Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving reflections...

Thanksgiving in Morocco isn't really the same as it has been in the States alongside our families. Cut and dry: this culture isn't the same as American culture, and doesn't include the specific rules, behaviors, and tendencies of American holidays. Because of our culture's absence, we have to re-create Thanksgiving. However, for many reasons, it fell short of our expectations. Mainly, there wasn't the social chaos/flux that exists in most families' holiday get-togethers:

1) No dogs/cell phones/televisions/other non-human things barking/freaking out/demanding attention, etc.
2) No distracted conversations (half conversations, really), where people really can't take the time to pay 100% attention to you because there's so much else going on around them (this is unfortunate because I feel like most substantive conversations and communication requires most of our attention...if we can't give this level of attention, we're not even really making novel communication with others...just regurgitating memorized, routine pleasantries!).
3) No traveling on the road to a dozen different places to visit all of our family (because everyone lives far away, or people, for some reason, don't want to meet together, perhaps because family members are estranged from one another).

DIGRESSION ON CONVERSATIONAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN AMERICANS AND MOROCCANS: Here in Morocco, it seems people are more concerned with your present condition. They ask you relentlessly how you are NOW, without much concern with the future. Unlike America, very few people here in Morocco ask us "What are you going to do after this or after that (for all of us who are trying to figure our futures out for ourselves, and don't readily have the answers to these pressing questions, the prospect of being in such an "inquisition" is very frustrating, to say the least! Maybe in response to these questions from Americans, I'll just say "I will be doing whatever God wills me to do"). I guess Americans seem to think they have more control over the future than they actually do, so maybe that leads them to dwell on it more than the average Moroccan. I know I'm always thinking of the future, possibly even more than the present. I guess for anyone who knows me, I can appear "spaced" sometimes. It's likely because I'm thinking about what I will be doing later that day/week/year/decade/etc...

In America, since the individual is given more importance, it seems like family is given less priority. We spread out, seeking our own individualistic fortunes in lands far away from our home (i.e. Peace Corps in Morocco). Also, in our egoistic manner, we have a tendency to get annoyed with the deeply rooted behaviors, beliefs, and characteristics of certain family members. This, of course, leads to us seeing our families much less often than Moroccans see their families. Sometimes, we see certain family members only at major holidays, and only out of a sense of obligation!

Gee, I haven't really painted a good picture for American familial social dynamics! More on this later, now we're on to the food!

For this Thanksgiving, we had chicken instead of turkey. This might be a major offense to some die-hard American traditionalists, but I found that this substitution was of minor consequence. Indeed, it had much of the same texture and flavor of turkey, and served it's purpose quite well. The mashed potatoes were great, as always, being lovingly whipped by Emily just prior to being served. I have to say, despite the fact that we didn't use celery or any other herbs, the home-made stuffing was excellent (and surprisingly easy)! Broth, butter, onion, garlic, salt and pepper was mixed with croutons and heated on the I said, easier than I ever thought it could be. The cranberry sauce was probably the key ingredient that tied everything together for me (quite literally, I love mixing the sauce individually with potatoes, stuffing, and turkey...I love the sweet/tartness that it imparts upon the other foods). We brought it from the States, as I'm not sure you'd be able to find canned cranberry sauce/dressing here in Morocco. Emily slaved for 3 hours to make an AMAZING carrot cake with a creamcheese/lime zest frosting (delicious for breakfast in addition to an after-dinner dessert)! We'll still be enjoying that for at least 2 more meals!

As far as the food goes, I don't think we were off by that much. We didn't have turkey, or turkey gravy for that matter. We also were lacking pumpkin pie, but despite these deficiencies, I feel like we re-created the food experience to about 80-85% accuracy.

Sharing a holiday with people outside of your culture is a great way of letting people in on the culture of a group, however, it is no substitute for the authentic experience. The lack of our families - despite all of the difficulties we sometimes have with them - is what we truly miss. Family takes us back to our youth, when we were nurtured, guarded, when the world was a warmer, cozier, simpler place. We didn't have complex life situations then, and we were naive to many of the difficulties of adult life. We just knew that adults were in charge and could take care of anything. Holidays are a step backward to those better times, and it allows our memories of youth - and therefore our own youth - to live on.

I can't wait until next year's Thanksgiving when we'll be frustratingly trying to explain our future plans to our relatives, who won't be listening fully because of attention-diverting dogs/cellphones/televisions/people in the background! The flavors and smells of the food will take us back to simpler times with these people that we call family and we can be truly thankful of having them close in our lives.

(sappy, I know...but giving thanks can be that way kinda goes along with the holiday)


Emily enjoyed a mushy, conglomeration of leftovers just this past hour. In her own words, "Amalgulous (?) mound of marvelous deliciousness."

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Trials and Tribulations of Script

Learning to read and write Arabic Script was not very high on my "to do" list when I came to Morocco. I admired my peers, including my husband, for taking on the challenge, especially the ones that had never studied Arabic before. However, there where many reasons that I didn't dive into this activity myself, and even discounted it completely as something I would ever do.

Upon arrival in country, the Peace Corps gave us trainees a book in which to help us learn Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. Although this resource contains Darija in the form of Arabic Script, the book, as well as the subsequent lessons taught by Moroccans during training, focused on transliteration. Transliteration translates the script into symbols that we are already familiar with; the English alphabet with a few extra embellishments. I can see why the Peace Corps sees this is the logical approach. After eleven weeks of training, they didn't expect us to be fluent in Darija. They didn't teach us every nuance of the language. Their goal, at the end of eleven weeks, was to give us enough language so that we could get our basic needs met, be conversational enough so that we didn't feel completely isolated, and have enough working knowledge of the subject so that we could continue our language learning in our new communities on our own. Communication was drilled into our heads. Above everything, the Peace Corps wanted us to be able to talk with Moroccans. This was strike one against learning Arabic Script. I felt that talking was a more important and useful skill than reading or writing.

Being able to write in Darija, even in the form of transliteration, has been very important to me from the onset. It gives me a chance to see the language laid out in front of me. It enables me to learn words without having to memorizes them after a first hearing. It gives me the opportunity to create in this language an alternative fashion, which in turn, helps my oral skills. With transliteration, who needs Script? Strike two.

For the most part, Darija is not a written language anyway. That's not to say that written and even printed Darija is nonexistent, it's just rare. When people write in script, they write in Fusha, which is basically a whole other language. Strike three. Who needs to learn how to read a language that isn't written?

On top of all of this, there is the fact that Arabic uses completely different characters than what we, as English speakers, are accustomed to. So not only is the language itself foreign, but the symbols that accompany it. Even the direction that script is read, from right to left, is the opposite of not only English, but other languages that Americans are typically exposed to, such as Spanish, French, and German. (The symbols used in Spanish, French and German also greatly resemble those of English). This, over everything else, was probably the biggest road block in my mind. It didn't occur to me that I could ever makes sense of all those strange lines and shapes.

Strike four. Learning Arabic Script, out of the question.

And now, the rest of the story...

Ten months into my service in Morocco, with all that is stacked against its favor, I am learning Arabic Script. It happened this week, during the third tutoring session with my new tutor, we'll call her "Melisa" (I wish to not use the names of host country nationals in this public blog). Melisa, by the way, happens to be a very intelligent female in my site, but I'll get into the importance of this fact later. Learning Script came about as a means to better understand the pronunciation of Darija. Many times I hear something and want to write it down, with the purpose of being able to remember it later. The problem is that I sometimes write down words incorrectly, which defeats the whole purpose. Many times the reason for my error is that my ear has miss-interpreted what I have heard. Often, I ask the speaker to repeat herself/ himself, several times if necessary. But the truth remains that sometimes it's just easier and more exact to see something spelled out right in front of me. But if I don't know Script, I can't understand when someone does spell it out for me. Some Moroccans understand this, and thus try to write things in their own form of transliteration, but many times sounds get lost, and besides, it's a different transliteration than what we've learned.

Fusha, and by extension, Darija, are different than English in a very important way; they use a different symbol, sometimes just slightly different, but different none the less, to indicate a different sound. What a novel idea! Now think of all the sounds that our vowels make in English. Even though every "a," "e," "i," "o," and "u" look exactly like every other "a," "e," "i," "o," and "u," they have the potential for sounding very different, depending on the context of the word. Our consonants too are far from immune from this identity crisis. Take the poor "p" for instance. Put a "p" in the words "pan," "apartment," or "cap," and it makes the same sound each time, but follow it with an "h," and suddenly it turns into an "f." Of course, this is just one example of many.

Remember the "strange lines and shapes" that make up the Arabic characters that I was talking about as being what I thought would be my biggest obstacle in learning to read and write? I now see this as Arabic's greatest asset to me. Our transliteration, like Scrip but unlike English, uses a different symbol for each sound. In theory, this should make it easy to sound out the words. The problem that I have, however, is that even though I understand what each transliteration letter is supposed to mean, I still sometimes apply the English pronunciation to it. Seeing a character that is completely alien to me has actually helped me to associate specific sounds with specific symbols. And, to my surprise and delight I have been able to pick it up rather quickly!

On day one, Melisa showed me my first three Arabic characters in isolation and taught me all the different sounds that they are able make by adding little marks and accents, which of course have their own names. Later on that day I practiced writing each new letter and symbol over and over, just as I did when learning to write in English. After practicing writing them out, as well as saying the sounds out loud, I moved on to trying to find these three letters in words in my Darija book. Finding words that contain only the three letters that I had just learned was difficult, but I did find a few, and after I did, I copied them.

The next day, returning to Melisa's house for another lesson, she taught me four new letters, and taking my lead, wrote out some words that contained these letters plus the three letters that I learned the day before. To my utter amazement I was able to successfully sound out and therefore read on that second day! This of course greatly motivated me. I was on my way to literacy!

On the day of my third Scrip lesson (yesterday), I learned four more letters, bringing my grand total up to eleven. One thing that I'm learning however, is that being able to write and sound out words is one thing. Being able to understand what I'm reading is another. This is complicated by the fact that a lot of the words Melisa gives me are in Fusha, and are either very different from their Darija equivalent, or not used at all in Morocco, making it very likely that I have never heard the words that I read and write being spoken in real life.

Overall though, I think this is a good thing. It makes me feel good to learn how to read and write. I can't really explain why. I'm not convinced that this will help me in my work here on a direct level, meaning that I don't foresee it being a necessity to read or write in Arabic to do my job here. But I do see it as a way to supplement my language learning and thus, helping me in that way. That said, I also don't regret not trying to do this sooner. I feel like this is a good time for me to start. I feel like I can now focus on it without too many other, more pressing, communication matters, since after all, I can talk about most of the things that I want to talk about at this point. Before now I wasn't really in a situation where I feel that this kind of learning was possible. For me at least, it's important to have an actual person teaching me this, so that I can hear each sound, rather than trying to learn it on my own from a book. Before two weeks ago, I didn't have a teacher that was interested in teaching me. Melisa is the third tutor that I've had since arriving in site back in late November. My first tutor was an English teacher from the local middle school. The original plan was for Jon and I to study together. That didn't work out at all, for various reasons, but with little trouble I found my second tutor. This one was a younger man, in his mid twenties, and like many young Moroccan men around town, was unemployed. He did have his degree however and spoke English pretty much fluently. We started lessons at the beginning of January and ended right before IST (in service training) in June, when he told me (via text message) that he would be unable to tutor me any longer. I never inquired as to his exact reason for cutting off the lessons. Maybe he got a job or was planning on moving away. Or maybe he just got tired of showing up at the Artisana twice a week in the mornings when he could be sleeping in. I guess I'll never know, nor do I really care. From the beginning it was a strange and uncomfortable situation. As a person he has a very negative personality. I found that I was having to drag myself to my lessons and that I absolutely hated going. After my lessons I would routinely ask myself, "what did I just get out of that?"

Melisa is different. I can tell that she really cares about teaching me. I don't feel uncomfortable and awkward around her, and I have a feeling that this is due largely to the fact that she is a female. Our sessions last for hours at a time. Sometimes her mom likes to come in to help out, which at first I thought would drive me crazy, but I have come to realize that I don't mind it at all (in fact, Melisa is the one who minds). One of Melisa's greatest assets though is that she doesn't speak English. She knows English, at least words, but our conversations are all in Darija. Because of this, I don't feel the temptation of slipping into English, which I admit happened a lot with both of my previous tutors.

Also, Melisa does crochet. As far as I can tell she hasn't done it for very long, though I can see that she's been getting tremendously better in just the span of a few projects. I hope that in the future this will be another way for us to bond and communicate. In short, I hope that this is the beginning of one of the strongest relationships that I make here in Morocco, one that results in both parties learning from the other. I never want to stop learning.


Sorry this image is sideways.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How I love souq day

Every Tuesday, I have a re-confirmation of my undying love for all that is souq day. For those who don't know, souq is the weekly market that many Moroccan towns host. My fervor is such today that I have to get it all out while it is still fresh in my mind (and under my fingernails).

Today's occurrences at souq:

1) While purchasing some black pepper (lbzar), I was approached by a salesman from a neighboring tent. We chatted pleasantries for awhile, and then he pulled me aside, learning I was a "volunteer." He explained to me that his father had a procedure done recently and that the poor fellow has a colostomy bag and isn't in the best health. I pretty much knew what he was getting at, so I played dumb for awhile, making him finally say that he needed a way to get some money and that any donation that I could spare would be welcomed. Instead of giving him $, I simply told him about Peace Corps, about why I'm here, and that it's not our job to supply people with money. I expressed my sympathy to his father, but he wasn't sour after my rejection. He actually invited me back to his place where he's from, and we parted ways in a true, warm, Moroccan way.

2) I enjoyed the company of one of our artisans, in my weekly indulgence of a ground beef sandwich with onions, cilantro, and cumin, grilled to perfection. The guy grilling the meat actually has a big hunk of cow hanging from a hook in open air and whenever he needs some more, he goes and slices some off, grinds it, and grills it right in front of your eyes. (One sign that I'm starting to adjust to my life here is that I wasn't grossed out when he - fingers and palms smeared with bits of meat and fat, reached into his pocket and made change for my 20 DH note). Me and said artisan also had an impromptu English lesson. A few days ago, he explained, in Darija, a way to say that the prices are really high at the souq. It roughly translates as, "There is a fire at the souq." However, looking for something a little more expressive, I opted to teach him instead, "THE SOUQ IS ON FIRE," which is his catch phrase now. He's awesome.

3) Talked with random friendly, if not gregarious, people that approach me (already knowing my name) and ask about any and all aspects of my life. In the US, I'd be annoyed, but here, I'm just glad to understand some of what they're saying to me! Of course, now, I'm starting to get heckled by people because I don't know Amazight (the Berber dialect here). ONE LANGUAGE AT A TIME, PEOPLE! It's a miracle that I'm even understanding Darija!

4) Bought a cool glass of orange drink (1 DH), that the juice man (mul 3asir) filled up with a ladle from a big pot of the chilled stuff. Taking a minute to savor it's saccharine goodness while surveying the crowds is a good way to take a break. Are the glasses washed after being used? The thought crossed my mind, but didn't faze me!

5) Bought some popcorn to munch on while doing some shopping. Other times, I opt for sugar peanuts, dates, cookies, or peanut bars (kinda like payday).


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fes and the South

The past couple of weeks have been full of traveling for us. We went to Fes during one weekend, and we spent about 9 days seeing Erfoud, Merzouga, Tinjdad, Tinhrir, and back north through Rich and Azrou.

We'll start with our trip to Fes, and then talk about our trip down south.

Fes is known as the cultural capital of Morocco. It is the home of the oldest university in Northern Africa and boasts a medina (Arabic city that existed before French colonization) that is simply galactic in size. This medina is filled with narrow, twisty routes that take one from souvenir shop to restaurant to mosque to hotel to residence to butcher to marketplace, back to souvenir shop again. Literally, it is labyrinthine. It's an all-out assault on the senses: piles of fresh, dirt-cheap fruit and spices, hunks of meat hanging in open-air, piles of decaying matter here and there, garbage littering the ground, people shouting and laughing, decapitated animal heads (camels, goats, etc) waiting to be sold, people transporting goods via donkey cart (BALEK! --> "Get out of the way!"), and merchants trying to get your attention.

We saw lots of tourists there, including English speaking ones. That was wierd. Naturally, we felt superior to them, as we - living in the "front line" - have the advantage of both language and culture. As we were having breakfast in a small cafe, three Americans came in and proceeded to purchase some items. Emily greeted one of them, asking where they were from, and he replied, "Conneticut, in the United States."

Umm, yeah. You couldn't tell that we were not only speaking English, but also with American accents?

Anyways, we chatted VERY briefly, to our surprise. And it reminded me how superficial Americans are as compared to Moroccans. I think Daniel Defoe sums it up nicely in his novel, Robinson Crusoe:

"Thus we never see the true state of our condition till it is illustrated to us by its contraries..."

One of the smells that cannot be missed when traveling to the old Medina in Fes are the tanneries, a "complex" that prepares the skins of animals (camels, sheep, cow, goat, etc) to be used to make leather products. In fact, Fes is famous for its tanneries, and tourists are yanked from the crowds to go to the nearest rooftop to get a birds' eye view. I'm not going to lie, the smell of that place is comparable to rotting flesh, and I've heard that they use - among other things - urine and pigeon excrement in the leather "soaking" process. Check out some pictures. Unfortunately, we couldn't provide the smell.

Despite the fact that we are Peace Corps volunteers, operating on Peace Corps budgets, many of the shop-keepers still see us as they see all foreigners: as walking wads of cash. They hold no punches in trying to get us to buy their marked-up artisana goods. This is the part that annoyed us the most about our experience. Many people would call out to us in English, demanding that we follow them up to their carpet shop, guaranteeing that we wouldn't have to buy anything. Of course, ten minutes later, we were pressured into a sales situation. I have to say though, they're good at what they do. They are sweet talkers, complimentary, and generous with the tea and hospitality. They're looking to get your guards down...and then, WHAM, they'll empty your wallet with a 10,000 DH ($1100) carpet out of the blue. Mind you, they probably got it for 1,000 DH or less, and it's the artisans that truly suffer out of this deal, as a carpet of this price usually takes months to create.

Which brings me to the Ville Nouvelle, the portion of Fes that France built during the colonial period. We walked around a bit, and even had lunch, but we were mostly interested in finding the Ensemble Artisanal, a giant showroom of artisanal goods! Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to photograph any of the goods, but we did take a few shots of the lobby.

Of course, the showroom was absolutely outstanding, displaying works of leather, wood, porcelain, various fabrics, and metal. We highly encourage anyone traveling in Morocco to stop by one of these showrooms. They're all over Morocco, especially in the bigger, tourist-infested cities. In theory, it's a very "fair trade" way to shop, meaning the artisans that produce these goods get a good portion of the sale.

We spent my birthday in Fes, which was actually really cool. The best part of it - besides getting a hajhouj, a gnawa (a type of Moroccan music that has its origins in sub-Saharan Africa) instrument that basically sounds like an acoustic bass guitar - was just sitting in a cafe, drinking a coffee and watching all of the odd-looking mostly-French tourists walk by. This is a classic past-time of Moroccan men, and I can definitely see why.

The next weekend and following week, Emily and I travelled down south to Erfoud and beyond. We took a grand taxi with 4 other volunteers from Azrou to Errachidia, and I have to say that the scenery is absolutely amazing, especially since the latter part of the trip snakes through a pass between the Middle Atlas and High Atlas mountains. I have never seen - in person - the nature of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada, but the scenery on that road reminded me of pictures of these places. The reds, purples, oranges, and yellows of the rock complemented the bright blue sky. I didn't get any shots while we were in the taxi, but I'll leave it to your imagination to visualize this scene.

A quick taxi ride took us to Erfoud, which is known principally for two things: fossils and dates. And we partook in both! There was actually a marketplace in Erfoud that was solely devoted to the sales of dates. Of course, I bought a kilo of them (2.2 pounds for 15 Dirhams...roughly $1.88) and we munched on them as we walked from shop to shop, inspecting the goods of the shop-keepers, who were trying their best to entice us in and make us feel "welcome." Welcome is a very important word in this culture; "mi casa su casa" is the idea, and sometimes merchants use that concept as a means to reach into the wallets of tourists.

In Erfoud we also toured a complex that processed stone - embedded with fossils such as ammonites - into table tops, counters, sinks, decorative garden sculpture, and other souvenir-esque trinkets. First, we learned about the geology of the area, and the maritime nature of northern Africa some 500 million years ago. Quite interesting, actually. We got to see the machine that cuts 1.5-2" slabs of sheet-rock out of HUGE conversion-van sized blocks of fossil-rich marble. Then we went into the gift shop, and some of us bought stuff.

Later in the day, we met up with a tour guide that transported us from Erfoud to the Erg Chebbi: the Moroccan Sahara. On our way, we stopped at a fossil excavation site, and I bought a huge ammonite (the size of a softball) for about 2 bucks. It's not polished or pretty or anything like that, but I feel like the kid that sold it to me needed the money more than the guys at the fossil museum. We got a picture of some exposed fossil-rock while we were there:

Boarding our SUV, we continued onward to the dunes, when our tour guide asked us if we wanted to stop at an Amazight (the politically correct term for "Berber") dwelling to have some tea. We said yes, of course, and no sooner than we exited our vehicle than we were met by a pack of spunky baby goats. They were trying to climb into the SUV and once we got the doors shut, they went under it, exploring and generally defying the young Amazight girl who was trying to herd them into their dwelling some distance away. We had some tea, making small talk, and then said our goodbyes, heading back to our vehicle.

When we finally reached the dunes, we met a group of Moroccans who worked there at one of many "camel trekking" tourism companies. Ours was this one: We met them briefly, mounted our beasts - a scary process at first - and headed off on the 1.5 hour camel ride to our destination, a camp of several tents next to an IMMENSE mountain of sand. The camel ride was pretty cool, all in all, but after awhile, it really hurts your inner thighs! I guess that's what they call "saddle sore."

We arrived, dismounted, and after putting our gear in our tent, we promptly begun climbing the mountain of sand, which was pitched in the neighborhood of about 45 degrees! Some of our party of seven made it to the top. Not me. I stopped about halfway and waited for the others to come down. We hung out until dark and then returned to our tent, where our guide had tea and peanuts waiting for us. Shortly after munching on peanuts and chatting with our guide, we were presented with one of the most amazing tajines that we've tasted thus far in Morocco! Chicken, eggplant, tomato, potato, carrots, etc. After dinner, we headed back up the mountain, but only about 1/3 of the way this time. We just wanted to sit and enjoy the temperate weather. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and we couldn't see any stars.

Before bed, we went to a nearby tent to check out some Moroccan drumming and singing. I guess a group from Tangier or somewhere in the North had come down here for a vacation, and were enjoying themselves with some song and dance. We saw some French and English people there and from what I learned later, there were Polish and Dutch people as well! Going back to our tents, we played some cards before we slept. The next morning, we were woken around 6:30am for the sunrise, which was pretty cool. Again, people were climbing the mountain. I didn't. No problem, because Emily did, and she got some pictures from the top! After our breakfast (a standard meal of bread, tea, and olive oil and jelly for dipping), we returned on camelback to our starting point. This time, I was in the front camel, as opposed to the day before, when I rode the caboose! The cost of this excursion (including transportation back to Erfoud), was 380 DH per person plus 20DH for gratuity. 400 DH is about fifty bucks; affordable, even on a Peace Corps budget!

From Erfoud, we went to Tinjdad, and then onto Tinhrir to see the Todra Gorge! Approaching the Todra Gorge is quite amazing, as the road winds through dwelling-encrusted mountains and oasis-like palmeries. As we arrived at the Gorge, our primary goal was to find lodging for the night. After a bit of deliberation, we eventually settled on an Amazight fellow who didn't really understand the concept of privacy.

Fast forward to the next day.

We had MUCH nicer weather, and so gathering our items, we headed out to hike the Gorge! I think the hike up took around 2 hours, and we were accompanied by a little Moroccan shoe-shiner named Yussef. I guess he didn't have anything better to do, so he just followed us up the gorge, wearing his oversized flip-flops and carrying his shoe-shine kit. We later learned that the little guy had never climbed the Todra Gorge and was probably as excited as we were to see the view from the top. We managed to get alot of great pictures, especially at the top. Of course, I also caved from the pressure of a few fellow PCVs and my own narcissistic vanity and indulged in a shoe-shine at the summit of the Gorge. Yussef was well compensated for this.

After descending the Gorge, and being treated to some lunch, Yussef decided to accompany us in a petit taxi back to Tinhrir, and even sat with us on the bus until it was ready to leave for Tinjdad. I could tell that we really made his day!
If I ever travel back to that area, I'm going to be on the lookout for him!

Heading back home, we stopped through the town of Rich and were welcomed by Hassan, a Moroccan friend of one of our fellow PCVs. It can't be stated enough that Moroccans will spare no expense in being EXTREMELY hospitable. Hassan had an immense home-made lunch waiting for us at his house after bringing us home from the bus station. Anything we wanted, he was pleased to bring to us or do for us. It's almost strange, as Americans, to be waited on and serviced like this for no apparent reason other than genuine hospitality. Of course, we couldn't let him get away with cleaning up by himself. And later that evening, we repaid him the favor by making delicious ranch-turkey sandwiches! Ranch, I think, is a flavor not too common to Moroccans. Like us, Hassan loved it!

Later, we walked about the town, which was quite pretty, with its salmon/deco green color scheme and backdrop of velvety mountains.

We headed back home after this, traveling through Azrou. This ending is going to seem brief, but I'm getting sick of typing and you're probably getting sick of reading!


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

and the list keeps growing

True to the nature of the inter-web, we've expanded our list of blog links of current fellow PCVs. If our blog is not satisfying your cultural needs, check out someone else's blog to get a different perspective of Morocco and it's culture. Or, better yet, sign up and become a Peace Corps Volunteer yourself!

March 2009, is slated to be a month chock-full of traveling. We have already seen Fes this month. Next on the list is the southern desert and mountains: Errachidia, Merzouga, and the High Atlas mountains is currently on the southern agenda. The weekend after that, we'll go to Meknes, and possibly Fes again, or maybe Rabat. We'll see!

Expect pretty pictures and enlightening stories to the tune of goals 2 and 3 of the Peace Corps (see goals on sidebar to the right)!


Sunday, February 22, 2009

lay of the land

Our town is on a mountain plain at the base of the foothills of the Middle Atlas mountains. As such, we are pretty much surrounded by small mountains, and transportation to any city involves snaking up and down through them. This makes for some amazing views, but the transportation tends to make me feel nauseated. Emily seems to stomach the trips a little better than me. I'm jealous!

Anyways, we went for a bike ride today and got a few pictures of the land and some common sights in this part of Morocco.

As we rode past the vast and numerous fields that produce the wheat and apples of this region (among other crops, we think), we spotted a herd of cattle and their owners/tenders. We stopped to greet the men, confirmed that they were milk cows, snapped a few pictures, and took off again. The milk probably tastes pretty good, being from free-range cows. We didn't ask for a sample, though.

In our town, there's a small population of storks (called "blarj" in Moroccan Arabic). They have massive nests, and we can see one of the nests from our rooftop. When we have breakfast early in the morning, the storks fly back and forth, directly over our apartment.

Emily was trying to get a closer shot of one of these birds, but it kept evading her. As we travel away from our town, the mountains start to form in the background.

After climbing and descending (mostly descending...) 4 or 5 imposing hills, we reached this spot, and decided that we didn't want to make our trip back any more difficult! From here, there is an appreciable decline that would have been exhausting from which to return. Maybe another time...

It's pretty amazing to just stop, listen, and observe. You hear absolutely nothing, except for the intermittent sound of birds in the distance and the soft hum of bees. As you continue on the winding road, you see various homes in the distance and sporadic herds of sheep, specks against rolling green hills. And in the distance, the purple, blue, and red hues of distant mountains lead the eye upward to a perfectly blue and cloudless sky.

This spot in the road sorta reminded me of small town America. I don't necessarily remember cemeteries being next to churches back home; I guess this image just makes me think of simple, small town people living off the land and being devoted to their religion. If you replace this mosque with a church, synagogue, or any other house of worship, this picture could probably describe lots of places around the world. Here's another reference to the notion that different cultures are not necessarily so different from each other.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

On blankets and weekend trips...

Hello everyone! Hope all is well!

So, we received a sheepskin from Lisa's homestay family about two months ago. It's awesome! Brand new and soft as they come. Emily started working on "Granny Squares:" individual crocheted squares of red, olive green, and off-white wool (not with the wool of the skin...seperate wool that was dyed and spun into yarn). She recently completed all of the squares and assembled them into a blanket...a gift to show thanks for the awesome skin that we received. Here are a few shots of the blanket:

Oh, also we made a trip to Rabat to pick up a package from Emily's Uncle Bob. We had no difficulty in locating it, thankfully, because it had some pretty nice stuff inside (art supplies, measuring cups, and chocolates, among others). I'm actually starting to feel a little bit spoiled from all of this postal attention!!! Just kidding...

We weren't using our camera very much at all throughout our trip (so as not to perpetuate the common perception that we are tourists), but I do have a description of our events in the capital city of Morocco:

Upon arriving at a bus station, we promptly found a food vendor who had a number of delicious items on display: fried fish, tajines of vegetables and chicken, and roasted beef and sheep simmering in their juices...simply amazing! We were slightly hesitant, so he buttered us up with a few free samples of the fried fish. We decided on a beef tajine and he promptly served it with bread, hot sauce, a salad of lettuce, cucumber, and beets, and water. The salad had some mayo in it and the veggies were raw, so we actually passed on it (it's a good habit to KNOW that your food is either cooked fully or, in the case of raw vegetables, presoaked in water with iodine or bleach). Same thing with the water. Right after our meal, we went to the Hanut next door and bought a bottle of water. Better safe than sorry!

Afterwards, we went to find the post office! We asked a handful of people, and they directed us on our way, all very helpful. We eventually learned that the post office that we wanted was at a different location, in downtown Rabat. We caught a petit taxi and had a great conversation with the cab driver. He was the coolest of the 4 cabbies that took us about our way. We chatted about the weather and what we were doing in Morocco, and in Rabat specifically, and on and on. When we arrived to the main post office in Rabat, we learned that our package was next door. As it turned out, they were closed temporarily because their employees had all gone to the Mosque (Friday is the holy day here in the Muslim world, not Sunday). So we decided to just walk around a bit to pass the time before they were to return.

As we walked down Avenue Mohammed V, we randomly noticed that our hotel was less than a block from the post office! Well, we certainly didn't plan for that, but it worked out quite nicely! So we decided to check in!

After picking up our package, we decided to take a cab to the Peace Corps office, and had a really fun time there, chatting with our Program Manager and the Country Director, among other staff members. We were even lucky enough to be there for tea and Hluwa (cookies)! We picked up some books from the library, and got a recommendation for a restaurant located in the old medina (basically the original Arab city that existed before the French came in and made their wide-open, tree-lined boulevards and avenues...currently, the medina exists at least superficially as a shopping district).

We got a cab back to our hotel, which is located close to the medina, and dropped our stuff off before we went into the medina to get some Harira and Brochettes (Harira is the national soup: a tomato-based mixture of pasta, chick peas, egg, and other delights. Brochettes are skewers of meat, grilled over an open flame. We had turkey and beef (or sheep..I'm not quite sure...delicious nonetheless))!

Before getting back to our hotel, we stopped at an ice cream (or gelato, I couldn't tell) place to sample some of the flavors. This was the first time in over 5 months that we had ice cream! The hotel we stayed at was pretty old and charming. Apparently it had serviced people in the early 20th century. It wasn't 5 stars (the bathtub was a little shwiya and the water took a long time to get hot), and next time, we'll probably just get the room without a shower and save 50 dirhams. If we only take showers once a week, what's waiting a few more days? Mashee mooshkeel (no problem).

(NOSTALGIC SEGUE) Its funny, because I remember how timid and paranoid all of us volunteers were back in September when we arrived to Rabat. Or maybe that was just me...We were only allowed to walk out for a few hours per day and for good reason: we were mostly clueless! In those days, just about 5 months ago, I remember feeling "tethered" to our hotel, uneasy about our new, alien surroundings. This past weekend, Emily and I freely flitted around Rabat, completely in control of our actions, if not our broken darija. At least we can get by. Shwiya b schwiya, as they say...little by little, day by day.

Walking through Rabat was pretty refreshing because it felt less like we were on display; like we were more anonymous. Hardly anybody cared that we were there, and this felt kinda good. On the other hand, we didn't have anyone warmly welcoming us into their homes, or hardly anybody starting a warm conversation just because. Mostly everything was more business-oriented: short and to the point. While this was a good break from the "fishbowlness" of small-town Morocco, I prefer the latter: getting to know the country and its people one conversation at a time.

(BACK TO THE TRIP) We took a bus (called "kar" in Moroccan Arabic) from Rabat to the site of our friend Lisa. We were actually pretty hungry when we arrived, and she had freshly made tortillas and guacamole, among other freshly made items, waiting for us!
We got to walk around the city a bit and pick up a few essential items that are difficult to find in our site (hard cheese, rotini, spice containers, etc). We prepared some American favorites during our stay at Lisa's: pizza for dinner and pancakes for brunch the following morning. While we were out picking up supplies, we picked out a bunch of mint, and I made our "3asir n3na3" for all of us, including Lisa's tutor.

(side note: in many Moroccan cafes, there exists what's translated into English as "juice of banana," or "juice of apple," or "juice of apple and almond," or any variation on these. They're basically drinks of milk and sugar, with either apple, banana, or almond, blended together into a smoothie. They're quite delicious and refreshing. Anyone who's travelling to Morocco shouldn't pass these up).

"3asir n3na3" is a drink that I invented with milk, mint leaves, sugar, and chocolate (optional), all blended together. I've talked with a few Moroccans about this, and they all look at me like I'm strange. Of course, the concoction is absolutely DELICIOUS, and reminds us of Toft's mint chip ice cream. Toft's, of course, is a creamery in Sandusky, Ohio, where we lived prior to joining the Peace Corps.

Anyways, we had a great time at Lisa's and will hopefully be visiting her regularly in the future! From Lisa's, we took a transit bus back to our home in "Minnehaha," where it was actually still sunny and gorgeous. I didn't feel nauseated at all on the way back, probably because I was reading the whole way. I think I just found the answer to my motion sickness on these trips!!!


PS. Travelling in Morocco is surprisingly expedient and efficient (and shwiya pricey, at least when you travel alot and you're on a Peace Corps budget!). Well-built roads exist here from the time of French and Spanish colonialism, and they're maintained wonderfully. In fact, Morocco has some of the best infrastructure, as far as transportation is concerned, in the continent of Africa. That's one of the reasons that tourists find it so appealing, besides its delicious food, welcoming people, intriguing culture, and diverse landscape.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Our Little Friend

We found this little guy warming on the door of our roof. We haven't named him yet, but hope that he sticks around! Any guess as to the species? I think he's some type of gecko.

Monday, February 9, 2009

More pictures (large, because the weather was gorgeous today)!

Today was a very nice, warm day, so we did some laundry in the mid-afternoon. As I forgot to take pictures of the exterior of the house, I made sure to take care of that today!

Our entrance, located oppositely from the previous picture.

Citizens taking advantage of the heat/light of our beloved shmsh!

Emily's granny squares out to dry.

If we have to have 6 days of rain to have a day like this, that just might be OK with me.