Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
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…
-cute guys, my age
-no squat toilets
-cleaning service (yup people come in and clean my room twice a week)
-(if it ever gets fixed) the internet
-My roommie Lacie
-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
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.
Friday, October 30, 2009
I have met some baller (and some not so baller) people here. It's really hard to decipher what is me not understanding Moroccan culture and what is someone just being plain old awkward. Because of this I have been giving a lot of thought into this concept of body language. It is so useful and yet can be very confusing. If I simply talk to a guy it could be taken the wrong way. Yet Morocco is a very embracive and touchy (supposedly) culture and so someone could grab your hand and it not mean anything. On top of this there are a lot of hand indications or signals (wtf, you’re crazy, repeat, etc.) that mean the complete opposite in the U.S. and it throws me, daily. It's ok to feel sorry for me :) We took a petit taxi yesterday and I understood perfectly (although he was only speaking French…I don't speak French) that he was telling us that the mosque was on the other side of the street. I asked him [in English] "oh on the other side?" He laughed in my face. But he understood my hand signals as well. We had a conversation not knowing any of the other's language. It was awesome.
I met this guy named Osama. He is an American-Pakistani student from Berkley who just finished a semester at a university in Ghana. He decided that he would bike up the coast of West Africa stopping in Mali and Senegal. He is in Morocco because he just decided to be. He is actually the one that opened my eyes to the power of body language. He does not know any languages spoken in any of the countries that he has visited, yet with the use of his body language and with the small gifts of mangos and water he has managed to never have to stay in a hotel. People always just open up their doors to him. This is just such a bizarre concept to me being from the U.S. Opening your home to someone you do not know and cannot communicate verbally with. I have heard only bit of the adventure that he has had…and it's amazing. He belongs in the group of baller people.
I'm going to make the following statement sound as diplomatic as I can: the driving in Morocco is wack! People honk non-stop. Everyone passes everyone. That whole "slowing down for pedestrians" doesn't exist here. I have almost died numerous times just crossing the street. Not to mention that there are just so many damn vehicles!!! Saturday I went to the Caspa with my friend Fouad. We spent some tiresome hours working on my Arabic homework fixing the many mistakes I had made. Afterwards Fouad, Dodge, Laura and I were standing in the middle of this narrow street getting ready to say our goodbyes. In the past when I have tried to move out of the way of moving cars I tend to put myself into further danger, so from this I have developed this habit of moving slightly to the left and just letting the car go around me. Worst idea I have ever had. The four of us (and some 50 American students visiting from Spain) heard a large crash. I tensed and the next thing I know Fouad is pushing me out of the way. This car comes zooming right through where we were standing, by a hair misses the American students and slams into this wall. I am pretty sure I stopped breathing for a full minute. The driver was new and couldn’t work the brakes. If he doesn’t slam into the initial car we never would have known he was coming. And you can imagine where I'm going with this…I tend not to dwell on things like this. But not gonna lie…I was scared sh*tless. It is not till later did I realize the situation. I owe Fouad at least three boxes of cookies and a yellow melon for saving my life and all.
When you sign up for IES you are given booklets that all have this statement "students will experience being a minority for the first time...". But the thing is for the first time I don't stick out. I'm not the only one. No I'm not Moroccan, but if I use minimal Darija Arabic I blend in and am often mistaken for a Moroccan. It's awesome. At dinner yesterday this concept of minority came up. The boys said they quite enjoyed the intrigue that occurred from being white in an Arab country, they said this was a great conversation starter and that it made them attractive. (I would debate this…but we won't get into that, lol). The girls were saying they didn't like the extra attention. The heckling, the starring, the grabbing, and the assumption that all American girls are easy was rough. It attracts the creepiest of guys being American, even being Mexican doesn't prevent this. All of a sudden all the heads turned and looked at me and my friend Ally (who is African, Italian, Irish-American). They asked us what we thought. Not that they meant it in this way at all but at that very moment it took me back to primary school. I remember being the only non-black student at one point and then the drastic turn around of being the only non-white student. It's like "who wants to sing the solo in Feliz Navidad?" or who wants to play the "Mexican President?" "Selina?" Yeah that sounds like a good idea. Random? I think not. I say all this as this as I am sitting in the study room and I am 95 percent sure that they all think I'm Moroccan. Badly dressed and lonerish, but Moroccan none the less. So minority in a racial sense is not something that I am exposed to here. However, for the first time I am seeing what it feels like to be a minority religion. Most of the time it isn't a big deal. The young girls at my internship always try to get me to say the shahadah (declaration that one must say in order to be Muslim). And usually I can get out of it and we call it a day. Wednesday they asked me "WHY?" I wasn't Muslim. I told them it was because I was Christian. They drew a cross on the board and I nodded yes. They scratched it out and said "bad". Then they drew Jesus on the board and said "fake". I don't know why this bothered me so much. These 15 year old girls were putting down my religion and it really hurt my feelings. I ended class early, but of course I won't hold it against them. I really felt for the first time that I was in a Muslim nation. I am the minority.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Walking the medina while fasting not a good idea… The medina is very compact, crowded and has an assortment of smells (most of which are not good). Walking through the fish market part I just about passed out. A sign should hang outside the doors saying “WARNING: do not enter if you can’t stand germs, people, and harassment!” But that’s enough of me being dramatic.
After breaking the fast we went out to qahawa for my roomie’s birthday. After which she helped me haggle my first purchase of a sheesha (hooka) pipe for the price of 100 dirhams (roughly $12). Bartering is an art form and most hanoots (store keepers) are quite proud. My favorite quote from Armaan during my leather shoe purchase was “We’re students. We’re poor. It’s raining. WE NEED SHOES.” That got the price taken down another 15 d’s.
Every day kind of feels like I’m in a reality tv show. The most ridiculous things just happen to occur. Everyone is taking their turn being sick. Food poisoning, diarrhea, bug bites…you name it we get it. A girl did get mugged at knife point (they don’t have guns here). It’s hard for me to describe the situation seeing as how it wasn’t me but it shakes you up.
I’ve pretty much concluded that I suck at everything. I have fallen down the stairs (twice), our home stay parents gave us keys to the doors…that we can’t use. Armaan and I spent a significant amount of time trying to open the front door. Then we broke the door and popped in the necessary part that opens the door. We had to resort to yelling for our brother. I am pretty sure he thinks we’re incompetent. Plus I’m sure the whole family thinks we’re crazy. This family eats a very modest and mild dinner. And I mean MODEST. Fasting and not eating just isn’t mixing well…so we end up eating crackers, laughing cow, and soda in our rooms immediately after dinner. There is no doubt that we are giving the best American impression that we can.
Armaan and I do everything together. We hold hands when we cross the street. We sleep side by side. Same class, same everything. People always ask us even if we’re sisters.
This man came into our home stay who I had assumed was their family friend so I said “salam” and proceeded to my room. Next thing I know there is a deep translating party going on and Armaan is involved. I come and sit. Something is said to me and I just do the usual smile-n-nod and all I know is the professor thinks I’m Armaan’s sister. Next thing I know is I have a date with the professor and his family (and by date I mean ALL DAY event) for Sunday. The thing about the professor is he does not speak English. NADA. However, he is fluent in Spanish. So the next day is spent with me having to use some mean Spanish translating/thinking. I was a little afraid that we were going to be chopped up and placed strategically throughout the walls, but in the end I ended having a really great conversation with him. Most of what he said made sense. For most of the evening I thought he was calling me “Sunni” which I did not know if I should take offense to that or not and then I realized he was just saying “Missouri” which made a lot more sense. He talked about the western influence on Moroccan identity and how it leaves such an impression, yet there is no Moroccan influence on America. He described how a lot of their traditions seem primitive to Westerners, but to an Arab makes sense and encourages hospitality and togetherness. He used the internet as a reference to something that is good yet slowly removing their customs and invading their identity. He also did say that the man is the king of the house and gets to lounge around all day and that Ramadan was good thing for women, because they get to lose weight. The feminist in me really wish I knew all the Spanish words to tell him where to put that comment. But I decided against it.
During our conversation with the professor he told us that 5 percent of the country held 95 percent of the wealth. Which for a 3rd world country that’s pretty accurate. In America it’s not uncommon for people to own two or three houses…and here that concept is so alien and unreal.
Most times, in America, a person works hard for their money to do that, but here working hard means you’re middle class and can feed your family. There are a lot of things that we forget to think about, being Americans and having the luxuries that we do. Next door to my home-stay is a really large house (three of my houses in one). My home-stay brother Mouad was telling me that the house made him very sad. He said that an American millionaire owned the house and has only been there to visit one time. He said it made him sad because people were sleeping on the streets and yet no one was staying in this luxurious home.
At the end of the day…at least we have clean underwear. Folded and all.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Last night Armaan and I ventured out for the first time alone-- by alone I mean our house mom refused to let us walk alone so she walked us to where we were going, pretended to say goodbye, and circled us without us knowing until we found who we were meeting…I spotted her and I can only imagine how dumb we must have looked to her.
We met Ally and Marguerite for qahuwa (coffee). Our wait for them we had very little attention drawn to us. We try not to speak very loud so no one hears us speaking English…and as of yesterday we decided speaking Spanish was a better idea…there were some creeper looks but no cat calls of any sort. When the four of us began to walk together our creeper looks increased by a margin of 85% (ok, I don’t really know what that means…but it was a lot). Marguerite is a really beautiful blond and apparently there aren’t very many of those around here. Someone got close enough to Ally that they whispered “hot” into her ear, all really harmless yet disconcerting at the same time.
The trend around here is to scare you. People intentionally get in your way and bump into you. We were warned this would happen and a lot of the times they don’t even touch you. But it’s annoying as hell and I’ve mastered the smaH lee- mashe muskee (excuse me- oh, it’s ok) dialogue. Most times we just ask our house brother to go with us…and not gonna lie he does a banging job protecting us. No one looks at us and we get a nice little tour.
Last night when we parted ways from the other girls we began the walk home. We had some creeper eyes but nothing too bad. The most hilarious thing is the blowing kisses (even from twelve year olds, because even they think its ok) and the pre-pubescent boys who serenade us while were walking. We were serenaded three times in just our walk home.
So in the USA let some little boy try and serenade me…in a flash he’d know what I was thinking. But when not in the USA you have to take a different approach. I have mentally noted the things to remember.
Notes to self: ignore, act like you know where you’re going (even if you don’t), and girl, you walk with a purpose. People tend to leave us alone after that.
Armaan put it best after going through our last group of guys/song before reaching home “it’s like a gate that we have no choice but to go through it.”
Thursday, September 10, 2009
The other day we took a tour of the medina in Fes. We were told several times that we had to look for the five different elements. In Islam there are five pillars. Shahada (Testifying to God's One-ness), Salat (Prayer), Zakat(giving charity), Sawm (fasting), and Hajj (pilgrimage). My entire time here in Fes so far has really help me understand the depth of Islam and the Islamic culture thus far. We saw the 4th largest mosque in the world. Its elements were mosaic, arches, cedar (intertwined being able to see out without being seen), the fountain/river, and the minaret. I felt as though I was walking around the marketa in Mexico with all the people and the many stands of goods to be sold. It was definitely a highlight experience. My favorite eye opening adventure in the medina walking was seeing all the fresh chickens waiting to have their heads cut off...or maybe it was almost being ran over by a donkey…
Fasting for Ramadan...My roommate is Muslim and for the sake of solidarity I decided to fast with her. It has its hard days and its easy days…but I definitely can see the community and spiritual aspect that comes with not eating or drinking sun rise to sun down. I do pray my own prayers at least five times throughout the day. I feel very close to my Christian God through this Islamic practice. My roommate and house family are very encouraging. My house family is very excited to see me fasting. It makes me feel definitely closer to the people in general…because even the least spiritual of Muslims fast.
My host family is amazing. They laugh at me and my roommate Armaan when we practice darija (Moroccan Arabic)...but are so excited to see us try. The darija is so much more difficult than the fusah (standard) arabic that I learned. But this whole thing is about experiences and challenges...taking them in and accepting them.
I wouldn’t say that I am used to catching a cab…but I am confident in saying that cathching a cab in Morocco is not anything like the U.S. It took us 30 minutes to find a cab that would take us to the Asima (market) where we needed to pick up supplies to refuel. By the time we had reached the cab we might as well have walked (but of course we didn’t know that). The little red petit taxi drivers have power. They can refuse you…and they decide which pedestrian they’re going to pick up.
Today it rained for the first time since I’ve been here. It by no means was a heavy rain…but lucky enough for all of us we have zero rain gear. In my flip flops and Air Jordan backpack we walked the streets in search of a taxi. Me and Armaan flagged one down and were pretty proud of ourselves. Turns out we got creeper #1. He guessed Armaan’s ethnicity off the bat (which is unusual because everyone we have met thus far assumes that she and I are Moroccan) and proceeded to ask her all about what she was doing and where her family was. I thought to myself… Self. This man is not too bad. He is farely nice in fact. Well he turned to me and said “nti jahmeela” (you’re beautiful). It just went downhill from there. He wanted to know if we were married and said that I was written into his heart. He then proceeded to tell us that he was from Afghanistan (and he wasn’t) and that he loved bin Laden. He said his car was one from the Taliban and that he had a bomb. Yup. I pretty much can say that I was more than ready to get out of that vehicle- despite the fact that he was so nonchalant about it. Also street signs are the worst guidelines ever. Cab rides are usually the times that I pick to pray…
A lot of times we go on these 30-40 minute walks around the town…and that’s light walking. I love the empowerment that walking has given me. Getting to the market I know that I will be walking for at least 15-20 minutes. Getting away from the attachment to technology and luxuries has definitely been an empowering thing.
I realized at dinner yesterday that people other than most Moroccans get their luggage checked going through the Casablanca airport. Because I looked native I did not :) This weekend we have a trip to the desert…and I couldn’t be more excited
Favorite quotes so far… “…but I am a famous Moroccan. Let me show you!”, “bella sha’kalat”, “you have black hair like me?”
Sunday, September 6, 2009
My aiport experience was not a bad one. I had a really long layover in Dubai...but of all the places to have a 14 hour layover Dubai isn't a bad place to have one.
I met friends (you know because I'm so shy).
I met this really amazing 17 year old Norweigian girl who had been living in Canada and was on her way to live in South Africa for the next two years. She was a pro at the airport thing and I really felt like she and I were best friends for those 10 hours spent together. Despite my stealth ways I met Tris, a British college student catching a flight to Korea...where he would spend the next year working and studying business. He never really understood anything I said...but was hilarious nonetheless. Besides the few random people I also met the nicest Persian man. He gave me tons of advice and eased my nerves having to be in the airport for so long. He never really said goodbye. I blinked and was gone. I looked all around and he was no where to be found. CREEPY. I know. But he helped me :)
Dubai to Casablanca was another 7hours. I was flat out exhausted by this point. Going off a 30 minute nap. We took the bus to Rabat...I was given 30 min to take a shower and come down. We did the stressful task of getting Dirham (Moroccan currency) and a phone that would work. 340 dirham spent and we were off for a tour. And bytour I mean we were taking laps around the city...at the least 5 miles and I feel like I'm shooting wayyy under. We went to the market and bought food then took another hike to the Boregreg River for a picnic. There are no words for how beautiful my first sunset in Rabat was.
I had kous kous for lunch. Imagine a foot wide and 8 inches tall piled with vegetables and chicken...mezenine indeed.
Today I am in Fes. We took strolls through the Medina and watch the livliness that comes with breaking fast during Ramadan. It's surreal. I am living with a house family that are more than hospitable with a roomie (Armaan) that is probably more down to earth than anyone I know. My whole group is probably the best group of people ever (I mean it doesn't hurt that they laugh at my jokes). Even today when a cat jumped on my crotch...and allowed me the chance to share my knowledge of toxoplasma gondii...we just had some good ol' conversation.
I'm excited for my first class of Colloquial Moroccan Arabic tomorrow :)
Thursday, September 3, 2009
I mean it is hitting me now. I am gone and I won’t be back for a while. I’ve never really gone anywhere. I've never gone more than a month a way from having my parents near or at the least a phone call. My parents, my sisters, my siblings…I feel like I’m going to be missing out on so much…but it’s just something that I just have to do.
I’m scared. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m ready…
Of everyone it’s hardest for me to leave her. I hope she knows that she’ll do fine. She’s stronger and smarter than she gives herself credit for. For 20 years we’ve never really been separated from each other…and now we’ll be an ocean apart. I’m missing her already. I know that I’ve put this off as long as I could, but now is the time for me to go. I’ll be back before we know it.
God led me here. Everything I’ve ever done God has led me there and this is no different. He will keep me. He will protect me. He will provide. He’s answering all the desires of my heart. Thank you, Jesus.
I have all these mixed feelings about leaving. I know that this will be good for me…I know that this is all in a plan that God has for me.
So now that I've been to Houston...took a 14 hour plane ride (which for a 14 hour plane ride it was pretty awesome), met some cool friends in Dubai...I'm ready to ride a camel.
I'm totally taking on Morocco...head on. Keep me in your prayers, all.