Company came and went, Ping Pong saga, spring. February 17-March 4, 2019. It was a wonderful week as I got to play tour guide to American friends, and perhaps even more importantly, to one of my host sisters. We needed to stay in my region, as I was still under the travel ban (first 3 months in site, now over). This was no hardship, as my area is home to some pretty amazing stuff. My friends, Tom & Donna, first traveled to England, where they spent a few days with their daughter, Corinne, now living there. Then all three flew into Fes, where I met them.
We saw many sites familiar to me; the old medinas of Fes and Meknes, the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis, Immouzier, my first town and family, El Hajeb, Ifrane, Sefrou, the countryside around my town and their favorite, was just being immersed in the local culture, Karate class with the nieces and nephew (where former gymnast, Corinne, wowed them with her splits alongside the kids) working with me at the Youth Center (we created 3 American stores and sent the students shopping), eating wonderful traditional Moroccan dishes with my host family, staying with me in a real Moroccan house and attending the souk.
We also saw some things I had not seen; the stables and food storage facilities for the 12,000 horses of Moulay Idriss I, the town of Moulay Idriss (where he is buried), photo op with Camels, the American Fondouk (a free clinic for donkeys, mules and horses of Fes, founded in 1927) and met some new family members in Meknes, and the former primary care physician (PCMO) for Peace Corps in Morocco. And I finally got to stop and eat in the town I previously referred to as “meat city”, outside Meknes, Boufakrane. We also ate lunch at the trendy, touristy, American style, “Café Clock” in the old medina of Fes.
I thought my host sister might like to go along, but only after we checked into the hotel in Meknes did I learn she had never stayed in a hotel. Nor had she seen many of the sights on the Meknes trip. I knew she had been to many cities, but apparently always to see family.
We all got a few first-hand looks at some Moroccan “oversight”. The first thing on arrival to my town was to take my visitors to the Gendarmerie and Muqaddam to show their passports and say “hello”. Within minutes of our arrival in my first town, the Moqaddam there called the local PC Volunteer to ask her who-what-where-why-how long. Going to Fes, our taxi was pulled over at a Gendarmerie checkpoint, where they wanted to know our business, but as soon as I mentioned the name of our local contact, we were sent on our way. In Meknes, the cousin who was showing us around, was questioned by the local police for suspicion of giving tours without a license. A phone call to the brother in the Gendarmerie set it straight. We had a long walk to the cab one day as our driver was not allowed to bring a Grand Taxi to the area where we exited the old medina.
Everything we saw, did and ate was worthy of a page, but you must just come and experience for yourself. Just dealing with carpet salesmen, an unexpected tour of a tannery, mashed potato fritters from a hanoot, catching the last bus home, homemade everything, including harira soup and all the sweet accompaniments for a traditional “Ramadan breakfast”, the walnut vendor that would not let us eat in peace.
Before and after the excitement of the visit there was “normal” work and life.
At the Youth Center, I held a Peace Corps sponsored International Writing Competition. I only had 10 participants, but happy for those. Typed up and forwarded each entry. Afterward, despite my many varied efforts, I met the highest scoring English student from the high school, and she have never even heard about the competition. The Ping Pong club and I both had disappointing encounters with our Association President. This is the same guy that I loaned the camera (stood me up at the Beledia first time), actually falsified documents to get out of re-paying me the 200 dirham I loaned him to buy a chip. The same guy, after months of talking with the kids about their tournament in Sefrou, did not register them, so on the eve of the tournament, they learned that they could not participate. There were some pretty bad lies to go with the loss as well. I tried to use the incident to get them enthusiastic about being independent, raising their own money and more. Only the college kids get it, and they are not in town often enough to help me lead. The high school kids can’t see beyond someone else doing everything for them, yet. I hope it is the crack I have been needing. Teenage girls continue to torture me with disrespect at the same time they are writing me love letters. My host sister helped me with my “safe driving day” class. Since she has been taking driving lessons and is on the verge of her test, I had her talk to the kids. She is a natural and I need to have her back. All the same clubs, classes and programs were ongoing. I am continuing my Darija lessons.
My family added another “ponge”, sofa to my living room. I bought the pillow stuffing and a new jacket (family shamed me into it). Even that was drama! After looking at all the choices in town, I returned to the store with my best candidate (the one with a working zipper). The girl working there had given me the price in Ryals and Dirhams, confirmed what I wrote down and gave me her name. When I returned to buy, the owner tried to jack the price up from 300 to 400 Dirham. Perhaps she forgot to explain to her staff that foreigners pay more. In the end, I asked her if the word at her store was good, she said it was, and I left with 300 in her hand.
The landlady would not believe I had electrical trouble until my host brother tried new bulbs. That was after the entire house fuse had to be replaced because I was running my washer and room heater at the same time. Several days without internet was solved with the help of the home office guru.
I washed all the floors (home and Youth Center) and rugs. This means pouring buckets of soapy water on the floor and chasing the water out the door with a squeegee. No mops here. Lots of furniture moving is involved, and for some reason, I had a new barrage of cockroaches after. Well, I don’t have lots of furniture, but if it does not have waterproof legs, it must be moved up or out. There are no vacuum cleaners here, that I have seen, so rugs are carried to the roof and either aired or scrubbed. I scrubbed, and was surprised how quickly they dried. My step-brother (in Florida) sent me peanut butter, among other things, to tempt those rats to the bait. Well, it finally worked. The rats, came out of the sewer drain, took all the bait out of the plastic bag and licked the peanut butter off the bait. So far rats are outside the actual house, but still chew up my washer hose when I wash clothes.
I had a happy taste of home by pruning the family grape vine at the “country” house. My “olive picking” host sister, and mom, left for Marrakesh, to visit one of the brothers and the doctor. Mom has Alzheimer’s and is being seen there.
One of the members of my training class left for the U.S. yesterday. His grandma is sick and he did not know if he would return. He was the best of our group and I will miss him.
Besides my wonderful visit by friends, the other big news is the weather. Spring is here and things are much warmer. There were many hours without a coat, inside and out of the house, these past two weeks. There are blossoms on the trees. While my home in California is experiencing record rains, we have had very little here. I am beginning to forget my fear of getting cold, and even drank cold milk and juice.
In less than a week I will be traveling to a new big city, for a Peace Corps training. New stories to tell!