The Middle Atlas Mountains, an Experience like no other

October 10th, 2010

It’s a little embarrassing to be making this post a week late, but a week late is better than two weeks late.  Last weekend, almost all the IES Rabat group went to the Middle Atlas Mountains to hike, explore some of the cities, and spend some time in a Berber village.  This weekend excursion revealed the huge disparity between urban and rural Morocco, and reminded us all that Morocco is definitely still a developing country.  Last weekend was definitely one of, if not the most culturally enriching and spiritually satisfying experiences I’ve had in Morocco to date.

On Friday right after Arabic class (and the purchase of some avocado juice), the group headed out of Rabat towards the center of the country and the cities of Azrou and Ifrane.  I had already been through Azrou before; we drove through the city on our way to the Sahara desert.  Although I’m pretty sure I’ve already said this in an earlier post, the name of the city is a Berber word meaning “big rock.”  Why?  Well, there’s a really big rock in the middle of the city, that’s why.  Azrou is also home to a lot of monkeys who live in the mountains and grow fat from eating the cookies the tourists give them.  We didn’t stop to see the monkeys this time, we had other plans.  Instead of stopping to see monkeys were were stopping to see trout.  Yes, that’s right, I got to visit a trout farm.  Let me describe a trout farm for you.  It is a place with a lot of different pools of water, and each pool of water contains a lot of trout all at different stages in the development process.  This trout farm had two kinds of trout, Rainbow trout (imported from the United States), and the Moroccan Golden Trout.  I got to feed the trout too.  That was fun.  I threw some fish pellets into the water and it was like all the trout in the entire tank descended on the handful of small pellets I threw in.   There was a lot of frenzied splashing, and I got a lot of water on myself since the fish were practically leaping into the air trying to get at the food.

After seeing the trout farm we all clambered back on the bus and headed to Ifrane.  Ifrane is an interesting city, I think it would be more appropriate to call it Little Switzerland.  It was built by the French during the Protectorate, and you can definitely tell.  All the houses have peaked roofs.  This is mostly for practical purposes because Ifrane gets a lot of snow during the winter.  However, the layout of the city, and the details of the buildings give it a distinctly European flavor.  Al Akhawayn University (http://www.aui.ma/) is also located in Ifrane, and certainly adds a little bit of flavor to the atmosphere of the town.  We didn’t really explore the town too much, we only really had time to walk around one of the little garden ponds and take awkward group pictures in front of a big statue of a lion.

We spent the night in a little village called Ben Smim.  The people in this village spoke Berber as there first language, Arabic as there second, and a few words of French and English if we were very lucky.  We were also very lucky to have electricity and running water inside the house.  Really, I’ve come to the conclusion that after electricity and running water, everything else is an extra added luxury here, like having a western toilet, and toilet paper.  I had brought a box of tissues with me for my allergies, and I quickly became one of the most sought out people in the group because most people had forgotten their own TP.  Additionally, the concept that Americans have of having your own bedroom is something that people just don’t have here.  I have my own bedroom here in Rabat, but the rest of my family sleeps on the sofas in the living rooms.  It was the same in Fez, and it was the same in Ben Smim.  In Ben Smim though, my roommate and I didn’t have a bedroom, but we did sleep in the nice salon.

Our host family in Ben Smim was fantastic!  My host parents spoke Berber and Darija (colloquial Moroccan Arabic), and they had very little French and no English.  My roommate and I speak English and French, “survival” Darija, and only the Berber words that we were given on a sheet today by our director.  You learn a lot about communication in situations like these, if you don’t know the word you can act it out, or draw a picture, or point, whatever gets your point (haha) across.  You also learn how to be in uncomfortable situations.  For example, we knew when our host family was talking about us, but we had no idea what they were actually saying, and it was a little uncomfortable.  It’s just something you have to become accustomed to.  I am accustomed to being the object of amusement at times when I clearly misunderstood something, or didn’t pronounce something correctly.  It’s just something you have to have a good sense of humor about, that’s all.

So anyway, my host mother dressed us both in these beautiful caftans before dinner.  Mine was an olive green with black embroidery around the cuffs.  It looked like just the kind of caftan my sister Maggie would look gorgeous in.  My roommate had a nice azure blue caftan to wear.  So, we got all dressed up for a beautiful dinner of couscous, fresh eggs (one of the most delicious foods ever!), bread, jam, spices, you name it.  The food was so fresh and delicious, I knew it was going to be really hard to go back to eating “regular” food after this.  After we had eaten our fill, we were invited outside to watch what they told me was a “Berber tradition.”  My roommate and I sat outside on small stools and kissed all the neighbors hello and watched a group of caftan-clad women walk slowly down the street playing drums and tambourines, and singing at the top of their lungs.  The music was so joyous, both my roommate and I were caught up in the moment, and I think we both secretly wanted to jump up and join the crowd of women who were now dancing right in front of our house.  We asked out host brother, who thankfully spoke French, exactly which tradition it was that we were watching.  He looked a little confused, and told us that he didn’t really know the words for it in English or French, so he started to describe it to us.  He began with “It’s an Arab tradition, with a small boy…” Okay, yes, I figured out what we were watching…a circumcision party.  Muslims, like Jews, circumcise boys as part of religious ritual, however, Muslims circumcise there sons between the ages of 4 and 8 years, not 8 days old like Jewish baby boys.  It is a sign of a  boy entering into the Ummah (universal Muslim community) and it is an occasion for much, much celebration.  I’m not going to lie, it was a little bit startling at first, but we figured this was part of our cultural immersion, so let’s just go with it.  We actually didn’t stay outside long after that because we were both tired, so we pretty much just passed out in the salon.

The next day we visited a number of NGOs in the village.  We visited a women’s organization that sold medicinal herbs, made rugs, and honey.  I bought some honey and some extract of thyme, which is supposed to help with colds and other respiratory ailments when drunk mixed with tea.  We also hiked for about an hour to eat lunch (couscous of course) with a bunch of school children who were of course, adorable.  A Peace Corps worker stationed in Ben Smim also ate couscous with us, and he talked with us about his experiences in the Peace Corps and in Morocco.  After lunch (an naps) we visited the Aïn Ifrane bottled water factory.  It was funny, nobody was really interested in seeing how they bottled water, we were more interested in their super duper nice bathrooms 😉  The bottled water factory isn’t really on good terms with the surrounding villages because they are basically stealing their water from them, and selling it to tourists.  After our bottled-water-bathroom visit we went back up the mountain to paint pictures with the children we had just eaten lunch with.  I must say, it was very therapeutic.  I had a wonderful time painting a giant flower.

By this time, I would say that it was about 5pm, time to head back to the village.  Our director had rented the village hammam for us for two hours, so when we got back to the village we were supposed to ask our host mothers to come with us to the hammam.  However, when we communicated with our mother about the hammam she told us we couldn’t go until we had eaten first.  So my roommate and I sat down in the salon and ate malawi bread, bagharir (a kind of pancake), and drank hot atay b’nAnA (mint tea).  Only when we were finished eating were we allowed to go to the hammam.  What’s the hammam?  Oh yes, I forgot, the hammam is the public bath house.  In a place where nobody had baths or showers inside, the hammam is a very important place where one goes to bathe and socialize.  Socialize you say??  Yes, I absolutely mean that.  From what I can tell, the hammam is a hip and happening hangout spot for men and women of all ages (although not at the same time of course).  So my roommate and I went to the hammam, and we walked in and it was basically like a mosaic version of a YMCA locker room.  Benches ran down both walls, and there were shelves where you could keep your clothes while you were bathing.  The first thing we did was stand around awkwardly because nobody was sure what exactly we were supposed to do.  My host mother answered that question for me.  While at the hammam the only thing you are allowed to wear is your underwear, no tops, and even those are optional.  The actual place where you wash is steamy and hot, like a sauna, and there is a place to fill buckets of hot water, which you take back to your spot.  Then you get scrubbed from head to toe, until all the dead skin peels off your body.  One of the women scrubbed me down, and then dumped a big bucket of water over my head to rinse me off and I was done.  Let me tell you, if you are ever in Morocco, visit the hammam.  It is definitely WAY outside most American’s comfort zones, but isn’t that the point of visiting another country?  And it is definitely one of the most intimate ways of experiencing a culture.  And it wasn’t bad, I’m still alive, and you know what?  I’d go back.

Anyway, that night we got dressed up in even NICER caftans, and our family laid a traditional decorative rug with fuzzy things and silver sequins and embroidery down on the couch for us to sit on, and then they did henna on our hands.  It was such a hospitable thing for them to do.  I felt so welcome.  If there’s one thing Moroccans do REALLY well, it is hospitality.  They are just so warm, friendly, and generous, it really helps soothe the culture shock you might feel jumping from American culture, to a culture of predominantly Arab influence.

Our last day in the mountains was spent actually hiking up the mountains.  I was so glad we did though, because the view from the top of the mountain was TOTALLY worth the three-hour hike up.  Spending time in such a rural setting is eye opening.  You are surrounded by so much natural beauty, and at the same time living in such primitive conditions, by American standards.  It is oddly refreshing to be without all the headache and stress that comes with all the technology we are constantly surrounding ourselves with.  More than once on this trip I thought I would be perfectly happy moving to the country and growing figs for the rest of my life, but I also would not give up a good education like the one I’m receiving at Wooster for anything.  Both worlds have good things to offer, and I think the trick is to find an appropriate balance of both, although isn’t that the key to everything in life?  Finding the perfect balance.

OH MY GOODNESS! Matt Damon was here! This is hallowed ground…

September 28th, 2010

My weekend excursion to Tangier was my first “independent” trip since I’ve been to Morocco.  By “Independent” I mean that it wasn’t sponsored by IES Abroad (my study abroad program), and not that I went by myself, because basically everyone else from IES decided to visit Tangier as well.  So on Friday after our morning Arabic class at 8am, nine of us left the center for the Rabat-Ville train station to board a 10:47 train that would take us to Tangier within four hours.  In Morocco it is so worth it to spring for a first class ticket because the seats are bigger, you have more leg room, and the cars are less crowded.  My first class ticket to Tangier cost 145 dh (dirham).  I think it was the first “Première Classe” ticket I’ve ever bought for anything ever in my entire life, and it cost less that $20.   That being said, my hotel room for two nights cost 300 dh, which is less that $40.  Now, the exchange rate wasn’t the reason I decided to come to Morocco for my semester abroad, but I like being significantly richer than I would be in the United States or Europe.  That being said, it’s still way too easy to spend way too much money in Morocco, especially when you get to the Medina because all the little shops are just calling to you, so you go and look around, and then the shop keeper insists that you buy something, and you haggle a bit and finally reach a price you are both happy with, and you walk away with a new souvenir.  Then you do the same thing at the next shop.  You can see the vicious downward spiral you can get yourself into if you’re not careful.  Additionally, if you’re not sure you want to buy it, don’t ask for the price, because then the shop keeper thinks you want to buy it, and he or she will be offended if you walk out after they give you their highest possible price.

Okay, I digress…what can I say about Tangier?  Well, it’s a lot like San Francisco.  It’s very sunny, there are beautiful beaches, and tons of steep hills.  For every hill you walk down you must walk up two (at least that’s what it feels like, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating much).  I also gathered from the Lonely Planet guidebooks that several members of my group brought with them, that Tangier used to host many gay bars, but now I understand that those hangouts have all moved to Marrakesh.  Like everywhere else in Morocco there is no shortage of cafes and restaurants, but unlike Fez and Rabat, nightclubs and discotheques are clearly visible and openly advertised.  My cab driver told me that Tangier has over 50 night clubs!

Okay, I promise there’s more to Tangier than hills and bars.  Did you know that the very first United States Embassy is located in Tangier?  Well, it is.  It is called the Tangier American Legation and is the only “historical landmark of the United States abroad” according to the plaque on the wall of the legation.  It isn’t a functioning embassy anymore, but it has been made into a very nice museum.  There’s a letter written by Georges Washington to the King of Morocco, and another letter from the American Ambassador back to the US state department asking them what he should do because the Moroccan government keeps trying to give him two lions as gifts.  No joke.  It was probably one of the funniest letters I’ve ever read.  The man was clearly at his wit’s end.  He couldn’t really refuse to accept the gifts, but what is he supposed to do with a pair of lions??  I think the plan was to eventually sell the lions to a zoo back in the United States.

What else what else?? OH YEAH!  So basically the random weekend we picked to go to Tangier turned out to be a most fortuitous coincidence because it just so happened that the TanJazz Jazz Festival was going last weekend as well.  That means….oh yes….free outdoor concerts.  So that was just something really exciting and cool that just happened to be going on while we were in the city.  I was really happy to discover that these concerts were really excellent.  The concert we went to had a huge turnout, Moroccans from all walks of life seemed to have shown up in this park and were enjoying the music.

OH!  Another cool thing I did last weekend was eat at Cafe Paris.  I’m not saying that actually eating there was particularly amazing.  It has decent coffee and croissants, nothing special.  It was the location itself.  In the third installment of Jason Bourne films, Matt Damon goes to Morocco, and those scenes were filmed in Tangier, and at Cafe Paris in Tangier.  I was walking on the same sidewalk that Matt Damon walked on!  Hahaha, my little sister would be so excited, she loves those movies 🙂

Additionally, in Tangier you can stand on the beach and look out across the water and see Spain.  It doesn’t always feel like I’m this close to Europe when I’m in Morocco sometimes, but looking out across to Spain made me realize how far away Morocco really is from the heart of the Middle East and Arab world.  Tangier especially is probably the most “European” city I’ve been to in Morocco.  Part of this is the significant increase in the number of actual tourists I saw in Tangier.  Most of these tourists are fresh off the boat from Spain, and consequently Moroccan business owners are much more likely to speak Spanish than French.  That was difficult for me because my Arabic isn’t very good yet, and my Spanish is worse.  I got through the weekend though, and even made some impressive gift purchases using a French/Arabic hybrid language.

So in conclusion, go to Tangier, it’s great.  I felt very comfortable as a western person walking around the city.  Of course I was cat called, but that happens everywhere in Morocco, but aside from that the city was great.  It was pretty easy to navigate, and the surroundings are wonderful.  You can also hear many different languages and expose yourself to many different cultures since so many tourists and expatriates come to Tangier.  It’s definitely a city that’s worth another visit.  Not this year probably, but in the not-so-distant future…insha’Allah.

Kids, Camels…and Thunderstorms?

September 20th, 2010

So, about my trip to the Sahara Desert….it was probably my most favorite experience in Morocco so far.  I really relish the time spent far away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and student life for that matter.  It reminded me of my spring break trip to West Virginia: no cell phone service, no computer, just you, the people around you, great big mountains.  We left Rabat on Thursday and spent most of the day traveling to our destination.  We did make a quick stop outside of a small town called Azrou to feed some monkeys.  That’s right, I got to see some monkeys up close and personal.  They were so cute too!  After a full eleven hours of travel we stopped at a really amazing hotel to spend the night.  This place had absolutely everything, an indoor and an outdoor pool, sports fields, a spa, a bar, Berber music and dancing, hookah, and camels.  So, after an absolutely fabulous evening of good food, swimming, and dancing I could go back to my giant room for a good night’s sleep before our excursion into the desert the next day.

Before we actually got to the desert we some other appointments we had to make.  We went to the ruins of Sijilmassa, what used to be the largest city in Morocco, but now has been reduced to a few crumbling walls.  That was interesting, but then we also had to go visit a local NGO that provides an after school program and backpacks to children in rural villages.  When we got off the bus we were immediately mobbed by all the children in the village.  These children don’t get a lot of foreign visitors, and so they all swarmed around us, reaching out to kiss our hands and ask us our names.  I think this is what celebrities must feel like when they go out.  I was amazed by how much excitement our presence brought these kids, and I was so glad that they had this NGO who was providing them with school supplies and a better chance at an education.  The president of the NGO also fed us lunch at his home.  One thing I love about Morocco is that their sense of time is a lot more relaxed than it is in the United States.  Therefore, lunch lasted several hours, and included tea, a salad course, two meat courses, and a desert of fresh fruit.  Then it was time to head to the SAHARA DESERT!

One thing that really surprised me about the desert was that it looked basically just like what movies and pictures of the Sahara desert look like.  Basically there was nothing but red sand dunes, and tufts of desert grass as far as the eye could see.  I was amazed by how well our Berber guides could navigate.  I would have been lost five minutes into my journey because there’s really no landmarks anywhere.  We all rode in a camel caravan, complete with blue turbans to keep the sun off and sand out.  I also figured out why, in addition to protection from sandstorms, people in the desert cover their faces.  Camels smell.  Most of us were covering our faces to keep the stink out, because the desert was actually pretty calm.  It had rained earlier (yes, I’m serious) so the sand was pretty settled.

We spent the night in a Berber encampment in a small oasis.  The tents were very low to the ground and had about six sleeping mats in each one.  Our group shared our camp with a group of very friendly Dutch tourists.  We ate dinner (Berber food is really good) and danced to Berber music.  I even got to try to play some of the drums, but failed pretty miserably at it.  I found the guides really interesting to talk to.  Most of them told me they hadn’t been to school at all, and yet they all could speak (at least a little bit) multiple languages.  Ask any of them and they’ll say, “I speak Berber, Arabic, a little French, a little English, a little Spanish, a little Italian, some Japanese, and even a bit of German.”  They weren’t educated in the sense that they could engage in academic discussion about nationalist movements in colonial Africa, but they were definitely smart (I can’t speak eight languages, or navigate in the desert), and full of practical knowledge, which I think is just as important (if not more in the long run) as the amalgamation of knowledge one gains in college.  Additionally, I can also confirm for you that the desert gets really, really, really cold at night.  Definitely bring a blanket.

The next day we rode the camels back and left the desert for another hotel where we would spend the night before finishing up our last leg of the journey.  While in the hotel a most curious thing happened.  There was a massive thunderstorm.  Truth.  It was just surprising to me that the desert could experience such large rain storms.  We lost power in our hotel for several hours.  I was actually pretty psyched because I got to carry a candle around the halls like someone from the eighteenth century.  At the hotel we were again treated to a lovely performance of traditional Berber music and dancing and then basically everyone went to bed because they were absolutely exhausted.  Although I’ve been getting pretty close to eight hours of sleep a night, I don’t think that it has been enough, and the late dinners make my body think that it’s earlier than it really is.

So in conclusion, everyone needs to visit the Sahara Desert.  It’s an absolutely amazing experience and I’m already thinking about when I can go back. 🙂

Salaamu alaykum! Welcome to Morocco!

September 15th, 2010

Okay guys, this pretty much the first time where I’ve had readily available, decent wifi service since I’ve arrived in Morocco almost two weeks ago.  Morocco is amazing, incredibly hot and humid, but amazing.  As I was looking back on my entire life I’ve realized that Morocco is the only place I’ve been where giant palm trees grow naturally.  In addition to having a completely different selection of trees, flowers, shrubs, and other vegetation, Morocco has an entirely different array of sounds, smells, tastes, you name it.  When I landed in Rabat I was surprised by how modern the city was, yet how traditional it seemed as well.  I saw both men and women wearing in jallabas, which are long robes with pointed hoods, and pointed leather shoes, and men and women wearing very western styles clothes.  I arrived during Ramadan, the holy month where Muslims fast during the daylight hours, so the streets were not as busy as I had expected.  I was very, very excited about experiencing Ramadan in a Muslim country.   I’ve fasted for Ramadan before in college, so I had some idea of what it felt like to abstain from eating and drinking for a whole day.  Not eating anything all day is actually a lot easier than it seems, but not drinking anything (even water), now that’s the challenging part, especially in Morocco where temperatures hovered around the high 80s and 90s.  After Moroccans break their fast in the evening the city exploded with activity that lasted until 2am or so.  It’s quite a different feeling to go from a quiet, low key day to an explosion of festivities that last the entire night.

My study abroad program has a 10 day orientation period in Fez, so the day after we all arrived in Rabat we drove to Fez to spend a week listening to lectures ranging from the linguistic situation in Morocco, to the Muduwana (a new family code which greatly increases women’s rights) which was passed only a few years ago.  We also spent our mornings taking intensive classes in colloquial Moroccan Arabic (darija).  Each Arabic speaking country has their own unique dialect of Arabic, so Moroccans traveling in Saudi Arabia or Iraq would probably not be able to understand the Saudis or Iraqis they meet on the street.  However, Modern Standard Arabic is the written form of the Arabic language, and is universal.  This means that educated Arabs all over the Arab world can communicate in Modern Standard and understand each other.

In Morocco, basically almost everyone speaks French, which was extremely lucky for me since I didn’t speak a word of Arabic when I arrived.  However, I learned from my experience living with a host family that although French is widely used, it still is better to learn Arabic.  My host mother in Fez spoke some French, but it was clear that she was much more comfortable communicating in Arabic, which was why my Darija lessons were so important and helpful.  In Morocco, it is very important to know how to greet people and ask about their health.  The second most important thing you should know is how to ask about their family.  Finally the third most important thing you should know is how to say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m full” because you might be invited to enjoy some absolutely delicious mint tea and cookies.  My host mothers (both in Fez and Rabat) always tell me to “Kool!” (eat!) so I’ve gotten quite good at saying “I’m full” in darija.  They will nod and say okay, but 10 minutes later they will put another plate of food in front of you and tell you to eat more.  This morning as I was leaving to go to school my host mother led me back to the breakfast table because I had not eaten enough, or so she thought.  Food is a very important part of Moroccan culture.  It is a time to socialize with friends and family and the more you eat, they happier they get because it shows you appreciate their hospitality.  Moroccan food is great, especially during Ramadan, so it’s not really that hard to eat a lot of food.

What else have I done since I’ve been here?  Quite a lot actually now that I think about it.  I’ve toured the medina in Fez (an absolute MUST if you’re ever in the country), went to the ceramics factory in Fez, seen the mausoleum in Rabat, and toured the Roman ruins at Volubilis (super duper cool).  Tomorrow actually, my study abroad group is leaving to go to the Sahara Desert for four days.  I’m really looking forward to this visit because I will get to ride a CAMEL for several hours into the desert!  Once we’re in the desert we will get to spend the night in a Berber tent, eat Berber food, and listen to Berber music.  The next day we’ll get to ride the camels back to and chill out at a really nice hotel for the rest of the day.

Wow, I haven’t written nearly as much as I thought I would.  I haven’t written in a while, so I feel like I should make it up to you by writing an extra long post when I get back from the desert trip.  I’ve also got an amazing amount of homework, and I’ve literally had only two days of real classes since we’ve only been back in Rabat since Sunday.  So I will transition from the blog writing to the walk home (approximately 30 minutes) to the Arabic learning and backpack packing.  I bit the adieu and look forward to recounting my four day visit to the desert in full detail! 🙂

My first plane ride, chocolate, and Germany…

August 29th, 2010

Hallo!  This is how they say it in Germany.  I was happy about that because I know probably no more than 10 words in German.  At least I could understand a friendly greeting!  Also, I’ve found that German and English are very similar, so you can generally get the gist of road signs and train maps.  So yeah, the flight from New York’s JFK airport to Frankfurt International in Germany was my very first plane ride ever.  Fortunately, I liked it.  I think it might have also helped that I flew with  Singapore air, and they are quite a nice airline.  I was handed a hot towel by one of the flight attendants before the plane even took off.  I was also impressed with the vast selection of American and other international movies I could watch on my personal 6×8 screen.

So when I landed in Frankfurt, I was obviously extremely jet lagged (it was 10:30 local time, but 4:30am back home) but I was also super energized.  It kept going through my head over and over “I’m in a foreign country, I’m in a foreign country!”  I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting, but I definitely was surprised to find that the Germany was full of white people, just like Vermont, and that the landscape was very green and mountainous…just like Vermont.  I guess I had expected to feel more out of place, if that makes sense.  I think I would have if I hadn’t been picked up at the airport by my aunt.  When we got on the Autobahn to drive to Stuttgart, where my cousins live, I was fighting to stay awake, but I was also like, “Oh my gosh I’m on the autobahn!”  Actually, my perception of the autobahn was that it was this vast highway with lots of cars driving at ungodly speeds, but what I found when I was actually riding on it was that yes, there is a speed limit (usually between 100km and 120km per hour, or 65-75mi/hr).  There are some stretches of highway where there isn’t a speed limit, but most people don’t seem to speed up too much.

I’ve actually seen a lot of sights in the short time I’ve been here.  I’ve been to the oldest concrete television tower, which is located in Stuttgart.  That was pretty cool.  The tower itself pales in stature compared to the tower in Toronto, but it is still very impressive.  You can see absolutely everywhere from the top of the tower.  Another day my cousin took me to the Ritter Sport Chocolate museum, but there was a mix-up and we ended up in a modern art exhibit.  We walked into this big room with a painting with a white background and a single word printed in the middle that translated from the German as “painting.”  Needless to say we were kind of confused, but decided to make the most of it and take a look at the exhibit.  There was a piece that looked like a giant version of the game Pick Up Sticks, and an exhibit of five painting that were all the same sized square shape, and were all painted the same color blue, but had different titles underneath.  That’s interesting….I guess.  Actually it was kind of cool, and the important thing is that we did get to the Chocolate Museum eventually, and we each bought WAY too much chocolate.

I also visited Strasbourg, France yesterday as part of a day trip I took with my aunt, uncle, and cousin.  It was only a two hour car ride, which I thought was really awesome, and entirely new country in only 2 hours!  Then I realized that Montreal is only a two hour car ride from my house, and that’s in a foreign country as well 🙂  I did not realize that the Parliament building of the European Union was in Strasbourg, and I really wanted to go and see it, but the tourism offices said that the tours were by reservation only.  Too bad.  Still, I got to see a good part of the center of Strasbourg, which is absolutely adorable.  The central part of the city is situated on an island with a small canal running around its entirely.  The streets are winding and many are cobblestone.  It feels like one of those stereotypical European towns.  The Cathedral in Strasbourg is one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen.  I really love going into old churches because the whole thing is just one grand piece of art.  The details are so ornate, and the entire church is extremely detailed, not just one section or one window, but the entire cathedral.

Today, I went into a little university town called Tübingen with my uncle.  This was an extremely picturesque village.  It was built on a hill below a fairly sizable Schloß (the German word for castle).  The old part of the city has lots of winding streets and you are either going up hill or downhill on these cobblestone roads.  We walked up to the Schloß, which was still being used for academic lectures.  How cool would it be to attend class in a castle?!  The cool thing about Europe is the age of your environment.  You walk past these buildings that were built in 1488, and are STILL being used as restaurants or shops or whatever.  If a building in the US reaches its 200th birthday its basically closed down and reopened as a tourist attraction.  The buildings were actually a lot taller that I had imagined.  In some places I had a really weird feeling of being shrunk down a couple sizes because the buildings were so tall.  I guess I’m used to skyscrapers being that tall, but tall houses with peaked roofs was quite unfamiliar to me.  Another thing that Tübingen has that I think is really cool is they give gondola rides down the river.  Now, I’ve always assumed that all gondolas “live” in Venice, Italy (another city I would love to see), and never expected to encounter the boats in Germany.  Apparently it’s a pretty popular tourist attraction.  I think it would be fun to ride in a gondola some day, but we didn’t because we were to busy strolling around town.  My uncle pointed out to me that Germans like to take walks, and he’s right, I saw a lot of people out strolling through the park and along the streets.  I guess when everything is so close by walking is the only logical form of transportation.  I wasn’t complaining.  I wish I could walk more places back home.  It would be healthier, and would make not having my own car not as bad.

That’s really it for now.  I’ve been in Stuttgart six days so far, but it seems like a lot longer!  In the next couple days I hope to explore some of the museums that are in down town Stuttgart before I leave for Morocco.  It won’t be such a big deal if I don’t get to them because I will be coming back and spending the Christmas season here before heading back to the States in mid January.

Farewell Fair Fishies, So Long

July 19th, 2010

I’m devastated to say that two days ago, both my poor fish kicked the bucket.  They were such hardy little things, they survived the trip between Wooster and Fremont, OH, twice, and the slightly longer journey (about 12 hours give or take) from Wooster to Vermont.  My little sister graciously offered me the use of her slightly larger and vacant fish tank.  I took her up on the offer thinking the girls (yes I found out my fish are both girls) would enjoy a larger apartment.  So my other sister Maggie and I transferred my little darlings to the larger tank and set them down in their usual space back in our room.  Maggie was going to take care of them for me while I’m in Morocco, so she needed to learn how to properly care for them.  It was later that night that Libby noticed their tiny little bodies floating lifelessly around in the tank.  It was weird, one was doing the classic belly up at the surface act, and the other was floating vertically, just like it was standing, or hung up on a hook.  Poor little things.  I must admit I didn’t do anything at first, I couldn’t bring myself to deal with their death at the moment.

So I just left them to float for a bit, actually an entire day.  That evening I booked them tickets on the porcelain throne.  I hear it takes them to a better place.  When I went to scoop them out of the tank rigor mortise had set in and they were all stiff and frozen in the same position with their fins sticking straight out to the sides.  It reminded my of a crucifix, which was a little eerie considering one of my fish is named after the late great Pope John Paul II.  And so they floated awkwardly in the bowl for a little bit, then my mother came in to salute them and I flushed them away.  So long, and thanks for all the fish.  God I love Monty Python.

What’s more, I realized today that my cat Jemima Fish officially qualifies as a SENIOR KITTY!  She’s eight years old, and that means that she technically should be eating senior cat food.  *tear*  My baby girl is getting old!!!  I don’t want to think about losing anymore pets!  They are probably what I miss the most when I’m at school.  No offense fishes, but you’re not very good cuddly comfort buddies.

So that’s all the interesting stuff that has taken place since my last entry.  Not much I’m afraid.  Research, car trips and visiting family members are not really blog worthy material, at least not for this goals of this blog.  I don’t think anyone would be terribly interested in reading about that aspect of my life.  So I must bid thee adieu and go finish some paperwork, write a few emails, and make a phone call or two.

I have no entertaining name pertaining to the content of this post…sorry

June 20th, 2010

Um, what has happened to me since I last wrote??  Nothing remarkable actually.  I’ve been going to work, reading both novels and the news, watching TV,  grocery shopping, cooking, and listening to reruns of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!  The NPR News Quiz, all in varying orders and degrees of intensity.  So, I haven’t been really doing anything exciting extremely noteworthy, or interesting.

One event of personal significance and excitement is that Wednesday, my dad booked my plane tickets to Morocco!!  Soooo exciting!!  I’m leaving on the 23rd of August and flying to Frankfurt, Germany to spend 10 or so days with my uncle and his family in Stuttgart.  Then I’ll fly to Rabat where I’ll get to start my program!!!!  I’ve turned in the last of my paperwork and just have to finish up a few minor details, like buy new walking shoes.  Booyah!

Ok, I think I’ve pretty much exhausted my ability to describe my fairly uneventful, but certainly not boring, last few weeks this summer.  Sorry I didn’t have more stuff to tell you.  Next time maybe.

Summer in Wooster…so far

June 5th, 2010

Good afternoon all you lovely people!  I hope you have been having wonderful summers so far, and that you are finding time to rest, relax, and read some books… or at least catch up on your favorite television shows!! 🙂  This is my third weekend here at Wooster during the summer.  I have to say, the campus feels different without all the students, but it isn’t a bad feeling.  I’m actually sort of having a really great time.  First of all, I get my own room!  Now, that seems normal, one generally has roommates in college and most people tend to really miss their single room back home.  Only, I don’t have a single room back home; actually I share it with both my sisters.  That’s right. A TRIPLE.  It even looks like a college dorm room with the beds bunked and lofted, a shared boudoir, and desks and dressers crammed into every possible corner.  So for  me to be in a rather spacious single room is quite unnatural.  It was really really really weird and unnerving at first, especially since I didn’t have built in company who I could talk to because they lived there.  I had to make an effort if I wanted to have human interaction.  Thankfully, I’m rather introverted and don’t need to be around people every single second to be happy.  Actually, I’ve gotten quite a lot done in these few short weeks all by myself.  I’ve made some excellent dinners (including straw-berry rhubarb pie!), read three books and have started on my fourth one this morning, watched some really good foreign films, and made significant headway on my craft project.

This isn’t to say that I’ve loafed around doing nothing all day for the last three weeks.  I have a job.  I’m a research assistant to a professor in the Political Science and International Relations departments.  Every morning, Monday through Friday I walk over from my dorm to the main academic building on campus to my “office.”  It’s not really an office.  I believe it’s official title is “student worker room” and I share it with one other person who is also doing sophomore research, but for a different professor.  It’s really great because I’m learning how to conduct good research, which will come in handy when I have to start independent study in (gasp) a little more than a year.  So, I sit there from 9am until 5pm and do a myriad of things pertinent to his research, and he has a lot of interests/research topics, so I’m doing a lot of different things.  However, he was in Vienna this past week (lucky) and so I had some assignments to work on, which was fine, except that it kinda got a little tedious by Friday around 4pm.  So, I’m excited for Monday to come when my boss will be back and I can start a new project!

You know what else has been weird??  For the last month, I can’t tell you how many thunderstorms we’ve had.  I know that loud and scary thunderstorms are quite prevalent around the mid-west, but this is a little ridiculous.  The first week after school got out there were storms that were so bad tornadoes were forming and touching down and I got a lot of emergency emails, texts, and automatic phone calls from the school telling me to get to the lowest point of the building, even when I went to my grandparent’s house for a few days before I started work.  And this last week, it has rained, I kid you not, literally every day.  Around noon the sky would get really dark and there would be a torrential downpour for a few minutes, maybe some thunder and then it would go away until the evening when another storm would come along.  Last night, the storm was so big the lightning actually woke me up before the thunderclaps it was so bright, and if you know me well enough, you know that I can basically sleep through anything, so for something to be so bright that it woke me up at 1:30am, it must have been bad.

Also, I know this post is getting really long, but I really want to tell you about this dream I had the other day, it was kinda funny.  So I dreamed that I was already in Morocco and at my host family’s house.  Oh yeah, if you don’t know, I’m going to be studying abroad in Morocco this fall.  I leave September 1st!  Anyway, I was at their house and my host mom says (in French, cause my Arabic wasn’t that good yet), “Hey, come see this American show.  Do you watch it back home?”  Curious, I went over to see which American TV show she was referring.  I got into the TV room and found her watching Glee, dubbed in Arabic.  That’s right, Glee, which I must confess, I’ve actually never really seen.  Why Glee?  I don’t know, but if I do find out that you can watch Arabic-dubbed Glee in Morocco that would be just about the best thing ever.

Okay, I must know brave the fearsome weather and go grocery shopping/return some library books!  Cheerio!!

Finals Week. Oh boy…

May 3rd, 2010

So, first of all, I’m so very sorry.  I made a promise when I first started writing that I would write every week.  Epic Fail Kristen.  The past month has been so stressful I can’t believe I haven’t completely lost my mind.  It’s that time in the semester when all your classes are assigning giant papers or projects and people are just about ready to kill each other.  It’s true.  It’s not pretty at all.  Personally I like it ever so much better when people are nice and amiable and aren’t doing stupid stuff to enrage other people.  I purposefully adopt an extremely super positive worldview in order to combat some of the angst I feel during really stressful weeks when you have too much homework, bad things are happening in the news, and the people around you are not behaving nicely.  Is is realistic?  Perhaps not, but it helps me get through the week, and I’d rather be an optimistic, happy person than a surly pessimistic person any day.

So, it’s finals week.  I just finished my only “real” final this afternoon for my Judaism class.  In my Religious Autobiography class I have a final paper to write, which is really more like an essay than a paper.  For my History of the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict class I will be participating in a mock peace conference as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and with the other members of the Israeli delegation, will try to create a comprehensive peace agreement.  I’m a little bit disappointed that I will be so tied to formal diplomacy as the sole peace tool in this agreement.  After what I learned in my peace studies class these last two years, I can think of so many other ways that we can help create a more peaceful situation in the region.  However, I have to pretend to be Ehud Barak, and therefore I don’t think that I’m completely at liberty to propose just anything.  I have to negotiate based on his own personal beliefs and those of the other members of the delegation.  This final exam should prove to be quite the experience.  I don’t have a final exam in Peace studies because I’m the TA.  Hahaha 🙂

So, by my calculations, I will be completely done with my sophomore year by 10pm on Wednesday.  After that I have to hurry back to my room and help my roommate pack up her stuff, and then I must stay through graduation because the Wooster Chorus is singing at the commencement concert!  Then I’m off to the grandparent’s house for a few days before returning to Wooster to begin my summer job as a research assistant! Yay! 🙂  I’m actually very excited for the summer.  I will have the chance to live on my own for a bit, and still get to visit my family towards the end of the summer before finally heading off to Morocco for my semester abroad in September!  Wow, it seems so far away right now, but I know it will go by super fast and I will be getting on that plane to Africa before I know it!  So, I must bit you adieu for now, and I will write to you again next week.  (I promise!!!)

Spring Break Part II: West Virginia

April 6th, 2010

I think it might be a bit late to write a Part II from spring break, but I’m going to go ahead and write it anyway (1) because I said I would and (2) because I’m in a rebellious mood and can’t wait to challenge societal norms.  How will I challenge societal norms?  I have no idea, but I like to think that since I said it, I will by default have done it, if that makes any sense.

So, you wanna hear about West Virginia eh?  Okay, I’ll start out by saying that it was WONDERFUL!  I know that in an earlier post I had expressed some doubts about the success of the trip, but it all pulled through in the end and everyone had, I think a very nice time.  It was a service trip, so it’s not like we went tanning on the beach, we were actually doing some serious physical labor!  A small group of us dug ditches every single day to drain water that was coming off the mountains away from people’s homes.  The rest of us painted houses, which was challenging in and of itself.  You had to be very precise and very patient.  We did our own cooking and participated in a group reflection every night.  It was very insightful.  I think we all walked away feeling a little bit differently about ourselves, and I know we all definitely saw the world in a different light.  I’d love to talk more about this experience, but I have a feeling it could be quite long, so I will sign off now.  However, I’d ask you all to think about doing a little service work yourself in the future.  It’s good for the soul. 🙂

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