Sunday, October 1, 2017

Up North

This is an incredibly belated post, but at the beginning of the summer we took a trip up to northern Morocco to the cities of Asilah, Martil, Tetouan, and Tangier (or AMTT as they will be collectively referred to henceforth). I really like northern Morocco, partially because it is a little more western/European and partially because the weather is a lot more familiar to me. It is still hot in the north during the summer, but these spots are much cooler generally speaking, and there is a fair amount of humidity. AMTT are along the northern coast of the country, hence the humidity and easy breezy beautiful looks in some of my photos.

Aside from the familiar humidity, the feel of northern Morocco is very different than Meknes, per say. Meknes is much further inland, and while there are some really interesting historical landmarks in and around Meknes, it does not draw the same sort of tourist attention as AMTT. These cities have the perk of being just a boat ride of short plane trip away from several European countries, so tourism is really big and accounts for the more western vibe. Generally speaking, a lot of French and Spanish tourists visit Morocco, but specifically these cities.

I really enjoyed this trip and it was an interesting opportunity to get to know some of my classmates better, but I definitely was not prepared for how much of a treat it was in comparison to the heat of Meknes (even if we showed up to our accommodations in Martil only to find a lack of sheets/blankets, towels, TP, basically anything essential). One of the best things was that it actually got cold at night in Martil and I found myself wishing I had a little blanket to curl up under. I learned pretty quickly after this trip to always pack my super portable microfiber towel and a sheet. I was also glad to have brought some of my own TP and my UMD Terrapin pillow pet (make fun of me all you want, but that thing has come in handy more times than I can count!).

Here are some pics that myself or others took while on the trip:

Me, classmates, guides, language partners, and a random dude
with lots of almonds posing in front of a Bab (door) in Tangier.

Chilling on the beach in Martil. 

A view from inside Hercules Cave near Asilah.

A view of the water and the city walls in Asilah. 

Me on the balcony of a cafe that overlooked the ocean in Tangier.

I ended up getting really sick on this trip and taking a visit to the doctor for the first time, but I'll save that for the next post.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

One Month Later

So as some of you can probably recall, my first blog post was charged with a lot of feelings about Morocco, my experiences after one week, and basically everything. Now that I've been here for a month, I have even more thoughts! 

For starters, I no longer feel utterly inadequate in my Arabic skills!!! I feel comfortable handling nearly every situation I'm in on a regular basis, whether that be buying something from a hanut (I'll do a post about the different kinds of shops here eventually), taking a taxi by myself (day or night!), asking/giving directions (yes, believe it or not, Moroccans have asked ME for directions), buying medicine at the pharmacy, ordering in a cafe, describing medical issues to doctors, and I think I can say I have just about mastered the art of the Moroccan greeting (will also do a post on this). The only times I still feel anxious over my language abilities are when doing my FusHa (Modern Standard Arabic/MSA) homework, but that's because there is still so much to learn. I feel pretty good about my writing skills, shout-out to Ustaaz Peter for all of the expressions and writing practice. 

People often still default to French with me, but I now have the confidence to insist on Arabic (it also helps that I don't speak French!) and not shy away from the interaction. I stand by what I said about packing a LOT less, though. Everything here is incredibly cheap in comparison to the US. I could have saved roughly $100 by packing just one large suitcase and a good-sized carry-on, as opposed to two large suitcases and a carry-on.... 

About the clean feet... My feet still never feel clean, but I wash them every day! It doesn't bother me as much as it did the first week, there's just a lot of dust everywhere and I mainly wear my Birkenstocks (which I highly recommend). Birks are great because they are really sturdy and can withstand the amount of walking I do in Meknes. For Capstone students planning on getting Birks, definitely worth the investment, but be sure to buy the cork sealant so that if they get wet they don't crack. Also, buy a moisturizer once you get in country and moisturize your feet every night to avoid them drying out from the heat/dust.  

I also stand by what I said about smells, tissues, and poverty. There is a lot of poverty here and it is really heartbreaking, but in the fall I have an opportunity to volunteer with an organization and work with some of the disadvantaged groups in Meknes and to feel like I can make a bit of a difference. Even just being able to give away a few dirhams (the currency here) here and there in my taxi rides to/from school is one way to positively react to the poverty around me. As for the smells, eh, just gotta get used to them! There are a lot of interesting smells, both good and bad, and they hit you very suddenly. I promise after your Capstone year your nose will be able to withstand any scent that assaults it! And last, but most certainly not least, the tissues. Tissues are one of the most important items you can carry with you every day in Morocco. Seriously. You never know when that is7al (diarrhea) is going to hit or when your favorite cafe that is usually stocked with TP is going to run out mid-use of the bathroom. Tissue packets will be your life. Cherish them. Bring them with you everywhere. Never leave them behind. Some people say chicken nuggets are like family to them, but to the American in Morocco, tissues will be your family. Laugh now, but if you forget your tissues later, you won't be laughing....

Yes, no one instagrams the difficult aspects of living in Morocco and I doubt that many people ever will, but talking about the poverty, homelessness, unemployment, health care, and what have you is really important. I hope to do specific blog posts for all of these things in the months to come, but in the meantime, I hope that those of you who follow me on instagram have been enjoying some of my photos. Morocco is rich with history and there is a lot to learn about the culture, people, customs, and traditions, not to mention the language! 

P.S. @Alex, my family, and friends, I miss you all so much! 

Eid El-Fitr Celebration

Me chillin' in front of an indoor window. 
Monday, June 26th was Eid El-Fitr, the end of Ramadan celebration. My host parents weren't doing anything in particular to celebrate, so me and my roommate went to our friends' house to celebrate with their family. It was a lot of fun, but I was overcome with how many sweets and breads covered the tables! I'm still trying to learn the names of the various sweets, but there are so many and it is hard to keep them all straight since I really don't eat any. My host parents have been great about my gluten issues, but for Eid I let myself loose a bit and had a few sweets. My favorite had this kind of almond-fig-chocolatey taste to it. 

My roommate, Tasnim, and I started the day by "getting dressed up," which I use lightly because we didn't have any traditional Moroccan clothes to wear, so we just whipped out some skirts and nice blouses. We ate breakfast with our host parents for the first time since they could actually eat with us! It was really nice all eating together first thing in the morning and reminded me of Sunday breakfasts at home with my family. 
From left to right: Leena (Brooke and Marian's youngest
 host sister, Marian, me, Tasnim, and Brooke)

After breakfast, we grabbed a taxi to the old part of the city and met up with our friends Brooke and Marian. Many families, like Brooke and Marian's host family, usually visit relatives and friends throughout the day on Eid El-Fitr. So, as is customary, we visited some of their family's relatives, ate some sweets, drank some even sweeter tea, and relaxed with the family. It was a really lovely and relaxing day and it was really cool getting to see how close Moroccan families are with one another. 

A side note - You may have noticed I haven't been posting very often... I was hoping to be able to post more often, but my laptop has been overheating easily in the heat (but thankfully today it is much cooler!). Normally I would just post from the center where I study since there is AC there, but I usually opt to get as much homework done as possible in the AC instead. Hoping to post very soon about the trip we took several weeks ago up north, some lessons learned, how I feel after being here for a month, and healthcare experiences! 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Week One Feelings

View from one of the major roads that leads to the newer part of the city. 
The thing people didn't tell me about going to Morocco is that it is going to be physically hard to live here. Yes, I've reached this point and accomplished so much, I should be excited! But now that I've been here for a little over a week, if I could go back to the beginning of last spring semester, I would tell myself to be prepared for much more than Arabic classes, host families, new friends, lots of sweating, and (sorry) diarrhea. 

If I could go back, I would tell myself to be prepared to feel utterly inadequate in my Arabic skills, to yell at taxi drivers that try to overcharge me because I speak English, to have everyone and their grandmother default to French when speaking to me, to pack a LOT less, to expect feeling homesick, to never have clean feet, to be heartbroken by the amount of poverty around me, to wake up to a falcon casually sitting in my window (!!), to ALWAYS carry around a packet of tissues, to expect lots of interesting... smells.., and so much more. But ya know what? I would also tell myself that all of these things are okay. Why are they okay? Because my roommate is going to be awesome, my classmates are also going to be getting rid of food just as quickly as they ate it, I'll be fortunate enough to own a fan, my host dad is going to be one of the most interesting people I've come across to date, my host mom is going to be so sweet and handle my gluten sensitivity so well, I'll be singing Moroccan songs in cafes with my language partner in no time, I'll laugh at every dinner, and I'll have the opportunity to learn a LOT about people living lives very different than my own. 

If I could go back, I would tell myself it's okay to cry and to feel homesick. It's okay to miss my boyfriend and my family and everything that seems comforting. It's okay to feel like I'm living a life that isn't quite my own as I pass stray cats and begging children on the sides of major roads. It's okay to be upset when I see demolished buildings and houses. It's okay to feel sad and angry when someone knocks over the homeless man's water jug and to see him watch as it spills onto the ground while he throws his hands up in the air and cries. It's okay to feel like I'm in complete and total culture shock and as if I will never get used to seeing these things. 

If I could go back, I would tell myself that no one instagrams the difficult things in Morocco and that life won't be as glamorous as social media makes it seem. I would tell myself that I will be guilty of this too, but to never shy away from talking about those difficult aspects. I would tell myself to take movies like Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets more seriously. I would tell myself that I was straight up going to be seeing a lot of challenging things, things that would trigger a lot of emotions within me. 
One of the main markets in the old part of the city,
filled with people out shopping after breaking their fast.

My point of saying all this is not to complain, or to say woe is me life is so hard here, my point is to highlight how I personally was so incredibly unprepared for this experience. I could have done so many things differently or been told to be ready for all of these things, but as someone who has never been to a country even remotely close to Morocco before, I don't think that anything or anyone could have prepared me for this. These feelings, thoughts, and sights are all things I needed to experience for myself in order to understand how I would react to them. So if you're a pre-Capstone student reading this, take everything I say with a grain of salt. How I feel may not be how you'll feel, but if you do feel this way, know that you're not the only one. 

There are so many beautiful and fascinating things in this country, the people being the first that comes to my mind. The geography is so diverse and the attention that people pay to their human relationships is something truly special. Don't let the difficulties overshadow these things. This year won't be a walk in the park, but I'll walk through some parks pretty frequently!