now, I’m supposed to be completing my Mid-PST evaluation (attention, future PCVs: Take notes on everything; it will be on the test) but I stalled out on the question, List the assets (strengths) and constraints (weaknesses) of your village, as based on your environmental assessment. I’m doing well with listing strengths: strong and proven association. Universal appreciation of green space and living things. Large population of youths with ample time on their hands.

I’m having more trouble with the “constraints”. The lack of western toilets is certainly a weakness in my eyes, but it’s hardly a developmental constraint. Ditto for the lack of hot showers and dish soap. (Yeah, that one was a bit of a shocker for me: they used Tide for everything. Tide. As in, the laundry detergent. They use it to clean clothes, dishes, tables and counters…you name it.) I guess the lack of paved roads limits the amount of equipment that can be brought in, but the main road is only half a kilometer away, so it’s not prohibitive. I think mentioning the moqaddim or the mudir (school director) would be politically incorrect. (Because the people reading my midterm, unlike any of my lovely anonymous blog readers, know which of the thousands of mountain villages I’ve been living and working in.)

After reviewing my notes from the discussion we had after CBT week 1, of the “resources” and “problems” (yup, yet another way to avoid saying “strengths and weaknesses”) of all 5 CBT villages, I have a few more ideas: poor infrastructure (not only are there no paved roads, there’s also no permanent bridge over the river – large rocks in one place and a log nestled in mud a mile upstream do not a permanent bridge make – and the school only goes to 5th grade), dependence on outside resources and support, and inaccessible schools. That last could be interpreted as a dig against the mudir, but it’s really just a statement of fact. Two facts, really: we couldn’t access the school, and the local junior high and high school are 5 K away, which is prohibitive for all but a very few families.

Grateful for: walking to our SouqTown (aka our regional ecological survey); the unbelievable beauty of this place; getting to talk to Mom and Dad yesterday; going for evening walks with my aytma (siblings); finding Santa-shaped chocolates in the taHanoot (little market) in our SouqTown; the infinite resources of Soul; Love meeting every need; the baby falling asleep on my lap. Kulshi bikhir. It’s all good. :)

Walk to SouqTown (through Eden!)

Today, we walked along the river to and from our Souq town. We’d noticed that the same river runs past our village as runs past the souq town, so we asked Ali about it, and he agreed to walk us into town. It was beeyoutiful. At one point, I pulled out my camera (which I was trying not to do too often, because Ali kept a quick pace). I was about to take a picture of a field*, but B**, right behind me, said, “Turn around.”

I did, and said, “Wow.” Rising above the flower-filled field was a towering cliff with a kasbah perched on top. I snapped both pictures – with the castle and without – and commented, “You just can’t take a bad picture in this country.”

B** responded, “It helps that the sky is always blue and the sun is always shining.”

“Yeah, that helps.”

* Not just any field. Well, OK, nearly any field around here looks like this, but it’s pretty doggoned amazing. Rising above the alfalfa are wildflowers – irises, lilies, and dozens of others whose names I don’t know – that just…radiate profligate beauty. They are pink and purple and yellow, they stand out in glorious contrast to the green fields they grow from, and every time I pass one, I reflect on the line, “Consider the lilies of the field.” I can see why these would inspire a sermon. They’re so … unnecessarily beautiful. They aren’t planted, they aren’t cultivated, and no one I’ve asked even knows their names. (When I’ve tried, whichever member of the gaggle I’m talking to will just look at me and say, “Flower,” in this tone of voice that says, “Were you dropped on your head as a child?”) When the grasses are harvested, the flowers are cut down with them, and they’re all dried together and fed to the sheep. They’re effectively invisible, in terms of effort or utility…but when the sunlight shines through them, their translucent radience puts Monet to shame.

CBT Week 3 Recap

I can’t believe how quickly this CBT week has gone by. It started on Wednesday, April 16th, when we met with S**, the SBD PCV. He’d actually arranged for a whole crop of regional PCVs, from all four sectors (Youth Development, Small Business Development, Health, and Environment) to meet with us. Yeah!

On Friday, we got to meet with the Water Association, humdullah. We’d met with the president on the previous Saturday, the 12th, but this time we got to meet with the whole group.

Since then, it’s been same-old-same-old, CBT-style. Language and culture lessons every day. Walks around the village – including up and down the cliff face from the igran (fields) down in the plain, up to the village houses on top of the bluff. (Cliff, bluff, kif-kif.)



For most of the past 50 days, I’ve been eating five - six meals a day. That’s a lot. There’s breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, evening tea (only during CBT), and dinner. They nearly all include bread and mint tea; the condiments and fat content of the bread may vary, but not the presence of bread and tea. They were two of the first words my host family made sure I knew: aghrom and attay. Silly me, I’d thought that I had an advantage in knowing the words in classical Arabic: khobz and shay. Not a chance. My host brothers, who have been to about six years of school each, recognized the Arabic words, but insisted I learn what they’re really called.

When I get the chance, I like to eat *fewer* than six meals a day. During our most recent stint in [Mountain City], I’ve only been grabbing a cup of tea at breakfast, and skipping either the morning or the afternoon tea. Once or twice I’ve been out during dinner time, and missed that meal. Here at CBT, though, missing meals = insulting my host family.

All the same, I’m tired of being bullied into gorging myself several times a day. My stomach has expanded so far that I feel hungry all day long. This past week, I’ve been snacking on kaw-kaws (peanuts) in-between the six meals. Yeesh. In my experience, when I’ve been eating huge amounts of food – holidays with my food-loving family spring to mind – fasting for a day does the job of bringing my appetite down to normal size. I really didn’t think I’d be able to go a day in this village without eating anything, but I was determined to try to eat no more than one full meal.

My plan started with skipping breakfast. I pretended to sleep late (actually just reading in bed), figuring that I’d let morning tea substitute for breakfast. No dice. Mma was gone to the fields by the time I emerged, but Sis-in-Law had been drilled in proper procedure. My hard boiled egg (Mma’s solution for How do you keep a vegetarian from starving? Feed her at least one hard boiled egg every day) was waiting inside the coffeepot in the kitchen, and a dish of jam and butter was tucked into the cupboard. So I ate a full l-fdor, then headed off for our Earth Day fun.

After Competitive Trash Pickup (I really need to think of a more fun name for that), I went back to “our mdrasa” (not to be confused with the mdrasa that my host brothers and sister attend) and worked until my laptop battery died. (I kicked myself for forgetting the power converter at home, but whatchagonnado.) While I was there, Ali*’s daughter invited us down for tea. By the way, “Come and drink tea” was the first full sentence I mastered other than the tourist survival phrases like “I work for the Peace Corps” and “How much does that cost?” It’s “Adud ad-tsut attay.” Since I’d had a full breakfast not two hours before, and since a fellow PCT was doing the pouring, I was able to bypass drinking tea, and just had some kaw-kaws and water. I came home at 2, figuring that was the latest that the lunch window could possibly run. Silly me. My family was still finishing up, and asked if I’d had lunch already. I told them that I’d eaten (technically true, thanks to the kaw-kaws), but sat with them for the post-lunch-lingering and the dessert (an orange).

I underestimated the power of the village gossip mill.

My family seems to be on the fringes of village life, not only in the most literal sense – our house is one of the furthest north from the village center, and there are only two more houses before the expanse of sand and sage separating us from Bahallu’s village two miles up river – but also in that we veeery rarely get visitors, nor do Mma or Sis-in-Law ever talk about visiting any of the other families in town.

Through no means of communication I can figure out, Mma found out that I didn’t really have lunch. So when I sat down for afternoon tea, she served me a huge salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and a salty dressing. Plus, of course, bread. No tea, though, just hot, sweet milk. Mmmm. I could drink my weight in that stuff.

I ate a reasonable amount of bread and salad, and called myself done. I had to mightily resist the “Tsh, tsh!” (Eat, eat!) that Mma heaped out, but I did it. I hung out in the living room for a while, then, about an hour before evening tea, I said that I was tired, and retreated into my room. I read and studied for a few hours before Little Sis came knocking on the door. I thought I was being summoned for evening tea, or maybe for an early dinner, but no, my family just wanted to spend time with me. :) So we played cards for a bit and then danced for a bit (and then my two oldest brothers both dressed up in funny clothes, I have no idea why), and then came dinner. Which was lentils, l3ds, aka my favorite Moroccan dish. I forgot how to say that, but I remembered how to say I like lentils, which is surprisingly complicated. (The syntax is essentially “Please me they do, lentils.” (i3ajbi l3ds) There’s really no straightforward way to express liking something in Tamazight, so we’re stuck with Yoda-speak.) And since I do love Moroccan lentils, I ate a nice big helping, along with lots of water.

So if I was hoping to fast today, I failed. But if I was hoping to avoid eating six meals, I succeeded. I’d tally today as 1 full breakfast, 1.5 teas, and 1 dinner. Three and a half meals. Not too bad, all things considered. :)

*Another exception to the name rule...but then, Ali is the second most common name in Morocco, after Mohammed. Ali is the owner of the building we've been using as our mdrasa, and is also serving as the host father to our LCF, H**. We usually refer to him as "the landlord", but the more we get to know him, the more appropriate it feels to call him by name.

Earth Day!

OK, I had the script *mostly* memorized. I brought it with me just in case, and yes, my eyes flickered down more than once, but it was a pretty smooth delivery. Except I still can’t pronounce “celebrate”, datHatafaln. I pronounce something, but who knows what it sounds like. :)

Our competitive trash pick-up went *really* well. :D We got about 20 l-qom (kids), ranging in age probably from 8ish to 14ish. Unfortunately, we only got boys. I don’t know how the message for the girls went astray, but, oh, well. L-qom were totally into it, collected a small mountain of trash (30-40 cubic feet, according to my back-of-the-notebook calculations), and had lots of fun. My mental image had been that we’d keep the banyos (the big basins), the kids would grab mikka bags and fill them with trash, and they’d bring the mikka bags to the basins. Instead, they all grabbed up their banyos and scampered off with them. They filled them, brought them back to us, dump them out on the ground, and repeated the process. Many times. We ended up with way more trash than we could pack up – it would have mostly filled the trunk of the grand taxi that brings us back and forth between our village and our PST town, and who knows what we’d have done with our luggage.

We’d already mostly abandoned the idea of packing out the trash, though, because H** told us this morning that both our nearby souk town and our bigger PST town almost certainly burn their trash. The “town dump” idea hasn’t made it to this part of Morocco yet, apparently. So if the trash is being burned anyway, we might as well burn it here. Pollutant? Yes. But on a small scale, and there’s plenty of wind to disperse the particulates. One thing I’m learning here is that there aren’t usually simple solutions, and there’s a lot of choosing the lesser of two evils. Anyway, anything seems better than leaving trash all over the ground.

So, after we’d assembled the mountain of trash, we had the kids we asked our gaggle’s leader, L**, where villagers burn their trash. We had l-qom, who were basically serving as an extension of our gaggle, help us transport it. Fortunately for us all, one of the kids had found a stash of slightly-busted flour sacks. (Villagers here don’t need to buy flour; they take their wheat to the local mill and carry the flour home again, using and reusing woven-plastic sacks.) These had holes too big to be useful in transporting flour, but were thoroughly adequate to carry large volumes of trash. We collectively heaved it over to the edge of the cliff, where I was rather relieved to find deep pits. I’d worried both that we’d be humping this stuff all the way down to the river and that it was a fairly windy day. (No surprise there. Even though The Sandstorm knocked my socks off, it’s only the most extreme example of the near-daily windstorms that rock my little village.) But these fire pits were at least six feet deep, so the wind wouldn’t be an issue. I love these moments of realizing that the ingenuity of my neighbors has solved a problem I’d barely been aware of. :) We tossed the flour sacks into the pits, and had A**, PCT and experienced fireman, light it up. We watched it burn for a while. I took lots of pictures, both of the fire and of the kids. I promise, one of these days I’ll learn how to load pictures onto a blog. :) Then we trooped back to the school, played ball with a few of the kids for a while, and dispersed.

Earth Day Speech

Here’s what I memorized for Earth Day (in translation):

Every year, on April 20th, people in every country of the world celebrate Earth Day.

Many people, in 12,000 associations, in 174 countries, take one day to celebrate the Earth. The first celebration was 38 years ago.

What do you think? Why do we celebrate the Earth?

Good answers!

In the Koran, it says, “Allah made the world green and beautiful, and he has appointed you stewards over it. He will see how you acquit yourselves.”

In some countries, people have parties on Earth Day. In some countries, people plant trees and flowers. In some, people do something good for the environment.

Today, we’re doing something good for the environment of our village.

Here’s the original, in transliteration. (It’s pretty much entirely phonetic, so feel free to sound it out.)

Ku asugas, g asherin Avril, mddn g ku tamazight n dunit datHatafalns Yowm l’3lm l’ard.

Bzaaf n mddn, g tnash alif jma3ya, g mya o arb3a o sb3ayin dawla, datamzn yen wass ad-Htalfns l’ard. L-Hatifl amzwaru iga timinia o tlatin asugas nnayzrin.

Mayd awn idrhn? Makh danHatafals l’ard?


G l-qur’an, “…[It’s all in classical Arabic and someone else will recite it.]”

G kan tamazight, mddn ghorsn l-feshta n Yowm l’3lm l’ard. G kan tamazight, mddn datkrazn l-shejr d l-wrd. G kan, mddn datskarn kan l-hajt iHla i l-biya.

Essa, danskar kan l-hajt iHla i l-biya n duwarnu.


Twas the Night Before Earth Day

We’ve been in our village for three days now. Time is definitely moving faster and faster. I was totally shocked this afternoon to realize that we only have a month of training left. We’ll swear in on May 19th, inshallah. We’re two thirds (more or less) of the way through. Humdullah!

Today was an easy day at “school”; because we’ll be working tomorrow, doing Earth Day stuff while we’re supposed to be having a free day, we took this afternoon off. However, we still have plenty of work to do: finishing up the writing of the project proposal for Peace Corps, which B** has done the lion’s share of (Thanks, B!); preparing an environmental education activity in Tamazight, which we'll present to each other on Tuesday; making sure everything is ready for tomorrow. Since we all have found that it’s hard to focus on work at our host families’ homes, we decided not to tell them that we had the afternoon off, and just stay at school, working independently.

Tomorrow is pretty solidly planned – we’ve all been assigned our roles, learned our parts, and prepped everything we could think of – so all we really did on that front this afternoon was tell a few more kids that we had an Earth Day Game for them, so they should join us at the soccer field at 11:00 tomorrow. :)

Our itinerary for tomorrow:
11:00 – Who are we, and what is the Peace Corps?
11:10 – What is Earth Day, and why do we celebrate it? (This one’s my section.)
11:15 – Rules of the game
11:20 – Play!
11:50 – Designate a winner, hand out prizes
11:55 – Debrief, aka What did we learn today?
12:00 – Send the kids home for lunch, and/or play soccer with them for a while

Without further ado… What is this fabulous game we have lined up? We don’t have a name for it, but it’s basically “Competitive Trash Pickup”. Our beautiful village is sullied by the plastic and other biodegradable trash that is littered everywhere. Most households burn their plastic trash periodically (also not a fabulous solution), but littering is epidemic. So…we’re going to do something about that. We’ve invited all the kids we have access to* to come to the soccer field tomorrow, with all their friends. Boys and girls. We’ve specified that repeatedly. We’ll bring four or five laundry tubs, split the kids into teams, and then tell them that whichever team puts the most littered trash into their tub wins. They’ll have half an hour – just about enough time to go all over town, or even down to the fields and back if they want to – to gather as much trash as they can. We’ll give them a couple of mikka bags to get them started and to hold the litter they find, plus there are dozens of them in the brush of the cemetery, which is next to the soccer field. (And don’t worry, we checked with the imam: although walking through a graveyard is generally not a great thing to do, if your motive is to clean off the graves, it’s entirely hallal – a good thing that will bring you rewards in heaven.) Then they’re off to gather as much trash as they can assemble and bring it back to us. We’ll pack it out to the souk town, which actually has trash pickup (unlike our village), and advise them that they should do the same. Who knows if they’ll go that far (pun intended), but at least it will beautify the town and pull pollutants from the ground and water. It will also raise awareness of environmental protection, which is one of the primary goals of Earth Day anyway.

* We can’t get into the school. We have a letter from the Ministry of Education saying that every school in the country is obligated to work with Peace Corps Environmental Educators (aka us), but the school director in our village is refusing us access, anyway. His rationale was that his name was not included on the letter – it was a form letter from the Ministry – so it’s not binding. He wants a letter from the regional government, addressed specifically to him. We got the runaround from the regional government, too, but eventually they said that they faxed him a letter. When we went to talk to him again, he was gone. One of our gaggle said that he is responsible for three schools, so could be at any of them. An adult in the community told us that he’s winding down his tenure here, and is about to leave for a bigger and better-paying position, so he’s just marking time until he can leave. This may not be politically correct to include, but so be it. I’m not drawing any conclusions about Moroccans or even Moroccan politicians; I’m just saying that this particular individual has expressed no interest in working with us, has refused to answer our questions, and has made it clear that he does not want us in his school. If we were going to be here for the next two years, it would make sense to keep trying with him, but since we have about 10 days left in this community, we’ve made the executive decision to use our energies elsewhere. It’s a lesson to us and to the rest of the environmental sector (all of whom have heard about it) that just because most of us have been given carte blanche in the schools doesn’t mean that every official we need to work with will make our lives easy, and that there is a reason for the Peace Corps’ trademark “patience and flexibility.” Long story short: we can’t hold any Earth Day activities at school, so we told our host families and our gaggle that we had a game for them and all their friends on Sunday (the only day of the week when there is no school), and we’ll make it the best Earth Day we can. Safi.


Meeting with the Water Association II

Tonight, we stayed late at school to meet with the Water Association. (That’s what everyone calls them. We learned tonight that their official name is “The [River Village] Association for Drinkable Water.”) Last week, in [Mountain City], we talked with three Volunteers who have been working for the past year. They had lots of useful information for us – as all the PCVs we’ve met do – but they focused their energies on talking about NGOs, both the big international ones we’ll be hitting up for cash and the teeny associations we’ll be working with in our villages. They warned us that many associations are viewed as dishonest by their villages, and that we should be wary. Our Water Association, though, is universally regarded as du nishan*, an idiom like English’s “straight arrow,” so we had no worries on that front.

We’d been working on details of our tree-planting plan since our meeting with Mohammed I**, aka el presidente, the association’s president. We were therefore more than a little disconcerted when the idea was shot down within the first five minutes of the meeting. It more or less went, “We’re not sure where people could plant trees. All the arable land is in use already. Do you have any other ideas?”

Our little CBT group had settled on tree planting after exhausting all the other ideas we could think of – notably growing plants from seeds, holding a festival at the school, doing a community-wide trash pickup (which we’ll do on Earth Day instead), and a few others I can’t think of right now – so we were (or at least I was) thrown by the idea that we needed to come up with another plan on the spot.

We took a second to regroup, and then D**, the group member who has natural leadership oozing out of every pore, said, “Why don’t we take a few minutes to talk about other options we could pursue, but if we can’t come up with a better one, we can come back to this.” We PCTs talked amongst ourselves, as did the members of the association: Mohammed I, Mohammed II, Mohammed III, Mohammed IV, and S**. (I’m not making this up. OK, I made up the numbering scheme, but it’s literally true that four of the five members of the water association are named Mohammed.) Mohammed III seemed to be pushing hard for something. H** told us that it was bee-keeping. That sounded good for a second – the Ministry of Agriculture will send an expert to hold a workshop and provide equipment if any community has 10 interested parties – but then H** said that the Ministry official in question will be out of town when we’d need him. So there went that idea.

After a few minutes, the Mohammeds concluded that they couldn’t come up with anything better than tree planting, so the plan that we’d spent several hours putting together was suddenly back on the table. Whew. We spent an hour or so working out the details, over tea and kaw-kaws (peanuts), and called it a night. It looks like all systems are go for a very successful project that will yield tangible, sustainable good for this village that has been so good to us. Humdullah!

*Nishan means straight, and “du nishan” is used literally when giving directions – it means “walk straight ahead”. Nishan is also used to refer to time, as in “10 nishan”, aka 10:00 on the dot, or to people, as in “Wow, your teacher is totally nishan – you can’t get away with anything in his class!”

**Yes, I’m making an exception to the proper noun rule, because, as this story makes clear, every third Moroccan you meet is named Mohammed. At least.


4/16/08 Kif-kif, aka Moroccan-Style Who's On First

Who’s on First, Moroccan-Style

Setting: Common Room.
Houda and Saadia are running a session on Food in Morocco.

Houda: …Lemons. Lemons are called l-Hamd, from the word for “sour”, “Hamd”.
Saadia writes “l-Hamd” on the whiteboard.
PCTs copy “l-Hamd” into their notebooks.
Houda: L-Hamd.
PCTs, in unison: L-Hamd.
Houda: They are also called citron, from the French.
Saadia writes “citron” on the whiteboard.
PCTs copy “citron” into their notebooks.
Houda: Citron.
PCTs, in unison: Citron.
Houda: They mean the same.
Saadia: The same. Citron, l-Hamd, kif-kif.
PCTs: Citron, l-Hamd, kif-kif.
PCT 1: Kif-kif?
Saadia: Kif-kif is the same.
PCT 1: Kif-kif is the same?
Houda: Yes.
Saadia writes “kif-kif” on the whiteboard.
PCTs copy “kif-kif” into their notebooks.
PCT 2, to PCT 1: What was “kif-kif”?
PCT 1: It means lemon. The same as citron and l-Hamd.
PCT 2, to Houda: It means lemon?
Houda: No.
PCT 1, to Saadia: Citron, l-Hamd, kif-kif? The same?
Saadia: Yes.
PCT 1, to PCT 2: Yeah, it means lemon. She must have misunderstood you.
PCT 2, to Saadia: Kif-kif means the same? Like citron and l-Hamd?
Saadia: Yes.
PCT 1: So kif-kif means lemon.
Saadia: No.
PCT 1: Citron, l-Hamd, kif-kif?
Saadia: Yes.
PCT 2: Wait, what? What is kif-kif?
Saadia: The same. Citron, l-Hamd, kif-kif.
PCT 1: So it means lemon?
Saadia: No.
PCT 1: Citron, l-Hamd, kif-kif?
Saadia: Yes.
PCT 2: So it means the same?
Saadia: Yes.
PCT 1: So kif-kif is lemon?
Saadia: What?
PCT 1: Kif-kif. The same. Citron, l-Hamd, kif-kif.
Saadia: Yes, kif-kif.
PCT 2: So kif-kif means lemon?
Saadia: No. Citron, l-Hamd, kif-kif. The same.
PCT 1: Citron, l-Hamd, kif-kif.
Saadia: Yes.
PCT 2: So kif-kif is the same.
Saadia: Yes.
PCT 1: So kif-kif means lemon.
Saadia: No.
PCT 2: Citron, l-Hamd, kif-kif.
Saadia: Yes.
PCT 1: They are the same.
Saadia: Yes.
PCT 2: So they all mean lemon.
Saadia: No.
PCT 1 & 2 look at each other, whimper.
PCT 1: So what is kif-kif?
Saadia: It means the same.
PCT 2: The same as citron and l-Hamd?
Saadia: Yes, the same, like citron and l-Hamd.
PCT 1: So kif-kif­ means lemon.
Saadia: No, citron, l-Hamd, kif-kif. The same.
PCT 1&2: Kif-kif?
Saadia: Kif-kif.
Houda: Kif-kif.


Scenes from CBT

I’m getting complaints about how infrequently I blog. Sorry, s-sadiqinu (my friends), internet access is limited, but I’ll try to be better. I’ve broken up the new material into a series of entries, so you can enjoy them in little bite-sized niblets. I added a bunch over the course of the day, during the different breaks. I’ve also dated them (and written them) as if I’d written them when they happened, instead of giving them all today’s date. My journal has been very helpful in that. :)

So far I've only gotten through the first half of CBT Week 1. These things take longer to type up than I'd thought. The new dates are March 16 - March 19, so just look for titles you don’t recognize in the bookmark thingy on the left. I’m also hoping to put a “wish list” up on the right, soon, but I’m still working on the technical aspects of that. Without further ado… Enjoy!


Meeting I with the Water Association

Today, our final day of CBT 2, we met with the president of the association and the host brother to A**, one of my CBT-mates (who refers to him as el presidente). A** had told us that the Water Association was satisfied with their success in bringing drinkable tap water to our village – a fascinating story in itself – and that they were ready to expand their horizons. This sounded good to us, so we met with el presidente to see what they had in mind. (And because we wanted to meet with our village's only association just on general principles.) El presidente told us that the Association had a few ideas for the benefit of our village. Their favorite was buying a mill, to grind wheat into flour. There is a small mill in town already, but it doesn’t meet the needs of the village, and they’re tired of going to the next town over to get their wheat ground up. Unfortunately for us, building a wheat mill is an enormous endeavor that’s *well* beyond the scope of the week and a half we have left in the village. The other idea they liked reminded me of the Heifer Foundation, an awesome organization. They had petitioned the Ministry of Agriculture to give the poor families of our village either very valuable goats, which they could breed and sell, or else olive trees, which they could harvest as a cash crop. The goat idea sounded interesting, until H** told us that a single goat would be about 75% of our budget. Oops.

Tree planting, though, is a tried and true Peace Corps Environmental activity, and one which we’d already been thinking about. When el presidente said that it was something that his organization was interested in, we perked right up.

Exciting things are afoot at the Circle K..


(Mis) communication

Late dinner tonight. I think they’re getting progressively later.

So I tried to explain the big news to my family last night. I have no idea why they think I was on the phone for 45 minutes. They would have accepted an answer like “BaHallunu!” (My grandpa from America!), and in retrospect, that’s probably what I should have said. As it was, I didn’t have the vocabulary for magazine or story or submit or edit, let alone editor or publisher, so my story basically went like this:

Last year, I wrote a tiny writing. I sent it to [insert me puffing out my chest and trying to look important. Mma suggests wizier, which means “government minister”, and I went with it]. He read it, and said yes, he will book. I waited and waited and waited. I called wizier. He said, “Wait.” I waited and waited and waited. Month and month and month. Then, I came to Morocco. Tonight, wizier called. He will book! It will book! My writing will book!

Yeah, I wouldn’t have understood it either, and I know what publishing is. I’m not at all sure these folks have ever seen a magazine or a book that’s not a textbook or the Qur’an. So…who knows. I got most of the relevant vocab today from H**, but it’s in Darija (Moroccan Arabic), not Tamazight, so there’s less-than-even odds that my family would even know any of the words. I was going to give it a shot tonight anyway, but the moment seems to have passed. What’s important is that frHn ashku frHgh. They were happy because I was happy. :) That, plus the baby being able to stand on his own, made for a iHla bzzef (awesome) evening.

By comparison, today was pretty chill. School was fine, though there was a mountain of new vocabulary: clothes, mostly, plus the fruits and veggies I forgot to study last night, in all the excitement.

Soooo full. Waving off food is no longer working. Safi (That’s it!), which worked so vigorously the first time I tried it that I was afraid I’d offended them, now won’t even prevent another cup of tea being poured. But before I whine, I need to remember how grateful I was for my hot bath Tuesday morning. Hot water -> clean -> happy. Aman ighran -> nqqagh -> frHgh. What I’m grateful for now is the kids’ willingness to help me with my homework, whether I’m asking them for vocab or they’re fighting for the right to color my flash cards.

Quote of the day: “…moments of uncomplicated faith…”


Home from Souq Day (aka BIG NEWS!!!)

We came back to our little village, gorged on chocolate, and had “independent study time”. I mostly-accidentally slipped into another PCT’s tutoring session, meaning that I got to spend an extra hour with our awesome LCF that included her speaking mostly in Tamazight. Slowly and clearly. It was fabulous. :D At 7, Mma showed up with Little Sis to say Where Have You Been. H** explained, and it was all good. I think. Then, while walking home, my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, so I was tempted to let it go to voicemail…but then I remembered on the third ring that (1) incoming calls are free, and (2) I don’t have voicemail set up in Morocco. Lo and behold…it was the editor of my story!! Forty-five minutes later, I find out that my little story is being expanded to be the feature story! They’re rewriting it to make it THREE TIMES AS LONG!! :D :D :D

It was hard to have the conversation with the editor while walking uphill from school towards our house, but I figured it would be even harder to talk to him over the sounds of the TV (which is always on) and seven people’s conversation, so I paused outside the little house. I set down my notebook and sat outside to talk. As the conversation was winding down, it began to sprinkle rain, and Little Sis – who had been hovering around, entertaining herself, the whole time I was on the phone – began pointing out that we really ought to get inside. I got up to get my notebook and go in…and realized that I was sitting outside someone else’s house. Whoops. The houses are mostly identical, except for the color of the door, and between the gathering twilight and my being distracted with the phone call, I just hadn’t noticed. Eep! Good thing I had Little Sis there to prevent me from knocking on a stranger’s door. :)

Oh – one final good thing from today: the baby is standing on his own! Yeah!

Souq Day!

So much to write about. Bzzaf bzzaf. Going to souq – the scale of the Khan-al-Khalili in Cairo, but 90% produce. Running into the other CBT groups. :D Meeting a fledgling association that tried to bring a hospital to their village, and succeeded in getting an ambulance and first aid training. Not bad at all, especially for a first project! :)

Making phone contact with S**, the SBD PCV. Next week, we’ll meet him, tour the cooperative he works with, eat lunch, and give him the saffron project idea. :) Then hitting the Cybèr for an hour or so, and getting to talk to my sister! And getting an email from the editor of my story! And from Nana and Mom and my auntie!

My awesome friends rocked the internet research, so now I have lots of info on the geologic history of Morocco on my thumb drive, and maybe some books to request from the library guy at Peace Corps headquarters. (More information is always welcome, by the way!) :D


Free Day in a Mountain Village

So that’s what a free day in my village looks like. Didn’t crack a book all day (except for some snatched minutes with Prodigal Summer, one of my favorite Barbara Kingsolver novels), but got lots of language practice. I got a ton of practice with the numbers 1-12, thanks to teaching the kids Go Fish. (We call it Isleman, meaning The Fish, and we’re playing with a Skip-Bo deck, so the numbers from 1 to 12 are visible.) It’s a hit, even though it took me half an hour to remember that “Is tgit?” isn’t “Do you have?” – it’s “Were you?” or “Did you?”. Yeesh. I’m impressed that the kids figured out how to play it, with me asking them, “Are you a 5?” when I meant to ask “Do you have a five?” Oh, well. We worked it out. The kids got into it, so vigorously that they started fighting over it. I had to threaten to walk out on the game to get them to stop fighting. (“Adur tnaghm!” Stop fighting!)

I also got to meet the mythic BaHallu (grandfather) and his krat tafunast (three cows). Which turned out to be two calves and two cows, so why they’ve told me for weeks that he has 3 cows is a mystery. I also got pieces of the family tree, none of which I’ve gotten to line up. But I did get to hold Little Bro’s hand most of the half-hour walk there, so that made it a good day. :) We walked back through the igran – the fields – a lot of which turned out to be BaHallu’s. Or maybe Mma was exaggerating. Who knows. As we walked, Little Bro and Middle Bro kept picking flowers for me, mostly pink irises and the legendary roses. They were my second and third bouquets of the day. My first was from Little Sis, who took me for a walk in the fields this morning.

Walking with Little Bro really was adorable. He led me along the twisty bits of the path like a dancing partner, with just enough pressure to say, “This is the way.” And Little Sis’s wildflower bouquet was a joy. If I get married, I want a posy of pink rose buds and dandelions. Who’d have guessed how beautiful they look together?

Oh, and the picking of roses – for girls, by girls, for moms – is common enough to make me wonder if these bushes are ever destined for the local rose industry. Because shouldn’t there be pressure from … someone … not to pick the profit-producing cash crop?

Current fear: I’ll never develop a disciplined course of language study.
Current hope: To be placed in a site with as much natural beauty as this stony-green Eden. Seeing the valley of igran (fields) nestled between the Grand-Canyon-like desert massifs…it’s downright implausible, and it’s arrestingly beautiful every time I walk up on it. It’s real, and I live here. Da-zddghgh da. Or something close to that. :)
Unexpected positive: While walking past the ruins between the villages, I was moping to myself that I’d never have the language facility to be able to ask how old they were. Then I realized that I already do, more or less. I realized later today that I asked it wrong, but I successfully asked Mma, “When did this house build?”, and she understood me and answered! Of course, since her answer was, “How should I know, I wasn’t born then,” it didn’t net me any information gain, but I was still delighted that I was able both to ask a question and understand the answer.


CBT Week 2!

4/4/8 (…and then will come the Eight…)

Back in our village, whose name I know how to write in Arabic script. :) It’s great to be back here. It’s the little things – like the fact that the tooth the baby broke when I was here two weeks ago is now a fully fledged tighmas like its neighbors. It’s being able to write a paragraph about my day and Little Sis’s, only having to check my notes a couple times (usually for the spelling of one of the meals: l-fdor (breakfast), imkli (lunch), imnsi (dinner)). OK, so I only understood 10% of what she said. And she’s 10, so her vocabulary’s not complex. But I did understand that 10%, and was able to piece together a second-grade-worthy essay out of it.

I do think I wrote essays like this for my second grade teacher, but it’s still a smidge disheartening to realize that a three-year-old has a better vocabulary than I do. Sigh. Imiq simiq. Keep celebrating the victories, and trust that the struggles will diminish with time. And the family does love helping me with vocabulary. It’s not always completeful – today they kept flicking the lights on and off for ssigh and sxsi, when what I really wanted was their present participle.

Grateful for:
* the fifteen cheek-kisses from Sis-in-Law and the three from Little Sis and the hand kisses from Mma, Middle Bro, and Little Bro.
* being taken into the confidence of two PCT friends – even though their struggle is with each other!
* the still-shifting friendships of the group, which mean that no one is locked into or out of any set; who sits at which table any given meal is still nearly random. (In some ways this feels like junior high, so every time it’s proven not to be, it’s a good thing!)
* my story getting published soon!


Field Trip Recap

On Sunday, we got back from our field trip to visit a Peace Corps Volunteer working in the Middle Atlas. I'm not sure how far away her village is as the crow flies, but it took a loooong time to get to. Two six hour bus rides, and then another 2 hours of assorted transit methods. We also spent a night en route, since Peace Corps forbids travel after dark. So, we left at 8:30 Wednesday morning and arrived at 9:30 Thursday morning. 25 hours. It took even longer coming back. (We left at 7am on Saturday and arrived at 11am on Sunday - 28 hours. Yeesh.) was a great trip. Here's a post pulled from my journal entries duing the trip. Enjoy! :)

This is a loooong entry, partially to make up for my week-plus absence from blogspot, and partially because I'm back to typing my entries on the laptop, which is cheaper and easier, and therefore lends itself to verbosity. I also make a request in the final paragraph…if you're interested in helping me out but not reading the three pages of stuff I wrote, please scroll down to it! Thanks! :D

We just finished our field trip to P**'s site. I've ridden about a third of the length of the country, twice, in the past several days. Moroccan buses are an education in themselves. CTM and SupraTour are the higher class of bus. They run less frequently, but they actually stick to their schedules. They're about 10% more expensive, but the trips are about 30% shorter, since they almost never stop on the side of the road to pick up hitchhikers or just because they feel like it, so it's entirely worth it. The other bus lines run when they feel like it, which can be handy, as in when we showed up in [Mid-Sized City] on the way north, and even though there was no scheduled departure towards [Smallish City], we found out that a bus was leaving in less than thirty minutes. It can also be disturbing, I'd imagine, when you show up and discover that the bus you were planning to take has been canceled with no notice and no explanation. In addition to the buses, there are the grand taxis, the petit taxis, and the transit. I'll elaborate more on them another time; suffice to say, the grand taxis are painfully misnamed.

My chief observation from the 53 hours in transit: The countryside changes drastically, rapidly, as you move through the mountains. You could be in Zion-National-Park-type territory for hours, then go through a Mediterranean forest and a Badlands panorama with two turns around a mountain. This was a trip of so many fleeting impressions that I wish I'd had a pen handy… There were herds of camels, goats, sheep, cows (not together!)…snow-capped, jagged, alpine-glacier-carved peaks…rolling hills…palm trees…and a little French village near [Smallish City] that I might bring my family to for Christmas. (Inshallah, and climate permitting.)

Yesterday, P** took us for a hike what turned out to be a massive coral reef. The jagged limestone made for terrific traction under our boots – when intact. When eroded, it created soft, shifting lime sand underfoot. The combination made for great hiking/walking (as in, the kind of "hiking" that's pretty much "walking on a path, which may or may not be steep"), fantastic rock scrambling (which I find both more fun and less strenuous than hiking/walking), and a minor shd (slip) for me. Don't worry, I just got a scratch.

It was great to get to check out the local ecosystem, see P**'s town as a whole, AND have fun, all at the same time. It was also great to have couscous with her wealthy friend R**, the heart and soul of the association she works with, plus tea with her host family. It's comforting, too, to realize that someone who still hasn't mastered the local language after a year in-country can nonetheless be a successful volunteer. P** was also a fount of useful information. Some gems: mud homes are easier to heat in winter and keep cool in summer than cement buildings…when plans go sideways—and they WILL—remember the Peace Corps mantra of persistence, patience, and flexibility…roof access = truly awesome stargazing. We saw the Milky Way, the Orion Nebula, and M-13 [ID'd by J**, who out-geeked even me], all with the naked eye! Plus, we could see Orion's whole bow, extra bits of Cassiopeia's throne, the V of Taurus (or some random V, what do I know), and shooting stars.

What wonderful stuff worked out this past week… I thought I'd left my fleece at the [Mid-Sized City] bus station, but Jonathan found it on the bus's overhead rack (where I had *no* memory of stashing it)… I was *sure* I'd left my shower supplies in the cute hotel in [Smallish City], but then it turned up in my luggage… I was a little intimidated at the thought of hiking up to the douar (small community) on top of the mountain near P**'s site, but found myself loving the hike, especially the rock scramble, and let out a fairly thunderous "Humdullah!" (praise be to God, aka hallelujah, aka yippee) at the summit. My memories of that climb – from our collective "The hills *are* alive," to the three (count 'em, THREE) waterfalls, to the angry dog, to the braying mules, to the vision of P**'s town nestled into the countryside, not to mention the dozens of pictures I took – will be with me for a long, long time.

All my worries lately have turned out to be groundless. Concerns about cross-country travel? It's already practically routine. What if I don't get along with the other PCTs? I've made tons of great friends, one of whom has already invited me to travel with her after our term is up. (Inshallah) I keep playing out worrisome scenarios, and all that unfolds is blessing upon blessing. I've been doing well with the gratitude in hindsight – maybe it's time to work on gratitude in advance, aka hope.

[A little later]

Just got back from dinner and the Adventure That Must Not Be Named. :) Suffice to say, the directions we were given were accurate as to which streets to take, but grossly inaccurate as to distance. By a factor of about 3. Quotes of the evening: "The only way to make couscous appetizing right now is to hide a club sandwich in it." And, shortly thereafter, also in reference to couscous, "Why not just give me a spoon and a bag of flour and cut out the middleman?" The discussion of a zombie-macaque battle was also highly entertaining.

While wandering around in search of dinner, I remembered more of the details from the field trip that I'd meant to memorialize, like the dozen-plus egrets we saw (I saw that many simultaneously, so the total number was undoubtedly higher) near the [Smallish City] bus station. They were all white, none had yellow slippers, and in flight – and some flew right by, less than 20 feet away, with gorgeous morning sun shining full on them – I couldn't see their feet at all, just a cluster of grayish tail-feathers. Speaking of birds, we also saw a *massive* bird of prey soaring yesterday – it was at least bald eagle sized, and it certainly looked like a 6' or more wingspan – with a W of black and white (or dark brown and buff) on his underside and a startlingly stumpy head. Almost owl stumpy, if that makes sense.

Also, Jeremy saw 12 monkeys – the animals, not the movie – but by the time he'd pointed them out to me, the bus had driven past them. Apparently, the Middle Atlas are known for them. Sadly, the reason they hang out along the roads is that tourists feed them, like black bears in Yellowstone in the 70s and 80s. There's a desperate need for Environmental Education of the kind that Yellowstone churned out in the 90s…and hey, guess what, that's my job description! So if I'm posted near here, that might be something I work on. :)

So I missed the monkeys, but I'm definitely claiming yesterday's coral reef. It was *huge* – maybe Great Barrier Reef scale, but I'm not sure – and before I figured out what it was, neither P** (who is a fellow geo major! Yeah for the geobabes!) nor J**, a geo minor, had recognized it. Once I'd said it, though, they both concurred. So when this region is developed for ecotourism – which is in the works!! – now they'll know what the underlying geology is! And that makes me happy. :) P** suggested that I write a Roadside Geology of Morocco as my EE project. Tempting, tempting… On the fossilized-coral-reef-turned-mountain, I observed a small round snail that appears to be nearly ubiquitous on the mountain, as well as a less common, spiky gastropod that reminds me of the drill snails in Florida. Here's hoping that one of them hasn't been found on any other mountainsides, and can therefore become a protected endemic species, paving the way for headwater protection (which the whole region needs) and laundry stations (which apparently can only find government funding if there's an endangered species around).

Sometime in the past few days, I became obsessed with headwater protection for this region. It was probably planted in the back of my head when I was in Monteverde, and is just coming into bloom now. For those not familiar with the term, headwater protection is exactly what it sounds like – protecting the highest parts of a mountain so that all the water that runs downwards from it is clean. If you keep the headwaters clean, everyone downstream has a chance at clean water. If you pollute the headwaters – by, for example, washing your clothes with Tide in the canal on the mountaintop – then nobody downstream can have clean water. But the people on top of the mountain deserve to have clean clothes, so what are you going to do? One solution that has been used in Morocco is laundry stations. I haven't yet gotten a clear sense of exactly how they work, just that they provide a way to access running water and wash clothes without using the irrigation canals or streams.

I'd also like to find some research that confirms my gut feeling, which is that Tide is not good for crops or fish. It would be easy enough to set up the experiment myself, but I'm guessing that it'll be easier to get grants if there's a published study. Anyone with highspeed internet on tap (not to be confused with my Cybèr internet, which is a satellite connection shared among 8 machines, aka slowspeed internet) interested in doing a little quick research for me? And while I'm asking for favors, if you can find a brief summary (or not-so-brief, I've got time) of the geology of Morocco, I'd love a PDF of it or link to it. Just shoot me an email or put it in the "Comments" down below.
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