Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Morocco Memories

For some reason I thought about Morocco yesterday all day. A big memory from long ago on My Byway. Years ago (1997-1999) I worked with a solar energy company that was started up in Morocco. I was based in Washington, but I spent a lot of time out in the field. Our headquarters was in the capital, Rabat, and we had field offices in Sefrou and Taza areas out near Fez.

Morocco is a very beautiful place, but I never felt a love for it. I liked it, but I felt like I could take it or leave it. I did not feel a passion and connection there like I have felt in other places like Kenya and Sri Lanka. Perhaps if I had just gone for a brief vacation where you see all the highlights and stay in nice hotels I would have felt differently. But my experience came from spending weeks at a time there, several times a year, over several years - always for work and always with work people. It was a very stressful and intense time for me and I learned a lot. I have so many stories from that work experience and time in my life - some weren't very good or nice. Here are just a few memories that came to mind today about my experience. For some reason all of these memories just flooded into my head today. I haven't thought about Morocco or those times and experiences in a very long time.

Unfortunately all my photos are hard copy only and I don't have access to a scanner right now, so the photos to accompany these memories will come later.

When I would go to Morocco, my trips would be for several weeks at a time. I was very lonely during that time. I usually traveled over there alone. The staff were all nice, but would all go home to their families at night and I would be alone in the large house where we had our office. As a young foreign, blonde woman I did not feel comfortable going out and walking around Rabat by myself. I wasn't afraid, it was just that it would have been overwhelming and annoying - the catcalls and staring and harassment were just too much.

My french speaking skills were at their best at that time, but it was really challenging to work and be in that environment. The culture was very different. People would speak French and then blur into Arabic and I don't speak Arabic so it was really frustrating to keep up. And I never could master business writing in French.

I liked Rabat. It was a mellow city on the ocean. I never spent much time in Casablanca. I got to drive around to many cool places in Morocco for brief work trips. I spent my honeymoon there (an earlier marriage). I really loved Marrakech, Fez, Agadir, Meknes, but the small town of Ifran was my favorite. The Atlas mountains are rugged, huge, and amazingly beautiful. I remember the roads and the driving. The driving outside of the cities on the rural roads was particularly crazy. The aggression and the speed and the constant passing of cars and animals and people was insane. Driving there was often like one big game of chicken - you would pass as many cars as you could in the other lane while a car was fast approaching. It was madness. I remember there were dogs everywhere and they would always sleep right on the edges of the roads.

Our office in Rabat was in a large house in a very nice residential neighborhood. We had our office downstairs and we would stay upstairs in one of the bedrooms. The American Embassy was across the street. On the weekends, the loneliest times, I would sometimes catch some sun on that roof because it was private. I would listen to my CDs and stare at the goings on over in the Embassy compound. I bet the security situation changed a lot with that embassy since those days.

I was usually alone in the house when the staff would go home in the evenings and I would cook dinner for myself - usually scrambled eggs and sauteed zucchini and mushrooms, with bread and "la vache qui rit" cheese that I purchased from the one large grocery store in Rabat at that time. I would eat dinner in my room watching the only English language channel available on the television - Turner Classic Movies. I watched a lot of great old films during my work trips to Rabat, including finally seeing Gone with the Wind for the first time.

There was no central heating in the house, just a few space heaters. Even with a space heater in my room, sometimes I would be so cold at night during the winter that I would have to sleep in many clothes, blankets, hats, gloves. The rooms were so big, with high ceilings and stone floors and large uninsulated windows that the space heater did little good. I remember one night jogging around the house up and down the stairs (we had many levels) to get warm. That was not fun. Then I remember feeling the hottest I've ever been in my life one time out in the Taza area visiting some of our customers during the summer months. I remember driving in a truck with the windows down and the hot air blowing on us felt like a giant hot hair dryer. I drank water constantly, but still did not urinate for 24 hours. That is a sign of some serious heat and dehydration.

Once I had to spend the night out in a rural area at a customer's house with our whole team - some Moroccan and some American and all of them guys except for me. Moroccan living rooms typically have a large couch that goes all around the room, enabling many people to sit in the living room, and in this case enabling many of us to all stretch out and sleep on the couches. That was a long and weird night. In a hot room with all of those people, one talking and yelling in their sleep, feeling weird (never unsafe, but just weird) as the only woman there.

Our main driver had been working with the head of the company for many years. This driver lived just down the street from our office. His wife and her sister cleaned the office/guest house and did some cooking - coffee and lunches for staff. She did henna on my hands and feet once. One day there was this huge argument between the head of the company and her and she was fired and kicked out. I learned that he believed she had been putting things into my food. A reference to black magic and spells was tossed around. I was really freaked out. I never got any details. To this day I don't know if what she was accused of was true, and if it was whether her intentions in using magic on me were for good or bad. The driver was always a really nice little old man. I remember learning years later that he had passed away. Its weird when you find out that someone you worked with is no longer alive.

There was a Chinese Restaurant downtown that we would frequent often for lunch and a Belgian chocolate shop that I loved. You could walk to both of them from our neighborhood. I would get chocolates for myself and the office.

I loved the Moroccan mint tea. We would go to visit rural customers and they were always very hospitable, inviting us into their homes for tea or sodas or butter milk (which I do not drink). I loved the Moroccan food (the tagines, the couscous, the bread), but I would grow tired of it during long stays. I got violently ill once (on my honeymoon of course) from eating meat at one of the roadside joints that work friends took us to. I loved to walk in the market in Rabat, but the smell and the sights of the meat section of the market with all the lamb heads and parts and organs, was very hard to stomach.

Once while walking in that market with a really bad, bad American man who used to work with us (those of you reading this who worked with me know of whom I speak), a group of kids came running past us and in the blink of an eye they had stolen this man's passport out of his jacket pocket. I could not believe how fast it happened and how slick they were. I guess what goes around comes around sometimes. He was a mean man.

Thinking about all of these things has created an interest and a desire to return to Morocco to see it again after so many years and changes in my life, and purely as a tourist, not as someone trying to run a business. Also my husband has never been there and I would like to share that place with him. I guess I need to add it to my list of Byway places for future visits. Have you ever been to Morocco? What did you think of it?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing these memories. Fascinating. I've never been to Morocco but would love to go...