Thursday, July 3, 2008

June part 2: Mamma

And then . . . my momma came to morocco! I had barely two days back in my site before departing once again. First I had to go to Sefrou to accompany two of my artisans at the craft fair at the annual Cherry Festival. Being the usual klutz, I dropped my phone in my laundry bucket before I left, and had an interesting experience finally getting a new one some 12 hours later. I had a sweet American phone, and it is dearly missed. Oh well, the Craft Fair went fine, and we actually slept in our booth at night. A big problem for artisans in getting their stuff out there is that they don’t have the money for travel and lodging. Since we are selling carpets and fabric anyhow, why not take it all down at night and sleep on it? Ha, it was interesting.

Then I took off for Casablanca to pick up my dear mother. She would arrive late at night so I had plenty of time to get myself lost and irritated with another tourist loving and not tam-speaking big city. But the hotel was nice, I braved a meal alone (which is never done here, but I was perfectly fine dating myself in the states, so in Casa I had a fine pizza while watching a soccer game and evaded yet another proposal from a waiter). With crazy excitement I arrived at the airport for my mom. I had been anticipating her trip here for months, since my dog attack to be exact, since that was the day she decided she was going to come out. But in the weeks before her arrival, with my new site mate settling in, IST, and otherness, I’d forgotten how big a deal it was till I was standing there waiting for her in the airport, practically dancing like the other little girls. For so long I’ve just been needing to have someone there, just for a hug even, who’s known me longer than 8 months, and who I know truly loves me. Yes I have friends here, but there is nothing like feeling the heartbeat of someone who’s known you longer than you’ve known yourself. And that’s my mom.

I spotted her through the sensored doors as she waited for her bags and we both jumped up and down, one of the few times in Morocco I think I really lost composure in public. She came through the crowd and we hugged like it had been years, but it always seems to be like that with us. Like any relationship, ours is tangled and nuts, but no matter what has happened and how many times she’s driven me mad, she is closer to me than anyone. And so our journey began, having to race towards the train for the last one available back into the city, then had to pay a damn petite taxi over three times the normal amount because rules just often don’t matter here, and made it to the kind little hotel. Finally able to talk for free, we rambled for a couple hours and I swooned as I peaked at all the treats she brought from the states (thanks again grandma!) before forcing sleep so that we wouldn’t sleep the next day away. We managed to get a fair deal from a slightly sleazy guy on a rental car, checked out of the hotel and made our way to the famous Hassan mosque on the coast, the only one non-Muslims are permitted to enter in Morocco, but tired and not wanting to foot the high entrance fee, we just marveled at the outside, which was quite spectacular, had a fine lunch and headed out of the city.

Because of all my stress and usual indecisiveness before her arrival I only had a weak skeleton of an itinerary planned out. So rather than stopping and sightseeing along the way, we just headed straight to my place, some six hours away. It was a beautiful drive and amazingly comfortable to have our own seats. We picked up just enough along the way for me to make her my yummy alfredo concoction, and we got to my site with enough time for her to relax a bit, eat, marvel at my living space, attempt the turk, and fall asleep. One of my favorite parts of her whole trip was that she was sleeping. Despite all the craziness we went through here, it was more relaxing than the stress she puts herself through in the states. I never woke up before her in the states, and here, I nearly had to pull her out of bed. It was comforting to know that she felt some peace here.

So then, after greeting no one but my close neighbors we had to depart for Azrou, to meet up with some people and go for a hike. The place we went was amazing. It used to be a PCV site, but transport is nearly impossible so it is no longer used. If I didn’t need to ever see anyone, or ever go online, or have any contact with the outside world, I would have loved to have it as my site. But I can admit now that those things actually hold me together, and am thankful I have them from time to time. We then taught her the fine art of piffle, which I completely suck at of course and another PCV made her best pizza. The next day we took her to Abdou’s, our absolute favorite Moroccan man, and keeper of the best carpet shop I’ve ever been to. Honestly it’s like a second home to us. Anyhow, my mom came in and stinkin squealed with delight over a crazy horse saddle thing, and then another, and then another. In a shop with literally hundreds of glittering and ancient carpets, my mom walked out with two muzun ridden saddles. Haha, it was hilarious. Oh, and it was also her 44th birthday! Whoo hoo! So we put candles in leftover pizza and had magnum bars, and then I raced her through azrou’s huge suq. I hope it was an alright, if not totally random, birthday.

After a nice night at my place, and her beginning to understand the turk, playing with my cat and understanding the hours I don’t have running water, we went to the cooperative, my own, “take your mother to work day.” Only one woman was working, who quickly informed me that they were all down at the river washing wool. Yippee! A real cross cultural experience! So we headed down and had a grand time! The pictures tell it better, but there was much beating, laughing, and bad smells to be had. And here exists the great divide between my mother and me. Though I have been here 9 months, have a reasonable grasp on language, and written documents detailing my job here, my mother could surpass my cultural integration in seconds. It’s with a great amount of envy that I watch her fly right into situations and be friendly and fun with a group of completely unknown people. Of course that is the reason she works in the public; as a teacher, speaker, etc. There is a naturalness to it that I wish I had and its hard in those many moments here that I realize I just don’t have the right personality for this job. But such is a struggle I’ll talk about in the next blog, for I don’t want to cloud our trip. So after my mom literally jumped into the dirty wool to help, despite my protests, and the other women’s first grimacing, I soon joined in too. After hours of bent over poop-plucking and wool-washing, we were all invited to my counterpart’s house for lunch. Everyone was so exhausted even the badgering to make my mom eat! eat! eat! wasn’t so bad.

The next day Linsey came out; we hung out at the co-op and wandered around town a bit. The women who had been beating wool had swollen hands, but still wove; my legs were so sore I could hardly walk, weak! We had Friday couscous at my counterpart’s house and only kascrew at my host family’s house. I made the mistake of not having tea at many important people’s houses, but we were always too busy or too tired, and her trip was too short to spend it all at home. Oh well. We departed before dawn the next morning for a beautiful beach on the Mediterranean coast, six or so hours away. I’d read about the area we would be going through and knew Peace Corps didn’t place volunteers far north because of the drug issue, but nothing could have truly prepared us. Wow. The mountains began turning green and as I looked over the mountainside I could see odd plants being dried on the rooftops. I didn’t think much of it as people use their roofs for drying and doing most anything, but my mom joked, “hey maybe its marijuana!” I laughed. And then, there we were. I had never seen kif growing in real life, let alone thousands of fields of it. Right up to the road, so close I could stick my arm out and grab it if I dared. It was beautiful and so odd to be surrounded by something so illegal. After some pictures and laughs however, it got a little creepy. The very windy road would reveal hash sellers at unexpected bends, lots of shouters, and then, followers in cars trying to direct us off the road to buy. When we’d pass through small towns and had to slow down men ran right up to the car trying to sell, yelling crude things in all languages. I felt like I was in a zombie movie at some points, for everyone was so high or so eager, or both. Once we passed the worst in Ketama, life became real again, the view could be admired and we neared the coast, hoping it was worth the scary trip. In hindsight, I would recommend never again driving that road as female tourists in a little rental car. Eek. More crazy roads and my being ever grateful for my mom’s driving skills and we arrived in Cala Iris, an amazing and relatively unknown beach. Though I had touched the water from a Mediterranean bordering country once before, I hadn’t been able to go in, so this was quite a treat, and ever so beautiful. The water was warm and I could have easily swam out to the little isalands, but there were bouys. Totally worth the drive though.

The next real stop was a long ways west to the fabled mountain town of Chefchaouen, also known as the blue city. I’ve heard its painted blue because of the high Jewish population there long ago, but also that it keeps mosquitoes away. I have no idea why, but the blue gives the city an odd energy. Built on the side of a mountain, traversing it was like a smaller and steeper version of San Francisco. Though it was a wondrous little city, it wasn’t someplace I’d fall away into, as many people describe it. The best part was the short hike to a ruined mosque above and with a grand view of the whole city. Another great part was the over abundance of goat cheese, mmm. Having spent plenty of money and ready for another adventure we headed to Rabat. I hadn’t planned on taking her there, but it just worked out and Linsey and a couple others, including one from my staj, who was ETing (early termination) and leaving for America the next day, crazy. We roamed the medina and other places, my legs hadn’t recovered from the wool washing, and now were doubly sore from the vertical city of Chef. Then we all enjoyed the incredible German Institute for dinner and bid our fellow PCV goodbye.

Before heading down, my mom and I had quite possibly the most frustrating two hours of her trip trying to find the zoo. Only to finally be told that it had been moved to another city. Then when trying to find our way back out of the maze, we found the abandoned zoo, oh my. I had my last dip in the ocean on some beach before Casablanca and we tried to relax from the frustrating search and enjoy our last day. After some last minute shopping we splurged on Chinese food, my first since leaving the states. It was good, but honestly the portions were so small, we went against all normal habit and became embarrassingly good Americans by sharing a meal at McDonalds. Ha, what a great last meal in Morocco for my mom. The funny thing is, she hadn’t eaten at McDonalds in ten years or so except when she was in India. Ha, guess she only eats it outside its home country. Oh and I also henna’d our hands Berber style the night before her departure, so her nails will be reminding her of morocco whether she likes it or not for the next four or five months.

The trip overall was horribly planned and much too short but wonderful. It was just what I needed, not the vacationing so much, but just being with my mom, and remembering how different I am with her. I’ve gotten so odd and lost and wrapped up in feeling unraveled here; she centers me in ways I can’t explain. I want to send big props to her for dealing with my complete lack of any sense of direction, all my frustration during the trip, and all the driving through unknown country, particularly the kif in the Rif. We couldn’t decide if it was in fact the best idea to rent a car. Public and private transportation I think now come at their own cost and equal levels of different kinds of frustration. Having travelled that way now, I’ll warn anyone listening that Morocco is horribly lacking signage and if you don’t know exactly how to get there, don’t expect the road to tell you or to get there anytime soon. But it was a great learning experience and I am so thankful that she came out here! I love you so dang much mom! And if anyone else dares, mrHbanun g lmagrib! (I welcome you all in morocco!)

June part 1: Agadir

Wow there is a lot to catch you all up on! I’m so behind. So exactly a month ago I left for IST in Agadir. IST (In Service Training) takes place 6 months into your actual service (9 months after arriving in country). It’s kind of a little update for you and staff, a mark that the “real work” is supposed to begin, and, possibly most important of all, it’s the first time you meet back up with your whole staj and see how crazy you’ve become in comparison. A nearby PCV and I began the trip in our horribly ragged attire and dirty bodies and already felt far away as we reached the closest large city to board the long train ride to Marrakech. I’ll admit I experienced a fair amount of culture shock as we arrived in Kech, all the skin to be seen, all the harassment, and all the being taken advantage of! I’m sure there is much to love about the famous city, but I quickly hated it. We met up with another friend and a couple very frustrating hours later finally found a little promised land- Pizza Hut. Yes, a guilty pleasure. We were also shocked to see our first ice cubes since arriving in country in our waters, very exciting. Very full and still in our grunge wear we made it to the huge square met up with the last of our little group and went to the hotel. It was a good time; some of us went to a casino (very odd), we made mimosas, explored the square a bit, tried to turn back into real people again, etc. etc. And when the time came we headed off in a hot taxi to the beloved beach town for a week of sun and inshallah, refreshing our many disheveled feelings about our work and life here.

Peace Corps has set us up in decent places before, and since coming to my site and travelling on my own tiny dime, my expectations for where I rest my head at night are, well, I don’t really have any. Nothing could have prepared me for how incredible our hotel was. WOW. Each room had its own bathroom-including a bathtub, hot water and western toilet, two huge beds, even a TV! Not that we had any time to watch it. Best of all, we were only two streets up from the beach and our room faced it with an astonishing view. Oh and there was also three pools, but I hardly cared with the ocean so close! My roommate, Linsey of course, hadn’t yet arrived, and most of the other early people were resting. I however, had one mission, to be back with my beloved, the ocean. I nearly ran to the beach like I hadn’t seen it in years. Oh the sand beneath my feet! I briskly walked down the shoreline before spotting two other PCVs, I ran up to them, hardly said hello, uttered an apology, and, shaking, ran directly into the water. Oy vey! I cannot begin to explain the joy I felt the moment my entire body was back there-home. For those few moments all of my worry washed away and I felt strong again. Ya I had stepped foot in the water at the dirty beach in Rabat a couple months before, but that hadn’t been nearly enough. Oh it was wonderful. I swam around a bit, then got out, knowing I’d be returning very soon and explained myself to the two PCVs I’d so rudely threw my stuff down at. Ha, but they didn’t seem to mind.

The rest of IST was a blur of confusing but alright presentations and discussions, far too much drinking, then soon being burned out of drinking, never tiring of daily showers, and lots of good food. All I really remember or cared about was going into the ocean and seeing the people I began with and how far we’ve come. I ran on the beach every morning I could, and swam every other chance I got. It was interesting to see the changes in our little groups, those I was closest to in the beginning, and who I’m closest to now that I’m at my site. It was over all too quickly, but a couple friends and I headed to Essaouira for a night before the long trek home. It was lovely. I wouldn’t call myself a mallrat by any means, but I am still a girl, and after months of digging through used clothes ssuq for big, ugly, wool sweaters and long, butt-covering t-shirts, Essa was a shopping paradise. I don’t know why it’s different there than other places, it just is. Or maybe we all just needed to go and act like real girls shopping for once. And despite all the weight I’ve gained and general feeling that I’ve been falling apart all over, I managed to find some clothes I felt good in, lhamdullah! We also had some amazing French food, even ham! Then headed off to Kech for another night so that I could make the rest of the trip home in one day, hopefully. And I did, exhausted. Refreshed in some ways, but felt beaten with a stick in just as many other ways. After the trip I made some new agreements with myself and don’t plan on drinking much anytime soon, I can’t afford it anyhow. I returned home, to my humble little home, to my kitty who I missed dearly and slept as if dead a little while before beginning yet another trek away. . .