Standing on African Soil for the First Time Ever

At about 8:00 p.m. on the night of April 2, we landed in Agadir, Morocco, having been through a relatively pleasant flight from Madrid. Then we stepped through customs pretty quickly, even though we hardly knew a word of Arabic, and exited the building. And, voila! we were standing on African soil for the first time ever. A short time later, we were picked up by our Aribnb host, Rachid, who drove us in a borrowed car to his flat.

Arriving in Agadir

AirBnB Super Host

Rachid was an excellent host who did everything he could to make us comfortable. Upon our arrival, he served us tea, Moroccan style – strong green tea, sweetened. Moroccans are major league tea drinkers, and they have a rather elaborate little procedure for serving it that involves pouring it out of the pot into cups, then pouring back into the pot before serving it, and holding the pot up high while pouring. Later we learned that this gesture is a sign of respect, and the higher the host holds up the pot, the more respect he is demonstrating. Reportedly, those who serve tea to the king climb onto a ladder to pour.

Along with this tea, he served us some chebekia, a popular Moroccan sweet treat made from sesame seeds and honey and twisted into a bit of a pretzel shape. We’d be seeing a great many of these during the ensuing month, and consuming quite a few, because they are especially popular – and indeed served almost exclusively – during Ramadan.

April 3rd – Exploring Agadir

And as it happened, we arrived on the first day of Ramadan, a month-long Muslim festival which would be observed almost throughout our entire time in Morocco. It’s a time of atonement, reflection and austerity, and those who observe it indulge in a fast from sunrise to sundown – and fasting means even abstaining from water, even if you live here near the edge of the Sahara. Rachid himself was sticking to the plan, and also prayed in the living room at the appropriate times.

Initially, we thought that being there during Ramadan would be an interesting cultural exposure, but we’re not so sure that it was any more interesting than being there at any other time. The main difference was that many businesses were closed during the day, which was more inconvenient than interesting. It was a colorful sight, however, to see the streets come to life at about 5:00, when shops and restaurants started opening, crowds started gathering, and people on the sidewalks started preparing feasts to pounce on as soon as the signal from the mosques gave consent to consume. In some cafes and diners, male patrons would be just sitting in the chairs, staking out their spots with anticipation, sometimes an hour or two in advance.

The day after our arrival, we went out to get a handle on the landscape, which looked quite different from anything we’d been exposed to before. There was the distinctly Arabic clothing that many people wore, of course. And there were the mosques everywhere, all conforming to a similar type of architecture, with simple square minarets. And there were the donkey carts that people relied on, hauling produce and other goods just as they have done for generations.

In the stores we could find open (all simple little mom and pop operations) we searched in vain for tea, as we had just about run out. Oh, there was plenty of tea in the stores; but it was all green tea, and we are black tea snobs. Even the tiniest shop had dozens and dozens of varieties of green tea, but there was no black tea to be had for love or money. So we ultimately just bit the bullet and went native, springing for a box of green leaves. It wasn’t bad at all, but just not what we were accustomed to.

One place we went was perhaps the highlight of the entire city: the souq (marketplace), reportedly one of the largest and most comprehensive in the nation. It seemed like miles of endless stalls selling all manner of goods, including produce, utensils, clothes, jewelry and on and on. There were also stalls with barbers, cobblers and other such services. And there was an open-air prayer spot to which the men (and only the men) would hasten at appointed times during the day, kneel to face Mecca, and do their duty. In some cases, the shop owners would simply leave their stalls unattended so they could go pray – perhaps stretching a rope across the entrance to indicate temporary closure. Additionally, there were several stations at which these men engaged in ritual foot washing.

One stall we stopped at sold nuts, which are a staple of our diet. So we asked for a kilo each of almonds and walnuts. When they were bagged, we were informed that the price would be 200 dirhams. Now a dirham is about 10 cents, so that was 20 bucks for 4.4 pounds of nuts – about $4.55 a pound. Back in the States, that would be an acceptable deal, but considering how cheap things are in Morocco – and especially in a souq – it was outrageous. So we started to leave without our goods, which led to the vendor then eagerly haggling with us. We got him down to 80 dirhams, which was $1.80 a pound. That sounded much more reasonable, so we bought. But later, we learned that we were still overcharged.

That night, Rachid cooked enough dinner to share with us, but he didn’t realize we were vegetarians. So we had to decline his offer to partake of his meal, which contained a generous portion of meat. He had made a tajine, one of many varieties of meal cooked with a cooking pot of the same name. The vessel is made from clay and consists of a platter on which the ingredients are placed, and a conical lid with a small hole in the tip that traps the heat. We’ve been seeing these for sale in various sizes all over town, looking like little traffic cones; they’re very popular in Morocco.

The Beach

We also found our way to the beach. It wasn’t the best of beaches, and was in fact rather dirty. But we still enjoyed getting our feet wet in the ocean, the first chance we’d had to do so in some time.

April 4 – Rolling with the Punches

The following day (Monday) we were supposed to get a ride to our next volunteer gig from our new hosts, who were coming to Agadir to pick us up. We were packed and ready to roll at the appointed time, which came and went. But when we contacted them, they said they were under the impression, somehow, that we were arriving on Tuesday, and that’s when they were planning to come after us – and they’d be unable to shuffle their schedule to fetch us on Tuesday instead. So for the second time on this tour, we found ourselves scuttling to find a place to stay at the last minute. (See Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.)

Rachid would not be able to put us up again, since he’d already booked out the room to someone else. But he assisted us by contacting the host, named Ahmed, of another Airbnb with whom he was acquainted, and arranged for us to go there for one night. It was a place that we’d already considered, and even contacted with a couple of questions, when we were arranging our stay in Agadir, and ended up selecting Rachid’s place instead.

Fortunately, things worked out okay, and after saying goodbye to Rachid, we took our bags and walked to the vicinity of Ahmed’s place. It was rather difficult to find, though we were very close, but we were in touch with Ahmed by phone, and he finally sent someone to meet us.

Since it was a last-minute booking, we had to wait in the living room for a while as our room was being readied. It was a decent enough place, though not as nice as Rachid’s, and there were at least 7 or 8 other guests staying there – Ahmed essentially was running a little hostel. When we asked him where we could go shopping for dinner, he said that dinner would be served there at 7:00, as would breakfast the following morning; and if we wanted to eat, we could chip in whatever we thought it was worth,

So we opted for that, and that evening we, along with the other guests, were served an excellent meal by Ahmed’s mother. It included flatbread stuffed with vegetables, rice soup, a casserole, and even cornbread, of all things – genuine cornbread comparable to that served in the southern U.S., such as we had not seen in some time – and it was quite yummy. Ahmed’s mother, as mothers are wont to do, kept pushing food onto everyone, insisting that they eat at least until stuffed. And of course, we also had Moroccan tea to go along with the repast. There were 10 at the table, including 3 from Italy, 2 from Lithuania, and one from Saudi Arabia; they all spoke good English, and we enjoyed talking to all of them.

That night, after we’d gone to bed, we heard some of the guests talking rather loudly in the living room, which was right next to us. We tolerated it until midnight, when two of them, the Lithuanians, were still there and still just as loud. So Dennis went in and politely asked them if they could hold down the noise a little; they politely agreed to do so, and apologized for the disturbance. (It’s always amazing to us how so many people, no matter what country we’re in, just don’t realize how loud they are being, and how much they are disturbing other people.) But a couple of days after we’d checked out, Ahmed wrote a review of us on Airbnb and suggested that, while we were nice guests, maybe we should hang out with people our own age. As if age had anything to do with not wanting to have your sleep interrupted. The fact is that we have never liked having our sleep disturbed, even when we where half his age. And we didn’t come to his house expecting a party; that wasn’t what he advertised. He offered a comfortable place to stay, which necessarily entails a good night’s sleep, or at least the opportunity for one.

April 5th – Last day in Agadir

Since checkout time was 11:00, and our ride would not be coming until about 5:00, we asked Ahmed if we could leave our bags there while we went on some errands. (The breakfast we’d been promised, by the way, still had not materialized, so we fended for ourselves.) He readily agreed, so we went on a hike to find a store called Marjane, which was, at long last, a real supermarket/ supercenter, such as we have in the U.S. There we were able to find several items we’d long been searching for, including (oh joy oh bliss) black tea. Bagged rather than loose, but still, honest-to-goodness black tea – and a good variety (Darjeeling) to boot.

We also walked through a marketplace, and at one point, we passed a seller of nuts (not the same one as yesterday) who insisted on offering us a free sample – with his bare hands, as is customary here. So we reluctantly took his offering, and then after browsing a bit, started walking on. Whereupon he became miffed – or at least pretended to – because we were not buying anything after having a free sample, with the implication that we were moochers or some such. This made us even less inclined to be paying customers, and so we left him to fume, resolving not to accept any more samples from anyone no matter how insistent they are.

Then back to the house, where we had lunch and waited for our ride. At last they came: Mohamed (the director of the school where we’d be teaching) with his wife and two sons, ages 5 and 2. We rode in the back with the older boy; both kids were delightful though a bit rambunctious, and took up with us right away. At one point, Kimberly passed Dennis a note saying “I get the feeling that we’re expected to be fulltime babysitters.” This, prognostication, it turned out, was not far off the mark.

It was about an hour’s ride to our destination in the city of Ouled Teima. Along the way, we stopped at a market so the mom could go buy some things for dinner. This included fish – she didn’t realize at first that we were vegetarians (very clearly outlined on our WorkAway Profile by the way). She bought the fish and put it in the floor for the rest of the ride, so we had a nice aromatic final leg of the trip.

Then we pulled up to their flat, unloaded our things into our room, and settled in for our fifth volunteer position on this tour.

Only found one Bird Picture worth sharing

April 2nd – 5th, 2022

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