Monday, December 13, 2010

One Last Post

This was always intended to be a personal record of my Peace Corps experience-to try to capture the everyday life in Morocco. Now that has all come to an end, so I need to close this out.

It took 2 hours to disembark from the cruise ship in Puerto Rico, a 3 hr flight to Miami, 2 hour wait and 6 hour flight from Miami to LAX yesterday to get home. As in Huntington Beach home. Joanne-God Bless her parents-was there to pick me up and take me to the house. She came back today to go over some stuff that she’d saved for me and to remind me how to work the things I’d forgotten about.

It’s been a rather surreal day. Woke up in my own bed-showered in my own shower. Picked up a rental car this morning and they gave me a free upgrade to a Mercedes. Yes, a new Mercedes-all alone-not w/6+ other passengers stuffed into it-and I’m the one driving. Got my cell phone-who knew you could get a prepaid month to month phone-great option as I ruminate over the need for a smartphone. Lunch in the sunshine at the pier. Picked up the fine jewelry at the bank-that old Swatch watch that got me thru Morocco is history. Made a brief stop at the grocery store, but just for what I needed, ie; Diet Coke and Honey Wheat Cheerios. Everything is familiar, yet different. Everything looks so much bigger to me. Going thru mountains of mailings-only those Jo felt were important-appears I felled a few trees while I was gone. Got my first phone solicitation. Read the LA Times. Got a Jury Summons. Wearing clothes I forgot I had. I thought about going down to the car dealer to check their inventory, but geez, I’ve got plenty of time, yak?

Now it’s on with life. As usual, or hopefully a bit unusual. Looking forward to the next adventure that awaits. Inshallah.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Cruising to America

December 10th, Day 13 of the cruise, 2 days and I’ll be home-really home. Can’t really believe it yet. This has been kind of a 5 week time-warp.

So what’s happened in the last few days of cruising to America?

We had a full day in Cartagena-back on the Spain mainland. It was actually a very pretty and historically interesting place to see. There was plenty to do just walking around the town all day, with great sites at sea level and at the castle remains overlooking the port. We had then had a day at sea while we made our way from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and the Canary Islands. Fortunately they have a lot of things happening on the boat so the day was not an idle one. A champagne art auction. Yes, they serve the champagne to get you bidding. Guess what, it works! I’m the proud owner of a new piece of art. Now I have no argument to the challenge-who the hell buys artwork on a cruise ship? Anyway, there was also a decent art lecture, the ice show (yes, there’s an ice rink on board), started our own personal Project Runway marathon, learned that the ‘sit down’ breakfast and lunch are the way to go, worked out and got the dance floor to ourselves downstairs. Good day.

We’ve also managed to meet up with several other now-RPCVs making their way back to the states after also finishing their service-9 from Ghana, 4 from Tanzania, 2 from Armenia and 2 from Mongolia. Nice coincidence.

Our next stop was in La Palma, Grand Canary. Four of us rented a taxi to take us to the other side of the island to the nicest beach area in Maspalomas. Walking along the beachfront promenade between restaurants, hotels, condos and the shore reminded me so much of Hawaii. That’s when it hit me that the Canary Islands are to Europe as Hawaii is to the States. Who knew? Both are volcanic islands geared to tourists w/year-round balmy weather and great beaches. Go figure. Anyway, it was good to see a bit of the island and do something besides just walking around a port town.

Next was Tenerife-the largest of the Canary Islands-and here 3 of us booked one of the shore excursions. This took us to the World Heritage site of La Laguna-where we had a historic walking tour, visited the cathedral and their market, before heading off to the wine portion of the tour. We stopped at a bodega for wine tasting-6 full bottles of different wines for every 8 people, along with generous snacks to keep us sober. I didn’t personally care for any of the wines, but plenty of others were buying, so I was in a clear minority. We then went to the wine museum-which I figured would be boring, but it was quite interesting and a gorgeous building on a beautiful bluff overlooking the ocean. The structure was a refurbished old farmhouse for growing grapes and making the wine. The building was given to the government of Tenerife several years ago and they’ve done a very nice job of restoring it and telling the story of the Tenerife wine industry. The island is beautiful, mountainous, bright and colorfully painted buildings and homes all over and very well maintained. Anjie and I walked around the center city a bit after coming back from the excursion, figuring we’d have plenty of ‘boat time’ over the next week-and got caught up on high speed internet at a cyber.

And now it’s all about the Atlantic and the boat. That’s all we’ll see for the next 6 days. The motion of the ocean is already affecting several of our group, and they say that it’s been relatively calm so far. Don’t mind the barf bags they tied to the inside stair railings last night. Fortunately none of us needed them. So far.

They also have us on a system of gaining an hour every night so that we’re on the right time zone when we arrive in San Juan. It’s kinda nice to feel like you get to sleep in an extra hour every morning. Not like we’ve got a hectic schedule and can’t sleep in anyway. It’s just nice to get the extra w/o the guilt of “sleeping in”.

Here are a couple additional observations/factoids from the cruise ship: Yes, I am wearing the best of the clothes I have from Morocco. Yes, this includes the fact that for the last 3 days I’ve worn a different top, each having a prominent hole in it. I feel like I should wear a disclaimer stating “Peace Corps” to explain the poor condition of my clothing/shoes/ general appearance. The weather is significantly better than I expected. I thought we’d be in freezing, rainy, dismal weather all the way across the Atlantic. Although we are rocking with the swells, it’s been sunny, windy and in the mid-70’s every day-nice surprise. Emily made the astute observation that the cruise feels like we’ve landed in an upscale“old folks home”, with all the amenities at hand-no further than a few steps from your stateroom. Went to a Q&A with the captain today and learned a few interesting bits: 1200 staff to approx. 3000 guests; 96,000 meals prepared each week; 25,000 lbs of flour, 64,000 lbs of fresh vegetables and 8,000 gallons of ice cream consumed weekly. Gulp.

Oh-I also need to give a thank you to someone-don’t know who-who gave me a “soda cup” for the cruise. It just showed up in our room, designated on my cruise card, and gives me unlimited access to Diet Coke. I didn’t sign up for it, can only figure someone did this for me, but they can’t find a record of who paid for it. So whoever you are, thank you! It’s also contributed to some good mixers for the booze that one of our rooms brought aboard.

Anyway, as I sit sipping on some Diet Coke (post workout-feeling a bit queasy), I’m listening to the guy on the promenade playing “my” music on an acoustic guitar, in full view of the huge Christmas tree they’ve put up, watching guests dressed for their 6pm formal dinner, feeling a bit nostalgic as this 2+ year chapter is coming to a close with the next yet to be written. I don’t think I’ll have many more blog postings as it was always intended to be my personal journal of my Peace Corps experience. Thankfully I’ve been writing it as a continuous Word document (all 270 pages so far) so I’ve got it all accessible. I’ve heard of websites where you can self-publish single editions and I may just do that to have it to go back to in the future.

Well, I thought I’d get this posted several days ago, but the computer terminals they have in the internet lounge don’t have USB access and I’ve had trouble getting my laptop to connect to the wifi. Trying again today to get that connection so I can work straight from my computer.

Despite the fact that I wrote most of this several days ago, there aren’t really any updates. More of the same. The time is going much faster than but I am ready to be home. Fortunately I will be in 2 days. Hamdullah.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cruise Part 1

Day 2 of Cruise-Mon Nov 29
We all got on board the Adventure of the Seas ship around 1pm yesterday, well ahead of the 5:30pm departure. The 12 of us are in 4 rooms, 3 of them adjacent to one another. The rooms are small interior rooms, cozy, but actually bigger than I expected, which was a nice surprise. So far the food is rated well-and plentiful, as most cruise-goers will attest.

Last night we went thru a strong wind storm and felt a lot more motion than any of us expected. There was a bit of Dramamine purchased on land today. Speaking of which, we all took the transport into Toulon France, our port of call today. No one can accuse Royal Caribbean of overselling the town-it lived up to expectations-which were pretty low. Highlight was the small Christmas craft festival, complete with piped in Christmas carols and décor in an open square in town. We did make our way to a Super Target-like store to pick up a couple items. (Note to self-do NOT purchase items until someone translates…small bottle of hair removal lotion easily mistaken for eye makeup removal). First time to be immersed in Christmas shoppers in 2 years. Suffice it to say, we were all back on board ship in the early afternoon, having seen all we wanted of Toulon.

I’m sorting out how to get the internet service I’ve signed up for (500 minutes for $150-yikes!) via wireless vs at their stations on the 8th floor (there are 14 floors to this ship). 

Today I checked out the workout facility. It’s been a LONG time since this old body has seen an elliptical machine and I think it’s high time we got reacquainted. I feel better already-even hope my muscles are sore in the morning.

With 3000 people aboard the ship, there’s no shortage of things to do. There are activities from morning to late at night. Fortunately this group of the 12 gets along well together-enjoying one another’s company as well as comfortable going off on one’s own. With 14 days’ cruise, this is important.

Weird-laying on my bed typing this up, watching CNN news on the TV-yes, a TV. All English channels-choices. That will be another adjustment. But it is nice to know what’s going on in the world-really have been in a bubble for a while here.

I’m starting to get things scheduled for my return. First on the list is to buy a car. I’ve been negotiating over the internet and am hoping that I can get a deal put together for a car to be ready for me when I get in town. Next will be a Smartphone (it used to be a simple cell phone)-which will require a whole new set of skills-they’ve jumped several generations since I last had one in the US. Also on the list will be a bit of necessary clothes shopping. I’ve left most of my PC clothes behind in Morocco and will likely leave some aboard the ship. Most of the rest of my current wardrobe was just fine as a PCV. What I looked like wasn’t so important in Ribat El Kheir and I took advantage of that “freedom” for 2 years. However, even these clothes have become ratty and tired.

Dec 1st-Day 4 of Cruise:
Yesterday we were in Corsica. Sounds exotic, doesn’t it? Well, we decided to “do it ourselves” and rented out 3 taxis to take us to the Gorges on the other side of the island. Turns out that we’ve all seen far more impressive gorges in Morocco, but the countryside was beautiful and it beat just walking around town. We did a bit of that when we returned, including a local market where we sampled Corsa cheese. Back on the boat (had to be back at 3:30), everyone was working out and gussying up, as dinner was formal. I sat on the promenade deck for a bit to cool down from my workout and watched the parade of older folk heading to the early dinner all ´done up´. Sweet. After dinner I finally made it to the theater for a Las Vegas-like show. Not much drinking again last night as the motion of the boat was enough to keep you swaying-high winds on the sea.

It was a longer ‘sail’ to Mallorca, as we didn’t arrive until 11am this morning-that meant sleeping in for *ahem* some of us. Since today is Anjie’s birthday, we all booked a shore excursion to go to the Cuevas del Drach (Cavern of the Dragon)-her choice. It was really beautiful-huge cavernous spaces with stalactites and stalagmites. We were treated to a 15 minute live concert in the bottom, with the musicians floating on what is purported to be the largest interior lake in the world. It was a nice ´natural cathedral´ alternative to the wonderful man-made structures we´ve been seeing. We got off the bus in town and walked around a bit-charming town, saw the Contemporary Art Museum and made it back on one of the last buses before we sail again.

While the cruise is going fast, I’m already feeling antsy to be home and get on with things. At the same time, I want to take advantage of the places we’re going, as I’m unlikely to return to them. Also, we have 7 days crossing the Atlantic with no ports of call. Need to save anything I can do on board for when I’ve no alternatives.

We´re in Cartagena for the day (Day 5). Have seen the beautiful architecture, Roman ruins, castles and now catching up in the only cyber in town and I think half the ship is here doing the same. The satellite connection is remarkably slow. Finally getting caught up and posting this. May be the last posting for a bit.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Barcelona Part 3

Catalan fringe (bangs), shorts/skirts/tights/boots, graffiti, contemporary art, convents, amazing architecture, cathedrals, narrow alleyways, boutiques, tapas, vino blanco, crusty bread, throngs walking thru the streets, performance art on Las Ramblas, Gaiudi, design, shoes, designer shops, jewelry, contemporary art, film, Catalan vs Castilian, public spaces, boots, sunshine, stairs and walking, scarves against the cold, jambon, dogs on leashes, Dali, walk til you drop, masks, sidewalk cafes, purses across the body to discourage snatching, beer, art fairs, huge food markets, wide boulevards, manchengo, pedestrian only streets, shoreline, art exhibitions, funky rooftop apartment, cheese tasting, Cal Pep, jewelry, nougat, wine, café con leche, maps, gloves, paella, cobblestones, Picasso. I could live here. A vibrant city where if you can’t walk to it, you can use public transportation. Not a cheap bargain, but reasonably priced. Mediterranean climate. Charmed. What a great way to spend 10 days.

Jess arrived Tuesday late and it was great to see her. I’d done all the tourist things on my list, so now it was all about spending time w/Jess and seeing ‘her’ Barcelona (lived here 8 years). This included some great art exhibitions that I’d never have gone to otherwise (wouldn’t even have known about them). We ran some errands she needed to do that brought me to places I wouldn’t have seen-come on, would I really have found the graffiti shop? Saw a wicked film on public space art (aka graffiti-ever heard of Bansky? Me neither, until the film. We met up with several good friends of hers, who I enjoyed immensely. I got to meet Vanessa, the artist friend who collaborated w/Jess on the piece I bought at Jess’ Life Size exhibition, at a gallery opening. We walked, we shopped, we ate and drank. Cried when we parted. I’ll miss you Jess-you’re a great friend and an amazing spirit.

We joined up w/the rest of the now-RPCV crew for Thanksgiving. Lisa, Kristen, et al had been cooking all day. What a spread of food-most impressive. Everyone was over at the apt that Colin rented-very zwin indeed. Unfortunately Jess and I ate a late lunch w/her friend Izzy, so weren’t hungry for Thanksgiving, but I did taste a couple of the sides-yummy.

Met up again w/some of the others yesterday, as Jess had to leave around noontime. We mostly walked around, shopping for a few things that they still wanted to pick up. You gotta understand, 2 years of pent up shopping demand can make any woman a bit crazy in this place. Purchases complete, pretty pooped out, we went our separate ways for the evening. I was early to bed-really just needed a bit of down time before packing everything up to board the boat today.

I’ve not seen the end of Spain, verdad?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Barcelona Part 2

We made our way through the Borne District on Sunday, trying to get to those things that would be closed on Monday. Right around the corner from the apt is the Santa Maria del Mar cathedral-central to a bestselling novel I recently read-kinda neat to see the actual place. And it is very impressive.

We also had the Picasso Museum on our agenda for the day, along w/a special Picasso/Degas exhibition. This took a good part of the day, as we were enthralled with both of the exhibitions. It was a beautiful day (the light rain of Saturday had passed) and we spent a good part of the rest of the day walking around, window shopping, sitting for coffee, etc. We then treated ourselves to a lovely dinner just down the block-we’ve learned our lesson from Seville and are using the “TimeOut Shortlist” guide for dining recommendations-hasn’t failed us once in Barcelona.

We designated yesterday as our Gaudi day-and that it was! We headed up to the Sagrada Familia on the metro, with a plan to walk our way back, stopping to see other works of his along the way. Now, I had heard of Gaudi, had seen a couple photos of his work in Barcelona, but was not at all familiar with his work-his brilliant architecture/creativity/avante garde design. Simply amazing. Once again, we were absolutely enthralled. And to think he started this amazing project in the 19th Century. So far ahead of his time, even by today’s standards.

We made our way over to Casa Mila and toured this additional Gaudi building, which includes viewing one of the several apartments that are privately owned.

We had done a lot of walking, had sat only for lunch, and were pretty pooped by the time we made it back to the apartment. Each day we managed to walk anywhere from 7-10 hours, so I’d say we got our exercise-and our feet and lower backs felt it. We were both just fine w/bread/cheese (from our cheese tasting shop)/ham/wine/fruit for dinner in the apt. Why wouldn’t we be, right? Early to bed, as Miek had to catch a taxi at 5am to get to the airport for her trip back to the states and Thanksgiving w/her family.

It was really sweet to share this trip with her. She’s starting a new chapter in her life after the sudden death of John. I’m figuring out what post-Peace Corps life will look like. Inshallah both of our books will include more chapters of shared adventures.

So today was a slow day. Miek gone, Jess coming in late tonight. I decided to just take it easy. Went out to walk around for about 3 hours, mostly just to get out, no specific sights to be seen. Unfortunately saw a backpack snatched just ahead of me, from the chair of a man having lunch at a sidewalk cafe. The waiters took chase, but the guy got away. Everyone-including shop owners and waiters-warns you of pickpockets, but it's sobering to watch it happen.

Got a couple messages from some of the PC group that’s starting to arrive in Barcelona (pre-cruise positioning). None of us have phones in our apartments (we’re split between 3 apts), but texting on our Moroccan cell phones works-if you still have enough credit. I’ve got Jess bringing me another card to load on my phone so I can contact the others about Thanksgiving plans. I've seen the 'sights' I wanted to see here, and now am looking forward to seeing Barcelona thru Jess' lens.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Buenas Dias Barcelona!

I’ve lost track of dates, times, everything. I’m in my happy place. Just as it was meant to be. And still lovin’ Spain. We’ve made it to Barcelona, but more on that later…

Seville was absolutely charming. By spending 4 full days (about 2 more than any guide book recommends), we were able to walk all over the town, see all the sights, snoop in any shop that caught our interest, make a few purchases, sit for café con leche and a sweet, have a good lunch and relax at night in the apartment.

The apartment was perfectly located in the heart of the old city district. Narrow cobblestone streets allowed for either pedestrian traffic only or maybe one-way vehicle traffic. This kept it perfect for exploration on foot. Didn’t ride any transport until we left for the airport. We only had one day of rain, so the weather even held out for these adventures.

We did the tapas thing and frankly neither of us was impressed. Just ok. Lots of fried stuff, mostly the same offerings in each tapas bar. Overrated. But the beer and wine tasted just right! We finally treated ourselves to a highly recommended place for lunch, just as we were in need of a really nice meal, and it delivered-4 delicious courses, great service, for about $20pp. Gracias.

We saw the Cathedral, the Palace, a flamenco show, and WAY too much of Plaza Alfalfa. I’ll never think of the word alfalfa again w/o it reminding me of Seville-with a smile. See, despite all the maps, it is very easy to get lost. And we did. Multiple times. And we always seemed to end up in Plaza Alfalfa. So we just made it our Ground Zero.

Bought some chic black tops for our leggings, a bit of funky jewelry, and found the Convent of San Leandro for sweets. Most of the convents (and there are a LOT of them, as well as churches) sell sweets to help the nuns make some dinero. The San Leandro nuns have a window w/a wooden turnstile (which fills the window-you cannot see inside). You ring the bell, put in your money, turn it to them, and they turn it back w/whatever they’re selling that day-all boxed up and stapled shut. You have no idea what you’ve just purchased! We opened up our box later that night at the apt to find that we got sugar encrusted chestnut paste-one of the traditional Christmas sweets of Spain. One was enough and we had ½ kilo. Well, it wasn’t about the sweets anyway, it was all about the experience.

Somewhere along the way that day I set down my package of jewelry and a sweater poncho. I had absolutely no recollection of where I could have left it. We backtracked to the possibilities, but alas, the bag was not to be found. Fortunately the purchases were not expensive and it was just stuff. I was more disturbed about not having any idea when I set it down. Felt like my brain had been a bit muddled the entire trip-get it together Lynn.

Adios Seville, you’ve charmed us, but we still had Barcelona to explore.

Our Barcelona apartment is in what is called the Born area of the old town. Again, great location, but a bit daunting upon arrival. It’s dark when we get here, we’ve got a sweet old cabbie who’s determined to get us as close as he can, not knowing exactly where our street is-it’s blocked off to vehicles, so he drops us off and fortunately a couple blocks later, we find our address. We’ve got the access codes, and we’re in! OK, so they warn you in the website that it’s 5 flights of stairs, no elevator. Even knowing this, it was quite the challenge to lug our 25+kg bags up these high-ceilinged floors. It was rather dark and dingy. Hmm, what have we got? We get into the apt and it appears aptly named Born Rustico. Feels very rustic. It’s on the roof and the floor slopes badly in many places. (Upon further inspection, after initial impact wears off, we note that it’s been very well put together-great nice touches everywhere-it’s actually really charming). Anyway, we get ourselves in and a bit settled and need to figure out dinner, so we pull out our guidebooks to find anything close to where we are. It’s dark, we don’t know the area and our cabbie told us to be careful as it isn’t a safe area. Great.

We decide on a place just a couple blocks over. Just outside the apartment, Miek sees a guy walking toward us with his zipper down and penis hanging out. Fortunately I’ve missed this, but now I’m concerned about what I’ve done to Miek-will she be ok staying here? This has not been an auspicious beginning to Barcelona, to say the least.

Well, the restaurant is packed and there’s a line to eat at the long bar, so we get in line, since we don’t have a good alternative. And boy are we happy we did-hat a fun evening! We end up sitting next to a couple from New York who just arrived also and are on their honeymoon. While we’ve been waiting, we’re watching what everyone is eating, what’s being cooked, and we know what we want as soon as we sit down. This is no quick lunch counter-you are not pressed to move along, in fact, they encourage you to have something else, coffee, dessert perhaps? Miek and I share a number of absolutely delicious small plates-fried artichoke, calmari, chard w/garbanzos, sautéed mushrooms, tuna tartare. We also share back and forth with the couple next to us-so our tasting expands to their selections as well. The wine goes down smooth and quickly. Pep himself (restaurant is Cal Pep) is there, talking, joking, managing the bar/counter. We watch the cooking in front of us. The people waiting in line right behind us want to know what we’ve ordered (just as we did when waiting ourselves). Feels like a party. Such fun! Barcelona, you’re growing on me.

The apartment looks much better in the morning-the charm is working and it’s actually very well put together-just a funky space, that’s all. We get out our guidebooks to plan our day-noting that we need to take advantage of things open on Saturday that will be closed Sunday and/or Monday. We head on over to Las Ramblas-the 1 mile long pedestrian boulevard from the port to the main square of the city. Las Ramblas is full of performance art, other artists and tons of people. We also quickly discover that you’ve got to divert from Las Ramblas to wind thru the narrow walkways of the Barri Gotic area to really experience Barcelona. We search out places we’ve read about-La Bouqueria Market, the costume/magic shop, the herborist, and a fabulous artisanal cheese shop where we sit and have a cheese tasting (with a touch of wine, of course). A bit more shopping behind us (Miek-you look fabulous in that chic new coat), a bit of rain, and we finally sit down for a coffee at Quatro Gatos to rest our weary legs/feet. Refreshed, we head back to the Cathedral, taking time to explore it and the rooftop view. Sit for a bit (it’s warmer inside)before heading out to see if the dancing is going to happen. Every Saturday evening, in the square in front of the church, there is a music ensemble (and it was quite impressive last night) that plays for the Sardana dancers. This is extemporaneous dance where circles are formed, place purses, coats in the center, you clasp hands and the traditional dance ensues. Charmed again. At one point there were no less than 10 circles of dancers in the square-some of about 20 people, some of just 4. Obvious veterans of the dance-all grey-haired-help teach the tourists/novices the steps. What a delight!

We head back to the apartment via another shop on our list-where we’ve once again got timing on our side, and this sweets shop is making that hard candy that has intricate designs in the middle-know what I’m talking about? We watch them make it in front of us, then taste after they’ve stretched and snapped off small pieces. Have to make some purchases (will the candy canes stay intact for Christmas stockings?) before heading back to the apt.

Full day of walking around gives me a new perspective of our neighborhood-sweet shops all around, well lit, don’t feel the least bit unsafe-just be vigilant like in any large city. This is working out just fine.

We have another wonderful meal for dinner-our most expensive dining has been in Barcelona-with the most expensive-wine and dessert included-for about $70pp. And the food here is fabulous. Unlike Seville, this is food to write home about. Oh, right, I just did!

Again, I’m loving this apartment thing (did laundry, sitting in the living room typing this over a cup of coffee while Miek sleeps in) and having the time to not rush, just take our time, explore what we want to see/do, and we’ve been on the same wavelength so it’s been very easy to travel together. Hamdullah.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I’m no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer. I’m now a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), having successfully completed my full 27 months of service in Morocco. We had our official “stamping out” ceremony-nothing is complete in Morocco w/out an official stamp yesterday afternoon (started this entry on Saturday). I must say it was a fairly anticlimactic day. Basically we all just finished getting the required signatures to document that all of our paperwork was complete and spent the rest of the day sitting around. Had our last couscous Friday at the Ministry of Fisheries cafeteria across the street. Viewed Cortney’s video/final project. Stamp out. Goodbyes to all the staff and those now-RPCVs who were headed immediately to the US. The rest of us made our way back to the Ville, dinner at the French Institute and an early night of it. Set our alarms several times-2:15am for Kristen, 4:45 for Cynthia, 7:15 for me, as we’re all making our own ways to meet up in Barcelona before the trans-Atlantic cruise. Few tears, as many of us will see one another on the cruise, and besides, we’re all tired of crying-left most of the tears at our sites.

It’s weird to think as I type this-on the train to Tanger for a weekend w/Samira before heading to Spain-that I’m not going back to REK after the weekend. I see the women in my first class compartment on the train look at my hands and smirk. They’re covered with fading henna-each one done by a different woman at different going away parties in REK. It’s a very ‘bled’ thing to do, and the women riding 1st class are NOT from the bled. What they don’t know is that I’m not just some tourist who paid a ridiculous price to have someone in Jmaa el Fnaa do my henna some night on some tour. In fact, this was a gift from the REK women-they set it up for me and joined me in getting their hands hennaed. Similar to the day-before-the-wedding celebration w/your best friends when you all get hennaed together. I see my hands and am reminded of their love. Smirk away ladies, I love it.

The big question-will I return? Inshallah. Best use of the word ever. Hopefully Samira and I will have a chance to talk about her interest doing some importation/resale of Moroccan goods. If she pursues this, I’ll help in any way I can-would love to be able to support the amazing artisans I’ve grown to know, and this would be the perfect excuse to return. Gadi nchufu. We will see.

Well, I made it safe and sound to Tanger. Samira and Souad were there to pick me up at the train station. First stop-my one and only request-to buy something, maybe a ring, in the traditional Moroccan gold filigree. Well, I got that done first thing and the rest of the day was spent in the company of Samira and her friends and family. We got up leisurely today with Christmas carols to accompany our breakfast. Our plan for the day was to take the train down to Asilah. I’ve never been to this beach town, but had heard a lot about it-and the contemporary art murals painted on the media walls at their annual festival. Fortunately the rain held off long enough for us to wander around the picturesque medina, see the murals, and check out a couple galleries before sitting down to a lovely lunch at a restaurant Samira knew about. Mmmm, fresh fish, a glass of wine, how civilized. The rain came as we were searching for a petit taxi, hoping to make it to our train. Little did we know that the train would come 1 ½ hours late and we had plenty of time. Just back now. I can’t get internet to check that all’s well w/Miek’s departure from the US-we meet up in Seville tomorrow. Inshallah the rain holds off for my ferry crossing from Tanger to Spain in the morning.

Samira, I know you will be reading this, so I must thank you again for sharing your Morocco with me, for your generosity in sharing your home, friends and family with me, for experiencing ‘my’ Morocco with me. Shukran bzzaf khti. Maghreb gadi ykun dima f qlb dyali.

B’slama Maghreb/Hola Espana. I’m sitting on the ferry, waiting for transit across the Strait of Gibralter to Terifa Spain. It’s a quick 30minute crossing, not unlike the ferry from Marina del Mar to Catalina Island. Fortunately the skies are clear and bright and the seas are smooth. Already my Dirhams are of no use-I must change them to Euros on the ferry to buy a Coke Light. I will take a bus to Algecerias to catch the bus to Seville.

Well, the Spanish Immigration guys couldn’t figure something out about my passport, so the delay meant I missed the free bus to Algecieras and then the noon bus to Seville. Instead I took a taxi to Algecieras and caught the next bus onward. Bit of a nap, one bus transfer later and I made it to the apartment that Miek had beat me to by several hours. Hamdullah we both made it safe and sound. It’s in a great area-the Santa Cruz old district, with picturesque cobblestone streets and cool little shops and cafes all around. We went out for a bit of a walk and some exploring before deciding on a spot for dinner (early at 8pm). A fabulous selection of tapas and dessert and drink-all for about $30pp. I’m loving Spain already! So great to share this with Miek and catch up with her. Time for bed now, more exploring tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

B'slama Ahermoumou

How perfect to leave from souk. Mondays are souk day and all transportation moves over there. So I go over a bit early to wait for the bus-it’s not like I’ve got a chair to sit on in my place and everyone else from the village is over there anyway. So I sit and watch the parade-the normal bustle of Monday souk. Young women in tight jeans, sweaters/coats to modestly cover their butts, and fancy heels or boots. Souk is social after all. Then there are all the older women in their jellaba and practical rubber soled shoes. I hear the guys on the loudspeakers, others just calling out their prices in ryals. Lots of sheep and goat. I mean LOTS of sheep and goat. Stopping to admire and inquire the price of someone else's sheep. Newly purchased pottery grills and bags of charcoal. Leid Kbir is next week. The sheep and goat are loaded on top of transports, in trunks of taxis, dragged along the sidewalk. (One is shoved into the baggage hold of our bus-I can hear its hooves trying to get a hold as we turn sharp corners all the way to Rabat.) They say that 10 million sheep are slaughtered for Leid Kbir each year-that’s one for every 3 people. Even if that figure is off by a factor of 10, 1 million sheep is a LOT of lamb. Goat is for those who cannot afford a sheep.

While I wait for the bus, Amina texts me. “Where are you, I want to say goodbye, can you come over?” “I’m at souk waiting for the bus”. “I’m coming over”. Sure enough, she does. Just to sit with me while I wait. Zahra is also coming and she brings Ferida with her.

I’m so emotional about leaving these people. It’s hard to describe how close you can get to people when your language has limited the depths of your conversations. Suffice it to say, actions do speak louder than words.

I did make it over to Fatima’s for my final goodbyes to her and her family. Hamdullah, her sisters and mother were there as well. OMG it was sooo hard. You’d think I had no tears left by then, but they flowed like a river. Allah yxlli likum lli 3ziz 3likum.

When the bus finally arrives, I’ve got a full entourage to see me off-Aicha, Naima and Halima have joined us. They watch out for me to be certain I get a “good” seat and my bag is safely stored below (with the sheep).

As I’ve said before, Morocco grows strong women. I’ve been so fortunate to work with some of its best these last 2 years-some of the most remarkable women I’ve ever known. Their love, generosity, acceptance, patience and gratitude are the greatest gifts I take with me from this place. I am humbled.

Allah yrhm l-walidin Ahermoumou. Gadi ntwashtkum bzzaf. Gadi tkunu dima f qlb dyali.

I wanted to take the bus-a bit easier, but much longer, because I want to savor the countryside all the way to Rabat. As we go thru Zouia, I’m reminded of what Courtney told me, and wonder how it affects this little village just outside REK. The original residents of towns named Zouia are supposedly descendents of the Prophet, and the King distributes money to the current descendents every year. The downside (in Cortney’s town for example) is that this discourages initiative, as they’ll get enough money to live on simply for being there.

The bus takes us on the 'trek Sefrou', so I get to see my favorite views-the gorges, switchbacks, rivers. The countryside is turning green after the recent rains and sunshine. The olive trees are laden with green/black/purple olives awaiting the post-Leid harvest. Men are active plowing the fields w/their mules, getting the next planting ready. New seasons, new beginning for all of us.

We’re almost in Rabat when the rain starts. No problem except that the windshield wipers on the bus don’t work. I’m thinking that I’ve made it thru God-knows-how-many treacherous bus and taxi rides for 2 years and I’m gonna die in a head-on due to equipment malfunction right outside Rabat. Fortunately the rain subsides and we make our way safely to the bus terminal.

I finally arrive at the PC-friendly Hotel Velleda. “Complete” says the sign. So says the guy at the desk. I have a reservation. No you don’t. I show him the email I’ve printed out (yes, I've learned from prior experience). Hmmm. Mushkil. Last test of Moroccan service (not something you typically admire). Front desk guy tells me there’s an American girl in Room 6, thinks she’s Peace Corps-I can share her room. Uh, no. I don’t know her and am not bunking w/a stranger. Besides, even if I was willing, who says she would be? Well, there are 2 American men in singles, maybe they’ll share and you can have their room. Uh, you don’t know when they’ll be back, what they’re willing to do, and it may be very late by the time we find out and then I’m stuck. OK, he says he’ll sleep on the couch and I can have his apartment downstairs. Bsssah? I don’t think so. He calls around and all the local budget hotels are booked except one, but the price is 200DH, ok? No, I’m only going to pay what I reserved. I tell him that in the US, if a hotel is overbooked, they find another room and charge the same price to those who have confirmed reservations. He calls the manager (who I know well) and wants me to talk to him on the phone. No, unless he has a different answer, I just need a room at the same price I booked. He proposes that they cover ½ the price and I the other and take the 200DH room, safi? Iyeah. He calls the manager and confirms it’s ok. Yes. I’ve got a room, he’s apologized for the inconvenience and I’m a satisfied customer. After travelling all day, nothing to eat or drink since early morning, emotionally exhausted from all the goodbyes, no sleep the night before, all’s well. Hamdullah. Thanks for keeping the faith Morocco.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Empty Apartment. Full Heart

Ahermoumou will always be a part of me.

I have shared tea, cookies, cakes, tears, couscous, farewells, inshallahs, all my apartment belongings and more tears over the last 3 days.

The Jam3ia Mawahib Wataqat Nisaiya (ATPF) women threw a party for me on Friday. I managed to send off the last of the boxes home and went to join them in the afternoon. They had party streamers, balloons, a “Good By Lynn” cake complete with a candle/sparkler, confetti blaster, henna for all and a gift candle. So sweet, many tears and difficult b’slamas.

Then on Saturday I headed over to the Taeawniya Adwal for a day with the ladies and another party. We had another cake (yummy-thanks to Nora) and tea and a bit of ceremony. They gave me 2 beautiful woven rugs and Zahra gave me a lovely bracelet. To see the women crying just killed me, and my tears quickly joined theirs. Fortunately we were able to get ahold of ourselves to present Ferida and Nora with their Certificates of Completion for their computer/internet training. Tbarkalikum.

Fatiha then cooked an amazing couscous lunch for all of us. Meanwhile, Nora brought henna to do for all of us-what a sweetheart. Thankfully I anticipated this may happen, so when Amina was doing henna for all of us on Friday at the ATPF party, I only had her do one hand. This left my other hand for Nora’s handiwork. We all closed up shop together and walked back to the village w/promises to see them again today when I brought over the things from my apartment that I was giving to the Coop.

Then it was off to the Tawmatine Association’s couscous workspace. They’d been waiting on me with tea, cookies and milowi. I’d seen most of the women over the last couple of days already, but it was so sweet of them to get together to say thank you to me. They are such generous souls. Shukran bzzaf.

I walked back into the village w/Meriem, which gave me the opportunity to take some photos of the ATPF purchases made with the PCPP grant monies. I’m so ** proud of them! What started out as a project to get some equipment to expand what they offer in their Creamery has morphed into something bigger and better. The cheesemaking initiative is on hold while they pursue opening up a bona fide ristura (restaurant)-note, there’s only swiya 2 in town. They looked hard for the equipment they wanted and were able to find a good buy from a guy in Sefrou. Oh. It’s all or nothing. They can’t just buy the items they want from the restaurant he’s closing. He’s selling it all to a single buyer. Well, the grant covers only ½ the total purchase price, and it’s bigger and better equipment than they first envisioned. However, they chipped in the rest of the money and the ATPF women are now looking for bigger, more affordable space to open up their ristura. Tbarkalihum bzzaf! I also got the receipts I needed to be able to submit my final report for the grant. Nothing like working up to the last minute.

I woke early this morning, no doubt with my moving out plan weighing on my thoughts. I managed to pack all my stuff in my single big suitcase-hamdullah. At least I’ll be travelling relatively light for the next month. Then I finished taking things apart, as Khalid and Jess were coming in the morning to pick up all the furnishings. Khalid, Siham and 2 others arrived w/the truck and (thankfully) loaded the stuff I was giving to the Adwal Coop and took that down for me. Then they went to work on the rest of the apartment. I forgot that here people really want everything they can have. Metalan, Siham even wanted the sticker/décor on the hallway walls, they took the tubing for the buta gas tanks and the tanks themselves. Merhaba. Just didn’t realize you’d want those things. Finally had to (jokingly) close the door to the storeroom, as the items I’m leaving for Karen and Doug are in there. Oh, and I needed to keep the blankets so I have something to sleep on tonight. I’ve got invitations to stay elsewhere, but want to spend my last night here.

I can’t forget to mention one of the best going-away presents, and this was from Khalid and Siham. They gave me one of the yet-to-be-released “Clock Book”-the recipe book Tara’s been working on for Café Clock. They had their celebration party last night-I couldn’t make it for obvious reason, and figured I’d just have to wait to order it on Amazon. Nope. Signed copy in my hot little hands. Hamdullah.

Now I’m procrastinating going over to Fatima’s house. If I didn’t have this to do, I’d probably slip on up to Fes tonight instead of going to Rabat tomorrow. But I can’t leave w/out saying goodbye to the Akchmar family. They’ve been my family here. It’s just gonna be so hard.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

On Being Replaced

My priority this week has been to do whatever I can to help Doug and Karen get introduced and updated on activities and organizations in Ribat El Kheir. They’re very nice and very experienced and will bring a fresh pair of eyes and ideas to these same organizations to help them over the next 2 years. It’s time for me to go and all is in good hands.

Adwal had a couple visitors from the UK on Tuesday-they were coming to see what Adwal could do for them when they bring a group of 12-15 knitters to Morocco in March. (Day Trip marketing payoff). OK, so knitting isn’t exactly a common activity in Morocco, but hand spinning bldi wool and then using natural dyes is, and Adwal can put on a participatory workshop for the group. Hamdullah they’re in agreement and this should be a good project for Karen and Doug to follow up on with the Adwal women. Inshallah it becomes a regular tour each year.

I’ve demonstrated that even 2 years in, my Darija leaves a lot to be desired, but it gets me whatever I need. Examples aplenty today. I thought Zahra wanted Doug and Karen to meet the belladya. No, she was just inviting us to walk with her as she went there at the end of the day. Amina asked me to come meet her at 4pm-I thought to go see the new location for the Creamery. Nope, just wanted to meet me, and was also telling me at the time that the Assn is having trouble deciding about a new location. Waxa. Oh, then we went to meet my landlord-Karen and Doug thought they’d like to rent my apartment. Hmmm, high rent. They want to talk it over, we’ll come back. Which we did. He’s not budging on rent. I know he’s a savvy businessman. Is he bluffing about having 2 teachers who want to rent it starting Dec 1 for 1000DH? I think he does have someone who wants to rent it, but the price seems high. What to do? I leave it to Doug and Karen to decide, then negotiate on their behalf. They decide to pay what he’s asking, but I get him to agree to fix all the things that need to be fixed. Hamdullah. So the language can still both fail and save me. Go figure. Time to go.

As we’re walking around town, Doug asks about all the construction that’s going on. According to Pete, there’s a new tax on empty lots in the village. If you build, you no longer have to pay the tax. The belladya wants development completed in the village. I think he’s gonna get piles of rubble instead.

There have been sweet moments this week. Halima stops me on the street and asks me to come to her house. Can’t as I’m on my way to the Coop. Can’t she come down there? When? After lunch. Waxa. She’s a Coop member, but hasn’t been coming since her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. She was diagnosed at the cancer screening I helped organize my first year. She was successfully treated as a result. She comes to the Coop and takes me aside privately. In tears, she says she wants to give me something in thanks-apologizing that it’s not something ‘bigger’. I’m blown away. We’re not close, but I’m witnessing the outcome of the project-live-in front of me. No Halima, thank YOU. I go up later to meet w/Amina. No, she doesn’t want to go see the new Creamery site. OK, let’s go have you meet Doug and Karen. OK, but first, she takes me aside to give me a scarf and thank you. Wow. She doesn’t have money to buy anything to be giving away. Oh-and this is after yesterday’s fall (on my part) when she comes by my place to tell me “I saw you fall my sister, all you all right?” Amazing. Side note-she said “shft xti” (I saw, my sister) and I thought she said “shfti xti?” (have you seen my sister?). I was confused-I don’t know her sisters. Took me a minute to realize she was calling me her sister. Wow. Then there’s Ferida. Oh my gosh. She was really glum Tuesday-listening to her music, not really working at the Coop, just not herself. I asked what’s wrong. She just shook her head. I asked again and she started to cry. Shnu? What? Walu. Nothing. Waxa. She doesn’t want to talk to me about whatever it is. I see her again yesterday. She’s the same. “What’s going on?” “I am going to miss you”. Oh. Wow. Htta ana (me too). She’s the newest member of the Coop-finished her apprenticeship and joined when I arrived and we’ve been the Coop novices together these last 2 years.

I’ve pretty much cleaned out my apartment and have piles for different people for distribution/carrying away on Sunday when I all-but-move-out. I’ll actually be taking the bus out on Monday. I’m feeling bad that I’ve promised virtually everything to others-not selling, but giving everything away. Unfortunately there isn’t much left for Doug and Karen-they’ll have to buy their own things. They will get the allowance as I did from Peace Corps, and the purchasing will help the community, just sorry I’m not helping them out more. Zahra and Fatima came by today to check out the shelves for the Coop-if they didn’t want them, others did, but wanted to give them first dibs, since I know they need them to get their materials off the ground in the workroom. They’ll take them, just need to get the legs shaved off a bit (thanks for that idea Doug) so we can get them back down the stairwell.

Another bit of misc. good news. Pete says he’s heard it’s official that the mudir (Director) of the Dar Chebab (Youth Center) in Immouzer Marmoucha is moving here Jan 1 when the mudir here retires. This means Pete will definitely be able to stay here. Great news for him and REK. He’s got quite a following in his English classes and has been working hard to get some activities, ie; summer camp, going. Looks like it will happen this coming year. Tbarkalih.

We (Karen and Doug, Jo and I) set off to Sefrou today for them to meet the Sefrou Artisana Delegate. We were able to see him before lunch, so had a walk around town to show them things like the medina, taxi and bus stations and *ahem* the liquor store. We then met up w/Jess so they could all meet one another. It was also fortunate that Yassine showed up at the café. He’s an impressive young man in Sefrou who has always been a big supporter and friend to PCVs. He was selected to participate in a MENA Youth Leadership Program last summer and spent 6 weeks in Montana. Wouldn’t you know, Doug and Karen are from Montana, so they got to chat a bit. Yes, it is a small world.

We had good transit karma all day. Got on the nuql to Sefrou despite the crowd waiting for it to come. Nice introduction to Karen/Doug/Jo on how to fight for seats. Stopped ½ km out of the village for a new battery. Got 10 feet down the road and got a flat tire. Basically in front of the car repair place that just installed the new battery. They jack up the nuql-with all of us still in it, the motor running-and we’re on our way w/in 10 minutes. When we say our goodbyes in Sefrou, we make it to the nuql stand there as there are 4 seats left. We fill them and take off for REK. Jo and I are just killing a bit of time now before we head over to Nora’s family’s place to join them and Karen and Doug for dinner.

Then they’ll be leaving tomorrow to go back to Azrou, then on Saturday to their training site in Midelt. They’ll be sworn in the day before Thanksgiving and will return back here on Thanksgiving Day to start their 2 years of service. Merhababihum.