The plan was simple enough, buy the ticket, visit my Peace Corps daughter in the shadow of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, ensure she realizes I intend to spend one night only in her house and the rest basking somewhere more regal with access to amenities such as a shower, temperature controlled environment, creatureless bed(room), beer, and food of my choice. Buying the tickets was the only part that worked as planned! Read on: Tickets were easy and connections looked very doable time-wise, so far, so good. First airline Iberia – red flag for me, I’ve never had good experiences with them and sure enough – the streak continues. The check-in lady has me place my carry-on in the little “if it fits here you can take it bin” – DAMN! It doesn’t fit – half-kiddingly I ask her if she guarantees the bag will arrive – she smirks. I’ve seen that smirk – I invented that smirk when some guy asked me “How’s it going?” when I was scooping up my dogs poop in the park – yeah, everything’s fine… “DUMBASS”. I took note of the HUGE bags in the overhead – at least twice as big as mine – I despise you Iberia! Venice to Madrid, no problem and 5 hours to wander the cavernous Madrid airport. Connection coming from Casablanca is delayed, but still doable… …two hours later, it is delayed and is becoming less doable. Iberia “customer Service” is anything but what the title implies – they’re ill-tempered and rude – granted short- staffing doesn’t help, nor the hundreds of stranded passengers that are in line (weather problems in Europe) but not my problem – missing the connection is my problem!
Arrive in Casablanca on Royal Air Maroc at about 0950 – run through gates and make it to a cheerful service rep who informs me, “the plane just left”. She directs me to the “Customer Service” area where one poor 18-19 year old kid is asking the “manager” what to do – realize this conversation takes place in front of me – the manager never talks toward/to me – the kid is frazzled but presses on. Can they put me up for the nigh? The kids asks’ “the man” who snorts, asks the kid to get the ticket from me, takes a look and informs the kid to tell me that they won’t pay for the lodging for “this class ticket” – WTF? I’m tired and in a foreign country and need to keep my cool – trust me - that’s NOT ME! (But I’ve also seen Midnight Express - and even though that was Turkey, the feeling is the same and I don’t need that kind of exposure to the culture). “Where can I stay if I pay?” Take the blue bus for the “Atlas Hotel – it’s free!” Well, the Atlas is a dump that costs me $100 for the night. The towel is a bit larger than a face cloth – but who cares I have no luggage anyway – bring it on! Round two, I’m booked on a flight from Casablanca to Agadir, then on to Ourzazate (closest airport to Peace Corps camping adventure). All goes as advertised, until the 4 other passengers and I are at the luggage carousel and thy pick up their bags while I watch it go in circles – damn you Iberia! No matter, I see my daughter and I will be fine. I exit, and we’re good (for now). I file a claim leave a phone number and off into the Moroccan night!
My amazing daughter has picked up the language quite well (at least to me, though she is corrected a lot). Amazing considering it is a tribal language and has no real written equivalent. She negotiates the taxi, to the bus and off we go into the blackness. The bus drops us for a “local” taxi – she’s very remote, in this case the taxi is a taxi only because it has four wheels and a battered sign – I’m ambivalent but we press on. Halfway through a treacherous mountain switchback (coal black nigh) the strange noises from the back are getting stronger. We stop. The driver and his co-captain (a couple of 20-22 year olds) get out and start beating some part of the rear end of the car with a rock – life is grand and we’re going to die. Oh well, so be it. Car is fixed (good rock work guys) we get to the edge of her village and walk through the dark on a road that is probably a thousand years old – its crystal clear now and the stars are at our finger tips. I’m freezing, but so what – I’m with my daughter and we’re heading to her house. We get home and we hear the villagers out and about with a bonfire and song – not for me despite my long trek… Lilly the wonder dog is a boundless ball of energy and explodes at both of us as soon as the door opens – she has no manners, but she is a wonderful companion to my daughter and a bit of a rockstar in the surrounding villages – they all know her and it is extremely rare for a dog to be kept as a pet (she came from a stray pack that still wanders the villages). She’s broken into my daughters secret food stash and made a mess. Now, when I say food stash, I’m sure visions of cookies, candy and cakes fill your minds – wrong! We’re talking the basics here e.g. instant oatmeal and some random stuff, but in this world it’s GOLD! Lillie is lucky to be alive after that little escapade – Rockstar or not.
My daughter takes me to her host/adopted families house for tea – mind you, there was a vague possibility that I would visit and an even vaguer timeframe for that to happen and they could not have been kinder. The “tea preparation process” is a small wonder in itself and I found myself transformed and transfixed back in time as I am sure this was how it’s been done in the Berber villages forever. There is a social rank/status and the process takes it all into consideration in regarding to who is served first and how they are served. I’m sitting on cushions, wrapped in thick blankets, in a wonderful family room that exists’ for the sole reason of social interaction e.g. drinking tea and eating – I did not understand a work that was being said and was totally at home – having said that, I understand “EASH” (spelling is questionable) but it means “EAT” – if you’re a guest, invited or not – you’re expected to eat the lions-share of the food and the family elder will prod you to “EASH”. We started with some sweets, then onto bread and oil, then a communal plate of meat, potatoes, and vegetables, followed by fruit. All food was eaten by hand using the massive loafs of locally/community baked bread – hands are washed at the table before and after the meal. Eat what is in front of you and don’t reach across anyone else’s’ “space” that’s rude (thankfully I was forgiven being the outsider, but that only lasted one day – after that I was no longer a visitor and expected to maintain proper decorum - I’m sure I embarrassed my daughter repeatedly but she never chastised me too badly-not publicly at least – a bit of role reversal there). Feeling totally bloated we waddled through the village and into my daughters house which resembled an adobe house from the American Southwest, but with VERY low doors (I have the bumps to prove it). The bathroom was a danger area for me as it was really cramped and low-ceilinged – thankfully I did not need to use it in the middle of the night as I would have knocked myself out and/or twisted my back and/or fallen down and/or all of the preceding. Angelica has a REAL bed (alright, almost real – she has a real mattress) and she was sweet to give it up to me – although this confused Lilly to no end, too bad for her, I kicked her out!
Sound sleep and an early 0900 rising to the smell of coffee – bright sunshine and a very tolerable dare I say “nice” day – yes I dare – it was pretty nice in the sun and the walls of her courtyard. I know we ate something, but I can’t remember what – no matter, the day held much food in our future! The coffee was great! Angelica decided to take me on her daily route, so we walked through the fields on a sunny, warm day to souk (think Wal-Mart without the wall) lots of shops spread in a small area all specializing in some type of commerce. E.g. beds, metal, butcher, corner store, etc. – one shop for each “specialty”. The walk was about 20-30 minutes and between Lilly and Angelica, every one we met had to say hello and or stop and see the “dog” and or both. Once I was introduced I was given a warm welcome and good wishes – these are amazingly wonderful people, no pretense about them just lots of curiosity, I never felt out of place (other than my rather large frame and pale skin of course). After souk, we went to Angelica’s other host-family (they took care of her when she initially reported to this village) and again I was surrounded by “family” , stuffed to the gills with food, bonded with, good naturedly chastised for my short trip, and totally oblivious to what anyone was saying and again – totally comfortable with all of it. Anyone who spotted us walking through the fields wanted to say hello and everyone knew Angelica and Lilly and now, they know me as well and I know them – they are “family” – that’s just the way it is here and I can live with that. My daughter is in good hands and I am thankful for that. The amazing thing to me is that, she is recognized within a 50-mile radius – what warm and caring people! Ok, so, now my village time is running out (thanks Iberia and RAM! – BTW, where is my bag?).
We must return to Ourzazate as I have an early departure the next day. We get the taxi, then the bus, and then we stay at the luxury (relative, but VERY nice) hotel. I also need to mention that Ourzazate was an amazingly clean city. We ate at a little French/Moroccan bistro, listened to a live musical entourage in the square, ate cotton-candy (well, one of us did…) and I got to spend quality time with my favorite Peace Corps volunteer (Alexa, you’re a close second…), the meal was great, the wine very nice and the time was gone in a flash. At 0dark thirty we arrived at the airport to find my bag in the “lost baggage” office – so much for the “We’ll call you” – nobody knew when it arrived. So I dug out gifts from her mom, some treasures from me (Peanut Butter and Ping-Pong balls) and was on my way back – this time being allowed to hand-carry my bag – I barely make it home as fog has obliterated the landscape and I can’t even see the road signs (I miss my turn off twice). Finally at home, greeted by Luna (the cat) I can’t help but feel I was short-changed and must return – I had a great time. Blessings upon your parents. Hopefully I return again soon – In challah!