Friday, April 30, 2010

April Showers.....

Woke up to sunny, blue skies and beautiful fresh air. The haze was lifted, and with it my mood and energy. Soooo, since I buggered out of going for a walk w/Fouzia yesterday, we were on for today. No mind the brief shower at 2pm, we're not going 'til 4:30. Convincing ourselves that the next storm bank was moving away from us (not right toward us, as was the case), we set off across the fields-no mere paved road for us-we trek on. No building or cover in the clouds open up, the lightening dances and the thunder drums around us. Within the 1st 5 minutes, whether we turn back or forge ahead, it's clear that we're soaked to the bone. Now it's just a matter of staying on my feet and not ending up in the mud on my ass. Back home, laughing all the way at ourselves, I'm showerd and dry and cozy in my fluffy robe. Early evening. Clear skies once again.

Now for a few updates from around the bled…..

Finally caught up with Meriem to weigh the gouda cheese from the cheese workshop. It has to sit almost a month before it can be eaten, so had to wait to weigh it. We finally have the yields from all the cheeses made. Next step is a meeting on Saturday w/the Women’s Assn women to talk about what they need to do, ie; assess their costs (incl. labor), to determine potential profits.

Alice and Siobhan also told me that the cheese man in the Central Market in Fes Ville Nouvelle is always looking for new sources of artisanal cheeses-he has a lot of cheese-eating expats who buy from him-so I need to see him to check prices and assess his interest and requirements for purchasing cheeses. Nice to know that cheese can be more profitable, but that’s only theoretical until they find buyers.

I also walked with Amina down to the Women’s Assn space they’re renovating to sell their hlwa-it’s in a great location right down by the marche and nuql (transit) stand. They’re gonna start w/just hlwa and harsha, hopefully later expanding to more food. They’re pretty tight on money, so moving slowly. I reminded Meriem of the women from Center for Women in Democracy that she met in November. Several of them expressed interest in helping out the women of REK, so I told Meriem if she put together a budget, I’d help her put together a grant request. She’s got a lot of the budget items already identified, so won’t be hard if they want to do it.

Meanwhile the Adwal women have finished the hasir order for friends in Fes and have gone back to work on the one that I told them I’d buy. It is SOOO cool-will be great on my rooftop in Huntington Beach. I found out that they're using the grant from the king that they received last fall to do the building for the natural dye area behind the workroom. Note-NATURAL dye-on wool and cotton. Nice. So it's not just a tad ironic that they’ve also started a huge new coverlet with horrible colors-bright green and fluorescent pink ACRYLIC yarn! What are they thinking? They asked if I like the colors and I said “no”-people don’t want bright colors like those. They laugh and shrug their shoulders. What happened to the progress we were making in product development, incl. color selection? Talk about job security-my job is not done here. Tfoo.

Also, I’ve sent Alice a bunch of photos of Adwal’s work. She has a client coming to visit Morocco who is also on the hunt for artisanal weavings to be used in a hotel decorating job he has. We’ll see where that goes-can only try, yak?

Commentary on the Ministry of Artisana….so Adwal didn’t sell much at the Fes Craft Fair that the Ministry set up. Note that they scheduled it originally during Marche Maroc Marrakech, so the Adwal women chose to go to Fes (much cheaper transport). Then the Craft Fair was postponed a week (so they could have gone to Marrakech as well). You can imagine how effective their (non-existent) marketing could be w/constantly changing dates and venues,ie; no foot traffic to buy. Meanwhile the Ministry set up another Craft Fair in Marrakech, off their premises, which ran during the Marche Maroc Marrakech Craft Fair. Huh? Oh, then Zahra and Fatima got a call on Sunday-last day of the Fes Craft Fair-to see if they could go to the Craft Fair in Meknes the next day. Huh? See, this is why we’re trying to get the Marche Maroc Craft Fair model up and running and into the hand of the artisans so they control their destiny, stop being jerked around by the Ministry, but also stop waiting for someone else to create these selling opportunities. Inshallah.

I’ve communicated a number of times via email with a writer from Orange County who was sent to me by the Peace Corps office in Los Angeles. The interview, for the website, was just posted. Didn’t realize she was going to reveal my dirty little Reality TV secret. Oh well, my bad for telling her! Check it out at

On another note, Earth Day was a very big deal for Morocco, with it being the first African and Muslim country to embrace this event to increase awareness and action to improve this small part of North Africa. Last week, during the ceremony celebrating the 40th Earth Day anniversary, 5 initiatives were announced, including:

‘The first agreement, concerning the generalization of a program called "Eco-Schools", was signed by the Education Minister and the deputy chairman of the Mohammed VI Foundation for the Protection of the Environment. The program, which covers a period of three years with a total budget of MAD 4 million, aims to make education the bedrock of any sustainable development policy and encourage tomorrow's citizens to adopt eco-friendly behaviour.

The second agreement, which provides for progressively eradicating the use of plastic bags and promoting other alternatives, has been signed by the Health Minister, the Minister of Industry, and the official in charge of the environment within the department of Water and Environment. This convention, which covers a period of two years, envisages the launching of awareness-raising campaigns, the eradication of non-degradable bags and the encouragement of ecological behaviour change.

For their part, the third and fourth agreements also concern the elimination and management of the use of plastic bags, while the fifth partnership agreement concerns a project to produce clean energy the El Oulja region.

During the signing ceremony which was presided over by Prince Moulay Rachid and Princess Lalla Hasna, Chairwoman of the Mohammed VI Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, a number of environmental projects were also presented.

Capital Rabat is one of the 5 cities chosen by Earth Day Network to hold the 40th Earth Day anniversary celebrations on April 22. ‘

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Living in a State of Grace.....

‘Your heart is moved by the spirit when you’re living … in a state of grace...deep in your heart…the hour of need you stood ready…there’s a world never ending…sorrow and pain don’t exist…we can live there together you can’t resist…cuz when you think you can’t take it…rest in your heart you can make it when you’re living….living in a state of grace… you can face tomorrow… you can bear the cross… just remember that godless in this world has no place… you have too much to give now… you’re living in a state of grace…state of grace’…(thanks to Steve Winwood playing in the background….)…

Wow. How many times have I sat down to update my blog, wanting to begin with “my heart is full”? This is the gift that Morocco and Moroccans have given me. I consider myself to be very blessed-I have had good fortune all my life, not the least of which has been the love of family and friends.

Yet Morocco stretches my heart. Daily. I am amazed how often I walk thru town and by the time I reach my destination, have been touched-quite literally and figuratively, by the kindness of my friends here.

And just when I’m thinking it’s the Moroccan culture, I get a call from Siobhan that she and Alice want to come “used jelaba shopping” at souk. Well, our souk is on Mondays, but El Menzel has theirs on Wednesday. So these lovely British friends from Fes make the trek to REK last night in time for a sunset walk to see the view over the zlul as the full moon rises. We made it over to El Menzel this morning, and while they didn’t find jelabas, they scored seriously with new zwin 8DH clothes at the “used” clothes section. Tbarkalikum. Had time to take them to see the Adwal women, a quick lunch and they were on their way back to Fes. Trek slama Siobhan mlli tmshi l UK. I promise next year to come volunteer at your TribeOfDoris Festival. Kantsna li trjeu tqriban. Merhaba dima!

On the nuql back from El Menzel, I get a call from Jess, and she’s coming up this weekend for a visit. Seems like ages since we’ve had a chance to really talk and I miss her. Alice, Siobhan and I had just been talking about needing to see her. So I’m glad to have her come and spend time catching up.

So you see why my heart just keeps expanding? Every direction I turn, I face good fortune.

I’m also encouraged by all the work of the Marche Maroc Rabat Committee-plans are in place and Inshallah all goes well next week. We’ve got all the posters, flyers, email blasts out and banners hung for publicity. We’ve got 36 artisans representing 22 Coops/Assns coming to sell their products. They’ll participate in a Quality Standards Workshop and receive consultations from Ministry officials on their products. We’ve got the US Ambassador to Morocco coming to present the artisans with their certificates, and the American Club has a Culture Night on Friday and a Mother’s Day Brunch on Sunday to help bring in the crowds.

Now we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a good crowd, deep pockets and sunny skies.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Made the mistake of checking out the website for our post-COS (Close of Service) cruise. We become RPCVs on Nov 12th in Rabat. Then I’ll have 2 weeks-current plan is to travel around Spain and Portugal w/Kristen and Joy-before boarding the 2 week transatlantic cruise in Barcelona. Check out the ports of call: Barcelona Spain, Toulon France, Ajaccia Corsica, Mallorca Spain, Cartagena Spain, Las Palmas Grand Canary, Tenerife Canary Islands, San Juan Puerto Rico. Then flight to LAX on December 12th to begin the re-entry to life in the US again.

Now I’m salivating about the shore excursions-need to do more reading up, as of course, one could spend more on them than the entire (cheap) cruise. That and I wouldn’t want to do them solo, so it would take convincing some of the other 20 or so PCVs who will also be on the cruise to join me. We’ll see.

So what’s wrong with me? I just got back, finally, and am dreaming of more travel. That’s just the way I’m wired-always need those carrots out in front, and they’re usually travel related. Got a bad case of spring fever.

Meantime, I’ve had a chance to catch up on emails, getting a ton of work done for Marche Maroc Rabat, which is coming up in a week and a half. Tons to do, and wouldn’t you know it, the power and rizzo was down all day yesterday. Nevertheless, PCV committee members came thru when needed.

We’ve got a full line-up of artisans and their hotel booked. We’ve got the PCVs’ hotel booked and a task grid for sign ups out. We’ve confirmed arrangements for the Ambassador to hand out the certificates. All publicity-posters, flyers, programs are either being sent, printed or finalized-once again Emily came thru like a champ. Security lists compiled, banners getting set up at the American Club, notice in the Embassy calendar, workshop set up, certificates completed. Whew. Emails have been flying, but I think we’re in great shape, thanks to the hard work of many hands. Thanks again to all who contributed to the Peace Corps Partnership Program grant to help fund this-see the poster for acknowledgement. Photos to be posted after the event.

Now I’m on to other things, like making up new, improved product labels for Adwal. Kate from down by Marrakech put together a really terrific template she said I could use, so have been working on that today. I’ve finally reconciled myself to the fact that the Adwal women are just not going to pay to print shit. I can fight it, get frustrated, whatever, but their actions speak volumes, so I need to just buck up and work within those constraints-and get them something they can actually use and replicate. Geez, this sustainability schtick can be a drag (hah!). After many painful reformatting attempts, I finally have it all lined up to print and copy as intended. Hopefully the women like them, or I’m back to square one!

Meanwhile, the builders continue to move forward on the new showroom space. Hamdullah I got a call from Fatima asking about the tile and paint colors from Jared’s work, so they’re using that info. The builders have also started the trenches for the foundation of the natural dye workspace behind the workroom. Fatima and Zahra indicated they were planning on doing this, but didn’t know it was actually funded. According to Fatiha, this will also include renovation of the bit l-ma (hashek) and kitchen space, both of which are badly needed. Tbarkaliha Taeawniya Adwal!

I’ll be interested in finding out how they (Zahra and Fatima) did at the Ministry-sponsored Craft Fair in Fes this past weekend. After all my travel, I didn’t make it up there to see their exhibit. They’ve incorporated some of the product development ideas from our last workshop, ie; smaller items, better finishing on their products and straight sewing, and have made some really nice new bags/purses. Hopefully the sales were successful.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Running Around Rabat

OK, so I’m typing this up, waiting for my bus to leave for REK from Rabat, finally-thanks be to Ellen-on my way back to my site. Seems like I’ve been gone forever-it’s been a month of solid travel. Fun, productive, checked off a number of “must-see” spots in Morocco that I won’t have a chance to get back to, but exhausting. Just want to be back in my own apt., by myself for a bit. Company was fabulous, but I need some “alone time”. At least for 2 weeks until it all cranks back up again!

Essouaria was wonderful-Randy and Kristen chilled on the beach our last day while I cooled my heels nursing a shwiya stomach-but I rallied for the afternoon trek to the “hut suq”-where all the fresh fish is sold (Essouaria is on the Atlantic-big fishing village). You can also buy what you want to eat right away and they’ll cook it up for you. Had to keep them honest when they told us our 6DH cooking was going to cost 75DH. Snu? Kifas? Seems that olives, bread, salad, etc. all have their own add-on prices. Waxa-maklinash l zitun, xubz, shlada etc. u magadish nxllsu fihum. (Fine-we didn’t eat the olives, bread, salad, etc. and we won’t pay for them). Price is now about 20DH for all the cooking and drinks. Waxa. Heck, the entertainment of watching them throw around the fish, cook it, serve it to waiting hungry folks sitting at shared picnic tables was worth at least 20DH alone.

About this time Tim has returned from ‘Kesh and joins up with us for some last minute shopping-we did some damage (incl. Kristen’s made-to-order really zwin new shoes-tbarkalik!). We took a long walk along the shoreline and watched one of the most beautiful sunsets ever. We debated dinner options-lots to choose from, but went back to the Italian place from 2 nights before. Had spinach and sage ravioli good enough to write home about and the biggest 40DH glass of wine you’ve ever seen. Get me out of Essouaria before I decide to stay!

We were all up and out early to catch buses-home for Randy and Kristen-Rabat for me. Had work to do for Marche Maroc Rabat-coming up in a couple short weeks.

I had a chance to meet up with Eric-working on the Craft Fair Committee-to walk the route from the artisan’s hotel to the American Club. I wanted to be able to describe the walk and how long it will take them to do it. Productive meeting w/Sandy at the Club to get additional questions addressed and finalize arrangements. Met w/Khadija at the Ministry-she’ll be doing the Quality Workshop at the Craft Fair for the artisans and I wanted to confirm the arrangements, content, etc. with her. I’ve found that you need to confirm things at least 3 times in person here in Morocco to get what you expect. Got all of this done before 11:00 in the morning, which gave me ample time to get work done in the PC office, thanks be to Ellen (aka Hamdullah).

Emily came thru like a champion with the graphics for the Marche Maroc Rabat publicity, Mohamed the PC Librarian hooked me up with the printer he uses, and we’ll get the flyers printed up and delivered to the American Club early next week. Done with all of this in time to go for an end-of-the-day walk and juice with Fatima Kamal to catch up. Nice.

Bit of work back in the office this morning before heading off to the bus station. Now I wait. If Ellen wills it (aka Inshallah), I’ll be home at a decent hour today. Meanwhile I type this to the background noise of boys trying to sell cookies and Kleenex, men trying to sell books of the Koran and beggars-all walking up and down the bus aisle while we sitting ducks watch the parade.

OK, so it’s getting close to time for bed. Got home at 6pm-hamdulilah-with time enough to run out for bread and milk, unpack and get clothes soaking to get up on the line tomorrow morning, catch up on email, have a bowl of Kraft Mac N Cheese and Easter candy leftovers. Life is good. So glad to be back in my own digs. Sleeping in tomorrow-no alarm. Leyla saida.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Essence of Essouaria

Have I only been here 24 hours……..? (written last night….)

So by the time I wake up yesterday (!) morning, Pamela is online checking flight options and contemplating a very expensive one-way ticket via Senegal to get to LA, leaving that evening. Her option is to wait out the European airport closures, stick around the Casablanca airport, and not know how many days it will take to get a flight out. To me, it’s a no-brainer-book what’s available, but again, it’s no cheap deal. She decides to go ahead with it, which means we need to get going.

First I need to check w/Kristen if she and Randy are still going to Essouaria (chill beach town about 2 ½ hours west of Marrakech-site of the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival every June). See, we had planned on going Monday, after Marche Maroc Marrakech, and after Pamela (and Jenna) left for LA. I cancelled on Saturday after figuring Pamela was going to be stuck for an undetermined time, and I wasn’t about to abandon her. Now that she was leaving on a Sunday night flight (which required an 11am train from Marrakech to the Casablanca airport), I could join them in Essouaria, if they were still going. They make some arrangements and we’re on again.

Meanwhile, I accompany Pamela to the train station, to ensure she’s not just on the right one, but that she’s got the scoop on where she has to transfer trains to get to the airport. Another woman sitting next to her promised to make certain she made it. I left Pamela with a phone card and my number, and my fingers crossed, in hopes that all went well for her to make her flight. Thankfully she did call later, after she was checked in and boarding her flight to let me know all was in order, Hamdullah.

So I made it back to the riad, checked out and headed over to the Artisanat to meet up with Kristen, Randy, Tim and Brian so we could all share a taxi to Essouaria. Tim and Brian were accompanying a group from Build a Nest-they were heading to Tim’s site, about 45 minutes from Essa. We got checked into a riad of a guy that Tim knows and went to watch the infamous sunset from the seaside ramparts. Beautiful.

We made our way to a terrific little Italian restaurant that Tim recommended and had a wonderful meal, then to bed early. Full day planned for today-shopping!

And shop we did. Essouaria has this real “chill” vibe to it-relaxed, by the sea, unique medina, artsy, and shopping unique from other Moroccan medinas. Found some great artwork, unique clothing and shoes and bargained successfully. Checked out our transport options and got them lined up for Wed. early am departures (transport fills early, so daruri that you buy in advance).

Tonight we made our way to this really cool, “hip” restaurant-cannot describe the décor to do it justice. Just say that it was 50’s meet Modigliani meets bohemian design. Too fun. Amazing food. Fresh seabass…roasted peppers….assortment of fresh vegetable spreads for homemade bread….glass of white wine…color me happy.

Oh, and this riad we’re staying in? Wasn’t our first choice, but only 200DH/night (about $25-total, not per person). Same owner has a very zwin riad around the corner that we were supposed to move to today. Today he says it’s full. We figure he was keeping it open for someone w/more cash, so we’re staying here. Figure that’s ok, except that the toilet is on the 4th level of incredibly narrow steep stairs. Bummer. Oops, either Randy or Kristen, right before we leave for dinner tonight, opens the small closet door right by the front door…..only to discover that there’s a toilet there. Who knew? On the 1st floor, just as there ought to be. How come none of the 3 of us bothered to open that door before now? Geez. At least now we know!

Hoping for sunny skies tomorrow for beach-front walk, maybe a bit of reading on the beach, relaxing. This really feels like the vacation that it is. Seems like I’ve been here for days. Just what we all needed. Really understand now what everybody says about Essouaria-they’re right-it’s great!

Saturday, April 17, 2010


OK, I get it now. The appeal of Marrakech. Finally did it as a tourist and managed to enjoy, delight, get entertained and spoiled by it.

It takes money, patience and a determination to not let the taxis get you down. That and a healthy dose of walking and you’re in business.

So yesterday we went by the Artisanat for the Marche Maroc Craft Fair. Rebecca and Tim have done a great job with it and the artisan exhibits are well done. Hopefully the sales match the foot traffic-very busy indeed. Had a chance to say hi and catch up with a lot of the PCVs and artisans. I also met the women from Build a Nest for the first time. Pamela and I accompanied them to the Jardin Majorelle. It was good to get more information on how they operate and connect for potential follow up with Adwal.

Pamela and I made our way back to the riad for the pedicures and manicures we had scheduled. Mine were great, but Pamela’s left a lot to be desired, so we decided we needed a beverage…of the alcoholic sort. No small task in Morocco, but we were up to the challenge. Caught and paid a ransom to a petit taxi to take us to a zwin hotel for dinner. Informed upon arrival that they were all booked and we couldn’t even get in the door for a drink. Took another taxi to Bab Ksour to go to another restaurant I know of-all booked. We finally made it back to the Café Arabe (eaten there before) and were in luck-they had a table available. After a lengthy and in retrospect, humorous, attempt at getting a martini (how can you be "out of" dry martinis?)for Pamela, we had dinner and a drink and a fresh air walk home.

I made the mistake, or good fortune, however you view it, to turn on CNN last night before going to sleep. Got an update on the ash plume from the volcanic eruption in Iceland that is wreaking havoc on European travel-most airports shut down, incl. Frankfurt, which Pamela is supposed to fly thru tomorrow night. I wake up around 2:30 am to find her online and wake up to try to help out. She woke worried about her flight and we both got online, she Skyped w/boyfriend Paul and made plans to stay overnight at the Casablanca airport tomorrow night, assuming that her flight is cancelled. We’ll punt from there, as who knows when she’ll be rescheduled.

Today was our day for tourism-and we were very successful at it. Started by walking to the Saadian Tombs, carriage ride to and tour of the Bahia Palace, then off to the Ben Yousef Medersa. Taxi for just the right price. Pamela found a shop along the walk to the Medersa that had just about every gift she wanted to buy-and all at very fair prices, negotiated just a bit, where all felt they made a good deal. The Medersa may be my favorite building in Morocco-both ornate and simple, with a unique serene feel to it.

We’d been on our feet since around 10am and it was 3:30 w/o lunch. Needed a quick stop before the Artisanat at 4pm. Stopped at a hotel/bar next to the Artisanat for a poolside beer and sandwich-just the respite needed. Made it just in time to the Artisanat for a meeting on the Marche Maroc Rabat Craft Fair-the 3rd in the series, coming up in 3 weeks.

We had made reservations for dinner tonight at the La Moumania Hotel’s Marocaine Restaurant. This is the place that turned us away from even entering last night since we didn’t have a reservation, and who knows why we still wanted to go there. Nevertheless, we did, and the guys at the entrance asked for all but our firstborn just to walk inside the gate. An impressive, ornate, elegant, formal, beautiful, and rather sterile hotel. We had a ($20) drink in this rather surreal/formal bar before heading in for our dinner reservation. Had to walk thru their immense, beautiful garden to the restaurant where we had THE most delicious Moroccan meal. Cannot even do it justice. Semolina and walnut stuffed chicken tagine with caramelized pears….date stuffed sea bass with caramelized onions and almond rice. Live Moroccan music combo. Service to spoil you in our own booth. This is not your usual Morocco. And anyone who thinks this place is Morocco has not idea. What a contrast to REK, but a luxurious one beyond belief (no faux Dior here-it's the real thing).

Short taxi home and we’re sleepy-need to catch up on last night’s lost sleep and take tomorrow one step at a time.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Showing off REK

We’re off to Mrraksh (again) and the Marche Maroc Craft Fair……..

Pamela and I made it back to REK in time for her to take a tour of the souk-Monday is souk day and it’s like a huge flea market w/tons of vegetables and goats and sheep-quite a show. We were starved, so bought some meat to be grilled in a sandwich in one of the cafes. I think I took Pamela into a “no woman” zone, since the guys weren’t very friendly, confused and confusing when we went to pay for our drinks-even tho’ we went in there ‘cuz there had been a woman sitting there right before we arrived. This was in the lagar side of town, so must have crossed some unwritten barrier/threshold. Smeh li.

On Tuesday we had a chance to go down to the coop to show Adwal’s work to Pamela and have lunch with the women, stopped by the Dar Taliba (girls’ dorm) for a tour by Hasna and met up with Fouzia for tea and a walk to see the view over the zlul.

We also took time to go by Meriem’s office to weigh the feta cheese made at the cheese workshop (it has to sit in the brine for 5-30 days before it’s ready). We’ve now got only the gouda to weigh (it has another week to sit before it’s ready). I showed Meriem all the information we have on yields, prices, etc. and gave her homework to give to the Milk Coop. They need to determine other costs, ie; cheesecloth, transport, packaging, etc., so we can do an assessment of the financial feasibility of producing cheese vs selling the milk. Stay tuned.

Hamdullah, later that same day my refrigerator was delivered and is working again (after only 6 weeks). OK, must admit that I thought the guy had to come back in the morning to do something w/the gas/compressed Freon container. Turns out I just needed to wait unil the morning to plug it in so the Freon container pressurized. All’s well and the kitchen’s back in order.

Yesterday we had another busy day, with the morning spent making couscous with the women of the Couscous Coop. I had gone by on Monday to see if we could sit in with them while they actually made the couscous (not when they are cooking it), and they told us to come back Wed. morning. This is something I wanted to see before recommending it to either Gail or Michele to bring tourists to see/participate in. We had a fun several hours-observing, getting our hands in the making, talking and joking, and then sharing a delicious lunch with them. I found out that the Couscous Coop itself is new-although the women have been running a kitchen for some time-and they want help in their marketing. They were extremely welcoming and hopefully we can bring some tourists in to share this experience with them.

We then headed over to El Menzel, where Adwal an exhibit at a festival at the Lycee (kind of a college/vocational school/craft fair at the high school). This gave Pamela a chance to meet more of the Adwal women and see more of their products (which to their delight she purchased). Found out from Zahra that the Ministry Craft Fair in Fes was postponed to next week and I’ll try to get there on my way back from Rabat.

Headed home to buy veggies for fajitas and tonic for G&Ts, had Pete over for dinner and rummicube and made it an early night before getting up to pack and start the journey to Marrakech.

Long 7 hour journey made longer by a strange interaction w/woman in the car we were riding in. She made a very big fuss when she and her son got on the train in Rabat that Pamela and I weren’t in our proper seats. Fine, we’ll move our stuff. Now we can’t sit together. Oh, then she says, you can sit together. Huh? Forget it. Then she shuts the air vent. We ask that we keep it open. She brings in the train guy to shut it and lock it shut. Huh? Then she shuts the door so we have absolutely no air and mutters something about “Americans” under her breath to her son. Note-now the 2 empty seats are by she and her son and they aren’t sitting next to one another either. What was that all about?

Good baraka starts w/our arrival in Marrakech. I’ve learned from past experience-not gonna let the taxi drivers get me down-will pay up to 30DH to get to the riad. Immediately have a driver willing to take us. Get to our riad and it’s very nice-great room, wifi, TV, breakfast incl., rooftop deck and spa. Am I in Morocco? Hamdullah.

We head out for fresh air, a walk and dinner. Make our way thru Jmaa el Fnaa-needs to be seen at night. Head back to a restaurant that Lindsay and I ate at last week. G&Ts, olives and a warm eggplant salad that I’d die for. Yum. Back in room, ready for bed, putting finishing touches on this message to post before turning out the lights. Leyla saida.

Monday, April 12, 2010


In Morocco, you must go with the flow…(written yesterday)....

Lindsay and I wrapped up Mrraksh with a final purchase for one of her best friends right before leaving for the train station yesterday morning. We didn’t see many historical sites, but she shopped her heart out-making a lot of good purchases and bargaining them all down. We dined well while in Mrraksh as well-nice to enjoy the restaurant selections NOT on a Peace Corps budget.

We really enjoyed the riad we stayed in-having our own personal salon to return to when we needed a break from the medina souks and at night after dinner-was terrific. Never did get the wifi to work on my computer while there-but probably an issue w/my computer, not their signal. They even arranged transport to the lagar (train station) so we avoided that last taxi nightmare before our departure.

Just a quick shout out to Lindsay-what a terrific time we had-she’s very easy and fun to travel with and we managed to not get on one another’s nerves-pretty good for 10 days, no? She went with the flow, slept whenever and wherever needed, climbed, rode, walked however necessary and kept great spirits. I’ll travel with you anywhere again Lindsay. Hearrrt.

Saw Lindsay off at the Casablanca airport and headed up to Rabat to get some work done. See, Jenna, who was to arrive at the airport before Pamela, had to cancel her plans. Her dog had to have emergency surgery on Friday, so there was no way she could leave him. So sorry she will miss the trip, and hope that her pup got thru the procedure successfully. Shift to Plan B.

Glad I made it up to Rabat. Paid the deposit on hotel for the artisans for the Marche Maroc Craft Fair to secure the rooms. Found out that they won’t give us additional rooms for the PCVs to stay in, so had to scramble to find another hotel that was available. Got that done with Plan C-thanks Velleda manager-pays to stay there a lot-doing me a favor.

Up this morning to head back to the Casa airport, only to find that Pamela’s plane is delayed 4 hours. Hello Plan D. Unfortunately I couldn’t check her flight status before leaving Rabat as the cybers weren’t open yet. This of course means that we’ll get into Fes pretty late. Uh oh. Call from Gail. She forgot to leave a house key at Café Clock for us to stay at her place, and the close-by riads are full. Michele comes thru via Plan E and we’ll bunk at her place tonight. Poor Pamela is on day 2 of travel to get here. If Ellen wills it, the rest of the trip won’t require the same degree of flexibility.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Thanks for Your Support!

I’d send out more personal thank-yous, but nearly all the contributors to the Marche Maroc Rabat Craft Fair and Workshop for Artisans were anonymous. Bless you! The PCPP grant is now officially fully funded, thanks to what I am certain are friends/family reading this blog-this is as close to a thank you as I can get.

On behalf of the 40 artisans who will be learning, networking, selling their traditional handicrafts, and having a bit of fun and adventure along the way, Shukran Bzzzzaf!


Why are the taxi drivers such bastards in Marraksh? In typical fashion, we arrive at the CTM bus station (having started our journey 10 hrs prior) and the taxi drivers all insist that “l mgana mxdamsh”-the meter doesn’t work. One “generously” tells us he’ll take us to Bab El Ksour for 40DH. I laugh in his face. Another offers to take us for 20DH. I know it’s under 15DH. Insist they use their meter. They continue to try for 20DH-I’m telling them-about 10 gathered-I know that the meters work and am not going to pay more than the meter. One guy gives me a high five-I get it-ok, so will you take us on your meter? No. Crap. This happens EVERY TIME you arrive in Marraksh. This is what turns me off of this city. So I drag poor Lindsay down the street, dragging baggage along, working up a sweat and an attitude. I’m working on principles here. About 1 meter down the road we get to a hotel where I’ve had luck getting a “nishan” taxi. Guy says he’ll take us, and we load in our stuff. Head off. I ask him to turn on his magana. Says it’s a tariff of 20DH. Crap. Tell him to pull over. Suddenly my principles take a hit. I’m tired, do I really want to drag Lindsay thru more of this when we’re only talking the difference of maybe $1? Let it go Lynn. Stay in the taxi and let’s just get to our riad.

We’re both exhausted from the trip and I don’t need to exacerbate the whole thing. We get to Bab El Ksour. Try to find the Riad. Walk a ways, backtrack, then finally call for them to come and get us. We’d never have found it on our own. Sweet place-we have a sitting room and private fab bath. But only one double bed. Mushkil. Geez, don’t want to give up the sweet room, but want to sleep 3 nights w/o worrying about kicking each other. They bring up a rollaway that fits in an alcove below the window to the atrium our room overlooks. Perfect. Don’t have to change rooms, still have our sitting room, and a HOT shower! They even supposedly have wifi downstairs, so will check that out later to download all of this. Gonna go out and get some fresh medina air (?!) and dinner and back for a quiet evening in our room. We’re happy campers once again.

Gorgeous Gorges

(written on the 6th/7th)....
Did I forget to mention the sunrise in the Sahara, climbing the dunes, ghost stories and jokes in the tent until we were told to be quiet….oh, and there’s the no bathroom (did the guide really tell us it’s all one big bathroom?), you have to bring your own water-wait-we’re in the Sahara desert and you might want to tell me this in advance so I bring enough, sleep inside the stuffy tent instead of under the stars ‘cuz the sand is blowing so strong you’d be buried by morning? Oh, and that you have to know how to do the Chinese splits in order to ride a camel? But forget all of that-we had a grand time! Besides, camel trekking in the Sahara makes for some pretty fine photo opps. Will load some later.

We did make it to the Dades Gorges late last night. Sara, another PCV, lives down in the gorges and her Moroccan fiancé, Brahim, hooked us up w/transport to and a hotel in the Gorges, so we could wake up there rather than in the tourist town on the main road. Filled our bellies w/brochette and Harira, took showers (no hot water-but a cold shower after 4 days is better than no shower), opened the window to the sound of the river rushing by below us and slept like babies. Ham du Ellen.

We got up this morning to hike w/Brahim. He’s a “faux guide”-not an official tourist guide-you have to go to special schooling for that-but he knows this terrain like the back of his hand, having grown up here. We “hired” him to take us on a hike to see the Gorges. We went by Sara’s Neddi (where the women weave woolen saks and carpets) to say hi and went by Brahim’s house for fresh-made yogurt (Lisa would be happy-she just did the cheese workshop down here). Hiked up and around for about 4 hours-that was enough. Just after we turned to come back, we stopped and had tea with a Berber nomad woman that Brahim knows-she had her little pot with her and we brought the tea and bread. What a site. No photos-she didn’t want her picture taken, so just imagine it….up on a rocky precipice, sheep and goat around us, looking down to the green oasis of the river and the red mud houses climbing the river banks, with a Berber woman squatted in front of a fire of twigs with a small pot of tea-made with a plant that Brahim picked that only grows here.

We get back down from the hike to the village and Sara is back (she just returned from Rabat). We are introduced to Brahim’s family and sit down to finish off the couscous lunch they were eating. Sit around a bit before walking thru the river-side fields back to the Auberge. Another cold shower to freshen up and a bit of a rest. I’m typing on my blog and Lindsay asks if I have wifi. I remind here where we are, and that we just had tea on a mountain w/a Berber nomad, of course there’s no wifi. Then she reminds me that one of the guys guiding the camels in the Sahara was on his cell phone, so maybe it’s not so far fetched a possibility.

Our good travel karma stays with us, as Angie (another PCV) has made it over from her village, approx 2 km away. This is no small task, as she just returned form Spring Camp in Figuig-as close as you can get to the Algerian border in SE Morocco. She needed to get to all of her Coop women to confirm their upcoming workshop and participation at the Marche Maroc Marrakech. See, if you leave town for a few days, the plans you’ve put in place and that everyone’s agreed to are likely to fall apart, so you need to reconfirm w/everyone when you return. Anyway, she meets us at the Aberge and Brahim has hooked us up w/a ride up to the Riad Blue Africa that his family is building right up above the tip of the gorge. It’s a stunning vew and awesome location for their Riad-they are still building it and hoping that the town extends electricity up there-until then they work off of generators and solar panels. We sit out on the terrace, overlooking the gorge, and Brahim brings us OJ w/firewater. OK, so the firewater is actually “fig whiskey”-made from his homemade still. Actually pretty tasty-and we’re all cheap drunks anyway. We move inside for a wonderful meal of salad, yummy tagine, a sweet fruit tagine and more beverages, all consumed to the music of Brahim, his brother and friend on the tomtom drums. Nice.

We walk our way back down from the gorge to the Auberge, stopping along the way to ask a friend of Brahim’s if he can give Angie a ride to her town-hashuma for her to walk alone. No problem, she gets the ride.

Morning comes too early, but we must get up to get back into Boulmane Dades to catch the CTM bus to Marrakech. We settle the bill-get Sara to help us know what a fair price is to pay Brahim for his guiding us on the trek, hotel and meals (incl. money for the Riad Blue Africa dinner that Brahim was not going to have us pay for). For approx. $60 we’ve spent 2 nights, ate and drank very well, hiked w/a guide, incl. the amazing tea w/nomadic Berber woman. Thanks to Ellen!

The public transits aren’t really running to Boulmane Dades, so the Auberge guy asks some Spanish guests headed that way if they’ll give us a ride. Yup. And we’re off!

As I type this, we’re on the bus-just passed thru The Valley of the Roses. Big annual Rose Festival every year the first weekend in May. Looking forward to the view of all those roses. Not a one in sight. Huh? Oh well, now we’re back to the dusty terrain to Ourzazate before weaving thru the High Atlas to Marrakech.

I’ve been a lifelong planner-incl. my travels-planning the trip in advance. Morocco has taught me to let my heart be my guide. Be open to whatever hand reaches out to me and follow it. Our short visit to the Gorges has proved the value of this approach.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy Easter

Oh, that was yesterday. Been a while since I’ve had time and connection to post. Quick update, as don’t know next time I’ll be online….

Headed out Monday to Fes to overnight before heading off to pick up cousin Arne’s daughter Lisa in Casablanca. Met her at the plane on Tues afternoon, w/o luggage-it was left in Paris on her connecting flight from Ireland. The flight it was coming in on was coming in too late for us to get transport out of the airport, so we headed into downtown Casablanca for the night. Fresh wood-fired pizza and a walk in the fresh air was great tonic. Back to the airport to dash thru the airport and p/u luggage, all in about 10 minutes, in time to make the train to Fes and on to Ribat El Kheir by 4pm. It helps when you buy out all 6 seats in a taxi so it goes right away.

Two days in Ribat El Kheir-showed her the sights, visited the Coop women, ran around trying to set up arrangements for a cooking show filming (that has since been cancelled), and dinner w/Fatima and her family. Fun.

Then we headed back up to Fes so she could see my favorite city. Walked all over the old medina, lunch w/friends, henna on the hands and found Easter Eggs (more later). Success!

We then met up w/7 others for the overnight bus to Erfoud, where we met up w/3 others (all PCVs except Lindsay). Hamd’s brother tracked us down about 10:30am and we headed out to Merzouga in the 4x4’s for our desert camel trek in the Sahara. One and ½ hour camel ride is enough, I’m here to tell you. They fed/tea’d us, we ate Easter candy, we slept, climbed the dunes, took tons of phots and headed out after sunrise over the Sahara.

We’re now back in Erfoud waiting transit. Original plan was to go to Tinjdad w/Jon and Joy and stay at Dan's, but Joy is sick and has to go to a clinic in Errachidia to get checked out. Change of plans-we’ll head straight to Boulmane Dades and the gorges tonight. The guys we trekked the Saraha with are heading to Ourzazzate tonight and have offered to give us a ride-in their zwin 4x4’s to-much better option than the typical bus and taxi transits. Lindsay and I will go see the infamous Dades gorges before heading on to Marrakech, where we’ll be for 3 days before she takes off.

Whew. That’s it for now.