Friday, June 29, 2012

Drink Tea

One afternoon this week when I was at the dar shebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"), where I've done most of my volunteering as a Youth Development PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) here in Morocco, some of the local dar shebab moudirs ("directors") were sitting talking with each other and with me. Often when Moroccans are socializing, they serve tea. Accordingly, this one day this week, when the moudirs of the local dar shebabs were catching up with each other, the moudir, of this particular dar shebab where we were, broke out the tea.

After the moudirs and I had started drinking tea, a very young girl, perhaps four years old, meekly walked into the dar shebab and over to the table where we were enjoying our tea. Greeting her in the usual welcoming, inclusive Moroccan way, they offered her some tea. She humbly refused, but they insisted that she have some tea. She then accepted the small glass of tea. The moudirs then resumed their conversation.

Given that I still don't understand the vast majority of any conversation of any significant length which occurs in Darija, I was, during this particular conversation, as is usually the case, present merely and primarily in the status of a cultural observer rather than a full participant in the conversation. During exchanges, slightly removed, I note interesting and humorous occurrences.

Having lived here in Morocco for the better part of two years, I'm familiar with a good deal of the cultural norms here. In particular, when a guest isn't drinking the beverage or eating the food that has been served, the host tells him or her to eat or drink.

Having this background knowledge, having observed such hospitality, and having been directed to eat and drink again and again by Moroccan hosts, I was amused by the young girl's directive to one of the moudirs who had stopped drinking his tea. Most likely, having watched Moroccan adults urge their guests to keep eating and drinking, she had learned to tell someone who had stopped drinking his or her beverage to resume drinking it. I thought it was adorable how she told the moudir who had stopped drinking his tea, "Shurrib atay," meaning "Drink tea."

Monday, June 25, 2012

An Explosive Performance

While I was recently in the city of Essaouira, I got to see fantasia. In fantasia, Moroccan men line up next to each other on horseback. They're traditionally dressed, and are sitting on horses draped with colorful decoration. The men are holding old guns which use gunpowder. The men all charge forward on their horses at the same time. After a short run, they fire their guns. It's a bit tricky for them because they try to fire them at the same time to make the sound of a single explosion. In the performance, the men are commemorating attacks against Berbers years ago. Given that fantasia isn't something which one gets to see that often, I was glad I got to see it on the beach when I was in Essaouira.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Feline Residence

This weekend,
it was another windy morning
in the city of Essaouira
on the Atlantic coast.

Along a pedestrian street in the medina,
that is, the old part of the city,
with streets lined with bricks
and similar stones,
a few of us PCVs were walking.

We were walking down the usually busy street
a bit earlier in the morning
such that few people were on the street.

On a small step
we spied a cardboard box,
the home of a cat
and her two adorable kittens.

Friday, June 22, 2012

What Did He Want?

I arrived yesterday in Essaouira, a small coastal city, with a half dozen other PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). After we got out of the grand taxi, we were collecting our baggage from the trunk amidst a flurry of activity. The parking lot was crammed with grand taxis; people were asking us if we needed lodging; people were moving through the lot with pushcarts.

In Moroccan towns and cities, Moroccans use pushcarts to move a variety of items, including fruits, vegetables, and animals. Yesterday morning in the grand taxi parking lot, I saw a Moroccan man with a large pushcart facing me. I stepped closer to the taxi so he could pass by me. But he didn't move.

Next I thought that he was looking for alms. But he didn't say anything. Nor did he put out his hand as if to implicitly ask for money.

My fellow PCVs had collected their bags, and we'd paid the taxi driver, so I walked away from the taxi with my fellow volunteers unsure what the man with the pushcart had wanted. One of my fellow PCVs said that she sometimes feels bad when she doesn't use the services of the men with the pushcarts. I'd never seen people transporting travelers' luggage in carts, so it hadn't occurred to me that he was waiting for us to hire him to move our baggage.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Watching The European Cup Soccer Games As A PCV

In the last week or so, I've used up the last of my vacation time. As I've been traveling around Morocco, I've been enjoying watching the European Cup soccer games.

When I was visiting one of my friends, a fellow PCV who lives near Marrakech, we watched the game between Portugal and Germany. So I got to watch one of the games with another citizen of the US. Not only did I get to ask him in English, a more avid soccer fan than me, questions about the rules of the game, we also got the benefit of commentary on the game in English. My friend gets ESPN, so the commentators were broadcasting in English.

The next day, after I visited the town of Imlil, I headed back into Marrakech. After asking at nearly a half dozen other cafes in the big square, Jmaa El Fna, I found a cafe there in the square which was showing that afternoon's game on a couple of TVs. Since I was experiencing digestive difficulties, which I attributed to the scrambled egg sandwich I had eaten in Imlil. I figured it would help to settle my stomach if I drank some Coke. The waiter took a while to come over and take my beverage order. I told him I wanted a Coke, and, as I've gotten in the habit of doing, asked him how much it would be. He said it would be 15 dirhams, so I asked him how much a coffee would be; a coffee also would've been 15 dirhams. Either a Coke or a coffee usually would cost half that amount. By the time he asked me, the game had started, so I didn't want to go and try to find another cafe where I could watch the game. Especially in the larger cities, I've been finding that the cafes showing the games have been the nicer cafes which charge more for their drinks. I figured I would've had to pay more than average even if I was able to find another cafe showing the game. So I just stayed and watched the game there.

In that game, between Spain and Italy, I felt so much more tense than I'd been when I had been watching the game between Portugal and Germany. On the one hand, I had been figuring it would be an intense game given that Spain and Italy were playing each other. But I think that I may have felt more tension while watching the game because the other three dozen people, both men and women, in the cafe were also very interested in the outcome of the game. The rest of the people in the cafe audibly groaned at plays they didn't like, and cheered when they were seeing plays they liked. When Italy scored the first goal of the game, I thought that there were probably equivalent numbers of fans for both Spain and Italy there in that cafe. Then Spain scored a goal. I don't know if more people cheered, but it certainly was louder. And fans of Spain started chanting! And at some point I heard one person say to someone else, "Look, most of the people here want Spain to win."

Just as I had had a different experience watching the first game with my friend, a fellow PCV, in his home, from watching the second game in a cafe in Marrakech, I had a different experience watching the third game I watched, between France and England. I was watching it in a cafe in Agadir, which is a major city, but only with a half dozen other guys. Hardly anyone was making any sound in response to the game! I was watching it in a fairly upscale cafe, since it was the first one I'd found which was going to be showing the game.

Later in my trip, I watched the game between the Czech Republic and Poland, but in Sidi Ifni, a smaller, more affordable cafe in a town, not in a city. I finally ordered a drink I'd been wanting to try, cold milk with mint syrup mixed in it, which I enjoyed. Interestingly, it seemed that overwhelmingly, the guys in the cafe were cheering for the Czech Republic. So presumably they were happy when the Czech Republic won the game 1-0.

I've been enjoying watching the European Cup games. One of the many fun things to do in my free time here!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I Don't Have A Lot Of Money

I think I've finally gotten used to Moroccans figuring that I have a lot of money. Certainly there are other non-Moroccans, including citizens of the USA, here in Morocco who spend more money than I do on my relatively meager budget as a PCV.

Last week, after I left my friend's apartment in a town near Marrakech, I briefly visited the mountain town of Imlil. From Imlil, ambitious hikers launch their attempts at climbing Mount Toubkal, which, at over 13,000 feet, is the highest peak not only in Morocco but in all of North Africa.

As a sidebar, for those of you who know me fairly well, and know that I love to hike, to answer the question which might have just arisen in your minds, no, I didn't hike to the top of Mount Toubkal. I hadn't been doing training hikes to prepare for a multi-day hike involving such distance and elevation gain. Furthermore, I wouldn't have been able to buy enough food to provide the energy necessary to complete such a strenuous hike.

But I still wanted to get a bit closer to the mountains. I've enjoyed fantastic views of the High Atlas mountains many times whilst on the bus from Ouarzazate to Marrakech, especially in the vicinity of the Tichka Pass. I've been grateful that I can enjoy repeatedly such sweeping panoramic views here in Morocco.

So after leaving my friend's apartment about an hour from Marrakech, I took a taxi down to Imlil. I found a restaurant there in Imlil where I got a scrambled egg sandwich for 10 dirhams. Soon after I ate lunch, I headed back to the grand taxi stand to catch a taxi back to Marrakech. Insofar as I arrived back at the taxi stand during lunchtime, I had to wait for a taxi to Marrakech to fill up. During lunchtime, fewer people are taking taxis since they're at home eating. As I was sitting at the taxi stand, waiting for five other people to show up to fill a taxi with me, the taxi driver told me I could pay for all six spots to Marrakech and ride just with him to Marrakech. Other taxi drivers in other locations here in Morocco have also suggested that option to me when I've been waiting for a taxi to fill up. I imagine that other folks from the USA visiting Morocco have probably bought out the other seats in taxis. I suspect that that's why grand taxi drivers suggest the idea to me as I wait for a taxi to fill up. I suppose I often have the money to do so. However, I don't have a lot of money to spare. So it would strain my resources to pay for all six seats and ride the taxi with just the driver, so I don't do it.

Another instance during my recent travels when a Moroccan has seemed to think that I've got a lot of money to burn: I spent some time last week in the town of Sidi Ifni, on the Atlantic coast. It's a quiet beach town, much of which is set up high on some cliffs. Being on the coast, it was usually cool, which was a welcome respite from the heat in the town in which I live down in the Sahara. A mool-hanoot (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "grocery storekeeper") in Sidi Ifni as much as acknowledged the pleasant difference in climate soon after he started asking me some basic questions about myself. I told him that I've lived here in Morocco since September 2010, but that I live several hours south of Marrakech, in the Sahara. He opined that the climate is much nicer and more hospitable in Sidi Ifni than in Ouarzazate. He then suggested that I consider renting an apartment in Sidi Ifni rather than staying in a hotel in Sidi Ifni. He told me thst I could rent an apartment in Sidi Ifni for 2000 dirhams per month. I calmly told him that I didn't have that much money. Again, there probably have been other foreigners who have spent a lot more in Sidi Ifni than I did. So I understand why he may have thought I could afford to pay that much to rent an apartment.

And another instance on this most recent trip when I thought that a Moroccan may have figured that I had a lot to spend: on my way north from Sidi Ifni, the bus on which I was traveling stopped in the town of Tiznit to drop off and pick up passengers. It either made a second stop in Tiznit, or a stop just north of Tiznit, at a gas station which had a plaza with a couple of restaurants. Normally I don't get out and eat lunch at such places where the bus stops. When I was just in Tiznit, though, we were stopped in the middle of the lunch hour. I also knew I wasn't going to get another chance to eat lunch until I arrived in the city of Agadir. So I got off the bus to check out the lunch options.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that I could buy a quarter kilogram of grilled ground meat for a scant 8 dirhams. Immediately I ordered the quarter kilo of meat. After I'd ordered it, I thought about how I'd need some carbohydrates along with the bread to avoid digestive difficulties. When the waiter brought my grilled meat, I asked him if I could have some bread with the meat. He brought me a small round loaf of bread. I asked him how much for the bread; he made a motion with his hand which I took to mean that it was complimentary with the grilled meat. When lunch places here serve bread with lunch, it's typically for no charge. In any event, the waiter didn't tell me any number in response to my question. I used the bread as a pita, filling it with the grilled meat, onions, tomatoes and parsley I'd been served.

When I'd finished eating, and went to pay, the cashier asked me what I'd had. I told him I'd ordered a quarter kilo of meat. He asked another restaurant worker, who told him I'd had a sandwich. The cashier told me it was 30 dirhams. Not pointing out how the sandwiches ran only up to 20 dirhams, I pointed to where the menu said that a quarter kilo of meat was 8 dirhams. He told me I'd had a sandwich, and then told me I had to pay 24 dirhams. I explained how I ordered a quarter kilo of meat, then asked the waiter how much the bread was, and how he had seemed to say that the bread was included with the meal I'd ordered. I left the 8 dirhams on the counter and walked back to the bus.

I certainly can imagine how the cashier could have had a similar conversation with a Moroccan who could order a quarter kilo of meat, ask for bread, make a sandwich with it, be seen eating a sandwich, and then be told that he'd had a sandwich, and be quoted the price for a sandwich. However, I suspect that I was being treated differently than Moroccans, because the cashier told me I had to pay prices for sandwiches which weren't on the menu.

I can understand being perceived as having more money than many Moroccans. I'm less accepting of being quoted prices more than Moroccans are given. I've come to the conclusion that perceptions are one thing; often it's reasonable to have certain perceptions. What people do with those perceptions is another story, and often reflect the values of the people with those perceptions.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

How Low Can You Go?

As I'd mentioned in my last blog entry, yesterday I took the bus north from Ouarzazate up toward Marrakech. I didn't go to Marrakech yesterday, but instead visited a friend who's a fellow PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) who lives close to Marrakech. Once I'd arrived in my friend's town, we went food shopping. Later, at my friend's house, my friend made a delicious scramble, which included, among other things, various peppers, onions and tomatoes, for dinner. We also enjoyed some fresh apricots and plums.

I was happy to stay overnight at my friend's apartment. This morning, we both went to Marrakech, but parted ways once we got to the city. My friend had some business to do, and I was heading off to visit another friend who's also a PCV.

Before I left the city, I stopped to grab lunch at a hanoot (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "grocery store"), which, in this particular case, was much smaller than a corner store. Like many hanoots here in Morocco, it was the size of a food stand. I saw that the store owner had various small round loaves of bread, and I saw that he had some eggs, so I asked him if I could have an egg sandwich. It turned out that he had some hard-boiled eggs, so he made me an egg sandwich. After I ate the egg sandwich, I decided to have dessert there, since some of the offerings in the glass deli case looked promising. I got a dessert which seemed to have the soft texture of cake, with some light chocolate frosting on the inside, all covered in a kind of soft milk chocolate shell. I enjoyed it with a small carton of cold milk. The sandwich and the dessert were tasty.

However, I found something else more notable than how delicious the food was. Previously I'd paid as low as two and a half dirhams for a small egg sandwich. I'd already thought that that price was very low, and couldn't see how I'd ever pay less than 2.5 dirhams for an egg sandwich. Today I paid 2.10 dirhams for the egg sandwich, which means it cost the equivalent of 26 cents. I paid 6 dirhams for the dessert and the milk, which is equivalent to about 75 cents. So I paid the equivalent of about one dollar for my lunch today.

People often think that they need a certain amount of money to live their lives. Indeed, people often think that they need a lot of money to live their lives. You don't need a lot of money. And once you've realized that you don't have to devote your life to accumulating money, you're faced with the question "Now that you don't have to do anything, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?"

Friday, June 8, 2012

I Don't Believe In Riches, But You Should See Where I Live

This afternoon I was in the bus station in Ouarzazate. As I was waiting for my bus to arrive, I saw a dog looking up eagerly and expectantly at a fellow who apparently was its owner, because he was holding a leash. I was surprised to see a dog which appeared to be a pet. One doesn't see many pets here in Morocco, and that includes dogs. When someone has a dog here, it always seems to be an expat who has the dog as a pet, and even then, most expats don't have dogs as pets here. Then I was even more surprised to see that the man holding the leash appeared to be a Moroccan. It was the first time I'd seen someone who seemed to be Moroccan with a pet dog.

I was waiting in the main bus station in Ouarzazate, where one catches older buses. These buses tend not to be in as good condition as the buses of the SupraTours and CTM bus companies. We PCVs here in Morocco tend to call these older buses "souq buses," since they'll let you off wherever you want to get out, and since you can therefore take one to the souq, or farmer's market, unlike the CTM and SupraTours buses, which won't stop at the souq for you.

Since I was on a souq bus, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bus was air-conditioned! I'm inclined to agree with another PCV, who'd theorized that these air-conditioned buses used to be SupraTours buses, perhaps until SupraTours sold them. I also figured that this particular bus had just gotten so old that SupraTours had sold it. When we stopped for a break, as I was getting off the bus to walk around a bit, I looked down at the odometer, and saw that the bus had 995,703 kilometers on it! That means it had over 617,335 miles on it!

I certainly appreciated the air conditioning, given how it's the summer here, and how it's been hot in the town where I live down in the Sahara. I enjoyed pleasant temperatures when the bus was moving, but only partly due to the air conditioning. Combined with how it wasn't very hot through the territory in which the bus was traveling, which was surprising especially considering that it's June, and how we were at a higher elevation, and how the roof vents were open, I often felt cool during the trip north through the High Atlas mountains. At one point, I looked down at my arm, and saw that I had goosebumps!
As I rode on the bus, I was listening to music through my headphones. Soon after going over the Tichka Pass in the High Atlas mountains, at the moment I caught a glimpse of the first wide open expansive magnificent priceless view, I found it very appropriate as I heard Bono of the band U2 sing the lyrics, "I don't believe in riches but you should see where I live."

I've certainly been grateful for the gorgeous landscape here in Morocco. During that highest stretch of road through the High Atlas mountains, I was glad to see a waterfall, which was strongly flowing. Later, once we'd descended a considerable elevation, I was enjoying seeing many bushes with pink flowers and densely packed evergreen trees. I've enjoyed much other beautiful scenery during my time here in Morocco. Honestly I haven't missed having as much money as I used to have. I've felt constantly blessed by God with other types of riches which, I feel, are more enduring, more profound, and which nourish me in healthier ways.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Turn Off The TV

As I've mentioned, this week I've been spending time with brand new PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) who have just started living close to me down here in the Sahara. One of them, a man, lives here in the same town as me; the other, a woman, lives a half dozen kilometers south of us.

Yesterday we were walking through her village, getting to know members of her community and visiting apartments which she could potentially rent. She informed my site mate, who is the other PCV living in the same town as me, and I, that we had been invited to someone's house in her community for lunch. We arrived at his home at noon, which is early compared to when Moroccans usually eat lunch, typically around 2:00 p.m. First we were treated to tea and cookies, followed by a meal of couscous, vegetables and beef, both of which as the television was playing different movies made in the US. In retrospect, I concluded that the TV had been rather distracting; or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that we let it distract us.

In any event, after we left our host's home, we continued walking around her village. She spotted a building which she suspected contained an apartment. We asked some people nearby where we could find the landlord, and got directed to his home. We were welcomed into his home. Soon after we sat down, our hosts served us tea. Then I heard our host say that it was time for lunch. We had actually arrived at his house right at the typical lunch hour, a little after 2:00 p.m. Consequently, we were served individual servings of diced tomato, onions and green peppers. There were also a couple plates of sliced cucumbers on the low, round table around which we were sitting, as well as a couple of plates of lettuce. And of course there was the main communal dish. In it during this particular meal was beef topped with French fries, all sitting in a delectable oily sauce in which we dipped pieces of bread, which we also used to grab fries and pieces of meat for ourselves.

During our stay at this second house, we were talking a lot with our hosts, a father and mother, a couple of their daughters, and a couple of their sons. As PCVs, we were explaining the Peace Corps to them. The father was telling us how he had traveled to a variety of countries in the Arab world. We were asking and telling each other our ages. One of the sons was smiling and laughing a lot, so I joked with him that he could be a teacher of smiling and laughing. After we had been there at their home for a while, feeling so comfortable, and greatly enjoying their company, I suddenly realized that there was no TV in the room. I noted its absence first to my fellow PCVs. Then I told our hosts that because there was no TV in the room, we had been getting to know each other much better than if there had been a TV in the room. I left their home grateful to have met them, having immensely enjoyed the time with them, and appreciative also that they didn't have a TV on where we had been dining with them!

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Sound Of Someone Being Brutally Tortured

Yesterday I was walking down the street here in town down here in the Sahara with two of my new fellow PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). One of them, David, an energetic, motivated, visionary fellow, lives here in the same town as me. The other, Ariana, a young, fresh-faced, wide-eyed young gal, lives just a few kilometers south of this town.

As we were walking down the street, we heard what sounded like someone crying out whilst being brutally tortured. The younger of my companions, the young, recent college graduate, hesitated in her steps, seemingly terrified by the cry of apparent angst and extreme pain. While I certainly found the sound to be less than pleasant to hear, I continued walking, confident that we had just heard something other than a person screaming because he or she was being subjected to inhumane treatment. I found my perception confirmed after we had taken a dozen more steps and saw a couple of goats lying tied up in a cart on the sidewalk, which had been the source of the bleats we had heard.