Monthly Archives: July 2017

Lessons Learned

7-30-2017

Just because the books say it, doesn’t make it so. 

Time to wax philosophical.In school, I have learned lots of regurgitated information from the teachers that I have had. I have read many a research journal, have read all types of information on a wide variety of subjects. But until you put those written theories into practice, apply the knowledge, obtain the results for yourself, you are nothing more than a walking information stuffed talking head.

For example, every travel book I read, every informed person I have talked to, the facts were bluntly stated, YOU Don’t want to stay in Casablanca. It’s too: dirty, congested, not safe, nothing to see, nothing to do, dull, leave after seeing the largest Mosque…

True, it is congested. It is busy. And if you are on a trip to visit only tourist stuff, you might not want to stay for a lengthy time.

On the other hand, it is a fascinating place. Probably due to having stayed with a family with extended family members who shared conversations with us. This experience has shown me a different perspective from the ones read about.

While traveling, I met a doctor who has just accepted a position in Texas. He and his wife have been traveling to a variety of places over an almost 3 month trip taking full advantage of having completed his medical studies.

He is a Pakastani Muslim, who was born and raised in a small town in upper New York state. For his whole life, he has been in the minority…the odd one… the different one… and now, the highly suspicious one. Based solely on his appearance and religion. He said that he doesn’t want his future children to go through what he himself had gone through due to living in small towns and small mindsets. He accepted a job in Dallas, because there is a larger infrastructure, support system for Muslims. He will be with others who not only share his religious beliefs, but also practice them.

During our conversation, he revealed that he and his wife had lived in an apartment complex during his medical studies that consisted mostly of Mormons. They were welcomed and embraced by this community, and he didn’t feel like he was different, nor did his wife feel stigmitized for wearing her hijab. They were respected for their religious beliefs. “Our religions have many things in common,” he said.

Isn’t it fascinating that in the U.S. where we have the freedom to practice our religion, it is yet a place where we are suspicious of others whose religion differs from one’s own? 

In our tour group, a woman expressed pride in her community for having driven Mormons out of her state ( she is not the best informed about the population of LDS in her state) due to their religious beliefs. The Governor of Missouri issued an extermination order against 15,000 Mormons in 1838. How’s that for a governor. And yet this woman, who is a teacher, believes that this was a good thing. Go figure.

Same woman kept pushing tour guides into answering questions about Muslims and Isis. You can’t be both as the one contradicts the other. Muslim religion doesn’t support the actions of Isis. It is like being a polygimist and LDS. You can’t be both. 

So I have had the lessons of bigotry, racism, sexism, intolerance of others taught to me again and again on this trip to Morocco. But I also have sat with a great many Muslim women and men, in which we conversed on a variety of subjects. We discovered that we share a lot in common. It always came back to the belief of treating one another respectfully due to that we are all one in the eyes of  God. Instead of lumping people together, take the time to communicate on an individual level in order to find the common threads.

Just because it is written, doesn’t mean the generalizations are true in practice

“We will take the easy way back.” Easy way my ass!

7/26/2017

Part 2

I left the last post of Abby, and I, sitting in the hostel, on the couch, completely wiped out from the hike/climb up the mountain top. We anticipated that the walk back down might be difficult, but way easier than what we climbed up.

Our guide announced after a delicious dinner, that we would be taking the easy way back down. Well why didn’t we take the easy way up to begin with? And I looked at the way we were climbing up, and I didn’t see any route that would be considered easy… but hey, I am not the guide. 

I would like to say that we did something while we were up in the mountain village that was meaningful to have us climb all that way up to begin with. But we did nothing. We died on the couch after taking the mountain spring cold shower, read “Glamour” in German…ok… I looked at the pictures, and went to bed.

I should have let Abby talk me into staying in the village below. That would have been more interesting.

In the morning, the donkeys returned to carry our stuff back out. We started down the same trail, but took the path to the left. I am watching the HUGE bulldozers on the other side, on the other mountain, move tons of fallen rocks from a roadway that is being cut into the mountain.

And then we cross a bridge, and s
tart up the other side of that same mountain. ” Oh good…we are going to take the dirt road back down” I think. And sure enough, the bulldozers pull to the side for us to move around them. Signs are posted with exclamation pictures, and falling rock.

And instead of continuing on the dirt road, our guide drops down to a trail that is full of broken slippery shale AND it is the width of a couple of 2 x 4s. 

The one side contains the landslide rock/debri AND looks straight over the cliff of death!

Did I mention that I have a deep fear of heights?

I am dying. I am going to slip on this shale and plunge to my death, hitting all the boulders as I careen down below. ” OH HELL NO! I WON’T GO!” I am going to work myself up into a panic. I can feel it coming on. I have to pull it together.

And then the donkeys come up in the opposite direction, followed by very manly strong guys, using TREKKING POLES, and here I am, wearing my Keen hiking sandals with no poles to offer me the fake security of balance…it’s a crutch I like to use.

The group has charged down the path following the guide. Abby guides me down. We sing all the songs we know to keep our brains fixated on that and not the death plunge off the side if one of us slips.

I am sweating not from the heat, but from pure fear, anxiety, stress. I am trying not puke and/or pass out. So Abby and I bring up previous hikes we have done successfully.

The guide finally figures out that the two of us are way…way behind the others. He comes up and asks how it is going on the easy path. I tell him not so well since I have a fear of heights. He just looks at me and says ” why didn’t you say so?” I tell him, how was I to know this was the way you were taking us? You didn’t tell us about this!

So he wants to know if I want to climb back up – I just look at him…WAS he not remembering how I could barely make it up the mountain the previous day?

No… keep moving forward I said. I will suck this up and move forward. If I stop, I am going to hold on to the side of a rock and cry.

Long…long…story short, I baby stepped myself off that path. Once again, Abby was to my rescue. And the guide, I am hoping he knows how pissed off I am to have been placed in such a predicament. It took me several hours to get myself collected.

The good that came out of this adventure? I survived. Abby survived. We have an awesome story to tell for the rest our lives. And when I am tied to my wheelchair, I am going to say, ” Remember when we climbed that mountain in Africa and we thought we would plunge to our deaths if we slipped? Now, untie me from this damn contraption… slipping out of a chair is nothing!”

One Hour Hike My Ass

7/25/2017

Part 1

This is the post where I tell you all the ugly. Oh there are some good points, but I am just point blank saying that when the travel brochure stated that the one hour mountain hike up to the village to stay in a family home was easy. And the guy I talked to, to verify this, and if I needed to bring my trek poles, told me that it wasn’t steep, pretty flat, and no poles needed…well… that was total B. S.

Staying at the $700 /night Branson’s hotel down the road sounds like a bargain to me after having climbed… literally using both my hands in some spots, up the rocky path for 1.5 hours. Quite honestly, I am not in shape to have done this hike.

The 3 mules lugged our night bags up, following me. They were behind me, just in case I needed to fling my body over one of them to get me to the top of the village.
The people in our group expressed concern…not about me dragging my fat ass, chugging, and puffing, and drenched in sweat, but about “oh those poor donkeys, they are so patient, maybe they should go ahead.”

So it was a great thing that I spent time climbing up The Stairs at the park each day these past 6 weeks. That helped a lot. But, the altitude here, and the constant steep ascent over rocks…not pebbles, not stones, but huge rocks, was an eye-opener. This was left out of the description in the detailed itinerary.

And I had Abby. She walked beside me. Holding my hand. Guiding me up and over the rocks. Wiping the sweat off my face with a wet towel. Stayed with me as I rested. And was a great hiking partner. 

Our guide kept to the rear with us. He was concerned that I might pass out due to the amount of sweat I was showering the donkey pooped path with. Abby, and I both reassured him that we just sweat, a lot! And we would make it. That we walk slow, but that we can suck it up and get to where we need to go. And we did.
People live in villages carved out of the sides of mountains here. They build their homes using the materials around them; clay, sand, and straw; rock…lots of rock; bamboo, and small trees. Inside the homes, some have electricity and indoor plumbing. The place we are staying in, is set up as an abergue/in, with three twin beds in each room. The showers are mountain spring fed cold!

The animals have stalls located under the houses. Chicken coops, bunnies, goats. Oh, and of course shopping stalls for the tourists!

So we will spend the night up here in the mountain village, and clamber back down early in the morning. I will hold the group up by taking my time, picking my way gingerly down over the rocks. But, they won’t care, as this will give them the excuse needed to shop at the stalls when they find them.

I am grateful for having a good mom and daughter relationship in which we embrace the adventures that life throws at us. Where we adapt, accommodate, and enjoy our travels of collecting memories and not focused on the material goods that one obtains.

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.