Monday, December 01, 2008
Now that I am an RPCV, the additional story can be told! When we were in Saadia, the Zegzel Gorge and Ras el Ma, we also broke policy and went to the Spanish enclave of Melilla. See August 5 for the entire story – I think it fits in more there. A phrase that stuck from that trip was, “leaving our clothes on the line.” We talked about leaving our stuff and just staying in Spain, not returning to Morocco. Not really, but it was nice to dream about the possibility for a moment. So when I left Azrou last week I left some clothes on the line – most of the giveaway pile had been given away (and most of what I put in the swap box was gone by Wednesday afternoon) but there were just a few items left, and it was nice to leave them on the line.
I did get and give some “cadeaux” before I left, too – Abdou and his father gave me a beautiful pillow that I had my eye on (and that wasn’t for sale). His mother gave me a scarf, as did the downstairs neighbor, and Youssef’s family gave me a cake to travel with. I gave the downstairs neighbor all of my foodstuffs – oil, vinegar, tomato paste – that had been opened. I gave my landlord and his wife the still-partially-filled butagas and left the kitchen shelves and mosquito netting up; she asked me for laundry buckets and soap and I left them for her. I gave Kathy all of my baking needs. Colin starts off with a jar of peanut butter, some laughing cow cheese and some tea in addition to the big pieces of furniture and kitchen utensils, bowls and food storage containers. I had given calendars to many people and sweaters to Youssef’s family and my host family; I gave things to Abdou, the rock carver, the Ain Leuh and Azrou weavers, my counterpart and the seamstress (not to mention CDs of pictures and brochures to everyone I worked with).
Wednesday afternoon after lunch, Jong, Rose and I went back to the Peace Corps office – Jong had to get her check so we went with her to use the Volunteer Lounge. As of a recent ruling, RPCVs can now to go any Volunteer Lounge in any Peace Corps country (old ruling was current PCVs only). My money, by the way, is also coming in the form of a check, after several attempts at supplying an account number and a bank routing number failed. We had the option of a plane ticket to our home of record or the cash equivalent (I took the latter, about $1100), and we have a resettlement allowance of $6000 (at some point I will also get Savings Bonds, for which I have had money deducted periodically). I don’t know what my upcoming trip will ultimately cost, but it would be nice not to spend all of the money I am about to get! Jong and I also offered to help the librarian restock the shelves (every COSing group returns and/or donates stacks of books) but since it was raining he asked us to cut red ribbons to be used on World Aids Day, December 1. It was nice to be able to help him!
We then went to the American Club – they changed the menu and no longer had the same offerings as before, but other people had talked about meeting there and even though we don’t always go with the crowd, it seemed the thing to do. We got there first and had what turned out to be their last three bowls of chili (with onions, cheese and cornbread – not bad!) and played some cards. We talked with others as they arrived and then walked back when it got too smoky. Already people had been trickling out – Bob and Linda left Tuesday when it turned out their flight to Egypt had been moved up a day. Margaret left before tea on Wednesday to go back to her site and pick up her cat. Sherwin COSed early for personal reasons. But Wednesday was the first of the people leaving after all the ceremony and flying overnight and getting home in time for Thanksgiving – Ina, Connie and Jessica.
I’ve been all right saying goodbye, but maybe the finality of it still hasn’t hit me, and maybe it won’t until I’m actually the one to leave. Most of the people in my stage are traveling – to the Middle East or to Europe – for a brief time and most are getting home by Christmas. I think I have the longest travel plan, but I knew two years ago that I would want to travel for and through my birthday, I just didn’t know where. I realized, too, that this is the first time since business school that I started something and knew when the ending would be. I have had jobs knowing they would end but not knowing exactly when, but I have known from the day I was invited that this would end in November 2008. Who knows how we will keep in touch or what kind of reunion(s) we will have….
About half of us were still going to be around for Thanksgiving, and when our COS date was moved up, I polled to see who was going to be around. I was talking with the Administrative Officer about where to go and she invited one and all to her house – she grew up in a family that had eleven kids and her husband was one of nine siblings, so they were used to having big Thanksgivings. Rose and I took a medina walk in the morning – I bought a nice leather pocketbook (still can’t handle the knockoffs, and I have had enough of Moroccan purses with straps that break) to replace the two beat-up ones with the zippers that broke last week. We went to help set up the buffet table and I baked a double batch of brownies.
It was a great Thanksgiving (Peace Corps staff can get all of the trimmings from the Embassy commissary!). There was a big, perfect turkey and a smaller, also delicious smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, stuffing, and miscellaneous other things that I didn’t have so I could have more room for the things I named plus brownies and pumpkin pie. There were over a dozen newly-minted RPCVs and some other friends of Megan and her family. Armed Forces Network had NFL football on and I watched that for a little while. And then we played a game – PCV Pictionary/Charades – with words and phrases that we have lived with for the past two years. It was really fun, and there was just a warm feeling in general. Two years ago we had a big group Thanksgiving dinner in Immouzer the day before we swore in, and this was a nice way to end our time together.
Friday those who were still in town and not on early flights had breakfast together and then everyone took off except for Rose, Jong and me. We walked towards the ocean – at one point unintentionally tracing the route we had taken on our first walk in Rabat; Rose had been on that walk too. We walked along the ocean and into the Casbah des Oudayas – Jong had never really explored it and neither Jong nor Rose had been to the Andalusian Garden before. We walked along Rue des Consuls and each found suede bags to buy – due to regional differences, mine was a pocketbook, Rose’s a purse, and Jong’s a handbag. We had to think before buying, so we had a couscous lunch at a place frequented by locals – it was about as good as non-homemade couscous could be, and not expensive. Back to the room to rest while we waited for the shops to reopen, and then we all got our bags – we had to all get them, somehow. Rose and Jong bought some holiday presents for people back home and we had a final rummy game.
Saturday we said goodbye to Jong and in the pouring rain made our way to the train station. I hadn’t lifted my big bag since I’d mailed the post-office box earlier in the week; fortunately I found it manageable and even though Rose helped me by taking the rolling carry-on, I think I can make it from here on my own (with the help of porters and taxi drivers). We made the train with moments to spare (hadn’t intended to cut it that close, but somehow we never got our heart rates up – we just walked right on). I usually read on transport but for most of this ride I looked out the window, enjoying the view – this part of the country is usually green, but maybe all the rain made it greener than usual, with fields and mountains and grazing cows and sheep (enjoy it, I thought – l-Eid is less than two weeks away). Rob had mentioned deleting people from his cell phone one by one as they left, and I deleted a bunch of people while on the train; a few final texts used up all of my credit. We pulled into Asilah in the rain and took a taxi into town – and it stopped raining by the time we got there.
When we went to Asilah for New Year’s we had a marvelous dinner, and I stated that somehow I didn’t think that would be my last time to Asilah. I thought it would be nice to go in the fall but Rose suggested after COS and that seemed like a great idea. We took a little walk in the medina and then went to Casa Garcia, the site of the marvelous dinner, for yet another one. We splurged on a bottle of wine and appetizers, entrees and dessert (for me, manchego cheese from Spain and sole, and then we shared an order of natillas, and then had another order of natillas!). We took another medina walk Sunday morning – Rose had been talking for months about going to Asilah for a special pair of shoes, and she got what she was looking for, plus she got some Fes pottery that she was waiting until the end to buy (she realized it would be no fun to go to Fes and shop by herself and I was more than willing to look with her in Asilah, where one shop has some quality pieces). At dinner we talked about a potential itinerary for a theoretical trip if we were returning to show Morocco to someone – Asilah, Chefchouan, Fes, Azrou (Sefrou for her), Merzouga. Maybe a second trip or second week for me would include a gorge, Marrakesh, Tafraoute and Sidi Ifni, and maybe Essaouaria, or Rabat if you flew in there. I had a dream this week that people from our stage were ETing with just a few weeks to go – I was sad in that dream - and some non-sad dreams about some of the people who COSed this week after they left. For the most part I’ve been okay though, wishing people well and giving them hugs.
November 30 was our original COS date so I had it in my head that I wouldn’t leave before then. We’d had good luck with the train on Saturday and the travel luck continued yesterday, filling the last two spots in a lunchtime-lull-time taxi to Tangier and then right away filling a taxi to the border. The ride to Tangier was beautiful, along the Atlantic coast with its stormy waves. The ride from Tangier around to the border was one I had read about as being especially beautiful, and it was nice to end with something I had not done before – green mountains on one side and the blue Mediterranean on the other, and across the way mainland Spain so close we had to ask to make sure that was what we were looking at. Gibraltar, where I am now, stood out in the distance, a towering rock with a city below. The taxi was actually bound for Fnideq, the closest town to the border, but we asked the taxi driver to detour to the border, and he did. We got out of the taxi and walked across the border into Ceuta – I am really glad I chose that way to depart. I had a little moment when I had my passport stamped, but then walked on, to Spain. No more dirhams – euros instead. No more shukran – it’s gracias. We walked along the peninsula for a while – had a view of the town and the straits with Africa on one side and Europe on the other, heard what might be my final call to prayer for a while – and ate a quick dinner and called it a night. And a 27 months.
P.S. – I am still doing new things, even right at the end. I’ve been wearing the same outfit since Tuesday, having sent other cold-weather options home in Monday’s mail; that might be a record for most days in a row in the same clothes. I’m in Gibraltar now – using an English keyboard and saying thank you instead of gracias! Took the cable car up to the Upper Rock – saw Barbary Apes (did not have a chance to see them one last time in Azrou; they look pretty much the same here) and had a Magnum bar (anniversary of the one in Oualidia). I’ll take a walk down Main Street, have a more substantial meal, and then get back to Algeciras – from there I’ll take the train to Madrid tomorrow. But Gibraltar is one of those places you never think you will get to and it’s fun to be here!