Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Close of Service

It's done! From 09/09/09 to 11/11/11, I served in my little mountain town of Amizmiz, aka Sedona-miz, and my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer has now come to a close. I am officially an RPCV now!

Currently, I think can accurately identify a few obvious emotions of RPCV life - relief, happiness, and exhaustion to name a few - though, I have got to say, I haven't really processed it all just yet. At the moment, it all feels like I'm just on another quick UK vacation, due to return to my site in just a few days' time. I'm still living out of a suitcase, still ruffling through many a 'Moroccan' outfit, still taking a questionable amount of time between showers... I have most definitely not reacclimatised to the West just yet. Though, once home in California, my mother has already made it perfectly clear how many times I'm allowed to wear jeans before they need to be washed and how many days my hair can go without a shampoo. Personal hygiene will be kept in check.

In addition to simple cleaning rituals, I'm obviously expected to be processing a few more transitional issues. It's not simply a move from Morocco to America that is taking place, it's the close of a job; it's the end of Peace Corps; it's reintegrating to a previous culture; readjusting to living with my family and not alone; it's hunting for jobs; it's applying to grad school; it's a difficult goodbye to my host family, a so long to my Moroccan community, and a departure from my fellow PCVs - volunteers who have not only become dear friends, but who were my co-workers, my family, and my entire support system. The former processes I had expected, I hadn't anticipated the sadness that would accompany the latter. So though I'm supposed to be dealing with all of these things at the moment, I'm somehow... not. In typical procrastination fashion, I am doing my best to avoid thinking about and processing all of these transitions. I have one more week left in London to just be. To just enjoy. Reality can strike next Tuesday, when my Mom can be there to temper my inevitable accompanying breakdown.

A breakdown that will surely go something like this: My mother and I will be shopping, on a weekend afternoon, among throngs of shoppers in a crowded mall. We are obviously doing some last minute Christmas gift buying, as stocking stuffers are still on the list. She says to me that she needs to find Dad some cologne and that she'll be right back, leaving me in the ornament section to find a new tree decoration. As I glance across the display, a small trinket catches my eye. It's a tagine tree ornament. Priced at $13.99. 10 minutes later, my mother will return to find me cross-legged on the grounded, crying into the tagine ornament, having just scolded a young girl and her parents for even considering buying something so ridiculous priced at nearly 14 dollars. ''Don't you know you could buy a real tagine in Morocco for less than 2 dollars?!? And then buy an entire weeks groceries for a family of 6 with the rest?!?! Don't you know what's really important in the world?! And what are you doing even buying a tagine Christmas ornament?! That doesn't even make sense!... Yes, I know The Office did a Moroccan Christmas episode, but culturally... I'm sorry, did you just say what's a tagine?!?! WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIVES?!?'' ... I just hope my mother knows what to say to the authorities and doesn't have me committed.

Anywho, instead of writing a future chapter of my memoirs just now, I'm going to go enjoy a crisp but beautiful morning in London with some friends. Here are some pictures of my last few days in Morocco for you to enjoy before my next entry.

Saying goodbye to my vegetable guys at souq

Quick snapshot of my mul hanut, Hassan. 
This was my grocery store for two years.

Frying up some pancreas and heart the morning of L'3id, 
the day before I left

My host family in their Sunday best, or Monday best as it were,
on the way back from the mosque the morning of l'3id

Saying goodbye to some of my dearest friends Fatima and Atika

Stamping-out ceremony in Rabat with a few fellow PCVs and our Country Director

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chapter Nearly Closed

As of today, I have exactly one week left in Morocco, four days left in Sedona-miz, and 19 days until I return home to California.

Currently, I am writing to you from the balcony of two fellow expats in town, who have kindly taken me in for a couple of days, following my dramatically quick exodus from my former residence. That's right, I was made to pack up and move out of my apartment in a matter of hours this past Tuesday. Let's go over some background.

After returning from Fes on Sunday, I made what was supposed to be a quick and relaxing trip to Tahannaout, a fellow volunteer's site, in order to disperse some coveted items that I wouldn't be bringing back to America among my fellow volunteers in the region. Upon arrival - after two hours of travelling that morning and 15 hours of travelling the day before - I received a phone call from my regional manager informing me I was not going to be replaced as expected.

Um, I'm sorry. What?

In true Peace Corps fashion, they waited until a week before I am leaving the country to inform not only me, but a number of other volunteers, that we would not, in fact, be replaced this fall as expected. So after weeks of prepping host families, preparing counterparts for handover, collecting materials, writing an elaborate and informative site journal, and getting my house in immaculate order, I had to immediately transition into an imminent closure of the site. Though PC 'guaranteed' there would be a volunteer this upcoming spring, they also 'guaranteed' there would be one this month. So, as my landlord was not, by any means, going to 'save' the house - and the items within it - for the next volunteer, I returned home to Sedona-miz and executed what was essentially the Moroccan equivalent of Super Market Sweep. Three volunteers and five families scrounged my flat for whatever they could get their hands on. A fellow volunteer, who also received the short end of the stick, described the feeling as being like "a King on his deathbed, everyone wanted a piece." In my case, however, the scrounging was truly a blessing as they all moved me out in a matter of hours! Gladly, all of my belongings went to good and grateful homes rather than being abandoned after I'd left.

In the midst of the chaos, I was still immensely sick from my travels up north, and was - naturally - already overwhelmed with leaving in a week. It was probably the most stressful day I had ever experienced during my service and I sure am glad it's over. As I'm not a person who usually asks for help, I was honestly surprised and extraordinarily grateful that everyone I reached out to was ready and willing to pitch in. Felicie came all the way in from her site to help, the expats happily took me in, the host family are housing my things, and many a phone call and text kept me sane that day. And though the lazy planning on Peace Corps' part was pretty damn inconvenient, it did solve my problem in having to buy each family l'3id presents next week. I think a 2,700 dirham fridge, ponjes, tables, blankets, blenders, and EVERYTHING ELSE in my house should more than suffice.

Though my bitterness over the situation has obviously not yet subsided, it has not affected my state of mind here in site at all. I am thoroughly enjoying spending my last few days with my friends, neighbours, and community. I'll be staying with the expats until Saturday and then heading to my host family's for my last three days in site. This will be my third L'3id here in Sedona-miz and I look forward to celebrating it the same way I have the past two years - watching the slaughter, eating the organs, and running from the hermas/boujlouds. Tuesday I'll head to Rabat for swearing-out, then on to Marrakech Thursday afternoon for a bit of a goodbye get-together before my flight on Friday. Most of my close PCV friends in the region will be heading in to send me off, llah yrhem waladin. Can't believe it's almost over.

Lunch with some fellow expats at Fatima's after the big move. 

Note: The cups, the table, the chairs, a couple plates, the salad bowl, 
the mustard, the hot sauce, and Andrea's shirt - all previously mine.

Coming Full Circle

During the last week of October, I made my way north to Fes, where forty-something Peace Corps Trainees awaited the arrival of eight knowledgeable, experienced.... and quite weathered PCVs who were each to spend a week in a Community Based Training site. I was placed in the small town of Ras Lma with five sprightly, sarcastic, and often quite sassy PCTs. The objective of the week was to discuss the Moroccan educational system and how their role in the Dar Chebab could supplement the schools curriculum and improve retention in students' language learning. Happily, the week didn't solely revolve around teaching strategies, but also involved cultural instruction, PCV life tips, and general best practices, tricks of the trade, words of wisdom, etc.

Throughout the week, I spent two nights with each of the female PCTs in their home-stays. Talk about coming full circle. As I was continuously a new guest, each evening presented a parade of pastries, a tray of tea, and any other culturally appropriate alliterative host-offerings. As the PCTs had only been in country for just over a month, they were still working on their baby Arabic and hadn't communicated far beyond the initial needs and wants of their daily lives. Each PCT, and family for that matter, took advantage of the girl who'd been here for two years and asked the questions they had been wanting to ask, sought the information they needed to fill in gaps, and enjoyed the opportunity to see where the PCT would be language wise in two years' time. Though, after having gone through PST myself and having worked with another CBT in the past, this group is already doing amazing language wise, tbark allah 3lihum!

Throughout the week, at each home I stayed, a few anecdotal gems materialized. I'll be sharing them now.

- On the second night of staying with the first PCT, most of her host family had gone to stay with an aunt in a nearby village, so we were left alone with the grandmother of the house, Fatima. Fatima has this gorgeous, wrinkled, caricature of a face that becomes extraordinarily animated as she tells a story. This particular evening, she began to tell us the story of how she and her husband, who lived and worked in France, met. How she was the second wife. How she had applied for two passports to visit him in France. And how he had died before she ever made it. The manner in which she recited her trials and tribulations of marriage brought out the water works. Not only in her, but in me as well. As we finished browsing old pictures of her as a young woman (she was model material, so beautiful), her husband in France, and his first wife who lived with him there, she proceeded to focus on one picture in particular. She gave us a look, looked back at the first wife's photo, and began to tear it up into tiny pieces. 'Safi' she said. She was finally done playing number two to another woman.

- The second home I stayed in was a wonderful venue of escapism. The host family was simply comprised of two older women and one young girl. A house free from men was sweet respite indeed. We enjoyed quiet relaxation, terrible soap operas, and candid conversation. Each of these women came from a Berber background and spoke the local dialect of Rifia in addition to Darija. As we spoke, I would accidentally let a few words out in my local Berber dialect of Tashelheit, which would make them giggle to no end. The Berber languages are vastly different, but a few words remain the same. A favourite is the frequently used 'no' or in Tash 'oh ho' as it's usually exclaimed with a significant amount of vigor and gesticulation; a much better alternative than the boring and inconsequential 'la' of Arabic.

- My first night in house number three brought on a bit of frustration. It was unfortunate that my first impression of this family had to be a meet and greet with one of the rudest, most arrogant, aggressive men I have ever had the misfortune of meeting in this country. He entered the home and immediately sat, somewhat inappropriately, with the three single woman sitting in the salon. He proceeded to not really question, but rather interrogate me on my religious and political views. As we exhausted some safe, generalized topics, he pushed further and introduced a variety of Fus'ha, or MSA (Modern Standard Arabic), vocabulary I wasn't familiar with. When I communicated that I wasn't comfortable with where the conversation was headed and that I didn't understand the vocabulary he was now using, he berated me with condescending terms about how incompetent I was and how I knew nothing of the world if I couldn't communicate in Fus'ha, but merely Darija. Later that evening he shouted across the table of some 15 people and asked what my name was. I replied with simply, Donniell. He looked at me sternly, repeated it with disgust, then added 'That's a boy's name.' I told him I was a girl. He then asked if I was stupid and seconded that it was a boy's name. I simply said okay. Luckily, after that evening, I didn't encounter him again.

- In the fourth home-stay, which happened to be in the same building as the third, we enjoyed a bit of a lady's night one evening. Racy Arab music videos were on, the women were dancing, and the topic of horny-ness came up in conversation. There were at least 10 women in the room, each rambling like crazy, dancing like fools, and discussing the levels of 'skhoon'-ness or 'hot'-ness there were each at. They happened to then go on and debate the levels of each of the PCTs present as well. It was a hysterical evening, filled with quotes comparing boobs to mini-buta gas tanks, how they wanted implants so their husbands will sleep on them, and how hard they've been trying for children. It was an entertaining evening to say the least.

- On my last day in Ras Lma, the PCTs were planning to have a Halloween event at the Dar Chebab. They worked on five separate stations which included: pin the knife on the sheep (a culturally appropriate take on pin the tail on the donkey), bean bag toss into a pumpkin, bobbing for apples, climbing through a giant (ribbon) spider web and face painting. They did a great job in preparing for the event, but the sheer amount of children surpassed any of our expectations. As over 150 kids showed up, it quickly turned into a free for all, which we barely managed to hold together. It was not expected, but the face painting station - to which myself and only one other PCT were assigned - became quite the hit. We had swarms of children watching us work and begging to be next. After an hour and a half of claustrophobia and intense near-eye-painting focus, we gathered our things in a zombie-like motion. While cleaning up, another one of the PCTs saw the two of us and noted how we appeared to be suffering from PTSD and wished us luck in recovery. It was intense (like boy scouts sleeping for instance, or fun at the circus...).

Overall, I really enjoyed my time up north. It was a good platform in which to reflect upon how far I have come in the past two years. It was like coming home in a way. And though I got completely and utterly sick, both of the cold/flu and gastrointestinal variety, it was totally worth it. I am really looking forward to seeing how the next two years goes for this great group of volunteers.

The fab soon-to-be PCVs and I 

Pin the Knife on the Sheep

Some Halloween participants and a few PCTs in the Dar Chebab

Friday, October 14, 2011

Magniloquence and playing the game

"You campaign in poetry,
You govern in prose"
- Leo McGarry, The West Wing

This isn't my first time quoting The West Wing on this blog and, I'm sure we can all agree, it won't be my last. Somewhere in the middle of the fifth season, Leo is having a conversation with Josh about making compromises in policy. How doing so is the reality of running a country, a necessary sacrifice.  In actuality, Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, should be credited with coming up with this in the first place, but you all know where my loyalty lies.

This quote happens to very acutely resonate with my current situation. If you're having trouble recalling my minor FREAKOUT in my last blog post, let me quickly remind you that I am in the midst of graduate school applications. I, however, am not alone in this venture. Many of my Peace Corps peers are also slaving away, racing the clock in order to complete their applications before our time here in Morocco runs out.

As we work our way through our personal statements, our statements of intent, the diversity statements, the resumes, the writing samples and even policy memos, we are all very aware and sensitive to the game we are expected to play. We are all in on it. The prospective students. The admissions committees. The language we have to use, the stories we have to sell, the synonyms we have to capitalize on; it's all a part of this game. The lofty expectations that the review committees presume we are all going to meet, only make the playing field more competitive. Because we are all playing the same game. We are writing these idealized versions of ourselves. Much like the poetry Leo speaks of, we are weaving tales of grandeur and hoping the admission committees aren't as sickened by it as we are.

Yet, once we are beyond all of this hyperbole, the real work beings. Once we've commenced our journey towards a law degree, an MBA, or a masters in public policy as I am, it is assumed we are to operate in prose. Long gone are the days of opulence and cadence. Out the window with transcendent syntax and warm, fuzzy alliteration... We are now meant to abide by brass tacks. We shall summate. We shall articulate.

We are to remain impassioned. And we are to remain impressive. Persuasive, even. Poignant. Just sans all that nonsense we were forced to incorporate back then in order to get to this point.

It's exhausting and it is frustrating. Albeit, if some other applicant ends up out-poetry-ing me and accepting a place I was not offered, I hereby promise to not fault the successful participant of a flawed system. As the old adage goes, 'hate the game, not the player'. It's really not their fault, I suppose. It is simply the game.

Though, let's just be clear here. I am the one who plans on playing the part of the successful participant within that flawed system we just spoke of. Just for the record.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Cause I Need Freedom Now

"Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life how it's meant to be"
- The Cave, Mumford & Sons

Hi, My name is Donniell Silva, and I'm overwhelmed.

The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one? Right? RIGHT?!

So Peace Corps worldwide has developed this delightful little chart that is supposed to identify critical periods in the life cycle of a Peace Corps Volunteer. Monthly checkpoints highlight issues including the anxiety of your initial departure, uncertainty when arriving in final site, mid-service crises around the one year mark, and so on. Here is what the chart has to say about my current state of mind (being one month away from COS - Close of Service):

Trauma of Departure
Concerns about social re-entry
Bridging new and former identity
Redefinition of career
Redefinition of host country

Obsession with Planning and Scheduling

Sometimes I like to fault Peace Corps for their lack of thoroughness when it comes to their reference materials for volunteers, but here I believe they've hit the nail on the head. Many things, almost everything, is coming to a head at the moment; last classes at the Dar Chebab, cleaning out my house for the next volunteer, packing up my last suitcase to bring home, saying goodbye to friends and coworkers, saying good bye to my family, then add grad school applications, job hunting, health insurance paperwork, student loan forms... and it all gets lost in a weird emotional amalgamation of what your life should be and could be. Bleurgh.

As my host mother so poignantly put it the other day, ''I can see your heart is still here, but your head may already be in America.'' Ever so steadily, my focus has shifted from my responsibilities here to my expectations at home. Full days and most evenings are dedicated to writing, reviewing, editing, and submitting statements of intent, personal statements, writing samples, and application forms. I can attest to the fact that I've felt every one of those aforementioned emotions - fright, confusion, alienation, anxiety, panic, giddiness, impatience, obsession with planning and scheduling (not that that last one is all that new) - every hour of every day these past few weeks. Those who know me well know that I like to be in control of any given situation - especially, you know, my life. More than wanting my first choice school or wanting my dream job, I just want to KNOW what the balls I'm actually doing after I leave here. I simply want something to work with. This black hole of time, this abyss of nothingness between now and next fall, is driving me absolutely nuts-o.

At the end of the day though, I am aware of how lucky I am, and how things really will be okay. Things will work out, as they always have. I'll continue to work hard and (insha'allah - how am I going to give that up back in the states?) it will eventually pay off. In the brief moments I have had fleeting faith in myself, my friends & family are always there in steady supply.

During our goodbye dinner at the end of our time at COS conference earlier this month, we had assigned superlatives to everyone in our staj. You know - most likely to be famous, most likely to take over the world, most likely to homeless etc. It amused me and simultaneously gave me hope when my staj assigned me the following superlative: "Most likely to attend Comic Con dressed as Josh Lyman... with the resume and experience to back it up." God willing folks, God willing, indeed.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Vignettes of Fatuity aka Marl Gets Married!

Yesterday, I finally returned to site after having spent more than three weeks away from good old Sedona-miz. Before heading to summer camp in El Jadida (which will be covered in a later post, surely), I left site nearly a month ago to be a part of two of my dearest friends' wedding - yay Mckinley and Karl (or to those of you playing at home - Marl)!

The trip started off with a few days in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, only an hour and a bit south of the ultimate destination - St Andrews. I spent those first few days brunching with friends, wandering through parks and cemeteries, and revisiting the museums of many an Art History field trip. I spent my evenings relishing in undeniably crap terrestrial television and enjoying the easy access of my friends and yours, Ben & Jerry.

Once the day came to head north, I could barely contain myself. Many of my friends, both British and foreign, have managed to make at least one trip back to St Andrews since graduation three short years ago. This girl hasn't. I was like a little school girl as the panoramic view of our small town came into sight over the horizon. I was terrified the few days we had to spend there would pass by much too quickly, and that they did.

Amidst the flurry of accessory buying, rehearsal dinnering, and family & friends meet and greeting, I attempted to soak in as much of the moment as I could, realizing it could easily be another three years before I manage to make it back there, let alone with over twenty of my closest friends.

So, before I continue with this tirade of personally touching moments and risk tearing up over a recounting of the speeches (... no really), I'll move on to what I do best, and focus on telling you the story of how I made an idiot of myself during the 24 hours leading up to, and during, the wedding of the century. I give to you: My Vignettes of Fatuity.

Okay, so let's paint you all a picture here. My dear friend Anna and I had just had a lovely morning returning to our first year hall of residence, University Hall, reminiscing room to room, creaky staircase to creaky staircase, and after a quick lunch at the Old Union Diner, we rushed to get dressed for the rehearsal ceremony and dinner. Once we had all arrived at the chapel, it was announced which bridesmaid was to be paired with which groomsman. I had heard in passing I had been matched up with Johan. Now, here's the fun part about a Scottish wedding containing only one Scot - there were more Swedes than anything else, and two Groomsmen were both named Johan. I had (preemptively) assumed I was paired with the Johan we had all been friends with for the past seven years, not the rather intimidatingly good looking, tall, dark, & handsome, doctor of a Swede - Johan somethin-somethin-beardy-schmeardy. Mind you, his flight was delayed that afternoon, so, naturally, I was doing this rehearsal walk down the aisle all by my lonesome. At that point, not only was I mildly intimidated by Dr. Model-Johan, I was also rather irritated as I looked like a numpty walking down the aisle by myself.

Fast forward to that evening. After an absolutely lovely and touching rehearsal dinner (tears were shed people... also, my table won a Marl trivia game & received Marl mugs!), we all headed to a local pub to meet the rest of the folks who had arrived a day early for Saturday afternoon's nuptials. Now, after a few drinks and mingling with friends and family, I saw that Dr. Johan had managed to arrive. I figured I should go and say 'hi' and give him crap about not showing up for his groomsman-ial duties earlier that afternoon. Reminder - I was only a few days out of Morocco and a few drinks in - So I walked up, made the hand shake gesture and, in true Moroccan fashion, moved my hand to my chest in the typical manner of respect. This, somehow, turned into a chest slap that resounded across the bar - which not only got weird looks from the Doctor, but from everyone else within ear shot as well. Now let me explain, when I typically do the Moroccan meet and greet, I'm usually under enough layers of clothing that any reverberations from the hand-chest maneuver would have been muffled by my conservative dress... Oh ho, not here folks. My spaghetti strap of a dress allowed for a full on belly-flop of a smack against this here upper torso. He stared. I stared. I attempted to utter the cultural excuse, which turned out to be a tipsy mumble in which I'm sure I mentioned something about the loo and scampered off. For Pete's sake.

Don't think I'm done yet folks, there's still at least another two chapters in the 'Why Donniell Shouldn't be Let Out of Captivity' chronicles. ... So then comes wedding day. It was perfect. Beautiful. Breath-taking. Until it wasn't. So I managed to make it down the aisle, flowers in hand, heels on, without tripping and eating dirt. Score! I also managed to keep a steady voice while doing a reading from Corinthians halfway through the ceremony. High-five! The trouble began during the recession. So me and the Doctor, the Doctor and I, met up at the back of the recessional train and began to make our way down the nave of the chapel. We somehow managed to be out of step with each other the entire way. We were knocking arms, gently hip-checking each other, as I awkwardly tried to skip a step and get back into sync with his stride. It just wasn't happening. I'm honestly terrified to see any pictures that were taken at this stage of the game... him - all stoic and manicured, and me - furrowed eyebrows and hunched over attempting to time the appropriate pace. Bah. Anyway, we managed to make it to the end of the aisle, dis-arm, and I made what I thought was a cute and friendly remark of 'Hey, you did your job! You didn't let me fall, thanks!' ... (You all know what's coming next.)... So we moved three steps further, aiming to exit the chapel to the right (only to re-enter moments later at the Eastern door for pictures) and as the rest of the wedding party exited gracefully, I managed to miscalculate how many stairs there were (I guessed one... there were two.) and basically escalatored my way out the back the door. You know what I'm talking about, like when somebody stands behind the couch and pretends to go down an escalator, and the accompanying sound effect is something along the lines of 'beeeyyoooooup'. Except I wasn't pretending, I just slow-mo-ed to my knees, in the door way, on the steps, grabbing anything within arms reach on my way down. This included the Doctor. He and the bride's (wonderful) mother picked me back up and we continued on our way. The rest of the wedding party & guests (thankfully) oblivious to the whole thing. Of course, charming me decided to try and joke it off, to which the Doctor was having none of. Literally wouldn't even look me in the eye. I was such an embarrassment.

The evening continues. We were then corralled outside the chapel in St Salvator's square for a brief reception before dinner, dancing, and other festivities are to begin. Luckily, there was no direct contact with the doctor at this stage as I had scampered off to enjoy the company of some other wedding folk. It is worth mentioning here the amusing scene laid before me. There is a large patch of grass in the centre of the square, making it a rather picturesque scene with day's beautiful sunshine and blue skies in the background. However, this scene happened to be spotted with many a lady slowly sinking, and sometimes quite suddenly dropping, into the aforementioned grass patch. The weather earlier in the week had been rather wet, so the grass was still a bit damp. Thus, every woman attendee's heels were sinking, if not stabbing the land one by one. A brief scan of the area would include at least five women clunking backwards and then awkwardly attempting to laugh it off. Myself obviously included. Why we all just didn't move to the cement walkway surrounding, I shall never know.

Once dinner began, I resembled a human being for a least a few hours time. Those seated at my table were great company, the food was tasty, and the speeches were touching. It was a grand couple of hours, it was. Then we all made our way to the dance floor just one floor above the dinning room. It was at this point I somehow missed my cue to dance with the rest of the wedding party as I was retrieving my flats from downstairs (oops), but made up for it with my Ceilidh skills later on. The Doctor and I were matched up for Strip the Willow, luckily he had no idea what he was doing, and thus managed to look like more of an idiot than I for at least 10 minutes. Hamdulilah. The role was quickly returned to its rightful owner shortly thereafter, I assure you.

Once the Ceilidh was finished, a jazz band took to the floor and the wedding cake was served. Now this wedding cake was like no other wedding cake, in that it was actually delicious. It was from one of our favourite bakeries in town, Fisher and Donaldson, and was the same kind of cake my lovely mother would send to our flat for my birthday every year at uni. It was a rich carrot cake with cream cheese icing. Now, on any given day, this cake would have been topped with that cream cheese icing, and that icing alone. I managed to forget for a moment that this was in fact a wedding, and that a glorious (disgusting) coating of fondant would more than likely be coated on top. So, there Iwas, amongst a group of friends, attempting for the last time to make conversation with the Doctor. I suggested we have a piece of cake. He declined politely (watching his model-ish figure, I presume), and I went in for a piece. In my head, I was ready to insist he have a piece after he saw how good the rest of us thought it was. So post-bite, I attempted to argue this point - only to realize that I had taken a bite fondant-side up and this substance was now stuck to the roof of my mouth and I was left licking at it like a dog with peanut butter on its tongue. ... Kill me.

Really though, other than these minor embarrassing setbacks, I had an absolutely lovely time, as did everyone else. The wedding was truly perfection and I couldn't have been more touched to be a part of it. Happily, Mckinley will be coming to visit me here in Morocco at the end of the month! Thirty days of heat and Ramadan will thankfully be ending on a high note :).

To end, Dr. Johan - if you're reading this, I hope you realize that I really am a decent (and somewhat normal) human being with, if nothing else, a sense of humour. If you do not realize this, you must think I'm an ever bigger weirdo than you once imagined. And in that case, you're probably right.

The ladies

The gentlemen

The bridesmaids
The groomsmen and a few friends

The happy couple :)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Marche Maroc Essaouira

Guess who has two thumbs and got to spend another week beach-siiiiiiide
---> this guy!

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend another few days in my favourite Moroccan city while helping out at one of the last Peace Corps run craft fairs back in Essaouira. For the last couple of years, Small Business Development volunteers here in Morocco have organized craft fairs approximately every three or four months in large cities across the country. Any artisan, association, or coop that the SBD volunteers work with, are invited to bring their goods to the host city for a three to four day long craft fair. These marches are usually held in conjunction with the local government, with the cooperation of the local artisana, and with the financial assistance of USAID. These Peace Corps craft fairs, branded as Marche Maroc, are driven by the idea of quality, set pricing, and fair trade and have been held in cities such as Marrakech, Fes, Rabat, and now for the first time Essaouira.

The extraordinary team of SBD volunteers are the folks responsible for executing such a successful craft fair this past week, and I was happy to offer up my services to help man the actual event. Other sector volunteers were generally asked to be floaters - giving artisans breaks when they needed them, filling in at stations that needed assistance, helping sort out questionable display styles, etc. It was a long week for the artisans and volunteers alike, with seminars and workshops starting at 9am and the craft fair running daily from 11am to 10pm.

The event exposed artisans to a new market for their products, to daily seminars on customer service, brand development, and sustainability, and to a new network of fellow artisans across the country. Unfortunately, as the SBD sector is coming to a close this coming year, this may be one of the last Marche Marocs put on by Peace Corps. As this was assuredly the last Marche Maroc I would attend before COS, I definitely bought my fair share of products!

One half of the craft fair tents on the north side
(shoes, carpets, wood crafted goods, jewelry, daggers, embroidery)

Another set of tents on the west side
(carpets, jewelry, goats cheese, and music)

Tents on the East and South walls
(bags, clothing, embroidery, argan products, skins & pelts,
scarves, dolls, metal work, jewelry, stuffed animals)

The table where I spent most of my hard earned dirhams -
Ali's association located in Arazan, just outside of Taroudant

Her ladies produce argan oil - both cosmetic and for cooking,
as well as Amlou - a spread similar to peanut butter,
usually made out of argan oil, almonds, and honey.

Her women also make necklaces, bags, headbands,
scarves, and dresses out of beautiful materials.
Over the past year I have purchased at least one of each of those products...

One of the many carpet & embroidery vendors

The very popular shoe stand from Taroudant

Traditionally dressed dolls made by Anne's ladies in Touama

Photos curtoesy of fellow PCVs Emily Donahue and Ali Records

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