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

In the south of France: getting away from my Workaway

I saw a moth the other night, and it reminded me of my mom. Specifically, how terrified she was of them, and how she would shriek if she happened to find one trapped inside our house, helplessly beating itself against a lightbulb, trying to escape.

They often remind me of her, but this night I stopped and said hello; not to the moth, but to my mom.

I’ve never done this before. In the 14 years since she died, I’ve never once “felt her presence.” And I wouldn’t say that I felt it then, but it seemed nice at the time to think about her as someone I could still talk to.

“Hi mom, it’s me. I’m in the south of France!

Who would’ve guessed this – teaching English in Morocco and summering in the French countryside? Not me.

But I hope you’re proud.

I was for a while, for a lot of my life, but I’m losing it now. I’m getting closer and closer to thirty and I’m not getting any closer to where I thought I would be.

I feel like I’m just treading water.

And yes, Mom, I know there’s no point in thinking about the things we cannot change, but I really wish I had studied something else at university. I wish I had taken a year or two off before I started, so I could have maybe gone in the right direction from the beginning. So I would have something to show for the last 10 years,” I thought.

I mean, I know what I’m doing is ‘cool’ and all. I know that I’ve had so many experiences which wouldn’t have been possible without courage and bravery, and for doing those things, I would be happy to know if you’d seen me do them.

I’m sure it looks like I have my shit together from the outside; it even sounds like I’m “on the right path” and “headed in the right direction.” And it all looks pretty glamourous; Facebook friends and Instagram followers probably think I’m living the dream!

But it doesn’t really feel like a dream, Mom, and I really wish you were around to help guide me through this, to give me some direction.”

Cause, guys, the truth is, yes I’m here in the south of France, taking a summer vacation from my life on the beaches of Morocco. It sounds like it could only possibly be incredible, but I’ve discovered that there is actually plenty of room within that scenario for discomfort to appear.

It’s not in any way unbearable. I’m doing a Workaway: what’s supposed to be an exchange by local hosts and a traveller; 20-25hrs of work per week for room and board, and ideally, some hospitality. Some concern about whether or not your guest is taken care of, and getting what they need out of the bargain. Not just a free maid.

The work is totally fine (when I’m actually able to just do something on my own without the one host helicoptering around me, disagreeing with every suggestion I make, painfully demonstrating how I should do simple tasks, such as properly wipe a countertop (I’m an adult, lady, I think I can handle it), or passive-aggressively (not always so passive) asking me to finish tasks I’ve already completed (aka redo them). 

But it doesn’t get any better off the clock. She’s so stuck in her ways and has basically no regard for making sure her volunteers are comfortable. Oh, we locked you out of the house last night?  That’s nice. You didn’t have blankets? Too bad. We built you a makeshift bed and put you in a room full of our crap? Yep, we did. 

… Oh, you like peanut butter? I’m going to hide this expired jar that I’ve been hoarding for years, just because I don’t want you to have it. 

It’s bizarre, really. I feel like I’m a teenager again trying to dance around an adult who’s impossible to please. Though it’s not that bad. I’ve been here for a month already, and it feels like it might be getting better. But the fact that it’s unpleasant enough to have to decide whether or not I can bear it, means that it’s not that great, either. And since I only have three months in France, I should damn well be loving every day of them.

I keep being reminded of my beautiful friend Kristi, who in our program at UBC, was always the one we could count on to speak up and call our profs (or maybe just one in particular!) out on their shit. I thought that was just how she was, and that she must have always been exactly just like that. And quite likely she always had some fire, but I’m finding that these days, I have a much lower tolerance for bullshit. So maybe it’s a thing that just comes with enough years spent biting your tongue, that eventually you grow tired of it. Don’t fuck me around, don’t waste my time, don’t skirt around the truth. Just get to it, be fully transparent, and we’ll get along just fine.

But I keep running into these people (specfically, the director at my last school, and now, this workaway host), and I keep asking myself if it’s just me; if I’m not as easy to get along with as I thought. But if it’s actually just my decreasing tolerance for bullshit, then I think it’s probably healthier to have a spine instead. And in that way, I keep thinking of Chad, a friend-of-aforementioned-Kristi-turned-awesome-roommate, who always deals with things as they come up, instead of silently agonizing over them (à la the style of yours truly). I may have developed a lower tolerance for crap, but I don’t seem to have gained an increased capacity for confrontation!

So after much deliberation, I’ve arranged a new workaway placement, and I’m moving there this weekend. I had another host nearby offering to pick me up anytime in the last few weeks, but I didn’t have the courage to leave. But I have now collected myself, made a plan, let them know, and am on my way out!

I’ll be back to the front desk of a hostel, but none of this 10 hours a day, 7 days a week business. Official workaway placements are typically a maximum of 25 hours per week, which suits me just fine! I’ll be in a city, meeting people and speaking French, just as I had planned. So cross your fingers that I don’t run into any other hiccups!

In the meantime, on to some of the positive notes 🙂

First of all, the south of France is beautiful. I mean, stunning. And the other workaway volunteers here have been amazing; we have done tons of driving, eating, wine-tasting, and exploring. We made a friend at a cafe in Mirepoix, who is super lovely. And did I mention that it’s gorgeous?

Click on photos to see gallery

Also, while I haven’t had much opportunity to practice my French in depth with anyone here, I have made progress in my language learning: I’m in the habit of watching French TV (hello, Marseille on Netflix) with closed captioning, often re-watching each scene with English subtitles after to compare my own translations; I listen to French with Michel Thomas and various French podcasts (any recommendations are welcome!!) as I do the housekeeping; I got a new copy of Le Petit Prince, which is going much smoother than the first time; and I have been working my way through the Assimil books for French and also Arabic!

So here’s hoping that my next post contains nothing but fun and smiles and falling in love with France.

À la prochaine!

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.