Our crazy trip to Rabat, Marrakech, and the Atlas!

Trip Start May 27, 2007
Trip End Jul 10, 2007

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Salaam Alaykum
WOW is all I can say for the past few days!  This trip with Dr. Kachani contained some of the most fascinating and intense days that we have had so far in Morocco.
Before we began our journey, Doc took Lindsay and I out to dinner on Friday.  Since the other students left, I think that all three of us were feeling the emptiness that had set in at the Fondouk.  So being the wonderful man that Doc is, he took us to an amazing restaurant at a new pouch place called Zen.  As usual, Doc ordered us drinks and wine with dinner.  With a little probing, he proceeded to tell us about working at the Olympics, working for the Italian mafia, and all the drama that goes on at the Fondouk.  It was, of course, all of the stories about our Moroccan coworkers that really got our minds going.  There is so much drama and fighting that goes on behind closed doors, that most of the wonderful workers that we know on a day to day basis, are now tainted in our minds.  All we could do is just laugh about the different set of values and important morals that exist in Morocco.  So many things that are normal and expected in an Islamic society, seem so silly and foreign to us, for example not eating so that a lamb can be purchased and sacrificed for a new baby's birth.  After a long wonderful dinner, we headed home and called Dr. Kachani to tell her when we would be arriving the next day.
We started our journey by boarding a train in Fez around 11 am.  Even with all of our careful planning, we some how almost managed to miss the train.  So here we were sprinting next to the train with all of our luggage and a bookstore worth of books for Dr. Kachani.  Of course our seats were in the furthest train, but we managed to be the last ones to board the train.  In our cabin, there was an older man and a very beautiful, friendly young woman.  Even though the man didn't speak English, he was insistent on talking with us.  He would switch between the little bit of Spanish that he knew, to French or Arabic when he couldn't remember a word.  After watching us struggle to communicate for about thirty minutes, the young woman finally chimed in.  It turns out that she has lived in the US and is very fluent in English, along with a handful of other languages.  The older man was an anthropologist and he seemed to want to tell us all of the history of Morocco and its famous cities, in addition to ask us for the social structure and history of our country.  Unfortunately, instead of being able to enjoy a conversation with a person of our age and sex, the young woman spent most of the train ride translating for this curious man.  However, the four hour train ride went by relatively fast and we were in Rabat in no time.
When she picked us up, Dr. Kachani was pretty upset because her car had just started smoking and died in front of the train station.  So her work colleague had to come pick us up.  He dropped us all off at the house of one of Dr. Kachani's favorite students, Isham.  He is now a very successful poultry veterinarian working for a European company.  We enjoyed an amazing lunch, prepared by his maid, with his family in the garden.  Isham has just recently finished building an astonishing, modernly decorated home on the outskirts of Rabat.
Now before I continue with the story, I need to let you all in on something that happened before Lindsay and I left.  The two of us were meeting with Dr. Kachani about once a week for the last month before we left for Morocco.  During these hour long sessions, we would ask questions in preparation for the trip or Dr. Kachani would talk to us about various topics such as Moroccan culture.  One day I asked her how easy it would be for us as vegetarians.  She immediately got upset and said that she would not have taken us on this trip had she known that we were vegetarian.  She went on to explain that she had taken vegetarian and vegan students in the past who had been served meat in some of the poor villages and had create a huge problem out of the situation.  Immediately recognizing the problem, I assured her that we would not embarrass her by refusing meat or make a big deal about being served meat.  Now to continue with the story....
So Lindsay and I had already been preparing ourselves that we were going to have to eat meat at some point on this four day trip.  We just didn't know that it was going to be right then at Isham's house.  Since we did not want to embarrass Dr. Kachani at her friend's house, when we were served the meat we ate it.  THIS IS THE FIRST TIME THAT I HAVE EATEN MEAT IN ALMOST TEN YEARS!!!!  It was not an easy feat.  Thank God it was chicken with some ham in it.  The chicken was covered in cheese and then fried, which made the taste and texture more palatable.  Since we there was also salad and rice on the table, Lindsay and I cut the meat into tiny pieces and would mix it amongst other food.  Unfortunately, it turns out later that Dr. Kachani didn't think that we needed to eat meat there at Isham's house.  She was more concerned with the village we were going to stay in.  Suddenly, I felt that I had broken a very strong moral value for no reason.  Before I got too upset, I quickly assured myself that it was for Dr. Kachani's relationship with her student and for the respect of my professor.  However, my stomach and my mind are still upset about how that situation turned out.  I am trying not to let the meat eating ruin a wonderful lunch amongst international colleagues.
The rest of the evening was spent wondering through the Medina, old town, of Rabat.  Although we have been to a few Medinas in other cities, this experience was especially pleasant because we were with two locals.  They knew how to bargain, which stores were the best, and what all the crazy herbs and spices were used for.  In the market place, we would stop to try random nuts and candy or face powders.  Then Dr. Kachani, Lindsay, and I bought matching shirts for working in the village.  All and all, it was a fantastic day!
After a short restful night at Dr. Kachani's flat near the ocean, we boarded an early morning train to Marrakech.  Although we were pretty tired, the train ride provided an excellent opportunity to get to know Dr. Kachani better.  She has done some incredible things to improve the health of people in Morocco and around the world.  She has worked for such famous organizations as WHO, FAO, and the European Union.  She has also had some horrible misfortunes in her life.  During the train ride, we grappled with many of the world's problems and then attempt to solve them.
Four hours later, we arrived in Marrakech, Dr. Kachani's home town.  We were picked up by a fellow veterinarian and friend of Dr. Kachani's for 28 years.  He took us to his four story house and we ate more food.  We sat around his house, while Dr. Kachani caught up on old times with all of the guests that came to see her.  After the afternoon heat had past (it was 42 degrees Celsius, about 110 F), we meet up with another colleague of Dr. Kachani's, Ouafa, to head to the village in the High Atlas Mountains.
Dr. Kachani and Ouafa are both part of a nonprofit organization that is involved in improving women's rights and health.  The two women have been working on community development and health issues with this village for over ten years.  The newest project, which they started last summer, is the part that Lindsay and I were involved in during this trip.  From donations, the organization buys animals for the poorest women in the village (it is similar to The Heifer Project).  Most of these women do not have running water in their homes and have husbands who have died or are unable to work for some reason.  Animals are like money for these women.  Most of the women don't eat the animals, but they are able to sell them or trade them for other produces, such as food for their children.  The one stipulation of the project is that the ewe is not allowed to be sold.  Consequently, each year the ewe produces another baby that becomes more money in the bank for these women.
Before Lindsay and I donated the money that we had raised back home, we visited the six women in this village that were the first to receive the sheep for the project.  We wanted to document the success or failure of the project before we continued it.  Over the next two days, we visited all of the women and their sheep.  We asked them about the health of their sheep, what they feed them, if they were happy with the animals, and whether they felt that we should continue this project.  They were all so happy with the gifts, that they continually praised Dr. Kachani, Ouafa, and us for the animals.  At the beginning of the project last summer, each woman was given a ewe and a lamb.  Over the past year, only one ewe had died and all of the ewes had produced at least one additional lamb.  We considered the project a huge success!!  Consequently, Lindsay and I left enough money to buy at least two more women each a ewe and a lamb.  Because we had run out of time, we were not able to select the recipients ourselves.  However, Dr. Kachani and Ouafa will be returning to the village July 7th for an end of the school year party.  At that time, Dr. Kachani will be taking pictures of Lindsay and my women with their new sheep.  (This is not a sales pitch, but if you would like to donate to this organization, please let me know.  About $100 can buy a ewe and her lamb for one woman and her children)
During this two day stay in the incredible Atlas Mountains (see photos), we kissed more Berber people then we have ever kissed men, we ate couscous until our stomachs exploded, drank the entire ocean's worth of mint tea, and mastered the art of crouching in an ammonia filled four foot room and peeing into a dark hole.  I also learned that my first name means "I love you" in Berber and my last name means "Shut up!" in Arabic.  It is so fitting of me to have a name that means, "I love you!  Shut up!"  But really, it was an incredible experience to be able to live amongst a very ancient secluded tribe in the middle of the High Atlas Mountains (we were over 2300 meters up).  I felt like we were making a different in these people's lives and that they were truly thankful for our visit.  To express their gratitude, one of the young girls that we stayed with painted beautiful designs on our hands with Henna.
That afternoon we made the long drive back to Rabat.  Lindsay and I slept in on Tuesday and took the train at one pm back to Fez.  We got home last night, had a drink with Doc, unpacked, and went to bed early.  Stella, our kitten, stayed home to man the fort.  Doc fed her chicken out of his lap.  So we are pretty sure that she will be ok when we leave for good this weekend.
Dr. Kachani continues to ask us about our experience in the village.  I think that she is looking for us to be deeply moved by the poverty that we saw.  However, the truth is that both Lindsay and I have seen people living in much worse poverty in other countries.  Dr. Kachani keeps emphasizing how poor the women are and then asks us what we think.  Without having much to say, I began to feel guilty.  Have I become so desensitized to pain and suffering, that I am not even moved by the lack of some of the most basic human needs?  Because we had a four hour train ride home to Fez, I had plenty of time to think about this.  Also, it just so happened that I was reading the chapter in His Holiness The Dalai Lama's book entitled, "Finding Meaning in Pain and Suffering."  The book has been very pertinent to my life at this time.  I would like to share some of it with you, however I am tired of typing right now.  Hopefully, I will be able to type of a few of my favorite passages and send them out to you before I leave the Fondouk.
For now, Lindsay and I are trying to enjoy our last few days here.  I can't believe how fast the past month has gone.  We have had an incredible gift to be able to live and work with Doc.  I have learned so much from him and the other workers.  They have all made Lindsay and I better vets in the future!
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