MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Welcome to Simferopol!

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I made it…. I’m in Ukraine! From the emergency row seating on the 9 hour flight, to my pick up at the airport, everything about my trip was smooth sailing! A little piece of traveller’s advice: Ask for emergency row seating, it’s like free first class!

Because my flight arrived so late, it was decided that I should spend my first night in Simferopol in a hotel so that I could rest and recover from the long trip. Special thanks to my supervisor Irina’s mom for coming to pick me up from the airport and taking me to my hotel! The next morning, my first full day in Ukraine, my supervisor -Irina Antonovskaya (the Monitoring and Evaluations Manager at the Ukraine Horticulture Development Project) came to pick me up and take me to my temporary apartment.

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Bon Appetit!


So one thing, everyone likes is food, right? If, for some weird reason you have no interest whatsoever in food, then by all means, feel free to skip this post.Anyways, to start off with, I knew coming to Morocco, that food would be different. I know they eat a lot of breads, I know they don't eat pork, but I never thought much about breakfast foods...Milk SnobIn my first few days in Casablanca, my roommate took me to the local equivalent of a mini-mart, where we get some staple supplies. She warned me about the cereal selection. Uh oh. I happen to really like cereal - I like to eat it every day in fact. We approached the cereal section and I am aghast - the main cereals to be found all have chocolate in the name...eek! But we're in a small store, so I brush it off and find some yogourt and some other items. Then we get to the dairy section, but I can't find a single carton of milk in the fridges...there is leben and another type of buttermilk-like dairy product people here drink but no ordinary pasteurized, homogenized cold milk. This could is a problem.Coming from a dairy farm, I know that bought milk will never taste like home milk since it has to be treated. I know this. I tolerate this, but I like my milk on cereal. Having bought milk in Europe, I never thought I wouldn't be able to get fresh milk at the store. The only milk to be found is UHT milk in cartons that look like juice tetra packs, and they aren't refrigerated until after opening. What IS this? I have never heard of UHT milk before, so I decided to avoid it until I knew how it could keep, unrefrigerated - to me that just sounded wrong. I went home to look it up.CerealSince avoiding the chocolate-coma cereal and shelf milk seemed like a good idea, I go with the flow and buy a "petit pain au chocolat" (Chocolate croissant) from the local bakery for breakfast each morning to go with some orange juice, and this is working out for me still (into week 3). Yum! The bakeries here are fantastic. Last weekend, we did another trip to the Acima, a larger grocery store, further away. This time I bought some Frosties (not Frosted Flakes, Frosties) which should be the French equivalent of Frosted Flakes since they are Kellogg's, have Tony the Tiger on the box and the packaging looks the same, right? Wrong. Along with the Frosties I bought some whole milk (it's either whole or skim), and have some for breakfast one morning in lieu of a croissant.The cereal doesn't taste the same. The "pétales" of corn (not "flocons") are different, texture- and size-wise. The milk also has a different, heavier taste to it. I'm not sure if it is the sweeteners from the cereal or the milk flavour, but something is TOO sweet. I've tried it again to see if I can pinpoint it, but I can't. Maybe trying the Special K equivalent next will be an improvement.Local cuisineA lovely entrance in Rabat's Oudaya KasbahBeing so close to Europe and as the 6th largest city on the continent (fun fact), Casablanca has considerable Western influences on the menus of local restaurants. In terms of Moroccan foods, I have tried a chicken couscous, their version of pizza (on a flatbread rather than a dough), and msemen with dried meat (kind of like a crepe). At a work lunch between meetings today we ate in a hotel restaurant, where they served a delicious lamb tagine with raisins and caramelized onions. I look forward to trying more dishes like this. I must say, the orange juice here is very good. None of the oranges I see in the market look particularly nice for eating, but the juice is sweet and smooth. I'm personally surprised not to see more clementines (all the ones we bought in Quebec came from Morocco!) but maybe it is not the season?

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First week adventures: cockroaches, communications and coordination




First impressionsPictured left: This is the view of my street from my balconyI arrived just over a week ago in sunny Casablanca, and noticed a few things right away:-it is hot. We're talking 28-30 degrees Celsius on a daily basis. They're predicting 31 for this weekend. And the sun is brighter that I've ever seen it. On the walk to work at 9 a.m. it is high in the sky, and on the way home, it is blinding. I even got a bit of a sunburn on my 3rd day. There's only been one semi-cloudy day so far in 10 days, and it cleared out to allow the afternoon blinding to begin. -it is big. The city is 3 million people and you definitely can get lost if you're not paying attention. Luckily I live about a 7 minute walk from work, so that is an easy daily commute. We (myself and another MEDA intern) have a lovely large apartment, in a Moroccan neighbourhood (I think we are the only Westerners). But there is a market down the street and tons of local shops. You don't have to go far to get what you need, despite it being a huge city.-it can be smelly. With this heat, and that many people, there is a lot of garbage in the streets. Of course, that can create a certain aroma...They do collect it regularly, and there are street cleaners, but you appreciate your recycling and compost at home more when you don't have access to either. -there are feral cats! This might seem obvious to some people but I've seen dozens of cats all over the city. Not house cats, wild cats. A mother cat even gave birth in the hall in our office building. The kittens were adorable, but sadly, they had been displaced when we came in on Monday.

Pictured right: I walked to the Hassan II Mosque one evening, it is stunningCommunication Development Internship The whole reason I am in Casablanca for six months is to work as the Communication Development Intern with MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) Maroc office. I started on Monday, and they've been letting me get acclimatized, but I did learn what my tasks will be for the duration of the internship and they sound both challenging and fun. I'll be writing up financial success stories about youth that have participated in the YouthInvest program (3 per month) which will involve monthly trips to Oujda, where MEDA Maroc has a regional office, to interview youth. Did I mention it is a 10 hour train ride overnight to get there? It will be a great opportunity to travel and see more of the country. I'll also work on the English version of the newsletter, help with a study they will be doing, and help put together a document that details all of the financial services for youth in Morocco. This will be the biggest job to take on. I'll also help with additional communications work as needed, and help do some knowledge management for MEDA. CockroachesNow you want to know why I put cockroaches in the title. That's because, having never seen any before arriving in Morocco, I have now had to dispose of two of these intensely gross, huge, FAST bugs. The first was pretty dopey, so maybe it was on the way out anyways, but I helped him out by tossing him out the window. The second was much more creepy as I watched it race through our apartment living room and into the kitchen. Then, while I tried to figure out how to catch or kill it, it raced to our bathroom. Crouching under the sink with the cabinets open, I managed to stun/hit it several times with the dustpan before quickly scooping it up and flushing it down the toilet. No one warned me about cockroaches before I arrived. *Shudder*Coordination I am quickly getting settled in to life here in Morocco. Having a roommate who is also an intern has been really helpful - she arrived before me and has helped me learn and adapt quickly to the neighbourhood. The apartment is furnished but, for my own peace of mind, I bought sheets and a new pillow for my bed. I don't know where Moroccans buy their linens, but it definitely wasn't where I bought mine! The cost me 3 times what they would have in Canada! Oh, wal-mart, how I miss you! Everything else here is very cheap. A chocolate croissant (they love bread and it seems to be the staple of all meals) is only 3 dirhams (about 30 cents) and everything else (other than American bedsheets I suppose!) is similarly priced.Pictured left: The Hassan II Mosque from the seawall, it is one of the largest in the world, about 15 mins walk from the apartment

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Impressions of Addis



Dusty, sprawling streets. The roads may be paved but the sidewalks give way to dirt and rubble. Bare feet to leather boots, Ethiopians share the muddy roadside, as the rainy season showers soak the ochre earth. People swathed in coloured wraps, brilliant white Arab robes, decade-worn western brands, and tattered rags swerve left and right, jumping to the discordant rhythm of traffic.A child leaps forward giggling. Her eyes joyfully fixed on a rubber tire she is rolling forward with a metal rod.A row of small coal fires sizzle freshly husked corn, wafting sweet charcoal smoke.A barren plot of land where sixty sheep are lined up for slaughter. A pile of heads already await market, their opaque eyes glazed blue-white.The sultry aroma of dark roast Ethiopian coffee. Macchiato brimming with bubbling foam.Compounds with barbed wire fences, the paint faded down the forbidding walls. Stray dogs roam the alleys rabid, abandoned or unloved.Cool moist mornings. Icy breath forms in front of faces.The striking African Union building pierces the skyline. Its sophisticated architecture dominating the disorganized clutter of corrugated tin roofs below.A skinny man loosely holds a rifle beside the ATM.Someone grabs my arm with an uncomfortably fierce grip. I look up to see a small woman pulling me away from the aggressive rumble of an oncoming caravan.Genuine smiles from locals.Addis Ababa is sometimes called the City of Africa or New Flower. My boss aptly named it One Big Village. To me, Addis Ababa is a city of juxtaposition. Nothing is segregated, everything mixed into one. Poverty sits next to modernity. Authenticity beside security. Wintry mornings to sweaty afternoons. Affluence and absence. A rustic metropolis.

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