ƀ la Capitale: my move to Rabat

It’s just after 9am, and here is a list of some of the things I’ve already done this morning:

*Watched the moon set and the sun rise – somehow I fell asleep at 8:30 last night, so I was up crazy early!

*Read a handful of articles on the UNHCR’s recent work in the Western Sahara. I’ve realized that while this whole teaching English thing is really good experience, I have the capacity to take on more and I would hate to waste the opportunity I have to get involved. So I’m looking for ways to contribute on a volunteer basis with an agency doing aid work in the region, and I’m thinking this might be a good area to explore.

*Drank some amazing coffee, made in my little tiny French Press (thank you, Ikea)!

*Went out to the local outdoor produce market and bought my veggies for the next few days, and grabbed some freshly made flatbread on the way!

*Unfortunately, saw a dead kitten on the road, but fortunately saw plenty of lively ones frolicking about the market, and pet a cute one on the way home.

*Meditated for half an hour. I fell asleep so early last night because I could hardly stay awake during my last night’s meditation, so I went to bed vowing to practice again in the morning, which I did, with much greater success!
I followed a guided meditation by Michael Stone (which I access through the Insight Timer App on my ipad) and it’s the first guided practice I’ve done in what feels like a long time. It was nice to have some structure, instead of this free-floating whirlwind that typically takes over my brain as soon as I sit down. This reinforces my desire to take part in a silent retreat! I could use the energy of a collective effort, and a space to really experience my mind. It would also be really nice to have a teacher, because there are a few things I’m really struggling with in my practice, such as “letting go of thoughts” while at the same time “letting things arise naturally.” If anyone has any recommendations for retreats on a super-tight budget, or good books to read in the meantime, let me know!

In short, it’s been a productive morning. In continuing with the trend of the last month, I’m feeling really good about things. I’m loving Rabat, loving Berlitz, and loving life! I’m so glad I stuck it out when things got tough in the spring, because it’s proving to be 100% worth it. I worried that those experiences were reflective of an ongoing pattern that would continue, but I was worried for nothing.

You’ll be happy to hear that I’ve even reconciled with the Hammam: we are together once again. My neighbourhood hammam is small but friendly and relaxed. Unfortunately it’s not a “turk” style, which is my favourite – a mix between fancy spa style and low-key local – the best of both worlds! But, this one will do the trick for now šŸ™‚

And now, 3 hours later, I’m finally posting, because my internet is as slow as molasses today šŸ˜‰

Love always xo

Back in the Kingdom: Returning to Maroc

So after some mishaps in transportation to the airport, I managed to make it out of France andĀ back to Morocco (oddly, no questions asked about my new passport!)

My unintended yet remarkably comfortable sleeping spot in the Aix-en-Provence train station (normally closed at night, so I had the place to myself!)

My unintended yet remarkably comfortable sleeping spot in the Aix-en-Provence train station (normally closed at night, so I had the place to myself!)

So far, I’m not nearly as anxious as I thought I might have been. Though, I’ve yet to make the transition to Rabat, where I’ll actually be livingĀ and working.

It’s a weird space though, this one. As I said I would be, I’mĀ in Asilah at MIA Hostel (one of my favourite places to be!) but this time, I’m helping out. I’m doing a more-or-less official workaway, but it’s definitely less defined than the last one. Yet it’s still double the hours! Which isn’t a very relaxing way to get ready for this next step.

But it’s okay. It’s my spare time that I’m struggling with, actually. The things I need to do are: look for apartments (if I find one online, then I can save myself some money on a real estate agent!) and complete some online courses before my face-to-face training on Monday. Things I want to do include: practice yoga and meditation, go to the beach, and study French, Arabic, and now Spanish! (the north of Morocco is predominately Spanish, so why not?)

However, what I end up doing is spending a lot of time at the hostel (undefined shifts don’t help… I feel like I need to stick around all the time just in case someone needs something.. a sign that I may never fully let go of my workaholic tendencies), and a lot of time thinking about how to strategize how to make time for everything. In the end, I always know that I need to get these courses done, and that needs to be top priority. But it’s also the most boring! And I have to been tethered to the wall, to the internet, to my computer to do so. And instead of just getting it done, I keep bargaining with myself, saying “I’ll just do ___ for a bit first, and then I’ll sit down and get it done”, but never end up doing that thing, and then never end up doing the course.

I mean, IĀ have done some of it. I’m about 75% finished the modules, but I know I won’t give myself any time for fun until it’s done. CauseĀ I’ve been here a week now and have yet to see the beach. And I can count the number of times I’ve left the hostel on one hand. It’s pathetic.

So why don’t I just do it?! Turns out, I’m just procrastinating.

I know this may seem like such a simple (and obvious) answer, but procrastination is something I thought I had left behind. I like to think that I get things done when they need to be done. I have had a lot of responsibility in the last few years, where procrastination wasn’t part of my vocabulary.

But I just caught myselfĀ procrasti-cleaning.

You know, that thing you do when you have something important that needs to be done, but you find yourself scrubbing out the fridge instead? Or vacuuming under the couch, becauseĀ it hasn’t been done in so long, right now is clearly the time!Ā 

Anyone who’s completed a degree will be familiar with this concept. There are endless things you would rather clean than finish that report that’s due first thing in the morning. Your place becomes spotless at 2 in the morning, as spotless as your paper.

“I can’t really focus with this mess; I’m just going to clean my room before I sit down and study…”

But I really haven’t noticed myself doing that in years. Note the key word: noticed. I suspect I have been still doing this, but not realizing it. I just thought I was adulting and keeping a tidy space.. but maybe I’ve just been putting off and avoiding responsibilities!

Such as today: I turned down an offer to go to a nice beach with my friends, saying “I really need to finish this course” and 20 minutes later found myself up to my elbows in the sink full of soapy water, thinkingĀ “the kitchen is a disaster. I should clean it before I do anything else. What if guests come?”Ā 

What if they do? Sure, it’s nice of me to think of them, and to be proactive, but I’m not working today! It’s not my job right now. My job is to get this shit done and then I can clean the kitchen all I want to. Or not.

So I decided to write a blog post about it instead…

Moving on: breaking up with the hammam (and thinking about France!)

Bssaha. To your health. Or, more accurately, thank god you bathed. 

It’s a common expression, used not only to “cheers” you and your renewed sense of self-worth, but largely to acknowledge all things new; clothes, meals, haircuts, baths…

Which is to say that it’s about time I talk again about the hammam.

It was a beautiful affair we had, the hammam and I, but I think it’s coming to an end. The honeymoon is over and we’re just not in love anymore.

I mean, it’s not all bad. But the fireworks are fading, and I don’t know what’s left of us.

I’ll start with the beauty of it: at its core, it was and always will be one to two hours spent lounging in a steam room, scrubbing so thoroughly that you leave feeling smooth as silk. Bssaha.

A little smirk in my post-hammam glow

And it’s a really beautiful tradition, the weekly public bath. For me, it’s a chance to see another side of Moroccan women; unveiled and completely at ease in their surroundings and with their bodies. There is no judgement. As I’m in there, I completely forget that I should be self-conscious of my piercings. To think, I spent my first two months here anxiously trying to figure out how I could go about going to the hammam without tarnishing my schoolteacher reputation (though eventually, I just decided f*ck it, if they are going to judge me, they’ve done it already).

And at first, it was great. Somehow, in ultra-conservative el Jadida, I felt welcomed in my neighbourhood hammam. It was perfect; a “turk” style, slightly more expensive (approximately $3 instead of $1), but a little more classy. No buckets, or sitting on the floor; each person has their own sink and stool (all made of stone!) and there are some stone tables for the scrubbing, which feels kind of like a massage table, making it all feel very spa-like, though definitely not marketed towards tourists. And no matter how dull my razor is, somehow it’s always the closest shave! Shaved legs and clean sheets: my favourite combination (so it’s always a bonus when hammam day is paired with laundry day, or new hostel day šŸ˜‰ )

But lately, my experiences haven’t been going so well. I don’t know, maybe it’s because now I’m going to the normal ones and there’s some part of it I’m doing wrong. Or maybe it’s because I’m in towns with more tourists, that they’ve already been soured by someone else who messed things up. Or maybe I’m becoming more aware of underlying disdain. But either way, I’m coming across more dirty looks than I have in the past, and more than I deserve.

For example, I know I offended the lady in Essaouira the last time I went. I didn’t mean to, but I didn’t have the Arabic words to say “hey lady who remembers me from last week, I’m sorry I asked for a massage today. Really, I mostly just wanted to make sure you would get my friend and I a spot on the floor, and someone to fill the buckets, because I know this place gets really busy and I’m not scrappy enough right now to deal with that. So thank you for the scrubbing, and the space, and the buckets, but now I actually want to talk with said friend, so if you don’t mind, no massage is necessary, though I’m still going to tip you well, don’t worry.” But instead, all I could come up with was “saafi, shukran” (that’s enough, thank you), which got me nothing but glares for the rest of the day. 

I mean, that one I can understand. Maybe she thought I wasn’t impressed with her skills and changed my mind because of that. But yesterday (different town), I got so much hostility from the ladies at the front desk! And I know I didn’t do anything to deserve it. They were cold last week too, but this really left me with no desire to come back. 

So maybe it’s time we take a break. And, funny enough, we might do just that. I might leave Morocco for a bit!

I know I just posted about how in love I was with Asilah – and really, I still am, and could totally stay here.. if only it didn’t cost a million dollars to rent an apartment. So I started looking at Workaways (if you don’t know what this is, it’s a website to connect travellers who want to volunteer in exchange for room and board with businesses or families who need some extra help – check out http://www.workaway.info if you want to find out more). First, I looked at opportunities in Rabat, the city I’m going to move to in the fall, to get to know it and get started on finding an apartment of my own, but there wasn’t much available, and nothing continuous. Then, I thought maybe since Spain is so close, I could go to a hostel there and work for the summer – a good way to escape Ramadan, stay in a great climate, and have a lot of fun. But I don’t know any Spanish, and flights are so cheap here that I started thinking that could fly to France for less than $50, and then I could really practice my French, while still doing all of the above! So, I’m sending out messages and hopefully something will fall into place.

Because, damn, am I ever starting to feel like I fail at this adulting thing. And also starting to feel like I don’t care, which is one part alarming and another part liberating. 

It’s becoming really difficult to tell the difference between what’s not meant to be, and when I’m simply not trying hard enough. 

But I think a summer in France, working in a hostel or B&B, practicing my French, and just enjoying myself will be a way to balance the two forces. 

And then maybe the hammam and I can get back together.

On the way: getting to Morocco

I started writing something on the plane, trying to capture all the whirlwind that was landing this job and landing in this country. But I kind of abandoned it and didn’t pick it back up when I got reconnected, and now I’m having trouble finding its flow.

So I’m offering this: it was mayhem. I didn’t know up from down by the time I was finally heading out. And it really didn’t finally sink in until I boarded my flight to Casablanca: an hour delayed boarding, with no explanation; a mad shuffle to board at that time, regardless of what rows were actually being called; and the sounds of crying children heard over the blaring Arabic music on board. Announcements made in Arabic, French, and then (thankfully) English.

(click a photo to view gallery)

So then I arrived (only 2 hours late). “The Man” (who turned out to be just a hired driver, I later found out) was holding a piece of paper with my name on it. The other new teacher, who was alsoĀ to be my roommate, had arrive before I did, and was waiting with him. We drove to our school only to pick up the keys, and then were dropped off somewhat abruptly at our new apartment. It’s a nice place, but despite the warm colour scheme (our living room and hallways are orange), it’s a lot cooler than I was hoping; it’s all tile and the walls are this glazed stucco kind of stuff, so everything feels very cold and modern. Again, very nice, but a different style than the gypsy-Arabia-mosaic-Bohemian style of most hostels I’m used to; it’ll take some work to warm it up.

There’s a decent sized kitchen with a fridge and stovetop, but it’s not yet hooked up. I’m wondering if I should try to connect the propane bottle myself, but decided against it; I’ll probably blow myself up. There’s a hot water tank, which we plug in, because we both certainly could use a shower. There is a nice living room, and two bedrooms. I am chagrined to find out that there are sheets on the bed; the only thing I had been told explicitly to bring with me (which caused a hurried trip to Ikea the night before I left, and took up a substantial amount of space in my bag!). At least these ones I brought with me are nicer, and luckily match my blue room quite nicely.

There’s food in the fridge, and pasta on the shelves, but again, we have no way to cook them. So we head out. I’ve never been to this town before, let alone this neighbourhood, but thankfully the main road is around the corner, and we easily locate the lunch spots. However, it’s an awkward time of day to be eating, around 3 pm, so most real food is already gone. There’s no wifi at the house yet, and I definitely want to get connected, so we decide to brave the city centre and wave down a cab.

My french is surprisingly good; I mean, notĀ good good. But totally functional. I’m impressed; I didn’t think I was getting by that well. So, off we go. We still don’t really find a solid lunch, but I’m happy because I did manage to get my hands on some redĀ mzemen; a flakey flatbread kind of thing, with cooked onions and peppers inside. Soooo good. We have some tea, and my roommateĀ (first timeĀ in Morocco) orders some cow’s bone with chickpeas (obviously not what she was expecting, but I thought she would get the drift when I said that I didn’t want it, and she should look at it again to make sure she was on board). She picked, I ate. We left.

I got my phone hooked up at INWI with a Zen International plan, but we held off on getting a modem until we found out how the reception is at our place (turns out, it’s great. However, our boss suggests we go with Maroc Telecom for wifi, but as that process is going to take a while, I’m using my phone as a hotspot for now).

We headed home, and ended up skipping dinner since we ate so late for lunch. But when we get there, we areĀ surprised to find that our place wasĀ freezing. I mean, there was snow on the ground when I left, and I’m complaining about the +10 in Morocco, but seriously, life without central heating is not a life worth living. I don’t know how people do this. It took us two days to get space heaters, and let me tell you, those were a long two days.

 

photo by: Khonsali (wikicommons)
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At the table: Couscous Fridays

Yesterday was a sad day. Not because I was crammed onto a minibus to drive for 8 hours across the desert, still exhausted from the epic border-crossing journey the day before. Not because I was flying solo on the cursed Valentine’s day (in fact I had very little reminder of this, despite there being elaborate celebrations in its honour here). But no, yesterday was a sad day because I was missing out on Couscous Friday.

If there’s one thing I will miss about Maroc, it’s Couscous Fridays.

That, and the legacy of French colonization, left in the form of beautiful pastries..

But, back to Couscous Fridays. You see, it’s a lengthy process, the making of the couscous. Over here, it’s not a 20 minutes in a pot kind of deal. It’s a rinsed, soaked, and steamed in a special kind of pot, over the course of a couple of hours, kind of deal. And my god, the results can be incredible.

So while you can get couscous in say, marrakech, on any given day, it’s not the real deal. The real deal is made once, on Fridays. And as such, it had become my favourite day of the week. In Merzouga, the lady next door would bring us a dish of her couscous every Friday afternoon, bless her heart.

When I’m on my own, I could usually find some back-alley hole in the wall, where couscous was made for the working class. Yes ma’am, I will give you $2 for your magnificent couscous. Don’t mind if I do.

But now, I’m in the land of… pizza and chicken? I’m really not sure what the deal is with all the pizza joints in southern Maroc and Mauritania, but it’s a huge thing. And I can’t say I’m really a fan.

I miss Couscous Fridays.

On the border: Dakhla to Nouadhibou

Well, I made it. After 12+ hours on the road, I landed in Nouadibhou, Mauritania. For such a place and after such an adventure, I had really hoped to be in touch ASAP, so I was disappointed when my Moroccan SIM no longer worked in Mauri! Come on guys, let me roam! So this post is slightly delayed, but my writing can now benefit from the aid of a little bit of sleep šŸ˜‰

I had arranged through my hotel in Dakhla to have a driver take me across the border. I thought it was a bit pricey (350DH, about $50CAD), for being 1 of 4 passengers. But, it turns out that it was just me and the driver. Which is ok for that price, but I would have preferred to share the cost! We met at 8, but we spent a good couple hours running various errands for him (vegetables are very expensive in Mauritania, so we were stocking up for his family) before officially departing around 10am.

Within 20 minutes, this middle aged guy had decided that a) he was going to call me Mariam, because Megan was too hard, and b) that I should be his wife. He didn’t seem to think much of my “husband” Kyle, though I’ve got that story so well-rehearsed now that I know he didn’t doubt the validity of my claim; he simply didn’t care.

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The highway out of Dakhla, Western Sahara

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Attention: camels crossing!

Eventually, off we went. The drive was actually quite spectacular. Lots of brief, yet beautiful views of the ocean, set against vast expanses of white sand (why it’s white here and orange farther north, I’ve no idea). Gorgeously weathered rocks. Great white dunes appearing out of seemingly nowhere, shrouded by a whirlwind of dust. There was even a man in a tractor who looked to be employed solely to manage a particular dune’s tendency to spill across the road; I wish I got that photo. As well, set a personal record for biggest camel herd seen; there were so many! A few times we had to shoo some off the road – something that’s followed by a chorus of that peculiar sound camels make, which is something akin to a broken foghorn.

After tea here, and tea there, lounging about the floor with random strangers (or the drivers brothers), we arrived at the border. And, man. I thought there were a lot of roadblocks on the way, but I hadn’t seen nothin yet.

The border is a bizarre and slightly terrifying place. It’s not meant to be, I’m sure, yet it is. It’s so very typically African (on the Moroccan side), in that within the span of less than 100m, I had to check/register my passport at least 7 different times. My driver had by this time decided that it was somehow easier to tell the officers that we were married. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but to me, a poor, unattractive saharawi man who does not speak English, claiming to be married to a young Canadian woman, does not define the way to make anything easier. He said it was to keep the guards from hitting on me, but I can say that it didn’t make an ounce of difference. Especially when they found condoms in my bag; I’m sure it was the highlight of their day.

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No man’s land between Morocco and Mauritania

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More abandoned cars and electronics in No Man’s Land

Finally we make it out of Maroc, and we enter no man’s land.Ā Immediately, you know it belongs to no one; it is a wasteland of trash, abandoned cars, televisions, and various other electronics, all stripped bare. There are a million tracks in the sand, and I’m instantly enormously grateful that this new “husband” of mine knows where he is going: I know that the earth here is peppered with landmines.

My god this is sounding quite dramatic, isn’t it? All I can say is that it was an incredibly fascinating and bizarre place to witness, but not somewhere I’d ever want to spend a lot of time.

I think my driver can tell that I’m grateful for his navigation through that place, because he spent the remainder of the drive asking me if I would sleep with him (referencing the “protection” I have in my bag), communicated through a combination of crude hand gestures.
“Por favor! Por favor! Por favor! Mariam!!”
“La! La! La! Shuuuukran.” (No! No! No! Thaaank you.)

Upon arrival in Mauritania, it was pretty standard.. register the passport here, buy the visa there, re-register the passport here again, check it at the gate with the police, and another 500m down the road with the military, and another 5+ times in the 20km to town… Standard.

What I hear is that Mauritania had recently had some terrorist activity (as well as ongoing threats from the Polisario thing happening in the north, and also spillover from Mali’s conflict). The impact this has had on Mauri’s economy is so great that the government wants to do everything it can to keep visitors safe. So what this means for me is that no matter how I’m travelling, I will always be the one passenger that gets out at least every half hour, to confirm who I am.

I’ve also heard that preparing a printed document summarizing all your passport info will help with this process, but so far it’s hit and miss. More than once have I seen an officer simply pocket the info…

Anyways, it’s definitely Africa here. I said before that I was worried about not being able to handle it down here, but in some strange way, it’s almost like I’m more comfortable here, even though it’s way less accommodating. Morocco and it’s stable, tourism-based economy raised my standards, but it seems I’ve been able to apply them to Morocco only. And it’s a good thing, too, because I suddenly have a lack of sheets and blankets, and an influx of cockroaches, but I don’t really mind.

Welcome to Nouadhibou!