Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Return of the Globetrotter

Early, way early, that Saturday morning, we all met downstairs at the Tulip dragging our luggage behind us and carrying a sack breakfast onto our bus to the airport.  Farewell Rabat-Sale Airport.  Farewell Morocco.  Farewell new friends.

Blessings to you all.  I will never forget you.


It's a Wrap!

We returned to Rabat and ate dinner in the Tulip's restaurant.  This was the last of the teacher tour.  In the morning, we had debriefing meetings with the entire cohort who had returned from their distant host schools that day.  Friday morning, my thoughts fixed on the trip home.

The cohort looked a little fatigued that morning but satisfied the entire project had been what they were hoping for.  We shared encounters we had had at our host schools.  Some pictures were taken and we talked about how we would use the intellectual capital we had gained for the betterment of our students when we returned.  "You're family is probably ready for you to be home aren't they Carl?" I was asked.  "Yes, they are", I replied.

The Blue City

Since we didn't have to travel from a great distance on Thursday to get back to home sweet Golden Tulip Farah Hotel, the Marrakech marauders, led by fearless Houria and our van driver set off for Chefchaouen, in the north of Morocco.  It was dark when we left town and as the sun emerged and fog burned off, the scenery became progressively green as we rode north on winding two lane highways.

We stopped off for breakfast at a bakery, which resembled our donut shops, and ate French pastries with juice and some strong coffee.  We made another stop in the country at a gas station with a scenic view out back.

We made another stop in the country at a gas station with a scenic view out back.

We rode past small towns with children walking to school.  We saw shepherds and goat herders tending their livestock.  We passed women carrying children on their backs.

Chefchaouen was the most beautiful place we visited on our tour.  If I ever return, I hope to just spend two or three days there shopping, dining and taking in the city from the Kasbah or the top of the mountain overlooking the city.  The group went sightseeing, took pictures, shopped and toured the picturesque Kasbah.  

Unbelievable end of a dream trip.


Good-bye Larbi Doghmi High School

Wednesday turned out to be our last day with Abdellatif and the students at Larbi Doghmi High School.  We rode to school with our host teacher and had some good class periods during which we told stories about home life and answered questions students had written down on previous days.  Todd was feeling well enough to enjoy himself again.

When the 2-hour teacher lunch break began at Noon, Abdellatif took us to his home where his wife had prepared a huge platter of couscous with stewed vegetables and beef on top of it.  As I recall, it was the only meal we drank water that wasn't bottled.  Abdellatif had a water filter.

We chatted about Moroccan television shows.  Table conversation meandered from how amazing the platter of food looked and tasted to the best strategy to get the beef on top of the couscous to fall to our side of the platter so we could claim it for our own.  Abdellatif told us a story about when he was a boy and his parents would ask how he got all the meat to fall to his side of the family couscous platter.  It was a good laugh.

Dessert in a Moroccan home is generally some very good fruit and this meal was no exception.  Some of the homes we visited had platters of pastries in a variety of shapes and flavors.  They are excellent with a glass of hot Moroccan mint tea.  Our hosts were kind and kept the food flowing until we said the word Abdellatif taught us:  Safi! (saw-fee)  Enough!  Stop!  No more!  We tried.  It wasn't always successful.  I will never forget the hospitality extended to us during the time we spent in Moroccan homes.  I tell my students "If you get a chance to travel to Morocco one day, jump on it with both feet!"

We returned to school that afternoon and frantically passed out what was left of our stock of USA/Morocco plastic bracelets, and U.S. quarters with Oklahoma on the back.  The bracelets were so popular that on Monday we had kids following us into the teacher's break room, which was off limits to students without expressed permission from the staff.  We waved good-bye to several classrooms as we passed by and there were students standing on chairs and cheering us as we departed.  We felt like it had been a successful cultural and academic exchange.

A Rabat Tuesday

By Tuesday morning, Todd had taken ill.  All us local TGC folks felt terrible for him and Abdellatif made the call for me to stay at the hotel just in case so we played hookey that day.  The silver lining was we were able to use that time to rest and that would get Todd onto the road to recovery giving us strength for the home stretch of the adventure.

After catching up on some e-mails and napping a little, I walked down the street and picked up a couple of souvenirs to bring home.  A student had asked for Moroccan food so I acquired a bag of couscous and found some interesting hot pepper sauce for our cabinet.  Simple things which would be reminders of the time in Morocco.

Evening rolled around and dinner time arrived.  I decided to walk over to a very nice below ground plaza and pick up dinner for both of us at a nice restaurant with dining under the stars.  I waited for the order and looked around at the families, young people, parents and business types.  'Except for the languages, it could have been downtown Tulsa.  The waiter finally brought the two sandwiches and an "egg burger" in a paper bag.  I carried the meal back and dropped Todd's chicken sandwich off with him before eating, and turning in for the night.  It had been a restful day and Todd was fighting off his cough.

Tough day on the trail but improving by the minute!


Back to School

Monday mornings at Larbi Doghmi High School mean students and staff gather in the courtyard for the raising of the Moroccan flag and singing of the Moroccan National Song.  The student driven and enacted activities start the school week on a proud note of patriotism and unity of the student body.  It was evident many were proud for us to see this informal ceremony with students lined up out of respect.

Students smiled and greeted us enthusiastically again.  We got to visit classes that morning and then after some time in the break room we presented slideshows about our lives in America and our schools.  In attendance were our host teacher, some faculty members their students and a handful of parents.  It was another good chance for us to share our love for teaching high school students and give them an understanding of what life is like in the U.S..  At this meeting, we distributed some souvenirs and local tourism literature.

One of the highlights for every student we encountered was the fact we were native English speakers and we delivered the only pure English commentary they have heard. Todd and I were getting better and better at friendly banter which was entertaining for the classes we were visiting throughout the experience.  We spent a short time in the break room and students were sent to take us to another class to observe and introduce ourselves to.

Abdellatif took us back to the hotel after school and we met other members of our cohort, placed in Rabat-Sale for dinner at Coq Magic, which turned out to be a frequent dining spot during that second week of the field work.  Bad news was, Todd was not feeling very well and the night air was a little chilly.

Feeling like locals by now.


The Marrakech Express

Saturday night we decided the Sunday train ride to Marrakech was a go!  Todd stood in line when we got back to Rabat and picked up tickets for the next morning.  We walked back to the hotel, hopeful we would see another important city in Morocco's history and some desert terrain.  We rose Sunday to another gorgeous day.  A holy day for Moroccans.  This particular holy day had some extra intrigue we were unaware of until we reached the train station platform.

We had been on the platform for about half an hour and our train had not pulled into the station yet.  There were several 20 something year olds climbing down the steep plateaued ledges that rose on the opposite sides of the track.  It seemed odd and we weren't the only ones who noticed.  A German Shepherd was gated into a stair well nearby to keep people from entering the side of the track we were on.  The watchdog was barking at the men climbing down the far wall but no train station personnel paid any attention.

The trains which were arriving, from both directions, were filled with young men.  As they poured out onto the platform, they formed up into groups, yelled some things about Maroc in unison, waved Moroccan flags and them proceeded in fluid motion up the stairways and into the station.  We speculated on what the commotion was and even though we ascertained it had nothing to do with us, we walked to the far end of the platform to wait without intruding on the festivities.

We discussed going back to the hotel and canceling the journey to Marrakech but after about 15 more minutes waiting, our train finally arrived, full of men, shouting waving flags and climbing the steps.  Maybe it was a soccer game?  Some kind of independence day?  We had no idea and spent the only few moments of the trip we weren't entirely comfortable keeping a low profile and refraining from taking photographs.  We ran down the platform, trying to find the car we belonged in and boarded the train in time to enjoy about a 4 hour train ride on the Marrakech Express.

I get home and my Dad sends me this link of a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young video at Farm Aid:

                                                            The Marrakech Express

We arrived in Marrakech and went to meet some other TGC fellows who were traveling that day.  We waited in a hotel lobby and exchanged some currency while we waited for them to return from shopping on the Square.  When they arrived, it was lunch time so we all walked over to a high end hotel restaurant which serves many good Moroccan dishes.  The train delay left us a little shorter on time than we had hoped but after lunch we walked to Jemaa El Fnaa Square.

Jemaa El Fnaa has food vendors, hotels, businesses, snake charmers, monkey keepers and curious visitors.  For 20 Dirhams, one can have a photo made holding a non-poisonous snake or charming a venomous snake.  If primates are your thing, a photo with a monkey can be purchased.  We had to go before the food cart vendors began to fill the square that evening.  There were six of us riding to the train station.  We were about to make another cultural discovery.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had made a speech about Morocco.  In his remarks, he had stated Western Sahara was not a part of Morocco.  Loyal Moroccans had taken to the trains and rode to Rabat to meet in protest of the inflammatory statements.  Four million Moroccans had traveled to Rabat just to protest the Secretary-General's idea that Morocco wasn't a sovereign state, entitled to all it's lands to the south.  Yeah, that's what the trainloads of men that morning had been about.

Problem at that point was the trains had been running behind all day. When would be passengers in the Marrakech Train Station found out they weren't traveling that evening due to the schedule being now hours behind, they didn't take the news without waving fists and shouting at railroad employees to express their displeasure.  Houria Kherdi, host teacher for another TGC teaching team thought quickly and arranged a bus back to Rabat.  We would arrive late in the evening but we would be back at our hotel and ready for school the next day.

Great thing about the group we were traveling with was we all understood flexibility is a key to happiness during international travel.  The bus rumbled through lots of traffic until we were outside the city and safely back to Rabat.  We had been witness to an impressive moment in Moroccan life.  Of 34 million citizens, 4 million had traveled, protest and were now trying to get home, just like us.