Maroc (Friday, 2011 December 2)

December 3, 2011

Nurse Ann apparently got clearance to get my root canal done locally, in Yaoundé, by the same Adventists that drilled the same tooth twice. I politely asked if I could maybe go to any other dentist in the country, since I didn’t have a lot of confidence left in those. Nurse Ann demurred but the next day (Tuesday) called me to let me know I was going to Morocco (the jackpot of medevacs). Then Wednesday she called again to say that I needed to be in Yaoundé the next day by noon because I was flying out Friday. What about my tests, yet ungraded? There’s no time; hurry. So I graded what I could and assembled as much of everything and Thursday morning left as early as I could manage for Yaoundé. Through luck I was present at the gonging-out of Henry, Richard, Stephen, and a few other end-of-service Volunteers. Left that night at 1 AM, with a Driver taking me to the airport and making sure I got onto the plane. Had to drink my last sachet before going through the security checkpoint. Fell asleep in the waiting lounge for the 4 AM flight; the staff woke me up, got to my seat in the plane and pretty much fell asleep immediately again. Touched down 11 AM WAT which is 10 AM in Morocco. Hour-long drive from Casablanca to Rabat, the capital, where I was able to deal with Admin on their home turf.

The drive was a little eerie, as a vague discomfort settled over me. I found myself a little overwhelmed with the look of the place — Westernized in vague outlines, good-quality highways with proper signage, but with Arabic on all the signs. The vegetation is a little different too. I’m thinking of what Allison said, that adjusting to Cameroon was way easier than adjusting to the UK, because in the UK things are always only slightly different. Morocco is only slightly different. I was uncomfortable to be in a Westernized, "developed" country, finding myself oddly homesick for the redness and dusty roads of Cameroon. One of my early posts on this blog, I wrote that life-changing experiences only have as much power over you as you let them, and that historically I tend not to give that power out — but Cameroon has changed me, and the things I consider "safe" and "home" are way different now from when I first touched down a year and a half ago. On top of that, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was about to run afoul of some nuanced Islam-ish cultural practice, that I was going to give major offense or violate a taboo that I didn’t know about.

All of this discomfort went away when I landed and met some of the local Moroccan volunteers, passing through Rabat on their way to a training next week. So far I’ve met Luis, a guy named Quad (short for "the Fourth", being Herbert Something the Fourth), Gussy (short for Augusta), Donna, Connor, and Lindsay. Within ten hours I was already fully up-to-date on the Organization Gossip Grapevine, providing me with rumors and opinions about every one of the two hundred volunteers I don’t know in this country.

What I’ve seen of Morocco is wildly, unfairly amazing. Rabat in particular is a real place, with sushi places (!) and even a bookstore where I saw a hardcover copy of McCaffrey’s Dolphins of Pern! By contrast Yaoundé is more like someone trying really hard to make a real place without knowing exactly what that would mean. Whereas the Organization has an "office" in Yaoundé, they have a "campus" in Rabat. The stark contrast between their chic-looking wood cafés and restaurants and our "Wood Bar" with its dented pressed-metal chairs and tables is striking — both because of how much nicer everything is here, and because of the important lesson that the Maroc is culturally "dry" due to Islam — although this appears to be a qualified dryness, and it’s not illegal to sell or consume alcohol, and even "au village" the volunteers here say people are definitely drinking, perhaps behind closed doors. But alcohol’s much more expensive here — last night I paid 30 dh (dirham, about 8 dh=$1) for an American-sized beer — versus 500 CFA, about $1, for a Cameroonian 0.65L beer. Something like 7 times more expensive. Morocco’s a shitty place to be an alcoholic, in sum, and I’ve made a lot of friends by promising to start a "sachet of the month" club, to be repaid in local garments.

Gussy said something about how Rabat is a nice city in the style of a generic European city, but doesn’t have any character. I find this wildly baffling. I’m chowing down right now on a bag of olives and another bag of dates, both of which I bought in the medina (which literally means "city", but actually means the Old City, which is actually actually an open-air market) for presque rien. Does Yaoundé’s ramshackle and aggressive manner give it character? I prefer to think that Rabat’s character is just clean and polite, dignified in a way that Yaoundé definitely isn’t. The local volunteers don’t think I can experience real Moroccan culture or cuisine in Rabat, so I should just carouse and live it up a bit, but I’m pretty sure they don’t appreciate how thoroughly the culture is seeping through the city, like a heart on a sleeve. For them it’s normal, thus uninteresting and bland, that no one call out "white person!" or "foreigner!" to you as you go about your business, whereas for me it’s an exciting mark of serious refinement. The volunteers say that the rest of the country is way worse than Rabat, and I believe it, but I don’t think they realize how good they have it all the same. A large majority of Volunteers here have running water and electricity; in Cameroon most get one or the other, and some neither.

My French serves me well in this country — everyone can speak it, although Dirisia (Moroccan Arabic; sp?) or the variety of Berber tongues would be useful to know too. The accent is pleasant, both a little Frencher in some places and a little lighter, like when Fulbe speak it, in others. And an appalling number of people speak to you in good-quality English, and have no problem with American English. My Cameroonian sense of fashion is a little less useful; no one wears pagne here, everyone wears long sleeves, and there are actual seasons here (we’re coming up on winter). Volunteers in Cameroon very occasionally use words like "summer" as abstract constructions to refer to certain time periods, like the holiday vacation, but more often we just use months, because for us the only seasons that exist are "dry season" and "rainy season". Par contre, here it’s breezy here bordering on chilly, and I’m enjoying the novelty. Dry season can get a little boring so I’m also enjoying the phenomenon of weather, such as rain (last night).

I saw the dentist last night at 4 PM, after having only been in the country for a few hours, and he confirmed the diagnosis of a root canal. That nerve is dead, super-dead, and Dr. Rami decided that we could just start drilling now, and why not skip the Novocaine just to prove that the tooth is dead? So I now have a hole in tooth #5, whence the abscess can drain and be exposed to air and basically get better. My parents will also be happy to know that I am on fucidine 250 mg twice daily. Dr. Rami let me know that the abscess probably stayed mild instead of getting to really incredible swelling because of the doxycycline that I take for malaria prophylaxis. Take your doxy, kids. It’s a wonder drug.

The Organization behaves a bit differently here — there’s no case or transit house, so I’m being put up in a hotel which has adequate, but not incredible, wifi. There’s no Education program — or indeed any programs any more; they’ve changed the whole country over to Youth Development. There are sushi restaurants, plural, in Rabat, and a tram (!), and I expect to be in the country for about a week. Wish you were here.

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