Friday, January 12, 2007


Do they have a Fourth of July in Morocco? Of course they do – and a third, and a fifth, etc. I recently got someone with this joke, old as it may be. Well, they also have an Independence Day, and it’s January 11, my first day off (I’m reminded of what my deskmate Chris said at Stone and Webster, my first company – he said the first three questions to ask on a new job we’re where’s the bathroom, when’s lunch, and what’s my first day off).

During training I read Peace Corps materials and articles that people sent me in the mail. Now I’m still reading those but have added New Yorkers to the mix while I await my books from home (I chose books that I hope finally to read and don’t think I will want to keep, so I will pass them along here) and have also been reading my tour books as I have been planning trips. I didn’t read much in those before I left because I read things I wasn’t going to take with me. In the course of reading those I’ve looked at some of the history of the country, but I don’t have it down yet, so I will write more as I read more, but the basics are that the king’s line has been in power for a long time. The Arabs were the most successful invaders, bringing Islam to the Berbers, who accepted it, but there were a number of dynasties. Tangiers was at some point an international city (including U.S. “ownership,” I think – have to wait until I have a trip there) and there are still parts of the Moroccan landmass that are part of Spain (there’s a part of either Iowa in Nebraska or vice versa on the “wrong” side of the Missouri but the borders had been established before the Missouri changed course – I learned that on one of my Lewis and Clark exploration trips – who knew?) but of course the French had the biggest influence.

The French Protectorate (sounds so much nicer than colony) began in 1912 and ended in 1956, if I’m not mistaken under the reign of the present king’s father. Independence Day was a bigger deal when he reigned, apparently, with all sorts of festivities. Now I hear that there are celebrations in the major cities, but in Azrou there are no parades – just no work. The relationship of the French with the monarchy was such that there wasn’t the violence and isn’t the resentment that there is in, say, Algeria right next door. The most interesting thing about the Protectorate to me, at least from what I’ve read so far, is that the governor early on decided to ignore the old medinas and build ville nouvelles in every city, laid out in boulevard and grid style, with European-type buildings – most other uninvited guests would probably have torn down the existing old parts or built on top of them, so his decision had the fortunate consequence of preserving the ancient parts of the cities and towns.

Since it was a holiday, we were allowed to go away for the day, and, I went to one – Meknes! Nam, the second-year SBD PCV in Khemisset, met me there; it’s about the same distance for both of us. My feeling is that Meknes is to Fes as Philadelphia is to New York (or Baltimore to Washington, or San Diego to Los Angeles). Meknes is one of the four imperial cities, and they’re about an hour apart, but if you come to visit, which one are you going to want to see? Nam said that Moroccans prefer Meknes because Fes is too touristy, and Meknes does seem to be more real, with a lot to offer. I’m glad I live just a little over an hour away from both. As with Fes, there’s more to do for another trip, but we did a lot in one day! We walked to the ville nouvelle and had pain au chocolat and beverages at a lovely café. Went to the train station so I would know for the future how to walk there from the taxiyat. Went to the tourist office; I have been wanting to pick up some brochures (and to see what they might have in the way of promotional materials for artisans or artisanas); it was closed for the holiday of course, but now I know where it is. On to the medina – it has its own character, as do they all, and I am looking forward to going back and exploring some more! Went to a medersa (there were several of these in Fes that I left for another time, you might recall). The ones open to tourists are no longer in operation but have elaborate carvings and gorgeous Arabic script (an art in itself) and mosaics. And you can see the cell-like rooms in which the students studied the Koran non-stop. We went up to the roof, too, which was nice. I can see why the medersas are in the tour books – beautiful Islamic art. The picture is of me in the medersa courtyard. We went to the souk too, just outside the medina, and had lunch at one of the touristy places on the square. Then we went to Marjane! I will need to go back there once I get my apartment, but until I move I don’t have room for too many things. I brought pictures in to be developed but they were not ready before we had to leave; fortunately Nam may come through next week and he may be able to pick them up. I bought some things I haven’t seen in Azrou and thought I was going to have to send for – Scotch tape, labels to put on packages, packaging tape, and Scotch Brite pads (3M did well!). And we had some of the long-coveted Marjane ice cream! I have to say I was a little disappointed in the chocolate, but not so much so that I won’t try another flavor next time I have a Marjane run. Left for another trip are the palace and a nice long walk that the founder of the city created, and a pool that he built. Nearby, so doable when I stay over on a Saturday night, are some Roman ruins in Volubilis – supposed to be comparable to Pompeii but I will let you know, and Moulay Idriss, a sacred city that is built between two hills and is supposed to be beautiful.

We took a grand taxi back to the grand taxi station (in some of the big cities grand taxis have set runs – such as medina to ville nouvelle or medina to Marjane – that are less expensive than the petit taxis) and just as we got there there was a bus leaving and the ticket-seller was yelling Azrou, Azrou (in Meknes the taxiyat is also the bus station) – so I hopped on a moving bus – another first for me in Morocco (it wasn’t moving fast, but it wasn’t standing still either).

I got my housing approved on Wednesday. I had e-mailed for the approval on Tuesday, when I confirmed that the apartment was still available, but didn’t expect someone to come out until next week. Turned out that the homestay coordinator was in the area doing site development; I was told he’d call me to arrange a time but then I ran into him while I was walking down the street! I hacn’t arranged it with the owner because I thought I’d have notice, and I had to run home (twice) to get all the paperwork, but everything fell into place and passed inspection! He thought I found a good neighborhood, a great apartment, and very nice neighbors! As we were leaving, I was pleased to see sheep and goats grazing on the hill across the street from the house.

And the reason I was walking down the street is that the day was fluid anyway. I was scheduled to go to the two rural communities with my counterpart. When I got to the artisana it turned out that he had time for only one. And we took a taxi rather than driving because, well, in Chicago we would say he hadn’t yet gotten his city sticker. Ait Yahia Oualla is the community where we went for l-Eid; my host father is president of the commune and I have a feeling that that may have something to do with their women’s association getting a Peace Corps Volunteer. We saw the building and the looms but not the women; they work in the afternoons – so we’ll go back another day. We waited for a taxi and then I said it was a nice day, we should walk home – and to my surprise, my counterpart agreed! It’s more than two kilometers (we had already walked for a while when I saw a sign that said Azrou 3) but it might actually be a nice bike ride, so I think I will hold onto the bike. I think I will go out to one or the other of these towns every week during the relationship-building stage and then go out that often or more as required. Maybe we’ll go back next week!

Another tip for anyone who is thinking of visiting – you might want to bring along a full suitcase of things that need to be dry-cleaned. I spent a good deal of time this summer looking for washable skirts (almost everything else I brought with me is something I already had) because I thought there would be no dry-cleaning. Well, Azrou has some and now I have to find out how rural women get their jellabas cleaned and pressed – is there a traveling cleaner who comes to souk? Anyway, right after I had laundry done last week I spilled something on my skirt (that happens fairly often to me, actually – I think I’m psyched out by the lack of napkins! Sometimes when I have been a guest of someone they give me a towel for my lap, knowing I just don’t have the knack. I have seen napkins in stores so when I move to my own place I can get some) and I didn’t want to draw attention to it so I just brought it to the cleaners. Each item costs about a dollar to do, is done perfectly, and the mul-cleaners (owner) is SO nice that I now wish I had brought more dry-clean-only things!

Huge (and non-pear-shaped) pears are now coming into season, and I have seen the first strawberries! Pomegranates are gone, but there are still lots of clementines. It’s interesting to see what comes into season. Apples, bananas, potatoes, onions, carrots and some others are available year-round and then other things are to be savored while they are here! The weather is still unseasonably warm, and now I think it has to get cold and to snow - the fields and livestock need it.
King's visit was postponed...maybe next Friday?

I skimmed, rather than read, this post. But the section about your travels in Meknes, combined with the book I just read about Morocco, really make me interested in visiting! Hmmm. South Africa is in the planning stages for Dec. 2007. Maybe Morocco late in 2008?
Tip to anyone planning to visit. Book in advance. Morocco is very popular. We will be going to Fez then Azrou then Marrakkesh. High season is March - some hotels are already sold out. The people in the hotels speak English well and are very kind.
Eager to learn more about the country,traditions, and observations from your vantagepoint. Appreciate the parallel references to equivalent in Chicago for instance as it really helps me to understand. Beth H :)
There's also a bit of Illinois in Missouri...
Edie - Marhaban (you are welcome). If you can combine it with South Africa (only completely the other end of the continent) that would work too!

Pam - On the way to Taza I saw the Palace Jamai! Looks very nice.

Beth - Thanks! nti Htta marhaban hna (you are also welcome here)! Glad you like the Chicago references - and, by the way, I saw that the Bears won in OT yesterday!!!!! Hooray!

Jon - I think I have been to that part!
What a gorgeous photo!
Thanks! I have some other good ones but I don't like the way it looks when I post more than one photo per maybe on a "slow picture day...."
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