Monday, September 14, 2009

Ramadan and Projects

It's Ramadan in the Muslim world, and this has two upshots for me and my work: 1) we are fasting, meaning no water or food from sunrise to sunset, and 2) I have absolutely nothing to do! It recently cooled off a bit, but until last week it was over 110 degrees throughout the day, so it was too dangerous to walk around outside without water. Also, my counterpart, the nurse, left town to be with her family for the holiday - and closed the clinic for the entire month. This leaves me at home with my host family. I've been breaking fast with them every night and spending time with my friend Khadija doing little crafts and baking.

The fast-breaking meal, "lfthur", happens right after sunset, following the call to prayer. In wealthier households, this involves a delicious spread of all kinds of goodies - harira (a moroccan vegetable soup), boiled eggs, shebekia (a sweet pastry), cookies, cake, coffee, juice, etc. My family is considerably poorer, so it's a much simpler affair: a few fresh dates each, a small glass of sweet, milky coffee, a bowl of askeef (a simple flour-based soup), and whole wheat flatbread cooked over a fire. I absolutely love it.

I realized recently that I really do consider my host family to be my family. We walk into each others' houses without knocking. When I eat with them, they expect me to help with the food preparation and cleaning up. We share food we prepare. Sometimes, they drive me absolutely insane, and sometimes, I think I couldn't live without them. I call them "auntie", "sister", "mama". There is a upside and downside to my relationship with them. On the one hand, it has held me back from meeting other people in town. On the other hand, I have a place and people that I call home, and it is what has kept me here with things got difficult.

Work progress, as I mentioned, has halted for the time being, but I have some projects in the works for after Ramadan. These are:
- a health class for women. I've chosen 9 women to attend weekly classes on basic hygiene and first aid, and at the end of the course I'll give certificates and encourage the women to use their knowledge to educate their communities.
- lessons at the school with a local teacher. I'm going to sing songs and do demonstrations with the little ones!
- Traditional Midwife training. 12 local traditional midwives will attend a training session by nurses on safe birthing practices, family planning, AIDS, warning signs during pregnancy and nutrition.
- Community garden. I'm talking to the women's association about planting medicinal herbs. Currently, the remedies used for skin problems and common colds do far more harm than good. I'm hoping to plant aloe vera and chamomile, and whatever else will grow in our desert that has medicinal applications.

If you've been following my posts since early this year, you'll know that my women's association has been in the works for almost 9 months now - and we are FINALLY a legal entity! Honestly, there were times along the way I was sure it was never going to happen. The women have no organizational experience, no one is literate, and none of them have ever seen a functioning association. Not to mention, this is NOT my area of expertise and my health training covered nothing of the sort, so I was just as lost! But after 9 months of long meetings, trial and error, and perseverence - the Women's Association for Hope and Development is a reality. I am so proud of them!