Saturday, July 30, 2011

I Become a Tourist

Bamboo decking shades shoppers in the Rabat medina and
provides a wonderful dappled light
Travel literature is replete with distinctions between the traveler and the tourist. One of my favorites is G.K. Chesterton’s observation that “the traveler sees what he sees, while the tourist sees what he goes to see.” It’s another way of saying that in their quest to see the “sights,” tourists are blinded to what is actually there.

Peace Corps – with its emphasis on entering the community and culture in a deep way – is giving me the ultimate in travel. Yet, I still want to see the sights.

A carpet store, Rabat medina
Up till now, I haven’t had the chance, but a week ago last Saturday, I left my village for a week’s training in Azrou, a middle-sized town in the Middle Atlas. It’s an area called the Moroccan Switzerland, though it reminded me more of northern Italy. The mountains were definitely not Alpine, which is what I associate with Switzerland. It certainly was different from my region, though – cooler, tree-lined streets (there’s not a single tree in my village outside a garden wall), and white-washed houses rather than the ubiquitous red ochre of the south.

A tomb or shrine to a marabout, or saint, in Rabat medina
When the training was over, I hitched a ride with PC staff to the capital, Rabat. I was scheduled for some routine medical tests on Monday, but the timing gave me two days to wander the city, which I did, usually in the company of two other senior volunteers, Stan and Barbara. On Saturday, I made the PCV’s obligatory trip to Marjane, a Wal-Mart style chain, and bought a printer for my computer and some sheets and pillows for my bed. Little by little, I’m getting myself outfitted for living and working.

Rabat's new Tram-Way
On Sunday morning, Stan, Barbara and I walked through the medina (the old, walled city), the Oudaia Kasbah (the old, walled fort), and an Andalusian Garden. It was great. In the afternoon, we took a practice run on Rabat’s shiny new Tram-Way out to Peace Corps headquarters, which is about four kilometers from the center of the city.

And then more walking. I love to walk, and a couple of days wandering Centre Ville, the main part of the downtown, built by the French during colonial days, had me feeling like I was getting the hang of the city. Not the medina, of course, which is a tangle of streets and passages, and endlessly more interesting. I would need much more time to get the hang of that.

You can see more pictures of my trip to Azrou, Ifrane, and Rabat by clicking here.

A fountain in the medina with beautiful zellij, the tilework for which
Morocco is so famous

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Domestic Lessons

My laundry set-up: Large basin for washing, green
for rinse, black bucket for bleach items. Yes, there’s
Tide here. In fact, it’s become the
generic word, 
teed, for laundry detergent.

I’ve been fighting a cold for a couple of days. Sunday, I spent most of the day sleeping and reading – though I was glued to my computer for about half an hour following the windup to the thrilling Women’s World Cup match between the U.S. and Brazil on FIFA’s Gametracker. Go U.S.!

Yesterday, I dragged myself out of bed to go to my Berber lesson in Kalaa. I came right home and went back to bed for a while. But in the afternoon, I got up and felt really great. I decided I would do my laundry and cook up some food. I’d bought some kefta (ground meat) on Friday, and knew I needed to cook it before it went bad. You may recall that in my last post I said that whenever you move into a new place, it takes a while to learn how to live in. Well, I learned a few lessons yesterday.

Even a line between the open columns wouldn’t
have given me enough space.
This is the first batch I’ve done since I moved into my own house. In truth, it’s the first batch I’ve done entirely on my own since I’ve been in Morocco. My host family would never let me do my laundry by myself, since it’s “women’s work.” I did it at the faucet in my own courtyard, rather than at a well. And I feel some gratification, because I think I did a pretty good job of it, though it probably took me twice as much time to do it as it would have them. I also appreciate the tips I learned from them about handwashing, especially how to get tough blue-jean fabric clean (with a brush and lots of elbow grease).

Lessons learned: I need more clothesline, and I need to do my laundry in the morning, so that I can get it all hung up and dried in one day (I was taking dry laundry off the line and hanging new clothes to dry at 11:30 last night).

The top of my couscousier worked as a serviceable
colander for the pasta. Don’t ask me if I’m
planning to try my hand at couscous soon.
Since I didn’t buy any real food till Friday, and then got sick, I hadn’t done much more in the kitchen than fry a couple of eggs and make tea and coffee. I decided to make meatballs and pasta and a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers in vinegar and oil. I didn’t have any tomato sauce or paste, so I made a sauce of onions, tomatoes, green and red olives, and mustard, which was really good. And I felt like I needed to cook all of the meat, so I ended up with 15 meatballs. What does that mean? Leftovers!

Lessons learned: The oven does work, though who knows what the temperature is? I need an oven thermometer. I need garlic! I need to make meatballs smaller, so they cook faster and more evenly. I need an apron and hot pads. And I needTupperware-type containers for those leftovers.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

First Morning

The view from my pillow

When I woke up this morning, I looked at the high, ribbed ceiling (at least 12') and felt like I was in the hall of a monastery. It was cool and quiet. Sanctuary.

There was a wedding going on nearby yesterday, so when I went to bed (about midnight) I could hear the intermittent ululation that is a part of all weddings here, and the singing and drum beating. It turns out a common pathway in town goes right alongside my bedroom wall, so there was a lot of foot traffic passing my windows as people went to and from the wedding. Hushed voices, the sound of feet on the stony path, the peripheral glow of a flashlight from window to window. At first it felt weird. I thought, “What if they shine their flashlight in here?” But then I thought, “Well, that would be rude, but what else?” Since all the windows have steel grillwork on them, there was no danger of someone just climbing through the window, so I rolled over and went to sleep. About 4:30, I was awakened by the first call to prayer. I’m closer to the mosque here, and the call is much louder. At 6:30, the crowing of rooster woke me for good.

I got up to do my morning ablutions. I’ve learned that when you move into a new place, it takes a while to learn how to live in it. I’d had an idea of how and where I wanted to do my washing and shaving, but it didn’t work out that well. I’ll try it differently tomorrow.

My kitchen, so far
Then I turned my attention to breakfast. Despite spending most of my settling in allowance on Wednesday and Thursday for a mattress, refrigerator, table and chairs, and kitchen and cleaning supplies, I still have no dishes, glasses, or silverware. And no food! In a bag that I hadn’t opened in months, I found a French press, a travel mug from the Coffee Grounds, my favorite coffee shop back in Grand Haven, and some packets of Constant Comment and Lord Grey tea. A friend had sent a care package that arrived a few days ago, so I had tea and a package of Nutter Butters for breakfast.



My work space. It's at the opposite end of the long room
from the sitting area.
Before I moved on Friday, I walked with Mohammed, my host father, to the polling place. In case you’re not keeping up with international news, Friday was the referendum on the Moroccan government’s proposed constitutional reforms.

It was a big deal. Unlike other North African and Middle Eastern countries, Morocco has not been wracked by violence. There are probably many reasons for this, but two important ones are that the king, Mohammed VI, was already known as a reformer, and that when the “Arab Spring” bloomed six months ago, the king immediately announced there would be further reforms in which he would relinquish some of his power to the elected government. The reforms were announced a couple of weeks ago. In the referendum, voters had the choice of voting Yes or No. It passed with about 98% of the vote. That doesn’t surprise me. In my town, the king seems universally loved, and his proposals were greeted with approval.

My sitting area, with a rug loaned to me by my host
family. The blue flooring you see is agrtil, a plastic fabric
used everywhere as an underflooring. On my budget
I'm using it as my carpeting.
The voting itself was interesting, a lot like home. It took place at the local elementary school. Desks had been piled up to make room for the poll workers. There were three prominent local citizens working as poll workers, checking voter registration, etc. Voters received 2 cards, one Yes, one No, and an envelope. They went into the voting booth, put their choice in the envelope and slipped the other into a discard box. They came out and dropped the envelope with their vote into a clear box. People, all men when I went there, stood outside in the shade of some trees chatting. There was one big difference: they served tea!

In the evening, I asked my sisters if they had voted. They all assured me they had, later in the day. 

My sleeping nook, at one end of the "monastery" hall