Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Northern Tour

The new batch of volunteers have just sworn in and are now at their sites, which means one thing to my cohort - we are no longer the least informed! In fact, we might even know a little. And as such, we had a conference to attend. Hem hem hem.

The first week of November was set aside for our In-Service Training seminar, which was held in Azrou, a small city in the northern portion of the Middle Atlas. Two full travel days away, Azrou is night and day from my region, complete with snow, thatched roofs, and a delightful snack called makouda.

I’d never been to the area and took every opportunity to explore. My travel itinerary was fairly simple: a cheap bus to Marrakesh on Day 1 (I’ll use any excuse to stay in Kesh – I’m not the city’s greatest fan, but the DVD stalls and ice cream draw me in without fail), followed by another bus north to Kenifra on Day 2.

Lovely Tiznit province.

COOL CLOUD! On the bus between Marrakesh and Kenifra.

From Kenifra I caught a series of taxis to my friend Tory’s house (this routine, if time consuming act, was made all the more interesting by the fact that almost no one north of Marrakesh speaks Tash – its all Darija or Tamazigt…thankfully wild gesticulation and the batting of eyelashes is effective no matter the language). A small group gathered at her place that night for a mini reunion and rather spectacular curried vegetables.

Tory’s site is...not like mine. Green year round, there is a river that flows no matter the season and innumerable grazing herds. Yes, in some parts of the country ‘river’ means ‘water’, rather than ‘that rocky patch over yonder’. She is also one of the few Moroccan volunteers without electricity. We did everything by candlelight, ate too much candy, and then huddled under our blankets for some much needed sleep. It was the first real cold spell of the year, and we could see our breath in the air as we one by one conked out for the night.

It was here I realized I may not have packed properly. (It was 80ºF in Tiznit province, come on!)

The next morning we squashed into a transit van and made our way to Azrou. The city itself is small but spread out, centered around the ‘azrou’ (literally ‘rock’), in the center of town. We found the seminar site, threw down our bags, and crashed in the lounge. As everyone else arrived the mood got downright giddy. Many of us hadn’t seen one another since swearing-in, but we all seemed to pick up where we left off.

Azrou and the Middle Atlas.

As the week progressed we went through sessions on project planning and design, grant writing and opportunities, and lots of general de-stressing. The highlight of the week, though, was election night.

My pal Meredith and I made a map.

Our map.

Around midnight we began getting the first projections from CNN and started coloring-in each state. We also kept track of electoral-college votes on our handy-dandy whiteboard. And because we were getting the CNN feed from the states, we got the results in their wonderfully Anderson Cooper/Wolf Blitzer flavored glory.

That hologram. Holy hell.

It was also kinda chilly.

Then, at 4:30 in the morning, we went positively nuts. I will refrain from much commentary, but I’ll say we sang patriotically while the California kids filled in the clinching state (you’ve seen Team America, yes?).

The moment of victory.

After IST, a few of us went to stay at our friend Logan’s site for the weekend. There was snow! And water! And thatched roofs! The Middle Atlas are purty, I must say….

We spent a pretty mellow few days hiking and enjoying one another’s company. We also gorged ourselves on makouda sandwiches. Makouda is something we don’t have in the south, but its basically garlic mashed potatoes, breaded and fried into patties. Street vendors then stuff them into pouches of bread and add onions, tomatoes, hot sauce – it sounds disgusting but is in actuality rather amazing.

I was reluctant to leave, but finally shoved off towards Marrakesh, through the Middle Atlas and on towards the High.

The High Atlas from Logan’s roof. Dang.

My friend Amy and I got into Kesh around dinner time and met up with Alex, another member of the Team Tash CBT group traveling home from IST. We went for dinner at ‘The Jungle’, a place overlooking the pedestrian zone beside Jemaa El-Fnaa dressed to look like….a jungle (think of a half baked version of the Rainforest Café, but in Marrakesh. And yes, it is that fantastic).

Marrakesh. The Jungle is just off-screen to the left.

After picking up a few DVD’s (and by a few I mean two seasons of television and three films – all for the equivalent of 15 American dollars) and nabbing some exceedingly tasty ice cream, we went back to the hotel for the evening. Alex and I then took to the roof, where there were some couches and tables set up, and watched Batman Begins. It was like a drive in!

That movie is really good.

The next day I finally made it back south, catching up with a few region-mates in Agadir and then heading home. Once back in town I learned that it had rained almost from the moment I left to the moment I came back. I could believe it. It had turned green!

I even found an almost tropical looking frog.

Things here are going well. With English classes, trash projects, and marketing programs on my mind I’ve even been keeping pretty busy. Later this week I’m planning to visit other volunteers for Thanksgiving, and a plan of action for Christmas is taking shape (it involves snow).

I would like the briefly thank the Boston Bruins for playing so well… after I left the hemisphere. Jerks. And now, because I can, here is your superfluous geology shot:

Till Next time, true believers.


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