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)

Back to Work!

I never thought I’d be glad to hear those words… but after a summer where our entire job consisted of working the occasional camp, I’ve actually enjoyed getting back to work in Azilal. It’s been a slow start – school started at the beginning of October, but then there was a week off for l’3id. Then there were a couple weeks on, and another week off from school last week to celebrate the Islamic New Year and the Green March holiday. But we’ve been gradually increasing time at the Dar Chebab and letting people know that we’ll be starting classes soon. We’ve got a big project going on the next few weeks (you’ll hear about it in our next post!) but after that we hope to finally get back to teaching regularly.

Here’s what we’ve been up to so far this school year:

  • I’ve been teaching aerobics and beginner English at the Nedi Niswi, which is the women’s center (yes, this is the part where you all laugh as you imagine me leading aerobics). I’ve really enjoyed it though, not least because I can always fall back on “do this” and “like me” when my Darija isn’t getting the point across. Awkwardness (usually) averted!
  • I also attended a training to be able to lead business education programs at the Dar Chebab, through a Moroccan non-profit that’s partnered with Junior Achievement. Youth unemployment is a huge problem in Morocco so this is something that I’m excited about doing this school year.
  • Matt’s been planning some big projects of his own, including starting the C.L.I.M.B. program in Azilal and getting his foot in the door with a few PCV-organizational partnerships such as a rock-climbing camp and Engineers without Borders. He’s hoping to get more involved with all of these at the beginning of next year.
  • Together we’ve been going to the Dar Chebab to hang out with the kids there. Since we haven’t started any structured classes yet, our crowd is pretty small, but we’ve enjoyed playing Frisbee, Uno, Scrabble, Chess, paper football, and whatever other games we can think of with them. For kids whose main form of entertainment at home is TV, these games are a great way to pick up some new problem-solving skills, even if the English we use is minimal.

Even with starting up work again, we’ve still have some time for fun… we got to visit the Ouzoud waterfalls again this weekend with Max, a couchsurfer that we hosted from Germany. Got to see the beautiful falls, gorges and cliffs, play with some monkeys, and even do a little November swimming!

I guess Max shares some of Matt's crazy... and they hiked around in their underwear the rest of the day to let them dry out. no joke.

I guess Max shares some of Matt’s crazy… and they hiked around in their underwear the rest of the day to let them dry out. no joke.

Picture courtesy of Max, who is a much better photographer than Matt and I put together

Picture courtesy of Max, who is a much better photographer than Matt and I put together

Cropped to save you all a close-up of them in their boxers.

Cropped to save you all a close-up of them in their boxers.

The Ouzoud Falls

The Cascades d’Ouzoud or Ouzoud Waterfalls are one of the biggest ecotourism sites in Morocco.  At 110m, the main waterfall is the 7th tallest waterfall in Africa… and luckily enough for us, the falls are only a 30 minute drive away from Azilal! A trip there has been hanging over our heads for months with questions about it nearly every day from somebody in Azilal: “Bonjour! Ouzoud?” (a lot of people think we’re French tourists) or, “Are you going to Ouzoud?” or, “Have you been to Ouzoud yet? No? Why not??”

People are mostly just flabbergasted because the only reason foreigners come to Azilal at all is to get to Ouzoud or to the Bougamez Valley (another popular ecotourism site that we have yet to visit…), so the fact that we’re foreigners and have not yet visited these places is a little odd. And now that we’ve  visited Ouzoud  we understand the question a little better – people keep asking because Ouzoud is BEAUTIFUL and what the heck were we doing living so close and not going to see it?!  We finally got our chance to visit this past weekend, and now we can finally answer all the questions with “Yes, we’ve been… and it was awesome!”

We really enjoyed getting a chance to see Ouzoud. There are tons of things to do there – artisan booths to shop at, a short hike to the big waterfall, lots of little restaurants, swimming holes and jumping rocks, monkeys to take way too many pictures of, and tons of little hiking paths for longer hikes (we explored for a couple hours and found some awesome scenery and a little cave)! Are you all planning to come visit us yet??

You need to look at this one full size to truly appreciate Matt's insanity

You need to look at this one full size to fully appreciate Matt’s insanity

Exploring the cave

Exploring a little cave

Monkey!

Monkey!

Gorgeous river valley

Gorgeous river valley – this is a nice hike way past the touristy areas

Did we convince you? Come visit!