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.
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.
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.