Thursday, March 01, 2007


When I lived in the east I went for weekend trips in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states every so often – maybe a couple of hours away. In my years in Chicago, though, I exhausted the close-by opportunities and then went on several long weekends that included six- to eight-hour drives – St. Louis, Mackinac Island, Iowa, Apostle Islands. So the idea of going several hours just go somewhere over the weekend does not seem ridiculous to me. I had a February Saturday night out of site to use or lose and was looking for possibilities. There are many – back to the desert, back to Marrakesh, Casablanca, Rabat just to name a few. But at the end of a month where we all moved into our own housing and spent a lot of money on furnishings, it was hard to find a travel companion. So I saved all the above-listed places for a time when I can meet someone for whom it would be meeting halfway coming from the other direction, and instead looked north on the map for a solo excursion. They don’t have PCVs sites in the north because there is a lot of kif (marijuana) grown there, and there are other general safety and security issues, but there are some great travel destinations there. I went to Al Hoceima, on the Mediterranean coast. Sounds good already, doesn’t it?

Grand taxi to Fes and then a bus that took just about the rest of the day. It might have been better to take grand taxis and to get there a little sooner, but the bus is less squishy. I still haven’t made up my mind about which is better. Lots of time to read and also to look out the window. The Rif mountains, the northernmost range in Morocco, are just gorgeous. Lots of green, some terraced towns and farms, many almond trees in bloom (I love flowering trees!). I still think the countryside here looks a lot like California (this drive had scrub-covered mountains and bare mountains too) so with all this beauty it is tempting to think about moving to California when I return (at least for the winter, while I job-hunt…right?). I did not get to Al Hoceima in time for sunset by the beach, but I did get there before dark, and found a hotel and got settled and took a walk around.

I had been told that Al Hoceima has a Spanish flavor and to brush up on my Spanish; that area of the country had been under Spanish control. I did have a chance to use it but I didn’t hear an overwhelming amount of it. I had read that I could get paella and tapas and seafood but couldn’t find any – pizza was dinner, and then I sat at a terrace café, listening to the ocean and watching the lights of fishing boats coming in to the harbor. It’s a beach town, so it might have a completely different feel in the summer, and despite the distance I am willing to go back – it was relaxing there and I felt content. I got up early on Sunday morning and walked around the bay to one of the nice hotels. Had coffee and a pain au chocolat overlooking the water. I have often said that sitting and staring at an ocean is a low level of activity that I can manage. I usually need to be more active, but sitting by the water I can do. Went down to the beach and walked to the end of it, listening to the waves and looking at rocks and shells. In the summer there is not room for another body on the beach, but here I had almost the entire beach to myself. I put my hand in the water – not too cold! Given my Lake Michigan experience, I probably could have gone for a swim – there were a couple of people doing just that – but I didn’t even think to bring my bathing suit. I then went to the previous night’s terrace café and had juice and an egg. And then it was time to go back – this time via grand taxi to Taza and then Fes and then Azrou. The drive was much greener than it had been a month ago, and I made it home before dark. Even had an interesting conversation in the last grand taxi, with someone who works at Al Akhawayn University. Sea in the morning and Middle Atlas by evening – not a bad way to spend a day. It was therapeutic to be by the Mediterranean. I know people who think that living in the mountains are equivalent to living by the water, but water is what does it for me. However, this is my first time living in the mountains and I intend to make the most of that too over the rest of my stay!
Al Hoceima had an earthquake in 2004 that was pretty devastating. There haven’t been any near Azrou recently but there have been some in Morocco in the past few weeks, felt in Figuig, Taza, Rabat and Marrakesh – some of my friends felt some tremors, as did the Peace Corps office. Just like California?

In other news: I have hot water! And – not only can I take a hot shower now and wash my face with warm water, but I have hot water in the kitchen, and can wash my dishes with hot water! I had been heating water on the burners to have hot water with which to wash the dishes, but what a luxury – yes, luxury – to be able to turn the “hot” knob and have hot water come out! I might even be able to use some of the hot water for laundry, though the laundry tap has only cold water. And I had given up on the plumber coming to install the hot water heater when he was over two hours late….

And the plumber has to come back to install a new sink. Last week my Peace Corps-issued CO detector went off. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless but it can kill you, as the manual said; I called the doctor because I was concerned about the alarm and he asked me if I’d read the manual – I have now! CO poisoning is caused by incomplete combustion while using the butagas – burning takes oxygen. To prevent poisoning, you have to open a window whenever you have the butagas on. The detector was in the kitchen and hadn’t yet been mounted – now it will be, on a wall or ceiling near a sleeping room, per the manual. It also says not to put it in an uninsulated room like a garage or basement or any room under 40 degrees F – well, I think my whole apartment is under that, so I was hoping that that was causing a malfunction. You might recall that Lee was involved in the infamous butagas incident, so I am very careful to open windows, plus my apartment is big enough that it seems that it would be hard to use up all the oxygen. I checked that everything was turned off and that all the hose connections were clamped tight, but the alarm kept going off (and leaky gas wouldn’t be CO anyway; that would be another problem, but detectable). Opened windows near my two butas, but it’s been cold so I would close them after a while. Alarm still kept going off. I took the batteries out – not a good solution, but the doctor told me I would be okay. I decided to leave the windows open all night. I woke up after midnight with a headache and some dizziness – two symptoms of CO poisoning. Walked to the bathroom and realized I was staggering, and then I collapsed to the floor – it was pretty scary. As I steadied myself to get up, I pulled the sink out of the wall. So I called the doctor again and again he told me I would be okay. And I am now, but not without a morning in which I could do nothing but hold my head in my hands. And now I am getting a new sink. Now I should note that the PCVs I have told this story to think it was CO poisoning, but the Moroccans don’t –the buta was turned off when the alarm went off, not combusting. Maybe I had a headache and was dizzy for another reason. It went off again, again while the buta was not in use, later in the week (right before bedtime – just in time to be anxious all night) so I am getting a new one. I have a friend who I text-messaged to say that if I didn’t text in the morning to call the medical office – it’s good to have someone out there who might think something is wrong if they don’t hear from me. I also need to make copies of my keys and give them to someone just in case. And I have a new health issue – sensitive teeth. Overbrushing? I am now on Sensodyne for the time being, though I miss my beloved Great Regular Flavor Colgate. Maybe that replacement toothbrush is too hard-bristled for me. If my teeth are still sensitive after three weeks with the toothpaste, it could be back to the dentist.

Sports dreams lately – not on the buta night so unrelated. Two weeks ago I dreamed about the Masters tournament. I think I was there at Augusta National, but I still heard Jim Nantz’s voice in my head. When I woke up I wondered why I had subconsciously skipped the NCAA tournament. And then week I dreamed about that – I don’t know which team was the opponent, but I know one of the teams playing was Duke. I don’t usually dream about things I suggest to myself – or, if I do now, maybe I will suggest some other things to my subconscious mind! Earlier in the week I had some anxiety dreams – in one, we were on the bus to JFK, about to be moved to new sites, working with Moroccans in South America. All that anticipation of the unknown again, just when I felt settled here! In the other, movers were coming and were almost finished packing and I was feeling pressured to decide whether to keep a stuffed animal out of the box, and if so, which one (note – none of the stuffed animals were my actual stuffed animals, who are indeed in a box!). It doesn’t take much interpretation to connect that with the upheaval over the move to my new place. I put in my mind the power of suggestion to dream about a warm place – maybe a tropical island. You tell me if you think it worked – that night I dreamed about Wrigley Field, on a gorgeous, sunny, warm day (those are not all that common at Wrigley!).

I had a great meeting with my counterpart last week. We were talking about the photography – Barbara has been involved in something in her village so has not been able to come back to take more pictures. I mentioned that I would like to do a brochure for the artisana, and he suggested that I establish relationships with the hotels in the area. This is something I had mentioned wanting to do at our initial meeting in December, but again, now that it is his idea, I am going to do it! He pulled out a questionnaire that the volunteer who was evacuated did five years ago, for tourists visiting the artisana, There wasn’t a summary, but he had all the questionnaires. So I took them home to tabulate them, because why not, and I can give out the same questionnaire to tourists visiting now, or I can write a new one. Again, something I would like to do!

I had read the Peace Corps cookbook towards the end of my homestay, in preparation for cooking for myself. I noticed a lot of typos, along with the suggestion in the front of the book that someone working on the next edition correct the typos. I offered to do that and am working on the soup section. Soup is a good idea for these cold evenings. Haven’t made any yet, but I reorganized the section by ingredient and corrected any typos I found.

Oh, and I have books now! The box I had been waiting for arrived! Yippee! Now I just have to find time to read....and some time to catch up on my correspondence. I was doing a pretty good job of responding to my mail in a timely manner, and then the flood of holiday cards arrived. I will answer them all, but it may take a while.

Hmmm. The CO detector going off, and you get dizzy and headachy. Sounds pretty obvious to me. Something is leaking gas or otherwise causing CO to build up in your home. Find out what that "something" is and get it fixed quickly! I think that's what your blog suggested you were doing -- but I was a little confused about what exactly you were fixing, so I just thought I'd add another voice to the mix...
How terrifying! Glad you're ok. Certainly seems to be a reasonable cause and effect thing going on here.

I'll be thinking of you as I sit and look at the bay!
I am getting a new CO detector, in case it was a false alarm...and in the meantime always keep a window open (since I'm already shivering, may as well get fresh air to shiver by).

Those who live in the mountains say the mountains make up for the ocean, but I have always found water more relaxing. We'll see how much my mountain living influences my next choice of city!
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