McHappy in Morocco

Christmas weekend was much better than I had expected or hoped for. I had planned on hanging out with the home-stay family and reflecting on the first 100 days in Morocco (Dec 21!). One evening a couple of weeks ago, I explained to the home-stay family the joys of Christmas (I stayed away from the religious side) back home; after an hour of using my limited darija [Moroccan Arabic], showing pictures of family and friends from yesteryear Christmases, pantomiming happiness and drawing Santa, elves, and flying reindeer, they gave the polite smile-and-nod (I'm all too familiar with the smile-and-nod strategy of the dis-interested) before going back to Egyptian soap operas. I thought to myself: there will be no Christmas for Nam this year.

This all changed when I got a text message from volunteer DM* regarding holiday plans. Apparently, I did not read the travel policy closely and, thus, was not clear that I could travel (albeit, limited) on weekends** during the probation period. Thus, reflectioning on those first 100 days in Morocco will have to wait another time.

Keeping in mind that the exchange rate is something like US$1 = 9dh (dirham)***:
This post is dedicated to Peace Corps volunteers/friends LS* who was thoughtful enough to bring Moroccan bling-blings (wrapped in Newsweek articles with duct-tape, very resourceful) for all of us, KW* who brought some delicious baked goods to complete a holiday gathering, DM* who informed me about the Christmas weekend retreat to Meknes, JK* who has the spirit of a young Foxy Brown and LS* who took a cold shower because she did not realized that you can get hot water at the hotel. Thanks for making the first Christmas in Morocco an amazing experience.

Vendors along Bab el Khemism leading into the medina
Meknes, like most large Moroccan cities, is actually a medieval city with many intact walls. The outer wall near the bus station is Bab el Khemism [the Fifth Gate]; walking through that brought me into the old Jewish quarters. Hugging the walls leading into the medina are many fruit stand vendors. This man is just standing there looking annoyed for no reason, but after I noticed the mosaic background I decided to take a picture with him in it anyway. A second after I took the picture, he perked up .. but my interest in taking another picture of him vanished so I continued on my merry way.

Bab Mansour
Making my way to the hotel meeting point, I walked up the main drag of Avenue Moulay Ismail and came upon the impressive Bab Mansour****; flaking it are two square bastions. According to my guide book, "Though remarkable for its size and symmetry, like much of [Moulay] Ismail's grand vision it proves overpowering and heavy." I miss reading my over-sized art history books!

Nam LaMore at Hotel Maroc
Hotel Maroc (Maghreb) is close to the old medina and offered comfortable, yet spartan, rooms. The hotel is centrally located, and we were able to have hot showers. Since I had not showered for a week (bucket-baths and wipe-downs just do not count) it was important that I freshened up immediately.

Marjane is the Walmart of Morocco
After a lazy, non-martini lunch, we were all very excited to go to the Marjane supermarche . This is the equivalent of a Wal-Mart back home (if you do not know what Wal-Mart is, count yourself among the lucky ones). There were aisles and choices -- foreign concepts to hanuts [shops] of smaller towns and villages -- thus, a need for shopping carts. Our excitement could not be contained as we criss-crossed the store over and over, showing each other "discoveries" of things we thought we would not see again for two years! I considered buying potting soil and bulbs for a spring planning; my home-stay family would have laughed themselves silly if they knew that I was considering buying dirt! I bought things more practical: musli, hot chocolate powder (a big hit with the home-stay family) and coloring pencils. Some of us got gelatos on the way out; two scoops for 10dh. We were overwhelmed with contentment.

Christmas Eve dinner in Morocco, complete with holiday decorations
We had Christmas Eve Dinner (CED) at a swanky restaurant located in the new medina. Not sure why, but we were surprised to see holiday decorations and a Christmas tree! After dinner we found a club/bar that did not scare us. We had fun before we had to be back to the hotel for the 1:00am curfew (not a big deal, we were all ready to crash and sleep in).

Christmas Day breakfast at McDonald's
For Christmas Day Breakfast (CDB), we decided to give ourselves a treat and headed off to McDonald's (we could see the Golden Arches from the hotel's roof). I ordered what I always ordered States-side: a Happy Meal with a toy.

Volunteer JK* ordering her McMeal would have gone un-noticed if not for the double-take of a McArabia! None of us ordered this new gimmick, so we're not sure what it actually is .. my bet is that it's a lamb patty with salted-greens between cumin-flavored khobz [course bread]. What new marketing plans are planned at McDonald's or Burger King for the coming year?

leather handbags
As I was with five female volunteers, it was a consensus to go shopping; shopping on Christmas Day is a ritual back home, so I welcomed the shopping spree in the medina. Leather handbags are awesome here. The leather man-bags (not pictured) looked stylishly European, but not sure how fashionable they are in Anytown, USA. We wondered through the old medina for a bit before finding a pseudo-tourist cafe; women are generally not seen at cafes unless they are tourists or the cafe caters to tourists.

water sellers in the medina
During the shopping, I considered paying a dirham for a drink from one of the men selling water.

Barbie doll and boots
Since we all had to be back at our sites before dark, the others took off for the bus station while I continued to meander through the old medina for a few more hours. The best find, though I did not make a purchase, was this naked Barbie doll among Fifth Avenue-faux shoes. I'm not entirely sure of the marketing messages here, but it certainly got my attention.

* actual names have been changed/withheld for obvious reasons (re: safety/security)
** I have got to read the policy manual in details for what else I'm missing; hope winning sweepstake numbers are not buried in there somewhere!
*** this universal, up-to-date currency converter is practical for jet-setters and budget-travellers alike.
**** I have no idea who the tourists are; such hshuma [shame] for the guy to wear shorts!

tags: ..
another point of view ...

Blogger Peri

Merry Christmas! It must be very interesting for you learning about another culture's holidays.
Your pics are great, you are wearing scarves, so must be cold?
Are those local scarves handmade?

Blogger Canadian Dude

Merry Christmas..Nam. I must swing by here more often.

Blogger frankysbride

Merry Christmas! Great photos and fun writing.

This apparently is the press release for McArabia:

"The new sandwich, which continues MacDonald’s tradition of catering to local markets, is made of Arab bread, grilled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes and Arab sauce."

The contents of "Arab sauce" must be a trade secret. Probably cumin, cumin, and cumin. *bg*

Blogger Dutched Pinay on Expatriation

Happy Holidays Nam! I would love to experience December in a muslim country one day.

Thanks for the generous supply of pics!

Blogger frankysbride

ps-- Could you let us in on the plotline of an Egyptian soap opera? :-)

Blogger Nam LaMore

PERI: good eye! you noticed the scarf from neighboring village Ait Hamza; paid 50dh for it (about us$5). those berber weavers are very cool, i got to meet some of them during swearing-in ceremony -- and i'm hoping to visit ait hamza in a couple of weeks to have tea with the them and see them at the looms. the weavers in my town are not as skilled, so i'm hoping to take some of the more talented weavers on my trip so they can learn about quality weaving (khadija/fatima: sorry if you're reading this, it's true the weaving in our town isn't up to par).

and, it is very cold here. it's cold by the fact that there is no indoor heating at my host-family. as i've said, when it's cold outside, it's COLDER inside. i really have to watch carbon monoxide poisoning, as the family tends to close all the windows when they are buring cold (yeah, open flame in the middle of the room).

CANADIAN DUDE: don't tell me you missed the post where i give you prop* (re: credit) for welcoming me back to the blogsphere?

on a different note, i hope you'll come to visit .. it's good place to be, just leave your crucifix, menorah, etc. at home.

* it's the lingo of the young people

Blogger Nam LaMore

FRANKYSBRIDE: hmm, i'm thinking it's not grilled chikcen, but sheep. you have no idea how often sheep cross my path each day. stepping out the door guarantees that a sheep will run across me. poor thing doesn't know it's gonna be the dinner guest shortly.

as for an egyptian soap opera - i'll have to write it up in a few days, but it basically stars a full-chested female with lots of makeup (think: tammy fay baker) making her young, hot husband (because women don't have boyfriends here, that would be un-ladylike) jealous by going out with his older, not-so-well-to-do, not-so-hot brother. more later.

DUTCHED PINAY: i have been remiss in visiting your blog .. may allah forgive me .. my schedule has been so chaotic that i haven't had time to actually pay attention to the blogsphere - i just log on to blog, and, then i have to dash home before the homestay family get angry that i'm out late -- staying out after 8pm is considered late, and the police starts looking for me. not/kidding.

Blogger Canadian Dude

Happy New Year Nam!!!!

Blogger mquest

Happy new year.

Are the McDonald toys better in other parts of the world? Or are they the same crap they give us?

I am enjoying watching your trip unfold.

Blogger Nam LaMore


Blogger Gef

Hey that is way cool! Thanks for the insight
Randy Blue

Anonymous Property in Morocco

Wow, Christmas in Morocco- that is cool.
Are there cold? But I do not see the snow.
It is a really great inter cultural exchange that you had.
You are lucky!

speak up!

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