Shopping Day

Finally got all my gifts bought...
Finally got all my gifts bought...

I got all my souvenir shopping done today–I waited until the end so I would have a good idea of fair prices and wouldn’t go overboard. The first week everything was so new and exciting, I would have spent three times as much on dumb stuff. So I’m pretty pleased with my purchases. I was careful not to get heavy stuff because I am really concerned about going over my suitcase’s weight limit from Rome to Paris. Everything should work out though!

Also, I took the bus to the school today because we were all meeing there… I’m glad my host dad drove me to school this whole time because it took like an hour. 15 minutes is much better.

Religion

This is kind of a re-hash of one of the prompts I had to write on today for my CORE final…

It is amazing how pervasive Islam is in the everyday life of Moroccans. One of the first things I noticed when I got here was the five-times-daily call to prayer. Every neighborhood has a mosque with a minaret, and each minaret has loudspeakers that broadcast the call to prayer once in the morning (4:30!) and four times throughout the afternoon/evening. In a Western country you just wouldn’t see this happening–for any religion. Maybe they used to do the church bell thing back in the last century.

Also–Brynn, Pete and I were talking about this yesterday at lunch–there is a much more relaxed atmosphere and people seem to get along with each other well. One of the pillars of Islam is giving to the poor, and they do. The streets of the medina are filled with the poor and handicapped, and instead of seeing them as a nuisance or a burden on society, most Moroccans I’ve spent any considerable amount of time with give them each a few dirhams.

Another thing is the way that religious talk prevades everyday conversation. There’s kind of a joke among Arabic learners that all you have to learn is “Hamdu-Lillah” (praise God) and “Insh’allah” (God willing) and you’re set to reply to any question you could possibly asked. In the US these kinds of phrases aren’t really used in everyday language except for the very religious or the (it could be said) “hokey” country folk (you know the stereotype I’m talking about). Here it is not only acceptable but expected. The answer to “How are you today?” is “Praise God,” because one should praise God regardless of whether they’re having a good or bad day. Interesting perspective and one I feel like I should work on having…

Lastly, there comes the idea of submission or being content with one’s lot. In America, there is a relative gain mentality. Being second is not acceptable. If your neighbor gets a new 2009 car, you need to 2010 model. Here, they really do subscribe to the idea of “God willing.” This isn’t to say that people don’t have goals or try to reach them, but they have the idea that they should be content regardless. Also something Americans (Christians especially) could focus on a little. I know I am going to try to adopt this perspective from now on.

Basically, these people put the majority of people who call themselves Christian to shame!

My Bus Station Friend

Arabic yesterday was just abysmal. I am so grateful that today is my last session (except for the final tomorrow). I don’t think I’m going to continue it when I get back to the US, and I am very OK with that. Whenever school ends, regardless of whether it was a good semester or a bad semester, its always a good feeling.

On a happier note, I have my hostel all booked in Rome!! Now I just have to find a way to get to the airport on Saturday. Apparently if I take a taxi its going to cost me 600DH. That’s almost a hundred bucks! No way. There must be a cheaper way. CTM bus? Get my host dad to drive me? The problem is that Casablance is a little more than an hour from Rabat. I don’t want him going out of his way, especially when he a) picked me up from the bus station at 5AM on Sunday and b) already went to Casablanca once this week to pick up a relative visiting from Canada. I know how unpleasant that many hours on the road in a week can be.

Oh yeah, also, speaking of the bus station at 5am. So, I asked my host dad to pick me up at five, and since Pete is staying with my host dad’s brother, he usually gets a ride as well. So anyway, the bus got in at 4:30 instead of 5 so we had a good half hour to kill waiting for our ride… Some Moroccan guy nonchalantly asked for the time, in French, so I showed him what time it was on my phone, and he asked if I spoke French, and unfortunately I said yes… so, for the next half hour, this guy talked “our” ears off (really, just mine because Pete couldn’t understand) about every topic under the sun. I couldn’t tell if he was drunk, because he didn’t smell like alcohol, but the way he was jumping from topic to topic was so strange that I didn’t think he was thinking normally. Anyway, first, he said that his dad was in Europe (or something; I couldn’t really understand) and asked Pete and I over to his place to hang out. So awkward. I told him we were waiting for our uncle. He asked if I was married to Pete. Again, I should have said yes, because then he might have left us alone. When he found out I was single, he was like half-hitting on me, half-asking me to convert to Islam. The whole conversation was just very strange. He told me all about how he smokes and he knows he shouldn’t, but when he dies he’s getting a new body and it all won’t matter. Then he started talking about how Nicolas Sarkozy is nothing more than a janitor who picks up the trash off the street. Stream of conciousness. FINALLY after, again, half an hour of listening to this guy talk about nothing in particular, he went off to his apartment which was “really, just two blocks from here, I swear,” and left us in peace. We were finally picked up and made it home. This guy was just really strange.

Weekend Adventure #3

Crowded Buses. Tents. Camels. Read on…

After class on Thursday we went to the train station and got tickets to Meknes. The train had little compartments just like Harry Potter!! Some old guys were amused by my Beginning Arabic textbook. Three hours later, we arrived in Meknes (around 4PM) and got bus tickets to Rissani… the bus didn’t leave until 10PM so we had somet time to kill. We’d heard good things about Meknes but didn’t see them while we were there. Searched in vain for a restaurant for about an hour… it was so hot we gave up and stumbled into the first place we saw, which was a bar. A note about bars in Islamic countries… technically Muslims aren’t supposed to drink, so the whole bar scene is on the down-low. They have very dark and small windows and usually some kind of curtain in the doorway so passers-by can’t see in. We asked if they had food; they did! We were guided to a room in the back with nicely set tables–it was so bizzare, like being in a speakeasy–and we got a LOT of great food for a supremely cheap price. It was awesome. Above all, they let us stay there for hours on end, escaping the heat in our dark and cool refuge. Oh, and they had plates with Christmas trees on them. Irony?

We took a night bus to our destination, which is the best way to do it because, I don’t know how much you’ve heard about deserts, but they are HOT. Even an air-conditioned bus is not pleasant during the day. It was impossible to sleep on the bus, but at least most of the other passengers were asleep so it was quiet. Eight hours later we arrived in Rissani, where we were promptly accosted by several tour guides who wanted to take us to their auberge. We were kind of skeptical but also supremely tired so we threw up our hands and went with them. Arriving at the auberge, they gave us hot tea and breakfast and gave us a few minutes to relax. We then discussed the price. Luckily, we had met two Canadian brothers on the bus who had come to the auberge with us, and thus we had a group with five people in it. This was a GREAT bargaining chip to get them to come down on the price. Brynn amazed us all by driving a hard bargain–in Arabic–and we eventually wound up with a one-night camel trek, sandboard included, plus accomodations at the auberge for 475 DH each, down from 700 each. Wow!

We slept all day in the beds provided at the auberge. Or at least tried to. It was over 110 degrees! Later at 6pm, after the worst of the days heat had passed, we set out on our journey!

It was AWESOME.
It was AWESOME.

After two hours on camel (rather tiring) we arrived at our camp, sandboarded a little (which is just what it sounds like… strap on a snowboard and head down the sand) and then our guide prepared us some dinner. Which may or may not have been gazelle meat.

Then we attempted to sleep under the stars, which were AMAZING out in the desert with no light pollution, but I woke up at about 3AM with a mouthful of sand and discovered that the fierce winds had all but buried us. Noticing that the Canadians had moved into a tent, I too moved inside, where it was uncomfortably warm but I wasn’t being pelted by sand. Pete and Brynn lasted all night in the sand.

Also, we asked the guides if we should be worried about scoripions (there were cats out there in the tents–5km into the desert–they said it was to catch scorpions), and he half-joked that scorpions weren’t a problem but to watch out for the Algerians [ongoing border disptue]! Thanks for being reassuring, guys.

The next morning we camel trekked two hours back to the auberge–I discovered bruises I had previously been unaware of and we had breakfast and a SHOWER. I think I brought home half the Sahara in my hair. Then they brought us back to Rissani where we caught a bus directly to Rabat–much better than changing in Meknes–and we arrived in Rabat at 5AM. I felt bad for my host dad who came and picked us up, and only in part because I smelled like three days in the desert and camel. Phewwwww.

As always, check the facebook and flickr for more photos.

Also, I have created a new section on the site called “Your Turn” where I put info about places I’ve stayed and services I’ve used just in case you want to do this kind of trip yourself.

School and Home Life

Can’t really write a lot here because I’m working on my last paper of the summer (Yay! For it being the last one, that is. Not for having to work on it) about drought and agriculture in Morocco. Riveting. But I do get to talk about climate change which is rad.

Anyway, my dad requested pictures of my everyday life, like where I sleep and go to school and such… this is reasonable and I am happy to oblige.

This is where I sleep. Pretty comfy.
This is where I sleep. Pretty comfy.
This is my school, deceptively small from the outside, it has six classrooms, offices and a computer lab.
This is my school; deceptively small from the outside, it has six classrooms, several professor offices and a computer lab.
This is the classroom where I take Arabic. A lot of desks for just one student...
This is the classroom where I take Arabic. A lot of desks for just one student...

Sorry about the picture posts with little substance; but I figure people like pictures, right? Well, this weekend I’m going on another adventure, out to the Sahara desert to get my camel-and-sand fix. I mean hopefully. I refuse to leave Morocco without riding a camel! Expect an exciting chronicle of my trip on Sunday night or Monday (depending on how tired I am).

Midweek Adventure!

So today after class we went over to Salé, which is directly across the river from Rabat, making the two almost like one city–or so it says geographically. Realistically, Salé is like a poor man’s version of Rabat. Also it smelled like garbage. I won’t be going back. However, I did get an amazing t-shirt. But wait! Let’s tell the story in pictures!

Check out those colors! Ready to cross the river!
Check out those colors! Ready to cross the river!
Luckily the Boat Guy didn't let Rajae drive...
Luckily the Boat Guy didn't let Rajae drive...
On-board snack? I wonder how long those have been there...
On-board snack? I wonder how long those have been there...

Now, most of Salé’s medina was like the dollar-general version of… any other medina I have been to on this trip, which was a real disappointment because I was prepared to load up on gifts for family and friends back home. But I didn’t because… I wasn’t in the market for used remote controls or knockoff sunglasses.

...but they had AWESOME fabric
...but they had AWESOME fabric.
A poor woman was selling colored chicks for 1DH each. That's her living.
A poor woman was selling colored chicks for 1DH each. That's how she makes her living.

Since the bus from school–boat across the river–walking several miles ordeal to get to the Salé medina took us almost two hours, we opted on getting a taxi for the way back. But there were six of us. Problem?

...no problem! Four in the back and two in the front (plus driver) is perfectly acceptable!
...no problem! Four in the back and two in the front (plus driver) is perfectly acceptable!

After the taxi we took another bus to school, then I took yet another bus home. It has been a bus-y day! (See what I did there? Its a pun.)

Also, today is July 7th! I have officially been in Morocco for one month. Seems like wayyy longer than a month though!

Two Week Mark

Today marks the two week mark. Two more weeks of classes! That means seven more sessions of Arabic and three more sessions of the CORE class. I wonder where I will be with my Arabic abilities two weeks from now. I still have a hard time coming up with sentences (read: it takes me ages to organize and formulate my thoughts such that if I attempted to speak Arabic the listener would get bored, stop listening and walk away) but my penmanship is pretty good! Hey man, I take praise where I can get it. Madiha’s husband showed me a sweet program I can download that will do virtual flashcards for me so I don’t have to rip up half of my notebook to make actual flashcards, so yay, saving trees and saving me time. Plus I can just pull up the program here on my laptop whenever I have a spare moment. Vocabulary here I come!

Fish. This weekend (and today) I have had fish like five times. Chicken, please! Also I had paella yesterday but it didn’t live up to the memory of the one I had in Spain. Laaaame. Oh well, at least I am getting over my aversion to shrimp! As long as they aren’t cold I can eat ’em, and on some occasions, even enjoy them!

Lastly, my host family may or may not be getting tired of me. I mean, I would too, idk. Anyway the oldest daughter has never really seemed like a big fan since the first day she dragged me along to the medina (third wheel on a date with her secret boyfriend!) and it just seems like I’m in her way. Oh well, she can deal with it, she is just a moody teenager. I think the younger ones still like me–they are more fun anyway! Wait, you say, Staci getting along with children? I know, right?

Also, Morocco is doing terrible, horrible things to my hair and complexion. It is so dry lately! Almost makes me want to go back to the humid days of my first weeks here. Seriously its making my hair like straw. I hope it pulls through okay because I don’t want to have to chop too much of it off when I get home!

Still haven’t ridden a camel although there were some more at the beach yesterday. The quest continues!