Spain, but Not Spain

We leave Melilla this afternoon for Madrid, where we’ll spend one quick night and then board a plane for home.  Yay!  Here are a few pictures from this little city where you can walk anywhere but everybody owns a car.

Here’s the fort.

Pretty, yes?  Each time we’re here I wonder why this isn’t more of a touristy place.  Like, where are the coffee shops?  Gift shops? Benches to sit and gaze at the Med?  Don’t know, folks. (Once, four years ago, we attended a medieval festival up here, which was fantastic.)

The beach is popular.  We’ve strolled down via the wide sidewalk and back via the sand.  We’ve also sat on the numerous benches and watched soccer practice in the sand, volleyball practice in the sand, swimmers and sail boarders in the water, freighters, ferries, and an occasional cruise ship.  No refugee landings like last time, though.

Like mainland Spain and other hot places, Melilla residents take a siesta mid-afternoon.  Everything closes for nap time:  the hotel café, cafes along the beach and by the park, grocery stores.  Those of us from non-siesta lands must remember these things or go hungry.

Also like most of Europe, Melilla residents eat their dinners late.  Night before last we decided to eat on the “terrace” for a special BBQ, which opened at 9 p.m.  Naturally we were HUNGRY by then, but it was worth the wait.  Not quite understanding the menu, we picked something that looked like BBQ meat and were not disappointed.  (Israel buddies – remember the “meat restaurant”?  Our platter was mouth-watering and we ate the whole thing).

So, off we go.  Today we’ll fly Madrid; tomorrow to Dallas to Vancouver, BC., then Amtrak home on Monday.  (Then off to Whistler to cheer IronBaum Jessica.)

Two Souks in Two Days

Last Sunday’s big adventure was for me to drive to the “Sunday souk” in a town called Ait Rouadi, about eight miles away.  Initially Jim and S had planned to wander through and maybe see some familiar faces from the last time we were here with our team, because that’s the best place for men to greet their friends.  The plan was modified late the night before when two of S’s male relatives said they’d love to come along with me driving, so for the second day in a row this lady got to drive the truck to a souk.

Five people could not fit inside the cab, naturally, so three of the men rode in the back while I drove us the eight miles straight up the highway and parked, thankfully, on the side of the road in a great spot. Here, cars and trucks parked on the right, mules and donkeys on the left.  Perfect.

Unlike Saturday’s souk, this one was much larger and set off in a special area where cars didn’t go.  As we entered beneath the concrete arch, my first inclination was to whip out my camera — but then my second inclination was to maintain course and speed and call as little attention to myself as possible.  Also unlike yesterday’s souk, there were women here!  Not many, but enough to make me feel a bit less conspicuous.  (According to my lady friends, however, only women “from the other side of the highway” go to souks.  Not them.) 

Would you like to know what you can purchase at a souk?  Sure, you would.

First, though, if you’ve not been here before, your idea of a souk may come from Hollywood – rich purple and red fabrics draping awnings, gold tassels waving in the breeze, a background of exotic flute music, calls of shopkeepers across narrow streets.  Modify that picture with a few layers of dust. Subtract the rich fabrics.  Subtract the music. Add three times the number of shoppers.  Make them men.  This, plus several mules and the smell of fish, will be more realistic.

Besides the obvious “farmers market” wares, which were beautiful and fresh – tomatoes, eggplant, watermelons, potatoes, onions, peppers, garlic – you can buy fish.  In fact, you can buy lots and lots of fish that look like sardines and taste delicious right off the BBQ or out of the frying pan.  You could also buy squid, or bigger fish.  These also are all fresh.

If you need a new stainless-steel teapot, you can get one of those.  Also, a platter to serve your couscous on, plastic cups, batteries, a new mattress, gym shorts for your son, Bic lighters, bags of peanuts or charcoal, or a new donkey basket.  If you buy more than you can carry back to your car, taxi or mule, you can pay a young man a couple of dirhams to cart your stuff in his squeaky wheelbarrow.

Oh, and let’s say you’re celebrating your daughter’s engagement or the birth of your new baby, and you need a sheep to feed 200 guests. You can buy one at the souk!  If you’ve come in a taxi, no worries:  the driver will heft your live purchase into the trunk, shut him in and then drive you both home in time for the BBQ. 

Besides buying stuff, souks are the place to see your friends, particularly if you’re a man. Remember – ladies from our side of the highway don’t go to souks.  Unlike the men who meet in Gig Harbor Starbucks, men here greet each other with exuberant hugs, back slaps, and cheek kisses.  “Abdul!  I haven’t laid eyes on you for a week!  How are the watermelon sales?  What’s your take on the troubles in Hoceima?”  After shopping, you and your man friends can gather at a coffee shop and drink mint tea and chat some more.

We, the four men and I, found a coffee shop after our trek through the souk. (Jim and I hadn’t purchased anything, but our friends bought mint and checked on the price of tomatoes.) Another joined us, and because the coffee shop wasn’t serving coffee this day, we drank mint tea. 

And then, I drove us back to our house and our dog.

Behind the Wheel

This from last week when we didn’t have enough wifi to post —

I woke up filled with apprehension this morning because we were scheduled to visit a Friend and his family in Imzzouren, and I am the designated driver here.  We have had a truck for the last few days, specifically for this occasion, and M had drawn us a map while we were still in Fes.

The thing about hand-drawn maps is that they make the journey look too easy.  You see the ink line indicating a road and some squares representing landmarks (such as ‘bus station’ or ‘shell of a building’), and you zero in on those.  What you don’t see are the other features surrounding the bus station, school, mosque, or all the numerous other shells of buildings until you’re smack in the middle of a sizeable city going the wrong way.

Before we left home, Jim had studied the hand-drawn map, his paper map, and the mapsdotme map on his phone, trying to make all three maps match.  They did not. Of course, the hand drawn map was ‘not to scale’ which we had assumed, but still he could not make the three or four roundabouts correspond with the two or three roundabouts on the other maps.  Armed with these cloudy directions and trusting the Lord, we set out anyway.

The gas tank was on empty, so our first stop had to be a gas station which, thankfully, was just a few miles away in Agdir.  Our Prius selves were a little surprised to have paid sixty dollars for a tank, but we did and were on our way again.

After having driven briefly through the Fes roundabouts the week before, I was relieved to find those from AK to Imzzouren nearly empty of traffic.  As usual, Jim was a great navigator, telling me to “drive straight through as if the roundabout wasn’t even there” or “exit at the second right”; advice I followed happily and soon we were approaching the city.  I say “city” because that’s what it was – not terribly large, but larger than AK and certainly not the blank white spaces on M’s map.  Streets in these parts are narrow and always lined with parked cars on either side, and if the driver ahead decides he needs to stop and let his passenger out or holler to his friend the butcher about acquiring a chicken for tonight’s tagine, he just stops.  When that happens, you can wait your turn and then drive around him, or drive around him without waiting your turn if the car behind you honks a few times, or perhaps honk at him yourself but how rude is that?

Speaking of rude, I’ve discovered, after my two recent driving experiences in Morocco, that things go best if I avoid eye contact with pedestrians.  If I look them in the eye, or if they catch my eye as they’re stepping into my path, I’m inclined to flinch or apply the brakes.  This is a no-no.  It’s best to assume that the pedestrians know their lives are in mortal danger and will time their pace accordingly, therefore I do not slow or stop for them.  Even for moms.  Even for moms carrying babies and ushering their wobbly grandmas alongside. 

Hand-drawn maps and GPS maps on iPhones have one important feature in common:  neither can predict when a souk will suddenly appear upon the road you are traveling.  This happened to us today, and besides the downtown Fes roundabouts, I think souks are the very worst places to have to drive in Morocco.  Souks are weekly markets where local farmers, fishermen, butchers, sellers of imitation “Crocs”, and a host of other entrepreneurs gather on both sides of a teeny-tiny street to peddle their goods, one that would be for only one-way traffic in places like Albuquerque or Silverdale.  Instead of blocking the souk area to traffic, city officials allow cars to travel in both directions and park wherever they like.  Or, make K-turns.  Jim and I debated briefly the feasibility of turning around and going out the way we had come in – others were doing so – but decided that if we hugged the bumper of the taxi ahead we would come out the other side eventually.  During the drive, we got some help from souk shoppers in negotiating a few particularly tight spots.  The gendarme was helpful, too, making an oncoming delivery truck skootch over just a tad so we could make a left turn.

We made it through and out the other end unscathed, but then could not locate ‘bus station’, ‘mosque’, ‘school’, nor the ‘empty shell of a building’ so Jim called our Friend, who put his English-speaking daughter on the phone.  She didn’t understand where we were, so after a few minutes and the help from a passing couple, Friend said to wait right there and he’d come get us.   He did, and we followed him right back through the souk the other way and finally to his house.


Accidentally driving into a souk…

Posted by JimandKim Baumgaertel on Thursday, July 20, 2017


Tomorrow’s adventure – by the grace of God– is for me to drive Jim and three men to THE OTHER SOUK.  We shall, my dear husband assures me, park way far back and walk the rest of the way.


From Melilla, Spain, on a Wednesday

Hello friends.  We departed Morocco yesterday morning and are decompressing in Melilla, Spain, for a few days.  Now that we’re back in the land of automated McDonalds kiosks, cruise ships and abundant wifi, I can catch up on blog posts.

We are thankful that dear boy was transferred to a children’s hospital in Rabat, and that his chemotherapy treatment has finally begun.  Continue to pray for his healing, and for God’s peace and comfort upon his family during this difficult time.

Melilla is an interesting little place: an autonomous Spanish city on the coast of North Africa.  It has a nice beach, which is packed this day with sunbathers,  sail boarders, swimmers, kayakers, volleyball players and dog walkers.

There is a pretty park with a fountain, which is in front of us.  (We never know where to look when doing the selfie thing):

Also, Melilla is famous for its “modernist” architecture:

And the fort, which we’ve enjoyed in the past and will probably walk to tomorrow.

We miss you all…




Sometimes Morocco Wins

This from one who rescued us after six taxis IN A ROW refused us a ride to the hospital to see our people.  We’ve taken taxis to the hospital at least three times.  But, nope.  Not today.

However, the Lord had a better plan and it was for us to meet sweet people and have fellowship in a shady corner praying for a little boy who is very, very sick.

I haven’t posted in a while because it’s difficult to write when emotions are high.  Things have settled down a bit, but we’re most likely leaving Fes on Monday so this may be it for a week or so.

Thank you for praying for E, and please continue.  He was feeling better today, but has a long road ahead.

Jim and I skipped out on the Groundhog Day breakfast at our hotel for the second morning and went for the coffee shop down the block.  The coffee is great, and so are the omelets.  Then, since we don’t usually go out to the hospital until early afternoon, we killed time walking along the “Champs-Elysees” of Fes, which was lovely —

Then to the store to pick up supplies for the family, then back to the hotel for a nap.  We had needed to add two more nights to our stay here, but the reception desk said they’d have to charge us 800 dirhams/night ($80).  (Unless, whispered the lady, you call this number in the morning and get your original rate..)  Didn’t quite understand what was going on, but also we weren’t looking forward to trying to explain the situation over the phone.

But, yay for bookingdotcom.  Got it, online, way way cheaper.

I was going to write about the street beggars who accost cars at stop lights and our shock when a group of  little entrepreneurs washed our dirty windows. At a stop light…they were quick and professional and we happily paid them dirhams.

And about the stranger who wanted her picture with me, the American lady.

Or the other one who talked to me very earnestly for a long time in Arabic.  Apparently she wanted to come home with me.

But, I’m tired, so I won’t.  Heh.

Thanks for reading.



How Does He Do That?

Happy 4th from the fishbowl, friends.  Tonight let’s talk about coincidences, shall we?

First was the event with the Hanoot owner.  We asked if he had any bread, he said no.

Second, there were the little kids begging in front of Carrefour.  Like medina merchants, they are cute but aggressive, kissing Jim’s hand, calling me “madame”, asking that we share our groceries or give them dirhams.  One day we bought two extra baguettes and handed one to a girl and the other one to a little guy.  Without missing a beat, he then circled around and asked me for some water to go along with his bread.  Sorry, kiddo.

And thirdly, as I related in yesterday’s post, we were involved in a missing child incident.

Little incidents that we barely remember, these aren’t even worthy of a blog post. Except that, the day after each happened, Mohammed mentioned it in class.

He explained how to better ask for fresh bread at a hanoot.

He suggested that when approached by “the children begging on the streets, you ask them ‘are your parents still alive?’”

And today, as we were leaving class, he starts telling us about a lost child incident that happened last weekend to some friend of his son’s.  Whaaaatttt?  Coincidences?  Eh?

In other news, which is probably not related but who knows – it’s getting super noisy around this hotel and I’m looking forward to some peace and country quiet.  Last night was the worst – doors slamming in our hallway, guests arguing and yelling in Chinese (?), tapping through the bathroom walls.  Ugh.  Sleeping is not happening, friends.  Thanks for your prayers!

Be safe and don’t miss my potato salad too much.

I’ll leave you with a pomegranate: 





Twenty Things

We’ll begin our final week of class tomorrow and be finished on Friday.  Lord willing, we will leave Fes by train Saturday morning for our next destination, which may not be as conducive to blogging as this one (mostly) was.

So, how about a quick list tonight?

  1. Met with nice people again this morning.
  2. Afterwards, we walked to the mall for coffee as has been our custom.
  3. Ran into a nice family whom we saw earlier.
  4. As Jim and the husband/father were chatting, his  2-year-old boy disappeared, as little boys do sometimes.
  5. What ensued was a semi-frantic search by the parents, mall security folk, and us.  Little guy was found in about 5 minutes.  Praise the Lord.
  6. Every morning after breakfast we go outside on the deck for a few minutes.  Usually we see Fes, car washers, storks (ibis?  to be determined), maybe a train.  Today was a first —

7. Came home and worked on memorizing conjugations of “i want to ___/you want to ___/he/she/they,we,you want to _____.

8. Our second purchase in the medina yesterday was minimal and began the same way:  “Come in to my shop.  You are welcome to just look.  I will not pressure you to buy.”

9. Yeah, right.

10. Ended up with two sugar bowls when I only wanted one, so one of you is getting a present.

11. Have I mentioned spineless shoppers before?

12. Paid a muleteer three dirhams for this.

13. That’s about 31 cents.

14.Petite taxis are convenient and cheap.  I’ll try to get a picture soon.

15. Oh, this is cool:  on Friday we chatted over couscous at school with a lady taking  classical Arabic lessons here. She’s married to a Moroccan and they live in Scotland with their baby boy.

16. We learned that she is a contributor to Fodor’s, and is house-sitting for the author of the book “A House in Fes.”

17. We bought the book and I’m reading it aloud to Jim.

18. It’s been cooler, in the 80’s.  We’ve turned the AC off a few times.

19. But, the temps are rising again.

20. Forecast is for 108 tomorrow.

Speed Dating in a Medieval City

Shopping for carpets in Fes is a lot like speed dating. From what I understand, speed dating involves a group of men and women intent on establishing a long-term relationship by first eliminating unwanted prospects.  They meet.  They chat for five minutes.  Once two participants  agree that yep, they’d like to exchange phone numbers, the real work begins. 

Like carpet buying, speed dating provides for lots of variety. After ten or twelve quick chats, you can narrow the field.  This method excludes such Romeo-type cues as eye contact across a crowded room, but does you right to the point.  A woman, for example, may attend a speed dating event looking for a lanky man with rugged features, an aquiline nose, and deeply-set, mysterious eyes.  In the course a five-minute chat, she could realize that nope – she was surprisingly attracted to the balding, blue-eyed dude of average height. Who knew?

So, let’s say your intent is to purchase a carpet in the oldest continuously-operating medieval city in the world. You do your research and prep your husband.  First, the two of you discuss the style of carpet, the size, and the price you’re willing to spend.  You stroll down the Talaa Kebira on a Saturday morning, thinking that maybe you’ll find a suitable carpet but also not wanting to pay too much attention to any one vendor because if you hesitate too long, he’ll reel you inside. 

From all your reading and talking to ones who have purchased carpets in Morocco, you know you’ll have to haggle.  Forget you’re an American and have never haggled for anything in your life.  You also know that salesmen can be extremely aggressive here, and that you will be paying more in Fes than you would in other places. Fes is Fes.  You’ll have read Trip Advisor reviews, and know where you think you’ll have the most success.  You’ve also read bloggers who’ve come away paying upwards of 6,000 euros for a carpet – unintentionally — and you wonder how in the world anyone could be so spineless.

Armed with such information, you stroll leisurely through the uncrowded medina on a Saturday morning.  Naturally you’re accosted by a gentleman who asks your husband where he’s from and if he likes Fes.  “Ah!  The United States – I’m Canadian!  From Montreal!”  It doesn’t matter if your husband believes him or not, because he’s apparently not selling anything.

Further you wander, truly enjoying the stroll.  You’ve passed the food vendors, seen hunks of meat and one very fresh cow’s head (it was black, BTW), and arrive in the merchants’ area.  Jewel toned kilim rugs drape outside shops, begging to be photographed and admired. 

“Come in, come in,” invites a tall, young Moroccan.  “You are welcome to just look.  No pressure.”

His shop is small, but piled from floor to ceiling with rugs.  He begins to gently explain to you that these are Berber rugs, this one is Kilim style, that one thicker because it’s made of camel hair, these more modern.  Without your realizing, the speed dating process has begun. “I show you small ones,” he offers, opening three carpets that would fit a small bathroom.  They are gorgeous. 

His assistant is swift to bring you both a cup of mint tea, further insuring you’ll spend more time looking.

“Okay,” you venture.  “Show me some bigger ones, in blue.” 

There are many.  So, so many, probably thirty rugs in the size you want, and the two guys want you to see them all.  They open each, one at a time, pile it on the previous one, and keep going.  They even show you the ones that are decidedly not blue. 

Soon your husband remarks that the Berber style is growing on him, and even though you both came into this gig wanting a Persian carpet, these are so pretty that maybe…

All righty, then.  Gone is the dark-eyed, fine-featured guy you thought you’d date, replaced by a more rugged, down-to-earth country dude in a pick-up and you’re fine with that. 

After all the rugs in your size have been piled atop each other, it’s time to narrow things down.  You ‘re instructed to say “haali“ for keep this one out, and “ ishmaa “ for not interested.  It’s easy at first.  One is too gold, another too modern.  Finally, you’re down to three, then one.  The one you’ll invite to live in your house and meet your kids. Except that first, you must agree upon a price.

Imagine our surprise, if you will, when the first price our salesman offered was exactly the price Jim and I had agreed we would pay.  Exactly.  What ensued in the next 15 minutes was as fun for us as it probably was for him, as I had nothing to lose by offering an amount much lower than that.  Back and forth we went, him inching downward and us inching upwards until he finally said, “I tell you.  You are my first customers of the day, and I want to offer you a very good price.  You tell me what is your final offer.  I will wait outside.”

We whispered.  We agreed.  He came in, accepted our offer, shook our hands, and that was that. 

Maybe tomorrow I’ll relate the rest of our morning in the medina, as we made one more small purchase.   And, post more pictures.  Dumb internet.

Chapter Two: The Plot Gets a Teeny Bit Thicker

Later that evening, after a stroll through the oasis to admire the flora, Ibis and Yemkin chose an outdoor table for their dinner.  As they had noted in the morning, things had changed for the better, allowing hotel guests to consume food prior to sunset.  Because they were the first – nay only — dinner guests, the couple was greeted eagerly by Turmeric, the waiter, who brought them just one ala carte menu to share.

“I’m ordering a salad,” declared Ibis.  “I just don’t care anymore.  We haven’t been sick from eating tomatoes on hamburgers, so surely our tummies are adjusted.”

“And shall I,” agreed Yemkin.  “Shall we also split a pizza?”

“So long as it doesn’t have eels – I mean, anchovies,” Ibis responded.  “Really, dear, I think we should take this seriously.  I have quite an anxious feeling about that gentleman.”

“Darling, I’m sure it’s nothing,” Yemkin reassured his beautiful wife.  “Come now, eat your salad.”

Just as heavy wet drops began to plummet from the gray sky and splatter on their table, Turmeric presented each with a salad.  The “mixed greens” Ibis had been longing for were artfully arranged on her plate:  shredded green peppers, snippets of cucumber, red slices of plump tomato, half a hard-boiled egg, corn from a can, large pearls of boiled potatoes and –

“Oh!  Oh, oh!  What is that?  That’s not an eel, is it?”  Ibis practically shrieked as she spied four small, silvery strips arranged like compass points atop her mixed greens and other things.  Beneath these was a scoop of flaked tuna. 

“Well, well,” chuckled Yemkin.  “I do believe it’s an anchovy.  Give it a try, darling.  I think you’ll like it.”

Convinced the foreign objects were truly not eels, Ibis began to eat.  Appreciating how tangy and salty the anchovies tasted –contrasting delightfully with both cucumber and tomatoes– she devoured it quickly.  In fact, so engrossed was she in her food that she was unaware of the dark, beady eyes surreptitiously surveilling the couple.  Fleshy cheeks and craggy eyebrows framed his spectacles, and his feet remained shoeless.  He was dressed in a shabby black T-shirt and sweat pants, all in need of a wash. 

“Dear me,” mumbled Yemkin, patting his pants pockets.  “I’ve left my money clip in the room.  I’ll just pop up there now and retrieve it.”  He pushed back his chair.

“Now?”  gasped Ibis.  “You’re in the middle of our pizza.  Surely you can get it afterwards, my love?”

Refusing to be deferred, Yemkin hurriedly left the restaurant.  The beady-eyed man in black also snuck toward the lobby, his bare feet slapping against tile floors.  Ibis just happened to catch their reflection in the restaurant’s massive windows as the two entered the same elevator and the door slid shut.

To a fly-on-the-wall observer, connecting the dots would be the stuff of intrigue.  Who was that strange man?  Was he stalking Yemkin?  Did Yemkin really leave his money upstairs, or was this a clandestine meeting for nefarious purposes?  Why had Yemkin insisted they vacation in Morocco in the first place?  And, if that man could afford a Mercedes, why on earth was he shoeless?

The more Ibis pondered, the more she recalled further complexities of their stay.  Tour vans equipped with seatbelts, yet none of them long enough to buckle around a waist.  Escalators that never moved, forcing patrons to walk from floor to floor.  Wait staff seemingly outnumbering hotel guests.  Maids who collected dirty towels first thing in the morning, leaving none for drying hands. Shop owners who spoke French to all foreigners, even those who spoke only English to them. “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille” sung by an entertainer who spoke no English at all. Firefighters who allowed a hillside to burn during a heat wave. Ice cream coolers with no ice cream in them. Servers who removed their own tips from diners’ change.  Lifeguards who wore earbuds on duty. A language that conjugated its nouns and adjectives along with its verbs.  All this — and Yemkin getting into an elevator with a beady-eyed, shoeless man in desperate need of a haircut.

“Let’s explore the medina tomorrow,” announced Yemkin abruptly, returning to his wife. 

“All right,” Ibis replied.  “But first, tell me what’s going on, Yemkin.  Immediately.  I insist.”

Night Life and Tests

Bats flitted, cats yowled, and the hotel garden was lit.  Who knew?  Not the ones who mostly go to bed before dark.


Fes is pretty, too.

For a couple of teachers who are good ‘test takers’ themselves, we were flummoxed by a test today.  Confounded by unfamiliar words and befuddled by inconsistent spelling, we did our best nonetheless… but I’m not looking forward to getting it back next week. (Yep, I’m whining!  Just like my students do!)

Lastly, a clerk in a store was having difficulty understanding what we wanted today.  “You should learn Arabic,” she told us after we said sorry, we don’t speak French.  Well, guess what we’re trying to do, store-lady!

Good night!