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3/23/10 Environmental Art Contest

Sunday afternoon, kids gathered at SouqTown's Youth Center for an environmental art contest and an environmental presentation on the value of trees (appropriate for Tree Day, no?). My camera battery died before the presentation began, and my backup battery was home charging, since I'd drained it the day before, but I managed to get pictures of the young artists.

They used egg crates to keep their paints separate - an old kindergarten teacher's trick that I'd totally forgotten about till now. :)

This girl is painting leaves on a tree. By the way, this is the third or fourth environmental art contest I've seen/organized/etc, and by far the most successful at getting thematically appropriate art. Every painting I saw - and I spent a good hour walking around, looking at every piece, repeatedly - clearly and vividly demonstrated the kids' appreciation for trees and the environment.

This young lady's painting shows a tree growing out of the Earth:
...while the boy next to her paints an angry face on his Earth - the words he added later make it clear that Earth is fed up with all the pollution we're choking it with.

Artists posing with their creations:

And my favorite of the day: (The text says, "Trees are the lungs of the earth." And see how the tree roots form bronchial tubes? What a clever idea!)


3/22/10 SouqTown Clean-Up

The second activity of Tree Day required rubber gloves, day-glo vests, big woven baskets, and giant smelly truck.

On Sunday, March 21st, the International Day of Trees, a few hundred people got together to plant about 400 trees. But that was only the beginning. After the trees were planted, watered, and protected with rock circles, we moved onto Phase 2: The SouqTown Clean-Up.

Everyone who wanted them was given rubber gloves, and then we began marching through the streets, clearing away trash as we went. Like beneficial locusts, we scoured the landscape, leaving nothing unsightly behind. Here, a boy gathers cigarette butts from the wall in front of a municipal building:

Once we'd gotten the trash off the ground, we dropped it into one of about a dozen baskets, being carried by kids like these:

The kids carried the basket until it got pretty full. Some even stayed excited about lugging litter:

(Those girls kept their huge smiles all day long!) Once a basket filled up, its carriers ran over to the garbage truck, which kept pace with the parade of litter locusts, and emptied it out:

The garbage truck inched through the town surrounded by children, like a cross between a parade float and a robotic Pied Piper. A few bolder kids (and the odd Peace Corps Volunteer) occasionally hopped aboard:

We walked through all the biggest streets of SouqTown, attracting attention and commentary, as well as picking up a few extra litter collectors. :)

When we reached the middle school, it was already an hour or two past lunchtime, so we called a break and everyone dispersed to their homes.

But they reassembled at the Youth Center that afternoon, for Part 3 of Tree Day...

3/21/10 Tree Planting!

For the second year in a row, I helped plant hundreds of trees on the Spring Equinox. :) I think this annual tradition should continue after my return to the US. Who's in?

Again, the International Day of Trees isn't officially related to the Arbor Day Foundation, but it certainly has the Arbor Day spirit. :)

To celebrate it, the SouqTown English Club partnered with the Water and Forestry Department and a few other NGOs and GOs to hold a day-long environmental day. The centerpiece was the planting of several hundred trees. :)

To draw attention and provide a base of operations, they erected a tent on a hillside east of SouqTown.

The banner on the left reads, "Trees = Oxygen = Life". (And I was way more excited than I probably should have been that I managed to (1) sound out the words, Sesame-Street-style, and (2) understand what those sounded-out words actually mean. My Arabic is mostly non-existent, so when it actually works for me, I get ridiculously happy.)

Soon, our fearless leaders appeared:
The man on the left is one of the leaders of the SouqTown English Club. The man on the right is the director of our park, aka my counterpart. Together, they organized the activities of The International Day of Trees.

...which started, naturally enough, with saplings:

These tiny, plastic-wrapped micro-trees will grow (inshallah!) into a towering pine forest. Using only water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide.

Yeah, trees definitely deserve to have their own day. :D

So after some paperwork and other organizational things, we got down to the business of the day:

See that snazzy neon vest? All 11 PCVs, plus most of the Water and Forestry staffers, and several of the more senior members of the SouqTown English Club, were given these dayglow vests to wear. Here, two other PCVs are sporting theirs:

The joy and pride that tree-planting always brings...there's nothing quite like it. :)

So after a few hours of tree-planting (and tree-encircling with rocks, since the tiny saplings are far too easy to step on if they're not marked in obvious ways), we washed up at the water tanker and headed off to the next activity of the day:

This vital beastie holds thousands of liters of water, which were used to water the newly planted saplings. The nearest public water source is half a kilometer away, so if we'd needed to carry buckets of water back and forth, the tiny trees might have been doomed. Thanks to the foresight of the Water and Forestry Department, though, this need, too, was met.

So, our grand total? 400 forestry trees planted on the hillsides east of town. This coming weekend, several hundred more will be planted near the schools (inshallah).

Happy Tree Day!

3/20/10 National Park Presentation

On Saturday, March 20th, on the eve of the International Day of Trees, SouqTown hosted a workshop for community leaders from 100km around (as well as anyone else who wanted to show up), to draw attention to our little-known and under-served National Park. The local youth center hosted the workshop - they have the best auditorium in town - so an unusually large percentage of the attendees were young people.

The workshop was well-attended; according to my headcount, we had 45 boys and young men, 42 girls and young women, 39 men, and four women, for a total of 130 folks.

The third presentation came from the director of our national park, aka my counterpart. He spoke about the history of our park, its role in environmental and ecosystem preservation, the endangered and threatened species that live in the park, etc.

Here he is, next to a map of our park:

The park director was one of two speakers who had prepared a PowerPoint presentation. Here's a slide of his that caught my eye:

It shows the relative prevalence of various species of tree, as well as the total forested ground-cover, by region. The national average is 12.6%, it says (though that seems high to me), unevenly distributed across the country.

After the various presentations, the floor was opened for questions and comments from the audience. I was struck by the openness of the forum. Whereas a comparable American workshop might leave a few minutes for questions and comments (with an emphasis on questions, so that the bulk of the remarks come from the invited speaker(s)), this workshop - and others I've attended - allow anyone to speak for as long as they wish. The invited presenters spoke for about an hour and a half, but the audience comments lasted almost 3 hours.

Here, a professor visiting from "Springfield" is posing pointed questions about the lack of public trash cans in SouqTown and the practice of licensed guides encouraging poaching within the National Park boundaries. (I know this because he was the only person, in the five hours of talking, who spoke in a language I know - French. Everyone else spoke in Arabic. Though 90% of the people in the room are Amazigh, no one spoke Tam. I could rant about the cultural and linguistic causes and implications of this phenomenon, but for now I'll simply leave it at ::sigh::) The man next to him spoke about an hour later. By the time I left, about 8:45, the audience had whittled down to 25 die-hards, virtually all of whom were simply waiting to speak.

Quick note about GAD (Gender And Development): The planners scheduled the workshop for 5pm (ie after business hours, because Saturday is a work day for teachers and many others). It started an hour late, as nearly everything does, so twilight was already descending as the first speakers began their remarks. By 7pm, when the four scheduled speakers had concluded their remarks, only 6.5 females were left in the room out of the original 46 - one adult woman, 5 high school juniors and seniors, and one little girl who was there with her daddy and big brother. (She's the 0.5, and you can see her in the picture above. Cute kid!) The other girls and women had left in drips and clumps over the past hour (10 left in a group, then 2 a few minutes later, then 3 a few minutes after that...), as none wanted to be out after dark. By the time I left, only one young woman (plus the little girl) remained. I mentally grumbled against the poor planning - all by men, of course - that had failed to plan for the cultural requirement that women and girls not be out after dark. I also began planning a Take Back The Night march.

In all, the presentations met their goals of increasing the profile of SouqTown and its National Park, educating locals about the role and history of the park, and encouraging people to think environmentally. Plus, the cookies were *delicious*. :)

3/24/10 Peace Corps Swag/Flair/Loot/Merch

I've gotten a couple of questions about buying Peace Corps stuff.

The government is a little tetchy about who gets to use the official Peace Corps logo (which is why it appears nowhere on my blog... ::sigh::), but apparently they've licensed it to CafePress, who has splashed it on mugs, teeshirts, duffel bags, etc. They also have a few dozen other designs, including baby clothes marked "Future Peace Corps Volunteer" and simple ovals with PCV and RPCV.

Proceeds from sales of this Peace Corps swag/flair/loot/merch (apparently the slang term for "official merchandise featuring your emblem of choice" varies depending on your part of the country) benefit the National Peace Corps Association, a non-profit that offers various services to PCVs and RPCVs.

So if you're looking to flash around the Peace Corps name and/or logo, to show your support for your favorite PCV or to encourage future Volunteers or what have you...happy shopping. :)


3/18/10 Atelier de Sculpteur

Note: Revised slightly on 3/23 to correct a few details I'd misunderstood.

Over the river and through the woods from my village - OK, literally, along a river valley and through half a dozen mountain passes from me - is the small village of Agouti. Their nearest biggish town is Ait Bougamez, known to ecotourists as the jumping-off point for Jbel M'Goun, the second tallest peak in Morocco.

Their community faced challenges similar to mine: viciously cold winters, shortage of wood, protected (National Park) land filled with easy-to-poach wood low incomes that made buying wood impossible or nearly so... The local Water and Forestry Department (WFD) representatives were getting increasingly frustrated by the locals' habit of sneaking into the protected areas and poaching (chopping and stealing) the protected trees. On the other side, the mostly-illiterate villagers couldn't understand why they were suddenly being fined and punished for gathering fuelwood to survive the winter, as they've done for thousands of years.

Enter the Atelier de Sculpteur. The "Sculptor's Studio" or "Carver's Workshop" (both translations are equally valid, in Moroccan French) was formed by men who carved tools - spoons, bowls, forks, cups - as they and their fathers and forefathers had done for countless generations. When their road was paved a handful of years ago, bringing in tourists and hikers, they found a new market for their craft.

Recently, some of the Atelier de Sculpteur artisans, with help from a Peace Corps Volunteer, brokered a fairly ingenious solution to their wood-poaching problem. In exchange for official permission to pick up fallen deadwood from these protected and endangered trees, the craftsmen promised to plant more trees and protect the living specimens in their forest from wood poaching by their neighbors. They can carve the chunks of deadwood into gorgeous woodcrafts that they sell to ecotourists and, increasingly, to visitors to their beautifully designed website (which you can check out here, or read about the creation of here - second story down).


In 2006, some of the members of the Atelier de Sculpteur formed an NGO named Association Ighrem, to help solve some of the challenges that rapid development and exponentially growing ecotourism had brought to the village. (Ighrem is the Tamazight word for the ancient Amazigh fortresses whose ruins perch above many of our mountain villages.)

Association Ighrem made a further pledge: for every woodcraft purchased from the Atelier de Sculpteur, it would plant a tree of whatever species* the item had been carved from. Buy a boxwood spoon and they'll plant a boxwood tree. Buy a walnut bowl and a walnut tree will soon blossom in the protected forests.

* Unfortunately, this hasn't worked out yet, for logistical reasons. They're hoping to start it next year, but this year, they're planting apple trees - one of the best cash crops in mountainous areas like ours. And just to make the contribution even more powerful, they donated the trees to the poorer families in the village (a disabled man, and a widowed woman with 5 children in school) to help with their financial circumstances. The carvers were so happy with this idea that they may ultimately find a balance between these two solutions in coming years. As of January 29th, Association Ighrem had expected to plant 26 trees in March (March being the optimal planting season for most trees). Thanks to the success of their website and Facebook page, though, they made dozens more sales in the past month and a half, resulting in a planting of 80 trees yesterday, March 17th.

Moreover, 33% of the profits from every sale flow directly into the Association Ighrem coffers, for use in various development projects. They recently held an eye clinic, where 400 villagers received free vision screenings and eye care; they're planting vetiver, a non-invasive erosion-fighting grass that purifies groundwater and strengthens hillsides; they partnered with a student group to provide wheelchairs to residents of Agouti as well as to the Ait Bougamez health clinic; they organized and hosted a grant-writing workshop for their community; the list goes on and on.

But there's only so much deadwood - what happens when they run out?

While wood is a highly renewable resource - especially if new trees are being planted regularly! - the artisans currently craft their products from the deadwood that has accumulated over decades and centuries, and yes, they're using it up faster than the remaining trees are dying. Knowing this, they've deliberately set high pricepoints on their products. In other words, they know they can't do this forever, so they're going to maximize the returns it brings their community. (For reference: I find the prices similar to those of comparable handcrafted items you might find in Ten Thousand Villages, and cheaper than similar items at The Bombay Company, but that does make them expensive by Moroccan standards, with our delightfully low cost of living.) With a degree of foresight rare in third-world villages, Agouti's craftsmen are investing their current windfall into building infrastructure supports and meeting vital community needs.


3/16/10 But I Was *Home*

Suffice to say, it's been something of a day.

So when I pulled my door shut behind me, I took a deep, deep breath, and rejoiced in feeling home. My house may leak and smell like the plaster dust that continually rains from my ceiling and be insulation-less and therefore really chilly... But it's home. I've lived in this cement block for longer than I've lived in any single place since leaving my parents' house for college. (Yes, I'm a nomad.)

I hung up my jacket. I put down my bag. I settled in front of my heater and laptop for some quality Oscars-watching. (They finally finished downloading! Time to see who won - which I've studiously avoided learning over the past week.)

Leaning against the wall, I felt something awkward behind my head. Oh, right, my hair. In the past couple months, I've become more and more conservative with how I wear it. Today, like most days, it's tied back in a bun and wrapped in a headscarf. I don't veil like the local women veil, but I have been covering my hair lately. (The difference between how I tie the telkusht and how the other Berberville women do it might not be obvious to an American, but trust me, it's clear enough here. I'm not trying to look Muslim, just modest.)

But I was home now, so I pulled off the scarf and tugged at the bun. The twists pulled out, leaving the ponytail behind, and I let it go at that.

Pretty dresses. Moving speeches. Movies I've never heard of, but now want to see. Movies I have seen (OK, like three of those). Really really dumb lines for poor Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin. More pretty dresses.

And then a bang on the door.

I paused the Oscars. Was it my door or the door next door?

Another bang.

Definitely my door.

I glanced out the window at the sky. Low sun, but high enough that I couldn't justify not going. (My sitemate and I shared a policy of not opening our doors after dark - but this was barely sunset, not even twilight.)

But I was HOME, my inner wimp whined. Home. Where I get to be, y'know, HOME.

At the top of my stairs, I called out, "Who is it?"

"Me!" came the usual response, but I recognized my brother's voice.

I opened the door. Through his torrent of words, I only caught that my host mom wanted me to come over RIGHT NOW. She often invites me for lunch (and has made it incredibly clear that I have a standing invitation, regardless), but she knows that I don't like being out after dark, so it's very, very odd that she'd invite me over at this hour of the day.

I asked, for clarification, "She wants me to come now, or tomorrow for lunch?"

"Mom said, 'COME,'" he said, insistently.



"OK, lemme get my jacket."

I ran back up the stairs. I cranked off the heater (this buta tank is especially stubborn), pulled on my jacket, swapped slippers for shoes, and ran back down the stairs. My little brother had vanished. Little rat.

I grabbed my keys off their bolt and pulled the door shut behind me. Little rat was nowhere visible on the street, so I just headed towards the family home. Ama would yell at him when I showed up without him, but that was his problem. I still resented being pried from my comfortable home-time, and felt accordingly grumpy.

I felt my ponytail swinging behind my head, and almost turned back for the headscarf. After a second's reflection, I figured that it wasn't a big deal. I wear it by choice, not requirement, and besides, I always stick to the back roads - the znqts - where I'm less likely to be seen, anyway. When I emerged into a more open space, I cast an eye towards the horizon. The sun perched on top of the western mountains, ready to slide down into darkness. Probably an hour, maybe an hour and a half, till full dark.

As I approached the family house, a boy hollered at me, from a block away, "Bonjour madame!" I shook my head, half-lifted a hand, and refused to look his direction.

But when I got up to the door, it was closed. Bolted from the outside.

So if Ama had said COME, where was I supposed to go?

I looked around, but didn't see any female neighbors. With a heavy sigh, and a longing thought for the scarf I'd left behind, I headed over to the boy who had hollered at me. He was lounging, with a group of teenaged friends, in front of a block of low-rent houses. Great. I looked around for an adult, but none were in sight.

Throwing my head and shoulders back, I asked the group, "Do you know where they went?" I knew they'd seen which house I'd gone up to, and took it for granted that they'd know the family as well as where they'd headed.

Wrong on all counts, actually. First they guessed the wrong family. When I clarified, they had no idea where they'd gone off to. "They're home. Just knock."

"No, the door is closed. Locked."


"Yeah, locked."

They conferred for a bit, clearly clueless.

And then my little monster of a brother reappeared from around a corner. I cuffed him upside the head and said, "Why'd you run off?"

He didn't answer directly, but just said that the family had headed off to our uncle's house, and then led the way.

When we got there, though, nothing was any clearer.

I walked through the front room, the main part of the house, and then found a cluster of women, all talking over each other, in the back courtyard.

My auntie (3tti) and Ama tried to explain what had happened - what had created the feeling of dread and shock that permeated the house. Through their confused, tumbling words, I finally pieced together that my cousin had been arrested.

They quickly shoved me into a room with the kids, to eat something. (Of course. No family trauma can supplant the importance of bread and tea.)

After I'd eaten a hunk of bread with olive oil, and drunk a glass of tea - and refused more of each, repeatedly - I was led back to the front door, where my 3tti and Ama were holding each other. 3tti kept crying. "You're in our family, right?" she kept asking me. "You're in my blood, and in my liver, and in my heart, and in my head. You know that, right? You're my family."

Since 3tti and I have never been particularly close, I accepted this profusion of emotion to mean that she hoped I could help bail out her son. In her shoes, I'd undoubtedly be showering affection on the rich foreigner, too.

Of course, her insincerity hurt, as did my recognition that, after two years, I'm still seen as the rich foreigner, just one who can be appealed to as a family member.

But I hugged her, and reminded her of God's control of the situation, and assured her that yes, I'm in her family.

After a long and tearful goodbye, Ama led me home. "When we get to the house, I'll tell you the whole story," she said in a low voice.

I don't know how much of the story it's right to post here. For all the anonymity with which I've cloaked Berberville and my host family, there are still plenty of people who know who I am and where I live.

So here's what I will say.

Recently, a masked man mugged another man. He beat him to the ground and took his money. Four young men, one of whom is my cousin, have been arrested and taken to "Springfield", the province capital, for interrogation (which means beatings, among other things). When not being interrogated, they're sitting in jail.

Despite 3tti's frantic insistence that her son be returned to her immediately, my uncles have agreed to let justice be done. If my cousin is in fact the thief, he should serve his sentence, they decided. Given the power and influence and wealth that my extended family could wield, if they chose, this shows a remarkable respect for the law. It would be much more typical, in this tribal culture, for the family to close ranks around One Of Our Own and exert every pressure possible to pull him out of the lion's den. But instead, they're letting the interrogation run its course, knowing that the result may well be a prison sentence for their scion - the eldest boy of the eldest brother of this powerful clan.

By the time Ama had explained everything to me, and I'd gotten my daily quota of baby-snuggling, the sun was long gone. The twilight wasn't quite deep enough for me to requisition one of my to escort me home, but I also didn't dawdle on the path. (Of course, I ran into three of my favorite people in town, so was forced to stop and make conversation, but that only took a few minutes.)

As I stood in front of my steel door, fighting the lock, it was dark enough that I wished the streetlight across the street hadn't broken a few months ago. When I kicked the door open, slipped in, and kicked it locked behind me (not in anger, just because it takes that much force to deal with my stubbornly misaligned steel door), I took another deep breath.

Back home.



2/24/10 Adventures with Walnuts

My CBT village is down in the plains, so has a much wider variety of fruit-bearing trees than can survive in Berberville, my mountain aerie. While visiting, we of course had to visit the igran – the fields – and my little brother and sister took me to visit “our” fields. The littlest brother, who I remembered mostly as trailing after his bigger siblings with a finger in his mouth, is now a fearless adventurer, scrambling over rocks and up trees like a goat. (Yes, like a goat. Moroccan goats climb trees.)

I remembered the path – it’s really not hard, just walk towards the giant cliff, then scramble down a goat-path that drops a couple hundred feet in a ridiculously short distance, and voila! you’re in the river-irrigated fields. The valley here is very narrow, unlike the broader, possibly glacially-carved valley of Berberville, so no one wastes valley floor space with housing. Everyone lives on top of the cliffs, and leaves all the land near the river for crops. (In Berberville, the flatlands by the river are irrigated and farmed, but the houses and town buildings are much closer to the fields, on the shallowly sloping valley walls. )

As we descended the steep path, we ran into the host father of my PCV buddy “Mbarka”. He looked delighted to see me again, and eagerly asked if his long-lost daughter was around. When I said that no, she’d had too much work elsewhere, his face fell.

We didn’t have to walk out to the river – it had risen to meet us. It stood higher than I’d ever seen it two years ago, and my little sister showed me the mud everywhere, and explained that just three days before, it had covered nearly all of the fields. (Fortunately, the ground between fields is mounded high, as an irrigation aid, so we had dry ground to walk on.) We stopped at a random patch of grass so my baby bro could … throw rocks at a tree?

It took me a while – much longer than it reasonably should have – to realize that he was trying to knock down The Last Duj (Walnut) from the tree. We all flung rocks at it, but my aim was no better than usual, and my little sibs weren’t having much luck, either. The little lone sphere, dangling there on the tip of a branch, reminded me of the lone bulb on Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Eventually, we gave up on knocking it out of the tree, and my little bro scrambled halfway up the tree to jab at it with a 3-meter bamboo rod. (Bamboo! I miss seeing it around all the time. It grows there in my CBT village, but not up in Berberville.)

He succeeded in knocking it loose…and then came the Quest For The Walnut.

My little bro finally found it:

And then the cracking, between a rock and the wall of the (dramatically improved!) irrigation canals. By that time, the sun was loooow in the sky, so we clambered back up the cliff face and walked home...where a whole plateful of walnuts, harvested a week or two ago, awaited me!

One last picture from our lovely evening walk:

3/8/10 Looking Ahead

Quote of the Month: "I have plans A through frickin' J."

During our COS conference, folks from my stage had plenty of opportunities to discuss post-Peace Corps plans. A few of us have clear things lined up, whether they be work, grad school, or just moving back to mom and dad's couch for a while. Most of us, though, have various irons in various fires. I have a Plan A and a Plan B, but as yet no Plan C. And my buddy, well...

I guess some of us plan for everything. :)

3/11/10 Smallboy (and yes, that’s one word)

Among PCVs in my region, “smallboy” has become a verb.

Webster’s might define it as follows:

to smallboy: to send a small male child in search of whatever is desired: food, beverage, another person, etc.

Up here in my mountain village – and in the villages of my friends throughout Morocco – girls are nearly always either in school or at home, but boys are generally only home for meals. If they’re not in school – which they aren’t for half the day, thanks to the crazy school schedule the French left behind as a legacy of colonization – they’re running around town.

Literally running, for the most part. Teenage boys and men will stroll, saunter, walk, stride, or mosey, but young boys are nearly always hustling somewhere.

If you see one dashing by, you can grab him (verbally, usually, but physically works, too) and ask him to run any errand for you, and he nearly always will. Give him 5 dh and ask him to get you a soda. Give him 1dh and ask him to scrounge up a loaf of bread. Ask him to find somebody for you. Whatever. I don’t use the smallboy network too much, but it’s never failed me when I have, and friends who make more use of it than I do, positively swear by it.

The other day, I was supposed to meet with several men at 8:30, in the office of a Very Important Person.. I didn’t show up till 8:45am, and was still the first one there (to the VIP’s surprise, though after reminding him, he did recall that there was supposed to be a meeting). Ten awkward minutes later, I stepped out to try to round up some of the others.

I went to the café one owns, and where he therefore spends most of his time. The door stood bolted shut. I grimaced for a minute, then looked around. A nearby shop was open, so I asked that shopkeeper if he knew where his neighbor was.

“He hasn’t been around yet this morning. He’s probably up at his house, up there,” he said, gesturing.

I twisted my lips and said, “Hmm.” The thought of wandering in that direction, asking various folks to point me to his house, seemed decidedly unappealing.

“Want to smallboy it?” he offered. (Literally, he said, “Do you want a small boy?”)

I grinned. “Yeah, maybe.” I held up my phone to see if I could call him instead, but it had no signal, for the nth hour in a row.

“Yeah, there’s no rizzo,” he said, nodding at my reception-less phone, “but the smallboy network is still dependable.”

I grinned again. Unfortunately, no children happened to be on the street just then. I’m guessing that the half who weren’t currently in school were still home, getting breakfast.

Fortunately, my missing compatriot chose that moment to walk up, and we headed off to our meeting. Moments later, the VIP pulled a small boy out of his classroom to send him scampering off in search of the other meeting attendees.

It’s a proverb for the 21st century: Msh ur illi rizzo, st3ml l-rizzo n l-3ail. If there’s no cellphone network coverage, use the smallboy network.

3/10/10 Word of the Day: rizzo

As has been the pattern for the past few weeks, I never get to have all three connectivity keys – electricity, internet rizzo, and cell phone rizzo – at the same time. Right now, I have electricity but neither network, so I’m typing this entry into my laptop in hopes that I’ll be able to post it sometime soon. Soonish. Well, whenever, really. =/

So what is this “rizzo”?

It’s actually one of the many words that Tam has borrowed from Darija (Moroccan Arabic), which in turn stole it outright from French.

Originally, the word was réseau, meaning network. But as wireless technology has leapfrogged landline technology out here, as it has in so many third-world countries, rizzo has taken on new shades of meaning. Moroccans will ask if there is rizzo the way an American would ask a friend if they have “signal” or “coverage” – that is, if there are any bars of connectivity visible on their cell phone.

Is illa rizzo? Is there rizzo?

Eyyah, illa shwiya. Yeah, there’s a little. (ie, I have two or three bars out of five)

My internet connection runs through a dialup connection, but I don’t actually have a phone line. I have a small phone that’s not plugged into anything (well, except the wall, for electricity). It has a built-in antenna that sends a signal to the radio tower perched next to the cell phone company’s tower, on the hill just east of town. If the antenna from my “landline” (now there’s a misnomer) can see the radio tower, and if the radio tower itself has electricity, then that tower sends a signal up to a satellite, and just like that, my little lappy can talk to the outside world. I have “internet rizzo”.

Similarly, if my cell phone can talk to the cell tower, and the cell tower has enough electricity to talk to its satellite, my little snickers bar cell phone can talk to the outside world. (Or even to the cell phone of my friends next door.) I have cellphone rizzo.

Both towers have power generators, so sometimes they work even when there’s no electricity. And my phone, laptop, and cell all have their own batteries, so sometimes I can still be in communication when the power is out.

But this past few weeks, possibly because of the incessant wind/snow/wind/rain storms (and yes, I put wind in there twice – the winds have been at least twice as powerful and twice as common as precipitation in any form), none of the three – electricity, cell rizzo, or internet rizzo – have been dependable.

Oh, and the cycling of the powerouts appears to have zapped my laptop’s battery for once and for all. My lappy is now insisting that it doesn’t *have* a battery, which is a worrying sign, to say the least…

Ooh, hey, cell rizzo just came back! OK, I’m off to shoot a message to a buddy… Bye!

3/9/10 Recipe: Chicken Pot Pie

I haven’t tried this one on Moroccans yet, but I’m guessing it’ll be a hit, unlike most western food – it has nothing they don’t like, and lots of things they do, like meat and pastries.

2-3 C flour

1 C butter or margarine

2 C chicken broth

2 large carrots

1 large onion

1 C peas (canned, frozen, fresh, whatever)

½ kilo chicken, roasted or boiled (produces about 1 cup of cooked meat)


Mush together flour and butter in a roughly 2:1 ratio. (For a two-crust pie like this, you want about 2 C flour and 1 C butter.) Add a generous pinch of salt. Combine them, squishing thoroughly between your fingers, until the butter is well-hidden in the dough. Add a splash of water – just enough to incorporate the last crumbles into a sphere of dough.

Split the dough in two. Roll out the first doughball into a nice flat circle. If you don’t have a rolling pin – and out here, really nobody does – you can use a smooth-sided bottle, mug, teacup, etc. Ease the circle into your pie pan. It should cover the bottom and sides.

Press it firmly against the sides of the pie pan.

Cook for a few minutes in a warm oven. (In America, aim for 350. Here, just make sure it’s lit and hot.) When the crust is crispy, pull it out.


Heat in a saucepan:

2 C chicken broth

1/3 C flour, made into a roux

In a frying pan, sauté together

2 large carrots, cubed

1 large onion, diced

5 cloves garlic

When they are softened, pour the onion-carrot mix into the chicken broth mixture.


Into your cooked pie crust, layer:

1 C cooked chicken, cubed (or just pulled into thumb-sized bits)

1 C peas


Top with the remaining half of the dough, rolled into a flat round just large enough to cover the pie with a little bit on the edges to pinch up into a crust.

Cook in your hot (~350, if possible) oven for about half an hour, or until the crust is flakey and the filling is sizzling.

To enjoy it Berber-style, set it in the middle of a small table and attack it from all sides with spoons. (It’s more fun, requires less clean-up, and besides, there’s no neat way to serve it, Western-style.)

Feeds 3-4 hungry people.


3/4/10 Internet, Sweet Internet

You only realize what a Net junkie you’ve become when you lose access. ;)

Over the past week, I’ve had powerouts, loss of cell phone coverage, loss of phone coverage (and therefore loss of DSL internet), sometimes overlapping, sometimes not. The upshot of it is that I’ve been home with my lappy but without teh intarweb, which has been odd for me. Even when the internet connection has reestablished itself, it has vanished again within minutes or hours - usually, this week, minutes. Frustrating.

But when I had power, but no connection, I typed up a bunch of blogs, about COS Conference and my post-COS-Conference trip down to my CBT village. Now that I have a connection (and it's held steady for 20 whole minutes! Woohoo!), I'm posting them up. Enjoy!

2/19/10 Early COS? What’s up with that?

So you’ve referred a couple of times to “Early COS”. What’s the deal? Doesn’t everybody serve 27 solid months, unless they ET or get AdSep’d or MedSep’d?

PCVs are expected to honor their full 27-month commitment, this is true. But under special circumstances, the Country Director might choose to grant “Early COS” status. (COS = Close of Service – finishing your service as a Peace Corps Volunteer)

This is different from ETing. You can ET at any time, for any reason. But ETers don’t get all the benefits of finishing their service. Early COSers do.

There are two categories of Early COS: 30 Days Early and 31-90 Days Early.

30 Days Early COS

Discuss your plans with your Program Staff. Submit a written request 90 days before your scheduled COS date outlining *exactly* how all your projects will be completed by your requested COS date. If your Program Manager approves the request, he/she will forward it to the Country Director. If the Country Director approves, you’re done.

31-90 Days Early COS

This is a much bigger deal, and much, much less frequently granted. You have to do everything as above, PLUS:

If the Country Director approves your request, it’s forwarded to the Regional Director. If he/she approves, it’s forwarded to Peace Corps Washington. If *they* approve it, then you’re good to go.

How often is Early COS granted?

Personally, I’ve never heard of anyone getting to COS more than 30 days early. But 4 people from my stage will be COSing two to four weeks before May 19th, when the rest of us (inshallah) will Stamp Out.

2/20/10 COS Timeline

For the past two years, my service has been ticking forwards. Now, everyone has started counting backwards – counting down till we Stamp Out on May 19th, 2010 (inshallah).

T-90 Days:

  • Last chance to change your Home-Of-Record address
  • Last chance to request an early COS date
  • Last chance to request an extension of service

Within the last 90 Days

  • Final Language Proficiency Test
  • COS Physical Examination (usually referred to as “COS Meds”)
  • Exit Interview with Country Director

T-81 Days

  • Description Of Service (DOS) Initial Draft due to Program Manager

T-75 Days

  • Last chance to change your Home-Of-Record address

T-50 Days

  • Description of Service (DOS) Final Draft due to Program Manager

T-3 Days

72-hour checkout begins

Final Medical Clearance

T-0 …Ignition…Blastoff!

We stamp out. Our service officially ends. Welcome to RPCV status.

T+30 Days

CorpsCare Health Insurance, as provided free by Peace Corps, runs out. If you want health insurance after this, pay up.

T+60 Days or whenever you return to US soil, whichever comes first

Peace Corps Life Insurance expires. (For those folks who signed up for it, and had a few bucks pulled out of each month’s readjustment allowance to pay for it.)

T+90 Days

Peace Corps Passport expires. (Not legally – it’s good for years – but officially, we’re supposed to return them to PC/Washington. I’m not sure why, exactly. What’s wrong with letting RPCVs travel on a perfectly valid passport?)

T+18 months

CorpsCare Health Insurance expires


Continue Goal 3 work – sharing Moroccan culture with Americans.

2/16/10 COS Conference

Three months and three days.

In three months and three days, my stage will close our service. We will have a short ceremony, sign our names and stamp a book, and with this “Stamping Out”, as it’s called, we’ll transform from PCVs to RPCVs. (Even though most of us will take our time returning to the US.)

Our replacements have been notified, and are packing their bags, saying their goodbyes, and preparing to begin this cycle again. Some of them may even be reading my blog, having discovered it in their preparations to come to Morocco. (Hi!)

I’m in Rabat, where we’ve assembled for our COS Conference, as it’s called. A three-day series of talks and workshops and discussions to prepare us to finish our terms here. Of the 60 of us who arrived in Morocco 2 years (less two weeks) ago, 44 are still here.

We’ll trade stories from the past two years: our successes, our failures, our funniest moments, our fondest memories – as well as the things we wish to forget.

We’ll hear from RPCVs living in Morocco, and learn about the paths their lives have taken since their own service, whether here or elsewhere.

We’ll get career advice and tips for managing “reverse culture shock” – that jolt from returning to America and seeing it again with new eyes.

It’s time to shift our focus from our service in Morocco to the rest of our lives. How will we take everything we’ve learned, experience, shared, and lived over the past two years, and use it to further the mission of the Peace Corps – world peace and friendship.

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things

2/17/10 Peace Corps Health Care

While you’re a PCV, all health care costs are fully covered. Medications for pre-existing conditions [as long as you have it documented on your Peace Corps application!], visits to PCMO or any other doctor/dentist in the country (as long as PCMO OK’s it first), even airfare back to the US if you need to be MedEvac’d – whatever. It’s all covered during your service.

The fine print, according to the official paperwork:

A comprehensive immunization, prevention, and health maintenance program. Health support in country, including all necessary care for new conditions and accepted pre-existing conditions that are exacerbated or aggravated by Peace Corps service. [Footnote: Peace Corps provides initial care for all medical cnditions. Trainees or Volunteers with pre-existing conditions not disclosed to Peace Corps as part of medical clearance process are subject to medical or administrative separation. FECA benefits may not be available for these conditions.]

Emergency medical services anywhere in the world at any time.

Short term care for diagnosis and stabilization prior to medical separation when the Volunteer will be unable to return to duty within 45 days of a medevac or when the condition can not be accommodated overseas.

But what happens after you COS?

There’s a two-fold answer.

1) For the first six months after COS (or after you’re MedSep’d or AdSep’d or ET):

Peace Corps Health Benefits Program AKA127c Care AKA Seven Corners AKA Humana Choice Care [because it’s provided through the Humana Choice care Network]

This covers evaluations, testing, and lab work for Peace Corps related injuries/conditions, including dental, optical, counseling… The idea here is that any lingering issues that were caused by your service are covered just as fully as if you were still in-country.

The catch: You really really really should get it diagnosed in-country. PCMO will give you a form – a 209B or 127c form – that says, in effect, “Yup, this happened here, and she needs continuing attention in the US.” Without a 127c, it can be bloody hard to get it paid for. Even crazy things like parasites and diseases that don’t even exist in America, if not diagnosed before your return, can be hard to get covered. The health care money folks whine, “But maybe you caught it after your return!” That’s why Peace Corps gives us a *thorough* medical during our last 90 days in-country, including final screenings for TB and AIDS and a few other nasties on our very last days in-country (aka “72-hour checkout”).

Be sure to bring your 127c form (or 209B) and your Peace Corps Health Benefits Program Insurance Card form. Note to newbies: You get this your very firstest day in-country. DON’T LOSE IT. It’s a little piece of paper, not even laminated, but if you lose it… I keep mine with my passport.

Contact info for PCHBP:


P.O. Box 3370 Carmel, IN 46082-3370

But this only covers evaluations. The fine print:

PC-127C Authorization: Evaluation only of medical and dental health conditions related to Volunteer service. Must be used within six months of close of service.

But wait, you say, only evaluation? What about, y’know, treatment?

That’s covered under Parts 2 and 3.

Part 2: FECA aka Workers’ Compensation aka Department of Labor Claim aka ACS

FECA = Federal Employee Compensation Act

Treatment and ongoing care for anything diagnosed in-country or at your 127c referral visit is covered by FECA, via the Department of Labor.

(What does Peace Corps have to do with the Department of Labor? Got me. Is this confusing you yet? Yeah, that’s why I’m writing it all out – this is for my reference as much as anything else. When a PCV buddy emails me in six months and says, “Hey, what did they tell us about health care stuff at COS conference?” and I’ll say, “Um, wait, there was the six month thing, the 18 month thing, and, um …” and then I’ll look here.)

Be sure to bring your Case File Number and your Acceptance Letter.

Contact info: Billing & Authorizations: 1-850-558-1818

This covers ongoing treatment for whatever lingering medical concerns you have, forever…but the fine print says “contact the Post Service Unit for details”. So…maybe forever.

Fine print:

Treatment of most medical and dental conditions related to Volunteer service and conditions incurred or contracted while abroad during service are provided by FECA. Claims must be filed within 3 years of close of service or within 3 years of recognition that a health condition is service-related.

[[Note from me: My RPCV buddies tell me that this is the real sticking point. If it’s not diagnosed in-country, you have a wretched time trying to get them to “recognize” that it’s “service-related”.

Part 3: CorpsCare AKA Clements International AKA First Health [because it’s part of the First Health Network]

This is your post-Peace Corps health insurance, if you want it. Peace Corps will automatically pay for your first month. And that’s by the 30 days, not the calendar month. I COS on May 19th, inshallah, so Peace Corps has paid my premium through June 19th. If I want health insurance after that, I either have to find a plan on my own or continue paying for this one. If I stay with this one – as most of us do, at least for a few months – it’s $158/month [[as of February 2010. I’m really sure that this number will change.]] We get up to 18 months of coverage; after that, you’ll need to have a job or be in grad school or COBRA or something.

One neat thing – you can buy coverage before you COS, using your readjustment allowance money. Six months, nine months, whatever. And if you find a job with benefits before that time runs out, Peace Corps will cut you a check for the remaining months. In other words, don’t worry if you don’t have a bank account waiting for you back home. You can still afford your health insurance. :)

CorpsCare covers your pre-existing conditions, your non-service-related injuries/illnesses, regular well-woman / well-man visits, etc. Regular old health insurance.

You’ll get a CorpsCare Insurance card that you’ll need to bring with you to appointments.

Contact info: 1-800-605-2282

P.O. Box 863 Indianapolis, IN 46206

Fine Print: Non-service-related medical problems are covered by CorpsCare. Specifically:

* Most pre-existing conditions not covered by FECA;

* Conditions that arose that are not covered by FECA, e.g., while in the U.S. on vacation, home leave, emergency leave, or medevac;

* Health problems that arose after Volunteer service.

Peace Corps pays one month’s premium for all Volunteers. Volunteers may purchase up to 18 months of additional coverage.

Important Note: Both FECA and CorpsCare are under the general auspices of the “Post-Service Unit”, aka the folks in PC/Washington responsible for taking care of RPCVs. Their contact info: 1111 20th St, NW 5th Floor Washington, DC 20526

1-800-424-8580 x 1540 option 7

Fax: 202-692-1541

psu - at - peacecorps - dot - gov

…and that’s a division of the Returned Volunteer Services, Office of Domestic Programs. Same street address,.

Phone: 202-692-1430

rvs - at - peacecorps - dot - gov

You’d think this info would be on the Peace Corps website, but most of it isn’t. Which is why your friendly wide-eyed innocent is typing it all up for you. :)

* RPCVs = Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. What they call us after we COS. “Peace Corps Veterans” works for me, but the acronym would be confusing. :)

3/2/10 RPCV Info

Feel free to skip this one, folks; it’s straight-up reference information that I want to know I have access to, wherever I am. (Well, assuming I have internet access, which is mostly a given in the US, right?)

The Returned Volunteer Services staff in Washington are all RPCVs and have lots of post-Peace-Corps resources and other stuff I’ll want to have access to:

  • Hotline Jobs Bulletin – A semimonthly bulletin of career, educational, and reentry information and opportunities.
  • RPCVnetwork Listserve – A daily listserv for PCVs and RPCVs only, with career, volunteer, and educational opportunities around the world.
  • Career Events – For a calendar of upcoming in-person and virtual career events, visit
    • Career conferences – Hands-on workshops, employer visits, and a career fair help RPCVs plan their professional development. Held in Washington, DC, 3 times a year.
    • Online career workshops – Free web-based sessions offered 3 times a year.
    • Employer information sessions – Hosted by organizations interested in hiring RPCVs to promote their missions and opportunities.
  • Resource Guides – Publications focused on grad school and professional opportunities.
  • Job Bulletins – RPCVs can request free online passwords to six job bulletins. For passwords, email rvs - at - peacecorps - dot - gov. Specify which job bulletins you would like to receive and include your name, country, and dates of service.
    • International Career Employment Weekly
    • Environmental Career Opportunities
    • Public Health Jobs Worldwide
    • Alliance for Conflict Transformation
    • Ethical Jobs
    • InterAction
  • Self-Assessment Software – Peace Corps-licensed SIGI3, a tool designed to help assess your work-related values, interests, and skills. To request an account, email rvs - at - peacecorps - dot - gov and include your name, country, and dates of service.
  • Career Centers – A career center with job postings, resource books, computers, etc are available at the recruiting office in Rosslyn, VA, and in other regional recruiting offices throughout the US. Call 1-800-424-8580, x1, to reach any regional recruiting office. RPCV Career Center 202-692-1433 rpcvcareercenter - at - peacecorps - dot - gov

They can also hook me up with copies of:

  • My Description of Service
  • My W-2s
  • My Peace Corps medical records
  • Information about medical coverage
  • Career-Development Resources
  • Information about Non-Competetitive Eligibility (NCE) for federal employment

How to reach them:

Returned Volunteer Services, Office of Domestic Programs

1111 20th Street NW

Washington, DC 20526


rvs - at - peacecorps - dot - gov

2/23/10 Always-Funny Berber Jokes

One thing that I love about this culture is the … permanence …. of the humor. If something is funny once, it will always be funny. The western idea that a joke is only funny the first time, or at least becomes progressively less funny with each retelling? Totally doesn’t exist here. You’ll get exactly as big a laugh every time you tell a story. It does make it easier for folks learning the language, though – learn one or two funny stories (usually laughing at yourself), and you’re set for two years.

One of my classics:

“Ah, boorgh.” Oh, I’m too old to get married. I’ve missed my chance.

So simple, and yet every time I say it, I get a big laugh. Every time. What? You’re not married? No, I’m too old to get married. Hahahahahahahahaha.

Every. Time.

And then there’s the story of the drunken idiot who kept me waiting 45 minutes - in the cold - for a transit that he knew had left an hour earlier. That’s always good for a laugh.

Or the pun on the word “turkey” – bibi in Tamazight – and how the baby – bebe or mumu – is “A baby, not a chicken!’ which has been funny for about 20 months now…

And now we have the story of how I couldn’t find the house I lived in for three months.

If I return to Morocco in a few years (as I hope and expect to) and visit both my host families again, I fully expect to hear all these stories, surrounded with genuine laughter.

2/22/10 Chillin’ With Host Fam #1

Two years ago (almost exactly!), I came to Morocco. After a week or two of introductory stuff, they sent us to live with our CBT host families. (CBT = Community-Based Training, aka stage, aka Peace Corps with training wheels). Today, two weeks later, I’m back in my CBT village, visiting my first host family.

Journal Entry:

Hanging out with host fam tamzarut [the first]. Plus ca change… Here we all are, sitting around the little round table in the family room, writing stuff down...I'm not doing homework for language class, this time, just journaling, but my little sibs are doing their homework, and it just feels...right. :)

My little brother is now in the 7th grade (7th! Little munchkin’s in *middle school*!), but still illiterate in French. My little sister is in sixth grade, ready to head off to collège, and in the same unfortunate boat. They say that the French teacher here just gives them heads-down time during “French class”. She has a vocabulary notebook (“Just like yours!” she pointed out with a grin), full of misspelled words from where she couldn’t read her teacher’s handwriting and wasn’t allowed to ask for clarification. I fixed some of them, and helped her with tonight’s homework, but one evening’s tutorial feels a bit like filling the Marianas trench with a teaspoon. Are there Barney or Sesame Street DVDs for Arabic speakers, teaching French? Maybe a Baby Einstein immersion thing? They have a DVD player, but wouldn’t understand anything English based…

When I arrived in town, we hiked in from the main road, which we never did in stage – one perk of taxis over transits! I knew which direction to go from the path, but still managed to walk right past my house. The next hosue – blue door, white decorations – didn’t look right, though it did look familiar, and neither did the one after that. I finally tapped the Small Boy Network (our gaggle!), and asked for my little siblings by name. That got me to the right place. Turns out I’d been confused because of all the changes. Either from the funds Peace Corps provided in exchange for their hosting me, or from my older brothers’ work in the nearest big city (where one does construction and the other does cabinetry work), the family has done some major renovations. The door is on what was the back. The courtyard is a good 50% larger. The roof is now finished and accessible by stairs. The big empty lean-to room where the ewes went to have their lambs is now a fancy, plastered, wall-sconced room with big ponjs and carpets. From barn to zween entertaining hall in 21 months.

Hahah…Just now, I excused myself to go to the bit l-ma hashek (the bathroom). My little sister, who’d heard the story of how I couldn’t find their house from her brother and three other friends already (gotta love the gossip power of the Small Boy Network) asked, “Do you remember where it is?” I laughed. That’s still in the same place, right?” (Fortunately for my bewildered sense of direction, plumbing is hard to move, even rudimentary plumbing.) She laughed, and I laughed. Ah, the always-funny Berber jokes. :)

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