NO GLUE IN THE DAR SHBAAB, EVER AGAIN! Christmas approaches.  December 11 – 21, 2018.  This has been a really big week.  First of all, I am no where near the murders and do not feel threatened in any way.  However, as always, I will keep up my guard, especially when traveling.


I finished my first round of getting community input on what programs they would like to see in the Youth Center (Dar Shbaab).  This was done through forms filled out by youth as they came in throughout the week (over 100 completed) and two community meetings.  Predictably, they want what they know, pretty much the same as the past; music, art and English, with ping-pong being the big winner.  Based on what we’ve been told about the problems young people are having with integration into working life, I suppose I expected to hear that they want some help in those areas.  If I planted the seeds, they went along, but nothing self-generated.


From the input, I sat down with the director and we hammered out a schedule for January.  The biggest and best time slots went to the music club.  The music guy was here before me and since there is a guy willing to donate his time, I feel it is the right the thing.  He is no more a music teacher than I am an English teacher, but has a band that plays at weddings and such.  I think he is even older than I am, so ancient, but quietly commands the respect of the youth.  He tried to horn in on my time this past Wednesday, but politely demurred to my pressure.  We will have a weekly art club and ping-pong club.  In addition to managing the clubs, for starters I have 4 English classes per week, one for each age group.  But I can see that most of my work will be done informally during “free time”, just because of school schedules.


In order to join the Youth Center, kids must be able to show ID and pay 10 DH ($1) for an entire year.  Judging from the candy wrappers all over the place, I am thinking the money is not a problem, but apparently there are people, mostly from the country and smaller villages, that cannot show papers.  They have just never been in the government system.  To help them integrate there is an organization called Nour.  I have been there twice now.  It is run by one amazing couple, who also teach.  They are incredibly active with all ages of children and women.  I gather that if one is in their program for two years there is a way to integrate into regular school, but they have all ages of people that have never been to school, looks like a hundred or more.  They teach in a run-down building with no electricity, in the poorer “Station” neighborhood.  I should be able to work there at least one day a week, maybe two.


The olive-picking sister returned, and I got to go with the sister/brother-in-law to pick her up in Fes.  She has a friend with her that is staying with us, but I don’t know how long.  We visited a large, 4-story, modern shopping mall, including the Carrefour (a French owned chain of super-stores) to look for my apple juice (Christmas party).  I found some, but the car was too full of olive oil, olives, people and stuff, so a return trip was needed.  One of the things the sister bought was sliced bread, not available in Moroccan stores.  My little niece whines if she has to eat home-baked, since there is a white-bread version available at the souk.  How many years will it be before the home baked bread (now a daily occurrence in virtually all homes) is as rare in Morocco as in America?


The sister returning also spelt the end of the squatty table/stools.  She used her some of olive money to buy a regular dining table and chairs.  Much better in my humble opinion, but very surprising.  You do see normal height tables in coffee shops and restaurants, but had not seen one in a home yet.  We eat more since she is here.  We were having sweets for breakfast and dinner, but now there is a regular dinner, in addition to the big lunch.  Speaking of home…I continue to really adore my family, though there are some issues.  Mom is just very confused, in general, and about me in particular.  Sometimes she knows who I am, but most of the time she is upset because she does not understand why this stranger (and all her stuff) is in her house.  Between her and the little niece, I need to really watch my stuff and keep my room locked.  In addition to the hanoot, my primary host sister is the cookie queen.  She bakes for hire, so there are always cookies and cake here.


We had our first rain since I arrived here, on the 13th.  It was a fairly strong storm, but short lived.  Since then we are back to sunny days.  It is very nice if you are outside, walking or working, just cold in the house.  I am adapting strategies to the cold.  The trick is to be very conscious to preserve body heat.  My sleeping bag is very warm.  I sleep with my next-day’s underwear and long underwear in the bag with me, to warm them.  By dressing quickly, all the way to the coat, scarf and hood, I preserve the heat.  If I am sitting, such as working on the computer, I am sitting in that toasty bag like a mummy, Velcro-ed around the neck with my hands protruding from the zipper, with a blanket on the floor under my feet.  The cold affects the cell phones also, so I need to sleep with them.  When they get too cold, they don’t work.


In addition to posting our December activities, Christmas party included, at all major spots around town, I made the rounds to deliver the VIP invites.  In Morocco you need to have a personal relationship with at least 4 authorities, including the Royal Police.  I need to let the head guy know anytime I leave town, and everybody if I will be overnight somewhere.  So, good to have a little VIP hour for them.  The party will be Saturday (tomorrow as I write) and I have no idea who will show.  I have had the kids making additional decorations, writing Christmas phrases on paper and making paper garlands for the “tree” and over a couple of windows.  Snowflakes on the wall.  This was part of my first few organized activities.  I had 5 this week.  In addition to the first functioning meeting of “Art Club” I taught 4 English classes featuring Christmas phrases, craft words (paper, cut, scissors, etc.) and used fun activities to re-enforce.  All went well except one where I was planning to use glue to glitter the tips of pine cones.  WOW!!  What a mistake that was.  Instantly there were huge amounts of glue EVERYWHERE!  These were high school girls!  They were crazy.  I could not stop them.  They would hold their pinecone up and just pour glue all over it (and the table, floor, chairs, me).  I had to laugh and just be happy it was a lesson that was fixable (but I did need to throw away all the pinecones).  I find I have as many students during “free” time and they still like doing the activities.  My Santa hat (2 DH at Carrefour) is a big hit, wearing it to work and around town.  We have sung some Christmas carols, with “Rockin around the Christmas Tree” as the favorite.


So, the big (maybe) Christmas party at the youth center will feature hot apple juice, spiced with cloves studded tangerines and cinnamon sticks, and cookies from my “sister”.  I have also downloaded 3 hours of Christmas music.  I pray the glue episode is not a prelude to the cookie/juice/party scene, but expect it is.  I will be chipping cookies off the floor for weeks.


Then, Sunday morning early, I will taxi (three city to city and one petite taxis actually) to my former village.  My friend, the PC Volunteer there, is hosting all those in the Region who are able and willing, to a sleep-over Christmas party.  On the way I will buy sweet potatoes and a gift of some sort.  While in town I will also visit my first family, and all the other host families.  I see lots of sweet tea in my future.  Then, early Tuesday I will taxi back, and cook Christmas dinner for my current family.  All good stuff.  I am happy I will be busy.  I really love the holidays at home in America and especially miss being there at this time.  I will really miss seeing all my family.  But I have gotten a few texts and know there will be a few calls to help.


Last but not least, I still have no leads on a house.  I am supposed to be on my own by the first.  My family wants me to stay here, but as much as I love them, I look forward to independence.  There is no newspaper or rental agencies, only word of mouth.  Thank you for reading.  I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!