Be Prepared

7/20/2017

So… today did not go as planned. 

Abby caught something the other day and as of this morning didn’t feel up to exploring Fes. She opted to remain in bed to kick this tummy thing. I had packed all the medical things needed. Just in case.

Be prepared.

Then a member of the tour group had a medical issue, but he didn’t know how to access the medical insurance people or how it worked.

I did. Because I came prepeard. I called the company directly prior to leaving, to find out just how to access them, what to do if we needed medical attention, and the process and procedures. 

So I explained it to him, got him the contract information, and showed him what to do.

If you are going on a trip, buy the travel insurance, and know how to utilize it prior to needing to.

Be prepared.

Off we go to discover Fes.

 My WHOLE agenda is to visit the tanneries. That’s it. And this is on the tour’s listed agenda too.
However, we have a new guide, due to other guide having to take care of other tour member with his medical issue. New tour guide announces, ” This isn’t on the list to visit, but it’s special to see…if you want…if you don’t, that’s ok too… but you might like to see the ceramic place and how it is made.” I say, “No…we return at 5 today, when do we see the tanneries?”

All the other teachers override me and off to the ceramic place we go , “for just few minutes, and then we go back to tour.”

What is happening is this: new guide is taking us to a place that will give him percentage of what the tourists buy for bringing groups to them under the guise of showing the process. Captive audience with money to burn in pocket.

And boy did they buy. And some got taken for a ride. Not me. I can appreciate the mosaic making process. I can appreciate the craftmenship. What I don’t appreciate is being scammed. And the guide and the ceremic owner knew, that I knew what they were doing.

TWO HOURS LATER…we now continue on the plan. We get taken into the Medina. Walk through the very narrow, claustrophobic alley that is chucked full of cat poop, and is rank of cat pee, on a hot humid day. BARF!

But…it gets better. One of our tour members doesn’t follow directions, nor pays attention as to where we are going. She walks in front of me. Stops. Takes pictures. Blocks me from taking pictures. Moves in front of me over, and over, and over ( she also took pictures of things that she was instructed NOT to take pictures of- we have been warned several times over the days about NOT taking pictures of guards- that we could be stopped and taken in for questioning… BUT she clicks, clicks, away) and I move ahead of her and leave her behind.

We ALL made it to the destination except for…you guessed it…HER! She is lost in the 300,000 people infested, maze crazy Medina. But…we had been told that if we become lost. STOP. Stay in place and the guide would find us.

Be prepared.

Back the guide goes, with her friend, to find her, while the rest of us talk smack about her. Well…15 minutes later, they return and she had been chewed out by the guide for not following directions… she didn’t remain in same area, ” I kept walking, thinking you might be just a little bit ahead.” And then she said, “well, the guide should stop and make sure that I am still with the group.”

Us teachers…we don’t buy that excuse and call her back in check. We make her walk in front from then on… but she hasn’t learned.

I hate groups.

Anyway, we go to an amazing place to eat, amazing food. The price is good, but way more expensive than what I pay for lunch. $10 vs $4… but man… what a feast!

By now, it is 3:15. The new guide comes to pick us up and explains the rest of the day to us. “Blah…blah… I show you this…and we do this… and this… and this…”

My hand shoots up. “We were told we would return by 5. Some of us scheduled spa day…it is now 3:15.”

And the shoppers in our group are antsy, because they haven’t been able to buy anything in the Medina as we have been trotting after new guide. Too much for them to handle. He has lost his audience.

Off we go. Visit oldest university. At the shut, locked door. Visit old scholar building, and listen to blah…blah…blah…hey, it is hot. We ate a very large lunch late, at 1:30, and we are bored… well I am.

Go see guy pounding copper Pot- 8 minute stop. Walk quickly to tanneries- FINALLY- it was empty of workers except for 2! Why? Late in day. Too hot to work.

I am peeved. But I get to smell the rancid pigeon poop pots, and take in the exact same pots that I have seen in National Geographic! I am here.

And I buy my leather slippers and drive a hard bargain… maybe… I buy 3 pairs of fancy slipper shoes for $32 vs the one woman who bought ONE pair for $36. Ya…

And how long do we stay here? 25 minutes.

Then run to weaving shop…full of interesting things, “You have 10 minutes.” Says new tour guide. “You need to be back by 5.”

And so we return to our massages. Because Abby and I planned ahead for our $15/30 minute full body massage at 6:30 pm.

Be prepeard.

“Can We Talk?”

7/18/2017

I had a dream two years ago. I was inspired in my dream to go to Morocco. I looked into going last summer, but we had plumbing problems that needed to be addressed. I had planned on going to Morocco, and stopping off in Turkey on my way home. I had dates selected for the tour. But, I didn’t go.

The day that I would have flown home via Turkey, if I had gone, was the same day that the Turkey airport was bombed.

I have had way too many instances where I have been guided away from horrible things to not believe that we have a purpose here in life.

So I believe that there is a reason as to why I needed to travel to Morocco. I was guided to select Youssef and his family, out of 50 people wanting to host us. Guided to cancel the Airbnb and remain in Casablanca, even though a great many discouraged us from doing so.

Tour books can be full of baloney. In preparation for this trip, I did A Lot of reading. I read about customs. “Don’t make a fuss over the children of the family if invited into their home. Being affectionate is not what is the acceptable norm in Muslim Moroccan families.”

“Be careful and on guard if salesman try to invite you into their shop. Avoid people wanting to speak English with you under the pretense of ‘practicing’ their language skills.”

“Avoid conversations with men in Morocco. They are trying to marry you to obtain a green card.”

And this is just a little bit of what I have read, heard about from books, blogs, websites, friends of friends.

And if I had followed all this advice, Abby and I wouldn’t have met the wonderful people that we have.

While shopping/walking in the streets, we have stopped and talked with the men who have called to us.

Omar, age 26, and his uncle, Mohammed are perfect examples of whom to avoid based on the tour books. We, however, found them to be delightful as we engaged in meaningful conversation. Omar told us of his desire to be a teacher, but due to government regulations, he can not attain this goal even though he has a university degree. He went to Spain to work as an accountant. But while there, the company presented him with a contract that wasn’t what was promised to him prior to arriving. Many people had signed, not knowing the contents. They were taken advantage of due to lack of language. The contract was to keep them there for 2 years. He didn’t sign, because the company wasn’t going to compensate him as much as they had promised. “They treated us like slaves. A lot of work for little money.” So he came back to work in the shop until he was ready to go out again… but that he had come home discouraged because so many in his family, himself included, had expectations of him. Every week, he travels back to his home town to check on his brothers and his 80 yr old dad.

His uncle, whose English was very good, told us his English teacher had lived in Massachusetts. Oh what a story he told about him and her and his family during the 70’s. She was his love during this time. Such a twinkling in his eyes as he spoke of her. He told us lots of philosophy talk. And Omar told me, that what I told him is the same thing that his uncle told him.

We sat, drank mint tea, conversed on a wide variety of subjects as other local people say besides us listening and watching. 

It was beautiful.

We next ran into Abdullaha, 25 years old. We had met him the previous night in the town square as he was selling used items. We took the time to talk. He wanted to practice English skills.

Then today, we ran into him again. And this time, he took us to the park and we sat and talked. He and Abby conversed in Spanish and English. We heard his stories, his family stories, life stories. He asked lots of questions that had been on his mind, but had no one to ask them of until now. We talked of how boy/girls have relationships in  States vs Morocco. Alcohol  use, religion-Did we believe in a God? Marriage, driving cars, tattoos, music, education vs working…it was a good conversation that ended, because he needed to go pray. 

Once again, local people were observing our interaction with interest.

Our conversations with both sets today, told about how tourists come and treat them… like nothing… not like human beings, but that we were different. Moroccans enjoyed sharing with others and are friendly people. They enjoy getting to know about others outside their country.

We traded contact information and will continue to correspond.

Perhaps we were meant to come to break barriers and 
to be good human beans.

Let’s Make a Deal

7/18/2017

Today we had a whole day to explore, meander, nap…or do nothing at all in Chefchaouen.

I woke up early, 5 am, due to the rooster going off. Abby got up around 9:45.

We opted not to do the paid hiking activity that the others were going to do. It is climbing up the mountain, with the sun beating down on you… and you paid money to be guided to do this. Not my idea of fun. Though, the group that went said they were walking through fields full of pot plants.

We chose instead to set off to explore the city, take pictures, talk to people, and paint.

For over 4.5 hours we climbed up the streets, meandered through narrow walkways, took plenty of pictures showing the variety of blue paint, and types of buildings throughout the city. Yes…we got lost, but not really…we knew the direction back would always be down off the mountain side.

We did go into a textile shop. The owner walked us there, while showing us pictures of the write-up about his shop in Conde Nest Travel magazine. Now who could resist visiting this place?

We do not need a rug. I have no intention in buying one, but I do know from doing research, Morocco IS the place to purchase rugs. We ended up buying a gorgeous silk/velvet bed spread thing. It is pink/purple AND it comes with a story behind it. I haggled… could have gotten it down for less… but I paid $32 vs the $55 that was being asked. 

I expressed concern about the unfinished edges from where it had been removed from the looks. The sales guy said that the edges could be rolled and seen. And that’s exactly what he had done. Took me to the local tailor’s shop, where he did this.

Now, a couple from Paris,, were buying a wedding rug for a gift for their brother’s wedding. It is a white, thick heavy wool rug, with silver Spangles seen all over it. The size was about 5 x 7. They paid $200 US for it. We, and they, agreed that it would cost easily $1,000. They had priced similar ones in Paris, before coming to the source for this purchase.

We bought some more scarves, and some clothes for Abby. We are not good tourists, as we do not spend lots of money shopping because we really do not need more material items. We like looking.

The sales guys are constantly trying to entice you to enter their shops to look. The men come up to you with items for purchase. One guy had a necklace made from spices. “Make it easy, give me money, easy pleasy” he said.

Another guy was besides himself trying to get us to enter. He just would not stop pestering us, even though we were being kind with our refusal. He finally said, “I am going to be upset, you make me sad. What am I to do?” I replied, “Cry” and with that, he left us alone.

Later tonight, we walked back through this way. He saw us. ” Remember me? I try to sell you this morning. I asked you what I was to do and you said ‘Pray’ so I stopped and I did what you said. I prayed cause you told me to… I interrupted him and said ‘cry’- but he tells me he thought I said pray, so he did. And he was so happy because he sold a big rug, for a little profit after having followed my advice and he thanked me because God had answered his prayer through me.

Well…there you go, shopping and praying go hand in hand.

Love Makes the World Go Around

7/16/2017

“Eat! Eat!” are the words that Flower Power tells us at each meal. I worked my butt off to lose 10 lbs in 6 weeks, but I think that they have come back due to the great food that has been prepared for us.

We have hard boiled eggs, with a chunk of bread, spread with cheese, and drizzled with olive oil. Now the olive oil here is so much more flavorful than anything I have had in the States. It is absolutely delicious.

This is followed by fruit, melon, bananas, grapes, and olives. 

Lunch comes on pretty quickly. A meal cooked tangine style ( like a crock pot set on top of the gas stove top, with a tall lid that catches the condensation and drips back on to the food inside). A little piece of meat, lots of veggies, and amazing spices.

And of course bread, with olive oil… you use the bread as your eating utensil. All food is served in the same pot that it was cooked in.

And then you follow up with fruit.

Oh…. wonderful!

Mint tea with fresh pastries in the late afternoon, and dinner at night. Once again, a one pot meal, served with bread, cheese, olive oil, and fruit and yogurt.

We are stuffed. Can’t tell Flower no, even though her two children refuse to eat. She has to hand feed them like birds to get them to eat. Even though Rita, likes to take the food from the table, play with it, suck on it, and then puts it back in the dish.

The Friday dinner is all about family. The couscous begins early in the morning. First, you go to market to buy the produce. Friday produce is not the best…it is end of the week produce… but it looks pretty good to me.

Cabbage is not bought whole. You say how much you want, and the farmer takes the saw and slices it off, weighs it, and wraps it up. Same with large squash…not bought whole, but sawed off in chunks for only the amount needed for the day.

Then the veggies are washed, peeled, chopped, and placed in huge pots full of spices and oil and simmered all day on low. Then couscous is blended together and the veggies and chunks of meat- either beef or chicken, are arranged in the middle of the platter to serve. The whole family sits on the floor around the low table, and eat with their right hand.

You mush the couscous, veggies and meat together with your fingers to roll it into a thick cigar size shape before putting into your mouth.

Yes… this is messy…but it’s the norm and you are expected to drop pieces on the table. No big deal. It is very important for the whole family to come together every Friday to consume this dinner. It occurs within the majority of Muslim homes, as Friday is their holy day.

Home cooked meals are the norm. Going out to eat is not. Not even at McDonalds, which has a big presence in the major cities. As Flower said, when I asked her if she took the kids to McDonalds, “No, not healthy food. Only food cooked at home.”

The traditional cooking is taught from Mom to daughter beginning at Rita’s age-2 years old. It continues to be a part of life as one grows old. Families ALL live together and take care of one another. Very shameful to send your family members away to a care facility.

Family, God, Country are the beliefs of Morocco. 

Music is the Common Denominator

7/16/2017

What does one talk about when one doesn’t understand the other’s language?

Music!

Youssef, and I played music to each other and discovered that we share similar taste.

He likes Rock…hard rock. I played him AC/DC. He played us Simple Plan and Metallica. I played Beach Boys, and Beatles. And then Youssef saw that I had Bob Marley. “I like Marley.”

See… common ground. You can always find something in common with someone.

And we have talked politics, President of U. S. and King of Morocco. World politics, the unstrife going on in neighboring countries, imigrants, refugees, jobs, inflation, cost of living, health insurance, medical- in Morocco, the hospitals are free, but not quality doctors/ care vs the clinics that have good doctors and care, but charge lots of money. Same belief with education system-public is free, but not good, private is better, but you pay. Primary grades are charged $125 a month. Students are picked up via school bus at 7 am. The students come back home for 1.5 hour lunch, then go back to school and return at 6:30 pm.

Teachers start at $30 / hour for one student if they want to tutor.

We talked about babies; having them, where to have them- midwife or doctor, home or hospital. Women have babies in the hospital with epidural.

Young women are having fewer babies. One to two, due to high cost of caring for them. And women working outside of the home. Difficult time to find jobs. Refugees come in and do the same work for less money, but the King continues to import tech jobs for his people.

People also leave to work in Dubai, only to find out that it is too expensive to live there, food is not good, and the hours worked are long, difficult, and they aren’t treated nice.

We talked about discrimination, racist beliefs in both our countries. 

We talked about marriage. Youssef wanted to marry Flower Power, but her dad told him no, that he wasn’t good enough for her. He continued to seek her as his wife. Her dad kept saying no, that she was in college and not to be his wife… he would need to have a house first.

Youssef, kept at it for 5 years! He got the house and then her dad said yes. Very different from the way things happen in the states.

We talked about food. Organic, pesticides, buying produce, shopping, eating out ( they don’t- not healthy, costs too much), raising animals for meat, growing produce. Flower Power shops everyday at little neighborhood market/ window, from produce, meat, fish carts. Her daily job is cooking, cleaning, laundry, raising children, taking care of mother and in-law.

Next year, we are invited to go to their family home in the countryside. It is a working farm, 12 hour bus ride, or 6 hours by car. We are all going to go on a road trip!

We are all different, but the same. We share common interests, concerns, thoughts…we all want to be good human beans.

Shopping is Not for the Faint of Heart

7/15/2017

Well…off we go to the one of the bijillion shopping neighborhoods located in Casablanca. We take the taxi with Abdullah, our designated bodyguard.

We first visit Youssef’s shoe store, where we notice that we are the only women in this massive shoe warehouse. The size of this place is unbelievable. About a football field size warehouse, two stories high, and chucked full of shoes, and athletic type of clothes. Inside, the place are cubicles… pretty much like an indoor swap meet. I don’t know how one makes a living selling things when each stall is selling pretty much the same stuff…but people do.

Now, having a guy shopping with you has been quite fun. I can take care of myself. Abby can take care of herself. But, having a guy along makes a difference with regards to the type of attention one receives.

For instance, in the shoe shop, this older guy thought I was alone, and greeted me politely, and started to ask a question, when Abdullah, came over, snarled at him, said something in Arabic, which made the guy apologize and move away.

It was awesome!

All day long, and on our previous excursions, having a male escort has made a huge difference. When we go out by ourselves, we are treated entirely different… dramatically different.

Next we went to the shoe store on the other side of the street to visit with Bryanm ( I am sure that I am misspelling his name, but this is how it sounds to me), Youssef’s brother. He was delighted to see us, ordered mint tea to be brought to us, and we sat and chatted, in Spanish…well Abby and he did, while I, and Abdullah listened and watched.

Bryanm is a scholar. He has a stack of books that he studies from at work. He has worked at selling shoes for 15 years. But he enjoys doing it, because it gives him time to study.

While here, I kept hearing shouting around the corner. Sounded like the Barker’s down at the fair in the Midway.

I went out to look, and this hallway was jammed with women and children shopping for clothes. Young guys are standing inside a box that sits up above the crowds, holding up varity of clothes, and yelling out descriptions of the items trying to get the attention of the women shopping. Fascinating.

So I go back to tell Abby and Abdullah about this scene. He speaks only French, so I renact the scene. I stand up, grab clothes and yelling out descriptions of the items…pure nonsense… but they laugh, and unbeknownst to me, the owners of the site are standing there, watching me and laughing at my outstanding reenactment.

Shopping is fun.

Paint by Number

7/15/2017

Abby likes henna. Flower Power’s sister likes do henna. Abby is loved by the whole family. They are taking turns to keep Abby happy ( Abby is happy with whatever comes what may) because, Abby shows much appreciation for their goodness.

So Abby is getting the royal henna treatment; hands-on front and back, and her feet too. This henna is the real deal. Not like crappy American stuff. How do I know this? Well, we- Flower Power, and I stopped at the carpenter’s stand ( he was handcarving a beam… I wanted to watch, but we couldn’t stay), gave him a drinking cup to fill with shellac type chemical. I know…bad mom for putting posion on my daughter for vanity purposes. Believe me, my first thought was of the French wearing powder made out of arsenic!

Anyway… this liquid makes the henna mixture smooth and spread easily as it is sucked up in the syringe tube, and “drawn” on the skin by use of the needle as it is squeezed through. The liquid also makes it last longer…no doubt as it has etched into the top layer of the skin… you know… like a mild form of acid… just kidding…kinda.

Saida is a wonderful artist. She does her own designs as she goes along. Not like the way it is sold in the states; using a stencil to carbon copy a small design to trace over with henna. Moroccan henna is different from Indian henna, so they have told us.

We are learning a lot about the culture as we live in the 3- leveled house, with 4 generation of women in the family we are staying with. We may not be able to communicate with all of them in one fluent language, but we all are learning about one another’s culture through the various languages that are spoken.

Showing appreciation and gratitude doesn’t mean that it has to be in spoken language.