As I said, I am BACK. Riding in that 'grand' taxi over the mountains, Krista and I smooshed into a single seat with a large, cardboard box full of loudly meowing cats on our laps, the landscape looked almost welcoming. I would never have thought the hills could seem green to me. Even coming from cities like Marrakesh and Agadir, I'm starting to feel comfortable with my dirty-orange colored city.
Where did I go? Taza, Fez, Beni Millel, Foum Ansar, Ouzzoud, Jebel Toubkal, Marrakesh, Agadir, Rabat, Oujda, and back. I've taken every single mode of transport available in this country, and managed to avoid pooping in my pants in all of them. Practice makes perfect I suppose.
In Taza, I went to a training for active listening and co-worker counseling. The night I got there, I attended an engagement party. Another volunteer was getting engaged. She's been here approximately a year and, by her own admission, is not exactly fluent in Darija. She's getting married to a fireman. I did not see this coming. It seems in almost every group of new volunteers, somebody marries a HCN (that's peace corps speak for 'host country national', an oddly sterile, government acronym for these volunteers' husbands and wives). To get married in the peace corps, you must have the country director's approval. In Morocco, to get married, you must have your family's approval. I don't envy the country director having to meet a whole new set of in-laws every few months.
Following Taza, I went to Beni Millel. I mean, I wanted to, but Krista and I got stuck in Fez. This is standard. It's impossible to buy a bus ticket unless you are at the station. So if you need to change busses at some point, you're probably screwed. This happened to us. Eating breakfast at the hostel in the morning, we met a volunteer from Burkina Faso. I think he may have been just a bit jealous of us.
Our friend Sam's village is right outside Beni Millel. If you're a tourist and considering visiting Beni Millel, Don't. Sorry Sam- just didn't get a good vibe. If you'd like to visit foum ansar though, Sam'll make you some mean friend chicken and mashed potatoes. Ahhh, America.
Next up we enjoyed some nature. Waterfalls in Ouzzoud and the tallest mountain in Morocco and north africa- Toubkal. There were monkeys in Ouzzoud. These same monkeys I later saw chained up for visitors' enjoyment, in the main square in Marrakesh. Ouzzoud is in Azilal province, which is known for schistosomiasis. This is also known as snail fever. Essentially, some parasites move through the intestines of snails, and then burrow through your skin and hang out in your liver. Anyway, I think after a few years of schistosomiasis, your spleen gets really big. So hopefully I don't have it. But at the close of service in 20 months, I can get them flushed out anyway, which I think I will do.
Toubkal was awesome. I've got some pictures up of the trek. We stayed one night at base camp, and woke up at 4:25 am to hit the trail. The sun rose at 7:15. This means that we were hiking in full darkness- sky full of stars. Unluckily, our one flashlight was dead so we used our cell phones. Yep, we used our freakin' cell phones. I also hiked in sneakers and pajamas, which wasn't a very good idea. But we did survive the trek. Hit the top at sunrise, hung around for 10 freezing minutes and then turned around. On the way back, we realized we probably shouldn't have attempted the climb at night. Whatever. Mike 1, Mountain 0.
After Toubkal, we had our IST (training) in Marrakesh. One week with 100 other peace corps volunteers. We stayed at some government complex. Government workers here have it made. There was a pool. It was nice, that's all. Marrakesh is kind of cool. I feel like I know it well, as I took many city busses all over town trying to find someone who could fix my computer. There are monkeys on chains, as I mentioned. And there are snakes. And there's lots of people trying to get your money. And there are more white people than I've seen in a long time. The most jarring moment for me though, was seeing a construction site on the main square of Marrakesh. That's the square that you visit, if you're visiting marrakesh. They were rebuilding a cafe that was blown up in 2011, as in terrorists blew it up. I don't really have anything to say about that. Other than perhaps I'm very happy I live where I do, which probably isn't worth visiting if you're a terrorist.
From Marrakesh, Krista went on to Rabat, and I headed to Agadir for a health workshop: "how to teach/ do health stuff in your community". Agadir is really nice, especially if you've been missing Indian food, real Italian food, and beer. It's got a great beach too. On the third day the beach was completely destroyed by a storm- totally covered in trash. Two volunteers from Michigan went in the ocean for the first time in their lives,... after the storm. One saw a floating dead rat and the other saw a used condom in the water next to her. I hope they give the ocean another chance sometime. Along with your typical white-person tourist demographic, there are a number of rich Saudis who go to Agadir. Which reminds me of something-
As I learned at IST during a training on AIDS, there's a lot of AIDS here. But, the government doesn't report it because Morocco enjoys a robust sex tourism industry, and you wouldn't want to scare away the sex tourists. Some of these tourists are coming from Saudi Arabia. Which means, if you're a Saudi Arabian and reading this, I recommend you do not come to Morocco for some sex. I see from my blog statistics that two people in Saudi Arabia actually read this last month- so don't say I didn't warn you.
In Agadir for the health clinic, I learned a good deal of disturbing information about health, particularly rural women's health here. There is nowhere near enough education or resources in the form of rural doctors. One of the most disturbing take-aways from this training was learning that some women clean their hoo-has with bleach. This is not good. The thing is, doctor's visits are free here! You can get 4 pre-natal exams for free! But there just aren't very many doctors in the rural areas.
One of the guys who helped lead the health workshop was a Moroccan named Hakim who is wheelchair bound because of a bout of polio in the country some 45 years ago. He was a young kid when he got it and moved to a center in Marrakesh for physically handicapped children. A peace corps volunteer worked there, and Hakim still remembers them and is thankful for the impact they had on his life. Now, that center is closed. In fact, there are NO centers. Why? I do not know.
So, after Agadir I went to Rabat by way of a mcdonalds in Marrakesh, met Krista, and the next day we took the 10 hour train across to Oujda. Stayed a couple days in Oujda, picked up two cats that now live with us (Anton and Mina) and made it home. The city seems very different now that it's swarming with kids. And we've been busy advertising for the start (FINALLY) of our regular English classes (oct. 11, be there). Our boss is being a pain, as usual, but hopefully we'll pull this thing off. Strangely enough, tomorrow we're going right back to Rabat for a few days' meeting.
This is dragging on way too long, but I just want to write one last thing. I saw today an absolutely perfect example of the Moroccan dating ritual:
Two girls walking down a sidestreet, wearing their all-white school smocks, holding hands and giggling. They were followed by two guys with, I kid you not, matching greased-back mullets, wearing identical fake Louis Vuitton-style small backpacks. These guys were also holding hands with each other. About 15 feet back from the girls, they were yelling, whispering, catcalling, and whistling at the girls. I consider this harassment. But this is apparently normal here. Two dudes holding hands with each other following some girls.
On second thought, I'm not totally comfortable here yet. This still seems really stupid and weird.
The views, opinions, and observations expressed in this journal are my own and in no way reflect the views, opinions, or policy of the Peace Corps, Peace Corps Morocco, nor any other governmental or non-governmental organization.
Nor is anything written here necessarily drawn from my own views, opinions, and observations. Please consider all postings and pictures complete fabrications with absolutely no bearing on reality. For legal purposes, please additionally regard the author as utterly imaginary.
The views, opinions, and observations expressed in this journal are my own and in no way reflect the views, opinions, or policy of the Peace Corps, Peace Corps Morocco, governmental or non-governmental organizations.
Nor is anything written here necessarily my own views, opinions, or observations. Please consider all pictures and texts here to be complete fabrications with absolutely no bearing on reality, this one or any other. For legal purposes, please additionally consider the author to be utterly imaginary.