Friday, July 11, 2008
It’s always tough to wake up early in order to travel, but in my experience almost always worth it to have more time at your destination. And this past weekend was one of those times! The hardest and most stressful part is the taxi to Meknes – I almost always have to pay for the whole thing, and often the driver doesn’t share my sense of urgency. I’ve learned to allow time for the driver to stop for gas, but in this case he woke up from dozing, cleaned up the taxi a bit, checked his oil twice, stopped for gas, checked the oil again (better than to run out of oil though, right?) and I had to give him extra money to take us right to the train station – but once we got to the train I relaxed. I say we because between oil checks another person arrived who also had to make the train. I had already paid for six spots and he paid me for one of them. The extra I paid to get us to the train was more than the spot he paid for. He wanted to sit with me on the train and then exchange phone numbers and see me again. I wouldn’t have been inclined to do it ayway (I don’t give out my phone number to strangers but I do let people give me theirs, to be gracious and/or to end the conversation) but I certainly don’t appreciate the fact that he basically got a free ride when he needed to get to the train as much as I did.
He got off the train at Rabat and I went on to Casablanca. My plan was to have a quick lunch at the garden café where Rob and I dined back in March – but they were serving only breakfast. I had made zucchini bread on Friday night and had eaten some on the train – didn’t need more bread. So I had a juice and just have to hope for a chance to go eat there again, after noon. The CTM bus to Oualidia was pleasant enough, though I had a chance to ponder which part of a baby I would most like to have touching me while it is on the lap of the mother sitting next to me. Shoes? They’re probably not dirty because the baby has been carried, but they’re still shoes. Head? No – turns out babies’ heads are hot. Hands? Light touch, but stickiness potential. I went with hands – and considered myself lucky that the baby didn’t cry during the trip.
And then I arrived in Oualidia. It was my new favorite city in Morocco because on December 1 it had Magnum bars, and it might be my new favorite city again (Azrou excepted, of course!). There’s an upper part of town, with a couple of hotels and a couple of restaurants, but I quickly made it down to the lower part of town, next to the beach. I had reserved a hotel room there with an ocean-view balcony. There was a cool ocean breeze. Cool – had I really forgotten what that felt like? I put my stuff down and went out to the beach and looked at the crashing surf. Oualidia is known for its lagoon, where the swimming is supposed to be safer, and that was certainly more crowded, but there were a fair number of people in the ocean as well. I took the short promenade (which reminded me of the long one in Cape Town) to the lagoon, saw some boats for hire, and asked the closest one for a ride. The mul-boat asked for my phone number and gave me his and told me I could stay with him next time – I didn’t even give him an inshallah in acknowledgement. Traveling alone does make you more of a target. I wouldn’t call this harassment, but it gets tiresome. I asked about birds and he said to come back in the morning, so we made the afternoon’s boat ride a short one and I took a walk along the edge of the lagoon.
I’ve been to several beaches in Morocco by now and never felt compelled to go in the water - maybe it’s a combination of beach not that inviting, water a little chilly, lots of men staring, and women wearing jellabas in the water. Oualidia felt much more comfortable – there were more families and not just large groups of men, and while there were women in jellabas, there were also women in less conservative dress, and teens in bikini tops (though not bottoms). Still, the water was a little chilly for my tastes (not that I haven’t been in colder water in Lake Michigan), and for whatever reason, I didn’t feel the need to take off my quick-dri capri pants, though I had on a conservative bathing suit (boy shorts and wide-strapped tank top) underneath. That said, I had a lovely walk, and then walked by the ocean, with waves crashing into rocks on one side and beached pink-and-green fishing boats on the other. It was so peaceful – can it be that I haven’t relaxed in a while?
It started to cloud over and get cooler and the families left and I had the beach to myself. It looked as though it would be too cloudy to have a good sunset, which saved me the choice of whether to go to dinner sooner or wait until the sun set. Good thing – I was hungry! I had delicious fresh fish and called it an early night. Oh, I had a Magnum bar too, for Youssef. Well, one for me on Saturday and one for him on Sunday, per his suggestion. Oualidia is known for its oysters but I wasn’t adventurous enough to try any! The next morning I was out at eight to meet the boat – but there were no boats. I asked a lifeguard and he said to come back at nine or ten. Moroccan time! The lagoon looked very different at low tide; I headed for the Atlantic side and took a long walk. Not far from the shore there are some vegetated dunes with dune-buggy tracks – reminded me of Michigan and Indiana. In Oualidia you can rent a bike or a dune buggy or a sea kayak or go horse- or camel-riding on the beach – I wouldn’t do the dune buggy but any of the others would be fun.
When I got back to the lagoon there were a few boats there. I was kind of hoping for someone other than the same person I was with the day before but it didn’t work out that way. I did keep the conversation to a minimum though. We went out much farther than we had in our ride the day before – past all of the development and the King’s palace (Mohammed V, not the current one) on shore and the old Casbah on the hill. Here were oyster beds and people working them, fields with cows grazing, and birds. I saw three baby flamingoes and a number of other birds but not nearly the variety I saw in Moulay Bousselham. So if I had to choose, which would I return to? Maybe Oualidia because of the restaurant options and the general feel. I did take a final walk, thinking of how and when I could get back to Oualidia before I leave. Decided to have lunch - more fresh fish - and then head for Rabat – if I had left before lunch I might have been able to catch a train in El Jadida, but I kind of wanted to see how taxi-hopping would be. The taxi from Oualidia to El Jadida didn’t take long to fill, and it was a short trip. The taxi from El Jadida to Casablanca took even less time to fill, but it was a longer ride and I don’t enjoy being squished in one position for too long. In Casablanca they told me to take a train to Rabat – I’d just missed one, but they run every half an hour; it was nice to have a seat and not be squished for that last leg.
At the Fourth of July barbecue, I spent a lot of time talking with a couple of women who had grown up in the orphanage. They were back to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the people who works there. One had not been back to Morocco since she left twelve years ago; she said she kept meaning to but things kept getting in the way. I told her that I felt that way about St. Maarten – when we buried my father there I thought I would try to go back every eighteen months or so. It’s been much longer than that since I have been there – I came close to going the year I had my cataract operations, but going before, when I could barely see in the sun, didn’t make any sense, and going after, when I couldn’t go in the water, also didn’t make sense. So I could relate when she said things kept getting in the way. As I was walking along the beach in Oualidia I thought about the beach (and the water!) in St. Maarten and about my father – he passed away 20 years ago this year and I still miss him every day. A friend of his wrote to me to say he would be proud of me for doing what I am doing, and as I write this I write to him too.
I also wanted to write more about the face cream – it is something of a luxury here and I am lucky that it’s available in Azrou; it certainly wouldn’t be in a more rural site. I could get it at Marjane or in Rabat if I couldn’t get it here, and I have had people bring me face cream for night use. I was afraid that the sun would age me here so I have prioritized skin care. I know I am not exactly roughing it here (other than the temperature extremes both outside and inside my apartment) but I didn’t want you to think luxuries were easy to find. And since I was musing about writing more on that, I then went to town when I was in Rabat, getting not only face soap that I can’t get here, but also a soothing gel for tired feet and an energizing gel for tired legs.
I’ll save describing the warden conference for another time and will just say now that the group was a good one, and it was fun to spend time with them and get to know some people I had not met. The trip back was tough – three of us took the 1:15 train and could not find seats. There might have been singles, but none of us were going to take a seat if we couldn’t all get them, so we stood at the end of the car for most of the time (finally got seats at the stop before Meknes, about 40 minutes away). Summer travel last year was tough too, but I didn’t think I’d have any problems in the middle of the day in the middle of the week before August. I do have a couple of trips planned, and I want to buy my tickets in advance and reserve spots in nicer (maybe even air-conditioned) hotels, after the lessons learned from last summer. One of the first-year SBDs came back via Azrou, and Kathy and Elizabeth came over for homemade pizza. I either caught the cold my roommate had or found one on my own, so I was not feeling well, but a good night’s sleep after they all left did wonders, as did cold remedies and vitamin C.
Yesterday we met at Café Bilal and played some rummy, had lunch with another first-year SBD also on her way back from the warden conference, and then waited with them for the bus – and waited, and waited. Another warning about summer travel! I abandoned them, telling them I had to take a nap. When I woke up, I had enough energy to go for a walk, and then Kathy and I stopped by Abdou’s. We had tea with Abdou and his father, and got into a discussion about proverbs. Abdou told me one last week and this week found someone to translate it – basically it’s something like climb up the tree to get a fig, and when you come down, someone will say, “who said you could go up the tree for a fig?” I finally got what he was trying to tell me, but I don’t know if the proverb makes sense to me. Then his father told another one, and I had a little meltdown – I do wish I understood more. They were both so apologetic – and they are always so helpful with pronunciation and conjugation and vocabulary – that I felt even worse for melting down. But I didn’t feel well and I was hot and tired! I do wish I understood more. Well, I still have time and I haven’t given up yet. And proverbs are tricky. The second one is more or less “the person who does not have anything he wants has to want what he has.” Or as Kathy put it, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
I was quoted again on Global Voices On-Line - http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/07/01/morocco-catching-up-with-peace-corps-bloggers/. The author mentioned my thoughts about all of the things I want to take home and whether they will fit. The column itself was about reflection, and I have been reflecting on THAT lately. I hear that COS conference helps to give you perspective and closure, so leading up to it and afterwards I’ll have more to say about that. The column also talked about young Peace Corps Volunteers – more than once – so I added the comment that while we may all be young at heart, I am mid-career and Connie, also quoted, closer to retirement!