Wednesday, January 6, 2010


On Monday I wanted to go to a Hammam. It's a public bath house with a specific ritual. I'd read up on it & got the name of one from one of the staff members at CCS. I was a little nervous, as this isn't really my thing, but I would have regretted not trying it.

From what I'd read, you take your standard toiletries, a towel, and if you so choose you can hire a tayeba who is a woman who will basically show you what to do & help you through the process. You can also buy the necessary products there - the kees (a black glove that is rough), saboon bildi (olive oil soap that is usually in packets that resemble soy sauce) and rhasoul (a lava paste to condition your hair).

Hammams typically have 3 rooms, each hotter and steamier than the next. There are faucets all along the walls and buckets to use for filling & rinsing. You strip down to only your undies (no bra) and allow your pores to open in the steam. Then you lather yourself in the olive oil soap and have the tayeba or another woman scrub you almost raw with the kees mitt. Then you rinse, put the rhasoul in your hair, rinse, then shampoo etc before you dry off & leave.

As I arrived at the hammam, I almost entered the men's side. Whoops! When I first entered the hammam, I really needed to use the restroom and wasn't quite prepared for the immediacy of seeing a bunch of naked women as soon as I stepped inside. Fully clothed, I walked to the bathrooms, but quickly realized it would not work as it's adjacent to the first steam room and everything is soaking wet, water on the floor, etc. But what I noticed is that these women were scrubbing each other and they weren't exactly being gentle. It was vigorous and rough and while certainly removing dead skin, I worried if I'd even have any left afterward. It's also strange to see a bunch of near-naked women squatting in their underwear.

I walked back to the front room to purchase my supplies but had great difficulty communicating. They didn't speak a lick of English, barely any French and I wasn't getting anywhere. I started charades, motioning to my hair for the conditioner, pointing to the women for assistance, brushing my hands on my arms for the soap, etc. No go. I was not getting anywhere. Finally, one woman pointed to a shelf at what appeared to be previously used supplies, such as a kees and a comb. No thanks. Not going to reuse something with someone else's skin on it. After about 10 minutes of standing fully clothed in a steam room, I was near-drenched & getting nowhere. So, I called an end to my hammam experience.

But all was not lost!

Back at the hotel, I asked at the front desk where I could purchase these supplies. After purchasing the necessary products at a candy store (!) around the corner, I indulged in a private hammam in my hotel shower. The soap was amazing, the conditioner a bit odd in texture, and I still had skin left when all was said & done. My skin was soft, my hair conditioned, and I felt renewed. Not the public hammam experience, but after all was said & done, I'm kinda glad. It would have been so awkward for me that I don't think I would have gotten out of it what I'd hoped I would.

Then I napped heavily for a few hours preparing for my 27 hour journey home the next morning.

Changing Locations

Monday was my last full day in Morocco. Mohammed, the Country Manager for CCS, arranged a taxi to take me from the Home Base to Hotel Balima.

Mohammed - the Morocco Country Director for CCS

View from Hotel Balima room

I walked around & checked out the area which we had driven to many times to/from our volunteer assignment & to/from the Medina. I met up with the 3 remaining volunteers from my group for lunch. After that, we parted ways - Michelle to Casablanca for the day, and Monika & Lisa back to the hotel.
Next up: Hammam.

An Attempt At Surfing

Sighting the waves the day before, one of the volunteers (Carrie) wanted to check out the surfing scene in Rabat on Sunday. She had actually arranged a week of surfing in Morocco before the volunteer week began, but her departing flight from PA was canceled due to snow, so she missed out. Four of us headed down to the beach to find the Surf Club and hang out. Turned out there were no boards she could rent, so we walked along the beach, went to the end of the pier (where I about had a panic attack at the drop offs), and headed through the Medina. This was a relaxing way to spend the day, and was quite enjoyable.

As soon as we got back, Carrie had to leave for her return flight. It was great to meet her and become friends. She and I worked at Ibny together and shared an amazing time with those kids. She is an accomplished world traveler and I look forward to hearing about her next adventures.


Friday was spent in Fez, and Saturday was a day trip to Casablanca. I'd heard mixed reviews of the city: it was on the water (so is Rabat), it's pretty "westernized" with nightclubs and resorts, it has the 3rd largest mosque in the world, and it's an hour by train. The last two sold me, so off a small group of us went. We first stopped at an outdoor cafe to have some lunch. Very tasty and we got up close & personal with one of the stray cats. Moroccans are very kind to their stray animals. The Prophet Mohammed wanted people to be kind to animals, so they take it pretty seriously always leaving out food, even giving them names on occasion (Rex was the dog that would hang out on our property at night).

After lunch we headed over to the train station in hopes of making it by 2pm which is the last tour (non-muslims can go inside the Blue Mosque, as it is referred, during tours). After negotiating with a taxi driver in Casablanca, we headed over to see this spectacle. And oh my is it large. Pictures do not do it justice. This building is massive.
The Hassan II Mosque was built between 1986 and 1993 for the 60th birthday of former Moroccan king Hassan II. The Hassan II Mosque has space for 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 outside. The 210-meter minaret is the tallest in the world and is visible day and night for miles around. Although Hassan II Mosque was designed by a French architect, it is Moroccan through and through. Expept for the white granite columns and the glass chandeliers, the materials used to construct the mosque were taken from the Morocco region.

6,000 traditional Moroccan artisans worked for five years to turn these raw materials into mosaics, stone and marble floors and columns, sculpted plaster moldings, and carved and painted wood ceilings. The mosque also includes a number of modern touches: it was built to withstand earthquakes and has a heated floor, electric doors, a sliding roof, and lasers which shine at night from the top of the minaret toward Mecca. The huge plaza welcomes visitors from around the world.
After taking some pictures there, we watched some surfers in the wild waves adjacent to the mosque. Then we took a quick drive around the city. You can't really get to the calmer beaches unless you are staying in a resort along the sand. Other than a lot of nightclubs, restaurants, and "Rick's" all you really see in Casablanca are construction cranes.

Fez - What I always thought I'd see/hear in Morocco

Friday, January 1, 2010

Fez for my 40th on the First

Got up early this morning to head to Fez (Fes) with 6 other girls from the volunteer group. We got to the train station just in time for the call to prayer at dawn. It was really stunning to hear the calls from Mosques all over Rabat in unison & in stereo. For 80DH we each got a ticket and waited in a coffee shop for our departure.

We were lucky to find a compartment to all sit in together for the ride out (and later the ride back). It is a 3 hour train ride, but we talked the whole time, all getting to know each other more personally.

We had hired a tour guide who was meeting us at 10:15am and headed to the Medina for a great time navigating narrow, cobblestone streets. There are 9400 streets in the Medina and 400,000 people live there. You might see a dark and narrow corridor where there are 4 doors, and that means there are 4 houses inside of varying size. Many families may live together and it is a real community - certainly not like my condominiums where we all dodge each other behind closing garage doors in order to not talk to each other. Ridiculous, I know.

We saw several mosques, even an Express Mosque where people go when they do not have much time to spare. We also went to the Tannery, where they give you fresh mint to smell because that area STINKS SO BAD. It is unlike anything I have ever smelled before and it was pretty nasty. I lasted long enough to take a photo and then headed back down to the gift shop. Then we stopped in a carpet store to get the standard sales pitch, but it was entertaining & there was tea. We waited there while our tour guide prayed at noon.

We were widing around and turned a corner, and suddenly we were in this cozy little restaurant. We had an amazing spread and the service was quick and efficient.

Then it was time to head back to the train station for the ride back. All in all this was a FABULOUS day. A great day with some great women, great food, great sights. I could not have asked for more. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Food, Music & Dance

After our volunteer time on Thursday, we had cooking lessons back at the house. Aisha & Fatima are the two cooks and they make some great food. They speak primarily Arabic and French so the house manager, Kadija, led the lesson. We made Tagine Chicken with Lemon (plus a vegetarian version) & Olives and an eggplant dish. It was really fun! I got a whole list of recipes from Khadija & I am looking forward to making a big meal for my family when I get back home.

After that, while we are all just relaxing in the living room, we hear these drums and beats and this great Moroccan band comes into the house. It was great - drums, tamborines, a head chime, shakers. All the volunteers were dancing with the band, clapping, having a great time.

Later in the evening the other volunteers surprised me with a cake for my birthday. It was this delicious decadent chocolate ice cream cake. A great way to celebrate: music, new friends, dancing, and chocolate!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Day at Ibny

I woke up this morning with a bit of a stomach issue. I mentioned it to the country program manager and the driver in case we needed to make a pit stop on the way to Ibny. Naturally, this was the morning that we also stopped at 2 banks, 2 other volunteer drop offs, and dropped off the country manager downtown for a meeting. WHY TODAY OF ALL DAYS?
Made it to Ibny and the bathrooms there are less than desirable, so I went to a coffee shop that is across the street. Imagine my reaction when I frantically stepped inside the stall to a Turkish toilet (basically a whole in the floor with two foot pads where you stand & squat). What a nightmare. Made it through the ordeal in one piece, but then had to pay an attendant just for the use of the bathroom. Wasn't expecting that.

Headed across the street to Ibny for another great day. For the 4 year olds, we repeated a lot of what we had done before, but for the craft project, Carrie had braided some yarn for bracelets that we gave to each child. Then Carrie, who is a great artist, made caricature drawings of each child and we wrote their names on each sheet. While the kids couldn't understand what we were saying, it was obvious they knew we were leaving for good. We took some pictures again, hugged a lot, and got kisses from them before we left for the next class.

For the older children today I had taken some simple images from "The Tiny Seed" - birds, flower, sun, fish - and made pictures for the kids to color. At the top of each page I wrote out the words for the pictures in "dots" so that the children could trace to write. I decided this was the best way to get them to write. Many of the children have barely learned to write Arabic, so they write their S's backwards, etc. We read the book to them, then handed out the coloring sheets, and then I walked around the room and showed them the pictures in the book so they could see they were coloring the same things. The kids get really amped up after coloring for some reason, so we had them all up to the front of the room and did the Hokey Pokey which they LOVED (almost as much as I did). It was fantastic. My favorite little boy, Smaeel, was the first to rush up and insisted on holding my hand until we left the class. We gave kisses and hugs, and blew kisses as we left, and my eyes welled up as we walked to our pickup location.

This, by far, has been the most rewarding experience I could have ever asked for and so much more fulfilling than I could have imagined. We were there to assist the teachers by offering enrichment programs and activities to the kids, and personalized attention they don't get otherwise. I feel so blessed to have met them, albeit briefly, but I will always remember this experience and think about these children and wonder about where they end up in life.
An interesting thing happened later tonight as I was in a taxi to Marjane (pronounced "marjohn" - a mall with the equivalent of a WalMart). We shared the taxi with a woman who is working at the S. African embassy. She asked what we had been doing and I explained the program and the kids. She said that our hearts should be full, and that she was a child who benefitted from volunteers like us many years ago. This brought a smile to my face because she is well-educated and successful. I hope for a similar ending for all of the kids I met on this trip.

Medina Part 2

After dinner on Wednesday, 7 of us headed to the Medina for round 2 of shopping. This presented a bit of a challenge because public transportation here is horrible. I may have mentioned, but the bus system was recently taken over by a different company and it's a real mess. If the buses aren't breaking down, then there just aren't enough or they are too full and won't stop. Cabs here only take 3 passengers, so if you're lucky to get a taxi at all, you may have to share and stop along the way before you get to your destination.

Once we took the bus to the Medina, we were dropped off at the opposite entrance than we had wanted. This meant powerwalking through the crowds to get where we wanted to be. In about 45 minutes, we had hit about a dozen shops, bargained our little hearts out & got more gifts for folks back home (and stuff for ourselves, as well).

Getting a taxi was difficult, again because we had 7 people. It was 6:30pm, heavy traffic, dark out, and everyone screaming for any blue taxi with less than 3 passengers in it. Luckily we all made it back safely.

note: I went out today to buy another suitcase :-)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Years ago I read an English translation of the Qur'an, but today we learned a bit about Islam and it was good to hear it again in light of everything going on in the world.

Just a few things:
  • Islam means "submission to God's will"
  • Arab refers to the culture, Muslim is the religion, and Islamist is political and a newer term, and it's basically referring to anyone who wants to implement Islam into daily life.
  • Of all Muslims, only 19% are Arabs
  • Egypt has the largest population of Muslim Arabs
  • The 5 pilars of Islam are: 1) Shahada (belief system including there is only one God and Mohammed was the last prophet); 2) Salat (ritual prayers 5x per day); 3) Zakat (charity that everyone should give 2.5% of their annual salary to others); 4) Sawm Ramadan (fasting); and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca where they circle the Kaaba 7 times)
  • Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus and that he was a messiah, but that he was not born of God. They also don't believe that the crucifixion happened - that Christ died for 3 days. They don't believe in original sin.
  • They believe in all the miracles of Chirst, such as healing and walking on water.
  • They believe that your deeds take you to heaven or hell. Prophets won't save you, but they will help you.
  • Fatwa is essentially a statement of what is okay behavior as times change.
  • Harram is essentially clear cut wrongs, such as killing or stealing.
  • Big sins for Muslims include Killing, Dishonoring your parents, Gambling, Drinking Alcohol and not eating Halal.
  • Rules of war for Islam I found especially interesting - don't kill unless in self defense, don't pursue fleeing soldiers, don't kill women/children.
  • Wahabism is an extreme interpretation of Islam and is considered corrupt by Muslims
  • Muslims believe in angels, which have free will and come from light, and Man is born of clay with free will, and Jinn comes from fire with no free will.