Monday, April 14, 2008


The guests have left and all is quiet. That is, they left and I spent a couple of hours cleaning and doing laundry and then gchatted with Rose (yet another means of keeping in touch that I’ve discovered while here), and now I am having a quiet morning to myself. This was a nice Azrou weekend – though when I got back on Thursday the temperature had dropped. Silly me, putting away the winter clothes and the space heater and the hot water bottles! It warmed up again yesterday, but not before I stubbornly shivered for a couple of nights, finally getting up to put on warmer clothes and get an extra blanket when I just couldn’t sleep.

I looked through Jessica’s recipes when I was in Tinjdad and found one for no-bake cookies; I made those on Saturday morning and also made some eggplant red ball. A couple of volunteers came over for lunch and then we headed to a nearby site for a fellow volunteer’s birthday celebration – snacks, piffle and a beautiful hike (downhill all the way) back to Azrou, with green fields, mountain vistas, farm animals and friendly people. It still amazes me how rural it is just outside of Azrou; for weeks I have been eager to go on a hike and this impromptu one was fun. Also impromptu was the fact that the party basically moved back to my house and continued. We were joined by Aaron, the “prophet of piffle” (new term he came up with and very apropos here), on his way to COS medicals. Yesterday we were joined by Laura, another Health volunteer who was also on her way to Rabat. We spent a lot of time at Abdou’s, had bisara, visited the artisana and climbed the Azrou rock (which was fun until I stepped in some human excrement). It doesn’t seem that long ago that the last group of SBDs and YDs left, and now the Health and Environment have less than two months to go. It was refreshing to talk to Aaron and Laura though – they are both so busy finishing up their projects that they are not dwelling much on saying goodbye or on where they are going next. I wouldn’t mind being in that situation six months from now! We looked at the list of volunteers to determine the reach of piffle – over 10 percent of the volunteers in-country have played, from out west by Agadir to far south by Zagora to up north near Fes to way east by Algeria. That’s capacity-building and sustainability! Incidentally, I heard that our COS conference is August 11-13. It still seems far away, but it seems more real now with dates attached.

Friday was a busy day back in my site. I had paper goods, fruits and vegetables and a new butagas for my shower to buy and a couscous invitation from Youssef’s family. My l-Eid goatskin was ready and it is cute. Two families in one day is a lot for me (though other volunteers visit that many regularly) but I decided it had been way too long since I had seen my host family so I went there for cassecroute. And I went to the artisana. Had a chance to write up my WRL (Work-Related Leave) reports and go through email and mail but I could use a day to myself to really feel caught up – maybe I will stay at home all day today!

The time away was great – the travel part was long but it was good to see and be with friends, to be in the south and soak up the scenery and appreciate the difference, and to collaborate with fellow volunteers on workshops. I’ll talk about the way back first and then go back to the beginning. On Thursday, I got on a mid-morning bus to Errachidia and met Rachel for lunch – I hadn’t seen her in a while; her site is a small douar south of town (she moved from the big city in part because that was where her work was but also because of the harassment) but she can come in for cyber and shopping. So the first thought that went through both of our heads when we saw one of the YD volunteers come in to the chicken place with his Program Manager was, “good thing we’re legal.” I asked if the Program Manager happened to be driving through Azrou next and to my surprise he said yes and offered me a ride home! For some reason the 1:00 and 1:45 buses weren’t running – I’d thought I might take a taxi instead but I now think they wouldn’t have been running either. The reason was that the King was visiting the region north of Rich – crowds were lined up in Midelt and other towns. Flags and banners and fresh paint. From my comfy front-seat vantage point I waved at the crowd…. At Zaida, which is more or less the beginning of the home stretch to Azrou, the road was completely blocked. The King! We detoured around to Khenifra – a two-hour detour that took us through a pretty stretch of country but made the trip as long as it would have been by bus (though I still got home earlier than a 3:00 bus or taxi would have gotten me there – at least I would have had a legitimate reason for calling in after dark and/or stranded somewhere, but it was nice to make it home). Abdelghani, the Program Manager, has worked for Peace Corps Morocco for over 20 years in various capacities, and we had a delightful conversation. We talked about his career and trips to Washington and conferences to meet colleagues in other countries, and about my ideas for mid-career volunteers and possible next steps for me in Peace Corps. I asked him about the biggest changes he’s seen over the years and he said it’s in the volunteers – now they expect everything to be handed to them.

Midelt was also the point at which it began to get cold and to rain. Tinjdad had been windy all week, and the wind blew cold and rain into the Middle Atlas. It blew the sand and dirt of Tinjdad into my face and clothes and mouth and hair and the two-hour detour meant it took two hours longer to get into the shower, but the ride home in a comfy front seat meant that I did get to the shower. A nice, hot shower! When I got home there was a huge pit in the lot across the street. They started to build a house a couple of doors down (yes, more construction noise in the morning!) and I think they dug up some of the dirt to level off the ground before laying cement. Well, that’s one way to clean up the trash across the way! Actually, there’s a lot of construction all of a sudden. Were they waiting for winter to end too? The museum next to the artisana is coming along, and they’re back across the street from me to finish that house. When I came back from the family trip, Azrou looked different. A new café opened across from Bilal and already has its regulars. Okay, maybe that was the only change, but I had been gone for just a little over a week! How jarring will it be when I leave and then come back in a year or two or three or more?

Saturday was a long travel day that began early with buying out a taxi to Meknes – I paid extra to have the driver take us to the train station; worth it for peace of mind! Kathy came with me, which made the train ride much more fun. We read for a while and then played rummy (since PST I’ve been playing Shawn’s way, with wild 2’s, and Kathy didn’t want wild cards. I didn’t realize how different the strategy would be!) and coconut. The train ride did go faster than usual with the company, and I think it also went faster because I knew Marrakesh was not my final destination, and though I brought enough to eat and drink for a change, it was still long and hot and when I heard from Rose and Janeila that they weren’t getting into Marrakesh until just after I had to leave, I broke down. All that travel, Marrakesh not exactly next door, so close and yet so far, not enough time with the people you care about. But I soldiered on (especially since we were in the middle of a card game – but also because I’ll see Rose this weekend and just plan to come back and see Janeila); arriving in Marrakesh I felt buoyed by its energy and once again determined to return. Kathy and I went to an ice cream place I had heard about from Rob and others – it also had food, and it was good to have something more substantial than train snacks. And what was a couple of doors away? A Zara store! Marrakesh really does have it all. We cruised through, and then it was time for me to go on to the next leg of the trip – a four-hour grand taxi ride to Ouarzazate.

I bought two spots so I would have the front seat to myself for the ride over the Tichka pass, but as I was sliding back and forth I wondered if it would have been better to be squished next to someone. The scenery is beautiful – majestic mountains green early on, then full of trees and alpine-like as you get higher, then trees with red soil and towns with long, flat-roofed houses that blend in with the soil, and then dry on the other side – but even as I was admiring the scenery I was thinking that I didn’t have to do this ride ever again. I felt that way until I got to Ouarzazate; can I possibly get myself back there? A couple of hours on the Helen trip and 18 hours on a Saturday overnight doesn’t do it justice. I don’t know, so I made the most of my time there. Sigh – had I been invited to PST I would have been able to explore it more. The only reason I had any time at all is that I went to Tinjdad the next day and not all the way home.

I think Ouarzazate is a good place for tourists – it might be what they expect when they come to Morocco; it’s the desert, but because of the movie industry it has a lot of hotels and restaurants and shops for westerners. It has wide, open market streets and a big plaza and paved sidewalks. There’s a big casbah, in the process of being restored, but with enough open that you get a feel for the architecture of the south (I loved the doorways in the picture). And there’s a nice artisana, with great carpets and a good jewelry selection and things carved out of alabaster. There’s also a dam outside of town that you can walk to, maybe for some other time, and the movie studios, though I personally don’t have a lot of interest in those. My main interest on this trip was seeing Jong and Aaron, who came up from Zagora to meet me! We had dinner, walked around a little bit, had a chance to talk and then played Piffle! In the morning Aaron had some things to do; Jong and I checked out the casbah and artisana and played more cards. I had another breakdown again – when will I see her next? Marrakesh is eight hours away and she is twice as far as that! Here’s the equation: Exhausting travel plus dehydration plus not enough sleep equals breakdown! Actually, we’ve done a pretty good job of seeing each other considering the distance. But now I wonder not only if I can get back to Ouarzazate but if I can make it back to her site. Work-related leave? VSN session?

The time flew by, and Aaron and Jong walked me to the noon CTM to Tinjdad. There I found (not by coincidence but by plan) Rob, who had gotten on in Marrakesh that morning. It was great to have hours to talk with him – travel is still hard, but much easier when you are with friends. We had a lot to catch up on and covered a ride range of subjects – and all the while watched a sand/dust storm outside. I think I had said I wanted to experience one, and I was fine experiencing it from inside the bus. However, it continued when we got to Tinjdad. Jessica told us usually it blows like that for an hour or so and then dies down; for us it was windy for the duration of our visit!

To be continued….

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