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.


Anonymous said...

Hey Guys,

sounds like you had a nice weekend,
Em your hair is really getting long, and who
is that bearded fellow in the pic with you,
a native? Just kidding Jon.

Love, Mom

Emily and Jon said...

"native!" Someone's gotta work on their PC-ness... :) The correct term would be "Moroccan!" After all, this isn't Cannibal Island!