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? 

DSCF5192

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). 

 DSCF5223

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.

 DSCF8016

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. 

DSCF5281

 – Ron and Cindi Erb (pictures added by Cori)

In-Service Training

Hey all! Since we’ve been in site for a little over 2 months now and have (theoretically) started integrating and doing work, it’s time for another Peace Corps training! We’re currently in Marrakech for what’s called In-Service Training, which is a week of training for all the volunteers in the group we came with. We’re having a great time catching up with everyone, seeing the sights of Marrakech, and participating in really important organized events such as the Pool Olympics, Darija Talent Show, and the Prom that’ll happen at the end of IST next week.

The big mosque in downtown Marrakesh

The big mosque in downtown Marrakesh

Snake charmers in Jemaa el Fnaa, the big tourist square. This is where he catches us taking a picture and makes us pay for it.

Snake charmers in Jemaa el Fnaa, the big tourist square. This is where he catches us taking a picture and makes us pay for it.

Matt performing his twist dive in the catapult event of the Pool Olympics

Matt performing his twist dive in the catapult event of the Pool Olympics

But really, we are doing quite a lot of work here meeting with volunteers and staff to discuss what we’ve all been up to and to be trained in a few more things. We’re also getting a lot of language instruction – Matt and I are studying Darija in the mornings and in the evenings we’re also finally getting a chance to have some formal instruction in Tamazight, the Berber language that almost everyone in Azilal speaks. It’s not strictly necessary for us to learn, because most people in Azilal also speak Darija, but we figured it’d be nice to have that extra way to connect with people.

We’re pretty busy and pretty tired most days here but it’s really nice to see everyone after being in site by ourselves for the better part of the last few months. Enjoy the pictures!

Matt and Cori