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Rabat (Wednesday, 2011 December 14)

December 15th, 2011

I’m writing on the plane back to Cameroon. I’m trying to sleep but can’t — the light is on, and unlike last time, I wasn’t sufficiently drunk (and it wasn’t sufficiently late) before boarding for me to just pass out. So instead I’m preparing this blog post, which I really should have prepared and then uploaded when I had access to good-quality Internet.

I took the train, which is run by a national train company, to the Casablanca airport and it was quite pleasant. A transfer at Ain Senaa (am I remembering that name right?) was called for, but I managed to navigate that successfully. I know it’s not entirely fair, since I spent my entire time in Rabat, which is the political capital, and only got to briefly see Casablanca, which is the economic capital, but everything I have seen so far suggests to me that Morocco is tangibly more developed than Cameroon — not to say that it’s completely and evenly Westernized, of course. A volunteer in Morocco named Yanyi snapped at me with a line about how East/West African Volunteers tend to unfairly envy Morocco just based on what they’ve seen in Rabat. So I stared out the window of the train as the landscape rushed past and tried to imagine what she saw when she looked at it. I almost had it, but then a guy walked in and sold me a small can of Pringles for 15 MAD (almost $2), and I lost it. All I could see were paved roads (OK, Cameroon’s way below normal there), streetlights (though come to think of it, there’s a couple streetlights in my village too), and then horses. Why can’t I have horses???

So I’m sorry Yanyi, but I’m inclined to think along the lines of what Quad said: the challenge of being a Volunteer in Morocco isn’t material, it’s cultural. Not to say that all posts are easy and wonderful or that the country isn’t a developing nation, but every indication I was able to acquire indicated that Volunteers lived just a little bit better in Maroc than in Cameroon. More Volunteers have running water in Morocco, and almost all of them have electricity (which is not a given in Cameroon). Women Volunteers get harassed a lot more in Morocco (which is saying something), but that’s definitely cultural, not physical. Not to say that it doesn’t wear you down.. I wavered between daring to go out and find things to enjoy on the town and wanting to just hide in my room and wait to go home, wherever that is.

Here are some more quick facts contrasting life in Cameroon and Morocco for your average Volunteer.

  • Volunteers in both countries get to learn an exotic foreign language. In Maroc: Dirisia (Moroccan Arabic). In Cameroon: French.
  • In .cm, Volunteers drink. In .ma, Volunteers smoke.
  • In Morocco, "grand taxis" (inter-city travel) are old Mercedes Benzes. In Cameroon, taxis are old Toyota Camrys.
  • Morocco has political protests (I saw at least one and perhaps as many as three in Rabat) as part of what has been referred to as "Arab Spring". (Although some of the things that I had thought were protests turned out to be football games.) We don’t have protests in Cameroon.
  • People beg a lot in Morocco. Also, cats are all over the place. In Cameroon, cats are a kind of meat.
  • As an American, local nationals will address you using a distinctive vocabulary. In Cameroon these words include "le blanc"/"la blanche", "whiteman"/"whiteman woman", "wat", etc. In Maroc, corresponding words are "Roman", "Christian", "outsider". I think this basically sums it up — Morocco has a very old relationship with the Western world, and it’s not based on skin color but rather on religion, or something else entirely. Plus, it’s way cooler to be addressed as a Roman.

I definitely saw a lot of wonderful things peculiar to Rabat. Right now I’m thinking about a trip I took where I meandered into the medina and stumbled into a "district" of people typing on typewriters, producing crisp black-and-white Arabic. And I probably could have done a much better job taking advantage of my time there, but I’m happy to be going home, even if the Internet connection won’t be as good there.

Here are some of the things I saw in Rabat, starting with the ruins at Chellah.

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Chellah was originally a Roman settlement and it has a giant wall, but it’s been resettled over the years and there’s ruins even of a mosque inside. It costs 10 MAD (about $1.25) to enter and nobody bothered me while I was there, but that may have been because it was almost dusk. That black smudge at the base of the tower is a cat curled up in the sun.

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This is the "site antique", although I’m not entirely sure what that means. It’s definitely antique.

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That might be a bath-house over there, and there’s a mosque or something. Note the cats.

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Foundations of buildings.

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All the informative plaques were long since faded by the elements.

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This building was locked.

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This is the bath-house, I think.

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A couple of storks have their nest up there.

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Access to running water, perhaps?

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Just on the other side of Chellah appeared to be someone’s property.

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In some places, the ruin had been obviously enhanced.

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Cats.

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At the Rabat American School, there was a holiday bazaar, vaguely Christmas-themed but also kind of not. Here I am depicted with cotton candy. I also ate a hamburger and a hot dog and a few sundry other delicious things.

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I also bought this knife, which this gentleman engraved "Stayin’ Alive". (It is the best I could do at the time. A nice fellow suggested that a better engraving would have been "Surprise!") I paid 300 MAD for the knife, and 180 MAD to ship it to America (instead of checking it in my luggage). The $36 per-diem (525 MAD) is very generous; even eating everywhere I wanted and buying this knife, I still came out ahead at the end of my trip by about 300 MAD.

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This is the school itself (and part of its field). I’m not sure if there’s any academic facility this nice in Cameroon? It was cool to watch the kids, who were your basic generic American mix of kids, plus some of other Western affiliations with charming accents.

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Salé, "Rabat’s bedroom community".

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The Casbah, which literally means "fortress". It’s right on the water (the Atlantic, if I’m not mistaken).

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I was told that all the buildings in the casbah have to be painted blue and white to reflect the colors of the sea.

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On the beach, there’s this lighthouse. There’s a graveyard right next to the beach but I think it’s bad form to take pictures in Muslim graveyards?

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During my week-and-a-half long stay in Rabat, I occasionally got to hang out with other Volunteers. Here’s Tina (who also goes by "Mina", since "Tina" means "vagina" in her local language). I’m also thinking of Jo, Kelsey, Marcia, and a group of gentleman named Russ, Bradley, and Xavier. Russ and Bradley play this game where they refer to each other by their own name, and generally encouraging the exchange of their two names — thoroughly confusing the poor helpless Medevac who’s trying to learn everyone’s name. One of them, probably Bradley, is an ENORMOUS ASSHOLE because during dinner, he decided to throw food at me. Having dirty clothes is much more inconvenient when you’re living out of two bags in a hotel. "What are you going to do, Cameroon, write about it in your blog?" he is reputed to have said.

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Here’s his written confession! "Send [the Organization] your cleaning bill!" What cheek! If you or anyone you know is in Morocco in any capacity, FIRE HIM. Bradley Ogata, if that’s even your real name, I will find you.

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The Bibliothèque Nationale. The only libraries in Yaoundé are privately owned, with the best-known one at the Centre Culturelle Français. I got a tour by one of the employees of the library, although really I just wanted him to leave me alone to wander around a little myself. (I was half afraid he was going to ask me for money at the end, but he just said "Bye bye!" and kind of pushed me away.)

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Just next to the library is a little park, called a jardin. The stairs have a picture of the Spanish "Mona Lisa".

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The jardin provides access to the roof of the library. I think the tower is a book repository. On the top, it’s decorated with Arabic lettering (but not saying anything as far as I know).

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Not sure about these panes of glass.

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If you were going to check out two things in Rabat, I’d recommend Chellah and Tour Hassan, which is a mausoleum for at least one and probably several deceased kings. On the other hand, you have to watch out because unscrupulous Moroccans will try to hassle you if you’re a tourist — stunts like starting to draw on your arm with "henna dye" and then afterwards asking you for money for the service they’ve just rendered. "Even as little as 300 MAD," she said — about a day of my $36 per-diem! I gave her 10 dirham and then wiped this crap off my arm as best I could.

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I gave this guy 10 Ds too but at least he was upfront about what he wanted and for what.

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I didn’t pay the guards anything.

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This is outside the actual tower/mausoleum, which may have been closed that day. (And then I got accosted by a tout. Watch out for faux guides in Morocco.) I didn’t feel like going back the next day.

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An English-Language Bookstore very close to centre-ville. The older gentleman on the right is the owner. I saw Marvel comics!

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The outside of the medina, with the tramway tracks running right in front of it. All these buildings are still occupied. Damn, sorry for the quality of this shot; I neglected to clean my camera lens before I left Cameroon.

Things not pictured: the English-style pub "Upstairs", at which I spent a pleasant 100 MAD; the Chinese restaurant Tianamen Square where I did the same — actual Chinese people walked in and ordered while I ate; the cool shawarma place/guy "Snack Le Broodjest" pretty close to the hotel; or any of the other foods I ate while in Morocco! Google search tagine if you want to get an idea.

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