Pick pocket, lost in the FedEx/DHL, and visitors on the way! January 24-February 16, 2019.  It has been three weeks since I have written, and I apologize for the delay.  First, the general news…I continue to make lesson plans, give English classes, both in the Dar Shbaab and at Nour.  The clubs for art, music and ping pong continue.  The school break brought slow traffic in the Dar Shbaab.  There was a general shift from the middle/high school to college students home for the break for over a week.  I continue to be blessed with the help and friendship of my wonderful host family and occasional messages and calls with loved ones in America.  The cold continued through the first part of these three weeks, but this past week we enjoyed some pretty mild weather.  Our nearby mountains got a lot of snow, and I made time to visit the edge of town, to enjoy that view.  During the warm weather I even had my coat off inside and out of the house, several times.  The bare necessities of life are more time-consuming than at home.  Cooking, washing dishes, laundry, dressing and bathing, are all focused around not losing the core body heat, so I will have a multi-fold benefit from warmer weather.


In old news, I got the bolts installed on the doors.  I set them, but then my very kind host brother brought a drill to finish the job.  I ordered snow boots from Amazon, and they have been in Morocco for over a week.  However, DHL has yet to tell me what city they are in, certainly not mine.  After seeing my landlady’s version of covering the hot water heater (laying cellophane, weighted down by trash, on the rebar between my house and hers) I had a carpenter install nice little mini-roofs over the water heater and washing machine.  Even then, this well-regarded carpenter made products that had split plastic, did not fit the wall, not painted, and I had to make him go get more materials to support the corners from above.  Hamza and I eventually made it to the Beladia for our camera contract.  He finished his film, and returned the camera, though I don’t have the 200 dh yet.


New events include the beginning of the Life Skills for Girls program.  Initially, when I met with my Director, to discuss the February schedule, he told me we needed to accommodate the Nour folks for a program at Dar Shbaab.  When we all met, I initially thought we were giving up the Saturday morning time slot for the doily-making ladies.  Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to learn it was a program central to my mission here.  I obtained a copy of the workbook in English, but it turns out the teacher is not really following the book.  None the less, she is effective and dynamic with the girls and I think the message is near enough.


This means moving the Ping Pong Club to Sunday mornings, so I am now in the Dar Shbaab 6 days a week.  This is one of the reasons for falling behind on writing.


A new agreement was drawn up with the supporters of the music program.  While I helped with typing and printing, I was peripheral to the process.  One thing coming in a week or so is that no one will be admitted to the Dar Shbaab unless they have a membership card.  I am not sure how great the impact will be, as the requirements are small, a photo (common here) and 10 dh ($1) for the entire year, 50 dh for music.


I was also busy with a couple of special events, I held the local edition of the Peace Corps’ “Write-on” creative writing competition yesterday.  I had spent the two weeks prior, meeting with school and community officials to promote and post the event, but despite many promises of help and participation, there were few who showed.  This is the theme here, and also, as always, it was impossible to get the students to respect the no-talking requirement.  Fortunately, I had the help of a University student or I would have burst into flames with frustration.  More on my self-analysis in a separate issue.


Earlier in the week I used English classes, and free time, to have the students make Valentine decorations and invitations for their mothers, to our Valentine’s Day Tea Party.  An army of young girls, many of whom I had never seen, started showing up an hour before the party.  I made them all go home to get their mothers.  Enough returned to make a nice party.  Two of the regular boys and my sister, Naima, helped serve.


New family events included my host sister traveling to Taza for personal business, and then to Marrakesh, with mom and daughter, to visit the youngest brother and his family.  I will also visit them in March.  He brought them back by car, and I got a free trip to Fes with him on his return.  This is the brother fluent in English that they always call when we can’t figure something out.  I also had the family for American style tacos one night.  They seemed to like them.  Another host sister fainted and suffered abdominal pains.  She finally got to see a doctor in Fes the following afternoon, only to be told that she is fine, and the problem was the cold.  A lot gets blamed on the cold.  If a young woman leaves the house with wet hair, she is both a harlot and will be barren.  I sincerely hope I do not have any medical problems here.


My sister had her purse stolen right out of her pocket at the souk!  It was quite the event.  Fortunately, she realized the purse was gone quickly, a man pointed out the thief, and my brother ran him down and got the money back.  He was dragging him out behind a wall, and might have broken his neck, had bystanders not intervened.  I have only seen him as a gentle man so was surprised at his anger.


Also, I started preparing for a garden at the family “country” house.  I bought a backpack sprayer and some Glyphosate at the souk.  I sprayed the weeds in the garden area.  Then, having been unable to locate a suitable shovel for digging, I called a friend in Napa Valley to send me one.  He sent two, and did not charge me.  Federal Express, however, in their infinite wisdom, sent them to the home office in Rabat (seeing Peace Corps by my name in the address) because it turns out they don’t come to my town.  I will get them eventually.


Other purchases of recent weeks, I have added to my home;  a bigger coffee maker and towels from Carrefour in Fes, blankets, milk warming pot, coffee cups, plates, flatware, plastic containers, two little drawers, assorted house slippers and a bed frame, from the souk.  At local shops I also purchased plastic drawers and a hose extension for the washing machine.  Once I put the machine under the new little shelter, the hose did not reach the drain (the drain where the rats chewed off the end of same hose).  The slope did not take the water into the drain before flooding over half the house.  Also, in Fes, I visited a large school supply shop and bought some things for the Dar Shbaab.


My first trip to Fes was to have dinner with my Country Director, whom I like a lot.  She is a great boss and I hope we will stay in touch after the service.  I stayed in a hotel (real shower!).  Because I left after 3:00, I could not get transportation to Fes, but needed to route through Sefrou.  This was despite an elaborate plan.


The second trip was two-fold.  First, I wanted to do a dry-run on the earliest bus, 6 am, to see if I could make it to the train station before 9:30.  I did.  But it was a good thing I did the exercise, as the early bus takes a different route and winds up in a different place.  I was nail biting for a while.  I bought my ticket for my March meeting in Marrakesh.


The second reason was scouting and making arrangements face-to-face with the folks at the Fes Marriott.  Which leads to the big news, I will be receiving my first American visitors this coming week.  Since they arrive at midnight, there are no transportation options, so we will stay at the hotel.  The hotel car will take me to the airport to fetch them.  I am very excited!


I have already supplied the Gendarme and Muqaddam with details of their visit, and the first thing we need to do on their arrival is visit the office to show passports.  I have no idea if the casual visitor needs to do this, but since I am protected, every thing I do is of interest.


In other big news, I now have a tutor to help me improve my Darija (the Moroccan version of Arabic).  She is a PhD English teacher and we have scheduled 2 sessions per week.  I also had a very nice Friday CousCous lunch with her and her family.


I plan to follow with a separate entry about dealing with some frustrations, internally and externally.  Partly dealing with a different culture, partly dealing with youth.  But for now, let me at least get this news posted.