Friday, July 17, 2009

So, this week has been fairly uneventful. On Monday, Kelly, Ale, and I walked to Label Vie, a mall-type place. Ale got lunch in the food court, and I had a fresh pineapple juice, which was good. Then we went to the grocery store part. I got enough food to last me through next week, including a lot of groceries. Afterwards, I just went back to the dorm, did work, hung out, etc.

Tuesday was the excursion to the Exotic Gardens. I don’t know if I would call them exotic, but they were really nice. I think hibiscus are my new favorite flower. They’re EVERYWHERE here. People use them as hedges lining the walls of their property. I would pick some and put them in my room, but a lot of the buildings here are embassies and embassy residences, and I don’t want to start World War 3. Also, the cleaning ladies would probably throw them out. They are so thorough. They do things I would expect, like make the bed, sweep, clean the bathroom and the sink, but they also wash your dishes, fold all clothes, straighten the desk, take out the trash, etc. It’s nice, but a little annoying- they throw away all my bottles, one of which was the Coca Cola bottle with Arabic script that I was saving. So anything I don’t want thrown away I put in my suitcase now.

Wednesday I stuck around after class because there was a lecture on the beginning of Islam. It was really really interesting. My teacher, Samir, was the one who gave it. It was in Arabic, but obviously he used basic vocabulary and talked really slowly. It was so interesting! I’m really excited to go back to Stanford and take more classes on Islam, as well as other religions.

Yesterday was the excursion to the Royal Palace. I was going to go, but I decided not to at the last minute. I was just really tired, so I headed back to the dorm and did my homework and talked to some friends. Apparently you need to show your passport to get into the Royal Palace…I’m not sure why. I went to another goodbye party, but I was so tired I came home soon after I got there and was in bed by 11:30.

Today class was really fun. He always asks us what we did the day before and if we have any news, and Kelly brought up Sotomayor. We talked about her for a while, and how good it was that the American government is slowly getting diversified. So that was really interesting. That lasted like an hour. And then, we were doing the conditional, and he asked, “If you were president, what would you do?” Elena, who is American, said she would throw Bush in jail. And Hanane, who’s Moroccan and Belgian, said, “That’s not fair, because he was fairly elected by the American people.”

And I could not let that pass. So I said, “Mumkin…”, maybe. And then Kelly and I tried to explain the American political system and the electoral college. In Arabic. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. But it was interesting. I don’t know how much the other students got it, but I think everyone got a kind of basic idea.

I enjoy class the most when we just talk about random stuff. It’s certainly more fun than grammar, and it’s a very organic way to learn vocab. For example, we learned the word for “to get dressed” from our vocab list the other day. And also the word freedom, because Maha, the girl on the DVD, was talkin about how her parents don’t give her the freedom to wear whatever she wants. And then we started talking about whether or not we thought people should have complete freedom to wear whatever they wanted, an interesting topic in a Muslim country, I think. There are two girls in our class who are Muslim, one born and one convert, and neither of them wear hijab. They do dress fairly modestly, though. And our teacher is Muslim and he said that his mother and sister wear hijab, but that to him, wearing hijab is not necessary. We pretty much all agreed that people should be able to wear whatever they want, although one girl said that she thought uniforms in schools are a good idea because then no one gets made fun of. But then someone brought up the fact that there should be at least some laws governing clothing or people would walk around naked all the time- we all agreed we don’t want to see all that. And then that lead to talking about things like naked bike rides in Belgium. It’s so random, but related to class, and a very good way to learn new vocab. Apparently Elena had always wanted to know the word for naked, but wasn’t sure how to ask, but now she knows! =)

Tomorrow morning I’m going to Tangier and Chefchaouen with Sarah, a high schooler from Pennsylvania, and Kelsey, a girl from Texas who converted to Islam a few months ago and wears hijab. I’m interested to talk to her and find out her story. And I’m also really glad it’s just 3 of us so that we can be more flexible. We’re meeting at the train station at 7, getting into Tangier around 12:30, grabbing lunch there and walking around a little, and then getting a bus to Chefchaouen. When we get to Chefchaouen, we’ll walk around there, and also try to figure out if there are buses that leave regularly back to Rabat. If not, we’ll catch a bus back to Tangier and a train to Rabat. We’ll see. We’re very flexible. I’m very excited because in the Tangier region, since it’s so close to Spain, Spanish is more common than French! And I love Spanish. And I miss it. So I plan on using that a lot.

I was planning on going to Spain by ferry, but I think I’d rather spend my time exploring Morocco, as I don’t know when I’ll be back here, but I plan on going to Spain for part of junior year. Actually, I’ll probably take the ferry down here for a little. I really like it here, and I might come back some other time to keep studying my Arabic. I’m really impressed by the Center- if anyone is looking for somewhere to study Arabic, I fully endorse the Qalam wa Lawh Arabic Center in Rabat, Morocco. Talk to me if you want more details!

I’m excited because today I paid for a trip to the Sahara next weekend! We’re leaving on Friday morning and coming back on Sunday. I think it’s going to be a blast.

Alright, that’s all for now. Look for more on Sunday or Monday when I write about my time in Chefchaouen!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Marrakesh part 2

Some pictures: (keep checking back for more)

So, Sunday mornnig we woke up at around 8, got dressed, and headed downstairs for breakfast. I had a pain au chocolat and some orange juice…mmm. We all left our backpacks and stuff in one room and went out to meet the tour guide.

We went to another palace and walked around. There wasn’t all that much to see, because they were busy setting it up for a huge cultural festival, complete with bleachers and a stage. We did get to walk around in the dungeon and climb up onto the terrace. It was fun.

Afterwards, the guide took us to the Ensemble Artisanal, which he described as a “Berber cooperative.” That’s not what I understood from The Lonely Planet, though. The idea I got was that it was a place where the government collected genuine Moroccan crafts and sold them for a fixed price. The thing about that is that you don’t have a chance to haggle for prices, so you usually end up paying more than you would just out in the souk buying from people who are just trying to sell their stuff. It did give me more ideas of stuff I want to buy, though, that I’ll buy in the souk in Rabat. Afterwards, we drove to the souk, and got out and walked to a Berber pharmacy. That really was cool. The guy explained all the products to us, ranging from the typical Moroccan mint tea to different oils and salves for aches and pains. I ended up buying quite a few things there, including some mint tea, so now I’ll have to buy a teapot before I leave… =).

After that, we walked around the different souk areas. We saw the shoemaking, the ironworking/blacksmithing, the weaving, etc etc. We stopped for a while at the places where they made scarves. The guy showed us a little about the colors, and then he put the scarves on some of us the way Berber women wear them. That was fun. I’ll put up pictures soon.

There was one guy in our group, a grad student from Duke, who insisted on buy somewhere almost everywhere we stopped. I appreciate that he wanted souvenirs, but I kept trying to tell him he can get the same stuff for cheaper in Rabat. He even wanted to buy a carpet! I’m not sure how exactly he was planning on getting it back in the bus or in a taxi back to his house…it was just kinda annoying that everywhere we went, he had to stop and try to buy stuff.

After the souks, we went back to the same place for lunch, and then got our stuff and headed back to Rabat. I slept on the bus (surprise again!), and then when we got back we caught a taxi back to the dorms. I expected to have a roommate when I got back, but I didn’t. I don’t think I’m getting one until next week, and maybe not even then. I’m not really sure.

So, that was my weekend in Marrakesh! Sorry for taking a while for the update.

Later tonight I’ll write about the last couple days, inshahallah. I’d do it now, but I’m about to head to a lecture on Islam.

Maa salaama!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Marrakesh part 1

So. Saturday morning I got up to go to Marrakesh. For some reason my alarm didn’t go off so I got up a little late. I was supposed to meet Ale at 7:15 but I got up at 7 so I missed her and she headed off by herself. I got to the school around 7:35, the last person there, but I wasn’t left behind! So that was good. On the bus, I sat next to Ale. She’s from El Salvador but goes to school at Skidmore in upstate New York. She’s really nice, and I like her a lot.

The trip consisted of 16 students and Mohammad, the man who does the excursions during the week. We took a bus (really a van that seats 17ish). The bus ride was about 4 or 4 and a half hours long. We stopped at a small roadside place and got some breakfast- I had a pain au chocolat and a fresh-squeezed OJ. I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned the OJ here- fresh-squeezed OJ is EVERYWHERE and it’s delicious. So so so delicious. Anyway. I slept for a lot of the bus ride (surprise!), and also read a little in my Lonely Planet about Marrakesh. I also listened to some music on my lovely iPod.

When we got to Marrakesh, we went straight to the hotel. It was a riad, a guest house, and I think we were using most of the rooms. We were in doubles- Ale and I roomed together. The riad had 2 levels with just rooms, and then a 3rd level terrace that also had rooms, and a 4th level that was just a terrace. Ale and my room was on the 3rd floor terrace, and it was nice. We dropped our stuff off in the room and then we all went out to get lunch.

We went to a place that served Moroccan cuisine. I got a kefta (meatball- probably lamb, I guess?) and egg tagine. The tagine is the name of this clay oven-type thing (kinda like a tandoor) that you put on the stove or in the oven to cook stews or meat and veggies. My tagine was SO GOOD. I took a picture. And then we had these amazing dessert things named shabbek or something.

Afterward, we met up with a guide named Mustafa and drove around Marrakesh. He told us about things as we drove, and we stopped in some places as well. First we went to the Marjorelle Gardens, where Yves Saint-Laurent’s ashes are scattered. The colors in the garden were GORGEOUS. I’ve been trying to put up pictures, but it hasn’t been working. I’ll try to put them up again soon. And the plants were really nice too. Then we went to another garden that was really boring. And hot.

After that, we went to a palace. Not of a royal family, but of a grand vizier and his family, or something. It was really nice. All the architecture and decoration looked Andalusian to me until I reminded myself that Andalusian architecture and decoration is actually Arab.

When we left the Palace, we went to the Koutubiya mosque. We couldn’t go inside, as non-Muslims (the only mosque in Morocco that non-Muslims are allowed to visit is the one in Casablanca, which I plan to visit while I’m here), but we walked around outside. That was nice too.

After the mosque, we had the rest of the afternoon and evening to do whatever we wanted. Ale and I walked around the big square that Marrakesh is famous for. We saw this guy that we thought was going to pull a snake out of a bag, but instead we watched this rather convoluted and confusing something happen. I think maybe he was a psychic? It was all very confusing. And then he shooed us away. And we were confused.

Then we walked around the souks (markets) for a long time. I was wearing my Arabic Stanford shirt, so everyone was reading it and shouting “Stanford!” (or Stanfaaard or Stanfrd) at us. Hint: when you’re in a country with a foreign alphabet and you’re just wandering around and possibly going to get lost, don’t wear a shirt with words written in that alphabet if you don’t want to be recognized. =)

We saw a lot of cool things, and bought some things we hadn’t seen in the Rabat souk. And we got some interesting offers- for example, one for “flowers for your eyes from the garden.” It was certainly an adventure.

We ate dinner in a place with a sign that said “Lonely Planet recommended”….but the falafel was weird. It tasted like it had anise in it or something. My shawarma was good, though. And we met this American who had been backpacking through Europe for the last couple months, but then “I ran out of money so I decided to just come to Africa!” It was interesting to talk to him…which is a polite way of saying that I don’t really care about the silver bracelet he just bought his sister, or whether or not it’s real. Maybe it’s just me, but I travel to experience new cultures, not talk to Americans about the US. Why do they always assume you want to talk to them? Or that you’re trustworthy? This guy asked us to watch his stuff while he went and did something else. Why on earth would he assume that we’re trustworthy just because we’re American? It’s a pet peeve of mine.

When we got back to the hotel (thank you, sense of direction!), we went up to the top terrace. The view of the Koutubiya minaret lit up at night was wonderful. And there were these tents up there with couches and pillows. We ended up falling asleep for a little before we went back to the room to sleep. The shower was…interesting. There was a bathroom in the room, with a showercurtain blocking it off from the room, and the toilet, sink, and showerhead were all there. So when you used the shower, the water spread around the floor, and got the toilet wet. It was interesting. We had AC in the room, which was wonderful before Marrakesh was hot.

Alright, I need to head to bed. I’ll update more about the second day in Marrakesh, as well as a little about the last couple days back in Rabat.

Maa salaama!

Monday, July 13, 2009

So. I realize it’s been forever since I’ve updated. Sorry about that. But here is an extra-long post, or maybe several, about everything since last Wednesday.

First of all, I came home Wednesday to no stove and fridge, so I borrowed Kelly’s and cooked some food for Olga and myself.

Thursday after class I went to Hassan Tower. It was supposed to be this huge mosque with the tallest minaret in the world…but it was never finished. It’s pretty awesome, though. I enjoyed walking around. We were there for the call to prayer, and it gave me a chance to ask Mohammad, the guy who does the excursions, about prayer in Islam. I learned that they say the same thing every time, but for the 5 different prayer times they say it a different number of times. And all this in Arabic! It’s amazing how much more you learn when you’re surrounded by people who speak it all the time. Not that people on the street speak Modern Standard Arabic (Fus’ha), but that’s what the teachers speak around the school, even outside of class, and all the other students as well. And Mohammad’s English, though pretty good and definitely better than my Arabic, isn’t great, so he does his tours in Arabic (fus’ha). He speaks slowly and clearly with simple vocab, and I usually understand most of what he says. Sometimes if there’s a student who’s fluent in fus’ha who also speaks English, ze will translate, but I really prefer when I try to speak with Mohamma in fus’ha. It makes me happy when I can understand, and even happier when I can translate for other student, especially those in Beginner 1 who are just starting to learn the alphabet.

Thursday evening we came back to a fridge! And a stove! And a clean room! But…Olga’s jeans were missing. And this was a mushkil kabir jeden. They were literally nowhere to be found, and believe me, we looked. So she called Adil, the school director, who said they would deal with it on Friday.

Friday was some people’s last days, including Olga, Chris, Tifen, and Alberta. After lunch, Chris and Olga cajoled me into going to the beach. I’m so glad I went. We got an umbrella (thanks Chris) and beach chairs (thanks Olga), and just lay on the beach for a couple hours. It was heavenly. I got tan- I am reclaiming my African roots, mainly the large amounts of melanin that is my birthright. Then we came back to the school for Olga to talk to Adil again about the jeans- it was a very big deal to him that something was stolen from a student residence. After they got all that sorted out, we went back to the dorms. And our room had been cleaned. Again. But still, no pants. But luckily nothing else was missing.

There was a small get-together at the old school to say goodbye to people, so Olga and I got ready and headed over to that. As we were waiting for the taxi, Olga got a call from Alberta…she had found a mysterious pair of jeans in her room. The transformation was magical- she was literally jumping up and down in the street. We went to Alberta’s room and they were indeed Olga’s pants. And she was excited. Our best guess is that when they cleared some plastic trash out of our room, they picked up the pants with it by accident, and then dropped them when they were cleaning Alberta’s room (which is in another building, mind you). Then, they found them in there and assumed they belonged in there. So. Problem solved. The cleaning ladies do not steal, and I no longer feel the need to put a sign on my door asking people not to clean.

We went to the old school, and Chris, Michael, Olga, and I went to dinner. I got some really good spaghetti. Then we went back and hung out for a while. I was my friend Samuela, who is pretty sick. She’s lactose intolerant, and the host family gave her some food with milk anyway, and then she went to the doctor, and the medicine he gave her apparently had lactose in it. So that was awesome. She got other medicine, now, and she’s doing a little better, but still.

Then, when Olga and I got back, Kelly came and knocked on our door. She’s been feeling off ever since we went to Fes, and had been to the doctor once already- he had given her some antibiotics. Friday night she was having bad heartburn that was spreading through her chest, so she called Adil to take her to the clinic again. Olga offered to go with, since Kelly doesn’t speak French, and if she had to get certain tests done Adil would have had to wait outside since he was a man. Good thing Olga went, because apparently Kelly had typhoid fever. She had been told the last time but didn’t really understand. So she got some other medicine to help her stomach and she’s feeling a lot better now.

So, that’s everything up until Friday night. Tomorrow, I’ll post about my weekend in Marrakesh- it was really really fun.

To my grandparents: I made it home safe and sound from Marrakesh! And I felt safe the whole time. =D

Tomorrow, look for a full update about the whole weekend, plus probably an update about the Exotic Gardens tomorrow.

Much love,