Saturday, March 19, 2011

Through the Tichka

One thing to keep in mind is that this is NOT a journal. Too much is happening too fast for me to record it all. And while it is endlessly fascinating to me, it would likely – quickly – become endlessly boring to you. I’ll pick and choose and hope that it gives both an adequate reporting of what I’m doing and what’s happening and an accurate description of how it feels to me.

Yesterday, we left our training site in Marrakesh to head for Ouarzazate, a town in the pre-Sahara, which will be the “hub” for the rest of our PST (pre-service training).Our two buses left about 2:15 and drove through Marrakesh, right to the edge of the medina (the walled old city), where we had been the previous evening, taking in the Jemaa l-Fna, a huge square, surrounded by markets. It’s an amazing place with street theater, food stalls, and shops selling every imaginable thing (fabrics, lamps, leather goods, poultry, and, yes, tourist junk). When we left the city we drove through a flat plain directly toward the imposing Atlas mountains between groves of olive and other fruit trees. About 3:00 we began our climb, heading for Tichka, one of only a few passes through the mountains.

About half way into the trip, not quite at the top of the top of pass, we stopped in the town of Taddart (“house” in Berber) to take a bathroom break. We streamed into several cafes to use the bathrooms and I got my first taste (well, not taste, really – experience) of a Turkish toilet (the use of which may be the subject of a whole post sometime). The owner was upset – especially with the women it seemed – because no one was paying. When a Peace Corps staff member slipped him a bill he became more cooperative.

After the pit stop, we continued the climb for a short time, then began our descent. The colors changed, first to gray, then back to red as we got closer to the desert floor. By then a nearly full, translucent moon had floated above the plateau in front of us. About 15 km outside Ouarzazate, we spotted the city, a lush green patch in a shallow bowl of red. 10 km outside the city we passed a film studio (Ouarzazate is the center of Morocco’s film industry – films like, The Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and Babel were shot here), and from then on it was rolling through suburbs into the city as streetlights were beginning to switch on.

The training has been of very high quality and very intense. We have another three days here in Ouarzazate. Sunday is a big day for us. That's when we learn what language (Moroccan Arabic or one of two dialects we'll be learning) and what our CBT (Community Based Training) training village will be. Monday morning we'll be fanning out for our villages with our four or five other CBT mates and our LCF (Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator).

We pulled up to our hotel as twilight really settled on the city, just in time to stay within the Peace Corps rules. It was a great end to a thrilling ride and a comforting end to another thrilling day.

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