The eternal question of “what’s next?” plagues Peace Corps volunteers. One of our survival tactics– one that I swear by– is breaking down the vast expanse of our 27 month commitment into digestible chunks. Minor deadlines (“paying my internet bill on Friday!”) and small victories (“two weeks of being chocolate-free…sort of!”) keeps us looking forward and positive and not too unbearably concerned when confronting the unfolding carpet of infinite, unfilled time before us. And it really does work…most of the time. Never did I dread asking this question of the future more, however, than when all of my colleagues departed for greener, more Starbucks-inundated pastures in November. Miraculously…I haven’t been able to sink into too much of a depression from all of the images of instagrammed Christmas decorations and postings about newly-acquired adult jobs from my RPCV brethren because– wait for it– I’ve been too busy! Here’s a run-down of what I’ve been up to as of late. Lots of good things happening in the maghreb. Project Soar
Never in my pre-Peace Corps existence did I think art would dictate the direction of my service. The artisan camp we rocked this summer was a turning point for me, and, to be honest, has left me looking for similar work opportunities (working with girls, art education, creativity…those sorts of delectable morsels). So, imagine my excitement when Maryam Montague invited Mustapha and I to help out with (one of her many) community development initiatives, Project Soar. According to Maryam…
Project Soar is a non-profit organization registered in Morocco. The mission of Project Soar is to provide girls aged 4-12 with athletic, artistic, and musical opportunities in the village of Douar Ladaam. To date, Project Soar has held numerous activities for a group of 38 girls. Activities have ranged from basketball, pilates, yoga, and theater, to sculpture, mosaic glasswork, stenciling, sewing, and painting. Instructors have come not only from Morocco but from around the world. All activities take place in a safe setting at our home and guesthouse, Peacock Pavilions.
Awesome, right? Mustapha and I headed out to the Pavilions in mid-November, helping out with a project led by some British artists from the Mint Collective. Hermione and Flo explained color mixing to the girls (primary and secondary colors, yo) AND introduced them to the amazing world of vegetable prints. Cut-up beans, carrots, and potatoes on paper plates greeted the girls as they filed into the Pavilions’ tent. The adorable Project Soar-ers took to the vegetables and decorated the heck outta their fancy new name tags. Mustapha translated like a pro, and I helped with general morale-boosting and “hey girl, that looks zwin“-ing. The parallels between Project Soar activities and GMOA Family Days had me simultaneously homesick and wanting to be nowhere except exactly where I was in that moment. Morocco, only you could do this to a girl.
Team Sarah and Stoph returned to Project Soar again this past Sunday for another girl power rally. This time, Gypsy Mint Stencils and SwatchRoom were running the show. This group of American artists (who fund-raised all of their travel expenses JUST to come out to help with Project Soar and Project Pride) cut out a variety of stencils portraying soaring birds, and taught the girls how to to paint the stencils lightly and vary the colors and strokes to get a technicolor flock. The cumulative effect was beyond rad. After the stenciling activity, a locally-based female doctor, Dr. Squali, sat down with the girls and gave a quick hand-washing and microbe talk. When the esteemed doctora finished and none of the girls had any questions, I raised my hand and asked where we can find microbes– you know, to continue the transfer of useful information! When you’re a microbiologist’s daughter, this kinda stuff holds a unique sense of wonder that you want everyone else to get excited about as well. The poor doctora genuinely thought that I was unsure about this question, and proceeded to very slowly explain that microbes can be found everywhere…and pointed out about a million examples so that I might be granted an ah-ha moment somewhere in there. Needless to say, I never brought up my father’s line of work.
What was also endlessly amusing was that, at Peacock Pavilions in Morocco on this particular Sunday, I met a co-worker of RPCV Lauren, who was in my CBT group and is just one of my favorite people to have met in Peace Corps; I met the wife of said co-worker, an artist who got her MA at…you guessed it….none other than UGA and studied in Cortona; AND I met a girl who graduated from my high school in 1986. (Fun fact: the reason why I asked her where she was from is because I overheard the quintessential “You’re from the South? You don’t have an accent!” comment, which I get allllll the time). We all bonded over a very Sunday brunch-esque meal and then headed out to the main drag of Douar Ladaam. In addition to running a Project Soar activity, the Gypsy Mint Stencils and SwatchRoom artists donated their time and talents to contribute to Project Pride, a community beautification initiative. Some highlights included portraits of the king in the barbershop, bright turquoise doors, a striped butcher’s stall, and a rather mod-looking chicken painted onto the wall. We can’t wait to see the finished product.
Champions of Change Award
I mentioned how this past summer’s artisan camp was a milestone in my service (and just thinking about it makes me miss the lovely Lucia and Michelle, my amazing camp helpers who are back in America now). There have been many conversations about continuing the camp in some capacity, but, as usual, we face questions of funding and of time. Then I got this email.
Dear Sarah,World Connect is excited to announce that your project has been selected as a nominee for the 2013 Charlotte Daniel Champions of Change Award!Please visit our website to learn more about the history of the Charlotte Daniel Fund at World Connect.ProjectLink: Creation Camp: An Introduction to Traditional Moroccan Artisanal Skills for GirlsCommunityOrganization: The Association of Creations of Women Artisans in TameslouhtProjectLeader: Zineb Ait AllahPeaceCorpsVolunteer: Sarah QuinnWorld Connect identifies a very limited number of projects each year as eligible for the Champions of Change Award. Nominees are invited to apply for up to an additional $5,000 grant from World Connect to further the objectives of their original project.
And it clicked. Further the objectives of the original project? Expand its breadth in a sustainable way? Hello, marriage of equals! I immediately forwarded this email to Ms. Montague and proposed joining forces to provide the girls of Tameslouht and Douar Ladaam with a continuous art program. Project Soar wants to explore music in addition to the fine arts, so we put our heads together and drafted up a pretty spectacular (if I may say so myself) game plan. If funded, we will be providing the girls of Tameslouht and Douar Ladaam with music workshops led by local musicians and art workshops led by local artists and artisans (like we did at our summer camp). The idea is to expand the creative thinking capacities and fine arts opportunities for the girls while also providing local musicians and artists with larger networks and more “hats” (ie teacher hats, workshop leader hats…all exquisitely styled). And what’s great is that the instruments and art supplies funded by the grant will have a permanent home at Peacock Pavilions– the girls will be able to use ‘em on demand (on Sundays). Keep your fingers crossed for us!
Among the art madness, I journeyed into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains to visit my neighbors, the fantastic Britt & Pete. They had heard rumblings of women artisans tucked into the folds of their town and asked if I’d like to investigate these rumors with them. Seeking out talented women artisans in the mountains? Sounds like a party to me! I showed up and, in true Moroccan fashion, worked my way through several plates of 9orchlet (small Moroccan cookies) at various homes before scheduling meetings with a woman who hand-weaves rugs and a cooperative that produces couscous (yup, COUSCOUS!).
We met with Fatima, a small but powerful woman, who has quite an eye for explosive colors. Fatima weaves wool rugs on a horizontal loom. The loom resembles two upright wooden poles more than anything else, but she graciously demonstrated how she arranges them for maximum rug production. Fun fact– she measures her rugs in arm lengths. Fatima expressed disinterest in working with foreigners– she (like so many Moroccan artisans) gave a lot of time and energy to various international organizations who came, saw, conquered, and left without really helping her any. Since Britt and Pete actually live with her in Amizmiz, however, she seemed excited about working with them (they have nowhere to run!). Britt has already set up a lovely Facebook page for Fatima and her rugs, aptly named Zarabi Art (which translates to “rug” art). SO– get to buying your fill of Berber rugs, folks!
In addition to carpets, we had our fill of couscous. The Omnia Couscous cooperative is comprised of 7 women who are widowed or divorced. The cooperative trains the women and provides them with an income-generating opportunity– they sell mostly to the local stores and to tour groups who come into Amizmiz. We sat and watched as one of the women went through several of many steps to roll flour and water into the delicious morsels of couscous that we all know and really, deeply, passionately love. I left with several bags, obviously. Amizmiz is a great mini-vacay for me, and I’m looking forward to returning THIS WEEK to hike through the mountains and visit more artisans with Britt and Pete. We’re even going to put the corn syrup my mom sent to me to use and make rum balls– I mean, celebrate Advent (two in the same?). I’ll keep ya posted.
I am over the moon to report back good news from the visa adventure of 2013: Mustapha is officially coming to the US of A in March 2013. The visa process itself necessitates an entire entry– much later. For now, we’re just excited to say “when we’re in America” instead of if. It’s amazing how good it feels to make the declarative.
For the first time ever (in my 2 years of PC Morocco, I mean), PC Morocco threw us a Thanksgiving bash. Ellen, our new(ish) country director, has a tradition of providing this holiday meal for all volunteers in country. That’s no small task– with over 200 (I think) PCVs currently serving, the logistics are pretty complicated. Hotels, food, TURKEY….so many important details to figure out. Britt, Pete, Nicole and I headed up to Rabat on Thanksgiving morn via train. PC HQ was swarming with PCVs and ah-maz-ing American and Moroccan food. I got my fill of turkey, apple pie, couscous, lentils, and green beans. What a great way to spend the day.
El Jadida, Rabat, & the Casablanca airport with MY DAD
The day after Thanksgiving, I traveled to Casablanca to meet with my dad-dad-daddio at the airport. I am incredibly lucky to have a dad who is in the midst of beginning a project in Morocco, so this is the 4th time I’ve gotten to see him while in country. The only downside is that when he comes, it’s to work– so this time, we had a window of about 2 days to have fun.
Fun ended up meaning a night in El Jadida. The lovely Ruth gave us some great recommendations for things to do and see there within our very ridiculously small time frame. A morning walk on the beach to watch the sun rise (kinda– it was cloudy, but it was a lovely idea), eating fresh fish, and spending a few hours exploring the old Portuguese fort were enough to see something new and get back in time for dinner with my dad’s colleagues.
The fun ended all too soon, with notable highlights being my dad, Mustapha and I all watching Monster-In-Law with completely non-ironic enthusiasm at my dad’s swank hotel, and then the nice mul taxi who referred to us as the “children of Jesus.” Thanks for the great memories, dad, and we’re looking forward to having you back in January!