Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Happy Birthday and Welcome Back

Last week I went to Mom and Dad's to have dinner with them, Uncle Richie, Emily, Elizabeth and Carlton (my cousins). It was Elizabeth's 16th birthday and we were also celebrating Carlton arriving home safely from Iraq. He is in the marines and he is home from his tour in Iraq. I am very proud of him and the work he did, but also happy he is home safely. He is now back in California on his base.

Elizabeth with her cake

Dad convinced Carl to go home and get his laptop so we could see pictures from Iraq.

Carl, Em, and Elizabeth eating cake on the couch while Carl explained all of the pictures.
The pictures of the sandstorms were the most amazing to me. There were pictures of the middle of the day that looked like night because the sand was so thick in the air. I have such respect for those who serve our country and I am very proud of my cousin.

A Little Moroccan Man

We finally got to see Chase (Adam's nephew) and celebrate Easter with Adam's family. In Chase's Easter basket from us, we included the hat we brought him back from Morocco. We found these adorable hats in Marrakech and couldn't pass them by!

It is a hat of the Moroccan flag

Cute hat Chasey!

Am I next?

So...you have seen all of the pictures from Bridget and Tony's wedding. She was beautiful, it was wonderful, and it was a ton of fun! But for me...one of the best parts was catching the bouquet! The first time she threw it, it landed in the DJ booth! So we got a do-over. The second time, after shoving Robin out of the way...I caught it! Apparently Tony went right up to Adam to congratulate him. =) Adam is convinced that we were practicing all morning, but I swear it wasn't a set-up!

A short while later I looked over from the dance floor to see Adam trying to give it away to Robin. I was having none of that!

I had to get it back from Robin. It took a bit of fighting...
but I was able to get what was rightfully mine!

My favorite picture of us ever!
Next time you see Adam....just start humming the Jeopardy music!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I held a WHAT?

You saw the pictures...but here it the video! While we were in Marrakech walking around I pulled out my video camera to record the market. Suddenly some guy with a monkey comes up and says, "Hello!" and throws a monkey into Adam's arms! Adam tried to resist, but the guy won. Then we all took turns holding the monkey. It was all fine and dandy until the guy wanted 100 dirhams each! Erin said, no way! That was more than we paid to ride a camel for an hour! Erin knew he was just trying to pull one over on us because we look like tourists. She told me she would give him 20 dirhams for all of us (which she explained was MORE than enough). He got mad. She said that was fine, we wouldn't give him any money, and then he accepted the 20 dirhams! It bothered me...but she said, "Welcome to Morrocco!" We learned throughout our trip just to accept the haggling!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Let's Build a Women's Center!

Donate here!

As you know, my sister is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco. She has been there since March 2008 and will be serving in Morocco until June 2010 (it is a 27 month commitment). I was lucky enough to be able to visit her in March over my spring break and I saw first hand the needs of her village (check out the wonderful pictures in earlier posts!).

Below you will see an email regarding her current project. She has been working with the women of her village to discover their needs and also with many men in government and national agencies (in an area where woman are second class citizens) to get the resources necessary for this.

It is truly amazing that she has received the commitment that she has from the Moroccan government and agencies. Now she just needs our help! Please read her description below (it is much more informative than the one included on the website!) and consider making a personal donation and/or also passing this along to friends, family and co-workers. This is also a great opportunity for businesses to make corporate donations. Fundraisers at schools and churches are another opportunity to raise funds for this much needed project that is going to be made possible by our very own Erin Atwell!

It is easy for individuals to donate online. You can also get a group together and have one person make the donation for the group.

Above is the direct link to the website for donation

In addition, her blog address is included at the bottom of the email.
If you have any questions, I would be happy to try to assist in answering them!

-----The Email Message from Erin-----

Dear Friends and Family,
I hope this email finds everyone in good health and enjoying Spring as I am
here in Morocco.

Last June, when I first arrived to my site as a Health Peace Corps
Volunteer, I did a "needs assessment" with the women of my community,
Talbrjte, to see where I could fit in as a new volunteer.
The 30 women I interviewed overwhelmingly expressed a desire to have a
women's community center. After six months of discussing the idea with
various community members, I came to the conclusion that building a women's
center is a worthwhile, sustainable project. Since then, I have met weekly
with 14 girls from the community who are assisting in the design and
implementation of this project.

Fortunately, the women immediately received support from local associations
and the local government. After much discussion as to how to best meet the
community's needs, the objectives of the women's center were identified.
None of the women, and few of the girls in this community were allowed to
attend school. Consequently, the Talbrjte Women's Center will include a
literacy classroom, staffed by the local schoolteacher, where the women can
learn to read and write in a safe environment.

In addition, the women expressed a strong desire to learn a handicraft that
will one day enable them to bring in an income. The local government is
donating the necessary materials and expertise to teach these women skills
such as embroidery and weaving.

As a health volunteer, I am acutely aware of the health situation in the
community. Because there is no transportation available to the local health
clinic, many women in the community are unable to take their children to the
doctor for vaccinations and illnesses. The same applies for the women
themselves. For this reason, the Ministry of Health has agreed to donate
the time and equipment necessary to have a functioning health room in the
Talbrjte Women's Center.

Finally, this women's center will go beyond helping these women to read,
write, and be more healthy. The women's center will empower them to take
control of their lives and their socioeconomic situations.

The local association and local government are contributing both financially
and in-kind. Their contributions make up 43% of the total project cost.
However, this project still needs $16,902.06 in order to be built.
I hope you will consider making a contribution; even the smallest
contribution will help make the Talbrjte Women's Center a reality.
In order to donate you can click on this link:

Or go to:
www.peacecorps.gov -> Donate Now -> Donate to a Volunteer Project -> search
by my last name, Atwell, or by country, Morocco.

On the project page, you will be able to see how much has been donated and
how much is still necessary to fully fund this project.

If you know any individuals or group who may be interested in seeing this
project completed, please forward him/her the link.

I cannot express into words the impact the successful completion of this
project will have on the lives of the women in my community.
Thank you, in advance, for your generosity.
Erin Atwell
Peace Corps
Morocco '08-'10
Health Sector
Ps I've posted 2 photos of the girls who are involved in the women's center
preparation on my blog www.almaghrebalaqsa.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Goin' to the Chapel and Bridget GOT married...

On Friday night I stood up in my friend Bridget's wedding. You have seen the shower and bachelorette party pics, and now....the wedding pictures!

We had the rehearsal and dinner on Thursday night and then woke up bright and early on Friday to go get our hair done. We had fun watching each other get pretty hair at the place I have been getting my hair done for a long time. Kelly is the best! She did Bridget's hair and mine. After that we went back to the hotel for a yummy lunch mom put together for us. We got all dolled up ourselves and then helped Bridget get into her beautiful wedding dress. After the photographer took lots of pictures, we took a limo to the church (they got married at my church) and enjoyed a beautiful ceremony. After MANY more pictures at the church and a nearby lake, we headed to the reception. We had a WONDERFUL time at the reception...yummy food, plenty of drinks, fun music and lots of dancing! Congratulations to Bridget and Tony! It was a beautiful wedding!

Check out the slideshow below:

You can check out all of my pictures with captions on Facebook:

Rehearsal, Dinner and Getting Ready

Ceremony and Pictures

Reception and Present Opening

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Happy Easter!

We had a really enjoyable Easter this year. We started out at church and then went to Mom and Dad's house. The Easter Bunny brought us baskets there and we got lots of good loot. Then the family came over (Uncle Jimmy, Grandpa, Uncle Richie, Emily, Elizabeth, Christina, and Christian) for a yummy Easter brunch and egg dying with Christian. Egg dying with a 17 month old is fun and messy! He totally "got" the whole using the metal thing to retrieve the eggs, but soon learned it was much easier to stick his whole hand in the cup! I texted my friend Bridget to see if she would mind my purple hands (because I am in her wedding on Friday), but she said she didn't because at least purple would match! After that, Adam and I headed to his dad's house to celebrate with his family. It was a great Easter!

Easter Basket cookies I made
(I don't recommend the sour ones I bought...the candy coating melted!)

Yummy French Toast Casserole that I made. I don't even usually love French Toast and this turned out really well! There was barely any left at the end...that is always a good sign!
Check out the slideshow below with the rest of the pictures:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Layla in a Gilaba

While we were in Morocco, we found a Djellaba (Jill-ah-ba) that Layla just HAD to have. Although it is a bit big on her now....I thought it would make cute pajamas when she gets older!

When we were little, Uncle Denny brought Kimonos back from Japan for Erin and I and we LOVED them. We thought it was so neat to have robes from a different country and thought our Uncle Denny was pretty cool for being able to travel all over the world. Well, Dad traveled too....but he is Dad. Uncle Denny was cool for a lot of reasons! One time he brought me to Toys R Us and let me pick out whatever I wanted. I picked out a cute little baby doll....I'm sure she is still at Mom and Dad's house somewhere! He also rode (rides) a motorcycle and that was pretty cool too! Mia and Nicholas may never know how cool their dad was! To them, he will always be dad!

Anyway...here are some pictures of our visit with Katie and Josh and Kristin and Ryan a couple weeks ago. Of course...the pictures of Layla are the cutest!

Enjoying her dinner while we enjoyed ours

Contemplating many serious thoughts

Layla and her Djellaba

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Spring Break-Part 4-Ida Ousmlal and Going Home

After a lot of traveling, we finally made it to Erin's site. She had to climb in because the door was locked from the inside because her friend was over baking us bread. Yummy!

There are pictures of Erin's kitchen. She doesn't have a refrigerator and although we bought eggs in Tiznit...and I would think they need to be refrigerated....she insists that they don't need to be! That first night she made us a DELICIOUS pasta with Alfredo sauce dinner.

There are also pictures of Erin doing household chores such as washing dishes and doing her laundry. Things that just take a few minutes here are very time consuming for her. It is not easy to wash dishes without running water in the sink! Laundry takes a long time to rinse and scrub and rinse again!

We bought leather sandals ($7.50 each) and rings in Tiznit and we are showing them off here.

We visited Erin's host family's house and they made us lunch with grilled vegetables, mush rice, delicious donuts and scary meat. Luckily...I got out of the scary meat! Erin had already explained the whole crazy vegetarian thing to them. Adam said it was....spicy.

After a rousing session of what we called "Berber Dress up", where they dressed us in traditional Berber wedding attire, we headed out back to see the family's animals. The basket on my head is the way the women carry the grass back from the fields. On their heads!

We also enjoyed walking around Erin's douar and checking out the old houses that people have mostly moved away from. They are now mostly living in cement houses. Oh yes...and I rode a donkey. Much easier than a horse!

The last day our plan was to drive in Erin's host dad's car down the mountain. But....even after all of our pushing....the car wouldn't start! So we started the 3 mile hike...with all of our luggage. I was a wee bit crabby. But then an open back pick up truck with 10 Moroccan men standing inside pulled up and we hopped inside! That made me much happier! We walked around souk for a bit and then started the journey back to Marrakech.

For lunch we stopped at the yummy Lebanese restaurant that Erin likes in Agadir. Erin and I had delicious hummus and I had yummy falafal. We finished out our Morocco travels with a 4 hour car ride back up to Marrakech (where we bought out the 4th seat!) to spend the night before leaving the next day.

Adam and I headed back to Spain for one more evening...where we were VERY lame. We went to dinner, but then it was raining and didn't want to walk around, so we went back to our hotel room, watched a movie and went to bed! We were very tired because they had daylight savings and we lost an hour so although we needed to wake up at 5:00 am, it was really 4:00 our time! We headed to the airport, flew to Frankfurt, hung out there and then flew home. I really enjoyed the signs in the Frankfurt airport. They look like a bunch of letters were dropped on the floor and then picked up and throw together to make words! We also enjoyed the "running man" signs that we saw in Madrid and Frankfurt...we finally figured out they mean exit. Green means....leave?

It was a wonderful trip and we have so many memories that we will NEVER forget. Enjoy the last slideshow below!

Spring Break-Part 3-Essa and Tiznit

Our trip continues.....
We took a bus from Marrakech to Essaouira. It was a very fancy and comfortable bus ride...and Erin never took us on transportation like that again!

We stayed in a nice hotel in Essa with a freezing cold shower, but a pink room and how can you go wrong with a pink room??

We walked along the beach and found....camels! We had hoped to have the opportunity to ride camels on the beach and our wish came true. We had to play "cool" like, "We don't care if we ride a camel" and Erin talked the guy down 30 dirhams (a whopping $3!). We were supposed to ride for an hour, but the guide took the long way back and it ended up being about an hour and 20 minutes. After about 3 minutes Adam decided that boys shouldn't ride camels. After about 45 Erin and I were ready to be done because they are VERY wide.....but it was still very fun and a once in a lifetime experience!

We walked around Essa, visited an old fortress, found Wi-Fi and ate some yummy lunch.

The afternoon we took a grand taxi to Agadir and then to Tiznit. Well, let me tell you, there is nothing GRAND about a grand taxi. A grand taxi is an itty bitty 4 door car that fits 7...yes SEVEN people inside! 4 in the back, the driver, and two on the passenger seat. This is a car that 3 in the back is a little tight....and there were 4 of us. Adam really liked sitting RIGHT next to the Moroccan man next to him. =)

We stopped in Agadir for icecream and then continued on to Tiznit. Tiznit is the town that Erin goes to for Internet and big shopping. It is also where her office is (The Rural Health Department). There is a picture of her standing in front of it.

While we were in Tiznit, we went shopping and saw the spice, bread and vegetables shops. Spices just sitting out in bags on the sidewalk and vegetables hanging out 5 feet away from goat heads. Appetizing! =)

We also took a little 15 minute trip to Aglou beach and ate yummy tagine on the beach with her friend Meredith.

After that we headed off to Ida Ousmlal to visit Erin's site!

Check out the slideshow below:

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Spring Break-Part 2-Marrakech

We arrived Sunday about noon in Marrakech Morocco. Erin met us at the airport and I was SOOO excited to see her. She took us to lunch at a cute cafe and then we started to explore the city. We stayed over night in Marrakech and hung around the next day until 5:00 when we took a bus to Essaouira.

-Lunch at the Bouganvillea Cafe
-We saw an old mosque like building circa 1070
-We experienced the market...Jamaa Ifna...straight out of Aladdin
-We saw lots of little shops where the shopkeepers said things like "OHH! Spice Girls" and "Lucky Man! Two Wives"...in English!
-We held a monkey!
-We visited the Saadian Tombs, circa 1554. They were lost until a French Aerial survey.
-We saw the Koutoubbia Mosque, circa 1184, established Moroccan mosque designs
-We ate at a Couscous restuarant with Berber singers to entertain us
-We went to Kosy Bar (even though Moroccans cannot drink because it is forbidden to drink in Islam and all Moroccans must be Muslim).
-Our hotel had a lot of character for $45 a night!
-We had m'ssemen at a yummy cafe where the waiter asked us, "Obama, is he happy?" in Tashelheet.
-The new part of Marrakech is very different than the old. It is like Aladdin versus Miami!
-We visited the Jardin Majorelle-created by some guy in the early 1900s and then cared for by Yves Saint Laurent until his death.
-I tried falafel at a sidewalk cafe-it was delicious!
-We took a fancy bus to Essa!

Check out the slideshow below:

Spring Break-Part 1-Madrid

So here come the pictures....

Adam and I spent my spring break (his week he took off work!) overseas visiting Erin! We took a very roundabout way to get to Morocco, but we had some adventures along the way (as you read in the suitcase post!).

We arrived Madrid, Spain on Saturday morning at 8:00 (even though it felt like 2:00 am our time) and set out to explore Madrid! We tried to be good, but we couldn't help but take a 3 hour nap in the middle of the afternoon. We still slept well that night...maybe the Sangria helped....

Our adventure in Spain:

-We stayed at the Hotel Emperador
-We visited the Plaza Espana (one of the many pretty parks in Madrid)
-We had breakfast at a corner cafe (Adam had a yummy dulce)
-We visited the Royal Palace and took some neat pictures until the guard tried to take me down
-We visited a cathedral near the palace
-We went to the Plaza Mayor
-We came back to the Plaza Mayor at night for yummy Paella and Sangria for dinner!
-We were very brave and took the Metro to the airport!

Check out the slideshow:

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Suitcase Saga

We are back and miraculously we were able to fit all of our stuff in our luggage and all of our toiletries in 3 oz containers in a 1 quart bag. We did, however, encounter quite the suitcase saga on our way to Madrid.

Before we go into the story...you just had to see all of the stuff mom sent for us to bring to Erin. Ok, well I can't completely blame her, I brought the magazines (thanks Kristin!) for her....but everything else was from mom!

On the plane ready for our long journey!

And the suitcase story....
We each brought one roller board suitcase and one small backpack.
Chicago to Nashville, Nashville to Miami, Miami to Madrid, overnight in Madrid, Madrid to Marrakech
On the flight from Chicago to Nashville we were on one of those itty bitty planes that only has 2 seats on either side of the aisle. Because it is an itty bitty plane, they have itty bitty overhead luggage compartments, so if you have a rolling carryon, you need to "valet" check it at the door. They put them all together and then you pick it up right after you get off the airplane at the end of the flight. So we did that. I grabbed my bag and we went to get some lunch in Nashville while we waited for our next flight. Right before we started eating, I tried to push my handle down. It didn't go down. But no big deal, right? We finished eating with the thought that it would just take a second and we would work on it when we were done. So, we finished eating and tried again. Still wouldn't work. Then we beat on it every which way for 10 minutes....still won't go down. Now, this is becoming a problem because it is getting time to board and my bag is not going to fit in the overhead bin with the handle sticking out! We talked to the gate agent in Nashville who tried to beat on it to no avail and she finally said we could gate check it and it would be waiting when we get off the plane in Miami. She also suggested Baggage Services may be of help.
Fast forward to getting off the plane in Miami. No bag. Ask the guy, he says it is probably at baggage claim. ?!?! Now we have to leave security to go all the way to baggage claim, grab it, go through security again and try not to miss our flight to Madrid????? Yup. Because union rules say they can't gate check suitcases. Only strollers. Union rules say they couldn't bring our bag back to us. OK.... So....we leave security and find the bag. We beat on it some more....still won't go down. We see Baggage Services and ask the lady if she can help. She says, "No, we are not responsible for broken handles or straps.". We ask if maybe she knows someone who could help so she points to this guy across the hallway. We ask him. He says to ask Baggage Services. We ask if he or anyone has a screw driver we could borrow. Nope. There are no screw drivers in the whole airport. Well, now we better get going through security at least. So we make it though again and arrive at the gate. I explain my dilemma to Nathan, the wonderful gate agent. He asks what row we are in and takes my bag on the plane. He comes back and explains that if we put it in sideways, then Adam's bag could go over my handle wheels first and it fits. Hallelujah!
Fast Forward 8 hours to Madrid. I'm thinking that I am going to have to buy a new suitcase in Madrid. Because EasyJet (the airline to Marrakech) is never going to allow this. We arrive at the hotel and I explain the problem to the lady at the front desk. She sends someone up to our room and through my broken Spanish and his Spanish we discuss the problem. HE has a screw driver and takes the handle apart. He leaves with the top part and comes back with a hole drilled in it. Somehow a piece had broken off inside the top part where the little button is and he drilled a hole above it so that if you push a pencil or thin stick inside, the latch releases and you can push it down or pull it up!!! We loved him. He got a HUGE tip! I didn't have to buy a new suitcase! It was comical for the rest of the trip carrying around a pencil to push in the handle every time we had to lift up or push down the handle.....but it worked!
Sorry mom and dad that your carry on is not exactly in the state you lent it to me in....but all you need is a pencil! I can't imagine that dad would have a problem carrying around a pencil to use his luggage when he travels! =)
The crazy suitcase