You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2009.

Monday night found me sitting once more at a desk listening to my child’s teachers tell me things while my eyes glazed over. This time it was for Elliot, Class 3 Grade 8. (There are 6 classes per grade level) I arrived a teensy bit late, found Salle 9, smiled apologetically round the room. Up front, a math teacher was mumbling about something. He read quietly and rapidly from a sheet in front of him, making no eye contact with the group of parents. Young, dark-haired, and fumbling with his collar, he looked nervous. His fears were justified, as a mother in a tight turquoise sweater who arrived later than me had lots of questions.

The professeur mentioned the January parent-teacher meetings, which are one on one about specific students rather than the class as a whole. Up popped Turquoise Mother’s hand. “Do you really get to know our children?” she demanded. “Last year at the January meetings, one of the professors had to look at a photo to make sure which child we were talking about!” She sat back, as if glaringly requesting that he defend THAT.

The teacher fumbled with his collar, turned a light pink, and mumbled something about how maybe it was the art teacher and they only have art an hour a week and 30 students a class so it can be hard to get to know everyone… Turquoise Woman cut him off. “I’m sure it was the French or Math teacher!” (They have those subjects 5 hours a week)

I refrained from pointing out that she had only 13 teachers to remember, so couldn’t really fault this mythical teacher who couldn’t place one of 180. I don’t talk at these things. Other parents raise their hands, ask questions with wild abandon, but me, I slouch down, not making eye contact so I’m not called on. I have lost none of the skills acquired so painfully in junior high. And while it’s doubtful that they would call on me, given the nature of these meetings, I just like to be sure.

Also I didn’t really believe Turquoise Woman. I am quite sure that any child with a mother like that is well known throughout the school. I myself am well known, but not for my obnoxiousness—no, it’s my accent that sets me apart. In a school where Yassin is Moroccan but spent 5 years in Korea and Diego is Spanish but spent 4 years in New York and Amir is half-Moroccan, half-Norwegian, we still manage to be exotic. We’re the only Americans in the entire school, and everyone knows who we are.

Then began the parade of teachers. The French teacher glared round, bestowed a thin-lipped smile upon us, and announced that this year she was expecting the homework to be profound, not superficial. I’m transliterating a bit, but you get the point. Turquoise Mother asked a question about the brevet, which is this big test they take at the end of Grade 9 in order to get into high school. “Give them a break!” I thought quietly to myself in English. One thing I don’t like about the French system is its extreme hours, its week-long tests for 14 year olds, the stress and seriousness put on young kids. Next year is soon enough to worry about the brevet in my opinion. But I was in the minority; everyone was nodding.

The technology teacher, a short woman as broad as she is wide, told us they ALWAYS have homework. Always. She glared round as if daring us to say they didn’t. I carefully kept my gaze middle-distance and sort of frozen.

It was at this point that I began to be a little stressed. Was I in the right room? Didn’t Elliot have a male technology teacher? I thought he’d referred to him with the masculine pronoun. And was the math teacher his prof principal (homeroom teacher) or was it the PE teacher? Perhaps I was in the wrong salle, meeting teachers from classe 2 or 4. I debated asking the woman in front of me, or even Turquoise Mom behind me, but in the end decided to just sit it out. It got worse—the English teacher was not Elliot’s English teacher! The Arabic teacher was wrong too. But then Physics/Chemistry teacher said, was this Classe 3? And everyone nodded, and I relaxed. After that, Elliot’s English teacher came in. So it all worked out.

The PE teacher said they get to do rock-climbing soon. Up shot Turquoise Mother’s hand. Were the children SAFE? Because she couldn’t imagine that they could be safe. We all turned around at that point, reassuring her. I even joined in, although I contented myself with smiling and nodding, adding sotto voce, that they “have a belt (ceinture)” and then being quiet again. I don’t mind talking to people, but hate to show off my funny accent in front of a group. “Well I can only hope the school will take responsibility if there’s an accident!” she announced, making the bad-smell-under-nose face that we were all coming to know and love.

The music teacher announced that they would be doing “humanistic music” this year. With recorders? I have no idea what she meant. It’s possible she was talking about something else entirely, as by that point my eyes were glazing over.

TM’s hand was in the air again when the math teacher returned, this time as the math teacher rather than the homeroom teacher. Were children allowed to use calculators? Surely not! Many parents spoke up at this point. Everyone agreed with TM. Children should not use calculators, or they would end up unable to do math. The teacher, happy to agree with them for once, announced that they’re not allowed to use them on exams but can check their homework on them. “But the children are using them to DO their homework!” announced TM.

I was tempted to put my hand up and say, in a thick accent and bad French, that I was managing just fine without the ability to do simple math in my head, but I thought it might not come across exactly in a way to prove the use of calculators. I was not really tempted to point out to TM that surely it was HER responsibility to make sure her child did his or her homework, rather than the teacher’s. By this point I was slouching down and avoiding her eye as well!

The math teacher muttered on, with me catching one word out of 10. Elliot told me later that he doesn’t usually mumble and that he’s the nicest math teacher. “Maybe he was nervous?” he suggested. Maybe, I agreed.

I know I was.

And, somehow, I have agreed to join this merry band of teachers. Sort of. I am going to do an English Club, for 8th and 9th graders only, once a week during lunch time. I am petrified, but please don’t tell THEM. Elliot assures me they will not mock me in French slang, which I don’t follow. (you should see it written. It’s like txt spch but in French) But is he right? I am very open to suggestions for keeping them amused. And I will permit the use of calculators.

*This is what the math teacher said, I swear

These were taken on the first day of the Eid at the Tour de Hassan:


Guards on horseback at entrance

cache cache loup

Children playing hide-and-seek amongst the pillars

four friends

These boys were so obviously having such a great day! They asked us to take their picture then proceeded to welcome us and chatter at us. We really liked them.



It wasn’t that last week was so incredibly busy, although it was. It was more that when I did have time, I just didn’t feel like posting. So I didn’t.

Here are some fragments on our week, none quite long enough for a post, yet when taken together really far too long…

LAST Monday:

Eid Sayeed, on the odd chance I have any Muslim readers. Happy Feast! it means. It is traditional to say Moubarak, or congratulations, on this day, Eid al Fitr, or Feast of the Break-fast.

We started off in style. Ismail knocked on the door about 9, resplendent in a cream, floor-length djellaba, yellow babouches (Moroccan leather slippers), and red fez. (I am buying Donn the same outfit for his birthday; don’t tell him) He brought us a tray of fresh hot Moroccan crepes, two different kinds (one like a crumpet, one in layers), a little pot of honey mixed with melted butter, and a pot of pale, steaming mint tea—all made by his mother.

Elliot had a friend over. Today was supposed to be our first day to sleep in since school started. I had a plan wherein the sun woke me up as normal about 6:30 but I slipped on the eyeshade from Air France and went back to sleep till 9 or so. This plan was thwarted by the free concert put on by the mosque. I have heard such long songs sung the first day of Ramadan, but never before on the first day of the Eid. It wasn’t really a concert, of course, just a long song (as in an hour long), but it was different from any other I’ve heard—there were definitely two parts, and a sort of response to the first. It was very melodic.

We spent the day relaxing, hanging out. In the afternoon, Donn and I stopped by the Tour de Hassan. The Tour de Hassan is an odd place. It always gets mentioned among Rabat’s tourist attractions, but I personally find it a bit boring. It was intended to be a match for the tallest mosque in the world, but it was only half finished. Now it’s a large tower fronted by a pretty garden, with a pavement scattered with columns in various phases of construction. It’s guarded by guards…hmmm…surely I can say this better. Yes. Men on horseback in colourful costumes guard each entrance. Right next to it is a working mosque and the Mausoleum where Mohamed V and Hassan II, the current king’s grandfather and father, are buried. It’s worth a visit as it is extremely ornate and vibrant.

(I will post pics tomorrow because my connection is tempermental and does not WANT to post pics right now.)

While we’d visited before, we had no idea that it is apparently the place to go on a holiday. As we drove up, we noted stands piled high with oranges, with young men eager to squeeze you a glassful of fresh juice. There were vendors selling popcorn and candy and enormous balloons. Rabat was out in its finery. Families were strolling about. Children were clamouring all over the pillars, posing for photos, playing hide and seek. The atmosphere was party-like. Everyone was in a good mood, calling out to each other, celebrating the end of a long hard month.


Today I learned the Dareja word for earring.

I had to run an errand this morning, but it was in my neighbourhood, and I walked over. I clearly remember at one point thinking a fly had flown in my ear and batting at it. So later, when I got home and realized I had lost an earring, one of a really pretty set I got in Wales this summer, I was sure I had batted it away thinking it was a fly.

There was nothing for it but to go back. So back I went, eyes on the ground, garnering a lot of attention as I wandered slowly up the street. When I got to the place I thought I’d lost it, a school was just getting out and the street was full of children. I appealed to them for help and was soon surrounded. They called to each other, and bent down to help, searching piles of trash that were weeks old, scuffling through the tiny patches of dirt and weeds around each street light. They were fun, generous with their efforts, surrounding me and chattering away in Dareja and demanding over and over again to see my remaining earring. I tried to communicate, in my mangled mix of Dareja and French, where I lived, just in case they found it later, but I had no very high hopes. It was gone.


Friday night was the parent teachers meetings for the twins. What better way to start the weekend? We sat in desks while teachers paraded in and out, announcing their names and subjects taught and demands made. (There are a lot of demands, actually) One thing was clear: as Jack Black puts it in School of Rock, the kids are learning everything we’d want them to know. Math, science…math…French…math…it’s all covered. So that was a relief.

I woke up early this morning, 2 hours before I needed to. The wind was picking up. I could hear through my open window the leaves tossing, rain beginning to splatter. Before I knew it, we were in for a full-fledged thunderstorm. Lightning flashed in the pre-dawn sky; thunder crashed louder than the Ramadan drummer.

When I got up, the storm continued. I went in to get the kids up; they were all awake listening to the rain. Last night, I made cinnamon rolls, so I heated them and boiled eggs and dug out the fun striped egg cups they got last Easter. I’m a good mother, unlike that woman here last week giving her kids cold cereal and telling them to stop their whining about the long-life milk already. In the meantime, the clouds burst open and the deeps poured forth. Roads turned into rivers. Lightning and thunder collided right overhead. We watched the long grey uninterrupted lines of rain. Electricity flickered on and off; the internet didn’t work. I called Maroc Telecom and got put on hold.

Our house is a two-minute walk from the kids’ school. It’s quicker to walk than to drive, by the time you get the car out of the complicated garage we share with our landlord, his brother, and their 3 cars. But they couldn’t walk. The rain was incessant. I had the window open in the living room, and spray blew in as if from a waterfall.

Donn dropped them off and we had coffee and cinnamon rolls ourselves. Still the rain continued, unabated, insistent.

About an hour and a half later, when it had finally slackened, then slowed to a drizzle, I got a phone call from Ilsa. “Mom!” she gasped. “Come get us! The school is being evacuated!” “Because of the rain?” I asked, but she didn’t answer. In the background was a cacophony of junior high voices. I could barely hear her.

She came back on. “Mom! Come to the small door, okay?”

“Are you serious, Ilsa?” I asked her. It just seemed strange to receive such a call from your child. Shouldn’t it be more official, from the school secretary or nurse or another parent? “I’m DEAD serious,” she announced, and hung up.

So we headed down to the school. Apparently several classrooms had flooded, and the electricity was out. The rain had mostly stopped by this point. The roads were filled with stalled vehicles and puddles a foot or two deep. Friends told of journeys interrupted, of it taking an hour to travel a stretch of road that normally takes 10 minute, of a small pool, six feet deep, in the middle of an underpass.

The school was a madhouse. All the students were standing in the courtyard, which is reached by a small staircase. Parents jostled their way to the front of the stairs, where they would stand, eyes scanning the crowd, looking for their own particular child. Teachers stood at the top of the stairs, asking parents which class their child was in. Then they would descend into the melée, emerging eventually with a student in tow.

I eventually collected my 3 and we headed out the door. There were still hundreds of bedraggled students huddled under the trees and awnings of the school. The teachers wielded enormous umbrellas.

I asked one if there would be school tomorrow. “Who knows?” he shrugged. “Check the school web site.” That is, when the internet is back up, I thought.

The kids were thrilled. Abel is missing a history test today. Ilsa is missing TWO tests. They ate their sandwiches in the car on the way home, “second breakfasts,” and are already clamouring for lunch. They are all watching a movie and drinking hot chocolate in their pajamas, changed out of wet jeans and hoodies. Meanwhile, outside, the last drops of rain fall from the hibiscus hedge under a weak and watery sun, but I hear thunder in the distance, rumbling ominously.

We’ve been in Rabat for a year now, and I am beginning to recognize patterns in likely and unlikely places; weather changes, school, items available at the stores. It’s a good start to feeling settled in a place. There is a huge difference between a new school year in a new school, and a new school year as old hands, experienced in bookstore locations and teacher requirements, with familiar faces welcoming you back, yourself able to befriend the new ones.

Ramadan was not such a shock this year; we knew it was coming, stocked our freezer with bread for lunches, were already prepared for its rhythms and changes. We have not spent our mornings wandering around Agdal waiting for bookshops to open, nor our evenings walking miles because no taxi would stop for us, getting lost in alleyways on the way home. Having a car makes a huge difference, but knowing what to expect even more.

Aside: yes, of course Mauritania celebrates Ramadan as well. But it is different here, and last year we were unprepared for those differences.

Last September, as a newcomer, I was disturbed at not being able to find tinned tomatoes. Great was my joy (don’t mock me; I cook supper most nights and I use tinned tomatoes in a LOT of different dishes) when I found some. I’ve bought them unthinking, casually, all year. But now, early September, suddenly they are nonexistent again. I don’t panic. I know that soon, I’ll start seeing them again. In the meantime, when I found a few cans at LaBel Vie the other day, I bought them all.

Yesterday, a friend came over, and we sat on our balcony in our wooden Senegalese chairs and talked and talked. It was muggy and overcast, and she told me it was supposed to rain. It won’t, I told her. It’s too early. Last year it started raining in late September, and everyone told me it wasn’t normal to have rain before November. But of course I was wrong. When it started to sprinkle, I thought of my clean dry clothes hanging on the line, and decided to leave them. I was sure it was soon be hot again, and I’d let them dry and then get them. Wrong! It poured for the rest of the afternoon. The children arrived home dripping. Last night, after the mosque, the streams of people going up the street were hurrying, hoods and umbrellas up, holding newspapers or plastic bags over their heads for protection. The drummer didn’t make his rounds.

Last year, everyone said it was the wettest winter in 30 years, the end of an extended drought. This summer the fruit was cheap and plentiful, but I have no way of knowing if this was unusual or not, if Morocco was greener than usual. Only now can I have a basis of comparison.

September rain. The lightning flickers rapidly. Last year I compared it to a mischievous child with his hand on a light switch, and that comparison sprang to mind last night. The boys and I stood on the balcony, breathing in gulps of fresh air, watching the glint of rain in the streetlight’s orange glow and the movement of leaves in the trees. Today there was another shower and now it’s back to hot and humid again, with the occasional sudden breath of cool air like a gift. The sky is blue. I find, looking back over my archives from last September, that the sky was deep blue then as well. Friday lunchtime, and the imam is chanting, his voice going up and down melodically. The wind bangs our open windows and doors.

Sunday night, just before sunset, we loaded the cameras and twins into the car and headed just south of downtown Rabat and the Oudayas. It’s a beautiful area. The land falls down sharp rocky cliffs, at the bottom of which are rock shelves visible at low tides. The ocean surges up around the edges of these shelves, sending up enormous crashes of surf. Yet fisherman are always visible, lone figures in oilskin boots, standing with poles at the very edge and getting drenched with spray as they are dwarfed by the sudden-rising waves. I always worry about them, as it seems more than likely that they’ll be swept over the edge. I can’t decide if they are just fatalistic (which I’m sure they are; every North African I know is) or if they just know more about it than I do (also true).

The sun was low in the sky; the sea opalescent in the mist. The distant fishermen leaned far out into the surf. I don’t know what he was fishing for. Fishermen are a common sight along the coast, with long poles, but the stuff offered for sale by the side of the road doesn’t seem to me like things caught with a pole; mostly tiny crabs and mussels and other fruits de mer. Do you catch such things with long poles off steep rocks?


The weather has been terribly humid lately, the air so hot and still that even someone walking  past stirs it, creates a slight movement of air, as if the air really were water and we were drowning in it. I move languidly, like seaweed, and have a hard time getting things done.


This morning, Donn and I both had unexpected free time. (He had a cancellation; I rearranged some things and put off others) We headed down to another beach for a couple of stolen hours. This is the beach where Donn went surfing with a friend, went over some rocks to dive in, and got snatched by a wave, dragged over the rocks, and slammed into coral and sea urchins. He came home limping, missing large patches of skin, his feet like pincushions full of urchin spikes. In spite of this, he went back. (“It’s a bit tricky,” he told me)

It’s a beautiful beach, and we mostly had it to ourselves, thanks to Ramadan (people won’t swim as they might unintentionally swallow water, thereby negating their entire day of fasting). We sat in the sand, under a sort of permanent umbrella, staring out at the deep bottle-greens and watching white egrets stalking amongst the tide pools bursting with eels and crabs and millions of prickly sea urchins, just waiting to stab their toxic spines deep into tender feet. The water was calm, the waves only about six inches if that. It was very peaceful.

bouznikaI like how this shows the rock shelves, although without the cliffs or the huge pounding surf.

crabbyCrab in tide pool

On the way home we stopped by a sort of farmer’s market. All along the coast road were tiny stands, many just a chair under an umbrella and buckets of produce out in the sun. Some had hutches with rabbits, or strings of live chickens. Just behind them were fields of vines hung with tiny sweet green grapes, or staked tomatoes ripening in the sun. Men on bicycles stopped to bargain and departed with handlebars slung with plastic bags full of grapes; women in djellabas deliberated over dusty peppers and eggplant. We stopped at a bigger stand, with 3 or 4 tents in a row, and bought melons and tomatoes, better and riper and cheaper than in the supermarket, and took the scenic road home.

sunlit grapes

buckets o' produce

Ramadan continues. We’re about 2/3rds of the way through the month. Every night, the imam at our neighbourhood mosque reads a long sura, or a chapter, of the Qu’ran. (There are 30 chapters so you can get through it in one Ramadan). He is getting popular, and the sidewalks are crowded with parked cars. When it ends, the little street in front of our house fills with hundreds of people walking home, chattering away, their voices like flocks of birds.  I like to go out on our balcony and listen, unseen, to the cadences of their speech.  But I’m not so intrigued at 3 a.m., when a drummer passes along, pounding out loud, intricate rhythms, to wake the faithful so they can eat once more before sunrise. In the late afternoon he comes round again, banging away, to get paid for his services, but I don’t want to be woken at 3 a.m. so I don’t pay him.

La rentree

The twins couldn’t sleep last night. Elliot woke up two hours early. They tossed and turned, heads filled with things exciting and worrisome. Did they have everything they needed? Would they get nice teachers or mean ones? Would they be with their friends?

I had my own sleepless moments. Had I managed to actually get everything this year? Would they get nice teachers or mean ones? Would they be with their friends?

It’s funny how little our worrying changes over the years.

The first day back was nice and slow, easing us into the stress that is the French educational system. They went for two hours, where they were assigned their classes, found out their teachers, and then came home. They did get some nice teachers, and some unknown but with a reputation for strictness. They are not with their friends.

L’emploi du temps, or You Have PE WHEN???

We were worried about Elliot’s schedule for this year, because he has to start attending English class. Last year, he only had to go if they were having a test, because his English is at least as good as his teacher’s. But this year, they are starting grammar, and he needs to go learn what a participle phrase is, for example, and other things you don’t naturally pick up from an obsessive re-reading of Tolkein. I know the book they’re using—I’ve taught it before.

Elliot is interested in languages, so he’s taking Arabic and Spanish. (He needs to take one but not both) I was worried—would I see him at all? But his schedule is not too bad. He’ll be busy, but not overwhelmed. I have only one problem with it:

Saturdays, at 8 a.m., he has to be at the high school downtown for PE.

Yes, Saturdays. That just killed any lingering romance you felt for the French, didn’t it?

For some reason, they have Wednesday afternoons off and school on Saturdays. It varies within the system. The year we lived in France, when they were in Grades 1 and 2, they had school most Saturdays and no school at all on Wednesdays. In Mauritania, they had weekends off, although the weekend was Friday-Saturday instead of Saturday-Sunday. Last year, they had Wed. afternoons and a normal weekend. But from now on, at least one of my children has Saturday school.

The implications are obvious. No more sleeping in. No more special Saturday breakfasts. No more sleepovers with friends, except during school holidays. No more weekend trips.

And so, I ask the universe, WHY couldn’t they have school on Wednesday afternoons instead? Isn’t that more logical? This is a holdover from a different time. It reminds me of a boarding school schedule, when everybody is there all the time anyway so it sort of doesn’t matter when you have class.


He will definitely be eating cold cereal on Saturday mornings. We can have pancakes when he gets home. I suspect I won’t be up to see him off, at least not every week.

Les fournitures scolaire

I spent hours earlier in the week searching for and buying their books and school supplies, but I’m not done yet. Certain teachers prefer a grand cahier (large notebook) to a classeur (binder), and so we wait until after the first day of class to go shopping. And the papeterie did not have grand cahiers spirale for the twins’ Latin class so we need to go somewhere else.

Shopping for books is an interesting experience. For a start, those who feel claustrophobic in crowds should just stay home, maybe order them from and pay exhorbitant shipping fees. For the rest of us, armed with a list from our particular school, it’s a day filled with elbows and dashed expectations.

The bookstores have set up extra wooden countertops down the middle of the shop, barricading their workers behind it and removing space where customers might typically stand. Depending on the country you were raised in, you either elbow your way impatiently to the front of a fluid “line” or wait, mostly patiently, until the guy behind the counter says, “Madame?” You hand him your list. He disappears for a time, to emerge with perhaps 3 of the 10 books you need per child.

The third bookstore we went to was different. They had tables set up, one for 6eme (6th grade), one for 5eme (7th grade), one for 4eme (8th), etc. You could approach each table on your own to choose your books. It wasn’t too crowded, and a woman came to help me. Together we searched the 5eme table for the twins’ books.

It’s not easy. You may find a Science book for 5eme, but it may be Hachette when you need Hatier or Belin when you need Breal. It may be the right publisher but not the right edition. Careful attention must be paid, or you will find yourself out $30 and the bookstores, in general, don’t do returns. The kids’ school seems to like books that no one else is using, and they are hard to find. We are still missing a couple.

Buying school supplies is a great exercise in vocabulary. When you learn another language in school, you may learn basic words like pen and pencil and glue, but you usually don’t learn it to the level where you can distinguish a binder with plastic pockets from a flexible folder with plastic pockets. We don’t even have words in English for some of these things! And so, our family speaks a blend of French and English known as Franglais. As in: “Where are my intercalaires?”

School Hours

During Ramadan, school gets out at 4 instead of 5. Lunch time is only one hour instead of 2, and the kids are obliged to take a cold lunch with them and are not allowed to leave the campus. For the first day, I did great! I remembered to buy bread ahead of time for sandwiches, and I even made chocolate chip cookies and bought apples. Phew! We’ll see how long this lasts, although given my history I don’t expect much. In fact, what are they going to do for tomorrow? I need to go…

Last week, we decided to take a trip up to Fes and Volubilus.

3 and hill

Donn and I have been to Fes before, but it was the kids’ first trip. We were visiting friends, planning to tour Fes’ enormous ancient medina and maybe visit the deep caves in Taza, a couple of hours north. We needed to plan round the different rhythms that govern day and night during Ramadan, which means that shops open very late and close earlier than normal. You don’t want to be out in the hour before sunset, when everyone is racing desperately to get home in time to eat the second that call to prayer floats out into the rosy twilight, and you take your life in your hands if you are anywhere near a road.

We got up to Fes in time for a late lunch with our friends, and let the afternoon get away from us as we sat and chatted. It was late afternoon by then, too late to attempt the medina, so instead we drove up past it, up into the hills, to visit the graves of the Marinids (an Arab dynasty that ruled Morocco from 1269-1420) from which there is a lovely view of the city nestled into its surrounding hills and olive groves. We wandered round, photographed, admired the view, found a weird hole opening into the side of the hill which freaked me out a little (was it a grave? Or what? It was apparently being used as a rubbish dump, but there were stones in it—and rooms.) The kids wanted to explore it but I thought better not, especially without a flashlight.


Looking over the ancient medina of Fes, the largest non-automobile area in the world. Just beyond it and to the right lies the modern city, paved and with cars and roundabouts and fountains and fruit shops and McDonalds.

tombs of marinads

Ancient monument

twins and ruins and graffitti, too

Ancient monument with modern children and graffiti.

The next day, we set off much later than intended for Volubilus. Volubilus is a Roman town, started by 300 BC if not earlier. It was a thriving little metropolis set amongst vineyards and rolling hills until about 300 AD, when it began to decline. By 600 or so, it was deserted, and now it is just a collection of columns and arches and mosaic floors and lizards and tourists and piles of rocks bearing witness to the passage of time. It has a ruined temple, forum and triumphal arch, bearing witness to Octavius’ decision to grant tax-free status to the village. Uh, yeah. Those were exciting times.

sudden lake

We drove hours through a tan countryside–wheat-coloured, straw-coloured–and then turned a corner and saw this enormous lake!

We had a map and directions from our friend, so we decided to attempt the back road. I’m so glad we did. Morocco is full of charming vistas off the autoroutes, of sleepy hamlets reachable only by donkey, of sudden lakes blooming blue out of a baked tan landscape, of rolling hills moulded by groves of olive trees, of herds of sheep blocking the one-lane road you are treacherously bouncing along, of the skinny fingers of minarets poking above the tops of the hills. We weren’t entirely sure that the tiny potholed lane we were on was actually the one printed on the map when we came upon this village, built into a ravine, glowing in the late afternoon sunlight. I fell in love with it; I thought it was so charming. (The children did not fall in love and hope to continue to live in a place where American fast food is available in case someday their parents actually let them eat it)

love village

Eventually we made it to Volubilus. Abel came into his own. For some reason, he loves Roman history, and he chatted away about Roman baths and triumphal arches. He and Ilsa ran around shouting “COME! SEE THIS! HURRY!” as the rest of us moved with agonizing slowness, at least in their eyes.

Our friend had told us to bring water to rinse off the mosaics. It was good advice. The mosaics are roped off, but I leaned over and splashed what I could. We sat back and watched as pinks and reds and olive greens bloomed under the layer of dust. But we didn’t have much water with us, so were limited in what we could do.

dusty mosaics

I took this to show you how the mosaics looked without water.

hercules and the lion

This is one splashed with water. Notice the brighter colours. Both this and the previous picture were part of the same floor, showing the 12 labours of Hercules.

acrobat mosaic

This was in a different part of the village. Its humourous description of a man riding his donkey backwards earned it the name “The Acrobat’s House.”

We pretty much had the place to ourselves, except for a busload of tourists who walked through the temple area at one point, then went on to the triumphal arch, while we continued to explore at our own pace.

tourists and temple

Tourists and temple


Some sort of bath, I believe

house of columns

This was called “The House of Columns.”


I believe this was the entrance to the market.

stork nest on pillar

Stork’s nest on pillar.

ruins and hills

The hills beyond the ruins.



September 2009

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