Saturday, December 22, 2012

C'est la vie. Until next time

                So I’m home. It’s been a week since I got home from Morocco and I was really unsure as to what I wanted to write my final blog post about.
The last couple weeks there were crazy. Between writing and presenting my fifty page paper, packing, moving out of the apartment and worst of all, preparing for goodbyes. Where did the time go? On our far too early bus ride to the airport, I sat there saying, didn’t I just get here?
                All clich├ęs aside, actually it felt like I just got there. For over three months I lived in a foreign, developing country where I didn’t speak either of the languages most commonly spoken. I lived with a host family, I traveled, I went to Amsterdam, I researched, I took classes and I learned so much while I was over there. So much about the country, people and culture I was immersed in, but also about myself.
                I was sad to leave. Sure, I was/am excited to be home. Especially for the holidays… But it’s hard being back home. I’m readjusting all over again. Here’s the thing though (this is how I’ve been trying to explain it to people…) I always knew I’d be coming home and that my friends and family would be here for Christmas break. There was never any doubt about that. The friends, who were basically family, that I made in Morocco? The chances of us all being back in Morocco to visit, is incredibly slim to none. This is what makes it hard. These people were there the entire time, through all of the adjustments, good times, hard times, ISP, traveling, everything. There were there and understand what happened in a way that people back home cannot understand.
                How was Morocco!? That question is asked all the time. And I asked it too when I had friends get back from being abroad. But honestly? There’s no way of being able to completely answer that. Morocco was hard, eye opening, fun, exciting, different, a learning experience and so many other things that I cannot put into words. Me and all those other people threw ourselves into a completely different world for more than three months. This is not something that can adequately be put into words.

                I am happy to be home though, like I said it is good to see my friends and family for the holidays. Although I would say I never got really homesick, I did miss everyone. It’s hard having to reassure people that yes, I did miss them and yes I do really miss Morocco already. It seems to be hard for a lot of people to understand that coming home from being abroad is not always easy. I lived there, in the community, for three months. Hell, that’s where I got my first apartment. These things aside, I missed everyone here. And to be a little selfish… I did miss luxuries such as:
1.       Western toilettes (And there being toilet paper in every bathroom)
2.       REAL SIZED COFFEE (and to go)
3.       The freedom as a women to: A) talk to men freely. And B) not get cat called.
4.       Getting my ability to communicate back.
I can honestly say though…I would love to go back to Moroccan weather…all this rain and cold and wind…not loving it. Hopefully it will clear up for Christmas though. (It is nice being back around all the Christmas stuff though…)

Then comes the next question though. Would I go back? Yes, I would go back, in a heartbeat. I would not hesitate for a second to go back and travel around some more.
                It definitely would not be the same though. Sadly, my journey to Morocco has come to a close and now I am getting ready for my next adventure to India. I am excited and nervous. Will I love it as much as Morocco? I’m sure I will continue to reflect on my experiences in Morocco, while I’m in India. These things take time.
                I would love to shout out quickly though to all the fabulous people in my program, Kelly, Leah, Ronja, Nikki, Jordan, Becca, Kelly, Camilla, Monzi, Josh, Ben and Sophia. You guys made the semester so fabulous and you are great friends. I miss all of you.
                Of course there are so many others that played a huge role in making the semester what it was, probably too many to list out. But they know who they are J

Final words of advice? I encourage anyone to go abroad. It is an experience of a life time and you will not regret it. Push yourself, you’ll gain so much from it.

Until next time Morocco!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Off to the Sahara!

So this past week, (while I should have been working on my big project…oops) I traveled around a bit. A girl on our program was celebrating her 21st birthday and her parents came to visit Morocco. They then invited all of us down to Marrakech for a birthday dinner. This dinner get together is something most of our group had been looking forward too since we heard about it before our ISP (independent study project) time started because we’ve all become really close. Most of our group was traveling around and we hadn’t been able to see each other in a few weeks, which is forever when you have lived through so much with these people in the past three months.
                My roommates and I, as well as a couple others, all traveled to Marrakech together. So one 4 ½ hour train ride later, we arrived in Marrakech.  I learned a couple things on this trip that I didn’t last time. First off, taxi drivers do not like being shown wrong by foreigners. We had to take a cab to the Medina where the hostel we reserved was. Since there was five of us we decided to pay a little extra and take a grand taxi (since we wouldn’t have a full taxi of six passangers, it’s a bit more pricey.) So we ask and the driver wanted over 100 dirham. (Which, is freaking ridiculous) We said, No we want the meter. He tried telling us “In Marrakech, we don’t use meters.” Okay, this is a lie. We’ve lived in this country long enough now to know that yes, yes you do use meters. And yes, we have been to Marrakech before and had taxi’s with meters. We aren’t stupid. So we tell him, We have lived here and we have taken taxi’s in Marrakech, we know you have a meter.  His response? No. Good night, besslama have fun walking. Welcome to Morocco, you know nothing. (Real mature right? I mean he was a grown an acting like a thirteen year old.) We of course, move on to the next set of taxi drivers that refused to take us for the price we wanted. They said it was impossible to find a taxi driver to take us for that little. Factoring in that it was later at night, thus making it more expensive, we didn’t have enough people for a full taxi and we had luggage, we allowed for no more than 10 dirham a person.  We of course, found a driver willing to take us for that price. The original taxi drivers looked highly annoyed that we had in fact, proven them wrong.
                Next lesson: the people in Marrakech near the big square hunt tourists. We arrive and I called the owner of the guy from the hostel to come and meet us at the door to the Medina. He was going to bring us there since it was dark and he didn’t want us to get hustled. We start walking towards the spot we’re meeting him and this guy approaches us telling us “I take you, where you go.” First, we tried politely refusing because you can’t always trust these people to bring you where you need to be and also they ask for a lot of money in return. He kept following us and talking to us. Finally, we said, “Sir, we don’t need your help. Someone is coming to get us.”  His response? (Again, real mature.) “F*** you, you’re bad tourists. You’re rude.” He then proceeded to wait to see if we actually got picked up or had just told him that. Of course, when Rachid came and picked us up this guy slumped away. The people in Marrakech are too aggressive for me and I think they act this way because it’s so touristy.
                On a positive note, we went to a FABULOUS dinner and great company. We were all so excited to see each other again. (Can’t even think about how sad I’ll be when everyone goes back to their universities…)

The next morning, Kelly, Leah, Ronja and I decided to go to the Sahara. Say what? That’s right, the Sahara. It was AWEOSME but so far away. We drove all day Wednesday and spent the night in the Atlas mountains. And then got to Merzouga on Thursday and rode our camels to a camp in the desert and then spent the night. We drove all the way back to Marrakech on Friday.
                The drive there, was beautiful. Driving through the mountains, visiting valleys and gorges and a Kasbah that was in a bunch of movies including The Prince of Persia (the most recent one) and a bunch of other sites was great. We had a fairly small group on the tour besides me, Leah, Ronja and Kelly. There was a guy from New Zealand, a guy from L.A, a girl from Connecticut who just finished living in Uganda for a year, two guys from Argentina and then two Moroccans touring their country. Everyone was loving it. The one thing we weren’t loving though, was how cold it was. But seriously, it was so cold. If you had told me back in September that I would need hiking socks, long sleeves, a sweatshirt AND a jacket, I would have laughed. At the hotel we stayed at? Kate, (the girl who was in Uganda) and I rented a space heater for the room. It was unbelievable. So okay, it is the mountains, it should be colder there.
When we got to the Sahara though…it was almost as cold there…it was a bit warmer during the day but then at night it got really really really cold. We slept under like four blankets and in all of our clothes.
However, despite it being freezing, it was completely worth it. The desert was amazing, we were about 50kilometers from the Algerian border and the sand just went on forever. Just rolling dunes of sand was basically all you could see. (We tried dune surfing but with very little success.) We rode the camels for about 45 minutes to get to our little spot in the desert, it wasn’t too far but far enough for an experience. We had a great dinner, a campfire with drums and music and then proceeded to sit on top of a sand dune and hang out until midnight. There were a bunch of shooting stars that night too which was great. We had a full moon too so even at night you could see up to a couple miles of the desert.
The next morning we woke up at 5:50am rolled out of bed and back onto our camels to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful as to be expected. After getting back to the place we started and having breakfast, we loaded onto our minibus, blasted the heat and started the trek home.
                We had an adventure getting home because there was a storm in the mountains and in Marrakech. We drove through the mountains at night during a hail, snow and rain. There were a couple accidents we passed along the way. Said, our driver, handled everything very well though and we all did a dance of happiness when we reached the bottom of the mountains.
                At the end of a long three days, I can now say I’ve rode a camel in the Sahara desert and slept there for a night. We had a great time and met some great people (One of which I may see again since they’ll be traveling in India starting in February.) It was a fabulous week/break from my project!

Now, time for pictures bizzeff.

The start of our fabulous excursion, hello mountains

Getting closer to the desert...with snow covered mountain tops in the background

 Super famous movie Kasbah

Just picture it...Jake Gyllenhaal running around.  Oh, and apparently part of Gladiator was filmed here too.

More fabulous mountain scenes

 Largest oasis in Morocco

Some Palmeries

Woop, big gorge!

With goats climbing around?

The Sahara!

Our chariots were awaiting us.

Sunset :)

Our house for the evening

Sunrise! (Camels are not animals that like being woken up early...they were making an awful lot of unhappy groaning noises. One even tried to run away.)

 Sunrise on the horizon. :)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fes, Cats named MoMo and Dinner with Neighbors!

This is going to be a long post, partially because of all the stuff that's happened and also because of the loads of pictures I'll be posting from Fes!

It feels like a lot has happened in the past week or so. ISP is continuing to move along…sort of. I feel as though I need more time to do this project justice. My adviser has been great and is pushing me to get things done but there are so many other things I’m trying to do too. I really wanted to get to the Sahara and a few other places, but as I only have three weeks left here, I’m not sure I’ll get to them L (I’ll just have to come back, right?) People are being so incredibly helpful though with the project and I have so many resources.
In the middle of all this crazy ISP work though, my friend’s parents came to visit. Her mother and cousin got here first and they were all going to Fes. I hadn’t been yet, so they invited me to go with them. (This was officially decided about two hours before they were leaving.) When we got off the train in Fes, we haggled with the taxi driver who said he didn’t have meter (but he did.) I swear, the taxi drivers think we’re stupid.
Our cab pulled up to the wall of the Medina and we got out to walk to the hotel. I swear, there was a castle in front of me. This place was HUGE. The doors were held open to us, we were offered scented hand towels, which when we were finished were collected in a brass looking hand bucket. As we checked in and filled out the appropriate paper work, we were brought tea and cookies. (All of which were phenomenal.) Our rooms had beds that were so soft and hot showers (obviously).  We hired a guide for the Medina. It’s the largest Medina in Morocco with 6,000 streets 60% of which lead to one ways and it is the home to 120,000 people.  Our guide, MoMo (Short for Mohamed) lead us through the narrow streets giving us a good history of Fes, which is the religious center of Morocco and the center for crafts, and bringing us to good touristy shops. After a full day of tourism we headed back to the hotel to get ready for what would be a fabulous dinner. We went to a riad and had a huge dinner with appetizers, then soup, then pastilla, followed by our main course, which was topped off dessert and then tea. We basically had to be rolled back to the hotel.
Day two consisted of a brief tour up to some tombs and a stop in the Medina. My friend Kelly and I had to leave shortly after that because of obligations for our projects.  After our close to three hour train ride back we arrive and look to hail a cab back to the apartment. One cab driver, (yet again) thought we were stupid and tried to charge us over double what it would normally cost and told us it was because there were only two of us and didn’t have a full cab of three. (Literally, this is the just bull because after living here for close to three months, that has NEVER happened.)We tried to explain to him that we aren’t tourists and that we live here and that we know it doesn’t cost that much…I think he got embarrassed that he got shown up by a couple of American girls, because he then proceeded to walk away with his hands up without saying anything.  Needless to say, we found a cab that cost far less.  Here are some Fes pictures! :) 

The narrow streets of the Medina,

 Taxi station! No cars or scooters allowed in the Medina, so they use donkeys and mules. MoMo the tour guide referred to them as taxi's.

 The tannery's in Fes! Yes, I saw some in Marrakech. However, the ones in Fes are far bigger and older.

 Market time, free range chickens.

 Snails bizzeff.

 Some of the doors and architecture.
 The mint man!

In a madrassa.

 Rug factory. All handmade.

 Fabric maker.

Petite taxi

In a Koranic school


Berber Pharmacy :)


 On one side, it overlooks the Medina

 On the other, it's the country side

 Kelly and I!


After getting in the cab though, Kelly and I saw something I hadn’t really seen here. I’d heard about it, but I had reflected on a bit in the blog post about the Morocco I know and the Morocco other people seem to know. There was a protest going on, per usual, and the riot police were out, per usual. Some people started running and we watched the police pull a young woman aside. She couldn’t have been much older than us. She was cornered against a van and had her arms crossed. She wasn’t lashing out at them or trying to hit. They were clearly yelling at her, she said something back, and then they started shoving her. Then, one of the officers raised his night stick and smacked her across the head with it. We watched her lock up and then fall over to the cement unconscious. The police officers ran away, leaving her in the middle of the road to be picked up and moved by pedestrians. Kelly and I were surprised and unsure of how to react as our cab drove us away from the scene that happened only about 150 feet away from us. It was and still is hard to process the differences in the Morocco I have been exposed to and the other layers that I don’t witness as a student.

On a happier note though, some other good things have happened this week. We “adopted” the neighborhood cat. He was meowing around our door one night, so we gave him a piece of chicken. Now, he comes around every night around dinner time. We leave him some milk out and feed him left overs. We named him MoMo. J
Also, we came home last night and we ran into our landlord/neighbor. He and his family invited us over for a couscous dinner and tea at his house for Ashura. He once again emphasized that we’re his family now and that he wanted us to participate in celebrating. We, of course, agreed and were told to be ready by eight. Shortly after that, as we were getting ready to go on the hunt for rife (a delicious pastry/bread/fried thing) we receive a knock on our door. There stands our landlord, HAVING READ OUR MINDS, holding fresh homemade rife from his wife. It was the best rife I’ve had since I’ve been here. This of course made us excited for couscous dinner.
At 7:15 we were summoned and brought over for dinner. We met his brother, mother, wife and three kids. The family was so welcoming and made sure we were all comfortable on the terrace before serving us more homemade breads, couscous with vegetables and the several cups of tea. The kids were playing with their presents from Ashura. The little girl, who is three, got a doll and a princess set type thing. The doll, when squeezed sings “Barbie Girl.” (We woke up to the sound  of the song this morning…) The young boy, who was six got a toy sword. The conversation was an interesting mix of Arabic, French and occasional English. The best part was that we didn’t need to have great language skills to have a good time. We played with the kids and talked with the parents. I think the grandmother was just excited to have us over. She kept patting us on the arm and smiling.
We have officially been invited over on Monday to learn how to cook. We’re learning how to make a special type of chicken and maybe couscous. We have been adopted by our neighbors! It was a great day and hopefully she’ll teach us how to make rife some time too…