Grumpy Old Men, Mid-Service Training. January 2-19, 2020
I am traveling to the big meeting by train, and the lady next to me has just started changing her baby’s poopy diaper, in our cabin. Dad left the room and the poor young woman trying to sleep was woken by the smell. Should children, especially babies, be allowed in “first class”? To tell the truth, there is not a big difference between first and second class in terms of atmosphere. There are three seats facing three other seats, in a small cabin, with a glass door & windows to separate yourselves from the walkway along one side of the car. Whereas, in second class, the walkway runs between 2 seats facing 2 seats on either side. The two main differences are that you have a reserved seat and your luggage is above your head, or below your feet, which seems more secure than in a tangle at the door. Unlike buses, there are toilets.
On arrival to Rabat, I dropped my bag at the hotel and finally caught a taxi to take me to the Dentist office. Previously I had a woman dentist, who I thought a little rough, but nothing like this guy. He was cleaning with ice cold water from the cleaning canon. I asked him to please warm the water. No, we don’t have warm water. This was a very modern office, so I find this unlikely. Thankfully, there were no cavities, because I was not letting this guy near me with a drill. After, I caught the tram, headed toward the main office for my mid-service medical exam. I was on the wrong tram, and had to hike a way to the right tram, but got there. Many other volunteers were also waiting. I was weighed, vision tested and asked how I was. Fine. Good to go for another year. During the meetings we were all tested for TB, of which, I am thankfully clear.
Our hotel was surprisingly nice, and with only two PCVs to a room. It was also nicely located for easy walking to the train station, tram and other points of interest. I really appreciated the upgrade. Perhaps, with our ranks shrinking (now 81 out of 114 who started) the budget accommodates something nicer. Tuesday through Friday, we attended a variety of sessions on everything from a statistical analysis of survey responses about PCV satisfaction, to other PCVs sharing success stories. Our evenings were free, and I had two really great nights out. First, 4 of the oldsters had wood fire oven pizza and laughed a lot. The second night I joined some girls to go to a real theater, a nice one with big leather seats and dual cupholders. We saw “Little Women” and “Star Wars” in English. There was a talent show and a souk fashion show, put on by PCVs. I spent one night trying to buy a phone, but no luck. I was at one highly-rated hanoot when the call to prayer closed the metal cover and the sidewalks filled with men stopping to pray below the adjacent loud speaker. I’ve been told it is rude to walk in front of someone praying, and saw no other way out, so just held reverently in place behind them. With the exception of the Friday, pre-lunch service, which includes a sermon, these sessions are short, perhaps 5-10 minutes. Our last night the oldsters went to an Italian restaurant. It was also nice, but I called it in early, with an early train home.
The day I left town for Rabat was an exciting one on the soccer field. Our Saturday practice was normal. We dedicated some time to remind players of upcoming important events. On Sunday, I had been told that the oldsters would be out to chalk their lines for a 2:00 game. So, out of respect, I used colored discs to mark our borders well inside theirs. The first three matches were played without incident. It was during the 11:30 match that Swifi’s thugs (aka Grumpy Old Men, 50s-60s?) started trouble. Even though our play was well clear of their work, they started yelling at the kids to leave. Mohammed started the yelling. I knew him as he was the original coach that was too busy drinking coffee to show up for our first Coaches meeting until nearly finished. Then, he never appeared for a single practice or game. I told him to stop harassing the boys. I told the kids to keep playing. Then, another man I do not know, began picking up our cones and markers and throwing them over the wall. When we retrieved them, he picked them up again and put them in his cart. He chased and hit one of the boys. Naturally the boys and coaches were torn as to what to do. One of the thugs threatened to call the Gendarmerie. I encouraged him to do so, as we are in the right. This is our time, with permission from the Belladia. Also, we are being very respectful of their needs, by starting early and staying clear of their work area. When the Adjutant arrived, he could see the frothing behavior of the thugs and asked me what was the problem. I said there was no problem, and showed him our shortened area, leaving them free to do their job. He asked me to help him by giving way just this once. I explained that it is not just this once, but that I had been told it would be at least every other week. At this point, Thug Mohammed was saying that it would be whenever they needed, that our program was “nothing” as it only involved children and me, whereas his was important. I reiterated my respect for his program, but that ours was important as well. I have 100 children and 4 Associations, not just me. I also showed the Adjutant the explanation of our awards, and that these players would be penalized if they did not play. He asked me why we did not play at one of the other venues. I explained that we had been turned away from every other venue, but if he had influence with the President or a school to use another, we would be happy to do so. The Adjutant was able to secure the use of the neighboring school for today. We moved the second period of the 11:30 game, as well as the 12:30 match, to this small field. None of the regular coaches were there, though it is unknown if they had been trying to find us at the other field. I sent a boy to look for them and missing players, but this is not definitive. On our way out, the Adjutant had a talk with Swifi, warning him that the Peace Corps program was important and they should not give me trouble in the future. The field at the middle school was quite tiny, but fine for today. After the Adjutant left us, the Director of the school arrived to make sure I knew it was only for today.
By contrast, I returned from Rabat on Saturday in time to oversee a completely peaceful two days. Saturday and Monday were school holidays and there was virtually no one but us at the pitch either day. We assigned jersey numbers to the three teams who had obtained sponsors/jerseys. We handed out and re-collected all without much incident. We had a variety of gloves for the goal tenders, but they all wanted the orange ones, none liked the leather, so I need to make some exchanges.
Today, I am writing after getting rained out of our matches, this 13th week of our League. I went to the field, waited a couple of hours, had 5 players show, but it was clear we would not be able to play. The field was a lake and the forecast was for much stronger rain on the way. This also means that our re-match with Swifi’s Thugs will come another time.
Yesterday, practice would have been without incident, except for the near loss of a bottle of prescription medicine from my backpack. When I arrived home, I found the zipper compartment open where my medicines are kept on my backpack. A bottle of prescription medicine was missing. Having still a little daylight, I quickly backtracked to the field, to see if it could be found. After nearly giving up, I decided to look in the perimeter areas beyond the fence. If it had been taken, rather than an accidental loss, the thief might have disposed there. There is a lot of rubbish (even more than on the field) in this border area. By a miracle, I found it, opened, with pills scattered. I was able to find and salvage near if not all of the tiny white pills. Being in this place, and this condition, it was unlikely an accident, but theft, or at the least, rude to not return them when found. I try to wear my backpack all the time, but am not perfect, as I need to remove it to access the role sheets. I did leave it sitting very briefly by the Eagles while practicing. Even so, someone could have opened it while on my back. Sadly, the seating area alongside the disposal site was occupied near all afternoon with Eagles, making them likely suspects, but nothing could be definitive. To add to the miracle, it rained through the night and following day. Had I waited for the morning, nothing could have been salvaged. I carefully placed the bottle in a plastic bag, just in case I wanted to pursue the matter further. However, on reflection, even if the perpetrators were caught, the embarrassment associated with the case of the disappearing diarrhea pills (hey, vital to survival, the miracle of Lomotil) did not seem worth any victory.
For me, Christmas continued, with a really nice phone call from my Oakville neighbors, gathered for a late family Christmas. My Sister’s package was recovered by my friend the postman, and delivered to me, along with 3 more Christmas cards. It was filled with beautiful gifts and I got to talk with her as I opened it. I even got a box of coffee from my friends in the foothills. I have been quite blessed, being remembered by so many that I care about.
My olive picking host sister and mom returned from Marrakesh. I was invited to CousCous, but I was in Rabat. None-the-less, I’ve seen them all a couple of times, and even had coffee for the first time since the incident. At the Youth Center and Nour, English, art and games really fell off the rails, between my travel and holidays. I had a great activity Friday, and hope to build the momentum again quickly. With the “holiday” (official or not) this past Monday, lots of my kids were at the Souk, along with every other person in Morocco, by the looks of it.
Sad note, the Director of the Youth Center’s father died. When he left suddenly on Tuesday, it did not sound good. My friends from Nour drove us to the family home on Thursday. I had met many of the family members, including Mom and Dad, when my Sister and her husband were here. They are all as sweet as can be. His Mom is in great shape, quite a bit younger, as is the custom even now. My boss has 9 brothers and sisters, with all their family, and I think they were all there.
Last week I watched the Niners win over the Vikings, but could not get a connection for the Seahawks-Packer game. Tonight, I am setting the alarm to try to watch the NFC Title game between the Niners and the Packers. Go Niners!! With the storm still going, I put my chances of a connection at “maybe”. Hopefully, by my next post, we are on our way to the Superbowl.