Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Life in the city.

The Earth Cafe, Marrakech -- hands down the best restaurant I've yet visited in Morocco.

I’m back home in my dusty little village, after a weeklong in-service training in Marrakech. Training was … training. Actually, many of the sessions were both useful and inspiring, as they were led by fellow volunteers who have actually used the tips they were sharing. And it was great to see everyone again … though with so many workshops, so many people and such hot weather, the week was maybe a day or two too long.

But we briefly reaped the benefits of life in the big city. Our bungalow was not the zwinest, but it did sport this crazy new invention called air conditioning, and that more than made up for the fly-ridden, cold-water shower. And I got to bust out some outfits I would never wear in my conservative site -- good gracious, my calves were showing! And my upper arms! Hshuma 3liya -- shame on me!

I spent too many dirhams, but it was totally worth it for the amazing food I was able to sample. I’m not knocking tagines or couscous, or even my own rotation of salad concoctions, but it’s nice to branch out into some other fare once in awhile. Seafood swimming in red coconut curry one evening, authentic Italian another. My favorite meal by far, though, was my second visit to the Earth Café, a wonderfully hip vegetarian eatery just off the Djemma El Fna, Marrakech’s central square of food, souks and free entertainment. Goat cheese baked in phyllo pastry, atop a bed of balsamic-roasted veggies ... I can still taste it melting on my tongue.

And then there was cocktail hour … glorious cocktail hour. Mmm, cocktails … In a country where alcohol is forbidden for Muslims and hard to find for travelers, it’s hard not to turn into a high-schooler, continually cruising for the possibility of scoring a bottle or two. We found a bottle or two. ’Twas lovely.

Danice and me in color-coordinated garb.

A not-so-strange not-turn of events.

Here’s a shocking surprise, upon my return home: My dar chebab is still closed! (cue sarcasm). Couldn’t even find the director for a few days, though I finally tracked him down this evening. The new library/informatique building is finished, actually, and looks lovely, with a tiled floor and peach and lavender walls. Soon’s they clean up a bit and move all the computers and books into the new room (and out of my classroom, which currently looks like a storage locker), we’ll be back open for business. So, I’m guessing, maybe another month or so. (Sorry, can’t seem to turn off that sarcasm feature.)

My women’s class is too busy to meet, and will be on vacation soon. The young women I was tutoring for their final exam have taken the test and disappeared on me. Even my dar chebab regulars are nowhere to be found. I have one last class at the women’s center tomorrow before it closes for the summer.

I feel utterly useless at times. I know this is normal for this time of year, this slowness. But I’ve already felt idle for a couple of months now. Hard to ward off that American mindset of work = success = reason for being. The one thing that calms me is afternoon tea with my host “mom” (again. two years younger than me). It’s not your fault the dar chebab’s closed, she reminds me. Everyone’s taking tests anyway, she reminds me. And then they’ll just hang around the house all summer. It’s too hot to do anything else. It’s OK, she says. Relax. Breathe.

So I try.

Plenty else going on, though.

* Both of my host sisters have new jobs that, I hope, will help them each feel more successful. Though it means I likely will see far less of each of them.

* Their sister has been visiting from Germany, where she moved about a year ago after marrying a professor she met in Agadir. The grandmother’s here, too, from her home out in the country. It’s been lovely to see the family dynamics evolve into a constant house party atmosphere. There is nothing lovelier than the idle, comfortable laughter of a houseful of female relatives.

* I bought a bed today, my first big purchase made solo, with no one to interpret or bargain for me. I’m pretty happy with it and look forward to feeling more at home once I have an actual bed to sleep in at night, to spread out my books and journal and music. (For months now I’ve been camping out in my living area, on a mattress considerably narrower than a twin bed and lumpier than Pamela Anderson, which is not a plus in my book.) Pictures to come once it’s built and delivered.

* Still making friends everywhere I go. Yesterday I spent time talking with a trio of women, two of whom spent most of the time trying (in vain) to convince the third that I was speaking Arabic to her, not French or some other exotic language. (I know what she means, though. It’s all Greek to me, too, honey.) Today it was a lovely older woman who held both my hands the entire time, saving when she had to use her own to waggle her substantial breasts at me while indicating the number of kids she’s raised. I can only be thankful she didn’t waggle mine while trying to comprehend why I haven’t had any.

Proud to be a citizen of the world.

I’m still a little bit out of the loop, newswise (my amazing new internet connection seems to be more predisposed to ridiculous and random Facebook quizzes than to information about the serious news of our day), but I did manage to catch Newt Gingrich’s speech in which he proudly declared, “I am not a citizen of the world. I think the entire concept is intellectual nonsense and stunningly dangerous!” Much has been made of the statement, especially how it contrasts with GOP hero Ronald Reagan’s quote a mere generation ago that he was a citizen of both the U.S. and the world.

The brouhaha seems to be over semantics. Newties are afraid the word “citizen” puts them in league with the dictators and commies of the world. For the more open-minded, less literal among us, it’s just a term of solidarity – with people, not governments. Being American does not make us superior – only very fortunate.

Huma huma, as we say here – People are people, the same everywhere. We all try to roll over for a few more hours of sleep in the morning, then get up, get the kids dressed and fed, do our daily work whether it’s at home or elsewhere, make another meal, crash in front of the telefaza, laugh a bit, fight a bit, fall asleep and do it all over again the next day,

That, more than anything, is what I’ve gotten out of my Peace Corps service so far.

And it seems to be a meme of sorts, at least in the news bytes and podcasts that have been coming my way this week.

Here on Earth has a recent episode on “Travel as a Political Act” – the idea that exploring other worlds brings home to us the reality that we’re all more similar than we are different. And that we’re all motivated essentially by two things: Fear and love. Fear of change, and love of our families.

We’re like spiders in that respect … the “other” (society, religion, etc) is just as afraid of us as we are of them. A very good reason to get to know our world neighbors better … and let them know us, the us defined by everyday life, not by our show of force.

Other good resources on the topic:

* On Point had a discussion this week on global education for high-school and university students – not only for the lower cost, but to make them more comfortable in / understanding of the larger world.

* Rita Golden Gelman, author of the greatly inspiring book “Tales of a Female Nomad” is trying to drum up support for a formal “gap year” program, a concept Michelle Obama has already embraced.

Quotes of the day:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrowmindedness.” – Mark Twain

“Not to know is bad. Not to want to know is worse. Not to hope is unthinkable. Not to care is unforgivable." — Nigerian saying (according to Facebook and the innerwebs, anyway)

“There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.” — Christopher Morley

“You don’t have to be unhappy to have the blues.” – Little Ed (of Little Ed and the Blues Imperials) on “Wait, Wait – Don’t Tell Me,” June 12, 2009

Currently reading: “In Morocco,” Edith Wharton; “A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation,” Charlotte Parnell

Currently listening to: music from Gnoua Festival 2008

Currently solidaritizing with: The brave, green-wearing women and men of Iran


katie said...

Speaking of news, wonder if you've seen this:

Here's a lower-bandwidth link in case the video is too much for your Internet connection:

Also check out:

Peace Corps has been in the news a lot lately! A very very good thing...

Enjoying your blog as usual.


B said...

UPDATE: I just got a text message from one of my baccalaureate (high school) students who was taking her final exam to graduate: "i m sucssed in bacalorea." Hamdulilah!

Anna Jo said...

Lumpier than Pamela Anderson! HA!