It’s cold in the mountains…

Sorry for the delay in posting… it’s been a little hard getting back into a routine after the holidays and my parents’ visit. I’ve had enough trouble motivating myself to write lesson plans, let alone a blog post when it seems like nothing worth writing about has been happening here. Luckily, yesterday something exciting did happen… it snowed!

So pretty!

So pretty!

Snow is not common in most areas of Morocco. It shows in the way the houses are built – flat roofs used to dry clothes are not fun to clean off if it snows, and most buildings are built out of concrete and have zero insulation, which means the average indoor temperature in Azilal is in the high 40s right now. We do have a space heater in our house, but that only helps so much. We compensate by wearing the same amount of clothing inside as we do outside… or sometimes more.

It's cold here.

It’s cold here.

It does snow semi-regularly if you go about an hour further into the mountains from us, but here in Azilal we only see it a few times per winter (or so I’ve heard), and that scarcity is what makes it all the more exciting. We didn’t get an official snow day (pretty sure those don’t exist), but there was still such a general air of excitement in the air that it felt like some kind of holiday. We got stopped on our way to the Dar Chebab to take a couple pictures with some friends, we had a couple quick snowball fights, we saw our supervisor the most excited we have ever seen him, and since no one showed up for our classes, we got to take the night off to play in the snow and build snowmen with the few kids who came.

He's a little bit dirty... there wasn't THAT much snow.

He’s a little bit dirty… there wasn’t THAT much snow.

We really only got a couple inches, and for two people from Ohio that’s not actually that remarkable. But the combination of seeing snow in a country known for its deserts, experiencing the pure joy of kids who rarely get to see snow, and feeling a little bit closer to wintry Ohio made it almost as exciting as the snow days we used to get as kids. Although I gotta admit… now that I’ve seen it snow here once, I’m ready for it to get warm again. Come on spring!!

– Cori

Guest Post: Visitors from Home

Over the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday the Erb Family visited Cori and Matt in Morocco.  Wow, what an adventure.

Arriving in Casablanca on the evening of December 21st, Ron, Cindi, Eric and Rachel met Matt and Cori at the airport and the adventure began.  Our indoctrination into the Moroccan culture began right away as Matt gave us our first lesson in bartering for a taxi ride.  Back and forth, walking away and then agreeing to a fee, the six of us (yes, six) joined the driver in a Mercedes sedan (designed to carry five at most) for a ride into town.  Taking a “grand taxi” in Morocco means you have to squeeze 6 people into the taxi.  If you do not have 6 people, you wait until you do.  Luckily for us, we were a group of six and never had to wait.  Doubly lucky for us is that we are relatively small.  Can you imagine 6 big people squeezing into a taxi ride that sometimes lasted us 2-1/2 hours? 

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Our first night was a great time catching up and getting a tour of the local street shops.  We started off  in the bigger well known cities of Casablanca and Marrakesh.  In Marrakesh we stayed in a charming Riad just off the medina and enjoyed numerous trips in and out of the medina to shop, eat and tour the local culture. Rachel showed off her newly learned bartering skills (the above picture was one of her techniques… or, on second thought, one of the shop owner’s) and Matt and Cori really impressed us all with the ease in which they communicated with the local Moroccans.  While in Marrakesh we took a short two day excursion into the Sahara Desert (near Zagora) for a camel trek.  Nothing like showing up just after dark to jump onto (literally no training, just walk up, sit on and then get lifted into the air as your camel rises up) your camel for the ride to your camp.

Getting ready to leave the next morning

Getting ready to leave the next morning

What a blast! We rode to the camp, dropped our stuff into our tent, enjoyed a great tajine dinner,  music around the campfire and laid on the dunes in awe of the stars.  In the morning we were treated to a sunrise in the desert.  A bright blue sky, sunrise over the nearby mountains, and our camel buddies carrying us back to our vans made for an awesome start to the day.  The drive back to Marrakesh included a stop to an ancient Kasbah that had been abandoned in the mid-1900’s.  Talk about taking a step back in time.    

Uh, Dad... that's not a camel.

Uh, Dad… that’s not a camel.

We then headed to Azilal for our Christmas celebration. A great time was had by all and the best present was being together as a family. We even had bacon in the morning – it was a nice treat for Cori and Matt who NEVER get bacon.  We stayed a few days in Azilal and got to know the town that Cori and Matt call home.  We visited the Dar Chabab, met their host family and visited Ouzoud Falls where we hiked for hours.  Matt, Rachel and Eric took the plunge off of one of the falls and all of us were surprised by the local monkeys (that were not afraid of us in the least). 

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After Azilal we were off to Fes for a visit to the local Medina, tannery, shops, shops and more shops, and then a trip to Taounate.  Taounate is the town where Cori and Matt spent the first three months doing their initial training.  We spent the day visiting with Mama Naima and her family, had a wonderful meal and tea, and danced the night away.  It could not have been better.  We were very happy to meet with Naima and to thank her for being such a great comfort to Cori and Matt when they had first arrived in their country. 

A delicious cousous meal at Naima’s!

 We also visited Volubilisan ancient Roman Settlement just outside of Meknes. We got to walk around these ruins pretty much by ourselves (except for a lone Moroccan guide who kept trying to explain to Cindi and Ron in French what everything was).  What a treat to be able to see these ruins that had been around since the 3rd century BC.

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We  headed out after twelve great days with Cori and Matt. We got to see quite a variety of Moroccan landscapes – the high mountains, beautiful foothills, desert, small towns and villages and big cities. We immersed ourselves in the Moroccan culture by experiencing all types of public transportation; no big tour bus for us – we squeezed into taxis, got driven around by maniac taxi drivers (no rules of the road here), explored all types of Moroccan eateries and stayed in charming local riads and hotels (hot water never guaranteed).  Cori and Matt treated us to many great sites and introduced us to an ancient culture much different than our own.  Through it all we could not have met nicer people. 

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 – Ron and Cindi Erb (pictures added by Cori)

Visitors!

A few days ago my family left to return to America after visiting Matt and I for the holidays. They’ve agreed to write a guest post about their trip, but I wanted to put up a quick blurb too. I’ll try to keep it short so I don’t steal their thunder.

Their visit was great for many reasons, number one being that it was fantastic to see my family again after almost a year of being away. We also got to travel to tons of cool places, stay at hotels a few steps nicer than the ones Matt and I usually frequent, and eat lots of delicious food. We got to see coast, plains, desert, and mountains, and we visited some of the major cities – Casablanca, Marrakech, and Fes – as well as Azilal and my training site. We hit some really touristy places, but also got to see the more local side of things while sharing meals with my host families and Moroccan friends. All in all, it was a great trip.

I expected their visit to help me see Morocco through new eyes again. While this didn’t exactly happen (I suppose I was too excited to share the things that give me headaches on a daily basis), what did happen was a realization of how far Matt and I have come in the time we’ve been living here. I watched my family using the little bit of Darija they had learned, asking about how to share out of a communal dish, and being coerced into a Moroccan dance party by Mama Naima, and I was reminded of Matt and me at the beginning of our training here. Back then we knew just as little as they did, but here we are almost a year later, (somewhat) confidently leading them on a tour of Morocco. We’ve been living this transformation, so it’s been a little bit harder to see for us… and after living here for a while and still running into many situations every week where we have no idea what’s going on, it was a nice reminder and confidence-booster to see the change :).

Mom, Dad, Eric and Rachel – thanks again for coming! I miss you guys again already!

Camels!

Camels!

Now they'll understand that 50 degrees outside also means 50 degrees inside.

Now they’ll understand that 50 degrees outside also means 50 degrees inside.

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Classic sibling bonding time. In a cave.

Classic sibling bonding time. In a cave.