Monthly Archives: October 2010

Horsin’ around El Jadida

The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears – Arabian proverb

We walked along the beach toward El Jadida, hopping from one flat rock to the next and wading around the jagged edges where it was shallow. There are often horses on the pubic part of the beach in town, so I wasn’t surprised to see hoof prints in the sand.  My friend and I spied a few horses tied up near a building, and a little later, a man giving quiet commands to a beautiful brown horse in the soft part of the sand usually untouched by the surf. Suddenly, the horse knelt down, then turned over on his back like a dog rolling over. I’d never seen anything like it. The horse agilely took to his feet again and shook the grains from his muscular back. I was in awe. I didn’t know horses could do such a maneuver. What we were seeing was a special backstage preview for that night’s spectacle at the annual Salon du Cheval.

El Jadida and the surrounding Doukkala-Abda region are well known for their horses. There are something like 15,000 horses in the region, most of which are Arabian race horses. Lots of these are used locally in a very famous fantasia, or Tbourida, every August. The Salon du Cheval began in El Jadida three years ago, likely to boost tourism in the area. The King is a prominent supporter of the festival, and because of this, he came to El Jadida last Monday to kick off the fanfare. The King’s visit and the onslaught of tourists explained why I’d been watching the town get a fresh coat of paint over the last few weeks. Despite my questioning everyone I could, I didn’t find out the details of the King’s arrival until about 20 minutes before the event began. I heard later that there were special invitations and tickets, but I’m not sure.

There are two must see elements of the Salon du Cheval: the spectacle and the Tbourida. Admittedly, due to my continued inability to comprehend French and Arabic, I figured out what a Tbourida was a little too late to see it. I’ve made a personal vow to see one of these live some day.

This is not the first time I’ve lived in a town celebrated for its horse festival, which is a funny coincidence considering I only moderately enjoyed riding horses as a kid. A pathetic excuse: a fairly big horse stepped on my foot at camp the same summer my friend got bucked off and sent to the hospital. While I probably won’t be galloping around on one any time soon, I can admit that I have a lot of admiration for the animals. Siena’s Palio is – at least to my knowledge – a more popular spectacle for western tourists, and I’m here to tell you, El Jadida is a fair competitor for the attention of any horse festival fanatics (ahem: George Clooney, I’m talking to you).

While my friends and I missed the Tbourida, we did manage to catch the spectacle. And what a show it was! We got to the arena when the exhibition hall was closed, which was unfortunate due to the location – just far away from town to make finding a time-waster impossible. But that didn’t stop us. I needed to use the bathroom and thanks to a poorly guarded exhibition exit, we accidentally snuck into the exhibit hall. We wandered the stalls of resting show horses, and stumbled upon a great food court, which unlike any American event, had reasonably priced and pretty tasty food. The show itself was impressive, with everything from horse burlesque, to dressage, to trick riding, wherein folks flipped upside down, turned summersaults, and a variety of other movements I can assure you I’ll never attempt in my life. The photo quality isn’t all that great, but I think you’ll get the hint:

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And, for added entertainment, there was a great performance by a Gnaoua group from Essaouria. Again, my camera isn’t really built for video, but the sounds not bad and you can make out the horse dancing. And this horse has soul.

Categories: Activities, fulbright, media, Morocco, wanderings | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ode to my basil plant.

Marhaba, nebitas dyali = welcome, my plant

Shuma = shame

My first afternoon in Morocco, I noticed a nursery stand in the Rabat Medina with basil plants lining its perimeter. It stood out because somewhere on the interwebz, I’d read that basil was hard to come by in Morocco. Smugly, I thought that less than 24 hours into my life here, I had proved the Internet wrong.

Shuma. How foolish of me.

A month later, having thoroughly interviewed several local purveyors of vegetables and herbs as to when the weekly allotment of basil would arrive, and, having questioned everyone I’ve met about where I might buy a basil plant, I was still at a loss for my favorite food flavorer. And cut basil, when I find it, is expensive.

So, when I trekked to Rabat this past weekend for a small reunion with the Fulbrighters, the first thing I did was head to the medina to buy a basil plant. And I snagged a beauty for only a few dirhams more than the handful of basil I bought to make bruschetta for our dinner party that night. After a brief stroll through the market, my new plant came with me to a cafe, chilled in a hotel room over looking downtown Rabat, then enjoyed the scenery from the train window all the way back to El Jadida. While hardly a replacement for my companions far away in New York (feline or Trout), I’ll admit that it’s nice to share my living space with something that lives and respires once again. I’m just trying not to talk to it. Too much.


Marhaba, nebitas dyali. You will live a good life here with me.

I know I’m supposed to be learning about and enjoying the local cuisine – and, I am. But as a bon vivant, and a mostly-vegetarian, I can’t deprive myself of pesto, flavorful omelets and tomato and mozzarella salads. Morocco, I must ask you: for a country that eats as much pizza as you do, how do you live without basil? And why deprive yourself of such a sublime herb?

Next on the agenda: finding some good balsamic vinegar.

Categories: fulbright, Morocco, Ponderings, wanderings | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Waš femtini? Get me?

Waš femtini? – Darija question meaning, do you understand?

Every morning I wake up hoping  today will be the day that I understand full sentences in Darija or French. My chambre is cavelike when the external blinds are drawn, so for a few minutes I lie in my bed trying to construct a full sentence out of the darkness. Outside, on the streets of El Jadida, I have maybe five minutes before I stumble over a word or phrase I already know, and the rapid tongue of the Jadidiyat continues to elude me. But, every day it gets a little easier. This week I laughed at a joke. Everyone in the room, including myself, was surprised I understood. And, I met a couple of really great children this week – two little boys, 4 and 8, at the culinary institute where my friend teaches and where I had been invited for lunch — and the children of my new friend Meriem, who are 3 and 5. I love talking to children in any language, but in Arabic, it’s so much easier than talking to adults. Because I can almost have a conversation with the three year old. Still, over tea the 5 year old wanted to know why I said mezian so much. Mezian means good, or well, or sometimes great. I told him it’s one of the only words I knew how to say.

Moroccans are very polite and pleased – I think – that I’m trying to speak their language. Yesterday, at the Moroccan equivalent of a thrift store, a woman put her purple Adidas stretch pants in my bag. I told her in Arabic that I thought she had the wrong bag and she spent the next few minutes complimenting my on my admittedly bad Darija. Positive reinforcement is a great way to learn anything.

But talking can be equally frustrating. I understand Arabic numbers very slowly, and I’ve got no French numbers over 10. In fact, I don’t understand that much French at all. So when I decided I wanted to play tennis at the beautiful courts I found in the center of town, I thought it would be an easy, safe environment where I could maybe make some friends and work on my language skills. Because I already know how to play tennis. However, what I didn’t realize was that I’d made a appointment for a tennis lesson. And I hadn’t understood the annual membership fee, partially because I can’t understand numbers, and partially because the coach can’t write them down. So, when I showed up to play, I was shocked to find out that I’d sent myself back to high school, freshman year: Coach McCoy’s tennis drills. And though I quite enjoyed the work out, everything was laborious. I couldn’t understand the simplest directions in French – sit up, slide, backhand, forehand. And at the end of a vigorous hour, when this coach lined up tennis balls for this sprinting drill I’ve always hated – I started laughing. I realized that if I had understood what he was telling me to do, I would never have agreed to do it. And then, we spent another hour trying to figure out the price of a membership and haggling over the cost of a tennis racket. It was the hardest work out I’ve ever done, because it wore me out not only physically, but mentally too.

Anyway, here’s a walking tour. First, you’ll see a few shots from my neighborhood, then my school, then the old Portuguese City of El Jadida. The medina was built in the mid-1500s. I haven’t gone into the cistern yet – El Jadida’s pièce de résistance — I’m saving that for my first visitors next week.

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Categories: fulbright, Morocco, Ponderings, wanderings | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

When I have fleuss bzaf…

fleuss, darija word meaning money

bzaf, darija word meaning a lot

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I always imagined that when I grew up, I would spend my days writing and reposing in small coastal town in Italy. And while I think I’m unlikely to ever embrace adulthood, I seem to have arrived at some variation on my dream. Here, in Morocco, we repose frequently  and the coast is delightful. And one day, when I have fleuss bzaf, I shall summer in Oulidia.

This weekend, my friend Barbara and I decided to escape from El Jadida. Unfortunately, it seems that every time I hang laundry to dry, it rains. And of course, my clothes flapped happily on my terrace the night before our day trip to Oulidia. Luckily, our adventurous spirits weren’t as damp as my shirts.

Oulidia is about 75KM south of El Jadida and the coastal views become something spectacular just about 10KM outside of my new hometown. We hired a driver for the day for a decent price. I negotiated the cost down a bit, but a few days later I’m convinced I got taken for a bit of a ride (ha!). Chifur Abdullah was a fun character, though, and one with friends everywhere along our journey. We stopped several times so that Abdullah could hop out of the car to greet everyone from family members to police-officer friends.

The trip was an hour down a narrow two-lane road with an almost constant seaside view. And as soon as we arrived in Oulidia, I understood why so many Marrakchis love this little town. Oulidia’s beach is enclosed by cliffs, spectacular with the rough sea crashing into them. The beach was very clean and expansive – had the weather been a little nicer, I might never have left. While we paused to take some pictures, a man proffered oysters, clams, and sea urchin. Apparently, Oulidia is the oyster capital of Morocco. Whether it was a smart idea to swallow roadside shellfish, I don’t know. I didn’t pause to consider this. Still, I don’t regret my hasty decision. I didn’t try the sea urchin because I haven’t a clue how to eat it. A reason to go back, I suppose.

We dined at L’Araignee, a restaurant that’s existed since at least 1998. My Lonley Planet: Morocco is a bit out of date. Oops. Anyway, I imagine that you could find a cheaper restaurant on the bay that would serve equally delicious food, but again, I have no regrets. Perhaps the strangest part about the meal was the fact that the patio was filled with French tourists drinking wine at lunch (!!).  While El Jadida supposedly has a French population, I haven’t met many non-Moroccans since I arrived.

On the way home we stopped at a farm stand we’d spied on the trip down. For about 8 dhs, I got all the veggies I could carry. Almost as soon as we climbed into the car with our vegetables, my camera battery died. Just as well since that’s when the real downpour began.

Categories: fulbright, Morocco, wanderings | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments


šhuf, pronounced chuf, darija word meaning, look

I’m learning that life in Morocco is all about small victories and small moments. On my walk home yesterday afternoon, 4 different shop owners on my street waved at me. Then, I went to take a coffee by the beach. And šhuf! There be camels on my beach!

Categories: fulbright, Morocco | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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