I deeply apologize, everyone, but I've had almost no time to get to a computer lately. So...here'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 paid...it 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.