- Decide which patch of wall you want to paint.
- Decide how big the final mural will be.
- Wash the wall.
- If you're scaling up from an existing image, figure out the dimensions, do the math, and calculate the precise size of the mural.
- With a tape measure and Sharpie marker (and ideally either a bubble level or a third partner who has a good eye for level), designate the boundaries of the mural.
- With a chalkline, ensure the boundaries are perfectly straight.
- Decide what color the background of the mural will be. (For world maps, it makes sense to prime the wall in light blue. That way, the oceans are done, without having to be hyper-careful around continent boundaries. You can just roller them on!)
- Mix your paint.
- Roller in the bulk of the paint. (Is roller a verb? What else do you call applying paint with a paint roller?)
- With a small brush, cut in the edges. Most Moroccan walls are thinly plastered and then whitewashed, so taping the edges isn't an option - you'll rip off half the wall. Hopefully you'll have someone as attentive to detail as we did.
- If you're gridding your mural - ie, scaling it up, bit by bit, from a small image, using a grid system - you'll want to snap chalklines at even intervals, so you have a visible grid above your primed surface. To make a precise replica, you'll need to figure out the scale factor between the image in your hand and the mural on the wall. It's math you probably haven't thought about since 7th grade, but sit down with a ruler, tape measure, pencil, and calculator and you'll work it out. :)
- Either freehanded or using a pre-existing image (with or without a grid), draw your picture onto the primed surface. Use a pencil. You can't really erase unless you have an art gum eraser, but you can smudge it pretty easily, so at least you'll know later that you didn't mean that particular line. Besides, you'll be painting over it all, right? :)
- If necessary, go back over your penciled lines with a Sharpie. In bright, direct sunlight, our pencil lines were nearly invisible. We shaded them with our arms and redrew them in Sharpie, so they'd be easy to see later, when we had paint brushes in-hand.
- Color your own copy of the picture. (This step can be skipped if you have access to a color printer.) We used colored pencils and the black-and-white printouts of the map, and I got to regress to kindergarten. :) Also, we thought that a few of the colors on their map were too similar (like an orange and a peach that we had to squint hard at), so we changed them.
- Choose your paint colors. If they match the colors from (3), your life will be a lot simpler. Then mix your paint colors. Our art guru did this for us, with gorgeous success.
- Color-swatch your picture. (Especially if your image is complex, like a world map.) That is, daub paint in each little section, so that your mural becomes more or less paint-by-number. This prevents you frantically referencing the printout in your hand (that you hopefully remembered to bring!), trying to figure out if that little corner of Madagascar should be dark green or light green, while swarmed by eager children. Also, this allows children to paint all the sections of their color, without having to check back with you. (Yes, this does make your map look like it has technicolor smallpox, but that won't last long.)
(L) Half of the world biome map (R) Half of the Water Cycle mural
So there you have it, friends: the seven-step guide to a fabulous mural day. Our Earth Day was a huge success, in my opinion. The kids had a great time, they learned good things, and now their school has trees and murals to embed the memories permanents.
So that was the club. For English class, each day's lesson was organized around the theme of the day. For Environment Day, my students created posters with concept maps linking environmental ideas:
I should have anticipated the nearly inevitable reaction, but somehow I didn't. I've been so much in prepare-the-newbie mode that I didn't stop to think through how my - now our - community would react to the arrival of another foreigner. A male foreigner.
According to Ama, virtually every person she's run into in town has asked her, "Is this Kauthar's husband? Come to take her back to America?"
They've learned that Volunteers always stay two years. And they've remembered that yes, I've been around that long. So they very logically concluded that my husband has arrived to help me pack up and return to America. (Of course, I've always told everyone in Berberville that I'm single...but apparently they never really believed me. Or else figured that this fell into place as quickly as the arranged marriages here do.)
When Hassan wandered around town unaccompanied, this morning, everyone asked him, "Are you married?"
I reassured him that that's the first question everybody gets.
Here in Ait Hadidou, everyone is connected to everyone else, one way or another. If you trace somebody's family tree back far enough, they're probably related to you. Even if their family hasn't branched into yours for generations, there are other connections. Our grandfathers grazed sheep together. Our children go to school together. My cousin share-cropped the fields of your wife's cousin's husband's uncle.
And then the PCVs get dropped into the story. Like aliens dropped off by a spinning mothership, we're funny-looking, oddly-dressed folks whose mores will always be just a little bit insane. (Or maybe a lot insane, like living alone or jogging in the morning.)
We're not connected to anybody.
Of course, we're placed with a host family, which gives us a veneer of connectedness. But it's not fooling anybody. They know that, no matter how many generations back I reach, I won't find somebody who bought a sheep from their great-great-somebody. I've told people that my grandfather fought in Morocco during WWII, but that war didn't much penetrate the depths of the High Atlas Mountains, so people mostly nod vaguely and then bring up the war in Iraq. So I don't mention it much anymore.
Lacking any historical ties, they seek to place us in some sort of framework they can understand. So they immediately start asking what ties we do have. Marriage? Kids? How many? Genders? Siblings? How many? Parents still alive? Etc.
Here in Berberville, people are identified first by family, second by individuality. (Quite literally - like in China, the last name is given first.) Your family identity serves to place you in a context first, and you can tell your given name.
Given this family-driven culture, it's inevitable that folks would assume a connection between their foreigner - me - and this new foreigner that I'm walking around town with. Either husband or brother, gotta be. People are probably placing bets as to which it is. And most appear to be going for husband.
But then, I did say that I was single. Repeatedly. Loudly. In several languages. So maybe we aren't married yet. Maybe we're just engaged. Yeah, and that's why I kept insisting that, "I don't have a man." Because it's not official yet. But now that I've finished my Berberville term, it's time to go home and settle down with my man.
Yeah, that totally makes sense.
Well, to a Berbervill-ian, it does.
So when I told Hassan what Ama had reported to me (which she'd also told him, but which she wasn't sure if he'd understood, with his still-developing language skills), we got a good laugh out of it, and it became a running joke.
I've also told Hassan why he's the first male PCV in Berberville. Why I fought all the way up and down the chain of command to ensure that no woman would be placed in this town again. And being an all-around good guy, he's already looking for ways to improve the situation of women here. He's even mentioned opening up dialogues with the guys in town, but that'll need to wait till they know and respect him. But he's already making my life easier, just by walking around town with me. Whenever a man says something to me, he intercepts the comment and greets the guy. More than once, he's adjusted our positioning as we walk, to put himself between me and the guy. (I'm not sure if this is conscious or not, but it makes me smile.)
Mid-afternoon, we walked up a path, in sight of my - our - host family's house. Two men were coming towards us. I kept my eyes on the ground 10 feet in front of me. (I've learned the hard way that making eye contact is really never, ever a good idea. ::sigh::) Because I was watching the dirt, I heard Hassan exchange greetings with them, but didn't see any of the interaction. After we'd passed them, I heard him grumping, "Hey, don't look at my fiancee that way."
Yeah, I'm definitely leaving Berberville in good hands. :D
After 26 months in-country, after 23 months of service, it's time for me to go...which means it's time for me to be replaced.
I'm on the cusp of my Berberville departure, which means Berberville will get a new Environment PCV to carry on my work and begin his own.
My replacement's term of service starts May 5th, which means we'll get 2 weeks of overlap before I swear out on May 19th (inshallah)...but he's here now, getting his "Site Visit", aka sneak peak.
I admit, I was a little apprehensive about my replacement. I knew he'd be male, since I'd insisted on that with my entire staff, all the way up and down the chain of command. But beyond that, I had no idea what to expect. I could anticipate a great person, simply Peace Corps is just about exclusively staffed by amazing human beings, but still...
What if he doesn't like Berberville?
What if my host family doesn't like him?
What if he alienates everyone I care about in town?
I admit, the first concern was probably the biggest. I could be almost positive that he'd be likeable, since, hey, he's a Peace Corps Volunteer. But what if he didn't like the town I've come to love? What if he took one look at my naked mountains and barren hillsides and recoiled?
This fear is well-grounded: my first stories of Berberville came from a CBT/stage friend, who came here on a field trip. She came back to us with stories of "the ugliest place in Morocco". She said something like, "If they put me there, I'll cry. And then I'll ET."
So when I got assigned this site, I thought, Oh, no, I'm going to the ugliest spot in Morocco!
But then I came here.
And I realized that there are many kinds of beauty. And while my friend didn't appreciate the sere beauty of my brown hillsides, I rejoice in the visible geology, with its sweeping folds and tearing faults and the vertical beds that rise like highways to heaven. I've taken hundreds of photos that I hope will be published in geological textbooks - this place is literally textbook geology. I've seen cross-cutting relationships that took my breath away, and complex folds that stir my heart.
Am I a geonerd? Abso-blimmin-lutely.
But I find my site truly, deeply beautiful...and I want others to, too.
The times I've shared my site with visitors, I wait with bated breath to hear them say something gently disparaging, like, "It must have been lovely when trees covered the hillsides," or "Well, at least the skyline is kind of dramatic."
So far, everyone has admitted only to liking it.
But still, what if my shoes were filled by someone who felt Berberville was a site to endure instead of a place to celebrate?
So his reaction mattered.
As we rode up on our four-hour journey from SouqTown, he kept asking me about the geology.
This encouraged me.
His field is biology, not geology, but he finds it interesting.
I felt hopeful.
When we got to the final 5 km of the trip - the most breathtaking geology I've ever seen (and yes, I've been to the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park and other gorgeous spots) - he let me revel in the beauty. He sounded appropriately appreciative, for which I was grateful. I told him how nervous I'd been that he might not like it.
His response: "Anyone who can come to the middle of beautiful nowhere and not appreciate it shouldn't even be in Peace Corps."
The middle of beautiful nowhere.
150 km from any decent-sized town.
12 hours from any city.
The cultural, historical, and geographical center of Morocco.
The middle of beautiful nowhere.
Oh, and my host family and everyone else? They like him.
Yeah, I'm leaving Berberville in good hands.
So I set my alarm for 3:30, packed, and said goodnight to my visiting buddy. I left her playing on the internet (not everyone is as lucky as I do, having internet at home) and crashed out. Except that I couldn't sleep. Till almost 2. At 3:30, the alarm went off faithfully. I pulled myself together, assembled my bags (one to bring to Rabat, one with zucchini bread, and two of muraling supplies, for next week's Earth Day fun with Zakaria and Nacima), and trudged out to the road. I got out at about 10 till 4, and saw nothing. No one.
Did the transit leave early? It sometimes does...but the driver knew I wanted to go, and I even told him where I live, so I know he wouldn't have left without honking outside my door.
5 cold minutes go by.
I look up the road. No sign of the transit. No one waiting for the transit.
10 cold minutes.
I wonder if anyone else will drive past that I can hitch a ride with. Seems unlikely.
I hear the wake-up call. It precedes the predawn call-to-prayer by about 15 minutes, giving people time to wake up and clean up before their morning prayers. The caller says things like, "Prayer is better than sleep," and "You will be rewarded for your devotion!"
It occurs to me that the morning transit never leaves before the prayer call. Folks pray, *then* travel.
I stop worrying that I've missed it, and simply wait for it to show.
I hear the morning call to prayer. "Alllllaaaaaaahu akbar! Alllllaaaaaaahu akbar! La illa...." the voice rings out over the dark town.
I see shadows shifting on a nearby building. Where's the light coming from? Both moon and stars are too dim on this overcast morning... I get up, look around, and can't find the source of the light. I sit back down. A moment later, headlights approach over a hill. The transit is here! Alhumdulillah!
I stow my bags on top (with a lot of help from the jumper) and climb on board. 4:23am, my phone claims. So much for 'Arrba nishan', I grump to myself, then settle down to try to sleep. (Unsuccessfully. I can never sleep when sitting up.)
We finally roll at 4:45, rolling eastward towards the approaching sunrise...
Just another morning in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer.
This afternoon, Ama and I went over to have tea with my 3tti - the mom of the cousin who was arrested on suspicion of mugging. He was recently exonerated, so Ama told me that I should bring 3tti a cone of sugar. It's a traditional gift, brought to weddings, funerals, baby-naming ceremonies, and pretty much every other occasion where you expect someone will do a lot of entertaining and will need to have a lot of sugar. (Because every visitor needs tea, right, and every pot of tea requires a good cup or two of sugar...right? Right.)
So off I went, cone of sugar in hand.
We had a nice visit with 3tti, though she spent most of it fluttering about, chastising Ama for not warning her that I'd be coming over, and thus not giving her a chance to prepare cookies and cakes and other treats for the fancy visitor. It still bugs me that she sees me as the fancy visitor, and I kept assuring her that the bread and oil and cup-o-tea were **really** all I needed, but she kept fluttering anyway. She found cookies squirreled away, so brought those out. She dug out some stored peanuts and almonds that she put out on a plate for us. She made aHrir, the macaroni-like pasta dish that's often served at teatime.
Every time she brought out something else, I begged her to sit down and rest, but she kept buzzing back to the kitchen.
So Ama and I got a nice chat, which I'll write more about later. (Or not...we talked about some fairly personal things, which I found fascinating - and assume my culturally curious readers will, too - but which maybe I shouldn't share. Hm. I'll keep thinking about that.)
When 3tti finally stopped her impression of a hummingbird on crack, and sat down with us, she began issuing instructions. She's the family matriarch, since the death of my Mahallu two summers ago, and she takes it seriously.
But I couldn't take anything she said seriously, because she started her lecture with, "When you go back to --" she paused and turned to Ama. "Where's she from again?"
"Right, when you go back to Ait Merikan, you need to..."
I smiled and nodded, but paid only as much attention as I needed to in order to be able to respond with the appropriate (vague, unbinding) phrases.
She doesn't know where I'm from.
I've lived in her town, with her brother-in-law's family, for two years, and she doesn't know where I'm from.
More to the point, she doesn't remember the name of America.
The only remaining superpower. (Well, except China.) The most powerful country in the world.
She couldn't remember its name.
Last week, a buddy of mine discovered that his Moroccan neighbors had never heard that the Earth goes around the Sun. He spent a week goggling about that, but it didn't surprise me that much. Most of our neighbors are illiterate, living lives that haven't changed much since the times of the Pharoahs...not knowing that the Sun doesn't orbit the Earth? Yeah, that fits. But this one took my breath away.
She doesn't know the name of America.
Welcome to the third world, wide-eyed innocent....
On one walk, we found that the Make a leaf rubbing card had fallen from the tree we'd tried to tape it to. Moreover, it had landed in a puddle of motor oil, so it was saturated and greasy. Someone had dropped a not-yet-empty bottle of oil, uncapped, so it had poured out. Whether the same person dropped our card into their mess or whether the wind took care of that, we'll never know.
After we retrieved the card, and greasily attempted to re-affix it to the tree, I noticed that one of the kids had picked up the plastic bottle. I was touched that he'd internalized the lesson of decomposition, and that he remembered that plastic bottles take hundreds or thousands of years to break down completely. I leaned over to Zifi and pointed out our little tree hugger.
A few minutes further up the path, I looked back and saw the kid with his nose in the bottle. Either he was checking to see if that noxious odor was really coming from the bottle, or he was huffing. Odds are, it's the latter. I remain hopeful that it's the former.
When we got back to the camp, a few minutes later, I was relieved to see the kid drop the bottle in a trash can. Either he really was trying to clean up the park, a little at a time, or he'd discovered that motor oil may smell awful, and in fact be awful, but it won't get you high.
Either way, he'd learned a valuable lesson, right? :)
We'd prepared index cards with various activities, which we placed at strategic points throughout the park:
- Look up. How many different colors of green do you see?
- Look at the litter. How long do you think it takes these items to decompose?
We asked them if they planned to bring their kids to this park someday - we didn't bother asking if they planned to have kids, since that's a given in this culture - and pointed out that, unless somebody stepped up with a massive cleanup effort, most of this trashpile would be waiting for their children.
The amount of litter in the otherwise lovely park depressed me. In fact, litter is the wrong word. It implies left behind detritus. This trash looked to have been deliberately dumped. In fact, the park was full of narrow mounds, mostly grown over with grass, that looked for all the world like a garbage truck had backed up, dropped a full load of trash, and driven off. Does Emerald City not have a town dump? Or is it cheaper to drop trash in the park than to pay some sort of town-dump-fee? Zifi and I speculated, and even asked the kids, but never got an answer.
- Stop. Can you feel the warmth of the sun?
This one sat in an open area in the mostly-shaded park, and gave us a chance to bask in the sunlight (since it was chilly most of the week) and to talk about photosynthesis. Virtually none of the kids knew the word "photosynthesis" in English before we gave it to them, but most had learned about la photosynthèse in Science class (which is usually conducted in French, as are half the classes by junior high and high school). They were relieved to find it a cognate (as are oxygen and carbon dioxide, for that matter. Let's hear it for the universality of science!).
- Hug a tree.
- Make a rubbing of bark.
- Using only your senses of touch, smell, or taste, become familiar with one tree. You should be able to identify your tree later on.
We did this with about 15 of the 50 kids in camp, and every single one of them correctly identified their tree. Undoubtedly, a few were assisted by unscrupulous (or just overly-helpful) buddies, but most had simply learned so many characteristics of their tree - a knot just at knee height, or a branch at shoulder height, or a gap in the bark just there if you reached around - that no imitation, substitution, or alteration would do. We couldn't fool 'em.
- Look down. How many different colors of green do you see?
- Look closely. How many living things do you see? Make a list in your notebook.
That reminds me - once, a student asked me to translate le ver. Thinking she'd said le vert, the grass/greenery, I gave them grass. But as I heard them passing the word to each other, I realized they meant worm, and suddenly remembered the tongue-twister from French class, Le ver vert travers la vert vers la verre vert. The green worm crosses the the grass towards the green glass. And all the words are homonyms (or nearly, for travers). OK, sorry, end tangent.
- Close your eyes. Listen. What do you hear? Make a list in your notebook.
- Imagine - what did this park look like 100 years ago? Draw in your notebook.
- Make a rubbing of a leaf.
- Imagine – what will this park look like in 100 years?
At this point, we walked the kids back to camp, thanked them for joining us on a nature walk, and sent them off to their afternoon activity.
PS: Of the three groups we took out, we never once had a kid wander off (helped by having either Zifi or me walk sweep), but we did occasionally have extra kids join in. I'm not sure where they wandered in from, but as long as everyone who we'd left with, came back, I figured we'd done our jobs.
Instead, they came to me.
At 4:30, I heard a knock on the door.
I trotted down the stairs and found Ama. I started to invite her up, but she instead urged me to come out. My cousin Lucky is getting married tomorrow (which I knew*), so preparations have already begun. We went over to Lucky's house, where I was fed milk and tea (since they know I don't drink coffee) and sponge-bread and lmsmn (sort of naan-like crepe-y bread) and chatted with the women of my family. In addition to the full spread of my 3ttis (ie, all Baba's sisters-in-law), Baba's own 3ttis were there.
So they asked me the usual spread of questions - are you married? do you have children? when will you find a man? - and I gave the usual answers. (Not yet, not yet, as God wills.) Then someone brought up my impending departure. Yes, I'm leaving soon. Yes, the time is close. Yes, very close: about a month.
And then came the rapidfire attack:
"So will you get married when you go back to America?" an 3tti wanted to know.
"As God wills," I evaded.
"When you get married, you need to invite Ama and Baba and all your 3ttis and friends to America to come to the wedding," 3tti Rqiya announced.
"If God wills," I dodged.
And then Ama stepped in. "I've told Kauthar that when she finds a man, she just has to bring him here. We'll throw her a wedding like Lucky will have tomorrow." She gestured to the decorations (mostly taHruyts) already in place for tomorrow's festivities.
This seemed to reassure the 3ttis. "Oh, so she will find a man in America," they told each other. Repeatedly.
They were addressing their remarks to each other, not to me, so I didn't respond.
"And you'll bring your man here?" they asked, seeking confirmation.
"As God wills."
"Oh, that's good." "We'll meet your man." "That's very good." Their voices overlapped each other, while I gave my heartiest, slightly pained smile.
By the way, this was all happening at the slightly slower-than-normal speed that the older women have learned they need to adopt if the foreign girl is going to understand them. Berberville's women are famous for their rapidfire delivery. Even my tutor and friend, an intelligent and educated women who grew up just over in Souqtown, has trouble understanding them when they're at full speed.
So they've learned to slow down if they want me to listen and respond. And I've learned that if they are speaking at full velocity, it means they don't want me to understand.
So when Ama rattled off a machine-gunned sentence, I knew it was for their benefit, not for mine. And once I'd heard the whole thing (and taken a second to process it), I understood why. She'd said, "And FYI, the man she brings back might be black. Just be warned."
The 3ttis burst out in a chorus of shock and indignation.
Ama reiterated her point, and I nodded confirmation. She and I haven't talked about this in months, maybe years, but at some point, race came up, and I said that yes, I might marry someone of color. She was surprised (though much less so - or at least less visibly - than any of these women), and I'd told her that my sister and I have both dated men of color, so yeah, anything's possible.
I rarely discuss race with Moroccans, because I know I'm probably not going to like what I hear.
And while I can try to rationalize to myself that different cultures and different countries will of course have different attitudes, it's still hard for me to like anyone who's cheerfully racist. I have a Black Studies minor, for pete's sake. (Plus, yes, the cliche is true, lots of my closest friends are non-white. As are an ex or two.)
So I rapidly girded myself up for this battle, and smiled cheerfully at my 3ttis while they railed at me. I won't reproduce their comments, because it would only hurt some of my readers. Here's my response, interjected among their remarks: "Maybe someone white, maybe someone black. Only God knows. And no, 3tti, I *don't* have 'the good color'. Just ask Rebha, here, who called me a matisha [tomato] my whole first summer. I'm too white. It's better to have some color. Besides, it's all in God's hands."
Our conversation was abruptly interrupted by the news that my sister had just been hit by a car. After a flurry of panic, it quickly became clear that the car was going the routine 5 km/hr that our barely-paved roads require, and that while she was shaken up, she was completely unhurt. (Alhumdulillah.)
But the conversation never got back around to me and my future honeybun, for which I was grateful.
After another few minutes of assorted chatter, Ama and I said our goodbyes and then went to our separate homes. After making plans to go to the wedding, of course. :)
Oh, and why did I call this post Women's Hour? Because in the hour or hour-and-a-half I spent there, I didn't see a single man or boy. (Well, not counting my nine-month-old baby brother.) I knew that weddings themselves were fairly gender-segregated, but I hadn't realized that the preparations are, too.
* When I arrived home last night, I saw my 3tti Rebha sitting with my cousin Lucky (names changed) on their stoop. I greeted them, told them about my travels, etc. They promptly informed me that Lucky's wedding, which has been impending news for months now, is scheduled for Sunday. See, here in Berberville, when folks get engaged, they don't really "set a date". Instead, they just publicize their intent to marry, and then wait a while. I've never figured out exactly what they're waiting for, though I'm sure that saving up money for the wedding plays a role. (It's haram - forbidden - to borrow money, which means that nobody takes out loans for homebuying or weddings or anything else. You just wait till you have enough money. That's why nearly every house you see is in some state of ongoing construction - whenever a windfall comes in, they'll add a room/floor/throw pillows.) I've been asking for months when Lucky's wedding will be, and always get the answer, "Later, inshallah." Accordingly, every time I travel, I accept that she may well be married and gone before I get back. But luckily (hey!) enough, I'll be here for the wedding! Expect pictures tomorrow. :)
Even though this year's camp was on the opposite end of the country from last year's, with a 100% different staff (well, except for me), I expected things to be similar. I'm good at making predictions based on past events. It's one of those critical thinking skills the American educational system excels at giving its students.
And broadly speaking, yes, this year's Camp resembled last year's. Similar daily schedule, similar hopes on the part of the students/campers and staff, even a similar menu. (Though this year we got *meat* at every lunch and dinner, which indicates that our mudir - the Moroccan in charge - spent every penny of the food budget on food.)
But a few logistical things were different.
Instead of being housed in a dorm with the students, we PCVs were in a separate building, with a separate entrance. While there were a few computers available for our use, whereas last year there was only one, the printer didn't show up till the second day, and it never worked. Last year we had free use of a printer and photocopier, which made many things easier. (For one, I spent about half of each English class reviewing environmentally-themed songs, which meant the students needed printouts of the lyrics.)
Solution to the printer-less problem? We walked into town, where we found lots of cybercafes.
Interestingly, though, cybercafes in Emerald City don't have printers.
We went into a couple, and they all seemed to think it ludicrous that one might wish to print out that which one could see perfectly well on-screen.
The only printer in the whole town, apparently, lived in a teleboutique about a 20 minute walk from the camp.
So that's where we printed stuff the first night.
The second day, though, we tried to do our printing during the mid-day siesta break.
And the teleboutique was closed.
When we discovered this, Sprinks and I brainstormed possible solutions. (Another of those nifty critical thinking skills.) First we tried the mktaba (office supply store) where we'd gotten cardstock and permanent markers and other tools of the camp counselor trade.
Photocopier, yes. Printer, no.
Next, we brought our trusty thumb drives (aka USB drives, aka flash drives) to a photography studio. They print photos off of USBs all the time, so it stands to reason they have printers and computers, right?
Turns out they have photo printers only.
Or so Mr. Printer Man told me, when I politely asked for his help. (In French, since Emerald City is an Arabic-speaking town, with no more than a scant handful of Tam speakers.)
Then he hesitated.
"How many copies do you need? Like, 10ish?"
"No, like 5." I glanced over at Sprinks for confirmation. In English, I quickly asked her how many she needed. She needed two pages, I needed three. "Yes, just five pages," I confirmed to Mr. Printer Man.
"Well, the machines here only work for photos...theoretically. Hang on a sec."
Sprinks and I exchanged glances. I translated the conversation for her, and we prepared to wait. This being Morocco, "a sec" could be anything from thirty seconds to 2 hours. We'd given ourselves a big time window - about an hour and a half - to print out our five pages, but we both knew that time here flows differently than it does in America.
About 5 minutes later, Mr. Printer Man closed up his side of the shop and headed to the door. Sprinks and I exchanged glances again. "Should we follow him?"
Just then, he looked back. "Come on," he said, in one of the few Arabic phrases I know. (Of course, Sprinks's Arabic is awesome, so I'd planned to rely on her, but it's always nice to know first-hand what's going on.)
We followed him into the street, exchanging further dubious glances. He led us up the block.
"Do you think he's taking us back to the mktaba?" Sprinks asked, in the usual PCV linguistic soup.
"I dunno, imkin," I answered. (It's possible.)
But we walked past the office supply shop and kept going. We continued to the edge of the business district. We followed, not sure what else to do, both wondering if he was taking us to his house?!
Confused but cautiously hopeful, we kept after him. And then Mr. Printer Man walked up to an insurance office, closed and locked for siesta.
He pulled out a keychain.
Did he live above the office? Did he own the office?
He unlocked the door and walked through. We followed him in. He walked back to the farthest desk, and began powering up the computer on it. He motioned us into the seats across from him. It felt - and must have looked, to someone looking in through the glass doors from the street - like we'd come to buy insurance.
He offered us his card. It turns out that Mr. Printer Man is only a part-time photo printer, and a part-time insurance salesman. This was his desk, in his office, where he could help us out.
When the computer had booted up, he reached for our thumb drives. We handed them over, one by one, pointing out the documents we needed. He printed us one copy of each (and asked if we wanted more, but we refused).
"Should we pay him?" Sprinks murmured.
"I dunno; I'm trying to think how to ask without offending him," I whispered back.
As we stood up to leave, heaping profuse thanks and blessings upon him and his parents, I seized upon an excessively formal French construction that allowed me to ask if one could possibly pay for this? He refused instantly and profusely, as I'd expected, so I reiterated the thanks and blessings, shook his hand, and turned to go.
The photocopy place was only half a block away, and we quickly got all the copies we needed. The whole thing had taken something like half an hour, leaving us plenty of time to join our friends over at the cafe before returning to camp.
So the camp didn't have a functioning printer. So the only pay-per-page printer in all of Emerald City was closed for lunch. The insurance samaritan had gone way, way out of his way to take care of us - two people he'd never seen before and would likely never see again.
I really love this country.
I spun around with a huge smile on my face. We clasped hands, said the routine greetings, and then he asked, "Did you die?"
I laughed, as he expected me to. "No, I didn't die. I just traveled. A lot."
"Your mom keeps asking about you. 'Is she back yet? Is her house still shut up?' and every day I have to tell her, 'No, she's not back. Her house is still padlocked.'"
I reassured him, "I just got in last night. I'll be over soon."
With a tone that said, you better, he said, "OK, we'll see you soon, then."
"See you soon."
As I walked away, I couldn't hide a big grin. It's nice to know that I'm missed when I'm gone. :)
Al-humdulillah, we have an awesome group of Volunteers working here in Emerald City. Awesome.
And from here on out, I’m going to refer to us by the nicknames we gave each other.
Our fearless leader is Sprinks, shortened from Sprinkler, who famously sprayed an entire table and several friends with water after hearing the 10,000th joke of the day from our resident comedienne. That fabulous female is now Wudja, from her habit of posing brain-twisting “Would-you-rather” puzzlers, like “Would you rather run naked through your site for a full day, or spend a full week slapping on the butt everyone you greeted?” or “Would you rather battle a witch pilgrim or a zombie shark?”
My Environment partner-in-crime is now Zifi, truncated from Zombie Fish. See, we Volunteers tend to slip off and play cards from time to time, and one of our games of choice is E.R.S., also known as Double Jack Slap. (You know, the one where you slap doubles and sandwiches, and where face cards let you steal the pile.) If you run out of cards, you’re out – but you can slap your way back in, if your fingers are quick enough. Zifi got out early in one of our first rounds, and his outstretched palm, twitching and flopping and shuddering as it kept reaching out to slap the stack and then checking itself against illegal slaps, looked like a cross between a flopping fish-out-of-water and a shuddering zombie. Hence, Zombie Fish.
The only Volunteer working the camp who I hadn’t met before was RoRo. He’s the newest of the five of us, having only been in-country for about six months. Whence the nickname? Well, we were trying to decide what simple song to sing with the campers at the pre-dinner camp song spectacular (previous favorites include “Boom Chick-a Boom”, “Go, Go Banana” and "The Hokey-Pokey"). Somebody suggested “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” so we gave that a trial run. RoRo opened with an arpeggio. When, after three gentle (and not-so-gentle) reminders that all three Rows are supposed to be on the same note, we just accepted that (1) he’s tone deaf, and (2) he’ll be RoRo forever.
And my nickname? Well, between my penchant for playing the original “Big Yellow Taxi” (which I taught my kids, for its English vocabulary and environmental message), my habit of bursting into random snatches of song, and my general tree-hugging hippy behavior, it was decided that I’m an updated version of Ms. Joni Mitchell. And since I give back rubs to my fellow PCVs, and there’s no record that Joni Mitchell is a massager, I’ve been deemed an upgrade: Joni 2.0.
So without further ado, I’d like to introduce the American staff of Spring 2010’s Spring Camp in Ben Slimane: Sprinks, Wudja, Zifi, RoRo, and J2.
Yes, this post is three months overdue. Whoops.
As I rode the bus back after my long European vacation, I reflected on the transformed contents of my backpack. I’d traveled with a small pack, so I could carry-on with it (and thus dodge RyanAir’s travel fees), and had deliberately brought my least favorite clothes so that I could leave them behind, in trash cans and/or hostel share-boxes. I managed to drop 2 thick cotton shirts, a longjohn shirt, a pair of socks, and a bottle of shampoo.
I also swapped out an apple for 4 granola bars, and an empty memory card for a full one (despite repeated purgings).
And I filled the space left behind by the abandoned clothes with FOOD. Mmmm, food. 3 bottles of herb-saturated olive oil from Rome. A round of goat cheese from Amsterdam. A wedge of brie from the airport in Brussels (there’s a story there…). A wedge of parmesan from Rome. A wedge of redball cheese from Fez’s Marjane. A box of green tea. A bottle of syrup-infused crème. A bottle of fish sauce. A toy box with 8 Van Gogh paintings, from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum. A Starry Night mug from a tourist shop in Amsterdam. A holy shot glass from the Vatican (by special request for a friend). A rainbow pin saying “Peace” in Italian. ~15 country patches, to be sewn on to backpacks/jackets/whatever. Postcards and notecards from the Escher museum.
But my best exchange story involves books.
4 random romance novels inherited from a COSed Volunteer went into Café Clock, in Fes, where they magically transformed into 3 much better books: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (so much better than I’d expected!), Europe on a Shoestring (necessary for any cheap/broke/PCV traveler in Europe), and Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood (as hauntingly memorable as her other dystopian futures). I swapped Dracula for Isabelle Allende’s City of Beasts (nutshell: she should stick to writing for adults) on my second day in Marseilles. I swapped Year of the Flood for David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day (soooo much funnier than his depressing Christmas stories) on my first day in Rome. In Amsterdam, Shoestring and Beasts left me in exchange for James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (not my cup of tea) and D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love (couldn’t get into it – too much dry psychoanalysis, not enough nice people). In Brussels, a friend gave me John Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (redefining what a “novel” can be – breathtaking!), and I surrendered Joyce for Khalid Housseini’s Thousand Splendid Suns (which made me sob hysterically for about half an hour; Housseini is not for the faint of heart, and his portrait of womanhood under totalitarian regimes and totalitarian husbands…searing, to say the least).
Thus did 4 totally forgettable novels turn into some of the best books I’ve read.
Traveling is cool. :)