Monday, November 30, 2009


Chris and I went to the forest today, and after 4 hours of standing in freezing rain while the monkeys shivered in the trees above us we decided our time would be better spent at home (but not before warming up again at the Hammam). We won't be fleeing the forest every time it gets cold, but 35 degrees and heavy rain/mist is a bit much.

Abrahim (the landlord who lives downstairs) and Eto (his wife) installed the woodburning stove today. It's in Chris's room, which means Chris's room has become the de facto living room as long as the cold weather sticks around, and it's supposed to stick around for a while. We've set up various implements for drying forest gear around it, and have arranged the couches accordingly. It's nice to have the smell of cedar smoke in the apartment. Reminds me of home.

Eid el-Adha ended up turning into quite an affair for me. The family invited me downstairs for lunch, where we feasted on lamb stomach and intestines, as well as kabobs of meat wrapped in fat that they grilled on the spot in the living room. It was incredible. Afterwards they invited me to go on a walk to visit friends/family around the town.

After dropping in on a few houses in Azrou ("Sallam alaykum, la bes, bekher, etc...", we walked to a small village about a kilometer outside of town where Eto's family lives. It was a beautiful area, and something I would have doubtless never known about if I hadn't been shown it. I missed some fantastic pictures of the family and friends due to shyness, but grabbed a few on the way there and back:

On the way back to Azrou

Eto, A nephew (Muhammed), Abrahim, and wee-man (never got his name)

At every stop along the way we were offered tea, cakes, and crepes or some combination of the above (at one we had MORE LAMB).
I had a few hours to rest after we returned home before it was back downstairs for more food.
All in all it was a great holiday. It was not the equivalent of being at home for Thanksgiving of course, but certainly a wonderful accidental substitution. To be honest, the day took a lot out of me. It was difficult seeing people interact with close friends and family while I was completely unable to communicate on any meaningful level with anyone. Dave wasn't there to translate, and while Eto was able to explain who was who, conversations were largely limited to the single-sentence point-and-"see!" variety. Afterwards I felt not only like learning Arabic was all but impossible (many of the words I thought I had learned got blank stares), but like all I wanted was to talk in person with anyone who knew me as well as these wonderful people knew each other. I feel better now after a few days (yesterday was a really fantastic day with the group), but the feeling lingers.

Blake, as per requested, here's what we found on the roof a few nights ago:

All the yummy bits have been removed at this point. The head was by the door. I'm not sure what they're going to do with this.

Friday, November 27, 2009

There is a sheep carcass on our roof...

With good reason, of course. The Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) is tomorrow. Every family sacrifices a lamb (they don't buy it dead, they kill it themselves). From the roof, through the darkness, you can hear the bleating of countless others who await a similar fate. I've got the day off tomorrow and I'm hoping to catch some of the festivities around town. The family downstairs has invited us to dinner as well, so this will definitely be a two-part posting. I took a picture but it's a, so I included a pleasant picture of this morning's sunrise instead.

Take THAT Thanksgiving: 'You buy a bird at the supermarket? We sacrifice a large mammal and let it bleed out on the roof overnight.'

More tomorrow!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

And the monkey stares back

The great thing about the monkeys is that most of the time the moment you feel tired and just want to go home and sleep, they do something like this:

This curious infant was just checking me out for a while, and I took the opportunity to casually snap a few photos. The two small infants are the most wary individuals by far, so it was a real treat to have one approach me this closely. The picture shown above is the best one of the series, but I also like this one:

Hopefully during some of my days off I'll still have time to poke around Azrou and/or find something interesting to write about, but unfortunately today have to concentrate on work. I was intending to go to the souk (huge open market -- lonely planet's #1 thing to do in Azrou) but it looks like I'll have to get my residency card squared away instead. Not exactly something to write home about.

I've been planning on posting a 'day in the life of' entry, but it involves me having enough concentration in the mornings to take pictures, which has proven difficult. Sometime soon, though.

I'm going to miss you all like hell on Thursday. I think I'm going to avoid all things turkey-related so as to not remind myself of what I'm missing out on. First big holiday away from home, and I'm expecting a few twangs of homesickness (which have abated in recent weeks). On the subject of holidays, however, it looks like Chris will be here over Christmas, so I won't be as alone as I thought I was going to be. Which is nice.

We keep expecting it to get permanently cold. Last year at this time it was snowing, and didn't stop until late February. It continues to hold, though, and the past couple weeks have been beautiful.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I think this is the best picture I've taken in Morocco

If you don't understand why, take a closer look.

Just this for today I'm afraid. Pretty exhausted. More later this week (Tuesday at the latest).

Monday, November 16, 2009


Find the monkey.

Today I wrote a letter to lonely planet, went to the market, haggled for and bought a guitar in semi-French/Arabic, shaved my head (not bald, just short), went to the market again, cooked dinner (chicken soup with rice and parsley...or was it rice and parsley soup with chicken?), and watched a couple episodes of whale wars with the gents.

Saturday we all took the day off and went to Fez for a change of scenery. The medina was beautiful. A maze of chaotic dusty alleyways lined with shops selling everything from exotic spices to cell phones. It's the only place I've ever been where you are in danger of getting run over by a donkey if you don't pay attention. Getting lost is obligatory. The problem, however, is that it's one of the 'main attractions' of Morroco, and so comes with its fair share of hassle from men trying to tell you that you will have a horrible time if you don't hire them. Some of them can be quite aggressive. One of them ordered me not to speak Arabic because 'it sounded terrible'. It was the first thing in Morocco that was almost exactly what I thought it would be, which was for some reason a bit disappointing. As always, I was happy to come home to Azrou, where the biggest hassle is trying to figure out how to get across that I'd like some chicken, but without the bones. No, I'd like to take the bones with me please. For soup. Ok, just give me the chicken then. Cool.

I've heard the Meknes medina, which is only about an hour away, is equally as cool and involves half the hassle, so hopefully that's on the list of upcoming trips.

The guitar is a cheap nylon string guitar, but it has decent action, good intonation, and most importantly a nice, mellow tone. My fingers feel like they're made of spaghetti noodles after two and a half months of not playing, but I'm confident that they'll start to remember how it works in a week or two.

Back to the forest tomorrow. The group has been acting especially strange lately. Some of the males seem to actually disappear for most of the day, and strange monkeys have been dropping in at random intervals to hassle the females. According to Chris and Dave, today they were spread out over half a kilometer (normal group spread is about 100 meters).
We'll see how it goes. They certainly know how to keep things interesting.

Miss and love you guys.

Soundtrack: Phosphorescent - Wolves

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I've been eating lots of peanuts lately

The shopkeepers salt and roast them by hand on massive stoves. Sometimes they're still warm, which is incredible after a cold day in the forest.

Normally they hand them over in a plastic bag or rolled up newspaper, but today...

...I got someone's algebra homework.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Case in point

This one was started about half an hour after I wrote the last entry:

This is taken from our living room window.

Lost in Translation

A 'Hey, how's it going?' conversation in Arabic typically proceeds as follows:
You: Sallam 'alaykum (Peace be upon you)
Them: Wa 'alaykum sallam (and peace be upon you)
You: La Bes? (All is well?)
Them: La Bes, Bekher? (All is well, everything good?)
You: Bekher (Everything's hunky dory)
Them: Hamdullah (?)
You: Hamdullah (?)

For a long time this 'Hamdullah' thing perplexed us. It typically followed the whole 'La bes, bekher' quagmire, and was said with a smile and a shrug. It was this shrug, I think, that made us believe it meant something along the lines of 'Everything's okay, you know, life goes on, the day to day struggle to live is sometimes hard, but we prevail through a sense of good humor and perserverance'. Or something like that. Also, we noticed that when we said it, it always got a laugh or a smile. We thought we had an immediate 'in'. Some magical Arabic phrase whose subtext was 'I am not a tourist. I am with you. Brother. (Insert a fist bump).'

So we started saying it instead of 'Bekher'. People would say 'La Bes?' and we would say 'meeehhh...Hamdullah (::wink wink, nudge nudge::)'. We never thought to double check its meaning.

Last night Dave finally asked Abrahim what it meant. Apparently it means 'Praise Allah'. So when people would ask how we were doing, we were apparently responding with 'eeeeehhh...praise God (smile and laugh)'. I don't think anyone found this offensive. I think they just thought we were ignorant. Which, of course, we were. We really should have looked it up.

One of the favorite pasttimes of the local children is building small fires in roundabout around the corner from our house. And in the open lot across from our house. Pretty much anywhere, really. No one seems to mind. It's perfectly natural for kids to burn grass and trash outdoors in residential areas. But I guess they've got to do something with their free time, and it's certainly better than say developing a drug habit or vandalizing buildings.

I wonder if it's a catch phrase they use in schools: 'Don't do drugs. Go burn something!'
A sure sign that I'm used to Morocco is that these fires don't worry me one bit.

I'm going to attempt to make pizza tonight (with a side of garlic bread). All of the ingredients below, collected from four different vendors in the haddaf (marketplace) cost around 7 dollars. I'm really hoping that the package at the bottom contains yeast. It smells right, but who knows. Though my haddaf Arabic is progressing, getting that one across was a real challenge.

Work in the forest is coming along nicely. Chris thinks Dave and I are now competent enough to collect usable focal data, which is excellent, as it means there's less pressure on him, but it adds just a little more stress to an already extremely difficult job. Now we're not only doing scan samples every other hour and keeping an eye out for any defecating monkeys, but we're also trying to do 40 minute focals on all 9 males in one day. Give it a month, though, and I'm positive that everything will feel more natural. At least I really, really hope so.

On the monkey poop collection front, it looks like we've had a breakthrough.

I'll give you a second or two to stop laughing.


There's a vocalization that the females do called a 'copulation call' which sounds sort of like your typical monkey grunt ('hoo-hoo-hoo'). We thought was only associated with copulation, but it turns out that they also make this sound when 'making a sample' so to speak. So if we hear this call come from a female and she's on her own, there's a good chance we'll get a sample from her if we can get to her location fast enough. This small and embarassingly simple realization has given us a huge boost in our daily sample collection numbers, and alleviated much of the freaking out that was occuring over our previously short-of-quota daily harvests.

I promise my next entry will have no mention whatsoever of monkey poop. Don't get the wrong idea; behavioral data collection is a huge part of the job too, only it's much harder to write about.

Miss and love you all.