she's mo-rockin' now

moroccan peace corps experience . march 2006 - june 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

it's the final countdown (to be sung like the song)

i will be completing my service on may 30. i thought i'd post a final blog to tie up all the work during my service in morocco. i recently had a submit a description of service that puts into one document all the work that i've done. is it bad that i'm just going to copy and paste that? okay, well i am: (to note: it was written in third person and i'll replace my name with "the volunteer," as this is an "anonymous" blog,.)

this volunteer's main responsibilities during service included:

*working with the ministry of health and peace corps to install a medical waste incinerator in the local health clinic. the volunteer was responsible for educating the clinic staff on the impact on community health especially in the transmission of hiv, hepatitis, and other communicable diseases. she was responsible for monitoring use and trouble shooting issues that arose over the next two years of her service.

*initiating and writing a plan to create a solid waste management system for the village center. the plan included specific details relating to landfill type, placement, a continued funding plan, and community education activities. the plan was translated into arabic for local commune use.

*providing formal and informal educational sessions in the fifty-five village region of her village reaching approximately 102 people. the lessons focused on maternal and child health, family planning, safe water sources, trash management, nutrition, and hygiene.

*providing educational sessions in local elementary schools reaching approximately 382 students. the lessons were focused on dental hygiene, hand washing, nutrition, and in-home water treatment.

*planning and leading two young women’s health groups for girls ages 10-20. meeting for four days, one and a half hours a day, the 29 young women participated in health education sessions and activities covering topics such as dental hygiene, nutrition, waste management, and fitness.

*participating in an educational booth at the 2007 kelaa m’gouna rose festival. 15 peace corps volunteers spoke with 526 people about hiv/aids awareness and prevention.

*leading training sessions about how to teach effective health lessons to rural population for 10 women in a women's association. the women then participated in a week-long women’s health conference.

*overseeing a week-long women’s health conference put on the by the women’s association. the 10 women visited 8 villages and spoke with 587 women regarding family planning, hiv/aids prevention, nutrition, and dental hygiene.

*participating as a camp counselor at a six-day spring camp in oujda in April 2008. the volunteer was responsible for co-running an advanced english class, coordinating and teaching a daily health club, and working with the other counselors to organize nightly activities.

*running a health club at oujda spring camp for 25 students ages 14-18 for four days. the volunteer planned and taught lessons and organized activities covering general hygiene, fitness, and hiv/aids awareness and prevention.

*organizing a HIV/AIDS awareness theme day at oujda spring camp. 102 students
participating by wearing a red ribbon, learning about hiv/aids/sti prevention, and helping to complete an hiv/aids awareness mural.

*writing a grant proposal and securing funding through peace corps small project assistance (for $1008) to complete a piped irrigation system in a rural high atlas village. the system increased available water supply by 15%, thereby increasing crop output. this helped to strengthen the community’s overall economic self-sufficiency and stability. to encourage capacity building, the volunteer provided the association with french instructions on how to write proposals and complete projects, as well as several ngo addresses. this association now has the capacity and information to write proposal and find funding on their own.

*collaborating with a local teacher to request and collect english, french, and arabic materials from various organizations to create an elementary school library.
attending, with a local association member, a two-day workshop focusing on creating an effective association, and funding, planning, and completing projects.

every three months, i am required to submit a report to the ministry of health outline and quantifying the work that i did in those past months. in total, during my service i gave 4173 health lessons to an estimated 1420 individual people in a variety of settings and covering numerous health/environment related topics. yea for me! ;)

i was with one of the program managers this week to check out the progress on the irrigation system. while we were at the president's house for lunch, he brought out the traveling sink (just a basin to wash your hands in) as well as soap. he told the program manager "nadia always makes us use soap before eating." i asked him to explain to me the purpose of the soap. he responded, without skipping a beat, "because the soap helps remove microbes." awh, i couldn't have been more proud. and even better that it happened in front of my boss J. i have always felt that my most important role as a volunteer is to make sure people have the proper health information and then work toward positive health changes. so even, if that family only uses soap in front of me, at least they know they should be and the know that it would improve their health if the did.

i recently met my replacement. i'm really excited that there will be another peace corps volunteer in my village. hopefully, he'll enjoy it there as much as i did.

after i post this, i'll be going back to enjoy the last week in my site. i've been eating lunch on my "terrace" trying to enjoy my last glances at the mountains and my beautiful view. i'm so pleased to have seen the development that has happened since i've been there. in the past two years, they've gotten cell phone reception, a new paved road, and now there's talk of building a secondary school and brining internet to the village. it's an exciting time there. i've had a wonderful time working and living in my site. the people have been wonderful, the view is die for, the water is fresh and cold straight from the spring, and i'll never have the chance to live in a mud house again. that village in the high atlas mountains will always have a special place in my heart and i will never forget it.

goodbye to my house. goodbye to laundry in the irrigation ditches. goodbye the mountains. goodbye to the neighbors. goodbye to those crazy taxi rides and winding roads. goodbye to the cows who walk next to me to market (only one of us is walking back). goodbye to the call to prayers. goodbye to street food of beans and kebabs. goodbye the writing reports in internet cafes. goodbye to a great peace corps staff. goodbye to the friends i've made. goodbye to morocco.

Friday, February 22, 2008

tie it up in a little bow

this past week, i went to “close of service” conference in rabat. this is where they prepare us for finishing service and returning to america. they encouraged us to think about our peace corps service, what it meant to us, and what we’ve learned. i have just over three months left in peace corps. my 27 month commitment is nearly completed. it’s been quite a ride. this will probably be one of my last entries on my peace corps blog. the following entry will tie together the personal journey that i’ve made over the past two years. it’s one of my more personal entries including the reasons that i joined, what i’ve learned, and what i’ll take back with me. i’m warning you before you’re too committed - this is a long entry. this is not required reading and there won’t be a quiz. consider yourself warned.

why i joined peace corps:

before i left, a lot of people asked me why i was joining peace corps. i gave a lot of different answers because there were a lot of different answers. in short, i joined peace corps to learn about another culture, public health in practice, and more about myself. i thought it was an excellent opportunity to live in a foreign country while gaining experience in public health. i wanted to learn another language and live in a challenging situation. i wanted to volunteer and spend some time living poor. i wanted to push myself to change everything about my life, where i was living, the job i had, the language i spoke, and prove to myself that i could adapt. i wanted to become less materialistic and force myself to reassess my priorities. i wanted a chance to work autonomously, doing the work that i was good at and that i wanted to do. i wanted to have some free time to travel, read, think, and learn new things. i wanted a chance to see public health in action, working (or not working) on a grassroots level. i wanted to see if it was a field that i could commit to; if it was a field that met my needs and held my interest. i also felt that peace corps would offer me the experience and the type of job that i could never have in america. it was the perfect time for me to take a risk, make a change, and try something that i might not have had the chance to do later. two years later, it was one of the best decisions that i have ever made. it’s certainly not for everyone, but i think it was a good fit for me. i accomplished the goals that i set out to, and i had a marvelous time.

what i’ve learned about myself:

*i can adjust to almost any situation. that said, i was surprised the things that were the hardest for me to adjust to: lack of communication (lack of cell phone reception for the first six months, and lack of internet), writing things by hand, and the monotony of the food for the first six months during training and living with a host family. the easiest things for me to adjust to surprised me too: dealing with a lot of free time (i thought i’d be bored), long waits for public transportation (it usually took me at least 3 hours to get to the closest city, which was only 55 miles away), turkish toilets, severed goat heads hanging up in market -- the cow heads took a little more getting used to.
*i can almost survive on $350 a month. well, at least in morocco... it helped that rent was only $60, i had no car, and vegetables are really cheap.
*i’ve realized that i’m very judgmental of people, situations, and circumstances. i have started to actively acknowledge this, and work on being less judgmental, but it’s a long road, so give me a break.
*i can relate to people that i seemingly have very little in common with.
*i am capable of learning another language. surprisingly, it’s not as difficult as i thought. and i’d definitely like a learn another one. probably spanish.
*i think i will really love public health. i’m excited to go back to school and eventually pursue a career in the field.
*teenagers are my favorite age group to work with. i’d like to continue to work with them, either as part of my job or in my volunteer work.
*i really love to travel.
*i really like living alone.
*i can live without running water. i hate it, but i can do it.
*i can’t live without electricity. those two days were devastating.
*i never want to live in a rural area again. i’m a city girl. maybe i could live in a town, but i’m not sure about that. as appalling as it sounds, fresh air and sunshine make me nauseous after a while. but the starry nights are to die for. oh well, that’s what camping is for.
*i never want to live without internet or a computer again. i can barely function. it’s always been my preferred mode of communication, research, information, organization, and pretty much everything else. it’s just something i’ve accepted.
*i can’t live without music. thankfully, i didn’t have to.
*i really hate doing laundry, especially by hand.
*i don’t mind doing the dishes as much as i thought.
*i really love cooking, and having the time to do so.
*i discovered that i really like onions, black pepper, turmeric, black coffee and i really hate cilantro, cumin, and rural moroccan couscous (it’s terribly bland).
*i will never like organ meat. just say no. i can’t wait to be a vegetarian again.
*i prefer the metric system.
*i don’t really like blogging ;)
*i am a really terrible speller.
*i (obviously) really like making lists.
*i use the word really too much.

ways that i’d like to think i’ve grown:

*i am much more grateful for the opportunities that i’ve had. basic things like having the chance to go school, learning english, having a lot of control over my own life, and being able to read
*i think i’m less angry now.
*i’m a little more patient and a little less judgmental. not a lot, but again, long road.
*i understand and appreciate islam a lot more. i’ve learned to love the five-times-daily call to prayer, the holidays, and ramadan (well, at least the part that we break fast)
*i’ve learned how similar all people are. the consistencies across borders: importance of family, socializing over food and drinks (although, in morocco it’s tea, not beer/wine), finding ways to laugh, celebrating holidays, births, weddings, and important live changes, and just trying to make the best with what you have.
*accepting that things don’t always (or even usually) go as planned.
*i’m a lot more patriotic than i used to be. for the first time in my life, being american became one of my main identifying characteristic. although, i’ve become much more pleased to be american than i used to be, i’m not as ethnocentric anymore. i’ve learned to appreciate other cultures and ways of doing things.
*i am generally more realistic in my expectations of others and situations
*i am more apt to try new things and put myself in uncomfortable/challenging situations.

things i promise never to complain about or take for granted again:

*i promise to never complain about taking out the trash. i never got used to burning or burying my own trash.
*i promise to never complain about washing my clothes in a machine. but i still hate laundry.
*i promise to never complain waiting five minutes for a late bus or train.
*i promise to never complain when a restaurant is out of a dish that i want (most of the time in morocco, you ask for at least two menu items before you find something that they have).
*i promise never to complain about waiting in lines. i didn’t encounter a lot of lines in morocco. even when there’s an attempt to make a line like the post office or supermarket, it really just involves a lot of pushing. although, i did have a positive line experience once in rabat.
*i promise never to take for granted having toilet paper provided in bathroom stalls.
*i promise never to take western toilets for granted.
*i promise never to take pilot lights for granted.
*i promise never to take for granted english as a first language.
*i promise never to take sliced bread for granted. who knew that many places in the world don’t have sliced bread. i’m still not over the shock. and what good is the “best thing since sliced bread” phrase in places that don’t have sliced bread?
*i promise never to take appliances and machines (toaster over, dryers, lawn mowers, microwaves, dishwashers, etc.) for granted.
*i promise never to take bookstores, libraries, and books in english for granted again.
*i promise never to take free refills for granted.
*i promise never to take anonymity for granted. i imagine that in america people won’t scream “foreigner/white person” everywhere i go.
*i promise never to take for granted the american breakfast (pancakes, waffles, eggs, hash browns, home fries, cold cereal, oatmeal, toast... i’m going to faint). this another thing that never really caught on in the rest of the world... morocco, it’s always bread for breakfast.. even france doesn’t do this one right.

the third goal:

peace corps has three goals. the first is offering the host country qualified volunteers and technical assistance. the second is sharing american culture with the host country. the third is sharing the host countries culture with americans. mostly, the thrid goal is completed after service. it involves sharing what i’ve learned about the host country (in this case, morocco) with people back home. i have started to work on this goal by sharing my experience through this blog, emails, phone conversations, letters (don’t be mad if you didn’t get one, i didn’t send all that many... stamps are expensive). i also participated in a world wise classroom, by sending this class some information about morocco and creating a powerpoint with pictures. when i get home, i hope to continue to share my experience, showing pictures, making food, playing music (although probably not too much of this... i’m not that biggest fan of moroccan music), answering questions, and dispelling myths. if you or someone you know is interested in having me participate in an event, or talk to a class or group about morocco or peace corps, i’d be more than happy to. also, if you are interested in joining peace corps, feel free to contact me if you have questions. okay, that’s my spiel. enough about that.

you’ve reached the end. assuming you didn’t just scroll to the end, you are a brave solider. i’m looking forward to seeing everyone. i should be back home in mid-june. my last day of service is may 30... and then i’ll spent a few weeks traveling...and then back to my country of allegiance. miss you all and see you soon.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

winding down

so the countdown begins. just over four months until my service is completed. it’s been quite a ride. as much as i’m looking forward to going home, i know there will be a lot of things that i miss about morocco. for now, i’m focusing on finishing up the rest of my projects and work, waiting to hear from grad schools, and planning my final trip.

i will be at cos (close of service) conference the first week of february. i’ll get a chance to see everyone again in rabat for a few days. peace corps will explain the logistics of closing service – information from peace corps, health insurance, what to expect on our return to america, preparation for adjustment, etc. i’m not looking so forward to the information (except about how they plan to pay me my readjustment allowance), but it will be nice to see everyone again.

this week, i have been working on a grant for my final project. as i’m sure i’ve mentioned before, i am working with a teacher that lives here. we are writing a grant to fund a community resource center (that’s really just a euphemism for a school library... and who doesn’t love euphemisms.) we have collected over 100 french and arabic books from various organizations. i’m hoping that with this grant we can expand the library another 100 books or so. i will also donate some art and writing supplies that i have, as well as a full 2 years of newsweeks (aren’t they lucky). with the grant, i’m hoping that the teacher will be able to choose books that are useful in his classroom, instead of just whatever organizations choose to send. right now, it’s looking like the library will be located in an extra room in the mosque next to my house. it would be a good location that people of all ages could have access to most times during the day. we will also (hopefully) add book club for older students and a reading hour for the younger ones. it’s so wonderful to see a teacher as enthusiastic as he is. we are looking forward to finishing the grant and getting it approved. if it does, it will be posted on the peace corps website and anyone can donate directly to the project.

the other project that i took over from another volunteer is just about off the ground. the irrigation project grant was funded and the association has the check. i’ve asked them to cash it and purchase the material by the end of january. i’m hoping that they will finish construction by the end of march or mid april and i can finish the final paper work. they were also really excited to begin construction and complete that portion of the project.

in november, two volunteers (from the small business development sector) moved close by me. now i have two people within two hours travel! they both came to visit me a few weeks ago, and we had a lot of fun discussing their adjustment, language, culture, etc. it reminded me of when i just got to my site and it helped me see how far i had come. they are almost finishing living with their host families, and will soon move to their own houses. both of them are planning to get internet in their homes and said that i could come and use it anytime!

it’s exciting to think that i will be back in america so soon. but before i head back, i’d really like to take a final trip. i’m deciding between two trips, 18 days each. one would cover the middle east – egypt, israel, jordan, turkey, and greece. the other would be in europe – czech republic, poland, hungry, slovinia, italy. both really appeal to me for very different reasons. i’m having a lot of trouble making up my mind. i’m thankful for the opportunities to travel, see, and live in this part of the world. it’s certainly helped me mature and see things differently. before i complete my service, i’ll blog about the most important things that i’ve learned here, and the skills, ideas, and ideals that i hope to bring back to america with me.

anyway, that’s all for now. if anyone would be interested in taking either trip with me or meeting me for part of it, let me know. or if you have been to any of the places mentioned and have travel advice... please do advise.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

one day soon i will wake up and it won't be pomegranate season anymore and that makes me sad.

here we are again. i’ll try to keep this short. updates will live, weather, progress, work, etc.

we are half way through our week-long women’s conference. we ran a training of trainers a few weekends ago to teach educated women how to give health lessons to rural women. then, for the women’s conference we are bringing them to various rural villages and having them do these lessons. they include pre- and post- natal care, maternal health, nutrition, hygiene, HIV/AIDS prevention, and moudawana jdida (the new women’s law giving moroccan women more rights with divorce and child custody). we are handing out goodie bags to the women that come, a toothbrush, bar of soap, health pamphlets, a pen, and a notebook. so far we’ve visited three areas and have had about 150 women show up. overall, it’s going really well. there have been a few snags with transportation (various associations promised vehicles and didn’t follow through), language (the women that are trained only speak arabic, and many of the rural women only speak a local dialect), and monetary compensation (the women doing the lessons have expressed a need for payment, even though from the begining it was clear that this was volunteer work and regardless the grant can not cover labor costs)... but it’s still working out suprsingly well. women are showing up for the lessons, listening, and, i hope, learning something. best of all, it’s the local women doing this... therefore building local capacity. oh, the upside of sustainable development... peace corps would be so proud.

the library is coming along. we just got a shipment of 100 books or so from an american organization. i’m also in the process of writing the grant for some additional books. the teacher is still devoted to the project, and he’s really excited to get it off the ground.

the funding for the piped irrigation project should come through in a few more weeks. i had to send some additional information before peace corps can process the check, but hopefully it will all work out and that association can start construction by the end of the year.

the teacher responsible for the library is also in the process of translating the trash management proposal (god bless him). i don’t think anything will happen with it, but at least the commune will have a step by step plan to implement the project if they are ever willing to. that’s the other side of development work, it’s important to know when to give up and know that everything that could be done at the time was.

winter is coming fast. so so cold. i miss central heating already. but, knowing that it’s my last winter here certainly provides some relief.

still no running water in my house. it’s been 3 months... i need to schedule a meeting or something... but i don’t really know what to tell them, i’m just hoping having them talk about it might encourage some action.

alright, i think that’s all. i’ll post some pictures at some point of the women’s conference and irrigation project. happy almost-holidays and i hope that everyone is well.

p.s. random note of morocco in action: i just thought i heard a street cleaner. i looked out the window only to find that it was a van with a half-ton of reinforcement bars (they're about 20 feet long and terribly heavy) hanging from the open back dragging along the street making a whole lot of noise. oh morocco, i will miss you.

p.p.s. update from one day later: so, i heard the street cleaner again this morning. this time i looked and it was a poor sap on his bike dragging reinforcement bars behind him. honest to god. the van probably broke.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

spain, planes and road pavings. (that almost rhymes, right?)

summer is ending and apple season is in full swing. mmm.. apples. sadly, this week has been a reminder of how absolutely bone-chilling cold it was last winter, something i had managed to conveniently forget. i do love fall though, and i hope the autumn weather lasts at least a few weeks. i have been busy these past few months with works, meetings, vacation, ramadan, and applying to grad schools.

oh, and on an exciting note (well, probably more for me than you), they are almost finished paving the road to my site. they started last year and made very little progress before the rain and snow fall. now it's actually getting done. this has cut a lot of time off the commute to ouarzazate and the trips are a lot less dusty :).

ramadan started september 14th, so we still have a week or two left. this year i am not fasting (to everyone’s dismay, apparently), but i am participating in l’fdor (the breaking of fast). last year, when i was fasting, the last thing i wanted to eat for dinner was porridge, dates, and bread. but this year, i am more than happy to. i have been going to a different family’s house in my village each day to break fast (well, more accurately, watch them break fast and i just eat dinner). it’s been really nice to spend time with many different families, most of whom i haven’t sat down to a meal with before. the holiday ending ramadan will be mid-month, and i’m looking forward to spending the time with my host family. i can’t really remember what they do for this holiday, but i’m certain it involves slaughtering something.

right near the beginning of ramadan, fabiola and i took a trip to spain. it was such a pleasure to finally visit europe and return to the first world. fabiola speaks spanish, so i didn’t even try to remember my rusty high-school spanish. we flew from marrakech to madrid. we visited zaragoza, barcelona, and madrid. i got to see some basic tourist attractions, famous art work, and eat lots and lots of pork (oh my blessed past as a vegetarian). unfortunately, my time in morocco almost made me forget about the glory of real grocery stores, beer on tap, starbucks, and metro rails. fabiola and i had a wonderful time, and i hope to return to spain again someday. and as fantastic as spain was, i was really pleased to get back to morocco. the trip gave me a renewed perspective and excitement for the rest of my time as a volunteer.

a few weeks ago, i held another young women’s health education program. it was very similar to the last one. the turn out was good with about 15 girls coming each day. i am aiming to hold one in a different village every one-two months until i leave.

at the beginning of august, the pump or motor or something broke in my village. we haven’t had tap water since then. when i ask them about it, i usually get some vague answer about it being fixed. they don’t really complain about it… i do, usually only to myself.  i would have thought tap water is one of those things like power locks in a car… once you have it you can’t live without it. but seriously, this is a really important exercise in sustainable development. the previous volunteer wrote a grant to install tap water into the houses in this village about 3 years ago. usually, they are able to fix any problem within two or three days. this time i think that they need to purchase equipment which involves finding a way for them to pay for it. if they are able to find a way to pay for the equipment and fix the problem, it will show that the project was a long term success. now that doesn’t sound so selfish at all, does it?

the irrigation system i am working on in the village up the mountain is still in progress. i submitted a grant to fund the remaining portion a few weeks ago. hopefully it will get funded within the next month or two and the village can start construction.

the school library is also going really well. we just received a shipment of 50 or so donated english and french books. after ramadan, the teacher and i will get together to organize the books and create a check-out system. i am also considering writing a grant (for a few hundred dollars or so) to pay for purchasing additional books. that way, the teacher could have more control over choosing the books, books he would like to have multiple copies of, etc. and because most books that are age and language appropriate are available in morocco, it would make the most sense to purchase them here. i will keep everyone updated.

this month i will participate in a training of trainers for a women’s health conference that will be held early november. i hope to accompany a woman from my village to this training, so she can use the information to hold a similar (or smaller scale) conference. the conference will be in two other volunteer’s villages and will last a week. the women and volunteers that were trained at the training will be traveling to several rural villages to give health lessons and provide health information. while i can’t responsibility for the planning of this project, i’m excited to be involved, as this conference was the idea of a moroccan youth center director. he planned a large portion of it and was able to get local donations to fund a larger part.

this month is the month. i am trying to get my applications completed and submitted for the master’s programs that i am applying to. the application process is significantly more difficult without the internet access or a computer. i am going to apply to five schools, and hopefully i’ll get accepted to a few of them. i’m pleased to have found a program that i am interested, but it’s a lot of stress to complete all the necessary paperwork, get recommendations, write essays, etc. and i’ll be relieved once the applications are out of the way.

less than seven weeks until my trip to see my parents. my plane tickets have been purchased and i can’t wait! i have a nice layover in paris at the beginning and then i’ll be meeting my parents in munich. let the countdown begin.

alright, if you are still reading this, bless you. but that’s about all for now. as always, i hope everyone is well, and a reminded that i love getting emails and letters (hint hint). if anyone still needs it, my mailing address is:

write my name here (you should probably know this part)
B.P. 512
Ouarzazate, 45000

Saturday, July 28, 2007

summer update

ok, i know that it’s been three months from the last update… oops. i even wrote this one down on paper (the “joys” of not having a computer). so, it’s summer again… and hot and sleeping is impossible (because Morocco isn’t on daylight savings it starts to get light at 4am). i’m in ouarzazate now, the thermometer reads 45 degrees (113 Fahrenheit)… but it’s probably not quite that bad. we spent a lot of time handing around the air conditioned places (cellphone stores, the post office, supermarkets) until we get kicked out for loitering… fortunately, my house in the mountains is much cooler. so here goes (please excuse the writing, my english and writing skills are suffering... )

my friend joanna (whom i know from blockbuster) came to visit at the beginning of june. We visited Casablanca, fes, meknes, chefchouan, and marrakech. it was great to see her, and it was a lot of fun to see new places in morocco. even better, she brought me starbucks coffee and magazines. so, if you’re reading this, thanks for coming jo… i really appreciated it, hope you had fun, and it’s always a pleasure.

after that, i had to go to rabat for mid-service medicals. i love rabat, it’s very european and reminds me of home. it was really nice to see all of my friends in peace corps. we ate lots of good food (i.e. mcdonalds) and went to this mexican restaurant with great sangria and a congalese bar with great dancing. i had lots of health tests and a dental cleaning. i’m supposedly healthy, but i’m still convinced i have a cavity... there's no way an entire year of moroccan tea could have left me without any.

someone’s paving the road to my house! i’m pretty impressed with the amount of development that tidili has managed in three years…. first electricity, then water, then cellphone reception, now paved roads… before i know it, they’ll all have wireless internet and blackberries… well, soon enough anyway.

it’s been a rough couple of months for me. i’ve been experiencing bouts of homesickness and frustration regarding work. i still love living here, but working here has proved to be challenging. it’s slowly getting better, and the homesickness has been subsiding. everything goes in cycles here, and summers have generally been rough on me.

right now, i’m trying to plan a few trips. i’m hoping to take a short trip to spain in october, and my parents and I are meeting in eastern europe for thanksgiving. i haven’t left the country since i’ve gotten here, and i’m getting antsy to travel abroad.

ok, now onto that stuff about the work I’m doing here, because I know that you’re all dying to know:

solid waste management project
sigh, it’s been disastorous. i’ve been coming up against a lot of obstacles with this project. i have done all of the background work that i could have, including interviewing store owners about trash disposal and willingness to adopt a new system, selection of landfill site, write up project proposal. i have met with the commune (local government) technician numberous times trying to work out how to go about implementing this project. from what i can understand, there’s a lot of political issues/tension/corruption within the commune. cecause of this, the commune has been reluctant to commit to this project. the other problem that i have been encountering, is that the people that i need to discuss this project with, and the people with authority to commit to the project aren’t usually at the commune. the president and vice president usually have other addresses in cities, and visit the commune only once every couple of months. after talking to my programming staff about how to deal with the set backs, we have decided that if the commune doesn’t commit by the fall, i will provide them with a translated copy of my suggested proposal with a detailed outline of how to complete the project, and move on to other work.

library project
i am pleased to say that the school library project is going very well. i am working with am enthusiastic teacher who’s excited about the project. we have collected about 100 arabic and french books for the library, and we are sending out request letters to various organizations this week to ask for more donations. if all goes well, this summer we will organize the books, create a checkout system, and (hopefully) arrange a reading hour or reading club for the students to participate in the next school year.

irrigation project
i took over an unfinished irrigation project from a volunteer that finished his service. the village further up my mountain about 30km is trying to complete a project to pipe their irrigation system. the previous volunteer wrote a grant to provide them with piping for a quarter of the full project. as part of this grant, the government division responsible for environmental preservation committed to donate 10 tons of cement and 350 kilograms of reinforcement bar. unfortunately, they were unable to follow through with this donation because of “budgetary issues.” peace corps suggested that i write another grant to cover the additional costs (about $1000). i visited them this week to clarify some discrepancies in the first grant and to update them on the status of the project. they were really nice about it, and even agreed to pay for transporation of the materials. i wrote up the grant and plan to submit it by the end of july. hopefully, there’s enough money left in the SPA (small project assistance) fund to pay for it and the community can start to work on installing the piping.

girls health program
at the beginning of july, i held a girls health program. it was basically an two hour/day four day after-school program (well, without school…. it’s summer) with an activity and a health lesson every day. the first day we had a nature hike, and did a lesson on safe water sources and trash disposal. the second day we had an art day, and the girls colored in health related pictures and i had them explain what the healthy habit was and how to do it. the third day we played Frisbee and talked about the importance of exercise and health. the last day, i had the girls write stories about healthy people and healthy habits and read them out loud to the other girls (it was my feeble attempt at introducing the concept of public speaking and self-confidence)

all together, about 15 girls came each day (mostly the same girls). i felt like it was a great success, the girls seemed to be genuinely interested in the activities and lessons. i catered the program to girls 10-20 years old, and i had a helper (Fatima) who helped me write and deliver the health lessons. some of the younger girls wanted to participate, but the activities were too advanced for them. i want to continue doing some more of these (maybe one every two months) in different villages. i might also try to do a younger girls program with activities more for ages 6-10. altogether, it was a lot of fun and seemed pretty effective.

other than that, i’ve been enjoying my time here (for the most part). there’s something to be said about appreciating where you live when you live there, so, i’m trying to focus on that. i have been doing more yoga, reading, cooking (a lot), and i’ve started to paint again. i am trying to hike more and enjoy the company of my neighbors.

speaking of, i finally understand berber humor.. it took me about a year to get. it basically just involves mocking their friends. i’m trying to get them to appreciate plays on words and puns, but the effort is usually in vain.

i am in the process of reasearching grad school for public health, and i’m going to try to apply by October. i miss my friends, family, and America (well, mostly target stores and free refills). please feel free to email me, as i always love emails and i’ll respond as soon as i can.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

after a year

oh, sorry guys. it's been a long time since i've updated anyone. my sincerest appologies. anyway, lots of exciting things have been happening.

first, i just passed my year anniversary as a volunteer. congradulations to me. one more year to go, and i have a feeling that this coming year will be even better than the last.

second, i've had some great visitors lately. my brother came to visit for three weeks. we had the chance to travel around a bit, essouaria, marrakech, and my site for about a week. then we went down to the sahara dessert and the sand dunes and took an overnight camel trek. we rode camels out for two hours, then we had the chance to sandboard and sled in the dunes (very similar to snowboarding, but well, with sand).. then we had dinner in tents in the desert, slept under the stars, and returned in the morning. it was one of my favorite trips ever.

one of my good friend, joanna is coming to visit the first week in june. i'm looking really forward to it. we're planning a trip up to the north, fez, meknes, and casablanca. i've never seen that area in moroccan, and i am excited to experiance a new part of morocco.

as far as projects, i'm currently focusing most of my energy on the solid waste managment program and the school library. i have been working closly with the technician in the local commune to plan out a trash collection system, work out a budget, and create a lasting system. i suggested a landfill system with trash collected once a week. we would put several trash receptacles in the village and promote them with various educational activities and signs. he is more interested in doing an incinarator/compost combination. while i think a landfill would be easier and more sustainable, i want this to be the communes project. although, i did try to talk him out of an incinarator, because at this point you still have to bury the ashes, and the smoke can cause a lot of health problems. so, at this point, we're looking at a compost/landfill combination. this does rely on people seperating the trash before they dispose of it, and i'm not sure how relistic it is. but the system, if it worked, would be better. when over half of the trash in compostable material, it seems like a shame to simply throw it away when compost could be used as excellent fertilizer. i'd love to see them develop this system future and sell the composted dirt generating a profit. but again, i'm not sure how plausible this is. hopefully, we'll have put together a project proposal in the next month or two and get something off the ground.

my library project is also going fairly well. i've gotten several book donations from peace corps (mostly arabic and french). while some of them are good, some are a little above the students level. i am working with the teacher to create an organization system, check-out logs, and some sort of reading promotion (book club, reading hour, etc).

that's about all for now. next month i will go up to rabat and have my mid-service medical exam. i get to find out how many parasites i have (!)... i promise i'll write another update soon.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


ok, i'm ready to talk about it... what you've all been waiting for... info about my projects, (pauses while croud cheers). p.s. in case you care, there is a differentition in arabic and tashelheit with the word "project" (which implies that it costs money) and "activity" (which doesn't)... so i will split my project/activity ideas up the same way in this post


last week, i got together with a few other volunteers, and we did a health education lesson in the local middle school about nutrition, hand washing, and teeth brushing. since i haven't gotten my ministry approval to teach in schools yet, this was a nice first step. doing the lesson with other volunteers also gave me a lot more confidence to start doing them on my own. i have written up lessons for basic hand washing and teeth brushing in my local language, and i'm just waiting for approval to start teaching in my own schools. because there are only primary schools in my site, i have written very basic lesson plans that would suit 5-10 year olds. i explain microbes as tiny bugs that you can't see, but they make you sick, and have various volunteer driven demonstrations. i'd like to also write a very basic nutrition lesson about food groups and the healthy foods to eat.

something that's also very popular in this country are murals on the school walls. i'd like to do a handwashing mural and a teethbrushing mural. also waiting for approval from the ministry for this too.

school library:

i have requested from the peace corps librarian any donated arabic and/or french books in order to start a school library. i am going to try to stick primarily to french and arabic books, as most students have little to no exposure to english. so, if anyone knows of any organizations that have french/arabic books to donate, or you have them (for some odd reason) lying around you house, let me know.

site map:
this is one that i've been meaning to do, and really should have done it by now... (shame). but i want to make a colourful acurate site map of all the villages that are under my health clinic's authority (that's so the wrong word, but i'm at a lost...). i have a topographic map of my area which shows where all the villages are... it's just a matter of sitting down and doing it. next week, i swear.

water resource guide:
another project that ideally would have been done now, but i'm waiting for my bike to get delivered so i can reach the futher out villages. this, when it's completed will be a resource guide that i will hopefully provide to each association and commune in my village. it will include all the information about the current water supply (where the spring/well/water tower is), how many homes are supplied by the current system, etc., as well as information about the school in the village, the assocation's name, and any other applicable information. ideally this will be translated into arabic or french, you know, so they can read it.

rural health lessons:
as part of the health clinic's responsibility, there is a land rover that goes to the more rural villages (up to 30km away) four times a year to vaccinate children, dispense birth control, and give medical advice. at least once or twice in the next year, i'd like to join them and give some basic health lessons (probably family planning, nutrition, and/or handwashing with soap).


so, to be perfectly honest, both of my project ideas are entirely overwhelming to me, mostly because of the vast scope and sheer number of steps to complete each. but i will do my best on both of them, and hope that they work out.

solid waste management:
i have done some of the preliminary work on this project. i have talked to the commune president about this project and my ideas, and he seemed supportive of it. basically, this project would invovle making a landfill (i'm still working on finding the land that would be ideal for this - obviously away from the road and any water sources...), fencing it in, providing trash barrels around the center of town, and arranging a person to pick up the trash weekly and bring it to the landfill. i would also like to do a trash pickup in the center of town with the local children. i have started to write this proposal (i'm hoping to get it funded by peace corps small project assistance grant), but i want to get the association in tidili involved more in the process. one of the challenges of this project is also ensuring that it will be funded after an initial grant. peace corps can pay for the landfill and the trash bins, but ensuring that a person could be paid every week to keep up the landfill is essential. i plan to arrange a meeting with the commune president and the association president to work on finding a place as well as talking about possibly a garbage tax to pay the worker. this project would only be in the center or town (getting a trash system going for all of tidili is a little to overwhelming at this point... and i think it would prove ineffective if we tried to do it all at once), and hopefully, if it works out, other villages can use the center system as a model to do their own solid waste managment system.

potable water access project:

this project would be based on the previous volunteer's project. he basically provided an electric pump, connecting pipes, faucets, and bathroom building material to make sure each house in my village (about 30 houses total) had clean running water in their house, as well as bathroom. i like this idea, because it nicely combines the sanitation and hygiene elements of our project framework goals. this project would both be relatively expensive (maybe $5000) and a lot of leg work (in order to figure out who has bathrooms, pricing material, etc), but i think it'd be a great and effective completed project. this is the project i'm hoping to get funded by peace corps project grants (basically people like you can go onto the internet and donate money directly to my project... just keep it in mind... you may get an email in a few months...) although, right now, i'm still in the preliminary stages of this, looking over the grant, talking to different associations to find a good canidate for a project like this, etc. hopefully within the next three or four months, an association can help get this project off the ground.

association training:

this is a project i'd like to have minimal involvment in (as are the goals in development work). but one of the associations in another volunteer's village is putting together an association training. basically, they are inviting associations to train them on types of project and how to manage and fund a project successfully. i have invited one of my associations to attend (they have already done a very successful project that was self-funded), and hopefully they would be interested in doing their own training for the associations in my area.

ok, that's all for now. this is a fairly ambitious list, and i don't think i will get the chance to complete all of the projects i'd like to do.. but what's most important to me is to work with the community and do one or two that they are intested in and commited to. i'd love any comments, suggestions, etc. so feel free to email me and let me know what you think..

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

projects, training, and whatnot

happy holidays. a lot has been happening lately. in addition to my parents visit (which was wonderful), i've been at a week of training and working on getting some of my funded projects off the ground.

my parents visited at the end of november. it was great to see them, and i've missed them a lot. among other things, we visited the hassen mosque in casablanca, jama fna in marrakesh, my site (!), and essouaria. it was great for them to see where i live and the work that i hope to do.

right after they left i attended my inservice training in agadir (on the coast). we stayed in a beautiful hotel with hot showers and HEAT! best of all, i was able to meet up with all of the other volunteers from my training, some who i haven't seen since swearing in. i enjoyed the training, much of it was sharing out project ideas with other volunteers and the moroccan public health sector (SIAAP), and exchanging stories and challenges we have faced in the past six months at our sites. we spent time learning about the new project framework. my health sector was previously focused on hygiene and sanitiation and we are moving toward community health education. therefore, much of the program criteria and our requirements have changed accordingly. as volunteers, as part of our work, we are asked to include teaching in schools, running or co-facilitate techniqual trainings and training of trainers for health care professionals and interested community members. this, ideally, will make our work more sustainable once we have left, by working with community assests and building on their knowledge. we also had a presentation on results-based planning and how to plan and execute projects by focusing on desired outcomes and impact. as part of that week, we had to take a mid-term language evaulation... luckily, i improved by one level... sadly, not more (im not considered intermediate high on the LPI - language proficiancy interview - criteria).. no worries, we didn't spend evey minute in training though, we all had a lot of fun in agadir.. i enjoyed mcdonalds and pizza hut... our group even had a burger-off, the winner consuming ten cheeseburgers... heart attack reports will come later. sadly, i did not have the chance to pick up any argan oil (which the area is known for)... but i guess i'll just have to return again soon.

this week is a huge holiday in morocco (surprisingly, it's not christmas)... laid el kabir (literally, holiday the big) where each family slaughters their sheep (which they have been raising and fattening for months) and eats for days. i'm excited to celebrate it with my community (ok, not so much the slaughtering animal part).

now i must get back to work... more will come as my projects get more developed, right now, as far as funded projects, i'm trying to work on a solid waste mangement system and a potable water access project. i will do my best to post mid-january with updates on these. happy new year and best wishes to you all.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

'tis a shame

i sincererly apologize to all of my loyal readers for not providing an update in a shamefully long time. while excuses aren't worth much, i will provide one anyone: you see, i think that it's very difficult to write a quality post in an internet cafe with limited time, so all of my posts tend to say the same thing and are boring... but i will make a deal... i have inservice training next week... i will write out posts before hand (long hand on paper, can you believe people still do that?!) and post at least a few next week. i will provide updates on my projects, traveling that i have done in morocco, plans i have for my time here and the future... thank you for your patience and loyality.

so, today's almost my nine month anniversiry with morocco... exciting huh? it's been a good time.. my parents just left after their trip to visit me in morocco. we had a wonderful time, we visited casablanca (and the huge mosque devoted to the late king hassan II), marrakech, my site, and essouaria. it was wonderful to see them. they both were able to visit my site and see how i live and meet the people that i live with. coupled with the excitement of seeing my parents, eating good food, buying some fun stuff, and sleeping in real hotels, i showered almost every day(!!!) now i'm very clean!

my inservice training is next week in agadir (on the coast south of essouaria). i'm looking forward to it, i get to see all of my good peace corps friends in one place at one time. additionally we get exciting (i use this term loosely) updates on saftey and security. also, we finally are going to recieve information on how to submit project proposals and apply for funding. before this we could only do funding free projects, but mostly we were focusing on getting to know our community and getting better at the language. we also have another language test this week, hopefully i'll do better than the first one i took.

ok, i'm going to update books read (i'm up to 36 or so... but i haven't read a new one in a while)... and next week, i promise to give a full update over several posts. thanks again for all of your support, the emails, letters, messages through my parents are really appreicated and makes a huge difference to my sanity. have a fantastic holiday season and enjoy some fruit cake for me!