Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Travel Tuesday : A Lengthy Train Journey in Morocco

Up early in the morning to catch the 9:00 train to Fes. Breakfast was a bit late, but it gave us the chance to play with Khalim the kitten. Then off to the station, stopping on the way to the Djemaa el-Fnaa to pick up water from our second favorite shop. An old lady begged me for bread and when I said no, just grabbed a loaf. I looked at the shopkeeper, who nodded and took a 1 Dh coin from my change. Probably not enough to cover the sale of the bread, but hopefully enough to cover the ingredients. 

Then a taxi, where we were told it would be “fifteen”. Fine, okay – until we got to the station the driver asked for fifty. We knew he was having us on – it shouldn’t really have been more than 10… so we laughed at him and held firm.

Unhappy surprise at the train station: there were no 1st-class tickets left on either the 9 or the 11 train. Oh well. So we bought 2nd class tickets and hoped for the best for the 6.5 hour journey.


As the train arrived, the usual boarding scrum occurred – complicated by me getting my pack stuck in the doors. (I’m awesome.) We got in a car marked with a 2, went through doors marked with 2s, but found a compartment that looked suspiciously like a 1st-class compartment: 6 velour seats with nice wide armrests rather than 8 orange bench seats. Still, we sat down and hoped we wouldn’t be moved.

We were joined by 2 German girls who had been in Morocco for about 30 hours and already seemed ready to leave. They were leaving lovely Marrakesh for icky Casablanca – I hope they find something they like. Later, 2 young Moroccans joined us just before the train left. 

We stopped several times at a variety of stations – our original Moroccan couple left and a family with 2 small sleeping children took their place. At some point a ticket collector passed through and didn’t seem phased by our presence, so I guess we really were in a 2nd class car. Perhaps it was just an older model? Regardless, we'll book first-class tickets for the trip back to Casablanca.

The countryside was very dry and sparse. In the south the only green was from the cacti which seem to have been planted as hedge/fences around where animals are kept. As we’ve come farther north, there’s a bit more green – olive trees, some palms, something that looks like sugar cane? Also, the closer we got to Casablanca there was more industry and the villages, once just a few houses and a mosque, were replaced by towns – more houses, some shops, a pharmacy, and of course bigger mosques.

Strange glimpses out of the window – shanty towns covered with satellite dishes; skinny Holstein cows surrounded by cacti.

The German girls got out at Casablanca, and were replaced by a Moroccan family including a grouchy lady who immediately took off her shoes and put her nasty bare feet on the seat across from her, her skinny husband, and their surly teenage son. The lady kept holding the door shut so no one would come in and take the open seat, even when people were standing in the aisle outside. And shall I mention the belching?

All this meant the ride from Casablanca to Fes felt very long; and when the train arrived, an hour late, we were happy to see the end of the fat belching woman.

We went immediately to the ticket office to buy 1st-class tickets to return to Casa after three nights. We had been relatively lucky with our seats, but didn't want to push our luck!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Adventure 40/50 : Nidoto Nai Yoni, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial

Whenever we decide to go on a trip, I try to learn a lot about the destination. Maybe I get a little obsessive, but I read a lot and look for documentaries and local events to learn more. 

So when we were planning our trip to Japan, I decided to attend a lecture called "Let it not happen again: Lessons of the Japanese American Exclusion. 

I didn't know very much about the topic -- I knew that a lot of Japanese people were rounded up during World War II and sent to internment camps. But I don't remember ever learning about it in school. 

The speaker, Clarence Moriwaki, told the story of his first week at the University of Washington in the 1970s, where he attended a meeting of Japanese-American students. As they sat around, one of the other students said to him, " So... what camp did your folks go to?" Moriwaki said, "Man, my folks were farmers ... they didn't have time for summer camp." Everyone stared at him, in silence, until one of them said, "InTERNment camps, man. During the war."

He had never even heard about it. 

Turns out his parents lived just far enough away from the coast that they didn't get sent to a camp. And he grew up in a small, tight-knit community where a few other Japanese families, none of whom talked about it. 

Moriwaki told us about the Japanese community of Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, and how over time they integrated. He showed pictures from the community in the 30s: the strawberry festival, school pictures, pictures of local businesses. And then he told us that on one day, in a coordinated, synchronized effort, each of these families was visited by a representative of the U.S. government and told that they would have to leave their homes and travel to a secret location in six days. On March 30, 1942, all 227 residents of Japanese descent -- many of whom were American citizens -- were rounded up, loaded on a ferry, and sent to unfinished camps in the desert. 

He told us about how in most places, the Japanese didn't return to where they had been rounded up; but because a lot of the community on Bainbridge Island -- notably the Woodwards, editors of the local Bainbridge Review newspaper -- kept in touch with the internees and welcomed them home after the war. '

In all, some 120,000 Japanese -- two-thirds of whom were American citizens -- were imprisoned in concentration camps during the way. There is a wealth of information about these historical events. I still can't believe that I never learned about this when I was in school. 

A few weekends ago we finally made our way over to Bainbridge Island to visit the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. It takes the form of a memorial wall that follows the road to the Eagledale ferry dock. 

image from the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial site, bijaema.org, combining historical photo with the modern memorial
The names of all 227 people are inscribed on the wall, along with beautiful art pieces showing the history of the Japanese community on Bainbridge Island. It was quiet and somber and beautiful and moving. 

Nidoto Nai Yori means "Let it not happen again":

The view down to the former location of the ferry dock.

The panels are accompanied by stories and reminiscences; I loved the story of how the coach of the Bainbridge High School baseball team let all the Japanese kids play in the last game before they were imprisoned -- even though some of them weren't very good, and the team lost badly.

People who were children at the time remembered how frightened they were, carrying their things and wearing multiple layers of clothing.

And others remembered continuing their studies behind the barbed wire of the camps.

But the final panel showed the community welcoming the Japanese back to the island with open arms.

It's a beautiful, quiet place and I haven't done justice to it or the history here. But I'm really glad we were able to visit it, and someday would like to visit the Minidoka National Historic Site in Idaho to learn more.

Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial website
Minidoka National Historic Site website
Clarence Moriwaki's speaker page on Humanities.org, where you can learn where he is speaking

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Adventure 39/50 : So this one time, at WordCamp...

I had been feeling stuck and like I wasn’t learning anything. But I also realized that *I* needed to take control of my own growth. So I made a list of things I wanted to learn / get better at / do more of. One of the things was to learn something about WordPress.

I've been blogging for more than ten years. I remember trying to choose between WordPress and Blogger, and chose Blogger. Why? Because it felt like Google was the better partner. Oops.

Now, to be clear, I haven't had any trouble with Blogger. Do I wish there was an official mobile app? Yes, but I didn't use it much when there was one.

But I know that WordPress has grown and grown. And when I wanted to build my won site, I decided to try using WordPress. And then I got stuck, and didn't touch it again.

After identifying WordPress as "something to learn", I started looking for resources. I'm too shy to drop into a meetup, frankly, but heard about "WordCamp" --  a mini conference, organized by volunteers, that are all about WordPress. And as luck would have it, Seattle was hosting theirs less than two months later. For $50 for the two-day event, I figured there wasn't much to lose.

I didn't really know what to expect, but the event felt professionally run and well organized. The quality of the speakers varied from session to session, but I've experienced that at much bigger events and conferences.

One speaker I especially liked was Nathan Ingram, who's talk "Dealing with Problem Clients: Fencing in the Friendly Monsters" included great strategies to manage client relationships -- which are also relevant to other workplace relationships, too.

On the morning of the second day I realized that I was really happy that I had come to WordCamp for a few reasons.

One, it made my introverted self proud that I had been "brave" for going. Now, I didn't network much, if at all. But I still decided I wanted to learn something, found an opportunity to do so, and actually WENT.

Two, I did learn some things. Not necessarily about WordPress, but some useful strategies and some interesting information.

Three, and perhaps the best thing, was that I made the time to sit and think and write and plan. I don't do enough of that, so it was really useful to make lists of things, and put some thought into plans for 2020. So I used the time between the sessions as well.

It might be time to move this blog from Blogger to WordPress ... though just typing that makes me feel anxious. But at least now I have a better picture of how to do so.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Travel Tuesday : Marrakesh, Morocco

About 20 minutes before we were scheduled to arrive in Marrakesh, the train guard came by and opened the door. Not a lot of hustle and bustle – I brushed my teeth and got my bags back together, and then we pulled into the station. Much less frantic than I expected.

Went through the pretty station (again, no left luggage), and easily grabbed a petit taxi. Then the hard part started. I had wanted to stay at the Jnane Mogador – but had noticed a big hotel called the Riad Mogador near the station. Of course, that’s where the taxi driver took us first. I said no, showed him the map, and then we drove around. And around. He pulled up at a couple of other hotels, asking doormen, other cabbies, etc. I think he hoped we would just say okay, that’s the one. But eventually he found the road and drove along it as far as he could. We got out, shook off a tout, and then headed up the road.

A few minutes of walking and we had found it. Unfortunately, the owner didn’t know if he had any rooms for the night, but invited us upstairs for coffee/tea while he found out. The riad was gorgeous – lots of beautiful carving in the courtyard, and a lovely terrace where we had tea. There was even a cute (if filthy) tiny gray kitten frolicking. But, sadly, no rooms were available.

He did call someone else, whose place we went to look at. It wasn’t nearly as nice, and all looked new trying to look olde. The rooms we were shown were 300 and 400, and the 300 room stank. To top it off, they then told us the 400 room was already booked for the next night. So back to square one. Mohammed made another call and we went to look at a third riad, Riad des Princesses.

A bit farther off the grid, but beautiful and quiet. We bartered down to 500/night including breakfast, which is less than we paid in Tangier. The manager/owner is called Ahmed, and he has a beautiful tiny orange kitten named Khalim.

I showed him the pictures of Bub and Kiki and he softened towards us completely. And he was touched we bothered to ask his name. The riad has a beautiful roof terrace where we relaxed in the evenings and were served breakfast in the mornings.

Oh, and the breakfasts were AMAZING.

Once in the room we had showers, washed our stinky socks that never did dry in Tangier, and then enjoyed a great breakfast in a weird little café with no ornament other than a photo of the Spice Girls on the walls.

spice up your breakfast!

We spent the middle of the first day in the relative cool riad having a siesta till the heat died down. Well, died down a little. We went out to visit the Dar Si Said handicraft museum first. The building itself  was more impressive than the crafts, though the carpets and textiles were stunning. And the best part was how lovely and quiet and cool it was inside.

After dawdling through there, we went to the Bahia Palace which, while it wasn't very crowded, wasn't exactly empty so it was less peaceful than we'd hoped. Beautiful tilework, carved friezes, and woodwork.  I think we enjoyed the Dar Si Said more; perhaps because it was more quiet.

I should point out that this picture of Wil is among my all-time favorites.

Went out in the evening for dinner and timed things perfectly right -- climbed up to the rooftop terrace at Chez Chegrouni just as the couple in the prime location were getting up. Ordered (surprisingly flavorless) veggie couscous and a veggie tagine, but perhaps we should have asked for cumin? Slightly annoying having people come and stand next to us to snap flash photos of the square, but we had gotten the best table in the house.

Then back down to the main square, the Djema el-Fnaa -- very crowded with snake charmers, monkey wranglers, water sellers, dancers, henna painters, drummers, and all the foodstalls you could imaging -- from the amazing fresh-squeezed orange juice stands to the snail sellers. Lots of locals out at night -- pressing through the souks. The square was crowded at every time of day, but really got hopping when the sun went down. A bit of sensory overload, in a good way.

On our second day we stayed in the medina -- the old town -- all day, but saw very different worlds. Souks are a bit overpowering -- so many things, so many people.

While wandering and looking for the perfect Moroccan poof, we ended up in an expensive bar -- Cafe Arabe -- drinking mojitos on a roof terrace and feeling a bit too much like Mick Jagger in the 1970s.

Then back into the souk where our pouf quest continued. Wil had memories of a 2-toned one his granddad had, while I had a more modern one in mind. But we did agree on two things: 1) green should be the main color and 2) no camels. So we wandered around until we saw shops with many choices, but no one had our color. After a lot of looking (and a few disappointed salesmen), we found a good compromise -- a 2-tone, dark green with tooled tan leather one, good sized, and with a nice seller. He wanted 650, I wanted to pay 400. I'm sure we still paid over the odds, but I'm happy with 400 for our pouf -- especially since that's what we had just paid for 4 mojitos with tip at Cafe Arabe...

our pouf! (unstuffed for travel, of course...)

So eventually we wandered back to the riad, attracting extra attention because we now had a shopping bag. Dropped off the pouf, checked the maps, and headed out to dinner at Nawarma. We didn't quite know what to expect, and I wasn't even sure we were headed in the right direction. But then Wil spotted the sign and an "official greeter" led us in.

What a place! Beautiful and dark, and very stylish. Black-clad servers seated us at a table near a burbling fountain, while a DJ spun a very strange set of 70's-style samba covers of hits including "Ladies Night", "We Will Rock You", "Roxanne", and yes, "Y.M.C.A." -- which was amazingly (and coincidentally, I assume...) mashed up with the 10:00 call to prayer. Then a cover of Billy Joel's "I Love You Just The Way You Are",l which reminded both of us of a bit we'd heard where a woman deconstructed some of the lyrics, saving her special scorn for the line "I don't want clever conversation; I don't wanna work that hard." Oh, okay Billy.

But back to Nawarma -- it was a Moroccan/Thai fusion place, so Wil had another go at veggie couscous, while I tried the green curry. And another round of mojitos.

The food came quickly and was beautifully presented. The couscous came with 2 sauces, which made it exponentially better than the version we had the previous night. My green curry was flavorful, spicy, and filling.

The bill? More than our pouf, more than our night's lodging. 605. But still worth it for the ambiance and delicious food. Besides, we decided we deserved a splurge...

We loved our visit to Marrakesh -- despite the heat.

Travel Tuesday is a project where I'll be revisiting old trips and reposting the stories here. For the next several weeks I'll be posting stories from our trip to Morocco and Egypt in 2009. Next week: Fez!