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Thursday, April 1, 2010

The First Month...

Much has happened since my last posting three weeks ago. I stayed in Ayt Gmat with my CBT group for roughly 12 days before returning to Ouarzazate for more shots (I can no longer get rabies!) and some overall group training. I then returned to Ayt Gmat for 6 days before coming back to Ouarzazate for the same reason as before. Another 12 day stint and I will return again, this time to learn the location of my final site (VERY important) and then spend the next week traveling to the site and staying there solo for a week to check things out; Peace Corps Morocco does not like surprises. After that, there is one more week of training and then a swearing in ceremony on May 3rd, service begins on May 5th. This is when my address will change!!

Thanks for all of the letters! They have been a joy to read and I have unfortunately been able to reply to only a few of them so far. Send me a letter whenever you think of it, I enjoy catching up on your lives back in the states. I have been learning as much language as I can hold, although Tamaziġt Berber is still extremely difficult. It’s coming right along though, and I am confident that I can achieve fluency in the first year of service. I have been sick; I knew it would happen and, now that it’s over, I am somewhat relieved that I am past that milestone. Sure it will happen again, but that first time of huddling ill and alone in the middle of the night in a bathroom with no toilet—that at least is over with. Unfortunately, it was on top of a chest cold that was fairly nasty as well. Welcome to Morocco, immune system!

I feel that I am learning much more about the culture of Morocco, piece by piece, one experience at a time, and there have been many experiences here’s an example:

A walk

My host sister Hayat, her best friend Hoodia, my little sister Nouhayla, and Anton a volunteer from a nearby village (who is learning Arabic instead of Tam) are accompanying me on a long walk through the fields to the Kasbah. All of the Peach and Plum trees are in full, fragrant bloom and the Almonds and Figs are just beginning to show small green fruits between their leaves. The air is full of farm smells and birdsong and the sun is bright overhead. The Kasbah looms ahead and I head down the path to pass under it and continue to the river, only to be stopped by my host sister who motions me to follow her through ancient wooden door, which is hidden in the shadows. I duck through the low portal and follow her into the first room where an iron pot is suspended inches above a cold hearth by a great chain, which is fastened securely to the vaulted ceiling. The room is dimly lit by a sunbeam that shafts in from a high window and by its rich golden light I can see over a hundred handprints lining the walls. My companions are quiet and lead me into the second room.

Here there are more shafts of light illuminating an earth and cement well in the center of the room a rope leads down into the depths and the pulley creaks as Hayat raises the dripping bucket and drinks deeply of the cool sweet water. Anton and I do not partake, we are still afraid of untreated water, regardless the source. The remaining water is poured out on the floor where it runs into a small drain that leads outside. Hayat returns the bucket to its place and leads me through a third door. This room is full of light; the ceiling is high and coated with cracked, white plaster. This white columns support the roof and are interconnected by graceful arches of stone. Dusty prayer rugs and reed mats lay strewn about, but the place is clean and kept up; it is obviously used. A quick little wave of foreboding rushes through my insides, as I realize that this is likely a holy place and that I, as a white, American Christian, am likely not welcome. At the same time the girls decide it is time to leave and we slip away unnoticed; my heart pounds but I am still excited about the gift I had been given and the piece of history I had been shown.

The girls continue to lead me toward the river. Dappled sunlight filters through the Date Palms and the fields grow closer together. The river comes into view, a muddy brown torrent of spring runoff from the Atlas high above. A rudimentary wooden footbridge leads across to another village of earthen houses clustered around the minaret of a central mosque. The women who are doing their laundry in a small waterfall at beside the bridge look up briefly as we pass and a couple wave, they are too far away to exchange a spoken greeting and it is questionable as to whether they would actually speak to me in any case. The gender divide is more apparent in some places than others.

Another Kasbah rises to our left, crowned with a gigantic Stork nest atop one of the ruined towers; we make our way over between massive Tamarisk trees and enter through a low door. While massive, almost six stories in places, this Kasbah is in worse shape than the last one and there are no subterranean rooms to explore here. It is also filled with trash of every kind, and I realize with regret that a site like this in the States or Europe would be a protected historic site, as opposed to a landfill.

Instead of walking back as I expect us too at this point, the girls keep walking through the woods until we abruptly enter another village. My bewilderment increases even more when I realize I, not only do not know where we are headed, but that I don’t even possess the linguistic prowess to ask where we are going. We stop next to a high concrete building and Hoodia pounds on the door. A woman pokes her head out of one of the windows on the upper floor and asks what we want and, upon seeing Hayat and Hoodia, rushes down the stairs to let us in. We enter and walk up the steps; I note that the building is unfurnished but filled with drying Alfalfa plants on every surface. We end up in a small upper room filled with Berber women sorting through wheat kernels with sieves. Hayat and Hoodia promptly join the women in their task, and Anton and I stand there confused about just about everything. Suddenly two rickety chairs are brought in and we sit to watch. I speak briefly with several of the women about their general well being and exchange the formal greeting. There is lots of hand shaking and stifled laughter at my ill-pronounced Tamaziġt greeting but I feel that I am understood by all. Tea is brought in and served with a mass of dried dates, likely grown within fifty miles of this spot, and we stay for a long while watching the wheat sorting, not daring to take part as a man doing women’s work in this culture invites shame.

This is just one of many cultural experiences that I am bombarded with on a constant basis and with even greater frequency as my language continues to improve. I have been on more walks since then, some longer, some shorter, most involving tea somewhere. Speaking of tea, it is amazing here; sweet mint tea seems to be the cure for any ill and is appropriate at any time of day. I have found the coffee to be less than adequate, as it is often weak and milky. Not a fan. But I brought a French Press with me so if can acquire my own coffee, I can prepare it well.

I have started running again and enjoy the constant panorama of rugged mountains that glow with an ethereal light in the early mornings; I couldn’t ask for a prettier country to serve in for Peace Corps. Well that’s about it for now. It’s my birthday today and I have received lots of comments and actual mail from a few of you guys, thanks for the good wishes! The other PCTs surprised me with a cake. So, like last year, I was given a mystery dessert by people I just met in a place utterly foreign to me. (Last year it was North Carolina).

I’ll post my final assignment as soon as I know more. All I have been told is that they are deciding between the Flyfishing mecca of Ifrane and the remote Eastern High-atlas near Errachidia. I was also told that I need to make sure I have all of my camping gear together because I will be spending the night out as I travel on foot between villages. Incredible, I have no idea what they actually want me to do! Exciting!

Until next time, write me some letters, and contact my Dad if you have any questions about my address: .