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 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.

Thank you for the trip recap- Now I know what we did this fall.
Finished my slide show and have it as a .mov file- Somehow the music did not come through and I am still missing part of Disc # 3.
But it was wonderful to live it again,
Thanks for the memories...
I'm so glad we had this time together....
would love to see the movie, too!
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