Friday, August 15, 2008

Ta Da!

All right everybody. That's it for this blog!

I arrived back in the US safely, completely wowed and grateful for all the Peace Corps and Morocco have given me. I saw incredible sights, met amazing folks, found deeper aspects to myself, and almost managed to convincingly pronounce that elusive "ghhhh" gargling letter in the Arabic alphabet.

For anyone who hasn't heard, I will indeed be starting a new adventure soon. Shortly, I will be leaving for South Korea, where I will spend a year teaching English with my lovely partner, Noemi Lopez.

We'll be keeping a blog at "" so be sure to drop by the site to visit!

Thanks to everyone who kept up with this blog. I hope you enjoyed it. Take care, and we'll see you on the Korea page!


Chris Bacon

Thursday, July 17, 2008

ASCENT TO THE TOP OF NORTH AFRICA! An Independence-Day Adventure


I took it upon myself to “top off” my time in Morocco by celebrating my last week here with the ultimate Moroccan hiking trip. Just outside of Marrakech, in the High Atlas Mountains, lies Mt. Toubkal, the highest mountain in all of North Africa—how could one leave this place before taming that beast!

At 4,167m, Toubkal is only about half the size of Mt. Everest, and though the peak is covered with snow most of the year, almost all of it melts for the summer—so no ice picks, cords, or boots were needed. Since the mountain trail is described as a “hike” (no straight vertical climbs), I figured I’d just head out there with my tennis shoes and a sweatshirt to see what happened. Besides, my plan for the 3-day hike would put me at the peak on July 4th—what a way to celebrate Independence Day!

The first day was a relatively straightforward hike into the mountain range from a nearby village. It took about 5-6 hours to reach the refuge “hut” (which is actually a pretty posh cabin that holds a few hundred) at the foot of Toubkal, where people spend the night to rest up and get used to the altitude change. At the refuge, there were expeditions of climbers from Spain, France, England, and Germany, all with Moroccan guides and trusty mules for supplies. I was the lone American, so most people didn’t talk to me, having assumed (rightly) that I was never educated in any of their languages, as it tends to go with Americans. But I had a lot of fun flooring them by walking past their little groups and hamming it up with their Moroccan guides in seemingly fluent Arabic. Score one for the homeland!

The next morning, I followed the advice I got from my new Moroccan-guide buddies and woke up dark-and-early at 5:30 to set out at first light. This is when most of the big groups set out and I had been advised to follow them up, as this is the part of the climb where, without a guide, one can end up in one of Toubkal’s infamous fields of “scree” (a bunch of loose gravel) that simply slides out from under your feet, talking you with it. So I caught up with a group of Brits who had set out before me (and weren’t afraid of being linguistically incompatible with an American) and followed them up.

The climb was steep and the view breathtaking as we slowly neared the top of the mountain range to see it all from above. The other peaks around Toubkal, however, were still so high that we couldn’t see exactly what we were climbing towards, but we traversed on. Then a little further up, the wind kicked in. No one really mentions wind when advising mountain climbers. They’ll talk about the cold, or the slippery scree (tripping my way up the rock-slide, though I was glad to be following a guided group, I couldn’t imagine the scree being that much worse off of this so called “path”), but never about the wind. Already tottering on loose gravel, we’d all duck down and brace ourselves as a big gust smacked into us, wait until it died down, scurry up a few more steps, then brace for the next gust.

The wind let up towards the top and we could finally see the far off peak of Toubkal marked with a big metal pyramid. Here, the group I’d been following stopped for a break, but as we were so close to the top (little did I know it was still 55 minutes… tricky mountains!), I didn’t want to break my hiking-rhythm. So I broke of from the Brits to go-it alone (didn’t realize the July 4th symbolism until later).

I caught up with a French couple who helped me up the rest of the way (again with the 1776 symbolism) and together we made it to the top of North Africa! Emerging into the panoramic view, the wind figured it was appropriate to die down for dramatic effect as the mountain range spread below us. Aside from the anthem-singing, flag-waving Spanish group who had come up a few minutes before, it was quite peaceful. From the top, one can see the entire High Atlas range and even some of the tiny villages way down below (“What? It took me two days to come from THERE? It looks like I could just roll down and be there in 20 minutes…). The altitude had made my hands swell up to arthritic proportions, but I still managed to take some pictures of the French couple. By that time, the British group hade made it up and—I kid you not—sat down for tea and biscuits.

I sat and chatted with one of the Moroccan guides I hadn’t yet met and he introduced me to a Swiss woman who had hired him (the mountain beginning to feel like a UN meeting). After they found out I had come up alone, they invited me to come down with them. I figured it’d be savfer with a guide, so I quickly agreed. “Although,” said the friendly lady said with a mischievous Swiss-German accent, “we’re going back a different way than we came up. I hope that’s all right.”

Apparently, in her dialect, “different” translates from “death defying.” Well known fact that I should have remembered: The Swiss are bad-to-the-bone mountain climbers, blonde, and bred with a sixth-sense drawing them up, up, and away. The “different” path we took down had a steep, spectacular view of the abyss one would certainly sprawl into upon a single misstep—missteps being a certainty since we were then on steep-scree that functioned like a giant gravel slip-&-slide. In light of that, I spent an inordinate amount of time tumbling to my backside banana-peel-sketch style (as falling backwards is much preferred to falling forward where there is nothing, nothing to stop you), but the Swiss lady and her guide were patient with me until I found my scree-legs (sorry, bad pun).

One would think that going up a mountain would be the tough part, and physically, it is. But gravity is like the mafia—it’s straightforward enough when you know you’re working against it, but when you attempt to work with it, that’s when you have to be constantly vigilant of it whacking you out of the blue.

Mountain descents like this are surely where the term “steep learning curve” came from. Though, oddly enough, certain death was far less of a motivator than my mother’s worry-confirmed “I told you so.” Either way, after a few hours, my butt got a break as I started to figure things out.

We hiked (Well, they hiked. I slid.) past a field of wreckage from a military plane that had crashed in the mountains some twenty-odd years ago (Our guide explained this by picking up a hunk of the engine and miming, with airplane sounds, it tumbling down. Then he threw it into a rock with exploding mouth-spitting effects). I suddenly realized that I had read about this wreckage somewhere before. Then it hit me—it had been a passage from my Rough Guide Morocco book. We were on the highly scenic, highly high, back-route. It’s the one the book had advised, “Climbers looking for a challenge may choose this path for the ascent, but we advise that even advanced climbers shouldn’t descend from this path.” Oh boy, now my mother’s REALLY gonna re-kill me when they find my body…

Luckily, fate let this one by, and we made it back to the refuge. I went straight to bed to sleep off an altitude-hangover, then spent the rest of the evening entertaining Moroccan guides by teaching them all the English catch-phrases they could handle (should anyone hike in the High Atlas and hear “The early bird catches the worm,” that’s totally my legacy). I even managed to get a discount from the manager on my room bill for the English lessons.

The next day, I hiked back out of the valley with sore legs, but “Proud to be an American” to the max. I had taken on the mountain, capped off my Moroccan adventure, and learned valuable lessons: A) Never go mountain climbing with the Swiss unless you want to get the scree beat out of you, and B) Nothing, yes, absolutely nothing gets in the way of a proper English tea time.

Mt. Toubkal Pics

Here are some pictures of the ascent, the top, and my borrowed-guide Brahim showing off plane wreckage...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

2 Mococco Poems

I got mad when the kids threw rocks at me—by Chris Bacon

I got mad when the kids
threw rocks at me
until I stopped seeing
through victim eyes

Finally looking, saw
the donkey cart guy
they bombarded him too
and cars, dogs,
shepherds, trains
basically any
thing that moved

My inclusion
true integration

Thank you rock-chuckers
For playing with me
in your game

Foreigner Taxby Chris Bacon

You complained
cus he overcharged you by half

Then went home
to vote for the guy
who said the rich weren’t taxed enough

Forwarded an article
that foreign aid rarely
reaches the people

And paid $4.58
for a latte
with cinnamon undertones

Monday, June 16, 2008

AIDS Candlelight Memorial

Last month, the Youth Club I work with organized their second annual Candlelight Memorial for the victims of AIDS (SIDA in French). Activities included making T-shirts and a large plaster SIDA ribbon, an open youth-issues discussion forum between regional Peace Corps volunteers and youth, speeches from local leaders, and two theatre pieces—one in English (oh they make a teacher so darn proud!) and another trippy piece set to music in which a freaky AIDS monster came out and consumed characters engaging in at-risk behaviors. We were a hit! Enjoy the pictures...

Daylight Savings Time Annulled


No matter what anybody says, let it be known that I single-handedly brought daylight savings time to Morocco.

About a month ago, I taught an English lesson on telling time and had a few minutes left at the end of class. I decided to do a bit of cultural exchange and teach them about Daylight Savings Time, which Morocco did not have. One would think it would be fairly straightforward to explain, but it kind of comes out as “So in the spring, everyone sets all of their clocks to the wrong time, causing mass confusion, but we purportedly save electricity and allow small children to play longer. Then, in the fall, we set the clocks back to the original time, which is now the wrong time cus we got used to it the other way.” It should be pointed out that the preceding explanation doesn’t translate well into Arabic.

Therefore, I ended up with a room full of baffled Moroccan students, which is how I like to leave them, as it makes me feel I am doing my duty as a teacher and instilling in them the desire to figure out what the heck I was talking about, causing them to go home to pursue the knowledge for themselves. Oh, the gift of learning! I asked the students what they though about the DST, and they unanimously agreed that it was a really weird idea, and that it would never happen in Morocco.

Lo and behold, no less than three weeks later, an announcement came out from the Ministry (I’m not sure which one, possibly the Ministry of Time and Clock Setting), that Morocco would officially go on daylight savings time the following month. Now let’s put the pieces together:

1. Chris does a lesson on daylight savings time.

2. General confusion ensues, causing people all over town to gossip about this strange phenomenon.

3. A few days later, the King of Morocco comes on a visit to the town to meet with citizens and local officials (See previous blog entry).

4. All of the sudden Morocco—without warning—decides to go on daylight savings time!

The evidence is indisputable!

The day came, watches were reset, and a young Peace Corps Volunteer swelled with hubris (obviously nonsensical and undeserved, but don’t ruin his day). The most interesting part of the transition, however, was that I never in my life expected to see daylight savings have no impact whatsoever. Nothing changed, therefore everything changed. The rhythm of life went on, unconcerned about what time the clock said it ways, everything just got pushed an hour later.

In small cities in Morocco the non-business sectors of life (anything that’s not governmentally controlled or a western-model company), the day is measured by the 5-a-day prayer calls, which are solar based. Folks know it’s about time to get up with the first call, time for lunch following the afternoon call, time to close up shops after the evening call, and time for kids to stop playing in the streets at the sunset call. Therefore, all of these events went unfazed by DST, and (if one measures by clock-time) every single part of the day happened an hour later, which REALLY throws off those of us watch-wearers who are used to a bit of regularity.

Instead of the whole town adjusting to the clock for daylight savings time, the town forced the clock-time of everything to adjust. This essentially nullified the all-consuming power of daylight savings time. Imagine the chaos in the US if, when we went on DST, everything just happened an hour later: The standard workday went from 10:00am-6:00pm, lunch was served at 1:00pm, your favorite show was now on at 8:00pm instead of 7:00pm, the kids, who were formerly in bed at 9:00pm are still running around at 10:00pm. We’d go insane!

Maybe this is why my students thought DST would be a bad idea. Maybe I should have been a little bit less inspiring with my immensely impactful English lesson. Or maybe I just need to realize that time really is relative, Einstein must have vacationed in Morocco, that my English lesson’s proximity to the announcement was probably coincidental, and that I really need to get over wearing a watch.