Bouncing Back to Berrechid

So after a one-day detour to El Jadida, we were back to volunteering in Berechid. Sunday was, as usual, a busy day of classes at the school. But on Monday and Tuesday, the school was closed and we were free. So on Monday night, we decided to avail ourselves of one of the few noteworthy local attractions: a hammam.

A hammam is a traditional Turkish bath house; and while we’d been planning to hit one later when we were actually in Turkey, the one in Berrechid was quite close to us, and came highly recommended, so we couldn’t pass it up.

The glowing review came from a fellow WorkAway volunteer named Bob, about whom we’d heard a great deal. He was currently in Casablanca and had been around for several months, long enough to make the acquaintance of quite a few other volunteers. So we kept hearing that we really should meet him, because he was a really cool dude, and had a lot in common with us – including nationality and chronological demographic. (We’d eventually meet the legendary Bob, and our verdict would be that he pretty much measured up to his billing.)

Among other things, Bob was a connoisseur of hammams, having patronized a number of them during his time in Morocco. And he’d highly recommended this one, which he considered the best yet. So everyone was sold.

After walking to the bath house, we of course had to segregate by gender, as patrons wear their skivvies or other quite immodest attire. And we paid for all of us at once, a procedure that turned out to be more complicated than we foresaw, because some of us didn’t possess correct change at the moment. It turned out that Derek fronted the cash, with us to pay him back later. And the admission was quite slim: 75 dirhams ($7.50) per person for a full package, excluding massage, which would not be much more money but would be considerably more time, and the younger guys had plans for later in the evening, so there.

Then we entered our respective sectors, de-clothed, and went to the steam chamber, where a few other customers were already lounging and sweating profusely. After we’d also perspired for a while, an attendant called us over and slathered some kind of oily something or other all over us, and then we sweated a while longer – after which we were called into the scrubbing room.

In the scrubbing room, we would lie on a table and an attendant would scrub us down all over, apparently with a loofah, though it felt more like sandpaper. At one point the attendant shows you what appears to be a layer of soap suds or such on the loofah and smiles; you nod, not knowing what other response to make, though apparently some is expected. Later you realize that you’d been shown a gleaning of dead skin cells from your own body. And when you finally walk out of the place, you indeed feel about a billion dead skin cells lighter.

Paying back Derek 1500 dirhams (and Vincent, whom we’d somehow ended up owing 250 dirhams) turned out to be much more problematic than we ever anticipated. And we were under pressure to do so within a couple of days, because both of them were about to depart for other pastures – they were not traveling together, but happened to be leaving at the same time. It required a trip to the ATM, and then we had to figure out how to get some change for the large bills thereby obtained – making purchases at stores helped, but we couldn’t just get a bill changed at a local market, because they hoard their change jealously in these parts.

Finally, we had an idea how to solve the problem quickly. First we asked them, as we were all assembled in the kitchen, which of them would be going to Europe first.

“Probably me”, said Derek. “Why?”

“Because”, Dennis answered, “we have some euros left over from Spain. How about if we just pay you in euros?”

He was perfectly okay with that, especially since he ended up getting a buck or so more than he was owed. Vincent, however was feeling a pinch, and a bit desperate for dirhams before exiting Morocco. No problem, we had the right combo to pay him off. So we settled accounts, and everyone was happy. The next day, we said goodbye to these two fine lads, whom we hope to cross paths with again in the future.

Before they left, however, we had one more communal feast of couscous etc. prepared by the housekeeper in the tajine. And Dennis tried his own hand at cooking with the tajine, with results that were not at all disastrous.

Trevor also said his goodbyes a few days later, and he decided to abandon a towel, which Dennis decided to adopt. It’s not quite as big as a regular bath towel, but considerably bigger than the hand towel Dennis had been using for the purpose – and it packed up almost as tightly. And is considerably more effective, haying been in service ever since. So thanks, Trevor.

That left us to hold down the fort with just New Zealand Jason (Did we mention that he is a candy maker by trade?) and French Lucas, the new guy on the block. And sometimes holding down the fort was what it amounted to. When people would come to the door wanting to enroll in classes, all we could do was tell them to come back during business hours when someone would be in the office.

One day, three men came to the door who identified themselves as investigators with the national police in Casablanca – they showed us their official ID’s to confirm it. They wanted to know if they could access our security cameras to help apprehend a bank robber who’d driven by a few days earlier. They showed us a photo on a phone of his car, apparently taken from another security camera on the same street, that did not disclose the license number.

Now we had no idea how to access the security camera archive (presumably they did) but we did know that we were not authorized to do any such thing. They put us on the phone to another gentleman, ostensibly their superior, who spoke good English and said they’d appreciate our assistance – though he didn’t really say anything that would have verified his identity. We in turn put them on the phone to Harim, the school director, and they talked to him about 10 minutes. We don’t know what they said, since our Arabic is pitifully deficient, but afterward they thanked us and left.

Later, Harim commended us for how we handled the situation. He absolutely did not, he said, want anyone admitted into the building when the school was not open. So we don’t know if the police ever got their images. Or their robber.

During our final few days in Berrechid, we tried to explore parts of town we hadn’t seen before, and did discover a large marketplace we hadn’t been to yet. And we made our first stop-in at a little mom and pop shop just across the street, where we had a chat with the friendly young man at the register – he was 18, and he said he really, really wanted to go to America.

His aunt and uncle, who owned or ran the store, came out and talked to us as well. When we were about to leave, she said, “Wait. Something for you.” Whereupon she disappeared into the back and returned a moment later with a little plate on which were four intriguing little sweet treats – two each of two different kinds. They might have contained buzzard eggs and donkey milk for all we know, but they were absolutely heavenly, and made us want to go back and get the recipe.

It was during this last week that Ramadan, which had been a presence in our lives throughout our presence in Morocco, finally came to an end. On the final day, people began gathering in the afternoon at a large park in the center of town, dressed in their finery, and bringing all manner of things to prepare for a grand feast and celebration – we gather that among other things, fireworks were on the menu. It was almost as if people fasted all month long just so they’d enjoy this grand shindig all the more. One interesting thing we observed was a number of little temporary photo booths made up to look like royal thrones, where little “princesses”, all decked out royally, could sit and have their photos taken. In some of these locations they also posed on horseback.

During this last week, we were dispatched back to El Jadida for a 3-day tour of duty before returning for a couple more days in Berrechid. And then it was on to Casablanca.

4/30 - 5/2/2022

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