Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Berber Tents and Camel Rides






Of my time here one of my favorite trips has been to the Sahara. Waking up bright and early 19 people boarded a rickety old tour bus not sure of what that weekend would entail. Ally, Armaan, Hind, and I claimed the back seat for the first leg of the trip. We discussed all our favorite topics (boys, guys, and ex-boyfriends) and sang all the words to Boom Boom Pow and I Kissed a Girl. The exhausting ride there was split between this and seat hopping between Dodge and Jake discussing various topics. I must say as much as a 10 hour bus ride (with the radio blaring techno music in Arabic and the best hits of the 90's) through bumps and winding roads does not sound appealing I enjoyed getting to know these people that I would be spending the next few months with. Once the deliria kicks in people get honest and filters just seem to disappear…


Our first stop was in the Atlas Mountains. It was here that we saw beautiful trails and fed peanuts to some monkeys. We stopped in Azru for lunch, the hometown of one of our directors. Our destination in the end was Xaluca. An uppity tourist resort equipped with pools, tennis courts, spa, and restaurants. This was just the place that all the tourist who want the "real" experience but really don’t want the real experience come. Trust me... I didn't mind. After a nice buffet of pretty much anything you can think of it was time for dancing. Being the shy person that I am [haha] I hesitantly joined the belly dancers in swaying my hips. Soon everyone was pool side dancing with them. We were basically the only group there under the age of 55 so naturally European tourist gawked and discussed pushing us into the pool. In the Berber tents this old man kept asking me to dance. He moved his hips better than any girl in a club that I've seen. He tied me to him using a scarf and aided me in my "sway". Who knows but I may have become his next wife that night? Mashee Mushkeel (no worries).



And then the moment came. I was decked out in sun block and a blue scarf I faced the nerves that I built up and mounted my camel that had me 10 feet off the ground. It's hard to describe what a camel ride was like. There was a constant sway to the camel..it's like a waterbed and an amusement park ride mixed with slight dicomfort all in one! Hind took the pleasure of naming my camel "Rudy". My camel liked to do his own thing and leave the line and stop. A camel ride wasn't exactly what I thought it would be. It was definitely a ONCE in a lifetime experience. I appreciated it later, but at the time I felt as though I would never be able to have kids. We made a pit stop to watch the sunset. Breath taking is the only word I can use to describe to you what I saw. My pictures don’t do any justice to the scene. Remounting the camel we reached the camp about an hour later. Taking a much needed breather/stretch at the camp site some us sat around the campsite discussing first kisses and best dates. The evening was spent gazing at the moon on top of sand dunes and more dancing with Berbers.


The aching sound of drums and Hind's voice woke us up at 430 am to climb a sand dune to watch the sunrise. Despite the sand flies biting at your legs and face and getting sand in places that sand shouldn’t have been I enjoyed it. Knowing Algeria was just a ways away made it all the better.



Again we mounted the dreadful [oh I mean wonderful] camels and headed back to the hotel. I traded in Rudy for Fat Joe and it was wayyy better. Reaching the hotel a shower never felt better. I removed the camel stench and the troops loaded up in the bus yet again. Between endless games and group trivia I found myself at a gas station in the middle of nowhere with no western toilet and no toilet paper. It was AWESOME. However, it was interesting to see the large Allah, wadhan, malik written across the hills. It's translated as God, Country, King. It's stood as a symbol for so much. The legacy of colonialism is evident in the unity that is expressed through a phrase like this. In my cultural identities class we discussed the stability that Morocco yearns for and Islam and the Monarchy play the largest role in that. Living in Rabat ( a relatively liberal city) I have received mixed feelings about the king. Walking down the streets I wonder how the 7th richest king in the world and 3rd most important Muslim could leave so many of his people on the streets...IDK. I'll give that a little more thought before I elaborate...



Friday, November 20, 2009

No Air, No Air, No Air....

It is always so weird when I think back on the past weeks that I have spent here in Morocco. There is so much that goes on. There is so much that I am just not eloquent enough to describe so that people would understand. I wish I could, but I feel as though that that will be something that occurs through reflection, after the fact, months or even years from now.


So can I just say that my dorm looks like a resort. Seven beautiful buildings side by side forming a very quaint courtyard-- fixed with trees and benches ready for one to study and do homework. My room is not quite as fancy…but it's 10 (if not more) steps up from Semple. I have a kitchen, my own bathroom, desk, two closets, and a bed. A lot of the locals refer to our dorm as "Fox River" I don't get the reference, let me know if you do. There is a curfew and if you're late you get in trouble. Well being an American and not knowing the language is quite a blessing. Time after time I stroll in way passed curfew and the guard just shakes his head in disappointment and as painful as that sounds I think I can handle it. A lot of people have quite a problem with the curfew…my friend Mehdi said "...you're passport is blue. Mine is green. That's why you don't mind." Let me run through some positives and negatives…


Positives:

-cute guys, my age

-independent

-no squat toilets

-cleaning service (yup people come in and clean my room twice a week)

-cute guys

-(if it ever gets fixed) the internet

-My roommie Lacie


Negatives

-girls are kind of rude

-they're all gorgeous

-they dress for school like they're going to a party, on the reg!

-I have to find my own food (I'm so tired of bread and cheese)

-I have to buy my own toilet paper


Overall picking the dorms was a good choice on my part but there are definitely those days where I don't forget that I am in a developing nation.

A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of [accidently] having a clubbing experience. Armaan and I were at it again…messing up at everything. After 15 minutes of hardcore debate we tore ourselves away from our Pakistani/green/black tea and we went over our friends Jake and Toshi's apartment. We were apparently the only ones unaware of that fact that we were going to the club. I was not properly dressed for the club. I had on scrubby jeans and a [not real cute] top…make-up was not up to par and my hair was curly and kind of looking a hot mess (you know how I do). To top it all off I was straight up wearing flip flops (and not the cute kind…the 2 for $5 kind from Old Navy)!!!


So they have this friend named Hicham. He's kind of a big deal, dude has more connections than an old school telle. And he's also kind of OLD. After an awkward situation of being introduced (too embarrassing for even me to let the entire world know…ask me if you want those details) I decided I just wanted to go home. That was just not going to happen. Apparently in order to get in to a club you need to have girls with you. We were their tickets in. SO they pressured us to go. We then get informed it's going to cost 200 dhs. AGAIN we tried to leave. Didn't work. After a confrontation with Toshi in the club all you see in the middle of the dance floor is two badly dressed girls who look like they want to cry. Our friend Zoe tried to cheer us up by saying it doesn't matter…we're American, it doesn't matter what we look like. Our response? "you're American. We just look like poor Moroccans." As usual not one guy cared what we looked like but we got some mad looks from these girls who looked like they were dressed up for the prom. After some nice words from our friends Brahim and Saber we got down with our bad selves. It was a fun night, sort of. This creeper kept following me around…I was doing mad laps avoiding him. There is a picture of him and I on this website. My face: priceless. By the end of the night I ended up having what felt like an asthma attack from the smoke in the room…so it was just a wonderful end to a very stressful night. No inhaler…so I finally fell asleep 4 hours later finally breathing, almost normally. The club itself was baller. It looked like a hip underground that you would find in the states. I would like to go back…with the appropriate attire.


Soon to come...a blog about my trip to MISR!!!(EGYPT)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Modernization and the Arab Identity...

I have been working on my research project that I have been thinking about for the past year. I have settled somewhere between modernization in the Arab world , the western influence, and the role that women play. I have been conducting a series of interviews and so far my results are mind blowing. There is this torn feeling between feeling pride for your country and accepting western ideals. The girls here dress just like Americans. They watch American movies thinking this is the way girls in America dress. I walk around with my basketball shorts and Air Jordan backpack hoping they realize we don't. This whole concept of so many influences coming here but very few of them leaving is something I struggle to comprehend. I am attempting to be unbiased throughout these preliminary stages of research...really I just hope to find out more.

In the book I am reading, Dynamics of Arab Cultures there is a chapter titled Arab Thought: Problems of Renewal, Modernity, and Transformation. This chapter really made me decide that I wanted to explore this idea of modernity and tradition in the Arab world. The chapter takes the argument that the largest conflict is the idea of modernity being a concept of borrowed ideas and a relationship with the west, all while aiming to maintain an Arab identity within and without of the Arab world.

In the article Albert Hourani is quoted as saying “contemporary Arab thought began when educated Arabs became aware of the ideas and institutions of modern Europe and felt its power in the nineteenth century.” This is a fundamental ideal surrounding many of the debates between Arab scholars. The argument before them is whether or not modernization is solely a Western concept and that the maintenance of an Arab identity is based purely off of traditionalism. Many arguments have been made for and against this and even more trends of thoughts have developed in seeking an “alternative” modernization. Scholars can argue that the Arab world should embrace and join this western modernization. They make the argument that European ideas have been “liberating” on Arab thought. For countries that are post-colonial this seems almost inevitable from the legacy left by occupation. These scholars argue a “need” for modernization.

However, on the other side there are those who argue that Arab intellectuality has and can have its own content. Anouar Abdel-Malek says that it has two main tendencies Islamic fundamentalism and liberal modernism. Islamic fundamentalism itself is a call for Muslims to restore to this past glory and to be at a standard that they once were. In contrast, liberal modernism aspires to generate modern society similar to those of the west. The question is where does one who identifies as an Arab find the medial position? Abdel-Malek makes a vital point in stating that a difference in embracing modernization that Islamic fundamentalism plays a large role. Above all other transformations that could be made within the Arab world religion is would be the most difficult. In Morocco 99% of the population is Muslim. In the Western world those numbers do not even begin to compare. The western world is seen as “challenge” that exploits and represses. Issa Boullata argued that Arab intellectuals of some twenty or thirty years ago had three main trends. Those who called for a cultural revolution, those who called for a need to interpret traditional Arab culture within the spectrum of modernization, and those who are committed to the religious aspect of Arab culture. These three ideals are very much contradictory to one another and balance one another with a search for an “alternative order”.

As the world continues to change the Middle East struggles to find its place within the "modern" world. A struggle to maintain an identity of their own while transforming to "fit" will be the task at hand...I think.