Tuesday, June 29

Last night

Looking out over Azrou tonight. I feel a powerful mix of anticipation and sadness. Though I was close with so few here it has felt a little like a home away from home and I know that I will miss it. I will miss the old woman, diligently out selling snails every night. Who always has a smile for everyone, even as her eyes glaze over in exhaustion. I will miss the little brother and sister who play soccer in front of our door step after every wold cup game. I will miss the funny waiter at the café down the street who is always calling out names of American movie stars as an inside joke with Aydin that I have never understood but I like his crooked smile. I will miss Abdu the carpet seller and his father. Neither speak very much English but they make everyone around them feel warm and welcomed and I wish I could give them both enormous hugs. I will miss the beautiful black cat who lives in their carpet shop and her three little kittens including the runt who is half the size of the others but makes up for it in passionate ferocity for life. I will miss Zakaria and Khadisha. Most of all I will miss Aydin.

The stars are so beautiful here and the sky is so big. I feel closer to myself and find my thoughts somewhat easier to grasp than normal. Some days I find myself so frustrated with my own emotions. It is a constant struggle for me to form my ideas into coherent words that others can understand. My thoughts constantly seem to spin like a tornado of color and flavor and indescribable feeling to pluck a single threat from the mass and draw it into language is sometimes more exhausting than I can handle and I let myself fall back into just floating within my own head.

But here, in these last few weeks, it has seemed easier to form language from the storm and I can begin to think ahead to what is in store for me soon.

Monday, June 28

Life in Morocco moves so much slower than it does in the states and I think I could grow to like it. Without a car and with everything organized in mini villages around courtyards with the same shops every few blocks. Each business stays open because people here are not loyal to a specific brand they are loyal to the business owner, the people that are around them.

You really feel your own place here. You feel time move by slowly like currents down a lazy forest stream. There is always time for conversation with a friend or introspection over lazy hours and a single cup of nouse-nouse (Moroccan Late).

Last Tuesday Aydin and I left for the Gnowa music festival in Essuara on the southwest coast of Morocco. I had never heard of Gnowa music before but a huge number of Peace Corps volunteers would be there and who could pass up what promised to be an epic beach party lasting from Wednesday to Sunday.

Our bus was scheduled to leave at 9:30pm so of course by Moroccan time we left just past 10:00pm. We drove through the night, switching from the fancy CTM buses to a normal, groty Suk bus in Marakesh around 6:00am. We arrived in Essuara around 10:00 am Wednesday morning. Taking long bus trips like this is normal here but it is still a fascinating experience for me. I take flights for granted but there is something almost wonderful about having so much Time to just sit with no pressing concerns, nothing to do, just to look out the window and watch mountains turn into fields, turn into desert and then into coastline.

I finished the first of what I hope to be many books during the trip. A prequel to Frank Herbert's, 'Dune' called, 'The Butlerian Jihad'. This is not a book that I would recommend to most people unless, like me you are simply in love with the entire wold of Dune, enough that you can put up with terrible writing. The book was written after the death of Frank Herbert, by his son. It is one of the first books written by Brian Herbert based on Frank Herbert's notes and the book has about the structure and focus of a Dune fan-fiction and not the best of fan-fiction at that. Brian does go on to write better stories in the future but 'The Butlerian Jihad' and its sequel 'The Machine Crusade' which I am now reading are not examples of them. That all being said, I'm still in love with the world and cannot bring myself to move on to another book until I finish these.

On to Essuara, it was a madhouse. People come from all over Morocco and Europe to spend time at the Gnowa festival. I knew nothing about the music before I arrived, though I had heard it was supposed to be a fusion of traditional Moroccan music with Spanish Flamenco influences. However what I found was a sound very similar to Reggae music. The sound was certainly enjoyable to dance to but it also attracted a crossover of reggae fans who brought with them not just their awesome hair and extravagant clothes but also a strong drug culture.

This festival is also so large is causes the population of Essawara to explode and draws not just fans from all over the world but professional thieves from all over Morocco.

We stayed with the Peace Corps people in a house/apartment building within walking distance of the festival but because there were so many of us there was always someone at the house so we didn't have to worry to much about thieves stealing from our rooms. Having been warned before hand though about pickpockets at the concerts we left everything behind at the house including our keys and just relied on the people staying at the house to let us in later. It is a good thing we did because I have never been felt up so many times in my life.

Teams of young boys would run through the crowd. The first ones patting targets down then signaling the the boys behind them who had valuables who then slipped hands into pockets and darted away. Because of our planning ahead we had nothing to worry about and just danced and enjoyed the spectacle. I personally had time to marvel at their technique though I do wish I had had the foresight to write inspirational messages in English on the pieces of paper the approximate size of dollar bills. It would have taken them a while to translate them, if they bothered to at all, because English is the last language anyone expects you to use here but I still would have found the joke hilarious.

My favorite means of relieving tourists of their valuables were probably the groups of Moroccan teenagers that hung out near the beach who would invite tourists to dance with them.

One of the Peace Corps people I met in Essa, a very attractive gay man named Jeramey, described his experience with these guys at the Gnowa festival last year. He had been approched and asked to dance and like most of us unsuspecting westerners when approched by a group of very very attractive men had redilly agreed and had the time of his life.
After a very enjoyable impromptu dance the men waved goodbye and wandered off. It was only after they had gone that Jeramey realized that he had been relieved of everything. His cellphone, money, keys, cigarettes, and even the lint in his pockets had disappeared and like his attractive dance partners, never seen again.

My friend Khadija was invited to dance by a similar group of men this year but she was carrying everything in a backpack over her shoulders that she had then wrapped in a sarong around her shoulders so there was no accessing the bag at all. Apparently they danced for a long time and eventually Khadija had stopped and waved goodbye. The one of the dancing thieves had started to stop her but then he and his friends conversed for a second among themselves and waved her off. It just wasn't worth it.

Both Jeramey and Khadija told their stories with a laugh and a smile because really what else could you do? And at least these thieves had had the courtesy to give you a very enjoyable show before taking everything you owned.

I myself experienced the legal thievery of the exhibitionist prices the shop owners in Essawara had set just for the festival. Unless you learned to haggle you could easily expect to pay at least twice what anything you bought was actually worth. Despite my lack of knowledge of any language commonly spoken in Morocco I headed out on my own several times to wander the markets and learn to haggle successfully. And if I do say so myself, with a little more practice I could become quite proficient at it. Though I know I still go ripped off I did not spend nearly the amount that even many of the more experienced Peace Corps volunteers did. Among the things I bought were a pair of new sandals that are quite nice. I paid 179 durums for them which would equal approximately $20 US Dollars.

I also spent all of Thursday lounging on the beach with Aydin and Khadija and swimming in the remarkably cold ocean waters. Oh it was so beautiful. The sun was so bright everything seemed to glow and the water sparkled like diamonds. The sand was elegantly soft and I couldn't help but fall asleep for an hour in the warm sunshine. I also forgot to completely cover my back in sunblock and paid dearly for it. The sun burn is now starting to fade but it has yet to peel thanks to a very liberal application of aloe-vera lotion several times per day for the last several days. I've learned my lesson but still I regret nothing.

Aydin and I left Friday and headed back to Azrou ahead of the crowds that would begin to leave Saturday afternoon and to make sure we had enough time together before I head out for Spain on the 29th. Which is tomorrow... wow.

I think I am going to miss Morocco so much. I am not going to miss the toilets or the street animals that hang out on every corner but I will miss the relaxed atmosphere and the people i have met and more than anything I will miss Aydin. 

It will be at least a year and a half before I might hope to see him again but we both have our own journeys ahead of us and I am looking forward to keeping in touch as past partners and good friends. It is always important to know you have those people out in the world, no matter how far away they are, who you know love you and keep you in thier thoughts. Just as I keep you in my thoughts my friends and my family.

Though I am looking forward to this next month of travel I can not help but also look forward to its ending and the people waiting for me back home. I can not wait to hold you in my arms again.
Did you know they sell stomach lining served with white beans as a common lunch meal here? Trust me it is not something I would recommend to anyone except the very very daring. I only tried a little bit of Aydin's ( he likes it ). Do you know the smell of a petting zoo? That very very animal smell? The one that fills your nose and smells like wild, dirt, and hair? Yeah that's about what stomach lining tastes like.

But its not the worse thing I've ever tasted. It still rates above New Zealand Vegimite.

I have made several new friends here that I have really enjoyed spending time with.

Zakaria grew up here in Azrou. He is very smart, knows how to speak German, English, Berber, Arabic, and French. He is a tour guide for tourists looking to hike through the mountains around Azrou. He is well known in the region and thought very highly of, he's even listed on Lonely Planet.  He's a lot of fun to hang out with and has a great taste in music and movies. He is the person that could most inspire me to learn Darija ( Moroccan Arabic ) because though his English is quite good I know my conversations with him could be so much more interesting and deep if I could speak with him in a language he is more familiar with.

Khadija is another new friend of mine. She is a student from Florida on a summer volunteer scholorship that she is using to explore Morocco. She is passionate, clever, and sassy in a way that makes her both easy and fascinating to spend time with. She and I have spent many hours in impassioned discussions about people, society, animals, and the state of politics in third world countries. She has an air that attracts people to her and I've enjoyed seeing her throw herself into deep conversation with strangers in a way that reminds me of Aydin.

The four of us, Khadija, Zakaria, Aydin and I have spent a lot of time together talking, watching movies, and enjoying the cool summer breeze that makes Azrou so attractive. Aydin found a resturant that he refers to as "the meat infusion". One order gets you a piece of flat bread stuffed to bursting with a huge pile of grilled spiced beef and a side order of frys. Its the kind of meal that would send any American health expert running for the heart attack meds and could take care of your beef needs for a year. We've eaten there three times. :)

Saturday, June 19

Day: 4, 5, and 6

Azrou is the kind of city a Minnesotan would dream of... at least in the summer. It's warm with cool breezes and very few insects. The only bugs I have seen in any number are flies that surround the inside of the dirtier cafe's that are open to the air but it is part of life here and no one complains so why should I?

The landscape is beautiful. Surrounded by mountains and farm land and I have never seen more beautiful sunsets than in Azrou. In the center of town is the Mosque from which the calls to worship emmenate five times a day. The courtyard of the mosque is enourmous and along the walkway trees rise which are constantly filled with large white birds that screech at each other all day. But beware walking below them, the ground is littered with missed aerial attacks and I barely managed to dodge an aerial attack myself.

Azrou is definitely a walking city. Every block has its own pastry shop, its own snack shop, the man on the corner who sells cigarettes either by the pack or one at a time, and at least two cafes. Getting tea at a cafe in Morocco is enough to make any dentist in the states cry. They put at least three cubes of sugar in each eight ounce glass. At lease in some of the cafes I've visited thus far they are familiar enough with tourists to only offer the sugar cubes on the side. The same goes for any coffee drink you order. The orange juice is good as is their wide selection of coke products. There is also a really nice fresh mint tea that they make which I think is amazing.

On one of the side streets, through a doorway you can find yourself suddenly in the middle of a market. There are people on all sides of you selling grain, meat, fruit, and vegetables. Everything here is fresh, seasonal, organic and you know its right off the farm down the road because to import something costs far more than most of the people here will ever make. Aydin and I picked up some fresh melon, nectarines, peaches, and cherries just reaching the perfect ripeness. We've been snacking on them for days to offset our daily outings to explore the cuisine of Azrou.

Wednesday, June 16

Day 3: Morocco

Its been a few days my friends and Morocco is beautiful. The air is so dry despite this being one of the most humid parts of Morocco and the streets are covered in a layer of dust.

The people love to talk, they greet each other on every corner and Aydin and I can not make our way down the block without stopping to greet an acquaintance.

After arriving in at the Fez airport around 4pm we took a bus to the center of the city and then took a taxi to the local bus station. We waited an hour an a half for the next bus to Aydin's house in Azrou. The full bus trip was two hours and we arrived in Azrou around 9pm.

There is something about arriving in a city late at night. It is disorienting and magical. There were still people everywhere, in fact more people come out at night when the air is cooler than in the daytime. Navigating the streets was a glorious adventure. The side walks are high so moving from street to side walk requires a good solid hop and there are so many people you have to squeeze between bodies as if we were in a festival.

We made our way the few blocks to Aydin's apartment, a small blue doorway on a side street surrounded by small markets and bustling crowds. His house is three floors tall but very small. The first floor is an entry way barely wide enough for two people to stand side by side and a steep stairway up. The second floor is a small alcove with a small sink that you have to turn on my turning a leaver on the pipe itself and a small window that looks out over the street. The other room is the bedroom covered in a carpet on the floor and beds on the floor covered in the softest quilts made out of sheep's wool I've ever felt, they are so warm. Following the stairs up further you reach the kitchen and the bathroom.

The kitchen is sparsely furnished at this point as Aydin does not prefer to cook a lot but there is a nice area to sit down on low couches next to a low table.

The bathroom is quite the experience and will try the will of any westerner used to the finder things in life. There is no toilet but rather a hole in the floor surrounded by tile with two areas where you place your feet to squat over the hole. There is also no toilet paper but a bucket and a tap that only releases very cold water. You fill the bucket with water and use it and a bar of soap nearby to wash yourself after you are finished then use the rest of the water to poor down the drain to 'flush' the toilet. As a child my parents referred to my travel tastes as the 'Mariot Kid' so I can say this is not my favorite part of Morocco but I now consider it part of the adventure so I can handle it for the next few weeks.

In the morning Aydin and I set out to explore Azrou. The city is split into thirds and there are three main streets reaching out in a 'Y' from the center of the city. One street goes North to Meknes, one South-West to Kheniefra, and one South-East to Ifran and Errachieia. In the center of town is the city mosque and a giant rock called Ackshmeir for which Azrou, which means 'the rock' is named after. We climbed Acksmeir and looked out over the whole city and the mountains beyond. I think the boys already at the top were surprised to watch this strange woman clambering up the steep rock. I think I made a good impersonation of a mountain goat but if not I don't want to hear about it.

In the evening we went out and ate this delicious white bean soup and for desert we found a street vendor who sold boiled snails in spicy broth. You ate a cup of the snails at the vendors stall and then she offered you a bowl of the boiled snail broth to wash everything down. I have to say, it was amazingly delicious and I'm looking forward to having it again.

Monday, June 14

Day 2: Paris

In Paris I was met by Niccio who very very kindly picked me up from the Airport and drove me to his house where I got to take a wonderful shower and then we drove back to Paris for a speedy tour. We first stopped at a beautiful restaurant that, based on the photos looked like it had been around since the 1900s. They specialized in creps that were just amazing, indescribable. Mine was made of potatoes, blue cheese and something delicious that I can't remember. It was so good.

I was very conscious of the fact that I was the only person in the restaurant who can't understand a word of French and I think I stood out like a bad American sore thumb.

After dinner we drove around the city and we even stopped at the Eiffel tower and watched the people who were gathered watching the world cup on a giant screen. It was a practice in skipping jet lag in one easy step. Don't sleep until you are supposed to in that time zone even if your so tired you are shaking. We went back to his house soon after and I fell asleep in the car.

I'm writing this now and I've scheduled it to go live sometime tomorrow as I get to morocco so you all will be about a day behind me but that'll give me time to see where the next step of this adventure will take me.

I miss you all but I can't wait to see Aydin tomorrow.

Isn't it pretty

French Pigins

Nicco's house

Sunday, June 13

Day 1: REK to CDG

Landing in Iceland was beautiful. The entire land is ravaged and burned and covered in hardened lava, you could see where the flow reached the sea and combined with the heavy waves that crash against the cliffs. The earth has begun to recover though. Already there is moss and grass covering large patches, and there are still houses gathered in patches on the horizon or little mounds in the earth with doors. I'm told these were the original style of house that the Vikings built when they first colonized Iceland.

The airport is small but quite beautiful. I heard what I think were at least five different languages spoken the first minute I stepped off the plane. Keep in mind where you disembark from one plane is not inside the terminal proper. I had to go through security again to get to my gate but the rules are still exactly the same. Liquids in a plastic bag, shoes off, and computers out. It was easy, as was going through customs.

I h e to say seeing the custom's guy's eyebrow twitch when I counted off Morocco, Spain, and France was funny. Good thing I didn't mention Netherlands, Germany, and maybe Italy. But he relaxed when I mentioned I was meeting my boyfriend in Morocco.

I found my gate but the seating is spread down the hallway instead of alcoves offered for each gate unlike most US airports I've been to. So I sat near the only other person I could see who also had a giant backpack. He was French I think because he told me my half finished drawing of an airplane was very good in French... At least I thi k he did. The woman near us was listening to some awesome French rap but I couldn't bring myself to ask her about it.

Sat next to a very sweet French couple on the plane. They didn't speak to me and I did not speak to them but they cuddled and held hands and dozed on each others shoulders the entire trip.

As we hit the first of the islands that make up the western edge of Europe I was so excited I could barely stand to stay seated, though that also might have had something to do with the coffee they served me. Or perhaps the fact that at the time of writing this, not counting sugary dried pineapple and a handful of trail mix, I have not eaten anything since 3pm Minneapolis time yesterday ( aprox. 13 hours ago ).

Sorry family members and loving friends. I know these are not the things that I should be writing about but trust me they'll make the full story a more interesting read in the long run.

Also, has anyone else noticed that French is not written AT ALL like it sounds? What is up with that France? Leaving whole pieces of words out of the pronunciation just seems rude. How do you think those extra vowels and consonants feel? Maybe that's why Icelandic words are so unnecessarily long.. They offer foster homes for all the unwanted French consonants.

Day 1: MSP to REK

My bags are packed
I'm ready to go
I'm standing here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye

I miss you all already. I thought it finally became real as I watched the ground fall away. We rose to meet the clouds and turned away from the setting sun and it was beautiful. But it wasn't until we were an hour away from Reykjavik and I looked up at the Lavatory Occupied sign, Salerni Upptekid and I felt my stomach drop for a moment. This is really it. I'm gone, for two months I'm gone. I suddenly feel so exhilarated, but I also feel so alone.

To late to turn back now.

I called my whole family at the airport and told them that I loved them. It's weird to think that I will be without instant contact with everyone I know.

I have already met some very kind people. All English speakers thus far, which would be as I write this on the airline from Minneapolis to Reykjavik ( I should learn to spell that) but I expect I will soon find myself in a very different world.

On the airline they offer deliciously warm blankets for free but god the seats are uncomfortable. We have already converted to the euro. If you buy anything, including dinner which is very much NOT free, they write your name down on a piece of scrap paper to avoid currency exchange debacles until later.

They do however have free movies and tv assuming you bring your own headsets and a neat little USB port next to the screen that I nave no idea what it's for but it allows me to keep my iPhone fully charged so I'm satisfied.

Having a bunch of books on my iPhone is keeping me quite amused, thank you so much Anna for the amazon gift certificate. Having eBooks is a lifesaver.

I keep wondering what I am thinking even if it is to late to turn back now. I can't wait to see Aydin and the anticipation is killing me. I can also only hope that Nikki meets me in Paris like we have planned. But these are the situations that I think make life worth living