Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lost Luggage Rev 1

The air in the hangar was stale and musty. Large metal racks filled the space, and on each shelf sat a bag of some sort, with the paper destination tags sticking out from thousands of handles.

Metal cases, that looked like the luggage common to rock n roll types, filled an entire section near the back. Golf bags and surfboards peeked out from behind a pile of sleeping bags, tents and folded baby strollers.

An entire aisle was filled with soft sided luggage and on the bottom those older bags that forced the owners to sit on top and tie a strap around the bag to keep it shut.

A line of people formed early in the morning – even before daybreak. Some with folding chairs, some sitting or snoozing directly on the blacktop. Many had driven for hours, even overnight, for a chance to bid on the unclaimed luggage.

This was the last stop, before the end of the road, for the well worn sweats of the backpacker heading home after 6 months on the road. The torn and stained tee-shirts and shorts of the free-spirited sailor home from crewing in the Seychelles last summer.

©SharonJCorrigan 2010

The Shirt Rev 2

White bear’s mother was slumped over a tanned deer hide and using a dull pocket knife he had found on the ground outside that tourist souvenir store, to cut the pattern for a shirt for his first day at school. She hoisted herself off the ground with one arm until she could pull her feet into the proper position to stand. It was getting harder to move when she sat for any length of time.

She crossed the wooden floor and gazed out through the doorless entrance to their home. She went into the corner where a straw mattress sat directly on the floor, with pieces sticking through the worn fabric in random patterns.

She lifted up a corner near her corn-filled pillow and pulled out out a framed box with a small latch on the short side at the bottom. She slid it open with the thumb of her left hand while her right hand held it steady so the precious contents wouldn’t fall out, and be lost through a crack in the floor. Returning to her sewing she carefully placed the open box on the floor and eased herself back into position.

She gazed at the beautiful silver turquoise and carnelian buttons – looking for 4 or 5 that were similar in size so that they would look like she had planned to use unique buttons for each buttonhole.

She wondered if she should also use some of the larger buttons, and some leather lacing and beads, to add a traditional design to the back of the shirt. She decided that he was too young to notice, and it would probably be too difficult to finish it in time for his first day.

Do I have enough hide to make a matching pair of moccasins she thought, and decided against it as she saw the pile of athletic shoes and flip flops in a pile on his side of the room.

White bear came through the door timidly- followed by a baby kitten whose coat had seen better days.

©Sharon J Corrigan 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sorting Mail Rev 1

How in the world did I get so fat, he thought as the alarm went off across the room. He rolled off the bed disturbing his cat who had been contentedly snoozing on the pillow next to him.

He waddled into the bathroom, sorry again that he was not paying attention when he rented this apartment and didn’t notice that there was only a bathtub and no shower.

Running late again. Sagging under his weight, the Plexiglas bathtub made a cracking sound as he sat on the edge of the tub. This is going to cost me when I move out. I’ll probably lose my deposit. He looked around for the soap and remembered he had used up the last of it yesterday- and that he had no clean towels. He grabbed a damp musty towel from the corner of the floor and patted the mildew smell all over this body.

My allergies are acting up- I wonder why he thought as he headed back into the bedroom. He slipped into the underwear and shorts he wore yesterday, and pulled on a clean tee shirt from the closet.

I hope Sally made cupcakes. , he mused as he headed for the train. I forgot to make lunch again so I guess that means Doritos and nachos from the 7-11 on the corner. Maybe some of those donuts and a slurpy for breakfast? I am so hungry.

Stepping on the train he noticed that there was nowhere to sit and realized that he was going to have to stand up for the entire 45 minute trip even the aisles were packed. He glanced nervously around him for a hand rail so he wouldn’t bump into the people around him and have to ignore the disgusted looks along with their aggression so early in the day.

At his stop the doors slid open and he let the crowd flow around him onto the platform. Stepping carefully down from the train he found that his left foot landed in a pool of some foul smelling liquid which splashed up onto his shoes and shorts. Thank goodness I didn’t wear socks today.

Wading across Atlantic Avenue towards the post office, he remembered that he hadn’t eaten and reversed direction to try to get something at the mini mart to survive until break time. Glancing at his watch he stopped short and made his way through the employee entrance. His time card slid into the slot and heard the click as it engaged.

©SharonJCorrigan 2010

The Volunteer Rev 1

Adam was on disability so he couldn’t work a normal job, but he hated sitting at home all day watching TV or playing games. Two years ago he found out about a program that offered volunteer opportunities at local non-profits.

When he was a little boy, before his parents were killed in the crash that changed his life forever, he lived on a farm in the backcountry with horses, cows, and chickens, as well as a motley crew of rescued dogs and cats that his mom seemed to attract. Adam just turned 18 and was living in a group home with his friends.

He pulled on his shorts and a clean tee shirt and put on his “dog walking” shoes before grabbing an apple to eat on the bus on his way to the animal shelter in a neighboring town.

Good Morning Buddy the bus driver said as he stepped up to the pass reader. My name is not Buddy, it’s Adam. They both laughed and he continued on to his seat. He had been riding this bus for years, and they had the same conversation every time, like they both were memorizing a script for a play. Regular passengers knew where he sat, and always left his seat vacant for his arrival. He sat down a crossed his leg and as was his habit, he then removed his right shoe, took off his sock, then his left shoe and sock.

He then continued by putting the sock that was on his left foot onto his right, and then put his shoes back on the correct feet, but in the reverse order from the way he had taken them off. He pulled his backpack up from the floor, unzipped the top pocket and grabbed his breakfast apple. He had a green one today. He liked fruit because it came in many colors. Most vegetables were green so he decided that even though it was an apple, he would call it a vegetable today if anyone asked.

The bus reached the transit station and he dashed up the stairs and jumped onto the eastbound trolley. The shelter was two blocks from the second stop. This station was number zero, so he had number one still to sit through, and then he must get off at number two. The trolley stopped at number two near the university, and he hurried down the stairs to the street. Hi Adam, the postman said as he continued on his route. Hi George, how’s biz? George laughed and waved at Adam, with a hand full of envelopes secured by a rubber band. The glass front doors of the shelter opened in front of him, and he saw Bobby, the guard who patrolled the lobby.

He used to wonder why there was a guard at an animal shelter, but he now understood that there were bad animal people and good animal people, and sometimes the bad ones pretended to be good ones and followed the rules, like getting shots and licensing, but then made the dogs do bad things that could kill them or make them sick, just so the bad people could make money.

He lived in a border town, and he knew that lots of bad people buy dogs and make them get into fights for money, or that they come looking for hoity toity dogs that live in that gated community so they could put them in small cages with lots of other dogs and make them breed puppies that end up getting in fights or being sick.

He was especially proud to be taking care of these broken animals and helping them until their new parents came to get them. He had seen the rich people with the peace sign cars called merdes or something like that come to the shelter asking for dogs by name, like cockapoo, and labradoodle and thought they were not very smart because the dogs that stayed here, were lost and didn’t have real names, except the temporary ones the shelter employees gave them.

He wished there was a children’s shelter so that when little kids like he was got lost or their families died or went away, they could go to a nice place like this with soft beds and clean rooms, and someone to feed them and hug them and make them feel safe. Adam hadn’t felt really safe for years.

He had been moved from group home to group home every few months because sometimes the teachers who lived there didn’t act right and when he tells his social worker they get rid of the teacher, and make all the boys move to different homes. They can’t even talk or play games with each other again, or go to the movies when that happens. They all get locked up and are told to behave, even though they didn’t do anything wrong.

We rescued a little pony named Pancho yesterday, his friend Angela tells him as he heads for the cage area. You have to go see him, he is so cute, and he will let you ride him too. . Where is he at? Adam asked, in cage 24 ? and she said yes.The inside doors leading to the animal holding cages slid open and he walked out into the sunlight, still holding his half eaten green apple. .

©Sharon J Corrigan 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Small Room Rev 1

The smell of bleach the strong antiseptic chemical smell assaults me as I enter the storeroom. Old dirty mops crusted with sand and dog hair line the walls. A whisk broom- with missing teeth and an old plastic dustpan sit on a shelf blanketed by the dust of disuse. A few rusty paint cans are stacked up near the door- the lids in various stages of engagement. The utility sink reeks of the men’s room on the other side of the wall, the pipes hanging on to the memories of earlier visitors.

A mouse runs in the door behind me and disappears into its shelter hidden behind the trash in the corner. A spider web surprises me as I head towards a small table at the back, my oasis during a hectic day. I sit back in the old office chair which scoots backwards as I touch it, just an inch or two, but enough to remind me that it is on wheels and I need to be careful and remain aware when embraced by the rickety arms. A barren lightbulb hangs from the vaulted ceiling but there is enough soft light from the skylight to comfort me.

I close my eyes and clear my head, trying hard to shut out the sounds from the 2nd floor and the traffic from the street below. I wonder if my dogs peed on the wood floors while I was at work today. What do I want to eat for dinner? Did I bring chap stick with me- my lips are dry and I can’t relax.

Break time is never long enough.

©2009 Sharon J Corrigan

Out of Cash Out of Town Rev 1

This was the last bank where he had an account. His credit cards were maxed out, and his mortgage company had frozen his line of credit. His only assets were in a jar on his dresser- change and tips from his last job- probably $100 at most.

 He turned his back on the ATM which had refused his advances. He focused on going somewhere, anywhere where he might find a solution to his current dilemma.

A truck screeched to a halt barely missing him. The driver, an older man with 40 years experience slumped over the steering wheel.

A small boy on the opposite side of the street ran up to the truck door and attempted to open it but couldn’t reach the handle. He dropped back to the ground and tried to get the attention of the young guy who had just left the ATM across the street. The guy ignored him and continued walking as if he hadn’t heard the boy's cry for help.

A teenage girl came jogging up the street, running in place and distracted by the music on her iPod, waiting for the signal to turn green. The boy jumped up and down waving his arms and trying to get her attention. The man in the truck was very still.

From the corner the girl became vaguely aware of the commotion the young boy was making but then was distracted by the lecture she was listening to and withdrew into an audio world,  starting to move across the street only as the light turned green.

The boy became very agitated and decided to try a risky move, one that his mother would most likely beat him for when he returned home, and the story of the day was in the news.

He didn’t care at this point and darted out in front of oncoming traffic as several cars and another large truck slammed on their brakes and stopped just short of where he stood with his arms outstretched and a desperate look in his eyes.

A guy in his 30s just got off work and was the 2nd car behind the stalled truck. He worked retail and was looking forward to a big night on the town with his girlfriend to celebrate their one month anniversary. He had just got his license back after losing it for more than a year for reckless driving,

©2010 Sharon J Corrigan

Friday, April 23, 2010

A walk in the High Atlas Rev 2

The trees created a dense cover overhead and the clay surface on either side of the pathway was lined with scrubby bushes and large rocks. I was at the bottom of a steep hillside just past the simple clay open fronted structures that housed the tourist shops of the village. Two young men approached from the pathway ahead calling out “Bonjourno, Buenos Dias, and Hello! I’d guess they were maybe in their 20s, with gorgeous skin and eyes, dressed in traditional long Berber robes.I didn’t pay much attention to men’s footwear at all during this visit other than to note the snake charmers sitting around in stocking feet, and it seemed like all the the other local men were wearing bedroom slippers.

“Do you need a guide to the kasbah, to the castle at the top of the hill? There is an Englishman, you can have tea. Only 100 dirham. “

“Where do you come from?” the younger one said. The second boy got ready to repeat the question over, if necessary, in any number of familiar visitor tongues. They had it down. “No thank you” I said. “I have no money. I will find my own way”. Inshallah, they responded. Ok. It’s not about the money. It’s about helping. Inshallah. They both took a slow breath, paused for a moment and continued “Maybe you have Euros? Or American dollars?”

“No, sorry, no money. I will find my own way.” They smiled happily at me, and continued on their way down the valley. I felt joyful, peaceful. Our conversation was not at all intimidating. This is how they live, there are no factories, there are only cooperative shops selling Berber wares, small restaurants and guest houses, and trail guides. Their livelihood depends on their ability to motivate people into their shop, into their café, to hire them as guides. I wonder how long the village has been here? I did look it up and found that this is the starting point for serious trekking in the High Atlas, and the villagers are used to strangers appearing in their midst year round. They seemed to be content in this beautiful place, even without much money.

I followed the dirt track zig zagging up the valley, pretty steep in some places, steps made out of oversize blocks of cut stones approximately 12 to 15” high. Talk about stair climbing machines, at least they are spring loaded and not out in the wind, and weather, and sitting on a dirt path. I was lucky that today the weather was perfect, warm enough to go without a jacket, but cool under the trees. It was still early enough in the day that the ground was moist under the trees.

I was stopping every few dozen feet to catch my breath and to slow down my heart rate. The frequent pauses also gave me time to look up and around. I am always very careful to watch where I am walking so that if my bad ankle gives, I don’t end up on my face, or with a sprained ankle or broken leg.

It is Spring and my allergies are kicking in, so my story of this day does not include any sort of scent memory.. My eyes are a little itchey, my lips are chapped, and I have a runny nose, but it is not uncomfortable, a result of the wild flowers and breathing through my mouth. The process of seasoning the human body is not pretty, but it is tolerable, especially when you are on your own, or not standing in front of a mirror.

The view of several villages built into the crevice running up the side of the ridge to the north is breathtaking. I don’t see any roads at all, so everyone must walk up and down to get supplies and food. Locals and tourists passed me on the path smiling, women young and old in head scarves and traditional clothing making their way home. Men in robes with long pointed beards carried tree branches to guide the donkeys and goats who were making their own pathway to the base of the steep hill ahead of us. Tourists with spring loaded hiking sticks and trekking shoes, cameras and water bottles attached to their waist or day pack with karinbiner clips. There were no road signs, no arrows, only a trail that quickly disappeared around the sides of what appeared to be a walled area of the hillside a couple of stories high. Is this the castle I wondered?.

I followed the narrow path around the hill, until it led me into a home built into the side of the hill, just a few steps and a door. No windows, or at least none I noticed. I didn’t want to disturb anyone who might be inside to ask directions so I backtracked until the track widened and a cement irrigation channel (of sorts) ran parallel to the side of the path at hip level. Not being an engineer, I was impressed that the water seemed to be running uphill, but perhaps I was hallucinating from the altitude. I remind you here that I am not a hiker, instead a person living a more sedentary lifestyle with a little dog walking and a few blocks to and from work as my normal exercise routine.

I must have taken a slightly different path, because now there were two little girls, aged 5 or 6 I’d guess, giggling and splashing each other with water from the irrigation ditch, and as I passed, one of them splashed water in the direction of my face, I laughed and put my hand in the trench, the water almost icy in the warm air. I splashed my own face, which by now was bright red from the exertion of climbing, and as I later found out, a little bloody from a scratch on my hand that bled quite a bit. t must have been quite a sight after brushing the sweat from my brow with my bloody hand.

I looked up, and both the girls were staring right at me, waiting for me to move on, or who knows what. I swung my right hand down into the channel and scooped up a handful of the cold water and aimed it directly at them, and with the three of us laughing with delight, for the next 5 minutes we had a water splashing contest on a tiny pathway in the Berber village of Imlil, in the beautiful high Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

Playing over, I smiled and waved as I continued on my vertical hike, climbing a series of narrow stone steps between two more windowless homes built into the steep hillside.

I came to another dead end, and a woman in a head scarf poked her head out of her doorway and pointed the way around the left of the rooftop to the mountain path barely visible above me. What was I thinking wearing these shoes today? I pondered, as my feet slid sideways I grabbed rocks to keep me on the narrow path and to prevent a fall onto a rooftops below me.

Up here the way was less defined than lower down the mountain. The path seemed to disappear, and reappear as I climbed higher and higher. I was breathing heavily from the altitude and exertion, and had to keep switching my bag from shoulder to shoulder to maintain my balance.I finally decided I’d climbed high enough, and given it the effort it deserved. I walked around a corner of the hillside, facing away from the village, I took a seat on a large flat rock overlooking the valley to the south. I reached down into my handbag and took out the flipcam. Let’s pretend I’m a travel journalist and do a little video right now with my observations.

©2010 Sharon J Corrigan All rights reserved

Thursday, April 15, 2010

marrakech to barcelona

4/15the beginning of the end

I wake up around 5am because I have packed my watch with the jewelry so it is at the bottom of the bag and will require repacking. I lay there trying to somehow psychically predict the current time, in a room that is pitch black with only the sounds of a few birds chirping. I have to go to the loo, so I get up and take care of business. Then I decide I better figure out what time it is or I will lie here awake when I could be sleeping. I am afraid that the riad owners will sleep in. Obviously I have a control issue, being without an alarm clock is fine until it’s time to catch planes.

Once I locate the watch, and plug in the computer to charge for the journey, it is about 5:30 so I lie down again for a few minutes until I hear the knock knock on my door. Funny, Moroccans kiss 3 times, and Italians twice in greeting. French I think twice also. Wonder why. I jump into the shower, or rather hobble into the shower area, and clean myself for the day ahead. I take one last look around, and at the clothes I am leaving behind, and head downstairs into the interior patio for my petit dejeuner. There are 3 little cakes, some sort of chocolate bread, some OJ, coffee, butter, jam, yogurt and the fromage that I thought was yogurt and have been eating since I arrived.

Before entering the room I gently set down my large daypack by the front door, as the newlyweds are housed in a room down here and I don’t want to disturb them. There are long stemmed roses on all the tables. Roses are blooming everywhere here, perfect climate for them. I finish up and see Roselyne heading down from their room on the top floor, and I get up and head towards the door. She makes some gestures to make sure I had enough to eat, and I nod oui!

We throw the backpack into the back, and today I have my purse, computer and dirty clothes inside the Rancho La Puerta tote I brought along for shopping. I hope they will allow this all as hand luggage. We get to the airport around 7:10, for a 9:10 flight to Barcelona via Royal Air Maroc operated by Atlas Blue. I look at the departures board and note that check in is at queues 12 and 13, but when I look it is a flight to Paris Orly. I figure it is too early so I go and join two other girls on a metal rail around the departures board, near the trolleys. They are young and have small butts; I have to lean into the rail to keep from sliding to the floor. Charming.

I watch the line go down, and then check again and decide to go over to the line 12-13 and hover around the area. I note that many people are filling out customs forms and other forms, and all I have is my passport and the paper from the travel agent about my flights. Because it is a funny fare, I have to check in and can’t confirm on line, and this makes me nervous. I stand there for a few minutes and then beginning chatting with a cute young man from San Sebastian (is that Spain?) who has been traveling in south of Morocco with 2 friends. I tell him about Jamila and the caravan of books, and he asks me to write down her name because he and his friends are talking about what they can do for the children of Morocco. He said they ask for money, and when you say no, they ask for pens and paper. Education is their only hope for a future.

He is very thoughtful (and cute) (and youngish- probably late 30ish ) and has a bag full of dried fruit and spices. I tell him I bought saffron powder and he said he did too. I told him I wanted the flower but it was too dear. He agreed that he wanted the flower also but couldn’t afford it. We talked about the spices exploding in our luggage and having saffron or some other spice scented clothing for years to come. He triple bags it, I told him about the cool bags I got at REI. Finally we notice that we are the only two in line 13 so he goes to ask where to go, and we join a massage therapist from Dallas we met a few minutes ago in line 12. When we get to the front he lets me go first, and I get my boarding pass and go to exchange the dirham since if I don’t do it now, it’s mine forever since no one else will change it. I gave Roselyne all my change for the airport parking charge, and so I’m 20 dirham short of 40 for my Euros. Oh well, it’s enough for a cab to Hotel Colon in Barcelona, and then I’ll worry about spending money for dinner tonight, and the cab tomorrow.

I see cute San Sebastian boy get on the plane, and he waves as he goes to his seat. Dallas lady is sitting behind me. She came to Marrakech on her own and is a tiny girl, she stayed right in the medina and got hassled too much by the local vendors so she is leaving early. Barcelona then Paris. She has Rick Steve’s book and is staying on Las Ramblas. I tell her she will love Barcelona.

It is a two hour flight and they give us a yogurt (I can’t face another one right now) a croissant (stale), and a baguette (stale) some butter and jam. I choke down both the croissant and the baguette, and take the first glass of tea offered, then doze during the rest of the flight. I keep waiting for them to ask us to fill out papers for entry into Spain but it never happens.

We arrive in Barcelona, and after maybe 20 minutes in passport control, I am in the main terminal. I decide to ask if anyone at airport will cash traveler’s checks, and no luck. Again, don’t ever waste your money buying travelers checks from American Express. It is a pain in the @@@#. I decide to take another $150 Euros out of my checking account to be sure I can eat, and get back to the airport in the morning. I walk out to the taxi rank and head for the city.

This driver is great and takes the small alleys and gets me within a ¼ block of the hotel, with is on the plaza facing the cathedral. It is a very old historic hotel with lots of famous guests. The staff is odd and sort of helpful sort of not. The décor is very old school. The fare is 23 Euros plus change so I give him 25. I go into the hotel, and they are expecting me, and yes, my big bag is still here. I ask where there is a bank, they say next door but it closes at 230 or 3 and it is 220 so I scoot out the door and into the front of the bank, where a very tall guy sends me back out the door, and in the other door for the money exchange area of the bank. Whew. Cleared closing by 10 minutes. Friday night, and I’m out of here before they open tomorrow.

Back to Hotel Colon and up to the room. I unpack everything and make sure I do have all the photos I thought I’d lost because I forgot about the thumb drive. Traveler’s amnesia. Kind of like currency conversion when you visit too many places, and time changes. I am so glad I brought the Ethernet cable, because when I couldn’t get wi-fi that worked (at least outside the boat).

I tried to confirm my flight even though I know I can’t because it is that weird Iberia cheap fare that uses several partner carriers and you have to check in. I turn on the TV, (the second time during vacation, the first time last night, which was all in Arabic, but was comforting somehow as I packed) , and CNN is doing nonstop coverage on how the volcano in Iceland has shut down air traffic from Europe. Great. I watch for an hour or so, and hope that I get out of here tomorrow. I have a feeling I will at least make it to Madrid, and may get stuck there or in Chicago, but I’ll be ready to go in the morning.

While I’m sorting through the stuff, I order spaghetti bolognaise from room service, because I desperately needed to eat and believe it or not I loved it. Probably would have hated it in a restaurant, but I was so hungry and didn’t want to go back down stairs or out to find food, so it was perfect.

I finally decided that it would be impossible even if I could check in because I don’t carry a portable printer for the boarding pass. I know there is a restaurant downstairs so I throw on some shoes and a brown sweatshirt (charming, really) and head down to reception to see if they will print my boarding pass. Of course not, they are sending people up the street to some internet, Kinko’s kind of place. I tell him I have a computer but not a printer, and he gives me the email of reception so if I am successful I can email top reception and they will print it out. I also ask for a 6am wake up call. I hope they remember. I remember some of the ladies saying they never got calls when we were here before but the staff insisted they did it.

I asked about the restaurant and it opens in 10 minutes so I sit down in the lobby with a very motley crew of people. An old man who looks like he is going to throw up any second. A pretty girl who eventually reveals herself to be French during a Skype conversation on her Mac, a couple of guys who are sitting on top of each other, the odd touristy couples who hover insecurely around the lobby, and the girl waiting for someone, walking around and around.

The restaurant opens and I go in, the only person in Barcelona eating at 7:00pm but I don’t have the strength to go outside in search of a meal. The dining room is very elegant and I order seafood paella and a glass of red wine. They bring me a glass of cava and some bread sticks, (on the house) then bread, and my wine and a bottle of water (ca-ching, ca-ching). Then the grand piano goes off, and I am being serenaded by a guy playing very melodramatic romantic classics, as sit in this old hotel, in the middle of Barcelona at sunset, looking through the embroidered mesh curtains and people strolling the plaza in front of the cathedral, and a young couple making out on the wall in front of the hotel. Ladies with dogs, tourists taking pix of each others, a herd of “tour Barcelona by bike” tourists ride by following their leader. A candle is lit on my table, I eat my paella that is served with some sort of Cray fish that is staring at me (it was good but not oh my god great), drink the cava, drink the little bottle of Spanish wine (3 glasses) and finish off the expensive water, - give a $5 euro tip to the waiter and the piano guy, and head back to the room.

I’ve got some sort of bug bites on my arm and my chest, and I’m a little itchy. My henna tattoo is in full bloom on the palm of my left hand. I’ve got a nasty blister on my right foot from two days ago when I forgot to wear socks on my long day in the medina walking the city walls. I’ m a bit of a mess. I decide to take a bath.

I never take a bath. I’m too tall to get under the water and it pisses me off. But I decide with the bug bites, the blisters, and my week in Morocco in the dust and sweaty climate I could use it, so I fill the tub up with really hot water, then have to cool it down because I’m a baby and it’s too hot, and I get in and it is really comforting. CNN still isn’t clear about Spain and flights out, I let my hair air dry (I’ve been without makeup for the last week, and it’s OK, people aren’t turning away in disgust, and believe it or not I’ve got the British political debates on with the top three candidates for prime minister I think. The audience is half asleep. It’s very boring but the accent is a nice accompaniment to my writing. I look like a whale. I don’t care. I’m tired. I want to go home. Look at that henna tattoo. All for now.

Final night in Morocco heading for barcelona

4 14 10 Marrakech

I slept in this morning a little later, most of my clothes are disgusting now. Tonite I figure out what to throw away and what to keep. I go up to breakfast and meet Jamila’s French friend who is a travel agent in Belgium Francesca, and who wil accompany Jamila on her caravan du livre on the 21st. Francesca speaks English pretty good. She helps me communicate with Roselyne about getting to the airport in the morning. They will knock to wake me up at 6:30 and we leave for the airport at 7. My flight is at 9am to Barcelona. Francesca tells me that we (the Italians, the proprietors of the riad, and me will go to Jamila’s mothers home for dinner tonite at half past six. The Italians will bring gifts of sweets, the riad people flowers, and I will bring good cream for her mothers face and hands made from arjan oil. I assume I can find this in a pharmacie which are very easy to find, but close down mid day. I carry the item Malika gave me upstairs to see if Francesca knows what it is. She does not, she suggests I bring it with me tonite so Jamila or perhaps her mother can identify. I make one more trip upstairs to the terrace interrupting everyone to get a bottle of water before I leave for the medina.

I walk about 8 blocks then catch a cab to the djemina al fna. The price ranges from 30 to 50 dirhams one way. I am now pretty comfortable with the souks after being a bit overwhelmed yesterday, and I look I the lonely planet guide for the cooperatives centre du artisanal and although people describe where it is I never find it all day.

On my way, I let two women stop me in the middle of the square for a henna tattoo. They have a book of designs, but she starts before I have a chance to look at the book or negotiate the price. She continues with my left hand including my palm. She asks for 200 dirham and I give it to her without arguing or negotiating so then she does my left ankle for free (ha ha). Both she and the other lady are wearing burkas so I only see their eyes but they speak pretty good English and we chat on stools under the umbrella in the center of the main square.

They ask me if I want to take picture with the snake charmer and I tell them après the souks. After the shopping. When we are discussing this I brush my pants with the henna so they are probably history now, but I can buy more when I get home. Everybody thinks I am Australian here. Today I wear sandals displaying my pedicure from 3 weeks ago (picture that) but since its so hot and humid and I wear no makeup – obvious in my photos, notice the tiny eyes, old lady!

I then head in the direction of where I think the artists cooperative is but then change my mind and I decide to ride in the horse carriage today, and they want 300 dirham for one hour, but I finally negotiate 200 dirhams for 45 minutes with one guy and I climb in the carriage and off we go, around the medina, in and out of the walls, through the narrow alleyways and royal gardens. The guide shows me two storks atop the old city walls. The people mingle with the tourists and the markets sell everything from tourist items to meat , fruit, spices, etc. I also buy a gram of saffron powder for 100 dirham. The man tells me the saffron flower pistils are 1000 dirham a gram and I decide the powder is good enough. Hopefully it won’t explode in my luggage.

I get out of the horse carriage and head for the direction I think it is the artists coop again but first go into one center where they sell silver items upstairs and decorative lamps downstairs. A young guy takes me into his shop, they get me a stool and send out for tea while we talk about where I am from and what I do at work, obviously in very general terms since I don’t speak berber Arabic French or Spanish and they speak only a little English. The tea arrives, with 5 kinds of mint and they go through the pouring ceremony while I look at bracelets, necklaces and hands of Fatima wall items and necklaces. They continue to bring me different kinds, I like the berber silver bracelets the best. Berbers are from the mountains, the tourigs from the desert/the sahara!

I am there for about 45 minutes , we negotiate a price for 8 berber bracelets, 3 tourig (sp) bracelets – all silver, a necklace of silver with a dark stone, and some hands of Fatima- one for a gift and one old one and then two others to give as gifts. They wrap my head in a scarf and we take pictures, I have more tea, and I check my money and need to go to ATM because I didn’t have enough cash $1350 dirham for all the jewelry- I think it is good price maybe $150 US all together. I have $1000 dirham so I go to ATM and take out I think $4000 dirham which I think is around $500 uS and give him the $350 dirham I am short. I then find another shop and buy some babouch- one for in the house and one for walking on the street. They are Moroccan slippers the inside ones with rhinestones, the outside ones pointy toes red and beige, hard to describe, will take a photo. Then they ask if I want a tourig outfit, and I end up buying a thing you tie around you like a strapless top, and you grab material between your legs, and put your arms into the short sleeves, and tie with a wide embellished belt. They do the scarf thing here too, and take my photo several times including a couple with my face covered. They insist, just like the last shopkeepers that I must be berber because I am such a good negotiator. I am letting them win, and I am happy with the prices I paid (even though I really am not focusing on how much I have, only if I have enough to pay Jamila and to get a cab to the hotel from the Barcelona airport.

I go to the grande terrace balcony restaurant that overlooks the square, and order couscous au viande (with meat) and a coke. This time the coke is in a larger bottle and the straw stays put. I am sitting at the edge and have a great view of the action in the square. There are some dancers with hats that have a tassel that they swing around as they play percussion instruments. Tourists are joining in (for a price and a picture) as member of the band. The snake charmers are charming a man and woman, and they are videotaping and photographing, and I watch as they try to get more money out of the couple. I try to find out how much to tip them for this, because I know I read it, but can’t find it in the book right now so I decide to just fake it. Since I didn’t go to the square at night to see that craziness, I have to do the snake thing, right! I finish my lunch, visit the water closet , and head down the stairs. I am to buy some bon crème pour les mains for Jamila’s mother as a gift for hosting us for dinner tonite. I know where there are several pharmacies but they are all closed because it is the time they close everyday between I think 1230 and 3. I get a taxi to agree to 50 dirham back to the riad, but he doesn’t know where he is going and tells me it will be $100 dirham instead when I say no at the first paitisserie aymain, I say, I issim. Aymain. Oooohhhh Aymain in Issim. When he drops me off I just give him the $100 dirham, its only around 12 or 13 bucks . I then walk to the two pharmacies I have seen near the riad, but both are closed so I return to the riad . it is now beginning to rain, giant drops, but not too hard. I go back to the riad and upstairs and I ask Roselyne about the bon crème pour le mains and she says to get the argan based crème that is sold in the artisanal coop near the medina. Where I just got back from. Which is another $100 round trip unless I get a bad driver again. I go downstairs, organize my money and walk out the door.

It is about 330 and we leave for dinner at 630 approximately. I catch a cab right away and he is very funny but doesn’t understand before the medina, and we finally settle on approachement the medina. He pulls up to this place that sort of looks like the thing I have written down (but it is the back entrance) but I know I am close to the medina. Roselyne has given me the box for the crème and told me to look for the shop that sells soap and scents. I head to the right, go down the stairs, and one guy sends me upstairs to the right all the way to the end. Oh, I forgot to say that when I got in the taxi, another young guy ½ block away also got in, and after he left, the taxi driver and I had a great time, he started by singing Welcome to the Hotel California, and continued on with how many roads must a man walk down…..bob Dylan! So we sang our way to the hand cream place. He is 50 years old and studied English for 3 courses, and yes, he likes obama. The driver knows now I go to buy the crème for Jamila’s mother as a gift for this evening, so he tells me, OK I wait for you, be fast. I find the shop, I buy the cream and I come out and he takes me back to the street near the riad. I give him 120 dirham and he is very happy with the tip and offers to take me anywhere I need to go tonite, because he knows I leave in the morning. He is happy, I am happy and I still have 1-1/2 hours till we leave for dinner.

I ring the buzzer, they let me in, and I go upstairs, get my camera and video and my computer and attempt to go on the terrace, but it has rained pretty hard here while I was gone so everyone is down in the lounge room. I go in, and there is some sort of big meeting going on with Francesca , the Italians and a girl I don’t know. Everyone looks very serious. I sit at the other end of the road and download all my photos and videos to the computer. When the meeting breaks up, everyone says hello, and then Jamila arrives. Francesca and Jamila decide I should go with them right now to her mothers, and I can change into my jellaba at her mothers home, after I help with dinner. I run upstairs, get the hand crème, get the money for Jamila , grab my jellaba and run out the front door where they are waiting for me. Jamila drops us off at her mothers, a then goes off to her office.

We are greeted at the front door by Jamila’s mother and the lady who has been cleaning the house and cooking for us tonite. They have made many chickens. We sit in the kitchen and I watch Francesca cut up vegetables for the salad, and I help Jamila’s mother bring large platters downstairs from the 2nd floor. I go wash my hands because they haven’t been washed since the WC after lunch, and I am now in the kitchen of the home where food is being prepared. Francesca has made ice cream for a dinner she is cooking for the family tomorrow. She went on a caravan before with Jamila and has become part of her family since she retired and moved to Italy. She is very fun, and is a new friend. She has two dogs,just like me. We go into the main lounge room which is wall to wall lounges like Malikas house, but much nicer and bigger. Francesca tells me about many customs. You can tell how many courses are to be served in Morocco by the number of plastic tablecloths on the table. That way you don’t each too much of the first course if there are 10 to come for example. They bring incense into the house in a large brazier to clear the air of the cooking smells. I tell Francesca in America we like the cooking smells. Then we all move into the main entry area and sit and talk, sometimes Francesca and I, sometimes the 3 of them in Arabic or French. Jamila’s mother is very nice and is making sure I am taken care of. I go to change into my jellaba and everyone comments how nice it is, hand sewn, and good fabric and how it looks so elegant on me because I am tall. I am so sweaty from the day, and I hope I don’t ruin it by spilling something on it. Everyone comments on my t strap sandals (9 west) and loves them. They say they would come to America to buy them. A few minutes later Jamila’s father walks in, shakes my hand and then he disappears for the evening. Then the Italians come in with Jamila and Roselyne and we all go into the main room, removing our shoes before we go on the carpet. We are all poured water, and begin with the salad. Oh, I made the dressing with vinegar and oil and about ½ of 1/8 tsp Dijon that was in the fridge. Francesca said she always buys good mustard and puts it in the fridge, and everytime she returns it is gone or almost gone. No one complained about the dressing anyway. (or not to my face).

After we have each taken our salad, a large baking dish comes with some sort of tiny meatballs/spicy , and rice, with hard boiled eggs on the top . It is really good and I have 3 servings and some bread as I finish the first course. Then they bring out a giant platter with 8 or 9 chickens on it with preserved lemons and olives and who knows what. They also served extra juice, and had lots of bread to soak it up. We all just pulled it off the bone from the platter and scraped up the spicy stuff from the top of the roasted chickens , it was really delicious and messy. After that course, we had tea, and the same ceremony with pouring from a height by Jamila’s mother, and the fruit bowl. The sweetest strawberries, perfectly ripe bananas, the sweetest oranges. Oops, I also forgot Jamila’s sister came home before we ate and she is a part of this large group at dinner. She brought a really beautiful cake home with her. Everyone gets more tea, and cake. I keep smiling at Jamila’s mother and the helping lady, thumbs up and rubbing my stomach to show how nice this is. I take many pictures but try not to be too obnoxious. I sit and listen to everyone speaking Italian, French and Arabic, and can follow some of the conversation, and every once in a while someone will translate for me. The evening is almost over, and the young couple run outside for a smoke, while we are are giving our kiss kiss, kiss goodbye to Jamila’s mother and sister and the helper lady, and kiss kiss to the Italians, we are all exchanging emails, since I leave early in the morning, and we head back to the riad. I make Jamila come inside for a moment since I have no photographs of her during my visit, so we have Mino take a couple of us, and then Jamila leaves and Francesca comes to show me pix of her dogs, and I show her videos of my babies. We say goodnight and I begin packing. I am throwing out some things, but got most of it in the bag and the rancho la puerta tote I brought. I am going to have to repack everything in Barcelona and decide what goes in luggage compartment and what stays with me, and what gets thrown away.

It is hard to believe how fast time has gone. Just today I am feeling very comfortable in Marrakesh, and now could feel comfortable going to the medina in early evening on my own, but that will have to wait for my next visit. I hope to get some support for Jamila’s caravan from my friends at home, so that she can continue to take books to the children in the villages. A little money goes a long way here in Morocco. Maybe I’ll write to Richard Branson and see if he will contribute to her cause. Who knows? All he can do is ignore it or give to Jamila. Well, I am going to sleep now. I have no idea what time it is because I have packed my watch and I am not going to unpack just for that. As long as I get to the airport on time tomorrow, I don’t need my watch until after I get to the hotel anyway.

Heading to barcelona for one last night..

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

last nite travelers checks and the medina

4/12 where I left off- After a little while I made my way back down using a different route, and my instinct that I could just head downhill and hit the village was right on, I followed a different path that is used more by the locals then the tourists and it was much easier. Kids were getting out of school; I saw lots of them in front of me with backpacks, doing normal kid things.

I saw the guy again that told me to come back after the mountain. I told him I had only 50 dirham (about $8 US) but he sold me a pretty great necklace for that – saying it was good challah (sp) for his store. He told me there was a Californian named Alex from the Peace Corps working in the village near the top of the mountain on irrigation. Helping the local people.

I left him and went into another shop also telling him I had nothing but traveler’s checks. He decided that was good enough with my passport number and a business card, and so I spent $150 US in this little shop and got 2 necklaces silver and stones and 4 pairs of earrings. All in all I left Imlil with 2 bracelets, 3 necklaces and 4 earrings. I walked back down to café soleil, explaining to every shopkeeper I have no cash, they all know the driver, said he will give me money and I can pay him back in Marrakech. I decide that this happened for a reason and I didn’t need any more stuff, I had given the village my injection of cash for the day. I felt good about the people, the place and what I spent so no worries.

I called Redemon on my cell and in a few minutes he drove up. On the way down the mountain we saw camels by the stream, but I think they were really for tourist rides. They are the first camels I have seen in Marrakech. Mostly horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, horse drawn carts and carriages, little taxis, big taxis, and motorbikes. Motorbikes everywhere. Lots of bicycles too. Surprising more people don’t get killed.

Traffic here is crazy. But in the heavy traffic areas there are guys you pay to park your car to run to the bank, and you double park and give them your keys, and when you return you tip them. Great plan I’ve not seen elsewhere. So I remind my driver that I have to cash travelers checks (American Express) and we go to two banks, I stand in the queue only to find they won’t touch Amex traveler’s checks. I tell him to drive me back to riad. The riad proprietors Roselyne and Jacky have me talk to some guy on Skype about what I am trying to do and he tells Roselyne to take me to her bank which is a French bank. We go there, and no- they won’t touch them either. It is around 4pm and I have a total of about $10 US to my name for the next few days, including dinners. I still owe Jamila for my embroidered linen jellaba and matching brown linen pants of $1300 dirham (divide by 8 for us dollars) , plus paying for water and transport to and from airport at riad, and the bank trip, and I’d like to give Jamila something for all the coordination and effort she made on my behalf, but no cash.

So back to the riad, up on the terrace to write and my new Stuttgart friends come upstairs. I find out he is a musician (blues and jazz/ guitar) classically trained, teaching now, and she is a goldsmith making jewelry. We lay around the terrace chatting, the Italians come home and then depart for dinner, and the Stuttgart couple invite me to join them for a snack at our same little local café. I have just about enough for dinner, so I go with them and have OJ, a chicken brochette, rice, pasta and some French fries. The fries were really good. These two have been married many years, and they talked about each of them having a passion, and allowing each other separate passions. They bought two metal lamps for their terrace at home. I told them about Jamila and gave them her name to Google. We had a nice dinner, then time for bed. Somehow I’ve managed to lose the second camera battery, but hopefully one with the charger will be enough for the rest of the trip. It is really easy to lose little things like that when you are traveling. Sometimes they reappear also in the place you have already checked 30 times. Oh well. We walk back to the riad, and say goodbye. They leave early in the morning on a bus to Agadir for 4 hours and then fly home. He said they will be home by this time tomorrow. We exchange emails and she will write to me.

4/13/10 I woke up at 615 this morning probably when my new friends were having petit dejeuner before they leave for the bus station. I continue to lie in bed until 7:45 when I decide I have to get up and take care of the money situation.

I meet up with the young Italian couple at breakfast, and then the other 3 join us- so now I know two names Mino, and the neighbor lady is Daniela, and I finish and go to hookup to the wifi in the hallway outside the office to move some money from my savings to checking just in case no one will cash the American express travelers check today. I go back and forth about how many to cash, because I will have to convert any money I have left at the airport because you can’t take the dirhams out of the country. I think I chose $600 US dollars.

I went back up to the terrace to get a large bottle of water for my trek today, and headed out of the riad about 9:30am I think. I walked about 10 blocks and caught a cab to café negotione which is near the branch of credit maroc who told us yesterday they would cash the check. There was already a woman in a head scarf in the back seat. He drove her to the medina, and then took me to the café.

Of course that intersection has 6 streets leading out of it, and I walked all of them, finally finding the bank a couple blocks away on my 4th or 5th try. I paid $20 dirhams for this cab ride, under $3 US. It took quite a while to complete the transaction and I got 4800 plus change in dirhams, right on the street, and put $3000 dirhams in my money belt bra liner right away.

I tried to get a little cab several times, but this is a very busy area so I walked the few blocks back to where the cab had dropped me off and headed back the way I thought the taxi driver had come after dropping my cab buddy off. After about 45 minutes I saw the mosque come into view. I made it. This is a funny city, and the street names are really hard to find. Somehow I instinctively have found my directions but haven’t been here long enough to trust my instincts so I think I take a lot of unnecessary detours. Fortunately it’s broad daylight and there are literally hundreds of people on the street, and no one has bumped into me.

Oops, I just got excited because I saw the mosque and tripped, my sunglasses flying, but caught myself on the way down so I didn’t hit hard. A bunch of man standing in front of a mechanics shop were watching and when I got up I gave them the thumbs up and they all cheered as I hobbled up the street. Thank goodness I’m wearing stretched out baggy pants anyway. No harm.

I make my way precariously across several bits of street, dodging taxis, horses, motorbikes, and cars- I’m getting pretty good at this risking my life to cross the street stuff. On a two lane road there are 6-8 lanes of traffic. The street is painted, but cars go in between others like motorcycles do at home. To make a left turn, a bunch of cars and motorbikes form a little herd and turn in unison. Pedestrians look for this bunching up and dash across while the herd is turning. It works, but I’m glad I can walk because it would be a real pain if you couldn’t move fast.

All the cafes on the way only have Moroccan men in them, and I’d like a coke, but I’ll wait until inside the medina. I am amazed at the tourists and the young girls dressing like they are at home with their bellies showing, standing next to a fully covered woman in a headscarf. Great people watching.

I see the sign for the Cyber Park just outside the medina, and walk through. It’s a beautiful park with kiosks that have internet access all over, benches, and a cyber café for those without wifi. Lots of young people crowd around the kiosks. I think it’s free. The park has big trees and shaded pathways, lots of seating and fountains and is a great place to escape the heat of the day.

I work my way through the park to the entrance to the old city, and walk around the mosque and what may be the tombs. The walls are very old, and he square here was declared a UNESCO (sp- something else to look up) international treasure or something like that for preserving the customs like storytelling in the square in the evening. I hear the sound of the snake charmers just like in the movies and there are several umbrellas set up in the square with rugs underneath, and a bunch of men in socks and the snakes. I didn’t stop to watch because I didn’t have any coins to give to take pictures.

There were also fortune tellers, and henna tattoo ladies, fresh orange juice vendors and people selling all sorts of things. Sitting on stools in the middle of the square under umbrellas. Lots of open fronted shops/souks and restaurants line the central square.

I started down one road and walked through some leather and gold souks and saw lots of baboush vendors (Moroccan slippers) and saw the hand of Fatima that Alexandra- my coaster friend from Nice- is hoping I bring her. I walked basically all around the perimeter of the medina along the walls which is I think about 6km not sure. In and out of little streets, shoe shops and shops selling rugs and washing machines and spices and more. I ended up where I started and sat down in the shade at a restaurant I had passed the first time that was filled with both men and women. I ordered a lamb kebab with rice. They brought me some really good bread and a small plate of olives.

I also ordered a coke, again delivered in a bottle just like in turkey. And a bendy straw. I haven’t seen those for years. They really are a bit of a pain in the a@# because they float up to the top and keep falling out of the glass, but they are fun to drink with. It reminds me of when I was little and I remember that the floating and falling out of the glass thing was a problem then. Design flaw I guess.

I sat there for about an hour, eating that great bread and the olives, drinking from my bendy straw and watching the parade of humanity pass by including women in burkas with kids with disabilities asking for money, guys playing instruments very badly and then asking for money, old men with canes and tin bowls asking for money, vendors saying hello, bonjour, hola and where are you from come and look at everyone walking past. Shoe shine guys hoping to make a few coins, young couples, she in head scarf with her arm draped around her husband or boyfriend, he looking happy and a little sheepish. Surrounded by people speaking French, Spanish and Arabic. Seldom hear English here at all, although I do spot some north face gear so they may be closet Americans. Not sure if they sell it internationally, probably they do. Lots of noises, music, the snake charmers, motorcycles, vendors,

After paying for the meal- with tip $100 dirham (about $12 bucks or so)I headed back to the square after checking my lonely planet guide to see how to head in the direction of the Dar Bellaj exhibition and the Ben Josef Madrassa, and the Musee de Marrakech (sp, sp).

Now I’m in the middle of the souks, mostly darkish alleys, tiny stalls jammed with merchandise, scarves, rugs handbags, jewelry, trinkets, spices, nuts,meat, fruit, furniture, everything. After about an hour I let a young guy help me find the medrassa and the other places are all right there. He seems happy with the $1 euro coin I give him. I buy the 3 monument pass for the museum, the medrassa and the tombs for $60 dirham (about $8 bucks) then see the sign you can’t take water bottles into the museum, so I walk down the alleyway to the medrassa, and just leave the bottle hidden in my bag.

It is an amazing building that used to house an Islamic school, and I also got to see the rooms the students lived in. The mosaic tiles and the carved wood are extraordinary and cover the floors and walls. I head back into the dark bellage and find my way to the exhibit in the basement, and the display of old photographs and the hamman that used to occupy part of this building. Gorgeous building once again with carvings, mosaic floors and walls and an enormous pierced metal fixture in the central plaza area over a shallow pond, or mini pool, since it was only 6-8 inches deep.

I then went into the museum and looked at the exhibits (all 3 of these are not very large, so easy to scoot through), especially since all the captions are in French and Arabic and it’s poorly lit.

I headed back through the souks, amazed at the pyramids of spices. I don’t’ think I can take them into the US but it would be really fun to just buy a bit of everything, then find out what it is. I don’t buy anything, despite the literally millions of items up for sale. It’s kind of like going to the largest swap meet in the world in dimly lit alleys, and so many stands have similar wares it is a bit overwhelming. I wish I’d had cash with me in the village yesterday because I really like the two silver Berber bracelets I got, and I’m not seeing them in the souks. Tomorrow will have to be shopping day. Maybe Jamila’s French friend from Belgium Francesca who is due to arrive today will accompany me and help me navigate the place.

On the way out I give brief thought to renting a horse cart for a circle tour of the medina. They ask $50 dirham which is less than $10 bucks but I am still confused since Euros are 10 to the euro, and US is 8 something to the Euro. I was hot and tired, and think I have my first blister of the trip (an amazing feat- or feet lol) so I head for the small taxi rank, make it across 6 lanes of traffic, which at the entrance include fleets of tour buses as well as the normal craziness, and about 12 guys rush up. I tell them where I am going and they say 50 dirhams. I say too much and a little old man says $40 so I go for it. He drives me the 20 minutes or so to the Aymain patisserie, around the corner from the riad, and I hop out, giving him an extra 3 dirhams for his trouble. He smiles up at me, missing a few teeth.

You know the one thing that is great about being here is the heat and the humidity. Odd huh. But makeup is a waste of time, dressing for comfort is the ideal, and no one gives a s##@! I did for some reason forget to bring both my tiny tubes of toothpaste, so I stop in a pharmacologic which are everywhere , point to the colgate in the glass case, and buy myself a 12 dirham bigger tube so I can have fresh breath my last day and a half.

I dash up the stairs to the patisserie (sp) and they have about 60 feet of counter full of breads, cakes, pastries, and tarts, but I’m not really hungry after the lunch, so I head back to the riad. I hit the buzzer, hear the greeting, say “it’s Sharon” and Roselyne buzzes me in. I head up the stairs to my corner room, grab my computer, and change out of my closed shoes into my sandals. There are two pairs of slippers in the room, one men’s and one women’s, but I don’t feel comfortable putting on generic shoes even though this is a clean place. I take a quick look at the riad drink offerings and note that they have beer, so I find Roselyne and have a cold glass of Casablanca beer in the afternoon shade. It’s about 4pm by that time. I’m sitting on the outdoor lounges, with my glass of beer, completely filthy and dusty, uploading the photos and videos from my camera, and finishing up this story of the last day or so- so far.

My Italian friends come in, tell me they tried to go to a fancy restaurant in the medina last night but didn’t have reservations so ended up at a cheap place. Today they all went out to the Palmerie looking to do some horseback riding, but instead found a brand new city development with big hotels. They had lunch and then went to the Jardin Mayorelle and spent the afternoon in the cool shade of the beautiful garden. When the young guy saw me drinking a beer, he began jumping in the air and singing in Italian, his wife/girlfriend the doctor said thank you Sharon thank you Sharon, and the rest of them came upstairs and we all had a beer. I continued to write, and they chatted in Italian, occasionally directing a question to me. It looks like maybe we all leave on Thursday, so Mino talked about dinner with Jamila and this new woman arriving today tomorrow night.

It’s about 6:15 right now and I’m trying to decide if I have the strength to go out again tonight. Probably not. Maybe will grab a snack at that local café (it’s not really that good but its close). If I go early enough I can probably get a Panini again.

I will head back to the medina tomorrow, my last day in morocco. I am ready to be heading back towards the states, and I hope like hell that all my connections work. I will enjoy a last night in Barcelona, and then begin the trek through Madrid Chicago San Diego. Hope I don’t get stuck in Chicago. Oh well, what will be, will be. Still have 2 more days to go on the ground before folding myself into the plane.

Well I think I somehow lost a lot of my photos but I guess that is life. I’m going to let it go for now and hope they magically appear. I think I screwed up when trying to upload on the cruise. Bummer.

See you tomorrow!

New friends cooking day, visit to atlas mountains

April 11 7:00pm approximately.

The Italian group invites me to join them for a snack. Roselyne walks us to a local café, and we look at the menu. I decide to get a petit salade Caesar with poulet marinee (Caesar salad with chicken) and drink water. Others ask for various baguettes. The waiter takes our order and disappears, bringing a bottle of water and two glasses. Then he returns again and tells us no pain, no poulet. No bread no chicken. This is a very small place.

Then we look at menu again, and there is some discussion in Italian about the safety of eating lettuce greens and vegetables that may be washed in water that is not clean. I contributed that Roselyne had recommended this place so it must be OK but I could not take responsibility if anyone got sick. Many warnings in Lonely planet guide, everyone says don’t drink anything but bottled water, peeled fruit, some question about milk and cream. So far I am OK and I have eaten twice in small cafes and in the riad.

Anyway, at the restaurant the consensus was salade nicoise (tuna salad) which came with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and canned tuna, some sort of potato salad with creamy sauce and carrots, and pasta- yes fusilli pasta and a hard boiled egg. 3 of us ordered this, two of us ordered tajines that were lamb stew with French fries on top, and one had a gallette, melted cheese with bread.

The German couple from our riad arrived also and I told them better to ask what the restaurant had to offer instead of using the menu because they were out of several items. There was also a hamburger with ground meat, but the writer told us we don’t know what meat this is, so we decided that was not a good choice.

We finished up the meal and the writer man Mino V paid for all of us. The young immigrant worker guy tried to pay but Mino insisted. We began our journey the two blocks back to the riad in the dark, me, Mino and his wife, the Italian doctor and immigrant husband/boyfriend (?) and the neighbor lady from Rome, and the German couple from Stuttgart. It has cooled down and is a nice evening.

I have to get Jamila to give me this writer’s name. He had published many books and research and novels and poetry I think, and still does visiting lecturer at Columbia. He also has old friend from NY who lives in San Diego. He asked me to see if I can find for him when I get home, but he is afraid that the man is no longer living. He asks me if I know a director friend in Hollywood and I tell him I don’t’ know. I tell them I work for Kawai pianos in Australia. I tell him I will inquire.

He does not drink, health issues I think, he talks about the pills. He tells me he has a friend in the US Boston I think or Philadelphia with whom he had an “intimate” relationship when he worked at Columbia U who has pancreatic cancer and is undergoing chemo and radiation. I tell him about my adventure with bladder cancer and he tells me to eat cranberries and some other supplement he doesn’t know the name in English. We also talk about the biological treatment with TB virus that my doctor has said is good for aggressive bladder cancers (not mine).

We talk about the adulteration of food, and the need to eat green and he says lamb and goat are the only unadulterated meats. I talk about documentary the future of food, and Monsanto and corn story. The young immigrant worker guy talks about “supersize me”. So despite limited English, Italian French, we manage to communicate. The writer asks for mineral water, so I go to find Roselyne and get him a big bottle for his room. We all go to sleep, with reminder petit dejeuner at a huit heures (8am).

4/11/10 I wake up again to the sound of birds chirping and it is dark and quiet. I look at my watch and it is 7:30am again. It must be that when the patio /central area is uncovered, the sounds enter the riad of the birds. It is a very civilized way to wake up. No clocks, no alarms. I take a shower, and get my hair wet. I have left my shampoo in Barcelona, but rinsing off the dust is all that is necessary. I decide to do make up after breakfast, if at all, I blow dry my hair and get dressed. I check all my money again, and immediately forget how much I have.

I am wearing my money belt around my trunk, tucked into my bra. Makes for a funny lump but all that is in it is my passport, the luggage keys and a bit of cash. Leaving most of it in riad, which I feel is very secure. Up the stairs to the terrace for breakfast, and Italians invite me to join them again. German couple at next table, I smile and say hello. We all have coffee, baguettes, other pastries, orange juice, bread, jam, crepes and some flat pancake like bread that is really good with jam on it, whatever it is.

Everyone is excited about going out into the city today. I have one more hour before Jamila picks me up, and I am sitting under the shade in the terrace speaking with the girl who I now know is a doctor in a psychiatric hospital in Viterbo (I think that is the name) above Rome, maybe one hour, and It is the beautiful medieval city where the pope has his summer palace. I walked around that city in 1981 and have some black and white prints somewhere at home from that visit. She commutes 2 hours each day and works about 12 hours daily and sometimes double shifts overnight. I explain what I do for work, and talk about job placement and group and individual supported employment. She works with very severely disabled psychiatric patients. She said they only treat medically, not psychologically – she said in Italy not very good.

I continue to write until I hear my name being called from the bottom floor through the open ceiling. Oops, Jamila is here, why was I thinking I still had an hour? So she gets to see Mino again, who is from Venice originally. He loves to talk and is very charming.

We get to the car, and make it to the parking lot near the post office where Malika is waiting to pick me up in her little car. We see people standing in line across the street because Zara clothing store from Europe is just opening up. We pull up and see Malika in her jellaba over a long shift and with a head scarf and long pants and sensible heels. Jamila greets her, and then we say goodbye, she says to send her a message once I return to riad .

It is now 11am, and I am off with Malika . She does speak some English. Right now she teaches Arabic at a French middle school for wealthy children. She used to teach French at an Arab school. Many years ago she met a writer for lonely planet when she used to do mountain hikes. She works Monday thru Friday but only in morning on Wednesdays. She asks me what I want to learn, I tell her whatever she thinks is important. She says OK to go to her home and I say yes. We head towards the airport to large apartments I think only a few years old. We pass a field with sheep I think, maybe goats. No fences. Lots of motorbikes, ladies in head scarves and jellaba.

We stop first at a market area, and she goes to buy fresh chicken (very fresh, clucking), and they butcher it, skin it, cut it into pieces and bag it in seconds after first weighing it live. She sees a friend and her boyfriend or husband and they greet each other and hug and talk for a few minutes.

There are several chicken shops right here, this is a neighborhood shop area, fruit stand across the street, bread piled high next door, strawberries on a cart, and entire cart full of snap peas, buckets of herbs like sage, parsley, celery root, all sorts of things. We go to buy peas also across the street, dodging the motorbikes, bicycles and cars and the people. Everyone in traditional dress. It is very hot and humid and the middle of the day.

We get back in the car, and she pulls the radio from the glove box and it attaches to the car magnetically it appears and she turns on Sufi music. I like the beat, even though I can’t understand the words, I like the melody.

We go to her house, park, open a big iron door to a ground floor spiral staircase, with the walls covered in beautiful blue and white pattern, and light switch at every landing. Her main living area and bedroom and one simple kitchen is on the 2nd floor I think, and she shows me a spacious living room, kitchen, dining area, bedroom, shower room and toilet/sink room. We then sit for a moment before taking the groceries upstairs and out onto a beautiful terrace rooftop with clotheslines. The side facing the street looks directly at the local mosque, considered a good sign.

We enter though a door and I see a second small kitchen with a propane/gas two burner table top stove, sink with running water, stone countertop, table, shelves for dishes, and cabinet for glasses. To the right are the fridge, and then a large lounge area with 3 sides covered with a lounge and pillows, the fourth a bed with lots of pillows. Two large windows I this room, a television, a large table at lounge height, and books.

There are lots of framed art here and downstairs but not on the wall, leaning against it on the floor. I think she said she has lived her for 3 years.

She asks me if I would like some tea, and I agree. She rinses out the kettle, then fills it with water and heats it. She rinses out the tea pot with hot water, then pours in a handful of tea and hot water and puts it on the heat. In the mean time she cuts up mint and some other herb, which right now I am thinking is marjoram but I couldn’t think of it all day, kept thinking thyme, and she puts the entire stalk into the tea pot and lets it seep.

She opens various containers and sets out little snack mixes, one salty with peanuts, what I think are chickpeas and salty biscuits, the other sugared nuts and sweet sugary biscuit bits, and the third domino sized cheese and herb biscuits to drink with the tea.

She adds a large block of sugar- maybe 1” x 2” and asks me if this is enough sugar and I say yes, and she says she likes it not too sweet also. Her English is pretty darned good! Best in Arabic, good in French, and better than me at English I think. Anyway, a good surprise she has some English.

She is 49 years old, and is single, never married, no children. She is from the seaside town of Essoura (sp) and has been teaching for 27 years middle school. She knows email but is not up on blogs and Skype and all that. She says she doesn’t have time. She loves music and loves to sing, but it is hard to keep up with it and work also. She also does some art, and she showed me a piece using bougainvillea petals where she had spelled the name of God I think Allah in Arabic in thorny letters also from a plant.

After tea we began the tajines preparation. I watched her light the brazier with charcoal, and put it outside to heat up on the terrace. She took very coarse salt and washed down and cleaned the chicken pieces very carefully removing all the nubbins and all skin and hanging bits rubbing the salt all over the pieces by hand. She then rinsed it off, and put it in a bowl, In another bowl she chopped up some onions, some garlic, some parsley, and in a second bowl some eggplant, carrots, potatoes, and a bunch of other stuff (I wrote it down) after peeling it and some tomatoes as well, also squash like zucchini, some salt & pepper and some olive oil. She then brought the hot brazier into the kitchen and put it on a tray on the floor, and laid the tajines bottom on top of the charcoal, making sure it was seated property.

She then handed me the chicken and told me to lay the pieces on the bottom. She put all the onions on top and the garlic and the olive oil, and some salt & pepper and spices (unlabeled, I wish I knew what they were, will have to scan recipes, especially a whitish powder) and then took a spoon and stirred it all up to make sure everything was coated and nice. She had me taste the broth which was good and asked me in French if enough salt I said perfect. Then she added some more olive oil and some water, and put the lid on and brought it to a boil. She removed the lid and began to add the vegetables in layers, potato last, and put the lid back on, and in a few minutes added the peas I had shelled while she did the prep on all the other vegetables.

She then placed the peaked lid of the tajines on firmly and started to make salad as it cooked. She took 3 peppers and placed them on grill racks on top of the burner, and let the skins scorch then put them in a plastic bag to steam. She cut up tomatoes with the seeds, and asked me if I eat the seeds, I said yes, sometimes. In another plate she put washed lettuce, some cucumber and some green olives. Once the chilies were steamed, she scraped the burned skins off and chopped them up and added to the tomatoes. Two salads. She cut up some of the great round Moroccan bread and covered it up.

She asked me if I wanted to go to the local souk market under tents, and I said yes, just to look. We headed back down the main drag, and she had to look around the back streets to find it because it moves from place to place. We parked the car and I followed her across the street into the end of a large field of olive trees, many cut down to build the buildings popping up all over the area. Maybe 50 tents were set up to shield the vendors from the sun, and the aisle ways were maybe 30” wide, filled with men women in headscarves and children. I look at all the produce and also see fava beans everywhere, a few artichokes, some cantaloupe, what appears to be watermelon, strawberries, beans, peas, bananas, mandarin oranges, herbs, big bins of spice, and some tiny avocados.

She buys some mandarins, a cantaloupe very small, the size of a baseball, and some bananas, and we return to the car. I see olive vendors, egg vendors, and water vendors, along with onions, nuts and every imaginable type of vegetable.

We return to her house and we go to sit in the lounge area off the terrace . She gives me a small notebook and pieces of herbs, and garlic, etc, and asks me to write the English names on them. I am also writing down the steps in the cooking as the happen, most of them anyway. She will later show me the alphabet in Arabic, and how to spell all the vegetables we used today and saw, and how to pronounce. She is a teacher remember! s/o I am scotch taping pieces of parsley, garlic, tea seeds and the tea carton top, celery leaves, sage leaves and more into my little notebook, and we talk about our lives and our families as best we can, and enjoy more tea, cool to room temperature. She also brings out some dates, and some special preserved olives she has made and some peppers in brine.

It is almost time to eat so she goes to get fizzy mineral water, and the plates, and we bring the salads and the tagine with the top still on into the lounge. I have now remembered my video camera so I did record some of the preparation of the meal while we worked in the kitchen. She leaves the room and returns with a towel over her shoulder, and a silver bowl and pot. She tells me it is the traditional way to begin a meal, washing the hands. She pours water from the pot over my hands I get them wet and pick up the soap, then she pours water again to rinse. It drains into the bowl below. She then places it on the base and folds the towel on the top.

I forgot to say that before she prepared the tea she poured several glasses, and then returned them to the pot, and that there is an entire ceremony involved in the tea pouring, and she must fill the glass tea cups from a height so that they have a head on them like beer, and the name of the foaming top is mousse, or chapeau like hat in French or turban in Arabic and it is very special to have tea with a foaming top. The tea was really really good, not too sweet and very savory with the herbs added.

We start with the two salads, and the combination is really yummy. I serve myself, and offer to serve her and she agrees. We then open the tajines and see that everything is cooked and steaming hot. She asks me to serve myself first, and I grab a chicken breast and lots of vegetables and she tells me to be sure to get some juice, it is very good. I grab some of the great bread and we begin to eat.

Everything is really wonderful and we start making up words like magnificent and she is telling me words in Arabic and we are laughing and having great fun. After we finish our meal, we continue to talk and she writes down the Arabic alphabet and the pronunciations, and then we do through the ingredients of this day, and she says and writes the Arabic for me, and asks me to try to repeat. I can’t make all the sounds but I give it a heck of a try, and tell her I will study it at home after my holidays and try to write one sentence she can understand.

She shows me how to write my name in Arabic. She shows me a game she plays to get the children in her classes to calm down with plastic eggs, she puts little pictures and words inside like fortunes and they open one by one and call out what they find inside. Her next plan is to put bon bons inside for a special surprise.

By now it is almost 5:30 and she has to go visit her uncle for a while and asks if it is ok to leave me here in her home for an hour or so and I say OK. It is very peaceful and comfortable. I tell her to take her time. She has given me almost her entire day off. She drives off and I look at a English French dictionary, and walk on to the terrace to see what is happening on the street, then I decide to clean up the dishes and tables as best I can including washing dishes while she is away so that she can relax after she brings me back to the riad. The sun goes down and the last prayer call is broadcast, and she returns, we finish cleaning up and then we go downstairs to leave.

It is after dark and the weather is pleasant and everyone is out walking the streets. Carts with fresh veggies move through the streets, and it is very active. Dozens of women in jellaba and headscarves, young boys on the street and motorcycles running around playing. We get to the Main Street, dodging cars, and bikes pedestrians and see a carnival of some sort has set up on the side of the street where we saw the goats or sheep earlier with a large Ferris wheel lit up in the night.

We head back for my riad in heavy traffic with hundreds of young people everywhere, dancing on the street corners their hands above their heads, apparently a football game just ended and they are very excited and just leaving the game. We finally make it back to the riad in bout a half hour and I come upstairs to prepare for tomorrows adventure and recharge my camera batteries, my phone, my computer and wash my face for bed. It is now 9:30 I call Jamila and hang up to let her know I am home. Up tomorrow to leave by 9am for my trip to the Atlas Mountains. I am having a wonderful time, feel healthy, little bit of hay fever, and sweaty, no makeup today (why bother) and smiling to sleep.

4/12/10 Up again to the sound of birds at 7:30am. Shower and head up to the terrace for breakfast. Only Mino is there. Yesterday they had a wonderful day, then as they were leaving the medina, a small boy threw his wifer off balance and she broke her wrist. They called Jamila and she sent them to a clinic/hospital, and she joined them there and stayed with them until they returned to the riad about 3 hours later. Mino said clinic was very good, doctor was very good, and she has a cast, but they have to go for another examination today to see if they need to do surgery. They just set the break and put a cast on her last nite.

As Mino left the young doctor and immigrant worker guy came up, and they were very tired and said maybe they must leave with the others on Thursday because of the injury. I finished up breakfast and as I headed downstairs, the young girl who works for the owners said my driver was waiting downstairs.

I headed out the door to meet my 28 Moroccan driver Redemon (don’t even try to prounounce it) who spoke a little English, is the youngest of 5 brothers and 6 sisters from a berber village we will pass through today. He normally works for his brother as an electrician on residential housing, but right now they don’t have contract so he works as a driver. He has also worked in a hotel, in a supermarket, and as a mechanic.

We headed through the city and began to climb elevation into the Atlas mountains. It is very beautiful, clay soil, and it is springtime so roses are blooming and trees like apricot, pear and almonds, olive trees everywhere, and the big cactus they make nopalitos from is the way they divide the land. They did the same thing in Malta, used cactus. He knew that the Mexican people eat the cactus, because he had a tourist from mexico that told him that. I told him we also eat squash blossoms which I saw all over the souk markets yesterday on the ground. They don’t eat them at all.

We passed under beautiful trees and steep valleys on a 1-1/2 lane wide road that had traffic both ways. He joked many times asking me if I wanted to drive in his broken English and I told him vous etes superior driver, using my fractured French Spanish odd language I was now speaking. He tried to teach me a few words in Arabic- like hello, and let’s go. But I was hopeless because you have to make that throaty guttural sound that is so natural to them, but difficult for Americans.

We drove for over an hour, talking sometimes, me taking pictures of goats, sheep, horse drawn carts, women in jellaba with head scarves, men in long gowns, shepherds, carpet shops, cafes, and everything imaginable. It is a beautiful drive.

We came upon a very nice looking casbah (hotel/rooms) where his brother Osmon has worked for 5 years. Redemone asked me if I knew who Richard Branson was and I said yes, originally thinking he was talking about Charles Bronson (duh!) but pretty quickly I figured out that this casbah was owned by R. Branson, whose parents saw it many years ago and loved the area, so he bought it and transformed it into a very chic (and expensive) spa retreat looking at berber villages and the river, with Arabic music, gorgeous landscaping, and 18 rooms which include two free standing bungalows and a very expensive 3 story home with its own pool for the very discriminating, at low season going for 1700 euros a night. So we stop at the back gate, he asks for his brother, who comes out hugs him, shakes my hand and tells us to come in the front entrance. He is a pool boy at this resort. He speaks English very good and he shows us the resort, and tells about the river that only 6 years ago was fast running and wide, and is now disappearing due to climate change. He answers all my questions about the trees I see on the drive up, and then leads me to a covered veranda in the middle of the grounds overlooking the pool and I order a strawberry fizz drink for 60 dirham- about 6 euros and redemon gets a cappuchino with a giant lump of sugar. We sit for about ½ hour. It is a verrry pleasant place (in my next life I’ll stay there). And then we continue our journey towards Imlil , a berber village. We finally arrive, and he drives all the way through the little town, points out a castle looking structure on top of a very steep hillside in the distance, and asks me if I want to hike with a guide to a waterfall, or do some hiking on my own. You would have to see the houses perched precariously into the gravel hillside to get the full effect. It is a little cooler today, but still humid, but not horrible up here in the mountains. We go back through the town until I find a landmark I can find again- café de soleil, and I jump out of the car, after he puts his mobile number in my phone and tells me to call when I am ready to leave.

We had headed out this morning and were supposed to stop at a bank for cashing travelers checks but I’m not positive he understood me, although he repeated it several times. So I had about $200 dirham or 20 euros or about $35 US on me, plus some travelers checks which I had no doubt no one would take in this small village, or I would pay way too much for anything I bought.

Within a few feet I had several very friendly young berber guys offering to be my guide to the castle or waterfall, or to look in their shop- not to buy, but just to see the quality of the goods, and they take any kind of money (except travelers checks) and they will bargain over everything do I want to buy a carpet, or a beautiful necklace.

An old man pulls out silver bangle bracelets while I am talking to the one guide explaining I have no money to pay for a guide thank you very much, and I end up buying two bracelets from this old man who doesn’t have a shop. I finally get the young guy to understand, he says something that sounds like Al Challah which means something like God provides, sounds nice anyway, and then another tall guy yells out hello, and I like Obama (everyone in morocco likes obama) and invites me for tea and to look in his shop which is a cooperative with the village berber women and they depend on tourism, etc etc etc, and I tell him I have no cash, only travelers checks, but he says come back on the way down the mountain.

So I head up the path, following men with mules, ladies with cows, goats and kids, and women in headscarves and shepherds up a very steep pathway , with stairs in many areas about 1 ft high, and I just kept going up and up (although I did sit down several times before I had a heart attack from lack of breath (this is pretty high above sea level (I’ll have to look it up). I then got very travelogue-ish and did some video with sharons opinions on the lifestyle of the people I was seeing in this village, with very little real knowledge. There was a trench for irrigation that ran from the top of the hill, and two little girls were splashing each other as I walked past them, and they both giggled and one little girl splashed water on me and said something like cool water, so I stuck my hand in the water and splashed both of them and we had a water splash fight for a few minutes and I walked on to the sound of their excited giggles.

I walked around a steep wall, on a very narrow pathway, and decided that was the wrong way, and walked back a ways to a stairway between houses leading up the hill, I passed many doorways on this steep stairway, and came to what appeared to be a dead end, and a woman came out and pointed the way around the far side of the building, where I made it to the path above the house line. The view up there was incredible, and I could see the waterfall from where I perched this time to catch my breath. It was almost meditative, sitting in the sun on top of this hill in the mountains or morocco with clay hills and villages built into steep hillsides, animals, friendly smiling faces and people living their daily lives very simply. After a little while I made my way back down using a different route, and my instinct that I could just head downhill and hit the village was right on…more to come