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Swimming!

Today I went swimming, and I’ll be honest it was not my first time swimming in Baknou, but today I went with my neighbors, I may have come away with some slight heatstroke, but it was completely worth it!

 

First off the three neighbor girls (Yemina, Malika, and Hannan) told me about this little excursion two days ago. They told me they had gone on friday, and I could tag along on monday if I wanted to. So I woke up early, went to market, talked the transit driver into heading home with 8 seats empty and rushed over to the neighbors, they were just about to leave. We loaded up the donkeys (that’s right I also got to go on a donkey ride!) with carpets, wool, and ungrounded wheat (really anything that needed washing) and headed out. 20 minutes later we were at a secluded little section of the river, apparently known as the River Hamam Spot for Women. We washed, we swam, we hamamed (in our skivvies), and it was one of the best days I have had in this country.

 

Anyway’s now you know what I do … on special days, and hopefully from now on weekly!

The Hot Sun

Let me tell you a little about my life recently. It has been amazing and wonderful and sad, and it has made me realize my own depravity, and the love that I believe is in all of us. In the last few months I have been so busy it really took me by surprise, it was such a blessing after a cold, long, slow winter. Imagine what winter was like in the states 100 years ago, and though it was not quite as cold here (probably average 35/40 F) I think it would be somewhat similar. Families close up most of the house and find one room to keep warm and everyone just gathers around the wood burning stoves and only leaves in the heat of the day to do a little work in the fields. It was fun to spend so much time with family (the snowball fights were epic) but there comes a time when you want to walk around being able to bend your limbs (too many layers). As soon as the weather warmed it was like the whole world woke up, and we were all off to work. I helped another volunteer with a Health Caravan he put on in his remote mountain village bringing specialist to people who would probably never have seen a cardiologist. I worked with a good friend of mine to put on a girls health week, all about health issues girls will face in their life time.

Even in my own town I have a few tricks up my sleeves, I am also working on some health education programs for kids and women, but the project that I am most excited for is my latrine project. I guess I’m so excited because it’s a project that the people in my village have been asking me about for literally a year. When I first came to Baknou all the women in the Weaving Association asked me when I was going to build bathrooms for the Nomads, I really, to be honest had no idea what they were saying, I heard bathrooms, and made a confused face, but I’ve been working with the community (and studying tam: helps with the understanding) to figure out the problem and empower Baknou to create a long lasting solution. I found out that about 1/3 of Baknou’s population are recently (2-4 years) settled nomads, they have simple houses, and in the last month have gotten electricity, but they don’t have bathrooms. We finally settled on using a trainer to teach the whole town how to build long lasting latrines, and teaching them how to fix them. Next we needed to find a source of money for expensive/non-local supplies (like PVC, Cement, Squat Plates) while the community agreed to provided local supplies, all their labor and time to make the project a reality. So I wrote a PCPP grant and we were on our way. (by the way I literally went to every single house in my village to figure out their toilet needs and what they would be willing to agree to) So the fun part of Peace Corps is that sometimes you have to raise your own money, a PCPP grant is one where you fundraise through Peace Corps Website and then when its completely funded you get the money to buy supplies and pay trainers and all around make the communities dreams reality. That is what I am doing right now, we are currently about 1000 USD away from being completely funded! When this project is done everyone in Baknou will have a working Latrine in their house, and know how to fix it if it breaks. This means no more going to the bathroom in the fields, down by irrigation ditches, and no more contaminating the local water supplies, less diarrhea and healthier children! If you can any amount really helps!

The last part about realizing my own depravity has been less fun, I guess really what it comes down to is

1. I really dislike living alone, like really don’t like it.

2. That time alone has given me time to realize that giving (your money or time or whatever) is less about the physical act of giving and more about what your heart is doing. What I mean with that I guess, watching my neighbors who, one give up so much for each other knowing that there is nothing coming in return,  that just, well… it’s kind of indescribable.

“How do you work with the poor?”

“You don’t. You share your life with the poor.” – St. Elaine Roulette

Anyway if you are interested in donating to the PCPP Grant you can just head on over to   Peace Corps  and its pretty simple from there, credit cards accepted and tax exempt donations.

Thank you for all the love and support so many of you have sent my direction, really it means so much to me and on days when life feels really hard here, it is more of a blessing then you can imagine. And I am going to try and do better at updating about everything! (or my mom will get mad)

and on a very happy note, my parents just visited, and taught me to look at life here in a new light. So send some love their way too.

Goodnight all.

G.

 

Brand New Olives

I am officially the worst blog updater in the world, and I apologize for that. If you’re looking for short but semi regular updates of my life, you could try here.

Actual update, well I am really happy, I Love my Life, I Love my House, I Love all of Baknou. I’m getting tutored in Moroccan Arabic, which is fun because I can understand more of what all the little kiddies are saying. I have been trying to meet with the doctor in my Souk town for the past three months, and I finally have my tofu making down to a science.

Things are getting cold here, right now its about 45 degrees F, so I have been spending most of my days in multiple layers, but no matter  how I try I really can’t compare to Moroccan layering, yesterday I was helping a little girl go to the bathroom during art class and she was wearing 7, (yes I counted!) 7 pairs of pants, no wonder she needed help!

I have a new site mate Anni, we’ve been having fun together, she’s an Interior designer, turned Peace Corps Volunteer, she’s the one who put together the art classes for the kids. A little solution for a problem I call having 15 kids show up at your door and ask to color every day of the week.

I also have a new project that I am really excited about, and it is thanks to my friend Zoe. She got the idea that Quinoa would be a great, nutritional, easy to grow food, and so set about finding out weather it was a plausible idea. Turns out their have been Quinoa growing projects in Morocco that have gone pretty well. So I have seeds, and 8 families in Baknou trying them out! Which means I get to go around having tea at families houses, and asking to see gardens, it’s wonderful.

Last but certainly not least, It is Olive Harvest here, which is a blast, all the families head to the fields, eventually all the olives are on the ground, put into buckets, and hauled on the top of a donkey to the olive press. Not only is it fun to hang out in the warm sun, it is also a great way to make friends, and get some laughs by helping pick olives.

Here is you step by step guide for pressing olives:

Lets begin first you must press you olives, using a giant stone and your donkey.

when the olives are a nice rough mush, you shovel them into woven baskets and stack them on top of each other.

Start turning the crank on the press and see the olive oil come flowing out, let it settle in a pit next to the press, and scoop out the pretty new oil that settles on top the next morning.

If your feeling really old school you can use this oil press, it’s literately a huge tree, the weight is used to press the olives… I’m not entirely (or remotely) clear how you use it, but it is apparently still in use.

then finish pressing all the other piles of olives (its a communal press: each family has a pile)

The Edge Of The Sky

I am so sorry that I haven’t told you about my life in so long. To be honest it’s just been a lot of tea and trying not to get overwhelmed by not doing a lot. But things are starting to pick up and look up, and in a funny twist of fate the more this starts to feel like home, I start to find my way and work to do, the more I feel like I’m floating away, and that makes me a little homesick.

So let me tell you a little bit of what I have been doing. My community’s Women’s Association (from this time forth known as “the Jamea”) has a grant, written by my previous sitemate (Zahara) to do training’s every month. This month kicked off the first training, it was a soccer training for the kids, the idea is that the kids will learn about team work and working for their community to improve their lives. So we had a soccer coach come and last week we did the training…. To be honest the weeks leading up to the training I was just sure that everything was going to fall apart, that nothing that would work out and well it was just not going to happen, miraculously everything did fall into place, and it was one of the best weekends I’ve had in Morocco so far. I got to meet all the kids in my town, this was great because I finally met the kids in my town who speak the same language as me!

My other exciting update is that the women in my town have been doing work out classes with me. We meet four times a week and laugh, joke and role around try to do abs exercises, and generally have a fun time, I am kind of amazed that the women what to work out, but every day I come in they ask if were going to exercise!

My last happy moment, that almost made me cry the other day, and made me realize how absolutely blessed I am to be in this little village on the edge of the sky, happened this Tuesday. I had just finished working out with the women, and I was heading out for a run, when I got to the sign at the edge of the village I saw four young boys (8-12 years old), as I walked up to them, they called out to me “Laila, are you going to exercise?” I told them yes, and as they looked at me longingly I said “Yella, Lets go” so I went running with four little boys from my town, I finally have running buddies, the weather was perfect, the wind blowing ever so slightly, and the boys skipping and running beside me. I think this was especially touching because I know volunteers in other towns where the villagers laugh at them, the kids chase them or throw rocks at them, and here I am not only do people leave me alone when I go for a run, but they actually want to join me. My next goal is to get tennis shoes for the kids and women in my village, because right now about half of them are running in little plastic sandals.

Even though these activities don’t seem overtly related to health issues that I’m really interested in (can anyone say maternal health!) Its exciting because I now know all the kids in my town, were actually kind of friends, and this means, I can know their mom’s and their families, and actually start talking about health projects!

Again I am really sorry that I took so long to write this entry, and I promise I will try to do better, maybe now that I have work to do every month with out fail, it will motivate me, plus it will mean I have something to write about every month, so look out, next month is “First Aid” I love you all, thank you for your thoughts, prayers and support, it means the world to me.

Ramadan

I am sorry it has been so long since I posted here, life has just gotten a little crazy (and by crazy I mean so many things… like sometimes I am so bored out of my mind I feel like I’m going to start creating imaginary friends, and then sometimes it will take from 9 until 3 to do some seemingly menial task like paying all the women in the Jamea. Every day is a surprise)

So I apologize for my absence, right now we are celebrating Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, meaning we don’t Eat, Drink, Smoke, or get busy while the sun is in the sky, so all day long we just kind of try to make it through, draging our feet, but as soon as the sun goes down the fun really begins. In my family, and really entire village, a typical ramadan day goes something like this,

wake up… well whenever you wake up, for me its usually 9, but the women in my family usually wake at about 6 before it gets hot and do chores, around 9 we head to the jamea (women’s association) and work on carpets for their homes (not for sale, like they usually are) around 12:30 head home, relax and spend time with family, watch some moroccan cooking shows, about ramadan foods it would be almost impossible to prepare where we live, because we physically do not have the ingredients, and then around 2:00 begin nap time. Nap time will last until around 4 (unfortunately I am terrible at sleeping during the day, so nap time has yet to include me, and thus I sleep until 9 every day).

At 4 we wake up and begin preparing for Lifdor or literal english translation Break-Fast (actually the same word we use for every day breakfast). Preparing Break Fast means cooking some type of bread (their are 3 main kinds here for break fast, Milluie, its a kind of flaky pastry like flat bread, fat bread, bread made with vegetables and some kind of fat inside, and behrir, a kind of crepe/pancake with honey and butter on top) and making sure all the things that are made in advance are ready, and my Host Aunt Fatiha always works on the last meal at this time to, at around 6:30 all preperation is over, and we sit in our backyard and wait for the call to prayer, this is my favorite time of day, the weather is perfect, and everyone is kind of giddy about fasting ending for the day. As soon as the sun sets my host uncle says the call of prayer in the mosque, and it is broadcast using speakers through out the village. We run to the well and get our first sips of water, and then everyone goes inside to pray.

We eat our lifdor meal starting with dates, then tea or coffee, 1/2 an egg, bread, shebikia (a really sweet fried cookie) and if were lucky some homemade juice, made from home grown fruit. During Ramadan all the TV shows are changed, for example, my family seems to love the turkish soaps, but durring ramadan they take a hiatus, and instead we watch the Moroccan chanels (which are all taking a break from their moroccan soaps) which are full of little skit shows, comidies, and my personal favorite the hidden camera shows. We watch these after dinner, and hang out with each other until about ten, when we eat soup, and then head to bed (my family has been sleeping outside! which is great because it gets SO hot here)

At around 2:30 or 3:00 we all wake up and have the last meal, which is just like a normal meal here, Tagine or duez and bread, and then everyone goes to pray and I go to bed, and the next day it starts right up again.

So sorry this got a little long but I hope you like my detailed description of Ramadan. As far as my actual feelings go about Ramadan, I love it, and most of the moroccans I have talked to about Ramadan love it to. Remember its fasting, but its also like a month of family time, people just spend time with each other, plus we eat tons, and I mean tons of delicious fruits, picked that day!

Lifdor meal

Snapshots

I wanted to write a post about what I tell you about my life here… and what really happens here. Its just that sometimes I write about the most interesting parts of my day, or whatever seems to be the wildest thing that has happened to me, and to be honest maybe that is not the most acurate picture (or snapshot) of my life, and right now I have an hour to kill so lets see if we can rectify this situation.

I live in this little tiny town of people who care about each other, in fact the reason my community asked for a Peace Corps volunteer is because they want the people in their town who don’t have running water to get running water and toilets. I go to a bigger town to get my groceries, once a week they have Suq day (which is pretty much a great farmers market) and I hit up the cyber cafe, where the internet is about as slow as it was at my house in 7th grade (that is where I am right now) the produce here is incredible, both selection and price wise. I take a Transitee home (this is a van with all the back seats removed and replaced with benches around the edge) and at when I’m home my activites pretty much consist of watching disney movies, studying Tam/Darija, making health drawings, or going to the Jam3a (this is the womens association where women go in the afternoon and weave carpets, that they then sell at craftfairs around Morocco)

Twice a week I try to make it to the Sbitar (health clinic) where I sit in on the nurses consultations, this is helping me get a better feel for whats going on in the community (for example; people love to get their blood pressure checked here, I’m pretty sure its because people love the nurse: also about a third of women are giving birth at home, and most women come in for only one prenatal consultation… if that, I havent figured this one out yet, but I’m working on it)

My life has taken on a rather regular rythem, and really this is the way I like it, when things get changed I just feel like I’m not doing what I’m supposed to. Oh but lets get back to what this post is really about, that even thought I live in what I may present as the wilderness of africa, there are things that make it just like home. like today I talked to some kids who are studying engineering in Rabat, and yesterday I saw a commercial for the Darjealing Limited, and tonight I may make guacamole because I bought Avacados at suq today, so really its just right here.

So I have been at my final site for somewhere around 3 weeks, and to be honest its really had its ups, and its had its downs. Like I actually have a house to live in… whenever I’m ready, but to be honest I don’t feel ready to move out at all. So I had to ask my family if I could live with them for a little longer, and that was complicated and messy, and it didn’t help that I had to do the whole thing in a language I am still learning.

Oh another fun little thing I found out, most of the people I live with prefer to speak Moroccan Arabic, not the Amazight dialect that I learned. in fact most young people don’t speak Tam at all… for example my host sister and I can’t really comunicate because she speaks about as much tam as I do! but we are making it work, and I am still really happy that I am a tam speaker, because most of the unreached populations in the area speak Tam, its just a little hard right now.

I am really excited about the health clinic that I work at, my nurse is amazing! She speaks English so I am able to communicate with her, she speaks a little tam so she can communicate with unreached populations and she actually likes her job! Overall I really couldn’t ask for anything better. I just have to take life one day at a time, one breath in one breath out, every conversation is a step towards actually doing something. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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