Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Casablanca & Marrakech

After traveling to Tangier, the Sahara, Meknes, Fez, and Chefchaouen, I had doubts as to whether or not our final excursion to Casablanca and Marrakech would be exciting in comparison. Part of my initial woe over traveling to the two cities was the fact that both the Hassan II Mosque and the Marrakech medina had been described to me as “touristy” by a number of individuals. However, traveling to the Mosque was a very culturally enriching experience, as it allowed many of us non-Muslims to get a feel for the tranquility and serenity of such a holy center. Furthermore, the interactions I witnessed between average tourists and the determined shop-owners in the Marrakech medina helped me realize how vast the tourism industry is in Morocco. Furthermore, the degree to which the people of the city recognize tourism as an economic necessity is apparent in both their hospitality and their cross-cultural understanding, the latter of which was perfectly exemplified by the Muslims’ treatment of Europeans and Americans alike who were choosing to not practice Ramadan. Before this weekend, the word “touristy” had repugnant connotations for me. However, the Hassan II Mosque and Marrakech demonstrated that these types of places are absolutely essential in the worldwide quest of this century to strengthen cultural understanding between all nations and people.

Back home, in Hawaii, locations often visited by tourists are just as often avoided by the locals who tend to detest interacting with people who lack their intimate understanding of insular culture and lifestyle. Admittedly, I am guilty of this and, thus, have tried throughout my life to avoid becoming just another somewhat culturally ignorant tourist in a touristy place, like the two that we visited this weekend. This trip changed that for me. It made me, as well as others in my group, realize that if tourists and locals are both willing to be sensitive to each other and open to each others’ differences, touristy environments can evolve into places that promote tolerance and understanding, two sentiments that our world needs now more than ever. Thank you Casablanca and thank you Marrakech for helping me realize that.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hospitals in Morocco

As the days leading to my departure to Morocco decreased, my parents anxiety increased tenfold. They wondered, how would I take to the food? How would I take to the weather? What if I got sick? Would I receive proper treatment while in Morocco? We often hear horror stories about the hospitals in other countries such as women giving birth in unsanitary conditions due to the lack of rooms, equipment, and trained professionals. Or patients dying on the operation table due to a shortage in specialized doctors. Given these stereotypes, I found my experience at Ibn Sina Hospital in Raabat, Morocco to be quite different than I expected. The hospital, although bland and simple, is efficient in the treatment of its patients. Many African countries including Morocco need more specialists, but their creative solutions to the problem can provide valuable lessons for hospitals in the United States. Ibn Sina Hospital is able to quickly teach junior staff to carry out simple surgeries which would require years of training in the U.S. Kariima, an assistant nurse in the general surgery department, has been trained in three years to carry out cataract operations. In the United States, ophthalmologists would have to train for nine years before they could do the same surgery. Kariima, a native Moroccan who received her training in London, decided to return to Morocco despite several job offers in Britain. When I asked her why, she replied that being in Morocco allowed her the oppurtunity to work in challenging situations that tested her medical training and forced her to make the most use of her resources. Although Kariima hopes to return to London one day to continue her education to become an opthalmologist, she firmly believes in giving back to her country.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Going Native in Chefchaouen

When we entered Chefchaouen, our bus was full of the sounds of our oohs and ahhs as we took in all the shades of blue painted across the city's buildings and homes. Each door and and wall revealed a new contrast of light and dark blue, and the cobblestone streets only added to Chefchaouen's charm.
During our two hours of free time, I wandered the narrow streets of the medina with my friends and decided to put my newly-learned Arabic to good use.

Since I'm obviously a tourist, the prices shopkeepers give me are usually much steeper than the prices they would give a native speaker. Although I'll never be able to completely avoid this problem, I decided I could try and do something about it by not revealing how much of a beginner I am. Through a combination of using as much Arabic as I could, finally knowing my numbers well, and acting confident even when I wasn't entirely sure what was going on, I was able to secure a really good price for some napkins for my mother. Even our Moroccan tour guide was impressed with the price I got!
Scoring such a good bargain as a result of my Arabic skills made me feel like a true Moroccan native.


Monday, July 23, 2012

I ate a horse!... and other gluten-free Moroccan stories

by Rachel

During Ramadan, Moroccans break the fast with a traditional soup called harira. But harira is often made with flour, and since I’m gluten-free, I can’t eat any.  Instead, when my family broke the fast, I ate horse, cactus, and traditional yoghurt, which is sour, curdled milk to which you add lots of sugar to make bearable.
But how did I know I was eating horse? Before sunset, my family and I went to the souk where my host dad visited a butcher that sold just one kind of meat: horse.  In case I didn’t believe the sign, my host dad proceeded to act out a horse and say “neigh, neigh” multiple times while pointing at the meat to deter my skepticism.  He asked me, “You will try?” And, not wanting to miss the opportunity to say that I was so hungry from fasting during Ramadan that I ate a horse, I did.
So, now for the verdict – horse meat, yay or “neigh”? I vote tasty, though I don’t know if that was because of the meat itself or the way it was prepared (I am fortunate to live with excellent cooks). The meat itself was very chewy, like a well-cooked steak.  Admittedly, it’s not a meat I would prepare on my own, but if my family serves it again, I will eat it.
Yet I digress – I promised a post about gluten-free dining in Morocco.  But before I detail further, please note that my allergy is not severe, so I don’t worry about cross-contamination; more severe allergies may require additional accommodation.  Disclaimer finished.
Bread is the cornerstone in Moroccan dining, but not in Moroccan cooking. In actual dining, bread is served at every meal in place of forks and knives; in cooking, traditional dishes – tajines – typically consist of meat with vegetables, dried fruit, or nuts. The exception to this rule is couscous, which is a type of pasta served on Fridays. So long as couscous, pastelas, and pastries are avoided, gluten-free dining is easy.
Bread is also the most common breakfast food, served with jam, butter, or cheese, but most families and restaurants are accommodating: I usually eat eggs and some sort of fruit or a bowl of rice and milk with cinnamon in the mornings.
If you ever do miss the sweets, there’s no need to sacrifice your health: you can always have fresh fruit or flan, which are common desserts, or sip some sweet mint tea.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Quick Dialogue in Arabic


Five Days of the Week

Past Week
Last week  was a lot of studying and catching up from the weekend! On Thursday we visited a center for at risk youth. It was mostly younger kids, and we had music time with them, snack time and played with them. The kids are either orphans, have financial struggle, or trouble at home. Basically any problem a child could possibly have, this youth center will take them in! The Director of it is such a nice man and I can see why he does what he does everyday. I'm going to go visit the kids a few more times before I leave, hopefully once a week. I loved being with kids who are so full of life and love being around you. Impossible to not go back..


Adorable little girl we became friends with!

Love them
Visited my two friends who are interning at a juice shop close to the Medina...YUMMY!
Backyard at the school I'm attending! Sweet shot if I must say so myself...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

When in doubt, Laugh.

I had several fears before I moved into my host family's house.  
1. I couldn't speak Arabic yet.  
2. I was convinced that no one would speak English.  
3. I am horrible at charades, so communication would have to be limited to yes and no questions.  

When I met my host dad for the first time, my anxiety wasn't exactly put to rest.  "You speak french?," was the first thing he said to me.  "No," was the first thing I said to him, and then I just smiled and laughed awkwardly.  After a silent 15 minute cab ride, my nerves began to build.  What would the next six weeks be like?  Thankfully, the first person my dad introduced  me to when we got to the house was my wonderful sister, Kaoutar.  An 18 year old girl who speaks Arabic, French, and English.  

After these scary first introductions, everything began to fall into place.  The Kandousi family has welcomed many students from all around the world into their home, and they have become pros at making people feel comfortable and welcome in a strange environment.  I was no exception.  Within the first few minutes, I was already joking around with my sister and practicing the little Arabic I knew with my family.  So, basically, I just told every member of the family my name about 20 times.  

Now, three weeks later, I couldn't be happier or more thankful for the family I was placed in.  My mother and father are wonderful.  They are always willing to help me with anything I may need.  My host brother, Osama, is the same age as my own little brother at home, Grant, and they are practically the same goofy kid who never ceases to give me a good genuine laugh.  Most importantly there is Kaoutar my host sister.  We got along swimmingly from the start.  Everyday I come home, the first thing she asks me is "what did you learn today?," and then will proceed to practice it with me. If I am feeling homesick, she with talk with me.  I even help her with her English a lot of the time. 

I like to spend most of my time at home with my family.  I try and help them with cooking or cleaning whenever possible.  If they are sitting around talking and watching t.v., I will usually join them.  Once, I even lead the women in then house on a workout, which after five minutes turned into everyone playing leap frog. The next day my mom told me she laughed so much her abs hurt. The family has made me feel incredibly comfortable in their home.  I find myself calling it my home as well.  

The language barrier is not even a factor.  If Kaoutar isn't home to help me translate what I am saying, I don't let the in intimidation of using Arabic get me down.  I usually just give it my best shot, and if I mess up, which happens 95% of the time, we all get a good laugh.  I have found that if I don't understand what someone is trying to tell me or if no one can understand me, laughing usually makes everyone feel more comfortable and less frustrated.  

Everyday, communication gets better.  Everyday, I love coming home more and more.  Everyday, I get less and less homesick and more and more sad about the fact that my weeks with the Kandousi family are dwindling.  

Ashley Burke

Monday, July 16, 2012

Genoua Music in the Sahara

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Sahara to ride Camels with 15 friends in eastern Morocco. Needless to say, the experience was once in a lifetime; the stark contrast of the golden dunes and the black, expansive sky, sleeping outside under the stars, and, above all, the rolling pellets of camel poop. However, the thing that caught me most off guard during this excursion wasn't the Sahara at all, but, ironically, just a small stop along the way. After getting out of the van and into 4x4s to go off roading once the main road ended, we drove for about 40 minutes to a small compound of ten or so small buildings. When I asked the driver of the buildings, Abdul, he replied simply "Genoua," which he explained tersely meant 'black African.'
     The Genoua visit was fun: they played more traditional African music-- versus Moroccan music we've heard with arabic lyrics and strings-- as it they played (after some quick Wikipedia research) the n'goni (a 4-7 string lute guitar), the jeli dununba (a large mallet drum hung from one shoulder and played with a curved stick), and  the n'taman (an hourglass shaped tension drum), and the bells (pairs of metal bars with interlocking halves of metal spheres on the end). Anyway,they served us tea, we danced a bit, some people bought some CDs, and when it was all said and done we had a good time. What ended up surprising me, though, was that no real information of these people was ever explained to us. In fact, it wasn't until I was leaving the compound that I noticed the sign which said these people were not Moroccan, but actually from Mali. Why would a group of Malis be living on a isolated compound in the middle of the Moroccan eastern Sahara? What is life like for these people when tourists aren't around? Does my driver's lack of a response and others' unwillingness to give and explanation indicate that this is a touchy subject?
     Later that night I approached my Resident Director, Nabeela-- to whom I could talk about anything-- to talk about why there would be people from Mali living in Morocco. She told me about the big immigration problem Morocco lays claim to: in order to cross into Europe people from all over Africa come to northern Morocco to illegally cross the Mediterranean. Once these people are discovered by Spanish authorities, though, they are deported back to Morocco where they stay indefinitely-- to far from their home land but unable to enter Europe. After talking with locals in the week to follow about the immigration problem it's impossible not to notice the racism towards the Genouas for not contributing to Morocco yet living there, but also probably just because they look different and don't speak Arabic.
   What ended up being the best inside view on the subject was a student of the international school we're attending in Rabat. John, who works abroad in the Military, and was on leave with his wife and child in Morocco, explained that emigration from Morocco-- both of actual Moroccan citizens and Genouas, although the Genoua are usually blamed-- is an incredible problem to Morocco and Europe. It started in the 1960s and 70s when Europe still needed a cheap labor supply but now Europe doesn't have enough jobs even for its own. It's still only economically motivated. Anyway, the system is plagued with corruption and back dealing so that only a 2000 or 4000 Dhr bribe can sway a European guard to look the other way.
      In all, the trip to Sahara was a blast. Everyone had a great time and it was an unforgettable experience. But with that, I would urge others to look under the surface instead of merely staring at what lays in front of them. For me, a small, off color detail prompted me looking into something that really changed my view of Morocco, and my perceptual sets of other nations as a whole. All too often the vastness of a mosaic distracts from the smaller detailing which completes it.


breaking the ice by pearl

 July 14, 2012

Lauren and I went to a “store” to buy cactus silk cloth for our bed covers.
Down the steep cobblestone ally ways of Chefchaouen, blue and white stucco in the late afternoon sun. Down a side street, then turning left at an obscure sign  (in Arabic, which we can theoretically now read),  stepping over a man with a hat pushed over his eyes sunning across the doorstop, and into a the cool of the adjoining rooms. Carpets and cloth were piled high along all the walls and in between, cashmere, silk and an antique hookah.
Up a narrow staircase, and another, an we made it to the roof. Apparently the roof was were the leather goods were kept, sheltered by wooden roof and some elderly window panes.
(We spent 30 minutes haggling and, bags in hand, emerged­)
The sun was beginning to reach the ridge of the mountains, and from far below we heard someone call up in broken English
“HEY! Hey can you open the roof?”
So the old salesman and I went over and rolled back the canvas covering the skylight.
Peering down I could see the man from three stories below standing amongst the rugs, face turned upwards—
“HEY before you come down you have to tell me! How much does a polar bear weigh?”
                “Uh, what? I don’t know…”
“You must tell me!”          
                (This is weird…whats happening right now?)
“I don’t know… maybe 500lbs?”
 (Right they do it in kilos… I have no idea how to convert pounds to kilos… is it a 1: 2 ratio?)
“I don’t know, like 500 kilos?
(I mean it obviously depends on the bear… does he think there are polar bears in Washington? cause there’s not…) 
“How much do they weigh?!”

And I hear a faint cry from far down below:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Musings at Volubilis

Hi everyone, it's Joanna here!
On Friday (June 29), we headed to the Roman ruins of Volubilis. Not only were the ruins and surrounding scenery breathtaking, the experience of walking on stones that humans built over 2,000 years ago was incredibly humbling. As we walked over the ancient sewage system; as we admired the detailed mosaic floors featuring popular Roman mythological figures; as we sat in the remains of the bathhouse, I was struck with a sense of awe at the ingenuity of our ancestors. I think humans often get wrapped up in our own intelligence, with our smart phones and computers and modern household appliances, but seeing Volubilis helped me appreciate all that has happened on this earth and all that will continue to grow and develop on this same earth in the future.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's Raining!

Rain. And not expecting the expected. By Pearl

We left for the Sahara last Friday. On a bus.
Everyone was excited.
This was a defining moment for me, the pinnacle of my (extraordinarily minimal) exotic travels. Coming from Washington State I’m used to the rain -  it would be with only slight exaggeration that I claim to sometimes forgetting what the sun feels like.
Sahara however means desert (in Arabic, ‘Sahara’ is translated as the literal noun). It doesn’t get much more promising than that – this was as far away from home as I could get.
And we drove ten hours, and it took two days, and we visited several places, and petted monkeys, and danced to drums, and ate tajine and drank tea – we bought turbans.
Around 6 o’clock we pull into our ‘final destination’ – the official Sahara, sand dunes and saddled camels and the whole cha-bang. We were packed into  4x4s, 6 of us to a car. We sat there waiting to buy water. Hot, exhausted, and slightly nauseous. I was looking out the window, watching Ryan standing outside in his pink shirt. And then he looked up at the sky. And then I saw him look back at us through the dusty car window. And then he looked up at the sky.
And then it started RAINING.
And we sat there in the car, packed liked sardines and wrapped in sweaty headscarves. Two boys on a broken bicycle pulled up beside the car, soaking wet and laughing. And looking at us and laughing.
And our dear sweet mother Nabeela, who may not have slept the previous night due to circumstances very much in our control, cried out in a comically exhausted hysteria – “Is it actually raining!?”
And I just laughed and laughed and laughed. We were rocking that overcrowded van we were laughing so hard. And the boys outside were watching us and laughing. And it was raining. And there was thunder and lightning. And I was crying I was laughing so hard.

And that was the start to our trip in the Sahara.
It was pretty fun.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fez (Fes)

Fes Medina behind us!
Man in Fez Medina

Our first weekend in Morocco we visited a city called Fez. The two pictures I posted are in the Medina (Old City). It is a beautiful walled in old city with no cars. I absoloutley loved the energy of the place. The people, colors, shops, sounds, and smells are still present with me today. I loved how traditional it all seemed. We visited a silk workshop, leather tannery, and spice shop. It was so cool to see the people doing day to day tasks using donkeys, horses, and wagons. It is so different from what we see in the U.S. It is an unexplainable feeling to expeirence another culture and to have everything feel so new and different to you.

In Meknes

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Lost in Meknes

One of my favorite words to describe Morocco is vibrant. Everywhere you go, there are people, noises, sounds smells. It can be overwhelming. The most overwhelming place of all? The medina. While in Meknes, we took a tour of a mosoleum, the medina, and several craftsman shops. The mosoleum was gorgeous, and we learned so much. Anyone who thinks their rooms are small should look at what students there used to be locked in. And that's not a figure of speech- every night students were locked in their rooms. After all of the tours, we were given free time to walk around the medina. I walked off with Ryan and Ava behind me. We explored for awhile, getting deeper and deeper into the maze of streets and alleys. When I realized I hadn't heard either of them say something to me in awhile, I turned around and saw... Nothing. Nothing that I recognized that is. There were no Americans around, with NSLI-Y or otherwise, and I had no idea where I was. Were there cat calls and people trying to sell stuff to me? Maybe. I couldn't understand what they were saying one way or another, I just found it distracting. Thinking rationally, I retraced my steps until I found a shop that I recognized. From there, I followed families with young children until I was out of the medina. I'm not sure if any of them knew why I was following them, but they smiled and let me do it so it all worked out. When I saw that we were coming close to leaving, I even managed to eavesdrop and hear the mother say the name of the gate we were supposed to meet at. After fighting my way through the crowd, I found myself back in the central square, friends in sight. I didn't realize how nervous I'd been until I found them--- I was finally able to breathe again as I told them my story. As stories go, it's not that exciting. But at the time, I didn't know if it would ever end. Luckily, limited Arabic can get you a long way in the medina. And next time I walk around alone in the medina, my Arabic will be better and I'll be ready. I'll even be alone intentionally.