Just under 6 weeks remain of my time in Morocco. It is hard to not look at it that way, but I am doing my best to avoid a glass half-empty mindset. In general I am an optimist. I try to see the good in every person and situation, and I can pretty much always find something to be happy about. There is a lot of misery in the world, but I think there is even more joy. I also see the reason in everything, or try to find it, though there are some things that don’t make any sense. Or maybe the things that don’t make sense are the ones I don’t agree with.
So there is not much time left…this is where I am supposed to pledge not to waste another Moroccan moment, right? I won’t do that, but I will say this: I am really starting to get comfortable here, as in I feel that I actually belong. No major change occurred, no big hill was crested; rather, it’s the gradual culmination of a long slow period of cultural and linguistic adjustment. I think it’s a process that every similarly immersed person goes through. Maybe this is the rollercoaster of studying abroad at work, the metaphor that we learned about in the pre-departure meeting for Niger? (I understand the ups and downs part, but it’s not the best comparison because rollercoasters are most fun when you are going down, not up. )
But things are just going well lately. Coming back from spring break last week was much more manageable than the post-excursion funk of late February, perhaps because I had 2 full buffer days before classes restarted. This break was also much more low-key and relaxing than our excursion. Alex and I had a great time in Essaouira, which is a smallish and beautiful seaside town about 8 hours by bus south of Rabat. The weather was warm, I would daresay hot at times, and the wind, which I’m told is usually ferocious and biting with sand, was meshi mushkeel (without problems). We got a great deal on a little apartment (the ‘annex’ of Hotel Smara, and the only thing missing was a kitchen) right off the main drag with hot shower and no curfew, and our schedule was very laidback. Late morning breakfast on the hotel’s terrace of oranges, bread, and amelou (15 dh for a half liter), which is an Amazight specialty of almonds, argan oil, honey, and cinnamon, a sweet nutty spread. However, upon returning to Rabat, Rachid informed me that what we bought is not authentic, for it has peanuts instead of almonds. Possibly no argan oil either, for he said it’s usually much more expensive. No matter, because it was still a delicious concoction that we enjoyed.
It was really a vacation of indulgence, especially eating. In the afternoons we enjoyed huge feasts, a combination lunch and dinner. Monday’s was a rest-stop gorge on a kilo of grilled lamb cutlets and the most amazing and simple salad, seasoned grilled tomatoes and onions. Mmm the salad of my dreams. Tuesday was a seafood feast of epic proportions, including some new foods, at the fresh fish grill stands that are located off of the main square in Essaouira. Sea urchin roe, then big scampi shrimps also with tasty roe running down their backs, then calamari, then a whole sea bars (how sea bass is listed on the menu) and a red snapper both butter-flied and dusted with salt and cumin, mmm…and don’t forget the big stone crab that Alex had purchased earlier at the wharf, served with salad and bread. Everything was expertly grilled and well-seasoned and oh so tasty. The urchin and the crab were newbies for me, thumbs up on both. It was so much food, yet we somehow managed to finish and walk away with smiles and expanded waistlines. Wednesday was a repeat of Tuesday, except only the 2 fish to share this time. Very good the second time, and more reasonable portions. I never knew you can find dark meat on fish, and I also know about the sweet cheek meat now too.
In the evenings we enjoyed liquid meals, hanging out on the terrace of the hotel and chatting with different fellow tourists from Ontario, England, and France. It’s always nice to talk to people with different perspectives, and of course we lended our knowledge of Morocco and Arabic too.
On Thursday we caught a bus, a little later than expected, north to El-Jadida. The departure was delayed by an hour, the ride was a bit hot and smelly, and we were dropped off some 40 kilometers from our destination and put in a grand taxi (paid for by the bus) with 2 other similarly ruffled passengers; in short, it was very reminiscent of my experiences in West Africa. That’s what we get for skimping on the fancy CTM bus line in favor of companies like S.T.P.G. and Yamama. We didn’t get to the very Spartan and creepily efficient and empty Hotel du Bordeaux until 11:30 pm, where we enjoyed (sort-of) Misbegotten. I think it’s a lifetime movie (Allan?), because it’s about a serial killer who murders and impersonates a sperm donor and then stalks the woman who is unknowingly carrying his child. Creepy, just like the hotel, except for the fact that it is a horrible movie.
Friday morning we explored the Portuguese fort that used to protect the harbor. All 4 walls of the ramparts can be perused, though the thick old walls these days protect more trash than people. Worth seeing, though I remember our breakfast of fried seafood more fondly. Sole fillets, sardines, a whole sea bars, and some shrimp, all very tasty, along with a chunky tomato soup sauce and bread. If I remembered the name of the restaurant I would tell you it, but it can be found in the Lonely Planet guidebook. After breakfast we made our way to the bus station and killed time in a café while waiting for our bus. It left a little closer to schedule, about 30 minutes late, and we were back in Rabat at around 5:30. Overall, a great vacation and exactly what I needed, though in hindsight, if not for the fish breakfast, I would have stayed in Essaouira for Thursday night as well.
The ongoing visit of Mommy (& Hugh), who arrived on Friday, was a welcome return and has contributed to my good spirits. Farida cooked up a great meal for us on Saturday, and then we all, including Rachid this time, enjoyed a big tea spread on Sunday afternoon. I also went with them to explore the Tour Hassan and Mohammed V’s mausoleum, Rabat’s biggest tourist attractions (that I had yet to visit), on Sunday before tea. They are enjoying Fez and Meknes this week and will be back in Rabat this weekend.
Hammam on Monday night was also great, my 4th time and the best one yet. I finally tried the black soap that I have heard so much about, and it was grand. It is applied before the snake phase and after the soak phase, and it really helps to loosen up those dead skin cells. For the first time I felt at ease in the stifling chamber, like a regular. Augustin, a 20-something Frenchman who is living with Rachid’s sisters and Mother and working on the Bouregreg development project, accompanied us, his first hamman experience, so perhaps his presence contributed to my comfort. Isn’t it funny how much we define our experiences in life based on those around us? Its an inherent human thought process I think, one that reinforces our nature as social creatures. Anyway, it was an enjoyable and thorough (and overdue) cleansing experience in good company.
I am feeling closer to Rachid lately, we have just been connecting more. Eating dinner in the kitchen at 9 or 10 lately, just the two of us, contributes to this. Discussions, in French and some Arabic, about all manner of subjects, mostly serious, like politics or what is important in life. I’ve also found out some pretty private stuff about his family, etc. that will remain as such. The content is not as important as the connection and the fact that he is able to share stuff with me, which I really like.
He also said that teachers, especially University teachers, in Morocco make a good living, comparable or greater than some business men. While this is possible in the States, I think it is safe to say that the average teacher at any level makes less than the average businessman, and much less than a successful one. It seems that we are doing things in reverse, that our priorities are not in order.
No, I take that back, because though I (and many others) do not agree with the way things are, the priorities are clearly in order. And the reality is that making money, the pursuit of profits, greed, free market capitalism, call it what you will, is a greater priority than something as fundamental and important as the education of children. For a microcosm of this, compare BU’s School of Education with the opulence of The School of Management that overshadows it from across the street. Even within academia, we see where the priorities lie.
But all is still well on the home front, and there is more good stuff in my life too. The lovely Ms. Jillian Ruddock has made plans to visit me for a week in April, which will be a treat that I greatly look forward to. I am just inundated with visitors, it is great! And Assia, Farida’s older sister, is expecting to give birth this week or the next. A new baby is always exciting, as will be the festivities that I am sure accompany such an occasion.
A note about today, March 24th, before I go. We took a field trip during Arabic class to the National Library (don’t tell BU!) one of our weekly field exercises. We were denied entry; however, because 8 tourists without an official guide is technically illegal in Morocco. But not matter, because a guide appeared seemingly out of nowhere. The day was saved, or so we thought. He was dressed in a slightly shabby, yet well-fitting and sharp looking, pinstriped suit complete with non-matching vest, watch fob and chain, gaudy (and most certainly fake) gold watch, 4 pins on his tie and lapel, flashy white leather shoes….need I continue? Yes, so I don’t forget his rose-tinted glasses. I would describe it as a zoot suit, on the wrong person, gone terribly wrong. I don’t usually hold regrets, but I wish I had gotten picture of this man! What was he doing guiding us around a library? He should have been chasing women that are out of his league or gambling in a sleazy casino.
He also told us that he is an Alawite, a member of the royal family. That is all fine and dandy, but judging from his dress, occupation, and the show he made of bossing people around, I would say he is a pretty unimportant member of the clan. I am being harsh on this man, I know. It was a somewhat informative tour, but there were also many things that made us all want to either burst into laughter or hit him over the head. He treated us like we were back in 1st grade, explaining things like the library’s equivalent of the Dewey decimal system and elaborating on the many important functions of an armchair. Our Arabic teachers felt bad for us, and it was hilarious seeing them, especially tall jovial Abdul-Aziz, interact with the guide and try to get him to speed up the excruciatingly slow tour. But it was overall very funny, and still better than being in class. I also plan on returning to the library to do some research about Morocco’s agricultural sector and the situation of the environment.
Time to get some sleep so I can do homework in the morning. Things are going really good I am happy to report, and the tea glass is half full.