The Layover

When choosing my flight to and from Morocco I was forced to choose an overnight layover, if I wanted to get the price I could afford. I was both happy and nervous by this, but more excited to get a chance to see a new place. I had never had an overnight layover before so I wasn't 100% sure what to expect, but my experience turned out to be exactly what I could have hoped for. I arrived in Madrid at 6:30 p.m. local time and bought a one day metro pass in order to ride the metro to the city center from the airport. After a wee bit of confusion I was on my way to navigating the Madrid metro. I live traveling in large cites for this reason. I love navigating and traveling by metro systems. I find it a fun and interesting challenge that leaves me feeling accomplished. 

I made my way to the city center, called Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun). I emerged from below into a sea of city live. I could be far from correct but with the few hours I had in Madrid it seemed like a good way to spend it. I walked the interesting streets branching off in all directions from the large center square. I browsed the many restaurants with menus and I couldn't understand and foods I couldn't identify. I shopped some sales and when I finally decided to gift myself something my card was declined. I was bummed, but it also showed me what little money I had left. I exchanged my last 300 Moroccan dirhams for 30 euro for my night in Madrid. I only had 17 euro to find dinner and later breakfast. Once I realized this and started to feel increased hunger I decided to resort to a no frills dinner. This ended up being an all you can eat buffet for 9.95 euro, which got me a buffet, a drink, and ice cream. What a deal?! 

Afterward I wanted to find a coffee shop to park myself for a while. I also was looking for free wi-fi. Sadly, I ended up in a McDonalds, not too much of a cultural stretch. I bought a 1 euro espresso and then later for 1.50 euro two macaroons, for which I was .10 short. The young man was super nice as I felt like a dumb tourist. At this time it was around 11 p.m and the city was still alive. I reentered the metro to ride a sequence of 3 trains in reverse as I did on the way out to the city center. On my last train a worldly looking "Spanish" man entered who caught my eye. He became the most attractive man I saw in Madrid. I minded my own business until we both got off going in the same direction toward the airport. On the upward escalator this man attempted to speak to me in a language unable to be understood. Then he tried English. He asked me about my tattoos. We spent the last few minutes of the ride getting to know each others  basic back stories. He had to depart at terminal one and me at four but we exchanged contact info. He suggest we meet back up to pass the several hours we each had before our flight. Once we figured out there was a free bus between terminals we met in a quiet place where we could relax in the early hours of the morning. Between the hours of 1 and 5 a.m. we discussed everything from Latin last names to American women as president and at least a dozen other topics. 

Samir is 22 and comes from Mexico. His mother is of Lebanese decent. He is currently living with his Dutch girlfriend in the Netherlands whom he met in a hostel in Madrid. He has more travel stories at 22 than most people have in a lifetime. This was my first experience making an airport friend let alone an overnight buddy. Neither one of us wanted to sleep and there was actually seemingly important about staying up all night. Like I wasn't going to miss any moment of this experience. After we departed ways as hew want on his flight I parked at, yes another McDonald's. Now with four hours left of this layover it was 6 a.m.  

The rest isn't as interesting. I explored the now, beginning to bustle, terminal four. I saw what most people do on layovers, pick some random spot and lay themselves out to sleep. For my first experience this layover was certainly a fun and eventful one.  I'm sure they're not all that great. But it was a great way to get to see a country I might not otherwise have wanted to travel to.

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A Riad in Fes

During my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco I stayed in some pretty shabby hotels. Some were pretty "nice" from a PCVs point of view. And some were quite nice but those were the ones Peace Corps put us up in. 

Once visiting Fes I always wanted to be able to stay in a riad. Riad means house so these are usually old home converted into small, intimate, hotels, sort of bed and breakfast style. They are extremely nice while being completely traditionally Moroccan in decor. Of course I never dreamed of spending the money on one of those while living on a Peace Corps salary. But I knew that while visiting Morocco on my American salary a stay like this would be within my reach. 

I ended up getting online the day before our Fes visit to find a riad. I was attracted to the price and pictures of one called Riad Layla. It also happens to by my Moroccan name, so it felt very special to me. When myself and my two travel mates, Rababe and Jamie arrive in the old city of Fes, we were armed with a name and address. Luckily for us two Americans we had Rababe with us. After about 20 minutes, asking four people, and wandering through streets seemingly making no sense, a man walked us directly there. 

Once arriving at Riad Layla I was quickly filled with excitement and glee that I was finally living an experience I had been longing for. During the first hour I could not quit saying how cool everything was. We were served tea in the lobby, got a tour of the hotel, and were led to our room. I choose suite Sara, for my mom! We felt like we were in paradise, they even had air conditioning! We were met by lovely beds with rose petals on them and a bathroom with two gorgeous sinks and a rain shower head. We were loving our luxury. The hotel ended up costing around $130 per night or 1300 dirham, over half my Peace Corps monthly salary to put it in perspective. It's a bit more than I intended to spend but I was on vacation and I deserved a splurge. Plus I enjoyed treating Jamie, who's shoes I had been in and also Rababe. Sugar mama Alex. 

On the hotel roof or terrace we got a panoramic view of the entire city. After a day of touring we slept soundly like babies in a quiet, cool room, under clean white covers. In the morning we were served a delicious breakfast at a table on the roof. I even got a huge cup of coffee! With just six unique rooms, Riad Layla was an intimate way to stay in Fes. It was an experience that I could quickly become accustomed to.

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Tip Tuesday: Stop Saying You're Busy

I remember once, when I was living in Morocco, a good friend of mine had to schedule a Skype conversation with me four weeks out in advance. She was pretty busy. I tend to think that we make the time for things we want to make time for in our lives, and I was flabbergasted that she couldn't find the time anywhere for a little conversation with me. 

My life has gotten pretty busy itself in the past year.  What with my job as executive director, being a Girl Scout troop leader, friends, family, time for me, exercising, relaxing, you know the list goes on and on. Typically, I really like this busy pace, things to keep me occupied, always places to go and people to see. But I also truly love just doing nothing, and so many of us feel that we are doing something wrong if we have nothing to do. 

At a certain point in time we began associating being busy with being important.  Instead of busy just being the opposite state of available, we now have turned it into the humble brag in which we are trying to say "I matter." We listen to other peoples' rants on how busy they've been and we somehow equate that person with being productive, good, and interesting.

"How have you been lately?" 
"Oh man, I've been super busy."

I hate it when we use "busy" as an excuse and apology as to why we have been neglecting certain areas of our lives. For example, you haven't seen a certain friend in a long time, and you try to justify it by saying you've been too busy. Everyone is busy. You are not the only one wrapped up in your busyness. How do you expect to enjoy wonderful relationships and have enjoyable experiences if you don't stop claiming you're busy and live your life? There are people and things out there that are going to make time for you. You need to make time for them back. 

Keep these things in mind next time "busy" tries to come out of your mouth:

1. Busy is a choice-I am involved in a lot of things. But I am involved in them because I like them. I like leading a Girl Scout troop, I like meeting new people at Jackson Youth Professionals Meetings. But it is ultimately my choice to be involved. I can choose to scale back my involvement at any moment. 

2. Busy is not a feeling- If you say you are busy to the question "how are you" you are not really telling that person how you are. Busy might be covering up true feelings like stress, anxiety, loneliness, or low self-esteem. Identify your true emotions here. 

3. It's an easy out- A lot of us use this one to get out of doing something you really don't want to do, myself included. Sometimes it can lead people on however, if you really don't want to be a part of something, you should really just try to explain to that person why. 

4. It sounds a little crass- When you tell someone you are too busy, you are basically saying to are too busy for them. And it implies that the other person doesn't have enough going on. But as I said before, everyone is busy, and we all need to compromise and make sacrifices to keep meaningful relationships going. 

5. Re-frame your speech, re-frame your mind- I don't really see busy as a positive thing so if we say we are busy we are just going to keep overwhelming ourselves. Truth is, most of the time, we are busy doing wonderful things. Don't discount the great things you are doing by summing them up to busy. Instead when someone asks how you've been tell them exactly what it is you've been into. You will still sound busy, but you are giving yourself the much needed credit for doing the things that have taken so much of your time. Instead of calling your life busy call it active, lively, or eventful. 

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Life List Item 84: Send a Message in a Bottle

Who doesn't love the romantic notion of finding a message in a bottle? I sure do. So I decided I wanted to send one. Now finally I actually did. 

I wrote a message to a person I am calling "you". I just wrote a few of the life lessons I have taken in in my 29 years of life. I hope if/when someone receives it my thoughts may inspire them or at the least make them smile. 

For my bottle, I fished a wine bottle out of the glass recycling bin that I take my recycling to. I stripped it of it's label, leaving a clear view of the message inside. I wrote my note on plain, lined notebook paper. I knew I wanted to send my letter down a river, so it would actually travel away from this place. So I chose a spot where the Grand River was moving quite quickly to let my message go. 
I was excited to do this and understood I only had one shot. I worried that the bottle could hit a rock on impact and shatter. It didn't. There were a few seconds of sheer excitement as the bottle hurled through the air and splashed in the water. I only got a few seconds to watch it depart. 
I of course will have no idea of the fate of my bottle, but that's not the point. All I can do now is hope that my message one day will be received. And feel that satisfaction of living a dream.

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A Peace Corps Volunteer Again w/Jamie

Jamie and I met in April 2014 at a Peace Corps event. She had recently received word that she was going to be placed in Morocco for her upcoming Peace Corps service so we exchanged email addresses. Over the next several months we struck up a true and deep friendship. We were phone friends, pen pals, and eventually spent New Years Eve 2014 together until she left for Morocco in January of this year. I did my best to prepare her for what she would face and have tried to talk her through issues that have arose for her as she has been  getting used to life in Morocco. We were both so excited to be able to be together on the same continent once again when I visited Morocco. 

I knew I wanted to visit Fes on my vacation and Jamie lives just one hour outside of it in a mountain called El Menzel. Rababe and I detoured and spend a day and a half with Jamie there. I quickly felt right at home with Jamie and fell into a pattern that I hadn't realized I was missing so much. I missed Morocco, but what I realized I was truly missing was living like a Peace Corps volunteer. My day and a half with Jamie let me live like that once again. 

The three of us ladies cooked dinner together in her small kitchen. We cooked meat over a small, bare, butane gas tank. We put together something we called Moroccan, Mexican, American food. We made some homemade tortilla and browned some meat with the taco seasonings her dad had just sent her. 
On our second morning we journeyed to a nearby river that many of the locals go to for swimming and camping. Jamie had been wanting to go and now that she had us, it felt like a good time. We waiting in the area where the transport van would take us there for seven dirhams each. As we looked at the bench seats available in the van we started making guesses at how many would ultimately be joining us. Counting spaces for butts wasn't enough. Because our 10, 15, and 20 figure guesses weren't enough. 25 people got packed in  and a few boys fought for the special spots of hanging off the back with the doors open.  
Gendarmes are  royal Moroccan police. They are posted in small towns and when a foreigner lives there, like a Peace Corps volunteer, they have a duty to protect and look after them. The gendarmes in Jamie's town were quite possibly the most protective and through ones I had ever come across. We let them know that we would be going to the river and quickly we realized they were following us. It sounds creepy, but they were actually just trying to ensure our safety. Most of the other transport riders got a kick out of the gendarms coming along on our journey. We explored the beautiful nature spot of the river, went in the freezing cold water in our clothes, and sat and watched plenty of young boys hurl themselves off a high spot into the water. Eventually we noticed the gendarms were now walking around the river area. We had been there about four hours and it appeared they were checking up on us. The entire time us girls were getting a kick out of this. 

Turns out it was good that they showed up. Getting transportation home from the river wasn't going to be simple and the gendarms offered to drive us home. It was a tight ride, four in back, but was a much nicer ride then we would have had in the transport. Never had I been this well taken care of by gendarms.  

When we got home we hung out for a while, making some dinner and relaxing. We then planned to meet a friend of hers for coffee, but didn't have his number. We hovered around what she thought was his house, but no luck. We went to the cafe ourselves. 

Upon arriving back home again we heard one long pluck of an electric violin string. We all knew what that meant. There was going to be a wedding tonight and it was right out Jamie's back window.  This meant no sleep for us! We went up to the top of her roof to check the situation out and for at least an hour watched and listened to the start of the wedding quietly from above. Once we were tired enough to head down Jamie realized the ladder that we had used to get up to the roof was gone! While we were up there someone else was there and moved it. We were all laughing and freaking out, like girls do. We called down to the adjacent roof, where her neighbor Muhammad lives. Like a knight in shining armor Muhammad climbed up his own roof, dropped down into ours, and replaced the ladder for us to climb down. One by one he ensured our safe decent.  

A Peace Corps life is full of odd experience and laughable moments. Spending time with Jamie didn't disappoint. 

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