Archive for the 'School' Category

Help Help I’ve only got one more week in the Maghreb!!

December 11th, 2010

So, as you can see from the title, I’ve only got one more week to spend in Morocco.  I’m sort of depressed about it actually.  I just started to really settle in, I can communicate much more with my family, I’ve got a routine down.  The constant packing and moving every 3-4 months in college really irks me.  I’m the kind of person that doesn’t mind settling down and staying in one place.  I always feel this way around exam period in school.  First of all you’re feeling a little bit of stress because you have exams and final papers due, obviously, but you also know that right after you finish your exams and papers you have to pack up and travel back home for several weeks.  It’s exhausting!  It’s definitely my least favorite part of school.  I’m really feeling anxious now to because although I’m ready for school to be over, I’m not ready to leave Morocco, and I know that I’m going to spend my last week in the country doing a lot of studying.  I’d rather do some sight seeing.  There are still many places in the country that I haven’t seen.  I guess if I’m going to be optimistic about it, I could say that I’m “saving” Marrakech, Essouira, and Casablanca for when I come back to Morocco.  You know what, I’ll keep thinking along those lines.  I like that plan.  When I come back to Morocco I will make sure to get to Marrakech, Essouira, Casablanca, and Tetouan.

So, my week has been super quiet.  By quiet I mean that I really did nothing but write papers and go to school.  I’m definitely not referring to the noise level of the city because there seems to be quite a lot of little boys with exploding fire crackers in the streets this past week.  I swear I have no idea how these kids got fire crackers, sparklers, and other small explosives that you usually only see in the United States around Independence Day.  I’ve literally jumped high in the air several times in the medina from fire crackers exploding at very close quarters.  Every time there’s usually a group of giggling boys who think that scaring “western tourists” (ie: me) is just about the funniest thing in the world.  It’s interesting, I’ve been in Morocco for 3.5 months now and guys on the street still yell “Welcome to Morocco” at me when I walk past.  If only they knew.

Oh, cool thing happened this week with my internship.  Actually, last week was the last week of my internship, but at least it ended on a high note!  My last project was related to the Right of Access to Information, and this weekend, Transparency Maroc is hosting an international debate/conference/work shop on this topic.  What I did was I  researched and read  A LOT of Freedom of Information laws from countries all around the world.  I was looking for things in the law that were really unique or very strong.  I wrote a report on my findings and condensed that report into a chart that I translated into French.  Hopefully, maybe, my chart will be used as a handout at the workshop.  It would be super cool.  I got to attend part of the conference yesterday.  There were speakers there from UNESCO the Dutch Embassy, and even an Canadian expert on Freedom of Information and writing Freedom of Information laws.  It was pretty interesting, and super “legit” as we college students say.  It was at the Hotel Tour Hassan, which is a super posh hotel and they had excellent coffee, which is obviously the most important part (just kidding).  There were also translators there and you could get headphones if you couldn’t understand French.  Fortunately, I was able to understand most of what everyone was talking about, and the Canadian presented in English, so that was great.  It was a pretty good day.  Next week I’ll go into the offices for a thank you tea, and then go back to studying for my exam.   Actually, that’s something I should be doing now.  I need to get this 10 page term paper on Body Image and Beauty turned into my Gender Studies professor by Tuesday!  Wish me luck!

Calligraphy Lessons

December 2nd, 2010

So, I have to tell you that this week has been pretty quiet.  Nothing really remarkable has happened, people are just now realizing that they have term papers due and are working feverishly to get those done, including myself.  So today I was just focused on getting through classes.  Arabic went by smoothly this morning.  We’re learning about the weather.  I got the Arabic homework done during my break.  One point for being proactive!  In the afternoon I had my gender studies class where we learned about female political empowerment and youth subculture.  It was actually a very interesting class. I was introduced to Moroccan hip hop; we listened to songs by one group called Fnaire.  Their songs have political and social messages.  This one is called “Don’t Touch My Country” (English translation) (ماتقيش بلادي) and it is speaking out against terrorism.

So, after classes were over we had the choice to stay for a calligraphy demonstration.  I enjoy doing calligraphy at home, and so I thought that learning how to do Arabic calligraphy would be very cool.  It turns out that the person doing the demonstration was Mohamed Qarmad, one of the best Arabic calligraphers in the Muslim world!  (See Mr. Qarmad at work) It was so exciting!  There were only five of us who were there for the demonstration, so he wrote our names in calligraphy on a piece of paper for us, in several different fonts.  He even made a design that we could take to a jewelers and get set in a gold pendant! 🙂  He did this all for free too.  I can’t believe I just got free artwork from one of the best calligraphers in the Muslim world.  I am definitely taking this paper home and framing it!

This is my name in Arabic, written in several different fonts

While you were eating Turkey…

November 27th, 2010

So, while all my lovely friends and family in the United States were eating way too much turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, I was sitting in class like I do every Thursday here.  I got up at 6:45am, ate breakfast, walked 25 minutes to school for Arabic at 8am, and the day progressed as normal from there.  However, today was different because after my class entitled “Gender and Society in North African and Beyond”, I drove over to Hay Riad (a neighborhood of Rabat) with my classmates from my “Managing Communications in Arab Organizations” to our professor’s house for tea.  Our communications professor has a beautiful house, and she had laid out a glorious spread of sweets, juices, and tea.  There were probably at least 15 different kinds of cookies and sweets, including a very delicious cake that her daughter had made for us.  We drank freshly squeezed mango juice and Moroccan tea with just a hint of jasmine, which was lovely.  I really love the smell of jasmine, and last year during one of my late night study sessions I found out that I really liked jasmine tea, so I was quite pleased with this arrangement.

Anyway, after tea we headed over to an art exhibit by Rachid Sebti (see a short biography here) that was being sponsored by the Fondation CDG (Caisse de Depot et de Gestion).  Our communications professor seems to know a lot of really important people in Rabat, and she also seems to know where they all hang out.  This gallery was the perfect example.  As we were arriving she points to a man leaving the exhibit exclaiming “Oh girls that was the Minister of Culture!”  Yes, high level members of the Moroccan government hang out at these events.  Additionally, we met a very famous Moroccan architect and a Moroccan movie actor whose names I sadly cannot recall.  I was more excited to actually meet and shake hands with Fatema Mernissi whose novel Dreams of Trespass and book The Veil and the Male Elite, I had read excerpts of in my Gender and Society class.  She is a very famous Moroccan author and feminist and it was so cool to actually meet her in person, my classmates and I were just giddy!

Last bit of exciting news, while we were there, who should arrive but the American ambassador and his wife!  Yes, we were awestruck, it was so exciting.  We went over and talked to them for a little bit, chatting about our school, Thanksgiving, and Morocco.  It was very nice, and all these Moroccan journalists were snapping pictures of us and I’m pretty sure these pictures will be published in a magazine fairly shortly!  I will have to start checking out the kiosks to see if I can find the magazine the pictures are published it. 🙂

So all in all, it was a very satisfying (albeit unorthodox) Thanksgiving day.  I think that if I can’t be with my family eating food all day long, than meeting famous people and high level political figures might just be the next best thing.

Thanksgiving-Moroccan Style

November 25th, 2010

First of all, I just want to wish everyone in the United States a very Happy Thanksgiving!!  Thanksgiving is probably my very favorite holiday, scoring well above Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Valentine’s Day, etc.  For one, I get to eat as much pie as I want, and pie (at least my mother’s) is my favorite dessert.  My mother makes all the pies Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so the holiday for me at least, seems to start a day earlier, which is great!  In addition, I get to eat all the other “traditional” Thanksgiving foods that we usually only have at this time of year.  Cranberry sauce is probably the best example of this.  In the past, we’ve had three different types of cranberry sauce, the jellied kind you get from the can, a homemade sauce with whole cranberries and other yummy spices, and a cranberry/orange relish which is the best when you eat it on oatmeal the day after.  Also, Thanksgiving is the one holiday where my family travels to be with our extended family.  We don’t live extremely close to any of our relatives, so it is extra special when we do travel to see them for Thanksgiving.  My cousins and I usually have a blast camping out on the floor in their basement all week.  🙂  Since I’ve come to Wooster, I’ve spent the holiday with the other side of my family who actually lives in Ohio, while my immediate family spends the holidays with family in New England.  Either way, I’m surrounded by people whom I love, and only get to see at certain times of the year; I’m eating a whole ton of delicious food, and reflecting on everything that’s happened to me over the year, and all the things I have that I should be thankful for.  This is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

So this year, I’m in Morocco for Thanksgiving, which is not celebrated in Morocco.  What do I do???  Well, our program director coordinated a Thanksgiving potluck dinner on Wednesday night for all the students of my program.  Each person was asked to bring one dish.  I brought garlic mashed potatoes.  Yummy.  Not my most favorite Thanksgiving food, but it is easy to make and the ingredients are easy to find in Morocco.   So, Wednesday morning between classes I did a bunch of shopping for all my ingredients, including 3 kilos of potatoes.  I had to bring enough for 19 students, plus guests, so I figured it was better to make too much, and have leftovers than to not make enough.  Anyway, there was quite a spread yesterday evening.  There was a huge 9 kilo turkey, prepared Moroccan-style with lots of olives, different potato and vegetable dishes, macaroni and cheese, Moroccan salad, salsa and guacamole, cheese and crackers, fruit salads, deviled eggs, cakes, ice cream, pumpkin cheesecake, and Oreo cookies.  I brought my host mother with me, since she helped me make the potatoes.  She doesn’t speak English or French, but fortunately, many of the professors were there and she could speak in Arabic with them.  My friends could also introduce themselves to her, which was nice.  I hope she enjoyed an American Thanksgiving.  I wonder if her experience was similar to my experiences here in Morocco.  In Morocco I encountered new foods, a new way of eating, even a new attitude about food.  I would imagine her experience was at least a little bit similar to mine, with some of the foods, or even not being able to understand the majority of the conversations that are going on around her.

All in all though, it was a great Thanksgiving dinner.  I am really thankful that our program staff made such a tremendous effort to make sure that we had a nice Thanksgiving experience away from home.  Tonight I’ll talk to my family in the United States, and wish them well.  I don’t feel as if I’ve really missed out on this holiday at all, despite the fact that I’m thousands of miles from home.  I’ve got so much to be thankful for.  I’m here in Morocco having an absolutely amazing experience for one thing.  I love school and can’t believe I have such good friends there.  My family has been so supportive of all the decisions I’ve made over the last few years, and I feel confident in myself and am extremely optimistic about my future.  So, even though I’m missing the big Thanksgiving feast, I don’t think I’ve missed out on the real purpose of Thanksgiving.  In fact, I think this year I’ve understood what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about even better than when I’m back at home eating squash and pumpkin pie.

What I did after Eid.

November 21st, 2010

To tell you the truth, not much.  I mostly just hung around my house, curled up under a huge fluffy blanket watching movies, doing research for the two term papers that I have to write, and in general just resting.  So basically, it was how I normally spend Thanksgiving break in the United States.  It’s good though, because it really gives my brain a chance to rest.  Sometimes I get so wound up and stressed it is just nice to sit and do virtually nothing for a couple of days so your brain can rest and recover, like a sprained ankle.  I spend just enough time doing nothing so that I long to return to school once more so that I feel as if my life has a purpose once again.  To be honest I’m a bit antsy, and oddly enough I’m quite looking forward to the 30 minute walk to school tomorrow morning at 7:30am.  I miss walking, and it is sometimes difficult for women in Morocco to just go out for a walk, so the other day, I went to buy a stamp so I could mail a letter to my grandmother, and I took the longest route possible to a store very far away from my house where I knew I could buy stamps.  Then I took another different, but equally as long route back home.  All in all I think I was gone from my house for at least an hour.  It was perfect, I got the fresh air I had been craving, and I found out (to my great joy) that it was actually warmer outside than it was inside my house!

After my sneaky little walk in the morning I had an especially good tagine for lunch.  Actually, let’s clear up some stuff.  I’ve been a vegetarian for five years, but in Morocco, I decided that it would be better and easier for me if I was more flexible with my diet.  So, I told myself that if I absolutely had to eat meat, then I should just suck it up and try it.  I was going to try really hard not to offend anyone, so since I’ve been here I’ve been eating small amounts of chicken and fish, although I still find red meat slightly repulsive; I’m not a fan of the texture, taste, smell, or the way it looks.  Nothing about beef, lamb, goat, sheep, rabbit, deer appeals to me at all and that’s one of the reasons I became a vegetarian in the first place.  So, when I say I ate a really good tagine, I mean that the prunes in the sheep tagine were excellent, because that was the only part of the tagine I liked.  I tried to eat sheep meat on the Eid, but it has a very pungent odor, and it just wasn’t working for me.  So, my host mother has been AMAZING and has been fixing me chicken cutlets in place of the sheep, which as far as I can tell, hardly anyone I’ve met in Morocco considers it to be real meat.

Wow, that was an awfully long (and somewhat pretentious) tangent I went off on, sorry.  So, I think I was at the point where I went to a cafe with my friend/neighbor/classmate from IES Rabat and one of my Moroccan friends, hung out there for a bit, and then my IES Rabat friend and I went to do a little souvenir shopping for our families in the medina.   Afterwords it was back to the house, study a bit more, and then back out for a nice dinner out with some of my friends who had decided not to travel abroad during the Eid and were presumably feeling just as cooped up and antsy and I was.  My friend had just taken the GRE that morning so our dinner out was sort of celebrating her completion of a very important part of applying to graduate school.  We went to Agdal for dinner, which is the nice, newer neighborhood of Rabat.  While we were eating dessert, we met a couple of Americans who were working with the Peace Corps.  One of them was actually a Peace Corps worker we had all met when we visited Ben Smim.  It was nice to see him again.  They had all taken the GRE as well, and wouldn’t be heading back to their sites for a couple of days.  I’m so glad I have been able to talk to current Peace Corps volunteers about their experiences.  I’ve thought quite a bit about joining the Peace Corps in the future.  I’ve had family members who’ve done their fair share of time with the Peace Corps, and they’ve had wonderful experiences, but those family members are older than my mother, so it was nice to be able to talk to one of my peers and see what he thinks of his experiences.  Let me tell you, Peace Corps is not for the faint of heart.  Actually, I learned that Morocco has the second largest concentration of Peace Corps volunteers after the Ukraine.  So, if I decided that in the future I would like to volunteer in the Peace Corps for a few years I have a very good chance of being placed back in Morocco, which would be pretty cool.  It would be a totally different experience than the one I’m having now, which would be so unbelievably cool, and I know my Darija would be pretty good by the time I got through.  So yeah, that was my Saturday night, it was actually a fairly “crazy” night compared to my usual routine of eating dinner at home, and then going to bed.

Lastly, I’ve really got to make a To Do list so I can get all the stuff I want to get done, well, done.  The first few items will probably be emails I need to write, the next few will be places I want to visit still, like Casablanca, the next few will be a sort of schedule to keep me on top of my homework while I’m busy doing everything else on my list, because I’m devastated to say this, but I only have one more month left in Morocco!!! 🙁  My goodness time flies when you’re having fun.  I just know that when I leave I’m going to have so much to think through and process.  Right now everything is happening in the moment, and I’ve gotten used to the culture here, and I just know that when I get back to the United States my brain will be working overtime trying to make sense of all my experiences.  Sounds like a lot of fun, I can’t wait!  But actually, I really can.

عيد مبرك سعيد Eid Mobarak Said!

November 18th, 2010

So yesterday was the Eid el-Kabeer.  It is the the biggest holiday in the Muslim calender.  It is in honor of Abraham, who is considered to be the first Muslim.  Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his son Ishmael (in Jewish and Christians traditions it is Isaac), but as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, God sent a sheep to be sacrificed instead.  So, on the Eid, all Muslim families, if they can afford it, are supposed to slaughter a sheep.  My family slaughtered two.  Yes, that’s right, I witnessed the slaughtering of two sheep.  And I took pictures.  I don’t think I’ll post a whole lot because they are a little shocking.  When a sheep’s throat is cut, there is a lot of blood.  I think it’s a little bit comforting to know that before the sheep is killed you have to say a prayer thanking God for this wonderful gift.  That’s part of what makes meat halal, the prayer before the animal is killed.  For those of you who don’t know, halal meat is basically the equivalent of kosher meat.   A Muslim is supposed to eat only meat that is prepared according to certain guidelines, it has to be killed by having it’s throat cut with a very sharp knife, which is considered to be the most humane way to kill an animal, you must say a blessing before you kill it, and all the blood has to be drained out afterwords.

Interestingly, not only do they eat the meat, but also many of the organs.  In fact, the day of Eid you eat the organs for lunch and dinner.  That’s right, I helped my mother make heart, liver, and fat kabobs, which we then ate on sandwiches.  For the record, I tried my hardest to eat my whole sandwich, but I just couldn’t do it.  Even with copious amounts of chili power, cumin, salt, and pepper it was still rough going down.  When my host sister said “You don’t have to eat the whole thing if you don’t want to,” I was like, “l-Humdullah!!” (Thank God!).  Then I ate about three oranges to get the taste out of my mouth.  It wasn’t that it’s really nasty and gross.  The smell is actually pretty decent and the texture is surprisingly firm, and in no way slimy or gross, but there was something about it that I just didn’t like.  I find that with all red meats, and organs from red meat animals there is something about it that I just don’t like.  It has definitely reaffirmed my devotion to vegetarianism when I return to the states.  However, if I had to rank them, I would rank sheep meat over beef.

Actually, Eid reminded me a lot of Thanksgiving (which is next week!!).  My entire host family got together, including the brothers that don’t live at home.  One brother is married and has a beautiful little girl, I was really happy to see them.  Another similarity is that my mother is busy cooking all day, which is the same at my house for Thanksgiving.  In fact, she has been busy cooking all day today too, so it’s even more similar.  At my house we start cooking the day before Thanksgiving to make everything we want to have at dinner.  I was very happy with how the day went.  I slept like a baby too.  I didn’t really do anything all day, but I was still exhausted.  I think it was a crash from the huge adrenaline rush I got during the sheep slaughtering.  It was quite shocking at first, and my heart rate was WAY up for a long time that day, especially because there were still buckets of organs sitting around, and the sheep carcasses hanging from the ceiling.  But, I’ve made my peace with it all, which I’m proud of.  If people want to eat hamburgers and chicken fingers this is what has to happen.  Anyway, I have the rest of the week off from school!!  I think I will use this time to study, write term papers, and go on adventures with my friends.  Hopefully, I’ll get to go to the exotic gardens in Salé, or maybe the Chellah (Roman ruins in Rabat).  Maybe I’ll just go ice skating with my host sister.  Who knows?  I’ve got several days to plan all this out. 🙂

Recap: Weekends in Rabat

November 16th, 2010

So, I haven’t spent all my weekends abroad gallivanting across the country or strolling through Europe.  Some of the time I’ve just stayed put in good old Rabat, or as it is written in Arabic, الرباط .  Ever since I’ve discovered that Macs have built in Arabic QWERTYs I’ve been practicing like crazy and writing all my friends’ names in Arabic characters and showing them over skype and facebook.  It’s a really nerdy thing to do, but it’s actually pretty good practice.

So what goes on in Rabat over the weekends?  Not much actually.  Rabat is a great city, but it’s not very touristy.  Which is actually really great for study abroad students because touristy places like Fez and Marrakesh can actually be really overwhelming.  Therefore, what I do in Rabat on weekends is do all my homework, and go to bed early and get a full night’s sleep.  It’s a great routine, I feel well rested and energetic during the day, and my house gets wonderful natural sunlight which actually makes doing homework a lot more enjoyable!

Interspersed among the homework are trips to cafes, sometimes to do more homework, shopping adventures in the markets in the medina, and generally hanging out with friends.  Often times American students studying abroad in Spain will spend one or two nights at my house when their study abroad program comes to Morocco for the weekend.  That’s a really cool experience because I can show them around the city, and share my experiences with them.  I also end up doing a lot of translating since these students generally don’t speak any Arabic or French.  One weekend, the student from IES Abroad-Grenada were in Spain, and I actually helped give these students formal tours around the medina.  While doing so I also get to meet other Moroccan university students who volunteer to take these Americans around the medina.  It’s a really great intercultural exchange because we have three different perspectives going on, the Moroccan perspective, the perspective of the American living in Morocco, and the perspective of an American who has been living in another foreign country and who is visiting Morocco for the first time.  It would be even better if we had a Moroccan whose visited the US or an American fresh off the plane from the states who hasn’t had time to get accustomed to another culture.

Last weekend, I actually had a really interesting weekend.  On Saturday I went with some Moroccan friends to a concert.  It was a really interesting experience because even sit-down concerts in theaters are different in Morocco.  For instance, you can take pictures during the performance, with the flash on!!!  That definitely wouldn’t fly in the US where they have nice little reminders before the show starts to “turn off all cell phones, cameras, and other recording devices.”  The concert consisted of performances by two different bands.  One band was a gnaoua/jazz/funk fusion band.  It was really cool, they played a lot of traditional Moroccan music (gnaoua), but spiced it up with trombones, trumpets, saxophones, and an electric bass.  The second band was a Spanish jazz/funk awesome band.  Both bands has Spanish dancers accompany them, and the gnaoua band also had break dancers.  It was a really cool performance.  I’m so glad I got the opportunity to go.

On Sunday, it was time to get to business and DO SOME HOMEWORK!  I have several term papers due soon so I thought I’d get a jump start on them and find some sources for the papers.  I got bogged down in work for my internship though, so I didn’t get a lot of term paper work done.  I was however, interrupted from my studies by my host mother telling me to go over to my neighbor’s house, who also happened to be a student in IES Rabat as well.  So, I threw on my hoodie, and some flip flops, and walked over.  Turns out they were having a party.  All the women were wearing caftans and dancing, and I was in jeans, a sweatshirt, and mismatched flip flops.  Turns out it doesn’t really matter that much whether or not you are dressed for a party.  If you can dance, they will love you.  There was a live band too, which was really cool.  The party was to honor the birth of a baby.  I think it was a boy, but neither me, nor my friend knew for sure.  Anyway, I had a nice time dancing, clapping along with the music, drinking mint tea, and eating lots of cookies.  All in all, it was a good way to spend the weekend.

Work weeks in Rabat are pretty low key as well.  I go to school, I go to my internship, I do my homework, occasionally I will meet up with some friends for tea at a cafe.  I might engage in some sort of cultural activity that is planned by my program.  I almost always eat dinner at my home stay because home cooked meals in Morocco are where you can get the best food.  Yesterday I walked along the beach and it was beautiful.  The waves were so big!  It’s actually getting pretty chilly in Morocco.  The nights are quite cool and I’m definitely thankful for the giant blanket my mom gave me a while back.  At the time when I first got it there was no way I was going to sleep under it…i could barely tolerate a thin sheet, but now, well, I’m glad it’s there.

Also, I have Wednesday through Friday off from school this week.  Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the Eid Kabeer, the Muslim religious holiday where they commemorate God’s intervention when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Ishmael (or Isaac if you talk to Jewish or Christian people).  As Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, God sent a sheep to Abraham to be sacrificed instead, and Abraham is thought to be the first Muslim, so this is a very important and significant day.  So what does one do on the Eid??  To be honest, all Muslim families, if they can afford it, get a sheep and slaughter it.  So, the week or so before the Eid the streets are full of people taking home sheep.  There are currently two sheep tied up outside my room right now.  I’m doing my best to not get attached in any way, I’ve avoided looking at them, and have interacted with them only briefly because I know they will be killed tomorrow.  In kind or a weird way, I think that most people who eat meat (especially Americans) could learn something from watching an animal being killed, cooked, and eaten.  Just reading about meat production in the United States is nauseating…I mean, making chickens so fat that they can’t even stand up, and then killing them, and selling the meat in the stores after it has been washed in chlorine??  Ew.  Also, I think people need to be reminded of the process of obtaining meat is pretty messy.  Maybe this is just my way of thinking after five years of vegetarianism, so you can feel free to form your own opinions on the matter.

Regardless, I’m super excited for Eid tomorrow.  It’s supposed to be one of the best times of the year!  It will definitely take the place of Thanksgiving, which is not celebrated in Morocco.  We’ll have a small celebration at our study abroad center, but no holiday unfortunately.  I can definitely empathize now with the international students who come to Wooster and have to miss cool festivals like Holi and Eid.

¡Me gusta España!

November 12th, 2010

Wow, have I gotten terrible at updating this blog.  I just find it really weird that I technically have a lot of free time, more free time than I’ve had in a while (ok, since I’ve been to college) and I can’t find 30 minutes to sit down and write about Morocco.  Actually, this post will be a little different because I’m going to write about Spain.  Cordoba and Grenada to be specific.  Yes, the long awaited, and much needed trip to Spain took place last weekend over a span of four fun-filled, action-packed days.  We left Rabat at 7am, heading for Tangier where we would take a ferry across the Mediterranean Ocean to Tarifa, Spain.  Our program director surprised us by informing us that his visa had expired just days ago, and therefore he would be unable to come with us.  Fortunately, IES Abroad has a program in Grenada, so we just had the IES Grenada staff meet us in Tarifa, and then take us around Cordoba and Grenada over the next four days.  The IES Grenada staff were amazing.  They were so nice and cool, and extremely flexible with us.  I think they were surprised at how small our program was.  There are only 19 of us studying in Morocco, and there are 120ish students with IES Grenada.  That’s a big difference.  I know the full name and several childhood anecdotes of many of the people in my group, whereas some of the Grenada kids aren’t sure of each others names.

Anyway, we got to Tangier, filled out the little Customs paper that you fill out when entering or exiting Morocco, passed through “security” and boarded the ferry.  Yes, security was a little comical.  There was an x-ray machine, that had nobody watching the images as they came through, and metal detectors, with nobody monitoring those either.  You could literally just walk right onto the ferry if you wanted.  The ferry was really quite nice.  There was a bar, a snack bar, comfy seats, and two levels.  It was really really big too.  I’m not quite sure how to describe it because the only ferries I generally travel on are the ferries that cross Lake Champlain between New York and Vermont, and they are by no means luxurious.  Our amazement at the grandeur of the ferry was short lived though, because it only takes about 30 minutes to get from Tangier to Tarifa.  That’s right, Morocco is only 30 minutes away from Europe.  It takes me 30 minutes to drive from my house to the other end of my hometown.  There’s perspective for you.

When we first got to Spain, we were immediately hit by reverse culture shock.  I was amazed at how fast it hit me.  I think it started with the garbage free streets.  Soon we were all pointing out all the differences between Morocco and Spain.  “Where are all the cats?” “Why don’t I hear any car horns?” “The cat calls, what happened to the cat calls!” Things of this nature.  We also kept mixing up languages.  I remember distinctly struggling to thank a waiter at the hotel restaurant.  I stuttered between Arabic, French, and English before I could spit out the Spanish “¡Gracias!” but by then he’d been gone a while.

Our first day was spend in Cordoba.  We spent the day touring the city, wandering through the old Jewish quarter, snapping pictures of the oldest synagogue in Cordoba, and rubbing the shoes of the statue of Maimonides, one of the most famous Jewish philosophers ever, who lived in Cordoba, and is coincidentally buried in Fez.  We also got to see one of the most famous sites in Cordoba, the Mezquita.  When the Muslims controlled Cordoba they built an amazing mosque, capable of holding over 40,000 people.  When the Christians reconquered Cordoba instead of destroying the mosque, they built a Catholic cathedral right in the middle of it, and even today it is still being used as a church.  The Mezquita was absolutely beautiful, it very clearly used to be a mosque.  It was built with an exterior courtyard, beautiful arches, and tessellating geometric designs, but then as your eyes wandered along the walls, there would be little shrines to Christian saints, and other altars that were clearly Christian.  There was also no mistaking the cathedral in the middle of the mosque for a catholic one either.  It looked just as beautiful as the churches and cathedrals I’d already seen in Europe, and in some cases, much more ornate.  It was so interesting to see how much of an influence the Muslims had in this part of Spain.  I swear, when Morocco becomes a developed country I think it will look very much like Cordoba.

After visiting the mezquita, we had a delicious lunch of tapas and sangria.  I’m so glad I discovered how much I like tapas.  I didn’t have to sit and debate which dish I wanted, I could just get two or three tapas.  I also discovered that it’s actually easier to be a vegetarian in Morocco than it is in Spain.  In Spain they like to sprinkle your food with bits of ham, which is fine, if they tell you they’re going to do it before you actually get it.  I swear, I ordered a tapas plate that was very traditional to Cordoba, a sort of tomato paste; it reminded me of  Campbell’s tomato soup in color, but it tasted better, and I got the tomato paste, and the ham they had sprinkled on top of it.  Wasn’t expecting that.  Fortunately, I could pick it off.  Later on, I found that fried eggplants in molasses is a particularly delicious vegetarian option.   Also, churros dipped in chocolate while sipping Irish coffee in the middle of the afternoon is probably one of the best things ever.  For those of you who are wondering, churros are long strips of fried doughnut.  Yes, fried doughnut, and you can get a cup of melted chocolate to dip them in.  Can someone say WONDERFUL?  I know I can.

So, after Cordoba we made our way to Grenada, another wonderful city in southern Spain.  Nestled right in the mountains, Grenada is actually really cold at this time of year.  Our group spent a lot of time in between exclamations of wonder and amazement complaining about the cold weather.  I personally don’t know what they were talking about, I thought the weather was great.  So in Grenada, there’s this old city called the Alhambra that was built by the Muslims when they still controlled southern Spain in the middle ages.  Like the Mezquita, the Alhambra is absolutely beautiful.  I felt that each room of the Alhambra we went into the more ornate and beautiful it got.  Quranic versus were carved into the walls of these rooms in beautiful calligraphy, and the roofs were painted with beautiful designs and motifs.  One of the roofs was painted to represent the seven levels of Heaven the Prophet Mohamed traveled through the night of his ascension.

Oh fun story, when I was at the Alhambra this elderly couple started talked to some of us, I assume because they heard us speaking English.  Anyway, I found out they are from Vermont!  When they found out I was from Vermont too I got a big hug from the wife.  They were retired, on a nice little vacation; the husband was a chemical engineer and the wife was in the advertising business, or may it was professional fund raising.  Something like that.

Another way Spain is different from Morocco is that Spain has a much bigger night life.  It was kind of funny, we were all really set to experience this hoppin’ night life, but the first night we were all ready to go to bed by 10:30.  In Morocco, most of us go to bed by 11:00pm because we have to get up before 7am to get to school on time.  This makes us an extremely well-rested group of college students, a rarity, and a feeling I’ve been savoring because I know that sleep will soon become a coveted commodity next semester when I’ll have to balance two Junior Independent Studies, two other classes, a campus job, and chorus rehearsal four times a week.  So anyway, the first night was a bit of a dud, but the next night we all manned up and went out, and most of us didn’t go home until the wee hours of the morning.  I believe my bedtime that night was actually technically a “morning time” since I didn’t go back to the hotel until 5am, and didn’t actually go to bed until 6am.  At 8:30am I was back up and all set to go walk around the Alhambra.  It was a little rough, but ultimately, I didn’t really feel the two hours of sleep until the day after, when we were heading back to Morocco.  That was fine since our day was filled with bus and ferry rides, so I got in plenty of nap time.

Okay, that was pretty much my Spain adventure.  I thoroughly enjoyed the few short days I was in Spain.  The cities and countrysides were beautiful, the people were friendly, the food was great, I would definitely go back in the future.  Still, I’m glad I didn’t study abroad in Europe.  For one, it’s really expensive.  Europe is not gentle on your wallet like Morocco.  Another thing is that I don’t know if I could have kept up with the Spanish nightlife, which as far as I can tell, is a huge part of youth culture.  I mean, I can stay out until 5 or 6am once, but multiple times a week?  My body might not like that too much.  Additionally, living in a country where the culture is so different from the United States gives you so many new experiences and so many new perspectives and insights that I’m not sure can be attained as fully in Europe.  I mean, I’ve stayed in towns where the cows live in the houses with the people, and here in Rabat when it rains, it literally rains inside my house.  Can you have those experiences in Europe?  I’m not sure, maybe, but it would be difficult.

Wedding!! (Moroccan Style)

October 27th, 2010

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I had made plans to stay in Rabat last weekend.  I was serendipitously invited to a wedding last weekend!  Go me!  S., a classmate of my host sister invited me.  I had met her a week or so before when walking home with my host mother and sister, and she invited me for coffee.  Then she invited me to a wedding; quite the leap I think.  But I was like “Oh my gosh I get to go to a Moroccan wedding!!! Who’s getting married?”  I didn’t learn that bit of information until the first night of the wedding.  Yes, I said FIRST night.  This wedding lasted two days (technically three).  The first night is the henna party.  The bride is dressed up in a beautiful caftan, and henna is put all over her hands and feet.  The groom also presents the dowry to the bride, and if she accepts his dowry, they exchange rings and are officially engaged.  According to the Quran, it is the man who must give the woman a dowry because in the case of a divorce the woman should be left with some property of her own.

So, that first night, I went to the groom’s home first because S. is related to the groom.  She called him her “uncle” but I think he was actually her mother’s cousin.  My logic governing this presumption is because she calls her aunt, who is only 23, her “sister.”  Moroccan families are so tight knit that it really doesn’t matter how you are related to each other, but just simply that you are related to each other.  So anyway, we got to the apartment, and sat down in the salon where a bunch of women were sitting.  A few of them were playing small hand drums, and all of them were singing marriage songs.  The songs generally translate to something along the lines of “your sweet-heart is coming,” I think, according to what S. told me.  I can’t be sure, my Arabic’s not that good.  Then we loaded the bride’s dowry into the bed of a pick-up truck.  Women carried down trays and trays of beautiful clothes, make-up, even lingerie.  There was also a cow in another pick-up truck, also part of the dowry.  Best wedding present ever!!!  So after that was all set, we stood behind the trucks, along with every member of the family and then some, and a group of men armed with drums, bells, and horns.  When the men started playing we started singing, clapping, and walking towards the bride’s house.

The bride’s family was waiting outside for us, and we serenaded them for a bit.  Actually, it was more of an ensemble piece because they were singing right along with us.  We unloaded the truck and brought the dowry into the salon where the bride was sitting, faced covered in a lacy green veil one might wear to a St. Patrick’s Day party in the USA, and a woman was busy applying henna to her hands.  Both the soles and tops of her feet had already been covered in swirly, flowery henna designs, which had been bedazzled with jewels and sprinkled with glitter.  It was beautiful.  I then got dragged into another room by S. where she applied make up to my face, and I changed into the ghandoura (a kind of traditional Moroccan dress) that I had brought with me.  When I went back into the salon, someone had pulled the veil back off the brides face, and taken the dowry somewhere else.  The bride looked beautiful!  She wore an ornate caftan, mostly cream colored, but withe green highlights and jewelry to match her veil.  She and the groom exchanged rings, and then fed each other dates and milk (much like when American couples feed each other cake at the reception).  For the rest of the night we just sat around, and took pictures with the bride and groom, and ate couscous.  It was my favorite kind of couscous too.  This couscous is served with onions, raisins, cinnamon, garbanzo beans, and other foods to give it a very sweet flavor, in contrast with the vegetable couscous I usually eat (which is also very good).  That was the end of Day 1.

Day 2:  I leave my house with S. and her mother to go rent a nice caftan for the actual ceremonial part of the wedding.  I got a very pretty caftan that was royal blue, with a gold inner skirt and embroidery.  Caftans are dresses that generally have bell sleeves and belts, and look as though you have two dresses layered over each other, and in some cases you do.  You could tell if you looked at the skirt of my caftan that it was two layers because the blue skirt opened up at the bottom to show off the gold under-dress.  We went back to the groom’s home where we ate dinner, put on our caftans, and did hair, make up, etc.  I also ended up wearing about six different perfumes to the wedding.  Hold on, I’m sorry, that’s an exaggeration, I think I only had five different perfumes.  People just kept coming up to me and spraying me with whatever bottle of smelly stuff they just happened to have on them.

So we all squeezed into a car that took us to the rented hall where the ceremony would take place.  Think how American weddings, alright American weddings based on Judeo-Christian tradition, have a ceremony, and a separate reception following the ceremony.  Okay, now imagine combining the ceremony and reception into one big event, and that gives you a base line, minimalist idea of what to expect at a Moroccan wedding.  What I’m saying is the dancing and eating are interspersed throughout the ceremony, if not directly part of the ceremony itself.  The hall itself was beautifully decorated with lots of tables and chairs for the many guests, a band, a TV crew to film the wedding, which would then be re-watched countless times by relatives in the future, and a big gold couch at the front of the hall where the bride and groom get to sit.  As guests poured in, they were all greeted, and kissed my the bride’s mother.  Then they were given dates and milk.  In Morocco, it is customary to feed special guests dates and milk.  It is actually delicious, I highly recommend it.  I watched all the women come in dressed to the nines in beautiful, colorful caftans.  I also watched the men file in, some in traditional djellabas, others in suits, a lot in jeans and hoodies.  It was quite a difference compared to the extravagantly dressed women, but then again, the bride in this ceremony was WAY more dressed up than the groom.

The happy couple didn’t even arrive until midnight.  They were drummed into the hall by the same drumming, bell ringing, horn blowing guys who had escorted the groom to the bride’s house the night before.  The groom was leading the bride who had her face covered in a lacy gold veil this time.  The couple was also surrounded by these guys dressed in red and wearing long white cloaks, which they held up to shield the bride and groom.  The bride then got in a little domed box thing, and then the guys in red lifted her up in the air on their shoulders and danced around with her down the aisle.  Guests crowded around this procession, trying to get pictures.  The bride smiled and waved back, looking a little nervous.  I don’t blame her, I would be a little nervous if I was getting married too.  I also wouldn’t want to be dropped by the guys that were carrying me around.  She was soon set down, and the couple adjourned to the couch where they sat for a lot time as people crowded around to take pictures.

The rest of the wedding basically consisted of a lot of picture taking, dancing, and the entrances and exits of the bride and groom.  Each time they returned, the bride was dressed in a different caftan, each one as beautiful, if not more beautiful that the one before it.  I saw her in six different dresses that night.  At one point, both she and the groom got back in the little box thing (one at a time, of course) and got another turn being hoisted onto the shoulders of these four men, and danced around the hall.  This time, people threw rose petals at them, and often, the bride or groom, whoever was in the box at that time, would throw the petals right back.

There was a lot of food consumed at this wedding too.  For the first course of dinner, each table go three chickens.  Three.  In Morocco you eat with your hands, so it was really interesting to watch people sit and tear the meat off the carcass.  It would have been completely inappropriate in the United States, and therefore it was so totally awesome.  The second course was a beef tagine with prunes.  It’s actually really delicious, at least, the prunes are.  I’ve been a vegetarian for 6 years, but decided to be polite, and culturally sensitive, I would suck it up and try to eat just a little meat while in Morocco.  If a Moroccan offers you meat, he or she is offering the most expensive part of the meal, and it’s not very polite to refuse.  Anyway, I’ve been able to stomach chicken and some fish, but that’s it.  Red meat is a no-can-do.  It just makes my stomach churn, so I eat around it, and that is how I discovered that the prunes in that beef tagine were really good.  We then ate fruit, and cookies.  Later we got more sweets, and at the end of the wedding we finally got to eat the wedding cake, which was sweet, but light.  The ceremony culminated in the bride and groom sharing a dance together, and with the rest of their guests, and then throwing little packets of chocolate at us.  The time was 6am Sunday morning.  As I mentioned before the wedding lasted two, technically three, days.  As I stumbled back to the groom’s family’s house, I changed out of my caftan and into a nightgown a grandmother had given me, and completely passed out on one of the couches.  It had been a great weekend.  I was so glad I had this opportunity to get to experience firsthand such a special ceremony, which is pretty much unique to every culture.  It was funny, throughout the night everyone was asking me if I wanted to have a Moroccan wedding when I got married.  “Mumkin” (maybe) I answered, and to be honest, it could be a lot of fun.

Chefchaouen, and a little taste of Scotland

October 20th, 2010

Last weekend was spent in a little city nestled in the Rif Mountains.  Chefchaouen is probably one of the prettiest cities I’ve been to in Morocco so far.  It fully satisfied my insatiable thirst for mountain scenery, a geographical feature I really miss when I’m in Rabat, or even back at Wooster. Chefchaouen is built on a mountain, so the streets slope steeply, which is either really good if you’re going down hill, or a really great work out if you’re going in the other direction.  Chefchaouen is know in Morocco for three things, water, textiles… and hashish.  While wandering around the medina it was not uncommon to smell the hash that shop keepers or tourists were smoking.  It was an interesting experience to say the least.  Another really cool thing about Chefchaouen is that the medina is painted almost entirely blue.  All the houses, doors, windows, streets, stairs, everything, was painted some shade of blue.  It was very mellowing, I felt like I was under the sea, like I was the Little Mermaid or something.  If you know me well, you’ll know that The Little Mermaid was probably one of my favorite movies as a little girl, so this was a lot of fun for me. 🙂

The Hotel we stayed at was called Hotel Scotlandy, and it was run by Scottish people.  It was really interesting, not to mention a little surprising to find these Scottish family who ran this hotel in the middle of Morocco.  They had a son who was the same age as my brother, and actually also had the same name as my brother.  It was weird, and kind of funny because my brother was actually voted “most likely to become British” by his eighth grade class, although I don’t think that Scottish people technically think of themselves as “British.”   So, anyway, the son was really cool and didn’t mind showing us around the medina (or making us tea).  Seriously, I had forgotten how good Earl Grey tea is.  I’ve been drinking sweet mint green tea every since I came to Morocco, and don’t get me wrong, it’s delicious, but sometimes it’s nice to drink something unsweetened.

On Saturday, we ventured into the Medina to do some shopping and sight seeing.  We got invited to a rug factory.  The owner picked us out of the crowd and led us to his factory where they made us mint tea and spread many Berber rugs in front of us.  They also had beautiful fabrics and really warm looking sweaters.  We sat on couches and picked out the stuff we wanted, and then spent a really long time bargaining them down to reasonable prices.  I mean, they asked for 700 dh for a small area rug!  Really?  I’m not paying that, so we spent a long time bargaining the rugs down to half the original asking price.  Not bad.  A couple of us also hiked to the outer edge of the city where there was a small waterfall.  It was really cool because they had built these cement structures at the waterfall that collected the water as it ran down the water, and the women were able to wash their clothes.  It was really cool!  We hung out at the river for a little bit and then walked (up hill) back to the hotel.  I did some more shopping, picked up some gifts for people.  It was a good day, and we had a very delicious dinner at a nice Moroccan restaurant.  The meal cost 85dh, which in US$ is still only about $10.  Win.  Even though goods and services in Morocco are inexpensive relative to US prices, it is still too easy to spend too much money, so be careful.

Saturday was really the only day we had in Chefchaouen because the only bus back to Rabat left at 7am.  So we woke up early and drank some espresso, or as our host called the “Turkish Eye-Openers” and ate some toast, and then boarded the bus back to Rabat.  I personally slept for the majority of the four hours, so I couldn’t really talk about the scenery, although I’m sure it was beautiful.  My Sunday concluded with a glorious visit to the hammam with my mother and host sister.  I got the full scrub down.  You buy this brown gel soap and rub it all over your body, then you rinse it off, and then you use this scrubbing cloth to scrub your whole body, and the dead skin just peels off.  It’s disgustingly satisfying, especially since the hammam is hot and steamy like a sauna so you are comfortably warm.  After you scrub all the dead skin off your body you can wash your hair and soap up like you would in any shower.  Let me tell you, I’ve never felt cleaner.  It’s definitely something you must do at least once if you ever visit Morocco.

So, that’s about it.  I don’t have any pictures to post because my camera batteries died on me the minute I got to Chefchaouen.  Hopefully, I’ll have something fun to write about next week.  I’m planning on staying in Rabat this weekend.  Who knows what might happen? 🙂

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