Michael Downs - Peace Corps Morocco.

Agroforestry, Soil Conservation

Undergraduate at the University of Kentucky in Geography.

Michael's email is: aremoy9@yahoo.com.

Michael was both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at http://peacecorps.mtu.edu/ .

20 July 2000

Training is going well. I was learning Moroccan Arabic very well, but I have recently switched to Tashelheit. Tashelheit is a Berber language. The Berbers are the indigenous people of North Africa, and most of them live in the mountains of the country's interior. The language switch was not unexpected. I am in the environment sector, and we along with the health sector often have sites in the "blad", or country side. These areas are predominantly Berber, socio-economically challenged and in the most need of the kind of help PC can provide. I also understand they are proud people, rich in culture and hospitality and famous for never being conquered. I consider myself fortunate for the prospect of living among them.

Other the language training, we have cross-cultural, medical and technical training. X-C training attempts to explain the local culture to us, familiarize us with Islam and everything else Moroccan. Medical training is sort of like a lowest common denominator idiot screening. That is, for example, in case one volunteer might not know how to use a condom, they teach everyone. What to eat and drink, what not. Basically, how to not die in Morocco. Tech training started off slow, but then picked up. We had a good session on environmental ed., a good one on painting world maps on wall (many schools simply do not have paper ones, so PCV's paint them on the walls) and an incredible session given by a volunteer who had developed potable water systems at 5 mountain villages by building springboxes and gravity feeding the water to the villages. Talk about making a difference!

I have been living with a host family here in Rabat. It has been a wonderful experience. They are some of the kindest people I have ever met. Mohammad, the father, is an Arabic teacher at a primary school. Fatima, the mother, is an excellent cook and radiates motherly love (as mom of 6 she has probably gotten much practice!). Even though they don't speak any English or French I feel like we communicate very well and they have been a tremendous help for my language skills. Mom and Dad: they seed their warmest regards and want you to know they are your family as well. They have three children my age (more or less) who all speak pretty good English, a couple of amazingly well behaved 8-10 year olds. Everyone smiles a lot. Me included.

Since I have been here, I have stayed exclusively in Rabat. Tomorrow I leave for a "self directed field trip" to Taonant, a small town north of Fez. I so look forward to seeing the countryside. Taonant is in the Rif mountains (ever wonder where the word "Reefer" comes from?), and I am very excited about seeing them. Monday, I will return to Rabat, stay the night, and leave for community based training in Mohammadia, just south of Rabat.

I miss the lush green mountains of eastern KY and the deep rich forests of the UP.

10 August 2000

Much has happened since I last wrote, before my field trip. I did not go to Taonant as I was expecting. The volunteer we were expecting to meet with was to up to showing us around his site, so we took a trip to Azarou, via Fes, instead.

Fes is an amazing place. It was once one of the world's premier centers of scholarship and enlightened thought, back in the days when Europeans were still wearing skins and burning down libraries. And Fes is still one of the premier cites of Morocco, very much alive and full of culture all its own. The city is famous for its Medina, or old world city with winding narrow streets, built long before the automobile was part of the equation. Wandering into the labyrinthine streets of the Medina is walking backwards in time, and the gray stone and white plaster wake up to tell the stories to old to disappear. You know, stories of life and death, good times and bad, trade and commerce; the legends of the urban experience.

We left Fes after one night, and I felt as if I would be there again. I traveled with two other trainees and the volunteer we were visiting. He was our guide to Azarou, where we were told that we could meet a couple volunteers and some more trainees. We all piled into a grand taxi and were on our way.

Lest the name confuse you, the grand taxis aren't all that keen. In fact the clunky old Mercedes sedans that carry 6 passengers plus driver are fairly lousy manner of travel. Not simply the sardinesque seating arrangement, but the strange driving techniques. For example, roads here are narrow and curbs are rough. In order to avoid pulling off on the curb when faced with on coming traffic, the drivers speed up to insure the other car of their intention of remaining on the pavement. There were several quiet moments in the cab when I, white of knuckle, began my thoughts "I've lived a rich and full life. . ."

Once we had arrived in Azarou, a lovely town in the Middle Atlas mountains, everything seemed to fall in place. We met up with six other trainees and four more PCV's, so it was a regular PC party. We sat for a bit, drank some coffee and then went out to see some monkeys. The Barbary macaque is really a fascinating creature. I don't know a lot about primates, but evidently they are one of very few primates that exhibit male parenting behavior. They pass their babies around from monkey to monkey, male and female, and take turn holding the little wrinkly bundles tight to their chests; They also really dig peanuts. We sat around handing them peanuts, they sat around taking them with callused fingers, popping them in their mouths.

We spent the night at Megan's, one of the volunteers, apartment. Because most Moroccans don't live alone, they don't really set up apartments for single people. Thus Megan's place had room aplenty for all.

The next day we went hiking in the mountains. The forests outside of Azarou are amazing. There are huge cedar trees that rise up to grab the clouds. The trunks stand anchored in the ground like monuments of earth and sunlight. Five of us wrapped our arms around them, each arm stretched fully to the next. We enjoyed our time in Azarou. We went to a Berber music festival, spent a night on Megan's rough drinking the local brew, Stork, and spend an entire evening making pizzas. They were damn good. Shortly after the fun, we returned to Rabat. Even shorter we left Rabat for our community based training (CBT) in Rabat. We have been staying in a small douar, or village, and have been having our training classes at an agronomy school. I and another volunteer, Kevin, have been living in a house that is just a short walk to the school. Our family is wonderful, so kind and generous. The head of the house is the grandmother. She has a son, 38, named Zeetoonee who speaks French pretty well. There are four of five other women who wander about: cooking, cleaning and smiling. One of them has a four month old named, can anyone guess? That's right! Mohammed! They are supported by one of the women who works at the school. After seen the picture of my mother with her cow, they have expressed interest in traveling to America to milk cows with my mother, inshalla (God willing).

Language training is going slow. It is hard to learn a language, Tashelheit, that no one around me speaks. I think I'm learning more Arabic, by living with my host family, than Tashelheit, from my classes. I hope that, by the same token, when I go to my site I will learn the language quickly by living in an environment where it is spoken.

Our technical training is going well. We are focusing on participatory rural appraisal, a community development facilitation framework. We have gone out into the local villages and asked them to draw us maps of their community, or to tell us about seasonal or daily calendars, in order to open up a dialog about some of the issues that the community faces. The villagers have been very helpful, and have seemed to enjoy talking with us. Tomorrow I find out where my site is. This is the place where I will live for the next two years, so I am on the edge of my seat. This weekend I will visit my site, so I'll send you an update when I know where it is and what it's like.

26 August 2000

The big news is that I have received my site assignment, and I have visited my site. Sites are the places where we as volunteers will live, as members of the communities, for our two years of service. My site is a village called Ouanskra, in the High Atlas Mountains. My words can hardly reach towards the beauty of the valley, how it lies between the tall rocky mountain ranges. The brilliant contrast of the green valley bottom, with its small but constant stream, and the dry, steep mountain slopes. Where there is soil they have terraced the slopes and use them to grow their crops. They have fascinatingly intricate irrigation systems. No doubt I could spend my entire two years examining merely the way water is procured, distributed and used.

I left for my site from Marrakech, a fascinating place in its own right. I traveled for a couple hours crammed into a Mercedes taxi till I reached the town of Asni. There I negotiated transport in the back of a camion, or large truck. We bounced around in the bed of the camion, trying to avoid stepping on the livestock, for a few hours as the truck carried us further in to the clutches of the mountains. It was late when they dropped us off at Imlil, so I stayed there for the night. The next morning I hiked for two hours, following the valley up to the pass. There was a dirt road at the pass that I followed to my site. An hour later I arrived at the home in which I will stay for the first two months at my site.

The Berber homes are amazing. The houses are clustered, they join each other. It seems sort of obvious, if you think about it, that any wall can be used on both sides. So if someone already has a house, why not just build yours next to it? They use a lot of different materials to build the homes. Lots of red mud and stones from the area, mixed with some cement and concrete, make the homes nearly the same color as the mountains themselves. The color, along with the clustered nature, makes them seem like some strange growth sprouting out of the landscape themselves.

The place where I am staying is very nice. It is actually a small inn for hikers. It has electricity (after 7) and running water. I have my own room. There is a nice concrete patio that overlooks the valley, underneath which the family keeps their animals. It is a nice little communal space for the livestock: a couple of cows with a couple of calves, a small heard of sheep, a little flock of chickens and one rabbit. And pigeons. Lots of pigeons. They make their nests in the walls and just sort of hang out and be pigeons.

The family was a little distant, they sort of treated me like they treat the other guests there. They gave me a lot of privacy. One of the little boys would come to my room and hang out with me, help me with the language. There is a strong gender division there, so neither of the inn keeper's wives talked to me much. I was only there for a couple days, so I'll have more time to get to know everyone when I return.

Training is nearly over. I swear in as a volunteer on the 5th of September, after which I will go to live at my site. My first priority is to learn the language. I have been studying, but I have so much work to, so much more to learn. The language is of course the key, if I have it, it will open all the doors. If not, well. . .

There are some beautiful wildflowers in my site. I even found an orchid. I hope to find someone who will be able to educate me on the wild plants and their uses. I noticed a lot of gathering of wild plants.

14 October 2000

Sufficeth to say, the experience of living in a Berber village in the high Atlas mountains is different from the anticipation of that experience. Before I thought about what it would be like to live there. Now I live there. And I think about what its like. To live there. I expect to keep thinking about that for quite some time.

I told my father that it is live I'm back on the farm. Except that I didn't tell him its kind of different. On the farm I carried wood, cut grass, worried about animals and other bits of rural toil. In the mountains I usually just see other people doing it and think, gosh I probably should be helping with that.

But I havn't really done much work. Or farmwork, real Berber work. I helped them cut in a new terrace one day. Thats hard work. I carried boxes of apples one day. I was shucking corn the other night, halfmoon light barely enough to see by. I've been really lazy by Berber standards. It doesn't bother them too much. They think I don't know anything. When I do work, I use the tools or handel the whatever differently. So they tell me I don't know anything. And really its not far from the truth. I mean, I can't speak the language. I can't farm a living for myself. I havn't really been able to explain why I'm there. They stopped asking. I think they understand I don't know.

People seem to work a lot in my village. Actually, women seem to work a lot, men seem to work very hard every now and then. I went trekking in the park. Met three lovely people in Imlil, a spainard and two dutch, and backpacked (I secretly hiked while they trekked)to the mountain refuge at the base of Mount Toubkal. Spent the night there, the next morning they began their ascent of the mountain and I hiked on to a lake. The lake was really barren and a dusty wind came in from the valley. A little man had a rock shelter, couple of rooms and one where he sold cokes and candybars. I talked to him in Tashelheit. He made me tea and shared his lunch with me. I curled up on my sleeping bag and slept like a dog on that dirt floor. Best nap I ever had. Spent that night in a nearby town where I ran into another voluntere. The next day, he went on to the lake and I walked forever. I spent the next night in the most isolated place I've been in. Or maybe it just felt that way. Everyone spoke Tashelheit. Some people spoke Arabic. Thats it, Saafee. I wandered around the tiny village, trying to look as lost as possible untill on old lady took pity on me. I quickly used up the 7 tashelheit words I know, but she fed me and gave me a room to stay in. Just part of her house. It was made of rocks and the floor way dirt, packed hard as cement. The doors were short an narrow. Berbers aren't big people. Their seemed to be two main rooms of the house. The kitchen and the one I slept in. She lived there with her son and his wife. The wife was young and seemed keen on getting something out of me for the room and board. I gave them a package of soup mix before I left and they seemed happy, or maybe just intrigued.

I got back to my site and stayed for another week before I returned to Marrakech. While here I've eaten just about everything but potatos. I eat those twice a day in my site. I also got the oppurtunity to meet an ethnobotanist (studies how traditional communites use plants) name Gary Martin. He seemed very interested in the work I'm doing. He gave me a lot of good ideas and seemed like he would be interested in working with me in the future on my thesis (yes, it looms large in the distance).

The weather is starting to get cool in the mountains. Somethimes it is downright cold. I hear we get snow beseffff. So it will be kind of like the UP, with mountains. And lots of mules. And Berebers. Okay, it will be completely unlike the UP in everyway, except snow. I hope everyone is having a wonderful autumn. I sure do miss those KY fall colors.

Photos sent in late November.

My friends and fellow PCVs on the cliffs of the Middle Atlas Mountains, outside of Azarou.

I contemplate the joy of being out of the rain in a rock shelter along the river valley running between my site and the taxi stand.

Halloween. Left to right: Me, the fortune teller. Tim: Mild Mannered Moroccan Man. Kevin: a'Romi <like are'moy, Tashelehit for foreigner. Comes from the word Roman, who were the original foreigners in Berber land. Hence the costume>

The mother of my friend, Abdu Karim, making "tanoort", traditional Berber bread. The dough is pressed on the inside of the clay, wood burning stove where it bakes. It holds the shape of the oven and comes out concave like a bowl.

Me on the pass between the valley of my site (Tachdirt valley) and Imlil valley.

29 November 2000

So I finally bought myself a jellaba. If you ever saw Star Wars, and you can remember Obi wan Kinobi. If you can visualize the long brown robe that he wore, that is essentially a jellaba.

All of the Berbers men wear jellabas. It seems like all the Arab men do as well. I suspect that nearly every male in Morocco has one of the Jedi cloaks stashed away somewhere. In Tashelheit, the Berber dialect that they speak in my site, they call the jellaba "tejlabeet".

Now if you can remember the first Star Wars, how at the beginning Luke and Obi wan lived on that dry rocky landscape with deserts and mountains. And prowling around in those mountains were little guys called Jaw-was. All you could see of the little Jaw-was was a small reddish brown jellaba, slinking mysteriously around the mountain slopes.

If you can visualize the Jaw-was as they travel about the slopes, then you have a pretty good idea of what my site looks like. The Berbers are every bit a bunch of Jaw-was, in their long robes with their big pointy hoods. And they flow up and down and around those mountain slopes, appearing or disappearing in the most mysterious ways.

Sometimes, when you are out walking in the mountains alone, you get a strange feeling. Maybe you've been singing to yourself for the last 40 minutes, reveling in your solitude. And then suddenly you get that feeling: you are being watched. You scan the slopes, looking for the little jaw-wa with his flock of sheep or goats. And most of the time, when you have that feeling, when the back of your neck begins to tingle, you can find the little jellaba jaw-wa looking straight at you. Like he's been watching you all your life. And sometimes you look and can't find a thing.

Berber men are generally not tall. So the Jaw-wa analogy works well for them. One of the things that I like best about my site is that I have become taller by association. Indeed in the world of Jaw-was I am a towering giant. So if they are the Jaw-was, maybe I'm Obi wan. No maybe not Obi wan, more like Luke. Not the teacher, but the student.

Remember how Luke left all his friends and everything he knew to go study with Master Yoda? He took the crucial step in the hero's journey to go out into the unknown and seek understanding.

So with visions of light-sabers and Chewbacca dancing in my mind I don my dark blue-gray, heavy wool tejlabeet. The Jedi cloak covers me, and I pull the deep pointy hood way down over my face and steal out of my new house in the soon after dusk hours.

I slink down into the main street, white hands clasped beneath the thick wool material. Striding silently down the narrow unlit street, working my way through the path of darkness, cats scatter about the street in front of me.

My keen Jedi awareness alerts me to a disturbance in the force, only paces in front of me. Peering into the darkness I spy several of them gathered around the water tap. No, not them, but Them.

Them. The pack of ever-hungry young unmarried Berber women who congregate around the taps in the soon after dusk hours, waiting for weak, yet eligible, prey to pass by.

Immediately I slip into super stealth mode. Bending low so that the upper lip of my hood comes near my chest; I shuffle silently towards them. Yes towards them, not around them. A Berber man wouldn't go around, he would walk straight through their space and expect them to get out of their way. Because to a Berber man they are not Them, they're just them.

And that's what I am a Berber man, I'm "Ashel`hey". Walking straight through their pack, Ashel`hey. Not even noticed, Ashel`hey. Yes I'm Ashel`hey, not "Are-"

"Are'moy!" Exclaims the hungriest looking one, just as I'm about the pass through, "Manni treet?"

Are'moy: foreigner.
Manni treet: Where are you going?

"No you don't understand," I tell them in perfect English, "I'm in super stealth mode."

"Don't speak French," they tell me in Tashelheit, "Speak Tashelheit. Where are you going?"

Completely disarmed and revealed, I have no choice left but to defend myself with the language. I focus my energy, trying to use the force to create and express clear, complete thoughts.

"House, Mohammed," I say in flawless Tasheleheit.

"Ah'lala!" Several of them cry in unison. Ah'lala: nice, cute or adorable.

They ask me again and I tell them, pointing to the direction of Mohammed's house.


They know exactly where I'm going, but that isn't the point. The point is my ridiculous Tashelheit and my silly American self.

"Where have you been?"

"My house."


And then they move in for the kill.

"Do you have a woman there?"


"Why not?"

"Not married good. Me small."

"You're not young, you're old. Why don't you marry Hadija?" Pointing, Hadija
blushes on cue.

"No. Hadija marry Muslim. Me no Muslim. "

<note: Muslim women are forbidden from marrying non-Muslim men by both Koranic and Moroccan law. However, Berber women in my site seem either unaware or unconcerned about this.>


"No, not good."

"Okay, why don't you marry Fatima?"

"I have to go now."


And there we have it. I am not a Jedi, or Ashel`hey, yet.

Excerpt from December 2000 report.

Establishment and Residence.

After completing my mandatory two month site homestay, I elected to find alternative accommodations. I moved into the upstairs of a seldom open cafe in Ouanskra's neighbouring village Tamguist.

The move was very instructive as to the degree to which village identities are separate. My leaving Ouanskra was both confusing and entertaining to the people of my site valley. After a month in the new location that the essence of their confusion became clear. Ouanskra had communicated with someone at some time to get an American, who came and then went to Tamguist. Tamguist never asked anyone for an American, so why was one living there.

Although there is about a five minute walk between villages, leaving one village and moving to another was more significant than, say, leaving Houghton and moving to Hancock. I have elected to return to Ouanskra. This is destined to be the next major piece of gossip for my valley. Probably the most entertaining news since the last time I moved.

14 January 2001

I hiked out of my site in a blizzard yesterday, not that intense by UP standards, excepting the fact I was trying to climb a pass in the High Atlas Mountains. I so love my site.

23 January 2001

I tracked down the village association in my site. They seem really well organized with a good sense of what they want to do. They want me to help them build a bridge. Basically, all they need is funding for materials. I think I can probably get a SPA grant for it. It is not what I would chose to be involved in, but then again it's not really my choice. Seems like there
is a real need any way. There is a lot of snow now and they say that by April and May it all starts to melt really quick. The next thing on their list is potable water for the village. It seems like the stuff we did in that engineering class will actually be really helpful. I'm hoping that these projects will open doors for me in terms of community cooperation with
a fuel study.

11 April 2001

I had lived at my site for slightly more that four months before I was formerly introduced to the members of the jemaia. The jemaia is officially named Jemaia Amegdoul, which, in Tashelheit, means Association of the Fields. It has nine recorded members: a president, secretary and treasurer, a vice official for each of these posts, and three non-office holding members. The jemaia was officially founded 26 May, 2000, although it was formed out of the preexisting "jemaa", the community of elders at the Mosque. Throughout rural areas of Morocco, jemaia that are composed of men are typically based on the less formal "jemaa" which are typically as old as the Mosques they draw from.
It was not until I asked my host father, Lascen, if he knew about associations that I was informed of and introduced to Ouanskra's jemaia. Lascen told me, yes he knew about associations. Yes, there is one in Ouanskra. Yes, we know your counterpart expects you to work with the jemaia. An hour later I met all the members of the jemaia and we had our first official meeting.
We began by formal introductions. I examined the identity card of each member and copied down his name and identification number. They seemed to appreciate this formality. They showed me all of their official documents, including the jemaia's registration papers, records of dues collected as well as some smartly printed documents that organized the association's project goals by time and cost. They told me the documents had been created by my counterpart, M. Larabi of Eaux ets Foretes, after he met with them in the village.
I openly asked them what they wanted to work on for their first project. They talked amongst themselves for a few minutes, but they came to a consensus quickly. A bridge was the first priority. Lascen told me that heavy snow accumulation melting quickly pose a flood danger. The main problem of a flooded river is that all the fields and pastures are located on the opposite side, as is the road in and out of the village. Lascen said it was a danger to people and domestic animals.
The jemaia told me how many skilled laborers, unskilled laborers and animals would work on the project, hold many total hours they would work and the typical price of their hourly labor. I used this information to determine the community's contribution to the project. I explained the concept of community and they seemed to understand easily. The association members provided me with a list of necessary materials for the project. I used this information to attain price quotes, or devis, for the necessary materials. Wood materials for the project would be purchased in Marrakech, cement and steel in nearby Asni.
I returned to the site to discuss the materials and the cost with the jemaia. I asked them if they really needed 500 planks to build a relatively small structure that would be composed primarily of concrete and steel. They decided 250 should be sufficient. They asked for 3 wheelbarrows also. I said no.
The jemaia provided me with dimensions for the bridge. I asked them to show me the site for the bridge and we measured the span and height. Although they had originally told me the bridge would be 10m, the measured span was 18m. The height above the stream bed is 4.5 m. The have decided that a breadth of 1.5m is sufficient. They asked for more wheelbarrows. I said inshallah.
I kept my PC program manager and Eaux ets Foretes counterparts informed of the process from the beginning. My counterparts agreed to provide transport for the materials. I busied myself writing the SPA (Small Project Assistance) grant proposal. SPA grants are available for PCVs and are funded by USAID.
I did not expect the members of the association to fully understand all the details I was going through in order to request assistance from an agency outside the site. The barriers are obvious. Lack of literacy, communication problems, as well as the basic foreignness of the process. Instead I tried to explain more simply the basic process I was going through. They seemed slightly in awe of the process (or maybe of official looking papers in languages they didn't understand), but were interested and involved.
After securing devis and writing the proposal, the requested assistance came to the equivalent of 1675.92$US. The value of the community's contribution totaled 1360.00$US.
I submitted the proposal and a date was set for the SPA committee to review it. The committee was made up of PC's SPA coordinator, another PC admin representative, two PCV , one of my counterparts from Eaux êtes Forets. I was to be present with representative from the jemaia.
After I informed the association members that the meeting was to take place and that I wanted Lascen to attend, they decided that was a good time to negotiate for more money. The explained that when they had met with Larabi, prior to my arrival, he told them they would only have to contribute %30 to the total project cost. With the amount of labor they were providing and the amount of money they were receiving for materials, they were obviously providing more than %30. The community contribution is %45 of total project cost.
I, for a brief moment, tried to explain that the situation was different, that they were working with different organizations now. In true Moroccan fashion, they attempted to bargain with me for a price everyone could be happy with. I told them that they should discuss this matter with Larabi today. Today? Yes, today.
I have neglected to mention that in the process of all this I offended the president of the association. By inviting Lascen to come to the meeting instead of him he felt snubbed. Even though I explained to him that I wanted Lascen to come because he spoke French and we could communicate more easily, he was still unhappy about the matter.
Regardless, Lascen and I left Ouanskra for the big city of Marrakech as if we were on a mission. We hiked for five miles where we caught transport to the taxi stand. Finally, we were packed like sardines in the back of a Mercedes grand taxi, speeding along the mountain highways and peering over the edge at the remains of the bus which followed its gravitational imperative only a month ago. After we arrived in Marrakech I took Lascen straight to the office so he could discuss his concerns with Larabi.
I have never seen a Berber look so uncomfortable as did Lascen as he sat in that office, wringing his hands and mumbling low with downcast eyes. He seemed minimized by the grand authority of the government office. Maybe it was because Larabi was not there and we spoke, instead, to Haja Jamila. Maybe speaking to a woman in such an official setting was too bewildering for him. I do not know if he even broached the matter of money with her.
We talked for a while with Haja Jamilia. She wanted to know what we were going to do after the bridge project. I mentioned potable water. She said that I should focus on an income generating project for the village. I said I would focus on whatever the village wanted to focus on. Lascen agreed to anything anyone said.
The next day we had the SPA committee meeting. I gave a short presentation of the project. The committee members asked some questions. Everything seemed in order until Lascen informed us that a mistake had been made, the association needed an extra 8 tons of cement. The committee members had lots of questions after that. I, feeling slightly disgusted, directed all questions to Lascen.
"Do you understand that you can not simply change the amount requested now Michael?" asked Lisa, a PC admin rep, "Do you understand that you will have to write a new proposal and reapply?"
I told Lisa I understood, but I was not sure my counterpart did. Could you please explain it to him? Eventually my counterpart understood that he was in danger of not getting anything, so he agreed that the association would provide any additional materials necessary.
The committee seemed to accept this. I have since received email from them that they want an activity agreement signed by the jemaia where they agree to provide any extra materials necessary. I assume optimistically that if they want this document they are willing to provide funding once they receive it.

25 April 2001

Project Implementation

I anticipate that the bridge project is about to enter the implementation phase. At the time of this writing I have to submit to Peace Corp's SPA coordinator an activity agreement signed by the Jemaia, as well as a completed worksheet that describes my plans for monitoring and evaluation of the project.
I expect to send this paperwork to PC admin within a week. I anticipate final project acceptance following this, and funding should be available with in three weeks.
When funds are made available to myself and the Jemaia, I will secure a date with my counterparts at Eaux et Foretes on which they will be able to provide transportation for the materials. Upon this date I will travel to Marrakech with a representitive from the Jemaia to facilitate purchase and transport of the materials to Ouanskra. The materials will be stored in a indoor location until time for the project to begin.
At this point, the project process is largely in the hands of the Jemaia. I anticipate helpful facilitation and participation in construction, but the skill involved in designing and directing the structure will be drawn from the community members.

Photos sent on 6 May 2001.

The men of my site gather and make their way to the Mosque for prayers on the holiday of Ayd l'Kbeer. This holiday is the last day of the Islamic month of Hajj, when belivers make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Both in Mecca and elsewhere, Muslims all over the world celebrate the Ayd by slaughtering a sheep or goat and having a feast.

My host mother Kh'dujj prepares a cooking fire in the mijmar. She is burning small perennial bushes with little heat value. These are the primary source of fule in my site. Charcoal is also seen to the right of her, but this is rarely used.

A traveling herb vendor sets up shop for the day in Tamatert, a small village between mine and the larger town of Imlil. Herbs are important to both rural and urban populations. They are used for cooking, medicine, magic and combinations thereof.

A close-up shot of some herbs for sale at a shop in Essouaria. As you can see, traditional and modern medicine are not separate entities, but two which continually influence and shape each other.

Djellaba clad Moroccans lounging on their fishing boats in Essouaria.

A mousim, or traditional Berber music festival, in Ain Leuh, a small town in the Middle Atlas Mountains.

Hassan Mosque in Rabat.

Small Business PCV Paul and Michael in the desert outside Ouarzazat.

Parts of Michael's Quarterly Report - June 27, 2001

A: Work since last report

This report has been delayed due to major developments in the progress of my primary project. Last week, approximately one month after we received the funding for the Ouanskra Bridge Project, we purchased all project materials and transported these to the project site. Transport of all materials required three truckloads. And, as only one truck was available, three separate trips were required. Each trip required one day. Even though the arrival of the materials coincided with the barley harvest, work on the project began two days after all materials arrived.

There was a gap of one month between funding acquisition and materials purchasing because of my decision to involve the village association members in all aspects of the process, including transport of the materials. This required me to travel to Marrakech with community members for meetings with my counterpart. Although it would have been simpler and faster if I had arranged transport without the participation of the association members, I felt that it was important for them to participate in all aspects of the project process so they may learn more about the process.

The association members and other villagers were very excited to receive the materials. Construction plans began immediately. My host father, the association's secretary, wrote up some guidelines describing the work requirements for the men of the village. These guidelines required the men of the village to work on certain days, beginning at eight o'clock in the morning. Failure to do so required the payment of 30 dirhams (approximately 3$US) to the association.

I was not present at the association meeting when these guidelines were discussed, but I was told that they were not met with full acceptance. I am not aware of what compromise was met, but regardless, project construction has begun.

Although I hardly expected the project to take so long to reach implementation, I am satisfied with the project's progress. I feel that I have generally succeeded in giving ownership of the project, if not to the community, then certainly to the association. The association initiated the project, and I made all possible efforts to keep the association members informed about all my activities regarding funding acquisition. Transport was arranged with the participation of the association members.

We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

The Bridge.


The association members were very patient during the time it took to secure project funding and purchase materials. It is worth noting that, in the time it has taken for us to acquire the materials, the association has completed several village projects without my involvement. They have built a café to sell refreshments to tourists and completed maintenance projects for the irrigation and road systems.


B: Plans for next quarter

Implementation of the project will likely dominate my focus and activity over the next quarter. Having completed the component for which I had expertise (funding acquisition and transport of materials), I look forward to learning about the process of bridge construction.

I have recently heard the association members discussing their interest in a potable water system for the next project. This is not surprising because the association members identified this as their second priority (after the bridge) during our first meeting. Thus I expect to begin writing a project proposal for this project during the next quarter.

I intend to involve association members in the proposal writing process to a greater degree than they were involved in the writing of the proposal for the bridge project. I have acquired a copy of the of the proposal guidelines, written in Arabic, which I will give to the association. Of course the ideal outcome of my service here is to transfer my skills in funding acquisition to the village association members, so that they may do so without a PCV intermediary. The challenges to this are obvious. Although quite a few of the village men are literate, that literacy is limited to Arabic. I know of few funding sources outside of USAID's SPA grants for PCVs, and I know of none who work in Arabic. Thus, during the next quarter I will attempt to locate donors working in Arabic (possibly Moroccan governmental agencies).

Because of my villager interest in fruit trees, as well as my personal opinion that they provide an ecologically and economically sound option for the villagers to diversify their farm systems and generate cash income, I will begin preplanning for a tree project. This will include determining the cost of the various trees, locating a funding source (other than SPA, as I will be requesting their assistance for the potable water project) and reviewing reports of past tree projects facilitated by PCVs. I will also use this information to form the basis of another study, examining the significance of tree crops in the farm systems and village economies at my site.

18 July 2001


What seems most remarkable now is that I have already spent a year in Morocco. The time has passed much quicker than I would have imagined. This causes a little anxiety as I look forward to beginning and eventually completing my thesis. As the time passes, and continues to pass, thoughts about what I will do when I return to the states become more real.

What am I doing here in Morocco? I find it is most useful to examine this question in terms of my expectations prior to beginning my Peace Corps service. I was certain that I would be placed in an impoverished community facing economic, social and environmental crises. I expected that my placement as a Peace Corps volunteer would give me the opportunity to dramatically impact the community in which I lived.

These expectations are very different than the reality I am experiencing. The community in which I live is facing no crises. Rather, it is the most functional community I have ever known. There are the various problems that plague many developing communities: bad teeth, scarcity of biomass fuel, diarrhea related illnesses, illiteracy, over-grazing and a general lack of cash. However, the significance of these challenges continues to pale in comparison as my understanding of the community's virtues grows. With respect to agriculture, the villages in my valley use amazingly sound farming techniques. Terraced fields with intricate irrigation systems experience virtually no erosion. Crops are rotated and the fields are never fallow. The Berbers in my site are eager to incorporate tree crops into their fields. Mule traction is the only option for plowing (other than Berber traction). The plows used require a team of two mules, and as a family generally has only one, this requires households to work together. Also, the irrigation system requires communal management and thus the communities have a long history of intra-village cooperation.

Regardless of anyone's opinion of the social dynamics of Islam, religion provides a strong cohesive force in my village. The villagers are united in their faith, and this faith forms the foundation for resource allocation. The village association with which I work is merely an extension of the traditional community of male elders who meet at the mosque to discuss water rights.

What are the problems that the community faces? This depends on whom you ask. If you ask me I'd tell you they need toilets, because they shit outside, a stone's throw from their house. I'd tell you they need to brush their teeth, because that sugary tea they drink rots them away. I'd tell you they need some woodlots, because the women have resorted to collecting small perennial shrubby plants as their primary cooking fuel. But I am not so arrogant as to believe that I have a better understanding of the village needs than the villagers do themselves. And because of this, I work to in the capacity that my village requests of me.

I have come to believe that my role as a PCV was somewhat predetermined by my counterpart and the village association prior to my arrival here. I was placed in my site because of Eaux et Foret's (the Ministry of Water and Forests, the office of my counterpart) interest in maintaining the environmental integrity of Toubkal National Park, which borders my site. Because the primary sources of environmental degradation to the park come from the nearby Berber communities, the park administration is attempting to work with these communities in attempts to preserve the park environment.

My placement here was a bargaining chip by the Park administration in order to win support from the community for preservation attempts. This includes (and may or may not be limited to) a reforestation program in my valley. The only way that such an attempt can possibly succeed is if the villages keep their goats and sheep out of the replanted areas while the trees struggle to establish themselves. The only way the villagers would be willing to do this is if they are compensated in some way. Thus here I am. I lived at my site for nearly four months before I discovered that there was a village association. When this happened, I also discovered that the association had a list of projects that they wished to complete. This project information was well organized, including budgets and timelines, and the association informed me that the Park administration helped them to formulate the information and printed it out for them. It is possible that I could have found community initiated projects outside of the village association, but I found no overt demand to do so. I believe that the two primary projects that I wish to accomplish, the bridge and a potable water system, serve all village members equally. Although I conducted no formal PRA exercises, I believe that village cohesively supports both projects. I believe that these are the primary concerns of the village because some of the more basic needs are already met. Food security is sustained by a combination of sound agricultural practices, water availability and cash inflow. Agricultural is sustained at a high level of productivity through a combination of productive soils, well maintained terraces, sound incorporation of tree crops, rational crop selection and water availability. The amount of water, like the quality of the soils, is primarily a function of geomorphology, but the management of water resources is a social factor contributing to its overall positive role in food security.

Cash comes into the site through cash crops (primarily tree crops), remittances from family members living and working in the cities, and tourism (and me). Although I do not know the relative degrees to which these factors contribute, tourism is the factor that separates my site from many other Berber communities in the region.

It has been challenging to work in a place that is such a popular tourist destination. I continue to struggle with local people's preconceived ideas of westerns, and the less than respectful treatment that this sometimes generates. However, I can not omit that there is a reason why my valley attracts so many tourists. The High Atlas Mountains are remarkable, much like nearby Marrakech. Both attract visitors from all over the world. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to live in both of these places.

27 August 2001

Things at the site are going well. I've started working with the association for the pre-planning of the water project. It is going to be a little larger scale that I anticipated. They want to build a spring box at the source, pipe that to a large reservoir, and pipe that to each house in the village. I haven't told them yet, but I plan on limiting the funding to the materials outside of the houses. I thing everyone who wants water in their house should buy their own pipes, taps, etc. If they invest their own money in it it will be less of a hand-out and they will probably take better care of it. You agree? I also plan on refurbishing the existing public taps, so that everyone will still have access to clean water whether they pipe it into their houses or not.

Another Moroccan student arrived at my site. Fatima, she is working on her PhD at a French university. Her study concerns the role of local institutions in the development process of villages in the western High Atlas Mountains. She was really amazing. A Berber woman herself, she had amazing sympathy for the people and a very empowering presence. I went with her to the interviews she conducted and learned quite a bit about the people I didn't already know. One thing was that people are far less literate than I realized. She helped me to talk to the people about starting literacy classes for both the men and the women. She did an excellent job of explaining to the people the importance of literacy for the whole village, both men and women, and the villagers were very receptive. I believe there is some agency that will fund such classes. So this is another project.

Aourik Brahim is planting the barley, the winter cover crop typical of farming communities of the Western High Atlas. Brhaim is the grandfather of my host family as well as the Mochadem of four villages. The Mochadem is a minor official, similar to a mayor.

A Berber man in my site plowing the fields with mule traction.

From the September 2001 Quarterly Report.

The Bridge

Work during the last quarter was dominated by the implementation and completion of our (the villagers, the village association and myself) first project, the construction of a small bridge for easier and safer river crossing. Project construction took approximately 20 days, with all adult males contributing labor and many households contributing food and drink for the laborers. Some households contributed cash for project costs, such as the purchase of food and drink as well as payment of skilled labored hired to manage the project construction. After the project was completed the villagers held a celebration feast and requested that I invite my directors. The celebration was attended by Peace Corps Morocco Country Director Barbara Durr, and my Moroccan counterparts from Toubkal National Park.

As per the guidelines detailed by the SPA grant, I completed an evaluation of the project to determine whether the desired goals and objectives had been reached. Because the project was fairly straightforward, and because the community as a whole participated in and felt satisfied by the completion of the project, the evaluation process was simple and the goals and objectives were judged to have been reached. One of the questions in the evaluation guidelines asked whether there were any unexpected results of the project completion. Indeed there were. The completion of a project by the village association, an entirely male group, inspired village women to request their own projects.

Water Project

It is difficult to determine precisely when initiation for the potable water project occurred. During my first meeting with the village association (November 2000), I was shown a prioritized list of projects that the village association members had compiled with the assistance of my counterpart (the director of Toubkal National Park). The bridge was the first project listed and the water project was the second. I have since been aware that this was the next project that the association members wished to implement, after completion of the bridge.

It is also difficult to determine precisely when the process of a project moves beyond initiation and implementation begins. I have begun holding meetings with the association to discuss the project and we have begun project planning. Measurements have been taken to determine how much pipe will be required (the estimate now stands at 4 km), and an initial materials list has been compiled.

We have also discussed the physical layout of the system. The project will involve the construction of a springbox at the source of the village's drinking water. The new spingbox will replace an old one that is too small and in a state of disrepair. New pipe will be laid to transfer water from the springbox to a newly constructed storage reservoir.

Currently, the village is served by three separate reservoirs. The smallest of which servers only the trekker's inn. A larger reservoir provides water to the rest of the homes in the upper part of the village. The lower part of the village (where the great majority of villagers live) is served by one large reservoir.

The lower part of the village has limited access to potable water. The homes do not have running water and potable water is gathered from one of two public taps. The taps are fed by a reservoir located in the lower part of the village to which water is piped from the source. Both taps are in a state of disrepair and frequently do not work.

I do not understand the specific reasons, but the current reservoirs are believed to be insufficient. The association members wish to build a large new reservoir (2.5m x 3m x 10m) located above the upper part of the village to serve the entire village, both the upper and lower parts.

The association members also wish to pipe water from the reservoir to all the houses in the village. I believe that this is why the estimated amount of pipe is so high (4km). They also wish to put meters in all of the homes to record the amount of water each household uses, for which they will pay a small per unit price. They believed that this would help to prevent homes from wasting water. Although they were not initially concerned about the public taps (presumably because they were concerned about piping water into the houses), I convinced them that these should also be rebuilt to ensure that all villagers have free access to potable water.

As I have described to you, I plan on limiting project funding to developing the water system outside of the village homes. Bringing running water into each home will be the responsibility of each household. I hope that this will make the project less of a handout and to increase the degree to which the community is invested in the project. The greater the degree the community invests its own resources in the project, the greater the sense of ownership as well as the incentive to maintain the project system.

Of course this may mean that some households will bring water into their homes before others, and some may not be able to purchase the necessary materials for quite some time. Likewise, this may change the associations desire to place meters into each home. Although I will provide whatever assistance is appropriate, these are issues that largely must be dealt with by the community itself.

The common biomass used for fuel is ifski, a Tashelheit word used to describe many different species of small woody plants.

Abdul Zak, Fatiha and Saida pose with the improved metal cookstove.

Excerpts from March 2002 Quarterly Report.


Potable Water Project
There was a long lag between the last report and the implementation of the potable water project. This was due to many factors, including the holiday (Ramadan, Christmas) season and a general lack of motivation in all parties.
The longest delay was caused by an inability to acquire an estimate for the project materials. We gave our materials list to the supplier we used for the bridge project but he never supplied an estimate. Eventually, I located alternative suppliers in Marrakech who provided us with estimates.
Having secured estimates for all necessary materials, I wrote the project proposal to apply for funding from the SPA program. A representative of Ouanskra's village association and I will meet with a SPA committee on 26 March. If funding is granted, it will available by the end of April.
Having the long lag between the previous project and this current one, I reconsidered the most appropriate course of the project design. The project plan changed from the original idea of limiting project funding to development of the water system separate from individual households. I have applied for project funding sufficient to purchase materials to deliver potable water to each household.
The reasons for this change are many and varied. First, I realized that the villagers are requesting minimal materials for piping water into their homes. Literally, they are requesting only pipe. The families will provide all taps and other plumbing fixtures for household water systems.
I have become more aware of the state of poverty in my community. This poverty has been accentuated by crop failure as a result of both drought and late frosts, as well as the dearth in tourism since the tragedy of 11 September 2001. I do not believe the villagers will have expendable cash income to invest in piping water into their homes in the near future.
Also, I believe that piping water into individual household is the next logical step in the progression of the village's water management system. They have been using a gravity-fed water system with public taps for about 15 years. The system needs repair and this is an appropriate time to upgrade to the next level of community water management.
The village association members indicate their understanding of the complexity of bringing water into individual households by planning for meters to record how much water is used by each household. Each household will pay a small per unit charge for the water they use. This will serve as an incentive not to waste water and also provide a small fund for maintenance and repair of the water system.
I have come to know my community well, despite my poor language skills and frequent wanderings out of site. I have seen them complete one project after another, each household contributing what is available: labor, animal traction, food, money, or anything else. I have watched them manage an irrigation canal project, spending $10,000.00 of funding on from a Saudi NGO (that they secured without my assistance), buying only cement and steel even though most families are subsisting on bread and oil. I have ceased to question the motivation of my community and the village association. They are honest, motivated and dedicated. My job is to provide them with as much assistance as possible.
After funding is secured, project construction will commence on the beginning of May. Project construction is estimated to take 45 days.

Barbara Durr's Oven

As I mentioned in my last report, Barbara Durr, the country director for Peace Corps Morocco, volunteered to fund the purchase of a fuel-efficient butane oven for communal use in my village. I believe the offer was a response to the hospitality she enjoyed when visiting my site for the celebration feast after the bridge project was completed.

The Oven.

Tree Project

Some time ago the people of my village mentioned they wanted to do a tree planting project this spring. As we were focusing on the water project I paid little attention to this request. But in the middle of February my villagers approached me with such motivation to acquire and plant trees that I promised to do my best to find funding for the project.
I sent out email all my friends and family who were part of some type of church or religious organization (which, admittedly, is not very many) asking if they knew of any available funding for such a project. My father and stepmother were very helpful, contributing $100 themselves and collecting another $100 from their church.
During the beginning of March I contacted an Moroccan NGO called the American Women's Association in Casablanca (AMAC). They are part of a larger federation of American Women's Associations around the world. Although they usually fund projects that benefit women and children, they are currently promoting what they call the Millennium Tree Project. Although I am unclear about the specific details of the project, I believe the overall goal is to plan as many trees as possible.
AMAC contributed 10,000 DH, approximately $1000. With this funding and the money donated by my parents we were able to plant 2000 apple, cherry, plum and pear trees. The apple and cherry trees made up about three-quarters of the trees planted, preferred by the villages for the economic value of the fruit. The plum and pear are largely experimental and intended mostly for local consumption.
The trees were acquired from a local, small-scale nursery and planted during the middle of March. I have not yet been able to evaluate the success of the planting. I will include the evaluation in my next report.

5 August 2002

Making a Spectacle of Myself

So the big thing in Marrakech is this big square called the Jamal f'na, which means the gathering of the sprits or the souls or the dead or something like that but really nobody knows for sure anymore. But it's the famous place with all the snake charmers and belly dancers and acrobats and fortune tellers and monkeys that do tricks and perch on your head and will pee on you if they're in a bad mood for some reason so I tend to stay clear.

There's also plenty of music, and a specific type of music called Gnawa that I can't really describe except to say that it's a mix of west and north African sounds and it's really trancey. The guys get to chanting and playing their African instruments in all kind of weird rhythms and dancing and spinning their heads around in circles.

But what they don't have is any fire-spinners. Once I saw a fire-breather. He was pretty cool, slurping up some foul looking liquid and spewing a huge cloud of flame. But no fire spinners, as least there wasn't until last night.

I've been practicing with my fire sticks lately, mostly during the day without fire. I knew I had to spin in the Jamal f'na before I left Morocco. I guess I thought it would make a good grand finale or something for my last night in Marrakech. But I got a wild hare up my ass last night and decided to go for it.

I walked out on the square with my friends Christian and Kevin and was looking for a clear space to spin the sticks when one of the Gnawa dancers grabbed me. He saw the little gray nylon bag protruding from my sack, shook his head like he understood exactly what I wanted to do and led me to his little area.

There were five or six other Gnawa guys sitting there, playing their instruments while the dancers danced and tried to collect money from passer-bys. Christian and Kevin sat with the musicians. The dancer that led me over to the middle of the performance area, said something to the rest of the group, and then motioned to me as if to say, "All right man, do your thing".

I kind of fumbled with the stuff at first, trying to unscrew the fuel bottle with one hand while I held my fire sticks in the other. Finally I put the sticks down and grasped the Nalgene bottle with both hands and got the lid undone. Starting to shake a little now, I dipped first one end into the kerosene, then the other. I hardly had time to get the lid back on before the dancer had his lighter out, a little orange flame popping up and ready to light my fire.

And light it he did! I started to spin the sticks as soon as they were burning well. And as soon as I started spinning the musicians started playing and the dancers started dancing. The rhythm of the music was washing over me while I concentrated on the flaming baton the was spinning in front of me and above me, tossing it into the air and catching it as it came back down. All the while the dancers were trancing out and I started to trance out too, bopping to the music and spinning the firestick in time with the twang and clang of the magical African noise-makers.

I have no idea how long it lasted. It couldn't have been more than five minutes, but it seemed like forever. It seemed like somebody just turned the clock off and said, "all right, here's your little slice of eternity, go for it".

I didn't stop until one of the dancers came out and started raising a fuss about something. I thought he was mad a me, or wanted me to quit or something, so I caught the firestick in my hand and blew it out. It wasn't until then that I noticed the crowd. Easily a hundred people, Moroccans and foreigners, were standing in a thick circle around us, watching the only white guy and the only fire spinner performing on the square that night.

The dancer wasn't mad at me. He wasn't really mad at all. In all the excitement and all the spectacle, they had forgotten to collect money from the observers. It was probably the biggest crowd on the square all night and they missed their chance to make money off it!

I came back later and spun the sticks again. This time the dancers made sure to pass the hat and collect the tips. The money was all theirs, of course. Being able to be a performer in the Jamal f'na was payment enough for me.

When it was over I saw that I had made some people really happy. The Moroccans really dug it, and the Gnawa guys made some extra money. It seemed like the best thing I've ever done as a Peace Corps Volunteer, actually bringing some unconditional no-strings-attached joy to Morocco. After two years I felt like I had finally integrated.

September 2002

The project's construction phase has recently begun. The villagers have begun by constructing an intake structure to collect water from the source. This is a small structure and should be finished soon. Afterwards it is complete they will begin work on the main eservoir.
Since the last report, remaining project funding has been secured. Although we had received funding for project materials, we awaited funding for transport of the materials from Marrakech to the village.
After obtaining an estimate for transport costs from a local truck driver, we waited for approximately one month for funding to arrive. Upon arrival, we made four trips between Marrakech and the village, each trip taking one day, to deliver the cement, steel rebar, pipe and fixtures.
True to their word, the villagers began construction immediately upon arrival of project materials. If the original estimate of 45 days of project construction remains accurate, I expect the project to be complete by the end of September.

October 2002
The villagers completed the construction of the project reservoir the week before I was scheduled to move out of my site. I had told them that it was important for them to complete the project at this time so that I could write my project completion and evaluation report, which was necessary for me to finish before the close of my Peace Corps Service. As typical of their dedication and consideration they worked hard and incessantly to finish the work by the project deadline.
Now that the reservoir is complete, the villagers can now connect their individual households to the main water supply. Each household has been provided a meter (for measuring water consumption) and will be responsible for obtaining all other materials necessary for piping water into their homes. As a minimal amount of materials are required to create a rudimentary water system inside the home (i.e. a small amount of pipe and a tap), I believe that all village homes will have running water in the near future.

Villager working on spring intake structure.

Close of Service:
For the last night in my site I had a celebration dinner with the men from the village association. The expressed their appreciation for my work and I expressed mine for their hospitality. I told them that they worked hard and made my job easy. I also told them that I would return, hopefully after two years, to visit and see what projects they have done in my absence.
Saying goodbye was hard. I realized that, because I had never before faced that situation in Morocco, I had not developed the language skills necessary to deal with the sadness of parting. I literally could not express my feelings well because I did not have the vocabulary. However, I think they understood I was sad to leave and I deeply appreciated the home that they had provided for me for these last two years.
The bureaucratic formalities of closing my service at the Peace Corps office in Rabat were much less sentimental. I delivered project completion reports for the water project and the tree project. I filled out all the necessary forms, talked to the necessary people and peed in the necessary cup.
I said my good-byes, promised to keep in touch, smiled, laughed, hugged and finally left for the office for the last time. As Moroccans say, l'ouan: may God help you.
I left Morocco at 9:45 am Sunday morning, 20 October 2002.

12 December 2004.

Elara (left) and Leo (right), born 6 September.

Morocco Information:


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