Sunday, August 2, 2009

5 Legs Passenger Side Front, 3 Driver Side Front

On Wednesday I was in Boumia at around 7 pm. After 3 tiring days of work in Midelt, I was waiting for transport to Tounfite where I would spend the night. There were 9 other people who were also waiting for transport to Tounfite, creating possible competition for seats. A station wagon taxi pulled up looking to go to Tounfite. Everyone pushed their way towards the taxi; I went to the trunk and put my stuff there. A station wagon taxi can fit 10 people plus the driver, so I wasn’t too worried about getting a seat. The back row is smaller – three people squeeze into it. The middle row is bigger, it seats four. The passenger front gets two. These seats were all taken by the time I got my stuff situated in the trunk. Normally, the tenth passenger sits to the left of the driver. However, the driver of this taxi was a little bigger than normal and I wouldn’t really fit there. So I was instructed to sit to his right. I was sitting partially on the seat and partially on some metal/plastic thing in between the front seats. There wasn’t room for both my legs right next to the gas pedal, so my right leg was swung over on top of the left leg of the passenger to my right – 5 legs in the passenger side front. My left leg was near the gas pedal. In between my legs was the stick shift. My left arm went around the driver, out the window. And my right arm went around the back of the passenger seat. I was literally sprawled across the front row, sharing it with three grown men. The other passengers in the car loved it that I knew where the 10th passenger had to sit. The journey started. I quickly realized that shifting in and out of 2nd and 4th gear would be an uncomfortable proposition; the gear shifter came very close to my crotch. The driver’s forearm rested in my groin area when he changed gears. While accelerating he would shift gears – from 2nd to 3rd, for example – and leave his hand on the shifter (and forearm on my groin) in anticipation of another shifting of gears (to 4th). Despite this invasion of personal space, I found I didn’t really care. My left arm quickly fell asleep. I thought about telling people that my arm was falling asleep (in Tam you say: a fox has taken my arm) because people would love it. Halfway through the journey the man to my right moved his arm and started squeezing his fist – obviously his arm had fallen asleep. So I loudly asked if a fox had taken his arm and everyone started cracking up. After 50 minutes of discomfort, we pulled into Tounfite. I got out of the car and was able to limp to my destination.

When I left Midelt it was about 5:30 pm. I got into Boumia at 6:20. I waited for transport until 7. After 50 minutes in transit to Tounfite, it was only 6:50 pm. How did this happen? Rural areas do not observe Daylight Savings Time in Morocco. It was like changing time zones.


This was another busy week for work, mostly with the hammam project. As a reminder, other volunteers and I have been trying to organize a meeting with hammam owners in a nearby town/city to convince them to switch their stoves to a much more efficient design so as to decrease wood consumption. I went to Midelt on Monday and met up with the volunteers. One was quite sick, so he went to the house we were staying in. The other volunteer, a Moroccan association president who has been critical in organizing the project, and I walked around town finishing up with invitations. The next day, Tuesday, we had lots of logistical stuff to take care of. Getting the key to the conference room from someone, which took lots of running around and permission seeking. Getting a projector, which also took lots of running around. Buying food, setting up the conference room, buying supplies (folders, notebooks), calling the hammam owners, and general last-minute setting up. We worked from 10 in the morning to 10 at night. The next day, Wednesday, we were up and off to the center by 7:30. The presentation was due to start at 9 am and we had a couple more loose ends to tie together. The first hammam owner arrived at about 8:50. A Peace Corps programming staff was there (she was the introductory presenter for the meeting) and the hammam owner talked with her for a while. After 9, more owners started trickling in. By 9:30, most of the invitees were there. Moroccan meetings traditionally start late. Our main presenter, a man from the Center of Development of Renewable Resources in Morocco was still not there. At 10 he was still not there – an hour after the meeting was supposed to start. We served tea and waited. At 10:30 he was still not there. I was pretty pissed at this point. We had called him and he was on his way, but we weren’t sure when he was going to get there. I couldn’t believe he would be so irresponsible/impolite to be this late. We have been working with this man for months and he is going to be late on the most important day? One hammam owner left (the one who had arrived early) and we were worrying that others might start to leave. We got a call from the presenter at 10:35 saying he was 20 minutes away, so the Peace Corps introductory speaker started. Just as she was finishing, the guy arrived and started his presentation.

Despite all the frustration and worry for us Americans, the presentation went really well. In the end, I don’t think it mattered to the hammam owners (who were the target audience) that the guy was nearly 2 hours late. It was a good lesson in attitudes about time for us Americans. The hammam owners were mostly interested in the new stoves – they should be: it will save them tons of money in wood costs. There are a couple main objections: 1) can we see a stove in action before we buy one? 2) will it work in colder weather? and 3) I just replaced my boiler; I will wait until I need a new one before I buy one of your stoves. The first objection should soon be remedied, we are trying to find the address of a hammam with a new stove relatively close by. The second objection is a needless worry: the stoves work in places colder than Midelt. The third objection is a poor argument: the improved stove will save the owner tons of money; the recently installed stove is a sunk cost. Despite these objections, at the end of the meeting we had 5 owners who were interested in buying a stove in the near future. Other owners were adapting more of a “wait and see approach.” I expect that if there were a functioning stove in another hammam in Midelt, they would also make the conversion. So, the meeting seems to have been a success. We have some grant money to offer as an enticement to the first owners to make the conversion, so we have to write that grant and submit it. Then we have to decide how to distribute that money. Also we have to write a report on the meeting and project in general. I wrote up a report for Peace Corps that I've copied to the end of the email if you want to read more.

After the meeting wrapped up around 3 pm, we went back to a volunteer’s house to rehash how the meeting went and share a celebratory beer. I had a couple errands to take care of, then I found transit to Boumia…, which is where this whole post started.


When I got back to my site on Thursday morning, I had more work to do, of a different nature. My family is in the midst of their wheat harvest. I’ve learned enough about the work to be helpful and they depend on me to help out a little. My host dad is 73, so he isn’t very productive. My host mom is from out of town and doesn’t always know what’s going on. So the three of us make quite a site out in the fields. The main work of the last two days was gathering the wheat that had been harvested, stuffing it into giant plastic sacks, loading it on our mule, and walking the mule to a central site in town. It took a while. The fields weren’t as far away as last year (which was like 12 km – those fields lie fallow every other year), but they were far enough. Once we had gathered all the wheat, the threshing machine came and I helped throw wheat in the machine, which is an unpleasant job. Now we have 7 big sacks of wheat for bread.

My host Dad and I were unloading the last sack of wheat from the mule and the mule got upset and stepped on my big toe. I was being stupid that day and only wearing sandals. It hurt a little bit and started bleeding. We finished the work and my host Dad took a look at the toe. He looks at me and says something that I don’t really understand. He repeats it: “Give it water of liver.” I understand the words now, but the meaning is escaping me. He says, “Give it your water. Your water.” Ah, he wants me to piss on the wound. Interesting that pee is “liver water.” Instead of peeing on the wound, I washed it and applied antiseptic.

I was pretty helpful this year and my host family appreciated that. It was hard work, but I’d rather be active and helping than sitting in my house. It’s also a good experience to understand what people here go through in order to feed themselves. It makes me thankful for industrial agriculture. Without large-scale agriculture, everyone would have to slave away just to feed themselves. Education and development fall by the wayside when you’re working so hard to meet your basic needs. I’ve long been a critic of the American industrial food production system and it certainly needs to change, but I’m thankful that I don’t have to work long days to produce food as my life’s work.

Two of my host mom’s sisters are staying at my host family’s house. They have been there for about 3 weeks now. They do almost all of the housework while my host mom is out in the fields. They are educated and unused to life in the countryside. It makes me feel sorry for my host mom to know that she came from a wealthy, educated family and ended up here. I was talking with the sisters one day and they mentioned to me that this was their vacation. I said, “You took a vacation, came here, and found a bunch of work to do.” One of them told me, “That’s how it is. A woman can never be a guest. She is always working.”

When I was in Tounfite on Wednesday night, I had dinner with another volunteer’s house family (3 women) and a female volunteer. These women are used to volunteers. Also, I’ve known them for over a year now and they are very comfortable with me. We were talking about the midwife training (the family will host several of the trainees) and the women started telling birthing stories. One of the women partially gave birth while on the (squat) toilet). One of their friends gave birth in her pants. There was a story about a woman who went to cut wood in the mountains, finished cutting the wood, gave birth, then walked the donkey back to town with the baby on her back. One of the woman told me, “American women go to the hospital and relax. We work work work, then when we start labor we push it out really fast and keep working.” Wow.

Things are good. The success of the hammam owner meeting was encouraging. I may have some more exciting work this coming week: STI and HIV/AIDS work. I have some organizing to do to set up the event. I have to go to the provincial capital (Khenifra) to get authorization. Khenifra is a miserably hot city in the summer, so I’m not looking forward to that.



The Eastern High Atlas and Middle Atlas Mountains support hundreds of small villages and thousands of people. The natural resources in the mountains make life possible for the inhabitants. Trees provide energy for heating and cooking in addition to income from selling wood. Furthermore, as herders and farmers, people of these communities rely on high quality soil to grow their crops and feed their sheep.

With the help of community partners, the volunteers in these mountains have identified deforestation as a threat to the way of life of the mountain Berbers. Population in the region has exploded in recent decades. Additionally, standard of living has improved for inhabitants. These two factors mean that more people are consuming more resources, putting a stress on the natural resources. The dual stresses on the forests: shepherding and cutting trees for fuel threaten the future of life in these mountains. Resources are currently being consumed at an unsustainable rate. There are already mountain villages that have run out of trees to cut for firewood and herders are forced to take their herders further to find grass for their sheep and goats. It is potentially an existential threat.

In nearby towns such as Boumia, Itzer, Tounfite, Zeida, and Midelt, hammams (public baths) consume a substantial amount of wood. Heating water for washing requires hundreds of kilograms of wood in each hammam per day. The concentrated use of wood means that the reduction of wood in a few hammams has the potential to make a noticeable impact on the forests. Targeting individual wood use would require the behavior change of hundreds or thousands of individuals to have an impact on the forests. While far from solving the problems of deforestation and overgrazing, introducing improved stoves to hammams could have a measurable impact on the forest.

The Center for the Development of Renewable Resources (CDER) in Morocco has developed a stove for hammams that reduces consumption of wood significantly. CDER has worked with hammam owners and trained boilermakers resulting in several hundred to a thousand hammams converting to the more efficient stove. However, there are no efficient hammam stoves in the immediate region.


The goal of the volunteers is to introduce local hammam owners to the technology of CDER in the hope that owners will want to convert their hammams.

On March 24th, volunteers organized a meeting in Itzer for local hammam owners. The meeting was funded by IDRB, which gave a presentation on renewable resource technology. Following the IDRB speaker, a representative from CDER (Mr. Makouai) gave a presentation on the CDER and technology for the hammam. Following the presentations, CDER representatives accompanied hammam owners and volunteers to four hammams, where diagnostics were done. The CDER representative told hammam owners that their hammams were too small and had too few clientele to make the conversion feasible. The meeting succeeded in spreading information about the improved hammam stoves, but it failed to convert any hammams.

Following this meeting, volunteers sought a nearby town that would have hammams more suitable to conversion; Midelt was the obvious choice. A town of over 30,000, Midelt will soon become the provincial capital. There are over 20 hammams in Midelt and several that have a large clientele base. Volunteers pitched the idea of hammam conversion to the president of the association Jeunes Sans Frontieres, Hicham Ouyouba. Hicham was excited about the project and willing to help.

In late May, on the advice of CDER representatives, volunteers and Hicham collected diagnostic information from 20 Midelt hammams. Although the data was far from perfect, it gave volunteers an insight into which hammams would be ideal for conversion. Working closely with CDER and PC programming staff, volunteers started to plan and organize a meeting for Midelt hammam owners. CDER’s presentation in Itzer was not designed with the intent to convince hammam owners to convert their hammams; volunteers hoped to advise CDER so as to improve their presentation and tailor it to their audience.

After some delay, the meeting with Midelt hammam owners (as well as some from Boumia) took place on July 29th. CDER and PC organized the delivery of a prototype stove to be on display during the meeting. Naima Oumousa, programming assistant for the Environment program, gave an introductory talk that explained the project and especially the environmental reasons that motivated Peace Corps. Volunteers wanted the hammam owners to know that the volunteers were not profiting from the sale of the improved stove. Next, Mr. Makouai from CDER gave a presentation explaining how the stove worked and how the stove would save hammam owners money. Throughout the project, volunteers have stressed to hammam owners that the stove is a good business move in addition to addressing environmental issues. A boilermaker from Marrakech who had constructed some fifty improved stoves accompanied Mr. Makouai. His experience and expertise were key in addressing the issues brought up by hammam owners. A spirited debate followed in which hammam owners seriously considered the implications of converting their hammams. The main remaining obstacle to conversion was that hammam owners wanted to see a functioning improved stove. Other concerns were how the stove would function in Midelt’s cold environment and the fact that some owners had recently bought new stoves for their boilers. Nonetheless, owners were very positive about the idea and several are seriously considering making a conversion. When the Naima told the hammam owners that there was a possibility of funding assistance for the conversion, four owners were willing to sign up to be considered for immediate conversion. Two of these hammams were poor candidates for conversion (as judged by the data gathered by volunteers two months prior), but two were excellent candidates.

The next step is working with these two hammams to ensure that a conversion is made. The volunteers believe that if a hammam is converted in Midelt and other owners are able to see that the stove works and saves money that other owners will make a conversions.


The meeting had two primary goals: First, to push a small number of hammams towards immediate conversion (with the added incentive of financial assistance). Second, to make the rest of the hammam owners aware of the technology and pique their interest enough to make them consider conversion in the coming years. Thus, it seems that the meeting accomplished both of its primary goals. However, more work remains.

There were also several positive secondary outcomes that resulted from the meeting. The capacity of CDER to make a targeted presentation to hammam owners was improved. The association Jeunes Sans Frontieres, in particular Hicham Ouyouba was heavily involved in the project. Their capacity certainly increased as a result of the project. Furthermore, the meeting and the work that went into preparing it increased community awareness of the environmental threats posed by deforestation and irresponsible use of natural resources.

Additionally, the meeting required the cooperation of several different organizations. PC programming provided invaluable advice and guidance, financial support, and gave an important presentation. CDER provided information, critical contacts, technical support, and gave the keynote presentation. IDRB was a primary financial supporter and advisor. Avance, an American association based in Midelt, provided financial support and gave advice. Jeunes Sans Frontieres was a critical partner, providing volunteers with contact to hammam owners, organizing the meeting, and helping with logistical issues. Their support was very important to the success of the meeting. Bringing all these different groups together provided them with potential work partners.

The volunteers would like to thank all of their partners. Peace Corps programming staff deserves special thanks for their help. In particular, the personal attention that Naima Oumousa gave to the project made it possible. Jeunes Sans Frontieres and its president Hicham Ouyouba also deserve a special thanks. He was also the primary community partner for the SIDA awareness run in Midelt. For two large volunteer projects over the course of 6 months, he has been the ideal partner for Peace Corps volunteers. He is intelligent, motivated, well-connected, and willing to provide his full support to a volunteer.


Averill Strasser said...


I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Bolivia, '66-'68), and founder and COO of Water Charity, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that does water, sanitation, and public health projects worldwide. We have just started a new initiative, Appropriate Projects, to fund small water and sanitation projects very quickly.

Please check out our website at and submit an application. Even if you don't work in water/san, you may want to do a small project at a community facility, clinic, or school. It could be something simple, such as piping, fixtures, water storage, or some other needed improvement.

We also like to “finish” projects that have been started, and “fix” things that have ceased to function.

If you have any questions about the appropriateness of a project, or if it will take you some time to put your project together, just contact me by email.

Could you pass this message on to your fellow-PCVs in Morocco?

If you like what we do, could you tell others in your social networks about us?

Thanks. I wish you the best of luck in your work.

Averill Strasser

Appropriate Projects

Water Charity

Franny said...

oh duncan, you're always being funny. loved the story about the taxi.