MontanaRon

An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Month: October 2005

Train Ticket and Small Pleasures

John (my RELO) advised me to buy my train ticket to Marrakech as soon as possible, since next weekend is Eid, the end of Ramadan, when there is a lot of celebrating and visiting, so the trains might fill up early. I think Eid is on the 4th of November this year, but it could be on the 5th; I’ve heard conflicting dates from different people. I bought the ticket today, round trip, leaving Meknes Friday morning at 7:55 and returning from Marrakech on Sunday at 1 p.m. Here is a FAQ about train travel in Morocco if you’re interested. The Friday morning time might be a hardship because I am so used to staying up until around 2 a.m. in the morning and getting up about 10 a.m. Of course, I have to change my sleep schedule before school begins, but once Ramadan concludes and things are back to normal, that shouldn’t be a problem. I suppose I can sleep on the train, but I also want to see the countryside and take photos through the windows.

The last few days here have been almost like summer, with plenty of sunshine and very warm, almost hot, temperatures. I walked to La Bel Vie supermarket yesterday, about 15 minutes, and was sweating by the time I got there. I went specifically looking for a breakfast cereal. I bought a small bag of German oatmeal when I first got here, but the oats were of the instant or quick kind and I found a bug in the first batch I made, so into the garbage they went. Next, I tried a box of All Bran Flakes. They were sealed in an inner plastic bag, so no bugs, but there is an incredible amount of sugar for it being a “health” cereal. Then I noticed a box of something called Jordan’s Porridge Oats, so I looked the company up on the Internet and it sounded ok. (Can you guess that my focus is on fiber?) I was worried whether or not the oats were sealed in a bag and if they were instant. So I bought a box, determined to eat them no matter what, since they cost around $5.50 a box. I got home and opened them, and lo and behold they were sealed and they are the whole oats that I like, similar to the Quaker Old Fashioned Oats that take 5 minutes or so to cook. Lucky me. Sometimes, or most of the times, the simplest pleasures are the best. More later.

Marrakech Hotel

John sent me email yesterday informing about our stay in Marrakech next week. We’ve been booked rooms at the 5-star Royal Mirage Hotel, the former Sheraton of Marrakech. Very posh hangout. Since Marrakech is Hakim’s hometown, he’s promised to show us around. I believe we’re going up on Friday and coming back Sunday. Nabila and I give our workshop on Sunday morning. Should be a fun trip.

Finally, I started jogging again. I went out this evening at 6 when no one is on the streets and did about 20 minutes.

White Sox up 2 games to 0. I’d like to say bye-bye Houston, but I remember, try as I might to forget, what happened between the Yankees and Red Sox last year.

And yet another sunset photo. Ok, maybe a couple.

Mr. Ambassador

Yes, I did meet the U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, Thomas Riley, on Thursday, albeit very briefly. He arrived in Meknes with a security escort, and all the automobiles usually parked in the area around the American Language Center were not allowed there during the visit. He came to the ALC to hand out scholarships to some of the students. Most, or all, were in needy circumstances but are very good in their academic studies. There were 33 of them, along with several VIP Moroccans, including Mr. Haddachi, Tariq (ALC director), several teachers, and many people from the press. John, the RELO, Hakim, his assistant, and Evelyn, PAS Officer, were also there from Rabat. It was pretty crowded. I hear that the event was supposed to have been on TV last night, but I couldn’t get any reception on my set. One of these days I’m going to have to get a satellite dish. I also met another American teaching at the ALC, Jillian from New Hampshire. I didn’t really get a good chance to talk to her at length, so I’ll have to look her up later.

It’s a very nice day here and the 15 minute walk to the market had me sweating a bit. I decided to walk, rather than take the bike. Usually traffic in this section of town is heavy and I didn’t feel like fighting it today. It turned out to be pretty light, though, so I probably would have had a leisurely ride. Still, I ended up playing “bullfight” with the cars. Pedestrians in Meknes pay no heed to traffic lights or traffic, for that matter. Just walk when you can, avoiding any oncoming vehicles, some of which come close to grazing you. I play the game, too, though carefully. Just trying to fit in. The drivers here are not nearly as discourteous as those in Korea; they seem to be more aware of pedestrians and bicycles.

Also, I’ve posted the Volubilis photos in the gallery. Take a peek, if you’re so inclined.

The World Series starts tonight. Since I’m unable to watch the games live, due to national blackout restrictions, I’ll watch them the day after on MLB.com. As I’ve already mentioned, I’ll be rooting for Chicago. More later.

Home Page

Ok, I think I fixed the problem. The blog should now come up as the home page with all the latest entries showing up. I’ll keep an eye on it. Leave a comment, please, if you notice something haywire.

Volubilis, Peace Corps Training

First off, I noticed just a moment ago that my home page was reflecting only entries through the month of September. Hmmmmm. So, I had to change, temporarily, back to the old page. I’ll try to set it up later so that the blog works ok as the “front door.”

Last Sunday, John, Evelyn and I went to Volubilis, site of the ancient Roman provincial capital. The ruins are located somewhat above a fertile valley, offering sweeping views of the surrounding farmland. It was an overcast day, lending a colorless sameness to the ruins and the surrounding area, especially now during the dry season. In spring, when everything around here greens up, the site is supposed to be very beautiful. I can imagine that during Roman times, with a few more trees than there are now, the city must have been lovely. There is actually a lot to see–the remains of bakeries and wine and olive presses, the baths, the capitol building, the marketplace, the sacrificial altar in front of the basilica and many houses with their tiled, mosaic floors still relatively intact. Some of the houses have been given quaint or evocative names, like The House of the Labors of Hercules, House of the Athlete, House of the Dog, House of the Golden Coins, House of the Bathing Nymphs, House of the Columns and House of Dionysus and the Four Seasons. All in all, it’s an interesting site.

There weren’t a multitude of other tourists here, though there were a couple of tour buses that left shortly after we arrived. Volubilis is only about 30 km (18 miles) from Meknes and could be a nice day trip by bicycle. Except that it is 1/2 downhill and 1/2 very much uphill! Maybe in the spring I will give it a try.

For larger photos, just click on the image.

In the mountains to the south clings the small town of Moulay Idriss, one of Morocco’s holiest sites. John tells me that it was only recently that it was opened to non-Muslims. According to one of my guide books, Idriss I fled the caliph in Baghdad in the 8th Century and came here. He founded the first Arab-Muslim dynasty in Baghdad and is buried in the town that took his name.

Last Friday, the 14th, John, Nabila Moussamin (the other Fellow in Morocco, based in Tangiers) and I went to the Peace Corps training site at Imouzzer, an hour and a half drive south-east of Meknes. There we trained the volunteers in the use of “Books in a Box,” literally boxes that come with 32 English Language-Teaching books packed inside them. It was great fun working with the PCVs, since I’m a former volunteer myself. They were very enthusiastic about having the books and the workshop was very well received. Imouzzer, over 4,000 feet up in the Middle Atlas mountains, is a smaller version of the nearby resort town of Ifrane. We started the workshop around 12:30 p.m., and as the afternoon progressed, it started to get a bit chilly. Being from Montana, I wore only a short-sleeved shirt, but it wasn’t too bad. I also met a fellow Montanan there, a volunteer named Brian (sorry, Brian, I forgot your last name) from Denton. He also attended the U of M, so we had a lot in common to talk about. It wasn’t all that surprising to meet another Montanan, since the U of M always ranks high nationally in the number of PCVs it recruits.

Let’s see. What else is happening . . .?
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First Rain

Despite a forecast for clear skies today, we were visited by a stray thundershower about 12:30 p.m., which drenched Meknes with quite a gully-washer (or, as one might say in Morocco, a wadi washer) for 20 minutes or so. Perhaps we’re being influenced somewhat by the odd tropical storm Vince, which is sitting in the Eastern Atlantic just off the coasts of Spain and Morocco, heading this way. At any rate I’m told that the rainy season doesn’t begin until the end of November or beginning of December, and this is the first time it’s rained since I’ve been here. It’s nice to have an early shower to settle down the dust.

Yanks win 3-2! Yes, forcing game 5. It starts at 12:30 a.m. this evening, so I’ll probably wait until tomorrow to watch it.

Time Shift

Everything has been moved back a couple of hours, due to Ramadan. So, for example, the patisserie, normally closed at 10 pm, now stays open until midnight or 12:30. It’s the same for most of the other shops also. Most of them don’t open until noon, instead of the normal 10 am. Around sundown, say 5:30 or so, the sidewalks clear out–the whole city seems deserted, with a few cars buzzing around. It’s a good time to go bike riding or walking, since everyone heads home to break their fasts, as I posted previously. Interesting and kind of eerie, but in a good way, I suppose.

Sunday, John, the RELO, and Evelyn Early, (I think that’s her name), the Public Affairs Officer of the Public Affairs Section (PAS) of the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, are coming to Meknes. The PAS used to be known as the U.S. Information Service. Neither are coming up on an official visit; Ms. Early is fairly new to the country and John is taking her to visit the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis, about 20 miles from Meknes, and I have been invited to join them. So, it should be a very interesting, and photographic, journey.

I rode my new bike to Marjane today, a 35-minute trip to the Wal-Mart of Morocco. Bought some odds and ends for the bike, but also bought a new bath towel to replace the “Blue Demon” lint producer, that, after several cycles through the washer, shows no sign of ceasing its shedding. I’ll have to find another use for it. Any suggestions? Wall hanging? Substitute cat?

My permanent internet connection is supposed to be hooked up on Monday. I had to get a regular phone installed in order to get the 512K ADSL connection–the number is 212-55402717 (or 055402717 if you call from inside Morocco). Might as well put my address here also, in case anyone wants to send me some goodies (though I can get everthing here that I need or want, for the most part.) It is Immeuble LAKHSSASS, Apt. #3, Avenue Hassan II, Meknes, Morocco, 50000.

If you notice the time of the posting dating for this entry, be assured that it is correct. Yes, I’m listening to the late-starting (in Morocco) Yankees-Angels playoff game, hoping that the rain holds off in New York. HAH! The Red Sox got swept by the Chisox. Awesome! More later.

On Second Thought

LA 5, Yanks 4, bottom of 4th. I just hope the construction workers aren’t outside my apartment with their jackhammers going at 8 a.m., like they have been the last 2 days.

Enough

5-0, Angels, top of the 4th. I’m going to bed.

Ramadan, Bicycle, Eclipse

Today is the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and prayer. The small street running along my apartment was much more subdued this morning, quieter and less bustle. Many of the shops stayed shut for most of the day, opening a little later than usual. Most of them are shut down now, but only, seemingly, so that the employees can go break their fast (it is now after sunset). The patisserie is closed, but they haven’t pulled down their security shutters on the shop windows, so I assume they will open later on this evening. The normally packed streets are unusually empty, almost strangely so, though there is the usual assortment of vehicular traffic. Mohammed told me that most people stay at home in the evening, eating and drinking (non-alcoholic, of course) with their families. A few days ago, all of the restaurants that serve alcohol shut down, as well as liquor stores and the areas in grocery stores that sell alcohol. So, if you’re an expat looking for something stronger than mint tea, you’re out of luck until November.

I finally broke down and bought a bicycle the other day, a Bacini mountain bike (made in Taiwan) for about $110. I took it for a long ride in the country, which you can get to with just a short trek outside of Meknes. The surrounding farm land reminds me a lot of Montana, as I’ve stated before, with rolling hills leading into the mountains and strip-farmed land checkerboarding the landscape. It was a pleasant ride, though I have to do some adjusting to the gear shifters and derailleurs, which are a bit cranky, so to speak. Needless to say, after my 20-km (estimated) ride, my rear end was sore the next day. Here’s a look at Meknes from the southern edge of town.

Of course, I’ll put this image and most of the others that you see on the blog into the photo gallery in a larger size, so check there for these photos, and others, in the new section “Morocco.”

Monday I was tempted to get up early and watch the eclipse, but I decided not to bother since I had no way of observing it without going blind. By all accounts, it was fantastic. There is another one in this area on March 29th, 2006. Unfortunately, Morocco will be just outside the zone of totality.

Hah, Yanks win first game 4-2. I didn’t stay up to listen to it last night, even though it was an “early” game. With a 7pm Eastern time start, that meant it didn’t come on until 11pm our time. Tonight it’s even worse, starting at 2am (10pm ET). Of course, if the people upstairs are still up making noise because of the late Ramadan hours and keeping me awake, maybe I’ll try to watch or listen to it. More later.

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