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Friday, July 23, 2010

Day by Day: a Week in the Village

I am trying something new in this entry and will attempt piece together a series of short entries over the course of a full week rather than one long entry at the week’s end.

Monday: 07/19/2010

It is so quiet this morning. I was awake at 6:15 and in my running gear 10 minutes later. My run is only a couple of miles to begin with, as I get back into the swing of things, readjusting to altitude, and rouse my body from its state of atrophy. When I stepped outside, the sun had not yet crested the mountaintop at the eastern edge of the valley, yet the clouds were alight with shifting shades of gold and palest pink. No one was about, as I ran across the patchwork of tiny fields, save one man several fields from the road that was already hard at work.
It is almost harvest time here and the wheat hangs heavy on the stalk. Some fields are already cut and the grain stands stacked in sheaves, giving off a smell not unlike freshly mown hay. The river flows by in the distance, marked by a line of stately poplars, the only trees in the valley. The bare mountainsides rear suddenly behind the river, their folded flanks rising and undulating high above the village. The mating pair of storks that live on the minaret of the mosque soar silently over the fields in search of breakfast, followed closely by their two fledglings which are now nearly the size of their parents.
I am now running even with the “college” which is the equivalent of an American highschool; it is a new-looking government building, painted yellow. No students now, mid-summer, but in the fall I may pick up where the previous volunteer left off and do some Environmental Education classes here. Who knows? Too much to think about now. I see a man seated on the side of the road and I recognize my friend Khalid, I say “good morning” in Berber (sbah lxir) and continue running. I am sure I’ll have a chance to talk to him later in a CafĂ©. I continue running with the fields on one side and a cliff on the other. A few dump trucks shatter the silence by trundling sleepily past, but the disruption is short lived and I am alone and unmolested until my watch beeps and I turn around.
Back at my house, I turn on John Denver and open all the windows. Americans are known in the region for playing our music too loud so I embrace the stereotype. I light the stove and put on a kettle for coffee, then I head up the stairs to the roof. The roof door opens with a bang like a gunshot which has frightened a fair share of houseguests over the past month; it’s loud but it has ceased to startle me. I step out on the roof and feel close my eyes as the sun hits my face; I look around. The sun has lit the tops of the poplars by the river and the banded cliffs south of the town. Looking west the ruin of a Berber fortress, also lit by the sun, cuts a sharp profile against the distant mountains at the end of the valley; the mountains are half in sunlight and half covered by cloud shadows. Nearer to me, the spire of the mosque rises from the chaos of mud and cement buildings and the storks have returned to their nest there with whatever breakfast they had been able to find.
After a satisfying workout, I make breakfast between my final sets. My breakfast is very simple but satisfying, to say the least. If you wish to duplicate it, here you go: First get a couple tablespoons of the smoothest Olive Oil that you can find and heat it in a frying pan. Next crack 3 eggs into the pan and turn the heat to medium, cook unit the whites are no longer runny and but the yolks are still move when you shake the pan. Slide it carefully onto a plate and season liberally with salt and pepper. Leave the fork in the drawer and opt instead to eat Moroccan style and get a tear a hunk off of a round of fresh bread, the crustier, the better. If you’re in Durango, go to Bread bakery! Using the bread, and your right hand, (not your left, this is important) eat the eggs . Chase with fruit yogurt or, better still, a few cold slices of cantaloupe; which, in this country, is green. This goes great with coffee too.
Well, I need to attend to the rest of my day. I have a site inspection from a Peace Corps employee today or tomorrow and I need to go to the post office. Ar askka, inchallah (Until tomorrow, God willing).
Around sunset I took a long walk which began with a tea invitation from one of my favorite elderly Berber ladies, Fatima, who greets me every day and is one of the few women that talks to me on a regular basis. She led me up a cool, dim staircase into a small salon deep within her lovely mud house. She served me tea, cakes, and peanuts and I talked with her and later her granddaughter who came by. For the first time I felt at home in this village and basked in the Moroccan hospitality; I will have tea here again, I have a feeling.
My walk took me far up the road by the river and I wound back through the laden wheat fields and through thick groves of Poplar and Weeping Willow that I hadn’t the slightest notion existed in this place. It was refreshing and I saw people who knew me; what’s more, not one child asked me for anything. It was a good walk all around.

Tuesday: 7/20/2010

I woke up late this morning and it affected the rest of my day, most of which I spent inside. On the one trip I made outdoors, I was waylaid by two arab men (you can tell them fairly easily in a Berber) village. They were grilling me in French and Arabic about something I think pertaining to me being a tourist and what hotel I was staying in. I was frustrated by the whole exchange and told them several times that I don’t speak French and when I tried Tam they looked at me as though I had grown a second head. I finally managed to grab a nearby boy (one of my neighbors) who I spoke to in Tam and who then translated to the men that I was actually even less of a tourist than they were and lived here in the village. I think they were with some tourism agency or something, I never figured it out, but at least they deigned to leave me alone at this point. The boy, whose name was Murad, invited me in for lunch. I declined, but will go back later to be neighborly.
I didn’t do much of anything for the rest of the day, and stayed in my house, feeling alone and very American. I watched a couple of movies and talked with some friends back home while on Skype. I didn’t really begin to feel like myself until I spoke with my friend in Peace Corps Paraguay who related the advice to me that we all have days like this, and you simply have to roll with them and let them wash over you, because tomorrow will be better. I hope so.

Wednesday: 7/21/2010

I woke up at 8 or 9 this morning and made eggs and coffee, determined to have an easygoing day to myself and to get my house ready for company as several of my fellow volunteers had things to do in my village and I was going to have to go down the mountain to Rich to meet with my Ministry of Water and Forests “counterpart”. I was informed that morning that my counterpart had been transferred and I no longer had one; needless to say, spending four hours in the Mercedes van was suddenly not necessary. The Peace Corps employee who had driven all the way from Rabat said she would be in my village tomorrow and I am just to stay here until then.
I decide to do laundry instead. I fill up several tubs of water in my bathroom and proceed to wash all of my garments by hand, one at a time. It is tiring and time consuming, but I think I will get the hang of it eventually. I load my clothes into bag and haul them to the roof where I hang them on the clothesline. The only garment I have that is still clean is one pair of boxer shorts and my brown Jelaba which I am currently wearing.
I stop to look out over the fields and at the puffy white cumulus clouds building over the mountains. I it is calm and quiet, with only a slight breeze stirring the poplars by the river and the willows where I had walked on Monday. Women walk to and from the fields, their domain by rote immemorial, but up in my valley, the men work too especially as the wheat begins to harvested. I see it laying cut in the fields, or stacked in sheaves; waiting to be loaded onto patient mules and donkeys who have walked these fields so long that they need only a gentle tab to send them on their way to the house. In between the wheat fields are the flowers of potato plants and small apple orchards whose floors are planted with lush alfalfa. All this will be cut, used, or harvested in some way before the snows come in November and the valley will be as barren as the surrounding hills until the land re-emerges (along with me) the following spring.
I like the feel of the soft jelaba against my skin and realize just how well made it is, not bad for 150 DH. I go downstairs and clean for awhile, alternating with reading or playing mandolin. I go upstairs again to check my laundry and notice threatening clouds above the mountains, most rainstorms last for only a minute or two so I don’t worry too much and go back downstairs. About a half-hour later the sky opens wide and rain begins to beat down on my roof. I run up to my roof in my Jelaba to gather my laundry. It is raining sideways in merciless, stinging drops. And soon my Jelaba is sticking to my bare back and I am shivering. I take my laundry downstairs and hang it from every surface of my apartment; literally, doorknobs and doors, nails, drawers, everything.
My jelaba gets hung up as well and I sit shivering in one of my blankets on a ponj. I try to read and eventually just take a nap as the storm subsides. I get up sometime later and don some dry clothes and go out to buy ingredients for the dinner I am planning to make. I get back and try to make tea, realizing that I am out of butane. As it transpires, so is the rest of the village, so I trudge back to my apartment and call my friend who agrees to bring some with him on the transit later.
When my company finally arrives, all volunteers from the “mountain” as we call it, they bring in bags of food and the butane tank and I get to cooking. I don’t have much experience cooking, nothing but a few signature dishes, and I was flying blind on this attempt. But I just started throwing ingredients in the pot and before I knew it I had an entire chicken in the pressure cooker and was mixing up a green chili “roux”. I combined my ingredients, no measuring or recipe, and then shredded the chicken. It turned out to be an amazing Green Chili Stew with just the right balance of spice and flavor to it. I was thrilled and can’t wait to try out another recipe. I threw the chicken leavings back into the pressure cooker and left it to boil into stock.
We ate all of the stew as my friend Molly made a wonderful barbeque chicken pizza which we ate with cookies and coke. A good meal all around. We stayed up and talked for hours about our villages and our homes in America, friends and foods we missed, and interesting things we had seen. I came to confirm what I already suspected; that we have an awesome crew of people here on my mountain and that this next year I have a feeling we will be there for eachother and ready to hop on a transit at a moment’s notice.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, I will mention it here: Peace Corps has a wonderful social circle. Volunteers as a rule are kind and giving people and we are influenced both by our volunteerism and the hospitality that we are learning from our surrounding Moroccans, which is like Southern hospitality, but magnified. Imagine how much more we would know about eachother if we invited in passerby for tea and trusted our fellow countrymen enough to accept such invitations. These are commonplace here and issued without guile; there is even a specific hand-wave that people will do at passing cars that literally means “stop, and come in to drink tea with me”. We could learn a lot from these people.
I feel that my fellow Americans here in Morocco help to keep eachother sane and give us shoulder’s to cry on that have had similar experiences. Until you finish your two years, there are always volunteers that have been here longer than you that you lean on for experience and advice. We are all here for eachother and I look forward to many more evenings like this one.

Thursday: 7/22/2010

We all woke up late and slept well, no mishaps or sudden illnesses, so that is certainly a good thing. I staggered groggily out of my room and put on some coffee everyone; breakfast was a simple affair of yogurt and different kinds of fruit. We sat around a discussed our plans for the day and I shared that a Peace Corps employee would soon be here to do my “site check”.
I get a call from her a short time later and go outside to meet her. She is surprised, but unfazed, by the unexpected houseful of Americans. I make some Moroccan tea, which I think is pretty terrible; I suck at making Moroccan tea. But she dutifully drinks it and we go to have lunch with my host family up on the hill. It is my host father and mother with the baby, along with my host sister Fatima; the boys are at a relative’s house in another village for the weekend. Tea (better tea) and salted peanuts, followed by a small tajine for lunch; it is strange to see the room I had slept in for 2 months converted into a living room instead.
The Peace Corps liaison leaves shortly after lunch and tells me that I am integrating well. I walk back to my messy and still people-filled house and settle down to hang out some more. The water is done for the day so we really needed to scrounge for the water to clean the kitchen with, but we take care of it eventually. I put part of the stock in the fridge and the rest in the freezer for use later.
People left the house one by one, the last was my nearest neighbor who caught the last transit of the day and sped off down the mountain to her site. I spend a little more time out in the village and then went back to the house to begin the process of cleaning up. I am alone again, but it’s not as sharp as it was a few days ago. When dinnertime rolls around I get out the stock in the fridge and combine it with spaghetti noodles and some fresh vegetables and more spices to create some amazing chicken noodle soup that I eat before going to bed.

Friday: 07/23/2010

I get up late again and groggily go about making coffee and breakfast which ends up being 3 eggs sunny-side up and hashbrowns. It is excellent and wakes me up quite well. I go out into my village to go to the store; today is the first of the two souq days (no, I don’t expect to sleep tonight), and the town is flooded with hundreds of people I don’t know, and don’t need to know so I go home. The day was largely uneventful and I spent it cleaning and organizing things in my life in preparation for the 2 week training in Azrou that starts on Sunday. I will leave tomorrow on the transit and spend a night with a friend in Rich and then take a 5 hour bus from there. Nothing further to report on this quiet day save the fact that I made delicious marinara sauce from scratch!
Well, that is one week in my site and I will go ahead and post this entry now as I may not have time to later on during training next week.

As always, thanks for reading,