Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lasting note


Mysterious and exotic. Spectacular food and a wonderful teaching assignment. Lovely house and gardens. Great companions. Sights I longed to see and those I never anticipated. Morocco was a great adventure.



What a tiny few observations can be made after being absorbed into the world, yet never really part of it, for three weeks!

The laws of the country and the tenants of the faith are so interwoven in Morocco. Leaders of the mosques are chosen by the local community but paid by the government as are all the needs of the mosque. One attends whatever mosque is nearby at prayer time so the sense of a faith community as we know it does not exist. Connections are made in the family, the hammam and tea shop. The current legal time zone is adjusted for the fasting of Ramada. The king is a ruler, but many do not like his wife who was the first queen ever seen in public and does not wear a scarf.

I think that is why the powder keg in the Middle East is so hard for Westerners to understand. Issues of power and control and lack become inflamed with religious offense so easily, and what is conveyed via press on both sides is so far from either truth, but accepted as fact on both sides.

Continual Reminders of Other


Five times a day the call sounds from the minaret: time to pray. Although I see very few people stop at those moments to pray, the calls begin to govern the hours of all who live in Morocco. It is a constant reminder from 4 or 5 directional speakers at once that 98% of those around us are believers in the Koran and the Prophet and the Five Tenants. Intellectual ideas for us; consuming ways of life for them.

There is no way to discuss without defense our different beliefs. We both have answers for each other’s questions which make so much sense as to not be discussable. I suppose I would be as successful explaining the mysteries of real body and blood in Holy Communion as they were initiating me into why Jesus did not die but was replaced in the tomb by someone who looked like him. The Westerners listen without contradiction. The Moroccans do not ask any questions they cannot answer.

The key to the faith as it was explained to me, and as it makes sense now in day to day life in Morocco and world events, is the individual’s relationship to Allah at the center of the faith. One is required to give to charity, to pray, to keep the Ramadan fast, to believe in God and the Prophet, to make a pilgrimage. Having done that, responsibility is fulfilled: one is right with Allah and anticipates heavenly reward. Duty to family is culturally key, as is modesty in women. But central tenants Christians hold close such as forgiveness by God and each other, compassion and gracious giving are just not in the motivating conscious mind of those I met.

World of Secrets


Morocco invites one to enter and explore, but not too far. The mosque doors in the medina are unlocked. Visible inside the unmarked door is a pile of shoes and a simple protective wall. In the more spacious areas, the mosques are full of arches and shadows, water pools and tree lined paths. They are clearly oases in the endless brown surroundings. No signs, but for all the invitation to rest and peace that can be glimpsed, it is understood I as a woman, non-Muslim, am not allowed.

The medina beacons with meandering narrow alley-roads that curve tantalizingly, promising a great discovery just around the corner, but a few steps off the path in an unknown direction and the noise of the market disappears. The walls are painted cooling whites or blue and doors are uniquely decorated, but shut tight. Windows are high on the walls and covered with black grill, allowing no casual peek at the life inside. Life and noise are in the walled garden and patio, but only the family enters.

The women chatter and giggle, haggle and shout, link arms and cling close in the market, but most heads are covered, a few even veil faces. Even the young girls cover elbows and legs in the hottest weather. For all the universal female traits, the Westerner gets the sense of not belonging.

It is mysterious and exotic, a little exclusive and off putting, with a touch of dark and frightening. Inviting, curiously compelling, completely unknowable.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Blue Moons and Bye-byes

Ah the blue moon. Lots of info on what and when but not why that name. Found it! The Christian calendar, used for dating movable feasts like Easter,  is based on 12 Full moons, 1 per month. Mostly. So then the 13th moon showed up they referred ito it as a Betrayal Moon because it threw off ao the tidy planning. And in Old English betrayal is  "belewe" moon.

So with that bit of trivia it is time for good byes here - I gave my students a list of movies to watch to improve their English and a way to use Google to get news in English. I think some will keep going. They have more than they did 3 weeks ago. Plus they know Chicago Bulls. That alone will impress their friends at the hammam.

I have lots of reflection and contrasts but they will wait until after a week in Spain.  I'll also add pictures to the blog and let you all know when it is ready for enhanced viewing. Thanks for taking the journey with me!


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pulled into the future

Suddenly it is 48 hours until I get on a big plane again. I filled out my final evaluation form and poked in my suitcase to see if I need to buy more souvenirs. (yes) tomorrow is the last day of teaching. Sadly there are no volunteers to continue this job, but most of the students will go back to school next month so they will be busy. But no one will talk English to them.

Arabic is the first language taught, followed by French in grade 1. The most recent addition to the curriculum is Berber as some were afraid of losing touch with their roots. English is still an elective and #4 on the list. These students can read individual words - although I had to  explain "independence" and "kite"! Did they not read the Kite Runner? - but had no idea what an E at the end did the the vowel in the middle as far as pronouncation goes. Or two vowels together. I have not even touched all the exceptions. What a complicated language.

Many of them are on Facebook and hopefully they play games with English speakers. Bejeweled is universal.

From here I meet Bob in Spain and tour Barcelona and Madrid.  Back in the US on Sept 9. Thanks to my son and friend for manning the house and enduring the bites of the cat.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Every country has one - huge warehouse jungle of clothes, food, washing machines, toys, bedding, fresh fruit, confusingly located under one roof. Here we have Marjane. And next to it a McDonalds. But today's run was necessary because there's was a sever shortage of ice cream in the house. Desserts are always fruit. This was so desperate we had to eat one on the way home, 1/2 melted and dripping. Exquisite.

What I really crave: bacon. Bacon cheeseburgers, bacon sandwich, bacon with pancakes, eggs and bacon, bacon wrapped hot dogs..

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Visit to the White House

Casablanca that is. We took the 1pm train to Casablanca to see the Hassan II mosque. It is an hour train ride so we went 2nd class which is OK but very hot. However Casablanca is on the ocean so there was a nice breeze waiting for us.

We got the 3pm tour and there's were actually 6 in the English group which was fun. This is the only mosque in Morocco (and in most of the world) that non-muslims can even enter.

You can take pictures anywhere, but the reality is everything is so massive that picture are mini pieces you hope to paste together. The worship space holds 2000 men on the floor and another 500 women in the galleries. Every thing is made of materials that will not be effected by the sea, which actually lies under 1/3 of the building. In the areas where everyone washes up before prayer, the walls are made of a mix of clay, dirt, black soap and egg yoke. That way they absorb humidity from the air. The brass lanterns outside were corroded by sea air but the one in the washing rom was still clean from the treatment of the walls. How that concoction every came up is unknown.

Observation of church/state: the name of the mosque is Hassan II who was king when it was constructed. On the main pillars in front in gold letters is his family tree.

All the brochure informed us that there are restroom of equally find beauty to the restof the mosque. They we're nice, but I thought it was a good Chruch strategedy. "it's cool inside and we have nice restrooms!"

It was a wonderful visit to an impressive structure.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Librarians on holiday

My school here is closed on Mondays so I had the morning free to...yes! Alphbetize all the leisure reading books and clean and reorganize the teaching resource area! I can go home happy.

Fortunately After lunch we went to Pottery Villiage where they sell...well, you know. I am trying not to buy 3 dimensional objects. From there we were dropped off at the post office. You are allowed to buy stamps but the postal person MUST affix them herself. And they have a totally clear acrylic mailbox. What a good idea! Then we hit the tiny English bookstore with the adorable little French guy who runs it. And home for a belated GNT (Geezer Nap Time).

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dinner under the crescent moon

Well it is almost half moon now but we climbed to the 6th level of a restaurant after some shopping - our Brit friend was on her last wrap up of souvenirs - and found a table looking over the plaza, surrounded by the mountains and under the moon. The food was the best I have had in Morocco and that is saying some since our cook at home base could host a TV cook show. Dessert was included and it was caramel flan - just exquisite. After the heat of the day the night was cool and it was a perfect meal.

We boarded the 7am bus for Rabat today and were home in time to get our friend off to Liverpool (correctly produced LI-vi-pool and having nothing to do with internal organs). It is hard to choose whether it is the new people or the new sites that are the best memories of a trip. This year my birthday was blessed with both!

Blue waves in the desert

Feet propery numbed for the climb ahead we walked the path up to the Spanish Mosque overlooking the city from the mountain side. It was wide and well trod, but at 2165 feet altitude we stopped often to marvel at the view back on the city. With the brown and green mountains surrounding the village of all blue and white walls it was like a huge blue wave rising out of the desert.

The mosque was not much to see. The Spanish built it but the locals prefer the ones in town so it was neve open. But the view and breeze form the top were spectacular.

We gratefully trekked down too lunch on the plaza. Sometimes a cold Coke is the best drink in the universe!


The calls of probably 5 minarets and echoes off the Rif were our wake up call. We had a British breakfast handed Our on trays on level 1 which of course we carried to the roof on level 8.

 But before even the first call I was up to see the sunrise. Sitting in a bowl of mountains I watched the sun creep over the landscape. Some demented rooster crowded every time a new roof was illuminated.

Anyway breakfast in the early morning and then off to adventure. We made our way through the shopping area and plaza, stopping for pictures at every turn. Every house, every street and wall, is painted white or a shade of light blue. Every tiny alley - and since this is a no motors zone there has been no need to enlarge or widen into streets - twists off into a shadow of blue that pulls you in to see what lies around the next curve. We warded off all shop keepers with a promise to return later and headed as instructed to The Waterfall, site 1 on our tour.

If there's is a waterfall as I envisioned it, or even a String of rapids or a dam, did not exist. This is the desert and it is dry. What was there's was even more fun and equally as refreshing. Where the Water pours out of the rocks direct from  the High Atlas Mountains the founders of Chefchaouen put a very small natural dam, only a few rocks and channeled part of the water into a stream for washing and part into a small pool for playing. Where it runs out of the pool is a cement slab that is like a 0 depth pool that is the joy of people everywehrer. No matter how black the long dress and heavy the scarf, There was no resisting wading into the foot numbing cold of the snow run off.

In the washing area lots of scrubbing was being done on built in washboards for that purpose in the same ice cold water.

We climbed often rocks with the local boys, watched the tiny children splash and saw something not found in Rabat: smiles on Moroccan faces. They were on holiday and it was wonderful. So were we and it was.

Fairy Lights in the Mountains

Just back from a weekend in Chefchauoen, where is had a very wonderful birthday. Thank you to all the FB friends for the greetings! It was a magnificent day.

We left Friday after lunch (because Friday is always couscous and no one misses that!) and road 5 hours north and east to the Rif of the atlas Mountains. The first 4.45 hours were interesting, to see the tiny villages and farms where there were not cars to trucks. All transport and all farming was done by donkey. Small flocks of sheep still grazed With the lone shepherd and stick in the only shade available. Then into the foothills, bulging out of the red sand and scrub gradually. Along the way we picked up Morrocans. Chefchauoen is a big vacation place for the locals.

About the time dusk turned to dark we rounded a corner of a hill and the entire bus - all nationalities - gasped. Perched on the side of the mountains, cradled in the crack between two,  was a cluster of fairy lights in the midst of nowhere. Chefchaouen

We managed a cab since the walk is straight up and got to the medina. In Chefchaouen it is more than shopping. It surrounds the old city and a huge plaza and is the center of life. Still a steep climb through the crowded stalls to the hotel Riad Baraka, run by some Brits. Since we were traveling with my roomie from Liverpool who spoke the language, we were quite safe.

When they say traditional decoration they mean in the best Disney sense of the term. Every surface and wall and even the ceilings had murals and paintings. Even the floor was covered with starts and crescent moons. It is the best of what the tourists expect of Morocco and very charming.

Stairs up were like climbing the inside of a cathedral row, narrow and twisting. 4 flights to the room. 5 to the share a bath and shower. 6 to the terrace. 7 and 8 to the top terraces. And what a view. That night we were surrounded by the lights of the village and the possibilities of  tomorrow. We collapsed into our Moroccan blanket covered beds.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Off the grid

We are traveling to Chefchaouen this weekend. It is in the Atlas mountain, apparently with lovely kasbah and fun medina. But not much WiiFi. So I'll be back on Sunday with stories from mountain hikes, cold rivers, 5 hour bus rides and a British guest house!

Layers of history

One thing about being a cross roads to the sea and Europe, morocco has been invaded and ruled by many different groups. Today we visited early Roman ruins dating back to 200 BC. Most of the movable items have been stolen or, now, relocated tothe archaeological museum, but therer re seitol the outines of  homesnad tiels sh the road. It was there about 600 years. Typical of Roman ruins - even in Rome- they could use a good lesson from Disney as far as adding shade trees, expanitory signs and better walking paths. Currently it was just rocks. But really old rocks put in place a long time ago.

Which had been built over by a mosque and school where you could still see the sleeping room and bathrooms with pipes plus two minarets with huge stork nests on top. In fact many storks build on mosques and they are not removed because it is good luck. Rabat is on a migration path, but the birds had gone north.

There was a lovely valley and of course many sleeping cats. Cats are everywhere in Rabat.


So Hammam is not the reply you give to the waitress when asked what meat you want with your eggs. We went there today and I hardly know how to describe it to a G rated blog.

It is a public bath house. Very public. THere is one large tile room with water pipes all around, lots of buckets for hot and cold water and Grannies are on hand to scrub you with a rough glove and black soap. The only person wearing anything is at the place in the entrance you pay money. Clients, staff, other guests. Did I mention one big tile room? Totally public. Everyone. But it is the kind of thing women do when there is limited water and they want to get clean. Most Moroccan women go once a week and the scarves and veils come off, everyone relaxes, gossips, makes arrangements for tea later. It is women's safe haven and we did come out with very soft skin.

Cultural experience - better than squat toilets.

Crescent moon and crazy drivers

The was a wonderful crescent moon in a clear sky last night. Very appropriate over the shadow of a minaret.

The buses stop at 7 so we took a Petite Taxi home. It was a blazing ride partly because he wanted OT get back for another fare and partly because we feared the whole car was going to either collapse or blow up if he downshifted. Thanks goodness they do not yet have red light cameras. The only reason we did not get hit was that the missing muffler made so much noise others got out Of the way as we wove a braid to make Tangled proud through the streets.

It was a cross between NASCAR and Demolition Derby. Moroccan style.

Dance of the Night Medina

Now the Ramadan is over we are freed from the 7-8:30 curfew and can go out right after dinner. Last night we went to the medina. It is an entirely different experience. At night it is full of tourists and teens on dates and young families. Daytime is for the Serious Mom Shopper (who apparently purchase the Calvin Klines for the household since they were none to be seen after dark) and food shopping. Night is for prepared food so to the usual smells of leather and perfume and masses of humanity add fried onions, spices, garlic and beef.  There is not a single sense that is not assaulted by it! Magic!

There are mosques in the alleys and around the corner which of  course non- Muslems cannot enter. However nothing is labeled. You just get a sense of different activity and of course everyone is taking off the shoes. But sometime that happens in one of the inner stalls where they sell shoes.

The paths are  majorly conjested not by sales or beggars or shoppers but baby strollers! Many carry the littlest ones in a sling on the back but quasi western babies are in joggers to umbrollers. Not strapped in, however. You often see a dad leading a young child - boy or girl - and that is nice. Couples hold hands. Women hang on to each other for fear of separation. Young men often walk with arms around shoulder. We all slither past each other in the Dance of the Night Medina.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Body language

Today I was teaching geography and landforms which included an ice burg. Trying to give some context I asked if they had seen Titanc the movie. Blank stares. Could this be the last place in civilization to not see it? Then I posed in the arms back ready to fly off the bow position and immediately I hear cries of recognition. Ah - Titanic! At last we Can move on to iceberg...

To the train station!

Yesterday we went to the only English bookstore in Rabat, stocking an eclectic assortment of stuff tourists left behind. We had the directions "near the central train station" so when the Petit Taxi arrived  I braved my HS French and asked for the Gare. Nothing. English? Train station. No. Finally tried "chugga chugga woo woo" and we were on our way. My companions were a bit mortified but they did not even try French!

The store had lots of old textbooks and detective novels plus a whole set of Harrelquin romances. Ah the view potential learners must get of theEnglish speaking world by reading those for practice!

In a dark corner we even found some CSLewis which I think is perona non grata here. It was mixed with a stack of Korans - apparently the 200's for Dewey lovers everywhere.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Short and sweet

Or Short because of Sweets. With the end off Ramadan our 7-8:30 curfew is lifted so we can go out in the Evenings when it is not so hot.  About 5 minutes walk through the embassy homes is an ice cream place - oh, my! It was crowded with families out for a post Ramadan treat or coffee. We celebrated our liberation with large scoops and whipped cream. 

Monday, August 20, 2012


Morocco is sort of an island.

They have applied to be in the EU but could Not be accepted without opening the door to Turkey, etc.  so they are not Europe, although their close trade connections and sentiments are very much with France. French and Arabic are taught in school.

In a dispute over the Western Sarah they have withdraw from the Union of African states so they are no longer aligned with Africa. But the location is most defiantly across the tiny Strait of Gebralter on the Africa side.

They are in continuous struggle with the neighbors to the east, Algeria. They belong to the Middle East groups but are on the fringe politically and internationally.

The new king is progressive and liberal and has given greater power to the elected officials but on Wednesday they have a ceremony marking the loyality of the leaders in which all of them must prostrate themselves to the king as he rides by on a black horse.

The time zones and holidays are set by religion but the goverment ruled that mosques are only open 15 minutes before and after Prayer each day to avoid insurgent activities. Many questions about religion are answered with the governmental laws. 

It is 99 here and we are a cool spot so maybe it is just too hot to care.

BTW an enterprising person could sell ceiling fans here and make Big Bucks,

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Calvin Kline briefs and bus stampede

No day is complete without a trip to the media or shopping area. The closest we get int he US is a flea market, but that is not even in the same time zone. This is noisy and smelly and crowded and totally wonderful! There are the stalls on either side plus down the center anyone can spread out a mat and lay out shoes, bath salts, dresses, figs on a rope, kids clothes, more shoes, cell phones and small electronics, souvenirs like magnets and key chains, fresh herbs and bags of spices, and more shoes. Walking is a sideways slither. And every stretch of shops is not complete without a selection of Calvin Kline briefs in a variety of colors and sizes. I have a vision of all the men going to prayer and bending over to reveal identical labels.

 We Travel by bus now. It is only 4 little coins. Going to town we wait at the bus stop and get on #3 and get off at the medina. But coming home there is a turn around where all the buses line up. 10-12 of them with no indication on any of them what number it is. They wait until about 2 minutes before they are to pull out and then put the number up. This means people are constantly surging from one end of the bus que to the other as a number is revealed. Some run on any bus and then ask and get off and run to another bus, sometimes going in the front door and out the back! Others hover on the sidewalk after the number is shown and then at the last minute jump on. Racing around with a notebook is some sort of controller who is trying to keep them on time but with that many there is no we can pull out when they're bumper to bumper. All honking and yelling of course. Probably Bus Controller did not turn out to the the glamour job they described in the brochure...

Double and number of fit fights and arguments today as Ramadan ends and nerves a strained by lack of food and the holiday. The cops will watch intently until 1 blow lands on the opponent and then get in the fray as well. It's the medina!

Bars and grills

Every window in every house is covered with decorative wrought iron in geometric designs and little Curley cues. Quite picturesque. Every house or apartment complex has a view proof wall with a substantial but decorative gate. Very different from South Africa where wall was always topped with broken glass and barbed wire. And even that did not work very well. 

Inside our garden wall is overgrown with shrubs and vines so it is all green and you get a sense of garden not enclosure. The doors and windows of the house are always open for air and access. Including the very elaborate grill over the sliding back door to the garden.

Tonight because there are so few of us and the guard is in the other wing, the grill is closed and locked. Suddenly it feels restrictive and confining. They are keeping bad things out but us in.

The difference between bars and grills. Which side you are on. What they secure. What they restrict.

It is over yet?

We think Ramada is over. There was a complication with the moon or something at the last minute and it lasted a day longer. Just imagine having Congress vote On Dec 24 to delay Christmas by a day. Anyway it is intensely quiet on the busy road outside and there is the distant sound of noise makers so I think this could be it. That means we are free of the 7-8:30 curfew!

It also means all the staff but one guard have gone home. We are reheating leftovers and behaving ourselves but I hope he gets extra pay for this. They'll be back Tuesday on the King's birthday. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Call bells

Live Oral Amplified Calls to Prayer are at first light of dawn, when one has no shadow, when the shadow is the same length as the person, the moment the sun sets below the horizon and when the first starlight appears.

It unworldly wonderful to hear the call to prayer at any time. Not the people stop what they are doing and pray but that the community is reminded of the centrality of God in their lives. All in Arabic but we have been informed what it says. And we remember.

The same used to be true for the cannonical hours of the Church and even the Sunday bells. When we decided to put a steeple on Grace Lutheran in Glen Ellyn, the first concern of the neighbors - all of whom professed to be Christians - was would we put in a bell that would disturb them. I wanted to install a large gong, but we settled for wind chimes on the front porch. Sigh.

Can we click LIKE somewhere if we want to bring back a cacophony of church bells?

Another sound sensation: the only time I have heard what I think is typical Morrocan music, it turns out to be someone's cell phone.


We had a lecture on the system here and it explains the 50% illiteracy rate, somewhat.

First in the rural ares the government cannot afford to staff and maintain a school for each community. So they build one somewhere central but students provide their own transportation. On foot. The trek starts early and ends late. The farm boys do it when they are not needed at home and the girls do it when they can travel the complete distance safely. Not ever in the dark. Not ever alone. Recently private boarding schools for girls have been started but they must live there and cannot help at home. It is a problem every country with rural areas faces.

The structured urban systems are free (except for books and supplies) and children begin in grade 1  grade school is 1-5 6 and they are tested at the end of each grade. They can be repeat a grade one time but if they fail twice, they are out of school. Of course any misbehavior and they are out. At grade 6 there a big test and only those who pass go on at all. After grade 7-8-9 they are tested again and only the percentage of those who pass for whom there is a spot available in high school go on. At the end of three years they are tested and if they with to go on are assigned to study whatever they score best in for college and career.

There Are expensive foreign schools, but  most kids just go to work when they end school, whenever and however that happens.

Classroom instruction from grade 1 is lecture and memorization. They begin French in grade 2 and most are fluent in both Arabic and French as well as Berber which is now recognized as an official language. The post high kids I am teaching can read and write English as well, but not speak or recognize it.

Every culture tries to teach and bring out the best in the children.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Child, children

Houses, houses, son, sons, family, families, child, children. English does some inexplicable things with plurals.

However I discovered my teaching partner from the UK has been teaching British rather than real American English. What the heck is a jumper? Knickers? Trainers? I have to translate at the volunteer house for the Brit Imparied. An Ice Lolly? Really? What ever it is, it was necessary as soon as we stopped teaching every day at 4. Next week we switch to mornings which will be better for all of us.

But not until after the end of Ramadan celebration and the King's birthday. Monday and Tuesday. Lots of time to explore the markets! And read.

During Ramada we have a curfew form 7-8:30 each evening. It is when the locals break their fast for the day and there are so few people on the street that it is not safe.  So the Night Life picks up again about 9pm because it takes 1/2 hour to chill the wine and beer. Needless to say so far I have missed all of that, being on Central Daylight Geezzer Time. Tomorrow 7 of the volunteers are leaving so I will try to stick it out for a glass of wine tonight. 

The weather is slightly coolish in the morning and evening with enough breeze to sleep but when the sun burns the clouds off it is intense. Nothing like Chicago. Or, apparently, Marakesh.

Kids heading home now are longing for sushi and I Hop.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

On the to do list?

Several of those departing  on Saturday when to the public bath to get a scrub today. Once the "public" nerves were past I gather the act of being Brillo-Ed by old ladies was fun. After several surgeries I don't have any public modesty and our house mother said it is a good place To meet friends to intvite over for tea. But then I'd have to remember the steps to make tea.

Family plans

Day 2 of  teaching was much more focused and purposeful - dare I hope more productive. I started with my family and pictures of all the children and grandhchildren. We talked about son, daughters, parents and grandchildren by putting sticky notes on the right pictures. I spent all day looking at my adorable children and grandchildren. And Bob. They always learn that word first and I 'm sure it helps them for life. Then they drew their own family trees and explained them in English. I was surprised out of  21 late teens all had both parents living and everyone had 1-3 siblings. Tomorrow siblings, uncles and aunts, the on to houses. We acquired some local magazines and I have a picutre of the Disneyworld Castle so that should cover it.

We were in the kitchen today - cute room. Maybe we have one at home....anyway we did chicken tamarind and tea. It explains why everything tastes so good. Fresh, fresh, fresh! Chopped and cooked within 24 hours of being In the field. Or close.

The tea is just green Chinese tea but the preparation is far from Lipton.
Boil tea leaves
Pour out water without swishing pots wish pot
Pour out second glass
Pour first glass back in
Throw second glass away
Tear fresh mint and press into pot with 3 sticks of sugar
Add cold water to fill pot

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


As we finished teaching today my partner pulled me into the room and whispers to close the door. What could she have in mind that the students could not see? Some awful experience to relay? A badly adjusted strap? No we just wanted the one thing we cannot have this week in front of the students: a drink of water!


One thing all religions seem to have in common: they all think they are right. As much as they preach tolerance and peace and love, the preferred way of doing those things is whatever they at doing. It is hard to have open minded discussions when no one is really open to alternative views. So you seek common ground and hope for the best. Inshallah. God willing. I think God is willing, actually....

Anyway the common ground I noticed today is the levels of involvement in organizations of which people say they are members. Of the 98% of Moroccans there are many who do not make up a prayer they miss during the day or who don't give much to the poor during the year, but at Ramadan it all changes. Crime is down substantially. Generous giving is up. Same in holy days everywhere.

A few novel twists on the Christian understanding of the details of Jesus' life - most substantially that it was not Jesus who died on the cross but someone who looked like him. God came in at the last minute and took him to heaven. There's is no need for resurrection for sin because, in the telling of the creation story, Mohamed wrote that Adam and Eve asked God to forgive them before they left so there was no original sin carried on. But certainly Jesus teaching and miracles happened, and they await his coming as the Messiah at the end of  time. Our goal is to live good lives here and stay in close communication with God to determine God's will. Good with that.

Of course no religious organization has lived out the teachings of its leader without succumbing to politics, power, control and land acquisition.  It's a small world after all.

Getting dressed for the first day of school

Shopping in the medina there is every conceivable combination of coverings and clothing. Hair out, long dress. Hair covered, tight jeans. No scarf, short skirt. Scarf with long dress and close toed shoes. None of it is stared at. There's are a few obviously non-Moroccan tourist who are in Travel Wear and some in shorts and sleveless tops. No one pays any attention. So we are told to dress modesly when going out and that usually means cover elbows and knees, but no one seems to care.

At our placements we are to be even more conservative so I have loose pants and a couple of the tops I got to teach in India. I brought my scarfs, too, but have not felt it was needed. Wearing the scarf if a personal decisions and many woman choose to. And many don't, as opposed to India whe it was very unusual to see an Indian woman in Western clothes.

And the students today - both male and female in one class at the local community center -  were the same mix. All the men wore western pants and shirts. The women were covered,  uncovered, western and Islamic in equal measure.

The one things that was completely in common was they they were all fasting. We did not talk about food. Because it is Ramadan we met in the afternoon. Not sure why. Maybe they stay up to eat and sleep in? In any event next week we go back to teaching in the morning.

So properly garbed, we arrived and found 15-16 in each class. Ages 15-21 or so. They may be able to read and write but if so they cannot yet tell us about it. So we are here to teach oral conversational English and that is clearly the need. It is a two hour teaching slot so we each teach 1/2 the group and swap after an hour. Since my partner is from the UK it gives them a couple of perspectives, not to mention accents!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Time and bread

"What time is it?" is a more complicated question than just a watch check. They figure it relative to Greenwich Mean Time +1 or GMT exact. So in April (formerly March) the clocks switch to GMT+1 for daylight saving time except for Ramadan when they go back to GMT so there's is less time for getting off work until sunset. So when Ramadan ends (not clear exactly what day that is) we will switch back to GMT+1 until September when it is GMT again. Basically the clock does not matter because life is governed by the calls from the minaret,  dawn, sunrise, noon, afternoon 4-ish, sunset, evening. Given all that, the Moroccan people are very prompt for meetings and appointments, but not insane. Everyone is very prompt for food, anytime.

The first night here I was told not to every throw out any bread or anything made of flour. It has not been a problem since there is very little left on my plate even to wash off. But if you have a crust or bite left it goes in a special plastic bag. Compost? Holy somehow? The answer is that the poor of the city used to often paw through the garbage cans, looking for food and generally making a mess. So they collect all the bread and put it in a separate bag next to the garbage cans so the poor can pick it up easily and not go through the trash.

Today was a holiday - the anniversary of the day some previous Spanish group was reunited wiht Morocco, but there are a lots of people who are not happy with  it yet so we drove by a "demonstration" that consisted of 20 or so guys sleeping in the shade by the state building. They called it a "respectful" demonstration and saud there had been no problems. Occupy Shade.

Tomorrow we start work.

Monday, August 13, 2012

To the top of the walls

Inside the smaller walled Area or cashba is the king's palace where he has state meeting but does not live. They say he has a nice house In another area of Rabat. I'm sure if you are king you do have a nice house. So the lecture on kings: Mohammad V was the one who liberated Morocco from  the French and there is a great deal of appreciation and sentiment about him. We visited his grave which is near the oldest minaret begun in 1195. Regrettably that king died and the next king had other things happening to spend money on so it was never completed. Earthquakes and centuries later some wall and the first 1/2 of the tower are finished. The tomb of the kings overlooks the minaret, I suppose waiting for them to finish it....after the next pledge drive.

So Hassain II was the independence king's son and he was -  to quote the guide - a dictator. His son is now on the throne and is the reformer who has made Morocco and it's people what we know today. The way more interesting story is the wives, of course. No one in the history of Morocco had ever seen the king's wife until the present king, Mohammad VI. 

The top of the casbah overlooks the river and sea where we had a wonderful breeze.  There are tiny apartments all along the narrow street to the top. Doors are unique, but frequently show the Hand of Fatima to ward off the evil eye. Fatima was the Prophet's daughter. The Jews have a very similar symbol called the Hand of Miriam, Moses' sister.  The fingers are the five pillars or five books depending which side you are on.

Many well fed cats but I have seen no dogs.

Rambling around Rabat

This was our walking tour day and I had no problem eating seconds for dinner. Since the staff is still fasting for Ramadan, they feed us and head home so I have no clue what any of the dishes are but they are wonderfully delicious.

I earned my second trip though the chow line by beginning at the Medina or shopping Area inside the first wall. The first wall is actually older than the second. At one time it surrounded the city but during war times there was a need for a smaller area that was heavily fortified for the king so the second wall was built inside about 200 years later.

The 'shops' are all about 6 feet wide, stalls, really, 10 feet high,  loaded for floor To ceiling and usually dangling from the ceiling With the unique items each sells.  Purses are a huge industry, both knock offs and just massive bags for toting stuff. Western T-shirts are a slose second. Then leather shoes, spices, and ladies wear. The only method of purchase is bargaining. This is where the locals shop, and it is jammed like July 4 fireworks on the Chicago lakefront. Loud, mashed, chaotic, colorful. Wonderful! Yeah, keep your money in your front pocket.

They warned us about men who Might try to take advantage for the crowd to grope or pat and sure enough half way up the street I felt more than just jostled. Then I heard a mother gabble an admonishment to the 4 year old behind me who apparently mistook my garb for hers. Ah yes- the same crowd I usually attract at home...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

After several starts...

It took several starts to even get out of Chicago but I am in Rabat at last. Worth it all!

But the crisis started when there was a rainstorm in New York and that backed up JFK so they cancelled the Delta flight. They rebooked me on a flight arriving at JFK on the 11th and my flight to Casablanca left on the 10th. At least that is the how the Traveloctiy rep explained it to me. At length. I undertook the problem. Now I needed a solution. They found one from Chicago to Paris to Casablanca. Al I had to do was go home for overnight and start again the next day.  Bummer. Big  bummer. I mean Bob and I had already kissed goodby! For real. He came back. We had leftovers and watched Downton Abbey and went at it again on the 11th. With final success and a love 3 hour nap on the floor of the airport in Paris. Practically a tradition since the terminal is all glass, loaded with sunlight and stuffy. It was a mass occupation of an airport by the sleep deprived from several countries.

Now I am landed and bathed and had the best meal in the universe. No idea what it was. But it was great.

Casablanca  and Rabat are both on the ocean and drive up was lovely. It has not rained here for 5 months and the grain is stubble and the livestock rail thin. Our home base is I what was once the embassy homes area of Rabat. What you would expect a Moroccan home to be - open and breezy and comfortable. The are 10 volunteers he now and their names are a total blur. Most American but so widely traveled for 20 somethings! All fun.

Complete sentences are getting harder to form so I am passing up the closing ceremonies of the Olympics and the Night Market trip and headed for bed. New time zone. New country. New adventure begins. At last!

Thursday, August 9, 2012


This is partly a trip connecting to the past.

When my uncle died, my Aunt Libby retired from  teaching in her 60s and joined the Peace Corps serving in Morocco. I greatly admired that partly because it came at a time when I was feeling the weight of work and family and particularly hemmed in. "One day..." I said, although I could not possibly see that future or lay any plans.

Regrettably many pictures and mementos from her trip have been lost as has most of her awareness now, but I am packing for a trip I have lived a long time in my dreams.

And the reason it is all possible is my wonderful husband, Bob. He was the perfect clergy spouse and now understands that a call to serve does not end at the church door. He does not come on these trips because he sees I must do them alone, that much of the adventure and the accomplishment is to land in an airport with no signs in English and find my luggage. To take bucket showers and use squat toilets and walk dusty roads in the heat. To live in a community and be a fringe part of it for long enough to glimpse the realty of life beyond the headlines. Does he worry? Probably. But he takes me to the airport and picks me up on the other end. Thanks, again, Bob.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


We arrive at the beginning of the last week of Ramadan, a sacred Islamic celebration. From Wikipedia:

Chapter 2, Revelation 185 of the Quran states:

The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.

Thus, according to the Quran, Muhammad first received revelations in the lunar month of Ramadan. Therefore, the month of Ramadan is considered to be the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar.

We are instructed during that time to wear clothing less form fitting than usual. I learned in South Africa and China that even enlightened countries where young mothers wear short skirts and heels, women of “a certain age” (and no one is clear on what that age is, but it is apparently younger than I think) should keep elbows and knees covered. We are also to plan not to eat or drink anything, even water, in public or at our teaching sites. Meals will be served at home base at the usual times, but many of the volunteers and all the staff will observe the sunup to sundown fast. Sounds totally intriguing!

Ramadan ends August 18 with a huge festival and then the King’s birthday! Should be a lot to see and experience.

One of the reasons I have been fascinated to go to Morocco is the opportunity to see a culture governed by the calls to prayer and a month of community fasting.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


How do I pick the country I go next? Morocco started while I was in India and – in true librarian fashion – it started with a book. The Caliph’s House – an unassuming title I threw in my suitcase – was the story of an English family who live for year in Fez, fixing up an old mansion as the city around them ebs and flows with emotion and life. Like any home improvement project, this one was fraught with hysterical disaster – well, hysterical for the reader.  But the lengths the author goes to and the result wove a Moroccan spell in my mind I did not let go. So this year I am off to follow my dream!
The other books I read after I decided to go as a way to get background. I find fiction tells me more about the lives of the people than politics or history. I also listened to lectures on the contrasts of Jewish-Christian-Islamic faiths and some on the political history of the Middle East.

Ah – language. I am counting on some old, old, old college French and the kindness of strangers. And the universal magic words: Master Card.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rabat, Morocco, awaits!

Capital city on the coast, the temperatures there are actually cooler than Chicago has been. I depart next Friday, August 10, and land early on the 11th.
I just recieved my teaching assignment - conversational English to teenagers. It is a new location for CCS volunteers so we won't suffer by comparison, but no one has any real idea what the classroom is like or who the kids are. They are described as "entry to mid level English speakers" who want to know about foreign culture and life. Sounds like fun although the thought of teens is a little intimidating. I wonder if they will be all female or all male. After 3 weeks of crafts in Russia via translator last year, I am glad to be talking again!

My teaching partner is from Liverpool, UK, so she can cover the Olympics!

In my other trips, I have asked "What do you know about Chicago"?
     China - Michael Jordan
     South Africa - Barak obama
     India - I know someone who lives there. How close is Kansas City?
     Russia - Gangsta - complete with imitaton Tommy gun noises
We'll see what the Morrocans think!

Very soon now.....

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


It's a cloudless night with a clear view of thestars and 59 degrees (F).

Not here in Chicago, of course, where it is steaming in the mid 90's! But it is clear, here, too, and the stars will be up there, dimmed by city lights.

The cooler weather is in what I think of as a hot place, Rabat, Morocco. Same stars, same moon, same blog, but in about six weeks, I'll be there!

Once again as for the last four summers the Husband of Great Understanding will wave goodbye to the plane, and I will set off for...who knows? Lost luggage? Pit toilets? Children's psych hospitals? Hot road walking and cold showers? People for whom I will be the foreigner. People gracious enough to allow me in their lives for a brief time, to teach, to assist, to share some of my world and be a tiny part of theirs.

On this fifth trip I am starting to compare and contrast not only the life in the place I visit with my own, but with my limited observations from other trips. The women, in particular, as our gender moves to what comes next in the workplace as we delight in mothering. How does the widow in Umphumulu, South Africa look next to the one from Dharmsala, India? What are the career choices of a young women in Jindezen, China, compared to the ones in Yaroslavl, Russia? What piece of the global vision will Morocco reveal?

Morocco offers another opportunity to add to the puzzle of faith and the way it is lived out in real people’s lives. I have visited Hindu and Buddhist temples without the tour guide, participated in Russian Orthodox and Chinese Christian worship, watched a funeral anniversary in South Africa. Now I look forward to a country that is primarily Muslim. I have read books, and histories, heard the lectures on the basics of the faith, but what is the spiritual daily life of the Muslim?

I read fiction about the country before I go, as well as guides, entering the lives of  people more like the ones I may meet.

What do I take with me to share? The fact that I volunteer to be out of my world and into another is often perceived as a gift. The value I place on the new culture by listening and learning. The curiosity to communicate and the hope I find in life has been contagious. It is all I have. It is all I am.

What do I expect in return? Reality – horn honking, different smells, dirt roads, struggles of daily life. As we react to them in human ways and with human limitation, we are never so different as we are similar.

After all it is the same stars overhead.