Moroccan Reading List

What to read on your Moroccan holiday.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love reading books set in the country I am visiting. While living in Morocco, I did my best to get my hands on as many Moroccan related books as possible. It was surprisingly easy! My school’s library was fairly well stocked and I was able to access a few more titles using my e-reader. Reading about Morocco definitely added to the vibrancy of the place. Just looking at the cover images of these books makes me want to head back there for a little more exploration.

Morocco of Old 

Moroccan Books

 

1. The Spider’s House by Paul Bowles – Set during the Nationalist uprising in Fez during the last days of the French Protectorate. The story is told through the eyes of both an American expat and an illiterate Moroccan boy. Especially interesting to read as an American expat myself living in the French quarter of Marrakech.

2. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles – Full disclosure: I actually read this book years ago. I loved it until I got to a particularly disturbing part and it kind of went downhill from there. However, it’s such a classic that I would still recommend it. It Three American travelers seek the exotic in Northern Africa, but aren’t quite sure what to do when they find it.

3. A Life Full of Holes by Driss Ben Hamed Charade (Larbi Layachi) – This book was actually dictated to the tape recorder of Paul Bowels by the storyteller. The story is not quite autobiographical but closely resembles the life of Larbi. After being kicked out of his home at an early age, the subject goes on to seek survival through any means necessary. There’s sex, drugs, love, and a whole lot of injustice.

4. Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi – Whatever image you have of a harem in your head, replace it with the imagery of this book. Mernissi grew up in a harem in Fez in the 1940s and shares her memories of childhood and the women around her in this beautiful book.

5. The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelleum – I found this book to be confusing at times but very powerful. Faced with the realization that he will never have a son to pass his property to, a father of eight daughters decides to raise his youngest as a boy.

6. For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri – This title came highly recommended by my Moroccan teaching assistant. It tells the story of Choukri’s difficult early life living on the streets after having fled from the Rif due to drought and food shortages.

 More Modern Titles

Moroccan Books

 

7. In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah – This book should really be read after The Caliph’s House, but I didn’t have access to that title at the time. In The Caliph’s House, Shah tells the story of moving to Morocco and settling into his new home. In Arabian Nights continues the story but through the angle of traditional Arabian storytelling.

8. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami – Strangers meet on a raft bound for Spain. This short collection of stories tells the backstory of how and why each person made the dangerous decision to flee Morocco and pursue hope.

9. Secret Son by Laila Lalami – A novel about the consequences of poverty and resentment. At age 19, Youssef discovers that the father he always believed was dead is actually alive, well, and very wealthy. Youssef forms a relationship with his father, only for it to crumble. It is clear that Youssef’s life will never be the same.

10. Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir – Previously banned in Morroco, Stolen Lives tells the plight of the Oufkir family who was imprisoned after their father’s failed coup attempt.

11. Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud – This is a good one. A mother moves to Marrakech in the 1970s with her two young daughters. Her pursuit of adventure and spiritualism draws the family into poverty and at times conflict. The story is based on the author’s own experience having lived in Morocco as a child. We watched the movie adaptation on the roof of our apartment building one warm night. It was gorgeous.

12. Lulu in Marrakech by Diane Johnson – This book is terrible. It rubbed me the wrong way more than once but since it’s set in Marrakech, here you go. Lulu is the stupidest undercover agent ever and I honestly kept rooting for her to fail. Let’s leave it at that.

I would love to hear if anyone has any other recommendations for Moroccan related books.

xo, jill

 

Welcome to Mr. Toilet House

In celebration of sh*t.

Last week, we had a day off from work in honor of Childrens Day. I must say, the children here really deserve the holiday. All of my students put in a full day at school and then attend a few extra classes at varying academies in the evening. It’s also not uncommon for these kids to attend Saturday classes as well.

Mike and I decided to spend the day exploring our city. We headed to a very unusual tourist attraction… the Suwon Toilet Museum. Yep, the city we live in is famous for toilets.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, Korea Special festivities for Childrens Day.

It all goes back to a former mayor, Sim Jae-Duck, whose personal mission was to upgrade the state of public bathrooms. A silly sounding, but very worthy goal. When Mike asked one of our co-workers what she thought about the toilet obsessed mayor, she began with a serious face that slowly turned to a grin, “He did a very good job. If we need to use the bathroom, we know that it will always be nice!” Really, that’s a luxury not found in most cities.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, KoreaMr. Toilet House / Future parenting blackmail.

The Toilet Museum aka Mr. Toilet House is dedicated to all things toilet related. When I say “all things,” I really do mean all things. Inside, the museum showcases the history of pubic toilets in Korea as well as worldwide efforts to bring toilets into the forefront of international conversation. On top of that, there are also the winning entries in a poo-related coloring contest and my personal favorite, bathroom pictograms from around the world. Oh, and did I mention that the building itself is in the shape of a toilet?

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, KoreaKorea’s first flush toilet, used by noble women (57 BC-935) / Common toilet in rural areas.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, Korea

Outside, the garden is festooned with an exhibit that could accurately be called, “Toilets Through the Ages.” All different kinds of toileting receptacles are featured with short explanations. Just another time in my life that I’m happy to have been born in the late 20th century.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, KoreaFemale toilet from the Baekje Kingdom (18 BC – 660)

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, KoreaChamber pots

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, KoreaToilet in Ancient Rome / Toilet in Medieval Europe / Modern Day Urinal

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, Korea

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, Korea Even the plant markers are poo themed. You have to appreciate their commitment.

I have to say, it was a fun yet strange afternoon. It was so puzzling to see parents posing their children to look as if they were using the toilet… and then snapping photo after photo. I laughed a lot.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, Korea Traditional toilet on Jeju Island and a family enjoying a photo op.

Finally, a little palette cleanser.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, Korea

xo, jill

*Interestingly, Sim Jae-Duck is not the only “Mr. Toilet.” There’s a man from Singapore with the same nickname who even has his very own short documentary.

Spring at Hwaseong Fortress

Suwon’s crown jewel.

Spring in Korea has been absolutely gorgeous. Every morning on my way to work I’ve been marveling at flower after flower. It started with the delicate cherry blossoms and magnolias. Then, it was on to the vibrant azaleas. Coming up next is daisies. I saw quite a few waiting to bloom during my run today. Unfortunately, I’ve been warned that spring is nearly over and the summer heat is on the way. All good things must end, I guess!

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

A few weeks ago, Mike and I headed over to Hwaseong Fortress on a pleasant spring afternoon. I wanted to visit Suwon’s crown jewel tourist attraction while the cherry blossoms were still sticking around. The fortress was built between 1794 – 1796 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

We started our exploration near Paldalmun Gate and headed up the steep fortress wall. Our intent was to buy tickets for the dragon train. Of course, being such a popular attraction, tickets were sold out until later in the afternoon. We were kind of expecting that so it wasn’t too much of a disappointment. We decided to just explore as much as possible before our departure time.

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

There are about a million things to do and see at the fortress. You can walk/hike the walls, enjoy views over the city, ring the Bell of Filial Piety, try your hand at archery, visit the palace, or take in a cultural performance. I’m probably leaving something out.

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

We enjoyed the views, walked along the walls, rang the bell, watched a beautiful traditional dance, and then finally hopped on the dragon train. The dragon train takes you around the exterior of the fortress and offers some hard to hear commentary in Korean and English. It was cheap (just a few dollars each) and worth the wait.

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

I’m sure we’ll be visiting the fortress again. There’s plenty more to see and do.

xo, jill

 

So you need to see an eye doctor on a Sunday in Suwon

This post is purely informational.

One thing you learn pretty quickly when you move overseas is that you’ll get sick a lot. This probably goes double for teachers who are around germ ridden children all day. When I first moved to Abu Dhabi nearly six years ago, my friends and I got sick every three weeks. I swear I counted it out. We’d get over one cold, enjoy a week of health, and then fall sick with another. Thankfully, it only took a few months until our immune systems could withstand the new batch of viruses.

This super immunity that I developed in Abu Dhabi served me well in Australia and Morocco. I definitely faired better during cold and flu season than my newly abroad co-workers in Marrakech. Unfortunately, my super immunity just met its match with a super cold here in Korea.

It started as a regular cold. I felt crummy for a couple of days but soon began to feel I was on the mend. That was until my sore throat returned, my right eye started to itch, and I was stricken with a nasty bout of viral conjunctivitis. On a Saturday night!

To those of you within Korea, you know why this sucks. To those of you outside of Korea, let me explain. Pretty much all clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies are closed on Sundays. Your main Sunday option is the Emergency Room or an emergency clinic and eye infections don’t really qualify. I spent most of the night awake searching forums for a place to get treated on a Sunday. No luck. Really, I should have just slept.

The next morning we contacted our co-worker who has a Korean girlfriend. His girlfriend was able to find me an eye doctor in just a few minutes. We hopped in a taxi, saw the doctor, picked up my prescription at the open pharmacy next door, grabbed a comfort food pizza, and were back home in less than an hour. To add to my relief, the doctor visit only cost $5. The two prescriptions were $4 total.

Of course, the eye infection wasn’t the end of it. The next day my cold decided to add a painful sinus infection to its repertoire. I was a bit of a mess. Red and swollen eyes, sore throat, sniffly nose, and quite the sinus headache. I’m sure my youngest students were scared of me. I was a little scared of myself.

So, if you are here because you need an eye doctor in Suwon on a Sunday, I know just the place. Dr. Lee’s Eye Clinic is located near Paldalmun Gate and has a logo of an eye clearly marking the building. We showed our taxi driver the photo of the map below and he recognized the location immediately. The doctor I saw was kind and spoke enough English to communicate clearly. I went for a follow up visit a few days later and was able to see the same doctor.

Here are the photos you’ll need:

Untitled

Untitled

To those of you seeking an eye doctor, I hope this helps. Good luck!

xo, jill

Cherry Blossoms in Bucheon

Signs of spring.

Cherry blossom season was highly anticipated around here. My entire route to work is lined on both sides with cherry trees so I had a convenient vantage point to gauge their progress. This past weekend Mike and I headed up to Bucheon to check out the azalea festival (see it on my instagram) and came across some gorgeous cherry blossoms as well. Of course, we couldn’t resist crossing the street to stroll up and down the scenic walkway.

Cherry Blossoms, South Korea

Cherry Blossoms, South Korea

Cherry Blossoms, South Korea

Cherry Blossoms, South Korea

Cherry Blossoms, South Korea

Cherry Blossoms, South Korea

Cherry Blossoms, South Korea

Cherry Blossoms, South Korea The azaleas did a number on my shoes.

So pretty. If only this season could last all year! It’s almost painful to see the little petals beginning to litter the ground now. But as my Korean co-worker counseled me, “Don’t be sad. More flowers are coming!”

xo, jill

The last of Nicaragua

Beach and bougainvillea.

This is the last post on Nicaragua. Life has changed so much since then, it’s crazy to think it was only two months ago! I’m so glad I have a partner like Mike who is willing to head out on a trip with only a few days notice. He even did most of the planning! To be honest, it’s a pretty good deal for me. I say, “Hey, let’s go somewhere in Central America.” and he says, “Ok. I found a deal to Nicaragua. Should we do it?” and then I say, “Yes. I’ll book it.” and he says, “I’ll get the Lonely Planet… so this is what I think we should do…” Done!

We only stayed one night in Leon because we really wanted to sneak in a little more beach time. We took a taxi from the city to the beach town of Las Penitas. I still wasn’t feeling 100% but I was looking forward to our guesthouse that had great reviews. Mike made sure to book a place with a reputation for delicious food with tasty vegetarian options. Alas, we arrived on BBQ night and they were only serving meat. Figures!

Las Penitas, Nicaragua

Las Penitas, Nicaragua

Most of our time in Las Penitas was spent in hammocks, on the beach, or watching the sunset. (And also apparently taking photos of bougainvillea!)

Las Penitas, Nicaragua

Las Penitas, Nicaragua

Las Penitas, Nicaragua

The next morning we began what felt like an endless journey back to Managua. First, we hopped on a chicken bus to get back to Leon. Then a taxi to get to the proper bus station. Then, a mini-bus to Managua and another taxi to our guesthouse. The guesthouse was new and in a residential neighborhood so it took a lot of convincing our driver that it actually existed. Thankfully, the security guard at the gate filled in the missing details and helped us arrive at the proper place just as the proprietor stepped outside.

Managua, Nicaragua Selfies with my birthday “cake” in front of colorful walls.

We stayed at Hostal Monte Cristi which was the perfect place to spend our final night. Not only was it comfortable and close to the airport, the customer service was fantastic. Calvin, the owner/manager, drove us over to the Best Western (just a few minutes away) so we could spend our last afternoon at the pool. (It was free because Hostal Monte Cristi has a membership.) He picked us up when we were ready and suggested places to eat dinner in the area. The next morning, he drove us to the airport and wished us a safe journey. It’s not often that a guesthouse is so incredibly accommodating. Sometimes I feel like just inquiring about the wifi password is asking too much! I highly recommend Hostal Monte Cristi if you need a place in Managua near the airport.

Our flight home was fairly uneventful. We touched down in Seattle, drove back to Portland the next morning, and immediately shifted our focus to preparing for Korea. We had about 10 days before we were once again heading to the airport.

xo, jill

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