Friday, February 13, 2009

Doing Health Lessons Like It’s My Job

Dec 15-16, 2008
There has been a myriad of reasons why I haven’t been doing regular health lessons just yet. But that changed this week when I finally did an introductory health lesson at the madrasa (primary school). There are 240 kids at the school and I give the lessons to about 30 kids at a time. So on consecutive days, I’ve planned to give the same lesson several times over.
It went better than I could’ve asked. I started out by introducing myself to the kids and talking about what we’ll be doing in my classroom. It was sort of funny to some of them because a lot of them know me as the American girl who lives in their douar (or used to). So they came in and were asking me what I was doing in their school.
We talked a little bit about health and then I asked them to draw pictures of things they do to stay healthy. It was a good, easy introduction, but it also gave me an idea of where their knowledge of general health is at this point.
I was a little nervous the first time that the kids wouldn’t understand what I was asking or expected, or that they’d misbehave. This would be a huge problem since I’m not a disciplinarian and will let kids in a classroom get away with murder if it’s amusing enough. But the first session went well and by lunchtime the second-years were all inviting me over for lunch at their houses. We drew pictures of healthy foods and sports, and the mosque in my douar.
From here I’ll work on a full-length schedule of lessons that addresses the specific health concerns of my community. My sbitar staff will be especially helpful in this because they’ve lived here so long and know the community really well. My tentative plan is to create some sort of yearlong program that can be used by the teachers. The Ministry tells us that Health is supposed to be taught in the schools according to their mandates, and I think a big part of my role here will be to help make that happen.
At the next Ministry of Health meeting in January, I’ll have some numbers to put on the report I turn in! Yay!


November 2-6, 2008
This week was IST, or In-Service Training. After our first five months of service, our stage met in Azrou to be further trained. The first five months of service were focused on community integration and fact-finding. We were basically laying the foundation for work we’ll do later.
It seems like we’re all on the right track and largely doing well. We started out the week by sharing success stories with our programming staff. They ranged from helping on vaccination days at sbitars, to assisting with equipe mobiles (vaccination drives in outer douars), to hosting our Moroccan friends for celebrations. We’ve done a lot of different things and it really underscored how different PC can look from region to region, and across Volunteers.
I feel pretty good about my time here after IST. It was good to hear that I don’t feel like the only one who wants to be “doing something.” Don’t get me wrong, I love my community here and the past five months have been invaluable. I’m feeling settled and like I have a pretty good gauge of what the next year and a half will look like. But when you have a group of high-achievers, it’s hard to convince them that just being in the community and talking to people is real work. And it doesn’t matter how many times in PST they told us we’d feel bored or useless in the time before IST. Even though we were warned, as with most things in Peace Corps words cannot prepare you for the extremity of reality.
Maybe now is a good time to explain a little bit about what constitutes “work” in Peace Corps. There are three goals in PC, and those are:
1. to help people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained men and women;
2. to help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of peoples served; and
3. to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people.
So you can see how the focus is actually on stuff like being there and talking to people. Only one of the three goals actually addresses what we might consider work in a normal job.
But Peace Corps is never normal. I don’t have a schedule or actual direction. These two years are what I make them, and that’s one reason that the Peace Corps experience looks different for every Volunteer. If I find that my specific community needs something or wants to pursue a project, then we might be tackling an issue that doesn’t even present itself in a site 15 kilometers down the road. After five months of community assessment and relationship-building, I have a handle on where to begin.
At the beginning of the week at IST, we brainstormed ideas for projects that we’d like to pursue and spent the rest of the week framing project outlines. We discussed all the details with each other so that we could flesh out potential outcomes, problems, sustainability issues, etc. It was incredibly helpful. The project my group worked on was traditional birth attendant (TBA) training. This was helpful because in my sbitar I’ve met several TBAs with whom I’d like to establish better communication, so that we can work together to reduce infant mortality.
Our southern region (Tiznit) got together later on and decided on some big projects to do as a group. This is really exciting because we can plan more far-reaching and better events together. Because there hasn’t been a PC presence in our region for a while, a lot of us are first-time Volunteers. In my site, there hasn’t been a PCV since the mid-90s. And in some sites there’ve never been any. So other regions have ongoing projects and the new PCVs could really hit the ground running once they got to site in May. But because our second-year PCVs are all new, we’re still developing a lot of ideas.
Our goal is to make sure there are larger projects going on when the new PCVs come next May. That way, they can see the work in action from the time they arrive and we can develop projects for their sites. Our old Volunteers were great in helping us feel welcome and have been invaluable sources of information and advice. I’ve said before that I couldn’t have asked for a better region, and it’s true. So our goal is to use what they’ve done and taught us to develop larger projects across sites and sectors. You’ll see what that looks like as the projects in my community take shape.

SIAAP meetings

October 9, 2008
Today was our Ministry of Health meeting. All the Tiznit Health PCVs get together every three months at the Ministry of Health office in Tiznit to talk about progress, issues, and plans for future work.
There was a Ministry of Education delegue there this time, and he talked about the importance of going to schools to do formal health education with the kids. Because the Ministry of Ed was at this meeting and is stressing this as a project we need to do… At our July meeting, the delegue had been there to talk to us about working in the schools. Every three months we’ll turn in a lesson plan of what we plan on teaching until the next SIAAP (that's the regional branch of the Ministry) meeting.
The two schools in my site include a madrasa (primary school) and lycee (secondary school). Both are fairly large, with a few hundred kids at each. As soon as the mudir (principle) at each school receives a letter of permission from the Ministry, we can begin our health lessons. There has to be official authorization for us to be in the schools in order to teach. This is actually different in different regions in Morocco, so this is the process for Tiznit and some other regions but not all of them.
From here on out, we’ll be turning in reports of our activities at each meeting. These will include all our health lessons in the schools, vaccination drives we help out with, and anything we do that involves health education.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Birthday cake and rabies prophylaxis

October 23, 2008
Today I greeted my quarter-century mark with a small gathering of incredibly fabulous people. It was the first time I've had any kind of party with my Moroccan and American friends so far! I'd invited my host family over earlier in the week and was sort of nervous for them to see my house and eat food that I'd cooked. Also a few other PCVs from the region came over. I decided to make Ethiopian because it's similar to Moroccan food in a lot of ways and it's something I like a lot.
Well, it was served on a dish placed on top of the box that my tv came in, but I think everyone enjoyed it. Admittedly, the house still needs a little work but it's really shaping up.
Best part of dinner: My host mom asked for some birthday cake to take back for the kids! Success! We had to light a couple candles and sing just to do a little cross-cultural exchange, of course. Work as a PCV never ends! ; )
My big/real birthday celebration will be after our upcoming In-Service Training, in Fez. I think maybe I'm too old to make people celebrate my birthday, but then again I've been alive for a quarter-century and maybe that's kind of a big deal. I did regale my PC friends with the "WKRP in Cincinnati" story of my birth... You know the one. If you don't then maybe you'll hear it in a couple years. I don't think I'll be telling it again in Fez. When you don't know your Nick-at-Nite classics, then hearing a story about funny shows from the 80s isn't as hilarious as I think it should be...

October 24, 2008
A few days ago I was at my friend Hanneke's site and she'd taken in this really sick little puppy. He was so cute! Her neighbors said another dog had bitten him and he looked so friendly and helpless that she decided to take him in when he wandered over to her house.
(In Morocco, there are generally a lot of wild dogs in our sites in the bled. It can be a problem sometimes and recently a couple of PCVs have been bitten. It's more of an issue at night, though; during the day you can see to throw rocks at the dogs to make them go away. They're so accustomed to this practice that the motion of bending down and pretending to pick up a rock is usually enough to scare them away. All PCVs in-country receive a rabies series during training, and in case of dogbites we'll be sent to Rabat or the closest facility with the post-exposure prophylaxis. )
I came to visit the next day, and he was already in need of a great deal of care. He was playful and cute but had trouble eating anything and swallowing liquids. We just kind of figured his discomfort and health issues were due to the bite wound, which was on the side of his cute little puppy face. So she was trying to nurse him back to health and I helped out a bit. Some of the neighborhood kids were watching us and laughing as we taught him commands in Tash and English. We'd say "skus" and push his bum onto the ground so he'd sit, but then he'd pop back up and want to play some more.
We tried to feed him what we could, which proved difficult. So on our trip into Tiz, we shopped around for baby bottles and formula, anything that might prove manageable for the little guy. We went back to our sites and she kept me updated on his status.
Unfortunately, after a hard-fought battle with various afflictions and an emergency trip to the vet in Tiznit, the puppy, dubbed Samson in reference to a Regina Spektor song, succumbed to his myriad afflictions, including a severe case of roundworm, and died. From Hanneke's description, it sounded like a pretty tragic end. Well this morning, after a night of celebrating my entry into the world and whatnot, Hanneke gets a frantic call from her dad, who's just read an email she sent about the dog; he tells her that anyone who was in contact with Samson needs to get a rabies vaccination. Like at that very moment. We called the PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer-- in PC Morocco we have host country national medical staff) on duty, and she tells us she'll contact the hospital in Tiznit to see if they have the prophylaxis but that if we can't get vaccinated there then we'll have to travel up to Rabat for it as soon as we can.
So I'm sitting here in Tiznit writing this, after a hectic day of packing and prepping my house for an extended absence and running around getting ready for a potential trek across the country. I'm a little tired. I was ready to go to Rabat if necessary. Luckily they had the vaccination here, enough for all three PCVs who came into close contact with Samson.
In retrospect, maybe we shouldn't be playing with dogs here. This probably seems a bit obvious and maybe you're questioning our collective judgment right about now. But he was cute and didn't display any of the symptoms of rabies with which we were familiar. It's difficult to evaluate things like this because we're so out of our context that sometimes judging a situation like this can be next to impossible. Three different PCVs took it as a matter of course that you can take in a friendly but sick little dog, care for him, and raise him. It turns out that in wild animals, a symptom of rabies is fearlessness-- which we all definitely thought was playful puppy-ness. We've come to the conclusion that he most likely had rabies; although he didn't bite or scratch us, we were in very close contact with him and needed the shots. Live and learn.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What a weekend!

September 26-27, 2008

So tonight was the first presidential debate, and I had an election debate party. A few friends and I watched CNN International and stayed up late/got up early to watch the coverage. The debate itself aired at 01:00 here, but the pundits stayed up late and so did we!
This was one of my excuses for splurging for satellite: I need Grand Slam tennis and election coverage. The tv is one of the few luxuries I allowed myself in my house and seems a bit excessive, but it's also a big part of entertaining here. It's also a nice paradox when you take into account that I have no running water in my house, but I have a really "zween" (very very nice) satellite.
It's so much fun to be with this group during such an important election year. I think I'm probably one of the most moderate PCVs in the group, but that's normally the case at home, too. We had a great time picking apart the candidates. You can probably guess which one we were supporting... : )
On election night itself we'll be at our In-Service Training and hopefully have coverage of the results. All the PCVs who trained with me will be there, and excepting one or two most of us have a leftist slant.
The plan is to watch debates with other PCVs and have little get-togethers in the run-up to the big night. It's fun to tell my community that we're staying up late to watch the election news from America. Some of them have definite opinions on who should win!
For the first of the debates we made an Indian feast, which was quite a feat considering all the food was cooked before we broke fast and there was no taste-testing allowed. We left that up to the one of us who wasn't fasting, so thanks, Emmy, for ensuring that we didn't gag on the results of our guesswork dinner ; )
September 27-28, 2008

Tonight was Laylat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power. It's a night when the men stay up all night at the mosque reading the entire Quran and the women all get together outside. This is done because in the Muslim tradition, it's believed that the Prophet Mohammad was transported on the 27th night of Ramadan from Medina to Jerusalem and back again. The entire Quran was revealed to him on that night. Muslims commemorate this miraculous event by reciting the Quran at mosque. The men go to the mosque together and the women take them food (here it's either couscous or lamb tagine) throughout the night.
It felt oddly like a wedding, because we sat and chatted and ate tagine. I hadn't had tagine in about a month because of Ramadan, so it was nice to eat with the women. We started out at the well near my house where I sometimes draw water. Then a group of us moved to another house and stayed until about 1:30. We sat outside the whole time, and it was a beautiful night.

It's great to spend the holidays with the people in my douar and I can't wait until Eid next Wednesday!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

wedding season

August 15, 2008
I'm told by PC staff that in my site being invited to weddings means that I'm integrated. I wonder what they'd say to a 16-hour three-wedding marathon...?
My site is huge, which means there are a lot of people to meet. A great way to do this has been going to weddings. In the summer, because there's traditionally not as much work to do after the harvest, there are tons of weddings in Morocco. There were multiple weddings to attend every weekend in August!
On a side note, the Tash words for wedding and harvest are very similar. "Tmgra" is a wedding and "tamgra" is harvest. Usually the weddings in Morocco happen once the harvest season has ended, because then people aren't working all day.
I've had henna done every time someone knows I'm going to a wedding and they see it's faded too much. There are several styles of henna done, and the one most common in my site is the one in the Facebook album. So far, I've seen three techniques of applying henna.
The first involves using a syringe to draw flowery patterns on the palms, the backs of the hands, and, on married women, on the feet. In Ouarzazate and regions further north than here, unmarried girls can get henna on their feet, but in the south it's reserved for married women. Sometimes the girls will get a small design just above the ankle though. Henna on the feet covers the soles and tips of the toes, including toenails. Around this block of henna, a pattern to match the hands is done.
The other kind of henna design involves a form pattern that you can buy in souq. It's a stencil made of tape similar to black electrical tape. You tape the pattern on and cake henna on. When I had this done during homestay, it was just before bed and plastic bags were tied around my hands so it wouldn't rub off in my sleep. I woke up the next morning and washed it off. You have to leave henna on for several hours so that the stain takes hold.
The only kind of henna I've not yet had done is the type that completely covers the palms. You just smear the henna across the palms and leave the backs of the hands uncovered. I'm sure it'll happen in the next two years.
My goal for the next two years is to always have orange-stained fingernails all the time. When the henna covers your nails it stains them permanently and they have to grow out before it's gone completely. I think my goal is realistic. There are a lot of weddings here! And henna is done before holidays, too.
So... Berber weddings. You've seen my pictures from the fake Oz wedding. Basically here it's the same. Everyone gets all dressed up. I go and sit with the women, and the men sit somewhere else. We chat and eat tagine. Sometimes there's dancing and music. Usually this involves the younger girls playing drums or recorded music and getting in a room together to dance. Dancing here is something that has to be seen; there's a definite style to it that I can't describe. The bride, who enters the room with her face covered, wears several outfits and makes her rounds so everyone can see her.
At really nice weddings, there are men who perform a traditional dance called Ahwash. They have various instruments that they play and there was a wedding I went to that was really fancy because they had a singer and band and dancers! I met the bride from another wedding on the same day who said she was leaving hers to come to this one because it was going to be so ifulki! But apparently in a site with so many weddings this isn't all that uncommon. Also, weddings last several days so leaving for a few hours probably wasn't a big deal.
I'll post more details on weddings later but this, along with the pictures, should give you some idea.


August 10, 2008
So a key word in my life, a phrase and idea around which everything revolves, is "ishqa". It means "it is difficult." People ask all the time if this or that is difficult for me: life in Morocco, drawing water, the heat, learning Tashelheet. You name it. Mostly the questions center on shared experiences like aspects of life in my site, and it's a great way to commiserate. I tend to agree that things are difficult, and that it's a lot of work, sometimes, to live in the bled.
This is such a good thing, I think. Every experience I have is both a challenge and opportunity to learn.
Here's a little story to serve as an example. You'll see what I mean.
Recently, my phone decided to rebel against my need to use it and stopped holding a charge. Unable to figure out what was wrong on my own (duh), I tried several times to take it to the phone guy in my site. He's very helpful in such matters. But by the time I finish at the sbitar every day, he's closed for lunch. I live far away and the heat is intense, so I never can muster the energy to walk back to souq a second time. And usually I spend the afternoons and evenings in my douar, getting to know people.
So I took it to Tiznit with me one week, and the guy I took it to had no clue what was wrong. I explained the problem, and he just couldn't figure it out. I didn't want to blow my monthly budget on a new phone, so I took it home again and kept it off most of the time so it would have a charge for emergencies.
I was kind of frustrated because my phone's become an important lifeline. I'm lucky to be in a country with generally good cell phone coverage, or coverage at all for that matter. I've come to rely on my cell and text other PCVs pretty often (calls are pricey here, but texts are 1 Dirham apiece :)
One day I happened to pass my usual in-site phone guy, and ran over to his tahanut to ask about the phone situation. He listened patiently as I explained in broken Tash, Arabic and English what the phone was doing. He said maybe it was the charger, and proceeded to open a new charger and test it. Turns out that's exactly what the problem was, and (Hamdullah) new chargers are only 15 Dirham- totally in my budget!
So the phone debacle was remedied, and I was ready to start texting and talking to people Stateside once again!
You're probably thinking, "What a boring story!" Maybe you're thinking, "Wait; what's a tahanut again?"
But there's a point, I swear!
People keep asking how life is here. If I had to give an answer that encapsulates every day, it would look a lot like this story. The details vary, but this is how it goes. Life is "ishqa". I've relearned how to cook, clean, dress, speak, and go about every aspect of public and private life. If I have a problem that'd be easily remedied in the States, like the thing with my phone, usually it takes a bit more time and care here.
This is great, and I wouldn't change it at all. It means that I have to learn to be more patient, and think about things in different ways. I'm constantly calling everything I think I know into question and reevaluating things. Luckily there's a lot of time to think here.
Oh, by the way, at the end of the day I also found 20 Dirhams! Now do you think it's a good story? ; )