Sunday, August 9, 2009

My Week

This entry is a journal of my week. This week was busier and involved more traveling than the average week.

Sunday
Woke up early – 4:50 a.m. old time. Waited a little while for a transit and caught something at 5:15. Got to Tounfite and ate breakfast. My host family had given me some money to buy food and send back to them, so I took care of that. Then I went to Boumia, then Itzer. I went to Laura’s house to meet with her and Logan. Logan and I talked a lot about the presentation that he was going to give about the hammam project. We talked about the project in general, future project ideas and other things. I showed him the report I’d written about the hammam project and we made some changes. We also talked about camping a night out in the mountains. I was trying to figure out my plan for the next day (whether or not I was going to Khenifra for a Ministry of Health meeting) so I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I wasn’t able to get in touch with anyone about Khenifra, so I decided to do it. We left around sunset and walked for maybe an hour and a half to a place that Logan and I had been before. It was a beautiful and cool night. The moon was 3/4 full and we could see really well even after the sun was all the way down. We decided to take a “short-cut” that ended up adding 15 minutes onto our walk. We were walking across some prickly, rocky ground wearing only plastic sandals. I kicked some thorny plants a couple times, but it wasn’t bad. We got to the camp and started a fire. We warmed up some stir-fried rice and put it in a sandwich with some sardines. It was pretty tasty. Logan had brought 2 beers with us and they were cooling in the creek; I went and grabbed them and we cracked ‘em open. It was a really nice night and we sat there talking for hours. Mostly we talked about the hammam project, but we also got into Peace Corps criticism quite a bit. We both feel that Peace Corps has potential to be more potent and effective and we’d like to see it change. Later, we talked about development in general…which invariably led to discussions about our future careers. It’s difficult to pass on that topic of conversation. Probably around midnight we decided to call it a night. The sleeping bag that I had borrowed was a little thin and the night was chilly, so I was a little cold. But not enough to prevent me from sleeping OK.

Monday
We woke up around 730 or 8, ate breakfast and walked back. The return walk was much quicker because we didn’t take the short cut. I tried to get in touch with people at the Ministry of Health and my Peace Corps programming staff to figure out whether or not I had a meeting the following day in Khenifra. I’m still trying to get authorization from the Ministry for a couple projects. Well after some miscommunication and confusion, it turned out I couldn’t go. The Ministry guy that is assigned to Peace Corps volunteers is on a vacation and so I can’t have contact with the Ministry without him. He may be in Khenifra Wednesday or Thursday so I might go to the city then. After I got that figured out, I went to Boumia. From Boumia, Tounfite. I did some errands in Tounfite and then went to David and Kristin LaFever’s old host family for afternoon snack. There is a newborn in the family and she was there. She is a cute little baby. Following that, I went to the cyber cafe. From there a volunteer’s house in Tounfite to go to sleep.

Tuesday
I woke up early again Tuesday to catch transport back to my site. Tuesday happened to be a national holiday and the normal transit that I take in the mornings was not running, so I had to wait several hours. I finally got to site and went to my host family’s house for lunch. I was tired in the afternoon and took a nap. I hung out outside with people in my site in the evening. I had dinner at my host family’s.

Wednesday
I woke up at 5:30 Wednesday to catch transit. The transit was late and I waited til 6:15 before leaving. The ride was slow and the transit was having engine issues. I didn’t get to Boumia (normally a 2 hour ride) until 9. I went to a café to have breakfast and wait for the volunteer (Logan) that I was meeting. We were meeting in order to go to a hammam in Boumia that had expressed interest in converting its stove. When Logan got to the café we sat for a while and talked about strategy. Then we went to the hammam and talked to the owner. We have grant money to offer a couple hammams as enticement to make the conversion soon. We made our offer and told the guy we would be back in a week with the contract and he would have to make a decision then. He was receptive and I think that the hammam will decide to convert their boiler. Then we went to the pharmacy to look for speculums, which I need if the doctors from my site are going to do exams on women here in Boumia. Next, I called my representative at the Ministry of Health in Khenifra. He told me that he could meet with me the next morning. So I waited a little while in Boumia before a bus to Khenifra pulled up. Two hours and half sweaty, sleepy hours later I was in Khenifra. It was 5 o’clock by this point. I have a friend in a town nearby Khenifra, so I took a taxi to her site. A couple other volunteers were there. We made dinner and then went to the carnival that is in town. I rode a Ferris wheel. We went for a walk around town, returned to the volunteer’s house, and went to sleep.

Thursday
I woke up at 6:20 Thursday to catch transit back to Khenifra for my 8 am meeting. I got to the Ministry of Health and met with the Peace Corps contact there. Basically all I wanted from his was authorization for two projects: the training for local women to be “community health leaders” and pelvic exams for sex workers in Boumia. I explained the projects to him and then we waited for about 45 minutes for his supervisor to show up. The delegue (the man who normally gives permission for these sort of projects) was on vacation so we met with the second in command. He told me that the doctors who I wanted to do the exams could not do them because they were too far and the Ministry would have to pay for their transit. I told him that my association could pay for their transit costs and that the exams would be done on a Saturday – when they don’t have work. He said it was impossible, without giving explanation. He said the doctor in Boumia (a man) could do the exams. He also said that the exams couldn’t happen on the date that we had planned and that they would have to be delayed for several weeks (even though the Ministry is providing nothing but permission). As for the community health leader project, he said it was fine and that I ought to draw up a formal proposal to get permission. So the Peace Corps contact and I went back to his office and he drew up two draft proposals (in the required formal language) for me to work on. I supposed to send the proposals to him when I get them finalized and he told me they will be approved. All in all it was very frustrating. I went to a café and waited for a couple hours for the bus back to Boumia. I got into Boumia around 3 and then took a taxi to Tounfite by 4. In Tounfite I did some errands, then went to a café to wait for my transit. But for some unknown reason it had gone back early, so I had missed the last transit to my site. So I got some food and went to a volunteer’s house (who wasn’t there) to watch a movie and go to sleep.

Friday
I woke up at 7 to catch the transit back to my site. I got into my site and went to my house. I did some laundry and hung it out to dry. Then I fell asleep. I woke up and went to my host family’s for lunch. They chastised me for being out of town so much this week. In the afternoon, I read and then went to a house where I tutor a girl in English. I have pretty honest conversations with her about gender relations in Morocco and other interesting issues. In the evening, I hung out outside with men from my village. I had dinner at my host family’s.

Saturday
I slept in (8 o’clock). When I woke up, I watched a movie (The Breakfast Club), did some dishes, and read for a while. I went to my host family’s for lunch. In the afternoon, I walked around town a little and talked to people. I also spent some time in my house, watching the news and reading. I had dinner at my host family’s and wrote this entry.

So that was my week. It involved more running around the province than most other weeks. It was pretty tiring and frustrating at times. The progress on the hammam project was the most positive thing that happened. It’s good to have a couple different projects going on because it means that all my eggs are not in one basket. If one project is struggling or frustrating, I have another to fall back on.

Obama
I read a Time magazine article this week that was pretty critical of Obama and it got me thinking. I’m pretty happy with how he’s handling foreign policy. He’s making progress on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Iraq is going as well as could be expected. He’s convinced the Pakistani government to police its own borders. I don’t really like the cross-border drone attacks, but a recent one just killed a Taliban leader. And just the presence of someone who is not Bush does a lot for our image around the world.

Where he’s really having trouble is with domestic issues. The climate change bill is the biggest failing so far. Cap and trade has failed in Europe so far – emissions targets have not been met. Furthermore, the bill was only able to squeak through Congress because of concessions made to Democrats from big industry states. 85% of the quota credits will be given away (rather than auctioned), which opens to process up to cronyism and corruption. I hope I’m wrong, but I predict that the bill will fail to meet the emissions targets it has set. Worse is that the passage of the bill has pacified enough activists into thinking that the problem is being addressed. If you believe that climate change is a serious problem facing our world, please, be skeptical of a bill that was passed with the approval of the American coal industry.

Health care reform is also turning out to be a stumbling block. During the campaign, the big talk was about universal coverage/mandates. That doesn’t seem like a political possibility at this point. The bigger concern to me is curbing health care costs, which are projected to expand out of control in the coming decades. We have one of the least efficient health care systems in the world. Once again, political calculus in Congress seems to be preventing any genuine reform.

I’m happy with the stimulus and generally his handling of the economy. The stimulus was big and fast, which was the most important thing. But I’m worried that the people in charge of inventing new regulations for the financial industry don’t really know the best way to regulate the industry. I don’t think people understand the industry. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs, which received bailout money, posted a $3 billion profit in the second quarter. But unemployment is at 9.6%.

Domestically, Obama has been restricted by conservative Democrats in Congress. Democrats from Ohio, West Virginia, etc hold the deciding votes. Knowing that he may not be able to pressure these Democrats into voting for truly revolutionary measures, Obama has given Congress all the power to write the important bills. Maybe this is the only way to get the bills through, but bills like the climate change bill are barely worth being passed as they are. Furthermore, giving Congress all the power has meant that representatives get to dole out huge projects to their constituents. Just the kind of waste that Obama campaigned against.

So that’s what I think of Obama. I’m worried that instead of being a remarkable, revolutionary president at a time when great change was needed, he will, more or less, maintain the status quo. Despite his initial popularity, he is still a slave to Congress. He is unwilling/unable to demand that his party toe the line.

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