Posts Tagged ‘Oujda’

Looking for friends…Where are the Krims?


2011
05.11

Now began the search for our dear friends, the Krims.

Krim Family

Where are the Krims?

We walked up and down streets looking for the Krim’s house with no luck.  We were great friends with Mohammed Krim, his sisters Safia and Zahor, and his parents.  Oh, we had some delicious meals at their house, me eating with the men since I was a foreigner, Jennifer running back and forth between the dining room and the kitchen.

Jennifer spent more time with them than we did – they adored her and she was an independent sort.  She’d spend the night at the Krim’s, Mark or I would walk over to get her, and she’d usually ask to spend the night again!  She’d often stay several nights in a row.  They would have her carry the bread to the communal oven and go to the store to get the milk pail filled.  Remember, she’s only three years old.  Once, right before Aid El Kbir (the biggest feast of the year that concludes Ramadan), she was there when they slaughtered a lamb in the backyard.  I was horrified – oh, poor Jennifer, having to see that, etc. etc.  It didn’t faze her a bit.  (I just this minute looked online to make sure I spelled Aid El Kbir correctly (I did) and found out the holiday has a Facebook page.)

The day we left Oujda, Mark went into the Royal Air Maroc office because Krim used to work there.  I thought he’d transferred to Casablanca.  We found out he’s in Agadir, retired from Royal Air Maroc and has something to do with a travel agency so we think we can locate him now.  But according to the folks in the airline office, the family home had been torn down – no wonder we couldn’t find it.  No public oven, everything changed.   When our Peace Corps service was finished in 1973, we bought our tickets from Krim, who was an agent for Royal Air Maroc, for the return flight to the United States.  We were to land in New York but the plane didn’t have enough fuel to circle as long as was necessary, so it was diverted to Washington D.C.  We landed in a terrific thunder storm; the pilot came out of the cockpit and said that had been a close one (just what we wanted to hear, but we were aware of the tough landing). Customs agents were called back to the airport, it took forever (they were home, asleep), and we were beyond tired.  But we were closer to Raleigh than we would have been in New York so we asked if we could change our tickets and fly straight from D.C.  That is when we found out Krim had booked us – sold us a ticket! – on Braniff, an airline that no longer existed!  The airline industry must have suffered a change between the booking of the ticket and the actual flight. Finally, Eastern Airlines (which now no longer exists) said they would honor our tickets and let us fly out from D.C.

Back to the present

Back to Oujda and the present day: We found Mike’s old apartment…(Mike was our fellow volunteer in Oujda.)

Mike's apartment, 1972

Looking up at balcony of Mike's old apartment, 2011

which overlooked Place Mohammed V (I’m calling it Place Mohammed V but I think I’m wrong.  I’ll correct when I find out.).

He lived in the only building with an elevator for which we were so grateful, because he was on the 7th floor and it would have been  hard to walk up that many steps with a baby buggy – or to leave the buggy at the bottom trusting it would remain there!  We did feel relieved when the creaky old elevator made it, however.  We never got stuck.  The building looked just the same and the lobby looked just as run down and the elevator door looked just as untrustworthy.

The Souks

We could have entered from the square with the post office and the old Palais de Justice or through the walled medina.  We went by the post office.

Oujda post office, 2011

Here’s the post office in 1973.  When we were about to take the photo, this huge group of kids gathered (they’d been playing on the steps) and arranged themselves for a photo as if they did it everyday.

Oujda post office steps 1973

Time for the souks

Time to tackle the souks.  This is where we had a real difference of opinion.  Mark wanted to head off in one direction but I was sure it was another way.  Positive.  The only thing was, there was a wall around the medina that I did not remember.

Medina wall, Oujda

Medinas usually have walls, but if I had walked into this medina so many times, would I not have remembered a wall?  Was it put up later for appearance sake?  When we went in, we did find more covered areas than had been there before, so perhaps the souk had been “modernized” to give it more livability and a more traditional appearance.  I don’t know, and we didn’t ask anyone.  We went in.  All along we were debating if that was the real medina we used to go to, but then we saw the butcher shops.  Yes, this was it.  I was positive.  The layout of the stalls was a little changed, but they were the same.  No, Mark thought, it wasn’t right.  After we got home and Mark looked at the photos, he agreed that indeed the butcher shops were the same ones.  The lack of refrigeration hadn’t changed.

Medina meat market 1973

Medina butcher 2011

In fact, it makes you wonder if we have over-regulated the heck out of our country.  In Morocco, and many other countries I suspect, meat sits out all day.  People just cook it well-done.  Eggs are not usually refrigerated. In fact, when we lived there, we never refrigerated our eggs, and we had a refrigerator!  For some reason that currently defies logic, we kept them on top of the frig. The egg man would ring the doorbell each week, Jennifer would greet him and speak to him in Arabic; we’d bring a bowl of water to the door and put the eggs in one by one.  If they floated, they were no good and we didn’t buy them; otherwise, they were fine.  To this day I float the eggs if I’m not sure if they are still OK.  We didn’t refrigerate yogurt and neither do the French people (The French owner of Maison Do made her own yogurt and didn’t refrigerate it.).  We bought yogurt drinks all over Morocco from refrigerator cases – but if there was any operant cooling, it wasn’t detectable.  We survived.

Back to the medina.  There were the usual cases of cookies and cakes oversaturated with honey and overrun with bees.

Pastry case with bees inside

There were vegetables, fruits, dates and olives everywhere.

Oranges, Oujda medina

Olives, Oujda medina

I would guess that Moroccans consume as many fruits and vegetables per day as Americans do in a week.  It’s funny how that works – we found this to be true 40 years ago in Morocco, and we’ve found it the last 2 ½ years here since we’ve been getting local, organic fruits and vegetables from Abundant Harvest:  when produce tastes better, one eats more.  It’s really quite simple.  In America in the name of efficiency, crop yield and progress, we’ve bred the taste right out of our produce.  Little by little I think we’re understanding that and starting to buy local and organic.  In fact, if we were to put tasty produce in school lunches, it just might be consumed.

We had a great time wandering through the medina and of course showing our photos everywhere we stopped, even if it was just to ask permission to take a photo.  We went in one area where some kids were playing soccer – their goals were marked by egg cartons with rocks on top – but someone sort of official looking guy came to chase us out, telling the area was forbidden.  I think restoration was going on at a local building, maybe a medersa, and they didn’t want folks around.  It just seemed better not to inquire.

Soccer in the medina

Sunday afternoon was market/socialization day and the streets were packed with food and people.  There were vendors of everything from what you’d expect to the old “junk souks” we remember.  Want to buy a door that had been used possibly beyond the use of the wood itself?  Available.  Want a cell phone that couldn’t possibly work, but then used parts are there also?  Available.

Cell phones in the souk

How about a broken toilet seat?  Why not? Snails?

Snails in the souk

Sardines? Pottery? Baskets? Jewelry? Plastic? White ceramic dishes?

Anything? All there in abundance.

God I love souks.  Outside the walls, people were squashed together, laughing and socializing.  We were zonked and went to the hotel, which was right across the street from the medina entrance.

About our dinners – not much to say.  Unremarkable. We realized we’d had so much home cooking when we lived there that we were spoiled.

One other Oujda note: We visited Sidi Yahia Oasis when we lived there and it was so exotic!

Sidi Yahia, 1972

It was a holy pool of sorts, a natural spring thought to have fertility properties if I remember correctly.  Supplicants tied banners to trees for good blessings, and there was a big festival once a year during which there was a fantasia. (A fantasia is an event where horsemen charge as fast as possible and discharge fire-belching guns into the air when they meet.)

Fantasia 1972

 

John the Baptist was buried at Sidi Yahia – but then, if he was actually buried all the places he’s claimed to have been buried, he must have been chopped into little pieces.

We wanted to see the Oasis again so we just drove in the right direction trusting we’d find a sign, which we did.  We also found a demonstration and wished we could have understood what the speaker was saying.  Lots of people, no one seeming unduly upset, lots of police.  Anyway, instead of countryside between Oujda and Sidi Yahia, there was…city.  Wow.  And the spring had been turned into a lovely fenced park, which did negate some of the former charm.  Also, a cemetery nearby that I remember primarily for graves that were little more than mounds of dirt, was a full-fledged packed-to-the-gills graveyard.  So the best we could say about that venture was that we found it.

Cemetery in 1972

Cemetery, 2011

We have to go

Time to leave.  We felt oddly sad and nostalgic, as if we were leaving our home.  Both of us were taken aback at how intense that feeling was.  Yet the day ahead held adventure: we were going to drive through all the little towns that Mark worked on, and we had the original plans he did to compare to what actually had taken place since.  We would also drive through the Gorges of Zegzel and see if we could find the places where we’d had picnics with the Krims (picnics that involved a butagaz burner because a meal without mint tea at the end just wasn’t a meal, picnic or not).  It was going to be another long day, but there were no mountain ranges to drive through (the Beni Snassens, where Gorges of Zegzel are, didn’t really count as a mountain range), and it was going to be one of the most important days of the trip.

 

Heading to Oujda: You CAN go home again


2011
05.10

Our journey through Morocco continues, proving that Thomas Wolfe was wrong – you CAN go home again.  We were finally heading to our home of two years – forty years ago!  It’s quite amazing how much it felt like going home. We left Merzouga and passed by another demonstration – the same place as the day before.  My photo is blurry – no apologies: it just didn’t seem wise to stop, get out, and take photographs, so I snapped one as the car went by.

Merzouga demonstration

The road to Guercif

There was much discussion before we left Merzouga; everyone had an opinion which route we should take.  Many suggested the southern route, which I kind of wanted to do, and in retrospect I wish we had.  The problem was where to stop for the night as there were no  hotels in the little towns.  So we settled on the road that went to Guercif, which at least had a hotel. And thus we blithely headed off, not realizing we’d be driving through the Middle Atlas Range!  We went through many of the small towns we passed through on the way down.  In one, we encountered another load of hay that seemed  precariously balanced – but as far as I know, it stayed upright.  I’d always been under the impression that if the base were larger than the top, it would be more stable.

Load of Hay

We always seemed to be passing through a town when kids got out of school for lunch break, and today was no exception.

We hit the mountains.  Oh no, not really.  More mountains?  it was cold and rainy, and this is when we found out the car’s heater did not work.  These mountains weren’t as beautiful as the High Atlas, but I was shivering and freezing so maybe I failed to appreciate the beauty.  I was not interested in getting out to take pictures.

The Middle Atlas Range

When we came down – which took far too long – we found the turnoff to Guercif, thinking we really had it made and we’d get there before dark.  We turned and  said, “Uh oh” because it was a one-lane road.  Seriously, a narrow one-lane road with bumpy rocky shoulders.  But it was a good road, so we took heart.

Good road

This was the only road we encountered like this on the whole trip and we have to assume they’re going to widen it someday because there was plenty of traffic considering.  It was scenic; plus, we drove by more old ruins.

And then things took a turn for the worse.  The good road was a trick and only went a short way.  THIS is the road we traveled on.

Not-so-good road

Did I mention there was quite a bit of traffic? We went through some more security checkpoints on this leg, and finally we saw Guercif.  It was dark, but trusting to luck, we drove down the main street and saw the Hotel Atlas.  I took a photo of a checkpoint – from a distance as you might imagine.  (If you click on a photo, it enlarges on another screen; then arrow back to return to the blog.)

Checkpoint in the distance

The Hotel Atlas was trying very hard but not quite cutting it.  The lobby was smoky.  Bad sign.  The desk clerk was trying to take my payment but didn’t quite know how to work the credit card machine so we decided we’d pay in the morning.  I asked where we should park and he said just right there in front of the hotel and told someone to move his car so we could have the space.  He was very kind and trying very hard to give five-star service. We were taken to our room, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or how to react, really.  Were we in a brothel?  There were little pink and red petals of incense scattered all over the beds and the nightstands and around the bathroom sink.  The effect was rather shocking, really.  There was a red lamp – with a red bulb – and candles all over.  Plus, on a shelf there were four decorative pitchers that looked like upright Aladdin’s lamps in graduated sizes.  It was so overwhelming, I forgot to take a picture. We tried to get comfortable and sleep because the sooner we fell asleep the sooner we’d wake up in the morning and the sooner we’d be out of there.  As I said, they were trying very hard.

To Oujda!

We were finally on our way to Oujda.  As a city it’s isolated, way in the eastern part of the country on the Algerian border, and since there are no tourist attractions, no one really goes there.  When we told Moroccans where we were going, the standard reaction was a blank face, then, “Ah. Oujda.”  I’m not so sure everyone knew where it was.  We did, or we thought we did, but on our way, a message came into my cell phone saying “Welcome to Algeria.”  Had we crossed the border? Were we in Algerian air space?

Welcome to Algeria

The drive was uneventful and when we reached town, we drove down a long boulevard with elegant street lights.  Oujda grew up in the 40 years we were away.

We encountered a large – really large – round point and saw a brand new McDonalds.  We stopped for lunch.   We like to eat at McDonalds in each country we visit to check out the different menu items and the ambiance.  The drive-through is something completely unknown to Oujda.  Looks pretty standard.  For us.

This McDonalds was brand spanking new, very modern, with a picture of Mohammed VI and his young son on the wall.  That’s one thing – pictures of Hassan II were everywhere when we used to live there, and now it’s Mohammed VI.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case in most monarchies – remind people constantly who’s King.

The most fun part of this McDonalds was watching the employees – they were so proud, intent on doing everything right.  It’s not cheap, and going to McDonalds is a step up for most people, so the employees were bright and shiny and smiling.   We ate.  We left.

Again, counting on blind luck we drove to the Hotel Altas Terminus at the train station where we thought we were staying.

We did this all throughout the trip: just set out without preparation, trusting we’d find the way.  Since there aren’t that many roads in the country, it worked.  We reached the Atlas Terminus, which looked fantastic.  It was not our hotel.  We were going to the Atlas Orient so the manager had someone get in the car with us to show us there.  I’d reserved a suite, thinking that at this stage of the trip, we’d be tired and want to relax.  It was nice but not as nice as the Altas Terminus would have been.   We checked in, we unpacked, and we walked straight to 38 bis Hassan L’Oukili – our old house.  It looked exactly the same except the gates were gray when we lived there.

Our house

Let me explain the next picture.

We’re looking back at what looks like three rows of buildings.  Our house is a couple of houses in on the road on the right.  Then there’s a curve, another street, and a multi-story white building that used to be the Hotel Ibis and an epicerie on the ground floor.  When Jennifer was three, we’d send her to the store alone if we needed something.  Some flour, maybe.  It was completely safe.  No cars to speak of back then. The store proprietor knew Jenny and where we lived.  And Jenny conducted the transaction in either French or Arabic.

While we’re looking at this corner, I must tell you one more thing.  I’m taking the photograph just outside of the train station, so you can see how close it is to our house.  One day Jennifer, being quite independent, packed a little purse, put a knit cap on her head and told us she was going to take the train somewhere.  That’s fine, we said.  Have a good time.

Jenny going to the train station

How cute, we thought.  Actually, it was cute, but when she was halfway down the block we realized she indeed was going to the train station for real, so we zipped after her.

Oujda may have grown but the core of the city was the same.  It felt like home.  How could that be? You live somewhere two years, forty years ago, and it feels just like home?  I think the Peace Corps is like that.  The experience is so intense that everything is etched into your mind.

We wanted to find Café Colombo where we had café au lait many mornings a week.  We remembered it as being extraordinarily good.   We somehow blindly got to Ave. Mohammed V and walked right to Café Colombo which was still in business, and where, indeed, the café au lait and pain au chocolat were just as good as we had remembered.

It’s nice to have the old memories validated.  Another thing that hadn’t changed was that I was the only woman sitting outside at the café.  I didn’t feel self-conscious forty years ago and I didn’t now.

The pictures.  We had the old pictures.  We showed them to everyone – the waiter, the person sitting next to us, the security guard.  “See?  That is us, forty years ago.  We lived here for two years.”  We showed them pictures of Jennifer and Karen in Morocco and then Jennifer and Karen today.

Picture of friend Safia holding Karen, and Mme. Krim with Jenny

We showed pictures of Jennifer and Karen’s husbands and kids and tied it all together.  And to be fair, we showed them photos of Kim and her family also, although she wasn’t born until after Morocco.  People looked closely at them all.

Now the office.  Where was Mark’s old office?  I actually remembered how to get there better than he did!  We found Place Mohammed V, then the Palais de Justice and the post office, and then where the French Marche used to be.  Sadly, it was no longer the open-air fruit and vegetable market surrounded by charcuteries and epiceries and boulangeries.

Old French Market - the square filled with trees

And we walked to the office.  How did I know?  When we lived there I shopped mostly at the French Marche because it was a lot closer to our house than the souks in the medina.  We used baskets – now they are using plastic bags – which is not a change for the better – and I could get three days worth of food in the baskets and still be able to carry them.  Jennifer and I would walk to Mark’s office, which was right near the market, and leave the heaviest baskets for him to carry home.

Mark's office now

But you know what?  I have no recollection whatsoever of going inside the office.  I must have sent Jennifer in to find Mark while I stood on the sidewalk with the groceries instead of leaving Jen on the sidewalk.  It must have been too difficult to carry them up the stairs. Or did I go in? I think I would remember that.  Today, I would just text! But we had no phones and cell phones weren’t even an idea yet.  To call Mark, I would have had to go to the post office.   At any rate, we had a photo of the office and I said this has to be it, here.  But no, Mark said.  Yet after walking around a while, locating the mosque it was close to (and let’s face it, it’s not too hard to find a mosque) we ended up back in the same place.

Mark's office 40 years ago

And indeed, it was his office but an additional floor had been added to the building and the front had been changed..  Now, it is an attorney’s office.   Of course, since we were standing around looking at pictures and buildings, it attracted interest.  We fell into a conversation with a French man and a Moroccan and explained the whole thing, bringing out the photos.  The French guy said he moved to Oujda 50 years ago and he was a tennis coach.  Later on, as this information had been ruminating, I realized that we had actually met that guy and had dinner with him and some other people!

That concluded a very satisfying day.  Tomorrow we were going to tackle the medina and looking for our old friends, the Krims.