In March, Jim Dana left his home of 40 years in Michigan to become a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. The contents of this blog are his personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government, the Kingdom of Morocco, or the Peace Corps.
I’ve been remiss in making posts to this blog. Good reasons – I always have good reasons – but you don’t want to hear my excuses. Today, I’ll try to bring you up-to-date on my life for the past five weeks, saving details on my work and travels for separate posts.
The Travel Bug
It’s a kind of illness – a delicious kind of illness – this travel bug. When I got back from my vacation on the Atlantic coast in early January, I fully expected to launch into my work and get a lot done. It turns out I was not as productive as I’d expected to be. The trip had rejuvenated me, yes, but it also infected me with the travel bug. I spent a lot of time researching and planning future vacations – Central Europe (Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Budapest), Turkey and the Balkans, sub-Saharan Africa. At least one of those trips I will surely take. Others will remain – like most thoughts of travel – on the shelf of dreams.
Sulayman decorates a star
In mid-January, I had a baking party with my host sisters. They’re very good cooks, but for a variety of reasons do little baking, except for bread, which they bake every morning. They loved the cookies I served at our Christmas celebration and made me promise to show them how to make them. On January 22, Aicha, Ouardia, Fatima, and Sadiya, along with her children Sulayman and Ayman, came to my house. I served them lunch of chili and corn bread. Corn bread they’re familiar with. The chili was new, but they loved it – it has lots of meat, after all! And then we spent the rest of the day making oatmeal cookies and baking and decorating Christmas cookies. What fun!
The Marrakesh Half-Marathon
Adam and me after the race
Near the end of the month, a PCV friend, Adam Richie-Halford, and I went to Marrakesh. The first two days, we worked at Marche Maroc, an event put on several times a year by PCVs in the Small Business Development sector for the artisans they work with. There were workshops in the morning; in the afternoon, the artisans sold their wares from booths set up on the margins of the famous Djemaa el-Fna. On the third day, Adam and I ran the Marrakesh Half-marathon. It’s the longest race I’ve run in many a year. I was happy with my result – I finished, I never walked, and though I felt the effects for the next day or so, I had no injuries. And I ran a respectable time for me – 2:09:05, a little under a 10-minute per mile pace.
When I got back home, my family was very interested in my photos and my participation medal. “What place did you get?” one asked. I didn’t understand. “First, second, third…?” “Oh, two thousandth,” I replied (actually, I lied a little – it was more like 2,164th, but that number was too difficult for me to figure out how to say). First, there was a look of incredulity, then a roomful of laughter. The look of incredulity surprised me a little. What did they expect from a 67-year old? But then I think of people’s reaction to me when I’m out running in the country. They often will point out a short-cut to me, or invite me to stop for tea. I think most of them have a hard time grasping that I’m running in order to run, not to get somewhere. By the same token, I think my family had a hard time grasping why I would run in a race if I wasn’t trying to win. But they liked the medal and the pictures.
My Moroccan Hoodie
Me in my bespoke tajlabit
Every now and then through this cold dry winter, I’ve seen a tajlabit made of a salt & pepper weave fabric (ašhعabi) that I really liked. Whenever I asked where I could get one, people would tell me I needed to look in a fabric store. I did that, to no avail. But while I was working at Marche Maroc, I made some purchases to help support the artisans. I’d just bought a bottle of argan oil for my host mother and father, and I looked up and saw a bundle of fabric in the adjacent booth. It was just what I’d been looking for. I went over and admired it. It turned out it was made from hand-carded, hand-spun, hand-dyed, and hand-woven wool. I asked her if it was enough to make a tajlabit. Yes, she said, three meters, the standard. I bought it. When I got home, my host father took me to the tailor he goes to. After some oohing and aahing from the tailor, which reassured me about the fabric, he took my measurements. Three days later, I had my own salt & pepper, winter-weight tajlabit. There was enough fabric left over for him to make a hat (tarbush) for me. I’ve never had a hand-tailored piece of clothing before, but now I have a completely hand-made piece. I can tell you, it’s quite warm as well as handsome.