Today is Sunday

Jim says I don’t have to be clever every time I post, so that’s a relief.  Because if I had to … the pressure would be unbearable.

So, without pressure I will run through our Sunday.

  1. We attended a lovely meeting of very nice people this morning, and sang songs.
  2. Afterwards, we talked with them for a while in English.
  3. Next, we walked the mall and waited for the coffee shop to open.
  4. It didn’t open for a while, so we wandered around and ran into fellow student, Hannah,  who is here by herself for six weeks.
  5. We drank cappuccinos and sat.  This is the ceiling of the mall:

7.  We moseyed upstairs to one of the three restaurants open in these parts, and waited with some of the nice people we had met earlier for it to open.

8.  After eating, we questioned the nice people regarding the impending time change and how we will know when this will happen.  They reassured us not to worry — whenever the change occurs (tonight?  next Saturday?  Rumors abound) our phones will figure it out.  Perfect.

9.  We shopped for picnic food.

10.  We studied.

11.  We walked in the garden.  Hoping to see the great, big, long-necked birds that circle around in the mornings so we could take their picture, we sat and watched for a half hour.  No birds.

12.  We came back to our room and had a last-night-of-Ramadan picnic for dinner.

13.  We checked CNN.  We get a different picture of the world from here; lots of UK politics, ads for vacations in Abu Dhabi, Indonesia, South Africa.

14.  Lastly, here’s the pic I tried to load last night (finicky internet).  Class is across this street and a 2 minute walk from right to left.

skoon bezzef.

What might you do  in Fes when the temp soars to 111 degrees and you have a four-day weekend?

You could watch the cats stroll through the lobby.

You could wash all of your dirty clothes in the tub.

Since your room is cool, the clothes won’t dry as fast as you think they should.  You could stuff unmentionables in a mesh bag and hang them out your window.

You could do your homework.  Fuqaash Adnoo saferoo L Sbanya?  Keefash bgheetee atay?  Waash Aandek MiAad mAa shee waHed?

You could drink some orange juice.


You could go outside and walk in the garden just to experience what 111 degrees feels like.

Then you could come in and study some more.

You could decide that a short walk to McDonalds for dinner won’t be that bad, especially if you wear your not-quite-dry shirt.

You could decide not to go to the ATM, to the mall for ice cream, to the big fountain, to the medina (ESPECIALLY TO THE MEDINA) or anywhere else farther away than McDonalds.

You could end the day reading aloud from White Gold, because Thomas Pellow is almost freed from captivity after spending over 20 years of his life just miles from here.




At Best, Time is Ambiguous

Anna! Thanks for the coffee-date invitation. I shall look forward to that in August; in the meantime, look what we found today:

One black coffee, one coffee with milk (and a packet of sugar) for the equivalent of $1.11. Nice and hot, nice and black, it made us happy before our exam.

So, about time: Within the “coffee shop” chapter is a lesson on days of the week, time of day, words to express “today”, “tomorrow”, “day before yesterday”, etc. Mohammed asked me today what tomorrow will be and I answered “Ssebt” for “Saturday”; however, I neglected to say, “Lord willing.” He corrected me because, as he put it, “if the government doesn’t want it to be Saturday, they will change the day.” Probably he was kidding – he jokes with us a lot — but nonetheless our American brains are muddled about clock time. (Mohammed also tells us that “Americans have money; Moroccans have time.” So true.)

For example, our phones tell us that it is 8:20 p.m. here in Fes. At this moment, we are two hours behind Madrid (10:20 pm.), seven hours ahead of Seattle (1:20 p.m.). When we flew here from Madrid, our flight left at 2:30 p.m. and landed at 2:05 p.m. the same day because the normal one-hour time change between the two places became two hours because of Ramadan time. Our flight took an hour-and-a-half. (This is where the muddling-of-our-brains began.)

When we showed up for class the day before it started, we were told that we were on “Ramadan hours” so classes would begin at 9 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. Got it.  Also, that right after Ramadan ends – this Sunday — we go back to the 8 a.m. schedule. Got that, too.

So, yesterday we asked Fatima, who is very patient with us and our muddled American brains: We change our clocks ahead on Monday, right?

Well, no. Clocks do not change right after Ramadan ends.

When do the clocks change?

Usually not until Saturday. Since Ramadan ends on Sunday, the clocks will not change yet. Maybe they will change next Saturday. Remember, no class Monday and Tuesday because of Eid.

Okay, so what time do we come to class on Wednesday morning?

You come at 8 o’clock.

Even though the clocks don’t change, class time changes?

Yes, because class time changes right after Ramadan ends.

Oh, okay. And tomorrow, Friday, we have only one class at 11:00, right?

No, tomorrow class is ahead by a half hour because it is Friday, so come at 10:30 a.m. for your test.

End of story: we arrived at school later than normal today because we only had one class at 10:30 instead of 8:30 (or 9…or 8:00) but since we arrived 45 minutes early we could buy coffee from the student café and drink it in the garden beneath a lime tree.

F Lqahwa: In the Coffee Shop

First of all, punkins, understand that we have been on an unintentional coffee fast in these parts.  Since our room lacks a coffeemaker, we lack coffee.  Coffee exists at breakfast, but it lacks taste.  Coffee shops exist, but are not open these weeks.  You see? 

As Mohammed teaches us about Moroccan culture along with language, yesterday he explained coffee shop culture, along with what drinks are available in the coffee shops and how to order coffee.  If the shops were open.  But they aren’t.

According to Mohammed, coffee shops are a man thing.  “The women, they visit in their homes,” he says.  “Men visit in the coffee shops.”  Also, a man will choose his coffee shop and stick to it – no moving from Starbucks to Cutters, or Starbucks in PO to Starbucks in Gig.  (There are no Starbucks here, BTW.  Just so ya know.)  Once a man chooses his coffee shop, he always gets coffee at that same place; even if he moves across town he takes a taxi or drives back to his coffee shop.  And, he drinks the same drink every time, because that is “his” drink, and the waiter knows this.  The man comes in, sits at the very same table he always chooses, the waiter sees him and brings his hot mint tea or his strong, black coffee, because that is his drink.  No waking up on Tuesday and thinking, “I’m gonna try an iced coffee with milk”.  No.  Same-same.

Plus, at his table will be his friends who also drink their same drinks at this same coffee shop and sit at the same table all the time (a convenient way to visit, eh?).  Since it is considered rude to pay only for your own drink, the man and his friends will take turns picking up the tab – one today, another tomorrow, etc.  Only one pays, and he pays for all at the table. 

What can the man order at his coffee shop?  Well, I’m sure there is more, but according to our “in the coffee shop” lesson, these are on the menu:

1.        Coffee

2.       Coffee with milk

3.       Half coffee and half milk

4.       Coffee with a ‘break’ of milk (just a teeny spoonful)

5.       Tea with mint

6.       Juice

Of course, within these menu items there are further choices.  Coffee strong?  Coffee weak?  Tea hot?  Tea lukewarm?  Tea with mint?  Tea with lots of sugar?  Tea with less sugar? 

So, in the land of coffee shops and coffee choices, we two lack coffee.

Tomorrow, we shall discuss time, of which we have no lack.

Ground Hog Days

We walked into the dining room this morning and Jim said, “Groundhog day.”  You know the movie, right?  Bill Murray, Punxsutawney Phil:  same day over and over and over and over?  Our days have a “Groundhog Day” quality:

7:15 a.m.  Breakfast in the hotel dining room. The only variations are the type of eggs (scrambled or hard boiled) and the company (French, Spanish, Italian, Asian; or this morning, the first English-speaking tour group, from Great Britain we think).  Otherwise, the same assortment of breads/pastries, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, juice, and coffee.  It’s not thrilling, but it is filling and since we tend to eat the same bowl of bran flakes for weeks on end at home anyway, is okay.

7:45 a.m. Finished with breakfast, we take a few minutes to go outside on the big deck and admire the view of the old city in the distance.

We also check to see who is getting a carwash.

8:30 a.m.  Back in our room to brush our teeth and look over our homework one last time, we open the door to the maid who wants our dirty towels.




8:45 a.m. We pack up, take the elevator downstairs, wave (saHleemu!) to the porter, exit the cool building into the heat of the day, greet the guys “guarding” the entryway (sbaH lkeer!), cross the street and walk around the corner to school, where we greet that guy “guarding” the entry.

9:00 a.m.  Either Mohamed or Fatima begins our first two-hour class.  They switch, so today was Fatima first; tomorrow will be Mohamed first. We started Unit 3 today (whoa) and are learning how to order in a coffee shop.  More about this tomorrow.

11:00 a.m. After a 10 minute break, the other teacher begins our second two-hour class.  He or she will pretty much go over the same subject, except with a twist.  Mohammed is extremely good with grammar and word meanings; but also culture.  He takes time to explain Moroccan cultural stuff, such as how men visit with men in coffee shops and women visit with women in their houses.  Fatima tries very hard to limit her English speaking in class — unless we don’t get something and then she’ll tell us.  She makes us dialogue with each other.  “Kim, ask Jim for his telephone number”. Kim:  “Jim, what’s your telephone number?”  Jim:  “la, la, la!”  (No, no, no!)

1:00 p.m. Done with class for the day, we pack up and stroll out of the cool classrooms, past the college kids who mostly ignore us, into the heat again, to find lunch.  Lunch is always in the same place — down the hill, across the street (we jaywalk because there is no alternative), and either into McD’s parking lot, or a bit farther on to the mall.

2:00 p.m. We are finished eating, grab anything we need for dinner at Carrefour, and do the walk in reverse.  Our room has been made-up, and the AC is on.  Ahhhh.  Relief.

2:30 – 6:00 Nap.  Study.  Check email, messages.  Study more.  Watch CNN.  We’ve added a new element to our evening to break up the study time and get some fresh air:  walking through the garden.

7:30 p.m.  Work on the blog post, study some more, discuss our homework.  “What is ‘marHababek’?”  “I have absolutely no clue.”

9:00 p.m.  Bedtime.  Nighty night from Fes.


Pictures are Worth Some Words

No wifi in our rooms tonight, but here it is in the lobby.  This has happened now and again, and we guess that when big tour groups roll in, the wifi gets turned on upstairs but when there are very few guests, no wifi.  Andek wifi?  La mashi wifi.

But, in the lobby I can upload photos better, so a brief photo tour.  Backing up a few days  —

The tannery in Fes medina:

Moulay Idriss.  Our van drivers pulled over at a lookout so we could all take pictures of this town.  Then we drove straight through it without stopping, which was just fine.

Here just a fraction of the horse stables built by Moulay Ismail.  His palace stretched for hundred of miles, all built by slave labor.  Think Barbary pirates…barbarians raiding English and French coastal villages in the 1700’s…prisoners taken as white slaves for the warrior king…They built the stables, too.  Guide wasn’t too specific on the details, but the book is fascinating.  He allowed us to wander at will for a bit, but asked that we not pause beneath any of the arches.  “They are not so stable after so many years,” said he.  Got it.

Walking to the entrance of Moulay Ismail’s prison, where over 3,000 were confined at a time.  If you were captured by a Barbary pirate, chances are you’d live here and spend your days slaving to build walls.  You could be ransomed by your folks, back home, but they’d have to be pretty wealthy to free you.

Last stop of the day was to an authentic Berber crafts shop in Meknes.  This gentleman was making plates, bowls, urns, statues, jewelry and knick-knacks by inlaying fine threads of silver into the metal, and then burning it.

Jim and I make a beeline for McDonalds, Burger King, or Pizza Hut after class each day.  It’s a short, hot walk for a bit of lunch and ice cream.

And, finally, me in my Moroccan garb, waiting for our medina tour to begin:


Randomly on a Monday


1.        Today we learned how to ask for stuff.  I want, I need, give me, pass me, excuse me.  These phrases are extremely useful for shopping, eating in restaurants, and riding in taxis.  However, in Carrefour, where we generally stock up on water, crackers, pistachio yogurt, bananas, cheese, etc., we mostly wander the aisles until something looks like what we think we want.  “is this cheese?”  “No, can’t be cheese.  Doesn’t say ‘frumaj’.”  “Right.  Let’s keep looking.”


2.       We’ve forgotten to bring our grocery bags with us twice.  Today Jim carried six big bottles of water over his shoulder from Carrefour to home; we agreed to buy water from the Hanoot down the block from now on.


3.       Bread is very, very special here. 


4.       So is sugar.


5.       Ramadan ends in about 6 days.  Among other things, this means that restaurants (other than McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Dominos) will be open earlier.  I am so excited for this.


6.       I cannot imagine surviving from sunup to sunset without food or water.


7.       Mohammed says men gain 15 kg during the month of fasting.


8.       Ladies, imagine cooking a feast every single evening for one month.


9.       Studying language makes me giddy.  Fatima or Mohammed will explain irregular conjugations or the feminine/masculine pairing in words which belong together (coffee-milk/pen-paper/wife-husband/desk-chair) and I think, “whoa.  This is brilliant” 


10.   Until we get home and are studying, and then it all looks messy.  Like, we just discussed how the word for ‘egg’ – ‘lbeid’ sounds a lot like the word for ‘white’ – ‘biyed’.  Oh, well.  We keep trying.


Father’s Day Field Trip

Children, your father and I took a field trip today and he didn’t make any mistakes. Also, we survived yet another day of intense heat by drinking lots and lots of water and wearing our hats. Here’s Dad at Volubulis:

Dave M, we took lots of pictures of Roman ruins for you today, knowing you like them so. Here’s just one; we’ll show you the rest when we get home:

Anyone who has read White Gold, we toured Meknes, and walked through Moulay Ismail’s palace, horse stables, and prison. Our guide was guarded in his depiction of the warrior king and his unification of the country. The book tells a quite different story.

Tomorrow, more language class. We’ve enjoyed getting to know a few of our fellow students on these two field trips. One from Bainbridge island who is a UW student, another from Tacoma; several from New York.


Stuck Behind a Mule for Just Five Seconds

Jim is working on his pronouns at the moment (ana, heeya, huma, nta, ntee, hna) because we’re comfortably entrenched in our hotel room; and more importantly, he has sufficiently recovered from the two mistakes he made today.  When I asked him a couple of hours ago what he thought the subject of tonight’s blog post would be, he guessed correctly.  “When I was walking back to you guys with Mohammed, I thought, ‘I bet I’m going to make the blog’”. 

Let’s begin at the end of our day and save the best for last, shall we?

After spending three hours walking almost constantly through the medina, we hailed a petite taxi for the second time this afternoon and took naps in our air-conditioned hotel room.  I love opening the door to clean towels, made-up beds, and AC.  Ahhhh.

We had thanked Mohammed for the very educational tour (and I wished to myself that I could “buy the book” because he shared soooo much fascinating information about Fes and I can’t remember it all).  We learned about the over 9,000 streets, that since Fes is a “blind” city its houses are key to its mystery, that Fes had a huge Jewish population hundreds of years ago, and that many houses have two doors built into one – the one with a big knocker signals you’re on a horse and the host should open the large door; the small one with a separate knocker is for people.  Also, he was very adamant that we are in FES not FEZ.  Fez with a z is a red hat with a black tassle, which never originated in Fes.  And here we thought it was just a quirky, random spelling thing.

The final stop on our tour was the tannery.  Jim and I missed out on the sprigs of mint, but the smell was definitely not as pungent as the time we were here before.  One of the salesmen inside asked Jim if he was Chinese.  Not even kidding here…  His associates laughed, “look at him!  Does he look Chinese?”

Prior to the tannery we stopped very briefly at the copper and silver center, and before that the authentic Berber textile house.  This is where Jim made his second mistake.  

“No shopping!” our guide had expressly warned us.  However, said he would make an exception for the authentic, Berber house of weaving.  There are plenty of  “made in China” scarves are sold in Fes, but this one particular shop is run by a family who weaves their goods right there, true to the old ways.  Mohamed told us to take pictures.  The college kids and I were taking plenty, but Jim got in trouble for aiming his phone camera around the room for a video, and the man working a loom did NOT want his picture taken.  So sorry, asidi.  Scarves and bedspreads were gorgeous of course, made from pure agave silk.  Because we were with our special guide we got a special price; the price would go up if we visited by ourselves later. Hmmmm. Many of our college kids purchased scarves for themselves and their mommies back home, but I did not.  Sorry, ladies.

Now for the beginning of our story.  Eighteen of us – sixteen college-age students and two retired teachers on an educational vacation – had met with our official guide at Hotel BatHa (not Batha. Taxi driver gave me the thumbs up when I said it right) for a three-hour tour through the old medina.  Thankfully, it was cooler the deeper in we ventured, and we weren’t as bothered by the camel’s heads, cow guts, and fly-covered cookies as we may have been on our first visit four years ago.

First we walked out the Bab Boujaloud so that we could turn around and take a picture of it from the front side.  Here it is, the “blue gate”:

Next, we headed in.  Guide had cautioned us that mules and carts have the right-of-way, and be ready to move swiftly to the side if we heard yelling, and (here’s the important part), if we got separated from the group, stay put.  Stop wherever you are when you realize you’re lost, and he’ll come find you.  Such good advice, but it doesn’t always guarantee success even if you’re very careful to follow the rules.  In fact, all it takes is for the last person in line – Jim – to get stuck for five seconds behind a mule while the rest of us completely disappear in a crowded sea of bodies.  I kept glancing furtively behind me while still rushing to keep up with the group, hoping to see my hubby’s floppy hat, but when the group made a left turn and no Jim in sight, I hailed the guide.

“Um, my husband is missing,” I told him.  “I haven’t seen him since the Madrasa.”  A couple of the girls thought that maybe Jim wasn’t the only one missing, but upon taking a head count, yep:  minus one.  For the next 15 minutes, I got to know the two girls as Guide took off back in the direction we had come from.  He returned every few minutes asking if Jim had shown up, and looked more agitated each time  the answer was negative. 

From Jim’s perspective, he finally passed the mule only to realize we were gone.  Thinking he was keeping his eyes on us, he kept going.  But then he came to some turns and didn’t see us.  Immediately obeying orders, he went back to where he figured he had lost us, which was not the place I had figured he lost us.  Another tour guide, who was leading a group of British ladies asked, “Are you lost?”  The ladies looked at him and laughed; “Are you lost?”  Yep.  Thankfully, those tour guides all have cell phones so that one called ours and the lost husband was found. 

So, yet another day in Fes has ended and we’re ready to study for a bit and then sleep.  Temps are still in the 100’s, only with a cloud cover.  We think the difference between a hot day with no cloud cover vs a hot day with a cloud cover is similar to the difference between walking under a broiler vs walking in an oven.  And just now, a thunderstorm!

We ARE the Class!

I confused some in my last post by mentioning that “Jim is the oldest student in our class” and “I am the youngest student in our class”. I could have also said that all our classmates speak English, and that we love them – because we two ARE the class. Just us in front of one man teacher whom I’ll call Mohamed, and one lady teacher, Fatima. So, really, we have private Moroccan Arabic lessons for four hours every week day. Not sure why, since the literature suggested classes would be about 8 people, but up to 12 in the summer, but we get lots of attention. Lots and lots. Oh, my – I have to answer every other question.

Eewa, we conjugated nouns today, and also talked about occupations and nationalities. If you are a female from Spain, you say “ana Sbaleeyooneeya” (I am Spanish) and if your husband is also “min Sbanya” you say “huma Sbaleeooneen”. And that definitely sounds as complicated as it looks, and it’s no help if you’re fixated on spelling as we are. Since we can’t write in Arabic script, Mohamed and Fatima use phonetic spelling on the white boards, and since phonetic spellings lack a standard, each teacher spells a particular word differently. In fact, the same teacher will spell a word differently during the same lesson. This drives me a bit crazy, but I’m letting it go.

In other news, it’s hot. Temps today hit 105, and the forecast is for the same the rest of the week. We stepped outside the hotel to find food this evening and Jim said, “Searing. It’s ‘searing’ out here.” “Scorching” is another good word and so is “intense”. Nonetheless, we have signed up for two ALIF field trips this weekend: tomorrow we’re joining a professionally guided tour of the medina, and Sunday we’re headed to Volubulis and Meknes. We shall wear hats. We shall also drink plenty of water. (Another field trip, a weekend getaway to the desert including a two-hour camel ride where we could sleep in a tent and wake early to climb a dune and witness the most beautiful sunrise in all of Africa, sounds grand. Alas, I think we’ll save that one for a trip in the dead of winter.)

Well, Jim is sound asleep and I think I’ll try to get there too. Today was hard; I haven’t slept much in the past two nights due to jetlag, and he’s had a bit of gastro issues. Not terrible, thankfully, but lack of sleep and tummy troubles adds to the “what in the world are we doing here?” cloud. Neither of us was looking forward to class today, but alas it was more enjoyable than we had expected. Still, three hours into an intense four-hour meeting our brains begin to hurt.