Big cities, classes, bread and now no goats. October 8-22, 2018. Sorry to be so far behind, but life is busy here. We have just passed the half-way point in our training. We attended our first “Hub” a meeting where all the Trainees (we are called PCTs) assembled for a 3-day meeting in Meknes. First of all, the hotel was really nice and I think anyone I know would be happy there. Our sessions mainly dealt with safety and sensitivity (gender awareness, cultural differences, etc), but we also got some great introductions to doing our jobs of teaching English. We also got more shots. The first evening there was an optional seminar on Islam. I attended and learned a lot from a very dynamic speaker who previously worked for Peace Corps. I have read a few books on the history of Islam, but was surprised. For example, I knew that Islam revered Jesus as a prophet. However, I did not know that they believe in his virgin birth, all his miracles and that he is the Savior who will return at the end of the world. Always more to learn.
Meknes is a large city. One of my fellow PCTs and I took a taxi to the old city “medina” for sightseeing and shopping. I needed post cards, stamps and a wedding gift for my “sister”. We walked around the old castle, but it was not open. We walked through the maze of the old city where one can buy all sorts of clothing (there seems to be a lot of Gucci here) and home décor. We spoke with a man who actually knew the first Peace Corp volunteer in Morocco, Cindy, 55 years ago. He was kind enough to help me find the vendor of the nice towels I was looking for. We later found the area with spices, olives, meats and all sorts of foods. All these are open air, but it feels like you are inside, because the doors to the shops are lifted overhead to form a roof over the narrow walking paths. After, we wandered through the outdoor markets on wider streets. We ate pizza on the large open-air plaza. In the center of the plaza there are vendors and performers. On the edge of the plaza there are carts selling all sorts of things, including prickly pear fruit that the vendor peels for you, candies, nuts and more. Meknes is a nice city and I look forward to being there again.
This past weekend I also visited Azrou and drove through Ifrane. Both are beautiful cities and popular tourist destinations. We only stopped in Ifrane long enough to take a photo. It is notoriously expensive, built by French developers in the 1930s as a skiing town. Azrou was a beautiful town and I traveled there by taxi (equivalent of $1 US to drive 1.5 hours in 2 taxis). None of these bigger cities have the trash problem of my town. They are clean cities and the French influence is still apparent.
I spent the day with my host “mom” and “brother”. I must mention the three chickens of the day. All Grand Taxis take 6 passengers per trip. If you don’t want to wait to leave you can pay for all 6 seats. On this trip we picked up a woman going to Imozzier (first taxi swap) with a bucket of plums and a live chicken. When we reached Azrou, my Mom was looking for something, but I did not know what at that point. We found the area of many small shops, hanoots, and she asked prices on lots of stuff, particularly dates, then bought bread and milk. I thought this odd, since we have lots of great bread in our town and it was too early to be carting milk around. Then we started walking through residential areas and I knew she was looking for her brother’s house. She found the house, but did not knock. Instead, she asked a woman where to find the nearest chicken store. The live chickens are right there and so you know your chicken is fresh. We went back to the house but no one was home. The neighbor said the brother was actually in our town. Confirmed with a phone call. My Mom was actually able to get the chicken guy to buy back the chicken. Then, we had lunch at a restaurant serving “dijaj d rosa” “bride’s chicken” the style, rotisserie, served at weddings. I got a street vendor with a sewing machine to fix my coat. We found a taxi that would do a side trip to see the monkeys on the way back to Imozzier. These monkeys live in the pine forest and because the tourists feed them, they come right up to you. I refrained, but did take their pictures. My Mom wanted to see me on one of the horses you can ride. I said “no” in three languages, but since she had paid, the horse guy picked me up and put me on the horse despite my objections. I was unseated just as unceremoniously. Back in Imozzier we stopped at the Souk between taxis and Mom bought apples for the store. It is apple harvest season so there were also lots of people selling along the roads. We saw chicken/plum lady, and she had apparently sold both.
Earlier this week, baby goat met his maker, and Mama’s knife. It is not every day that you can get an anatomy lesson and cooking lesson at the same time. When I came home for lunch, it was pretty quiet in the yard and there was no question who was in the bucket. I have eaten every part of that goat and in the hands of an excellent cook, all were tasty. I’ve been around butchered animals, but the demonstration of blowing up the lungs was a new one. This led to one of our funny dinner experiences. Mama and I cut up the liver and wrapped the chunks in pieces of stomach lining and skewered them. Out in the yard she found a clay pot and enough stuff to light a fire, charcoal and plastic bottles included. She cooked the skewers on the open flame. She then brought the hot fire in the house, and put the clay pot on the kitchen hall floor. The house filled with smoke and fortunately the fire was taken outside before something bad happened. Before dinner, she had pan-fried small fish and moved them to the table. After being in the yard, we returned to find that cats had climbed in the roof opening (there is no door to close) and eaten half the fish!
We had a couple of chilly nights and I can see where this house (all houses here) will get cold in the winter. We have had some rain. Some of the rooms have no window coverings and the above-mentioned door-less roof access, along with the front door being open most of the time, it will be cold. I think this may be a safety precaution, due to the use of butane, but not sure. All the houses use portable bottles of butane gas for cooking. My teacher’s house, where we study each day, has a 2’ x 2’ whole in the ceiling over the pit toilet. This means you are sitting in the rain to do your business. Hopefully that gets fixed.
Most of my time continues to be spent in the classroom, 8:30 to 4:00, often with time working in the Dar Shbaab after. I am also getting private tutoring in my Darija (Moroccan Arabic) three times a week from our local volunteer. I have 5 classmates and a Moroccan teacher. I don’t have too much to say about them, for privacy reasons. The classroom subject material is very structured, laid out in advance, so all groups around the country are on the same track. We mainly study language in the mornings and Moroccan culture and customs in the afternoon. We ae now integrating our teaching into most afternoons also. Today we were observed by one of the country’s top staff as we led English classes with local students. We all did well. Next week we will be evaluated and interviewed by the Regional Director. We are leading up to learning our permanent site assignments, on November 15th. Swearing in and moving to those new sites will happen at the end of November. Until then, we live a very sheltered life. We have our teacher to look after any problems that we experience, language or otherwise. We are prohibited from being out of our houses after dark, unless with a family member. At no time is any Peace Corps staff allowed to be traveling outside daylight hours. We only have 3 days where we are permitted to travel without a host family member, and even then, we can only go to cities where there are other trainees and staff. We are told that the gendarmerie is watching over us at all times, for our safety. Later, we might be the only English-speaking person in each of our towns, though some towns have more than one volunteer.
In news of my Moroccan family, my “brother”, Driss, moved to Fes, unexpectedly, while I was in Meknes. At first, I thought he just went to visit sister Amina, but apparently, he got a job. He is trained as fashion designer, with computer skills, so hopefully that is what he is doing. Both Driss and Farid would like to move to America. My “grandmother” had an apparent stroke. I think she had a stroke because her primary symptom is that she could not speak, but was still ambulatory and cognoscente. She has been to see doctors in Fes but always home by nightfall. We (and half the town, and any of her family near enough to visit) have been spending a lot of time there. Fortunately, she is just a few doors away, around the corner. Everyone says that the Medical care is very good in Morocco. Indeed, for Peace Corps, we are the medivac destination for all of Africa. I have seen both of my “sisters” but not nearly as much as before the wedding.
A side story about bread (“kubz” in Darija). Bread is served in large quantities here, at every meal. It is used as a utensil for eating, or dipped in oil, and treated with almost religious reverence. I observed that while many food scraps are thrown away, not bread. Small pieces are kissed and saved. I held fresh baked bread up to my face to smell it and was told that was “shuma” (shamefull)! I asked our head cultural director about it. He said there is no religious significance, just tradition and respect for the life bringing powers of bread. All bread scraps are saved and made available for animals to eat, either directly feeding, or bringing to a collection place.
Well, that is all for now. Please drop me a line from time to time. I get access to internet about once a week.