A Travellerspoint blog

A Quiet Oasis

sunny 78 °F

Morocco's reigning monarch, King Hassan II, likens his country to a desert palm: "rooted in Africa, watered by Islam and rustled by the winds of Europe." Morocco can appear mystical, magical and foreboding all at once.

I am living in modern Rabat. You can imagine streets and highways lined with palm trees swaying in a gentle, warm breeze and highways decorated with vibrant hibiscus, bouganvilla, roses, pansies, and even lavender bushes. The surrounding ground is coated in a deep orange dirt. There are neighborhoods of white riads decorated with ornate wrought iron, mosaic doors, flowing fountains, and lanterns made of brightly colored glass. Downtown in filled with honking cars and buses and constant foot traffic everywhere you look. There is a mix of old and new: women cloaked in full burkas, while others are dressed very stylishly and with modern european flair.

Rabat is gorgeous. I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful house that used to be owned by the former ambassador. There are 25 people from the CCS program living here, along with 5 staff members...think Read World: Rabat....yet, without all the fighting, nakedness, and booze...alright, so it's nothing like it, but living with so many people has sure been an experience.

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There are some fantastically interesting people in the program who I love to spend time with. I have become good friends with a Texan named Jami, who is a wickedly funny high school English teacher with an incredible outlook on life and people...and she's pretty amazing to watch with the orphans. After everyone else goes to sleep, she and I stay up talking about life, sharing stories, and feeling truly blessed for all that we are experiencing. I also laugh with Natalia and Charlie, who could be the most sickeningly gorgeous couple I have ever laid eyes on (except for King and myself...obviously! :) ), who also have a penchant for telling hilarious stories that make me laugh until I cry. We have a huge backyard where we drink our daily sweet tea from under the shade of a lemon tree, or to just sit and play backgammon, read books, or unwind from our volunteering.

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We are quickly becoming akin to Pavlov's dogs as we rush to our seats as soon as our breakfast, lunch, or dinner bell rings...mouths watering. We eat our meals together either outside on the patio, or in our main living area.

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It is very safe and comfortable and more than I could have ever expected. We are also so spoiled to have traditional Moroccan cooks to prepare all of our meals for us. They are delicious! Our lunch yesterday consisted of couscous with grilled eggplant, legumes, and pumpkin, a spicy lentil soup, black olive and orange salad, and Moroccan lamb cooked in clay tagine. I was hoping to get "bikini ready" for Spain and the Canaries...yet, I can't resist the smells, spices, and flavors of our daily dishes (nor should I!). Stretch pants (aka "buffet pants") and cotton dresses, here I come! :)

Rabat is also a horticulturists dream: palm trees, hibiscus, bouganvilla, roses, pansies, lavender, fig trees, orange trees, and more decorate sidewalks, highways, and parks. It is so lush and the temperature is fairly mild and comfortable. We sleep with the windows and doors open each night to get a relaxing breeze through the house...and the openness provides the added bonus of allowing us to wake up each morning to the daily call to prayer. It is such an important ritual for Islam and an incredible daily event to witness first hand. The call to prayer rings out from the mosques five times a day. Here's a link to this melodious prayer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAvlimEYEpQ

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Posted by chasethis 11:07 Archived in Morocco Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

An Eiffel 38 Hours...

sunny 82 °F

As I sit here drinking sweet Moroccan tea, the warm breeze carries a beautiful smell throughout our riad. I inhale a combination of chicken marbella, which is being prepared in our kitchen, and the scent of fresh flowers from the garden...and the memory from last night's travels begins to be erase itself from my memory....well, almost...

What was supposed to be a relatively short trip at 18 hours, ended up taking 38 miserable hours.

The plan was to go from SFO to Montreal and then Montreal to Casablanca, landing on Saturday, June 27th at 7:30 AM. However, my initial delayed flight became cancelled which would eventually cause a chain reaction of headaches and backaches before arriving at my destination. After my flights were rescheduled, I thought I surely had to be in the clear.

However, I couldn't have been more wrong.

I had another delayed flight from SFO to Toronto which left me running, swearing, and sweating through the Toronto airport in order to make my connecting flight to the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. I ended up pulling my back muscle from carrying the 10 books I convinced myself that I couldn't live without - and embarrassingly enough, one of them was from the Twilight series. After landing in Paris, I walked what I believe, all exaggeration aside, was 1 mile from the beginning of the airport to my boarding gate, only to be turned away by a nasty French boarding officer saying, "Jour ticket iz no good!" Um...."What?" I stammered. "But, here is my confirmation number." Apparently the ticket I was issued in SFO needed a stamp to be approved. So, I was turned away at the gate, and forced to walk the 1 mile back to the start of the airport to talk with my good buddies from Air Canada...and, at that point, I missed my connecting flight to Rabat...and said goodbye to my luggage. From there I downed water and the Parisian equivalent of Advil and boarded a standing-room only bus to the Paris Orly airport where I waited for 9 hours to board my flight...and I'm pretty sure that air conditioning doesn't exist in Orly. You all know how testy I get in the heat...or when I'm hungry. It also goes without saying, that someone like myself who also worries constantly about proper refrigeration and expiring food, would never in a million years eat one of those ancient sandwiches sitting in this sweatbox of an airport. I'm sure that you can gauge my mental state at this point. However, the long layover meant that I would get into Rabat at 11:30 PM and my biggest fear was arriving at night in Morocco by myself and being driven by someone I didn't know to CCS. When my flight was delayed another two hours, I felt the onset of frustration tears. When I had chalked this horrid day off as one of the most frustrating days of my life...I happened to look at the window as my plane ascended Paris, and I saw the sparkling Eiffel Tower...and I thought, things could surely be worse. :)

And, I was right.

I got into Rabat at 1:30 AM and was turned away at customs and had to talk with a health officer...and by talk, I mean he asked me first in Arabic and then in French precisely 5 more times the exact same question, growing more and more frustrated by my lack of understanding. I have learned that when I don't know the language, my brain always falls back on Spanish (which isn't good to start with)...and I almost said, "Que es tu problema?". Which I am fairly sure means, "What is your problem?"... and I can even more accurately say that I believe that I said that, and had he understood, I may have been sent to the Moroccan pokie. But, all joking aside, I later learned he worried that I was a Swine Flu carrier, being so close to Mexico and all. I hoped I didn't cough while walking out of his office.

After finally getting through customs, I waited for my luggage to come around. And God knows, I couldn't miss it, as it is mocha with aqua polka dots...obnoxiously flashy and so undeniably screams, "American Turista!" This could also be noted when back in SFO an angry Parisian who believed he deserved to be dealt with before me referred to me as, "Z beach with z poe poe dot zootcase." But, anyways, I waited and waited until the last of the luggage had come off and it became apparent that Air France had lost my luggage. I "talked" with someone from baggage claim which consisted of me explaining my cancelled and missed flights and him saying, "Naam...naam. Inshallah"...which I have come to understand is Arabic for "Yes, yes. God willing (meaning if God wills your bags to be here, they will be. If not, then they will not)." How about using the baggage claim number to locate it instead of "willing" it to be here, I am thinking... But, at 2:00 AM I walked out without my luggage, to meet Mohamud who would be driving me to Cross Cultural Solutions. Yet, he wasn't there. In fact, no one was in the airport. And by airport I mean it is a room with some chairs and that's about it: no phone, no info desk, no passengers waiting, no nothing - the airport was about to close...who knew an airport closed?! By then the panic and frustration over the entire last day and half set in. I had to mime to someone that I needed a phone. At that point I frantically dialed Mohamud's number, then Abdellah's number, then the CCS home base number in Morocco, the CCS homebase number in New York...all to get their answering machines. Before I started to cry, one of the numbers called the cell phone back...and it was a man talking in French. I handed the phone to an airport police officer to talk for me. Apparently it was Abdellah, one of CCS' drivers, and he said he would be there in 20 minutes. So, 45 minutes later a man named Simo came to the airport (Simo?? Where's Abdullah? What about Mohamud?), who proceeded to verbally fight with the police officer in Arabic while gesturing towards me. The police officer then said, "You go with him." NO WAY in hell, I was thinking, but said, "I am not going. I need to talk with Abdullah first." We ended up dialing Abdullah back and he said that Simo worked for CCS and he would drive me back to my place...I had faintly remembered seeing a picture of Simo from the CCS website. So, I asked Simo to show me his identification card with his picture and then proceeded to get into the CCS van...and said a quiet prayer, over and over, as we headed silently to my place. At about 3:00 AM I arrived at the dark and quiet riad and was shown my room. From what I could tell, as the moonlight shown through the room, I was in a room full of 7 other girls...and I had bottom bunk...the best news of the day, well, after safe arrival.

Then, my exhausted head hit the pillow faster than you could say Salam Alaikim...and I awoke to a near paradise. The nightmare of last night, seemed just that, and I quickly became excited for this new adventure.

Posted by chasethis 07:46 Archived in Morocco Tagged air_travel Comments (2)

LIVESTRONG

Dedicated to my Aunt Kathy

"The most important thing in illness is never to lose heart." - Nikolai Lenin

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I have always heard that we can't control the hand that we are dealt, just how we play the hand. In difficult situations, people either fold, or their true colors come out and the fighter emerges. My Aunt Kathy was dealt a rough hand when she was diagnosed with one of the scariest words in the English language - cancer - Stage 4 liver cancer, to be exact.

Our family felt shock, sadness, anger, and were plagued with thoughts such as, "Why her?" and "What happens now?"

I guess the only positive aspect of her diagnosis is that is has made all of us more appreciative of any time we can spend with her. In turn, my relationship with my Aunt manifested into something beautiful. In the past year the two of us have created precious memories. We excitedly took a girls' road trip to gorgeous Lake Tahoe. From the deck at Garwood's, we told stories over "Wet Woodies" as we watched the sun slip past the lake, painting the sky a brilliant orange, pink and purple; we hit the road again, and went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where we fell in love with adorable sea otters and enjoyed a delicious lunch at Bubba Gumps; we road horses on the beach; we shared popcorn and tears while watching Seven Pounds, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and The Reader; we have become mildly obsessed with eating Zachary's stuffed crust spinach and mushroom pizza while gossiping about The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars; we had a crab feed, a Moroccan dinner party, we shared Mexican and Italian plates in Orinda, Sunday brunch at Crepevine in Rockridge and dined on Piedmont Avenue; we made ornaments in my grandma Kathryn's honor for the Christmas trees outside of Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland; we went to Safari West where we hopped in a Jeep and enjoyed a California-style safari...followed by a delicious and hearty blend on wine called of "The Prisoner" accompanied by savory homemade gnocchi, piadinis, pizza, caprese, cheesy flatbreads; we had fun and heartfelt talks from her couch; and she has spent hours chatting with me over the phone while I complete my drives from Santa Barbara to Oakland, and Oakland to Santa Barbara.

But, mostly, over the past year we...SHE...lived life to the fullest! Instead of giving up and letting the cancer rob her of her spirit, she took the hand she was dealt, and she went all in. In poker when you go all in, you are in a position to either lose it all, or win it all; anything can happen. But in life, when you go all in, you have everything to gain, and nothing to lose.

I am proud to call Kathy Sullivan my aunt. Even with what she is up against, she maintains hope, faith, and is fueled by a positive mind and loving family. She is "living strong" and I am inspired by my aunt's attitude and strength.

It has been a difficult decision for me to continue on my Moroccan adventure and to be away from my aunt. However, like she told me, "You can't sit at home and live for someone else." Although I will physically be miles away, I will stay close at heart. I will be wearing my yellow Lance Armstrong LIVESTRONG bracelet, as each time I look at it, it will remind me to face life head on and to live strong...just like my aunt.

I will be posting pictures of my LIVESTRONG bracelet alongside new things that I encounter during my travels...as a tribute to my Aunt...the fighter.

I love you, Auntie.

Posted by chasethis 16:12 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (1)

Thank you!!

Thanks for helping to make this adventure possible.

I'm 3 days away from boarding a plane to Casablanca and I am filled with excitement and gratitude.

I wanted to recognize the people who are responsible for helping make this dream a reality. I am blessed to have a fabulously supportive family and incredibly loving and caring friends in my life. I feel truly supported by all of you. Thank you for your genuine interest in my upcoming adventure, your encouraging words, and excitement over what I am doing. Also, I am so appreciative of those that were able to come to my Moroccan fundraiser, as well as those who were able to donate to Cross Cultural Solutions in my honor. I couldn't be more grateful. I look forward to sharing my experience - through pictures, stories, videos, etc. - with each of you. I am hoping to use my old Cal Poly journalism skills to keep you all updated. This is my first blog....so, please be patient...and pass along pointers if you have 'em! :)

Love & Hugs,

Lauren

Thank you to the following people for their donation to CCS...you helped me to fundraise a staggering $3,720!!!:

King Gavin, Mom & Lou, Dad & Anastasia, Auntie and Uncle, David & Judi Gavin, Kelly Gavin, George & Pam Rammell, Ruthie Hambley, Eileen Berry, Devon & Palmira Walker, Julie Passalacqua, Barb Smalley, Annie Muse-Fisher, Adam and Victoria Klein, Eric and Liz Booen, Lauren Lendzion, Andrew Tuft, Lindsay Maxon, Sandy & Deborah Keller, James & Jeannette Ring, Scott Zimmermann & Drew Mesomsub, Kathy Jensen, Mary Ann Bryant, Mike & Gail Kelechava, Tim & Pam Meltzer, Joanna Stockman, Erin Kelechava, Tom & Mary Hedges, Bruce & Debbie Maxon, Angela Vasconcellos, Merla Salongcong, Laura Duede, Tina Gerstenberg, Jeff & Susie Kessinger, Helen Landis, Hilary Andersen, Stephanie Landis, Steve & Mary Rudy, Shankar & Neeraja Havaligi, Chelsea Brewer, Steve & Amelita Potts, Angie Sakalay, Merin Russell, Heidi Faison, Harold & Dottie Barclay, Janet Clough, Ann Nugent & Jim Walberg, Hossein Bozorgzad, Stephen & Nicole Gustaffson, JB & Mardi Potts, Ted & Mary Ann Polyzos, Shannon Keane-Miller, Brien, Raschel, Maddie & Daniel Sanna, and Lynda Pakzad.

Your generosity and love means the world to me. I look forward to returning the favor at the drop of a hat! xoxo

Posted by chasethis 14:39 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (2)

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