Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Dog Sitting & More

Sam, as always, expectant

I’m in Grand Rapids this week, house and dog-sitting for my son Robin and his family while they are going on their first-ever cruise. Their dog, Sam, is a highly kinetic, one-year old muensterlaender. The contrast between him and my 14-year old golden retriever, Jack, is amazing. Jack tolerates him, and I’m learning to. He’s very sweet-tempered, just a lot more active than I’m used to.
My son, Joe, is home from college. I had lunch with him last Friday (he’s staying at his mom’s right now), but he’s driving over on Thursday to hang out with me. My older brother John is driving over from Detroit on Thursday, too, to spend the holidays with us. I didn’t expect to be here at this time, so this is one way in which the Lesotho cancellation worked out well, the opportunity to spend these holidays with my family before I go overseas. I’m very grateful for that.
I spent three hours yesterday visiting with my cottage neighbor, Frank, the one I mentioned in the "Peace Corps Brother(Sister)hood" post, who was a PCV in Morocco 40 years ago. It was a fascinating several hours, mostly talking, but also looking at some books and slides. In many ways, the experience has been central to his life. Prominent on his walls are two spangly fabric pieces that he brought back (don't know the name for them) that are used in the pise houses to help catch reflected light. And the rug on his floor - a beautiful white rug, still in very good shape - is one he also brought back. Peace Corps is quite different now from then. He trained in the U.S., we'll be training in Morocco. He was not required to learn Arabic or Berber (we are), though he could speak French well, and that got him by. He was posted to Casablanca. Nowadays, volunteers are seldom posted to large cities. Interestingly, his country director was a young Richard Holbrooke, who went on to great renown and accomplishments as one of the U.S.'s great diplomats (Dayton Peace Accords, special AfPak envoy, etc.). But one thing that remained the same is the indelible impact service appears to have made on his life. He's near retirement himself and wondered about how Peace Corps works now. But he's already connected to some mission program where he can contribute his talents as an architect and has already received his first assignment, somewhere in Mexico next year.
As for my new Morocco program, one of my co-volunteers has mapped the locations where we rural health educators may be assigned. Except for two on the Atlantic Coast, the rest are in the Atlas Mountains, with a few on the eastern edge of the country, where the mountains kneel before the desert. Gives me a better idea of what to pack!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Morocco, Here I Stay!

This'll be short & sweet. Peace Corps offered me a spot as a Rural Health Educator, and I've accepted.

I'll still be leaving in mid-March. My efforts to learn to read, write, and speak Arabic have not been in vain. (Ditto, French). My community involvement and non-profit experience will stand me in good stead. I have some work to do on the "health" part of it, though.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Incroyable! Encore une annulation!

Incredible. My Peace Corps program has again been cancelled!
I got a call yesterday from the Morocco Country Desk Officer telling me that the NGO development worker program (a pilot program) has been cancelled. She told me that I was at the "very tip-top" of the list for reassignment (seeing as how this is the second of my assignments to be cancelled). There is another program in Morocco, leaving at the same time, for which I qualify “at least on paper” – rural health education worker.
So this is now the third program the Peace Corps thinks I'm qualified for, and I know there's another - business development. They must think I'm a Renaissance man! Actually the danger will be if I begin thinking I'm a Renaissance man. My first thought on hearing this possibility was, "in what way do I qualify as a rural health worker?" But then I began to think of a variety of ways, especially in regard to community health programs, in which I could be effective.
I'm playing phone tag with a guy in the placement office right now, so nothing is definite yet. But if they formally offer the rural health worker job to me, I'll take it. Stay tuned….!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Peace Corps Brother(Sister)hood

The day before yesterday, the guy who owns the cottage next door left a message on my cell phone saying he’d heard I was going into the Peace Corps and going to Morocco, and he wanted to tell me that he had served in the Peace Corps – in Morocco – 40 years ago. I called him back and, during a 10 minute conversation, he said numerous times in one way or another, “you’ll love it” and “it was an amazing part of my life.” We’ve made a date later this month for me to visit him at his home in Grand Rapids, where we can talk longer. He’s also going to show me some of his Morocco memorabilia.
It’s amazing to me the profound impact Peace Corps service has on people. They proudly display those RPCV initials with date and country once they’ve returned, they join “Friend of (name your country)” groups, and they feel an immediate kinship with other people who are drawn to Peace Corps service: they just want to talk to you about it!
I’m feeling some of the same thing, and I haven’t even gone yet. In my last post I mentioned that one of the other Morocco volunteers had contacted me by email. The next day, a young guy contacted me and said he’d set up a Facebook group for us Morocco March 2011 volunteers. He already had two others. I joined and notified the woman who’d emailed me, which made five. Since then, three more have joined. I was not down in the dumps by any means, but I can’t tell you how it lifted my spirits to make contact with other folk who will embark on this Moroccan enterprise with me next March.
Names, faces, a few bits of information – already they’re real people. The demographics? Mostly young, as you would expect, early 30s or younger for all but two of us; five women, three men. I seem to be the oldster so far. We’re starting to communicate – about service, books, and about language, French, Berber, and Moroccan Arabic, the learning of which will be a major challenge and source of anxiety for many, if not all of us. We’re not friends yet (except in the Facebook sense), but it’s a start, and It’s fun!

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Steps to the beach,
looking due west,
December 2
I awoke to snow on Wednesday. Because of my cold, I’ve been letting myself sleep, and I woke up after sunrise. When I came downstairs, through the bank of west-facing windows, I saw snow had dusted the porch and ground and road and was still coming down.

We had a snow squall back on the evening of November 5th. The snow lingered on the ground, and I wondered if that was going to be the beginning of winter, but by morning it had evaporated.  Then the weather turned and the whole month of November was warm, often sunny, with temperatures approaching 70 a few times. In short, it was glorious. Of course, out here on the lake, you have to qualify that a little bit because of the wind. If there’s even a hint of coolness, a strong wind can make it downright cold.

Jack near the ice-rimmed
sag in the creek
 A friend who’d never been to this house visited me the other day. The surf was big and crashing incessantly; the wind gusted insistently out of the northwest; the sun kept poking out between the clouds and lighting the lake in incomparable blues and greens and, near the shore, where the surf churned the sand, browns. It was the kind of day we lake dwellers love – bracing, exciting even. As we were driving out of Lost Valley, my friend said to me, “I don’t know if I could live this close to the lake.”
I laughed. I could tell by his tone that it was too much for him. It’s loud, that’s for sure. But there’s more. The unceasing movement could be disturbing, and that, I think, is what got under his skin. It’s an acquired taste, probably. I wonder, having lived near the shore of Lake Michigan for 40 years, how I’ll fare in Morocco if I’m posted to a desert area, or the high Atlas Mountains. In terms of my seeking new experiences, that is probably what I should hope for. But maybe I’ll get lucky and get posted to Essaouira, or some other town on the Atlantic coast, where I’ll be able to continue to experience the weather and sounds of a huge body of water.
Right now, it is the weather, Big Lake weather, I’m attuned to. It’s my first awareness as I wake up in the morning, even before I open my eyes. I listen for the surf and can picture the lake and the shore. I listen for the wind and envision how tightly I’ll have to wrap myself when I go out. If I hear a tinkle of running water (the downspout runs down the corner of the house where my bedroom is), I know there’s a quiet rain. And then I open my eyes. Because it’s dark when I normally wake up, I don’t know what the sky will be till I take Jack out. Then I see either a big, clear sky and thousands of stars (there is little light pollution up here), or clouds scudding past, or an impenetrable black slate, and I can guess what the dawn will bring.

The creek carving a new
curve in the beach
As part of my weather watch, I’ve begun taking photos of the shore from the same place every day in two places: from the stairs down to the beach and at the creek in Meinert Park. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the photos, but it amuses me. The beach has widened considerably in the short time I’ve been here, and blowing sand has already covered four treads at the bottom of the stairs. Likewise the creek has changed too, in fact changes constantly, as it snakes across the beach. Its mouth has moved back and forth over a hundred meter stretch as wind and surf pushes the beach sand now this way, now that.
Last weekend I moved a bag of clothes I’ve been collecting to give to Goodwill. Right on top was a balaklava. Despite the generally mild weather in November, it’s been vicious enough a couple of times so that my face hurt. When I saw that balaklava, I said to myself, “Why did I ever think I should give that away yet?” and I pulled it out and put it in the closet with my gloves and scarf. I know I’ll have use for it soon. Not today, though, which was another glorious day. Though still cold enough to keep the snow from melting, there’s no wind, so it seemed almost balmy walking the beach. Made me feel almost human again.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Catching Up

I don’t seem to be very good at this blogging thing – too long between posts – but I’ll keep working at it till I get the hang of it.

Making Contact

On Monday, I came down with a cold, one of those that descend suddenly out of the blue. By evening I was pretty miserable. I cancelled a trip I had planned and hunkered down. My trip was to be a little “circle tour” to visit some friends in northern Michigan (Petoskey and Gaylord), then my brother in Detroit, and it was supposed to start Tuesday morning.

Instead on Tuesday I went into town to get some cough medicine and ginger ale and stopped at The Book Nook & Java Shop, my local bookstore and Internet café. Much to my delight, I had an email from another Peace Corps volunteer who’s been assigned to Morocco. She’d tracked me down through Google. I responded, and I also found the blog of another woman who is assigned to the same program – so that makes three of us so far! I have no idea how many of us there are to be in this group, but this is pretty cool, that three of us at least are in touch. I had never been able to make contact with any of the others assigned to the Lesotho program, even though I searched Google and Facebook. This was just the impetus I needed to write another post.

Premature Farewells

Saying goodbye was an important part of my personal agenda for October. I’d already taken care of most of the physical details for departure (though, fortunately, I hadn’t yet sold my car!), but I wanted to do everything possible to be able to say farewell to the people in my life, and I had little time between my last day of work (October 15) and my scheduled departure for Lesotho (October 31).

At my association’s trade show (October 8-10), I had the opportunity to give a valedictory at a banquet on the first evening, but there were many other occasions as well, including, of course, serendipitous encounters. And a number of people gave me impromptu tributes, which was flattering. There seemed to be a theme to their comments:
·         My laugh – I do have a distinctive laugh, kind of dorky if I’m really amused (think “Revenge of the Nerds”), but they were really saying that I laugh easily. I liked that.
·         My calm – However they said it - “unruffled ” or “a steady hand” or “calm in a crisis” - that that trait of mine stood out to them was particularly gratifying to me
Now, many of those people were expecting to see postings from Africa by this time. Believe me, it wasn’t my fault!

A good friend had organized a farewell dinner for me for the 17th of October.  I got the call cancelling the Lesotho program the evening of the 13th. I didn’t want to hold the dinner under false pretenses, but I also wasn’t sure we could reach all of them in time to cancel. The next day, after an exchange of emails, we decided to go ahead with the dinner anyway. After all, I was still going into the Peace Corps sometime, and besides, she’d already ordered the cake! So, a few days later, over 30 of my friends and I broke bread together. I was able to bring them up to date, and they were able to kid me a little. It was a lot of fun. But what about when I actually go…?

My younger son, Joe (who is a junior pursuing a BFA in painting at Western Michigan), and I had planned a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago on the 29th, as our last day together before my departure. I called to tell him about the Lesotho cancellation and suggested we keep our date anyway. He was emphatic about doing so, so on that Friday morning, I drove the two and a half hours down to Kalamazoo and picked him up and we turned west to Chicago. The particular occasion was the reinstallation of the Chagall Windows, which had been removed five years earlier. As a member, I was able to get us in for a members preview and a lecture about the windows, which had been commissioned specifically for the museum. Additionally, now that I had been assigned to Morocco, I was hoping I might see Moroccan period pieces by two of my favorite painters, Matisse and Delacroix. Unfortunately, the AIC doesn’t have any of those in their holdings, but we did get to see the windows. We even had our pictures taken by AIC staff as we were looking at the windows! We also saw a really interesting installation on the grand staircase of the museum – the words are from a speech given by a Muslim scholar at the Columbia Exposition in the late 1800s – words about mutual understanding and peace. So appropriate for these times and for my entering the Peace Corps!