Week 4 in Morocco| August 2, 2011
It being my boss’ last week of work as Country Director in Morocco, I was assigned a small project with a short turn around on US voting and election practices. The research was to focus on the National Voter Registration Act in order to help prepare the Moroccan anti-corruption division, the ICPC, for the upcoming October elections. Although my superviser had to return to the States indefinitely, I will continue working with the organization as planned. Being here so late into the summer has put a damper on the whole job search front, since many of the career fairs will be held before I even touch American soil again. So as a warning to any students who elect to split their summers in international positions, make sure to plan on getting back state in time for interviews and career fairs if that is important to you. I've been able to explain my situation to many employers. Many have been understanding and have accepted my application materials, but it has meant a lot more work on my part.
The rest of the week was fairly light. On Monday afternoon, the three musketeers went to get manicures and pedicures after work. We happened to go on a night that was one of the nail tech’s birthdays. Being the last clients of the day, we were invited (essentially forced) to stay for cake and drinks (soda of course). Having had too much to eat already, I may have fooled lactose intolerance to get out of eating the cake. It was a really cool experience though to see how Moroccans celebrate. After Arabic lessons on Tuesday, I finally watched the movie Casablanca. I figured it was a must since I had been there the past two weekends and had frequented Rick’s Café each time. I have to say that after watching that movie, I understand a lot more one-liners in modern comedies. Anyways, it was a really great movie, just like everyone said it would be. On Wednesday, my Dutch intern friend and I went to a going away BBQ for my friends from the Rabat American School. Afterwards, we went over to the German cultural house to meet with some more friends for a glass of wine. Friday, the family I am living with’s father was promoted to Lt. Colonel. My host family threw a big soirée. I was thrilled to be in the company of Deputy Ambassadors and Military Attachés from various embassies in Rabat. Of course, I invited my two other musketeers for the exciting evening.
The next morning, the three of us hopped a train to Marrakesh. Getting there in time for lunch, we ate at one of my favorite places in Morocco… the gas station. Seriously, they have amazing food and a great ambiance. From there, we set off to view the palace that Jacob, Amelia, and I never found last weekend. After touring Kisr Bahia, we lounged around playing with a colleague’s children in the pool. We ate dinner in the central square Jemma el Fna, which let me tell you is quite bustling at night. It is unparalleled by anything I’ve ever seen before. After a couscous dinner (I know, I was amazed I could get it on a Saturday too!), the girls wanted some snails from the local stand in the middle of the market. We concluded the evening with a horse drawn carriage ride of the city.
The next morning…let’s be honest… the next afternoon, we had lunch in a tent on the rooftop of our hotel before heading back to Rabat. Unfortunately, since some plans changed last minute, we ended up having to ride 2nd class on the train back. The good news was that we were able to get seats together. The bad news was that it was the hottest day I’ve ever experienced in Morocco, 2nd class doesn’t have AC, and it was an afternoon train and we picked the side with the sun shining in. In hindsight, I wish I had thought of that before. In other words, I felt right back in my Cambodian home for the duration of the 5 hour sweaty train ride. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade… right? That’s exactly what we did. We shared iPod headphones and danced in our chairs for the whole ride home. It must be something about train rides to and from Marrakesh, because they always start out bad and end up the best.
One bad thing did happen on the train, however. After letting on more passengers at various train stations, the cars began to fill quickly. A few men offered their seats to women and children, but there were still many passengers without seats. I had noticed that the couple across the aisle from us had their bags in a chair for a long time. At first I had assumed that they were saving the seat for someone, but after a while it became evident that they were just using the seat as storage despite the overhead compartments. Noticing that they were conversing in Spanish, I recalled just enough of my high school Spanish to ask if they needed the seat or whether they would be willing to move their bags so that another passenger could sit. Figures that I know just enough Spanish to get myself in trouble. The man, a Moroccan, went off on me in Spanish. I didn’t catch every word, but I certainly got the gist. I apologized but reiterated that I was just asking him to do something nice for another passenger instead of for his baggage. Another Moroccan man asked what the problem was in French and so I explained it to him. Much to my surprise, he started to yell at me as well. Telling me that if someone wanted the spot that it was their responsibility to ask for it, not mine. It’s not a foreign woman’s place to tell a Moroccan man what to do, he said. Filled with the Irish rage the often flows through my veins in situations like these, I continued to explain that it was mean to keep the seat for bags alone. In the end, the man moved his bags and two people were able to sit there because of it. Although I was happy that two more people got to sit, I couldn’t help but notice the death glares that I continued to get from the Moroccan couple even through the train station in Rabat. There have been a few situations here in Morocco where I have been lucky. In hindsight, if I were truly concerned for my own safety, I think it would have been wiser to keep my mouth shut. But I guess that’s just not me.