Technically, alcohol is illegal in Morocco. Technically . . . However, I just returned from shopping at LaBel Vie, which has a somewhat small but well-stocked liquor store separate from the main grocery section. The usual selection of beer and wine can be found on the shelves, but the “hardcore” drinker can also pick up a bottle of whiskey, scotch, gin or other liquor from the U.S., England and elsewhere. If you’re so inclined and well-heeled, you can splurge on a bottle of French wine for $300 or a bottle of champagne for $250. As I pushed my cart past that section today, I saw that it was packed with people, almost all of whom were Moroccans, presumably stocking up for New Year’s celebrations tonight. There had to be nearly 50 people in the small store and you’d have needed a shoehorn to cram anyone else in. It was really unexpected. Most of the people who will imbibe tonight probably do not “trip the light fantastic” that often, so I hope they are careful. I’m told most drinking takes place in private, but I’m sure there will be many out driving tonight. I expect to hear the ambulance and police sirens wailing far into the wee hours of the morning. It appears that New Year’s Eve is a big event here, too. There were many more people walking around in the main plaza than is usual for this time of day on Saturday, so I think there may also be outdoor celebrations, perhaps even fireworks, later tonight, though a few showers are in the forecast. If I’m still up, I may wander around . . . carefully.

I went with Mohammed a few days ago to Rabat. He had to turn in paperwork and some money leftover from a recent conference he attended in Algeria, paid for partly by the State Department. We visited John while we were there and were given a Christmas gift by the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy–a pen, a key chain and a very nice box of chocolates! I think I had mine eaten by the time we returned to Meknes. My original reason for going was to catch the train in Rabat for Casablanca. I have a box of books there which I ordered from Amazon, but they’re being held up by customs until I can claim them. Unfortunately, I still haven’t received my Moroccan identity card and I was afraid the customs officials would want to see my passport, with my expired visa. The police are supposed to issue a receipt when you apply for the i.d. card, but they told me I didn’t need one. I don’t even want to think of the hassle involved trying to explain my “overstay.” Anyway, it was a pleasant trip. Mohammed took one of the back roads on the return journey and I saw some very beautiful countryside. With all the rain we’ve had lately, everything is greening up very nicely. I might take a day-long bike trip to the area to get some photos.

The teacher trainees, my students, are finished with their recent practicum, so it’s back to work next week. Briefly. The week after that is another Muslim holiday, the Eid ul Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice). I believe the actual day is January 11th this year, but it is a week-long celebration, thus no school. What have I been doing this past week? I made the mistake of loading Civilization III, my most addicting game, onto my computer, so I’ve been wasting a LOT of time playing it. Civ IV is now out and I’ve read reviews that say it is the best of the series so far. I’m sure I could find it here somewhere . . . but do I dare?

Lest you think I’m a real slacker (a case COULD be made), I’ll also be giving some workshops to Peace Corps volunteers at the end of Jan/first of Feb. John said he might need me to go to Fez and to Er-Rachidia (Mohammed’s home town), not far from Merzouga and Erg Chebbi, home of some of the biggest sand dunes in Morocco, if not in the world. Those I gotta see!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!! If you’re out drinking tonight, please be careful. Don’t drive, ok? More later.