Monday, June 27, 2011

My New House

My house revolves around this
nine-meter square courtyard

On Sunday morning, I took possession of my new house then spent the rest of the day with several of my host sisters and brothers cleaning. I’ve included some pictures and a plan drawing, roughly to scale, except that it doesn’t include the thickness of the walls, which are nearly two feet thick. It’s basically a square, built around a courtyard with an opening to the sky and a raised garden in the middle, where I hope to plant mint for tea and some herbs for cooking.

The two large rooms are roughly 40 x 9 feet. I jokingly call them my bowling alleys. And maybe I will turn one into a bowling alley for an “American Night” sometime. I plan to use one of them for a public room – dining and living – the other for my bedroom, office, and storage. The entryway is large, a room in its own right. The kitchen is empty except for butagaz fueled range (the only one I’ve seen in Morocco) left by the previous tenant. I spent a lot of time cleaning it yesterday, and I don’t even know if it works yet. The bathroom consists of a Turkish toilet (or squat toilet – two footprints and a hole in the floor), as is common here. Spent a lot of time cleaning that yesterday, too.

I visited the house after breakfast this morning (it’s only about a 3 minute walk from my host family’s house), and it was cool and inviting. I liked it. The challenge now is to turn the house into a home. It’s a big space – too big for the budget we Peace Corps volunteers have – but I have some ideas, and I’ll give you visual updates over time. For the next few days, my task is to make the essential purchases and get them delivered so that I can be reasonably self-sufficient by the time I move in on Friday, July 1.

My front door, with newly repaired steps

The entryway with window to kitchen

Lane 1: The Salon
Lane 2: Bedroom, Workroom, & Storage

The kitchen, with windows to courtyand and to entryway
Needs no explanation

The Floor Plan

A view from my roof: Looking east to the Saghro Mountains
A view from my roof: Looking west over the Dades Valley to
Kalaa and the Atlas Mountains 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Triplets, and I Missed ‘Em

Three new lambs at our house, shortly after birth
When I got home today, I discovered I’d just missed an exciting event: the birth of triplet lambs. Apparently, they were a bit tangled up, so the vet was called in. In any case, they’re doing fine. They were still a bit wobbly on their feet when I got home and snapped this picture.


Can't Stop Itchin' 'Em

I know the picture's blurry, but I think you can still make out
the constellation of bites on my forearm.
The critter that PCVs worry most about here is scorpions. They have a mythical virulence. But you learn to check your shoes before you put them on and shake out loose clothing or towels before using them. I have yet to see a scorpion.

Flies abound, but they don’t seem as big or bad as the ones in the U.S. I’ve made my peace with the flies.

But there is another bug that just appeared that plagues me. Last week I was at a regional meeting. A PCV from way up in the mountains showed up with bites all over his arms. “What is it?” we asked. He said he didn’t know, but he was getting bit all over his arms and legs. Just to make him feel better, we began to speculate: Was it bedbugs? Fleas? Lice?

Then I came home. And suddenly I was getting bit, too: arms, legs, ears. I had no idea what was after me, but the bites sure do itch. My host mom occasionally slapped my hands away while I was scratching, as if I were a child. But that didn’t help. What I’ve discovered – to paraphrase Shakespeare – is that a noseeum by any other name (baa’ut, in this case) still itches the same. It’s maddening. I asked my host family how long they stick around. “All summer!” they said.

So I went into Kalaa today to the pharmacy in search of 2 things: some anti-itch preparation, which I found, and insect repellent, which I also found and which has the wonderful name, Repulsiya – sounds like a spell right out of Harry Potter. We’ll see. If it fails, my only hope, I guess, is to make peace with these critters, too. What do you think are the chances of that?


Other News

Me, on the front steps of my new house.
I got my “Autorisation” this week so that I can work in the schools here. That’s another one of the bureaucratic hurdles out of the way. Now I can focus on creating lesson plans during the summer to get ready for the fall school year.

But the big news is that Peace Corps finally approved the house I found. We went through it last Saturday and made a punch list of things that needed to be fixed. Top on the list? Screens! Next on the list: fix the front step. I will gain access to it on the 26th and move in on July 1. I’ll tell you more about it and show pictures soon.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Bridge Is Back

The bridge today
Last Friday, after nearly a week without our footbridge, the water receded enough so we could work to rebuild it. A group that ranged between 20 and 40 mostly young people (teenage to 30) gathered at the river and began the hard work of hauling the original log and plank span back into a workable position somewhat downstream from its earlier location, then filling plastic feed bags with rocks and “rockbagging,” not sandbagging, the approaches. By evening, foot traffic was again moving across the river.

There are four pelicans roosting on our mosque. That's
a fig tree in the foreground.

It’s considered good luck to have a pelican roost at your mosque, so they’re never removed if they nest on the minaret. During the week I used the main road instead of the footpath, I passed this mosque every trip.

Here, most outside doors are steel. They often weather in beautiful ways. Here’s one near my soon-to-be new home.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

We've Lost Our Bridge!

When I went home last Monday, about half a foot of water was washing over the approach to the auto bridge. The tranzit went ahead anyway. I was a little nervous, but it worked out all right. We must have been one of the last vehicles through. The bridge was closed a little later, and stayed closed for the next 36 hours.

When I got back to my village, I walked down to the river to see how our footbridge was holding up, but it was gone! And the river, which is usually a blue-green stream about 10 yards across, was a red torrent about 75 yards across. Since then, the water has receded a bit. The footbridge is reemerging about 15 yards downstream.

The river yesterday as waters receded. A part of the footbridge lifts its head
out of the wtaer in upper midstream.
It will be interesting to see when and how it will be replaced. It’s an essential communication link. Most of the foot, bicycle, and motorbike traffic from my village depend on it to get to Kalaa, our market town. The trip by footpath is about 4 km, as opposed to 7 km by road. The high school students from town all use it, sometimes twice a day, depending on their schedules. And I use it, too. I much prefer to walk rather than using the (public) tranzit. I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Life is Good

A lone sunflower (so far) shines from my host family's garden
I’ve been on the job for a little over a week now, and I feel I’ve been pretty productive:

·         With some other volunteers, I went to the provincial capital of Tinghir and met with the delegue of the Ministry of Health and took care of some paperwork necessary for my work as a Rural Health Educator
·         We also had a meeting with some high school teachers in a nearby town who have started a Leadership Academy to see if there are ways that we Peace Corps volunteers can be involved
·         I applied for my carte de sejour (similar to the American green card), necessary for me to live and work here legally over the next two years
·         I met with the principal of the local middle school. He gave me a warm welcome and said he looked forward to working with me on health education and English in the coming school year
·         I visited the adbib (doctor, or PA) at the local clinic. We still haven’t gotten quite to point where he accepts me as officially attached to the sbitar, but that will come in time – and it’s essential, since he is my counterpart, my immediate supervisor here in Morocco.
·         To move that along, I met with the administrator of the hospital in Kalaa today, so that he would provide the necessary permissions and notifications to my local clinic
·         I had the first tutoring session with my new tutor, and we hit it off. I discovered that he is a Berber activist. With my own commitment to free speech, his efforts to gain recognition and equal status for Berber, his native language in his native country, resonated deeply with me
·         And I’ve begun teaching English. There’s a group of young women I’ve met with three times already. I also started with my host brother, a dagger-maker, who wants English for his shop in the dagger-maker’s cooperative. When school gets out in two weeks, I’ll start tutoring some middle school students in conversational English for the summer

It's been raining a lot lately. A week ago the Dades rose
enough to make our footbridge impassable. This morning
it was just inches from washing over the bridge on the only
road connecting our town to Kalaa.
I’ve been productive, but a little more relaxed, too.

·         I’m sleeping a little later in the morning (till 6:30 or 7:00). Those 11:00 p.m. dinners are just too hard on me.
·         I’ve been catching up on my Tamazight
·         I’ve been able to read a little more, thank God. During PST (pre-service training) I was only able to read two books, Just Kids and A Million Little Pieces. I’ve read Ender’s Game, An Incident in the Life of a Landscape Painter, and Tintin and Alpha-Art in the 10 days since.
·         I go for a run every other day, and I walk quite a bit every day – one to two hours.
·         And I spend a little more time with my family and talking to other people in the community.

Bullet points don’t capture a life, of course, but they can provide context. I’ve become ever closer to members of my host family. I’ve found some good friends in a few of the younger kids in the community. Despite my still limited language skills, we laugh a lot.

Just so you know how I feel – life is good.