Thursday, August 02, 2007


Last weekend was a three-day weekend, with a holiday Monday to celebrate Throne Day, the anniversary of the King’s 1999 ascension to the throne. In the big cities there are supposed to be parades; where I was, there were more flags out than usual, and as I passed by a television I saw the King giving a speech, but other than that I didn’t notice much that was different. It was, however, an opportunity to travel to a place that is hard to get to on just an overnight, and I went to Chefchaouen.

Chefchaouen is nestled in the hills of two mountains, in the Rif. It used to be called Chaouen, “the peaks,” and Chefchaouen means “look at the peaks.” The town was founded in the 1400s as a base to launch attacks on the Portuguese who occupied the northern city of Ceuta, and it grew as Muslim and Jewish refugees escaped the Spanish Inquisition in 1492; there is an Andalusian influence in the architecture. When the Spanish finally conquered the city in 1920, they discovered that a community was speaking a 10th-century Castilian dialect that had been extinct in Spain for over 400 years.

It is probably best known for its indigo-lime-washed walls and stairs – although it is also a backpacker haven where marijuana is easy to obtain (we didn’t get offered any but we did smell it all around us). Six of us converged there – Ren, Paula, Sherwin and I spent most of the weekend together, occasionally seeing Rose and her friend Mark, who was visiting from the states, and Nate and Jen, the YD married couple in our stage. Remarkably, there were never more than five PCVs in one place in one time (a married couple counts as a unit for five-person-rule purposes), so even though more of us were in town, we avoided being a target. I was afraid that the large size of the group would be unwieldy but we all got along well, explored at the same pace, more or less agreed on where and when to eat, had interesting conversations, and all in all traveled well together! We also celebrated Sherwin’s and Rose’s birthdays, Paula’s move from homestay to her own place (she’s an environment PCV from the new stage – the only mid-career woman in the stage, so she feels old, and we’ve befriended her) and Ren’s site change – from in the east by Algeria to Ouarzazate. She had been having a hard time with her counterpart and in general her community was not as receptive to the Peace Corps as her new site will be.

We walked the narrow streets of the medina in every direction, photographing colorful doors and walls. The blue supposedly keeps the mosquitoes away, but it’s also picturesque and peaceful. Artisanal shopping opportunities include red-and-white-striped woven fabrics that the Riffian Berber women tie around their waists and wear to cover their lower halves, and leather pocketbooks in a style unique to the area. I also bought some pigments and we bought face and hair masques to use while resting in our rooms in the heat of the day. Chefchaouen is also known for cotton sweaters; Moldova had one when he visited in February and I thought I would get one too, but I felt I didn’t need one. I did get cotton fingerless gloves, from a very entertaining (and very high) man who wanted to “make peace with me” – i.e. hug me; I told him I liked my peace from a distance. He was quite entertaining – we went back to his store more than once, and he did have some antiseptic for me right away when one of his cats scratched me (I have not felt any ill effects). There was another shopkeeper who sensed spirituality in me and I in him – he, I let hug me, and then he invited me to come back for tea sometime and to live with him. I did like him but I don’t know about that! We walked through the medina to a spring where women were washing blankets and kids were playing; a short walk further and we would have gotten to the ruins of a mosque built by the Spanish, but I couldn’t mobilize the group to go further. Always good to have something to go back for! I thought Chefchaouen would be a magic place like Sidi Ifni – there was charm to it but I don’t know that I felt magic – maybe too many tourists or too little customer service (a man in our hotel was verbally abusive, which at first was disturbing but then just became part of the story). Still, I really liked it – and once again, it was fun to use a little Spanish!

There’s a main square with a fountain – it’s nice to eat at one of the cafes lining the square or just to sit there. There’s a kasbah with a small but interesting museum of Rif ethnography, a beautiful garden, a prison with chains and a tower with a panoramic view. There’s a fondouk, or traveller’s rest, which is still in use, though it is mostly a place with tourist stalls. Chefchaouen really was just a nice place to walk around and to be; while it wasn’t cool, it wasn’t oppressively hot, either, as the inland cities are supposed to be in the summer. I hope to get back there during my service, but if I don’t, I feel I saw what I needed to see, did what I needed to do, and purchased what I needed to buy! The good news is that getting there and back wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. That may be in part because I had company – Ren came to Azrou on Friday night and we traveled together on the CTM, the nice bus, from Fes (I had a dinner party on Friday night with Ren, Jong, Amanda and Youssef – it was nice to entertain!). And all six of us went back together, filling a grand taxi to Ouezzane and then Meknes. Because it took less time than we anticipated, we had lunch together in the main square by the Meknes medina, and then went our separate ways (which for me included a trip to the Meknes Marjane!).

Most of the week since then has been taken up by piffle with Jong – or so it seems. The kids who she so inspired at camp last week started to wear on her, hitting her, demanding her attention, asking her why she has slanty eyes and if she knows Jackie Chan (both she and Sherwin get comments like that all the time – the “regular” level of harassment can be tiring enough, but the minorities here get so much more, my heart goes out to them. In Chefchaouen, many people said “konichi wa” to Sherwin – and I probably don’t need to say that Sherwin is not Japanese and Jong is not Chinese; first of all, they are both Americans, and second of all, they are of other ethnic origins). So she went to camp less and less and we played cards more and more. We did also stop by the artisana and talk with my counterpart and go to Frank’s favorite café. Gavin and Dominique came through, on their way back from working camp in Ifrane. They brought a friend for me, Jarvis, a water-vendor doll, and amused themselves by taking pictures with him with my apple’s “photo booth” feature. Now all guests will have their picture taken with Jarvis! It’s a good thing they amused themselves with that, because I struck out on the movie-downloading/playing software (actually it was only strike two but I don’t know if I will give it another chance!).

On Wednesday, Rose and Mark decided to come down from Sefrou – he wanted to buy some rugs, and after ten pressure-filled hours in Fes the day before, she talked him into the low-key, friendly, good-quality, good-pricing carpet shopping in Azrou. I had other guests as well – at lunch in Meknes on Monday we were practically the only people eating on the square, but there was a table of Americans near us. They came over and asked if we were Peace Corps, based on our Chacos and backpacks – they were three RPCVs, from Namibia, Tanzania and Paraguay: I invited them to see my site, and they came! They are all teachers, two in New York and one on Long Island. Namibia and Tanzania went to college together and taught math in the Peace Corps and are math teachers now; Tanzania and Paraguay are both in the same post-Peace-Corps masters program, and Paraguay’s second-grade class had been matched with one of the recently-COSed environment people here in Morocco (another plug for the World Wise Schools program – there are volunteers here waiting to be matched with schools, so anyone out there with school-aged children is encouraged to get their teachers to sign up! –; all three were in their mid-20s and served in the Peace Corps earlier this decade. It was nice to compare experiences, countries, policies and country staff stories and to share Moroccan culture; once again I find myself grateful for the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables here. We went out to eat – unfortunately the pizza took a while to come, so we had to forego the Barbary apes. On to the artisana, and then to my favorite carpet shop, where tea was served and everyone bought either a carpet or a woven bag! I’m really glad I invited them. Yesterday was a quiet day…Jong went hiking with Gavin, Dominique and my tutor (who was Gavin’s host brother) and I went to the artisana and post office and then went to a café with Amanda and sat and talked for hours – and then went home and washed the floors and did some laundry.

I should mention that while all this is happening, the cold water knob on my shower fell off and is stripped. I can control the temperature by regulating the gas that comes into the hot water heater, but it would be nice if my guests were able to have a shower with two knobs. The shower drips, too, and the sink drips after everyone showers, and the kitchen sink knobs have to be turned really really tightly or they drip too (I am used to it but have to get up and turn the knobs whenever a guest uses the sink). In such a dry country I lament my leaks! Also, either someone leaned on my door or it just expanded in the heat and now the door doesn't really align with the frame, so my door is really hard to lock and unlock. I have left it unlocked a couple of times, but I don't like to do that. Yesterday Amanda stood on one side of the door and watched what was happening while I locked and unlocked it, so she diagnosed the problem - if I lift at the same time as I turn, it works, but the bottom lock is still really sticky, and I fear that the key will break in the lock. I have a key to the top lock and lock that most of the time, but that key cannot be duplicated in Azrou, only in Meknes or Fes. I had copies of the bottom key and the outside key made to give to guests and it has been working well with Jong (except for the day she spent an hour outside having a hard time and finally putting more oomph into it and opening the door). I think guests will not be able to come and go as they please unless I decide to replace the lock (or the door). Minor, but just more insight into life here.... And I haven't mentioned it in a while, but there are now three boxes of my stuff that I am still hoping to receive, sent by Joanne from Minneapolis in January, April and June. Maybe this is the universe's way of telling me not to be so attached to my stuff, and I haven't finished all of the books that did make it through so maybe shouldn't be so sad about the ones that haven't yet. I have described myself as a hopeless romantic and can probably use that to describe my attitude towards these boxes as well!

When it rains it pours – well, not literally – it finally rained a little bit today (which is Friday, though for some reason blogger thinks it's Thursday - same for the previous post, which I posted last Friday), but it did not pour (I did, however, do more laundry this morning and had things out on the line during the rainstorm – which is also when I was out walking this morning). Jong’s camp is finished but she is still here before she goes back to her site, and now Sabrina and Josh are coming in for the next session of camp (they have younger children so may have to stay on the premises; I shall offer them a place to stay if they need a refuge, but I am not sure I want to host them the entire time). Rachel is coming in, on her way to the Ain Leuh festival of Berber music. I wanted a site where people would come through, and I will be happy to see everyone, but I do want to get back to my work (which I thought I would get back to after handing in Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes – then again, going to the artisana and the carpet shops counts as work, and hosting the RPCVs is unquestionably goal #3 – so even though it may seem as though all I did was play cards, that is not the case) and I wouldn’t mind some more time to read (Ren lent me a book called “Letters to Mister Rogers” and I read that this week – full of wisdom as well as cuteness – my next book will be “Younger than that Now,” an RPCV’s account of his time in Morocco in the early ‘80s, which will, inshallah, be joined on the shelves some day by “27 Months without Baseball.” Speaking of which – this week an incoming PCT from the training stage that will start in September found my blog and we have exchanged emails about packing and other tips. I was hoping someone from the new stage would find my blog and ask me questions and am very glad that she did!

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