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10/22 Leaving Peace Corps ... The Rest of the Story

Sha-Hal aya (A long time ago), I wrote about the four ways by which Volunteers can leave Peace Corps service. In order of frequency: COS, MedSep, ET, AdSep. (All are used as both verbs and nouns.)

But when I wrote it, it was mostly theoretical information. I had one friend who had ET'd, two or three who had been MedSep'd, and none yet who had COS'd.

From where I'm sitting now, about 3/4 through my service, I feel like there's more information I need to share.

When you and Peace Corps finish with each other, it can be abrupt.

Almost painfully abrupt.

This is not so true for COSers, who get to attend their COS Conference when they have 3 months let, then COS Medicals when they're about a month and a half out, and then have a final three days together in Rabat for their "72-Hour Checkout". Three months is enough time to prepare yourself to leave, both logistically and emotionally.

But if your service ends early - due to an ET, MedSep, or AdSep - you don't get a nice, gradual, phased departure.

You get streeted.

It seems most violent in the case of a Medical Separation. Most MedSeps start as "MedEvacs". Peace Corps will fly you to Western Medicine (usually in DC, but sometimes in Europe) and call it a Medical Evacuation. As long as they can get you shipshape and ready for service in less than 45 days, they'll fly you back to your country and your service continues. If you need more than 45 days, they just make a notation in the paperwork, and suddenly your MedEvac is a de facto MedSep. Your service is over.

And once it's over, Peace Corps washes its hands of you. Safi, see ya, sayonara...buh-bye.

One friend of mine, who found himself MedSepped outside a DC hospital, said that if he hadn't had his American ATM card (because our in-country assets aren't available internationally) and/or friends in DC, he'd have been at a total loss. As it was, he pulled funds from his pre-Peace Corps account and got a taxi over to a friend's apartment. Everything he owned was in his parents' house a thousand miles away or in a small mud house on the other side of the Atlantic. A house which, by the way, Peace Corps would no longer pay rent on. They do have funds to ship some of your things back to you - some - but you need to be in communication with whatever neighbor/PCV has your house key and is able to pack your things for you. If your village doesn't have cell phone coverage, let alone land lines or internet, this is a daunting task.

Volunteers who choose to end their service early - Early Termination, or ET-ing - don't have quite as shocking an experience, since it was their decision to go, but still, the timeline between informing the Country Director of your choice and when you fly out of short. Usually 5 business days. In which you have to pack everything you're taking to America and everything you're returning to Peace Corps (including unweildy items like bikes and library books and fully stocked medical kits), give away or sell everything else you have in-country, get signatures on various forms from your counterpart and delegue (whose office could be in your site or in the regional capital, 3-5 hours away), and still make it to PC Headquarters for your 72-hour check-out. (The 72 hours is non-negotiable: PCMO has to check you for tuberculosis, and the skin test can't be checked till the third day after the needle-stick.)

For someone who has made the decision to leave their service, their village, their PCV community, and everything else - never an easy decision - such an abrupt departure is often wrenching. You have little time to say goodbye to your friends or neighbors, and virtually no time to emotionally prepare yourself to leave your service country and return to the US.

Volunteers find themselves back in America, cut off from everyone they knew or saw for the past X months, with so little connection between their new lives and their old lives that their service quickly begins to feel like a dream.

I've heard this from so many RPCVs, regardless of how their service ended: there are no points of commonality between their service and their post-service life, nothing to form a bridge from one world to the other. Cut off from their past experiences, Volunteers struggle to hold onto their months and years of service. Their language skills fade away; their memories attain the shimmering implausibility of remembered dreams.


8/10/09 Baby 'Twixt My Knees

Explanation on the dates: As I was doing some digital housecleaning, I found a bunch of old, half-written blogs. I'm finishing and posting them, but maintaining the original dates. Sorry for any confusion.


I'm sitting on a bus, as I have been for countless hours. Like most Moroccan buses, this one rides a good six or eight feet high (leaving huge storage spaces underneath) and has both a front and a back door. I'm sitting right behind the back door, behind the railing of the back staircase.

The door opens, and a family clambers on: a dad, a mom, another woman (probably her sister), and assorted children.

The bus is already crowded, with bodies in every seat and several in the aisle. (It's illegal for buses to carry more passengers than seats, but gendarmes can easily be convinced to look the other way. - cough $$ cough - )

The family members look around and decide that their best option is the stairwell itself. Two girls on the stairs; the three adults stand by the door. One of the women has a baby strapped to her back; the other holds a toddler.

When the toddler starts to fidget, the mom's friend? sister? helps her unstrap the child, slung papoose style along her spine. With little more than a glance at me or my American buddy sitting next to me, she plops the kid on the floor of the bus, which is shoulder-high to her, but at my feet. Still not looking at my face, she wedges the child between my knees so he's in no real danger of plunging over the edge of the unguarded stair well, then turns back to her husband.

Reflecting on the "It takes a village" attitude I've previously noted with Moroccan child care, I accept that the munchkin is now my responsibility. Watching his mom for approval - though she has yet to make eye contact with me - I wrap an arm around him to hold him steady.

A few minutes later, the dad, who speaks some English, strikes up a conversation with my buddy. I chime in, and soon the three of us are chattering away about Peace Corps and environmental protection and suchlike...all with his son perched between my knees.

When we get to their stop, which isn't far, the mom reaches over to get her child; her friend helps her secure the toddler to her back, and they're ready to go. The woman finally looks me in the eye, to say thank you and goodbye. I smile, tell her it was my pleasure, and grin at her surprise in hearing tarumit speak Tamazight.

What was most remarkable to me was how blase everyone else was. Oh, sure, hand your child to a stranger for the next half hour. It's all good.

...and it was. :)


12/19 Simple Life

A friend sent me this:

I found the comic especially apt for two reasons: One, it's a reminder that my Peace Corps life *does* meet my simple needs (not that I have a good woman - or man - by my side, but I do have bread and sun!)...and two, because owning a computer with internet access itself has become something that feels like a simple need - and it's good to remember that maybe it's not. It represents communication with loved ones, for which I'm forever grateful...but it also requires functioning electrical currents, satellite connections, and phone service, all three of which fail, independently, here in my mountain aerie.

So as grateful as I was last night when gchat worked for the first time in a month - and believe me, I am grateful, I talked to five of my favorite people in the world! four of them for the first time in weeks or months! - it's good to remember that, even when the internet goes down, as it does at least once a week, I still have the bread and the sun and the love of many wonderful people.

It's the simple things, friends.


12/12 Religious Harassment

A friend recently asked (offline) if anyone ever attempts to convert me.

Here's my response:

I get urged to convert to Islam fairly frequently. My friends don't pressure me, though some of my Peace Corps buddies get ongoing pressure from their friends, but strangers often do. It's most commonly taxi drivers, interestingly - possibly because they know I'm trapped in their car, giving them a finite window with which to convert me?

I usually explain that I am Christian, and that's generally enough to stop the efforts. Mohammed required his followers to respect the fellow "People of The Book," the Jews and Christians. (Though the current situation in Israel/Palestine and the centuries of Crusading show that it hasn't always worked out so well.) Some keep going at that point. I explain that I follow the religion of my parents; given the respect-for-elders built into the culture here, that is sometimes enough. (Although once, that got the response, "Well then your parents are going to hell, too." I cut off the dialog at that point.)

I've tried saying, "There are many paths to God," but that usually blows up in my face - I've had people shout, "NO! There is only ONE PATH to Allah!" - so I don't use that one anymore. I'm perfectly willing to discuss religion, but if it gets angry or mean-spirited, I simply end the conversation, whether by walking away, turning away, or pretending not to understand anymore. (After the grand taxi driver told me my parents going to hell, I turned to face the window. The men crowded next to me waited a minute to see what my response would be, then turned to each other and said, "Oh, she doesn't understand Tamazight." I turned back to the man closest to me and said icily, "I understood every word. I'm done with this conversation.")

Technically, it's illegal to prosletyze in Morocco - in any direction - but that's only enforced against Christian missionaries. Also, technically, the Qur'an forbids compelling or coercing any conversion...but that doesn't seem to stop people. I can recite the sura that says, "There is no compulsion in Islam," in Classical Arabic, but that only works on the most educated people, who aren't the ones having this conversation with me. While scholars know that a compelled conversion is meaningless, the common person knows only that converting a nonbeliever wins them a guaranteed ride to heaven.

Sidenote: Even more meaningless is the inadvertent conversion. In order to become a Muslim, you have to recite, three times, in Classical Arabic, "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammed is his Prophet." Some uneducated folks believe that if they can simply trick me into saying this sentence three times, they get their ticket to heaven. I've had several people, usually children or teenagers, say, "Hey, repeat this:" expecting me not to know what it means. The first time it happened, I asked them what it meant. "It doesn't matter, just say it," I was told. This strikes me as the moral equivalent of offering someone a Communion wafer as snack food, and then telling them that they're Catholic now.

In Peace Corps, we talk about "religious harassment", in the same conversation with sexual harassment and political harassment ("Was Bush a good president? Do you think it's good to kill Iraqis? Do you support Israel?") Male PCVs tend to get more religious harassment than female PCVs, but we all get it, to varying degrees.

I think it's important to clarify that not all religious conversation is religious harassment. I like talking about religion, as long as it's in a mutually respectful way. Anyone who has had a Jehovah's Witness show up on their doorstep or got ambushed by a Hari Krishna at an airport has had an abrupt and unexpected conversation about religion. Some people hate it; others accept it as part of the human condition. "Harassment" is generally defined as unwelcome attention that makes the recipient uncomfortable. Note that it depends on the attitude of the recipient, not that of the instigator. In my opinion, when the conversation crosses the line to criticizing or belittling me, my faith, or my family, that's when it changes from talk to assault.

12/18/09 On Sexual Assault and Safety

Today I had a long conversation with my host mom about safety and related issues. I'd gone over for Friday lunch, a near-weekly tradition.

I got there around noon, in time for the requisite playing with the baby, talking about the king's visit, and comparisons between this winter and last winter. (Summary: little Mbarak still looks like a mini-mafioso, but he smiles all the time and might be teething already; the king gave buckets of money and supplies to Berberville and its citizens, but everybody is of a different mind as to just how he should have distributed the wealth; this year is mild beyond belief - no snow yet! it even sprinkled *rain* today!)

After the food got cleared away, and all the men and children (except tiny Mbarak) cleared out, Ama and I sat down for some woman-to-woman talk.

She knows I've been traveling a lot lately, and knows that it's not my favorite thing. We talked about all the unwanted attention I get when I travel alone, and she said some harsh things about the men of her country. ("All men are bad." "You can't trust any of them.") When I protested - there are respectful, kind men in Morocco - she said, "OK, but for every one good man, there are a thousand bad ones. A THOUSAND."

There's also been a story in the news lately about the sexual assault of a Peace Corps Volunteer. Ama didn't have details of that one, but she told me a story about a PCV stationed here in Berberville a few years ago. This girl had been traveling to Rabat, along a route I often use, and had found herself stuck in one of the towns along the way (as happens not-infrequently, given the unreliability of transportation around here). She'd been chatting with a guy in the taxi, and he invited her back to his place. He assured her that he had a wife and kids at home, that they would make her welcome, etc. So she goes with him, and as soon as he opens the door, she can see it's a bachelor pad. (As Ama said: "She knew this was not the house of a woman. It was dirty.") He takes her arm, sits her down in the main room, tells her to make herself comfortable, spend the night...and offers to make tea. She eagerly accepts the offer of tea - knowing it takes a few minutes to brew - and asks where to find the bathroom, after her long trip. When he goes into the kitchen to start the tea, she grabs her bag and bolts, fleeing to a local hotel. She was sufficiently shaken up that she wept when she told Ama (her host aunt) about it, several days later.

She had other stories, not featuring PCVs. In one, a neighbor of ours was conducting a private tour for a European woman. Tourism and sex tourism overlap extensively in Morocco, so he might actually have believed that she expected sex, but when she began yelling NO and fighting him off... According to Ama, the mule-driver busted into the tent and beat the living snot out of the guide, interspersing his blows with reminders that good Muslims don't rape women.

At this point, she basically went through a run-down of all the men I've ever talked to in town (all in public, in broad daylight - she taught me well), denouncing some as just bad, and describing others as OK if their wives are around. In general, she said, just don't go with a man who invites you for tea. If you know he's married, and if his wife is home...OK. (For this short list of the OK men.) But for all the rest, just say no.

She reiterated the guidelines she's told me a dozen times before:

(1) Never open the door to a man after dark. Go up on the roof and look down. There's a street lamp across from the house, so you'll be able to see him. If it looks like trouble, call either my uncle (the moqaddim, who lives next door) or the gendarmes. If it looks harmless, tell him to come back tomorrow, during the day. If he won't go away, call the gendarmes.
(2) Don't go to men's homes to have tea. If it's a married man and I'm friends with his wife, it's OK if she's home. If I get to the door and she doesn't greet us, just go.
(3) Don't trust [this one guy]. Or [this other guy]. Or [that man]. Or [that other man].
(4) If I'm ever scared, I should just go to their house and spend the night. Or just move back in. Really, I should move back in. The months are going to fly by until May... My room is still sitting there, waiting for me... Any time I want, I can come to sleep for the night. Or for the week. Or the month. Or the next six months.

I've heard these before, except that (3) was new as of this conversation; she's never before gone through a one-by-one list of all the men I know. Most of the ones she warned me against I'd already gotten a bad vibe off of - there are reasons I only talk to men during the day, in public places - but a few surprised (and disheartened) me.

Lhumdullah, we both agreed that Baba is one of the good ones. "Even if I'm not here, if the kids aren't here, you're safe being here with him. He sees you as his own daughter. Even if he didn't, he always respects women. I've lived here in Berberville with him for 15 years, and have never heard a woman say anything against him. Never."

I'd put my sitemate's host dad in the same gold-star-of-trustworthiness category, and Ama agreed that he's a good man, but said, "It was different when he was the father of your friend. Your sister. Then, he was your family, too. But now... Go over if his wife is there. If she's not there, just wait and go back another time." Even good men, she said, just can't be trusted if you're alone with them.

The other side of this coin of distrust is that Moroccan men don't trust women. They fear women as siren temptresses, irresistibly dragging them from lives of virtue. (This is why women should veil, of course; serious scholars have said that it's "proven" that women's hair "emits a ray" that strikes men and forces them to want sex.)

Men fear the sexual power that women wield; women fear the sexual violence that men threaten.

Speaking of hair... I chopped mine off just before coming to Berberville, so Ama met me with hair as short as a male news anchor. Shorter than Secretary of State Clinton's. She begged me not to cut it again, but to let it grow out, and I have. After 18 months without so much as a trim, it's back down to my shoulder blades. And now: She wants me to tie it back in a ponytail. It was OK to leave it down when it was around chin-length, but now... Now it's too seductive. Puts me, her beloved daughter, in too much danger.

As much as I love my village and my host family, some days are ... hard. Some days, I want to agree with Ama that there aren't any good men - certainly not more than one in a thousand. Some days, I want to flail and scream and beat the living snot out of a few, myself. Some days, I want to curl up and cry. Today, I'm doing well. I'm disappointed to know that a few of the men in town who I'd trusted have a history of mistreating women...but I'm not devastated by it. Not today. I've had a bad week - ever since I heard about the assault on the PCV - but today is a good day, lhumdullah. Today, I'm grateful for Ama and Baby Mbarak and my honorable, upstanding Baba. And today, that's enough.


11/6 I will zayd...

Today's Quote Of The Day:

"I will zayd and return."

(Tip: zayd is the Arabic and Tamazight word for add, and like most Tam words, has broad idiomatic meanings beyond its obvious literal one.)

It was said by a buddy of mine as he stood up to leave. A group of us had been hanging out for quite a while, and my buddy had drunk everything he'd brought to drink, and now wanted to return to his nearby accomodations and pick up a refill.

It's common enough for us (PCVs) to drop words of Arabic and Tam into our English conversation. We mostly hang out with Volunteers from our own regions, who are therefore likely to understand the words we use. When I was a newbie, I found it helpful, actually, because it gave me a context for learning new vocab words.

So it's common for one Volunteer to say to another, "Yeah, I do that mrra mrra," (sometimes), or, "Hey, can you nuqs the volume a little?" (reduce, lower, subtract), or "It's so cold riding afla the transit!" (on top of), etc.

But this time, the speaker caught himself, and realized that not only had he swapped out an English word for an Arabic one, but that he'd actually used Arabic syntax.

"'I will zayd and return'??" he echoed to himself, as dismayed as Baby's echoing her own, "'I carried a watermelon'?!?"

"Whoa... I not only can't speak English anymore, I can't even use English structures in my sentences," he muttered to himself.

I thought about it. How would most Americans say what he'd meant? Something like I'm going to grab a refill and be back, maybe, or I'll go bring more, a little more formally. But his structure made perfect sense to my ear. Ad-dugh ad-zaydgh. Ad-3aydgh is how I'd express it in Tam: "I will go. I will add more. I will return." Three future-tense verbs, lined up and conjugated in neat parallelism. "I'll go get more and return" is a more idiomatic translation, but it loses the tidy construction of the Tamazight.

But "I will zayd and return," though it falls easily from Arabic-speaking lips, lands oddly on American ears.

Ever since this conversation - and I'm typing this up over a month after the fact - I've been more conscious of the way my speaking patterns have changed since coming here. I read enough English and talk enough to other PCVs that the changes are minor, but they're real. My habit of sprinkling my conversation with Tam and Arabic words is one of the most obvious. (I can't even tell you how many times I've stopped myself from peppering my blog with them.)

But in five months, I'll end my service here in Morocco, inshallah [oh, yeah, that's another one - I can't make declarative statements about the future without saying inshallah], and move to a community where Tamazight is not the dominant language.

Walayni, dghi, makain l-mushkil. Iwa, ur nni ad iqim digi. But it's not a problem now, so I won't worry about it. (Literally: But now, there's no problem. Therefore, I won't let it sit in me. <--See, Tam is fun!)

12/13 Rule of Law

A recent conversation discussing the rule of law in Morocco. A is an American living in America. B is an American living in Morocco.

A: ...this is why Morocco needs the rule of law.
B: Morocco has the rule of law.
A: [skeptical silence]
B: OK, let's say somebody - call him X - commits a crime. He can be arrested, tried, sentenced, just like in America.
A: And how long will he serve?
B: Depends on the crime, of course. The bigger the offense, the more his family will have to pay to get him out. For a really big crime, it'll take a while to amass enough for the bribe. Or, if the family is really influential, it might go more smoothly; the patriarch could just use his influence to protect his son/nephew/whatever.
A: That's not rule of law.
B: [pregnant pause] Oh, my God, you're right. I ... I've been here long enough that ... it just seems normal. But no, paying bribes isn't part of the legal system. It just ... feels like a system of fines. It's so regular and orderly and understood... But... that's... not... [trails off]
A: Yeah. Sentences that get waived for the wealthy and influential? It's not like it never happens in the first world - white collar criminals, anyone? - but criminals should actually serve their terms. Any system that operates under the assumption that sentences are meaningless fails to be a system for long.
B: [in a small voice] That's why violent crimes really never get reported; because the criminal will be back in the community pretty soon, anyway, plus he'll now be angry that you reported him. As will his family, friends...talking to the gendarmes puts you on the wrong side of your community.
A: Yeah.

It shows up in so many ways:

  • the pollution that fills Moroccan skies because it's cheaper to pay off the car inspector than pay for engine repairs.
  • the transits and dump trucks that transport people illegally (and dangerously) on top, because the checkpoint cops will waive you through for a small "fee".
  • the medicines and condoms that should be distributed freely to sex workers - provided by NGOs - that the distributors charge for, pocketing the cash and paying a percentage to whoever is supposed to regulate it.
  • for that matter, the sex workers themselves; prostitution is illegal in Morocco, but that just means that the cops get to demand bribes (in cash and trade) from the prostitutes, who have no recourse
  • the street signs and road lines that serve only as suggestions, because a bribe will get you out of any ticket
...and so many more.

The first time I saw a bribe change hands, I was shocked. Graft exists in every culture, to be sure, but I thought it was generally hidden. This happened in plain sight of at least 20 people. That alone should have indicated to me just how small a role the legal system plays - neither party had any fear that anyone would report them, or that if they did, that anything would be done.

It doesn't shock me anymore. It doesn't startle me anymore. I don't even register it anymore, really. Oh, we all have to climb out of the taxi so the driver can go up to the checkpoint and work out the amount of the bribe without revealing just how many passengers he has? (Since the more he's making off the trip, the more he'll have to pay.) Not only am I not surprised that I have to wait on the side of the road, I'm find myself thinking, during the ten minute wait, that I'm impressed by the bargaining savvy of the taxi driver.

Oh, I can't climb up on top of the transit until we're a kilometer past the checkpoint? OK, sure, I'll crowd inside for now. It's not like the checkpoint cops don't know what it means to see ten people clinging to the back of the truck...but for a nominal fee, they'll pretend that they believe we'll ride like this for the next four hours, not the next four minutes.

When my backpack was stolen off the top of a transit, where it should have been under the watchful eye of the driver's assistant, I complained to the gendarmes. I didn't want anyone to go to jail, but I thought that the threat of the law might get the assistant to pull some strings and get the bag back from whoever he'd given it to / watched take it.

He was indeed scared at the thought of punishment... so he appealed to one of the most respected people in the town, who assured him that no, of course I wouldn't go through with filing a complaint - and then came to talk to me and explain why I couldn't do it.

A good, honorable, kind soul - one of the people I respect most in Berberville, or indeed in Morocco - was using his wisdom and influence to convince me not to file a police report.

And he was right. Having a local son interrogated, beaten, and presumably jailed would have ruined my reputation in the town. I'd be The Tarumit Who Got Our Boy Thrown In Jail.

So I withdrew my complaint, the boy paid a hefty "fine" to get back the ID card that was seized during the initial questioning - and had the temerity to ask me to kick in for the fine! - and the disappearance of my bag just became a benign topic of conversation for the next month. Oh, Kauthar, did you ever find your bag? No? Ah, well, as God wills.

And I smile through fixed teeth and think, God doesn't will this.

But where do you find Principled governance in a system so thoroughly corrupt that the corruption itself is the system?

12/16 Skype

This is the PhD Comic for today:

I've noted parallels between grad school and Peace Corps before - the relative poverty, the self-determined work schedule, the total lack of hygiene - but this one struck a chord, probably because I talked to my family on Skype just last night. :)

Yes, having in-home internet access definitely makes this Posh Corps (as opposed to your garden-variety, mud-hut Peace Corps). But all PCVs have *some* form of access to the internet. I think everyone has a cybercafe in their souq town; teh intarwebs stretch even here, in rural Morocco. And with internet comes connection to America. Whether it's group emails, or blogs (like this one!), or individual missives, or Skype phone calls, the internet has connected PCVs to their families and friends back home to a degree that previous generations of Volunteers couldn't have imagined.

And now, as the vast majority of us look at a holiday season thousands of miles from our loved ones, we can be grateful for the degree of connectedness we *do* have.

Lhumdullah i l-internet!


12/15/09 Snow Status

Here we are, mid-December and there's been no significant accumulation yet.

We've had a couple of flurries, the odd overnight dusting-that-might-just-have-been-a-heavy-frost, and even a couple inches a few days back, but nothing worth writing home about. (Or worth blogging about. ;) )

The temperatures have dropped below freezing now, so if we get any precipitation, it'll probably be snow, but we've gone through a long dry spell. Other than the aforementioned dustings, we haven't had any precipitation for months. Far cry from last year's torrential rains and meter-deep snowfields.

Here in Berberville, we just have crisp air, blue skies, and an apparently endless succession of sun-drenched afternoons.


12/14 Rhapsody on Conditioner

I'm a girl.

I've mentioned it before, but I know that the anonymity I hide behind means that some of you didn't know, or had forgotten. (Kauthar? Is that a boy's name?)

I've never been much of a girly-girl.

I didn't play with Barbies, I don't read fashion magazines, and even in America, my morning ablutions took significantly less than half an hour, counting both showering and dressing.

But every once in a while, something hits my feminine streak, and I think pink-tinted thoughts. If this disturbs you, feel free to move onto another posting. Far be it from me to inflict girl cooties on anyone.

Today, what's sparking the pink-think? Conditioner. Hair conditioner.

I haven't used conditioner in Morocco in 21 months. (I don't remember if I used someone else's when I was in the US for a wedding...I don't think so, though.) I generally shower and/or bucket-bathe once a week. Depending on the weather - is it really hot? dusty? - I wash my hair either two or three times. Usually three times. The shampoo doesn't even lather up the first time, as the saponin just bonds to grease and rinses out. The second time, it's nice and frothy. The third round I use Pantene Shampoo&Conditioner - the only combo S&C product I've ever used, in any country, that actually seems to *condition* my hair at all - and my hair is good for another week.

This has been my routine for almost two years now. The only variant is that I might leave off the S&C if I know it'll be over a week till the next shower, and that only happens rarely.

But a few weeks ago, my sitemate finished her service and returned to America [[moment of silence...]] and one of the things she left behind was a giant bottle of conditioner. Giant. Enormous. Cost-Co ginormous.

Pantene Pro-V Contitioner.

So I've been using it.

And WOW.

I'd forgotten my hair could feel like this.

So smooth.

So soft.

It swishes when I walk.

It slides over my shoulders when I turn my head.

It slips out from behind my ears to swing freely as I move.

I'm sure my hair did some of these things before. But somehow I'm only noticing them now. I think that the less-conditioned strands were a little wavier, and therefore clung together more, whereas now, they're hanging straighter and more independently. I think.

One side effect of weekly showering - and of having only a small face mirror in an awkward corner of my apartment - is that I don't think about my appearance all that much. My hair does what it does; as long as it's brushed before I leave the house, I figure I've done what I can.

But in the past two weeks or so that I've been using the conditioner, I keep *thinking* about my hair.

I can't help it - I keep feeling it.

Swish, swish, swish...

I feel like I should have a slumber party where we all brush and braid each other's hair. Whee! Hair fun!

OK, girlie rhapsodizing over. My mental age is returning from 6 to 26. Please return to your regularly-scheduled blog-reading, and forgive this lapse from my Responsible Peace Corps Volunteer Sober Demeanor.

Squeeeee! :D


12/8/9 Volunteer Support Network

I haven't talked about VSN, have I?

Let me rectify that.

Many Peace Corps countries have a Volunteer Support Network. Of course, we're all each others' support network anyway, but organizing a VSN means that we can get some funding for formal training sessions. At these, second-year Volunteers teach selected PCVs active listening skills and other peer counseling tools. Once you've gone through this, you're known as a VSN-trained Volunteer. (Sorry, no snazzy acronym or anything.)

VSN-trained Volunteers distribute their phone numbers and other contact information to their fellow PCVs, but it's rare (though not unheard-of) for Volunteers to cold-call a VSN-trained PCV. We do most of our work more informally; when a friend says, "I need to talk," or "Wow, I'm going through a hard time,",we can respond more usefully than just saying, "Oh, me too, let me tell you..."

VSN training takes place during the first six months of service. After that, during the six-month-mark "In-Service Training (IST)", PCVs choose one of their VSN-trained Volunteer peers to join the VSN Committee.

The Committee organizes the trainings, creates the curricula, and organizes a variety of Volunteer-supportive activities, from Secret Snowflake exchanges to distributing cartoons and magazines to calling new PCVs and offering support.

We don't have a formal role within Peace Corps, really, but once in a while, PC staff looks to us to get a sense of the emotional status of the Volunteer community. Like now.

12/9/9 Perceptions of PCMO

Yesterday, I met with a group of people from Peace Corps Washington. Apparently, it's Peace Corps policy to send people to - not investigate, they said repeatedly, but inquire - as to the circumstances surrounding any tragedy.

I'm a member of the organizing committee for Morocco's Volunteer Support Network. In that capacity, PC staff asked me - asked us - to come to headquarters and meet with "The Washingtonians", to give them our sense of how the Volunteer community is reacting to soyoun's passing.

[Sorry, it's still hard to talk about. But I'm working on it.]

Most of the response I've heard centers around the role of the Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMO). PCMO has a hard task - maintaining the health of 215 people scattered across a country the size of California, not all of whom have access to clean water, let alone phone service. That said, they've made their share of misdiagnoses and faulty prescriptions, which PCVs tend to complain to each other about. PCMO's reputation has steadily eroded, and in the wake of a friend's - a sister's - death from illness, people have been looking for someone to blame, and most of the anger has settled on PCMO.

Knowing that, I wanted to investigate why. What are these mistakes that have compounded into such a deep distrust that PCMO has become the scapegoat of choice? So I surveyed the PCVs in my stage, called the ones who seemed to want to tell their stories, and collected information.

Of course, the plural of anecdote is not data, but it was the best approach I could come up with.

So I collected stories. Sad stories. Stories of my friends - my Peace Corps family - feeling neglected, mistreated, and abandoned by the people they had trusted their health care to.

One PCV came back from a medical evacuation, still in recovery, and never got a phone call from PCMO for followup care. After getting in touch with PCMO and asking for some followup, and PCMO promised a forthcoming call...which never came.

A PCV was assaulted and battered, went to PCMO for care, and was told, "You're over-reacting. It happened, it's done, go home." Fears about returning to the scene of the crime were dismissed and even derided.

A PCV felt symptoms of a progressive disease that led to debilitation. PCMO said that the symptoms were "normal". PCV lobbying led to a lab test, whose results were positive - marginally positive - and PCMO continued to say that nothing serious was wrong.

A PCV took a hard fall and came to PCMO - it happened within 100 yards of a Peace Corps facility - asking for painkillers. The doctor failed to notice that the Volunteers' pupils were different sizes, a straightforward indication of a concussion. Another PCV did notice this, and arranged care.

A PCV had symptoms of a serious parasitic infection and repeatedly called PCMO. Each call was answered by a different medical officer - we have 2 doctors and 1 nurse, all of whom rotate phone duties - and not until the 8th call did anyone realize that this was an ongoing problem, not a new one.

Speaking of a failure to look at medical records...

A PCV requested a MRI to evaluate long-lasting pain in a joint. PCMO thought it was too expensive, and arranged an x-ray - but since nothing was broken, doctor and patient agreed that an x-ray wouldn't show anything. Just as the PCV was heading out for the exam, a cast-off comment indicated that this was a long-standing problem, of many years' duration. PCMO said, "Oh, that changes everything," and arranged for different tests - but still not an MRI. The Volunteer was startled to realize that the well-documented medical history had never once been checked by the doctor.

A Volunteer had trouble breathing. It was dismissed by PCMO...until the PCV insisted on lab tests that revealed life-threatening blood clots in the lungs.

..and there are so many others. So many stories - some serious, many minor - of PCVs enduring pain, sometimes for days, sometimes for months. And we endure. We carry on, knowing that Peace Corps isn't supposed to be easy...but with an ever-diminishing faith in the power of PCMO to keep us whole and healthy.

One of the emerging themes of these stories was the need felt by PCVs to "lobby for treatment." The idea that, without fighting for care, symptoms and struggles are diminished or dismissed by PCMO. Running a fever? Keep taking ibuprofen every two hours, then call back in 48 hours. Diarrhea? Limit your food to the BRATT diet - bananas, rice, apples, tea, & toast - for the next 48 hours. As was said in one of today's meetings, "If I had a nickel for every time I heard 'Wait 48 hours and then call back,' I could afford to call my parents."

The idea that we're not hypochondriac idiots - that we know how to manage minor problems, and that maybe we've already waited 48 or 72 hours before calling PCMO - doesn't seem to penetrate.

And when a medical tragedy arises - even one that isn't PCMO's fault, as the recent inquiry has determined - we're all too willing to turn our lost faith into targeted anger.

Anger is one of the stages of grief. It's human nature to look for someone to blame for something as horrific as the death of a wonderful young woman. And given this history - given that nearly every Volunteer has at least one story, and usually several, of PCMO missteps, large or small - we find an outlet for our anger.


11/29/09 On Vegetarianism

"Ur da-ttagh aksum."

I don't eat meat.

I say this a lot.

How detailed my explanation becomes depends on the audience. Yesterday, speaking to a dear little old Berber lady, who's not only illiterate but probably didn't know anyone literate before her 60th birthday, I simply said, "I don't like meat." She responded, "But it's delicious!" I smiled - her entire face is mapped with smile lines, it's impossible not to love her on sight - and said, "Yes, delicious, but for me - myself - it's not good." My host mom was there, to chime in with her explanation that meat makes me violently ill (based on a misunderstanding last summer that I've never attempted to correct), and I let it go.

When I'm talking to people who have encountered other cultures and seem interested in hearing a nuanced discussion, I'm more likely to say something like, "In America, there are many vegetarians, for many different reasons. Me, I'm vegetarian because so much is wasted on animals. Animals need so much food and water and land; I want food and water and land to be used for people, not livestock. And here in Berberville, the sheep ate all the vegetation and now the mountains are naked, so they have to go far, far away to find grass - and we still grow more grasses in the fields, to feed them in the winter. I think that's a problem, so I don't eat meat."

I've been vegetarian since I was fifteen. And I'm the oldest Volunteer in my stage, so that tells you that it's been a while.

When I joined Peace Corps, my recruiter and I had a conversation about meat. He pointed out that in most Peace Corps countries, everyone who can afford to cooks meat as often as possible. Even if I were to limit myself to the vegetables served with the meal, they'd still have been cooked in the meat juices. He asked about the last time I'd had red meat. It was about six months prior, and resulted from my willingness to eat whatever I'm served when I'm in someone's home. The next day, I was sicker than I think I've ever been. It may have been a coincidence, or may have reflected that my body had gone so long without complex proteins that it viewed them as something foreign and toxic, and responded with the symptoms of extreme food poisoning. I told him something along those lines, and his advice was to re-introduce meat into my diet, a little at a time. I'd have enough challenges in starting life in a new country; I wouldn't need to worry about an inability to digest meat.

So ever since - and that was in May of 2007 - I've eaten meat every few weeks, give or take. I don't think I've gone a full month without meat since then, and I know a few times - like when I'm in the US, or when I'm in a city with great shwarma like Oujda or Essaouira - I've eaten meat up to half a dozen times in a week. Generally, it's every two to three weeks, but I don't think about it much.

I never eat meat with my host family or other Moroccan families, except on 3id al-Kebir, when I do it to show respect for the religious beliefs of my community. So I pretty much only dip a toe into the carnivorous lifestyle if PCV buddies and I go to one of the chicken houses in SouqTown or if I'm at another Volunteer's house, and they want to cook meat.

So I ate turkey at Thanksgiving (both Thanksgivings!), and meat-based chili when my PCV buddy Jamal made it - come to think of it, the last four times I ate red meat were when Jamal cooked it...hmmm - and have eaten shwarma in pretty much every major Moroccan city...but I still identify as vegetarian.

Which, I know, is inconsistent, and makes life harder for all the true vegetarians out there. (No, I really don't want meat. No, not even a little. Not even white meat. Not even fish. No, really, I *am* vegetarian. Really.)

But I like eating low on the food chain, and I know that all the animals in Morocco lead lives that a factory-farmed American animal could only ever dream of - the chickens run so free that I have to be careful not to step on them - so I'm OK with my compromise.

I eat enough meat that I don't have to be afraid of the meat-soaked potatoes and turnips I eat from Ama's tagine, but not enough to feel like a true omnivore.

So am I vegetarian? Not in any strict sense. But I identify with it for political and social and heck, even historical reasons (don't all my years of vegetarianism count for something?), and I'm OK with that.

Plus, I like not having to eat eyeball or brain or testicle - all of which are on the menu here. I eat intestine-wrapped organ meat once a year, and that's all the sheep I need. So I ate my half-dozen pieces of shishkebab'd sheep organs yesterday, will probably have the same again today (the 3id is a multi-day holiday), and then I'll get to return to saying Ur da-ttagh aksum.

11/28/09 Mbruk l'3id!

Mbruk l'3id! Mbruk l-washer!

Translation: Blessings of the Feast! Blessings of the holiday!

A more idiomatic translation would be Happy [Insert Name of Holiday]! Happy Holidays!

I went over to my host family's house yesterday evening, carrying food and gifts. I distributed the gifts - Beanie Babies, a blow-up map of the heavens, and a Jenga knock off - which were enthusiastically played with throughout the evening.

The Jenga knock-off lasted through a few rounds of Jenga-style play (as I played with each of my host brothers in turn), and then immediately got adapted, in yet another display of Moroccan creativity: my brothers realized something I never did, which is that Jenga is made up of BLOCKS. Wooden blocks. All of the same size.

So they promptly began building walls and towers and domino-style chains of blocks (which, when knocked over, would usually crash into one of the towers for maximum destructive fun) and other structures that made sense only to them. The older boy was even more into it than the younger; I really think he'll be an engineer one day.

Then I took a pre-holiday shower in their guest house - the main house doesn't have running water at all - then ate dinner and got painted up with henna. Ama wrapped up my now-immobilized hands and tucked me into bed.

In the morning, I dressed up in my zween 3id outfit - almost entirely consisting of clothes inherited from my departed sitemate, since the whole point of 3id clothes is that they be *new* (or at least new to you), then went on the usual round of 3id visits.

I stopped by the homes of two neighbors and various aunts and cousins, before winding up at my 3mmi's house for the Feast Of Meat.

We ate sheep organs wrapped in fat and intestines. Mmmm. The family has accepted that I'm a vegetarian, but they expect me to make a concession just this once per year (it's for God!), so I do, as gracefully as I can. So I ate a few shish-kebab'd pieces of barbequed organ meat For The Cause, and called it a day.

I'm stuffed to the gills, with all the tea, cookies, bread, more tea, more cookies, more tea, more cookies, and organ meat that I've eaten today...I have leftover mashed potatoes that I was planning to eat for dinner, but I'm now thinking that I may never eat again.

Today's holiday is formally known as 3id al-Adha - the Feast of the Sacrifice (referring to Abraham's almost-sacrifice of Ishmael [[that's how the Qur'an tells it - in the Old Testament, it's Isaac]] and to a lesser degree to the sacrifice of a ram that is expected from every household). Informally, it's known as 3id al-Kebir in Arabic or 3id Akhatar in Tamazight, both meaning The Big Feast.

The 3id we celebrated two months ago, at the end of Ramadan, is known as 3id al-Saghir / 3id Amzayant, both meaning The Small Feast. Formally, it's 3id al-Ftor, the Feast of Fast-Breaking.

Like Thanksgiving and Christmas in America, they're both about sharing food and good times with family and friends...and that's pretty much where the similarities end.

Organ meat, anyone?


11/27/09 3id Preparations

I went over to lunch at my host family's house today, as I do most Fridays.

Baba is out of town, showing the mountain nomads to a tourist, so Ama has been rattling around the house alone for a few days. (Well, she still has two pre-adolescent boys, a 2nd grade girl, and an infant, but she hasn't had any *adult* company in a while.) So she was eager to talk.

I learned all kinds of interesting things.

For one, the gigantic mountain of ifsi I'd noticed in the courtyard had been brought down by her cousin, who lives in her home village, a bumpy dirt-road trek about 20km off the main drag. He'd brought it in his transport-the-tourists oversized-Jeep-like-truck, which is why the mountain of ifsi reached up to the top of the (one-story) house. I estimated that it would have taken four or five donkeyloads to transport that much ifsi without the truck.

I also noticed just how *big* the shrubs were. I'm used to seeing ifsi used as a whisk broom, because it's the right size, plus it's the only use for the prickly bush during warm weather. (In cold weather, of course, it's used to supplement the expensive firewood purchased from wood poachers who in turn steal it from distant National Parks. They bribe the forest guardians to allow them to poach the wood; the higher the bribes, the more expensive the wood to my friends and neighbors. This is reason #13 as to Why Kauthar Doesn't Have A Wood Stove, But Endures The Smelly Butagaz Stove Instead.)

So from whisk-broom-sized ifsi to shrubs a solid meter in diameter...I wondered if it was actually the same species.

It is.

Up in Ama's village, there are few people and lots of mountainside, where the ifsi grows.

Here in Berberville, there are *lots* of people and the ifsi only grows out by the lake and in the cemetery, so every year, the women gather pretty much every last twig. During the spring and summer, it regrows from its stubborn roots, but gets only a foot or less in diameter before fall returns and the women come back with their scythes.

Think about the difference in volume between a one-foot sphere (not that the bushes are perfectly spherical, but it's close enough for the thought experiment) and a meter-diameter sphere. Volume goes up with the *cube* of the radius, so these remote-village-ifsi are *enormously* larger than the little bitty ones I'm used to.

Tonight, when we're all sitting around the stove, waiting for the henna to dry on our hands, I'll talk to Ama and my siblings about the implications of this. The relationship between the over-harvested ifsi and its ever-shrinking size, plus what that means for soil quality and erosion. Of course, words like "erosion" and "resource management" only exist in Arabic and French, not Tamazight, so I'm going to have to think about how to phrase it in ways that will make sense to my illiterate-but-highly-intelligent host mother.

Other highlights from lunch:
* The king is coming! The king is coming! Sometime after l-3id. [[This makes the *ninth* time people have told me this in the past 20 months. I'll believe it when I see his motorcade roll into town, and not before.]]

* My little brother interrogated the entire neighborhood to find out who had picked up my cell phone after it fell out of my pocket. ("It belongs to our tarumit!") Only after he offered a cash reward did the finder speak up, and even then he wanted to keep it. Apparently, my brother and the other kid got into a fight over it, with the result that when I returned from my recent trip to Rabat, the other kid came up to me on the street and said, "Hey, I found your phone! Come over to my house and drink tea and I'll give it to you!" I thanked him profusely, but didn't offer cash, which is why Ama was now explaining to me that I'd need to make my little bro's promise good. Which I'll do tomorrow, when I stop into that household on my round of 3id visits.

* She asked after my entire extended family, knowing that in my travels, I'd've had the chance to reach out to them on Skype. She has a phenomenal memory - I suppose you'd *have* to, if you have no way to record information for later recall - and often asks follow-up questions to anecdotes I've told her weeks or months before.

* Ama knows just how quickly the next six months will pass, and how soon I'll be gone. She grew up with four sisters, but they've all scattered; she doesn't have any family of "her own" in Berberville, she said, except me, so she'll be very sad when I leave. The silver lining that she keeps reminding herself of: Someday, I'll return with my husband and cute children - one boy, one girl. I always answer inshallah or msh irra arrbi (as God wills or if God wants it) , but I know how much it would mean to her. And I do certainly plan to come back to Berberville someday. Spouse and kids? Yeeeeah, we'll see about that.

* She's been under the weather for the past few days, so hasn't been able to make the holiday cookies that she's known for (and that are expected fare, come the morning of the 3id). So when I presented her with a box of fancy cookies from Souqtown, she was tremendously relieved. When I told her that I planned to spend the afternoon baking more, she got even happier.

* She offered to let me take a shower in their guesthouse. (The main house doesn't have running water at all, let alone a shower room.) I countered with spending the night - if that was OK. I'd been waiting for her to invite me, but I guess I was too emphatic at the last 3id, and made her think I didn't want to. When I asked if I could stay over, she lit up.

So we parted with me promising to return around sunset, cookies and shower stuff and fancy-clothes-for-tomorrow in hand.

Which means I'd better start packing...


11/16/09 Tragedy

My description of the ways to leave Peace Corps was inadvertently incomplete.

I only listed the ways to leave alive.

Today, Peace Corps lost a Volunteer...and I lost a friend.

It's so unexpected as to be ludicrous - so shocking as to leave me gasping.

Here's the official notification from our Country Director:
The Peace Corps is deeply saddened to confirm that on Monday, November 16th, 2009, Peace Corps Volunteer So-Youn Kim passed away unexpectedly after an illness. So-Youn was in a hospital in Marrakech and Dr. Hamid was by her side.

So-Youn, 23, a native of San Francisco, California, had been serving as a Youth Development Volunteer for one year in Tamagroute near Zagora.

Please contact a PCMO if you need counseling or would like someone to talk to.
Details of a memorial service to honor So-Youn will be shared soon.
Please keep So-Youn’s family and friends in your thoughts.

Update from a less stunned moment, 10 days later:

This is hardly Peace Corps' first fatality. In our fifty-year history, we've lost about 250 PCVs, out of the almost 200,000 who have served. Three-quarters of those were in the first twenty years; once Peace Corps stopped giving us motorbikes, the number of deaths from traffic accidents plummeted. (Sources: here and here and here.)

That doesn't make this any less of a tragedy. So-Youn (or soyoun, as she usually wrote it) lit the world with her radiance. She threw herself into life like a full-contact sport, with little patience for superficiality and a gift for penetrating insights. She was generous, loving, thoughtful, funny, exuberant, flamboyant... And whatever you believe happens after death, whether you hope to share her joy again or believe that she has vanished from the universe forever, we can all agree that we will miss her.

I'm grateful for the life she lived and for the time I got to spend with her.

For those who have been asking what happened - I avoided discussing it when I thought the questions were driven by sensationalism. But I know some of you are worried about me or your own loved one (because believe it or not, many of my readers are friends and family of other PCVs), so I'll say this: None of us are in danger. Soyoun died of complications from a medical procedure. Nothing contagious, nothing infectious, nothing any of us need to fear.

In short: feel free to grieve with us, but please don't be afraid for us.

11/26/09 3id al-Shokr

[[Disclaimer: Sorry for the blog absence...I've been out doing instead of inside and writing. I promise, I have tons of things to blog about. It's just that some of them are big, heavy, serious things (in addition to the usual set of entertaining sketches of life in Morocco), so I've been putting off writing them down until I had a better handle on things. So I'm going to start off with an easy blog, about food, and work my way up to the big stuff.]]

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

As my American readers know, today is a major American holiday. For my Moroccan and other international readers: Thanksgiving is the holiday where we gather with family and loved ones to share love and warmth and reflect on all that we have to be grateful for.

Last year, when I tried to explain Thanksgiving to Moroccans, I translated it into Tamazight as l-Wess win l-Hamdullah, ie the Day of Thanks-be-to-God. I figured it was a fair translation, but when my better-educated sitemate heard about it, she bit down a laugh and explained that in classical Arabic, it should be l-3id al-Shokr, the Holiday of Thanks.

That sounds way better, so I've used it ever since.

Of course, Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American holiday*, so it's not celebrated here.

Correction - it's not celebrated by Moroccans. Except for the ones invited to the Thanksgiving celebrations put on by nearly every American Peace Corps Volunteer, Embassy staffer, or other ex-pat cherishing a beloved holiday here in our adopted country.

I've gone to two Thanksgiving dinners this year - as I did last year, for that matter. One was this past weekend, with beloved friends up north, whose endless hospitality make their home a haven for so many of my favorite PCVs. About a dozen of us gathered together to share in the joy (and the delicious feasting).

I also went to a Thanksgiving dinner hosted two weekends ago, here on The Mountain. (Technically, it was in the next valley over, but whatever.) That one was a potluck; I contributed pumpkin muffins, a funfetti birthday cake (because while *Sunday* was all about Thanksgiving, *Saturday* was a joint birthday party for two friends), and mulled cider.

Both feasts featured honest-to-goodness TURKEY, plus mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, apple pie & pumpkin pie... That's just what I got to have twice. Deliciousness I only got once included from-scratch applesauce, stuffed mushrooms, pumpkin scones, chocolate chip pumpkin bread...and I know there's more that I'm forgetting.

At both, I got to share the day (and the feasting) with loved ones. Though my biological family live thousands of miles away, I spent Thanksgiving(s) with my Peace Corps family - the dozens of brothers and sisters (and crazy cousins) I get to share my service with.

I am truly grateful.

PS: Today, on Thanksgiving Day itself, I broke in my new pressure cooker with some phenomenal mashed potatoes. 'Cause it's not Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes. :)

* Yes, I know, Canadians have one too, but they're Americans - North Americans - too, so it counts. Besides, any holiday inspired by Pilgrims, designated by George Washington, and re-awakened by Abraham Lincoln is "quintessentially American" by any meaningful definition.

11/25/09 The Mountain

I could have sworn I'd written about this before, but can't find it in a quick search of the archives, so here goes...

My region is dense with Peace Corps Volunteers. For a relatively small region, we're flush with PCVs. For the past six months, we've had 13; we recently lost three, but we just gained five more with the newly arrived YD and SBD Volunteers, so we're up to 15. I thought we were nearly saturated, but I just got an email from our staff that says we're going to get a whole bunch more. The Mountain might have as many as 20 Volunteers.

So what is "The Mountain"? It's the shorthand that most of my local PCV buddies and I use to refer to those of us who share our Souqtown. Some people prefer "Souqtown Crew" or "The Souqtown Gang". I like "The Mountain."

Of course, it's not entirely accurate. The road from Berberville to Souqtown runs along a valley floor past several mountain ranges, and several of the Volunteers who make up "The Mountain" live in adjoining valleys, on the far side of these ranges. Some of our crew are in the flatlands on the far side of our Souqtown. They tend to prefer "Crew".

But I like The Mountain, for all its vagueness and inaccuracy.

Today, I visited my two nearest Mountain Volunteers. Our sites are close enough - evenly spaced every 20km along the road - that it's actually possible to go and return in a single day, if you time the transits carefully enough. Of course, given the vagaries of transportation on The Mountain, it's also entirely possible that you'll end up stuck in a friend's site overnight. But we all keep lots of sleeping bags and blankets and ponjs on hand, so it all works out well in the end.

I have to say, I'm going to miss these impromptu sleepovers when (if) I return to the US.

Remind me why we stopped having slumber parties after childhood?


11/8/09 Kitties

I'm cat-sitting.

I did it a year ago, and it worked out well; maybe I'm making it an annual tradition.

One is my site-mate's cat, Sheba. The other cat belonged to a friend who recently left. She bequeathed it to another neighbor, Mina, who is currently out of town. That one was originally named Moha, a common man's name around here...but it turned out to be a girl, so we've been calling her Tamohat.

(As you may recall, in Tamazight, almost any word can be rendered feminine by adding t's to its beginning and ending. T+Moha+t = Tamohat. Unfortunately, while Moha is perfectly common, Tamohat just sounds kinda ridiculous to me. I've been trying to come up with a better name for her, but haven't found one yet. Short-term favorites were Marmot and Catshepsut, but I wasn't happy with either.)

Mina has acknowledged that she has no deep love for Tamohat, and I'm a bit of a cat person, so this cat-sitting is also kind of a test run. If she and I hit it off, I may take the kitty off Mina's hands. But if she keeps knocking over my trash can, breaking into my food, and clawing me, she may go back to Mina. We shall see.

In the meantime, my small apartment is home to two kitties. They hated each other on sight, but lhumdullah, they've come to terms. They still get into the odd hissing match, but they're generally willing to spend hours in the same room, regally ignoring each other. Occasionally, they'll even play a lightning-round of catch-me-if-you-can.

As I type this, sitting cross-legged on a living-room ponj, Tamohat sprawls across my lap. She had been spiraled into a tiny, tight lump, but as the room has warmed (thanks to my invaluable little buta heater), she has loosened and loosened; now she's draped along the length of my right leg, her head on my knee and her front paws splayed in front of her like she's reaching for a hug.

Trash can habits aside, she's an awfully cute little thing...but will she be mine?

Time will tell.

11/14/09 Redball Cheese

For a country with so many goats, you'd think goat cheese would have found its way into the local diet.

Not so.

"Regular" cheese, aka cow cheese, is also a non-starter.

I don't know why.

Cheese is one of my favorite sources of protein.

But here in Morocco, cheese is rare.

If you ask for l-fromaj (borrowed directly from the French fromage), you'll get soft cheese, sold by the 1-dh triangular wedge. Vache Qui Rit (Laughing Cow) is the most common variety, but there are a couple competitors - La Hollandaise and another whose name I don't recall.

If you want hard cheese, you have exactly one option: redball. More accurately, Gouda cheese sold in red spheres. PCVs call it redball cheese. Moroccans - Tam speakers, anyway - call it l-fromaj azugagh, red cheese.

A full sphere runs you about 150 dirhams, so I usually buy only 20-50 dh worth at a time, depending how many people I'm cooking for.

20dh of redball gets me a wedge about an inch across at its widest point. When grated, that's enough cheese for a cookie-sheet-sized pizza.

(But wait, you say, surely pizza is better with cheddar or mozzarella cheese? Of course, I reply, then smack you upside the head and point you to my earlier comment: if you want hard cheese, you have EXACTLY ONE OPTION: redball. It's impossible to find cheddar or mozzarella outside of the big cities. And since the nearest big city is 9-12 hours away, depending on transport, it means I'm leading a mostly cheese-less life. I'd love a block of cheddar, or a crumble of blue cheese, or some soft goat cheese...I'd swoon over a wheel of fresh Parmesan. Mmm...parm... But here in rural Morocco, I get redball and only redball, and I have to go into SouqTown even to find that. So I grate the gouda and am grateful for it.)

By the way, during my recent trip to the US, I was **shocked** to discover that redball is available in America. I don't know why it surprised me so much; everything is available in America, right? But somehow, the intersection of bled Peace Corps life with big-city-America life just knocked me over.

11/16/09 Redball Serendipity

A cheezy movie had the tagline, "When destiny has a sense of humor, it's called Serendipity."

That's actually a terrible definition of a great word.

Serendipity is when unexpectedly delightful things happen. When challenges suddenly work themselves out. When you have to laugh and shake your head and say, "!"

Some may attribute serendipitous moments to destiny. Others to God. Others to their own karma. But if it happened due to your own deliberate efforts to make it happen, it doesn't count as serendipity, so regardless of your belief system, it's a thing to be thankful for.

Today, I had a moment of serendipity.

The day didn't start out fabulously. I slept on a friend's floor (not uncommon, here in the Peace Corps) and peeled myself out of my chubby sleeping bag at 4:30am. Several of us were trying to catch an early-morning transit. We expected it to pass at 5:30am, but knew that it didn't adhere to a strict schedule, so we wanted to be on the side of the road at 5am.

We pretty much made it - 5:08am, according to my new phone - and spent the next hour stamping our feet, huddling for warmth, and watching shooting stars. (NB: the Leonids have begun, and are already a *great* show, and they haven't even peaked yet! Tonight should be great, and tomorrow night should be breathtaking, with more great nights throughout the week!)

After 6, our host called the transit driver...who informed him that the transit had rolled at 3am, not 5am.

We grumbled and mumbled and trooped back indoors, some to sleep, others to get coffee and/or breakfast, still others to try to work out another solution.

Nine hours later, we were back on the side of the road. The transit had been spotted heading back, having returned its round-trip into town, and our host had gotten the driver to agree to take another trip, to bring us all down the mountain. The transit had rolled up...but what goes up doesn't necessarily come down *quickly*, so we were, again, waiting. For something like an hour.

As we waited, I tried to decide my route. After getting out of my friend's site, I could either head to SouqTown or go straight up to Berberville. I really, really, really wanted to get home...but I'd promised my host mom that I'd teach her how to make pizza, which requires redball cheese, which is only available in SouqTown.

If we'd gotten off the mountain at 6am, I'd've gone into SouqTown, bought some redball, Skyped anybody awake, run various other errands, and then ridden back up the mountain on the noon or 2:30 transit. But to head into SouqTown *now* would mean having to spend the night there. The earliest I'd be home would be around noon tomorrow.

So I had a dilemma. Not a massive give-into-the-terrorist-demands-or-watch-innocent-people-die kind of dilemma, but still, a tough choice: go straight home and apologize to Ama for delaying our pizza party by another week OR spend yet another night out of site and away from my friends/neighbors/kitties/family.

I owe Ama some quality time, plus my kitties don't have enough food to last till tomorrow, so both options were unpleasant.

And then came the serendipity.

Redball serendipity.

I had found a mediocre solution to my dilemma: go home, but ask one of the friends heading into SouqTown to pick up some redball cheese and send it up on the morning transit. I don't like asking friends for favors, nor do I like exposing myself to public commentary (and "she sent cheese up the mountain on a transit" is definitely interesting to somebody), so I wasn't thrilled with the choice, but it seemed like the best one I had.

And then.

When I asked my buddy for the favor, another friend - adopted name "Mina" - overheard.

Mina clarified, "You want 20dh worth of redball cheese?"

"Yeah," I confirmed.

"I have some in my bag," she announced, as though this were a perfectly ordinary thing. As though cheese is usually tucked in shoulder bags, along with chapstick and a novel for the transit. "Want to buy it off me?"

"Yes!" I exclaimed.

"I picked it up in Marjane," she explained, pulling out the wedge of plastic-sealed gouda. "It was on sale - that's more than the usual 20dh worth."

I nodded my agreement, still grinning. "That's 30dh, maybe even 40dh worth of redball. Sweet!"

I even had exact change in my pocket.

I handed her the 20-dirham note. She handed me the wedge of cheese, which I promptly slid into my own bag, next to the chapstick and the novel.

And just like that, everything was perfect. I'm equipped for some pizza fabulousness with Ama, I'm headed home tonight, and Mina - who had gotten the cheese for the previous weekend, and had no pressing need for it now - is 20 dirhams richer.

Oh, and the transit showed up only a few minutes later.

Luck? Destiny? Karma? Divine Love meeting *every* need? I have my answer; you're welcome to yours. :D


11/13/09 Word of the Day: Dua

Dua is how I mentally spell the word pronounced doo-wa.

In training, I learned that it meant medicine, but its usage is broader than that. It probably translates best as chemical.

People use dua to mean drugs (medicinal and recreational), medicinal herbs, plus, I recently learned, herbicides and/or pesticides. A friend's host auntie offered us apples, and when we hesitated, she assured us that they were bla dua. Free from ... dua. Organic, in other words.

Whenever I would cough or have stomach challenges, my host mom would worriedly ask me, "Do you have dua?" Birth control pills are also dua. So are painkillers, antibiotics, and pretty much anything else taken orally.

Injected vaccines, though, get their own name: tesarut. Which is usually translated as "key". More on that another time...

Today we're focusing on dua.

If you put shiba (absinthe) into your tea, that's dua, because it's medicinal: it's good to "raise your temperature". Adding luisa (verbena) isn't dua, because it just makes it tasty.

Z3tr (oregano) is good for upset stomachs, I'm told, but people are more likely to use it as a flavoring than brew it as tea to make it dua.

...and so on.

Tamazight has a small vocabulary, in comparison to most modern languages, so Tam speakers either borrow words from Darija (Moroccan Arabic) or adapt existing words to fill newly discovered language gaps. Are you treating sick crops? Clearly, the chemicals you're applying to the soil serve the same purpose as the chemicals you apply to sick people, hence...dua.

And now I have an old song stuck in my head:
There she was, just a-walkin' down the street,
Singin' "DUA-ditty ditty dum ditty doo."


11/3/09 Madam Secretary

(sorry the picture is blurry - I took it without a flash, so I wouldn't distract her, but there was so little light in our basement meeting room that the exposure took a while)

Today, about 60 PCVs had the opportunity to meet the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Thank you to all who jumped the dozens of security, logistical, and bureaucratic hurdles required to make the event happen.

She spoke for about 15 minutes, addressing both the Volunteers and the Foreign Service Officers stationed here in Morocco.

She highlighted the work of a staffer who has been bringing together people from different development organizations. Secretary Clinton said that when she was the First Lady, she had attended a workshop with a dozen development NGOs...and that no one at the meeting had met each other before. She pointed out the extreme inefficiency of such a hydra-style approach, and urged State Department officials to work together with various organizations to put together and implement a unified plan for development work.

I expected her to point out what an asset PCVs can be, with first-hand knowledge of development needs and assets in communities far from the reach of most FSOs and NGOs...but she actually never addressed anything like that. She took advantage of the photo opp of posing with the oldest serving PCV in the world, our Muriel, but other than that, seemed to focus both her remarks and attention on the Foreign Service personnel.

That, combined with the enormous amount of time we wasted for the visit - we adjourned morning sessions at 9:30 to "prepare" for our 11am meeting, but she was occupied till noon, and then her motorcade had blocked in our buses, so we couldn't leave till she finished all of her other meetings onsite - makes me almost wish she hadn't arranged to meet with us. I mean, I've been looking forward to meeting her ever since I heard she was coming, three months ago... And then none of us got to "meet" her or ask her anything; a few PCVs got a limp handshake, and that was that.

Our already-overscheduled IST lost about 5 hours to get a 15-minute talk addressed to other people. We didn't even get a group photo with her, for security reasons. So...a bit anticlimactic, to say the least.

11/12/09 Climate Update

When I lived in New England, the first snowfall of the year often came on 11/11. It seems statistically unlikely, but year after year, it was the case.

Last year, Berberville got its first snowstorm on 10/10, and received heavy storms fairly regularly for the next five months. This year, October came and went without a single snowflake. Now 11/11 has passed, and we're still adfel-free.

I've been told many times that last winter was the worst one in a decade or two. I wondered if people were just saying it so I wouldn't go home before this winter, but now I'm starting to believe it.

But it is cold.

When I woke up this morning, about 7:30, my indoor-outdoor thermometer said that the indoor temperature was a balmy 42 (I live in a fridge again! I can leave out leftovers and not worry about them!) and the outdoor temperature was 35. As the sun rose, outside got steadily warmer; at this point, in direct sunlight, it feels like mid-sixties, maybe mid-seventies. Nice and warm. Inside, the air has heated up to almost 50.

So yes, my heater is on. I used it for a week or so, during a cold snap, and then let it sit cold and dark for about a month, as Berberville enjoyed a warm fall. But now, and for the past several days, it's been on for at least several hours each day.

Just the little butagaz (butane) heater. My giant buta heater won't get fired up till snow falls, inshallah.


11/9 20th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall Coming Down

One of my earliest political memories is The Day The Wall Came Down.

I was too young to notice or understand, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." To have an informed opinion on the presidential elections. To have any comprehension of perestroika or glasnost. But in Social Studies class, we had to bring in news articles on current events, and about half the class had brought in a story about The Berlin Wall.

I still had no idea what was going on, let alone what it all meant, but I knew that Something Big Was Happening.

And now, 20 years later, capitalism vs communism has all but disappeared from public discourse; the talk now skews towards Islam and The West. And here I sit, an American living in a Muslim country, heir of Washington and Payne living in a kingdom, eyeball to eyeball with cultures and customs completely different from those I grew up with.

The world shrinks daily.

20 years ago, a massive obstacle...crumbled. Was torn down, brick from brick, by a jubilant mob. Today, the biggest comparable barrier snakes through the Holy Land; another is under construction from the Rio Grande to the Pacific.

But if we learned anything 20 years ago, it was that no wall stands forever*. That any barrier, chasm, gulf, wall, ultimately permeable, because the human spirit cannot be bound by physical obstacles.

So as I stand on the conceptual frontier between Islam and the West, I'm living that. Every day, I find more things in common with my Moroccan friends and family. Yes, we hold different beliefs, attitudes, expectations...but we're still united by far more than divides us.

And the "Goal 2 and 3" work that I do - like writing this blog, for instance - I do to lay bricks in the bridge between my two communities and cultures, and to help knock down any imagined walls in the minds of my friends on either side.

And just think - simply by reading this, you're helping me in that work.

Thank you.

*OK, before you quibble about the Great Wall of China - that one's not a barrier anymore, it's architecture. It's not preventing the free movement of anyone who wants to cross it - or if it is, that's a news story that deserves some attention, 'cause I've never heard of it.

11/10 School Check-In

Today I walked down to the local middle school/high school campus with a Fulbright scholar who is researching girls' education in bled Morocco. She had a series of questions to ask the administrators; she's been in Berberville for two months now, but has had trouble getting the requisite paperwork to have admittance to the schools. I've had the paperwork for over a year, plus I've spent a year and a half building relationships with the teachers and administrators, so I accompanied her in hopes of smoothing her way.

It worked.

We had a very successful conversation with the principal, and he even gave her a copy of the school's enrollment records, complete with details about annual retention, failing students (or "redoubling", as they're called here), IB passage rates, and more, broken down by gender.

I don't know why the principal has been a stickler for the paperwork until now - he didn't ask to see mine until May, and I worked in the school from October onwards - but I was very grateful that he answered her questions fully and thoughtfully today.

I was less grateful - in fact, I was downright upset - to discover that the huge murals that we poured so much time, attention, labor, and money into last year...

...I don't even want to say it...

...have been plastered over. The king is scheduled to come to Berberville next week - and I say "scheduled to" because this is the *eighth* time that he has been expected in the past 20 months, and we haven't yet seen him - so everyone is running around, beautifying the city.

And for reasons that I cannot comprehend, the school administration decided that the buildings would look better with freshly plastered and repainted walls than with the gorgeous, professional-looking murals that the EE club students generated last year.

Honestly, it felt like a gut punch.

I didn't even notice it immediately - it's hard to see what's *not* there - but about 5 minutes into our visit, I suddenly noticed that I was looking at textured beige where a huge world ecosystem map should be. I hastily ran around to check all the other walls...all freshly plastered and painted.

It hurt.

When I asked the principal what had happened to all our work, he just shrugged and said, "You can redo them if you want."

That hurt, too.

And then we began discussing girls' education, and my spirits rallied somewhat, and I even proposed a few new mural ideas before we left...but my heart wasn't in it.

I did run into a few of the teachers we worked with last year, and talked about restarting the club for this year. We'll see how that goes...


11/1/09 The End is Nigh

So, dear friends, the end is nigh.

Not *that* nigh.

But, you know, nigh-ing.


We just got word: Our service will close* on May 19th, 2010, exactly 2 years to the day after we swore in. And we have a 72-hour checkout procedure that backdates from that, so I'll be leaving Berberville for the last time on May 14th or 15th, inshallah.

That's really not very far away.

In preparation for that, all the remaining Health and Environment PCVs from my group - I think we have 45 out of the original 60 - will meet together three months prior for our "COS Conference".

At COS Conference, we'll discuss things like how to finish off our projects in a way we can be proud of; potential job opportunities; the status of our health care /insurance /other benefits /etc after we COS; what RPCV status means in terms of fellowships and non-compete status for federal jobs; and suchlike. It's Peace Corps' official chance to point out that we're about to finish up, and how to handle that.

After 24 months in country (well, it'll be 23.5, but who's counting), it'll be a shock for most of us to think about.

Adjusting back to American culture - assuming we plan to return to America (which, honestly, is a valid assumption for the vast majority of us). Finding a job, once this guaranteed paycheck dries up. Deciding our next steps.

Of course, it has already come up. Everyone I talk to back in the US wants to know what my post-May 2010 plans are, and even PCVs here have started discussing it with each other.

A couple of us - literally 2 out of the 45 - are contemplating extending our service for a 3rd year. One has already committed to it and been approved; the other [me] is still making up her mind. Fortunately, I still have time to think about it. If I do decide I want to extend, I have to formally make a request to my Program Manager (though I've already sounded him out, and he responded positvely). If he thinks that (1) I have good reasons for wanting to extend, and (2) there's money in the budget to fund me for a third year, then he'll approve my application and pass it up to the Country Director. If the CD agrees, then it's official. The deadline for Country Director approval is COS conference, meaning that the application deadline is a month or three before mid-February. As in, I need to make up my mind before the New Year for sure, and even sooner if possible.

* Hence the acronym COS, Close Of Service


11/11/09 "So What Do You *Dislike* about Morocco?"

In my recent travels, I struck up a conversation with a young Moroccan who lives in Germany, where he works as a nurse, and where he recently married a young German woman. His family lives near Merzouga, in southeastern Morocco, and our travel paths overlapped briefly.

We talked about all kinds of things, from Secretary Clinton's imminent visit to the weather similarities between Hamburg and the High Atlas Mountains. Oh, and we met when he startled me into spilling my soda all over myself and my lap. After a "meet cute" like that, we were destined by all the laws of cheezy movies to become friends. :)

At one point, he asked me, "So what do you dislike about Morocco?"

I mis-heard him (or maybe misunderstood him - his Tam is somewhat different from mine), and thought he'd asked what I *like* about Morocco, and answered, "The people."

His eyebrows went up. "The people!?"

Nodding, I repeated, "Definitely the people. And the mountains - I love the landscape here." He looked puzzled. "Yeah, the people are so friendly, the mountains are great--"

He cut me off. "No, I asked what you *dislike* about Morocco."

I laughingly apologized, "Definitely not the people! Sorry!" He laughed, too, while I searched for an answer that could be honest without hurting his pride in his mother country.

After a minute, I said, "Well, I like tagine, but having it day after day, meal after's too much."

He agreed. "I love tagine, I love couscous," he began, "but there are other foods out there, people! That are better for you!"

We swapped food stories for a bit, and then I turned it around on him. "What do *you* dislike about our country?"

He promptly answered, "Relationships between men and women. I hate it that men and women can't be *friends* in Morocco."

I chimed in so enthusiastically, I might have actually shouted. "I know! Exactly! It makes me crazy! I have so many friends-who-are-men (amdukal), but even to use the word is to make people assume that they're my boyfriends!"

We riffed on this for quite a while.

I shared this story, which I don't think I put on my blog before:

While I was in homestay, a male friend came to visit me. I spent the week before his visit explaining to my host mom, host sister, host cousin, and all female friends that he was a ***friend***, not a boyfriend. I even insisted on using the Arabic word sadiq, in hopes that it had a more platonic connotation than the Tamazight asmun or amdakul.

I don't think they believed me, but they agreed to refer to him as my sadiq.

And then he arrived, my host mom locked me in for the night.

See, in homestay, I lived in a semi-detached part of my host family's house. The guest house, more or less. But ain't no way I could stay semi-detached from my family with a man under the same roof. So my sadiq stayed in another house they own, on the far side of town. And for the first time since I stayed with them, my host mom locked the door to my part of the house.

She literally locked me in.

(But she forgot about the back door to the "guesthouse", which leads out to an enclosed courtyard with its own easily-unlatched door. So I slipped out to join my buddy for breakfast.)

Additionally, Moroccans aren't fans of cross-gendered public displays of affection. Contact between men or between women is always fine, but men and women shouldn't even hold hands when walking down a street, let alone hug in public. So I may well travel 14 hours to visit a guy friend, and when I get there, I run up to him and ... shake his hand.

Unless I'm in a big enough city that I can assume some cosmopolitan westernism, in which case I go ahead and hug my buddy. :)

...So with these and other stories to share, I cheerfully passed a several-hour conversation with my new friend. My new male Moroccan friend. Guess it's time to dust sadiq off and bring it back into my daily conversation...


11/17 Ama's Worry

So last week (11/3, to be specific), when I was hundreds of kilometers away attending the In-Service Training of the new Environment Volunteers, I took a hard fall. From about 6 feet up. Landed with a head-to-toe faceplant. I had most of the symptoms of a concussion. And whiplash.

(See, there was this swingset, and, um, ... nevermind.)

This week, ever since my return, I've been quietly hanging out at home.

I know I *should* have gone to visit my host family, but I didn't.

After several days at home, when I happened to have a buddy over (Berberville is at the intersection of two paved roads, which means it's a stopover town for some), Ama came by, little baby Mbarak strapped to her back, to see What Was Going On.

She was upset.

Her feelings were hurt, I think. But she saw that I had company - both my sitemate and my buddy were in the house at that point - so she limited her lecture to a few angry sentences, wrapping up with, "You just didn't want to come over. Fine." I promised to come for lunch the next day - today - but she didn't seem mollified.

So today I went, played with my little siblings, helped serve lunch, and generally groveled. I also played up my injuries, to provide a face-saving explanation for why I hadn't hiked up to their house to see them.

Part of our conversation:

me: When I was in Marrakesh, I hurt myself. I fell and cracked my head.
Ama: I *knew* something was wrong.
me: Yeah; I fell off ... um ... [no idea how to say "swingset" in Tamazight]
Baba: A ladder?
me: Yeah, a ladder. I was about two meters up, and fell *splat* on the ground. Hurt my chin, my body, my knee...cracked my head. I had a - I don't know the word - in English, a "concussion". One eye was like this [fingers spread apart] and the other eye like this [close together].
Baba and Ama, to each other: She hurt herself; broke her head.
Bahallu [host grandpa]: Did you go to the hospital in Marrakesh?
me: No, there was a doctor there at the hotel, from Peace Corps. [I opted not to tell them that the Peace Corps doctor FAILED TO NOTICE MY MISMATCHED PUPILS and never diagnosed the concussion. That was done by an observant PCV buddy. Medical FAIL.]
Said: Yeah, one of my clients once fell off their bicycle and had eyes different sizes. But he was OK later.
me: And I'm OK now; but my head was killing me for a while. [Yes, Tam uses the same idiom as English for "hurt."]
[Later, in the kitchen]
Ama: I just *knew* something had happened to you. I woke up in the middle of the night and knew in my liver [we'd say "in my heart" or "in my soul" or even "in my gut" - here they say "in my liver"] that something bad had happened to you. So I went to Fatima [my PCV sitemate], but she said that nothing was wrong.
me: Yeah, I hadn't called her. I didn't want her to worry.
Ama: That's what I thought. I *knew* something was wrong. She said, no, Kauthar is fine, but I just knew.
me: You know me. :)
Ama: Yes, because you used to come by all the time, but then suddenly you didn't come at all.
Ama: When you talk to your parents, don't tell them. You're fine now, and there's no need to make them worry.
me: I won't. I haven't - just like I didn't tell Fatima. I don't like making people worry.
Ama: That's good. They'll see you in six months; that's soon enough. They don't need to worry about you in the meantime. [pause] But I was so worried...I just knew something terrible had happened.
me: But, really, I'm OK now, thanks be to God.
Ama: Thanks be to God.

Even after a day like yesterday, there are things to be grateful for.

Which is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's about family, and loved ones, and gratitude. Because we all have so much to be grateful for, and it helps to remember it...especially in hard times.

I may not have central heating or running water and my sitemate is gone and my friend died and I'm still getting headaches, two weeks after my concussion - but I love my host family and they love me, and I love my Peace Corps family of Volunteers, and I love you guys. Surrounded by that much love, I can't help but be grateful.


PS: Because I think she's right, I typed up this story a month ago, when it happened, and am only posting it now, and messing with the posting date to bury it in my archives. This post will probably never be read, and I'm OK with that. I just wanted to record for posterity what a sweet host mom I have. :D
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