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3/16/09 Sunday's CD Visit

In PeaceCorps-speak, I'd say that the PC/M CD is doing a site visit today.

In English, I'd say that the Country Director for Peace Corps-Morocco is visiting me. Knowing that he'd be coming, but not knowing if he'd visit our houses, I decide to tidy up anyway. I've been under the weather for a few days, so the clutter/dirty dishes/detritus from my last trip/etc has been piling up.

Shortly after I resolve to clean - like, literally, within five minutes - my sitemate "Fatima" appears at my door, like a godsend from a very tidy heaven. :) She does my dishes and organizes my kitchen while I scrub the bathroom. (When some friends cleaned paint buckets in my bathroom a few weeks back, they inadvertently coated my bathroom floor with a layer of greenish paint scum.) Then she sweeps the bathroom and foyer while I pick up the living room. An embarrassingly large percentage of that consists of shoving the clutter into my bedroom, but, well, oops. This is the first day in months I've felt warm enough walking around my apartment without carrying a butagaz heater. That's the other primary contributor to the mess: it's just been too cold to clean.

Once the house looks presentable, she and I head to the high school campus to prepare for next weekend's tree planting. We measure walls, sketch a map of the campus, and make decisions about where to put the trees.

After we finish there, we head back to my sparkly house to redraw the sketch-map and do some math. The campus is far from being a perfect square - the walls jig and jag all over the place - so it reminds me of those SAT math problems. (Find the area of this irregular shape, where we provide the lengths of 5 of the 9 walls.) After a little figuring, we realize that we can actually plant nearly all of the 500 trees in and around the campus. My original goal had been to distribute them throughout the village and outlying areas, but given the amount of mischief the students tend to get into when they're only minimally supervised, I'm reconsidering that plan. Plus, I had no idea just how big the campus is. We can make it a forest. :)

Then we assemble the shovels; they're sold in two pieces, wooden handle and metal shovel-head, and it's the buyer's job to put them together strongly enough to, y'know, shovel stuff. More accurately, Fatima assembles the shovels while I bake chocolate chip cookies.

Then we head out on afternoon errands. We go to the gendarme's office. The campus adjoins the old gendarmarie, and we want to plant some trees outside the school grounds, so we want official permission before we invade government property. ;) Turns out the chief is out of the office, so we'll have to try that again tomorrow.

Then it's off to my host family's house to remind them that the Country Director is coming to town and will stop by for food sometime soon.

But for only the ... second? ... time since I've been in Berberville, I find the house closed, locked, and abandoned. I can't imagine why *everybody* is gone. It's not a holiday, so there's no reason for everyone to go to a family dinner or something. It's not hammam day, because Ama was there on Friday. Just then, a neighbor wanders by, explaining that Ama has gone over to my 3tti's house. He has his wife walk us there (though I certainly know the way!), and she waits until somebody responds to the knock at the door. It's my beautiful cousin N**, who I haven't seen in far too long. She's delighted to see me, and I feel suddenly guilty for never popping over for tea. She ushers us in, has us say hi to her visiting brother-in-law (who I haven't seen since his wedding, five months ago) and her dad, then sits us down in the fancy-guest-reception room. (My 3tti's house is niiiiice.)

It's fairly obvious that Ama and the rest of the family are nowhere around, but after seeing N**'s delight, I can't bring myself to say, "Sorry, I was just looking for my mom, but since she's not around, I'll be off, thanks!"

So Fatima and I sit down for tea and cookies. Pretty soon N**'s sister (the newlywed!) and a friend come in, and we all sit and munch. Unfortunately, I know that the CD's arrival is imminent, so I'm slightly edgy.

Sure enough, he texts me just as I'm halfway through some bread-and-jam. I inhale the rest of it as fast as possible, apologize profusely while explaining that our mudir is waiting for us, and then Fatima and I bolt.

We head for the post office, aka the informal taxi stand. He's not there. Just as Fatima and I are exchanging concerned glances, he texts me again, saying, "I'm at your house." Fatima and I discuss this en route to my place.

I ask her, "Do you think he knows our Moroccan names? Because everybody knows where Kawtar lives, but I don't think anybody could help him find Liz's house."

She observes, "All he has to do is ask for the tarumit's house."

"Yeah," I counter, "But he might have ended up at your house."

"You live closer to the taxi stand," she points out.

"So what do you think are the odds he's actually at my house?" I ask.

She doesn't answer, but says, "Let's take the shortcut." We slip through the back alleys (OK, dirt paths - Berberville doesn't have actual alleyways, but folks use the same word - znqt - for both dingy city alleys and the narrow dirt-paved spaces between village houses).

We pop out of the znqt half a block from my house. At first, I don't see anything, but then I notice a suspiciously tall shadow in the inset doorway just before mine. "Ah, illa!" I exclaim. Hey, he's there! At the sound of my voice, he turns.

I unlock my door and invite him in. He hesitates, which makes me love his cultural sensitivity. "Are you sure it's OK?"

I explain, "The rule is, no men can enter my house except for my 'brothers of Peace Corps'. You can be an 'uncle of Peace Corps'. It's fine." Also, Fatima's presence makes a huge difference. I've discovered that Moroccans will imagine all manner of inappropriate things between two opposite-gendered people sequestered together, but if there are three people present (or really, any number higher than two), everything is instantly above-board.

So we go up into my apartment, and I say a silent prayer of thanks that (a) I decided to clean this morning and (b) Fatima arrived to help. We go into my sparkly kitchen - slightly dirtier as a result of the cookie baking, but still waaaay better than it looked when I woke up this morning - and I make us tea while Fatima brings the chocolate chip cookies to the living room.

At one point, he's getting something out of his bag, in the foyer, while I'm putting the tea mugs down in the living room. He says, "Your apartment is really warm."

I laugh, "This is the warmest day we've had all year. You should be here in the winter!"

He clarifies, "No, I don't mean the temperature, I mean, it's just a warm, welcoming space."

And I'm suddenly speechless. I say something graceful like, "Oh, um, thanks!" Inwardly, though, I'm realizing that this may be the best compliment I've received in ... ever. I've turned my cement box into an inviting space. My home *feels* like a home. I say another lhumdullah for Fatima's help in cleaning and organizing everything, which of course played a huge role in making the space so appealing, and turn to open the windows to hide the huge smile on my face.

When the tea is ready, we arrange ourselves on ponjs and talk. The conversation ranges from chat about the weather in my chilly site, to a discussion of how sites are prepared for PCVs, to some concrete suggestions Fatima and I have for the structure of our programs. The CD takes notes, asks thoughtful questions, and listens to what we say.

It's a fabulous conversation, but eventually it's time for dinner, so we get up to go. Fatima has arranged for the CD to stay with her host family, and for us all to eat there.

Quick tangent: This is the first time any member of Peace Corps staff has visited Berberville and *not* stayed in a hotel. He didn't come in the fancy Peace Corps car, either. He came on *public*transportation*. Taxis and tranzits. He's eating in homes, not restaurants. He's sleeping on a ponj. This may not sound like much, but it represents a sea change in the relationship between staff and our sites. I can't stress enough how unheard-of it is for a Peace Corps staffer - the Peace Corps Country Director, for Pete's sake - to travel, eat, and sleep like a PCV. Like a Moroccan. He eschewed the climate-controled SUV, the ease of private transportation, the comforts of westernized hospitality, and embraced our lifestyle. Almost as revolutionary is the seriousness with which he listens to our suggestions about Peace Corps.

But I digress. We head to Fatima's host family's house. Our conversation continues through tea, cookies, duaz, and oranges, punctuated by interludes of playing with Fatima's adorable little brothers and having a four-language conversation with Fatima's host dad. (In decreasing order of ability: Her host dad speaks Tam, Arabic, French, and a bit of English. The CD speaks English, French, and some Arabic. I speak English, French, and Tam. Fatima speaks English and Tam.) When the CD and dad get caught up in a French conversation, I translate for Fatima. When her host mom asks a question in Tam, Fatima translates for the CD. When the CD asks a question in oddly-accented Arabic, I translate into Tam for Fatima's dad. It's a highly eclectic conversation, to say the least. At one point, answering a question from Fatima's host dad, I'm pretty sure I included Tam, French, *and* English in my response. Unconsciously.

Eventually, it was time for bed. Fatima and I left the CD to his ponj and multilingual conversation, and headed to our separate homes.

Stepping out into the crisp night air, I discovered one of those diamond-on-black-velvet starry skies that my cold mountain village specializes in. I never go for late-night walkabouts - keeping a promise - and stargazing from my roof always feels kinda lame, so I cherish these moments when I get to celebrate Berberville's night sky.

The stars kept me company as I hustled home. In a handful of hours, the CD and I will explore Berberville's crepuscular delights.

For now, I'm off to bed...

1 comment:

  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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