Friday, November 16, 2007
Trip planning can be fun! I love reading up on the places to visit and things to do while there. When I go away with my sister and her family, she does the hotel research, and when Martha and Susan came they did the hotel research (though I did help narrow it down for them), but for the next guests I have been doing the hotel research. There are some beautiful dars and riads in this country – with beautiful web sites! I may or may not be writing from the road, so it may be a while before I write again, but pull out your Morocco map and live vicariously as first Helen and I (and Youssef), and then Steve and Elisa and I (and Youssef), go to:
17-18 Marrakesh – Jemaa el Fna, souks, maybe museums or Jardin Majorelle, and I thought biking in the palmerie might be fun, or maybe a day trip *
19 – Ait Benhaddou, Ouarzazate, Agdz and if we can make it, all the way to Zagora along the picturesque Draa Valley *
20 – Zagora, Tamegroute and M’Hmid, where we will do an sunset camel or 4x4 trek and overnight in the desert *
21 – Maybe Kelaa MGouna, hopefully Dades Gorge, maybe Tinghir or Todra Gorge… *
22 – Back to Azrou! Helen is bringing pumpkin, pie crust, stuffing and other trimmings! Happy Thanksgiving to all!
23 – Day in Azrou!
24 – Day in Fes – farewell to Helen
25 – Day in Fes – first day with Elisa and Steve
26 – Day in Azrou!
27 – Hiking in the environs of Azrou!
28 – Erfoud, Merzouga sunset camel trek (maybe 4x4 too) and overnight in the desert *
29 – To Marrakesh – maybe stopping at something we missed on the 21st or 19th *
30 – Marrakesh *
1 – El Jadida, maybe with other coastal towns along the way
2 – Maybe Casablanca – ending up in Rabat – and farewell Steve and Elisa
3-5 – The travel fun continues with mid-service medicals in Rabat *
* = possibilities and/or plans to see other volunteers in the area
Of course, details to come after the trips (if not during). I haven’t overnighted in the desert yet, I haven’t been west of the Todra Gorge or east of Marrakesh along that southern main drag, I haven’t seen most of the volunteers in that region in a while, and I am of course very excited about seeing my friends from home!
While researching the riads I noticed that almost all of them name their rooms. Common names are places in Morocco, colors, flowers, or women’s names. I decided that since I have so many guests I might name my rooms too. How does this sound:
A cozy apartment in Azrou – great location, great value – established 2007
Welcome to Dar Shereen. Upon arrival in the Fes Room (formerly known as the Room with Six Doors), you will be offered slippers and a welcome glass of water or cup or tea or coffee (or the Manager’s special Iced Mocha Java). The Fes Room has tiled floors and tiled walls, recalling the tradition of ceramics and tile-making of the artisans of that imperial city. Sit on a traditional pouf and take your shoes off; put your things on the table carved by one of the local artisans.
There are three sleeping rooms in Dar Shereen:
The Marrakesh Room: Furnished in bold colors of purple and gold, the Marrakesh room features three custom-made ponges, each against its own wall. A corner room with peaked windows on two sides, the Marrakesh room also has a terrace that features a view of the mountains. Additional sleeping space is available using the rug on the floor. The Marrakesh room, formerly known as the Living Room or the Salon, also houses the Dar Shereen library, containing magazines, books, CDs and DVDs. Games and decks of cards can be found here as well, and the hostess is almost always up for a game.
The Rabat Room: Also known as the Zen Room, the Rabat room is painted in a relaxing shade of blue, recalling the Casbah des Oudayas. Visitors can sleep on comfortable foam pads or on the multi-colored hand-woven rug. Candles and incense are available, and frequent yoga sessions are held here.
The Middle Atlas Room: Formerly known as the Bedroom, this room is decorated with traditional tapestries of the Berbers of the Middle Atlas. It is usually occupied by the resident proprietress, but she has been known to share. Deluxe accommodations include a featherbed and duvet; the natural darkness and white noise machine provide further relaxation.
Other features of Dar Shereen include an eat-in kitchen where the guests can help with meal preparation and cleanup if they desire, private patio/laundry area complete with outdoor cold-water faucet and clotheslines, and bathroom with genuine Turkish toilet and hot shower on demand. Separate sink area is romantically lit. The roof, known for its views of the mountain sunsets, is also open to guests. Throughout the Dar you will find examples of artisanal crafts from all over Morocco. The proprietress can conduct tours of Azrou including the Ensemble Artisanal, the medina, carpet shops, cafes and patisseries, and other highlights such as the post office!
We speak English – swiya darija – un peu du français – un poco deespañol – and a few words of Tamazight. Enjoy your stay!
For reservations contact:
I started with the Chefchouaen room for the Zen room, but decided on an Imperial Cities theme. Could have used all four cities and made the bedroom the Meknes room - but for now I’ll l eave it Middle Atlas.
I wish I slept as well as the copy above seems to imply – I just have not been sleeping well lately. Actually, I haven’t slept well pretty much since I arrived here! But I still feel energized during the day, so maybe it’s okay.
This was a busy week. The hike on Sunday was a walk west of town – a highlight was rustling leaves. As with last fall, there’s very little color, but it’s nice to see the leaves turn. To get ready for my visitors, I did the floors and laundry, which now takes two days to dry in the late autumn sun. Still have to pack though. Did a lot of reading up on the places we’re going so I could write a prioritized list of things to see. Spent a lot of time searching for the places to stay. And wrote a comprehensive to-do list so when I get back I won’t have to wonder where I left off. I also wrote a report for the program staff – there’s a new minister at the Ministry and they requested a progress report on everyone’s projects. This was a new format for us and therefore a new way to frame what we are doing here – maybe with a little more accountability than we’re used to. I had been thinking about things anyway, approaching the year-after-swearing-in mark, and I had a talk with my counterpart over what else I can do here. He told me that TimHdit was getting money from Eaux et Forets and I asked about the weaving cooperative in Azrou. He said they don’t really need help; they’re successful enough. I asked about the sewing cooperative and he said they might not even be a cooperative. With that on the table, it was time to ask again about the rural communities. No answer, but maybe something to think about.
I visited my host family one evening – it had been way too long! I had to see them before being unavailable for two and a half weeks. Turns out they had been away for much of the time since the last time I saw them, so it was (almost) okay that I hadn’t seen them in so long. When I get back, we’re going to start the cooking lessons. I also have to resume tutoring – I took Ramadan off, and then was away, and then sick, and then getting ready, and now I’ll be away – I’ve missed tutoring. I’ve done a lot of practicing in the meantime, and want to keep it up. Our tutoring money is soon to expire, and I have to decide whether or not to continue to pay out of my mandat (would probably require bank trips, i.e. my own money) and also whether/when to add or switch to French.
Yesterday, some PCVs were in town for their flu shots. I went down to the Auberge to give the PCMO some books to return to the library, and showed people to the artisana and some of the artisans. When other volunteers come for the first time, they are always struck by how beautiful Azrou is and how nice the people are – I never take it for granted, but hearing their reactions helps to reinforce how happy I am that this is my site!
This morning I had coffee with Bouchra, the SBD Program Manager – she was coming through on her way to Rabat from the south. Much as I thought about asking her more questions about herself, I also prepared some things to show her – the web site, the brochure, the report to the ministry – and some questions about other projects – GAD, rural sites, the Middle Atlas trainings. She was very nice and supportive! A good way to wrap things up before vacation.
The picture is of electric fish from a restaurant in Sidi Ifni. My electric fish is smaller, in a baroque frame, but you can see how zwin it is and how mesmerizing it might be to gaze upon! And just in case I don't get another chance to write until after mid-service medicals (early December), know that I am in good hands - and have fun out there!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
This week it was back to work, though there really is no typical day or routine or structure. Still, it feels good to be in my site for a while, and I prefer the non-Ramadan life, where things close at lunchtime and I can go home for a respite (or go to someone’s house for lunch, or go out to lunch). Monday morning I went to the post office and Maroc Telecom and the artisana, and I looked at some shops for material – I want to have a fall jellaba made – something warmer than the spring jellaba I have, but not as warm as the polar fleece one. I’d like a short one – jacket length, though of course covering the rear end is essential here. I really like the colors and patterns of the men’s jellabas, but don’t want to commit a faux pas by wearing anything that looks like men’s clothes…have to ascertain whether men’s material in a feminine cut is acceptable. I don’t really have the right clothes for fall weather (it has warmed up from that initial cold week but it will get cold again).
I went back to the artisana in the afternoon to meet the new volunteer from Ain Leuh – the current one announced her intention to ET just in time for the site placements. I didn’t get to say more than hello, though, since they were about to start a meeting, so I went on to the cyber, where I sent a writeup of the GAD meeting to my stage. And then I went to visit the rock-carver – he didn’t work at all during Ramadan and I think I have stopped by every day since and his door has been closed. It felt so good to see him – he asked me to email some pictures to a potential customer, something I can do (to be sustainable, I will show him how to do it) and to come with him to the next craft fair, in Rabat in December (I requested the work-related leave but don’t expect it to be approved – found out last night that the KSA training at PST was cancelled, so I am not going!). Then I went to my favorite carpet shop – there were other people there so it wasn’t quite the sanctuary I was looking for; I sat there wondering how long I had to stay before I could politely leave – finally told them I had to go for a run since I was training for the Marrakesh half-marathon – now that I have told people I now have to do it!
Tuesday was a holiday, Green March Day (commemorating King Hassan II’s peaceful march of 350,000 people into the Western Sahara) – an opportunity for a day trip. I went to El Menzel, the site where Mark, my warden, lives; I had wanted to see him before he COSes. YDs Darren and Nico came along, as did Rose. Mark is another mid-career volunteer, who used to be a sportswriter in the Midwest - I have always wanted to talk to him more! Immouzer to Sefrou to El Menzel – I was reminded that last week when I rode to Sefrou, the taxi driver stopped to get some apples along the side of the road (this is a big apple-growing area and this is the season), giving an apple to everyone in the taxi. We arrived in time for lunch of chicken and fries. Then we all took a transit (as I did this past weekend – transit, by the way, has the emphasis on the second syllable and rhymes with feet – basically, a van) to a nearby spring (here they are called sources) where we sat by the river, soaked up the fall sun, and skipped stones (I haven’t done that in years!). It was a peaceful place and a nice visit – until the stress of making it home before dark, which I did, barely. It has been nice to visit people before the leave, to see them and to see their sites. As a bonus, they are giving things away – Deanedra gave me yarn and knitting patterns, Jennifer GRE books (does that mean I am taking it? Still thinking about it) and some spices and teas, and from Mark, I got electric fish in a frame! I have seen these in restaurants and other places and think they are so strange that they are great – I can visualize watching this in the manner of watching clothes go around a dryer. And to get one without spending the money on one is quite a coup. It doesn’t work, though – I hope Youssef can fix it! Speaking of which, he packed and mailed Martha and Susan’s souvenirs this week – and now that I know how much it cost, I recommend that all future visitors bring an empty suitcase or at least extra room! And I have to prepare myself for a significant expense next year when I figure out how to get my own stuff home. It’s common in the culture here to ask how much things cost, but I am not used to it or comfortable with it (though I notice that many PCVs now ask each other how much things cost) so I will leave it at that.
Rose mentioned that friends of hers (who I met in Sefrou last week) asked her to go with them to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand after we finish service. I’ve had in mind that I would travel, musing about seeing more of Morocco, going to Spain and Portugal (since they are so close and yet so far), or maybe Holland (to see family), Italy (since I keep mentioning that I want to do Peace Corps Italy next), Eastern Europe (see a what-might-have-been Peace Corps option?), South Africa (loved it there and want to go back), Indonesia (since I promised myself a trip there after my aunt died; my father and aunt lived there when they were little), Australia and New Zealand (high on my list, and if I’m in the neighborhood?), Chile (ever since I worked on the materials for the Chilean wines, I’m intrigued) or all, some or none of the above (can I stop by Alaska on the way back if I go the long way around, and reach my 50th state? Have I named enough places?) – but so far only dreaming, not really planning or even thinking. I will have the sending-stuff-home issue and the what-to-pack-and-bring-with-me issue (so going to a variety of climates may not make sense) but this is an offer I have to think about. I know I travel well with Rose and I liked her friends. I had in mind that I would travel solo or that maybe someone would want to come with me or join me for part – well, I didn’t really have anything in mind yet, but I like this idea. Of course, what I will do and where I will live when I come back are things I haven’t done much thinking or even musing about – other than not looking forward to job-hunting and knowing I will have to!
Wednesday was mostly a day of working from home – I worked on work-related leave requests, my email for the rock-carver, proposed additions/edits for the next Peace Corps Morocco welcome book – packing list, SBD-specific things, and diversity. Did some GAD work and some writing for Peace Works (the Morocco newsletter), made CDs of photos for people and one from which to get prints made, wrote a double column for the Princeton Alumni Weekly. The collaborative issues referred to in the last post came to the fore (that was quick) so it was a good day to move ahead on other fronts. And to restock on fruits and vegetables and eggs. And to run! I’m aiming for a run every other day, increasing my distance and doing yoga or stretching on the off-days. I’m motivated, and right now it’s good running weather.
Thursday was another day of making the rounds – saw the rock-carver, asked the metal worker if he would help train a group just starting up in Sefrou, working with homeless and poor youth and children of prostitutes; Rose met them yesterday and felt inspired. Asked the weavers if they wanted a training from a former PCV with weaving and dyeing expertise who is back in the country visiting his host family; I had met him in Rabat last week. Got pictures made and handed them out, ordered the fall jellaba (there’s a seamstress by the bisara (fava bean soup) place who made a short jellaba for Amanda – turned out she had nice material (flannel?), so there’s no need for men’s material. Did a couple of other errands too – everyone was friendly today. That’s another plus for the non-Ramadan schedule – people are friendlier when they’re not hungry! Stopped for tea at the carpet shop and reserved a sheepskin – I was advised to get one last winter to keep my feet warm and didn’t find one; this one is nice, and I don’t feel the least bit guilty, since I know that every part of the sheep was used by Moroccans and that it had a good life, grazing the Middle Atlas.
I spent most of yesterday with Katie and her replacement, Elizabeth. We went to the artisana and met everyone, had a juice/coffee, went to the carpet shop, and had a couscous lunch with Abdou and his family. What a contrast to the Ain Leuh people, who were too busy for coffee with me (of course, nobody is that busy here). Amazing – we all need each other. Are we competing for a raise or a promotion? No! And even if those things were possible, I would not be competing! Elizabeth seemed really happy to be in the beautiful, green Middle Atlas after training in the desert. Meanwhile, the Environment volunteers are all at IST this week. It’s early due to the timing of l-Eid Kbir – they’ve been in site five months, not six – but it’s amazing how time flies. By the end of the month the second-year SBDs and YDs will be gone and the new ones will have sworn in – and I will then be a second-year! A junior, if you use the college analogy. It occurred to me with a jolt that I have to get my carte de sejour renewed!
Today Nam and Nadine, a COSing YD I had not yet met, came for tea and cake on the way to overnight stays elsewhere. We went to the artisana, the rock-carver, the sandwich shop with the tuna-and-tomato sandwiches and what might be the best juices in town, and the carpet shop. The moral equivalent of a work day on a Saturday! The picture was taken in one of the shoe stores in Azrou – I love all the colors. Tomorrow I have plans to go on a hike with Youssef (while the weather is so nice) and I want to read up on/plan out the destinations I’ll be going to with the next guests and make some hotel or riad reservations. Except that as I was posting this, someone called and wants to stop by on the way back to her site - so reading up may be postponed in favor of a few hours of piffle!
This is Yale weekend, and the kickoff of the next Princeton capital campaign. I always enjoyed those weekends and events, and I feel a little sad that I am not there. Ah, but luckily campaigns last for five years, so I will get my chance to participate…. In the small world category, my friend Joy was ice skating (something I miss – they have ice skating and bowling in the Rabat mega-mall; can I go at mid-service medicals? Could use more sushi too!) and she told a fellow skater about her friend in SBD in the Peace Corps in Morocco – the fellow skater had one too, in SBD in the Peace Corps in Morocco – it’s someone in my stage! They were skating in the DC area; neither I or that stage-mate have lived there... And clementines are back! They’ve been here for a couple of weeks but are finally delicious – with clementines and pomegranates this is definitely my favorite time of the fruit year!
Monday, November 05, 2007
Before we left for Rabat, Kellye and I climbed the big rock, or azrou, that is the town landmark. I had started up it when I was in training last year but just had a bad feeling about it – bad guys do hang out there sometimes, and people tend to use it as an outdoor toilet, which is unfortunate – but it was a nice, sunny day and with Kellye to protect me we made it to the top and savored the view. And then it was off to Rabat! After being in the car and taking the autoroute, squeezing into a grand taxi and then another grand taxi and taking the slow road brought me back to reality. We got to Rabat and met up with Jen, the chair of GAD, and walked to get ice cream. She had been in town to take the GREs and had stayed at a quieter hotel than the one where we stayed for GAD; we went to get her luggage and came back to the hotel and started talking and never left – so I didn’t get to the medina at all on this trip to Rabat. Still have pent-up Rabat medina demand! We did go to a nice Italian restaurant with the whole group – I really enjoy the other people on the committee.
There’s so much that the GAD committee is working on, too, and we spent the next two days discussing it and moving ahead with projects in smaller groups. Some of them include:
- Creating a resource guide so that GAD and GLOW information is all in one place – we divided up the sections; I’ll work on GAD projects for the SBD sector and on listing resources available in the Peace Corps library and on-line
- Distributing a harassment survey to all volunteers – I’ll hand them out to my stage-mates at mid-service medicals, and I volunteered to tabulate all of them
- Organizing a conference planned for the spring
- Debriefing on Middle Atlas GLOW camp and the new initiatives enabled by the leftover funds
- The trainings to SBD and YD PST and the upcoming ENV and HE IST (I just decided to throw in as many acronyms as possible)
- Peace Works (I coordinate the GAD portion of the newsletter and – as I do as class secretary for Princeton – am always looking for news)
- Women-to-Women – an endeavor to research women in other countries and share insights with women here – someone not on the committee is spearheading that but I am the liaison
- Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes – we had worked on this at the last meeting but met again to finalize them
- This just came up at the meeting – the YD program manager wants to plan a Harassment Awareness Week, cross-sector, at the Dar Chebabs, leading up to International Women’s Day
- Elections – I’m the new Vice-Chair (which is the office I wanted)
Also, I was invited to present GAD to the YD PCTs later in the week, since one of the YD committee members couldn’t go. When I texted my program staff to tell them, the program manager called and asked me if I still wanted to present KSA to the SBD trainees. I said yes, though I feel frazzled about it – how can I do that when I feel I have a lot to do before my next guests come? And what if it’s during the week that my next guest is here? I decided that as for the lot to do, I can always do it later, and if it’s when my guest is here, we’ll adjust, and since I didn’t get called for GAD I shouldn’t worry about it until I get called for this.
The GAD meeting took two solid days; I did find some time to visit the PCMO and got my flu shot – the healthy GAD committee members who had the flu shot felt worse afterwards; it may just be a coincidence but after I had the shot I finally felt over the illness that I suffered through the week before. We did have some social time – nice lunches with interesting discussions and dinners out on the town (and for some, a cocktail after that – but the first night I was tired from the travel and then I started reading a book and wanted to keep reading it). On Monday night, Jen and I went out for sushi with the head of administration, one of the three Americans on the Peace Corps staff. The sushi was really good! I hope I can persuade stage-mates to go back there for mid-service medicals. Tuesday night, a group of us went to the Goethe Institute, a Rabat favorite.
There’s an English bookstore in Rabat and an American bookstore in Rabat; I had been to neither. On Wednesday morning we decided to look for the English bookstore, but upon leaving “Toast,” we heard that they were filming a movie with Russell Crowe and Leonardo di Caprio just down the street by the post office, so we decided to check it out. I have seen my share of movie shoots on Michigan Avenue, but it was still kind of fun, with some stereotypical Hollywood types using their walkie-talkies. No sign of Russ or Leo; we thought about walking back and forth as they were shooting so that we could perhaps be in the movie but some of us had to get going. With no train to catch, Jen and I went to the English bookstore. I had gone to the Peace Corps Library twice with no intention of getting more books and found a book to take home each time, but somehow I managed to have some willpower in the store.
Taxi from Rabat to Meknes – a couple of hours (plus wait time). Taxi from Meknes to Azrou – about an hour (plus wait time). A shower, unpacking, repacking – I hadn’t planned to go to the YD training. Taxi from Azrou to Immouzer – forty minutes (plus wait time). Taxi from Immouzer to Sefrou – another twenty minutes (plus wait time). I left Rabat somewhere between ten and eleven and got to Sefrou at five. Brian, the second-year YD who was presenting with me, decided to visit his CBT host family in Sefrou rather than stay the night with the trainees in Fes, and since I didn’t know the way to the seminar site without him I asked Rose if I could stay with her – and it was so nice to see Rose! She had friends from the states and we had a nice chat and then Rose and I talked until late.
Presenting GAD to the YD trainees was fun – it was rewarding to see them get motivated by the theory and then break up into small groups to brainstorm practical applications. This is why I wanted to do the trainings! My goal now is to present to Health so I will have presented to every sector but my own! Actually, I do hope to present to SBD next year. It was nice to meet some of the new people, too, though I didn’t have a lot of time to talk with them. Back to Azrou, where I was asked to make some (non-emergency) calls to my warden group, and then I made pasta sauce for Katie, Jehan and Lauren, who were coming to stay the night.
Katie, Jehan and Lauren worked on some trainings for the cooperatives and other artisans in the Middle Atlas region in March – covering subjects such as networking, goal-setting, marketing, basic accounting, product development, skills transfer and action plans. I didn’t get to attend this because there was no room for my artisans, but they expressed an interest in handing it off to me to organize for next year, and I have an interest in doing so, so we talked about everything over dinner, and when the SBD program manager happened to call me the next day (about the work-related leave form for the Fes training) I mentioned that I wanted to work on this. Right now there are some potential collaboration issues but I hope they can be worked out because I think this would be a great project for me to work on.
Katie, Jehan and Lauren were touring the Middle Atlas, interviewing the cooperatives and artisans who were trained, to find out what they remembered, what they used, and what they would like further training on. I went with them on Friday morning to interview Rajaa, the seamstress who relocated to Azrou. She had been inspired to help others as a result of the training – she is very motivated, but she saw that some of the cooperatives weren’t, and she wanted to teach others to be motivated. Wow – what an impact! That made me all the more excited about the possibility of working on this.
K, J and L went on to their next stop and I went back to my mystery book. Debbie gave me a couple of “coffeehouse mysteries” when I saw her in June and then she sent the rest to Martha and Susan to bring with them. They’re fun - but what was interesting was that I had just read a New Yorker article about the global seed bank and about copyrighting new hybrid plants, and this mystery involved a new hybrid coffee plant that one of the characters wanted to legally protect. I recently read a New Yorker article about the Beat Generation, and I picked up a book in the Peace Corps library that chronicled the artists and writers who went to Tangier in its heyday, and some of them were Beats. There was something else I read in the New Yorker recently that came up in another context too, but I don’t remember it now. That’s part of the reason why I will never give up the New Yorker, even if I can’t keep up with them. So many interesting articles!
Did laundry and had a coffee with Youssef to plan itineraries of the next two visits – when we planned for Martha and Susan’s it was with the thought that his visa might come through before the next guests came, but it doesn’t look that way now, and I am glad, because he will again be driver and guide. And then it was more packing and going to bed early to be up early for the next trip!
Jen, the head of GAD, had invited me to her site, and I wanted to visit before she COSes. She lives in a small village in the High Atlas – until this February she had no electricity, the site just got cell phone coverage this spring, and she has running water for maybe an hour a day, which she spends filling containers. I had to buy out two taxis in order to get to Rich in time for the one reliable transit that goes to her site every day; she had told the driver to look out for me. I met her host father, we took a walk by the fields with a dramatic mountain backdrop, we had coffee with one of her artisans, and then we made macaroni and cheese. The visit was all too short – we had to get up at five in the morning to get the one reliable transit back to Rich. I am glad I live in a site with good access – that was one of the things I had hoped for (water and electricity are nice too). In Rich, we met some of the other PCVs for whom it is souk/cyber town for pastry and coffee (they have a usual place), and also the new SBDs, who were on their site visit. I had a chance to walk around Rich a bit – the picture is of some Berber ladies wearing traditional Imilchil-area capes. I had seen these capes in pictures but not on too many people! I bought a traditional cape from Jen’s artisan; she was so proud of bringing in money for the cooperative that I bought it even though I wasn’t planning to; the people in her site are a different tribe, so it is different in color and pattern from the Imilchil ones. And then I taxi-hopped back home. I returned at a reasonable hour, which was good, because my internet was down and I wanted to go to a cyber to catch up on emails. It was down all day today too - but I can’t let it bother me too much after seeing how Jen manages!
Sunday, November 04, 2007
My favorite part of the vacation was– and of past and future visits is - showing people Azrou. I am so happy to show people my home, the artisana and stores around town, the big rock, the post office, the vistas, the patisserie and cafes and restaurants and other places I go to, and to introduce them to the people I work with and have tea with and see on a regular basis. I’m going a little out of sequence chronologically because I wanted to open with that statement. And once I run out of vacation days, any subsequent visitors will have a lot of opportunity to spend time in Azrou and see what the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer is like (and/or to explore on their own).
Our Azrou day started with pastries from the Escalade and coffee at Café Bilal. Ns-ns is how I like it – half coffee, half milk. This was the only chance Martha and Susan had to experience café time – tried in Rabat and Tangier and might have in Asilah and Chefchouaen but we had to press on. Their favorite part of the trip – much to my surprise – was the hammam. We went in the morning when there were plenty of other people but it wasn’t crowded. Found two unoccupied faucets together and set up our spots. First, ghassoul clay masks for the face, hair and body. Then some vigorous scrubbing with the kis (mitt) – Susan did a stranger’s back and vice versa, really getting into the spirit. Then olive oil soap. Then more scrubbing. Then regular soap, shampoo, crème rinse and shaving as needed. All while sitting in the hottest room. Rinse, scrub, breathe. Martha’s work involves luxury steam baths and she said that hammams are the next luxury trend. I told her that this was not luxury – it’s where a bunch of nearly-naked women go to do their weekly bathing – and she still wanted to go and they just loved it. Sorry (or thankfully), no pictures.
We then went to the artisana, where the wood carvers and their products were the big hit. And then we walked through the medina as things were closing up for lunchtime, and I pointed out places that might be of interest while I attended a meeting in the afternoon. Then – another one of the highlights of the trip – Youssef had invited us to have couscous with his family. It was a treat for Martha and Susan to experience a real Moroccan lunch – sitting around the communal plate, eating from the invisible triangle in front of you – but add to that the fact that the food was delicious and even more that Youssef’s family is so delightful, friendly, happy and loving – and it was very special. After that, I went off to my meeting. Or so I thought.
This was a meeting of the sewing cooperative. They hadn’t been working since the summer, and even before then not very many of them were working. My counterpart had told me to tell them that if they didn’t have their required annual meeting that they might lose their cooperative status. They had told me that they told most of the women to find other jobs, since there wasn’t a lot of work. A local NGO that works with women and had helped them with startup funds had called this meeting, inviting all of the current members and about 20 prospective new members – including some men. They were to determine who wanted to stay, gauge the interest of the prospective members, and figure out how to select and incorporate the new people. My counterpart and I got there at 2:00, the time that the meeting was set to start. We chatted with the NGO woman for a while and waited. Other participants started to trickle in – around 3:00. I recalled what I had learned in training about the concept of Moroccan time. I thought about my friends, off to see the monkeys, and of Rose’s advice to skip the meeting and spend time with my friends. I thought it was important to go to the meeting – Rose had said there’ll always be another meeting but if this was make-or-break there might not have been – but finally at 3:30, when the meeting still hadn’t started and wasn’t about to, I asked my counterpart if it would be terribly rude to leave, and he told me to go ahead. At least he, the NGO woman and I had had a nice talk! I found out last week that they had decided to think about things for two weeks and then reconvene. I didn’t find out when the meeting started or when it ended – I didn’t want to know – but overall I’m glad I went and even more glad that I left!
Martha, Susan and Youssef, in the meantime, did in fact encounter Barbary Apes, and then they encountered a store or two for more souvenirs, and we reconvened at Dar Neghrassi, otherwise known as my favorite spot in Azrou other than my apartment, with Abdou, one of my favorite men in Morocco, and the best tea in Morocco. We spent a while there – they bought a runner which I will take off their hands if it doesn’t fit in their apartment (and then will hope to live next in a place with a hallway) and I bought a little rug made with natural wool and goat hair in shades of gray. I then wowed my guests with my cooking (maybe), with stuffed peppers for dinner and chilaquiles for breakfast.
When Martha saw my blog picture of Volubilis way back in February, she called it a must-see, and that made me realize that she really intended to come to visit (she also seemed intrigued by the Tangier entry, which is how we began to design our itinerary). So Volubilis was on the schedule! We decided not to hire a guide, opting instead to walk on our own, but did keep our tour books open, so that we could learn as we went. With this focus, we saw all of the spectacular mosaics, some of which I had seen before and others that I had missed in the past. My camera battery died right at the Triumphal Arch, which is a shame, because they were going on to Paris and would have had a nice picture of this one to compare with the Arc de Triomphe there. We had lunch at the nearby Volubilis Inn; most of our lunches (with the notable exception of the couscous lunch!) had been mediocre or skipped; this one was good. I didn’t say it at the time, but now it can be told – it was all I could do not to order the four-cheese penne – I felt pressured to have Moroccan food since everyone else was having it, and after all, I hadn’t yet had chicken-with-lemon-and-olives tagine yet during the week.
While writing the Tetouan entry last time, I went to the UNESCO web site and looked up the World Heritage Sites in Morocco. I had done this early on, but now that I have seen some of them, I thought it was time to look again. To make something a World Heritage Site, it has to be of historical or cultural significance. Actually there are several criteria – I direct you to UNESCO.org for more. I think they first rose to my consciousness when my sister mentioned visiting Nova Scotia and I read about Lunenberg – that trip is still to be taken, but then in Iceland we went to one (Thingvellir, one of the few places on earth that is a rift zone on land) and then in Finland we went to one (Suomenlinna, a sea fortress) and then in Estonia we went to Old Town Tallinn. I wanted to visit Cahokia Mounds before I left the Midwest, but my St. Louis weekend last summer was too full; I’d still like to go. The Tetouan medina is one, the Fes medina is one, the Marrakesh medina is one, Essouaria is one, Volubilis is one, and the Meknes imperial city is one. Sabrina and I had walked around some of it a couple of weeks ago, and on our way back from Volubilis, Youssef drove us by. Turns out that the long corridor of walls we walked was only about half of the length of the long corridor – we had stopped at the Royal Palace, but the corridor goes on to the stables – which I hope/plan to see some other time, along with the prisons! They drive-by was enough to give everyone a sense of the scale (huge) and grandeur (past). And then we went to Marjane – the four of us had four different objectives – I told Martha and Susan the layout of the store, and we fanned out and accomplished our objectives in record time so that we could be home before dark.
Incidentally, the only UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Morocco that I have yet to visit are Ait Ben Haddou, the best-preserved ksar, or Kasbah of the south, often used in films, which I plan to see with Helen later this month, and El Jadida, a Portuguese rampart city on the Atlantic, and I have plans to visit that with Elisa and Steve when they come right after Helen visits! There are several proposed sites, most of which I have not heard of; I’ll have to read up on those. Just before I moved last year, I saw a beautiful coffee table book of UNESCO World Heritage sites at either Borders or Barnes and Noble. It wasn’t expensive as coffee table books go, and I was extremely tempted to buy it. But here I was trying to get rid of things, and I decided that to buy a book that would literally go right into a box and sit in storage for over two years might not be the best choice. Presumably, it will still be available when I get back.
On to Fes, and one of the best dinners I have had in Morocco. Our riad, Dar Roumana, the “author’ choice” in the latest edition of Lonely Planet (which Susan had – it wasn’t mentioned in my version. It was interesting to compare notes on some of the restaurants and see how the descriptions had changed from edition to edition. She left me her copy, which I very much appreciate!), had a special dinner and spectacle prepared for us. Martha’s mission at Marjane had been to find champagne, and we toasted the halfway point of my service as well as things such as friendship, visits, traveling and Ted (the name on some graffiti at the Chellah in Rabat, a person used in 20 Questions, and a running joke for the rest of the trip). The American owner of Dar Roumana trained at Cordon Bleu, and the traditional Moroccan tagine had a mouth-explosion combination of spices and everything-just-so presentation – I would eat there again. The spectacle consisted of the cook and his friend playing soft music, singing and dancing on the tiled floor of the inner courtyard, where we ate. It was a memorable experience.
And then Fes. A walk in the Fes medina is a good way to end a trip. Or begin a trip. Or break up a trip. Or if you’re here for just a weekend, as Carol and Mike were in May, and you have to see just one thing, a good choice for that one thing. It’s narrow streets with smaller twisty streets branching off and donkeys and horses laden with goods barreling by you and sights and sounds and smells and food and carpets and people telling you to have a look and signs and tourists and locals and and and… a sensory overload; we were getting to a part where I want to do more exploration when we were ready to call it a day – so maybe I’ll start there next time. We had a few goals left and we accomplished them – I wanted to take them to the herbalist for some Moroccan remedies, and Susan wanted to buy a fez in Fes. A final dinner, a final breakfast and then it was off to the airport in Rabat – I read the haiku I had been writing as we went along, summarizing the trip, we played a final round or two of Sixty Questions, and we talked about expectations of the trip and of Morocco and how the reality matched or differed from that.
We had time for coffee in Rabat before we went to the airport, and then Youssef and I took the long way to Meknes (his choice) to return the car. I ran into Marjane while he got gasoline, I showed him my iphoto show of the trip while we waited for the car wash, and I thought we were going to drop off the car and head home, but the owner of the car rental agency had to look at the car first and we had to wait for him, so they offered us tea. Moroccan time – nobody in a rush! Except I was – had to get home before dark. I texted Jong, saying that this was turning into a Moroccan experience – back to reality after being in a car all week – and then the people from the agency, sensing my distress, drove us back to Azrou in the car! That was a happy ending.