Monday, January 15, 2007


Even though I had just been away for the day on Thursday, this past Saturday night away was a treat. I was that way before Peace Corps though – I do like my little weekend exploration trips! This one was to Taza, about four hours away, to the east. It’s strategically located in the only pass between the Rif mountains (to the north) and the middle Atlas mountains (where I am) so it has historical importance. The main reason to go was to get together with Ren and Kareem, whose sites are both on the other side of Oujda, four hours further east. I woke up early (meaning I didn’t sleep well the night before) and took the bus to Fes, where I met Rose and Sherwin and took the grand taxi with them the rest of the way. In Taza we met some Environment volunteers too; would have liked to spend more time with them but that also would have meant staying in a sleeping bag in a one-room house with no running water and a 5K hike from the main road as the only way to get there; Rose and I opted for the hotel with beds and a shower.

There’s a national park nearby; the “Enviros” are scattered in small villages in and around the park. Small. No water, no internet, maybe electricity, maybe a hanut – beautiful but remote. Then again, one of them is going to plant 30,000 trees this week, which is pretty cool. We went to the park, to the largest cave in North Africa. The cave entrance was a huge cavern – 520 steps down, I think. Not exactly OSHA railing (when there was a railing). I do a lot of walking but hadn’t quite prepared for “Hustle Down the Hancock” (not to mention that there were 520 steps back up – I am sore today!). When we got to the bottom, where the cave actually begins, I had had enough – the more adventurous people in the group turned on their flashlights and went in for a bit. I’d do it if I go back – you can explore for hours, on your own or with a guide, but I enjoyed the silence of sitting at the bottom, looking at the rock walls and the sky. The pictures I took aren’t great (it’s hard to take good pictures in a cave) but maybe I’ll post one anyway. The park is supposed to have nice trails too.

Everyone under 30 went on to the 5K-away-no-water house, and Rose and I went back to explore the old medina. The tour book said that Taza is not a tourist town; not even postcards – and the tour book was right. The medina was twisty-turny and mostly covered and had a lot of jellabas and clothing and jewelry for the locals. The two stores with artisanal-type products had mass-produced things. There’s an SBD volunteer in town; we didn’t get to meet him but we heard that his artisans produce knitted gloves. There’s no artisana. As we walked in and out of the medina we found doughnuts (Rose’s town, Sefrou, has a man that makes them too – kind of a large version of the mini-donut machine at the Minnesota State Fair. Azrou could use one of these!) and a great “shanty-town” of shoemakers and blacksmiths (pictured).

Taza’s old medina is up on a big hill; the ville nouvelle is about 5K from it, as opposed to right at the bottom. We took a taxi about halfway back to our hotel to what looked like a lively area – there were some cafes but no restaurants. We ended up eating at the restaurant attached to our hotel – more spaghetti bolognese (the official meal of weekends away?). And when I told Rose I was ready to go to bed at 8:00 pm – combination of not sleeping well, travel and all the steps – she not only didn’t laugh but she felt the same way!

The next morning we had nice, hot showers and were joined by the three who roughed it. We went to a café, went back to the old medina (but couldn’t re-find the shanty-town) and then had some delicious rotisserie chicken (made all the more delicious by virtue of its not being sheep) by the train/bus. And then it was time to go. It might be fun to go back to the cave, but really, the only reason to go back is to see Ren and Kareem again, and they said they might come in to Fes next time…so maybe we should go out to Oujda some time.

There’s a bus that goes straight to Azrou, but I took the bus to Fes to spend more time talking with Rose (Sherwin wasn’t sitting near us). As we got into Fes, for some reason the bus driver got out and got involved in a fist fight with someone in a car. A crowd gathered, the fight broke up, the car went away. The car came back and blocked the bus, the fight resumed, the police came. The bus kept moving but then stopped again and the driver got out. We decided to get out too – petit taxi to Azrou taxiyat to get home before dark.

Problem though – big problem. My hiking boots that I can run in, as opposed to running shoes that I can hike in (that was my purchase decision), bought just before I left, are not comfortable. I had thought I might start running, too, after I move…not to mention hiking! I can try to break them in more, I can try to get them stretched, but I think I just have to write them off. My alternatives are to get knockoffs here (I hate to put potentially bad shoes on my feet though), order something from home (taking a big chance), or wait to get new shoes when I go back in June.

Yesterday was fun. Barbara, the volunteer in Ain LeuH, is the stage-mate closest to me distance-wise but has mostly stayed in her site. She’s an artist and photographer and came to the artisana to take photographs; I was her assistant, helping to pick items to shoot and writing down the details. We interviewed the artisans as we photographed them and their products. It was fun and productive. We’ll work with the counterpart to figure out what gets done with the pictures – brochure? business cards? web sites? Next week we’ll do some of the items in the showroom and at some point we’ll do some of the artisans in town.

I think I have mentioned Tuesday Morning Quarterback, a column now found on I’m not all that big a football fan, but I love this column and am grateful to Debbie for sending it to me every week! This column talks about more than football – for one thing, it has frequent haiku! It’s very well-written and entertaining. And I was in it recently! - check it out! I read the column a month after it was posted – and then snuck a look at the internet to see that the Bears had won in OT! Da Bears!

The king asked everyone to pray for snow and rain (the Prophet Muhammad prayed for rain). By this time last year there were five major snowstorms and there was a lot of snow on the ground here. I hear it’s supposed to snow next week. It’ll be tough to have it get cold again, but I know this extended warm spell is not good.

What’s new at the post office, you ask? I went in last Friday and all of the post office boxes were gone – they’d been removed from the wall and there was just a gaping hole! When I told this to my host mother she asked me what was going to happen and I told her I didn’t even ask. As it happened, I was the only customer at the time, so it didn’t take too long for them to get my mail from the back, but until they replace the boxes (which is what I’m guessing will happen) I don’t know how often I will brave the wait. Luckily, there was a stack of mail for me, so I have plenty to answer in the meantime. As I started to read some of the mail I felt a little homesick. Mail had not had that effect on me to that point, serving only as a source of happiness. By the time I got to the bottom of the stack I was back to happy though (and the weekend away reinforced that). Two pieces of note – a homemade jigsaw puzzle sent by Mike and family, the next best thing to actually doing a puzzle with them over the holidays, and a picture from Joe of three people in ridiculous-looking orange-and-black clothing. One of the goals of the Peace Corps is to share American culture, but I have a hard enough time explaining Reunions and the outfits to Americans who didn’t go to Princeton. How am I supposed to explain them to the people here?

Yeah, you got the pix! Noah was quite worried.
I was too! The list of things that are probably never going to arrive is growing...but I have received lots of mail and several packages, so it's all good...
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