Saturday, November 27, 2010

Vienna

Ok...I arrived in Vienna around 3:30pm on Sunday via the best bus I've ever taken. It was like being on a plane, only without tha hassle of check throughs and my ears popping. There were leather seats, it was warm, I actually had to wear a seat belt, there were free warm beverages and even had movies to watch! The 5 hour ride went smoothly and quickly. It was a drizzly overcast day, so the view wasn't top-notch unfortunately. Found my hostel with the help of a very nice Austrian who spoke perfect English and settled in for the night. Finished uploading photos and then ran into 2 others at the hostel, an american and an aussie. Nice guys. Had an "Austrian" dinner of sausage dumplings. Was good but the proportions were huge! Should have went for the one ball...;). Then had a couple drinks in the really nice downstairs bar before an early night. I was exhausted!

Started around 10am on Monday due to the drizzly weather and travel fatigue. Walked all over. Basically did Vienna in a day. Started out at the Schonbrunn Palace. Loved it. There was a Christmas market out front playing Christmas music and beautiful gardens to explore. Spent 2 hours easy there. Then ran around trying to see everything else before it got dark at 5pm, a bit better than Prague in that area. Colder though! Returned to the hostel with Subway for dinner and met up with a few people before heading out to the Christmas markets with the Aussie. Was fun. You can get mulled wine as well as blueberry cider, apple cider, raspberry cider, and a few others. And for 2 euro you can even keep the mug! There are 11 markets in Vienna and each one has their own unique Christmas mug design.

Tuesday I woke up early to get everything out of my room and went to watch the Lippizaner horses do theire morning workout set to music. It was really nice. I really wanted to ride one of these amazing creatures. Watched the horses play for about an hour then went to the Belvedere Palace. It was ok. I much preferred the Shunbrunn Palace and even went back so I could take the tour of the inside. The rooms were amazing. After which I met up with my Austrian friend. I hadn't seen her in about 3 years, a long time. She drove me out of the city a little so I could see Vienna at night from the foot of the Alps. Was so cold! Had dinner of yummy pastries from an Austrian bakery before meeting up with a few people for a night exploring more wonderful Christmas markets. Overall a great night. Decided to keep my mug from the Nashmarkt. A beautiful blue cup wit Christmas symbols on it. Had the most delicious hot chocolate with Baileys, :). Went to a club for a little bit but none of us wanted to pay the cover.

Then I stayed up until 2am, took an hour nap, and then a taxi at 3am to the airport! Had an early flight at 6:30am and Vienna public transport to the airport stops at 11pm. Checked in with no problems and made my Barcelona flight just fine. Fell asleep before we even took off. I was so tired! Slept most of the flight, landed and got my bag just fine. The smoothest flight yet of this trip. Got on a metro and found my way to the apartments we rented these past 3 nights, all very easy.

Well, very tired now and lots to pack for the cruise tomorrow! I'll post a blog on my Barcelona adventures soon!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Prague

Oh, and I forgot to mention my French SIM card is no longer functional, learned this while in Paris when I bought t recharge and tried charging it. I could turn on the phone but the card was no longer able to connect to a signal. And of course the recharge was non refundable…but I must have looked very sad because the guy made an exception for me, :).

My time in Prague was much too short. Arrived a day late due to flight changes so I only had 3 days instead of 4 and you really need a week to really appreciate the city. I arrived to the hostel around 6pm on Wednesday and enjoyed a piece of delicious lasagna con Bolognese and had my first Czech beer, a Pilsner Urquell. It was a bit too bitter for my taste but good. The hostel was amazing, such a cozy warm place and many good people. The basement bar was perfect with the brickwork and comfy chairs. Later that night I made my way to a local club with several others staying at the hostel through the cold drizzle. The first was a modern style “hip” bar where the drinks were pricey so we went to another cheaper place where they played reggae. Was a late night not going to bed until 3am. Took a perfect shower. There was a hot towel rack to place your towel on as well as assisting in heating the shower area, the water was deliciously hot with the perfect pressure. It was heaven.

Thursday I woke up around 10am and had a late start leaving the hostel by 11am. Took a tram down to Charles Bridge and made my way to Old Town Square. I haven’t taken trams since Old Threasers in Iowa, loved it. They have both styles in Prague: trolley style and tram style. I will miss such easy public transportation. I must say that Prague’s is the best I have seen in my travels, so easy. I wandered around Old Town Square through the drizzle for a bit before having an amazing and filling lunch. It was a chilly, rainy day and overcast. The restaurant I chose had these great heaters with a strong flame which was nice and toasty. There was Minestrone soup with fresh vegetables that the restaurant produced themselves, Czech goulash with bread, and Apple Streudal for dessert and a Mad Apple cider to drink, the alcoholic kind, :). Of course it was a Czech cider, they really know their stuff when it comes to beer and cider. Goulash is a thick and hearty beef stew type dish with only meat. After lunch I walked over to the other side of Charles Bridge and up to the castle but didn’t explore it that day. I wandered through the souvenir shops a bit and then returned to the hostel where I had another dinner of the same delicious lasagna. Had an early night at 1am and got some good sleep. I was in a room of 6 beds but only one other person which was nice.

Friday I was ready to go by 10am and took a day trip to Kutna Hora with 3 others, an Austrian who lives in Australia, an Aussie and a Turk. Prague has this great process where if you buy a return train ticket it is discounted, but even more when you purchase a group return ticket. We each paid 109 crown for a return ticket to Kutna Hora as a group rather than the 97 crown it would have cost each way had we booked separate tickets. Quite the deal! Kutna Hora is known for it’s church decorated with human bones. Yes, human bones. It was taken over by new power 600 years ago and the guy decided to take the piles of bones, clean and separate them, and create decorations with them. There is a chandelier as well as several other artistic creations. We arrived during the hour they were closed so we walked to the center where we had very large pizzas in this cute local restaurant. The whole village was just so picturesque. We then made out way back to where the church was locate so we could explore these bone wonders ourselves. A very interesting creation. Part of the reason behind the bone creations was to show the transience of life. It was also a very exhausting day. Arrived back at the hostel and had a delicious hot chocolate with peppermint liquor to warm up. Was perfect in the cozy den that is also the hostel bar. Ate another slice of lasagna with a Kozel this time. A little more bitter than the Urquell. After eating my fill I decided to finally try this Bechrovka liquor. It tasted like Christmas. It’s a local Czech liquor that has hints of cinnamon in it. Very nice on the rocks. Then a bunch of decided it would be fun to go to the city center to a bar called The Pub. Well…we made our way downtown to where we thought this place was but then we couldn’t find it. And of course everyone we asked had never heard of The Pub. So we ended up walking around for about an hour in the cold before just stopping at another hostel’s pub. Was fun and good music. We had dwindled in numbers and by the end of the night we were 6, so we decided to take a taxi back to the hostel, all of us in 1. It was just like Morocco, 2 people in the passenger seat and 4 in the back. Again, I took a wonderfully hot shower. It was a good night, lots of fun people. Went to bed around 4am.

Then woke up early at 9:30am so I could take in the sites on my final full day in Prague. I ate a decent breakfast and then followed a guided tour down to Old Town Square to view Prague. It was Prague’s Free Walking Tour and amazing! The guide was funny and informative and I was able to really see the center of Prague and the Jewish quarter. It lasted 3 hours and was a nice day, the sun actually game out. The history was interesting and the buildings gorgeous. Being able to visit a city such as Prague is a priceless opportunity. I finished my day by having a BLT on a bagel from a place called Bohemian Bagel and a smooth peace of Baileys flavored cheesecake. I then found my final souvenirs, a few post cards and a lovely peace of bohemian crystal, a blue tinted shot glass with Prague frosted onto it. Then had goulash for dinner at the hostel and a cookie. Was still warm from the oven with raisons, chocolate chunks and oatmeal. Had a dark Kostel, very nice. Less bitter than a Kostel light. Enjoyed a few mixed drinks and good conversation before an evening out. We tried to go to a new club…first we couldn’t figure out how to get in…then we were denied because it was a private party. Se went to a previous club. It was very unique, like being in a metro, very Matrix. Lots of odd pieces of electronics and wheels. Had a very late night of until 5am this time. A great way to end my short stint in Prague.

Now I am on my way to Vienna via a Student Agency Bus. Very nice. Leather seats with seat belts, free hot cocoa, in flight entertainment and even free wireless! Though the wireless doesn’t really work so well… It’s like being on a plane. Another rainy dreary day in Eastern Europe, but that’s winter for you. So far I am quite enjoying my short vacation and meeting so many interesting people. Many take a year off to travel around the world…maybe once I am debt free. There are so many places I still want to visit.

Made it to my hostel in Vienna with no problems, but very tired. Had a fun time trying to figure out how to set up my bedding, haha. Apparently I had a duvet cover thing to put over the heavy blanket lining thing. 2 people later it was put together, yay! Wombats seems like a nice hostel, but I don’t know if any can really compare to the one I was at in Prague, Sir Tobey’s Hostel. Everything was just so perfect and cozy. Well, off to explore some Vienna, only here 2 days and might stay the night in the airport Wednesday night as my flight leaves so early. We’ll see!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Second Leg of the Journey

And here is the rest of the Casa-Paris story. The plane was kept in France due to mechanical issues so they flew a jet from London to Casablanca with English only speaking flight attendants. Was great for me to hear English, :). I was speaking to a few of them, it turns out they arrived in Casablanca around 2am and then had to fly out again at 2pm. Our flight took off an hour late because they had to stock the plane with food, not our wonderful staff’s problem. The plane did take off and I arrived in Paris a day later than planned, but in one piece and with all my luggage. Then after I landed in Paris I had to log onto the internet really quick so I could get my friend’s number in order to have a place to stay. She had responded, humdullah, and I had just enough credit on my phone to send a few messages but then I got out at the wrong metro exit not knowing there were 2. So a lovely Frenchman let me use his phone to call her and figure out how to meet and why we were in 2 different areas. I made my way over to the correct area and my friend. I hadn’t seen her in about 5 years so it was nice. We had both studied on the same study abroad program. She made me pork chops and cauliflower and broccoli for dinner, then we had coconut ice cream for dessert. Was an amazing meal after living in a country with very few pork products. Stayed up late chatting and then woke up early. She had class and I had to make my way to the airport. I decided to take the RER this round. I had taken the Roissey Bus on the way into Paris and it had worked really well but I was used to the RER. Well, there were issues with both the train and my credit card, so I backtracked and found the Roissey Bus station. This took an hour as I had to make several metro changes. The bus arrived within 10 minutes and I made it to the airport easily and hassle free. I have been won over by the Roissey Bus versus the RER B. Welcome to Paris. During my 9 months studying there I can't count how many train and metro issues occurred. At least there wasn't a strike!

I had a simple breakfast of cereal and grape juice with my friend before leaving for the airport then a wonderful lunch of Quiche Lorraine and a Banana Chocolate tart, 2 of my favorite foods from when I studied in Paris. They use dark chocolate in their pastries...delicious. Made it to the airport with plenty of time and check in was so easy. And the lounge was so nice...comfy plether seats and a great ambiance, much better than the Morocco airport where there were stray cats begging for food.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Just Kidding

So I went to the airport and everything went smoothly other than the policeman who tried to take my painting out of its tube and unroll it...I stopped him from ruining it. So I was waiting for my 7pm flight to Paris...it never came. The plane literally never arrived. So...I got to go through the fun part of getting my checked luggage back and going to to the ticket counter for a hotel voucher. They rescheduled the flight for 2pm tomorrow, unfortunately my flight to Prague leaves at 2:45pm meaning I will miss my flight. Both were booked through EasyJet so I hope the guy was correct when he told me that they will change my flight for me when I arrive in Paris, though whether they will take care of my hotel is another question. Such a crazy start to my travel home! I was very upset of course, on the brink of tears. It had been a long day and I don't care much for airports. Much better now after a long, hot bubble bath, some texts ranting about the whole fiasco, and a coca cola. I don't even care it was 40dh. Now I will relax and get a good night's sleep and leave at 10am tomorrow and start this process all over again. I hope everything works out with my Prague flight and I do have a friend in Paris. I just don't have her number and she doesn't have mine...I don't even know my own number, haha. At least the hotel is very nice which helps make up for some of the hassle and I will actually be in Paris long enough now to have a nice dinner, inchallah with my friend. There is always a silver lining to every cloud, even the dark ones. And the French people on the flight were so nice! As were the Moroccan staff. It wasn't their fault the plane didn't show up.

Morocco really doesn't want to let me go! Hopefully it will let me leave tomorrow and I can get my Prague flight rescheduled...I did book the 2 together. Really regretting that no travel insurance now!

Travel Plans

Ok. For those actually reading and following this the following is my travel itinerary:

Tonight (Nov 15): Paris, France (layover)

Nov 16-21: Prague! (5 nights)

Nov 21-24: Vienna! (3 nights)

Nov 24-28: Barcelona! (4 nights)

Nov 28 - Dec 12: 2 week cruise across the Atlantic (limited internet)

Dec 12-13: Night in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Dec 13-14: Flights back to Iowa

December 14: Back home in Iowa!!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Swearing Out Photo

Yay!

Done!

Today was my last day as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco! These past 3 weeks have been a whirlwind. After arriving back in site from a VSN committee meeting I took time to visit friends and volunteers in the region as well as create my costume for Halloween. I was a Greek wood nymph in the end. I hope to be able to post photos soon. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera.

After Halloween I had a week to get everything sorted out to leave my site. My replacement came for her site visit on October 31st and was in site until November 4th. It was 5 days of craziness, but good. I met with my landlord to have him sign off that I was good to go and to discuss the new volunteer taking over the house after I leave. I also introduced her to the cooperative. There were only a few women there but she was able to meet the president. Last Tuesday we spent the day touring Errachidia. Wednesday I mailed my large suitcase through the post office and tried to visit the delegate and Gendarmes but there was a strike that day concerning government officials. I showed my replacement where to pay her electric and water bills instead. That night there was a funeral feast as my host mother’s brother had passed away. Unfortunately I was unable to attend but visited everyone the next day and had lunch with everyone. Thursday I mailed my other smaller and lighter box, visited the delegate to let him know I was leaving, to introduce him to the new volunteer and have him sign a piece of paper for me. Then we visited the Gendarmes before going back to site. Friday she returned to her hub site. I spent the day in Errachidia visiting volunteers and shipping my bike to Peace Corps headquarters. It was a nice relaxing day. Saturday I visited my host family but no one else was around. Sunday I visited my friends and neighbors in site to say my final goodbyes. It was a long day. My neighbor agreed to pay my electric bill when it comes. My counterpart and friend gave me a simple wedding caftan and tirz d fasi item as gifts. It was really sweet of her. Then I took the rest of the night to wash my hair and finish packing everything up.

Monday I left early and tossed my keys in the door as I left. I took a 5 hour bus ride to Kalaa Mgouna to meet up with a friend of mine I wanted to visit before leaving the country. It was nice visiting her village. Made good ole fashioned mac and cheese for dinner and stayed up late talking. Tuesday I woke up early and met some friends in Kalaa and traveled with them to Marrakech for one final night on our way up to Rabat. It was nice and lots of fun. I bought a cute new shirt and gold Moroccan slippers that are very comfortable. Then had an amazing tajine of succulent chicken and amazing vegetables. We had a hard time getting our luggage stored for a day but we managed it all. Wednesday we woke up early and caught the 9am train making it into Rabat around 2pm. I ended up sharing a room with 2 other stage mates, it’s been fun. Wednesday I came to headquarters to get some things done and then had a Panini for dinner and sleeping early. Yesterday I spent a crazy morning getting my bank account closed, signatures, and everything handed in and completed. Had amazing sushi for lunch and German institute for supper. Gotta love pizza and salad, :). Hung out at the Marine House until 1am hanging out with friends and learning how to play darts. Today I slept in until 9am, showered and had a late breakfast before coming back to headquarters and finishing up last minute details.

Now I am officially done! And having an amazing supper at the French Institute to celebrate with friends, :). Took many photos and will enjoy many memories.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October

I know it has been awhile, almost a month since last I updated my blog. I had COS Meds and Conference in Rabat until October 4th, then I traveled back to site October 5th. Nothing extraordinary happened along the way, it was actually a quite smooth trip. I stopped in Fes the night of the 5th to visit my tutor who is now studying at university there and then made it home on Monday. I had a whole week in site before heading up to Rabat again, for a VSN committee meeting. During that week in between Rabat trips I relaxed, cleaned up my house a bit, did laundry and visited people. I went to the coop one day as they weren’t meeting Wednesday. It was nice to see everyone. Then I started my second trip Wednesday, October 13th so I could be in Rabat by the 14th. I took the day to relax and get some internet things accomplished such as my TFA application. TFA stands for Teach for America and is a 2 year program where you are placed in a place where there is high educational inequity and you work in lower income schools as a teacher while being certified and earning a full beginning teacher’s salary. It is a great alternative licensure program and I really hope I am accepted. I won’t know for awhile. I spent that Friday and Saturday in meeting for VSN to discuss changes in the curriculum and then traveled back to site that Sunday. So I have now been in site since Monday October 18th, about a week. It has been a crazy month!

This past week I have been deciding what to keep, what to mail home, what I will take while traveling back home, what I will sell, give away and leave for my replacement. I also have loads of other things to do before I leave in 2 weeks! I’m still not quite adjusted to the fact I am actually almost finished… On my travels I developed a sinus infection which is finally gone, humdullah. But now I have a clogged ear and a rash. The ear is from the altitude changes and remnants from the sinus infection combined in traveling back home. The rash is an allergic reaction to an antibiotic they had me on for the sinus infection. I’ve been taking Benedryl for the rach and it seems to be improving.

Last weekend I went to visit a friend about 30km from me, was nice. Made an oreo cheesecake with real oreos, :). Sunday I visited my women at the cooperative. They were working on orders and projects for the coming cold weather. Lots of knitted sweater outfits. They love the cross stitch project I am almost finished creating. I plan to leave all my leftover cross stitch items with the women when I leave they love it so much. I wasn’t feeling well yesterday so I stayed home and rested. Today I went to town and arrived home later than expected so I hope to visit some people tomorrow. Might have lunch with a friend. Lots of people to see and spend time with before I leave. I don’t know when I will be able to return for a visit.

Today I also finally got the fabric to make my Halloween costume, :). A lot of my fellow volunteers and I are celebrating Halloween this weekend. Our last hoorah before the 4 of us 2nd year SBD and YD volunteers depart the region. I’ve decided to go greek. Bought a dark green fabric and a gold sash for a belt and plan to be a Greek Goddess. Debating on who…there are so many.

These 2 years are simply flown by, I find it hard to believe it’s the actually the end and I’m not just leaving for a visit home. I’m excited and ready for whatever my next adventure will be, but I will also miss my community here. It is a bittersweet feeling. Only 2 more weeks in my site, about a week in Rabat and then my month of vacation traveling home. And so much to do before I leave!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

COS Meds

I arrived in Rabat Tuesday afternoon and had a lovely dinner of lasagne at a nice restaurant near the awesome hotel Peace Corps is putting us in. The rooms are so nice and there is hot water all the time!

Yesterday I had every single one of my medical appointments. I started off my morning with an 8:30am meeting where we also got our TB tests. Now we all know how much I dislike needles...and I had to have the test done TWICE. The first attempt didn't work so they had to give me another shot of fun tester fluid under my skin. At this point I was sufficiantly freaked out but had to be donwtown to get my dental x-rays and dental appointment and cleaning by 10am. I left Agdal at 9:30am. The taxi ride down made me very motion sick, great on top of the lowered blood sugar from my needle freak out, so I managed to get over to the x-ray place where it took me an hour to get my dental x-ray done and printed out due to so many people being there. I was an hour late to my dental appointment but was able to get in and out. Good news: no caveties and my teeth were clean! Dental cleanings are the worst though with all that scraping against my teeth and gums, but I made it through. My lower front teeth are still a bit sensitive, but clean, :).

I then had a quick lunch of yummy thin crust pizza before rushing back to Peace Corps HQ to have my physical down where I was prodded some more. Had a quick meeting with the country director before running out and having some blood drawn. COS meds are very thorough in everything. Crook of my arm is still a bit sore, but good news is all my appointments are done!

I slpurged on a nice meal at the French Institute last night. I had filet mignon with blue cheese dressing for dinner and then a small creme brulee, brownie and mousse with coffee for dessert. Delicious. Today I'll have some sushi for lunch and pizza for dinner, :). Today is my free day with no meetings or appointments.

Been thinking more and more on my return home, not long now at all.

Birthday Shananigans

My birthday was last Friday. I celebrated by making myself a lemon pepper glazed broiled chicken breast and fried green beans and garlic with cheesecake brownies for dessert. I also replaced my empty buta gas tank for my stove and oven operation. Then I visited my friend's sister as my friend was out in the fields and my host family. In the morning I went into Errachidia and enjoyed a banana juice at a cafe while perusing the internet a bit. I had a great day.

Saturday I went up to Ifrane to visit my CBT family. It was so great to see them and I had never been to Ifrane before. It was so much cooler than my village in the south! It felt amazing to sleep with a blanket at night and wear a sweater again. Then Monday on my way up to COS medicals and conference I stayed with one of my CBT mates in Taza. I really liked Taza, it's a nice city and beautiful. I visited my friend's cooperative and some of the volunteers in the area.

Then I made my way up to Rabat for COS Meds and Conference.

Berber Wedding

It's been awhile I know. The weekend of September 19th I went to a fellow stage mate's berber wedding. I have been to Arabic weddings but not yet a Berber one. One of my friends just married a Moroccan. It was so much fun. She wore this elaborate Berber headdress and had her face and hair covered, the only parts of her body showing were her hands and feet. The headdress was a large triangular red fabric with red and yellow scarves hanging down her back from it and a black sheer veil over her face. The first night she had her hands and feet hennaed as well as any guests who wished for a bit of henna design on their hands. The next day was her wedding in which we started with a lunch, some dancing and then had the bridal train were we all piled into cars, trucks and transits honking and uulating our way around her village before settling down for an early dinner and lots of haydeues. Haydeuse is a berber dance in which there are 2 lines of people who do the same movements while rotating in a circle to berber drumming and singing.

It was such an amazing experience and made better by having had lived in Morocco for the past 2 years and the bride being a friend I knew. It felt so normal.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ramadan and After

I know everyone is probably wondering what I have been up to lately as my last update was a month ago. To be honest, not very much. Ramadan was a lazy month in the fact that no one was doing much work, or more specifically, my women were not currently meeting to work. The month of Ramadan is a very holy month for Muslims and as such, my women met twice a week to chant verses out of the Koran, retell religious stories and to pray. I went the first Monday I returned. It’s always interesting to experience a different religion and culture. I was also able to understand more of what was being said this year, though the Koran chanting still simply sounds like beautifully sung cadences to me. I did not completely fast during the month of Ramadan and only broke fast with Moroccan families a handful of times this year. My system couldn’t handle a complete fast and much of the time my ear ached enough that I preferred to stay in majority of the time. I did have a meal with the host family with the traditional figs, dates, pastries, harira (soup), milk, and eggs. Then a couple weeks later I broke fast with my friend Layla and her family in Errachidia with many of the same items with slight variations. Her mom always makes the best meals. I was supposed to go again but things came up and I was unable to.

It was a long month between the fasting, no work, and lingering summer heat. I worked on several personal projects and read many books. As well as much research on post Peace Corps plans and travel. I have finished booking my hostels and flights for Prague, Vienna and Barcelona. Very excited. Only 2 more months! I also plan to apply for a few Teaching Fellows programs when I return. I would really like to become a teacher and there are several really good alternative teaching licensure programs that sound perfect. I am still researching as to what I would like to teach and what I would be qualified to teach.

Friday was the end of Ramadan! I saw my neighbors briefly, was really nice. Saturday I went to town hoping to purchase a medicine for my ear, but I forgot the pharmacies would be closed for the holiday. I tried a week of ear drops and one antibiotic with only a little luck at slightly decreasing the inner ear pain, so I will be trying a stronger antibiotic this round. I was able to purchase it yesterday when I went to town, hope this one works!

Saw a few volunteers while I was in town, was nice. Visited my counter part and friend today. The coop isn’t meeting yet as there are still many people still visiting and out of the village. Ramadan only finished a week ago. I expect things will pick up again in a couple weeks. So I’ll probably have things to do after I go to Rabat at the end of the month for COS meds and conference.

Saturday a friend of mine and stage mate will be getting married! Hard to believe our 2 years are nearly up. Only 2 more months now. I will miss Morocco and many people here, but I am also ready to come back to America. It’s been the experience of a life time. I have a busy month ahead of me. Friend’s wedding, then the following week my birthday, then I’ll be traveling to Rabat for COS meds and conference. For my birthday I hope to visit my first host family. October seems fairly free at the moment, but I know it won’t be. I still hope to hike the Todra Gorge and visit as many friends as I can before I leave and get many things done in my site. Once November hits work will stop and I’ll just tie up a few final loose ends before taking my vacation back!

We’ve had several storms roll through, rainy season here in the desert. So the temperature has been slowly dropping, but not quite enough yet, still 86 in the house. Soon I won’t need to use my fan anymore, humdullah! Only 2 seasons here, Summer and Winter with a month or 2 of rainy season thrown in here and there, generally in between seasonal changes.

For those of you reading this back in America, I’ll be back in Iowa in about 3 months, :).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ras el Ma / Site / Ramadan

Ok…after Al Hoceima I jumped over to Ras el Ma, aka Cape de l’Eau. Woke up early on Saturday morning around 7am to catch an 8am bus. Well, after arriving to the bus station we learned the bus was full and had to wait for a 9:30am. It was a long ride. We arrived in Berkane around 3pm and Ras el Ma around 4pm. I settled down and then changed for an afternoon swim in the Mediterranean. We had an awesome house all to ourselves. Just beautiful. The Mediterranean was so choppy. I played in the waves for a bit but didn’t go out too far due to the tidal pull. Then after swimming I showered and walked downtown with several friends and we had the most amazing seafood dinner. A couple kilograms of tasty shrimp, perfectly breaded calamari, soft red snapper and buttery sol. We ended our perfect dinner with a scoop of ice cream before walking back to the house. It was an early night for all.

Then Sunday I woke up really early, changed my cell phone time as it was “fall back” here already, went back an hour. Had a breakfast of yogurt, granola and coffee before hitting the beach nice and early. Played around for hours in the water. The waves were just as strong and I decided to go out further. Was a perfectly tiring time out in the water other than the fact that a huge wave hit me and I totally lost my sunglasses, :(. Afterwards I went back to the house, showered and bought supplies to make a tuna melt for lunch and Pringles. The house was having plumbing issues so we had some staff over. At one point I took a nap only to wake up and be told we had to pack up and move to separate apartments. I was not very happy about this as I was still groggy and the house was so nice. The apartments were ok, but at least the plumbing worked. Went for another afternoon swim and then we had fajitas for dinner. Was delicious! Had a bit of a late night and a night swim before heading to bed. The water was so calm.

Monday I woke up early again and hit the beach around 9am. Starting to get a nice tan, for me, ;). Relaxed and read for a bit and then swam. This day the sea was calmer and we swam out a ways where it was gentle and just floated. Was wonderful. Afterwards I went in and had a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch before going out on a Catamaran! That’s a type of sailboat. I should have taken my Dramamine though…got a little seasick. Was still a great experience. After we reached the open sea we all jumped/dived off/out of the boat and swam around in the clearest, blue/greenish water I have ever seen. A friend took photos but alas I was unable to get them from her. It was just beautiful. That night we went out for dinner again and of course got another fish platter. This time only calamari, sol and shrimp. And ice cream afterwards again of course, :). Then as there was a bit of a fair going on we all decided to do the bumper cars. Was a blast! Some then did the ferris wheel after that, an interesting setup. Goes around much quicker here and virtually no safety bars of any sort.

Tuesday was out final day. Went for my daily swim as usual in yet another calm sea. Was pure bliss to simply float and swim around in the water. Then for lunch we had our final fish meal of shrimp, sol and calamari. Afterwards we bought supplies to make Italian for dinner. And it was amazing! A friend of mine made an absolutely delicious tomato sauce to put over pasta and garlic bread. I made caramelized banana filling for dessert crepes. I ate way too much and just relaxed afterwards.

Wednesday morning was a long travel day with a stop in Oujda for an early meal.

Thursday I went to town and bought a few things and simply relaxed and caught up on sleep and rest. It was also the first day of Ramadan. I was too tired to break fast with anyone though.

The past couple days I have just been catching up, doing laundry, relaxing. I was gone nearly 3 weeks. I have also begun making my travel plans for after I COS. I find myself planning my vacation backwards. First I decided to do the cruise, then booked my final flight back to Iowa. Now I have a flight from Vienna to Barcelona for the pre-cruise get together and to celebrate Thanksgiving with my fellow cruise taking volunteers. Now I just need to sort out my flights out of Morocco and to Eastern Europe. I have decided to do Prague and Vienna. I also haven’t had a very good internet connection since my return back to site. Though part of that could be the storms that have been rolling through almost daily now.

I have so much to do before I leave in less than 3 months now. Crazy to think about it. I am thinking of applying for Teach for America or a fellowship program similar to that when I return home. After much though and discussions with friends and fellow volunteers I believe I should give teaching a try. I’ve always been drawn to it through working at camp and in speaking to several of my friends who are teachers. We’ll see what life has planned for me when I return back to America. I’m also still definitely taking a short break to Australia mid-February through May, maybe a little longer depending on what work I find there and what work opportunities I come across in America. Hope all works out.

That’s the final leg of my vacation through to my current standing here back in site. It’s nice to be back, though I must admit I am counting down the days till my COS date. I’ve been here for a long time now and am simply ready for my next adventure though I will miss Morocco and many people here.

Monday I went to my women's new coop where they can now meet as they please, :). Due to it being Ramadan, work is at a standstill and they currently meet twice a week to sing verses out of the Koran and tell biblical stories during the morning hours.

I finally broke fast with half of my most family on Tuesday evening. Last year it was always both families but now that they have moved into their new home they have moved into 2 different floors. I was also surprised to not see the usual festive shebekiya. Deep fried pastry coated in honey and sesame seeds. It was a quiet affair. I had fasted all day and was having trouble communicating.

Yesterday I went into town to use internet as can be noted from my blog entry with Ras el Ma photos. Also to purchase a few food items.

Today was not very note worthy as I stayed in and rested. I had planned to visit my women again, but had an ear ache. I hope to visit my counterpart tomorrow and start planning a few workshops. I won't be doing very much traveling over the next 3 months and hope to get several desired projects completed before I leave. I hope to break fast with my favorite neighbor tomorrow as well. I haven't been breaking fast very often during this first week of Ramadan as I haven't been completely fasting and feeling a bit under the weather. I am feeling much better now and plan to enjoy harira (soup), shebekiya, eggs, figs, and dates during the remainder of this Ramadan month, :).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ras el Ma Photos

Seems I have forgotten to transfer my blog update to my USB, so until I can find my way to a computer and internet again please enjoy the photos of my trip to Ras el Ma. Currently I do not have a very good wireless connection in my site, possibly due to all the storms. We had an outright downpour the other day.


Some volunteers decided to commemerate our trip, very pretty.
This is where I got to swim everyday, :)

Some decided to brave the Moroccan ferris wheel, they move a bit faster here and have less safety features...the rest of us just did the bumper cars.

One of many delicious seafood platters enjoyed by several of us

The catamaran me and several others sailed out on one day, apparently I do get a bit seasick, so I spent the majority of the trip laying down. But the swimming part was fun!

The beautiful open sea view from the catamaran

Several volunteers helped to make an amazing dinner of fajitas

Me posing at sunset on the beach so near our apartment

Beautiful sunset view of the Mediterranean

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Al Hoceima

After my 5 wonderful days in Chefchouan I made my way over to Al Hoceima, a city on the Mediterranean 6 hours east of Chefchouan. I woke up very early at 5:15am to catch my 6:30am bus which ended up not arriving until 7am. The bus ride was the worst I have ever been on n terms of windy curvy roads. The bus itself was very nice, the air conditioning worked and I had leg room and 2 seats to myself. The road was worse than the Tichka pass, which is the windy road between Ouarzazate and Marrakech. I was lucky to sleep the majority of the way. I arrived in Al Hoceima around 1pm and made my way to our hotel. I was meeting with a couple friends who happened to all be male. The only reason why I feel this needs mentioned is I ended up staying in a single because the hotel staff wouldn't allow an unmarried female to share a room with a man not her relation. That rule does not normally apply to foreigners. But it turned out I had a much nicer room than the 3 boys so I didn't put up too much of a fuss over paying more than them. After settling in at the hotel we ate lunch and then made out way to the beach and had a late afternoon swim that was wonderful. The water was so turquoise. Then we came back to our hotel, showered and had dinner. I ate delicious shrimp.

On Day 2 we all slept in, had a full breakfast and found a new better place to stay. This time I was allowed to share a room with a male. Just a good friend of mine. We spent all day at a beach further down the road and I lost my Moroccan silver ring, :(. Was very sad. I've lost so many things in this country. Other than that it was a great day. We then had a late lunch where I had a salad before showering and relaxing. We had a late dinner where I had calamari.

It was a nice relaxing stop along the way. The beaches were so beautiful if a bit dirty. We left early on Saturday to make our way to Ras el Ma, aka Cape de L'Eau. We had planned to take an 8am bus but it was full so we took a 9:30am instead, but I will describe my adventures here in Ras el Ma in another entry. Enjoy the photos!



Where I went swimming on Day 1


Posing pretty on the beach


Beautiful sunset

Colored water jets in the main square

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Chefchouan

On friday I woke up very early to catch a 6:30am Supratours bus from Essaouira to Marrakech in order to get to Fes before dark. My original plan had been to catch the 9am train but I missed it by 15 minutes, so I waited at the Marrakech train station until the 11am train. I had a yummy lunch and read for a bit. The train took nearly 8 hours, I arrived in Fes around 7pm. It was very hot as well, no air conditioning in 2nd class on that train! I then stayed the night in Fes, just relaxed and took a nice shower. I stayed in a very nice hotel not far from the bus station that was also air conditioned! It felt wonderful. I've been to Fes before, so I was ok just staying and relaxing at the hotel without doing any exploring.

The next morning I took a 7am CTM bus to Ouazzan and then a grand taxi the rest of the way to Chefchouan. The CTM was wonderful and air conditioned, :). Fes and Chefchouan were a bit warmer than Essaouira but still cooler than Errachidia. I arrived in Chefchouan before lunch and found the hostel where I had a bed on the roof for only 40dh a night. Was awesome and so nice. I ate a delicious lunch of a cheese salad made with fresh cheese produced in the region and shrimp with a flan for dessert, then explored the old Kasbah in the square with a friends before going back to the hostel and relaxing. Met a really nice american and some australians during the day as well. Many of the australians were leaving for Fes in 2 days time.


The blue of Chefchouan

The blue of Chefchouan


my beloved roof top bed at the hostel


On Day 2 I hiked up to the fields with a peace corps friend and the american I had met the day before. We had a full lunch and then a hot steepish climb up the mountain and past a church/synagogue. I had yummy chicken pizza with the cheese salad and flan again. The hike up was during the hot part of the day, we were so hot by the time we reached the top and there was an amazing cold water source with the most deliciously cold water. We had decided to make this venture at 3pm, not the coolest part of the day. But we made it and without burning. I did manage to lose my sunblock on the way up though, :(. We took some great photos and then made our way back down, showered and then ate dinner. I then had a late shopping trip with the american I'd met and we bought some things from a local seller. I bought a beautiful long sleeved short red patch-worked silk dress. It's beautiful. It was also the American's birthday.

me and my new american friend on our mountain hike


me posing in front of the beautiful views


not a Moroccan mountain hike without seeing a herd of goats


view on our hike


Chefchouan's view at dusk from the nearby mountain


I had planned to leave on Day 3...but then decided I liked Chefchouan so much and didn't desire to stay in Fes for a couple nights that I changed my mind. Luckily I was able to sell my ticket to another traveler and bought a new one to leave on that Wednesday, August 4th. The australian guy I met walked down with me to the bus station to see about changing my ticket. Boy it's a steep walk back up that hill! For lunch we bought some food and made a veggie and tuna couscous with fruit for dessert with a relaxing afternoon of fast internet. That was another great aspect of the hostel, the super fast wireless internet that I took full advantage of. We went out to one of the local restaurants for dinner and brought another American with us who had just arrived that day. Always great food.

On Day 4 I spent the morning post card shopping with my new friend as well as with another American who had just arrived and one of the Australians. It was a great morning. We started with a yummy breakfast of melowee and honey and orange juice. For lunch we bought fruit and some tomatoes and watched part of Sex and the City 2. Then we ate an early dinner in the cutest little nook of a restaurant in the square but soon regretted the decision as it was so warm. It was me, the 2 americans, a girl from japan and the aussi guy. I ate pastilla and had "cake" for dessert with coffee. The "cake" was actually an assortment of cookies. We were going to take a hike but decided we were too tired and too dark, so we wandered around the medina instead and took photos and shopped. Earlier that day I had bought a new blanket. It's thin and large with different shades of blue and made of cactus fiber silk. Later that evening I bought a new purse and earrings as well. The purse was a green version of the blanket fabric and I bartered the price down to 55% off his asking price, :). The earrings are an amber colored plastic set in silver. Then that evening we finished watching Sex and the City 2. It was our Aussi friend's last night and was supposed to be mine...


many things to be purchased in Chefchouan


store shopping at night


But alas on Day 5 I decided to extend my stay one more night. I had switched my ticket the day before and decided to travel straight to Al Hoceima instead of down and around to Fes and Taza. I enjoyed a relaxing day hanging out with the 2 american girls. We had a small lunch, relaxed and then took a late hike up to the church/synagogue before eating an early dinner where we met an English guy. I missed our aussi friend's presence. The place where we ate dinner did not have friendly staff, but the food was good. I had my now favorite cheese salad and a delicious carrot soup that was supposed to be onion. Oh well. I had a late night not going to sleep until 1am and then getting up very early at 5:15am to get my 6:30am CTM to Al Hoceima.

I absolutely loved Chefchouan. My bed on the roof was perfect during the summer, the place was clean, the bathrooms nice and the people so great. The food was decently priced and delicious. Overall a great experience and I was sad to move on. I had also met many interesting fellow travelers.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Essaouira

I started my vacation by spending 2 nights in Tinjdad. There was a small craft fair and a few of my fellow small business development volunteers in the region there with their respective cooperatives.

Then I took a very early bus to Essaouira on Monday and got there by that evening and checked into a very nice Riad reccomended by a volunteer. The Riad Maktoub. The people are very nice and the rooms are great. I went to bed early as I'd had such a long travel day, about 13 hours. Then I woke up early the next day and went on my horse beach ride. I was very excited to be near a horse. For me to be around a horse is to be home. I always feel completely myself around them and happy. I rode a half blind stallion Arab Barb named Atlas. He was a very good boy other than the head jerking. The saddle was interesting, a mix between an English and a Western. Great for trail riding other than the fact it wasn't the most comfortable. The ride included me, our guide, a girl from the Netherlands and a guy from Senegal. A very multilingual experience for me. I spoke darija with the guide, English with the girl from the Netherlands and French with the guy from Senegal. Everyone was very nice. We began the ride at a leisurely pace along the beach with some trotting here and there. After about 2.5hours of riding along the beach we went into the "forest" to have our lunch. Basically this was a trail-less meandering through low brush and loose stones and steep sand hills. Quite the experience. We ate a Moroccan picnic lunch of rice with corn and tuna, a salad of tomatoes and cucumber with yellow melon for dessert and water and coke to drink. Good and filling. We relaxed for about an hour before heading back out. We rode a bit further along the beach and then on the way back we had a couple sprints of cantering/galloping. I can't even begin to describe the feeling of riding a horse at a run along the beach, splashing through the surf, feeling the wind rush past you... It's exhilarating. The next 3.5 hours passed all too quickly. It was nice to get out of the direct sunlight. I was so sore after I dismounted but each aching muscle was completely worth it. I've missed being near horses so much. This was my first real ride in 2 years.


Stable


Stable exit


Pretty beach and fellow horses


Me on Alamo



Family of camels


The Arab Barb, Alamo, that I rode


Our lunch



Rocky Beach

The next day I had a delicious lunch of a cheeseburger, chips and chocolate custard cake at a place called La Cantina which is owned by an English lady. I spent the rest of the day relaxing on the beach and reading a book before heading back to my hotel and relaxing by watching a movie, eating a yummy cheese crepe and ice cream washed down with a refreshing coke.

Wednesday I woke up, walked along the beach for a couple hours before showering and eating another cheese crepe for lunch. Had a coke at a beachside cafe before doing a little shopping. For dinner I had wonderful pasta at a place near my hotel. It was penne pasta with fresh tomato/basil sauce and shredded Parmesan on top. The food was amazing and well priced and the staff were very friendly.


Hotel Room


The weather was perfect. A nice 85-90°F during the day with a cool breeze. Such a treat after 112°F dry hot desert weather.

Now I have found my way to Chefchouan and hope to enjoy another day here before visiting friends on my way to Ras Lma.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vacation!

Just a short post to let everyone know I will be going on a nearly 3 week vacation around Morocco starting Saturday (tomorrow!). I'll have my laptop with me and hope to continue updates and photos along the way.

Yay!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wedding Season

Wow it has been a busy week. I had my site visit for a new volunteer on Thursday. One of my program staff came to my site to speak to my women and host family and ok everything for a new volunteer. All went well. I even got to see the new building my women are now renting. Yes! My women have a building now! They managed to find one free to rent and it looks to be in pretty good shape and not too large. They have all of their machinery set up now and have moved everything. They are currently cleaning it up and getting it ready to work in. This is such a relief to me and so great for them. They no longer need to share a building and can work everyday now if they chose to. Much better than the previous once a week, :).


Then that same evening I was invited to Day 3 of a Moroccan wedding. They are generally 4 day affairs here. The 3rd day is the bachelorette/bachelor party. I’m not sure what the men do but what the women do is meet with each other and basically have a long dance party with a very late dinner (around 3am) of couscous. The women just loved me, haha. As many of you know, I used to take belly dance lessons and performed back in Iowa. I just had a blast. I danced so much I got a blister on my bare foot. By then it was also around 2:30am and I ended up falling asleep and sleeping through the dinner. Then meandered my way back home around 4am. The wedding was the next night but I was too tired to do that 2 nights in a row. I also wasn’t feeling the best. I had also went to a wedding the previous Monday. Well, part of one. It was so hot in the house and so many women were wearing perfumes that I got sick and my allergies wiped me out so I had to leave around 2am when they were eating the wedding dinner. I had went over around 9pm and had my hands and feet hennaed. After 5 hours I was very sleepy and had only been invited that night so no time for a preparatory nap. The wedding on Monday was for a neighbor of the host fam’s and held at the host fam’s house. I was sad to miss the wedding part. Both events were held on the roof. The second wedding party I went to was in the next village over (basically the next mosque) and for a sister of one of the women of the coop I work with. I was sad to miss that wedding as well, but at least I got to go to the Bachelorette party. I really do just love to dance.


Then Saturday I had a couple friends from the region over. I met them in Errachidia where we picked up food. Then we spent the night hanging out, watching moves and eating awesome food. I made a buffalo chicken pizza and had ranch dipping sauce and made cheesecake brownies, :).


Such is the glamorous life of me n Morocco. The wedding activities were so much fun. For the one of the coop woman’s sister, my friend Khadija dressed me up in a caftan, the traditional wear you wear to a wedding. Very pretty. I hope to go to another shindig before wedding season is over. Summer here is when the majority of Moroccans get married. On the final day of the wedding, day 4, everyone eats dinner, then dances, then at the end of the night the bride leaves with the groom in a car to the groom’s house. At night you will hear much music and honking and ululating.


And now my exciting news, :). I’m going on vacation! Basically I have a lot of days to use by August 12, so I am taking almost 3 weeks to travel around Morocco. Very excited, :). I don’t take many vacations here, lots of medical trips and work related leave, but not very many vacations. And summer is the time to take them. Been around 110°F in my site, nearly 100°F in my house during the day, a little cooler at night. I hope to update my blog along my journeys. I plan to shoot out to Essaouira, again. Really loved it and hope to ride a horse this time. Then I’ll head up to Tnagier and Chefchouan in the North before hopefully visiting friends near Midelt and in Taza from where I will finish my travels by going to Ras Lma, or Cape de L’eau in French, for about 5 days with many of my business stage mates. Very excited. Ras Lma is near Algeria on the Mediterranean, :). It will be a nice respite from the heat and a chance to relax and visit places I have not seen before.


Only about 16 weeks left…4 short months. I’ve been living here for 2 years now. It’s amazing how normal so many things have become to me now and how I can still be surprised every day by this or that. I love taking a Grand taxi and watching the scenery pass by me and think…I’m living in Morocco. I live in the desert. I haven’t been in the snow in 2 years. A crazy concept for a born Iowan. Moroccan has wormed its way into my heart and I will miss this country despite the frustrations. There has been much to make me smile and laugh as well.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

15dh and Another Haircut Later

As posted the other day I had gotten my hair cut. I was ok with it but not ecstatic. I had wanted something more along the lines as a pixie haircut. So today after returning to Errachidia I decided to print off photos of Victoria Beckham's pixie haircut and go to another hairdresser I knew downtown. So armed with photos this time and on my own I managed to relay what I wanted and now have the cut I had been thinking about, :). Pretty proud of myself. Even made some new friends in the process.




Yesterday I went to a friend's site about 1.5hours outside of Riche. It was so nice to have some fellow volunteer girl time. Sometimes it is difficult to find in a region where one is surrounded by boys. We spent the hottest part of the day staying cool in her house and catching up, then we went to her coop where I met her women and saw what items they made. After that we found our way to the river and hung out by the river dangling our feet in it's cool waters. Then we found our way back to her house where she made a delicious columbianesque grilled chicken salad and watched a hilarious movie, The Hangover. We were definitely both in the mood for comedy. This morning transportation was a bit shwiya (ok, slow, etc.) so we watched another movie in the cool of her house until there was a transit to be taken. A transit is a van basically that they put benches in and pack as many as they can into it. We had it to ourselves which was nice. Then I found my way back to site getting the haircut along the way.

Tomorrow I have a site visit to discuss having another volunteer replace me when I leave. I'm not sure how I feel on that subject yet, so time shall tell. And tonight I am making my yummy cheesecake brownies. Haven't been baking or cooking much due to the heat, but we just had a storm come through that cooled things down a little.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer Style

Ok. Below are the before and after photos involved with my 15dh haircut. From a girl who has one hairdresser until she was 18, then only went to the zwine places since then, it is always quite a concept to allow myself to have my hair cut for 15dh, or in USD, about $1.7o. Yes, I got a $2 haircut. But that's the standard rate in Morocco. Majority do know what they are doing. This haircut...well, it will grow out and it is nice for summer. I wanted short and I got short. The haircut itself is well done and looks great, just very very different for me as I have never had my hair this short before in my life that I can remember. Still wrapping my mind around it... Getting your haircut in Morocco isn't that different from America. They use the same techniques, Morocco just has its own style.

I still remember seeing her basically shave the back of my head...I think the emotion I felt was a mixture of fear and pure liberty. There is something liberating about making such a drastic change. I also had my Moroccan friend go with me and help me with some Moroccan terminology. This is my 4th and final haircut here in Morocco. My hair is now virtually henna free, it will grow back, and as I mentioned before, perfect for summer, :). Require much less shampoo and conditioner and water as well. Which are important factors considering prices and the fact that I generally take bucket baths. Not as bad as you would think, I don't mind them at all.

As for heat, currently the weather is about 104°F, a dry heat, but getting hotter. And the sun is much stronger here than in Iowa. Also, no air conditioning, but I am lucky to have electricity and have a fan. I'm also thankful for the winds that have come through the past 2 days, cooled off the weather enough for me to regain an appetite and workout!

Enjoy the photos!



Before


After


After side shot