Thursday, July 31, 2008

More on Harvest

More on Harvest

I feel as though my last few entries have been lacking a little bit, so in order to maintain my meager readership, I’m hoping to make this an extra good post.
It starts out as the last one finished, with harvest. Wheat is the main crop here and it takes a long time to harvest. My family is now finished, and I think only a few families have any left.
One reason that it takes so long is that many of the fields are so far away. My town is in a valley, with just small fields surrounding it. As the valley continues up the riverbed, it narrows, eliminating any space for fields. After maybe 5 or so miles, the valley widens up greatly, with lots of space for farming, which is where the majority of the farming land is. The farming space is nestled up against the mountain and often on top of little hills. The wide part of the valley stretches for maybe 8 miles and much of it is covered in (now harvested) wheat fields. So if your fields are at the far end of the valley, you’re looking at maybe 13 miles between your house and the field. At first I couldn’t believe how big it was, but I realize now that it’s the land of two different douars (communities), making up maybe 1,200 people. This expanse of fields has its own name and there are even different names for different sections of the land. The distance that separates the town from the fields makes the harvest that much harder.
We woke up early (4:45) and rode two donkeys to our field. My host mom had to stay home to take care of the cow, so my family enlisted the help of two women to harvest – my dad is 72 and doesn’t work very fast and I could hardly be counted on to harvest all the wheat. Interesting side note about the women. One of the women is married and the word for her is tamtut. The other woman is unmarried, so she is called turbat – which is the word for girl. A female is considered a girl until she marries. The word for her, her basic identity, is dependent on her marital status (not so for men).
The four of us got to the field and started harvesting. It’s really slow going. The women sing, which makes it more pleasant. They told me to sing something, so I sang ”99 Bottles of Beer,” which satisfied my desire for irony. Truthfully, I’ve been dying to to share that story because it seemed so funny to me at the time. It was the first time in my life that I made it through all 99 bottles in the song. While you’re out there working, you have tea breaks and lunch of bread, tomatoes, onions, and sardines. We finished harvesting around 5 pm the first day.
Then comes the ridiculous part. We load this GIANT bag full of wheat and hoist it onto the donkey. It’s as big of a bag as you could imagine a donkey possibly carrying. The bag is loaded perpendicular to the donkey’s spine and extends maybe 4 feet on either side of the donkey. It might be 5 feet high. The women rode back on the other donkey, leaving me and my host dad to walk the donkey back. But he walks too slow to keep up, so it was just me and the donkey. Fortunately, it pretty much knows where to go without any help. The first day it was fresh and walked fast, so accompanying it was a workout.
The hired women are invited over to eat dinner, which I think is a cool custom. It’s not just an exchange of work for money. Plus it meant I got to talk to new women, which is nice for me because it’s tough for me to talk to women here.
The second day of harvesting went pretty much as the first and we finished harvesting the wheat. All of the wheat didn’t fit in one bag, so we had to leave the wheat behind to bring home the next day, which meant a lot more work, given the distance between house and field.
Walking back with the donkey, I ended up walking with another man and his donkey. His bag of wheat was not loaded well and not tied on well. Precariously balanced a top the donkey, a number of times it almost fell off; he would get to the bag just in time to stop it from falling.
However, he wasn’t really paying careful attention to the donkey. Instead, he was excited to be talking to me. His donkey got maybe 20 meters ahead of us and he hardly seemed to notice. All of the sudden the bag fell off the donkey, sideways. As the bag is tied to the donkey, this is kind of bad. The donkey kind of freaks out and tries to run, dragging this huge thing behind it. The guy finally got control of the donkey and motioned for me to come help him with the bag (by the way, there’s no way that two men could lift this huge bag back onto the donkey. MAYBE three people could do it, but four is preferable). So I left my donkey standing in the middle of the road and ran to help him. When I got there, we fruitlessly tried to lift the bag back up on the donkey. The donkey got spooked again and ran away a little. That spooked my donkey (which is an easily spooked donkey), which started running at full speed in the opposite direction from us. I took off after it.
Now, these bags are huge and easily displaced. Jarred from the running of the donkey, the bag fell off, which only scared the donkey more. It frantically jumped and kicked, trying to rid itself of the weight tied around its stomach. However, it tripped when the bag got tangled in its feet and fell to the ground, rolling as it fell. The gigantic bag of wheat fell on top of the donkey, covering it nearly completely. I got to the donkey and vainly tried to displace the bag. I was kind of freaking out as this seemed like a good way for the donkey to break a leg. A third man had arrived and was helping the other guy; neither had seen what had happened to my donkey. I yelled at them and the three of us managed to untie the bag and get it off the donkey. After some other people showed up, we got both bags back on the donkeys, although it was tough since the donkeys were pretty skittish at that point. The rest of the way home the donkey sort of limped and we walked slowly. The next day we went back and retrieved the remainder of the wheat and returned home uneventfully.
The biggest impression that this whole event made on me was the absurdity of the distance between house and field and how much harder that made the work. If people had pickups and the road was paved, sure, no big deal. But using donkeys means that the distance significantly increases the amount of time invested in harvest.
I also learned a lot about why people get sick. My host mom always says, “People get sick a lot in the summer, I don’t really know why. The sun causes diarrhea. People work in the field all day so the sun must be the reason people are sick in the summer.” But now it’s pretty obvious there are some other reasons. When people go out in the field, they drink water from wells, springs, and other sources. My dad collected water from a stream. Also, there isn’t a whole lot of good hygiene being practiced when people are out in the fields all day, especially with food.
So it was a good experience and I’ve learned a lot from it. Now the family is waiting for the one threshing machine in village to be available so that the wheat itself can be separated from the stalk.

Other than that…not a whole lot. I’ve been pretty exhausted when I’m not working. I’m reading East of Eden, which I’d forgotten how much I liked. I signed my rental agreement; I can move in to my house as soon as some improvements are done (bathroom added, counter installed, cement floor, water taps…) And I’m excited for that. This weekend I’m going on a small hike and hopefully camping near some hot springs. Hopefully we won’t get rained on; there’s been a lot of rain recently. Hope all is well.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Harvest Time

Its harvest time in my village. People finished with Barley a couple weeks ago, but the big crop is wheat.

I went out with my host family to help out last week. Its slow, hard work. You use a sickle to cut off bunches of wheat, then you tie the wheat to itself in a bundle. When the field is finished, you load the wheat into a giant bag and put it on a donkey. The donkey takes the wheat back. There is a thresher that processes the wheat that is owned by some guy in a neighboring village. You pay him 50 DH (7 dollars) an hour to use his machine. Then you have wheat. Of course, to make bread, it needs to be sifted, cleaned, and ground.

Its long, slow work, but at the same time quite satisfying. Everyone in town is super tired right now, but also very happy. As the big harvest is coming to an end, the next month, August, is sort of a celebration month. Its wedding month so there are many parties, or so Im told. Of course everyone thinks that I should be getting married during wedding month.

In other news, I signed the agreement on my house. I cant move in for another couple weeks as some construction needs to be done on it first. But still, its exciting.

Hope all is well in the States. Sorry this post is kinda short, but Im typing on the cyber cafe keyboards which makes it harder.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Midwife training
The big thing that is going on is trying to organize the midwife training. The training isn’t until October, but we have to get names and other information to the Ministry very soon. As I’ve mentioned before, the other volunteers participating in the training have already been in their communities for over a year and have been working on the training for much longer than me. So they’ve had all their trainees set up for a while now. I, on the other hand, am very disorganized. Basically, I’m scrambling around talking to the few connections I have and trying to figure out potential trainees.
Given the difficulty of the project, I’m probably in over my head. First of all, the language for describing the training and whom I want to go to the training is very difficult. My region has a different word for midwife (tamisgant) than most places, which I JUST learned. I had been walking around saying this word (tamqablt) that no one understood. Which complicated my discussions with people because I had to explain what a tamqablt was. The next problem is that there aren’t really formal tamisgants or tamqablts or whatever you want to call them. In my douar, there are several women who help with complicated births, but they aren’t midwifes and don’t think of themselves as such. So you can’t just ask any person on the street, "who are the tamisgants" in this village and get an answer. You’ve got to ask a bunch of different people and figure out whom the right people are to talk to and then ask them. And finally, another big obstacle is being a man. Women know better about who the midwifes are, but I can’t talk to them about it; the topic is sort of shameful. So I kind of slink around waiting for good opportunities to talk to people.
Luckily, my host mom has been very helpful. I can talk to her about most anything. She and a female volunteer (Mara) who organized the project went around with me in my douar today and we talked to several women about the training. The women were very open and excited about the project and didn’t seem to mind talking about it with me, which I think is very encouraging for future work with women. The men are a little harder convince (the women need the men’s permission), but I think that they mostly were supportive.
In my neighboring douar, I didn’t have the help of my host mom and it made things much harder. I talked to the sheikh (kind of like the mayor) there and he agreed to help. I thought that he would guide us to the right houses and we would talk to the women. Instead he went to the middle of town and said something to another man, who I guess is like the town crier. The man shouted at the top of his voice for all the men and women to assemble (separately) to talk to me and my colleague. As the women went with Mara, I was left to talk to the men. I stood on a sort of stage and had to explain the birthing training to about 150 men in my so-so Tamazight. It was not a situation that I would have agreed to beforehand, but once things were set in motion there was no backing out of it. It ended up going pretty well, thanks in large part to the support of several of my friends in the douar, who would step in and explain something if I said it funny.
The project is interesting because it absolutely requires collaboration between men and women volunteers. It’s pretty obvious how a woman volunteer can help me to talk to women about a taboo topic. Without Mara, I could not have gotten an audience about the training. But, as a man, it’s easier for me to set up meetings with the powerful men in different douars and talk to them about it. It’s critical that the community as a whole participate in the project, so men need to buy into it. One obvious reason is that the women need the permission of the men in order to leave the community to do the training. Having a male volunteer at the meetings gives the project a little more credibility in the eyes of other men and makes them more likely to give their wives permission.
So it’s an exciting time. Since I’ve been in Morocco, there’s never been an occasion where I’ve worried that I won’t have enough time to get something done, until now. I’m hoping that we can make this training an annual thing; there are many communities that we were unable to communicate with and more time is needed.
Everything else is going well. I’m 100% better from my illness, humdullilah. I’ll be going to Khenifra (provincial capital) Tuesday to talk to the Ministry about the midwife training. Hopefully, it’ll all work out well. I also had my best adventure yet as, while biking/hiking to a nearby volunteers house I found an amazing canyon. Unfortunately I didnt have my camera, but I will return to that place and take pics as soon as Im able.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Potential Projects

Potential Projects

I’ve been here a little while now and I’m starting to get a picture of what’s going on and some ideas for work that I can do in the future. These are all just ideas at this point and surely some of them won’t work out, but it’s nice to imagine myself doing some work.

a) First of all, there is a need in my site for people to help with births. My douar is the closest one of the commune to a hospital and it’s about an hour away, if there is transportation (which there isn’t a lot of the time). So women mostly give birth in their homes, which leads to infant and maternal mortality. Having spoken to a few people, there are no official midwifes, people say that other women just help with the birth.
Fortunately, a volunteer who has been here for a year already has organized a training of midwifes. So my job is to meet with people and identify potential candidates for the training. It’s tough because I’m a guy and it’s kind of a taboo topic, but my host mom is being helpful.
Also, in October, there is a “training of trainers,” for midwifes. My hope is that the nurse in my health clinic will go and be trained. Then, she can help me to train other women. This will be especially helpful for training women in other, further douars because it is more difficult for them to get to the initial training. Basically, I’ve got two opportunities to facilitate the training of midwifes, which I think will be good for my community.

b) Another big thing is potable water. My douar has a chateau (water tower) and everyone has a tap in his or her house. In other douars, there are public fountains fed by springs, where people gather their water daily. This is a problem for two reasons: first, gathering water is very time consuming and women and children end up bearing the brunt of the work. Second, the water from the springs (as I’ve found out) can make you sick. So I think it would be good to build chateaus in the outer douars and pipes to go with them.
One obvious obstacle is money. Peace Corps gives a little money for infrastructure projects, but I’m hoping to speak to the president of an association in Midelt (a nearby biggish town) who donates money for projects like this. We’ll see. The other big obstacle is that a chateau requires constant upkeep, or the water can become contaminated. So it’s important the community buys into the project and is invested in it.

c) School is out of session now, but when the summer ends, I’m hoping to go from school to school, doing simple health lessons with the kids. Really easy stuff, hand washing, teeth brushing and the like. But doing lessons in schools requires the permission of the Ministry of Education. And since the processing of such permission takes a long time, I’m going to try and get my lesson plans figured out so I can get the application started.

d) I mentioned in an early post about the depletion of resources in my community, specifically collection of wood and over grazing. Well yesterday I met a man who is the president of an environmental association in one of my douars. I’m going to work with him to see if we can get people to buy into these more efficient wood stoves that are available nearby. The stoves are subsidized, but still expensive. Also, it requires action from people on a topic that may or may not be important to them. But I’m hopeful that there will be a positive response since a number of people have talked to me about this issue.

e) One extra fun piece of work that I’ll be doing in August is attending a soccer tournament. Hopefully I will get to play. The tournament is hosted by a fellow volunteer and during breaks in the action; there are opportunities for other volunteers to do little lessons. As I’m not very confident in my ability to speak to a large group at this point, I will probably collaborate with another volunteer to do a lesson.

f) Speaking of collaboration, hopefully I’m going to be working with a nearby volunteer at her site. She’s been around for a while and has set up some lessons with kids, including painting murals. I’ll be going to help out and also learn from her experience.

g) My final “project” right now involves sanitation and nutrition in the home. This is the least well-formed idea and the hardest to pull off because it requires that I talk to women. But I also think it is the most important and will make the actual biggest difference in my community in terms of public health. I’m hoping to enlist my host mom to help me out. She’s from a bigger city and so is a little more aware about these sort of health issues. It’s also been really easy for me to talk to her about stuff that she may not know. The big step then is getting her to help me teach other women (or better yet, her teaching them on her own).

As you can tell, I’m working a lot at this point with other, established volunteers. It’s good to have them around to have something to do and get ideas from them. During these hot summer months of lots of talk and little action, it’s good to think that I might be doing something one of these days.
I’m reading a book called “The Spider’s House” now, written by Paul Bowles. It’s set in Fez during the uprising preceding Moroccan independence from France (1956). Bowles prides himself on knowing the Moroccan culture very well and representing it accurately. It’s tough for me to judge since he writes about a different region during a different time, but it seems to capture some of the feelings I get about the culture. Coincidentally, I’m also reading a book translated by Paul Bowles, which is called “The Oblivion Seekers,” which is interesting (Thanks Mom). I’m also plodding through Ulysses, but awaiting a companion book in order to help with comprehension.
Other than that, things are good. I celebrated the 4th of July by hanging out with Americans (we had hamburgers, potato salad, and lemon squares). After 5 days of medicine, I’m over the dysentery, thankfully. And I’ve got a potential house to rent, starting in August. It’s small and has a lot of work to be done on it before I can move in, but it’s nice enough. It’ll be good to have my own space and cook my own food.
Hope all is well, happy belated 4th.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Amoebic Dysentery; Work in Morocco and other stuff

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted and it seems as though there’s a lot to report.

Amoebic Dysentery

First, I’ve been sick and I’m here to report that it’s not a lot of fun. I’ve been tired a lot and spending a lot of time resting. It’s my own fault; I drank water from a spring, which I know I shouldn’t be doing. I’ve had diarrhea for nearly a week now and it’s recently been diagnosed as amoebic dysentery. Fortunately, there is effective medicine available that should clear things up quickly.
Being sick has exposed some of the interesting myths in the culture about the causes of illness and simultaneously provided me with an excuse to give a little health lesson. My host mom has said repeatedly that I have diarrhea because of the hot sun. I tell her no: the sun does not cause diarrhea, there are small bugs (microbes) in the water that made me sick. I’m not sure that she believes me. Then, the other night, we were having something hot to eat for dinner. I went to drink some cold water and she tried to make me stop. She said that the cold water and warm food in my stomach would give me diarrhea.
Apparently, I’m not the only one in the village who’s been sick with diarrhea recently. Everyone says, ‘oh, people have diarrhea now because the sun is so hot right now.’ My theory (The Microbe Theory) is that it’s really hot right now, so people are drinking more water from the springs and irrigation ditches, which is the actual cause of the illness. The thing is, people are convinced of The Hot Sun Theory and it’s difficult to convince them otherwise. And that’s my job for the next two years, advocating The Microbe Theory (something you can’t see or touch) and disproving The Hot Sun Theory.

Work in Morocco

People are starting to harvest barley now. Let me just take back anything I ever thought about Moroccans not working hard. It is hot out now and everyone is harvesting barley. All summer long there will be crops to harvest.
Everyone loves to give Moroccans a hard time, mostly Moroccan men, for not working. I’ve touched on this before, but people love to say, “Moroccan women do all the work, the men do nothing.” I’ve heard it from Peace Corps Volunteers and I just heard it from the president of a Spanish NGO (more on other aspects of that meeting later). In front of a Moroccan friend of mine, the Spanish guy was telling me how little the men do. I happened to know that my friend had gotten up at 6 to work all day in the fields, meanwhile this Spanish guy was lighting up a hash cigarette after having eaten my friend’s food, his feet all over the sofa, and thinking of himself as a savior of rural Moroccans everywhere.
The thinking seems to be, “if only the men would work harder, the country wouldn’t be impoverished. But they just sit around all day drinking tea. It’s the women who keep the families from collapsing.” It’s easy to fall into this trap of blaming the ills of a country on its sexism and gender rolls and ignoring other factors. This allows us to reaffirm our own superiority for our supposed liberal society (now, it’s been a while since I left the country, but my recollection is that gender roles and sexism still existed in the States). This line of thinking also makes for easy attacks on Islam; the thinking seems to be, “men justify their superiority because of their religion.” I’m not saying the gender inequality isn’t an important issue in Morocco (it is), but it isn’t the main cause of an underdeveloped economy.
Maybe people think that the men do no work because they are very public with their leisure time: they spend it all in public spaces, chatting with their friends. Many Americans spend their leisure time in their houses or other private spaces. Now, no doubt women work really hard, but let’s lay off the men, OK? My 72 year-old host dad is waking up at 4 (four!) tomorrow morning to go and harvest barley.
(In my criticisms of Western attitude toward Moroccans, I’ve noticed that I often make sweeping generalizations and say things like, “Americans think this about Moroccans.” Given I’m often criticizing Americans for make generalizations about Moroccans, this is the height of hypocrisy, and I’m going to try to stop it.)

Other Observations

Next on the docket of issues is a trip I took to a neighboring douar (community), some 17 km away. I’ve been to this douar twice before. The second time was when I accompanied the doctors on their evaluations of the kids and gave my hand washing lessons. So I know a little about the community and I know the moqadem (local authority guy).
First off, I found out a little more about the impact of the doctor’s trip. While giving their evaluations, if a child had a serious problem that the doctor could not address at that point, she wrote up a little slip describing the problem and saying that the kid should go to Tounfite (the nearest big town) to see health professionals there.
It turns out she wrote all of these evaluations in French and gave them to the moqadem. It was his job to distribute the evaluations to the parents. Now, I’m pretty sure no one in this community speaks French, let alone can read it. So while I was there, the moqadem had me go through all the slips and explain what was written and whom it should be given to. Crazy. Then I walked around with the moqadem and he gave some of the slips out to parents that we saw while we walked. I gave a little explanation of the kid’s problems and told the parents that the kid needed to go to a health center. Now, this is pessimistic of me, but I’m pretty sure none of the kids will be taken to Tounfite. So none of the kids that really need help will get it.
The original reason that I’d gone to this douar was to get a picture of this little sick girl there. I need to send the picture to a doctor in America in order to get authorization for the medication she needs. Her illness, if it is what I think it is, is very severe. It’s caused by generations of inbreeding. (Its shorthand is XP, if you’d like to look it up.) All of the girl’s siblings have had the illness and they all died. The girl started showing symptoms 5 months ago. I don’t totally understand the disease, but it’s some kind of skin cancer. The skin is extremely sensitive to the sun and is damaged by exposure. Eventually nasty sores develop on the face and blindness ensues. I guess the medication is some kind of oral, mild chemotherapy. There’s another Peace Corps Volunteer who’s been monitoring some other cases and, from her report, it sounds like even with medication, it’s a pretty miserable life to lead as the patient should be shut up in a dark room all day for healing. So that’s pretty sad.
In addition to wanting to help this girl, I thought it would be a good way to get to know a community and to get them to think of me as a health worker. Well, that worked. Sitting in the moqadem’s house, some people came and knocked on his door with more doctor’s notes to translate. Also, the moqadem had me look at his little son, who is very sick. The kid has had diarrhea for a month. He’s become very skinny with a distended stomach and while I was there, he was completely unresponsive. I told the moqadem he had to take the kid to a health center or he might die. The moqadem said a) God will help him and b) that the health center was very far. Later in the conversation, I asked the moqadem about his children. He said he had three (living). I asked how many of his children had died. He said two. I’m pretty sure that it will be three soon. And this guy is the moqadem, who is a community leader and better off than most in the douar.
In my douar, which is the central douar in the larger community and perhaps the most well off, there aren’t such glaring, drastic health problems. There’s definitely a lot of work to do, but it’s a little more subtle and is going to take more research and patience to address. I’ve definitely been a little impatient about not having any real “work” to do at this point. It’s fair to say that I was disappointed there wasn’t more to do. But now having found a place where there is so much “work,” I see how silly that wish was. Being a health worker and having lots of work means that lots of people are suffering.