Sunday, March 22, 2009


The week has continued on its crazy course-mshgrul bzzaf (very busy)....

Saida, my former tutor, invited me to lunch-didn’t know until I got there that it’s a celebration lunch w/her girlfriends for her wedding announcement. Her fiance will be coming up from Agadir next month, and they’ll get their official documents-not really a ceremony as we know it. Then the wedding celebration/party will take place in June in Agadir. Since that’s over 12 hours away, most of her friends will not be able to make it there. It was an interesting gathering of educated young women-most of them teachers-in their nicest jellabas. Don’t think that the jellaba is always just a quick cover over the sweats. These ladies can dress-matching headscarves and shoes, kohl eyeliner-zwin bzzaf. It’s also the first time I have couscous as dessert-with sweet milk and crushed almonds and sweetened zbib (golden raisins) and skar (sugar)-it's a wedding tradition.

Thursday was the annual meeting for the Cooperative. Gathered at 9am and in Moroccan fashion, got the meeting started at 11am. Wish I could tell you that I understood all that was said in the 2 hr meeting that followed, but alas, that wasn’t the case. Did figure out that the Coop needs to do a better job of accounting, although they made a profit last year (hamdullah). They’re also being encouraged to stick w/the traditional designs in their weavings to make unique products. The meeting was followed with a big couscous lunch for the Basha (mayor) and Delegate from Sefrou and accountant. Again, in typical fashion, men eating in one room, the Coop women in another. I was able to get photos of all the Coop women along w/a group shot, that we’ll be able to use in their marketing materials. Unfortunately we didn’t get the logo decision made-meeting was running late-but we’ll take care of that this week.

Headed off to Meknes to meet some other PCVs for the weekend. Although we’ll see each other this next week in Fes for an SBD meeting, the Meknes trip was planned some time ago, and 4 of us decided to keep it on the books. And we’re all glad we did-great trip! Meknes is about 1 hour west of Fes, and was pretty central for the 4 of us to meet there.

Impressions of Meknes:
-Much like Fes but not as frantic and feels more accessible.
-First stop-Bab Monsour (bab = door, used to name the gates into medinas)-opens up to Place el Hedim-huge plaza between Bab Monsour and medina-great gathering spot for tourists, locals, performers, with cafes ringing the plaza.
-Museum in Dar Jamai Palace. The Palace and architecture and detailed decor-carvings, jllij (tile), painting-more impressive than the exhibits.
-Medina. Wind thru following a recommended path. Shops w/unique artwork-some unique to Meknes. Make our way to the far north and exit the gates to find small clusters of women sitting around-dressed up-doing henna on one another-then walking up to the Mausoleum of Sidi ben Aissa where we can hear song-like chanting. Obviously not a typical day at a mosque, but can’t find out why-only Muslims allowed in. So we also make our way to the jewelry souk (Lisa wants to find wire for jewelry making w/her Neddi women), to the carpet souks where I do a little competitive pricing and photo taking for my Coop women, and weave our way around to find the music hanuts where Jonathan wants to buy some supplies. Decide to check out the metal workers-just looks like an interesting alley and find ourselves climbing a ladder in one shop, thru a hole in the roof to the workshop above where there’s only room for the 2 guys who are working on large iron sculptures where they are doing the silver inlay process – called damascene-a craft unique to Meknes.

The other 3 convince me to go w/them today to Volubilis. More about it in a minute. Just a reminder-you plan a lot around availability of transport. Metalan (for example), I need to be in Fes today by 3pm to get a taxi straight to REK, otherwise I can leave Fes up until about 4pm and then have to go thru Sefrou, and that adds about 1 ½ hrs to my trip. Can I make it to Volubilis and back in time to catch a train to Fes? That’s relying on: taxi to Moulay Idriss (30km away). Taxi to Volubilis and back (and most people go on tours so don’t know if taxi back to Moulay Idriss w/b avail). Taxi to Meknes. Train to Fes, Taxi to REK. Whew. OK, we’ll get an early start and I’ll join them. SOOO glad I did!

Unesco World Heritage Site. Best preserved archeological site in Morocco. Roman ruins dating back to 3rd Century BC. Amazing mosaics still intact. We made it to Moulay Idriss and hired the same taxi to take us to the ruins, wait, back to Moulay Idriss and wait, and back to Meknes. Now we don’t have wait time (that can add hours to a trip for the taxis to fill w/6 riders). We explore the ruins and take tons of photos-beautiful day, wildflowers all around, sheep grazing-all amidst the ruins.

Back to the town of Moulay Idriss-built on a hill. It’s named after Morocco’s most revered saint, great grandson of the Prophet Mohammed and the founder of Morocco’s first dynasty. The Mausoleum built in his honor is the site of the country’s greatest annual celebration in August-and an annual pilgrimage. It’s said that 5 pilgrimages to the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss is equivalent to one pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca. Again, being non-Muslims, we cannot enter the Mausoleum, but hoof it up and down the medina steps all around the Mausoleum and town.

Finally its time to return to Meknes and part ways-Emily, Jonathan and Lisa to the taxi stand to Khemisset and me to the train.

Final impressions-I’ll be back. Really liked Meknes. Good vibe. Easy to get around. And for the first time since I’ve been in Morocco, felt like I could just be a tourist and take photos. Many photos I’d like to take of everyday life in Ribat El Kheir I don’t-seems intrusive with people I live with-anonymity in Meknes makes it easier. You know why there are so many books of photographs of Moroccan doors? Cuz they’re fabulous.

It’s unanimous-we agree we're lucky to be posted in Morocco w/such great places to visit on the weekend. We packed the weekend and there’s still more to come back to see. My legs are tired and my feet hurt. That’s a good weekend!

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