Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Running, stinking, wedding in Morocco

Hi from the Maghreb! It’s my second time here, but this time, elhamdulelah, I’m a tourist. I came here from Cameroon. Next is Tanzania and then home sweet home on the 28th :)

I got to go for a run along the Atlantic the other day, in the port town of Essaouira. Man, it seems some things are universal. I love that running is something you can take almost anywhere. Feet slapping on wet Atlantic sand, it reminds you of any other time you’ve gone running in a weird new place, and makes you feel connected. I hadn’t even packed my running shoes on my short trip to the beach, so I strolled through the old city wearing my swimsuit, with an old T-shirt and my culturally-appropriate (read: ugly) long running shorts on top. I pulled off my flip flops at the beach and ran, holding them in my hand, until the crowds were far behind me.

At the beach in Morocco it’s interesting to see the huge variety of dress, as in Egypt. Some women literally swim in their FULL CLOTHES, head scarf and everything, the wet fabrics sticking to their necks or trailing out behind them in the ocean. I always wonder what they thing of me, pale calves blazing in the sunlight! Very few Moroccan women were out in a swimsuit. I feel scandalous.


I also love to play the game “Find the Moroccans!” It can be hard to tell who’s a tourist and who’s not! On the plane on my first trip here I was stunned (and flattered) when the flight attendant asked me if I was Moroccan. I’m pale. My hair was orange. Apparently, that is the same color as the queen’s hair, and a more common color among people from Fez. (I’m in Fez now… really??) I wonder if I kept my mouth shut, and wore a lot more clothes, as opposed to my what-the-heck African pagne dresses, if people would start thinking I’m local and asking me for directions. That would be sweet.

I got to stay a couple nights with a Peace Corps Volunteer here who is a friend of friends. I loved it! She speaks the language, knows the food, is appreciated in her town. Honestly, I felt much more at home there than with the bunch of backpackers at the hostel where I first arrived. Soon, even better, I’ll get to meet up with my old co-worker and dear friend from MCC, Cathy. Til then, I’ll be bumbling around the old medina of Fez, snacking on the occasional olive (there are LOTS to be had here!) and hanging out with naked old ladies in the public bath houses. Woopee!


The dye pits in the tannery of Fez

The secret ingredients used to treat the skins? Pigeon poop and cow piss. Mmmmmm.

I was fascinated to see the tannery and the dye pits in action in Fez; I’d heard tons about them through my work at MCC. I spent a long time gazing out at them from a balcony, despite the pervasive I-might-barf odor. Apparently, one strapping young lad mistook my general interest in the pigeon shit pits for a specific interest in him. He pulled out a little extra bicep flex for me (which I appreciated) and gave me the smile and wave. I reciprocate. He points to his ring finger and makes a come-on-down sign with a big grin. I take this to be a marriage proposal. I leap into the shit pits too and that’s the story of how I’m no longer a single lady. Just kidding. Standing in chemicals up to my knees withholding nausea is not in fact my dream wedding. Instead I waved good bye to Prince Charming and went to haggle over some sweet-smelling finished leather goods. Maybe next time…

It’s funny the things that can set me off these days. I think I’m growing up—less emotional than when I was younger. Just when I’m about to pat myself on the back for that, I get lots of liquid products confiscated at the airport in Paris before my flight down to Morocco. (I guess I should know better, but I haven’t flown on a rule-abiding airline in over two years… I forgot!) I feel myself get teary over losing my deodorant, sunscreen, and toothpaste. It was certainly high quality sunscreen, but really? Teary? I surprise myself. I didn’t even cry when I left Mokolo. I try to bargain for the return of my liquid cosmetics… but this is not Africa anymore and the lady just gives me a sorry smile. I shuffle away dejectedly. What is more worth crying about were the ten days when I smelled like… good ol’ me, with no added advantage of ANY deodorant! My apologies to all gentle travelers and hostel owners whose paths I crossed in those recent days. Maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right places, but deo is not easy to find in Morocco! My earthy odor was moreso something to cry about than my replaceable toiletries. At least my would-be husband in the tannery dye pits didn’t mind.

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