It’s nearing the end of the school year and 8th graders are preparing for the nationwide exam later this month. If they pass, it’s on to secondary school. If not, well, maybe they’ll do better in 8th grade a second time around. Word around the schoolyard, though, is that the exam isn’t too hard: it’s not like the BAC, the nationwide exams after secondary school. Teachers are now busier than ever, trying to finish all the material that wasn’t covered due to frequent strikes. Teachers are cranky. Students are cranky. I keep plodding along with my questions, but it has been tough this month.
I’ll give a fuller update on my daily schedule later. This post will be a bit more fun: I’ve been touring around beautiful Morocco!
In May, I was prepared to fly to Amman, Jordan to take part in a Fulbright conference there. I was hoping to extend my time in the region to visit the archeological site Petra to the south, then spend a week in Jerusalem. The conference was cancelled, though, after Osama bin Laden’s death and the threat of anti-American violence.
Instead, Roger and I traveled to Chefchaouen, a town in the northern Rif mountains, then over to Al Hoceima, a Mediterranean beach town.
Chefchaouen, which feels like a large village, is a pretty town nestled in the mountains. The center of town is quite touristy, though understandably so: the medina is spotless and terribly charming at night, when streetlights illuminate the blue-painted houses. The cafes in the central square have terraces that overlook the dramatic cliffs and old spanish mosque perched on the hillside. Unfortunately, many tourists come to Chefchaouen for the local crop and more than a few unsavory characters encouraged us to “get high before we die!”.
We tried to hike around one of the large mountains, but the trail passed through a garbage dump where people were loitering. We passed a few men, they tried to sell us some “Jimmy Hendrix” (that was a new one), got creeped out and turned around. We ended up spending the rest of the day at a rooftop cafe, writing and reading until dark. An excellent way to enjoy Chefchaouen, indeed.
Two nights were more than enough time in Chefchaouen, and then it was off to the coast via a rickety 6 hour bus ride. My favorite darija teacher is from Al Hoceima and he would often proudly describe the town’s beauty, especially the small but beautiful sliver of beach. We waded in the water, poked at the army of jellyfish washed up on shore, and after chatting with a few friendly local ladies, enjoyed a heaping plate of various seafood. We promenaded with other adults while kids ran wild in the central square overlooking the Mediterranean. I don’t think there were any other non-Moroccan tourists in town.
The roads through the mountains in Morocco are always twisting, and some of the older busses are probably without shock absorbers. One constant of my bus adventures is some poor soul, usually an older woman, who spends the majority of the trip retching into a plastic bag. At least it has always been contained.
The trip back to Fez from Al Hoceima was no different. The road through the Rif mountains was viciously winding, though the scenery was absolutely gorgeous. Unlike the Middle Atlas, the rocky mountain range I live in, the land in the Rif is quite productive.