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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The First Two Weeks


I have been in my site for two weeks now and am beginning to settle in nicely. My service got off to an inauspicious start with a solid week of Dysentery (yes, like Oregon Trail) and went be with very little accomplished by yours truly. I stayed in bed, went to the bathroom every half-hour (which is not easy; squatting is difficult when you’re dehydrated), and watched TV on my computer. A course of hardcore antibiotics cleared me up and I am feeling great now, although I have no false hopes of staying this way for long. But hey, while I am well, I should write a blog entry! So, after my first wasted week of dysentery induced fog, here is a full report on week 2!


I started my week with two days of traveling to Errachidia for a two hour meeting with other volunteers concerning our evacuation plan (just in case…). Traveling involved a four and a half hour transit (Mercedes Van) ride from my site to my souq town and then a one hour taxi ride from there. I enjoyed seeing my friends again, especially two of my CBT mates (you know who you are!). We talked and had our meeting, and hung out in the Café Imichil, which has extensive shady gardens and serves chilled banana juice, which is as good as it sounds. I ate a wonderful sandwich from one of the vendors near the bus station; it was fresh bread (a round, cut in half like a pita) and stuffed with eggs, something like sausage, fried potatoes, and spices. This was made even more sublime by the fact that it was the first real food I had eaten after a week of malnourishment!

My friends and I stayed with another volunteer in a town south of Errachidia; located in the Sahara just north of Erg Chebbi. Our hostess was (is) an excellent cook and we enjoyed a dinner of made-from-scratch Buffalo Chicken Pizza! It was absolutely incredible and made better by the fact that the only hard cheese available in this part of Morocco is Edam, which is amazing anywhere.

The next morning, after an unsuccessful attempt to get my internet renewed (yes, I live in unimaginable hardship…) I was informed I needed a Cartes du Sejour which is a form of identification proving residence in Morocco. These are very difficult to get; more on that later. So, I shrugged off the general frustration of failure and went to breakfast at a high end “French” café and breakfasted with other volunteers from the region on runny (and delightful) eggs, pastries, and juice. Afterward, as I walked down the street toward the bus station I realized that this was the first time I had been completely alone and independent in a third-world city, and that I was actually comfortable with that. The throngs of people didn’t bother me and I enjoyed some urban anonymity for awhile (anonymity in my site is completely impossible; i.e. “fishbowl effect”). Then I saw a familiar face in a Café, it was a man from my village that now lives in my souq town. My predecessor introduced me to him days before and now here he was in Errachidia. I said hello (in Tamazight) and we had a short conversation before I continued on my way; two months and Morocco is already getting smaller.

I bought a bus ticket with no problems and rode the hour to my souq town. The bus was nearly empty, which was unusual, and I enjoyed having my window open with no locals around to protest the “bad luck and illness” brought in by the wind. After the bus ride (I will never get over that stretch of road, it’s breathtaking) I arrived just in time to reserve my spot on the last Transit of the day, which is something you have to do about an hour before departure. It’s an honor system, all you have to do is leave a belonging in the seat you wish to claim and nobody will move it until you get back. This can be a book or plastic bag and occasionally a vegetable of some kind. I went to get some yogurt (I am trying to do right by my antibiotic ravaged intestines) and returned just in time to grab my seat. I am glad I arrived early to claim a spot; at one point during the ride I counted 21 people inside the transit, with a few more on top. Needless to say, it was grinding up the hills and, in the Atlas, there are many of those to contend with.

I arrived back in my village and realized that, for the first time, I was alone in my site with the added benefit of being well. I went to my future apartment and sat for awhile, taking in the quiet, and then walked up the hill to my family’s house. I enjoyed dinner (mashed potatoes, Ait Hadiddou style) and after some conversation and some tea (which keeps getting better, the conversation, not the tea; that’s always good) I went to bed. I slept late because my shutters were closed and woke up refreshed. I had breakfast of coffee and bread and enjoyed conversing with my host mom. The rest of my day consisted of a trip to the post office and a trip to the Gendarmes where I learned what I needed to acquire my all important Cartes du Sejour. Otherwise I spent the afternoon napping and writing letters; I figure if I can just accomplish one or two things a day, at least at the beginning, I am doing well.

The next day, today, was great. I slept not quite so late this time and had breakfast like before. I took a shower after breakfast and spent the morning doing laundry, a chore which was supervised closely by my host mom. After hanging the clothes out to dry, I finished my lengthy letter to my best friend (in response to his equally lengthy work) and walked to the Post office to mail it. Before I left I found, quite unexpectedly, the missing document that was needed to apply for my Cartes du Sejour, a document that I was not supposed to have yet and that I thought I had to go back to Errachidia to obtain! I immediately went to the Gendarmes and after a long wait, one round of tea with the officers, and a few miscellaneous errands , I was all set.

After this, I walked down the street toward the center of town, greeting people in my broken Tamazight, until I spotted my host father in a Café on the side road. I sat down with him and one of his friends later joined us. We talked about Imilchil, about the weather, our work, basic guy stuff really. I left after having coffee and went back to the house for dinner.

Imichil is looking like it will be a great site and I am eager to settle in and find my place here!

Thanks again for reading,