FROM ITALY, WITH LOVE

Friends, family and faithful readers, I have made it to Italy.

After stamping the Big Book O’ Volunteers on Friday afternoon, I fought through post-explosion security in Casablanca and, along with three other recently-stamped volunteers, made my way to Bologna. I am now in a small costal town called Cervia, eating seafood and dutifully puddle-stomping.

I also happen to be fighting off the flu, but that’s alright; it’s Italy, after all! There is no complaining in Italy.

Pictures will be posted and stories will be recounted as soon as I’m feeling well enough to share them. Until then, I plan on sleeping excessively, eating many pizzas and trying to stop myself from using words like wakha, safi and machi mochkil with Italians.

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FROM THE BLUE BOOK OF CANNING

Most of the interesting things in my possession here were eliminated when I moved last October, from my old site to this new one.

While perusing my books last week, however, the volunteers nearest to me – a married couple whom we lovingly refer to as S and D – unearthed the 29th edition of the Ball Blue Book, which is a manual on canning, published by the Ball Corporation of Muncie, Indiana in 1974.

The 112-page canning manual discusses all aspects of this slow-food technique, including the latest sanitation practices and the adjustments necessary for canning at altitude.

On the inside of the back cover of the book, however, are the instructions for how to preserve a husband.

HOW TO PRESERVE A HUSBAND

Be careful in your selection. Do not choose too young. When selected, give your entire thoughts to preparation for domestic use. Some wives insist on keeping them in a pickle, others are constantly getting them into hot water. This may make them sour, hard, and sometimes bitter; even poor varieties may be made sweet, tender, and good, by garnishing them with patience, well sweetened with love and seasoned with kisses. Wrap them in a mantle of charity. Keep warm with a steady fire of domestic devotion and serve with peaches and cream. Thus prepared, they will keep for years.
-New Revised Edition, Ball Blue Book, 1974

That is, by far, the coolest thing I’ve found while moving out.

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THE END IS UPON US

Friends, family and recently-neglected readers, the end is in sight.

After a week of saying good-byes and hellos (while I’m in the midst of wrapping things up, a new batch of volunteers is in the province for their site visit), I leave my site for the last time this coming Sunday.

I’ll travel up to Casablanca to ship a bag home, and then I’ll spend the rest of the week in Rabat finishing paperwork, closing my bank account, and doing other end-of-service-related activities. I will sign the big book o’ volunteers (I’m assuming that a Nicole wuz hear will suffice) on Friday, 29 April, and the next morning, I’m outta here!

On Saturday, 30 April, I’m leavin’ on a jet plane for Bologna, Italy. After 26 months in North Africa speaking something closely related to a Berber dialect, I’ll be spending the month of May with my boyfriend and two other close friends in a rented villa, on the coast of the Adriatic, speaking something related to Italian. We’ll eat, drink, watch football and be merry in Venice, Florence, Rome, and wherever else the wind blows us. We’ll also wash our clothing in a machine, shower as frequently as we like in a proper bathroom and, God willing, we won’t hear one single bonjour.

Then, at the end of the month, we’ll all salaam each other one final time, and head for the good ol’ U.S. of A. Once there, I’ll return to the Mitten briefly, play as much Euchre and drink as much Vernors as I can stand, and then pack up and ship out to Georgia.

Georgia?

Yep, Georgia.

You’ll just have to keep reading to find out why, of all places, Georgia.

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FANCY CHEESE AND OTHER MUSINGS

45 days.

Forty-five.

With the number of days left in this country dwindling, I’ve begun to reflect on my time here, and the legacy I’ll leave behind.

What’s important to me is that I tried my hardest, and that I did all I could, with the resources in my possession, to make an impact here. I did, and I’m satisfied. But will that come through?

And how much does that matter to me?

One of the pills that I’ve had to swallow frequently is that I can’t possibly please everyone. Some days, it feels as if I can barely please anyone. Pleasing people isn’t my job though.

I’m in a unique situation compared to my fellow volunteers, as I’ve got two communities from which I’m already fairly removed (my Moroccan social life never did pick up again after I moved). As the final departure date draws near, however, I find my thoughts wandering back to will I leave on a good note?

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the end of my socializing, and I find myself wondering how to go about wrapping things up. I want to balance my good-byes with my personal reflection time (so as to keep my wits about me), but so far, that seems mildly to moderately impossible.

I do, however, take solace in the fact that everyone feels like this. Each and every volunteer that COSes (we use C.O.S. as a verb, meaning roughly “to get the hell outta dodge”) goes through what I’m experiencing, and everyone has their particular struggles when it comes to ending a two-year relationship with a… country.

Per the name of the post, I’m also finding solace in fancy cheese, which is now being sold at my local supermarket (called colloquially the Zwin Supermarche, or ‘beautiful supermarket’). For two years, my colleagues and I survived with two types of cheese: Laughing Cow, and a hard Spanish cheese that we call Red Ball.

(It comes packaged in the shape of a ball, encased in hard red wax. It’s really an apt title if you’ve seen it.)

When I returned from Rabat last week and made my first trip back to the supermarket, I nearly dropped my basket when I got to the dairy cooler and saw swiss, gouda, gouda with cumin seeds, bleu, mozzarella, parmesan and goat cheese next to the Red Ball.

Cheese in eggs, cheese on pasta, grilled cheese, cheese soup, cheese for lftor… the possibilities are too numerous to mention.

At least I know how the men at the Zwin Supermarche will remember me — as their most enthusiastic patron.

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THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT ME

My younger brother’s currently teaching English in the Republic of Georgia, and Al Jazeera recently did a piece on his program there.

A lot of the struggles that the article highlights happen within the Peace Corps, too. We’ve had some interesting conversations so far, and I predict that we’ll be able to reflect very similarly on our situations when we both return home.

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HOME AGAIN, HOME AGAIN

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for:

a new post!

I’ve been gone for three weeks now, and haven’t been alone with my own thoughts since… well… since the beginning of February. I bounced from a regional meeting in Essaouira back home, and then to Fez, to the High Atlas Mountains, Rabat, and back down south again.

I’m still decompressing, and things will be scattered for a bit longer until I get back into the swing of daily internet and water that doesn’t come from a well or a spring. Regular blog and email service will resume shortly, God willing, and then I’ll get to recount all of the stories of my travels.

In the meantime, did I mention that I saw snow while I was away? In fact, I threw snowballs! That certainly brought me back.

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ALIVE, ALIVE

Contrary to popular belief, I am alive and well.

It’s common knowledge that the last few months of one’s Peace Corps service are the busiest of all, and I’m walking, email-ignoring proof that that is true. For today, I’ll give you the cliff-notes. Later this week, God willing, I’ll get back to the normal drivel.

Last month, after 48 hours of trying to induce labor and a 200MAD bribe to an ambulance driver, my counterpart’s wife had her baby! This was cause for celebration, in the form of a baby-naming ceremony called a siba3 (say see-baaaa).

Then, a week later, the baby died.

Then, I hosted the US Political Ambassador to Morocco, Samuel Kaplan, in both my old site and my new one.

And then, I collapsed from exhaustion.

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THE TOM WAITS PROGRAM

I have a thing for voices.

No, really, I do.

My love of how we utilize our vocal apparatus to convey emotion has always been with me, but after having lived for so long in a place where words don’t matter – as I don’t understand the majority of them  - I’ve come to savour the timbre of the voices around me in a much more sincere way.

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, and Edward James Olmos came up.

Why that’s not as weird as it sounds: I’m watching Battlestar Galactica these days, and the conversation moved from cylons, to admiration of the show’s production, to EJO.

EJO has what can only be considered an incredible speaking voice. For him, tonality is secondary to production; that production, which points at age and perhaps a sin-laden past, can portray affection, disillusion, anger, fury, and a number of other emotions and states of being while retaining the same basic production qualities that I love so dearly.

Let me provide you with examples:

Tangents aside, I mentioned to my friend that I would, on day, like to sound like EJO. I told my friend that I’d especially like to speak Tashlheit with that gruffness, but that I didn’t think I had enough time left in my service to achieve that lofty goal.

He told me that I need to forget Olmos and seek out the the Tom Waits Program: bourbon and cigars, mainly, with a little musical talent and stage presence thrown in for good measure. Step one of the Tom Waits Program, according to him, is a good ol’ fashioned YouTube search.

I think I just found my calling. After finishing my service here (which happens in 98 days, for those that are counting), I can strike attempting to save the world off of my to-do list… and promptly replace it with striving to sound like Tom Waits.

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THE HONEST TRUTH

It’s funny ’cause it’s true!

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ANOTHER ENTRY FEATURING A SMALL CHILD

I know what you’re thinking:

it must be a slow news day if she’s writing another entry about a Moroccan kid.

That reasoning is accurate, though I don’t mind the slow days so much anymore.  At the beginning, slow days were tedious, offensive and proof that I wasn’t doing something right.  Life’s not supposed to be this slow.

Now, however, I embrace the slow days.  I catch up on emails and paperwork, write letters and listen to music.  Also, as of late, I run.

I wake up early, warm up, stretch out, and run down the road that leads away from town.

And that’s how I started this morning: I woke up early, warmed up, stretched out and laced up.  I ran out to the King’s face (this is not a joke, there really is a King Mohammed VI billboad on the road I run on), and then turned around to head back.  I was less than a kilometer from home when I came up behind two women and a small boy, maybe six or seven years of age.  I gave them as wide a berth as the sidewalk would allow, and I ran past them.

Then the women started shrieking.

As I started to turn around to see what the issue was,  I felt a presence next to me.  I looked down at my left side, and sure enough, the little boy I had just passed was at my suddenly side.

He ran to catch up with me!

The ladies he was with were horrified; it’s one thing for foreigners to do weird things like run aimlessly, but it’s another to have your son follow suit.  He stopped running as soon as he realized that he had been caught…

but it was too late, for I had already died of cuteness.

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