Saturday, January 8, 2011

Jumpin January

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1/8/2011 Bonne Annee (Happy New Year) A new year is upon us. Let it be a healthy, happy one for everyone!!!
Hope your holidays were even better than expected or hoped for and that memories were made to warm your heart and make you smile during the coming years.

I know that I just updated this blog a few weeks ago, but I have a few minutes now and thought – what the heck. There isn’t a schedule here and those friends and family just love to hear from me   so write away…….

As I wrote in my previous blog, I baked nine different kinds of cookies and delivered fourteen plates of them around to people in my community for the Papa Noel holiday. I doubt that you fully appreciate what a challenge this can be. Imagine reading the recipe and it says to bring the butter to room temperature. Ah duh ---- the refrigerator, my kitchen, the same temperature here. I would follow sun beams around rooms with butter in dishes, trying to get the butter soft enough to work with. Some of you are thinking, just melt it. If you are a baker you know that this doesn’t really work, since it can really change the texture of the end product, unfortunately. And, I’m attaching a picture of my oven so you can get a better idea of this challenge. Does that look like a 350 degree flame to you? Regardless, the cookies for the most part turned out just fine and they were enjoyed by everyone.

Eight of us gathered on Christmas eve at Hannah’s house , just outside of Marrakech for the Christmas holiday. Hannah inherited a real Christmas tree (well artificial, but 6 ft in height) and she had it beautifully decorated with handmade miniature Berber dolls, complete with twinkling lights. Obviously, I had taken a selection of cookies along too, so the picture was complete. It felt like Christmas !!! The weather was chilly so we huddled/cuddled on the ponges and watched holiday movies Christmas afternoon (picture attached). We did a white elephant gift exchange and that brought about a few giggles and laughs, but mostly satisfied recipients. We had a lovely holiday dinner of sliced turkey breasts, roasted potatoes, cauliflower and homemade apple sauce. Just the pure fact of sharing the holiday with such good people made the holiday special for all of us. We all returned to our respective homes on the 26th, leaving a lonely Hannah behind. Now my tree wasn’t nearly as glamorous, but I forgot to attach a picture of it with my last update, so I’m attaching one now. Pretty special don’t you think?

I’ve made a new friend – Gail. Gail lives in Canada and found my blog and contacted me in early September. Gail had visited Morocco years before and she was returning to Ouarzazate for two months in December. Since we are the same age, she thought I would be a good one to ask questions to about living conditions, what clothes to bring, etc. Well after corresponding for several months, it was nice to finally meet. We clicked and decided we wanted to really celebrate the new year this year and off to Casablanca we went. It was a fast trip – traveled by bus, then train all day on the 30th. Had the day to spend as we liked on the 31st , and then we rode the train, then bus back home on the 1st. Whew……. I had low expectations for Casablanca, as it has been previously described to me as the armpit of Morocco. I came away with a very different opinion.. We only had good experiences with good people. At a friend’s suggestion we stayed at the Hotel de Paris located in the old French quarters. It was in a pedestrian mall and the area was full of cafes, little shops and lots of people (oh yeah, some great ice cream too). The hotel wasn’t fancy mind you, but we had our own bathroom, complete with western toilet, it was clean and the area felt very safe. Gail had been to Casablanca before and elected not to join me for a visit to the Hassan II Mosque (pictures attached) during the day on the 31st. This is one of two mosques in Morocco that is open to non-Muslims. It is located at the ocean’s edge. The 210m-high minaret, the tallest building in the country, is topped by a laser beam that shines toward Mecca. It is the world’s third-largest mosque, accommodating 25,000 worshippers inside and a further 80,000 in the courtyards and squares surrounding it. The prayer hall is huge and elaborately decorated. It is large enough to house Paris’ Notre Dame or Rome’s St. Peter’s. It is blanketed in astonishing woodcarving, marble and stucco and it has a retractable roof. It is amazing!!!

I can’t remember when I was last “out” for new years. Usually I’ve celebrated with home parties. But we decided to go the full nine yards and to bring in the new year we went to Rick’s Café - yes the Rick’s Café featured in the movie “Casablanca.” (pictures attached) Granted, the restaurant/bar was created after the movie, not vice versa, and there have been several renditions of it though the years, but the current owner has had it about eight years now. Albeit, it was expensive, but what a gala affair it was in an absolutely beautiful setting. The wait staff was friendly, attentive and made us feel very special. No one was left sitting in the sidelines, everyone was encouraged to dance and join in. The open bar, fresh oyster bar, courses upon courses of food (we ate almost non-stop from 9p til after midnight) and continuous wonderful music by various musicians was wonderful. One of the very nicest things was at midnight, the entire staff (including kitchen) was on the dance floor to bring in and celebrate the New Year. It was a night we will long remember.

So, yes, I’ve been away from site, but for very short time frames this past month. These fast trips are killers though. As I’ve said before, travel isn’t easy here!! Came down with a bug of some kind on January 2nd and it’s taken me days to finally feel better. So glad I was home and near a toilet when it hit. By the way, the knee in and of itself is better. At least the initial problem, diagnosed as tendonitis, is better. The walnut sized lump behind the knee remains the same and is problematic, but livable. I’m afraid I walk like a tentative “old” woman though and I’m not so fond of that. Hope to check it out with doctors while in Rabat later this month.

I’ve been to Ouarzazate several times this past month to work on the upcoming February workshop and to accompany a young woman with some health issues find a doctor/medical clinic that could help her. Emotionally draining and worrisome for her and must say that it affected me too. She had no one in her camp supporting her and as much as I didn’t want to get involved, I felt she needed someone. The problems seem resolved at the moment, and I’m hoping it remains this way. Sorry to be so evasive here, but for privacy reasons, its best I not go into details.

Earlier this week I visited our preschool with toothbrushes in hand. These happy little 3-5 year olds were excited about my visit and eager to greet me with hugs and kisses. I actually asked another PCV, Angelica, to come with me, since her Tashlheet is much better than mine is, and I thought between us we could better get the message across. The teacher then translated it to Dareja (Moroccan Arabic), which I found to be interesting since Tashlheet is the language spoken here in the village. I left a large tube of toothpaste with the teacher and asked if the children could leave their toothbrushes there at school and if she would help them brush their teeth every day. I said that I would try to come at least two mornings a week to work with them also. I know that this doesn't give them a toothbrush at home to use, but if we can get them into the habit of brushing at least once a day, perhaps we can then move on to twice and even three times. Not wanting the toothbrushes to sit in a cup together, I took a small plastic bag for each child and we wrote their name on each bag. I even had a sticker for each child that I put on their shirt after they had brushed. Now must admit that brushing their actual teeth was a bit challenging for Angelica to personally handle. Most 3-5 year olds are not very neat to begin with and with toothpaste/saliva sliding from their mouths, was almost more than Angelica could bear. When I saw her gagging, we decided I really needed to take over this part (pictures attached). They were happy little campers and oh soooo excited. It was a delightful morning.

While standing on my roof this morning I noticed that the almond tree near my house is blossoming. Isn’t that crazy? I’m guessing this “warm” winter we’ve had so far has fooled this tree into thinking it’s spring. I hope this tree knows something we don’t and that spring is just around the corner. Wouldn’t that be nice? Actually, so far it hasn’t been a bad winter. Yes, long underwear is part of my normal attire, as well as wearing four layers on top and I have my fingerless gloves on as I type this, AND I’ve complained a little, but ……. We haven’t had snow in the village yet. There is snow in the higher elevations, but luckily we’ve escaped it so far. But I’m trying to remember when was it last year that I was really cold. I didn’t move into my own house until January 1st, so it was after that. I’m afraid I have winter days ahead of me yet!

I know that I’ve talked about donkeys before, but this morning while on my rooftop drinking my coffee I noticed a donkey making a real fuss. He was bucking, pawing and most definitely did not want to be hooked up to that plow. I think I noticed it because I think this is the first time I’ve seen one act up. Normally they look so bored, complacent and just sooo sad. Their bray just breaks my heart. I’ve taken to saying, if I come back in another life, please don’t let it be a donkey in Morocco. I am pleased to say though, that the man working with this donkey remained calm, was not abusive and eventually the animal calmed down, although still not happy. On the whole, people in my village are not mean to the animals here. I’ve seen several times men pick up cats and stroke them. Just this past week I’ve seen two teenage boys playing with dogs. Granted rarely are they treated as pets and allowed in homes. They are oftentimes fed food scraps, although there aren’t many food scraps to be had here. Their diet consists of a lot of bread and whatever prey they come upon. Remember my friend Gus from the baby’s center? Must say that I’ve not seen my adopted pet in quite some time, unfortunately. Another dog has taken up residence though and she’s been heavy with puppies. She looks to have delivered and looks exhausted. This dog is a real talker. As I scratch her chin or between her ears, she just talks up a storm to me. I’m thinking her life isn’t very easy and she needs to tell someone about it. At least this is what her face tells me. And, on another note, I know that a rooster’s crowing is good luck, but why do they crow incessantly? There is one in my neighborhood that never shuts up!!

I received a sad text this week from my friend, Nadia, who used to live downstairs. Remember, she was the one who found a man and they were to be married in July. Unfortunately, she tells me that he has died. When asked for more details she just told me that he was healthy, but one day died. It was his turn and we will all have a turn. She hopes that Allah will bless him. I’m sure she is upset and terribly sad about this. If she didn’t live eight hours away, I’d go see her, but the timing isn’t good for that at the moment. Must say that this was one wedding I was looking forward too.

Well I must get ready to head out to teach some pilates and I have a group of girls that want to come by my house later to visit. Everyone is curious to see the American’s house, so I’ve been allowing small groups to come from time to time. I’ll likely make some popcorn and perhaps teach them how to play dominoes. It seems to be an easy game to learn and they all enjoy it so much.

Enjoy winter’s weather, stay warm and healthy. Until I write again – take care. Hugs, Linda


  1. Hi Linda, It's great to hear about your continued adventures! It looks like you had a great NYE. Pleasure getting to meet you! Jessica Mason, travel bud from Casablanca

  2. Linda:

    I enjoyed to read your blog, and lool at these pictures you have uploaded. The kids are so cute, I am sure you had lots of fun with them. By looking at them, I feel how lucky I am. I wish I was there to do something for them. Maybe someday , I will! Please take a good care of yourself. hope your knee gets better ! Looking forward to reading more blogs from you ! love and hugs from Fei Fei