Friday, October 30, 2009

New Posts, Finally!

Okay, so it turns out I kind of suck at keeping up a blog. I don't really have any good excuses, except that I seem to be keeping surprisingly busy at my job. That doesn't mean that I have necessary accomplished anything yet, but I like to think that I am laying a good groundwork. Despite all this, Sean has somehow managed to be pretty good at keeping up his blog. Don’t tell him, but I secretly think that is because he doesn’t do as much work as me. That being said, I am currently holed up in a hotel in the nearest big city with a bit of a cold and two days of wireless internet. I guess that means I have no excuses now.

I just noticed that my last post was in June. Yikes. Well, there really isn't any way that I can catch everyone up on the last five months or so of my life in a foreign country doing a very loosely defined job, so I will take two approaches. The first approach will be to give you all a general idea of the major things that I have been doing. The second will be to tell you about a single day event that happened recently. The last one sort of simulates what a post would look like if I were actually doing a good job of keeping up with this thing. So, just use your imaginations here. Oh, and I also managed to post a bunch of pictures. There are also a few pictures up on my facebook account. And now, with no further ado, updates!

The General Idea

I think technically according to the table they gave us when we swore in, we are supposed to be wrapping up the “integration” phase and getting into the “real work” phase of our service. That just means that while we definitely still spend a lot of time drinking tea and talking about the weather, we are spending a lot more of our time doing things like having meetings with school directors, teachers, association presidents, and random other people who think that we will give them money.

During our first few months here, we have gathered quite a list of problems that need solving and potential ways of doing so, but after running around like silly chickens for a few weeks, we decided to narrow the list. We also discovered, as we suspected all along, that we will be working in slightly different areas. My main projects are probably going to be doing a women’s wellness conference in which women from all over are taught about a variety of issues by local health professionals, association members, and lawyers. This is still very much in the planning stages, but some of the sessions we hope to cover include nutrition, maternal and child health, exercise, mental health, Mudawana rights (the new Muslim Family code in Morocco), HIV/AIDS and other STDs, and family planning. This list will undoubtedly change over time. Another thing that I started working on a few months ago is teaching women’s yoga classes. Believe it or not, this was actually an idea that the women asked me to do, and it was going really well until the holy month of Ramadan kind of put a stop to it because no one had the energy to do anything while fasting. It never really picked up after that because, apparently, Moroccans fast intermittently the whole next month after Ramadan ends in order to get extra heaven points. The plan is to restart those after I get back from another week long training in Marrakech and a vacation with my Mom (Yay, Mom! I am excited to see you!)

Meanwhile, Sean is working on organizing a first aid training of trainers. What that means is that select community members will be trained in basic first aid, and then they will go and spread this information throughout the community. His idea is to train transit and taxi drivers who go out into the remote mountain villages that don’t normally have access to health care so that they can act as a sort of ambulance service. Of course this is sticky because of liability issues, but the idea is to educate them so that they can know when it is important for someone to go to the hospital and then have the means to take them there. They can also provide basic first aid in the case of roadside accidents, of which there are many in Morocco.

We are both also working hard to get into the schools and youth centers to start health clubs. The idea here is to teach lessons about basic health issues--like HIV/AIDs, nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, exercise--in the context of what Peace Corps calls the Life Skills Program. The Life Skills Program is a set of activities that teaches a variety of communication, relationship, and decision making skills to youths. Just like in the States, just because people have access to information about how to live healthy lives does not mean that they will actually be healthy people. Currently, we are in the process of working through the red tape and figuring out who our Moroccan allies are in getting these clubs going. We have one at the Dar Shebab (youth center) in the neighboring town, and we were supposed to have our first meeting last week, but even though we had three teachers and 12 students show up, the doors were locked because the director unexpectedly went out of town, even though he knew about the meeting. We are also trying to get clubs going at the local middle school and at a dormitory where kids who live too far up in the mountains to make it to school and back stay during the school year.

So, that’s basically what I am up to as far as work goes. As far as non-work goes, I am trying to do a regular exercise schedule every day. We are issued Trek mountain bikes, and our site is fantastic for mountain biking, so we are trying to get out at least once a week for a big ride. My dream is to take multiple day trips around Morocco on my vacations. I have a few planned out, mostly in the south where I am. I am also doing yoga decently regularly. Let’s see, what else? I am trying to knit a scarf. Nothing fancy, just something to keep warm during the winter. My language is getting a little better. I am able to communicate basic concepts to most people, but when it comes to anything sort of complex, I still struggle. Like anything, there are good days and bad days.

Okay, I think that is a pretty good general idea of how things are going. I promise to try and be a better blogger in the future. I miss you all, and when you get a chance, let me know how things are going!

Cat in the Bag

So, we got a cat. When we first moved to our site we told everyone that we wanted a cat because we thought that it would keep bugs down and would be fun to have around. Some of our friends had a pregnant cat, and they promised us one. We went to their house to pick one out right before we left for training in July, and they said we could pick it up when we got back. When we got back, they said it was “sick” and that it would “make a mess in our house” if we took it now. A month or so went by and we didn’t hear from them. We figured that it had died or run away and that they didn’t have the heart to tell us (Moroccans are pretty indirect communicators). But then, a little while later, after I got back from Volunteer Support Network training, Sean told me that he had a surprise for me. Out crawled a scrawny black kitchen with giant ears and big green eyes from behind our refrigerator. We christened him “Igli” after the big black beatles that awkwardly patrol the paths in the fields. He seemed to like the name, and so we kept it.

However, we soon realized what our friends meant when they said that our cat was sick. He had hopeless diarrhea. I called around and found out that there was a vet somewhere in Ouarzazate, the nearest city an hour and a half and two taxi rides away. I decided to try my luck. So, early one morning, I took Igli wrapped in a towel in my lap to the taxi stand. I got a lot of attention from the people I passed, and as it happened to be souq day, there were a lot of people. Shortly after climbing in the back of the taxi, I discovered that Igli hates taxis. He meowed loudly the entire 30 minute ride to the next town. The other passengers didn’t seem to mind. In fact, I think they were pretty tickled that the American was taking her cat all the way to Ouarzazate to see the cat doctor. Luckily, by the next taxi ride, he had calmed down a little and only meowed about half the time. My story proceeded me, though, because before I could even ask the driver if he knew where the vet was, he and the man sitting in the front were already discussing where the best place to drop me off would be.

At this point, Igli had made a mess of the towel I was carrying him in, so I put him inside a large woven bag that we use to buy vegetables with. His head was poking out, and several passersby did a double take a smiled. I asked for directions a few times before I finally arrived at the farming association. I walked in with my cat in a bag and explained very eloquently in Tashlheit that my cat had diarrhea and that I had come to get some medicine. After looking at me for a second, he said in good English, “Good morning. Please have a seat in the next room while I finish up with this person.” I felt a little silly, but also relieved that I wouldn’t have to risk misinterpreting instructions on how to give medicine to my cat. A little later, he came into the room and examined Igli. He prescribed a medicine for worms and gave me a powdered packet of antibiotics intended for cows. He said that normally a cow gets the whole packet and a sheep gets half, so for a kitten, maybe a tenth. We then had a friendly conversation about the time when they filmed the movie Hidalgo in Ouarzazate and the animal protection agency had offered him a job making sure that the horses were well treated. He said that he loved Americans and that I was welcome anytime. He said that I should come back in a few weeks to get a rabies shot, and that if I wanted to get him fixed, I could do that too. All this was free, except the cost of the worm medicine, which I had to get at the local pharmacy.

On the walk back to the taxi stand, I put Igli inside the bag again. He was pretty tired, so he just laid down at the bottom. Every once in a while, to the surprise of passersby, he would meow. One woman was so surprised and delighted that she followed me on the street for a little while laughing and telling everyone that I had a sick cat in the bag. It was pretty great.

Igli slept pretty much the rest of the way back home. Now, about a month later, he is totally healthy and happy, although he is starting to “come of age”, which means that is he meowing constantly and desperately searching our house for a lady cat. I think I am going to have to pay my cat doctor friend another visit soon to get this little problem “fixed”.