It must be Ramadaan, because here I am, wide awake at 2am, chugging water and Metamucil like I’m on a deadline– which, ha, it turns out, I am! I have about 1.5 hours left before the so7or prayer, which signals the beginning of fasting for yet another Ramadinian day.
If you’re interested in learning what Ramadaan is like here in Tameslouht, Morocco, I encourage you to read my assessment of the situation from last year. This year is more of the same, minus my unwavering amazement at the fact that I can deprive my body of food and water for 16 hours a day and still function! It’s funny– just knowing that it’s possible has made this year a lot easier. Lftur, or breakfast (the first meal when you break your fast), is often an anti-climactic moment of “Wow, I could totally keep going for another 30 minutes!” (But don’t worry Mom, I never do!) The weather this year, I will admit, has not made it the sweaty, stuffed-with-suffering, epic novel of tragedy it was last year. With nights in the low 60s, I can hardly mark this one under the “conditions of hardship” experienced in the Peace Corps. Although, come to think of it, this might just be my “uphill, in the snow, both ways” story for the future generations of Quinn children to come. I’ll keep you posted.
But I digress. Bottom line: the details of Ramadaan are largely unchanged from 2012. What I have gathered you here tonight for is a tale of T’s– my journey to two new parts of Morocco, Tiznit and Tiflet (and ending in Tameslouht, to extend this moment of poetic alliteration for as long as possible). What brought me to these titillating tourist traps?
The three of us, plus Bryant (not pictured, unfortunately for him!) were paired together by the sheer grace of Allah to study together in Moulay Yacoub for two months. We ended up seriously bonding and keeping up with each other all through our respective services. Thus, when Lucia began talking about her upcoming talk, it seemed only natural to invite myself along.
First stop? The TEDx Tiznit conference, in none other than the booming metropolis of Tiznit, where the lovely Lucia was invited to present about the topic “Prospects and Potentials.” Just in case Tiznit slipped under ya Moroccan radar, here it is, in reference to the lesser-known beach town of Agadir:
Lucia arrived two days early for her talk on the 29th of June. I joined her on the night of the 28th– it was time to “change the weather,” as everyone says here in Morocco…but really people, with the highs in Marrakech topping off around 110, I was literally ready to be anywhere but there. Thankfully, Lucia is a rockstar and got invited to do something, anything, that wasn’t in the Kech oven of death. Perfect excuse to get the heck outta dodge.
We shared a room at one of the four hotels clustered at the main intersection in town, with a room overlooking a lovely garden and pool (which, unfortunately, we learned was really more just a receptacle for cleaning water than it was a swimming opportunity…but nevertheless, it looked lovely!) Lucia and I ventured out of the hotel soon after I arrived, ready to explore the old medina. It was picturesque; old winding alleys with the bustling rhythm of distinctly Moroccan crowds (no tourists here!), all encased in those large, mud-brick wall that can’t have offered any sort of real protection but look imposing nonetheless. Strangest component of our night walking through the city? No one said a word to us. Not even a “special price, just for you!” or the ol’ favorite “hello how are you i am fine good thanks very nice”. No side glances, no stares, no kids asking for a dirham or a creepy dude asking for lord knows what. It was like Marrakech off of hormone therapy, plus colder weather. Aka heaven. Or, at least, a much-needed haven.
After drowning ourselves in the vestiges of the “big city” (cheese, crackers, cookies, olives from a jar…the works), Lucia reviewed her fancy-shmancy speech for the umpteenth time and I got ready for bed– with dreams of TEDx, dancing in our head(s)…
Early next morning, Lucia and I set off for the Cultural Center of Tiznit, located conveniently like, 5 minutes away from the hotel. By foot, ladies & gentlemen. We got our blood pumpin’ by mosey-ing over, and arriving about 2 hours early for the anticipated 12pm start.
How American of us.
When we got there, the set was barely put together. Large cut-outs of “T” and “E” and I think even an “X” were being painted rather hastily, while lighting crews figured out their angles and the organizers ran around, ironing out details and larger-picture items simultaneously. Having lived in Morocco for over 1.5 years now, Lucia and I reacted with the true veteran attitude: Meh. We’ll go entertain ourselves! It’s amazing how quickly time can pass when you’re fully equipped with many, many days of professional time-passing under your belt. So here are some pictures from our venture around the grounds as we simply kept doing what we are so good at doing. No beats skipped.
I think around 1pm, Lucia and I were interrupted from our meandering and ushered outside of the center to have lunch. I’m not sure if I was a happy accident or not (in this specific context), but I was definitely the only non-speaker entity to be dining in the fancy tents with the free food. In times like these (read: times of free food), I have learned to just go with the flow. We ate marvelously, and I even got gifted with a silver pin made by artisans from Tiznit. Being in someone’s entourage definitely pays off.
Around 3ish (more or less 3 hours past the scheduled starting time of the event), Lucia and I were driven back to the center so that the show could begin. Lights dimmed, programs were handed out, and people started talking!
There were a total of 15 speakers, all of whom were given free reign of the microphone for 3-18 minutes. Most of them erred towards 15, I would say, and they ranged from, “well, I couldn’t understand, but the few words that I caught were mysterious” to “very interesting” and “on Lucia’s level”. Seriously. Her speech was fantastic– and I’m not just saying that because hers was the only talk I understood 100% of.
Lucia spoke about how to make a logic model for your life. For those of you who don’t know (aka aren’t Peace Corps volunteers or people who write grants incessantly), logic models are visual aids that assist in goal-setting. Basically, they help you to break down your inputs, outputs, and outcomes into a neat little package. We (okay, a select, nerdy few of us) love using logic models here for project-planning purposes. Lucia, however, has drunk enough logic model kool-aid that she has actually made one for her Peace Corps service. And that, my friends, is what she shared with 100 people in Tiznit on June 29th. How to look at your prospects, examine your potential, and organize them in a way that breaks down the barriers between your raw materials and the final, assembled goals that they can achieve when put together in the correct way. Lucia made sure to include a number of heartwarming anecdotes about her Peace Corps service along the way, emphasizing her notoriety as miskina (a poor girl) in her town and her comedic run-ins with Moroccan culture. The crowd totally, completely loved it– enough to where one guy inquired as to whether it was “madame” or “mademoiselle” Lucia
The talks went deep into the night, with highlights including a pair of sisters who completed their BAC exams (Moroccan equivalent of passing/ graduating high school) in their 40s, a teenager who sang in 4 different languages, a Cuban art professor, a magician, and a high schooler studying in South Africa. By the time a band came on stage to close the show, probably half of the TED-mandated audience of 100 had called it a night. Lucia and I followed suit (after a few interviews for her and one for me, check us out speaking Darija here!), landing ourselves into the previous night’s cheese and olives and cookies while tucked into bed. It was definitely a successful trip.
Ramadaan began about a week and a half later. Halfway through the first week, it was time for the next big T on my list: Tiflet.
Lauren and Justin live here. They’ve visited me twice in Tameslouht and once more in Marrakech; I, meanwhile, have been the picture of one-sided friendship, always missing out on opportunities to visit them in their northern estate about an hour outside of Rabat. Armed with their artisan baskets ordered from Creation Tameslouht, Michelle and I traveled up north (or, north-ish), just to see our lovely married pals and break fast with them.
Michelle and I arrived just minutes before the call to prayer, signaling the end of fasting for the day. To put this into context: traveling during Ramadaan is a tad trickier than the usual process of getting from place to place in Morocco. An illustration: Michelle and I were getting into Rabat around 5:30, as scheduled by CTM (the bus company we used). However, Casablanca traffic is the Moroccan equivalent of Atalanta at rush hour, so there was to be no “on time” nonsense in our immediate future. This meant scrambling from the bus depot in Rabat all the way across town to the particular taxi stand that had transportation to Tiflet. However, being so close to the moghorb prayer made it totally possible for taxis to be non-existent. Taxi drivers could easily choose to go home, to hang out at their respective stop until it was time to break fast, or heck, go sit at the beach (that’s what I’d do) and twiddle their thumbs until the sun set. Luckily for us, not only was there a taxi, but there were enough people to fill up said taxi. We were off to Tiflet, land of the Laurens and Justins, in only a matter of 10 minutes.
Justin met up with us at the taxi stand in Tiflet. Walking through the deserted streets, I gaped at the largeness of the city– it easily coulda been a section of Marrakech we were walking through. Paved roads lined with cafes, cars, small taxis…Toto, I’m definitely not in one-road Tameslouht anymore. We ran into two kids manning a chbekiya cart, obviously done with their rounds and heading home for their own lftur. We flagged them down to buy some of the fried, sweet goodness that is chbekiya. They asked if we had been fasting. When we nodded our heads and offered our parched tongues as proof, they smiled and handed us a mound of chbekiya dripping with honey and goodness. There we were, three Americans breaking fast in the middle of the street with the chbekiya vendors. Truly, 100% an “only in Morocco” moment.
We made it home to mama Lauren in a few minutes. She had an American version of lftur ready for us– fried tortilla chips, homemade salsa, and juice, plus the fried msimin that Michelle and I brought…hello, heart attack. Just what you want after a long day of not eating anything! It was delicious, in case you were wondering.
The next day was dedicated to exploring Tiflet while simultaneously trying not to kill ourselves because, ya know, we were fasting. This meant sleeping in late, hanging out, and then going to Lauren’s aerobics class. Scratch the part about trying to avoid death. That’s right ladies and gents, I completed a one hour class of physical fitness while fasting. I have reached a new level of being! It was a really great class, though– that Lauren knows her shit. Michelle and I were bending and twisting our bodies with a gaggle of Moroccan women, a Lithuanian gal, and several kids to boot. Nothing gets your heart rate up like communal suffering.
We broke our fast with Lauren and Justin’s host family several hours later. They treated us to a lovely meal and all of the WWF we could dream of. Afterwards, a walk around Tiflet at night helped our stomachs to not riot after two days of nothin’ but greasy goodness. To give you an idea of how a walk around Tiflet compares to one in Tameslouht….
Not twin cities by any means.
The next morning was time to say goodbye to our dear Bernsteins. The next time we’ll meet will be on American soil (where Lucia currently is gracing the Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich with her presence). This fact that 27 months has disappeared so rapidly is 1 part exciting and 32190893291 parts terrifying. It really does seem like only a few months ago, we were struggling to understand the basics of Arabic and Moroccan life together in a tiny tiled salon in Moulay Yacoub. Now, we’re having entire (albeit poetically broken) conversations in Arabic and navigating the ever mind-bending society with the ease of someone with quite a few battle scars and knows the proper times to duck. It’s been the absolute craziest of circumstances under which a friendship is born, but I’m very glad to say that they– Lucia, Lauren, Justin (and Bryant + Michelle, our honorary member!) have consistently proven to be friends worth writing home about. Or at least, definitely blog material
Footnote: I have all of these adorably fat pictures of us from our first few months. I’m not sure when we’ll finally get an “after” picture to compare to all of these befores, but I would like to informally declare that, between the 5 of us + Michelle, an entire 170 lb person has been lost. High five for the Moroccan diet!