Friday, May 16, 2008


I track my expenses, just so I can see where the money goes. I don’t usually stay within the 2000 dh/month (plus rent) that we get, mainly because of travel, but I don’t mind going to the ATM. On the other hand, I don’t usually spend as much as I did on the Marrakesh weekend. Everything adds up – hotel, meals out, travel. And the souvenirs add up, good value as they may be (and the ceramics will only be a good value if they make it home intact!). That was a bit of a budget-buster – but still, given how I felt before I left, the splurge was a good thing. And it’s all relative.

So I was looking forward to a low-spending weekend last weekend; I was going to visit a friend, stay at his house, and not shop or do anything extravagant. The stay itself was as expected but the transport was expensive. Oh well. I went to Kelaa M’Gouna, which is about as far as I can get in a Saturday overnight, and I wanted to maximize my time there. There’s a 7:15 am bus that goes from here to there, but I was afraid it would make long stops and take about twelve hours, so I decided to taxi-hop. The grand taxi system is actually a pretty efficient way of getting from point to point – but it helps not to be in a rush. The taxis, which are older white Mercedes, accommodate six passengers (two in the front and four in the back – squished) and don’t leave unless they are full or the spots are paid for. I’ve bought extra spots when in a hurry and even entire taxis, but I did that more than I expected to on this trip and it added up. Still, it was nice to arrive in Kelaa M’Gouna when there was still day left and to not rush off in the morning and still be able to get home within policy. I even stopped in Tinghir at the place where Elisa, Steve, Youssef and I had delicious Berber omelettes and had another one!

In fact, I want to make my own Berber omelettes. Youssef told me you grate onions, tomatoes (yes, with a grater) and (optional) peppers and cook them in the tagine along with the usual tagine spices, and then you add beaten eggs on top and keep heating until cooked. I should try to do it for myself! I was going to learn to cook couscous with his family today but by the time I got there the couscous was already made. And I couldn’t even stay – I had said I’d go to Abdou’s for couscous, for Kathy’s birthday. For some cultural exchange, I made a birthday chocolate cake. But Moroccans are used to having fruit after meals and sweets either with tea or cassecroute – Kathy and I had our pieces, Abdou had a piece, his father had part of a piece, and his mother and sisters didn’t touch theirs. I left the rest of the cake there, so I hope they enjoyed it later.

Anyway, back to Kelaa. Taxi-hopping involved a two-hour ride to Midelt (I waited, and then bought two spots at 40 dh each), a two-hour ride to Errachidia (a wait, and then I bought all six spots at 45 dh each), an hour-and-a-half to Tinghir (once again, all six spots – 40 dh each– but I know the bus makes a long stop on the way to Errachidia and I think this leg would have had a stop as well). The omelette (so I made my own stop) and then I finally got on a bus – 15 dh – for the last hour and a half to Kelaa. So all in all it took about nine hours to get there. Shawn came to get me and we went up to his roof for a visual tour of the area. We went out for sandwiches, and then it was an evening of rummy! We’d played a lot of rummy in training; he introduced the wild 2’s that provide a nice twist (though Kathy won’t play with them). We had time for four hands on the Steve and Elisa trip – not enough! - so I’d been talking about coming down for a cards night and I am glad I was able to. We played some piffle, too, after a game in which he kept going out and I was stuck with high-value cards in my hand every single time.

On Sunday morning, we explored the area a bit. Kelaa M’Gouna is situated along a river, and up and down the rivers of the south there are casbahs, some of which are still inhabited but many of which are in various states of ruin. It doesn’t take much to ruin them, since they’re made of mud – a flood or even a good rainstorm is all it takes (in the old days, enemies would drown the foundations). The ones in use require constant upkeep, and several are being restored. But there are hundreds of them – most are too far gone for restoration but are interesting and beautiful in their deteriorating state. Possible holiday card background? They’re so different from the desert and Fes pictures of last year, so another side of Morocco…. We explored two casbahs and walked back to town through the fields. Kelaa M’Gouna is known for its roses – rose water, rose lotion, rose cream, rose soap, etc. – and the roses grow along the fields and are in bloom this time of year (I had to stop and smell them, of course). And all too soon it was time to go. The 11:30 bus did make some long stops and it got to Errachidia around four. I could have waited for a 5:30 bus, but that would have taken about six hours and I would have gotten home way after dark, so I opted for another expensive (but much faster) taxi ride – at least that one got me all the way back to Azrou!

And shortly after I arrived, so did Bob and Linda, traveling around with two friends from home. I’m glad they put Azrou on their itinerary – too bad Figuig, their site, is so far away. I liked their friends right away when one of them spied my Boggle game and asked if we could play. We played and talked but were all tired so called it an early night. One of the other places they had been is a gorge out east; Morocco has it all – interesting cities and natural beauty! The gorge might be equidistant from both of us, so maybe they will go back sometime and I can meet them.

Monday morning we went to the Artisana, where they bought a lot of things – guests who buy things from my artisans are always appreciated! We also went to Abdou’s, where ditto and ditto! Had some bisara and went to see monkeys – and then they had to go. The rummy and Boggle had me in the mood for more games, though – luckily, Kathy and Elizabeth were both in town to go to the cyber, and they were happy to play some Piffle.

I had a nice visit with Abdou on Tuesday. I see him often, of course, but it seemed as though it had been a while since it was just the two of us (or the three of us, since Minush was there too, on my lap). I’m having him “professionally pack” my favorite rugs; when I go back for Reunions I’ll take a suitcase and a carry-on and leave some things at Howie’s (for which I am most grateful!). Everything that Jackie sent from Ain Leuh has gotten to the U.S., so when the time comes, I’ll mail the rest of my things from there with some confidence, but I have more confidence that what I take with me on the plane will arrive (inshallah), so I thought I would figure out what things are most precious and take them with me; needless to say, this makes me sad, and I started welling up as Abdou was compressing my double-size Berber wedding cape/bedspread (and as I’m writing this). Then my landlord came upstairs to confirm that I was leaving in November and ask if he could start showing the apartment in October. At least I’ve known all along that this time was precious and have treated it as such! Next week the new Environment/Health stage will swear in and the week after that the old Environment/Health stage will leave – and then we’ll be “seniors.”

Reunions is soon – less than two weeks away! Last year I bought running shoes while in Princeton but ran out of time in New York so didn’t have time to shop for groceries or toiletries, so came back with a half-empty suitcase. I just discovered that I’m down to my last bag of chocolate chips, and I could use new decks of cards as well – I simply must find time to shop while I’m back! Some people think me daft for going home for such a short time (leave Thursday morning, fly back Monday night) but it worked out well – I’ll see lots of people at Reunions, go to a Mets game with family and friends (despite the blog name), play the Annual Card Game, and have a “free day” in New York that is already, as it did last year, filling up!

The rest of the week has been up and down. The up – I had an amazing burst of productivity. Wrote a memo with my recommendations for improvements in the artisana. Did some work on the artisana web site - it’s time-intensive, so if you look at it, it may seem as though not much has changed, but I feel I made a lot of progress. Revised a brochure and a business card for Ain Leuh and brought them over to the cooperative for review. Brought Azrou brochures to the Auberge and cafes down the hill – I used to walk up and down that main drag all the time but haven’t been there much lately; I’d been meaning to do that for a while. Compiled “take your daughter to work” reports for the GAD resource guide - previous volunteers had organized events at which girls could shadow professional women and perhaps see the benefits of staying in school and the options that are available to them; we haven’t held any of these since I’ve been here but maybe putting it in the resource guide will inspire others. And I wrote to my World-Wise Schools partner class. I also started tallying the latest round of tourist questionnaires – based on the results, I’ll make a recommendation as to whether to continue to have the questionnaire there for this summer’s tourist season, revise the questions, or wait until the new artisana is finished (my memo included a recommendation that there be a mechanism for customer feedback).

The down – sometime in the middle of the night on Wednesday I felt feverish and achey. I should have stayed home on Thursday, but I had “called in sick” already once on an Ain Leuh day and I didn’t want to make a habit of it. I know I’ve said here before that I don’t get sick a lot, but I haven’t been feeling well lately. I’ve been having trouble breathing – allergies, maybe? I don’t remember having trouble last spring. And that leads to trouble sleeping. I’ve had two fever-achey days in the past month or so, and yesterday and today some “Big D.” I came here with a bunch of acidophilus and then had Debbie replenish it, but when I ran out about a month ago and told her I thought I could go without. Maybe I spoke too soon! Chilly, rainy weather the past couple of days has made it all the more appealing to stay in and lie down – finished both of my books and am contemplating what to read next. I’m glad I didn’t make plans to go away for the weekend, though we just got a new out-of-site policy and are no longer restricted to two Saturdays out a month. I do have plans for day trips both days. A hike tomorrow may be postponed anyway because of weather, and may turn into a Piffle/knitting/movie day with nearby volunteers. Sunday I have invites to both Fes and Khenifra, but I am just going to wait to see how I feel. If I end up staying home, I have plenty to do!

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