Back in the Kingdom: Returning to Maroc

So after some mishaps in transportation to the airport, I managed to make it out of France and 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 living and working.

It’s a weird space though, this one. As I said I would be, I’m 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, I 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. Cause 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 myself 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, because it hasn’t been done in so long, right now is clearly the time! 

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, thinking “the kitchen is a disaster. I should clean it before I do anything else. What if guests come?” 

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…

In a BlaBlaCar: en route to Marseilles 

I cannot believe how quickly these past two months have gone by. It’s incredible how content I’ve been; I feel like it’s flown by, as if I’ve just arrived. But now I’m preparing to head back to Morocco, and I’m still a mixture of both super excited and super anxious.

Livable even when you're having a week-long dental emergency, where you once slept on the office desk, just to stay close to the icepacks...

Livable even when you’re having a week-long dental emergency, where you once slept on the office desk, just to stay close to the icepacks…

On one hand, it’s so comfortable here. It’s so liveable and easy, and aside from being a little bit expensive, there are very few challenges. The work is really fun, the people are fantastic, and the area is beautiful. So I’m feeling very sad to be leaving it at this point; it’s becoming fall, which I can imagine being an absolutely stunning time of year here. And I can’t remember the last time in which I felt like this – a desire to stay. I’ve been on the move for years… I think the only move I’ve made in the last 5 years where I felt even the slightest bit sad was when I left the beautiful 1565 – that gorgeous little basement apartment at 14th and Granville in Vancouver. But even then, I was packing up and moving onto a huge and exciting trip across West Africa! So I had plenty to look forward to.

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Never been happier to see those lions!

But right now I’m just feeling on edge, like I truly just don’t want to leave the comfort of this place. Not to mention the stress of my pending pain in the ass passport situation, which has finally arrived this morning! Without it, I was just sitting in limbo – flight booked, but unable to check in without my new passport number; unwilling to book transportation to get to the airport, just in case; and just a general feeling of being stuck.

But honestly, that’s not what this step was all about. It wasn’t about getting cosy and wanting to stay.

I came here to practice my French, and while I wouldn’t say I’m perfectly fluent (not even close, to be honest), I can definitely see some improvement, which is enough to get me started when I move to Rabat. I can at least comfortably start and hold a conversation, even if I do frequently struggle to find the proper words and constructions. So unfortunately, this little detour is just about through. It’s time to get back on track.

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Found some new scissors in the office, so at least I have new hair for the move! 😉

However, I went to Morocco in part for the challenge, and challenges are certainly what I found. So I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little bit nervous about what lies ahead in the next step; there are a lot of unknowns in this new school and new city. I’ve had about all I can take of micromanagers and power trips, so I’m crossing my fingers hard that I can carry this good energy with me and that I’m going to find some more open-hearted and creative people with healthy perspectives.

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Can’t complain about that weather either!

And thankfully, I’m getting back with a couple weeks to spare before I start work, so I’m heading to the beautiful and lovely Asilah, where I’ll hang out with my friends at my favourite MIA Hostel and recalibrate.

Speaking of which, as usual, I’m anticipating another crisis of diet… what am I going to eat now? What’s acceptable, what’s not? Where do I draw the line? My body just feels so much better on a vegan diet, and I would really prefer to keep it up this time, despite how difficult (slash boring) it is in Morocco. Though I have been stockpiling curry, black beans, and red lentils… and with moving to the capital, I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to find some tofu!

Anyhow, with my passport now in hand, things are coming together for this move, and I’ve got to get my head in the game! I’m preparing to leave Annecy tomorrow, taking a BlaBlaCar (an awesome car-sharing site, which I don’t think I’ve previously mentioned) to Marseille for my flight, which is early Wednesday morning. I think I’ll just spend the night in the airport though, because the airport isn’t exactly in the city, and I can neither afford to pay for the night when I don’t intend on seeing the city, nor can I be bothered to figure out the early-morning transiting that would surely be involved!

So folks, this wraps up the French portion of my adventure! See you in Morocco 🙂

In the French Alps: le deuxième workaway

Oh man, I have been dying to write this post. But I’ve been too busy enjoying myself to sit down on my computer and do it! And honestly, I tend to only write when I’m confronted with extremely challenging things that I need to deconstruct a bit. And there’s finally been none of that! But the absence is worth noting…

For example: I had this thought the other day; I was walking down the road and I thought to myself, “I’m happy today.”

And then I realized that in fact, I’m happy most days here. And I have no actual idea why; why here, why now, and not anywhere else lately. Because it’s been a while.

I haven’t truly been at peace and happy since… who knows when. Everywhere I’ve been recently, I’ve always been missing something, in transition to something else, or just not feeling satisfied with where I’ve been at. And it’s not all that different here, nothing much has changed.. yet I still feel 1000% better about everything that’s happening.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a beautiful place with great people and a wonderful atmosphere.. but it’s certainly not the only place that I’ve found this combination! Just somehow it’s finally working. Despite the headaches (and they are plentiful) of a recently-stolen wallet and passport, I’m having a great time.

It’s a seriously gorgeous place to wander around. Click on a photo to view as a gallery!

So, what exactly am I doing?

As I had hoped, this Workaway is super straightforward; a weekly schedule with just 20 hours per week, tons of opportunity to speak French, and a really laid back atmosphere – no hovering, no nit-picking… just a trusting bunch of people who let you do your thing (my current thing being the receptionist and general common area cleaner – totally my jam).

I found this abandoned pair of glasses in the office, and obviously had to try them on. Damn, I wish I had vision problems! Move over, librarians of the world.

I found this abandoned pair of glasses in the office, and obviously had to try them on. Damn, I wish I had vision problems! Move over, librarians of the world.

I share a room with another workaway in an apartment across the street, which is still under renovation (how that doesn’t drive me nuts, I have no idea), but still gives me a nice space to practice yoga and do my own thing.

There were a lot of us at first, and we spent a lot of time hanging out as a group. It was really fun, but also exhausting for my introverted self 😉 So I’m enjoying a bit more solo-time, with a group dinner here and there, whenever someone else leaves us!

Again, click the photos for a gallery/to read the captions!

It’s a very mountainous place and a lot of people do a lot of hiking. A lot of people who aren’t me. I’m just not really a hiker. But I did do one. And it was lovely, though far too long for my taste!

So pretty much, when I’m not working, I just go to the lake and study French. I have managed to stay fairly motivated to do that, so it’s slowly coming along. At the moment I’m using a PDF of Assimil’s New French with Ease, which is fantastic for my reading comprehension; and Michel Thomas’ French audio course, which is excessively annoying at times, but largely pretty good! I’m about 75% of the way through both of those programs, and I think I’ll be quite close to finished by the time I leave, and also quite close to where I want to be in terms of language ability by then as well. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s not bad, and I certainly think it’s passible for an aid worker!

What’s not working, on the other hand, is Assimil’s Moroccan ArabicEvery single day that I open the book, I put it back down at the end of the lesson, thinking “I understood NOTHING.” And that might have something to do with the fact that the book is actually written in French, but I doubt it. They say that learning multiple languages at once can actually be easier, since your brain is already in language-learning mode, and that learning a third language via your second can also be really successful – it challenges you to really use it! So I’m not convinced that the French is the limiting factor.

But speaking of Morocco.. I just have one month left here before I head back. I have a year-long contract lined up in September, so as long as my passport arrives before then, I’ll be moving to Rabat in the fall. It’s with a new school in a new city, so I’m really hopeful that it’s going to be the fresh start I need. I was getting nervous before I came to Annecy that I was no longer actually capable of enjoying myself anywhere! I’d been so dissatisfied in all sorts of situations and it’s really relieving to know that I’m not broken! So cross your fingers that I carry this energy with me back to Maroc!

I’m definitely looking forward to it – there are a lot of really great things about the country that I miss. But I’m really not looking forward to the harassment that is surely coming as soon as I arrive. It’s been so nice walking down the street without worrying that someone is going to follow me! And no cat-calling. I can wear whatever I want! It’s a shame that it’s not a luxury afforded throughout the world.

So, folks, after a month of contentment, this is your update. Not terribly exciting, but lots of pretty pictures! 🙂

And as a final note, I’ve finally added a Paypal donation button, so if anyone happens to find this blog helpful or interesting enough to buy a girl a drink, feel free to bouge ton souris (move your mouse!) in that direction 😉

Until next time! xo

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 😉 )

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.

In the interim: the summer in Morocco

Wow. So yesterday I wrote this whole post about how I was feeling so incredibly lost, and now this morning I woke up and felt so incredibly found. I knew it sounds so cliche, but it really feels like I wasn’t the one doing the work; like something just clicked and it had nothing to do with me. 

I’m back in Asilah, for what, the fourth time? Nothing felt any different when I arrived last night, but this morning I went out to buy bread, and as I’m walking down this quiet tree-lined street, I lean down to pet this cat. And while it may not be an Essaouira cat, it was still pretty cute, and miles ahead of any el jadida cat (they’re the worst). But it was somehow at that moment that I realized that this is where I’m meant to be. I feel like I’m writing something out of EatPrayLove right now, harnessing my inner Liz Gilbert, but it’s true. I just walked around with this stupid grin on my face, falling in love with this town, and now I’m just hoping I can figure out some way to make this all work.

Cause here’s the deal: I had two interviews. And I got two jobs! 

But they start in September. 

So I need to figure out what I’m doing for the summer. And until this morning, that felt like a pretty daunting task.

A quote from yesterday’s writing: 

Options for the summer are both numerous and limited; I could do a variety of things, but most of them all depend on some extra factor, more or less out of my control. For example, I could live basically anywhere in Morocco for the summer, teaching English online, but for that I need to live in an apartment, not a hostel. So I have to be able to find somewhere in a pretty low price range. Which may or may not include finder’s fees for the realtor, even for such a short term stay, making it more or less out of my reach anyway. And then it’s a gamble on whether or not my wifi connection will be good enough, so I should probably have a backup, which could easily be hostel work, though it probably won’t pay enough unless I’m working round the clock (and if I’m doing that, why bother living in Morocco?)

The second option is working in an English summer camp, which could let me save some money, but there’s still probably the months of June and September that would be up in the air. I think this is my best option, and that by the end of next week, I’ll have it sorted out. But man am I feeling sick of this untethered, ungrounded, floating feeling.

So while a lot of those unknowns still apply, Asilah would be a kick ass place to spend the summer. The hostel here is great, so hopefully I could work here. And I could probably even tolerate living here, too, because it’s so chill and well-run (a very welcome change of pace).  Though my own apartment would still be ideal. I have the feeling that prices here won’t be so crazy, as it’s pretty small; it is pretty close to Spain though so there might be a lot of demand here anyway. 

Either way, I’m looking forward to the next few days to see what develops. For now, it’s yoga on the roof, a trip to the hammam, and an afternoon at the beach. Could be worse! 🙂

Aside

In the street: my two golden rules.

Okay, one thing I can start with are the two rules I live by these days.

The backstory: my first night in Morocco involved a hugely overpriced taxi ride, an extremely persistant tout, and a good, yet also terribly overpriced meal. Welcome to Tangier.

The next day, I tried to put my game face on, and show that medina who was boss. Obviously, it still won. I got lost countless times, wound up eating at that same overpriced restaurant (this time with about 6 other travellers in tow), and let myself get dragged into my first carpet-shop, to have tea, and try to politely weasel my way back out. Oh, and did I mention warding off just about every breathing male in the city?

Enter, my golden rules.

Rule  #1: don’t make eye contact.

Rule #2: if you happen to make eye contact, don’t you dare do it again!

Failing rules 1 and 2, you have two options: first, you can just say no, and second, you can play along. It’s only recently, though, that I’ve begun to consider the latter as an option. I’m not sure if it’s from being in the South (I find people a lot more genuinely friendly here than most other parts of Morocco) or if it’s because I’ve finally just grown some thicker skin, adapted to my surroundings, and fallen into place with the way things work.

My Arabic and French have also slowly picked up to where I can at least win the respect of most shopkeepers, etc., and with the guys on the street, I can keep it in good spirits by making a bit of a joke of it. Sure, they’re sometimes really rude, but I don’t have to let it bother me! Easier to say in the day than at night though, that’s still for sure.

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On the web: hello, world!

I’m struggling to compile my thoughts on nearly 11 weeks in Morocco, all into a handful of posts. How to condense such an experience into a few little notes?

I’m in Dakhla now, the last stop before crossing the border into Mauritania. I have heard that it’s something to be prepared for: more basic than I can maybe imagine. The food, the accommodation (sleeping on the floor isn’t my favourite thing to do – these hips have feelings, too!)… the poverty.

I think some of my past travel experience has partially prepared me for this, but a part of me is worried that maybe not, and maybe I will not be able to hack it. So, the thought of “oh, I can just stay in Dakhla a little longer, so I can set up my blog” was so convenient. Now I’m feeling like I should stop with the self doubt and just get on with it!

I think, too, that the results of a google search for “how to start a travel blog” gave me the idea that it could maybe, you know, be something, but in reality, that’s probably never gonna happen. So for now, those of you that read this will just have to bear with me and the random order that my thoughts will spill out 🙂

Oh, and also, I think I have grown more accustomed to using my phone than a computer! I sat in that Internet cafe all damn day and barely accomplished a thing! Now, 5 minutes with the trusty iphone and I’m rolling. I love it.

And finally, a few pictures of Dakhla! It’s a peninsula in the far south of Western Sahara (a disputed territory of Morocco, but which is still Moroccan controlled). It’s a famous spot for wind and kite surfing, which means, as you can guess, that it is more than a little breezy here! Temps are high enough to keep me warm enough though – a welcome change from many other parts of Morocco right now!

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Sunset from the western coast of Dakhla

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The port in Dakhla (but, shh, I wasn’t supposed to take pictures!)

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Sunset from the Eastern coast and city centre

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Suburban streets