Morocco, Week Fourteen

Week fourteen began with Austrians and ended with Germans. I had two delightful Austrian house guests, Sabine and Hans-Peter, who kept me entertained on Monday and Tuesday. Both of them had quit their jobs, bought motorcycles, and embarked on an around-the-world journey. (They took crash courses in motorcycle repair before leaving.) Next up: traveling down the western coast of Africa. Their trip ends, I suppose, when they get tired of traveling and move on to the next thing in their lives. We ate delectable Moroccan food, played with Loki, and had a long, fascinating conversation about the attitude toward the film The Sound of Music in Austria and why most Austrians have never seen it.1

On Wednesday I made a new friend, Fabian. Fab left Germany in September to embark upon a traveling charity project, Fab&Vivien Around the World. Here are the details in his own words:

“10 Bucks, two friends and one crazy bet around the world. Fab&Vivien claim that for each 10€ donated to social grassroots projects, they will find 1 person to sing with them. As they travel around the world, imagine they go to Thailand and raise 1000€ for a new school – and 100 people singing in a mass performance! And as if that wasn’t spectacular enough: It has to be a song in the local language: “mai dai kee itcha”, you know?! If Fab&Vivien loose the bet, a horrible penalty awaits them: Will it be sleeping on a scary cemetery or working hard on a local field?”

Kind of a neat idea, right? Fab and I had a long evening getting lost in the medina, drinking mint tea at my usual rooftop hangout,2 and discussing his project, music, Moroccan culture, and whatever else we could think of.

I don’t remember why I originally volunteered to chaperone the high school Halloween party, but on Friday night I found myself at the school gate shining a flashlight into girls’ purses.3 I spent the second hour standing around outside the building with the other faculty members, bored out of my mind. The students were all inside, dancing to the kind of music I usually go out of my way to avoid. But since it was between boredom outside and hearing loss inside, I ventured in. Now, I know I see these kids every day, but it made such a difference being around them during a social event. They looked like they were having such fun, and I couldn’t help but feel happy and energized, too. I spent the last hour dancing.

I got a call bright and early on Saturday morning from Fab, who wanted to go hiking. It wasn’t until we both got into the car that we realized that neither of us actually had a destination in mind. Thankfully, I recalled some scenery I’d notice on my trip to M’diq the previous weekend and suggested Tétouan as a closer alternative to Chefchaouen. As soon as we saw big mountains, we took the first road off into the hills, driving past an enormous open-air sheep market,4 run-down houses, and women moving huge sacks of something from a taxi into their homes. Parked where the road ended, and managed to confirm with two women (who were staring at us) that there was, indeed, a way to hike up into the mountains from our side of the hills.5

Fab needed to film scenes during our hike for his next video installment, and appointed me director for the day. If you’ve been reading this blog faithfully, you’ll remember that nearly every time I try to go on a pleasant, civilized hike in Morocco I end up losing the path, wading through miles of thorns, climbing cliffs, and asking goatherds for directions. This is exactly what happened to me and Fab. Just so you’ve got a clear mental image, remember that, as designated camerawoman, I had to scramble up those cliffs first and and capture Fab climbing them.6 We even had a couple of alarming encounters with unsettlingly large and orange spiders.7 We reached the top of the ridge, legs covered in scratches and cuts, and utterly triumphant. Two goatherds had been watching our progress,8 and I offered them a few handfuls of nuts and dried fruit. (Fab gave them cookies.) I confirmed with them that a path devoid of thorns actually existed, handed out some more food, then continued up the mountain.9

Predictably, after hauling ourselves to the top of the first peak and discovering that it was not, in fact, the highest point on the ridge, we set off for the next mountain. At the top of that one, Fab parked himself on a flat rock, probably hoping that I’d be satisfied with our considerable achievement. After all, even the (now far away) goatherds looked impressed. But when I turned, I saw one more ridge just a little higher than the one on which I was perched. So off I went, Fab calling after me to “please try not to fall”. After a few close calls10 I plopped down on the highest rock on the highest ridge on the highest mountain. The wind blew noises up from the valley below, and I could hear birds chirping, goats bleating, and water dripping between rocks. I smelled wood smoke as the goatherds lit a fire and cooked their lunch. One of them got out a thin flute and began to play a beautiful, haunting melody. Even the birds paused to listen.

We raced the sun down the mountain, guessing at paths until we ended up in a sandy clearing where teenagers were finishing up a soccer game. They followed us down the path and around the hillside, calling out and throwing the occasional rock. (It sounds shocking, I know, but we were so tired and scratched that we didn’t much care.) We lost them eventually, only to be discovered by a pack of wild dogs. They growled at us out of the dark, and I picked up a rock and a big stick, just in case. Finally we rediscovered the tiny village where we’d parked the car and walked down the hill toward the lights of the local mosque. Dogs and children long gone, Fab and I grinned silently at one another. A group of women carrying freshly baked bread emerged from around the corner. They took one look at us, our cuts, our sun-burnished faces, and handed one of the loaves over to us. We sat in the car, still grinning, and nibbled warm bread.11

On Sunday I hosted a Halloween movie night in the library for grades four through six, which was a great success and not at all as chaotic as I’d feared. Raised a decent amount of money for the library12 and the kids had a great time, repeatedly asking when the next one would be. Even parents were excited; perhaps partially because of the extra two hours they had to themselves, but also to see their children involved in extracurricular activities and socializing outside of school.

I ended my eventful week with a kitten on my lap, a bottle of wine, and my mandolin.

  1. The usual bit about perpetuating stereotypes, but also the simple fact that the movie isn’t well-known to many people outside the English-speaking world. While I remember watching The Sound of Music several times a year from an early age, many Austrians don’t even hear of it until well into their adult lives. []
  2. Got lost trying to find it, of course. Also pranked two kids who were following us around, and it was extremely satisfying. []
  3. Thankfully, I found no drugs or alcohol. Instead, most purses were crammed with spare clothes, makeup, and even shoes. The girls had left home dressed modestly, changed at at a friend’s house along the way, then arrived at school for the party in a completely different outfit than the one that their parents had approved. I had a pretty hard time controlling my laughter when I found three makeup bags, a pair of jeans, a shirt, a sweater, and two shoes… all in the same bag. Incidentally, nobody wore a Halloween costume. I was told by a senior, point blank, that if I wore a costume I would be laughed right out the door. Apparently costumes aren’t cool anymore. What these kids don’t realize is that once they go to college, Halloween is all about the costumes. Revealing, skin-tight ones that are just an excuse for girls to wear even fewer items of clothing around campus than usual, but still technically costumes. []
  4. In preparation for Eid al-Adha, an important Muslim festival that involves sheep sacrifice. []
  5. Also that it was okay to park the car there. []
  6. You can see some of the footage I filmed here: []
  7. Another bad habit of mine: forgetting to maintain a safe distance from possibly venomous creatures. Like the time I walked right up to a rattlesnake in Shenandoah National Park for the sake of a clear photograph. My macro lens was back at home, so I leaned in until I was nearly touching the web. I don’t think the spider was poisonous. As a lifelong arachnophobe, I was pretty proud of myself. How’s that for exposure therapy? []
  8. They were undoubtedly entertained by our hour-long effort to climb the relatively small hill below. []
  9. Among other things, we made friends with a couple of sweet goats, followed a dung beetle around with the video camera, and I collected some wild succulent samples. Sedum sediforme, to be exact. []
  10. Sorry, family members reading this. []
  11. The moral of this story is: Sometimes if you can get past children throwing stones and ferocious dogs, smiling women will give you homemade bread for your journey home. []
  12. We’re on our way to having enough money to order real, actual books! []

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