Oulad Teima Counting the Days

Our third and final week in Oulad Teima was only our second week of volunteering at the school; so while it seemed as if we’d been in town forever, we were just getting started with our volunteering when it was time to start wrapping it up. We continued having some chaotic sessions with the younger kids in the morning, and some fun, productive sessions with the older kids in the afternoon.

And in our time off, we continued exploring this city that we found to be stark and colorful at the same time. One thing we were constantly doing was checking out stores to scout for certain items that we found hard to find. For example, even though there were a number of outlets that sold stationery and school/ office supplies, none of them carried index cards. These seemed to be all but unheard of in Morocco – it was hard to make the store workers even understand what we were searching for. But finally, we did find something that would serve the purpose.

One staple of our diet on this tour has been peanut butter (a necessary item given our meager food rations). Actually, we prefer almond butter, but that has been all but impossible to locate in the places we’ve visited. So we’ve been settling for peanut butter, which has been fairly common in stores everywhere – except the kind commonly sold has added salt, sugar and other yuckies. Snagging peanut butter made with just peanuts has not been easy. Additionally, we enjoy bars of chocolate that are also low in sugar or have none added at all – we’re fine with just plain unsweetened baking chocolate. But that’s also been a rare commodity in some countries, including Morocco.

One day we investigated a grocery store that was probably the largest one we’d seen in all of Oulad Teima (there are no real supermarkets as such, as most people buy most of their food from street vendors). Lo and behold, they sold bars of chocolate with minimal sugar, so we pounced on one. And then, on a shelf right next to them, were quart (or so) jars of what appeared to be locally produced peanut butter, presumably without additives. With the aid of Google Translate, we asked the cashier if it was peanut butter, and she replied, “no, it’s made from almonds”. We were in hog heaven (or whatever the local porkless equivalent of that expression is).

View from our Roof

Of course, we also continued to hit the souq (bazaar) almost every day, not just to purchase the food items we needed to supplement our diet, but to soak in the sights, sounds and smells. And one day, we went to a cobbler’s stall, one of several in the souq, because Dennis needed some maintenance on at least one of his shoes.

Shoe Repair

The cobbler we chose appeared to have been plying his trade for decades – and he appeared to be using the same tools and techniques that his predecessors had utilized for centuries, except that he used a blowtorch when he needed a flame. He spoke no English, but it was clear enough to show him what we needed done. Although we were prepared to drop off the shoes and come back the next day, he indicated that we should just sit while he got the job done. He even had a pair of slippers for the waiting customer to wear.

Thus, we spent the next 20 minutes or so witnessing the fascinating spectacle of him working his wizardry. He pried back the parts of the shoe that needed gluing, holding them open with little spikes that resembled nails. Then he heated his glue using the blowtorch, and applied it to the shoe, then waited for it to cool a little – he’d hold the shoe to his cheek to gauge the temperature – and when it was just right he’d press it together and then wait for it to cure completely. While he was at it, he reinforced the other shoe as well, even though it wasn’t in such dire need. All of this for 10 dirhams – a measly buck not only to have the shoes as good as new, but to partake of an amazing cultural experience in the process.

Speaking of shoes, Dennis also had a pair of blue water shoes (vintage Ron Jons) that he wore exclusively in the house, since it’s the custom in Morocco, as in many places, to remove shoes when entering a home. When taking a shower, he initially would leave these shoes outside the stall. But then they started disappearing during the course of a shower, and it wasn’t hard to figure out that one or more of a certain pair of mischievous little snot rockets was the culprit.

At first, he located the missing footwear without a great deal of difficulty. But the last time, which occurred during our final week, they were nowhere high nor low. He inquired about them among the household, and nobody fessed up to having seen them.

Then one day, only a few days before we were to leave, the older boy said, as he often did, “play with me”. Seeing an opportunity, Dennis told him, “sorry, I can’t play with you because I don’t have my blue shoes.” The youngster looked at him a moment then replied, “I have shoes you.” Whereupon he went to fetch them from his parents’ bedroom.

Dennis asked him, “okay, why do you have them?” And he sheepishly replied, “not me; Baby”. Maybe he was being truthful, and it really was his little brother to blame; that might explain why nobody responded to inquiries about the shoes’ whereabouts, since the little brother was not exactly fluent in any language. On the other hand, the older brother knew right where to find them – if not from the beginning, then at least the last time the subject was brought up. Why didn’t he return them sooner? And how could they have been in the parents’ bedroom the whole time without the parents being aware of the presence of a pair of extraneous slippers?

It was only logical that we also began to suspect the kids of taking Kimberly’s colorful little pocket notebook that she had purchased in Bogota. It disappeared about halfway during our stay, and it contained some notes she’d needed for teaching classes. This was even more troubling than the missing shoes, because we figured that most likely someone would have had to take it by entering our room while we were out – we’d thoroughly searched the living room and the kitchen, but found no trace of it.

Meanwhile, we were watching more Arabic TV than we cared to, just because it was always on when we were in the living room. Everything from sports to news to crime dramas to silly sitcoms. In fact, although we knew that many American films had shot scenes in Morocco, we didn’t realize that the country has a pretty robust film industry of its own. There is a city called Ouarzazate, not too far from where we were, that is nicknamed the “Moroccan Hollywood”.

Friday came, and we had our final hair-pulling sessions with the younger students, as well as our final richly rewarding session with the older students. We said goodbye to Yusuf and his precocious daughter – who, after we left, continued to message us every few days, or leave us an adorable voicemail bringing us up to date on her progress at school.

That night at dinner, our hosts actually engaged in conversation with us, which took us aback. It was pretty much the first time, and they waited until the night before we left. But they may have had ulterior motives. A couple of days after we left, we received a message from them asking how we were doing, and saying that they really missed us – which we thought rather odd, given that they’d mostly ignored us during our stay. A day or two later, they left us a similar message, which made it odder still. And then came the payoff – a message with a reminder to write them a review on Workaway, the website through which we’d connected with them.

But we decided to ignore the request. Because Workaway has a habit of censoring critical comments in reviews. They want all of their reviews to be glowing or at least positive. So if a volunteer leaves a negative assessment, the administrators remove many of the specific comments; a visitor to the site can just see that the volunteer said something critical, which might be presumed to reflect more on the volunteer than on the host. (If prospective volunteers want candid feedback, however, they can get it by contacting past volunteers directly.) So essentially, we had the choice between leaving a positive review or not leaving one at all. And though our experience at the school in Oulad Teima was by no means all bad, we decided that there were too many negatives for us to feel comfortable leaving a rave.

The next morning, we finished packing, and the host father said goodbye on his way out the door. The mother and younger son were asleep, but the older son managed to get up and watched us complete our preparations to depart. He and his sibling had always been curious about the goings-on in our room, and for once we didn’t mind him observing, since the goings-on had just about all gone on. As a final precaution against leaving anything behind (which we’d already been guilty of a time or two on the other side of the world), we pulled furniture away from the wall in case anything had slipped into a crack.

And eureka, there was Kimberly’s notebook. So apologies, boys, for suspecting you. But you must admit you earned that suspicion.

Having loaded up, we walked the mile or so to a bus station to catch a 10:30 bus to Marrakesh. Originally, the plan was to take a bus back to Agadir, and fly back to Madrid; we’d even booked plane tickets to Madrid. But they were so dirt-cheap (about 60 dollars total for both of us), we weren’t out much by altering our itinerary. In the interim, we’d been contacted by another Workaway host in Morocco, expressing an interest in having us come to his school. It sounded like a reasonable match, so we made plans to remain in Morocco another month or so.

So now we needed to get to Casablanca, which was much farther than Agadir. It would have taken at least 6 hours by bus. And just as when we faced a similar situation in Colombia, we decided to break up that tedious trek – particularly since there were no bathrooms on the bus – and stay a couple of days at the approximate halfway point. In this case that was Marrakesh, which was a city we very much wanted to see anyway.

A couple of times during the past week or so, we’d walked one of the main streets in the city near the souq, where a variety of buses loaded and unloaded, and inquired about schedules and rates. What we were told indicated that the cost would be much higher than we’d hoped – about 90 dollars, which is very steep indeed by Moroccan standards. But then we happened to notice this little tour company office with a sign out front, so we inquired inside and found that they had a bus to Marrakesh that was far more reasonable. So we bought our tickets and here we were.

The bus was on time. So we loaded our bags into the luggage compartment, and took our seats – which were comfortable enough – and we were on our way to our next destination. And we were not terribly sad to see Oulad Teima in our rearview mirror.

Had Enough.

April 18-23, 2022

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