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

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