Saturday, January 27, 2018

Happy New Year and Happy Birthday!

It's another year and another birthday.  49.  I never in my youth could have even imagined that I would be 49, but here I am.  And it's not so bad, I guess.  The opposite is certainly worse.

Here's how my 2017 went:

January - met up with Mark in DC over my birthday.

February, March, and April - I finished up my rotations in CGFS, Charleston.  In March we went to Los Angeles and Oklahoma City.  And sold the house.  At the end of April I went to Kigali, Rwanda for a cashier monitor trip and stopped in Amsterdam on the way there.  

May - Mark and I temporarily moved to Washington, DC for my French training.

June and July - DC

August - we moved to Bamako, Mali for my second tour as an Financial Management Officer with the US Department of State.

September and October - settled into our new surroundings and routines in Bamako.

November - went on a combo work & pleasure trip to to Marrakesh, Morocco.

December - Christmas and New Years in Bamako

Right after New Years we took our first R&R trip:  Portugal and Andalusia (Spain).  That's going to be it's own post, though.

Having a small, low-key dinner with new friends for my birthday tonight (thanks, Mark, for cooking!)

Here's to 2018 and the start of my 50th year (oy).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Marrakesh Express

We've been in Bamako a bit over two months and it's already time for our first foray out of country.  First up:  Marrakesh, Morocco.  Actually, it was a combo work/play trip with a week of Africa Region budget/finance conference workshop then a few days on our own.

The workshop was great.  It was really nice to see some of my other FMO orientation colleagues.  In addition, I met FMOs and local staff from neighboring countries, DC, and Charleston.  I even got to meet my replacement (my position is bid on a year early for language training).  I learned a lot and made some great contacts.

But...Marrakesh, Sweetie!

It's a quite nice city.  Busy and hectic; historic and beautiful in many different ways.  And, yes, the shopping.  Not just in the souks and artist shops, but also in the gorgeous Carrefour supermarket.  Oh the choices!  A bag of snickers minis in Bamako is nearly $12; in Marrakesh, about $3.  Oh yes, we'll take several bags, please.

My humble tips for Marrakesh:  comfy shoes - you'll walk a lot.  If you don't stay in a riad in the Medina (old town), then at least visit one or two for dinner.  They're gorgeous.  The Maison de la Photographie is very good and has a cafe on the roof.  Visit the Ensemble Artisinale before you visit the souks - it's a good warm up if you're not used to non-stop hawking and bargaining.  Palais de la Bahia and Saadian Tombs - yes.  Musee Dar Si Said - maybe not (there were no exhibitions in the house when we visited but they failed to tell anyone that fact before taking the entrance fee).  Jardin Majorelle and Yves Saint Laurent Museum, yes and yes.

If you buy in the souks, here's my advice on that.  Before you go, know what you want and know what you're willing to pay.  Remember, the first one to mention a number in a negotiation loses.  I waited for the seller to give a first price and then usually countered my first price at 1/3 of that.  Then the games began.  "Oh, my friend, how could I feed my family on that", or "no, no, this is first quality, not like the other vendors", to "you must be Berber to propose that figure" (yes, that happened).  Back and forth until you hear "what's your final final"?  State it, then be prepared to walk.  Worked nearly every time (I did walk once).  Do you sometimes overpay?  Sure.  But it's the game and in the end you're getting something from Marrakesh that hopefully you'll enjoy for a while:  a rug or carpet, lamp, blanket, etc.  However, beware:  most of the pashminas for sale looked exactly like those for sale in Istanbul, which makes me think they're actually made somewhere else.

Anyway, here are some photos from Marrakesh.

Food and Colors


Tiles and Patterns