Monday, May 24, 2010

Fes to Figuig

Friday morning I had a chance to meet up w/the manager of the Batha Museum, just outside Bab Boujeloud-main tourist gate into the old Fes Medina. This is an absolutely amazing space that I would LOVE to be able to use for a Marche Maroc Craft Fair. You go inside and it’s a huge courtyard with beautiful gardens in the middle and covered tiled walkways on both sides (perfect for artisan displays). If we do these Marches in Fes again, we definitely need a better venue. The American Language Center has wonderful space and wants us to come back, but it’s too off the beaten path-need something more central for tourists and Fessians to come to.

Anyway, I’ve had the Batha Museum on my mind for months and finally was able to meet w/them to disucss this idea. They were very excited about it, but approval must come from the Mininstry of Culture. Oh, and the artisans can display their products, but not sell them. Huh? ****. So, after thinking it over a bit more, I’m still inclined to pursue the idea, and set up a system where people come in to see the displays, get a receipt/ticket for anything they want to purchase and we set up a place in the Batha hotel next door for the cash transactions. I have no idea if this will work or not, but I want to give it a try. Oh, and of course, turn it over to some great PCV in the most recent group for them to then put the craft fair together.

Randy came in town, we had our “warden” meeting-reviewing safety and security plans-and headed back to Maia’s place. Up onto the rooftop deck to enjoy the nice evening. Simple dinner cooked in the apt. and to bed early. Big travel ahead.

Fortunately Randy and I are of the same thinking travel-wise, so we bought our 1st class train tickets to Oujda-a 6 hr train ride. First class guarantees you a plush seat and a/c. Worth the extra approx. $5. Got to Oujda-way east, close to the Algerian border-to find that they were supposedly preparing for the king to arrive the next day, so everything was “spiffed up” and the hotel recommended to us was booked. Managed to find an alternative (more expensive) hotel-but liked the great shower, tv, wifi that came with it. Splurged at a zwin French restaurant for a wonderful fish dinner (Oujda also close to the Mediterranean). Bought our bus tickets for the next day (always wise to do ahead in strange towns to confirm departure time and seats) and headed over to the medina. Most of it was closing up by the time we got there, so our only purchase was a kilo of fresh grape tomatoes to take w/us to Jack and Ina’s. Back to the room where we watched a CNN sailing program, just ‘cuz that was the only channel in English!

I’ve got to mention that the people of Oujda were amazingly friendly and helpful. Including: when deciding which street to take to the CTM bus station, a car pulls over, rolls down the window and asks how they can help us. Get to the bus station and the ticket guy isn’t around, and the policeman goes looking for him several times, finally calls someone else who calls the guy, so we can buy our tickets. Every taxi guy was friendly, helpful and didn’t try to rip us off. Alright Oujda.

So we get on the bus at 10am for the ride to Figuig. It’s a 7 hour bus ride, straight south. To the Algerian border. I can see it as I type this. That close. Oh, and of course, closed. We get stopped 4 times by the police, who board the bus, come straight to Randy and I to ask for our ID. Only us. Typical for this area, due to border issues. At Bouarfa they ask if we know Melanie-the only PCV and westerner living in that town. Just so happens that we do. See, all Americans know one another!

We travel through some pretty barren, tough terrain, and are surprised to see the nomad tents out there w/their sheep or goat-not easy living. Turns out that they’re also the nomads that weave the baskets sold by Jack and Ina’s artisan association. We stop on a number of occasions to either drop people off or pick them up, destinations unknown-flat landscape as far as the eye can see and no homes or tents visible. The men getting on have white turbans, dark complexions and mustaches-stereotypic of what you might imagine a Moroccan man to wear and look like. Everyone stares at us. The older woman across the aisle, with Berber tattoos on her forehead and chin (as is typical) AND her cheeks and nose, is sitting and staring right at us. For the rest of the trip.

We make it finally into Figuig and Jack and Ina are there to greet us. Now the trip really begins. We walk thru the Zanaga ksar (Kasbah-all mud village, multi-storied, with tunnels and narrow passageways and old wooden wide doors-incredibly picturesque) to their home. I give them a TON of credit for living here-not easy-and they’ve done a ton of work on the place they’re renting, to make it more of a home for themselves for their 2 years, and to leave something that the owners (so poor they can’t afford to live in the home) can rent out for a nice sum after they leave. Vodka tonics, cheese and crackers in the simple breeze on their rooftop for the sunset, overlooking the ksar rooftops-nice.

Drinks are interrupted with the arrival of the gendarmes who need to take down information from Randy and my passports and carte de sejours. Of course they knew just which house, in all of Figuig, to find us.

Today we took a quick walk (more walk later when the sun isn't so intense) up to the Association Annahda. It is the perfect example of what makes Figuig distinct. Besides being an oasis and palmerie (due to the aquifers here), having 7 different old mud brick ksars, it is actually a very progressive town. I am constantly amazed listening to Jack and Ina talk about their Association and the (relative) sophistication of their business practices.

Jack shared a bit about the Assn. Annahda with us-the Renaissance Association, formed in 1949, as a stronghold against the French who were trying all over agaiin to take over Morocco. The Assn Annahda formed its own school, community outreach, etc. to stay independent of the French. Sixty one years later it is still going strong, bringing together community organizations of Figuig to work together, hosting training, programs, events. They have one of the nicest community halls I've seen in Morocco-not one DH of Moroccan gov't money in the place. What a source of pride. They have a small museum and library-to preserve the history of Figuig. Wow. Again,one great example of what it so right about Figuig.

Another full day left and marketing workshop in the morning. STay tuned for more of Figuig...

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