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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Palmery

The Paintings

You've read the story about the paintings...

So here they are in all their glory:

Photos of My Apartment... finally

My foyer (door to kitchen)

Penny is sleeping happily ... please keep in mind the clashing "plastic carpet" is not staying...it's only a temp. No paintings hung on the walls yet.

Same view in bedroom and salon/dining room.. Kisane.

My Office :-)

Martha Stewart just returned from the souq..

My famous bathtub ... said to be the best bathroom in all of Agdz ;)

So that's my humble abode...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Paintings in exchange for an American wife…

So I met a painter through a friend. I am considering commissioning someone to paint a mural on one of my walls (with money, I’m discovering, I don’t have). This painter turned out to be a pretty good painter. I told him I loved his work, but would have to think about the mural. That I had a lot of things to buy and not much money and that was the last priority. One day he showed up at my door. I could not remember who he was. He showed me an official paper authorizing a cooperative in a little douar close to Agdz. Then he talked about a French woman that worked there. I thought maybe he wanted me to work with the assocation. Then I thought he wanted to introduce me to the French lady. Then I thought he wanted me to introduce him to the French lady. Then he informed me that he had painted two paintings for me. In return, he wanted me to help him. I finally realized with whom I was speaking. I invited him up briefly to look at my walls, but he again repeated that he already had to paintings ready to bring me but wanted my help. He wanted to find a woman. He wanted me to help him find a woman. Then next day he returned with his wishes written out in English so I would understand mezyena. The paper said: “I want you to help me. I want to marry on of your friends. I will always live with her. I want to move to America. I do not want to live in Agdz.” … or something along those lines. I choked back a laugh and thought quickly (as I knew he had two paintings waiting for me that I very much wanted). I cleared my throat: “Ok, look, most of my friends are married, but I can show you a place on the Internet where you can meet women. I can also help you set up an email account and show you a place called Ebay where you can sell your paintings. He agreed. He brought me not two but three beautiful paintings.

Today was the third session at the Internet café. The night before I had received several texts from him saying that he was in love with me and needed me and couldn’t wait to see me, and could he come over in the morning? I just ignored the texts. When he arrived at the appointed hour today, we walked along and he said, “Did you get a message from me?” “Yes, I got a message from you, and I want you never to send me messages like that again. I want to help you, that is all. Nothing more, okay?” “Yes, yes, safi, okay, never again, you will just help me, okay.”

We spent an hour opening and closing his new hotmail account after having shown him how to do it on two other occasions and him all the while writing down each step repeatedly (i.e. double click on “Internet Explorer”, click on top of the words “about:blank”, type www.hotmail.com” etc…). I took him through much of the match.com registration, but when I would ask him questions about his interests like books or music, he said, “How..? I like music.” “Yes, but what kind of music?” “Uhmm, yes, I like music. Music is good.” (In arabic, of course.) So, I just skipped most of the questions. The only thing he had an opinion on was that the woman should be from America or Europe, have white skin and be a Christian, not a Muslim. Everything else did not matter. I had tried to go to Arabic sites so he could read them, but that inherently meant Muslims, not Christians. I realized match.com charged a fee. I found another site with free online dating services. I registered him again. Finally I brought up a few profiles of women for him. He couldn’t read or understand a thing. I realized that this was simply an impossible task.

I took him outside, as we were attracting too much attention from others in the cyber café. Look, if you cannot understand any English, but insist on doing this in English and insist on an American, there is no way to make this work. You cannot communicate with a girl, let alone know how to go on the Internet and find the dating site again. “No, no, it is all to much work for me, I want you to find a woman for me.” “What!?” I cannot do that. You have to talk with a girl and get to know her if you want to marry her.” “No, no, this is too much time for me, I just want you to email a girl for me so I can marry her.” It all seemed so simple in his mind: just email a strange girl in America and just tell her that a little Moroccan guy who cannot speak English wants to get married and move to America. I told him that was not possible. I could help him learn how to use email (that itself, I was discovering was a monumental task), help him learn how to use the Internet, and help him learn how to sell his beautiful artwork online. “Oh, none of that is important,” he said. “I just want you to find me a woman in America.” “I’m sorry, that I cannot do.” He said his paintings would never sell online, that it would take a year or two, and it wasn’t important. I said that it might work, it might not, but why not try? I finally convinced him to allow me to try to sell the fourth painting he had just brought me that morning on Ebay as an experiment. He agreed. He had to do nothing. If it work, I would bring him the proceeds, if it didn’t, the painting was mine. He agreed. So, I’ve got a fun little project to work on now.

Friday, February 17, 2006


So I have to admit that I hid from someone tonight. Some girls came by and asked if I wanted to go to an Ahawash (celebration) for the birth of a friend’s mom’s baby. I explained I had to wait for the electric guys to finish and told them to come back in an hour. But, really, there is always someone here or something going on…and I really just wanted a quiet evening, so I turned off the lights and sat typing on my computer, hoping they would finally give up. They did. They came back half an hour later.. but then Antoine and I were talking and had the lights on. In essence, I was caught. I answered the door and thanked them, met another friend, kissed a little boy on the cheek and told them I was tired and had gone a lot of places today and just needed to rest a little. Shockingly, they didn’t protest.

So I thought I was done with electricity and water departments…

Today was week number two in going to bureaucratic offices, letting service men come in, fiddle with wires, leave, return a few hours later with more paperwork and more requests for passport photocopies, setting up meeting times that someone is late for, (Antoine was recalled numerous times while he was trying to make his way to his English class this afternoon, and they won’t tell him want they want, they always make me interpret), paying extraordinary amounts of money, being informed that they will redo the wiring again tomorrow because it’s in the landlord’s name and Antoine didn’t get to the electric office in time and they felt like doing it today, even though they have to redo it tomorrow… fixing it, coming back half an hour later to fix it since the electricity mysteriously disappeared again, going to offices where I have to explain for the thousandth time that I do not understand French and would prefer that they speak in Arabic … oh these are the fun times.

Another friend joins the blog world..

Please check out my lastest friends, Amy and Collin, to join the world of bloggers. The pressure just was too much for them to resist, I guess... or maybe the fact that they also are moving to the Phillipines encouraged them to use this wonderful format for communicating from afar.

Check it out: http://a-n-c.blogspot.com/


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What people will do to get something free...Oh my.

I think we all need a few laughs in our life... stole the link from my friend Angela's blog.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Why would I ever leave my sanctuary now that I have it... or ...Where are we going?

I'm feeling a little guilty. It's a pretty normal phenomenum in this country.

This time it is because I quite love my new little place and don't want to leave. Now that I have a sanctuary it's hard to find a reason to leave, knowing I'll be faced with greeting every person I see on the street and asking them "Salam Elakum, Labas, Labas? Kulshi Bixer? Bixer. Humdullah, labas? Bixer? La u bark fik, Lla Eawn." (Translated: Peace be upon you, no harm? No harm. Everything going well? Everything going well, thanks be to God, no harm? Everything going well? Blessings be upon you - or something, God be with you.") It is a beautiful art of a greeting, but when you're expected to do it over and over again... to people you've met once before, well it gets a little tiring. Then there are the little children in the streets, who see me and call out "Raja! Raja! Bonjour? Ca Va!?" and then the little boys who stop talking, strategically walk to both sides of my path with a stick or something to shout at me and tease me like they're going to hit me. I just politely say "Salam" or ignore them and keep walking. Then I pass several people with whom I'm well acquainted, go through the whole greeting again, and then am prodded as to why I have not come for tea in soooo long. I have kinda held off on my regular tea visits (usually lasting 1-3 hours) for a couple weeks while I move into my apartment and regain a sense of self and sanity. They can remain offended for a little while longer. Once I resume my tea-circuit, they'll forget they were ever offended at my negligence.

In the mean time, I've been to Marakesh, Zagora and Ourzazate to purchase items for my home ... and crate them back, strapped to the top of a taxi. For example, on my last trip, we strapped an 250 Liter refridgerator to the top of a taxi (old yellow Mercedes). The trip before, we rolled up six bamboo carpets and piled them on top, along with three different bamboo shelves on top of that. It is amazing what a taxi can carry.

Highlights from my trips:

MARAKESH: 1) seeing approximately lots of other volunteers (mostly new-to-me, and several friends from my Stage (10 Week Training) and other SBD (Small Business Development) volunteers. 2) Going to a Marjane (=Walmart) to outfit my Martha-Stewart-of-Morocco Kitchen.

ZAGORA: 1) Discovering the beautiful restaurants/hotels 1.5 hours nearer the desert from Agdz. 2) Having a glass of wine (Hashuma, religiously shameful for Moroccans (women)), 3) finding great deals at the Souq, 4) threatening to call the police on the vendor at the souq who gave me the great deals because he went back on his word and demanded more money after we'd already loaded the carpets.

Ourzazate: 1) Realizing that if you allow Moroccans to do you favors, the balance of inconvenience often outweighs any benefit.

One day before I moved out, I realized
my host father takes trips in a chicken truck (I thought) to Ourzazate periodically (to get chicken if I understood correctly). I asked if there would be room one day to go with him and buy a fridge. He said it was no problem. He told me we could go the next Monday. I went by on Monday and he said there was no truck. My host sister texted me the next day and said to come by on the following day and we would all go together. I went by at the appointed hour. She was in school and he said there was no truck at present but would call me when there was. I never got a call. A couple days later I went off to hike Kisane and he apparently stopped by after I had left. Yesterday morning I was woken up by the sound of "Raja! Raja! Raja!" outside my window. It was my host father. He said they wanted to go to Ourzazate, but wondered how big the fridge was that I was going to buy. I indicated (1/2 normal fridge size) and wondered what the problem was, a truck should have plenty of room for a small fridge... that was untilI spotted the hatchback little car purring around the corner. It definitely wouldn't fit in that. He said they would be back in an hour to pick me up.

They returned in an hour, and I gathered my things and rushed downstairs, ran down and up the empty 4' deep water channel, and over to the hatchback. Sufi, they said, we've got to get the convocations for the trip first, we'll be back in 1/2 hour. They returned and we finally departed ... in the hatchback. At the gas station, Baba Housane's friend asked me to pay for half the gas, which was the exact same price as taking a taxi to Ourzazate, (so remind me what good it was waiting to go with them? Oh yeah, so I wouldn't have to pay for transport fees for the fridge.. which wouldn't fit, right, I forgot.).

I wake up and we're in Ourzazate..or so I thought. We were stopped at a place I didn't recognize, so I took all my stuff with me, thinking we were going to walk to the center of town. Instead we walked right into a photo developing place and I was introduced to Housane's nephew who ran the store. After a while of chit-chat we walked out. They asked me where we were going. I told them the Super Marche, to buy stuff. They laughed and said, no, no, you're going to Housane's brother's house for lunch. Ooh..darn.

We walk through the mud streets of a neighborhood to a nicer home, and after banging on the door for five to ten minutes (it is amazing the persistence of Moroccans in trying to get someone to come to the door, and the time it takes for the persons inside to answer, without the slightest apology when they finally come). We were led into a large salon and I greeted some relatives, then was urged to go into the kitchen, where the female family members sat huddled around a coal-pot heating tea. They were delighted to learn that I actually spoke a little bit of Dirija (Moroccan Arabic) and puzzled that I didn't understand French. (The same reactions I get everytime I meet someone here.) I was shown about the house and then led into another salon apart from the men, where a niece tried to make conversation with me for about an hour, while lunch was being made. Finally lunch came. We ate. They kept pressing me to stay. Do you have work tomorrow? Stay, we'll do couscous, henna and lots of fun things. Next time I kept responding, thank you.

Finally we left.. about 3:30 in the afternoon.. and we had not even reached the city. Instead of taking Azdeem's hatchback in, we had to pay for a Grande Taxi. He was no where in site. What good was it coming with him, I kept wondering. We got to the city and walked to an area I was familiar with. An irritating nephew accompanied us. Every place I said I wanted to go, he questioned and asked why I would want to go there, there was another place that was better. I was now thinking, okay, so I'm paying more than a taxi, taking four hours to actually get to the city, and now accompanied by two Moroccan men, to whom I had to argue every point and where and why I wanted to go somewhere. We spent the afternoon walking long stretches between appliance stores and buying things at three different Super Marches. At the largest Super Marche, where there were supposedly food items (such as oatmeal) that could not be had anywhere else between there and Marakesh, we discovered the refridgerator prices were much higher and Baba Housane took my arm and promptly led me out before I had a minute to look at the food items. I kept asking where we were going and he said to another Super Marche, bigger and better. It turned out it was much smaller and had very few items I wanted, and no fridges. I was very irritated. It was now too late to return to the other one. More taxi rides and we finally discovered a place that sold the type of oven, in the budget I wanted. It wasn't available, but they would be getting a shipment on Tuesday. I could call in, ask the price, and if I liked it, the owner had a friend who lived in Agdz and would deliver it to me and take my money. Okay. That was figured out.

We returned to another appliance store where I was sure I had found the best price for a fridge. (200 Dirhams less than an identical one down the street from me in Agdz, thought I was saving money by coming to get it in Ourzazate.) They led me back out of the store before I bought or picked it up. Come on, they urged. But where are we going? I kept asking. The question of the day. Across the street a little ways was a vehicle with a brand new fridge already loaded. They drove me to the taxi station. Are we taking a taxi? No, no. They split up and both went to bargain with two different groups of taxi drivers. I just stood there waiting for some agreement. One agreed to ship it to Agdz for 35 Dhs. They loaded it and he demanded 50 Dhs. I had to pay. So now, I was still paying the transit fee, shipping it back via taxi, that I had been trying to avoid all along. We went back into town, I purchased other items at the same shop, left and later realized he had cheated me 100 Dhs, not giving me back enough change.

We phoned Azdeem and waited 45 minutes for him to return. I was thirsty and hungry and walked all around looking for a coke. Couldn't find one. Housane didn't believe me and led me by the arm to all the same shops. No coke, just like I said. I bought another drink, cookies and yogurts for Housane and I. He had indeed taken his whole day to help me. We walked back to his other brother's photo shop and there they all devoured our cookies, my yogurt and everything, (including a begger who wandered off the street at the site of food). I at least had a few cookies and my drink. The irritating nephew who wouldn't leave me alone downed my yogurt before I even noticed. Finally Azdeem returned and we departed.

I woke up and we were parked outside a restaurant. Nope, not Agdz. Azdeem was standing at the doorway chatting with another man. "What is he doing?" I asked Housane. Oh, that's his friend. Oh. Ok. He we are hours and hours behind schedule and he's just chatting with a friend in the middle of nowhere while we wait in the cold. He got back in and started smoking a cigarrette. Mind if I smoke? No problem. Start the car, Housane chided him. He finally started it and we got on our way.

I finally stumbled through my doorway, my safe refuge in this insane place and took a looong hot bath by candlelight (a guilty pleasure here), and fell asleep shortly after some hot tea and soup.

Upon recounted the expenses of the day, I realized I would have actually saved money buying the fridge down the street. In fact that fridge is still closer than the one I bought. The one I bought is sitting at my host families house still.. I have to hire a donkey and cart to transport it back here tomorrow. So much for trying to be cost-conscious and using the help of friends.

My Love..

I am in love. The one I love is grand. He is unique and stands tall among his peers. Though he has many moods, I cannot help but gaze upon his handsome features all day long.

His name is Mt. Kisane. I have climbed Kisane 3.5 times now, the last trek taking only 3 hours instead of 12. In the cold and rain and clouds.

After a drizzly morning, the sun popped out and a rainbox arched over Mt. Kisane. Antoine and I went to the roof to stare at it and take a million photos. It was a perfectly glorious afternoon. (This is the view from my roof)

Sunset (Kisane is due East of Agdz.)

All photos taken by Antoine Sylvas ®
(What can I say, he's a good photographer and his camera is way better than mine.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I've Moved In To My Apartment!!

Last weekend a moment I've been waiting two months for (or should I say five) finally happened... I moved into my apartment!

After spending five months under many different roofs, it is soooo nice to finally have my own place, to cook what I want and when I want. To sleep, to clean, to stare at the beautiful mountains or study Dirijia. Ahhh it's been so relaxing.

Interesting thoughts about moving into a new apartment in a developing country:

Principle No#1: Donkey's do not deserve humane treatment, they simply serve the purpose of hauling as much stuff as their straining limbs will allow until they die.

- I hired a man, his donkey and cart to pick up my stuff from my host family's home and drive it across town. I had to look away when he poked and smacked the donkey with his stick... there were patches where his hair was worn away and blood was oozing down his backside from the abuse.

Principle No#2: Whatever you do, expect to have to redo or return several times before actually accomplishing the task.

- I finally got the key from my Landlord on Saturday, after a week of sitting around with packed up bags. (Each day I would hear: "Oh maybe tomorrow it will be ready..." and then it wouldn't.) By 9AM I was buying cleaning supplies from a hanut down the street and sweeping out the construction dust, rubbing down the walls, and scraping paint of tile and windows. By 5PM I was just about to start washing down all the floors when a guy walked in with a sander... to sand the concrete layer off the floor in the bathroom (they ruined it after installing my beautiful bathtub). He didn't mention closing doors or being careful, but within minutes I discovered a big white cloud of cement dust enveloping the apartment. I shut one door and washed the floor. When he finished an hour later, I walked out to discover the entire place completely covered in a white layer of dust. Antoine (my site mate who's apartment is directly below mine and connected by an open skylight) was sitting outside, just watching the "smoke" billow out of his apartment. I felt like I was walking on the moon.... and started the cleaning process all over again. (They are still working on the compact cement floor on the roof, so I'm assuming we'll get to enjoy another dust storm shortly.)

- Many things were not ready when I moved in: water and electric meters, light bulbs, electric outlet fixtures. We (my site mate Antoine and I, as our apartments are stacked one on top of the other) had to go sign contracts at four different offices on three different days to buy meters, make more copies of passports, get receipts from the post office, and have them installed. No biggie. A lot of countries and areas of Morocco do not even have running water or electricity.

- The water and electric companies do not know where to install meters and paraphernalia ... I think that none of the systems are standardized here, so installing something requires the aid of the builder. When the phone/internet company came to install the line, they strung a line all the way from down another street, across several buildings and another long distance before winding it into one of the windows in the apartment, tacking it to the wall all the way through the living room to a phone outlet. I asked them why they didn't just use the phone outlet already installed. They said they didn't know where the other end of it was on the outside of the building, only the landlord did, so they just stuck it in a window! The landlord showed up and groaned. He said he would just redo it another day. Yet another fun item to be done and redone. When we finally finished the paperwork process for the water meter, one guy picked up a meter and walked back to the apartments with us. We asked if he knew where to install it. He affirmed it and headed to the back of the apartment. Half an hour later he knocked on the door. "Where is it?" After showing him where, Antoine gave him his phone number in case he had more trouble.

Well... that's enough for now. I'm going on buying sprees getting bulk flour/sugar/oil type stuff, kitchen appliances, carpets, hopefully some kind of chair/ponge that will fit in my budget, and lots more. I'll post photos soon.

The second night I took a luxurious hot bath (after I cleaned off enough white dust to be able to see the bathtub) with candlelight and felt like a queen.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The History of Penny.. or I feel Spoiled

So... I may be impatiently waiting to move into my new apartment (I'm praying today, if I can track down my landlord at the Thursday Souq to get the key and find the apartment ready to go...) .. but I've had happy things to distract me in the mean time.

I went to the post office the other day (I don't go but once a week so as to avoid staring at an empty mailbox and getting my hopes up too much).. and lo and behold, there were .. not one, but THREE boxes waiting for me. I tried to tell myself they must be from Peace Corps so as not to get my hopes up, but no, all three were lovely gift boxes from wonderful friends and family back home.

It was like Christmas.. finding wonderful treasures in each, like dark chocolate, candles, and Burt's Bees stuff... three things I can't get enough of. There were other thoughtful little things like measuring cups (they use the metric system here which is no good for my cooking), oven temperature gauge, socks, a sweater, but there was one thing that most 24 year olds would not receive in a package, an age when one is expected to be responsible and grown up, traveling the world, but this is someone who I can hardly stand to be without, and upon being reunited was delighted beyond words... it was my dear Penny. She has slept by my side for most of my life.

Penny is a stuffed Kuwala Bear.

I got her on my 7th birthday and have cuddled with her ever since.. except for a few notable exceptions:

Summer, 2000: Disappearance upon leaving spring semester of college; reappeared on my dorm bed in the fall semester, with a note from the kidnapper (initials EL, you know who you are).

Jan - March, 2001: 10 Week Stint in Guatemala, she simply didn't fit in my suitcase.

Oct - Jan 31, 2006: Peace Corps Stage and homestay. She was safely delivered to me this week. I hope we will never have to part ways again. :)