Wednesday, April 16, 2008


So this is the picture of my new water source at the Chinese construction site and the walk to it from my house. Well at least the road going in the direction. You can't actually see where the water is because it's a LONG way down that road.

Shifting Gears

Gears have shifted a bit. I was revving up to get a latrine building project going, but due to the water situation everything has been put on hold. I’m going with my nurse and a president of an association here to meet with the president of the Commune to see what we can do to move the process of buying a pump along. That should be interesting. I had a 2 hour conversation with several individuals in the community the other day. Actually I should say I was present for the conversation. I tried to keep up but everyone was speaking faster than I could process the words and by the time I understood the word they had moved on and the meaning escaped me. I caught things here and there; suffice it to say that tensions were high. I got my input in there a bit and actually think I communicated quite well what I wanted to say. The gist is this…

I’m here for public hygiene and am not interested in who gets the credit for building the chateau. Right now there is no water and I’m going to work with whoever can help us get water.

I’m going to attempt something tomorrow which could throw everything off though. I’m not the most resilient multi-tasker on the face of the planet and I’m going to try and start setting up the latrine building project with the assumption that the chateau is going to get finished. It’s a risky move I know but a necessary one if I am going to make some headway before I go back to the States for Lee’s wedding and finish both projects by the time my service is finished next May. I’m going to a friend’s house about 3 km down the road where my new site mate will be hosted in a month. He doesn’t have a latrine and is having to build one, as Peace Corps policy won’t allow for volunteers to be in homes that don’t have latrines. I’m going to get his building schedule and try to track how this thing goes up, how much the materials cost and various other logistical details so that when the time comes to start this project, I won’t be completely taken off guard.

On a random note, I couldn’t think of the English word for “piping” when I was talking to my programming staff earlier today. I could only think of the French and Arabic words. It’s starting to get bad… the languages are all mixed up in there.

All Wet

Something happened today that has happened to just about everyone else in my training group… I lost my phone.

I remember laughing at all those before me who lost their phones because most of them dropped them in their toilets and then the water messed them up. Why you would drop your phone in the toilet, I don’t know? My situation wasn’t quite as comical, it was closer to tragic. I was enjoying a lovely afternoon reading Plutarch in the warmth of the sun while my legs dangled in the river and I got a call from my program manager Mostafa and then another Peace Corps employee LHacen. We worked some stuff out and talked about future projects, it was a good day. Then I put my phone in the breast pocket of my shirt along with my little notebook, identification card, money and pen that I carry around wherever I go.

I usually keep my phone on vibrate and the breast pocket surprisingly isn’t a great place to feel your phone ringing. I missed two calls which I saw when I checked the time so after calling the person back I decided to put the phone in my lap which was a bad idea because I immediately forgot that it was there. About 20 minutes later I was starting to get uncomfortable on the rock I was sitting so I started to scoot myself further up and in doing so dropped the phone and watched it slide down the rock into the water. I have fairly good reflexes and almost caught it, but in the process of thrusting myself to prevent it from disappearing in to Oum Rbie out flew my pen and notebook from my breast pocket. Now I wasn’t laughing, but the two evil 12 year old boys that had been staring at me and asking for money for the last little bit thought it was hilarious.

I jumped in and recovered all of them, but the damage had been done. My phone no longer works.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Visit from the King

The king came to Mrirt today. Sadly I don’t have pictures though. When I pulled out my camera I got a stern rebuke from the skinny waif of a gendarme standing on my section of the line. Incidentally he was here to inspect an association with which my souq town volunteer Anna works. Sadly she couldn’t be in the building at the time of inspection for even though she had a pass, the authorities were being jumpy and the presence of some random foreigner doesn’t really calm them down much. So she and I watched the procession from the road.

Now Mrirt has been decked out for four or five days with the anticipation of the coming king. By decked out I mean that Moroccan flags were posted every 30 or so meters along the road, the fountain in the center of town was on for the first time since I’ve been here, and the streets were actually cleaned. This morning people were already crowding the roads at 7 even though he wouldn’t pass until 5 or 6 hours later. I arrived around 1230 from my site and we had to take a sketchy back road… I laugh because all the roads to my site are back roads, so the fact that I’m calling this road a back road should say something… and I got dropped off a ways from town. Since the next day was souq and I usually am out of food at this point in the week, I was hungry and all I wanted to do was to go get something to eat, but all the food was on the other side of the road and although the king wouldn’t pass for another hour or so, the gendarmes would let me cross. The road was packed on all sides with people holding little Moroccan flags, pictures of the king, and little children chanting something I only partially understood. It was quite the festive atmosphere.

It took him about 15 seconds to pass my point in the road and almost immediately the crowd dissipated. Some of the kids went running after the convoy, but most of the people around me went their separate ways to discuss their particular angle of vision and interpretations of the minutest details. Anna and I proceeded to the association building he had just visited where we were scolded for not being present during the inspection. Let’s be honest though, I don’t have any clothes in this country appropriate for meeting any kind of monarch and this association isn’t my work. Anna probably should have been there, but her association has it together and neither she nor I want to steal their thunder. Her association is a group of handicapped artisans who make rugs and various other products for sell. Handicapped people have it quite difficult here… there are no wheelchair ramp laws to say the least… and this is a group of resilient people who deal with some pretty powerful cultural stigmas.

We sat and chatted with everyone for a while and then headed home…

… don’t worry, I got some food. I know you were concerned that I didn’t eat. I did. ; )

Old Crow Medicine Show - I Hear Them All

What I was listening to while I was drinking the coffee right before the frenzied rush to fill water containers with irrigation water.


Alright so let’s get you guys caught up on life in Morocco…

I am infinitely grateful for the site change. Things seem to be moving with much more purpose here, people are more to the point where dissatisfaction with one’s situation has been built up to the extent that spurs action. The events of the last week have also served to push that even further to critical mass.

So here is out water situation. As long as people can remember, they have gotten their water from the river Oum Rbie that flows through the village. Then a couple of years ago along came the French, Chinese, and Taiwanese construction companies with their bid to build a series of dams, tunnels, and reservoirs from here to my old site in order to generate hydroelectricity. Now electricity is a good thing, but it is coming at the cost of this village’s drinking water. The company solved this problem for their workers by building wells. The community, however, doesn’t have the resources to get to the water 80m below the surface so for a while the company has been letting them occasionally take water from the well. All of that changed last weekend while I was waiting in line to get water from the well.

Apparently the company decided they were tired of sharing their water so they shut the pump off from general consumption. Now at the time everyone was telling me that they had shut it off for good and I was nervous because that was my only source of relatively clean water. I ended up washing my dishes, clothes, and cooking with “segia” water (muddy water from the irrigation ditch) for a couple of days until the pump magically came back on. Now I’ve gotten used to hyperbole being used in every day conversation, but when it came to something as necessary as water I jumped right in on the fear bandwagon.

When they went back to letting people use the well a few days later I felt like a bit of an idiot for freaking out, but then I thought further on the matter and realized that this is the very real fear and uncertainty in which this community constantly lives. They no longer have a clean source of water that they can control and so their access to the most precious resource is dependent on the whims of a foreign construction company. Imagine this… you’re sitting in your home and are thirsty so you think to yourself that you’ll go get a drink of water. When you turn on the faucet, nothing comes out. No biggie, you’ll check again later. Three days later still nothing. You find out that the company building something in your area was mixing a lot of cement and needed the water and that after all it is their water. They’ll let you use it when they no longer need it. In the mean time you’ve gone three days without a drink. How does that make you feel?

During the time the water was shut off, my neighbor came banging on my door in the morning while I was enjoying a cup of coffee (I decided to have an emergency supply of bottled water in my house) and listening to some Old Crow Medicine Show to get the day started. Frantically she told me to go get my water containers; that the water was flowing in the irrigation ditch. At first I thought to myself that there was no way that I was going to use that nasty water, and then I remembered that I no longer had any idea where else I was going to get it. I found myself crouched down by this little canal with all the women filling bottles with brown water and washing clothes and dishes all the while not knowing how long it would last or when it would be back.

I talked to my landlord later that week about the irrigation. He teaches middle school Arabic in Mrirt, but owns a lot of the olive groves in my area. He informed me that there is an “amghar” about 8 kilometers up the road who controls the water. Now I’ve always understood the word “amghar” to mean an old man, but apparently that’s just common usage today and it used to be a title for a man in a position that is no longer in use throughout most of the country. It is the Arabic equivalent of “lamin” which from his explanation I understood as a sort of adjudicator who mediates disputes and dispenses resources considered public. My Moroccan Arabic dictionary says it’s either a “guild master” or a “hired water carrier”. Much of that role is now taken care of by the government, but I live in an area where the government isn’t quite omnipresent so we are still under the “amghar’s” regime. All of this is to say that the “amghar” assigns the times when various communities/farms will receive their allotment of water and the landowners know their times, but the people in my area are mostly not landowners. The ones who actually own the fields live in France, Spain, Rabat, Casablanca, etc. The people who live here have no idea when the water comes; they just have to be on the lookout and ready to take advantage when it does come.

Now this year… just in January… they finished building a water tower in the middle of town. It has several water taps centrally located so that everyone can partake of the water, the only problem is that there is no water yet. The only thing it is lacking is a pump to bring the water up to the filter and into the tower. I’m still trying to find out how to move that process along and have a meeting on Thursday at the Commune with the president. What I have gathered thus far is that the money they collected for the pump when into paving the road from Mrirt, but that because there are so many large trucks constantly on the road because of the construction they can’t finish until the dam building project is finished. So no pump until there’s a road, and no road until there’s a dam… the dam is 6 months behind schedule and counting. The beautiful, finished water tower is just sitting there in the center mocking everyone… at least that’s how it seems to me, and old ladies sit around telling me they are tired of carrying their 60 year old bodies the long distances to the river or the irrigation ditch to collect water and then haul it back home, and the old men continue to feel the anger of broken promises.

I’m 23 years old with very little to say for myself and almost no health experience. My very presence here, however, brings with it an immediate respect and with that great expectations. I live with a fear that I won’t be able to accomplish anything of note to justify the access I have been granted simply for being a foreigner invited by the King. My constant prayer is that somehow I will be able to help out in a meaningful way.