My Sister and Brother-in-Law visit. August 15-31, 2019
After all the celebrating of Eid Al Adha with my Moroccan friends, I had a few days to prepare for the visit of my Sister, Sandy, and my Brother-in-Law, Leonard. As I write, they have already returned to America. I am missing them very much.
I tried to give them a taste of Moroccan lifestyle, but also threw in some western style accommodations as we traveled. We saw many of the places that I have already written about, so I won’t repeat those. But I will talk about some of the new stops along the way.
I met their plane in Casablanca. I have long wanted to take the tour of the huge Mosque, built by King Hassan II, as it is the only one open to non-Muslims, of which I am aware. It is the largest in Africa, and third largest in the world. It was sad because the tour guide was really bad, and the tour was little more than allowing us inside, but at least I can cross it off the list. Having said that, it is a very impressive structure, inside and out.
We also had lunch at “Rick’s” Café. It is an elegant little place, and a fun connection to the movie “Casablanca”. It reminds me of the movie set, but is much smaller. The pianist was not on duty for lunch.
My favorite time was showing them my little town. Since the Dar Shbaab was closed, they did not get to meet many of the kids, but we did host a Kaskaroot and invite several friends, so they could meet and be met. Another really fun thing was a wedding right behind my house. As they were setting up, several family members invited us to join the celebration. We opted to watch from the roof of my house, along with all the ladies of the house. The first night was the bride’s traditional night with her friends and family. She arrived in the afternoon, in a car, face veiled. There were musicians, family and friends, dancing around the car to greet her. Eventually, she went into the family home. I know that part of the celebration is the application of decorative henna to her hands and feet. Her friends do the same. There is a health and traditional significance, but I am not aware of any Islamic connection. There was a tent, but also many chairs outside. One highlight was the long line of traditional performers. In their long white robes, the men re-enact the Berber/Amazigh style where they weave their arms, clasp hands, tell stories with a chanting style of singing. They are led by a single man that moves around the area in front of them. There are musicians. The party goes all night. The next night, there is a different tent, with dinner tables. Colored lights, a big (4’ high?) lighted LOVE sign and more. The bride is carried from the hair salon, by her beautifully costumed honor guard, on a guilted litter. The groom is here also. They disappear from time to time to change outfits, 7 changes being common. There is a band. The party goes all night. The music did not stop until after sunrise. The third day there is a brief bit of celebration at the bride’s house, as she is whisked away to the groom’s family home, where the party continues. I enjoyed seeing parts of this, but did not have the motivation to watch all night. I understand that 3 days is typical.
Another wonderful tradition while they were here, we attended a baby party. One of my host sisters in my first village had a baby girl. We brought gifts, held the baby, saw everyone, ate a big lunch and headed home. I am sure that party also went on all night, and we were invited to stay for dinner and spend the night, but opted to head home. Traditionally a ram is slaughtered and the baby’s name given on this occasion. I am not sure if that was done or not, but we did not see it and the baby had a name. Army brother was there, and when I asked him if his wife was there, he said he did not have a wife. Realizing then that the local volunteer and I were at the wedding, he told us he was already separated from the child bride (you may recall I attended that wedding just a few months ago). We visited two Peace Corps volunteers, one who live there, and another, from my training group, who was staying there a couple of weeks to recuperate from two broken feet. Had brief visits with two of the other host families and saw the amazing pool/spring area that had re-opened after being closed 2 years. Most of the town’s new roads and sidewalks were also completed. It was really a heartwarming transformation.
My wonderful boss, Director of the Youth Center, invited us out to his home for lunch. His wife, whom I had met before, may very well be the very best of the excellent cooks here. She treated us to the most delicious, home made Pastilla, followed by beef than melted like butter in your mouth. After, we got to tour his extensive garden of fruit trees and meet all the animals. In addition to chickens, turkeys and pigeons, they have a kitty and a beautiful German Shepard (recipient of weekly chicken feet). The rooftop sports a beautiful view of the neighboring countryside and small towns. I had met his daughter, but this was the first time meeting his two sons. Then, we walked a short distance to his family home to meet his parents and other visiting relatives. His Mom was a hoot! We stopped at the garden, family coffee shop for a drink. The Director and his wife, of course, invited us to take a nap and stay for dinner, but I opted out. We waited quite a while and never did catch a cab, but someone that the Director and I knew came by and gave us a ride back into El Menzel and from there a nackle (market van).
Another first for me, I hired a car to drive us out to Bab Bouldir and the Tazekka National Park. I had envisioned Bouldir to be a waterside park setting, but there was nothing there except a swimming pool. None-the-less, we had lunch and continued the drive. We enjoyed the scenery very much, which included two large lakes. We stopped to view information about the sights of the park, including an area of very large, first growth, cedar trees, and an underground grotto. Our driver assured us we could not drive to either. So, home we went.
The souk is a big part of life, for me and the entire community. Therefore, it was a mandatory stop for my family. We were in and out before it got really busy/crazy. Just a short glimpse before our driver picked us up for the trip to Chefchaouen. The blue city has become one of Morocco’s “must-do” tourist spots. We had a scenic drive there, and as planned, our taxi dropped us off and then he return home.
My first visit, I initially thought I had made a terrible mistake in coming to Chefchaouen. Everyone says how “chill” it is, but this was a side of the city I did not see. First of all, it is a huge city, not the tiny outpost described by Lonely Planet. Even after putting our driver on the phone with the hotel owner, he could not understand where to go, so we picked up a young man to show us the way. I asked my driver how much I should pay the young man who helped us and he said 20 dirham. Seemed right. Upon arrival to the drop point, another young man joined us. They grabbed our bags and marched off, up the steep steps, with warm words of welcome. They took us the long way, but we finally found the hotel. At which point I gave them each 40 dirham. They threw a fit and wanted more, but I was not moved. I initially thought the second man was from the hotel, but he turned out to be a street hustler. The extra-long, steep walk to the hotel was tough, and I had visions of being unable to venture beyond the hotel. This was the first time we had stayed within old medina walls, an old style, small hotel. As reviews indicated, the owners were very nice and the rooms cute and clean. I was finally able to relax after securing our bus tickets for the next day’s departure. Sandy did a great job of learning the easy routes through the medina, and Chefchaouen started to feel more inviting. There were a fair number of foreigners, but nothing compared to Marrakesh or Fes. We wandered around and had our dinner at a table on the main square, which was a great spot.
In the morning, I wandered the streets taking photos before breakfast. We visited the nicely restored Kasbah on the main square. We also walked a section of the creek that runs along the edge of the old medina. There, I saw one of the more unique sights I have seen while traveling here. I had read that women wash their clothes in the stream, but was surprised by the two large washing structures. One was operating, women washing, the other dry. Beneath an open canopy, there is a raised work area for the women. Water is diverted through a channel dividing two sides of 10 work stations each. Each station has a tub and a scrub-board. While the idea of polluting the stream is sad, the early laundromat was very cool. Small boys splashed in a pool of the stream beside the washboards.
Time to catch our bus to Tangier, a short trip. After checking in to our hotel, our first order of business was to get our ferry tickets for the following day. At first, we were walking along the beautiful beach and promenade. The “15-minute” walk turned into much longer, and so we caught a cab. I was misled to a travel agent, instead of being taken to the pier, but we had walked a long way before catching the cab and he was waiting for us. Shortly after leaving, I knew the tickets I bought would be problematic, but went along, hoping I was wrong. We got this same cab driver to take us out to Cap Spartel, where, from a cliff, you can view the meeting of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. I would have loved to linger in this area, but it was getting late and it can be so hard to get transportation at night. The road follows along beaches, and there is Hercules Grotto, lots of restaurants, a large wooded area with horseback riding and beautiful homes. Sadly, we arrived after sunset, the area being much further than we were told, but there was enough light to get a feel for the place.
The next morning, we visited the American Legation, which I highly recommend. A beautiful building at the edge of the old medina, is the only American soil outside the US, a gift from the Moroccan Sultan. It is part of the US National Park Service, and houses many photos, letters and artifacts telling the story of the long friendly relations between Morocco and America.
Then, we caught the 12:00 Ferry to Tarifa, Spain. Yes, there was drama, because even though indeed our ticket was good all day, the first open seats were at 4:00. However, after a lot of head shaking, they finally let us on. We wandered the cute town and found a hole in the wall, authentic (well, as authentic as one can be with an English printed menu, right?) Spanish restaurant. The food was good, but I am sure they laughed at the mere dent we made in the squid we shared. More wandering. As our departure time approached, I was surprised to see the Ferry docked. I was thinking they were running late, and we even talked about trying to catch that earlier one. Well, fool that I am, I forgot that Morocco time is different from Spain and we missed our Ferry by 5 minutes, instead of being there an hour early as we thought. Rather than wait two hours, Leonard bought us tickets for the other company, leaving in one hour. Thank you, Leonard.
The next morning, we caught the relatively new, bullet train “Al Boraq” to Casablanca. I hope they bring this service to Fes soon. It would make travel so much easier. We arrived at the airport at just the perfect time for the plane, but it left no time for a long goodbye. So, just a quick hug and they were gone. The time just went by too fast. Then, I had the job of getting home. Took me longer than it did them!
Back in my village, it is laundry and housekeeping. My landlady/neighbor surprised me with a heaping plate of couscous last night. It cheered me up.
The closure of the Youth Center has been extended by the government to September 10th, coincidentally my one-year anniversary. I sent an offer to my summer English group, to have English conversation in my home this coming week, but so far, only regrets, as my best students return to normal duties of work and school.
I can put the extra time to good use, planning fall activities for Dar Shbaab, household projects, and especially, our next Soccer group meeting on the 7th. More to follow.