Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Home Sweet Home

Last week, my mom came to Morocco to visit me! It was super exciting, and not just because she brought me some damn pants that fit. She was in Morocco for a week and we spent the first half to the trip in Kalaa so she could meet my host family and my students and see my souq and my medina and my Dar Šabab. That meant Mom would be staying at my apartment, and when she booked her tickets in January, I said something about huh, maybe I should furnish my home before then. We both laughed.

Fast-forward a month and a half to last week, when we were talking about her trip and I again mentioned my need to buy some damn furniture already. She stopped me and said she didn’t want me to do anything in preparation for her. She didn’t want me to dread her visits because they meant cleaning or other work. Translation: I know you’re a failboat at being a real grownup and keeping house. I love you anyways.

I reassured her that I would never dread her visiting because that meant cleaning because, well, I will just not clean. (We all remember the first time my parents visited my first post-college apartment, which was a) still unpacked, despite having moved in two months prior and b) a crazy junk everywhere, path through the living room, can’t see the table style mess. In my defense, I moved, started work, immediately caught bronchitis (from my boss) but didn’t have any sick days so had to continue going to work, and by the time I had the energy to possible unpack a month later, my apartment had reached daunting levels of mess. My parents spent the weekend helping me clean and unpack, so clearly I feel no overwhelming compulsions to clean before a visit. Maybe I should.) However, I told her, as you can see by looking as this picture of my apartment that I drew for class last week, the only place to sit in my apartment is on the bed. If you want to eat breakfast sitting at a table, I have some furniture to buy.

I have been slowly filling up my apartment since I moved in two months ago. I started with my bedroom and then moved on to my kitchen, but I left the living room empty because I didn’t know how far my move-in allowance would stretch and living room furniture is below a bed and dishes on the list of necessities. Plus, my empty living room made a great place to dump crap when I walked in the door. Also, I’m really lazy. However, last Monday, less than a week before Mom arrived, I told my host mother that I needed to buy some furniture. She immediately leaped into action.

“Because you mom is coming, inshallah?” she asked.

I nodded. “America is very far away. I need a sofa when she comes.”

“Today is souq day!” she told me. “You can buy all your furniture at souq for very cheep. When do you want to go? Let’s go now!”

We walked to souq, my town’s weekly market, where in rapid order I bought two ponjs (giant cushions that serve as couches), two plastic rugs (those are a thing here) and a table. My host mom kept asking me if I wanted to get anything else, and I kept telling her I can’t, I’m out of money. We loaded my purchases onto a horse cart and rode back to my apartment, sitting atop the ponjs like a super comfortable hayride.

I spent the rest of Monday sweeping and mopping and generally organizing, and I’m so happy with how my apartment looks. I’m not done furnishing the apartment. There are a lot of things that fall into the I-don’t-know-where-this-goes-so-now-it-goes-here category, and I want somewhere to dump the piles on the floor. I want an oven and some shelves for my kitchen, and a chair for my roof, and dear God, I need to decorate, but now my apartment looks like someone actually lives here instead of just squatting in the back room.

Kitchen Kitchen
My kitchen. The gas tank fuels the stove and the blue bins hold food and dishes. Also, a close up of my spices and dry goods. I mostly keep them in old jam jars my tutor gave me.

Living Room Roof
My living room. The cushions are called ponjs and I need to buy covers for them so they don't get stained. My apartment has a private balcony/roof (it's a balcony for my apartment, but it's the same level as the public roof for the building). Right now, I mostly do my laundry out there, but I want to get a table and a small garden.

IMG_0185 IMG_0186
My bedroom. The bed is a loan from my host family. The small rug next to my bed is the handmade rug I bought at Marche Maroc. My bookshelf/dresser is the only part of my apartment that is currently decorated, and that fan will cease to be decorative real damn soon.

The bathroom. No toilet, no shower, just a tap, a bucket and a hole in the ground.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Observations Made While Doing Laundry:

-- Morocco is dry. I mean, I don’t live in the desert and there are no sand dunes outside my door, but Morocco is dry. It’s rained three times this year, and this is the rainy season. There’s a fine layer of dust over everything in my life, including me, and my skin is so dry it burns when I put lotion on, but I didn’t realize just how dry it is until I pulled my sodden, soaking wet jeans out of a bucket of water, hung them on the line without bothering to wring them out, and they were completely dry three hours later.

-- Doing laundry by moonlight is not as interesting or fun as it sounds.

-- So, when you do laundry in a bucket, it takes for-freaking-ever for your clothes to be really clean. Rinse after rinse after rinse, and the water is still a dingy grey. I don’t actually know how long it takes for the water to run clean because I’ve never had the patience to find out. Usually I call it a day when the water is no longer sudsy, but there’s always a moment when I look at the grayish water my clothes are soaking in and think to myself, “That’s really gross. You should keep washing.” Turns out, it’s much easier to ignore that moment that when it’s 11:30 and I’m tired.

-- Because I am a crazy person, I like my socks to match when they’re hanging up to dry, but this time when I was hanging my socks up, I ended up with 5 mismatched pairs. I searched my bedroom and dirty clothes basket in vain until I checked the bottom of my sleeping bag and found all the lost socks, plus another complete set. I always wear socks to bed because it is cold, but then my feet get warm and I end up toeing my socks off in the middle of the night and forget to empty out my sleeping bag. Still, that’s a whole lot of socks in my sleeping bag.

--Man, I really do not own non-crazy Korean socks. Makes me nostalgic for weekends in Seoul when I would inevitable come home with at least one pair of new socks that were meant for a nine year old.

Socks Socks

-- Dear God, I just wrote 400 words about doing laundry. The exciting lives of Peace Corps Volunteers!

Friday, March 9, 2012

f l-mgrib: Month Five

I started going to souq during month five. Souq means market, but that’s misleading. A souq is what happens when the farmer’s market and a thrift store have a baby, and the baby starts using steroids. Then steroid baby gets hit by the radiation of a gamma bomb and becomes a giant, sprawling behemoth that takes over several vacant football fields behind my house every Monday when farmers and villagers from the duwar (tiny villages in the countryside) and Kelaa come to buy and sell everything under the sun.

The first few weeks in my apartment, I didn’t do much cooking. My stove wasn’t even hooked up for the first couple of days, and it took me even longer to actually buy pots and pans, but by mid-January, it was time for me for to stop scavenging for food and living off bread, oranges and other people’s generosity. It was time to go to souq.

The haul from souq Souq can be a little intense, which is one of the reasons it took me so long to go. Kelaa’s souq is huge, and is packed with vendors and people and cars and livestock and donkeys. The first time I went, I got a little lost. I can see souq from my balcony, so my sitemate Lucia and I walked over, only to find ourselves in a maze of vendors selling used clothes, power cords, bike handles and kitchenware. There’s an entire row of stalls selling only different types of flour. There are tents with heaping bags of brightly colored spices and an entire section full of chickens, turkeys and sheep in all manner of decapitation. There are guys with music carts blasting Arabic pop music, and vendors selling popcorn, chickpeas and meat kababs. Lucia and I wandered lost for a good twenty minutes before finding what we were looking for, the produce section. The produce section is a couple of blocks large at the far end of souq where farmers from the area spread their produce out on tarps on the ground and sell them. The selection is limited during the winter, but I can’t wait to see what’s available this summer.

Souq is nothing like going to the tailgate market back home, but I love it. It was overwhelming the first time, but now I love wandering through the random sections and bartering for the week’s food and running into neighbors and students. I go every Monday morning.

I also did a community assessment for the Peace Corps during month five. A community assessment is a giant report (ours was 13 pages) that Peace Corps has volunteers fill out about their community. It’s super detailed: it starts with basic things like population demographics (that’s loads of fun in a community of 60,000), community history, geography and local infrastructure, but then gets more detailed. There are sections about gender roles, educational opportunities, health care, social institutions (also fun when you live in the provincial capital, so if these institutions exist in the region, they’re probably in Kalaa) and social issues such as child labor, homelessness and orphans.

I don’t think Peace Corps actually reads these reports: they can’t possible be interested in the recreational opportunities for youth by gender or non-traditional medicine use in all 27 sites from my staj. Mostly, the community assessment was a way to make us start examining our communities. When I first moved to Kalaa, I was diligent about trying to learn about my community. My sitemates and I visited the culture center and the language school. We met with the police and the gendarme and the local officials, and we walked into store and introduced ourselves. Then I started teaching and searching for an apartment, and between lesson planning, looking at apartments and my classes, most of my free time was eaten up. Then I was sick and then I was moving and before I knew it, I had established a nice little routine for myself. I went from my apartment to the Dar Šabab, and not much else. The community assessment forced me to get back out in the community and start meeting people again.

I went to the Dar Taliba (a boarding school for girls from the duwar) and the Neddi Newsi (a woman’s center), and talked to their mudiras (directors) about working with them. We went to the special education school and sat in on a class. We started walking around town again and talking to people, even if it was just a greeting. The report itself was difficult. Kalaa is so big and some of the topics in the community assessment are difficult to talk about, both because they’re culturally sensitive (alcohol and drug use, domestic violence) and because I don’t have the relevant vocabulary (health care and mental illnesses, geography), but I feel like I know a lot more about Kalaa now.

Camel In late January, I went to Marche Maroc for a day. Marche Maroc is an artisanal craft fair run by Peace Corps and USAID. It’s held in bigger, touristy cities like Fes, Marrakesh and Essaouira, and gives artisans, mostly women working with Small Business Development PCVs in smaller, rural sites, a chance to sell directly to customers. I’m not SBD and I don’t work with any artisans in Kalaa (yet), but the January Marche Maroc was in Marrakesh, only two hours away from Kalaa, so I went. Technically I went to help, and I did spend a half hour hauling goods and furniture to the storage space after the fair, but mostly I helped out with my wallet. I bought a small rug, an adorable stuffed camel and a pair of earrings as a belated Christmas gift for my sister. I also spent some time enjoying Marrakesh, and got lost in the souq, bought a pair of Aladdin pants, and had a very expensive dinner at an Indian restaurant and a terrible (yet expensive) beer.

IST: Day 4
Atlantic sunset