Category Archives: Danielle in Morocco

AND LIFE GOES ON

It’s funny how the world doesn’t stop when you’re not attending to it. Coming home doesn’t mean coming back. Instead it means learning what has changed. How you have changed. In coming home you learn what old hang-ups are gone, and how many new habits you have developed that will take a lot of effort to erase… if you even want to.

When last I wrote to you, I said that I would be home in time for mother’s day. Indeed I was. My first day in the U.S. was spent with all the matriarchs of my family gathered together at a restaurant near my grandmother’s home. This was where I noticed the first difference: for the first time in four months I was wearing something that wasn’t floor length with sleeves at least half-way down my upper arms. I felt rather exposed and yet my outfit fit in with everyone else’s at the restaurant. I also found it much more difficult to sit still! I’d gotten so used to going places and keeping occupied after that frenzied month of ISP that the abrupt cessation of work left me frazzled.

The next step after coming home and reintegrating with my family was to go out into public. I feel sorry for the poor cable salesman at the grocery store who tried to catch my attention as I passed by. Instead of a nice typical return greeting and a polite no thanks, not today… he received a death glare. Apparently the inordinate amount of catcalling that occurred in Morocco left a much larger impression on me than I thought. Fortunately, by the time my birthday came around I was once again able to interact with men I met in public in a more civil manner!

Despite these interactions and readjustments however, I don’t believe it really struck me that I was home until I was leaving Colorado for Boston. When I stepped on the plane into my family’s arms, they were matter-a-fact about my arrival. I hadn’t been there earlier and now I was. Yes, they had missed me but they always miss me when I’m away. They asked about my semester but there was very little more emphasis placed on it than on any other semester. The local was more exotic but in the end they wanted to know about my classes and the people I met… which is also what they ask about when I return to Colorado each semester from Boston.

It was as I was flying domestically retracing a route that I’ve taken numerous times over the span of the past three years that I had my ah-hah moment as I spoke to the girl sitting next to me on the plane. She was on her way to Providence to attend a wedding of some friends and asked where I was headed. I mentioned visiting my college and she asked why so I told her that I was returning to wrap up my Junior year after being abroad for a semester. After learning that I had been to Morocco, she revealed that she had done a similar home-stay experience for her church as a missionary… to Boston. She had worked with the Spanish-speaking community which was according to her like another culture. She then told me that someday she would like to go to a foreign country. Hearing this I was reminded of a couple different things.

First, I was reminded of just how diverse America is. I remembered how shocked I was the first time I moved from my home where the nearest neighbor is a quarter mile away to Boston where not only do you have neighbors next to you, but they’re on top of you and beneath you as well. I remembered my first breakdown as everything was happening at warped speed around me and I didn’t think I could ever catch up.

The other thing I was reminded of however is just how special my opportunity to study abroad was. I’ve met so many students abroad and spoken with many others that have been abroad in the past that I forgot that in this I am in the minority. It was only through my study abroad program that I saw how a community abroad differs from the community at home. I formed much closer bonds much faster than I would have in the U.S. with my fellow students and found myself talking about issues that I only ever discuss with people I have known and been close to for my whole life. In Amsterdam when we met the Moroccan community, there was also a vast difference in how they performed their Moroccan identity. One difference that was very obvious was Friday afternoon. While in Morocco everything shut down on Friday afternoons as it is a religious day and the family gathers together for prayer and couscous from about noon until four or five in the afternoon. However, in Amsterdam the souk in the neighborhood I visited that was comprised of mostly Moroccan immigrants remained open on Friday. The Moroccan people I spoke to in Amsterdam were also far more vocal in wanting a democratic government in Morocco.

But onto a less reflective note! I promised you all pictures of the presents I brought back to me and here they are!

First for my grandmother: a Moroccan style teapot that serves eight people with a matching set of six teacups. The next two presents are hand painted teacups from Fez.I also got the hand-painted ceramic bowl with a lid from Fez. For my younger sister I got the beautiful little lucky knife (really more of a letter opener than a knife!) with a hilt wrapped in Camel leather. And finally, the last picture is a Hammam kit. The green powder is actually henna. Then there’s the traditional black olive soap in a cloth bag, and a bit of rhassoul… Moroccan lava clay that’s used in masks, as soap, and as a shampoo! The final piece is the rough scrubbing exfoliating mitt. I made several of these for family (personalized for what I thought they would enjoy the most) and friends… I also brought home caftans for my mom and older sister! My dad and grandfather (being difficult to buy for) got some candied almonds in caramel.

This has been an interesting ride. For the most part fun and amusing but also stressful at times. I learned much that I didn’t know and realized that I don’t know some of what I thought I did. I hope that I will always remember the lessons as I include them in my life and that as I share them in my stories, the people I share them with will take flight with me. There really is no comparison to real life. No TV documentary or novel can compete with hearing the sounds of a foreign language in your ear while feasting your eyes upon a wall older than an entire country. Someday perhaps I might go back… but for now? I must go forwards.

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A Blog in Four Parts – Moroccan Travels

This is my final week in Rabat and I’ve been rather remiss in keeping you all updated on my travels and travails! In this case however I have a good excuse: my twenty one page final Independent Study Project was completed on time and defended successfully! As of 11:00 am my time, I am official over with my Spring academic semester in Rabat and now I have the rest of this week to enjoy the city and play the tourist. Of course, I haven’t just been cooped up in a house reading, analyzing and writing for the past four weeks! I’ve also been travelling around Morocco to see more of the country. Every weekend I went to a different city.
THE BEEHIVE

First stop: Fez or Fes as the locals trans-literate it! One of the most confusing parts of Arabic script is that there is no direct equivalency between the Roman alphabet we use and the twenty eight letters and fourteen extra alphabetical symbols of Arabic! I was lucky enough to find an affordable hostel right in the center of the medina and like any tourist destination, there were signs everywhere pointing to the most popular destinations. My hostel was about five minutes from Bab Rcif, the most central medina gate and thirty minutes from Bab Boujloud, the oldest medina gate. And to get from one to the other I would through twisting narrow streets lined with hanoots and crowded with people both local and foreign. There were no bicycles, no cars, no motorcycles. Heavy deliveries were made by donkeys and mules. There was a constant buzz and hum of activity.
As one of the only people at the hostel who spoke a language other than English, I became quite popular for the two days I was there! I also finally figured out how to bargain which was vastly beneficial! A couple people who didn’t want to pay for the organized walking tours from the hostel explored with me and when we went to the souks I gave them all a show of hard core bargaining! I managed to argue down the price of a camel wool djilaba for one of the boys by half and got half of the remaining presents for my family.

Despite having a very nice two days in a medina marked as a UNESCO world heritage site, i was a bit overwhelmed just by the sheer volume of humanity there. Everything was so built up that from a distance you might see the tall tower of a mosque but as soon as you got within a mile it vanished and more likely than not you would pass right by without recognizing it. The sky was a dream that you thought might exist. Maybe that is why Fez is also known as the artistic capital of Morocco? Under the French government Fez was the capital of Morocco but even though it may no longer be the political center of the country, it is the cultural center. I made a point during my stay to take a art and culture tour where we were told about historical sites in the city and shown amazingly beautiful homes where carpets and jewelry of all types were sold.

THE OASIS

The ancient medina of Meknes was very nearly the exact opposite of Fez. Where Fez was all narrow twisty streets that blocked out the sun, Meknes had straighter streets with fewer people and courtyards that were open to the sun. Instead of the new city being built right up to the walls, there was a vast green area. When I brought my lunch there, the sounds of the city faded away until the call to prayer was but a faint whisper on the wind. For the first time since the village stay in March, I couldn’t hear the incessant voices of people all around me, the blare of horns on a busy street, or the wail of sirens in the distance.
I also found a smaller courtyard in the new city right outside of the medina walls. This was a groomed garden with bushes and benches all around and horse drawn carriages. Across the courtyard was a wonderful little art gallery with handmade traditional clothing, carvings of wood small enough to fit into the palm of your hand or big enough to be the centerpiece of an entry way alongside hand carved furniture. There was also three-dimensional artwork such as paper-mache and metal/wood combinations meant to hang on the wall.

To emphasize the slower pace of Meknes, as I was leaving the art gallery and wandering through the courtyard, I saw two men playing cards. Both of the men were older and were sitting in the middle of the bushes on the grass. One looked like a business man wearing a suit jacket and slacks. The other was dressed more casually. Their shoes were off and a pizza box was their card table. I stood and watched for quite some time before they noticed me and when they did I asked if I could take their photo. They looked a little surprised but gave their permission and returned to their game.

GRAND CENTRAL STATION

Despite its reputation as a tourist destination, Marrakesh is my least favorite of all the cities I visited in Morocco. It seemed to me to be the most touristic, and the people were the most forward; especially the men. It is  only in Marrakesh where when I stopped to ask for directions and told the person no, I don’t want you to lead me there, I was ignored and when I was ignored the guy summarily asked me to pay him. This is a risk for tourists in any city in Morocco. 

Despite this inauspicious beginning, there were nice people in Marrakesh too. One shop keeper had just returned from time spent in Spain and was so delighted to practice his Spanish with me that he gave a a wonderful deal on some clothes to bring back to the U.S.  Another also gave me recommendations on where to eat lunch and which historical sites were the best to see…. Along with his business card and an admonishment that if I ever came back to Marrakesh I should call him and his wife would make a wonderful tajine for me. It is by far the most modern Moroccan city I saw other than Tangier.

THE PORT CITY

My final destination in country was Tangier. Tangier was by far the most so-called European city I saw. Along the beaches were streets of dance clubs and bars and restaurants. This is also the only city that I had a friend coming with me! We learned that we made ideal shipping partners as the stores we were interested in were the same types of stores and we’re both the type to ask the opinion of the other person we’re with before buying anything. I wound up buying the final part of my grandma’s present from Morocco there when a shop keeper took a shine to me and showed me how to recognize quality and which brands were the best and then gave me a huge discount. We didn’t see many historical sites, but as a coastal city of international importance we thought that just experiencing the ambience was sufficient as we celebrated being able to use our Spanish. Buying groceries and cooking up a meal at the hostel was also a blast!

Next stop? Good ol’ US of A. Colorado here I come! I fly out on the 11th to arrive just in time for Mother’s day, closely followed by my 21st birthday, my older sister’s birthday, and my grandmother’s birthday. After nearly four months in Morocco, it will be a wild ride. Reconnecting with friends, picking up the strands left behind in the US, and figuring out my final year of college are all on my to-do list. My first time in Boston, since hearing about the Marathon Day bombing is happening just two weeks after I get home, to talk to my professors and the students I volunteer with. I wonder how it will feel to once again be surrounded by people I have known my entire life, speak the same language as I, and have similar cultural expectations.  Most of all, I wonder how many, if any, of the friends I’ve made on this program will keep in touch. I know some of them are also heading back to Boston for college either this summer for summer courses or next fall for the first semester of their final year. However, others are headed straight to California to do the same on the opposite side of the country. We have all grown together this semester. We have laughed, cried, pulled our hair out by the roots from frustration over our ISPs (finished on time!), and most importantly matured. None of us are exactly like we were before we came here and that is a good thing. I have always been taught that to go through life unchanged means that you aren’t really living. I want to live.

I will post one more blog once I’m back in the states and just to keep you all waiting on tenterhooks, I’m promising to send along photos of all the presents I’ve mentioned in passing but haven’t identified throughout the semester! So long and talk to you soon!

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MOVING OUT: STARTING THE FINAL STAGE

After two months of living with my wonderful host family, it is time to bid them adieu. The final month of my study abroad program is the ISP (Independent Study Project) period and in that period we are responsible for our own housing, our own travel plans, food, and other expenses. We were all a bit intimidated when it came time to find a house to rent! And of course, after two months of taking classes with the same 12 people, what could be better than getting a house together? Not all of us are living together right now as Alex is living with the guys from another program and some of the girls need to be in other cities for their research, but that leaves ten of us renting a beautiful house with one bedroom, two large salas with very comfortable couches if I say so myself, and a western style bathroom. It also has a fairly decent kitchen and sitting room! The best part however is that the house comes with a pet. Finally, I can wake up every morning to the shrill chirping of a bright yellow parakeet… Now I remember why I hated it when my little sister had pet finches in her room.

We had three days from the final day of class to the official end of our homestay. I spent those three days packing and bringing my stuff over one suitcase at a time, one bag per day to the new house. I explored to supermarkets for ingredients for food, and I looked up stove top recipes for my favorite treats that usually require baking. I waited until I officially moved out to go buy perishable ingredients and for dinner on my first night in the house, I made a nice rice pudding. Of course, before I could make the rice pudding, I had to find vanilla. In the supermarket, they had no flavorings of any kind. In the baking section, they had pre-packaged mixes, rose water, and orange blossom water. They also had vanilla sugar, orange sugar, and various types of chocolate. No pure or synthetic extracts of any type! I wound up asking the program coordinator how to say vanilla in French and Arabic and wandering up the streets in the medina to every singe spice vender…. Vanille? Vanille? La (NOT) sucre! Finally, right before I gave up and caught the bus to go down town to a big supermarket with an international section, I struck gold… or bean really. Gourmet whole vanilla beans! When I asked at the final vendor, they began to say no, then paused and fetched a bag from behind the register and asked if it had vanilla beans in it and lo and behold! I bought three whole vanilla beans for 36 Dirham… $1.50 US per bean. When I told my mom she started hinting that I should look up how to make homemade vanilla extracts since it’s higher quality than anything you can buy in a store and with the price of the beans here it’s way cheaper apparently! My mom said in the US vanilla beans cost about $5.00 per bean… I’ve never bought or used whole vanilla beans before so it was a new experience.

Next weekend I’m going to have my host family over for lunch so they can see where I’m living and sample some all-American food. I’m feeding them potato salad, coleslaw, rice pudding with raisins and toasted almonds, and southern-fried chicken like my grandma makes! Hopefully they like it! And hopefully I’ll be able to find all of the ingredients for this more efficiently and with less hilarity than finding the vanilla.

I’m down to exactly 32 days… and I have 26 days to write a 25 page paper on a migration issue in Morocco! I need to begin reading and researching and analyzing if I’m to finish it on time while also having the ability to start travelling and seeing more cities in this fair country. Until next time!

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Define Homesick

A couple days ago we were talking about the impending end of our program and one of the other girls asked me if I was homesick.  I think I surprised both of us with my answer because I said no.  I said that since I go to college on the other side of the country from my family, I already don’t see them during a semester so I’m not seeing any less of them.  And with Facebook and Skype I’m in contact with them just as much if not more so while I’m here than when I’m in Boston.  The only difference is that in Boston I can pick up a phone at any time during the day and make a call to hear my mom and dad’s voices.  I can’t do that here in part due to the six hour time difference and in part due to the expense of international calling.  Instead I use chat and video chat and they follow this blog to hear about the day to day and special experiences that are just too long and involved to share during a quick conversation between classes.

That’s not to say I don’t miss home.  I do.  I miss being able to cook whatever and whenever I want.  I miss the ability to walk out into the streets and be able to communicate fluently with every person I see.

To know exactly what is expected and what is appropriate and what is not is something that we learn during childhood.  In this full immersion study abroad I have become a child all over again relearning how to interact with my surroundings.

Unlike most children however, I have even less of a vocabulary than a four year old learning right from wrong in preschool.  I also have my own preconceived notions that I need to overcome and evaluate.  Notions such as the appropriate reaction to a guy who cat calls me when I’m walking down the street being to laugh it off, make eye contact, and keep walking.   In Morocco you are supposed to stay quiet, eye contact is seen as an invitation, and you definitely keep walking and don’t react.

Everyone misses something or someone at some point in their lives.  For me, homesickness has always been a specter of overwhelming anxiety and a desperate urge just to return to what is familiar and known and therefore safe.  I have felt this before on other international experiences.  I felt this on my first day of college orientation when I was on my own in a crowd of four hundred other students on the other side of the country from my family and everything seemed to be happening at warp speed and I had no clue how to respond to any of the people around me, where to go, what to say, or who anybody was.  I broke down in tears and was on the verge of returning to my dorm room to hide and curl up with a book and my phone when one of the older students saw me and came over to give me a hug and guide me through the process making sure to give me her phone number and introducing me to other students who were in a similar situation.

I had a professor once who told us to try to see the world through a child’s eyes.  She said that children see everything around them as bright and new.  Even their own hands and feet are a surprise to them.  I have been forced to do that this semester.  Living in a home without western plumbing and needing to go to the public baths once a week in order to thoroughly wash reacquainted me with my body in unexpected ways.  Being unable to communicate with words and facing the difficulty of pronouncing those words that I should remember forces me to relearn the non-verbal communication that we all take for granted and may not even notice as adults.  In a culture that was more similar or in more similar surroundings, this challenge of communication might have been seen as frustrating or embarrassing as I can’t even talk about basic needs.  However, here where everything is so different, it seems new even as I walk through doors that have been standing for almost 1,000 years.  There is no ability to compare the situations I find myself in here with the situations I face at home and so when I don’t know how to react, there is no anxiety.  There is no safety net to fall back into, nowhere to escape to and most importantly when I fall I have to get up and keep going.  People here are understanding and hospitable.  If I fail, they will point out how and why but they won’t judge me as bad or wrong, simply different.

The last item on the packing list that SIT sent to us before our departure for Morocco was a sense of humor.  This is the lightest item in your suitcase and the most important one.  The larger your sense of humor, the better.  After all, it needs to be big enough to cover you and all your situations, not just the external situations of others.  So long as I can laugh at myself, laugh with others, then I know I’ll be just fine!

*Note: this graph on Culture-Shock shows the stages that many of our study abroad participants experience.  It seems like Danielle has embraced the cultural differences (stage 5), so it may be hard for her to leave Morocco when the program finally ends.  

Culture Shock Graph

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Into the Moroccan Countryside

Our third and final excursion was to a small village near Beni Mallal in a region of Morocco known for high immigration rates to Europe.  Even though it was a village with all that that entails: dirt streets, cows, and other livestock; it was still bigger than my hometown of 2,000 people by more than double. Another important fact to note for us was that nearly every family has at least one relative who is in Europe. My host mother there had three relatives abroad. More immediate to my experience though were the relatives left behind. My host mom, Khadija, lives with her husband’s family as is traditional. Her mother-in-law, sister, brother and cousins are in the home. She also has two adorable little girls, the elder is three and the younger is almost two years old.

Going to the village was a wonderful break for me. Despite going to college in Boston, I’m still not used to living in the city. It takes me a couple weeks to be able to sleep through the sirens and people and traffic at night and I escape to parks and open green areas where I can see the sky on a regular basis. Parks exist in Rabat – but most of them are full of trees and none of them are an easy walk from the old medina where I’m living. While there are not sirens in the medina, which is the oldest part of the city, there are still people at all times of the night and day. In the village I could count the stars and once the sun went down and dinner was served the sidewalks and dirt roads were empty and silent. I was also able to communicate much more easily. The most common language was still Darija and I did not suddenly wake up fluent (unfortunately) but many people also spoke Spanish. Spanish is a language I can communicate in efficiently though with little elegance! Once it was discovered that some among us could speak Spanish, those who spoke Spanish in the village sought us out to practice with and talk about their experiences in Spain.

One night at dinner, we had a guest who had recently returned from Spain after living there for over 20 years! As soon as I walked into the room, my host family motioned me over to him where he proceeded to tell me about his journey and is views on Morocco as a country. When my roommate came, he was more than happy to include her in the conversation as well. After a while, he noticed that I wasn’t talking. And he asked why since I had said I spoke Spanish. I told him I understood Spanish and knew what he was saying but had difficulty speaking. And of course, I said so using expansive gestures as befits my Italian heritage thereby causing everyone to laugh over how excitable I was. I did make more of an effort to formulate responses though instead of being an unobtrusive listener to his and Karolina’s conversation.

One thing that did surprise me however was how the return immigrants were viewed in the village. In a meeting with the village women, one of the other girls in the group asked the women what they thought of the returners. The women told us that no one who had made it to Europe would ever want to come back to the village. Therefore, all of the men who were there, who had returned, must be criminals who had done something bad enough to warrant deportation.  Yet when we spoke to the men who had returned they told us that several of them had planned to return all along in order to retire in Morocco and the economic crises just forced them to return sooner than planned.

Despite the complex intricacies of communicating and learning from the adults in the village, the children were similar to children around the world. By the end of the first day, we had a big enough entourage to start a game of soccer with them and that attracted even more children! With the magnetic attraction my head has with all flying objects in sports, I wound up in the most useful position of: you guessed it, goalie. And no sooner did I get placed as goalie, when three more girls from the village joined me! There were four of us strung out across the goal and we made an excellent team. After the game, they tracked me down every day at some point just to say hello. No matter where we went in the village we had a group of curious children following us. We taught them games and songs such as “London Bridge” and “head, shoulders, knees and toes” and in return they showed us photos and laughed and tried to teach us new words in Darija. When I gave them presents of bubbles that I had brought from the U.S. they were excited and wanted to give me gifts as well. On the final day as we were getting on the bus, I saw them all right outside heads bobbing as they searched for someone and as I jumped off, they surrounded me for a final round of hugs and kisses farewell. I could likely write an entire series of blogs just about these girls and my host siblings, but it’s dinner time here in Rabat! Until next time (and I’ll try not to leave you hanging as much! ^_^ )

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Interlude in Amsterdam

The fourth week (and the one month mark) of my study abroad program in Rabat was spent in Amsterdam for the second program excursion. According to the academic director, most students in previous semesters in this program saw Amsterdam as a welcome interlude… a coming back to semi-familiar surroundings, culture, and language as the vast majority of Dutch people speak English. However, of the two cultures, I found Amsterdam to be far more foreign than Rabat. Yes, Rabat is different. The faith, the smells, the language, and the clothes I see on the street every day. However, the brick buildings and seaside location of Amsterdam reminded me of Boston, which led me to expect reactions, ideas, and attitudes similar to those of the people I know in Boston and so every time I was in a familiar situation and the Dutch people reacted differently, it reminded me anew that I was in a foreign country. The impact was even greater when the person whose response surprised me prefaced their actions and comments with the phrase “you’re American, you know how it is.” In Rabat, it is so different that such a comparison is impossible and so there is no moment of realization that I am in a foreign country… it just is.

My first lesson in Amsterdam? A café is not the same thing as a coffeehouse! A coffeehouse is much less well lit, and smells like its prime product; you can buy coffee and food there, but the air is always hazy with the smoke. Since I don’t happen to like the smell, I avoided the coffeehouses like the plague once I found out the difference! The cafes on the other hand are wonderful! I went to a couple during our stay for lunch, including one right next to a canal and the Anne Frank Museum which I visited on my free day along with the Amsterdam Museum. The Amsterdam museum was exactly as advertised: a concise introduction to the history of the Netherlands and Amsterdam but I had no clue what to expect from the Anne Frank Museum. I have read her diary before of course, in elementary school. But to see the empty rooms where she hid with her family, and the original notebooks that she wrote in? Words can’t describe.

Hall of Lords in Amsterdam

Hall of Lords in Amsterdam

And while the first thing we ate upon arriving in Morocco was a traditional Moroccan meal, in Amsterdam it was Chinese food… then Pakistani food the next night! When we asked what foods were traditional in Holland later on, we were told just look for something with potatoes. The waffles are amazing though! I finally had some right before we left with whipped cream and strawberries. Every night we had dinner at a different restaurant, an Italian café, and Argentinean steakhouse, an Indonesian restaurant… no wonder the vast majority of people in Amsterdam ride bikes everywhere! There are actually three sets of street lights: one for vehicular traffic, one for pedestrians, and a final set for the bikes. Bike lanes are separate from the streets and the sidewalks and they will let you know when you’re walking in the bike lane with the handlebar bells.

AmsterdamAfter nearly a month in sunny Rabat, the 30 degree weather in Amsterdam was freezing, both figuratively and literally! Fortunately for us, it didn’t rain or snow while we were there until the final day as we were being driven to the airport. Walking between the tram and our destination wasn’t pleasant at all and layering was a necessity. Several people in our group wound up buying heavy coats when we were in Amsterdam because they hadn’t thought they would need one this semester. A few people also took advantage of the presence of familiar clothing stores, mainly H&M, to update wardrobes. In the pre-departure materials, we were given a packing list with suggested items and amounts. We were also given a very general guideline on what’s culturally appropriate to wear. However, when we got to Morocco, several of us (myself included) found out that it was much warmer, and what clothes are considered appropriate is a much broader range than we’d been led to expect. While I went to H&M with the others, I did the majority of my shopping in an open air market where everything was much less expensive and there were more off-the-wall styles. I also saw some very pretty fabric that I brought back with me to Morocco! The man I bought it from was from Morocco and had been in the Netherlands for 37 years. He told me that he was from Rabat and came back to Morocco every year during summer vacation. When he found out that I was studying in Rabat, he told me that he was originally from Rabat and he was extremely excited that I would be bringing his fabric back with me to be made into a dress.

All told a very nice interlude. But I was more than ready to return to my host family by the end of the week. I found that I missed Buba Mustafa’s teasing and Mama Fatima’s cooking!

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A High Altitude Weekend

Excursion number one: Chefchouen, the blue city and Fnideq, the border town. Both were absolutely stunning! We left early in the morning on Saturday and after a four hour bus ride interspersed with stops to admire the flowers (and stretch our legs) and group presentations (my group talked about the history and culture of Northern Morocco), we reached Chefchouen just in time for lunch! Lunch was an amazing sweet couscous with almonds, caramelized onions, ginger, cinnamon, garbanzo beans, and based on how tender the meat was, I believe it was lamb. After that it was time to explore!

Chefchouen, the blue city

Chefchouen, The blue city

Chefchouen literally translates to “look at the peaks” and refers to the two mountains that the city is built between. Keeping with that, the medina is filled with steep, narrow streets and lined with buildings of all shades of blue. WARNING: VERY SPECIFIC DESCRIPTIONS AND SHADES AHEAD. Periwinkle blue was by far the most common shade around at the bottoms of the hill. However, as we climbed we saw variations from aquamarine to marine, sky blue to cerulean and even a few buildings that were a beautiful hue reminiscent of the Caribbean. Apparently, the region had once thrived on exporting wool and purple and indigo dies.

During our exploration, I decided to try out my non-existent bargaining skills! To my vast surprise, I was successful. I found a gorgeous black and gold caftan that the shop owner was asking 150 Dirhams for (that’s just under $20 US in today’s exchange rate). I then asked if he would be willing to go a bit lower. In orientation, we were told to make a counter offer at a quarter of the original price but naturally in the heat of the moment I completely forgot this, so instead I asked if I could have it for 100 DH. Of course, the next offer I received was 125 DH to split the difference. I knew that the natural step would be to increase my offer a little bit, but fool I am, I had told him the maximum I’d want to pay as my first offer. So instead I told him that as much as I loved the caftan, I couldn’t pay more for a present for my sister than I had paid for a present for my mom. He thought that was hilarious and promptly let me have the caftan for 100 DH. Apparently, I can bargain… go figure!

My hotel room

My hotel room in Chefchouen

The hotel we stayed at in Chefchouen was a wonderful break from all of the blue everywhere; it was all shades of pink. All of the rooms were identical which means everyone (including the only guy in our program group of 13) slept in pink princess beds with white canopies. Breakfast was yummy Moroccan mint tea with various pastries, cereals, and juice in a hotel lobby decorated in shades of pink and then we headed off across the north of the country for two hours to Fnideq, a small town on the border of Sebta (or Ceuta if you ask the Spanish). Sebta is one of the two Spanish enclaves in northern Morocco. They are both city states that answer to the Spanish government though Morocco has asked to have them turned over to the Moroccan government as they are on soil otherwise claimed by Morocco. There is actually a lot of enterprise between Sebta and Fnideq though the fences surrounding the Spanish enclave are very impressive! This is one of the main points of entry for undocumented migrants to Europe, hence the heightened security.
After watching the border for a while (and having the police watch us to be sure we didn’t pull out cameras or make a dash for the gate) we went to lunch.

Eel with teeth

Eel with teeth

At lunch, I was laughed at for my reaction to the main entrée! I was fine with the calamari; in fact, calamari is one of my favorite foods. I was also fine with needing to pull the legs of the shrimp and having the sol fish looking at me while I deboned it. What I had a problem with was the eel. It had teeth. And it was very obviously showing them off. I was uncomfortable with this and I squealed. The program coordinator laughed. The eel tasted wonderful. One last four hour drive later, and we were back in Rabat and so exhausted that after greeting my host family I fell into bed and only woke up for dinner!

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