Tuesday, December 18, 2007



It seemed that there were three parts to this quarter – Ramadan, travel, and the never-quite-routine life of the rest of the time. I still plan to chronicle most of the travel, so you didn’t miss it, but it is also time for a quarterly report and a hearty hello to both the frequent and the infrequent readers!

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim year, and people fast from sun-up to sundown. Last year I was in training during Ramadan, and even though half of the time we were with our CBT (Community-Based Training) host families, we were still in class for most of the day – language in the morning and technical in the afternoon – so I was curious to see how the rhythm of real life was affected by Ramadan. It is affected in a major way! Cafes and restaurants are closed – there were times when I would go home for a sip of water (or maybe even a snack? I’ll never tell!) - but there is nowhere to go in public. I really didn’t realize until it wasn’t available how much going to a café is part of my day – coffee or juice with a friend, sitting and watching the world go by, isn’t something I thought I did all that often but I missed it and it was nice to get back to the never-quite-routine life and to that part of the routine.

Hours at the artisana changed – open 9 am until 3 pm with no lunch break. I like the lunch break of the never-quite-routine life – I get to eat lunch, for one thing, but also to have some time to myself to check email, read, clean or otherwise not be “on.” But since everyone was at the artisana, just hanging around, I felt compelled to hang around too. Not many tourists came. The woodworkers, who are usually constantly working, weren’t. Everyone seemed to be hungry and listless, talking about food. There was a certain listlessness to the summer too, when everyone was hot – I realize that I have to get a lot of work done between now and the summer because then everyone will be listless for months! I did get some work done though – finished round one of labeling the display areas in the showroom, tabulated my tourist questionnaire, did lots of photography, made progress on the web site. I did stop tutoring – no place to meet – and I have yet to start again, but I am looking forward to it.

I also had some fun weekends during Ramadan. I visited my GAD friend Kellye, who lives in a small village that you have to hike into; she is near the Cascades of Ouzoud, the highest waterfall in Morocco, so we hiked there too. I hosted someone in my stage who was ETing (Early Termination) – glad to see her off. I held a games/hike weekend for the six-pack of environment volunteers nearby and some others who happened to be in the neighborhood. I met Sabrina, the Khemisset volunteer in my stage, in Meknes, where we explored some of the imperial city. And I went to Ait Hamza to visit the COSing volunteer there – saw the weaving cooperative and inherited lots of yarn, just when I was in the mood to start knitting! Reading was also a big part of Ramadan for me – some mysteries, and Harry Potter. As was listening to some post-season baseball – the first weekend, anyway.

And then came trip #1! Martha and Susan arrived, Youssef drove, and we spent nine days exploring, staying in luxury riads and hotels and eating gourmet Moroccan meals. First Rabat – a chance to do some of the tourist spots, such as the Archeology Museum, the Chellah, the Tour Hassan and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. On to Tangier, with stops at a birding lake and some coastal cities along the way, and while there, trips to the Grottoes of Hercules and the northwest point of Africa - and a camel ride! On to Tetouan, with its Andalusian new town and World Heritage Site old medina, Chefchouaen, with its romantic shades of blue, and Volubilis, the Roman ruins. Then Azrou, where the highlight of the entire trip for Martha and Susan was the hammam, and the highlight for me was showing them my life here – the artisana, the carpet shop, and couscous with Youssef’s family. We ended in Fes, where we went to both the old medina and Fes El-Jdid, the former mellah, with its gold jewelry shops, royal palace and synagogue. It was great to show them around and to spend time with them as if no time had passed.

I had a chance to live the never-quite-routine life for a couple of weeks. First, I was sick – post-vacation let-down, or something coming on the whole time that I suppressed until the visitors left? So I slept a lot and read more mysteries! Then it was on to Rabat for a GAD (Gender and Development) meeting – there’s lots going on with GAD now, with harassment surveys and a resource guide and KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes) and the GAD section of Peace Works, the Morocco Peace Corps newsletter. I presented GAD to the new YD stage (but never got to any SBD trainings, which was a big disappointment) and then hosted some volunteers doing follow-up interviews from workshops they had held in the spring. The interviews indicated an interest in more workshops, so I might take this on – they would be for artisans and cooperatives throughout the Middle Atlas region. I visited some more COSing (Close of Service) volunteers, in Assoul in the High Atlas and in El Menzel near Fes, entertained some PCVs coming through for various reasons, made my more-or-less daily rounds around town, and then spent some time working on the web site and some reports and making a to-do list of everything I needed to do when I got back, and then planned for the next two weeks of trips. The day before I left, the Program Manager was traveling through Azrou and we had coffee – I filled her in on my projects and she seemed pleased.

Then a whirlwind two weeks of travel around Morocco followed! It was great that Youssef had not heard about his visa yet, so he could be our driver and also see parts of Morocco he hadn’t seen, and also great that while we were away he got his visa appointment, so he will be able to join Amanda and start his new life in America soon. Helen flew into Marrakesh and we met her there and then set off for the Koutoubia Mosque, Jemaa al Fna, a caleche ride and the Jardin Majorelle, finishing up in the souks. The next day we did a museum and two palaces and the mellah and saw an herbalist. We then went on to Ait Benhaddou, the best-preserved Kasbah of the south and the setting for many Hollywood movies, followed by Ouarzazate and Zagora. Going further south still, we toured Amezrou with a local, saw Tamegroute, my CBT-mate’s site, and went to M’Hmid for a camel trek and 4x4 ride leading to an overnight and sunrise in the dunes. We drive back up the Draa Valley to the Dades Valley and spent some time in the Dades Gorge, with one breathtaking view after another. It was on – through snow! – to Azrou for Thanksgiving dinner (Helen had brought pumpkin, stuffing, cranberries, pie shells, yams, marshmallows and other things) and then an Azrou day of pastries from the Escalade and coffee at Bilal, the hammam, couscous with Youssef’s family, the monkeys, the artisana and the carpet shop, topped off by Youssef’s sage-rubbed steak and mashed potatoes (actually it’s Amanda’s, but Youssef made it), a second Thanksgiving dinner. Helen’s time in Morocco finished in Fes with at a potterie and then a tour of the Andalus quarter and nearby sights with a faux guide.

As Helen’s trip ended, Steve and Elisa’s began – also in Fes, where we toured yet a different part that bridged the part Martha and Susan had seen and the part Helen had seen – the part in the middle, with the herbalist, fountain, wood museum and tanneries. Then we went to Azrou – same general itinerary as Martha and Susan and Helen but I am not tired of introducing people to my life here! We also had a chance to go on a day trip to some nearby places that I’ve heard about and wanted to see and are easier to get to with a car – lakes, rock formations, a gushing spring, and a hike under a cliff. Then it was on to Merzouga – this time it was a 4x4 ride followed by a camel ride, and again an overnight in the dunes – similar to the M’Hmid experience but very different; I’m glad I did both. We stopped in Rissani and Erfoud and – maybe the most fun stop – a few minutes in Kelaa M’Gouna for four rounds of rummy with my stage-mate there. On to Marrakesh, where we again did different things but with some overlap –museum, medersa, koubba, souks, the Menara Garden and the artisana. Then – new turf for me – the Atlantic Coast north of Essouaira and south of Casablanca. We stopped in Safi, known for its pottery, drove through Oualidia, known for being peaceful, toured El Jadida, with its Portuguese walled city, visited Azemmour, an off-the-tourist-track town, and ended up in Rabat, where everyone in my stage was gathering. It was great to see my friends from home – I am so glad they made the effort to come – and great to travel around Morocco, and one of the nicest things about both of these trips was that along the way we saw many of the PCV friends who are such a part of my life here! More details of both of these trips to come.

Mid-Service Medicals followed, which was the first time my stage was together since IST (In-Service Training) in June and will be the last time until COS Conference in August. I had a chance to talk to everyone – some more than others – in between appointments, and some time to walk in the Rabat medina and to eat some fancy French and Italian food, and I have no cavities, no parasites, no tuberculosis, and no other health issues. It was good to see everyone and good to be checked out physically! I went home and did laundry and unpacked and repacked for the Rabat Craft Fair, which I attended with the rock-carver – that was rewarding! And then Kristina, a fellow PCV who is a stone sculptor, came to Azrou for three days of workshops with him – also rewarding! Since then I’ve just been catching up and moving ahead – especially with the web site, though everything I’ve done recently is behind-the-scenes so not yet visible. I started the process of renewing my carte de sejour, another milestone, took a day trip to Fes with Youssef as part of my farewell to him, and hosted the warden group and some of the newly-minted nearby SBD PCVs for brunch.

There’s a holiday atmosphere in the air this week – Friday is l-Eid Kbir, “big holiday,” where every family sacrifices a sheep to commemorate the story of Abraham and Isaac. I went to the souk today to see the sheep, and I felt sad – for the sheep, for the shepherds on whom so much is riding this week, and for me, since I won’t be here next year to experience this again. I couldn’t stay sad for long, though, because I kept running into people I know and I have now four invitations to visit people for l-Eid; it reinforced that even though Azrou is too big for me to know everyone, I have managed to integrate into the community and I know some really wonderful people and I feel at home here.

It's fun to be able to visualize now all that you describe. Along with that, the events come to life too! Thanks for a wonderful visit; and thanks for the wonderful descriptions of you time in Morocco!
Ditto - what an awesome trip. Again, many thanks! We loved all we saw and did with you and Youssef. We're glad to read of your continuing adventures, now able to visualize as we read!
I do try to describe things so that those who haven't been here can visualize them as well, but yes, some things can only be experienced in person! Thank you both again for coming!
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