Monday, September 01, 2008


So, Ramadan didn’t begin today after all, at least not in Morocco. It doesn’t really make sense to me – after all, scientists can predict moon phases with complete accuracy from now until the end of time – but they have to wait until the imams say it’s Ramadan. I guess it makes more sense knowing that in every country it’s different – Ramadan started yesterday in Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, today in Egypt and most of the Arab world, and will start tomorrow in Morocco, Mauritania and Iran. Who knows, maybe the moon does look a little different in every country. Science doesn’t always have all the answers. We did change the time last night though – back to old time! (four hours ahead of EDT).

Anyway, that gave me an extra day to be at the café – and another volunteer who I hadn’t seen in a while happened to come through, so she and Kathy and I sat in a café for most of the morning; then I went out for rotisserie chicken at lunchtime. I’ll miss the rotisserie chicken places with fresh, delicious chicken just waiting to be eaten. But that’s when I leave. For the next month, I’ll miss cafes, but what I’ll miss most is carrying around a water bottle and drinking when I’m thirsty! I do tell people it’s hard for me not to drink water, and that I’m trying to fast; I won’t drink or eat in public - wouldn’t dream of it.

I had wanted to go back to the Todra Gorge before leaving Morocco, and a combination of factors led me to go this past weekend – Bob and Linda were going to be there for their last vacation days, the move-up of the time change meant that later on there wouldn’t be as much daylight when I got there, Ramadan means no travel eating or drinking, Jong had to start her way south anyway to get back to her site and was willing to come along, other friends in the area were around and ready to hike up to the gorge on Saturday afternoon (though one had to drop out). So Jong and I left early Saturday morning and she persuaded the other three people going to Midelt to split an extra spot in the taxi so we could get moving. All five of us were going on to Errachidia, so in Midelt we just picked up one more passenger and again were speeding along. And then one person bought an extra spot to Tinghir and so did I, so again, we were on our way. With my extra spot, we stopped in Tinjdad and picked up Jessica, and then we went on to meet Ned, the first-year SBD volunteer in Tinghir. We had a Berber omelette – no place makes them as well as that one in Tinghir – and then we set out for the palmerie. Jessica and some of my stage-mates had done the hike through the palmerie up to the gorge in April, and ever since I’d heard about that I wanted to go back and do it as well.

On the way down to Tinghir, things looked different. The Ziz river seemed to have more water in it, and there seemed to be other watercourses that were dry last week when I was going through that had water in them – even some sand that had spilled out into the road. Turns out it had been raining for three days, which had cooled things off quite a bit. Linda had texted on Friday night that it was raining a lot and she was watching the gorge flood and that as of that moment they were stranded in their hotel – she texted Saturday that the water had subsided and that they were able to hike – though I don’t think that would have stopped me; I think I would have looked for a place to stay on the high side of the flood.

The palmerie walk was just beautiful – really lush, with some overhanging olive trees, corn, alfalfa, palms of course, and lots of other greenery. The villages up above the palmerie on either side were picturesque, and we saw tourists stopping to photograph the valley that we were walking through. We didn’t get very far, relatively speaking – it turned out that to get all the way to the gorge the hike is much longer than the three hours mentioned in the book. We’d been walking for about an hour and a half when Linda and Bob texted to say it was raining again in the gorge and that if we got into transport now, we would be able to make it across the river and get to their hotel. It would have been nice to hike more and to see more of Ned and Jessica but I completely enjoyed what we did and felt that that alone was worth the trip.

The road in the gorge was washed out – we forded it and then had to cross it again to get to the hotel, which was on the other side of the river. There was a little rock bridge with a plank to get to the other side – that too had been washed out the night before but rebuilt during the day. Todra Gorge was one of the first places I went to, back in April 2007, and I wondered if it would look as special and spectacular on the return, now that I have seen so much more of Morocco. Yes. That time, I took a bus that was delayed and that kept stopping and I remember being so dehydrated that I felt sick when I got there – I know so much more about traveling here now, so returning and having more time and more energy was a triumph as well. It turned out that it was not just a flood, it was a flash flood the night before, with a big boom – wiping out not only the part of the road that we forded but also another major portion of the road past the hotels, the little bridge to our hotel and to the one next door, and all of the souvenirs in most of the stands, which are just past the hotels. The beautiful, clear stream that I saw almost a year and a half ago was a muddy, fast-moving river. Bob said that in the morning, a road crew came and quickly rebuilt and resurfaced the part of the road past the hotels (the part we forded was maybe a foot deep, so cars could drive through it, though not happily) – he was amazed at the efficiency (Morocco continues to surprise) - and that after the road was rebuilt, vehicle after vehicle carrying dolled-up Berbers back from the Imilchil wedding festival (something that had been on my list of things to do before I left but that had to go into the “can’t do everything” category) came through (the friend I saw this morning loved the phrase “Berber back-up” – we saw some additional vehicles going through on Sunday morning, packed vans with people in the cargo space on top and hanging off of the back, but no longer dolled-up in their fancy garb). It was raining when we got to the gorge – and chilly! I had read that the gorge could be cool, and of course I could have decided for myself to bring something long-sleeved just in case, but Jong refused to believe it could possibly be cold in Morocco in August so I let her talk me out of it; luckily Linda and Bob had things we could borrow and we all took a little walk after it cleared up, and it didn’t rain (or flood) anymore.

We were the only guests in the hotel (they had a huge bus crowd at lunch though) and had tea and then a tagine and then the staff came out and did some drumming and singing for us (that happened to us in April 2007, at a different hotel – must be a Todra thing) and then we played some Boggle. I heard about Bob and Linda’s vacation – on my recommendation they stayed at the Suerte Loca in Sidi Ifni, decided to go to Tafraoute and stayed in Chez Amaliya, and stopped in Taroudant, saw Matt and stayed in the same hotel I used! Too bad we couldn’t do more of it together – but I had a week and they had more time, so they stayed in Rabat after the conference and went to Essaouaira before following in my footsteps. I’m just glad they liked my recommendations as much as I did, and it was nice to compare notes. We went up to our rooms and not too much later, the generator went off for the night. We showered by candlelight (luckily Jong and I had asked for a candle and lighter after Linda mentioned that their room had one), and it cleared up enough to see a sky full of stars.

Bob and Linda were up for some of the reflection we didn’t have a chance for at COS Conference (and that Jong wasn’t up for at all) – favorite foods that we’ll miss, how we want to change our lives after being here, favorite city, etc. – but after breakfast they had to take off so they could get back to Figuig. Jong and I took a walk a little ways up the gorge – it was gorgeous (ha ha). I hadn’t done that last time; then, we went a little ways up the path that can take you to the top of the gorge – that is again left for if I ever have a time to spend two nights and a full day there. We forded the river again, waited a bit for a taxi, split one more Berber omelette, and then she started on her trip south back to her site. The better part of the summer – lots of good cooking and a fair amount of baking and a ton of rummy and piffle and conversation and companionship – over. Farewell and fare well, Jong!

And then the taxi luck I had during my vacation ran out. I waited about an hour for a taxi to Errachidia, and while I didn’t wait at all there for a taxi that took me all the way to Azrou, I had two of the most uncomfortable rides I have had in a long while, squeezed in and aching. Last week when the taxi stopped at Zaida for a dinner break, I felt the air had gone out of a balloon – the unexpected stop made me late to get home (I did call the duty officer) and I missed seeing the Middle Atlas in daylight. This time I was hoping for a Zaida break because I needed to get up and stretch – several body parts had fallen asleep. I even found a little stand with grilled peppers and potato cakes, tucked in among the many stands of meat (or as I like to say, MEAT) with carcasses hanging and brochettes grilling – I don’t need to ever stop there again, but now I have embraced Zaida. And it was early enough in the day that I was able to see the Middle Atlas, with its trees and lots of sheep grazing and a fair number of nomad tents (I guess for the shepherds!). I got home well before dark and decided to treat myself to a Magnum bar!

Two years ago yesterday I left the apartment where I had lived for nineteen years. I had a few teary moments, but it wasn’t all that traumatic. I was ready to go. I expect it will be the same now – I tossed and turned before I went to Reunions, trying to figure out what to bring home in my one suitcase and what to send back this fall in the hope, but not complete confidence, that everything makes it back to the states. And I had a sleepless night last week, thinking about the daunting task of packing and mailing everything (well, also finishing and leaving – when you can’t sleep, you just keep thinking). But I know that once I get started, again it won’t be so bad. And I did have the epiphany here that stuff is ephemeral. I came back last June realizing that I didn’t miss a lot of what’s in storage and thinking that had I had an extra week I could have gone through my stuff and gotten rid of half of what’s in there. I have bought a lot of rugs and other artisanal items here – I hope they all make it back and I hope there’s a place for them wherever I live next, but if they don’t and they don’t, it’s just stuff.

I also want to put in a plug for the 2009 RPCV Calendar – a fundraiser for the RPCV group of Madison, Wisconsin (they then use the money to give small project grants to current volunteers). I knew about it because they had some for sale in Chicago when I was leaving – 2007 calendars, that is – and I submitted photos last year and they chose one of mine! You can order from I don’t think they have any 2009 images up yet on the web site, so if you want to see before you buy, check back. Or just search through past blog entries for the picture of mine that’s in it – October 7, 2007.

Only eating and drinking while dark strikes me as very unhealthy. What do people who need to take medicine do? What about diabetics? Certainly doesn't sound good for the kidneys! I need water with me at all times. I would constantly have to sneak off and hide to have some water!
It seems unhealthy to me too, and apparently in the years when Ramadan is in the summer people do die. If you are sick you may eat (you are supposed to make it up later - but I guess if you have something chronic you may eat and take your medicine) - also I think if you are pregnant, nursing, or having that time of the month. Children may eat until the age of ten - after that you must start praying and fasting. The non-smokers I talk to say it's hardest for the smokers - you must fast from that during the day too. Everyone says you get used to it, but by the end of the day each day people are tired, listless, irritable....
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