Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Yesterday, I went to Chellah, this ancient Cartheginian/Phoenician/Roman city. It was really beautiful. There were a ton of stray cats and a lot of beautiful flowers. I would totally pitch a tent and live there for a little bit. It’s so beautiful! I would have fresh flowers everywhere and adorable little cats to play with. =)

I’m really loving my new class. The teacher is really good, and we just talk about seemingly random stuff, letting the conversation do it’s thing, and then at the end I look on the syllabus and we’ve done everything we were supposed to. It’s really interactive, lots of talking, and I much prefer it to my class at Stanford. But I think maybe in Advanced next year it will be a lot more like that. I would totally come back here again, maybe next summer for two weeks. Right now I’m trying to find an internship somewhere in the US that either pays, or that I can get funding for through Stanford or somewhere else. We’ll see. So far I’ve found one at the InterFaith Youth Core in Chicago that looks interesting but that I would have to find my own funding for, and one at Harvard called the Pluralism Project that looks really awesome. I don’t know much about it, though, and am trying to figure out whether or not it’s paid- my guess is probably not. I also might look into something at the State Department, see what’s available. I’d love to do a religious studies one, since that’s what I want to study, but I would do anything religion/international relations/public service/LGBT rights oriented. I’m not picky. I just can’t really afford another summer of not working, so I need to look into outside funding for internships. We’ll see what happens.

I’m really really loving my time here. Several of my friends are leaving this weekend, so that’s going to be sad- I’ll have a new roommate come next week. I can’t imagine that we’ll get along as well as Olga and I do…but that’s life. I was lucky to end up with Olga.

I’m headed back to the dorm now to see if I have a stove, and if not, I’m stealing someone’s. I’m cooking vegetables, either with potatoes or with pasta.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The impossible has happened: I have found a place where people actually think I'm older than I am. Here I never get mistaken for a fifteen year old. Instead, I constantly remind people that I'm 19, because they forget. I might just stay here forever. :)

By here, I mean at school, not Morocco in general. Because everyone here is of vastly different ages, and everyone has come together to school, you can't really assume anyone is any particular age. I'm almost the youngest here (a couple of 16 year olds left recently, and there's a new guy who's going into his senior year, but pretty much everyone is a rising high school senior or older. I'm like the little baby...only everyone forgets.

It's so nice to just go out in the evenings with people, sit at dinner or over dessert and have random conversations about life. Since everyone is from different countries and are at different stages in their lives, it's interesting to get people's perspective on different things. I'm really enjoying that.

Another thing I've found here is that it is a perfect place to relax. Yes, for the first week it really bothered me when things were as disorganized as they are, or when I didn't have a fridge, or when trains were late, etc etc etc. Into week two, though, I don't care. Everything is "leysa mushkil," no problem. They moved your classes from morning to afternoon, effectively preventing you from being able to travel about Rabat in the afternoons? Leysa mushkil (this happened to Olga and some others, but not to me). The dorms can provide you with double the number of pillows you need, but not clean sheets? Leysa muskil (this did happen to me, I came home to find 2 pillows hanging on the door, but I'm pretty sure I'll be using the same sheets for the entire 6 weeks). The bus for the 4 pm excursion leaves at 5:15, and you've just been sitting around bored waiting? Leysa mushkil.

It's very relaxing. We just laugh everything off now, and enjoy what we get.

Morocco: Always a surprise.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fourth of July weekend, Part 2

Alright, part two of my 4th of July weekend.

We got to Fes and decided to go straight to the hotel that Abdul Rahman (the staff person at the school who coordinates school-sponsored weekend excursions and helps students plan if they want to travel on their own) had booked for us. It was a decent hotel, with in-room bathrooms that had real toilets! I stayed in a triple with Kelly and Olga. After we showered, etc, we took taxis to the new medina (old city- Fes is so old that there’s the old old city, and the newer old city, and then the actual new city) to try to find food. Sadly, there really wasn’t anything around there, so we started walking back. We realized it was 4th of July, and then we stopped at a McDonald’s. How American of us. I tried the McArabia sandwhich, which was flatbread with a halal patty and some sauce. It wasn’t anything special, but it was fun to try it. We sat and ate at McDonald’s, making comments about how the clientele at the Fes McD’s is so different from the clientele in the US- here it’s obviously the upper middle class, and the restaurant itself is very nice- two levels, outside terraces, a playground. It was interesting. And now I’ve tried it and I’ll never eat McDonald’s in the Arab world again, inshahallah. Outside McD’s was this huge fountain that sang. I promise, it did. And it had lights- pretty much it was dancing in time to the singing. And we made fun of the people that were parked on the side just watching it until we realized we were mesmerized by it too. It was quite the experience.

Afterwards, we just went back to the hotel. It was very hot, so it took me a while to get to sleep. In the morning, we woke up at 7:30, got ready, and went to meet everyone at 8:30. I tried to get a coffee from one of those little coffee vending machines, but my café au lait was bidoon (without) milk and it was gross. We walked to find a café for breakfast- I had a croissant and fresh squeezed orange juice. We found taxis, and then had a really hard time convincing them to take us to the tanneries in the old city. But apparently it’s illegal for them to just tell you they can’t take you.

A little bit of background: the old walled city of Fes is the world’s largest no-car zone, as designated by UNESCO. It’s amazing how winding and maze-like the streets are. Our plan was to find the tanneries, but in the end we had to ask for a guide to get us there. We found someone who worked at the tanneries who took us there and showed us around, and then I’m sure he got a commission off everything we bought.

The tanneries were quite a sight. We stood on the terrace of a leather shop that overlooked the tanning pits. When you walk in, they hand you a sprig of mint to mask the smell, and you think, “Oh, it can’t be that bad.” But it is. We stood up there and looked for a while, and then the guy told us all about it. Donkeys carry goat, sheep, and dromedary (which apparently are not camels) skins into the tanneries. First they put them in the white pits with lye and salt to cure them. Then they wash them, press the water out, and put them in pigeon poop to soften them- apparently the ammonia in the poop helps soften up the leather somehow. Then the wash and press them again, and then they dip them in the color vats. The common colors- red (poppyseed), brown, and black- are in the pits, but the expensive ones- yellow (saffron), orange (henna), blue (indigo), etc- are hand-dyed. It’s so amazing. And I can’t believe that people do this their whole life, just stand around in those pits, 6 am to 3 pm every day. It’s amazing. And then you walk around the shop and you think, “If I came back in a few weeks, I’d see that leather they were just tanning made into products.” And the guy said if you want a leather jacket and they didn’t have your size, they’d custom make one in 4 hours for you. That’s awesome. I bought a present for my sister here. It smells like pigeon poop. =) Afterwards, the guy took us to his friend who does Berber weaving. We didn’t really see the weaving, he just showed us finished rugs, scarves, tablecloths, etc. I bought a present here, too, but I won’t say for who. It’s a surprise!

Afterwards, we decided to just make our way around the Fes medina. It was certainly an adventure. We didn’t go down any tiny streets, but it was still really crowded and fun and an amazing adventure. I want to go back sometime in not so large a group so there’s a little more flexibility in what we do. I could have separated from the group, but then we would have just met back in Rabat, because there’s no way we would have ever found each other. So one day I’ll go back, maybe with just one or two other people, and really spend all day exploring. After we walked around a bit, it started getting hot and people started getting hungry. We eventually made our way out and caught taxis back to the train station. We found a restaurant near there and just ate pizzas. Then we took a 2:50 train back to Rabat. We had a whole compartment of the train to ourselves, which was nice, but because it was supposed to have air conditioning, the window didn’t open. And, of course, it didn’t have air conditioning. So we sweltered for 3 hours. But finally we got back to Rabat. We unpacked, showered, etc, ate dinner, and went to bed.

Today the new classes started. A ton of people got moved to the afternoon, but I didn’t. I started the Beginning 3 level. It was fun. And now I’m hanging around cause most of my friends have afternoon classes. I’m about to go to the bank so I can pay for next weekend’s excursion to Marrakesh. And then I think tonight we’re going out to dinner somewhere. Hopefully I get a fridge and stove soon so I can start cooking myself dinner.

Up next: a blog post especially dedicated to my grandparents to reassure them that my trip to Marrakesh will be safe.

Ma salaam,

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fourth of July Weekend, Part I

So, I’m going to do this weekend’s post in at least two parts, so I don’t have to write a lot tonight but also so you don’t get overwhelmed by the amount that I write.

So, Friday night I moved down the hall into Olga’s double. It’s nice to have a roommate now, a lot less lonely. No more sleeping with the bathroom light on (yes, I’ll admit I did that. It was scary and lonely and dark). And Olga and I get along very well, so it’s perfect. But sadly, we don’t have a fridge or stove. I’m working on that.

Before I talk about my amazing weekend, I’d like to give a heartfelt THANK YOU!!!! to my parents for providing me with everything I needed for this trip and more, namely street smarts, a sense of direction, a sense of adventure, hand sanitizer, tissues, and a Lonely Planet guidebook. It made this weekend easy, fun, safe, clean, and awesome. It also made me the mother hen. You’d think, a group of 8 people ranging in age from 19-29 traveling in a foreign country, everyone would kind of be responsible for hirself. But no. Although I was the youngest one (albeit by 5 months), I was the one who got us places (thank you, Lonely Planet), who silently counted heads each time we stopped somewhere, who placated disgruntled group members…haha that’s not completely true, everyone did stuff. It was mainly that I was the one with the guidebook. So useful.

Anyway, Saturday morning we woke up at 6, got our stuff together (I took a backpack with a change of shirt and underwear, small toiletries, guidebook, and important documents), and met the other girls at 7. We took taxis to the train station and then met the guys. The group was: me, Olga, Elena, Kelly, Tifen, Geoff, Michael, Irish Patrick (as opposed to American Patrick), and William. We took the train for 2 hours to Meknes. The train was very modern, air conditioned, but there weren’t enough seats. I stood and sat on the floor for the two hour ride. When we got to Meknes, we took taxis to the medina, or old city. We sat and got some lunch (I got shawarma and fresh squeezed OJ…mmmmm), and then decided to split up and meet back at 1 to head to Volubilis.

First, I ran to the bathroom and had my first experience with the squat toilet. It was…interesting. A hole in the ground surrounded by porcelain or something, with two little places to put your feet and a spigot to use with your left hand instead of toilet paper (I carried tissues and used toilet paper- I’m not too adept at cleaning myself with a bucket of water while perched over sewage. But maybe that’s just me). There’s a guy that you pay 2 Moroccan dirhams (about 25 cents USD) who squeegees the floor after every use. It’s honestly pretty sanitary, considering there’s no seat to collect germs, but I just try not to think about all the people who clean themselves after bathroom use with that little bucket and then prepare my food and sell me my souvenirs.

After that fun experience, we walked around the market. Apparently we found the grocery store section: figs, olives, spices…and then as we got farther and farther in…pastries COVERED in bees….chickens, rabbits (all alive)…and the butchers, and then….the cow head.

Yes. A cow’s head. Just sitting there. Being shaved. By a man. There is no way on this earth I will EVER forget that. I really really really wish I had taken a picture of it, but I think I was just kind of in shock. The smell of blood, the cow’s eyes, the man shaving it with a bored expression on his face…we had to leave after that, it was too intense. We walked around the other part of the market, and then to the museum. Honestly, the architecture of the museum was much nicer than the stuff inside. It used to be the house of a rich family, while the stuff inside on display was really modern (1800-1900s). It was pretty, and it was really really nice to be out of the sun.

Then we caught two grand taxis to the ancient Roman city of Volubilis. We paid the taxis to take us there and back, and to wait for us for two hours. Honestly, I could have done with a little less time- ruins are nice and all, but there was absolutely no shade- but it was still nice. I didn’t make the connection that the Roman Empire stretched into Morocco, although I’m sure I must have known. The ruins are impressive- even having been around for over 2000 years, and having been exposed to the elements since the Lisbon earthquake decimated the city, many of the mosaics are still practically intact and still have color. It was very impressive. The site is huge, too, bigger than I expected, and the view of the countryside and neighboring cities is wonderful.

The taxi that I was in had a problem with hills, of which there were a lot- it would lose acceleration going up and just not get it back going down. So that was an adventure. Also, our driver felt the need to pass other cars around curves while our taxi couldn’t speed up. It was only by al-hamdulillah (the grace of Allah) that we made it there and back ok. Inshahallah (God willing).

The thing about countries that speak Arabic is that, because it is the language of Islam, everything uses the language of Islam as well. So even non-Muslims say inshahallah to mean hopefully, sort of. It’s interesting. I’ve gotten used to saying it. Along with other random Arabic phrases/words that I fully intend to keep using when I’m home, so it might do you well to learn them.
Mumkin: perhaps
Mumtaz: excellent
Leysa mushkil: not a problem
Leh shukran: no thank you
Maa salaam: good bye (literal=with peace)

After Volubilis we took the taxi to Meknes and the train to Fes. And now I will stop. Tomorrow I will tell you all about my wonderful 4th of July celebration (there were 5 Americans in the group), the singing fountain, the pigeon poop, the streets in the Fes medina, and the train back.

Here are pictures; I’ll put up the ones of Volubilis tomorrow.

Maa salaam,