Thursday, September 18, 2008
Azrou, (rhymes with a-chew (sneeze) with a zr) a city of 25,000+ people at the foothills of the Atlas mtns in a national park area. There’s the medina, the old city where the tightly packed shops are, and the newer area with lots of house and apt construction where we are staying, at the Auberge du dernier lion de l’atlas. It’s a 4-storey dorm-style hotel with shared baths; a cafeteria style dining room in basement, sitting room and conference room on ground, 1st & 2nd floor bedrooms (ours is a 4-person w/no closets); the top floor has the multiple toilet stall & shower stall area, and then a huge outdoor terrace area where there’s always a breeze, and always several people’s laundry hanging. The pictures are from there, as we’ve been asked not to take pictures around town during Ramadan, esp of the few people who are out and about during the day. For one month, Sept, all Muslims over the age of puberty practice fasting and abstinence. Well, not quite a fast… they’re not allowed to eat or drink anything, even water, during daylight. After the call to prayer about 6 pm, sunset, they have a break-fast or tea, bread, fruit, seasonal vegetables or soup. Between 11 and midnight, they have their dinner – a large meal which includes spicy meat or fish, hot vegetables, couscous, tea, pastry. (They nap between these meals) They have a small snack about 4:30 a.m. before morning prayers (5:30 or so) followed by the day of fasting. Our hotel serves us at the normal times – 8 am breakfast, 12:30 lunch, 6:45 dinner, even though the staff observes Ramadan themselves. At the end of Sept they return to normal working/eating hours. Right now, during Ramadan, the cafes and restaurants are closed during the day, so you can’t stroll around and get a good cup of coffee/pastry at a boulangerie. Most of the shops don’t open til afternoon, or even evening, so shopping’s a challenge. French is understood everywhere, which is helpful as our Darija (Moroccan Arabic) is very limited.
Every day has been clear and sunny, hot in the sun and in our stuffy conference room, but cool in the evening, with breezes most of the time. Very dry. We’re being introduced to Moroccan food, though the real thing will happen this weekend, as we leave for our study sites, to live with host families and study language, on Sat. We will find out Friday where we’re headed.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
56 invitees met in Philadelphia having traveled from Hawaii, California and Oregon and many states between, from 21 yrs old to mid-60’s, and diverse in ethnicity. What a lively group. Two days of overall review and we were on the bus to JFK, with frantic weighing of luggage and re-allotting of bags and carry-ons before boarding at 7:30 pm for Morocco. Ramadan, the month of fasting, has begun, so we ate a big dinner (Royal Air Maroc, that’s the airline!), and then breakfast before it began to get light. Landed in Casablanca at 7:20 GMT (4 hours ahead of us). Flat brown landscape with few and sudden squares of green; very few roads, and scattered housing as we flew into Casablanca. Once we’d all gone thru immigration we boarded another bus for the ride to Rabat (about 1.5 hours outside Casablanca) and then you could see the housing and spread of the city. Lots of new construction of apt buildings; many older clusters of 2 & 4 storey houses connected in rows – white washed concrete, flat roofs. Suddenly cows in an open field, then more rows of square flat houses. The city itself is on the ocean, and as we proceeded north, you could see the newer, higher buildings, the mosque spires (green tile designs) frequent and dominating, not many cars or people on or along the major highway. Like a picture postcard – from the road, a clear open view to the ocean and then the environs of Rabat, the capital, began. Narrow streets, buildings 4-6 stories, no grid pattern, lots of people walking and lots of cars! Honking, shouting noisy; 5 times a day the call to prayer and at the call, every city sound stops. Flowering shrubs and vines are hanging on every street, out of arched doorways; the green in the city and in private gardens is such a contrast to the open brown spaces outside the city.
Our hotel has a terrace on top floor (6th) from which we can see over the roofs to the distant shapes of the palace. Though the king no longer resides in Rabat, the palace, the administration buildings and private quarters of staff are still used I an area surrounded by medieval style walls. In the picture, they are the stretch of buildings by the red flag just behind the spire. The spire is of the central mosque of Rabat, seen from miles around. The green tiled roofs in the middle of the picture are part of the mosque and surround the open prayer space.
Stay tuned for news from Azrou...
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Nearing the real packing time. So many choices as I review the sorted categories from which to pack two bags. Cold winters with no heat, and very hot summers (with no air conditioning of course); long garments for walking in public, variety of comfys for private and shoes and boots. And what about those little kitchen gadgets, and favorite teas, and workshop-office stuff, and the stack of Peace Corps papers...
So what is this blog name, "rue eberhardt"? Specifically it is the name of a street in Algeria named after an early 20th century journalist/explorer named Isabelle Eberhardt. She can be traced back to my German father's line from the German part of Switzerland. When I first started reading about her in the early 1980's I was thrilled! Strange character, but a true adventurer. She was born in 1877 in Geneva and died in 1904 at 27 in Ain-Sefra, now in Algeria. Isabelle-Wilhelmina Marie Eberhardt, fluent in 6 languages, in 1899 arrived in El-Oued, in a N. Africa controlled by the French. She dressed as a boy and traveled on her horse freely among the Bedouin tribes, keeping a journal and sending manuscripts to her agent in Paris, who was contracted to publish the materials and send her money. Point of fact, he published the journals under his own name and did not send her money. Several times in the 5 years she traveled across N. Africa in the areas of Algeria and Morocco, she was near starvation. Her adventures, including an assassination attempt on her life, make for great reading. After she died in a flash flood in the desert, a street was named after her. She had a very difficult life, and it certainly had no glamour, as did some of the women exploring the African deserts at that time, but she touched a lot of people's lives, and maintained her integrity by refusing to spy for the French. I can't trace her journey now, as Americans are not allowed into Algeria, but I hope to explore some of her range in NE Morocco.
My living conditions as a Volunteer will be a bit rough, but of course 110 years later, 21st Century style and nothing to compare with those of Isabelle.