Archive for the 'Study Abroad' Category

Beautiful Berlin

January 16th, 2011

Wow, it’s a little bit late to be writing about Berlin, but better late than never, as clichéd as that sounds.  I’m mean, I’m writing this post from  my dorm room in Wooster.  Classes start tomorrow!  It has been so great seeing everyone!  I’ve really missed my friends at Wooster, and it has been so nice catching up with everyone.

So, Berlin…well, it’s a totally cool city with a very dynamic history.  I took a night train from Vienna to Berlin.  I met a very nice Viennese girl and we had breakfast together at the train station the next morning.  I also got up close and personal with some Russians in the train compartment.  There wasn’t a lot of leg room, and I woke up at 2am with one of their bare feet on my lap.  Fun times, but after they got of the train in Prague, I had a whole six hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep sprawled across three train seats.

Getting to my hostel from the train station was pretty straightforward.  I took the M41 bus to Willy Brandt Haus, walked across a river, turned right until I came to Grand Hostel Berlin.  It was a beautiful old building.  It had a very formal and proper feel to it, and I could tell that I probably wouldn’t be meeting a whole lot of people in the evenings, which was fine because I was meeting another fellow Wooster classmate later.  Since my room wasn’t exactly ready for me when I checked in that morning, I stowed my luggage and headed for the Brandenburg Gates where they give free walking tours around the city.

The walking tour was great.  I had a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide.  We walked all over the city, and saw so much stuff.  Hitler’s secret underground bunker (now a parking lot) was on the tour as well as the Berlin Dome, and the Berlin Wall.  Most of the wall is gone, but there’s a cobblestone line that runs where the wall used to stand.  It’s really interesting to walk around the city and see the line going through the sidewalk or street.  Twenty years ago, there would have been a very real, neigh uncrossable barrier, and now you can move freely about the city.  It was bitter cold, so I was slightly relieved when the tour ended and I could hope on a train that could take me back to my hostel.

When I got back, I lugged my suitcase up to the fourth floor, and opened my room door to find a girl fast asleep in one of the beds.  Positive all the noise I was making would wake her, I hurriedly unpacked my stuff and went to shower.  The showers were a little bit annoying because they were motion activated, so they didn’t start until you stepped in the shower, and they would turn off in the middle, and you would have to jump around to get the water to turn back on.  When I returned, my roommate was up and we got to talking.  She was from New Zealand and was currently in the process of changing her major basically.  We sat down for dinner and actually wound up talking about Greek life in American universities, because New Zealand doesn’t have anything like it, and it fascinates them.  While we were talking my friend from Wooster arrived.  It was great to see her!  She was studying in Oxford, England for the entire year, so this was the only time I would get to see her before I went back to the states for a second semester.

The next day we all headed to museum island, a literal island in the middle of the city, with five museums built on it.  We got a pass to all five museums for 7 Euro (student price).  We made it to four.  It was so neat, we got to see architecture from all over the ancient world.  I saw Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Islamic, European, and Stone Age artifacts.  I even got to see the bust of Nefertiti, which was beautiful.  Unfortunately I have no pictures because cameras were strictly verboten in the room where the bust was kept, like when you go to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.  All in all, a very cool day.  I was a bit museum-ed out, but who wouldn’t be after running around four large museums. 🙂  It was sad to leave Berlin the next day.  Not only was I not going to see my friend for another semester, but I would be returning to the USA in a matter of days.  In fact, when I got back to Stuttgart, I only had one day to pack before flying back to the USA.  Crazy.  My overseas adventure was drawing quickly to a close and it was sad.  My depression was mitigated by the fact that in my heart, I knew I would be back.  I am definitely going back to Morocco, I mean, I haven’t seen Marrakesh or Casablanca yet!  Travel to Europe is almost guaranteed as well since I have family there.  I was excited to see all my friends and family whom I haven’t seen in months.  That’s the one good thing about leaving.  I get to see the people I love and care about again.  I get to hear their stories, and share my own.  I get to laugh with them, cry with them, go see movies and concerts and study until 2am with them.  I’m ready for another semester at Wooster.  I’ll have my experiences to fall back on when the going gets tough, but because of my experiences in Morocco, I know I can handle the obstacles I will face back here in good ol’ Wooster.

Viva Vienna!

January 7th, 2011

Let me tell you something.  Vienna is an extremely beautiful city.  The architecture of the buildings in the old part of the city is magnificent.  One can easily imagine the grandeur and prestige of the city during the time of the Hapsburg’s reign.  I arrived in Vienna in the afternoon of the 2nd of January, all alone.  I had planned to meet some people in the city, but you know, some things come up unexpectedly and don’t necessarily work the way you want them to.  So, I had to find my way to my hostel on my own, which turned out to be fairly simple.  The hostel advertises its proximity to the Wien Westbahnhof (the main train station in Vienna), and it is true.  It is a short 15-minute walk from the train station.  So, I had never actually stayed in a hostel before.  I was really interested to see what it would be like.  I was sharing a room with three other girls.  There were two sets of wooden bunk beds in my room, with four lockers for our things, a small desk in the corner, and a bathroom en suite, which was pretty handy I must say.  The hostel gave me clean sheets for the bed, a room and locker key, and a free drink slip for the bar on the first floor.  That’s cool.  I keep forgetting that in Europe I can drink legally.  It’s the strangest thing to go up to a bar and order a beer, and get one with no questions asked.  They don’t even card here.  So, I met my three roommates.  They were all from Genoa, Italy and were traveling together for their holiday break.  They were a couple of years younger than me, still in high school, so I was quite impressed that their parents let them go off by themselves to another country.  However, traveling around Europe is like traveling between states in the USA, so maybe it’s not as big of a deal.  All I know is that I probably would not have been allowed to run around unsupervised in a foreign country had I still been in high school.  I had some time to kill obviously, since I arrived in the early afternoon.  I used that time to just settle in and get a grasp on my whole situation, as well as plan my excursions for the next two days.  I also updated my personal journal, not to mention this blog.  When my roommates came back around dinnertime I hung out and talked to them a little bit.  Their English was pretty good; it was certainly a million times better than my Italian.  They were very sweet, but they had to get up really early to fly back to Genoa the next day, so they were headed to be early.  What was I to do?  I think it was time that I cashed in my free drink slip.

I went downstairs to the bar.  I’m not sure if every hostel has a bar, but this one did, as well as free Wifi on the ground floor.  So I got my drink and sat down awkwardly at the same table with a girl who was busy reading a book.  I’m a fairly shy person, and I everyone down in the bar seemed to be well into his or her own conversations, and I didn’t feel like it was right to intrude.  What I learned from this experience, and what future travelers should take away from this is that hostel-stayers like meeting new people.  Many of them don’t know anyone else either, and it is completely appropriate to ask if you can sit with them at a table.  Eventually, the girl with the book looked up at me as asked, “Do you speak English?” in an American accent.  I replied, “yeah of course I do,” and this girl goes “Great!  Let me move closer to you.” and we got to talking.  I learned that she’s from Philadelphia and spent the past semester abroad in London, and that she was going to spend a second semester in St. Petersburg, Russia.  We are also both double majors in International Relations (Studies for her) and something else.  So we sat and swapped study abroad stories until two guys asked to sit at our table as well.  Of course we said yes.  These two guys were from Norway and were traveling in Europe during their semester break.  I continued to meet many interesting new people throughout the night.  I met people from Russia, Poland, Brazil, Australia, and the Netherlands.  There were young people from all over the world, and it was really amazing how well everyone seemed to be getting along.  It was just really cool meeting people from so many different places, and of course sharing our stories and just having fun and hanging out.  It was a very satisfying first night.

The next day I got up, got breakfast, and set off on my first journey through Vienna!  I took the subway to the Stephenplatz, the center of the old city.  My first stop was St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  It is such a beautiful, old Gothic cathedral, and apparently it has never been quite finished.  They’re still working on it to this day.  The scaffolding is cleverly concealed behind a canvas painted to look like the side of the church.  The inside is very beautiful, and they still had green fir trees and the crèche, left over from Christmas.  I decided to spring for the extra tour of the catacombs underneath the church.  Down in the catacombs, I saw the bishops’ crypts, and stood next to the coffins (directly next to them, I think my pants brushed up against one) of dead members of the Hapsburg family.  Since their bodies were embalmed, their internal organs are removed and placed in copper vats, which were also on display in front of me.  There are also mass graves for victims of the black plague in the catacombs.  You can look into these rooms and they are all filled to the brim with human bones.  It’s “slightly” creepy, especially with the dim light, cold stone walls, and low ceilings.  I would have taken pictures, but they were strictly “verboten” (forbidden in German).

After the cathedral, I went off to find Mozart’s house.  Yes that’s right, I found Mozart’s house, or one of them, since if I remember correctly, he had about 13 different apartments during his time in Vienna.  It was pretty cool.  There were a lot of primary documents from his life on display in the apartment.  I had my nifty little English language recorded tour device pressed up against my ear.  That was pretty cool.  After that I did a little walking, just to see some more of the city, and also to look for an authentic, traditional Viennese coffee house for lunch.  I found the Viennese coffee house.  It was lavishly decorated with lovely furniture, with stucco walls, and crystal chandeliers.  I bought the most expensive cup of coffee I have ever had in my life (almost 8 Euros), but it was so worth it because it was delicious.  I also decided to try a traditional Austrian cream of pumpkin soup.  It was great soup.  I would definitely be up for eating that stuff a second time.  After that I went back to my hostel to rest up and change because I was going to try to go to the opera.  I said try because I was planning to buy “standing room only” tickets and there’s no telling how fast they may sell out.  Anyway, the train broke down as I was trying to get to the opera, so I arrived about 20 minutes late, and I later found out it was only a 50-minute opera, so I basically missed half of it.  I also couldn’t see the stage because I was standing behind many people.  I had a wonderful view of the orchestra pit and the audience though, and of course there wasn’t anything blocking my ears from hearing the opera.  The Vienna opera house is gorgeous!  I’m just saying that because it is, and everyone in the audience was all dressed up and it looked so old fashioned.  I’m such a sucker for old-fashioned stuff, especially when it involves the intrigues of European aristocratic lifestyle.  I was totally into it.   I loved seeing the men in tuxedos and women in lovely dresses.  I was not dressed to the nines, but I was standing with the “rabble” in probably the worst spot in the entire house.

So the opera finished around 7:30pm, and since I hadn’t had dinner I went back to the hostel to get dinner at the bar.  Not only did I see most of the same people I met the night before, but also I got to meet even more cool people.  I met people from Portugal, Thailand, Ireland, Turkey, South Korea, more Australians and New Zealanders.  I didn’t sleep much that night.

So, today, I had to get up and check out by 10am since I am leaving for Berlin on a night train.  The hostel lets you store your luggage if you’ve checked out but aren’t ready to leave the city, so I did that and headed off to the Schloß Schönbrunn, the palace of the Austrian Imperial Royal family.  It was very beautiful, and again, I wasn’t allowed to take picture of the interior rooms L.  So I was content to just wander through the beautifully decorated palace in much the same way I wander around Mozart’s house, with my little recorded audio tour pressed against my ear.  I spent the rest of the day just wandering around the city and seeing if there were any free museums (nope).  I’m so happy I decided to come to Vienna, and I was really happy that I was able to handle subway stuff and directions and maps and food all with minimal stress and problems.  It was a wonderful adventure; I can’t wait to continue the adventure in Berlin!

Christmas, Austria, Skiing, and New Year’s Eve!

January 3rd, 2011

So, I’m awfully sorry I haven’t written a post is such a long time.  Truth be told, I’ve been on vacation with my uncle and his family, and where we were vacationing, WIFI cost money.  It really wasn’t worth it for me.  I spent a very wonderful Christmas with my Uncle, Aunt, and two cousins.  We celebrated on the 24th, Christmas Eve, just like real Europeans!  That was because we were planning to leave for Ischgl, Austria on Christmas Day, where we would be skiing, skiing, and skiing with another two families, who were really nice!  Both of these other families were half German, half American, and one of the families lived in Abu Dhabi during the year!!!  Actually, the daughter of the family from Abu Dhabi went to high school with one of my brother’s friends who’d moved to the UAE last year!  Can you say small world!

Anyway, I am so grateful to my Uncle and Aunt for taking me skiing with them, for helping me rent equipment and arranging for me to have skiing lessons.  They even got me Christmas presents, which touched me very deeply.  I had resigned myself to the fact that I would be celebrating Christmas quite late with my family this year, but I even got a stocking on the 24th and opened many presents alongside my cousins!  It was probably one of the best Christmases ever!  I don’t know if I’ve already said this, but Christmas in Germany is great.  Why?  The Christmas Markets and Gluhwein.  They don’t seem to be worried so much about political correctness over here, which is refreshing.  For example, nobody insinuates a “War on Christmas” because someone wishes him or her “Happy Holidays” and nobody gets offended from a “Merry Christmas” either.  At least, that is my observation.  I could be completely wrong because I’ve barely spend one month in Europe in total, and a good 10 days of that were back in August before I went to Morocco.

Where was I?  Oh yes, Ischgl.  It’s a cute little ski town in the Austrian Alps.  It seems to be comprised entirely of hotels, and during the day the streets are completely packed with people schlepping skis, poles, snowboards, helmets, and any other winter sport equipment.  One of my favorite parts of the day is the gondola ride over the mountains every day.  You get in a little gondola, put your skis outside the pod in a special ski holder, and you get pulled up and over the mountain to the top of another mountain where all the skiing is.  One important thing I learned, Alpine skiing is very hard on the body.  I could barely walk at the end of my 5-day ski school.  Every part of my lower body ached as well as parts of my upper body from poling around the flat parts of the ski area.  As someone who’s only ever done Nordic skiing, Alpine was a little scary.  It is especially scary if you are someone like me who is both scared of heights and of going really fast.  Unfortunately there are a lot of high places when you’re on a mountain, and gravity tends to make you go fast.  However, I learned to face my fears (a little bit) and managed to make it down several mountains without falling (too many times).  Let me tell you, you feel quite proud of yourself when you reach the bottom of a run.  I’ve also learned to love chair lifts, and hate T-bar lifts, which I cannot seem to get off of smoothly.  I usually end up falling down.  A T-bar lift looks like an upside-down T and two people stand next to each other, and the T-bar comes behind them and pulls them both up the mountain.  Your skis remain firmly on the ground too.  You wouldn’t think it would be that difficult to get off of, but trust me it is.  Even my Uncle, who’s an experienced skier, hates the T-bar.

One of the coolest things I did last week was go sledding…down a mountain.  It was 7km of tobogganing down a mountain.  It was so cool!  It was definitely the longest sled ride I’ve ever been on.  You ride a gondola up the mountain; you then get a sled at the top, and then head on down.  The path is full of twists, turns, bumps and ditches.  There was one spot where it was so steep I slid down on my butt, holding the sled beside me.  I wasn’t in the mood for another hospital visit.  Additionally, I was the only girl from our group who went sledding, so I could pretty much count on one of the guys to have some glorious sledding story to tell, and I could sit in the corner and listen with much amusement as they recount the thoughts that went through their head as they flew through the air after their sled hit a bump.

Another cool thing is Europe is New Year’s Eve.  It’s crazy man!!  People start to party in the early afternoon, and everyone and his mother get their own fireworks and shoot them off in their back yards.  I must have watched three or four different amateur firework shows as well as the official town fireworks from the balcony of one of our apartments.  I did get nervous at one point as a bunch of drunken German-speaking peoples started lighting fireworks right under our balcony, and then they would light fire crackers and throw them at each other, real smart don’t ya think?  It was still a really cool way to usher in 2011.  I can’t believe it is already 2011 already!  Where does the time go!!!

So, now that leaves me off where I am now.  I took a train early this morning from Landeck to Vienna.  Now I’m sitting here in a hostel in Vienna.  I have three very nice roommates from Genoa, Italy.  They’re leaving tomorrow morning though, so I won’t have gotten to spend a whole lot of time with them.  I was supposed to meet a friend, but circumstances didn’t work out and she couldn’t end up meeting me.  So, I have planned out an entire two days full of cool stuff to do.  I’m going to go see St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Mozart’s house.  I’m also going to see if I can go to see an opera for 2 Euro.  Sound like fun?  I think it does!  Then the next day I’m going to see the Palace and then take a night train to Berlin to meet another friend!  Woot!  This is going to be a pretty cool week I think.  Some things didn’t work out exactly as I had planned, but that’s okay.  It’s all part of being flexible, of going with the flow, like I learned in Morocco.  That’s a country where flexibility is key!  In Europe things are a little timelier, but it’s still important to be flexible and to have a good outlook on life, especially if you’re a poor college student traveling around Europe!  Alright, I will go now so I can eat dinner, and prepare for my excellent adventures in the days to come!

B’sslama Morocco…Willkommen in Deutschland

December 21st, 2010

So, I have officially left Morocco and am currently sitting on my bed at my uncle’s house in Germany.  It was an emotional last few days in the Maghreb.  Everyone was busy taking final exams and writing final papers.  I know I was.  I spent all weekend studying for four finals and writing two term papers.  I’ve never had this much fun ever.  I’m totally kidding.  It was a pretty tough way to spend the last week in an amazing country.  I wanted to be out and about in the city, not stuck in my room writing a paper.  Well, all my finals went well, my Arabic professor brought us cake and tea, which was delicious!  I got all my term papers written and turned in on time l’humdullah, and I got all my shopping and gift buying finished.  On Thursday, our last day, we spent the morning in a re-integration seminar.  A bunch of us did presentations about various topics.  The only two boys that were in our group gave a power point presentation that documented our semester pictorially and reflectively.  Myself and the three other girls that interned at Transparency Maroc presented about our work at the organization, and the advanced Arabic students gave a presentation about Morocco, in Arabic.  I could understand a portion of what they were saying, which made me happy.  🙂

That afternoon we were bused to Agdal to do some glass painting and oriental dancing.  It was really really fun.  We painted little tea-lite holders and learned a nice little oriental dance routine.  The teacher even had little scarves that we could tie around our wastes like real dancers.  It was fun seeing all the girls get dressed up.  Afterward it was time to go relax and chill out before our farewell dinner.  Everyone showed up at the farewell dinner dressed to the nines…at least, as dressed up as we could be with a limited wardrobe selection.  It was emotional.  It’s hard to write about it, I’m not sure I can accurately describe the mix of emotions that was running through every-one’s hearts.  All 19 of us had been through so many trials and tribulations together.  We got each other through some pretty tough situations, whether it was dealing with culture shock and homesickness, to actual miserable illnesses that involved hospital visits and powdery medication.  We also were there during all the wonderful, amazing things as well.  We were all together at the top of a mountain in the Mid-Atlas and rode for two hours in the Sahara desert on camel back.  We went to Spain together, and walked to class together, and ate couscous at each others houses.  We became different people together.  I think that we’re all more open-minded and flexible because of our experience.  I’m sure each person’s experience was different, but I think that one thing we will have in common is that we’ll be able to all relate to each others stories and experiences as we undergo re-integration into American culture.

The last week of IES Rabat was an emotional one.  The biggest topic of conversation seemed to be what people were going to do when they got back state-side.  “What are you going to do the minute you get off the plane?” “What food are you most looking forward to eating?” “Who are you most anxious to see when you get back?”  Questions like these were frequently discussed amongst us while we were supposed to be studying for finals.  While those were certainly questions that are fun to discuss, I was hesitant, because I did not fly immediately to the United States.  I’m spending Christmas with my uncle and his family in Stuttgart, Germany and then will be traveling around Europe for a few weeks before returning to the States.  I tried not to think about “home” too much because I knew that “home” for me was still three weeks away.  Although I’m super excited and grateful to have this opportunity to do some traveling around Europe, it was really hard to hear my friends talk about going home when I knew I would have to wait a few more weeks before I could talk to my dad face to face or hug my mom.

All that emotional stuff aside, my traveling day went pretty smoothly.  My luggage was miraculously underweight, I got to the airport in time to discover my flight would be leaving at 6:50am and not 7:50am, which ended up being better because I was on the same flight with some of my friends from the program.  We separated at the airport in Paris where my flight to Frankfurt was only delayed 30 minutes.  I got to Frankfurt and ran to the train station, getting there just in time for my train, only to learn that my train from Frankfurt to Stuttgart would be delayed 50 minutes.  That train ride went smoothly after that, all my breakable stuff that I had in my luggage all remained in one piece, l’humdullah!  I arrived in Stuttgart without suffering any major setback or hassle.  Some of my friends weren’t so lucky.  I had a friend who left Rabat a full 24 hours before I did and as of 7pm last night (Monday) hadn’t managed to leave the Paris airport because of various delays and scheduling and other nonsense.

All throughout my stay in Morocco I was never so sick it required a hospital visit (l’humdullah), but since I’ve been in Germany, I have been at the hospital every single day.  I guess I was bitten by a bug in Morocco, and it got all swollen and infected when I was traveling, so the next day my uncle took me to a German ER to get it looked at.  They lanced the infection to drain all the gross stuff out, packed the small hole with gauze and wrapped up my leg and told me not to walk on it.  I’ve been back every day since then to get the dressing changed.  They told me it looks good.  I still cannot get over the fact that I have a small hole in my leg.  Today they didn’t repack the hole, they just put a bandage and ointment on it and sent me home.  I have to go back tomorrow to get it looked at, and that should be the last time, hopefully.  So it’s been an interesting experience so far.  Willkommen in Deutschland right?

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. 🙂

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