Winter is here.  November 8-17, 2019

Last year I suffered from the cold, but this year I believe I am well prepared.  I was bent on living like the locals, which means no heat, limited hot water, wearing three layers (including a jacket, hat and gloves) inside the house, and not spending frivolously on more warm clothing.  The houses are all made of cinder block and have no insulation.  It is often warmer outside than in.  It was so cold that I dreaded bathing.  I would sleep with my clothes in the sleeping bag.  Well, that was all well and good until I got chilblains on my toes.  They were so red, swollen and painful, I was fearful.  Indeed, there came a day I did not think I would make it to work for not being able to put on my shoes.  Last year I bought the only electric heater with a fan that I could find, but it was used and never worked right, shutting off after only a few seconds of heat.  Most people have little heaters that fit on top of a butane canister, but I did not want the danger of gas in my bedroom/office.  The other rooms are too big to heat.  They rarely use these heaters, and regardless, due to the butane used for cooking, windows are left open.  I could not find any insulated boots here.  Finally, I ordered some snow boots from America, but they came after the cold had faded.


This year, even if I have to wear the tarnish of the “wealthy American”, I am taking better care of myself.  After the first little snow melted from the mountains, the winter returned in earnest.  After the frequent, cold rains of the past couple of weeks, the mountains that surround us wear a thick blanket and are dusted even to the lower elevations.  We did not get snow here, but nights are dipping below freezing.  I chose the stormiest day to go to Fes, for a little shopping, as there was no rain forecast there.  I wrapped plastic bags over my city boots, as I tire of scraping an inch of mud each time I go out.  I put on my city coat, grabbed the trusty umbrella and headed to find a taxi to Fes.  However, being Souk day, this meant walking to that neighborhood to find transportation.  I was drenched to the bone, shoe bags full of water and had to put the umbrella in the trash before even leaving my town.  Fes was warmer, but stormy enough I did not leave the mall.  I did buy a working heater and I cannot tell you what a difference it has made in my life!


I covered the window screens with plastic, so wind does not blow in around them.  I also hung plastic sheeting between the bathroom and the living room.  I can put the heater in that alcove when bathing, leave the door open and be warm enough.  Even if there were an electrical outlet in the bathroom, the entire room is the shower, so not a good idea.  But this works great.  But the main difference is the boots, and thick-soled slippers.  My feet are warm.  Still looking for waterproof gloves.


Along this theme, I am watching Game of Thrones.  I read all the books years ago, but never saw the series.  At our meeting in Ouarzazate, one of the other PCVs shared lots of movies and this series.  What a life saver these have been.  To make them last, I normally do a half a movie a night, while eating dinner.  But doing a full episode of Game of Thrones most nights.  I know there is a way to download more from the internet, and will cross that bridge when I run out.


A package from home means I have enough de-caf coffee to drink it every day (for a while).  I feel much better when I avoid caffeine.  I like it, but it does not like me.  It also contained a big jar of peanut butter, kitchen sponges and three walkie-talkies I ordered months ago for my nieces and nephew.  They were thrilled.  Hopefully they will be able to talk from one house to the next.


Daily life is much the same.  I finally finished my cabinets.  I have English classes in both places, I am keeping the kids at Dar Shabaab busy with art and English projects related to Fall.  I cut out a ceiling-high cardboard tree and we are making colored leaves and more to put in our tree.


Soccer challenges continue.  I thought seriously about throwing in the towel on Saturday, but then Sunday was better.  Only one coach showed up to the weekly meeting on Tuesday.  Only one coach, and fewer than half the players showed up on Saturday.  I personally called every kid’s house and spoke with nearly every parent.  Four of the young coaches came into the Dar Shbaab that very morning to tell me they were sorry they missed last week, but all assured me they would be there that afternoon.  None of them were there.  Two of the three adults were not there.  This means that for 2 of the three time slots I was alone, trying to coach activities while being crushed by wild children (and teenagers) who are not in the program.  One of my 6 soccer balls was stolen from my bag.  Why?  Well, it had been raining in the morning, but it was beautiful during practice.  Schools were having another long weekend for Independence Day (after 3 whole days of school).  And…it is Morocco.


After taking our money, names and birth certificates, the insurance company comes back wanting more money.  The way they did it was priceless.  When we met with the representative, she quoted us 29 dirhams if we had 1-60 kids, 29 if we had 61-100, and so on.  The Director took in 63 names, at which point she said the lower price begins at 64.  He paid her the difference.  After she put us into the system, she came back to say it will now be 35 dirhams.  He picked up our money and list, to go to the closer agent that had given us that price in the first place.  Then he wanted a whole new partnership agreement.  And now it is too late to get it from the kids.  One of our committee found an agent if Sefrou who would do it for 34 and no new partnership.  So now, the local guy decided he does not need a partnership either.


Since the school kicked us out, we are playing at the municipal stadium.  It is large, open and still a magnet for the wildlings, in the poorer neighborhood.  I tried to get use of the new, never-been-used-in-the-two-years-since-it-was-built facility, but got a flat “no”.


Weather, venue, lack of coaches, changes of schedule and culture are all contributing to poor showings.  We are getting less than half the kids.  The lesson of “no practice, no match” has been a hard pill to swallow for all.  The kids just want to play, and the adults are weak.  But if we just have games that they can come and go as they please, with no commitment, responsibility, team building, skill building, we are offering what the already have, pick-up games.


I got news, upon prying, that the Peace Corps Grants Committee approved our program, now waiting on the Country Director to give her decision.  Still waiting on word from Coke as well.  A few Dads are coming to watch our games.


Lastly, I was invited to my Director’s home for lunch today.  I believe his wife is the best cook in Morocco, which is saying a lot.  Today’s meal was very special.  We shared one of the turkeys they raised.  I am considering it to be my Thanksgiving meal.  They treated me as family, we ate a delicious turkey, and watched “football”.  The meat was cooked with garlic and other wonderful seasonings in a pressure cooker.  She let me help her make ‘tthree’, (sort of like chewy tortillas, lightly fried, then cut into strips).  The stew-like mixture is poured over the ‘tthree’ and was sooooo good!  Before that, because Moroccans always eat dessert first, we had chocolate carrot cake and miniature hand-made cheesy, spicy biscotti with our tea.  After, we ate home-grown pomegranates.  It is a good thing it takes 3 taxis to get to his house, and standing alongside the road to catch a taxi to get back, or I would be over there all the time.  Not only is the food great, but they are very sweet.  I am really blessed to work for this Director, a gentleman and an honest man.


Today was Moroccan Independence Day, a National holiday.  We are always closed on Mondays, so no extra day of closure here.  Well, that is it for the moment.