Well, a lot has changed since my last blog in August, namely that I now live in a new house, in a new site, about two hours away from my old one. Many of you have gotten the details, but basically a few unfortunate events and testimonies made it clear that I needed to pick up and head out after over a year in my village. Saying my goodbyes was really upsetting, and I had to leave a few projects unfinished, but all that said, about two months have passed, and given the circumstances, I couldn’t be happier about how things have turned out.
The whole move only took a couple of hours, a few devoted friends, and a guy with a big van that we’d paid to fill up. The new house was the product of a week of searching and asking questions of store owners, vegetable sellers, butchers and taxi drivers as to where, in this 50 village site, there were houses for rent. There were already two volunteers in this sprawling rural mountain area, and my move not coincidently coincided with another volunteer’s. We searched about eight different villages, saw everything from exposed mud homes to fancy new two story situations, almost got stranded, rode with cows, got stood up by landlords, and bargained rents. After this non-stop real estate tour of rural Morocco, I ended up finding a nice concrete home, literally around the corner from one of my best friends and fellow health volunteers.
I told myself I could have until October, about two weeks, to fulfill my wallowing and settling in needs. I began setting up my home, putting things away and hanging pictures (easier said than done on concrete walls), and then came October. As our six month countdown approached, so did the deadline for grant submissions, and I really wanted to make up for lost time and projects, so I headed to the local school which serves my village and the three surrounding ones. I introduced myself and we began talking about what kind of improvements would benefit the community. After a few weeks of discussions between the teachers and a man from another village, who then directed me to association members in the town center via a name scrawled on a piece of paper, we had created a plan. The new project, if approved, will involve building a wall around the perimeter of the school to keep the kids safe from the trucks which pass through and wild dogs that roam the area. In addition it will cover the cost of new paint for the classrooms, a world map mural, new story books for a small library and educational classroom posters. So, cross your fingers and I should be hearing if the plan’s approved in the coming weeks.
After the grant submission, and about a total of six weeks in my new site and home, I decided I deserved a little reprieve, and met up with a friend to celebrate Halloween. As we looked at each other, in our dirty, baggy sweats, splitting a bottle of wine with an open sleeve of cookies on the table, we knew that was what giving up socially looked like. We couldn’t have been happier though, and it seems like proof that life here has become just that, life, and the more we’ve settled into it, the less we’ve felt the need to act out and get crazy. Although, as a disclaimer, I’m sure those impulses will reemerge with a passion once we’ve returned stateside. We did search the market the following day, letting the second hand clothing vendors guide our costume fates, and the fates decided on Aladdin and a yodeler.
Returning home refreshed, I was informed that the next day, members of the Ministry of Health, Environment and Education would be coming for a big health and environment event, and we had been asked to participate. When the four of us volunteers arrived at the event, there were about 40 adults all dressed professionally, and we really didn’t know what we were in for. After a breakfast of coffee, mint tea, bread, butter, oil and honey, we were directed to help with eye exams in one of the classrooms. Four eye doctors had come to test the children’s eyes, and we weren’t sure exactly where we’d fit into the process. Eventually though, each of us found a niche, checking the kids in and taking their names, helping them understand the eye charts, and what it would mean for their eyes to be dilated. The doctors were Moroccan, but since they came from the cities, most only spoke Moroccan Arabic and French, so there were times in which the doctors would speak to us in French and have us translate to Tashleheet for the kids who hadn’t yet taken Arabic in school (a pretty hilarious sight).
Just as the hoards of kids slowed down to a trickle, one of the coordinators asked us to give a quick class on dental hygiene. We knew that this might happen so we had come prepared with visuals, activities, tooth brushes and tooth paste. However, we were not prepared that the classroom would be loaded up with over 200 kids at once. We did our best. I tag teamed with my friend to talk to the children about why tooth brushing is important, healthy foods that help keep teeth clean and how to brush properly. During our lesson, some of the doctors and other professionals had wandered in, and a few were taking videos on their cell phones. I can only imagine that those videos were sent off to their city friends with the message of “Can you believe these crazy foreigners…”
After the lesson, and the children’s mad bulrush to the door to receive their complimentary tooth brushes and tooth pastes, we were served delicious beef and prune tagines with fruit to follow. During which, I casually asked the coordinator if he had intended for me to give a women’s health talk. He was game, and before lunch had ended, the room next door was filled with women ready to hear what I had to say. I start every class situation by apologizing for my spotty Tashleheet, which makes most women laugh and more importantly more inclined to ask questions. I showed them a video and then we talked about why it’s important to get pre-natal checkups and what they can expect. A lot of women are skeptical of health clinics because they don’t trust the staff, don’t want to travel, and/or just don’t believe they have anything to offer that can’t be taken care of in the home. This being said, they were still willing to listen and at least knowing what’s supposed to happen and why these checkups are important might sway a few more of them to head to the clinic. We also covered danger signs during pregnancies, healthy food choices, breastfeeding and the proper way to take birth control.
Just a few days after this event ended, began the biggest holiday of the year, L’eid K’bira/Mqqurn/Tafaska depending on whom you’re talking to. In preparation for this three day event, my fellow lady volunteers in the area and I gathered with a few of our local friends for a day of tacos and henna- a cultural exchange if I’ve ever seen one. With our hands covered in temporarily tattooed designs, we were ready for the festivities. The holiday arrived and with my friend and I both in traditional dresses, we headed over to a neighbor’s home for the slaughtering of the ram (symbolic of the story of Abraham and Isaac). As this was my second time around for this holiday, I knew what to expect: the ram was held down and calmed, and then his throat was slit quickly and efficiently. After he passed, the men began the skinning process, and then took out the organs one by one. The first meal would be heart, lung and liver kebabs, layered in alternating pieces with a layer of fat: delicious. The slaughter initiated a day of socializing with everyone in their new and best clothing, more meat, and about six glasses of sweet tea and plenty of cookies and nuts. The next two days would continue the holiday, leading to the progressive eating of the holiday ram including all of the innards the head, eyes, etc. which I’m looking forward to sampling tonight for dinner. Brains anyone?
The last couple months of transition although unexpected, have given me an opportunity to experience life and work in two different rural villages. I had to give up a hot water heater, but I have more counter space. I have to travel two hours for internet instead of thirty minutes, but I can buy cheese and plain yogurt in site. I’m having to reinvent uses for grant money in a new environment, reestablish relationships, and keep moving forward. Some days I do miss my old friends and my old life, but this challenge has forced me to stay engaged and to not take this experience for granted in my last months. There’ll be more to come as my time here winds down, and I’ll be home for Christmas (bobbies, nachos, steaks, salads and Chinese buffets beware)!