Saturday, July 28, 2007

Since U Been Gone

OK, I've been back home (ie AMERICA) about 2 weeks now. Which means I shoulda updated this baby a LONG time ago but I keep forgetting. Oops.

I posted a few pictures on my Flickr account, but I have to get a paid account for Flickr to allow me to post any more. For photos, go here -

Where I left off last time:

I dunno if I mentioned this or not, but ALIF threw us Americans a Fourth of July party. They even had hamburgers and hot dogs. Which almost tasted like America. Baghdadi got some Berber dancers and musicians from the Middle Atlas (apparently from his tribe, or so Yusuf said) to perform at our party. It was really neat. Baghdadi and some of the other ALIF people kept trying to get the students to go up and danced. People were reluctant at first, but after awhile, a bunch of people went up and started dancing. It was a really nice party. Sadly, no fireworks. Yusuf came up to our table (or at least to Kasie) and talked for a good long while. Apparently he used to be a musician and play in a band but he gave that up. He seemed bitter about it and wouldn't tell us why or many details about it. Now I'm really curious.

The weekend after the cat-catching competition, we took a loverly weekend excursion to the beach town of Asilah and then onto the village of Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains. Not too many details here, I suppose. We arrived in Asilah around lunchtime and stopped at a random hotel (Hotel Bellevue, I believe) to see if they could accomodate the lot of us. Because silly Ustav did not make reservations beforehand. Luckily, they had plenty of rooms. Most people were anxious to get straight to the beach. Me and a few others - Ryan, Kasie, Alyssa Lee, Emily, and Laura, however, were a pit peckish and stopped at a nearby restaurant where they gave us a complementary bowl of pickled fish and olives. Also weird decor on the ways. I don't think the place could decide whether it wanted to be a mediocre seafood restaurant or a hip modern artsy place for rastafarians. Food wasn't bad though.

After lunch, we set out on what turned out to be an adventure in trying to get a cab to take us to the beach. You see, Asilah is a beach town. Thus, it is on the beach. However, Ustav advised us not to go to the local beach, as we'd be harassed by locals. He told us we needed to take a taxi to "Paradise Beach" which was a couple of miles out of town and apparently AMAZING and a place where Moroccans and creepy Spanish men wouldn't oogle us.

Unlike Fes, where there are tons of cabs about, there were none to be found here. We must've walked the entire town of Asilah without seeing a single taxi. Finally, we asked a shopkeeper, who miraculously managed to hail one for us in like...2 seconds. However, the cabbie either didn't know where Paradise Beach was or didn't feel like going out that far. He refused to take us. Again, we were stuck cab-less and beachless. Despondent, we wandered the streets some more.

A guy came up to us and started pestering us, saying he could take us to the beach. We ignored him, and Kasie kept shouting at him in Arabic to go away and leave us alone. We figured he was just another sketchy Moroccan guy or a faux guide who would try and scam us for thousands of dirhams in exchange for taking us to a beach. He kept following us, insisting he could help us find the beach. Spotting a police officer, we go up to him and ask for help trying to get a cab or something to get to the beach. The guy continues to pester us and the police officer asks, "Do you know this guy?" and we reply no and tell him that the guy is bothering us. The cops can't really help, and we go to the hotel to see if they can get us a cab.

Well, what do you know, when we get back to the hotel, that guy that was following us is there! It turns out he works for the hotel and was really just trying to help us out in a non-sketchy way. Facepalm moment. We apologize profusely and he's really nice and a good sport about it and gets us a grand taxi. FINALLY we're off to the beach.

The grand taxi ride was half the fun. Grand taxis, unlike the normal petit taxis, can fit about six people. If someone sits on someone else's lap, anyway. The cabbie is really cool and joking with us the entire way and pointing out cool things. Unlikes most Moroccan cabbies, he actually tries to speak with us in Arabic. We get to the beach and he tells us he'll be back in about 3 hours to pick us on. The beach, of course, is unbelievably gorgeous and not crowded at all. It really was Paradise Beach. Possibly the nicest beach I've ever been too.

We go back to the hotel, post-beach, and I take a MUCH needed shower (first one in about a week...yup). Then a bunch of us go out for dinner at a nearby pizza place. Afterwards I wander with Kasie, Laura, and Alyssa Lee into Asilah's medina, which is relatively small but neat. Very artsy with lots of cool paintings and murals. Asilah is a cool little beach town. Alyssa Lee and I ended up wandering off away from the medina, down the "boardwalk" and we found...a carnival. A Moroccan carnival! It was very much like an American one. Cotton candy and spinny rides and carousels and everything. Amazing. We ran into Emily, Alyssa B, Chris, Megan, and Robyn around there. A bunch of them went on one of the rides, but I was too afraid. The carnival was really cool though.

After that we called it a night. Next morning we got some less-than-stellar breakfast at a local cafe and headed off to the mountains.

We got to Chefchaouen around lunchtime, after a nauseating ride through twisty turny mountain roads. A whole bunch of people got sick on that busride. When we finally arrived, Ustav told us that we had an hour to look around the town before we had to be back on the bus. Which is slightly unfair. We wandered around the medina and found a cute little restaurant with a terrace view, where we had lunch. Chefchaouen is a town famous for two things - it's pretty, strange blue walls (most of the walls there are washed in this really interesting shade of blue, it's gorgeous) and having really good weed. Apparently it's the pot capital of Morocco. Go figure. I suppose I can see that. Although it's a ridiculously gorgeous village, set right up in the muontains, it's pretty small and I suppose there's not much else for townies to do. If you're a tourist in Chefchaouen, especially one of college age, most of the locals assume you're there for the weed.
Anyhoo, lunch was really cool. We were up on the terrace, which meant we had a pretty cool view of the town. And the food was actually really good.

Our hour was up and we had to head back to the bus. It was really annoying because it took us 2 or 3 hours out of our way back just to GET here and we couldn't even spend more than an hour and a half in the town. Oh well. We headed back to Fes, where we were supposed to "study" for our final.

The last few days were full of final classes and reviewing for the final. The evenings were filled with rushing to the medina and other places to do some final shopping. Megan and I had a slightly amusing incident trying to find posters of the king of Morocco (don't ask), but I won't bore you with that. I bought a bunch of gifts for people, but didn't even nearly finish my shopping and I'm a little bit sad and ashamed about that.

The final passed uneventfully and I and most of the people in my class did very well.

The morning came when I and most other people had to leave to Casablanca to catch our flight home. It was really sad saying goodbye to the family. My host mother cried, my grandmother teared up. Then I started crying too. It was really sad knowing I probably would never see these people or this house again. Siham and her dad drove me to the school and Megan came too to wish everyone a bon voyage (she was on a different flight than us and was leaving from Fes instead of Casa). Siham asked us on the way there what we would miss about Morocco. She joked that Megan would miss the dijaj (chicken). We laughed. Siham cried too when she dropped me off and I cried again and promised to email her when I got home.

Yusuf was there to say goodbye and wish us all a good journey. Sadly he did not come with us, which broke many-a-girl's heart. We all wanted to marry him. We all got on the bus and headed towards Casablanca. I was really sad watching the Fes landscape go by. I guess it wasn't until then that I realized how much I would really miss it.

We arrived in Casablanca a few hours later. It's a pretty frickin' huge city. I didn't even realize. We drove around a little bit, passing by Rick's Cafe (which I'm sure was built after the movie) and the Hassan II mosque. We wanted to stop and take a tour, but we got there after the last tour of the day, so we had to content ourselves with just looking at it. It's an insanely huge mosque. HUGE. HUUUUUUUUGE. I've never seen a mosque that big. Apparently it's insanely fancy on the inside.

After that, we checked into our hotel and some of us went to explore the city. Ustav said there was a Chinese restaurant in town, which got some people excited. However, when we got there it was closed and we went to the beach to look for other foodstuffs. We stopped at the Megarama to see if the new Harry Potter movie was playing (it was, but of course it was dubbed in French). The Megarama was probably the only American-looking movie theater I saw in Morocco. After wandering around the city for a few more hours, we went to bed early, as we had to leave at 4 AM the next morning to catch our flight out of town.

And then, the next morning, we flew out of Casablanca. Siiiiiiiiiiiigh.

And that is the end of my tales of Morocco.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Almost Home

Inshallah, I'll be home Friday night. I'll miss Morocco like crazy but I'm a little anxious to get home at this point, 1) Because it is SO FRICKIN' HOT here now and 2) Because they raised the terror level in Morocco so it's now at its highest. Granted, I don't think that means much in the grand scheme of things and I still feel quite
safe here but I dunno. It's a little bit worrisome.

Here's what's transgressed in the last week or so.\

To give a little background:

First point - A few of the Mary Wash kids are fortunate enough to be living in the old medina while we're here. Life in the medina is very different from life in the Ville Nouvelle (where I reside). The Ville Nouvelle is pretty modern and unexciting whereas in the medina you might get run over by a donkey on your way to the taxi stop or have some guy ask how many camels it would take to marry you. The kids who live in the medina (Ryan, Emily, Chris, and Courtney) all live in the neighborhood of Ain Azilaiten (sp?) which according to Jai, our afternoon professor is kind of like, "How do you say...Harlem? The ghetto?" I've been there and it doesn't seem any sketchier than any other part of the medina, but what do I know. Ryan and Emily like to joke about living in Ain Azilaiten like they're living in Anacostia or something.

Second point - Morocco is a country of cats. There are millions, MILLIONS of stray cats in this country. It's crazy. There is not a corner of this frickin' country where you won't find a mangy stray cat. I've found them in the middle of the frickin' desert. Along with joking about living in Ain Azilaiten, some kids were joking about cats. Casey and Ryan decided it would be fun to get into the medina to go catch dirty medina cats. We actually set up a contest for this. The contestant would have to pick up the cat with both hands and hold it for long enough for someone to take a picture. There was a points system: 1 point for a kitten, 2 for an adult cat, and 3 for a dead one. I suppose this contest sounds cruel, but I can assure it was done out of love for the mangy stray cats of Morocco and that no cats were harmed in the process of this competition. Ryan won by the way with like...15 cats and 25 points. None of them were dead and most of them were kittens. It was a hilarious competition and I think we really confused the locals.

OK, my time at the computer lab is almost up, so I'll save the latest happenings for probably after I return to the states. Ma salaama!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Monkeys, Fish, and Chips

I deeply apologize, everyone, but I've had almost no time to get to a computer lately.'s a big update, but I'll try and condense it.

Last weekend, we had a free weekend (with no planned excursion). Thus, a bunch of the Mary Wash kids went to Tarifa, in Spain, to go party and have fun. However, I did not have the funds to go to Spain, so I stayed in Fes for the weekend. Megan was one of those who went to Spain so I found myself alone in Morocco with my host family a great deal. They're really really nice people, but I still don't feel very comfortable around them. I guess it's because I really don't speak Arabic that well at all yet, so conversation is very limited. But nonetheless, it was fine. We ate meals and watched Star Academy (which is the Moroccan version of American Idol) which was interesting.

After a day of shopping in the medina, on Sunday a bunch of us went hiking around Ifrane. It's a gorgeous area. It's very mountainous. Fes had been very hot lately, so it was nice to get away from the stuffiness of the city and into some nice clean air. Also, Ifrane is a really pretty town. It looks completely different from any other town in Morocco. I think in winter it's used as a ski resort and most of the buildings and houses have some kind of Swiss village decor thing going on. You could easily feel like you're in France or Switzerland. If you go to a national park or whatnot in Morocco, at least around Ifrane, you will be plagued either by boys which horses and donkeys and mules who want to give you a ride on them for 20 or so dirham or girls wanting to do henna.
After hiking in the parks around Ifrane for a little bit and enjoying some nature, we drove to another park in the forest to go check out the monkeys. In Morocco there is a species of monkey called Barbary Apes and they live in the woods around Ifrane and Azrou I guess. We went to the woods and I figured that the monkeys would be pretty elusive. But no. In the woods there were tons of them. You could get really close to them too. I think they're used to people coming by and feeding them, so they don't make much of an effort to run away. It was really neat being so close to the monkeys. I got many many pictures. On my way back to the van to head back to Fes, I was walking through the woods and a herd of what seemed like thousands of sheep and goats ran past me. It was like a stampede, man. It was kind of insane.

We got back to Fes around 5 that afternoon and I went to take a nap because I was pretty hot and sweaty and tuckered out. Not long after, Siham (the daughter in my host family) knocks on the door and says that they're going to go visit some relatives and invited me to come. I'm awkward enough visiting other people's houses and relatives in America so I was kind of freaked out at the prospect of having dinner with a Moroccan family I didn't really know or could talk to. But I decided to go anyway. It was a bit awkward because I couldn't really talk to anyone (except for Siham, but she was busy talking to the relatives) and no one really tried to talk to me so for the most part I sat awkwardly. However, it was really interesting to see the way family members interacted with each other and I tried to pick out some words. For the most part, they seemed to be speaking in daraja (Moroccan Dialect) so it was really hard. Most of the men seemed to retire to another room (until dinner anyway) and the women just gabbed and told what seemed to be very funny, loud boistorous stories. There's a girl I've seen around my host family's house. I think she's Siham's cousin and she lives in the apartment upstairs. I don't know her name, and now it's too awkward to ask, but she was very nice to me most of the night and helping me with the food and communicating somewhat.

After we got back from visiting relatives, my host mom gave me some harira (Moroccan soup....SO delicious), even though we'd already had dinner and then it seemed like everyone disappeared, except for the dad and son. I went to go change into PJ's and ran into my host mom. She motioned for me to follow her and we went upstairs to the apartment above and she told me that that is where her sister lives. We went to up the balcony and there was her sister, Siham, the grandma, and Siham's cousins (the one I mentioned before and a little girl around 8 or 9 who is really really adoreable). We sat around in the nice cool night air and ate some seeds and nuts. Siham was playing music on an iPod looking thing and her and her cousins were dancing and telling me to sing and dance and it was a lot of fun. It felt nice because it felt like they were finally inviting me to participate in things with them. Megan finally came back from Spain and the dance party continued awhile longer and then we went to bed.

The rest of the week was unexciting because of school and classes and such.

This past weekend, however, we went to Marrakech. Which is supposed to be a really big deal and an amazing experience and all of that and guidebooks and people have told me that if you're going anywhere in Morocco to go to Marrakech. However, most of us (myself included) had a really unpleasant experience in Marrakech. I suppose it is something to see, but I would not recommend it and all and would be reluctant to go back. I'll list some reasons.

1) The city itself sees many many tourists and I think the general character of the city suffers. There seem to be more tourists than Moroccans around and most of the things that are sold in the medina are marketed towards tourists. Whereas in the Fes medina, you really get an idea that people live and work there. The whole city is just very touristy
2) Many of the people we encountered we really rude, scary, and unpleasant. I didn't try to bargain and buy things in the medina, but friends who did said they had a really hard time with it and that the shop owners were really rude with them and unwilling to bargain. Also, people will grab you and grope and shout lude things at you. A lot of the girls in our group were harassed a lot. Although in Fes I'll get shouted at, it's never anything really rude (usually it's just something like "Sweetie" or "Ca va?"). Nowhere nearly as Marrakech.
3) These incidents are very common. I went with another girl, Hope, to go get gelato after dinner when we were in the Djemma el Fna (which is the really huge public square and food market where everything's happening). We were gonna go look at the food stalls and the performers around the Djemma el Fna as we were eating our ice cream. But as we were walking by, these musicians/drummers grabbed us, put hats on our heads and grabbed the Hope's camera and forced us in for a picture. It all happened so quickly and we thought that we'd just go for it, think we could just have to pay them a few dirhams when we were done. But as Hope went to pay, she gave them a few dirhams and they got really angry, demanding that they should be paid 100 dirhams. Which is completely ludicrous and we didn't even have that much. A verbal spar followed. Luckily Megan and Alyssa came by and saved us and the guys still tried to follow us and demanded to be was really scary but we got out of it. When we got back to the riad we all were staying at, a lot of people had had similar experiences with people shoving hats or snakes and things on them and demanding a lot of money. Or people just generally being really rude and crass and pushy and grabby. I didn't like it.
4) We got a lot of shouts as we walked by of "Fish and chips! Fish and chips!" It got really annoying after awhile. I guess they thought we were British.

A few positive things

1) Megan, Emily, Ryan, and I went around the Ville Nouvelle part of Marrakech, which is actually very nice. We saw the Kotoubia, which is a really famous huge mosque and we went to a really nice park and ate ice cream and people watched a bit. We also went to the artisanal, which is set up by the Moroccan government and sells Moroccan arts and crafts and things at set prices. I bought about 4 pairs of shoes.
2) We also found a really huge bookstore and I managed to get a lot of books in Arabic and I've looked through them a bit and I'm pleasantly surprised at how much I understand. This afternoon Megan and I went through a bit of Antoine de St. Exupery's "The Little Prince" (bil-Arabiyya) and we understood a good amount of it. Granted, it's a children's book but it's still really exciting.
3) The riad we stayed at was gorgeous.
4) There is a Pizza Hut in Marrakech and a couple of us ate there for lunch on Sunday. It tasted like home.

Oh, some van stories.
1) On the van ride TO Marrakech we had a really scary experience with our driver. Instead of taking the faster toll roads like he was supposed to, he decided to pocket the toll money we had given him and take the longer roads (he also gets paid by the hour apparently). We didn't realize this until it was too late and Ustav got really pissed off. He also drove really erratically and unsafely and there were many "I'm gonna die" moments. Then when we were less an hour outside of Marrakech he stopped us at a REALLY REALLY sketchy because he wanted an hour long dinner break (mind you, it was almost 1 in the morning at this point) and him and Ustav then got into a very loud heated argument in Arabic. Luckily, we made it to Marrakech in one peace, but it was really dicey there.
2) On the van ride BACK to Fes, we had a different driver (thank God!) and he was very very nice. However, we had a lot of van trouble and it nearly broke down about three times or more on the way back. At least twice, a bunch of us had to get out and push it as the driver attempted to get the van started again. If you've ever seen the movie Little Miss Sunshine, where everyone has to get out and push the van and then hurry and jump back in, it was EXACTLY like that seen. It should've been sketchy, but it was actually hilarious and fun.

OK, this had been a really long entry, so I'm gonna adios now.

Ma salaama!