Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fes, Former Capital City – Erich

After spending a month in Marrakech, we stayed for a couple of days in Fes. In some ways, Fes is similar to Marrakech and in other ways it is very different. (It's like I'm writing a compare and contrast essay.)

Much like in Marrakech, the center of Fes is the Medina or the old city. There is a wall around the Medina that has been there for about 1,000 years. And in both cities, there are holes in the walls where wooden planks could have been placed to form scaffolding for building and repairs. But the two are by no means identical. The Medina of Fes is larger than that of Marrakech, and of course, has a longer wall. The wall in Fes has crenelations, whereas in Marrakech it is a flat top.

Tourists are warned that they can easily get lost in the Medina of Marrakech. But that of Fes is much larger with more twisting alleys. If you want to get lost because that is your style of exploration, well, you can easily do so in Fes. Another huge difference, Marrakech is basically level. There is a slight grade to some of the alleys, but not much. But Fes is built on top of hills. You are continually heading up or down stairs or hills.

The staggered buildings of the Fes Medina
The stairs are unique. First, they are inconsistent. Some are incredibly steep and you have to lift your foot up past your other knee to climb. Others are shallow. And many of them have a very narrow ramp, maybe about the width of one of your feet somewhere along each step. Alrica's conjecture is that this is for the wheel of a wheelbarrow.

Marrakech is much more tourist oriented than Fes. The main square, the Jema El Fnaa is large and filled with so many places selling juice, dry fruit, henna tattoos, and souks along the side selling everything else. Plus at night, the crowd doubles and the shops do too. Restaurants are built out of benches and metal shells. Carts appear selling snail soup. And men walk around with rolling carts/tables and selling pastries or candies or nuts or doughnuts.

Fes is certainly friendly to tourists, but it isn't built with the same atmosphere. In Fes, we saw many more family groups or groups of teens about in the streets of the Medina. People stopped and chatted as they bought their daily necessities. And there were far fewer tourists about.

Both cities have their artisans of various sorts. And it is amazing to see them work. But what is unique to Fes is the tannery. Here leather is tanned and dyed in giant pits. These tannery pits are not used in winter. That is the time for renovations to be done on them. So while we got to see them, no one was actively dyeing anything with them at the time. We could certainly see some pits that were tinged with pink or blue from the dyes that must be in them in the part of the year in which they are a going concern.

Can you see some leftover color in some of the pits?
Another side of the tannery
From what we are told and we read, what happens in other times of the year is that men work in the tannery. They pour the various chemical or stones in to make the colors they want. Then they climb into the pit (which is easily three feet or more deep) and they walk around in circles to mix the dye. It is also supposed to smell quite strongly.

Pits stacked one atop the other
In both Marrakech and Fes, that central Medina is surrounded by the New City. This is a much more modern city, similar to western cities, but with an Arabic or Moorish architectural style. In Marrakech, we stayed outside of New Town in an apartment, because we were staying for a month. In Fes, we stayed in a Riad in the Medina itself. It was one of the old houses of the Medina which had been converted into a hostel of sorts. Ours was called Riad Mikou and we loved it.

There is a large royal palace in Fes, and the King of Morocco does spend some of his time there. He apparently travels between palaces in Fes, Tangiers, and Rabat.

At one time, Fes was the capital of the kingdom, and the capital of trade and industry. It was the place for traveling merchants to trade in their goods. Those who traveled through Africa by camel or through Asia by foot, they all collected in Fes to sell their goods to those who would bring them to Europe or the Western Hemisphere.

Today, Casablanca is the center of trade. Travel by camel is sort of on the outs. People prefer planes and boats, so Casablanca, on the water, gets the business. This is partly why riads are forming in the Medina. The Medina at Fes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So they can't make radical changes and they don't want to. They want to preserve the heritage. But as business people left Fes for Casablanca, it left many of these ancient homes empty.

The government gives assistance to entrepreneurs who buy old homes in the Medina and turn them into hostels or restaurants. At one time, the Medina closed its gates at night. Now the gates are always open so people can come into the Medina at any time. They have learned that tourists like being in the Medina and seeing Fes how the locals see it. We certainly did.

We spent a lot more time in Marrakech. But in many ways, I preferred the atmosphere of Fes. It just felt more like Fes being Fes, as opposed to Marrakech putting on the show of being Marrakech for us. Maybe I'm crazy, but that was how it felt to me.

A Trek Through Meknes – Erich

On the same day we visited Volubilis, we also stopped in the city of Meknes. It is a wide, expansive city. We pulled over at a point where one can see the panoramic view of Meknes in the valley below. Sadly, my pictures at that spot do not capture it. But I am including some others of various sights in Meknes.
Look how tall Carver is getting! (Ignore the step he is standing on)
Just walking around in the Medina (the old city) and around just outside the Medina walls, we saw some interesting things. The walls themselves are crenelated and tall, and in some places appear very old. This is in contrast to the walls of Marrakech, which are also old, but are level at the top (no crenelations.)

Part of the Medina wall
Perhaps most unusual is the jail. It is an underground jail! We walked through a plaza in which there are the vents that would provide light and air to prisoners. It's not actively used as a jail now, but rather as a destination.

Each little cylinder is a vent and lets in light
They have a small square where there are stalls and performers, like a tiny miniature version of the Jema El Fnaa in Marrakech. But this one was so much smaller that in about three minutes Alrica said, “I've now seen the entire square.”

Even outside the Medina walls, there are narrow alleys that snake through the bigger streets. I enjoyed this alley full of awnings.

I just liked the look of the awnings
There is a large beautiful mosque in Meknes. Now it should be noted that in Morocco, as a general rule, you are not allowed to enter the mosques unless you are a Muslim. In Casablanca there is one mosque that is open to the public. But here in Meknes, you were allowed to come into the mosque complex, walk through its courtyards, and even look in through a window into the mosque itself.

We didn't take pictures in this area, as we felt it was not appropriate. But it was interesting to see. The first room was enclosed with a roof and had a fountain. In many places in Morocco, there are still many people who do not have running water coming into their homes. So they have to take bottles to the fountain at the mosque to get water for their homes. That's why every mosque has a fountain. But you will also see some fountains along the walls of the Medina or in the streets of the Medina not attached to mosques. Several of them are beautifully decorated with tile.

Very decorative
Note, that picture is from the streets, not from within the mosque complex.

After the fountain room, we went through a series of open courtyards. The walls were easily forty feet high, but there was no ceiling. They were open to the air. In some, there were walls and pillars inscribed with Arabic words. My ability to read Arabic letters is still limited, but I believe it began with Allah, so I would guess it was either a praise of Allah or a prayer for Allah's favor.

Looking into the mosque from the window, it was difficult to make out a great deal of detail. But it appeared very different than churches and synagogues. There were no seats or pews. It was much more of an open space for people to kneel and bow and pray.

We learned that mosques in Morocco (and maybe elsewhere, I don't know) all have on the highest point a vertical metal rod decorated with a varying number of brass globes. We had seen this throughout Morocco. But what we learned that was new is that the number of globes tells you how large the mosque is, or how many people it can hold. Many mosques have three globes, but the very biggest have five or maybe even six globes.

But in all of Meknes, you will never guess what the most surprising sight might have been. It wasn't a person or a building. We saw a parked car with a Connecticut license plate.

A long way from home
I guess you just never know what you'll find in Africa!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Polysyllabic Numbers – Erich

Numbers are a necessity in a world with commerce. Of course, a number is an incredible abstraction, an idea that three cats and three cantaloupes share a common characteristic, their cardinality. And then giving that characteristic the name of three.

But beyond the idea of numbers, their use for transactions makes them part of everyday conversation. We go out and buy something to eat in Fes or Marrakech or Cape Town or Windhoek, and people expect to be paid. And we are willing to pay, we just need to know how much it is.

In South Africa and Namibia, this was made easier by the fact that they speak English. Their numbers are the same as ours.

Here in Morocco, most people speak Arabic, but many also speak French. In places where many tourists are found, there is often someone who speaks French (and sometimes someone who speaks English.) Now, I am not great with French, but I know enough (as do Alrica and Syarra) that so far we are getting by.

Numbers come up often. I'm good with un, deux, trois, etc. all the way up to vingt (twenty). After that isn't so bad, but I start to get lost with the words for forty, or six hundred, and larger numbers like that. Still, people can give me the values one digit at a time sept quatre huit – ah, yes, 748. I'm with you. Or, some of them have a little calculator and they add up the prices on it and then just show me the screen of the calculator. No problem.

But numbers when spoken in Arabic are a very different prospect. So here at the Riad Mikou where we are staying in Fes, one of the employees spent some time teaching me the numbers, how they are pronounced, and even how they are spelled in Arabic.

It's interesting to me. In English, most common numbers are only one syllable, making them easier to say. The first time you hit a two syllable natural number is seven. (Note: I said natural number, so don't throw zero in my face!) And then three syllables isn't until eleven and four syllables at twenty-seven. (Hey, those all end in even. Hmm!)

In French you have un, deux, trois, quatre (which is arguably two syllables or arguably one and a half syllables), cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix. The first two syllable number without argument is quatorze, fourteen. Three syllables is at dix et sept, seventeen.

Spanish begins right off the bat with uno. Though sometimes un is used in sentences (the number is the article). You hit two syllables again at quatro, four. Nueve is nine and that's three syllables. (Whoa! Quatro = four = two squared and has two syllables. Nueve = nine = three squared and has three syllables!)

But in Arabic, monosyllabic numbers are almost unheard of. (First, there is an irony that monosyllabic requires so many syllables to say.) But back to numbers with one syllable, there is one, which is two.

Here are the numbers, as they are pronounced in Arabic. Of course, this isn't their correct spelling, since they don't even use our alphabet. I'm just trying to get the sounds out.
1 = Wa-hd (starting with two syllables!)
2 = Zhoozh (That is the soft j sound like je in French of the “si” in vision in English)
3 = T'lata (already at three syllables)
4 = Arbaa
5 = Hamssa
6 = Ssita
7 = Sabaa
8 = Tamania (yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have reached four syllables, and we aren't yet up to the number ten.)
9 = Tissaa
10 = Ashara

I don't know how to count past that. But the point is that in Arabic, they like to enjoy their numbers. They aren't just trying to rush through them. They let their tongues roll over the many syllables. Numbers are more than just a means to an end. They are poetry!

So enjoy the majesty of numbers no matter how many languages you say them in, be that wa-hd, zhooozh, t'lata, or many more.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ancient Rome in Morocco – Erich

Today, we took a trip by car from Fes to an ancient ruin of the Roman city of Volubilis (or Oaulili as the locals would call it.) Yes, the Roman Empire extended west as far as Morocco, and this was the regional capital.

The history of the city is interesting. There was a city, a pre-Roman city on the spot in the BCE. In the second century, the Romans conquered the land and a Roman city was built more or less alongside of, or even on top of, the one that was there.

I'm not sure what happened to the Romans of Volubilis, if they were conquered by the Berbers or Arabs, or if Rome fell and then Volubilis was abandoned or fell because of it. But an amazing ruined city remains today. And it looks like a relic of Rome in a land where most of the architecture is of a Moorish or Arabian design.

Boy, these people loved their columns. Their temples have columns.

Columns - they put you in the mood to pray!
Their houses have columns.

Look, you can see us. We were actually there.
Their public buildings have columns.

Alrica was there too.
Their main streets are lined with columns.

Turn at the fourth column to get to my street
They like columns so much, they even carved engravings of columns on stones that were not columns.

Poor guy, couldn't afford an actual column
I should say they were fond of arches too.

Pennsylvanians, look, keystones
And sometimes they put the two of them together.

The perfect Roman pairing
We saw the remains of bathhouses, grinding stone for pressing the oil out of olives, the forum, and of course, temples.

From a distance
In addition, they had their own Arch of Triumph. This one was built in the third century CE to honor the emperor who declared the people of Volubilis to be Roman citizens. (I'm not sure what their citizenship was considered to be before this.) He also granted them tax relief! And they built an arch with the money they now didn't have to pay to Rome. Tax relief has apparently been a big thing for a long time. (Though I have never seen a city in the United States build an architectural marvel to celebrate it.)

That's my family on the right side to give you a sense of scale

But let this last picture remind you that even in a land of crumbling stone, new life can always begin.

A pretty flower

Where Ibn Battuta was born and buried - Carver

We have not yet posted our plans. Currently we are in Fes, having taken a train from Marrakesh. Today we went to Volubilis and Meknes but someone else will write about that.

We arrived yesterday night and we will stay through tomorrow and then the next morning, we will leave for Tangier. I am excited about Tangier because in my Big History class that I took last year, I had to research Ibn Battuta and he was born in Tangier. Apparently, he was also buried in Tangier. He was an explorer.

And they are supposed to have good seafood. Tangier is at one of the sides of the Straits of Gibraltar. I want to try calamari or shrimp from the Mediterranean and from the Atlantic and see if they taste different.

Then we take a ferry to Spain. We arrive in Algeciras and then take a bus to Seville. We stay in a hotel for a week, then spend a week somewhere, and then end up pet sitting in France.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chop off the head of whoever carries this vase - Carver

One night we went to a storytelling place. It was in English every Thursday. It was the Cafe Clock. It was fun. First we ate. During dinner we listened to stories but couldn’t hear them well. After dinner, we moved to sit right in front of the storyteller. The first story was in Arabic but the rest were in English. And the one we heard from the front involved a guard being told to chop off the head of whoever carries a certain vase outside. In the end, a greedy person who had tricked the king into telling the guard that, carried the vase outside.

During this, there was someone drawing what she saw. She drew the Arabic storyteller and then the audience. I was in the picture. She showed us everything and Syarra even drew something when the person gave her stuff to draw with. And I am obsessed with decapitation so I thought the one story we could fully hear was very fun.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Different Than I'm Used To – Erich

When one is visiting another place, learning another culture, many things come across as strange. That is certainly true for me here in Marrakech. But it's only strange from my point of view, merely because it is not what I am used to in the United States. I'm sure to Moroccans who visit the U.S., just as many things which I don't think about for a second seem to them just as strange.

So I wanted to categorize some of the normal, everyday happenings and items that are very abnormal when compared to the life I have led before.

Driving: You know how there are lines in the road that tell you where the lanes are and where the divider is between you and cars going in the opposite direction? Those exist here in Morocco too. But they are wholly ignored. The number of lanes on a road is equal to the number of cars that can fit leaving bare millimeters between them.

Some roads have narrow lanes in the shoulder that are meant to be reserved for mopeds and motorcycles. They need not bother. The motorcycles just weave in and out of lanes (sometimes even using the ones meant for cars going the opposite direction.) And cars take over the motorcycle lane so as to fit as many vehicles abreast as possible within the laws of physics.

The mopeds and motorcycles go everywhere! In fact, they are perfectly comfortable using the sidewalks as their extra lanes too. (Many a car uses the sidewalk for parking, but not usually for driving.) As such, the curbs here are very high. No attempt is made to carve curb cuts for wheelchairs. I don't know how anyone in a wheelchair would ever get out of the immediate block on which he or she lived. Because curbs are way up there, and I suspect it is because if they aren't the motorcycles would never leave any room for the pedestrians.

Architecture: In the United States, it is a rare sight to see building with anything other than square corners. Maybe you see some bay windows, but round is in the minority.

Rounded parts
Not so in Marrakech. Some homes do have only square corners, but just as many have rounded areas and curved sides.

In addition, balconies are very popular, we see them on many homes. Colored glass is common in windows. And most windows are in cuts in the wall that are not rectangular. The window may be, but the shape in the wall is much prettier.

I enjoy these windows
In general, buildings here are far more striking and eye-pleasing than in the U.S.A.

Detail in the pillars and doors
Cats: There are cats everywhere. You see them in our neighborhood. You see them in the Medina. You see them in the new city that surrounds the Medina. And you see many of them. You don't see a lot of stray dogs, but stray cats are the thing! We even saw a couple of men feeding stray cats in one neighborhood. Apparently, Moroccans don't mind cats wandering through the streets and yards.

Orange Trees: In many cities you see trees. Lots of trees planted along the sidewalks. The same is true here. Except here, the majority of them are orange trees. They are well pruned so that the branches and leaves form cylinders. But you see fruit growing on them.

Orange you glad?
Right now isn't exactly orange season, though there are plenty of oranges on the trees. I don't know if they would be super sweet or ripe, but they are there. And as far as I can tell, anyone could just take one if he or she wanted. I don't know how they would police this.

Fire Hydrants: The fire hydrants really aren't such a major difference. They just look different than the ones at home. Here is a picture of one.

I know, it's just a fire hydrant
Grocery store: In Morocco (and in South Africa) there is a person whose job is to weigh your produce for you. When you want to buy produce, you put it in a plastic bag. Then you take it to the digital scale and hand it to the person there. He or she weighs it, prints out a sticker with the bar code and price, and then slaps that on the bag. Usually if you haven't tied the bag to his or her satisfaction, you will have a new knot at the top of it too.

If you fail to do this, you get to the cashier who will be unable to scan your food until someone takes it back to the produce area and handles that for you. So don't forget. Or not realize you have to do this the first time you buy produce in Marrakech.

You can get hot dogs made of duck here. Would you call them hot ducks?
But what is true in Marrakech that was not the case in South Africa, is that you can buy more than just fruits and vegetables this way. You can buy pasta. Of course, you can buy it in a box or a plastic wrap like you could in the States. But there are also bins with scoops that hold varied shapes of pasta. And you can scoop your own pasta into a plastic bag and have the person at the produce scale weigh this for you too. It's much less expensive to buy it that way.

As if this weren't freedom enough, you can also scoop your own spices and olives! That's right, there are other bins with big pyramidal piles of cumin or coriander or turmeric or paprika. And you can scoop some into a bag and take that to the produce weighing station. (Of course, for the most part you buy your spices from the spice merchants in the Medina. Much more fun that way. But it is an option here.)
Yes, that's rabbit
Volume: Of course both South Africa and Morocco (like most of the developed world) use the metric system. This was expected. But strangely, they don't agree about their favorite units. And I don't know why.

For example, in the United States, if you buy a can of Coke, you get 12 fluid ounces. Now, nobody else works in ounces. In South Africa you can buy a can of Coke that holds 330 mL. (This is slightly less than 12 fluid ounces, by the way.) And here in Morocco you buy a can of Coke that holds 33 cL.

Now for those of you who know your metric prefixes, you are thinking what I thought. Yes, 33 cL = 330 mL. So why in one country is it labeled in milliliters (which they would spell millilitres) and in the other it is labeled in centiliters (which they would probably spell in Arabic, and I don't know how that would look.) In Morocco, the units of volume are either liters or centiliters, but I don't have any idea why this is.

Garbage: We are staying here for a month, in a furnished apartment. So it isn't as though the maid comes in to clean. This means that we have to take out the trash (or the rubbish). No problem, right? Except it took me a long time to figure out where exactly I was supposed to take it to. I asked the landlord, and he told me out the gate and to the right. I went out the gate and to the right is just a sidewalk and some trees. No garbage cans (or dustbins.)

What I eventually (about a week later) figured out is that I am going way to the right. Along the main arterial roads, spaced in the shoulders or on the curbs, are dumpsters. When you need to take your trash out, you carry it out of the neighborhood, to the main road, walk to the nearest dumpster, and drop it in there.

I haven't yet seen a garbage truck emptying these dumpsters, but I have returned to the dumpster nearest me, and it does get emptied.

Patisseries: A patisserie is a shop that sells pastries. They are copious in Marrakech. Many of them are also boulangeries which means bakeries, which sell bread. So far, not that different.

Several of the patisseries we have visited have been swarmed with bees. There are bees crawling all over the pastries. I can only imagine that they use a lot of honey in the recipes or something that attracts the bees. What is so different to me is that no one in Marrakech seems to find this strange. They don't mind the bees there at all.

It's almost as if the mark of a really good patisserie is the number of bee customers it attracts. Well, that makes sense. I mean we're always told that to find the best places to eat, go where you see the locals eating. I suspect these are not tourist bees.

Those are some of the many things that strike me as, well, different. But then again, I'm really only one step removed from being a tourist bee.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Local Moroccan Hammam - Alrica

Visiting a Moroccan hammam was on my list of things that I definitely wanted to try in Marrakesh but I will confess to being a bit intimidated about the whole thing. The things I read online were contradictory so I finally decided to just go for it. Even though I knew of a local hammam, I had planned to visit the Hilton Hamman in Targa. It is heavily advertised downtown, a short walk from our house, and I was told that it is very nice. A visit to its front desk answered some of my questions: How much? $250 Dirham ($25 USD)- which matched advertised costs in the Medina; What to bring? Just a towel; What is included? Entrance, scrubbing, 20 minute massage, soap. Okay, sounds good.

Last minute research thought about tipping your hammam attendant left me questioning my decision. Someone’s post mentioned that they were spending 95 dirham and they were roundly scolded about spending too much! So living in the moment, I decided to go to the local hammam. No pretty advertising, just a hole in the wall with two doors and a woman and man’s face above each one.

I entered the woman’s side and asked how much in my broken French. The cashier smiled apologetically and called to an old man hanging around outside to come help me. He asked if I spoke French. “Un peu!” I replied. He launched into a stream of French, explaining what I would need and where to go. I managed maybe every 10th word. What I did figure out was that the entrance charge was 12 dirham (about $1.20 USD) and someone inside would help me. Following several other women, I paid it and went in.

The air was steamy and clogged my sinuses a bit but there was no scent of mildew or mold, everything seemed very clean. Several women sat behind a wall watching personal items. I went up and asked for help.  Between them, they had about as much French as I did, but they smiled kindly and went out of their way to help. They found buckets for me to use and scrubbing cloths and showed me to where I could undress. There was a mix of nudity. Some women were fully naked, and all of the children were, and some still had underwear. I decided to leave mine on and wrapped myself in a towel.

After undressing, I brought my stuff back to the attendants who motioned that I should give up my towel as well and then lead me through another door into the steam room. We picked our way across the room, looking for an empty surface as there were women everywhere talking and scrubbing themselves and children played happily. We found a place where a rubber mat was layed down for me to sit on.

My attendant filled my two buckets with hot water and dumped one of them over me and handed me the famous savon noir. It is a black goopy soap that doesn’t produce much in the way of suds but feels smooth and slick as you rub it across you. Then the scrubbing began. When I tried to help, I was motioned to stop. She spoke only Arabic and went about my cleansing with the same attention I would give to a pot that I had burned rice into. After a few minutes, she showed me the dead skin that had been scrubbed off my body. I consider myself a fairly clean person so this was a bit surprising.

She then said something in Arabic that I didn’t get and said it louder when I didn’t react appropriately. Apparently she meant for me to turn over and so I did. She scrubbed my back and then both sides before dumping another bucket of hot water over me. One of my big worries before the hammam was that my right leg is still touch sensitive after my cancer surgery last July. Erich had written down the French translation for, “Please do not touch my leg as I am recovering from cancer,” but the language barrier made that useless. I showed her my scar and tried to explain that it hurt, to which she nodded and scrubbed nearly as hard. I squirmed but tolerated it.

Then she started in on my hair with the same relish. I have a new appreciation of water boarding as a form of torture as bucket after bucket was dumped over my head with no warning. She scrubbed the shampoo into my hair and rinsed. She asked if I wanted my face scrubbed and I agreed. Then she did a final fill of my buckets with slightly cooler water that she brought to me for a final rinse.

The entire process took nearly 30 minutes from start to finish. Between rinses, the other women were friendly and chatted with me in our common broken French. When finished, my skin was glowing. I stepped out of the steam into the cooler dressing area, put on dry underwear and outside clothing and gathered my stuff. I handed my attendant a 10 dirham tip on my way out and thanked her with a smile.

Outside in the warm sunshine, my skin felt new and raw and fresh. I felt like the daily stress and grime had been scrubbed off me and it felt incredibly good. Surprisingly, much of the numbness and nerve pain that I had been dealing with in my leg was gone and a week later has only partially returned.

I am looking forward to doing this again but next time I will bring my own soap, scrubbing glove, and shampoo so I don’t have to rely on the kindness of strangers. If you are in Morocco, I highly recommend the hammam experience and I hope that you too will enjoy the local’s version and not just the tourist oriented one.

Poulet Displays of Affection - Carver

For all the non-French speakers reading this, poulet means chicken. I am not learning French but I have had to learn some words. Because when something is talking about chicken, it says …poulet… And it says it in Arabic. Arabic is a much harder language because it doesn’t use the Latin Alphabet. And it is annoying to be the only one not learning French. So when we go to
Germany, I might be happier because I am learning German. If we go to Germany. There is one language I know perfectly well: English.

To the point, at the grocery store they have packages of boneless skinless chicken breast. Or should I say boneless skinless poulet breast? Anyway, that isn't special.

Before we came, we read something about no public displays of affection. They are frowned upon. But there are poulet displays of affection. Above the boneless skinless poulet breast, on the refrigerator that held the poulet, was a picture of a girl hugging a chicken with wheat at her feet. Next to the poulet, was a big standing cardboard carving of a man hugging a chicken. Clearly they were pictures from the same farm.

So we either said it was a poultry display of affection or a poulet display of affection. I don't remember what we first said but I like poulet displays of affection much more.

Yesterday morning, there was a lamb making the lamb noise (I’m not sure if there is an easy way to write it unlike how you could write moo.) and later in the day, it was going insane and why? It was getting killed. Now I never saw the lamb get killed but we saw it's shadow through one of the clouded windows we have. They are purposely hard to see out of. That amazed me.

I want to go to the Medina and get a full chicken. What they do is they kill it and pluck it with a machine for you and then give you the chicken. And you can watch them kill it. But that isn't going to happen because we don't need a full chicken nor is anyone else excited about seeing it get killed. So I'm going to have to watch someone else get a chicken.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Views from the Souks – Erich

My post today is mostly about pictures. Even with photographs, I can't capture or create the souks and the Medina. But I can try to give you an idea of what I mean when I describe various points or objects.

I'll admit, some of these pictures don't elucidate anything so clearly as the oddities of my brain. Or maybe they don't even elucidate that and you will be left wondering why I chose to take a picture of this image. And often the answer is merely that it entertained me at the time.

So this is a visual chronicle of just some of the sights I saw today in the Medina in Marrakech.

The end of the line for this alley

The start of the line for this alley

Inside looking out
The Medina is already filled with pretty narrow streets. But off of these streets are even narrower alleys. You might be able to walk two abreast, but not much more. And many of them end in a dead end of buildings and doors.

The caged birds do in fact sing
That's a lot of birds in one cage. I saw this outside a shop in one of the souks (the outdoor open air markets.) I didn't actually go in to find out what kind of store it was. Maybe a parakeet shop.

Every once in awhile, one of these carts pulled by a donkey passes as you weave your way through the crowded streets. You are already dodging motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians. But the donkeys add a certain atmosphere. I happened to see one “parked” if that's the correct term and got this picture.

Domed stadium?
I suspect that the glass dome I see there is the top of a mosque. The reason I think this is that antenna like structure with the globes of various sizes sticking up. I have seen those on most mosques. But I could be entirely incorrect about that surmise.

Details around a door
This doorway is definitely to a mosque. But notice all the detail in carving. The buildings here are never plain, never dull. And the mosques usually have lots of beautiful work.

Speaking of beautiful work, the Medina not only houses the wares of various skilled artisans, but the workshops of many as well. Here I saw a woodworker's shop, sans the woodworker. (Nice use of my French there, right?)

Don't tell Mary
If you want your meat fresh, you can find it here or at many other similar shops in the Medina. Here we have lamb. There are also shops that sell poultry (not the same shops, mind you.) But the poultry shops have it even fresher. The chickens are still alive. (You hear the occasional crowing of the roosters as you pass through the souks.) And they will kill it for you when you pick which one you want. Then they have a machine that plucks it.

Makes it easier to get your proper number of servings, doesn't it?
If I'm showing you how to buy meat, I should also point out that this is not a protein only diet. There are plenty of places to buy all kinds of fresh vegetables and fruits. They have good selection, good quality, and good prices. That's all good!

Apparently, sometimes the fruit gets delivered! We were at a small stall in the Medina getting fruit smoothies. They make them right there when you order. But while our Jus de Mange (Mango juice smoothie) was being made, it was apparently banana delivery time! Actually some avocados arrived as well, but I didn't get a picture of those. I was too taken with this huge bunch of bananas.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Corn Chips - Carver

In South Africa, we couldn’t find good tortilla chips. There were no unflavored ones, they have barbecue and roasted tomato flavored corn chips. They also always came in small bags. This made me sad because I like corn chips. It has been a week since South Africa. The reason the last post was so late is because the numbers wouldn’t paste from my document program to the blog. In this week, we have gotten corn chips at some point. I generally don’t go to the grocery store so I don’t know when we got it. But now we tried them and they are the same! And Morocco is somewhat better. We have Internet though by the time it gets to us in the basement, it isn’t very strong. The room I sleep in is particularly bad at getting a strong signal. And they have corn chips! So I think I like Morocco more than South Africa. However, the people dress far more conservatively. If you see someone wearing shorts, they are a tourist. So when we go out to the Medina, we always wear pants. Fortunately I have the nicest pants ever. They are soft and not rigid like jeans. So they are as good as my least favorite shorts. Pants can never beat shorts unless the shorts are very uncomfortable which I didn’t bring any of those shorts. We haven’t found a replacement for the shorts that got stolen but ironically we have found shorts that I actually like and in South Africa, they weren't soft enough. We haven't gotten the shorts yet because they cost a lot. So Morocco is nice.

South Africa and Namibia Pop Quiz - Carver

You don't have to read this post if you don't care enough. This is going to go over things we have mentioned about South Africa and Namibia and then the answers. Yes, I decided to have a little bit of fun with the blog.

South Africa

1. My favorite of all questions about South Africa: What are the three capitals?
2. What is the Afrikaans name for Cape Town?
3. What newspaper wrote “A fun house full of demons”?
4. How was the calamari cooked that I considered spicy?
5. What do the South Africans call Jello.
6. Where did the sign say Horatio Nelson might have been?
7. What was the famous restaurant in Hout Bay we ate at called?
8. What color is the cream soda here?
9. What country held all the magic boxes at the Greenmarket Square shut?
10. In the Girl Guides program, what was younger than Guides?
11. Where did we go surfing?
12. What did we say when we cleared a room in Kenilworth?

South African Answers

1. Cape Town, Bloemfontein, and Pretoria
2. Kaapstad
3. Cape Times
4. Grilled
5. Jelly
6. Simon’s Town
7. Chapman’s Peak Hotel
8. Green
9. Kenya
10. Brownies
12. Yop!


1. In my hill climbing song, For the land of the __________. What is in that blank?
2. What was the dormant volcano that we stayed at called?
3. What color were the lemons at the hotel closer to?
4. Where did we camp the first night, still in South Africa?
5. What was the street that went north to the Namibia border?
6. What was the name of our warthog dinner companion?
7. What was the name of the campsite we stayed at in Etosha?
8. In Khorixas, what were the boerewors Syarra ate, made out of?
9. On the road between two cities, we were stopped and asked for passports. What were the two cities?
10. When we were Dune _ Monkeys, what was the name of the dune.
11. What was the canyon near Sossusvlei called?
12. What did we call the D Roads?
13. What was the place with the hot springs called?

Namibian Answers

1. Two legged
2. Brukkaros
3. Green
4. Kamieskroon Hotel and Caravan Park
5. N7
6. Mr. Grumplestein
7. Okakeujo
8. Kudu
9. Swakopmund and Walvis Bay
10. 45
11. Sesriem Canyon
12. Death Roads
13. Ai-Ais

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Lucky? - Alrica

Ever since we started talking about our travels, one of the things I keep hearing is how “lucky” we are. It always feels a bit strange to me because I don’t feel lucky. Seeing the world has been a dream of mine and we feel like it is important for our kids to see and understand how different the world can be so we planned for it. We saved up for years, choosing to not buy expensive cars, eat at expensive restaurants, and take expensive trips so that we could do this. And we are doing it as economically as possible. We are traveling slow, arriving in each location with the intent to immerse ourselves as much as possible in the local culture and live like locals.

While we have hit the occasional hotel, mostly we are staying in furnished apartments found on AirBnB. This hasn’t been a perfect system as they are not usually as well furnished as I’d like. Not just that they don’t have crock pots and KitchenAid mixers, but most don’t seem to have can openers and measuring cups. Morocco is a great example of this.

Arriving in Morocco, we spent the first few days visiting restaurants to get a taste of the local cuisine, seeing the must-see sights, and generally being touristy. We even took a cooking class! As we settled in, we visited the local grocery store and fruit/vegetable market. The languages spoken here are French and Arabic, neither of which do we know well. So we arrive with our cell phones installed with Google Translate and try to figure out why we can’t find baking powder in Morocco or tortilla chips in South Africa. Is it a language barrier, or just differences?  In South Africa, there were 18 different kinds of sugar and in Morocco, they seem to have a similar variety of flour. Today’s groceries cost us about $44USD and should last us about a week, assuming we will eat out a time or two.

Arriving home with our groceries, I put everyone to work: dicing onion, grating cheese, whatever, while I pull out the chosen recipe that is today’s challenge. We are planning to do a chicken couscous and the first thing is to start cooking up the chicken. The stove here runs on propane. When we checked in, they showed us that three of the four burners work and then left us with a lighter. So I turn on the propane tank and then turn on all of the burner knobs since none are marked. I can’t ignite the burners directly with the lighter without burning my fingers so I find a piece of paper, roll it into a tube, and light it. Now I have a “match” to light the stove with.

The saucepans seem serviceable, but are missing handles, no problem early in the process when the pan is cold but I better find a pot holder for later. Okay, a towel will work. Syarra volunteered to dice tomatoes but the knife isn’t very sharp, and she doesn’t have a cutting board. We find a wooden tray for her to cut on and a sharper knife to use. Now, the chicken is cooked and water needs to be added. I do so and then discover that the pan has no lid. Okay, I find another larger pan to serve in this capacity. We continue using a series of workarounds and adjustments and manage to pull off a delicious couscous.

I’m not really complaining too much. We are living in a country where the unemployment rate is 9.3%, the best they’ve seen in a long time, and the average monthly salary is $386.45 USD. Sometimes the lack of conveniences feel oppressive but I remind myself that people here live without those conveniences all the time. And most of them would not be lucky enough to be able to put aside enough money to live their dreams.

Home, Sick – Erich

The title of this blog entry is not to meant to imply that we are homesick. Though at times we do get homesick. It isn't exactly that I miss a particular home or city. But I miss the comfort of knowing that I will understand the language of any shop I enter. I miss the conventions of the U.S. culture that I can count on. For example, in the U.S. if you go to a restaurant, toward the end of the meal the waiter will bring you the bill. But in South Africa and also it appears in Morocco, no one brings you the bill until you specifically ask for it.

But that isn't really what I mean to blog about today. I mean that for the last couple of days we have been home sick, or sick at home. We haven't been going about in the city. It's nothing serious, sore throat, sniffles, coughing, and sneezing. First Syarra was stricken with it, then Carver, and it continued on to me and as I am getting over it, Alrica has now picked it up. We share so nicely.

Really, though, this is to be expected. Each time we travel to a new place on the globe, we get exposed to all kinds of pathogens we don't normally experience. Plus, we stress out our bodies. Sleep schedules change. Time zones change. When you eat changes. What you eat changes. Really when one thinks about it, it is amazing that we don't have to spend an entire month recovering from all of the changes.

Intellectually, I knew that this could happen with travel. And to be honest, it hasn't freaked me out that it is happening. But of course, I would prefer it did not. Ever impatient with my immune system, I guess.

So we use the time for other explorations. The kids work on home school. Alrica and I work in various internet classes. We look up some videos to explain or learn. For example, yesterday, we were reading in the news about the rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia. So we found a video to explain the division between the Sunnis and the Shi'a.

And we take time to play games and just enjoy our time at home. Yesterday we fought a high level illusionist and a bunch of his minions, though many of those minions may have just been illusions themselves. The rust monster was real enough though! There went a magical dagger and some magical bracers of defense. (I'm sure a sad face emoji would be appropriate here, if I could find one that looked enough like a tough dwarf who isn't the kind who can cry, I would insert it. If you find one, please let me know.)

At the rate that the illness came and went for the kids, I suspect that tomorrow or the next day we will all be ready for more exploration. And in the meantime, I guess one must learn to live with it. In every life, a little germ must fall. Or be inhaled. Or, well, you get the idea.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Day 4: In Morocco; Day 2: In the Medina - Syarra

After some research we decided to take a visit to the Medina but now it is for a different reason. Now it is not to explore; it is so we can become Moroccan chefs. We learned how in a cooking class.

Part 1: Ingredients

We were on our way to meet our instructor at a small café. Though we had to go through the Medina. The Medina is nothing like what I have seen before; it has everything from snake charmers to chicken sellers, who kill the chicken in front of you. Also the medina has sections for everything.
When we got to the café our instructor was there. We then went back to the Medina and went to get our ingredients for our lunch that we decided was going to be a lamb with apricot Tagine. A Tagine is similar to a casserole in that it is a mix of things cooked and served in a dish. The dish is called a tagine and looks like this.

Along with that we had meatball tagine, zucchini salad, and mango juice. The first thing we got was vegetables, which included 8 zucchinis that are tiny here, 2 onions, and 6 tomatoes. Then we got a kilogram of cuts of lamb from the thigh and a half kilogram of ground beef. At the butcher, bottom halves of lambs were hanging from the celling much to Carver’s amazement. After that we got orange juice, we bought 2 cups to drink and a liter and a half to use. We also bought about a dozen apricots and walnuts and two mangoes. We bought bread called khobz that looks like this.

 Then our shopping was done until it wasn’t.

Part 2: Cooking

We went down an alley were stray cats walk and only motorcycles drive to their houses.

We went inside a house that was really an apartment like thing. We sat down only to get up so we could get mint for some mint tea special to Morocco. Then we went up to the top of that building where the architecture is amazing. The stone looks like it could crumble away any minute.

Then we went down and had tea. There is a special way to serve tea in morocco. They start by pouring just normal but then they slowly raise it high. We enjoyed a few cups of tea and then we got ready to cook.

I would guess that you have never used your cheese grater for tomatoes. We now have, we grated 2 tomatoes. Our half kilogram of beef was for the meatballs. We had to reach our hands in to the beef, which had some common Moroccan spices in it (1 tsp. paprika, ¼ tsp. ginger, 2 tsp. garlic, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. parsley/coriander, and 1 tsp. turmeric.) then you reach your hands in the slimy feeling beef and kneed like it is a bread. After mixing it, we rolled it into as many meatballs as we could. As that was happening we had put the grated tomato sauce with water and a cup of olive oil on the stove to cook for 20 minutes. Then the meatballs cook for 35 minutes. We added 4 eggs to make a fried egg layer. Then we sprinkled on some more parsley/coriander and let it cook for 5 to 10 minutes and you have meatball tagine.

If anyone is interested, we can share some of the other recipes also. I enjoyed the cooking class and I hope to do more like it around the world.