Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A view of Agadir

Here's the city along the coastline (port area is on the bottom right, along with a good deal of resort hotel construction).

And that photo above is as seen from this "mountain." The building you see at the top is the kasbah. Not much up there really except a good view of the city and camel rides for the tourists.
The Arabic words on the mountain are God, King, Country. It goes a little somethin' like this, "Allah, Alawatem, Alamellik."

This one's for Larisa...

Because if camel bums don't make you smile. Well, then perhaps the terrorists HAVE already won.

Monday, April 24, 2006

My birthday

My actual birthday on the 20th was a nice evening. The four of us were headed out to dinner, trying to find an Indian restaurant. There is one. Down by the beach. But we thought we remembered seeing another. As we got out of the taxi though, it turned out to be a Chinese place we misremembered. Well, that would not do. As we walked toward the real Indian food at the beach, we happened upon a Mexican restaurant. The boys had never had Mexican food, and we decided that a Moroccan take on the concept would be adventure enough for the evening. Nice place. Everything was really quite good in that "not quite authentic" way. The place even had really good music. In English. That I liked! Mostly Motown, as I remember. Stuff you can't resist singing along with, even at the table. I can't tell you how rare it is. Usually it's either in Berber or it's something akin to Celine Dion.

The boys that live in the apartment downstairs from us sometimes threaten to cause my ears to bleed with their Celine Dion on repeat. I cannot be held responsible for the harm I might do them if such torture continues.

Happy thoughts... happy thoughts... I got some lovely flowers on Thursday and Friday from one of my students and from my boss. Sadly, I waited to take pictures until they were a few days old and the cat had knocked them over. Still nice.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Coca-cola in Arabic

Remember to read right to left

getting here

I left Memphis on the afternoon of January 24th. Short layover in Atlanta, 6 hour layover in London... at which point I almost did not gain entry into Morocco. My return flight was booked for August 11. Since I did not yet have my employment contract or employment visa in my possession I could only be considered a tourist, and thus, stay only 3 months legally. Delta had gotten me as far as London, but British Airways refused to let me check in without a return flight within the 3 month time limit. At first I was told that Delta (grand coordinator of my 3 airline itenerary) would charge me a change fee. When I politely informed them that I had no money and would be taking up residence in Gatwick Airport a la Tom Hanks in "The Terminal," they were kind enough to work things out for me. The Delta agent put a "dummy" date of April 23rd into the system and put some special stickers onto my paper tickets. I had been hoping to use my 6 hour London layover to find a way into the city for some lunch as I've never been to London. After I finally sorted everything out between Delta and British Airways, I decided to play it safe and make my way to the gate area to be sure they were indeed going to let me check-in. So, I grabbed some really expensive airport fare for lu7nch, browsed my last English language bookstore for a while, and nodded of in the waiting area like a vagrant.

Now, the Delta agent who arranged my "dummy" return date and put stickers onto my tickets told me that I could simply peel the stickers off and show up to the airport in August as planned. Somehow, I didn't have faith it would go that smoothly. Royal Air Maroc is taking me from Agadir to Casablanca, then I'm back on Delta from Casablanca back into the States. I wanted to go to the airport here before April 23 just to check things out. To verify that they wouldn't see April 23 in the system and say, "she's a no show - cancel her."

Almogar airport is situated between Agadir and Tiznit to the South. It's a decent trek out of the city to get there. My boss, a handy guy to know, says he has a friend at the Royal Air Maroc ofice in Agadir. He goes over there with my tickets in hand, and Royal Air Maroc says everythings A-OK. They even peeled the stickers off for me.

I'm going on faith that all is well with the Delta leg of the trip. I suppose the worst case scenario is that Mulay Said has to buy me a whole new ticket home.

I do love free travel.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Funny lady

I got an email from my friend Melody the other day. Actually it was more than a month ago. And I have not written her back. See, I told you... why can't I just sit still long enough to hit reply?

Melody lives in Iowa. Crazy, huh? She always, and I mean always, knows precisely what will make me laugh.

She said:
know how amused you were that we have convenience stores named "kum-n-go"? i thought of you the other day on the way to work because they had a story on the radio about a kum-n-go robbery. the item stolen, condoms.


A group of my friends in college began a tradition of surprise birthday parties. It, of course, quickly became difficult to surprise each other what with all of the suspicion. We resorted to staggeringly clomplex plots and evil deceptions. Once I worked up tears, real tears, and feigned upset over a particular relationship drama to bait Frances into following me, unsuspectingly, into her party. Tony was awoken once in the wee hours of the morning and told he had to drive a friend to the ER because of a severe asthma attack. He stumbled to the lobby of his dorm to find his party.

Surprises for me were notorious failures. Once I was sent on a campus scavenger hunt. The planners failed to consider that one leg of the hunt took me right by the windows of the cafeteria. There I saw many balloons and the waiting partiers. Once they ALMOST got me. As I approached the student union, so close, a friend passed by and said, "Shan, sorry I couldn't make it to your party tonight. I have a test tomorrow."

After moving to California, we continued the tradition until it became ridiculously difficult to get everyone together and pull off a surprise. Then began the theme evenings. So, with time, I dropped my guard. I'm out of the habit of suspicioning. My birthday's not till Thursday the 20th. I knew Denise was planning to cook dinner for me. I got to request Indian food. I figured that setup would include Abdellah and Said, however my assumption was that the dinner would be next Saturday. After my birthday. Wrong. Denise insisted on picking up most of the ingredients while we were at the souk this past Saturday. I suspected nothing. She had tasked Hassan with getting me out of the house, so we went off to have a coke by the beach. I suspected nothing.

We arrived back home, and for some reason, I didn't open the door to my room and deposit my stuff there as usual. Denise had to think fast and invent a need to borrow something from me so I would go into my room. When I opened the door and four boys jumped off of my bed to surprise me, it worked. I'm pretty sure my heart skipped a few beats. I screamed audibly. They got me.

Denise had made an Indian-style tajine dish, as we couldn't get all of the necessary Tikka Masala ingredients. Dinner was lovely, and then there was cake! As you can see, the boys struggled with the spelling of my name. Well, it's phonetically correct anyway. And as it turns out, that didn't affect the taste at all.

They sang Happy Birthday to me in four languages, and then Abdellah insisted on this picture. I thought he was joking at first. He often is. Perhaps this customary American wedding pose is, in Morocco, a customary Birthday pose. Look how somber Abdellah is. Well, at least Hassan is amused in the background.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Butterfly" jeans

In the photo, you can barely see the side of the original butterfly below my right knee. He started it all... right after I ripped my favorite jeans on a nail at the edge of the stage in a theater in which I was rehearsing. These are my favorite jeans, without question. They have been for years, as is evidenced by the patches and threadbare nature of the pants. Oh yes, they're utilitarian patches. They cover holes and paint spills. Some are stitched to the reinforcements found on the inside. These jeans have seen some livin', and they're now held toghther like OZ, from behind the curtain. Side note: many thanks are due to my mom and to Carol W. for much mending, patching, and serging. I know that if I called my mother and was sobbing uncontrollably, she would be frightened at first. Might think that I had lost a limb or been snatched for ransom. However, when I finally blubblered out, "B... b... butterfly jeans," she would understand that they had finally met their overdue end, and that I was in the perfectly natural grieving process. It is to be noted that all of the patches, save one, are on the front. There is but one lone butterfly on my left rear pocket. It is solely aesthetic. One butt butterfly to "balance things out." Perhaps it's a good sign, a sign that my life has been lived with forward momentum. All of the snags and such are on the front. Sure, I've been caught standing still more than my fair share, but hopefully I haven't been backin' up.

Does this make me legit?

My first business card, ever (not the best photo, perhaps... but you get the idea). I've previously had an actual profession, as well as a job with a fancy title. Just somehow never managed to order business cards before this.

A bit more about my job situation. Mom tells me that one of the most frequently asked questions of her, about me, goes something like this, "So what's up with this American School thing?" I think that spans several questions...

Does the American govt. have anything to do with the school? Nope. It's only called American School because we use the American style of classroom teaching, and we teach it in English.

Who runs it? It's a private school run by the director of a Moroccan school. Most American schools have their own facilities, but since we're just starting out this year, we're housed within that Moroccan school that he runs.

What's the purpose? To offer an English education. There are American schools in the larger cities in the north of Morocco, cities that have more international business trade, bigger populations, and more money. Before this year, people in Agadir only had the option of enrolling their kids in traditional Moroccan school (Arabic), or in French schools. When people choose English ed. for thier kids, often it's with the idea that it will help them get into college someday.

Will it be accredited? Good question. Our boss has had a meeting at the American Embassy in Rabat, a lady from the American Consulate came to visit, and they're looking into options for accreditation.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Much ado...

I'll go ahead and apologize now that there's no photographic evidence of this. I was too busy gawking, and I didn't want to miss anything whilst running for the camera.

This evening, Denise and I were doing laundry. Fun fact, we were doing laundry in the bathtub, as we had let it get that behind with the weeklong trip and all. Anyway, Lahcen shouts for us to come to the balcony to see something. What we find outside our windows is a parade. It was the groom's family and friends on the way to the wedding.

The procession went a little like this:
First was a horse pulling a cart with a sheep on it (the sheep - a gift for the bride's family). Next came another horse pulling another cart with lots of colorful baskets, flowers, ribbons, gifts perhaps? Following that cart was a band of 5 or 6 Berber musicians in robes. They were playing things such as flutes, drums, and cymbals. And perhaps a rabab, a type of one-stringed fiddle (I'm making some assumptions here as I'm not quite yet an expert on Moroccan music or musical instruments). Just imagine something you might bellydance along to and you've got a general picture of the music. The family and friends all followed behind, and surrounded actually, the band... clapping, singing, and all dressed in finest traditional kaftans and djellebas of bright colors. Bringing up the rear there were three cars. The middle one was decorated with shaving cream and streamers. In Arabic across the back windshield the shaving cream spelled out "Happy Wedding." All three cars were honking to the beat of the band.

Good times.

I actually missed my opportunity to go to a Moroccan wedding last Saturday night. We had just arrived in from a very long, very tough day of travel back from Casablanca. I had gotten sick onthe trip, so my head could have exploded from the pressure at any moment. At that point, I was perfectly happy with my decision to shower and head straight to bed. Now, of course, I'm sad I missed out.

Moroccan weddings are quite the festive occasion (as if the sheep didn't clue you in). I got an account of the one I missed. It started around 9pm, but the bride did not arrive till closer to 10 when the hall was full (it was held at some sort of public hall/banquet facility). Through the course of the evening, there was much traditional music (live band), much eating (we got a package of some of the sweets and goodies we had missed. They were delicious, and interesting... Some were made with rosewater. They tasted a little like soap. Very interesting). However the American who gave us the commentary reported that there was not as much dancing through the night as she had expected. The bride had four different dress changes, and there was much ceremony when she came out in each. Party lasted until about 4am. All without the aid of alcohol, as Muslims don't, traditionally, drink.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Taghazout... playing catch up

Granted, I've just returned from a week in Marrakech and Casablanca, but I feel the need to post first things first. Taghazout probably should have been my very first post. I went there, a small surf town about 20 minutes drive up the coast, on my 2nd night in Morocco. One of my very first experiences. However, I've gone up several times since then and always have a wonderful time. Have grown rather fond of the place, and have taken many pictures. I have no pictures from that first visit, so hopefully the richer story now will make up for the delay.

I had arrived in Agadir on a Wednesday evening, and that week Denise's roomie from Dublin (Norah) was in town for a vacation/visit (along with her friend Sally and Sally's daughter Ayoola). Here's Ayoola just so you can admire the kid that can pull off this hair!
Norah and Sally had made the acquaintence of two guys who kept a small place in Taghazout to go up and surf on their days off. We were all invited up that Thursday evening for dinner. There were 12 of us total, and we filled the tiny place. The apartment consisted of one room and a small entryway that included the shower/toilet, and a shelf for a cooktop with a water spigot and bucket that served as a kitchen. The whole thing was hanging onto the rocks RIGHT over the crashing surf. Not too shabby a bachelor pad. That night was my first tajine. Now I know that once you've had it several times a week at school and /or home it becomes less romantic. But that night was great. All of us on mats on the floor around the edge of the room. Small, low table in the middle with the food. Using bread as a utensil to scoop the tajine. A little wine, Abdellah in the corner, cuddled up to the sheshaw (hookah). A lovely evening. That trip was the first time I had the pleasure of meeting Sally. She's a clothing designer, a homeopath, and a true wanderer. I loved her stories about her live in the Austrailian outback with her Aboriginal husband... sleeping where they stopped, gathering a breakfast of coconuts, and having her daughter out there in the nowhere.
Here are some camels by the sea on the drive up one day. As well as a camper truck. I wonder who's camping with camels.

Norah and Sally were back in late Feb/early March, and they rented their own place in Taghazout this time. We were up there several times that week. One afternoon we girls all hung out on the balcony and generally heckled the surfers.

Sally, Norah, me, Denise

There had been a big storm the night before (Norah and Sal seem to bring that type weather with them). So, the waves were pretty decent, and all of the fishing boats had been pulled way up, so the surfers could ride pretty much all the way up to the beach.One night that week, the guys went up with us and we met Sally and Norah for dinner at a little place near their apartment. The proprietor joined us before the evening was done for an interesting time. Elizabeth is a Hungarian woman who has been in Morocco for about 50 years, since her early 20's. She ran a campsite in the days when Morocco was in it's heyday as a standard stop for the bohemians of the world. It was fun hearing her stories about converting from Catholocism to Islam, her life in general, and how much Morocco has changed with time.
Sally, Norah, Elizabeth

And then, on one of the girls' last nights in town that week, we all went up again, and Ottman (one of the friends who keeps the little surfer place from that first night) cooked tajine. Always a lovely time.Front: Otmane, Norah. Back left: Abdellah, Hassan, me. Back right: Lahcen, Sally, Khalid. Photographer: Denise.

SUCCESS! We have broken their little wills.

Naptime, when I arrived, consisted of all of the children in a room specially for napping. In that room there was a television, and sometimes videos were shown. Also in the room was an exercise mat in that Kindergarten sleep mat style. There was approximately .75 mat per child. I do believe each child had a pillow, however. Now, the events of naptime went somewhat like this... all of the children horizontal for approximately 4 minutes, or until the teacher walked away from the window of the nap room (whichever came first). At that time, nap mats and pillows were used as weapons and wraps for human burritos.

We got enough mats for everyone, then we moved the naptime festivities into the classroom so it could be monitored properly. It was a struggle getting the little muppets to understand the simple commands "Stay on your mat," "Lie still," and "Be quiet." For a few weeks naptime, even in the classroom, looked a little like this:

Finally, today, a beautiful thing happened. There were six kids in class. Six kids went to sleep. On a Monday. A MONDAY, I said. A day when they usually only have one volume and one speed: scream and run. I would say it was a miracle if that didn't take most of the credit away from Denise and I. And right now, I'm enjoying feeling like we are GODDESS TEACHERS!