Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I've been thinking about this idea... "Think Local, Act Global." I think maybe they have it backwards... It seems the Peace Corps perspective would apply better if it read "Act Local, Think Global." In order to really enact change, I believe you have to start small. PCVs works in small communities to try to make individual changes that will eventually spread to create a larger effect.

Update on the hammam project... This week, a boiler was finally installed! Also, the project as a whole (including meetings and funding) is going to be implemented again and new volunteers are being trained to carry on this project in other regions of Morocco. Sustainability. Awesome.



Update on me... I'm back in the U.S.

I've been visiting family and friends and celebrating holidays. It has been wonderful. I applied to 4 graduate school programs for Public Administration/Public Policy. I think this will be a good way for me to become more involved, more informed and affect more change! If you are interested in hearing more, send me an email :) So far, I haven't made any concrete plans between now and the Fall (when I would hopefully start), but I'm hoping to find some interesting opportunities. Let me know if you know of any!

"Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world's ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation." - Robert F. Kennedy

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jbel Toubkal


A couple of weeks ago, I climbed a VERY BIG mountain! Jbel (meaning mountain in Arabic) Toubkal is in the High Atlas Mountains in the south of Morocco. It is the tallest mountain in North Africa...and I climbed it! Logan and I went to Imlil, a town tucked in the mountains at the bottom of the mountain (elevation 5,709 ft). From there, we spent 6 hours climbing to 10,522 ft where there is a refuge, in which we slept and ate. The following morning, we climbed the remainder of the mountain to the summit at 13,671 ft. This ascent was much steeper and took us 3 hours and 20 minutes. We descended to the refuge in another 3 hours, where we had lunch before hiking the last 3 hours and 20 minutes to Imlil.

I had never attempted anything like this, but somehow I didn't have any doubt I could do it. I guess I've always been kind of like that - "I can do anything!!" But it was good to have this attitude because I never had a thought of not following through. We were lucky that it hadn't snowed up there yet, although we did find some ice. The most challenging part for me (in addition to having a cold) was the wind. At the top, it was so windy, I had to lean into the wind to not fall backward. It was really intense. Logan estimated it was 40-50 knots. What a challenging and wonderful experience! It was so Gorgeous up there!


villages tucked into the mountains on our way up

























there was just a little climbing, where I used my hands.












in this picture, you can see the refuge (it's reddish in the bottom right). It's hard to get a good idea of how steep it is from pictures, but you can imagine.




























this is the summit (where we were heading.) If you look close, you can see the pyramid shaped sign on top that is in the next picture as well...










































































On the way back, we walked in the clouds!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Summer Engagements...

Hello again! So much to share...

First, let me update you on the "Hammam Project." (hopefully you'll remember the previous details, if not - refer to the last posting)

a successful endeavor...

After some delay, the meeting with Midelt hammam owners (plus a few from Boumia) took place on July 29th. We arranged for a prototype boiler to be on display, which greatly increased the effectiveness of the meeting and the interest of those attending. The programming assistant for the Peace Corps Environment program gave an introductory talk that explained the project and especially the environmental reasons that motivated PC to participate. She also explained to the hammam owners that the volunteers do not profit from the sale of the improved boilers.
Next, Mr. Makouai from The Center for Renewable Energies (CDER) gave a presentation explaining how the boiler works and how it would be financially beneficial to hammam owners. Throughout the project, we have stressed that the boiler is a good investment in addition to its environmental advantages. A boilermaker from Marrakech who has constructed over fifty improved boilers 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 delaying conversion was that hammam owners wanted to see a functioning improved boiler, which at that point we were unable to provide. Other concerns included how the boiler would function in Midelt’s cold environment and the fact that some owners had recently bought new boilers for their hammams. Nonetheless, owners were very positive about the idea and several left seriously considering making a conversion. When Peace Corps told the hammam owners that there was a possibility of funding assistance for the conversion, we received some interest in immediate conversion. Some of these hammams were not suitable, but following the
meeting, we pursued the suitable hammams and just this past week, we had one commit to the installation. We are currently in the process of having all contracts signed and submitting a grant to support the installation. In addition, we were recently informed that 4 other owners had contacted the boiler maker directly, in consideration of converting their hammams independently of the financial assistance!

We are really pleased with how well everything has gone so far. We have had many obstacles, but we've also noted our accomplishments:

The meeting had two primary goals: First, to push one or two hammams towards immediate conversion (with the added incentive of financial assistance) - serving as a demonstration for other hammams in the area and starting the reduction of wood consumption. Second, to make the rest of the hammam owners aware of the technology and pique their interest enough to make them consider conversion when they next replace their boilers, which will later make a significant difference in the area's deforestation. Check. Check... Furthermore, we identified increased human capacity in the groups we worked with, specifically CDER's ability to make a targeted presentation to hammam owners and the local Association Jeunes Sans Frontieres' capacity to create and implement a large scale project plan. And not least importantly, we have documented an increased community awareness of the environmental threats posed by deforestation and irresponsible use of natural resources.
Humdullah!

We rode our bikes between hammams in Midelt (there were 20 and they were very spread out!)


Before that, in June, my host sister got married! What an event! It was for me a 5-day event, with the bride wearing 7 different outfits and the groom only arriving for the final evening.
The first night, I just went to have dinner with the family and wish them congratulations (but little did I know, there were a lot of people doing that - and it turned into an all evening event with dancing and singing). The next evening, the men gathered to sing the Koran as a blessing for the couple and the family. I just stayed with my host sister in a side room. The third day, the women gathered while my host sister had henna applied to her hands and feet. (Henna is a plant indigenous to this area with orangish dying properties. It is traditionally used to decorate hands and feet for weddings and special occasions). That evening, the community women gathered for dinner and celebration. The following night was for the men and the final evening was for everyone (including people from out of town). During the day, a lot of people visited and then a parade was organized bringing gifts from the other side of town by donkey cart with drummers and trumpets playing. I borrowed a pretty dress from a girl in town :) and was there all day and night... I finally made it back to my own house at sunrise the following morning (around 5:30 am).
That same day, the family took my sister to her new house (in Azrou), about 2 hours away, where she now lives. Here's a little background... This wasn't exactly an "arranged marriage." Her husband came to my town "looking for a wife." He asked around who he should approach and three people all told him to ask my host sister... so, according to my host sister, this means that it must have been "God's will" that they be married. He asked the family and after a month of decision, they agreed. She talked to him quite a bit on the phone after they were officially married, (between signing the papers and the wedding), but prior to the papers, they had hardly spoken and never spent any time alone before their wedding night. She seems to be very happy to be married. She wants very much to have children...




This past month (Aug 5 -22), I had the good fortune to go back to
America to visit my family! My sister and her family came from China, my other sister came with her two children from Colorado and we all stayed at my parents (newly renovated to hold us all!) house.
We had a wonderful time going on family outings (Dinosaur Land and Wildlife Park!) and having a lot of fun at home too!!! I can't even explain the fun we had on "Pickle Day," but here are some pictures... (it was my first time being a pickle) To top it off, two of my close friends were able to come visit me! It was so wonderful to catch up and reconnect. I am not sure if I've ever been so filled with gratitude as I was during this trip... Every little thing excited me... TREES!!!! WATER!
it's all so clean... a seat all to myself in the air-conditioned car and no exhaust or associated nausea... People are so NICE! Of course there were some things I didn't like too... high fructose corn syrup, unimpressive television, intolerance, and the like, but still, I was happy to see I could at last see such good in a country I was very eager to leave 2 years ago.

Immediately upon reentry into Morocco (after a quick swine flu update... don't worry, I'm fine), I met my stagemates (the group of Volunteers I originally arrived to country with) at a hotel in Rabat. We had our "Close of Service" conference, which included all the administrative stuff we need to do, medical schedules and information, some presentations by Returned PCVs and a USAID worker, and a lot of other "Adjustment" information. Other than the admin stuff, I think the main point was for us to all get back together, to bring a little closure to this whole experience. It was all pretty surreal for me... I'm not sure if it was because I just got back from vacation or because I don't have any determined plans for afterward or what... but it was nice to see everyone and get an idea of what everyone's experiences have been like - (all across the board!)

In addition to returning to my COS conference, I returned to Ramadan... This is now my third Ramadan in country, so I suspect you should get the gist by now... a month of fasting (sun up to sun down, nothing enters their mouths) and praying (all 5 times a day) and lots of sugar. They also are more modest and pious in general. I have been having "break fast" with just a few families that I am closest to, but I doubt I'll do it everyday... We're still pretty early in the month.

So, as far as I can tell, it looks like, God willing, I will be replaced by a male volunteer when it's time for me to go. Unfortunately, I'm going to have a maximum of three days of overlap from the time he comes to when I leave, so I'll be spending a lot of time developing a community guide (including work info) for him. Things are getting a lot better in a lot of ways, so I should have a lot to tell him :) So, that will be towards the end of November. Where will I be heading, you ask? That remains to be determined... I'll be sure to update you before then ;)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

applying energy (at long last) again..

Some people couldn't read the text in the last post, even after I tried editing the font... So, I'm just reposting it again... Hope this works...

So, it's been awhile... sorry about that. I'll try to condense the last 3 months into an overall brief summary to catch you all up.
 Basically, the winter was miserable, but now it's over :)

It was a lot colder than last winter and mostly I spent a lot of time sitting around in one room with a wood fired stove fueling it and trying to stay warm (but most of the time not achieving this goal). Work had become pretty non-existent and I found myself feeling that there must be a better way to spend my energy than just on staying warm... I tried finding people around town to work with and the association but came to lots of dead ends. I became less and less positive and more and more angry at the inefficiency of my wood stove....
Well, now - there's something!
Everyone in this part of Morocco uses these poorly designed wood stoves that don't burn the wood hot enough to prevent smoke (often even in the house) and only really heat the immediate area around them very well (which is usually the corner of a cement room)... And, even worse, all the hammams (bath houses, sort of like steam rooms, but with water) burn a huge amount of wood all over Morocco to keep the water and the rooms hot with often nothing more than the near equivalent of a big fire pit with a pipe above it.

Long story shorter: We now have a small group of volunteers (myself included) working directly with the Ministry of Energy (specifically the Center for Renewable Energy) to first develop a diagnostic system to evaluate hammams and homes and then set up the hammam owners with welders who have been trained to make fantastically more efficient furnaces that will be sized to fit each individual hammam. Later we also hope to design an efficient home furnace to replace the common ones in use. While at the same time, meeting with builders to talk about inexpensive ways to insulate homes and buildings..... Yes, I know - this all sounds wonderful, but we've still got a long road ahead of us. There is huge resistance to change, even when its in the best economic interest of the business (in this case, with the wood use reduction, hammam owners will pay off their initial investment usually in less than a year and be making a large increase of revenue after that), so we are pooling all our resources to try to get at least one hammam to get on board this July. Additionally, the initial diagnostic data is hard to obtain. We aren't positive if it's distrust or cultural (but we suspect both), but no one has yet given us accurate numbers for their business operations... "How many people come in a day? How much wood do you burn?" etc... so we will have to both explain the project and our intents more thoroughly and also think of ways to ask questions that will allow us to increase our likelihood (and be able to double check) if we are receiving accurate information. ...Sociology Masters anyone?... 


Here is a picture from our first meeting with hammams in Itzer... we actually organized it as a Energy Efficiency Workshop, talking about solar and wind power, etc too, but in the future, we are going to keep it specific and just target changing hammam furnaces to more efficient ones. 

In addition to this big new work opportunity, the association I've mostly been working with in the past has taken some steps to get back in the swing of things... They led two Eco-tourism groups on hikes/cultural visits. We also have two exhibitions this month and are trying the find more women that are really motivated to make carpets. I've designed two new carpets that several women have begun making and they are turning out really well... I also made the Association new Cous cous labels (on stickers!) and a banner to hang at exhibitions (We're still corresting the french). They are really moving up in their professionalism markings. And it's not to say that I do this all for them... They really take a lot of what I tell them seriously and we work together to make the best outcomes.
In leisurely days of yore... a friend of Logan's came to visit for 2 weeks and we really enjoyed spending time with him and traveling around. I finally got to see the dunes! My last big site of Morocco - the Sahara... well, sort of. They were beautiful, but since we just went to the smaller ones, they weren't quite what I expected. I thought they'd be more prodigious... but they were nice none the less and exceptionally good for pictures :)

I'm starting to think a lot about post peace corps plans... high on the list for the time being (key, because it changes pretty often): Culinary School , summer work in Alaska (any leads, please let me know!), grad school... some way to make money (again, any leads... please...) Hopefully I'll figure it out well before I finish up in November. 

So those are the big highlights.

Peace to you all!!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

applying energy (at long last)

So, it's been awhile... sorry about that. I'll try to condense the last 3 months into an overall brief summary to catch you all up. Basically, the winter was miserable, but now it's over :)

It was a lot colder than last winter and mostly I spent a lot of time sitting around in one room with a wood fired stove fueling it and trying to stay warm (but most of the time not achieving this goal). Work had become pretty non-existent and I found myself feeling that there must be a better way to spend my energy than just on staying warm... I tried finding people around town to work with and the association but came to lots of dead ends. I became less and less positive and more and more angry at the inefficiency of my wood stove....
Well, now - there's something!
Everyone in this part of Morocco uses these poorly designed wood stoves that don't burn the wood hot enough to prevent smoke (often even in the house) and only really heat the immediate area around them very well (which is usually the corner of a cement room)... And, even worse, all the hammams (bath houses, sort of like steam rooms, but with water) burn a huge amount of wood all over Morocco to keep the water and the rooms hot with often nothing more than the near equivalent of a big fire pit with a pipe above it.

Long story shorter: We now have a small group of volunteers (myself included) working directly with the Ministry of Energy (specifically the Center for Renewable Energy) to first develop a diagnostic system to evaluate hammams and homes and then set up the hammam owners with welders who have been trained to make fantastically more efficient furnaces that will be sized to fit each individual hammam. Later we also hope to design an efficient home furnace to replace the common ones in use. While at the same time, meeting with builders to talk about inexpensive ways to insulate homes and buildings.....
Yes, I know - this all sounds wonderful, but we've still got a long road ahead of us. There is huge resistance to change, even when its in the best economic interest of the business (in this case, with the wood use reduction, hammam owners will pay off their initial investment usually in less than a year and be making a large increase of revenue after that), so we are pooling all our resources to try to get at least one hammam to get on board this July. Additionally, the initial diagnostic data is hard to obtain. We aren't positive if it's distrust or cultural (but we suspect both), but no one has yet given us accurate numbers for their business operations... "How many people come in a day? How much wood do you burn?" etc... so we will have to both explain the project and our intents more thoroughly and also think of ways to ask questions that will allow us to increase our likelihood (and be able to double check) if we are receiving accurate information. ...Sociology Masters anyone?...


Here is a picture from our first meeting with hammams in Itzer... we actually organized it as a Energy Efficiency Workshop, talking about solar and wind power, etc too, but in the future, we are going to keep it specific and just target changing hammam furnaces to more efficient ones.

In addition to this big new work opportunity, the association I've mostly been working with in the past has taken some steps to get back in the swing of things... They led two Eco-tourism groups on hikes/cultural visits. We also have two exhibitions this month and are trying the find more women that are really motivated to make carpets. I've designed two new carpets that several women have begun making and they are turning out really well... I also made the Association new Cous cous labels (on stickers!) and a banner to hang at exhibitions (We're still corresting the french). They are really moving up in their professionalism markings. And it's not to say that I do this all for them... They really take a lot of what I tell them seriously and we work together to make the best outcomes.
In leisurely days of yore... a friend of Logan's came to visit for 2 weeks and we really enjoyed spending time with him and traveling around. I finally got to see the dunes! My last big site of Morocco - the Sahara... well, sort of. They were beautiful, but since we just went to the smaller ones, they weren't quite what I expected. I thought they'd be more prodigious... but they were nice none the less and exceptionally good for pictures :)

I'm starting to think a lot about post peace corps plans... high on the list for the time being (key, because it changes pretty often): Culinary School , summer work in Alaska (any leads, please let me know!), grad school... some way to make money (again, any leads... please...) Hopefully I'll figure it out well before I finish up in November.

So those are the big highlights.

Peace to you all!!!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Weather conditions cause devastation as authorities struggle to address the humanitarian crisis


On Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 3, 2009, just a couple of streets away, a 47-year-old woman and her 10-ten-year-old son died when the roof of their mud home collapsed on them. Flooding and heavy snowfalls left several regions of Morocco devastated and affected hundreds of families. The old part of my town is comprised of about 400 mud homes, over 250 years old. As a result of these torrential rains and snow, the houses were declared unlivable by the government and the families were evicted, becoming effectively homeless. Many of the families were able to stay with friends and family in their homes, but close to 100 families in my town became residents of the local youth house (previously unused, it is comprised of about 5 rooms, one very large). My counterpart with local teachers and community members worked together to try to make the shelter as accommodating and livable as possible. For one full week, 80 families lived in this building (5 of those days being quite inclement weather, in which people became somewhat hysterical about the state of their houses). Sunday the weather began to brighten and the following days were full of warmth and repair. However, the houses are still not livable by the government's eye and although many people have decided to remain living in their homes, many others have no choice. As of yesterday, a new area for the refugees was opened up and now 40 of the families are living in garage style storage units while the other 40 are still staying at the youth center. They are happy to have their own private spaces, but without ventilation and the winter weather returning, I'm worried that this will not be a sustainable arrangement. The government is trying to come up with aid for the many affected people across the country - According to a statement of the Interior ministry, about 56,000 hectares of land are under water in the fertile agricultural region of the Gharb - 12 villages of 5,000 inhabitants were submerged by floodwater -The exceptional rainfall led to significant run-off and caused some dams to exceed their maximum capacities. The government has offered to provide tents to accommodate the refugees, which has been acceptable in some of the affected regions, but in my region, the temperatures are often dropping below zero and tent sleeping isn't an option for the majority of the population. Some families were supplied with meager food supplies (canned sardines and bread), which the Association was then resourceful enough to exchange with local vegetable and food sellers. The community has also been generous, providing some food and assistance to these people. Conditions are poor here at best...We also may not be over the worst of the bad weather...


There are always so many people so much less fortunate than ourselves, but sometimes it takes someone-you-know's life to be affected before you realize your good fortune. Let's try not to live that way.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Happy Eid!

On Tuesday, we celebrated another year with a lot of sheep slaughtering... This year, I had henna done on my hands the night before and slept at my host family's. We woke early and had cookies and such for breakfast before visiting the neighbors (for more tea and cookies) and then they slaughtered the sheep... Typically each family slaughters a sheep (or a goat, but here it's all sheep) to call to mind the sacrifice that Abraham was willing to make in the Old Testament. Afterwards, everyone grills up the innards and bbqs. They remembered that I'm not a fan of the sheep insides and they actually grilled me some chicken! awesome... I visited about 6 other families homes as well and think I had about 15 glasses of tea that day. I think I'm the only person in the country (minus our vegetarian friends) that has eaten no sheep in the past few days... Here are a few more pictures from my parents trip :)










My parents with my host family... me feeding a monkey in Azrou... me with my host family and the 2 new volunteers they hosted for training.... sight in the village of Tanourdi (Logan's site)... me and Taniya with our suitcase of goodies from America... the mosque Hassan II in Casablanca



























Lots of Love to you all as the season unwinds...