A Trip to Dar Zerhoune in Moulay Idriss

Through winding cobbled streets, past the bustling local souk, nestled against a pearly hilltop in the holy city of Moulay Idriss Zerhoune—there is a haven called Dar Zerhoune.

Robert and I, along with a group of other volunteers, were lucky enough to get to spend a radiant weekend there. Dar Zerhoune is owned by Rose Button and managed by Hajiba, two amazing women. The place is cozy and elegant, modern and ancient, and full of stunning light. I want to recommend it to everyone who is living in Morocco or just traveling through.

Enjoying icy water infused with mint on the gorgeous roof terrace.

Enjoying icy water infused with mint on the gorgeous roof terrace.

For Peace Corps Volunteers: Dar Zerhoune is a bit out of the normal PCV budget, unless you’re up for a splurge weekend (which we all need once in a while). But the cool thing is, Rose has a “children-fly-for-free” type of deal for Peace Corps Volunteers. If a PCV’s family comes to visit Morocco and they stay at Dar Zerhoune, the PCV can stay for free in a shared room or for half-off in their own room!

Sunset from the Dar Zerhoune roof.

Sunset from the Dar Zerhoune roof.

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Seriously, this roof is one of the best roofs I’ve EVER been on. Even if you’re just passing through Moulay Idriss town or you’re staying at another hotel/riad, I highly recommend having lunch at Dar Zerhoune just to experience the roof. They’re open just as a restaurant as well.

Couscous lunch!

Couscous lunch!

Rose and the Dar Zerhoune staff are active community partners in Moulay Idriss. They support several community projects in town, including the SOS Children’s Village and “Donkey Days” that sponsor free vet care for local hardworking donkeys. Not only that, but they are counterparts to PCVs!

The lovely Rose, owner of Dar Zerhoune.

The lovely Rose, owner of Dar Zerhoune.

Rose is an engineer as well as a guesthouse owner, which means that every little detail is thought of and taken care of at Dar Zerhoune. It’s got warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer, and anything else you might want.

Moulay Idriss is a really lovely town. It’s mostly famous for its Roman ruins, Volubilis or Walili. For a while before we visited, tons of people kept telling us we needed to go see the gorgeous ruins. As a classical history nerd, it definitely made it on my travel list. And Volubilis did not disappoint for sure.

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However, while everyone talks about Volubilis as the must-see thing in Moulay Idriss, no one ever told us about the other treasures in town! That’s another reason why Dar Zerhoune and Rose are fabulous. We learnt about so many other hidden beauties that tourists don’t usually know about. For instance, Rose led us to a Roman hot spring that was only a short hike away!

Hot springs!

Hot springs!

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The walk to the springs itself was pretty amazing, even in the relentless Moroccan sun.

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Another treasure of Moulay Idriss: the world's only ROUND mosque minaret!

Another treasure of Moulay Idriss: the world’s only ROUND mosque minaret!

Here’s some contact info for Dar Zerhoune:

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Click here for their websiteClick here for their TripAdvisor page. And here’s their phone number: +212 (0) 642 247 793

We’re hoping to make more Trip to Morocco recommendation posts. But there was no question that we were going to start with the beautiful Dar Zerhoune!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

 

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Klmatic Monologues: WILI WILI WILI

Klma = Word. Klmatic Monologues is a semi-regular series on words in Moroccan Arabic (Darija). Note 1: I am neither a linguist nor a native speaker, so this should be taken as amateur antics. Note 2: Darija is not a standardized written language, like Modern Standard Arabic (FusHa) or Standard English, so my Latin letter transcriptions are subjective. In other words, spelling will always be questionable.

For more Klmatic Monologues, go here.

كلمة: WILI / ويلي

The first time we encountered this Darija phrase, we looked at each other and burst out laughing. Our 14-year-old host sister Ahlam had just said something sassy and almost-inappropriate—and in reply, her 11-year-old sister Imane gasped and exclaimed, “Ahhhhh wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili!”

The next day in class, our CBT mate Kinsey beat us to the punch and asked our teacher Khalid about it. The rest of us chimed in, saying we’d encountered “wili wili”-ing too.

Khalid told us, “It’s like Hshuma [“shame/shameful”], but not as bad.”

We confirmed with him: “Wili” is a milder, nicer version of “Hshuma.” You might say “Hshuma 3lik” (“shame on you”) to a kid if they are bullying someone. You might shout “Hshuma 3lik” to a creep who is harassing you. (These are the serious ways to use “Hshuma,” but people do kiddingly use “Hshuma” with friends.)

“Wili” is more like “Oh my God!” or “Oh my gosh!” or “Oh my!” in its usage. In the region we live in, people often use the word “nedi” in the same way. You can extend the “wili” (“wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiili”!) or add more “wili’s” (“wili wili wili wili wili wili wili”) to taste. Rarely do you simply use one shortened “wili.” It is often accompanied by the gesture of pulling your cheek down with one finger, like this:

CBT Wili Wili

CBT Wili Wili

Here are some of the ways you can use it:

In cases of clumsiness. Ahlam, who is basically composed of long lanky limbs, falls a lot. Any time she tripped or fell off her chair during lunch (which was a lot), she would emit a loud “ah wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiili!” Any time someone drops something or accidentally bumps into something or spills something, they or someone nearby will wili.

In cases of awkwardness. One of my favorite “wili” stories is from Kinsey, whose 4-year-old host sister, in the midst of trying & failing to put her pants back on after peeing in a field, blurted out “wili wili wili wili wili wili!” Other awkward circumstances it can be used for: when your friend tells you that someone icky has a crush on you, when someone walks in on your while you’re changing, when you pull a door that needs to be pushed… or when your cat gets her paw stuck in her tail and you’re alone and you’re a crazy cat lady. Haha.

In cases of shock, good and bad. The other day, we overheard a fruit guy tell someone that avocados are 50 DH per right now (that is a quarter MORE than my daily salary). The guy was like “wiiiiiiiili!” and left the fruit stand quickly. You can use “wili” when you’re bargaining to express shock at the ridiculously high price the vendor tells you. Or it can be used for a positive surprise as well, like…

In cases of delight/awe. Like when we show someone an extraordinary photograph. Or like when we tell someone we’ve had a Moroccan wedding thrown for us (“ah wili zwina!”). Or like when we actually say a grammatically correct sentence in Arabic. Or when a ridiculous plot twist happen on one of the Turkish soap operas everyone watches. The positive wili is rarer, but it exists.

In cases of expressing “WHAT?!” to others saying things for shock value. This one is kind of specific, but I’ve come across it a lot because I have some sassy students in my Advanced English Class. For example, one time right before Eid al-Fitr, we were discussing holidays. I asked everyone to tell me their favorite holiday, and one particular rabble-rouser said “The best holiday is Christmas,” to which everyone in the class shouted out “AHHHHH WILI!”

In cases of mild annoyance/disapproval. Someone’s trying to wake up a deep sleeper. Someone just learned that guns are legal and easily accessible in America. Someone’s kid is being irritating. Someone tells you they have a full schedule when you’re trying to hang out with them. Another favorite from Kinsey, the Queen of Wili, is when a waiter tried to take her plate away before she was done eating. She reached for it while blurting out “wiiiiiiili!”

Again, this isn’t comprehensive at all! There are waaaaay more ways to wili it up.

According to some sources, “wili” comes from Al-Wayl, which is the name of a valley in hell. (I’ve also heard “river in hell” and “mountain in hell”…some sort of geographic feature in hell, I suppose.) “Wayl” / “Wil” originally meant “punishment” but now the word is closer to “woe.” When you add “ي” (i) at the end of a word in Darija, it means “my ______.” (Ex. Bint = girl/daughter. Binti = my daughter. Ktab = book. Ktabi = my book.) So when you exclaim “Ah wili,” you are literally saying, “Oh, my woe!” 

“Wili” is one of my absolute favorite words in Darija, and I’m sure a lot of Americans who learn Moroccan Arabic would agree. Like many Darija words, it’s just so versatile. And uniquely, it’s absolutely hilarious! Plus, it has a special place in our hearts because our CBT dubbed ourselves “CBT Wili Wili” because of our penchant for the inappropriate and the awkward.

Our adventure has been full of wili wili wili moments, and I’m glad of it. Traveling/living abroad isn’t always sleek and photogenic like any Wanderlust Pinterest board might suggest. There are so many messy moments—clumsy, awkward, shocking, irritating moments. They are just as authentic and valuable as scenic Tangier beaches or giant colorful couscous platters or camels resting beneath date palms. Hamdullah for each and every wili wili moment, and hamdullah that we have the language to properly express our feelings when they happen.

ahhh wiiiiiiiiiiiili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili wili

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Notes & Anecdotes: Part 5

We don’t just want to write about the Big Things in our lives, so here we’ll share small stories and quick blips and such. Catch all the Notes & Anecdotes here

  • Our host sister Amal and her husband Said opened up a new hanut (little store)! This is ridiculously exciting for so many reasons. Said lost his last job because of a physical injury and the family’s been hurting financially for a while. Inshallah this means stability for them and their kids.
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Fatine, her dad Said, and Robert at the hanut!

  • Last Wednesday, we walked to the Dar Chebab for my 5pm Advanced English class only to find that it was closed and Rahim (the key holder/mudir’s assistant) wasn’t there. My most eager student suggested we study in the garden, but everyone else was like “let’s just meet back here after Iftar.” On Friday, that student got Rahim’s number to borrow the keys to MAKE SURE the DC would be open. I just really appreciate how dedicated my students are!
  • Also, English classes have been a dream during Ramadan because none of the other classes are running, which means I GET TO USE THE ONE AIR CONDITIONED CLASSROOM! Yay!
  • We’re making more and more cool work connections. One local teacher invited Robert to give a presentation on Native American culture (and breaking harmful stereotypes), which he is really excited about.
Students from ACCESS, a program for low-income youth to learn English.

Students and teachers from ACCESS, a program for low-income youth to learn English.

  • Walking past the barbershop across the street one night, I accidentally kicked over and broke someone’s tea glass. Then I ran away from the crime scene, awkwardly shouting “smHu liya!!!” ….oops.
  • GYM UPDATE: As many of you know, we have been searching for the elusive women’s gym in our city ever since we arrived. Every person we ask insists that it does exist, but has no idea where it is/when it’s open/who operates it. Now, we’ve finally gotten a lead! It turns out that the owner/coach of the gym had a baby four months ago, right before we moved here. The women’s gym has been shut down during her maternity leave—but she’s opening it back up in September! So… more updates in September, I suppose!
  • Remember the 30,000 books we sorted last week? Yesterday, we went back to Casablanca to get our 10 boxes of books (plus 2 boxes of beautiful notebooks and 1 box of tote bags with puppy print). The entire day was a living lesson on the flexibility that PCV life requires. Originally, our friend/counterpart Meryem was going to drive us straight to the warehouse to get the books. But then her car (named Christina) ran into some issues. Mskeena Christina. So we decided that we would take the train up, and then pay a lot of money to get a grand taxi to pick up all of the boxes and drive us all the way from Casablanca to our city. We had this plan in mind all the way up until the middle of the day, when our friends Matt and Anne came to the rescue! They were also picking up books and were able to fit a good portion of our boxes in their giant van (which they were not driving, another person was… in case Peace Corps staff happen to be reading this, hhhhh). They were even able to drop the books off directly at our Dar Chebab! We called Rahim to open the door, but he told us he was going to the gym (grrrrrr men’s gyms), soooo we called our mudir, who was very confused but very helpful. (Sidenote, we forgot to tell our mudir that we were getting him a dozen giant boxes of free books… oops, gotta work on our communication.) Everything worked out on that front! Alas, we still had four giant boxes at the warehouse to pick up. Four seemed like too little to hire a grand taxi for, so we decided to haul them back the hard way. We piled them into a petit taxi, then onto a train, then onto a wagon cart, then onto another petit taxi… and finally brought them home! The train back was especially difficult. It was so crowded that we were perpetually smashed into strangers. Then some creepy drunk men showed up and tried to get all up in our business. I shouted at them and they skulked away to another compartment for a while, but kept lurking back to leer at Meryem and me. There were also a bunch of annoying babies (quote from Meryem: “If that baby comes back one more time, I’m going to punch its stupid face.” …you can see why we’re friends, hehe). But we survived and the books survived and the French class kids are going to be so delighted with them! Thank you to everyone who made this happen!!! ❤
  • Yesterday’s adventures didn’t end at the delivery of the books though… when we got home, we were looking forward to just relaxing for the evening. But then our power went out… Our landlady is on vacation, so we asked our mul hanut if he knew any electricians we could call. Asking for help for basic things is something we’ve learned a lot from here in Morocco… Back home, we’d just Google a local electrician, but that’s impossible here. Things happen at a community, face-to-face level. Anyways, our mul hanut called all the electricians on his contact list, but none answered. Then he found another guy on the street who insisted he knew something about fixing electricity (he didn’t). They worked on our fusebox for a while to no avail. We told them that we’d just deal with it tomorrow, and then we both fell asleep. Around midnight, we woke up to the sound of men shouting and throwing rocks at our window. They were shouting the name of the PCV who we replaced, who lived in this apartment before us, so we figured it was just a bunch of his old friends being annoying. Then we heard them ask a passerby, “Do you know any words in English?” After which, they began shouting, “HELLO! HOW ARE YOU! OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA!” Robert realized that it might be an electrician… which it was!!! He fixed our lights, hamdullah, and everything was well again.

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

A Feast of Sweets and Silliness

Ramadan is over! Yesterday, we celebrated Eid al-Fitr with our host family in site. (Eid was Friday for most people in the world, including Americans, but Moroccans celebrated on Saturday this year. It depends on the sighting of the moon.)

We spent literally all day with them, but we spent most of the day group-napping when we weren’t eating or being ridiculous.

Eid al-Fitr (Feast of the Breaking of the Fast) is also known as Eid Sghair (Little Feast). The Feast is a feast of sweets.

Eid al-Fitr (Feast of the Breaking of the Fast) is also known as Eid Sghair (Little Feast). The Feast is a feast of sweets.

The drari (children) were running the streets even wilder than usual. On Eid al-Fitr, kids dress up in new clothes and get extra money from their parents. Plus, eating and drinking in public are okay again. That all adds up to kids lining up at every hanut, buying up ridiculous toys and frivolous treats and then bounding around in packs causing trouble.

Lining up to buy these balloon toys that made the most annoying noise.

Lining up to buy these balloon toys that made the most annoying noise.

Kawtar and her friend.

Kawtar and her friend.

Tickle fight. (I WON btw)

Tickle fight. (I WON btw)

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So many shenanigans and hi-jinks…

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The cutest mother-daughter duo ever <3

The cutest mother-daughter duo ever ❤

And then one of the best parts of Eid! COUS COUS FRIDAY IS BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh how I have missed thee.

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Then a looooooooooooooong cous cous nap from like 2:30-7:00. Afterwards, we walked to Mama Ryqqia’s best friend’s house. I don’t know this lady’s real name, but everyone calls her Habibti or Habibtik (“My Love” or “Your Love”). She’s the wonderful person who gave us our teapot, tea cups, and serving platter when we first moved into our apartment.

More sweets at Habibti's house.

More sweets at Habibti’s house.

BFFs

BFFs

After that, we younger-folk left Mama Ryqqia and Habibti and took a walk downtown. We bought popcorn and watched the little kids drive the baby electric cars that are for rent every night.

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There were a few tents doing fake weddings for little girls, so Kawtar had to do one, of course.

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Cutest siblings ever!

Cutest siblings ever!

Eid Mubarak, everyone! May you and yours have your fill of sweets and silliness.

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

The Journey from January to July

Two days ago, we celebrated our official Half Year Mark of living in Morocco.

Wow. Six months. SIX MONTHS.

At that time, we happened to be in Casablanca to help sort books for an association there. Some badass volunteers, along with the Casablanca Sidi Moumen Cultural Center, succeeded in getting 30,000 books (that’s literally TWENTY-THREE TONS) delivered to Morocco. They are now being sent to various developing libraries across the country.

This is just one fraction of the 30,000 tomes.

This is just one fraction of the 30,000 tomes.

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We were so tired and gross by the end of the day, but it was worth it!

Because we were in Casablanca, we also took the opportunity to indulge in some Americanness: aka giant burgers and milkshakes from Blend Burger! IMG_1023 Last week, we were faced with an even starker reflection of our half-year in country. We went to Harhoura (a beach community right by Rabat) for our In-Service Training Conference. We sat through hours of workshops, info sessions, language sessions, and meetings. Like all conferences, some of it was boring and some of it was useful and inspiring.

But of course, the best part was getting to see everyone! It was wonderful and affirming to hear about each others’ stories—both commiserating in struggles and celebrating each others’ successes. And, of course, having parties in the hotel pool! IMG_0797 IMG_0811 IMG_0833 IMG_0846 IMG_0879 IMG_0881

Breath-holding contest, not dead dudes.

Breath-holding contest, not dead dudes.

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Hind and Badr’s splash war had some civilian casualties.

We stayed in the same hotel we were in when we first arrived in Morocco. Six months later, so much has changed.

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In Harhoura back during the time of sweater weather.

In Harhoura this time 'round. I saw so many peoples' elbows for the first time.

In Harhoura this time ’round. I saw so many peoples’ elbows for the first time.

It was strange to remember our staj half a year ago in the same place—scared little babies who could barely utter a “salam,” all holed up in our separate rooms to escape the winter cold. Now, in the bright heat of July, we all laughed and cringed and reflected together about the journey from January. There have been so many rough patches for all of us, but IST shifted some perspectives. For me, there was a lot of clarity. We’re still here, still surviving. Many of the old fears have shifted or disappeared. I remember that the walk across the street to the supermarket seemed so much farther away in January. Why was it so daunting? It seems like nothing now to hop across unyielding traffic and buy some snacks. This time around, we chatted in Arabic to the hotel staff and made sassy comments during sessions and hung out in each others’ rooms until way late into the night.

Massage train. Maybe symbolic or something, hahahahahaha. Okay, not really.

Massage train. Maybe symbolic or something, hahahahahaha. Okay, not really.

A group of people did a really great job putting together some IST events, including a frenzied scavenger hunt. At the end, they organized a “Prom Night” in the hotel restaurant, including voting for prom court and superlatives. IMG_0956 IMG_0962

Robert and I somehow won the Cutest Couple award, although I was gunning for Most Likely to Shave Their Head to Keep Cool.

Robert and I somehow won the Cutest Couple award, although I was gunning for Most Likely to Shave Their Head to Keep Cool.

Spotted: Kika and Alexis, and the REAL cutest couple Cam and Toby.

Spotted: Kika and Alexis, and the REAL cutest couple Cam and Toby.

No one was surprised when Abderrahmane won Most Likely to Get You Dancing.

No one was surprised when Abderrahmane won Most Likely to Get You Dancing.

Awkward Prom Poses

Awkward Prom Poses

Some other highlights of the IST Conference/July:

  • THE PREGNANT CAT. The hotel in Harhoura is overrun by mostly-aloof cats. There was one cat though, who was very friendly. She also happened to be alarmingly pregnant. She begged us for food during meals and sneaked into at least four different hotel rooms. Towards the end of the week, we had regional meetings. Ours, for the Mid-West region, was outside on the lawn. Just as our regional managers, Samira and Fatima, were telling us about something important or other, the pregnant cat strolls into the middle of our chair circle and starts digging a hole. “Is she about to poop?” some of us wondered. BUT THEN NOPE… HER WATER BROKE. The pregnant cat started having contractions right in the middle of our regional meeting!!!! Samira was like, “Is that cat distracting?” and we were like “UMMMM KINDA YEAH.” Anyways, the cat ended NOT giving birth at the meeting, but continued to have contractions. Later that night, we found out that she slipped into someone’s hotel room and gave birth in a friend’s bed. It was all very dramatic. 😉
  • When we first arrived, we thought the hotel food was so delicious. Now, after six months of Moroccan Mama Cooking, we know better…
  • But also, I ate McDonald’s. And it was magnificent.
  • There were a few moments of great spark during IST. As in, we feel inspired to continue our work projects! Science Fair, Write On, etc. And maaaaaybe even convincing some kids to climb the highest mountain in North Africa with us?
  • We spent the 4th of July in Tangier, with a stop at Ksar El Kbir beforehand.
  • We had a couple of friends stay with us before and after IST, and we’re super excited for more American houseguests! We suck at hosting Moroccans (as our Moroccan friends have made clear, ahahahaha), but if you are interested in an indulgent amount of American food (like mac and cheese or noodle stir-fry) and Eyoo (off-brand Oreo) milkshakes, then mrHaba bikum!

Yours Truly, 

Robert & Julie