Sunday, December 23, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 28 [Instant Connections]

The things that I dislike about travel? Let's see: jet-lag, pickpockets, traveler's diarrhea...

The things that I love about travel?  Instant connections.

Now, before you freak out, let me explain: I'm not talking about hook-ups or sex, or love at first sight.  Remember that scene in Fight Club, when he's talking about "single-serving friends"?

I found this via Google.

That's what I mean.  When I say an instant connection, I'm talking about that moment when you somehow can connect with this person you have never seen before, who has somehow stumbled into your life, and who may or may not be in your life after this exact moment.  This person, who may be in your head, who may be the leader of an underground resistance group, who may possibly want to see the world burn, this person is your connection.  To what? Who cares, just embrace the moment.

The other day, I read something that quite frankly terrified me.  "You have only 10 years to enjoy your 20s." That is 3,652 days to enjoy hangovers, a faster metabolism, the lack of responsibility that comes with kids and a mortgage.

And that is why I'm all for the instant connections I make.  A few of them have been awkward and terrifying, but most of them have been amazing.

The Spanish-Chinese shopkeeper in Tarifa, who through some miraculous act spoke Mandarin Chinese, and helped convert my American dollars into euros, so I could get on a bus and catch up to my friends...

The British man (whom shall be known as B) who spoke to Re and me, going on about how he was still in love with his wife, how we (Re and me) were still young so he'd buy us drinks...

The German girls I met, who were teaching young children and ended up so exhausted at the end of the day, yet so full of enthusiasm, and wanting to explore the city...

Every single person who has spun in and out of my life has somehow made an impact on me.  Whether that moment of interaction will somehow reflect on my life, I can't say for sure quite yet.

But these quick interactions are worth it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 27 [And So It Goes... The Final Countdown]

Six.  That is the number of days left in Morocco.  Right now, I'm back at Hotel Velleda, the hotel where I started this crazy adventure.  Before I met everyone, I was worried.  After all, I hadn't met them before or gone onto their Facebook pages before I arrived (thank you China for internet censorship).  And now, I kinda don't want to say goodbye.

But in six days, I hop onto a plane at 6:40, the morning of December 15, and head back to the States.  At that point in time, I then have approximately 23 days to finish my Belgium visa application process before I go study abroad in Belgium... They told me to plan for four weeks to process my visa, but I have to apply for the visa in the United States.  Also, I didn't have access to the necessary paperwork until I got to Morocco.  Therefore, oops?

So anyways, that's what is ahead of me.  What lies in the ruins of last week: edit upon edit upon edit, my completed ISJ, finding a printer, participating in the mad dash of rabble-rousing and farewell parties, and moving out of the medina apartment.

To be honest, I regret nothing. Sure, there have been a few hair-raising moments (like witnessing a fight outside a club), moments where I wanted to scream (like arguing with our former landlady who swore she'd make us pay 2000 dirhams and would call the cops if we didn't leave at 11 in the morning, even though we told her we would leave at noon), and moments of pure apathy and exhaustion (where I essentially feel like I'm experiencing finals from across the world: sleep deprivation, frustration, and wondering where I went wrong with my life choices).

But it's been worth it.  My soundtrack has been: laughing, crying, shouting, screaming.  I've been sick, been homesick, been (almost) lovesick, and been cured.  I'm looking forward to fast internet connection, hot water showers with high pressure, walking down the street without harassment and eating Chinese food.  I'll miss couscous on Fridays, two or three hour long coffee/tea breaks, feeling salt spray on my face, and my friends.

And despite everything that's happened, I can honestly say that, when I'm looking back on my Facebook photos and everything else, I can say that "Yeah, I totally did that."

Moi and my final project (in a pretty blue folder).

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 26 [To Run Away, but for a day]

It's December and I'm a horrible person. Not really. But kinda.  I'm desperately trying to procrastinate on this final project because I am DEAD worried... It's taking a very long time to come together and I need to take a break.

So, my plan is to run away (for a day).  Day trip anyone?

The first place I'm thinking of is Chellah.  Chellah refers to a city of ruins are near Rabat, actually located across the riverbank at Sale.  Every year, the Jazz of Chellah music festival takes place there.  The cemetery has a few interesting tidbits and legends associated with it. Also, it's close, my friends have made it sound interesting to me, and I honestly just need to get out of the city.

The second place I'm considering is Volubilis.  It's an ancient Roman city near Meknes that is partially excavated.  Yeah, it's more ruins.  Yeah, it's kinda far.  But what makes it interesting to me is two-fold: it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Arch of Caracalla is the most notable structure in the city.  Google it for some more history.

I would go to El Jadida.  It's only about two hours away from Rabat, and it's on the beach, which makes it seem very pretty.  At the same time though, the water is freezing cold (we're in the middle of winter and the rainy season in Morocco), and I have a feeling that the rain is probably going to come down hard soon.

At the same time though, I might just stay in Rabat.

The places that I hang out at are so much fun.  Granted, they're all in Agdal, which is the more European and expensive part of town.

Bert's has good cheesecake (for 23 dirhams), and the gingerbread latte (21 dirhams) is definitely one of my favorite hot drinks.  The atmosphere is kind of loud at night, but during the day, it's a great place to study.  They even have sandwiches in case you get hungry.

When I want something else sweet, I go to Chez Paul.  It's fancy French, but the chocolate desserts are to die for.  Literally.  I have had raspberry macarons, tried the gelato, and even had their chocolate torte.  They have their own bakery, and they're going to try making cupcakes soon. I hope I get a chance to try them before I leave!

[Side note: I found cupcakes (REAL CUPCAKES) in Casablanca.  The store is called "J'adore Cupcakes", located inside the Twin Centers, and even has mini-cheesecakes.]

The Casablanca (vanilla-vanilla and a gummy heart on top) cupcake, and the mini-cheesecakes.

Upstairs is an Irish pub/bar, located on Avenue Michliffen, has this drink that I really like, called VK Apple (Vodka Kick) that tastes like Smirnoff Apple.  It also has great rock music and this live band on Fridays.

When I want to dance, it's either Yakout's, which has a ton of reggae and is a bar/dance floor, or Amnesia, which is a full-blown club that I would expect to see in a place like New York.

But, to be completely honest, my favorite place is probably Le Cotton Club. Ohmyfreakinggawwwd. I love this place.  It's classy, but also kla$$y.  This is where I tried sambuca for the first time.  This is live music, hot dogs, and where I met most of my Moroccan friends.  Honestly, I love this place.

So, who knows.  I might run away for a day, or I might stay my last week in Rabat and finish up this project.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 25 [Writing and Burning Out]

So, this week/weekend/month has been kind of stressful.  Our deadline for our independent study program is   looming closer and closer, but what makes it even scarier is the general sense of SHNOO-T-F (for the derija-illiterate, it's our program's version of WTF).

I'm worried about my article.  I don't think it's horrible, but I feel that it's so... rough. It's bare-bones and little facts that I've dug up from my interviews, thrown together, and given a heavy shake.  And oh, I love the ideas and hopes and possibilities, but it's not. quite. there.

Anyways, I've been working on my creative writing as well.  I figured, since I am obviously unable to give you gracious readers the brilliant blog post you deserve until I finish this rough draft, I'll let you ruminate over some of my poems for now.


the thing about travel
is not what sticks
to your soul and sings
out at night
or in moments 
that you remember.
the thing about travel,
is that wander-
burns through your veins
in every breath
that you exhale
in every word
that you mouth.
the thing about travel
that drives me 
restless with twitchy
and wondering, wandering
and though i lift my feet,
i somehow think
that i should put down roots 

the rhythm thrums
an incessant beat
that i can't 
and somehow
relate to.
the point of a public square
is to attract
gleaming coins
and faded coins
as if the displays
of art
are irresistable
my eyes
track the others
who are as out-
as i am.

the road,
they say,
is long and windy.
the road,
they murmur,
is filled with trouble and shadowy things.
the land, 
she said,
was filled with milk 
that glimmered
and honey
that glowed.
the water,
he grinned,
was crystalline 
a shock to 
the system.
the road,
they say,
is long and windy.
the road, 
they murmur,
is filled with trouble and shadowy things.
the end,
i promise,
solemnly, to myself,
is worth it.

he is an almost stranger,
and yet, he is someone i could 
believe in.
the honest truth is that,
despite time and foolish fancy,
i hold that he is an almost stranger.
he is eccentric,
not like me.
but he is special,
and simple,
and honest.
if illusions were worth more 
than memory and glimpses
into another world
and another time,
i would say,
the waters gave him up to me,
the stars sparked little secrets about us,
and yet,
despite all this,
he is an almost stranger.

there is something
about the end.
the end of what,
you stare,
trying to be inconspicuous,
at my eyes,
when you ask
what i mean.
the end of an era?
of us?
of them, of you,
of me,
of who?
the end,
is for all
intents and purposes,
a pause, a break
in a continuance.
the end of this
will give me reason
to move on.
but still,
i wonder
if i should 
put down roots.
after all,
a tumbleweed comes 
from one place,
and must go someplace 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 24 [TEDxRabat: Illumination/Enlightenment]

For those who don't know, TED Talks are pretty huge.  The premise is simple enough: invite speakers to give short talks from five minutes to eighteen minutes. Any and all topics are up for grabs: a YouTube search brings up "The Power of Introverts," "Do Schools Kill Creativity," and "Gaming Can Make A Better World."    There's a TED Talks group for Cairo, Taipei, Baghdad.  There also happens to be a TEDxRabat event this Saturday November 24th.  The theme is "Enlightenment" or, in French, "Illumination."

The funny thing about enlightenment is that every one seeks it.  To seek the "Truth" or to seek some truth is to seek some form of knowledge.  To attain the ultimate spiritual freedom is to be "enlightened." Most people who remember fragments of high school history remember hearing about this 18th century movement called "The Enlightenment." The Enlightenment believed that people could be rule themselves through introspection and reason, that they could live based off of science and equations.

The Enlightenment also believed that nothing good comes from religion, faith or superstition.  And given their times, they were probably right: religious persecution was rampant and people suffered for speaking out about religion.

But, I digress. In this technologically advanced and dependent age, what does it mean to be enlightened?  Do we refer to it as being able to access information?  In that case, we can look online for anecdotes of three- and four-year-olds who can play with iPhones and iPads. In that case, we can assume that most people will have access to either newspapers, libraries, or even people who will spread information orally and by gossip.

Do we refer to enlightenment as being able to create, organize and disperse information?  Do we then consider protest groups, advocates and other subversive groups enlightened?  After all, they are dispersing and spreading information that is contrary, yet reaches and connects with a specific population.

Do we consider people who can blog (and yes, I realize that this is self-incriminating), tweet or "share" information enlightened?  They create, disperse and access information, acting as a go-between for the other possibilities.

I would argue that in this time and age, to be enlightened is not simply ACTING based on the information, by either sharing it or ignoring it.  To be enlightened here and now is to be able to act on the information AND to be able to rationally argue for or against that information.  In short, I believe that enlightenment is being able to apply the principles that the Enlightenment movement gave us, to the modern technology that we now have.

You must be able to test the information against itself.  Is there contrary facts?  Are those facts unbiased?  Is the media in which the information presented unbiased?  What about the audience members?  There is a litany of tests that one can conduct; however, the key test is one's common sense.

I feel that in our current society, it frequently occurs that in our need to publish something first or to publish to a large group, we get the facts wrong.  Once that incorrect information is disseminated across the internet to audience members in different countries, it spreads quickly via gossip, texting, phone calls.  At this point in time, it becomes difficult to correct this quickly snowballing pile of misinformation.

Through one's common sense, consideration, and regards to the information (are there grammatical errors, misspellings, obviously incorrect commentary, etcetera), a person should be able to discern falsehoods or, at the very least, hold off on making snap judgments.

I hold that enlightenment is no longer a spiritual or a rational goal: it has become, in short, a necessity in order to survive the constant information deluge we suffer.  To be enlightened in this technical age is to possess common sense and to apply that common sense.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 23 [Fire, Bureaucrats and Other Moments]

Mehdi is old.  I joke with him.  He's turning 32.  I met him on Halloween: he was dressed as a skeleton, and he said "This is my real face."

It's his birthday.  Le Cotton Club is HIS club (or as his as it can possibly get).  Diana and Susanna (also known as ROOTSMAMA) are playing and jamming out.  In between talking to people, having a couple of drinks, and joking, we all chill out.

Until the staff brings out a huge tray.  They build a pyramid on top: three, two, one glasses.  Then, at the bottom, they create a slurry of alcohol.  Which they then light on fire.  The alcohol (and blue flames) trail downwards from the the top glass, creating pretty blue heat wherever it flows. We take straws and attempt to swallow our flaming-party-tray concoction.

I know there's some sambuca: my chest feels warm and there's an aftertaste of licorice.

The apartment is fabulous, large, and spacious. Not. Yes, it can hold four or more people; yes, it's large.  But: the broken window is covered by a plastic bag, our power flickers on and off, the "stove" is a tiny propane tank on the counter, the Turkish bathroom isn't big enough for a bucket shower, and the terrace keeps getting locked, stranding my laundry.  Still, I grin and bear it.  This apartment, with it's beds on the floor, and a jank little lock, is MINE.

Our first dinner was ramen.  The second dinner: pasta, pineapple juice, orange juice, garlic bread, fried eggplants, fruit.  Then, add three great friends.

I am so tempted to scream.  Bureaucracy is spectacularly good at frustrating a person: in fact, I believe bureaucratic processes are a specialized form of torture. In order to talk to the orphanage director, we have to file a letter of intent.  However, they won't tell us how to file a letter of intent.  This is the third phone call in trying to figure out how the letter of intent works, where we should send it, who should sign it.

The voice speaks again, "Sorry, sorry, but I can't help you." He hangs up.  I look to Saltana, she looks at me.  And we dial the next phone number on the list.


She shrieks.  I look over to my left and want to laugh.  It's not anything shocking, but at the same time, it kinda is.  There is a severed chicken head on the sewer grate, there are bones lying in a puddle next to it, and a cat looks up expectantly before CRUNCH-ing into a bone. 

To be honest though, I've gotten used to the sight of bones, bits and pieces of meat, throughout the medina.  It's a fact of life: meat comes from animals, which have bodies, which are made up of bone and muscle.  The excess material has to go somewhere.

Still, she shrieks again when we see a butcher carrying racks of ribs, hustling towards the open back door of a van.  And I have to admit, my stomach churns a little uneasily too.


The new year is/was Friday. November 16th marks the date of the Islamic new year 1434.  Actually, I really don't pay attention to the date, or even realize it.  At first, I am more concerned by the firecrackers that appear and suddenly seem to be launched at me.

The kids laugh and giggle, little hobgoblins in dark alleys, casually tossing them at me and hurling them in different directions.

At night, I wonder if they'll blow their fingers off as I hear pops and shrieks from the street.


The first night, I sleep fitfully.  My roommates inform me that someone apparently died the night before, before we moved in.  They saw, they say to me with earnest faces, what appeared to be someone wrapped up in a carpet downstairs.  I hear wailing that day, screaming and crying, sounds that come as part of a mourning process.  I joke that there is a ghost, and one roommate glares at me. "Don't say that!"

That night, I dream of a woman wrapped in a carpet, being thrown down my stairs.

I sit bolt upright and see some sort of figure in the hallway.  The plastic bag on the wall crinkles.  I grab my glasses.

There is nothing, but the plastic bag swaying gently.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 22 [Crushes on Spanish sailors, Casablanca, and Trains]

There is something about belief that is awe-inspiring and terrifying.  Beliefs can drive everything you do, from a simple trust in karma to a overwhelming rush to advocate.  At the same time, beliefs can fuel stereotypes, which lead to nasty situations.

Let me back up: it starts with Casablanca.  Casablanca, the grimy place that I disliked, because I only spent a night there (even though it was a fun night), because I heard horror stories, and because I just didn't want to move.

It continues with arriving in Casablanca, three girls (and a four-year-old) eating cupcakes (real cupcakes, with chocolate and cream cheese frosting), and with checking into Hotel Yto.  The room: 204.  The mission: find a way to spend the next 5 hours before we decide to go out.  Given that we have two mega-beds, two bedrooms, and television, the mission is easily accomplished.  Dinner: tagliatelli. With real ham.

There's a bar downstairs of Hotel Yto. It's got a Guinness sign, a British phone booth, a bus sign, and crocodiles tacked to the ceiling.  There's a pint of Guinness, there's Heineken beer, and there's Precision beer.  A stuffed grouse, goose, bird looks at me with beady eyes.  A bow and arrow is angled right at my head. There's a 20 something year old grinding on someone's lap.  I continue to watch Sting in concert on the television.

We go to Ain Daib, Boulevard de la Corniche, THE tourist place to party, according to Lonely Planet.  Our taxi driver Aziz chats with us, and we in turn manage to haggle the price to 50 dirhams, the "usual" cost of a ride.  We take his phone number so that we have a way to head back when the clubs close around 5am.

The first club is Empire.  I was invited to this club by the promoter last time, but it just didn't work out.  The club is mostly empty, since they've just opened.  We get our drinks and sit, bobbing along to some music.  There's a pole and I take a spin on it.  The bar gets lit on fire with ethanol or methanol or whatever it is that burns brilliant blue.  After people watching, talking and laughing, we decide to go dancing.  The bartender (a stunningly slender woman, who seems genuinely surprised that I speak French, who smokes cigarettes, and who wears a black Union Jack tank top over denim shorts) clears out our tab and then, without saying a word, pours us new drinks.  We stare in confusion and shrug.  Turns out, it's on her, on the bar.  We grin: free drinks for the ladies? Oh yeah.

We wander down the street.  A bouncer grins and shouts at us, flags us down, and then ever so elegantly guides us into Le Matador.  We laugh and dance, spinning away from grabby hands, and wandering eyes.  One guy starts talking, and lo and behold, he's a Spanish guy.  With five friends.
We start talking and then we decide to go elsewhere, as a few men have become too bold and aggressive.

We're followed by those very aggressive men we are trying to avoid and become so frustrated that we flounce into Calypso (more acurately, I twirl into Calypso, with my friends, while the Spanish men accompany us, and those aggressive men are left outside).

Calypso has a 100dh cover charge, but includes a drink, reggae influenced music, and an amazing DJ.  I dance with two of the Spanish sailors: one is married and I don't pay much attention to him.  The other is taller, shaved his head, has a tattoo sleeve and the most intensely dark hazel eyes that I have ever seen.  When he smiles, he is incredibly handsome.

Around 4am, I get tired, we spin off and say goodnight.  The Spanish sailors follow.  Apparently, they believe us to be prostitutes: one even says that he needs to go to the bank before we can leave.  In between becoming offended and listening to them invite us back to their ship, we make our awkward farewells and leave.

It ends this way: Aziz finds us at MacDonald's getting chicken nuggets, we see the Spanish sailors in line behind us (in fact, Mr. Hazel Eyes taps me on the shoulder to get my attention), and we leave.

We sleep it off until 10 am, get breakfast downstairs in the restaurant while surrounded by stuffed foxes and squirrels, then get Starbucks.  It ends this way: a taxi ride to the train station, a train ride to Rabat.  And I wonder about the Spanish sailor, who is somewhere far away.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Study Abroad: Part [... It's midnight and I can't sleep]

I'm so tired and frustrated.  Granted, being somewhat sick all day hasn't helped, nor has the rumbling in my stomach.  And on top of that, my sleep cycle has decided to abandon me.  Once again.

I never thought this would be so... Hard. Fanatical. Difficult. Bureaucratic. Writing a story, a piece of journalistic news, has always been smooth back in the States.  I send out an e-mail, maybe two, and a well-timed phone call.  My source, or person of interest, then responds and I type so that I have a piece to hand in.  Here, I can't talk to anyone without getting the right piece of permission which had to be handed out from the right ministry, apparently a millenium ago.  And standing outside of an orphanage, with walls and guards, makes me look sketchy as all.

I miss the ability to call anyone and get reception (apparently, local coverage doesn't really hold up against the ancient time-melting abilities of a medina), surf the internet (not that there is really anything to hold my interest, or that there is enough broadband on a modem stick to actually "surf"),  and the ability to make food on something that isn't a freakin' propane tank (though my reflexes have improved from trying to not burn myself).

I want greasy, nasty disgusting food.  I want my mother on the phone, or giving me a hug.  Maybe I should go to Pizza Hut.

I want to go to Meknes, Tangier, see the rest of Morocco, and not feel like I'm drowning in news articles, journalist names, or plain fatigue.

Don't know why I'm even this tired. All I want to do is sleep.  Or curse.  Am I even allowed to curse online?  Probably.  But the emphatic twist of satisfaction when saying "fuck" or "shit" is entirely elusive when it's in my head and I don't know if anyone will hear it.  Or do I miss simply shocking them?  Is it shocking when I'm not entirely that innocent of a person, letting swear words slip, or do they expect it in the way that a frustrated teenager says it?

I want to go to Casalanca to see a friend, but at the same time, I don't particualrly care... Casa seemed so dirty and cramped and expensive and unsatisfying when I went last.  But at the same time, maybe the company will more than make up for it.

And my stomach just growled again.  I'm so hungry.  But this morning, I woke up with the signs of food poisoning: TD, vomiting, slight fever and nausea.  Trust me, I've done this plenty of times already (by my count: 4 this semester). That means: cumin to settle my stomach, pills of all shapes and sizes (only two, both oblong, one white, the other red), and water.  I think the apple and few spoonfuls of couscous were satisfying, and so were the pastries, but that was a good twelve hours ago.

If I pass out on my stairs, I wonder what's the chance of me getting amnesia?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 20 [Twitchy Fingers, Coffee, and a Sleepless Night]

My eyes are tired, darting between three television screens.  My back hurts: I'm hunched on the arm of a sofa, with my knees drawn towards my chest.  I'm on my third cup of coffee, it's only 1am in Morocco, and there are four more hours before polls are closed.  People are speaking (French, derija, Fus'ha, English) as music is playing from the speakers.  There are constant camera flashes.
I'm at ISIC, the journalism school, participating (passively) in Election Night Rabat.  We have four television screens tuned to France 24, BBC, Al Jazeera and CNN.  There are students live-blogging, live-tweeting, doing podcasts, looking for interviewees, and guzzling tea.
The US Embassy is sponsoring this event: they've helped with the equipment, but the decorations, the paintings of Obama and Romney, the poster board of United States Presidents have all been set up by the Moroccan journalism students.
I see Imane walking in her coat and hat, scarf around her neck.  She tells me she left at 4pm after helping with the decorations, took a nap and came back around 11pm.

Karis and Olivia have set up camp on a table, their fingers typing furiously as they hit refresh, check Twitter and play their recorders.
Rita's running around, doing radio interviews in a shirt that proclaims: RADIO ELECTION NIGHT RABAT.  She latches onto me, asks me what does this election mean to you, who would you vote for.

There's Khaoula talking quietly with Will and Tanur, I think I see Walid, I meet a few other students.  I go for another cup of coffee.

I'm Canadian.  I can't vote in these elections, and usually, I don't care about elections.  Back in the States, in my tiny world (also known as my apartment), I might skim the ticker feeds on CNN or MSNBC and then I leave it alone.  Oh, I could pressure family and friends to vote a certain way, but I'm never emotionally invested.
But this time, I am.  This time, in Morocco, with Facebook feeds and constant tweets, I feel more connected and am definitely invested.  These Moroccan students, who may never fill out a ballot, may never register, may never even physically BE in the United States, care intensively about these election results.  These students want to know about Morocco-US relations, know more about US foreign policy than I do (and I've spent the past decade-or-so living in the states), and CARE so much more about a political system they cannot be part of. 
I feel guilty about friends who don't vote, about my own inability to vote, and about the political flaws that are exposed in the course of the election.
Eight cups of coffee.  One cup of tea.  Three handfuls of trail mix.  I've listened to Fulbright Scholars, a woman who worked on Obama's campaign in 2012, Sam from the Embassy, and other students. I'm watching tracked numbers: Obama in the lead with 244 on CNN, Obama behind with 234 on BBC, Obama tied with Romney at 213 on France 24.  ISIC had their own little election: out of 123 votes, 107 were for Obama, nine for Romney, and seven blanks.
Suddenly, there's a stunned silence.  Al Jazeera, hidden in the corner, where I can't see it, has suddenly proclaimed that Obama has won.  And then it spreads: BBC flashes "MSNBC PROCLAIMS OBAMA WINNER" while CNN officially projects Obama's win at 11:18pm EST and France 24 is replaying Al Jazeera. 
We start laughing and cheering.  It's a swelling that spreads from the back, then suddenly, I'm laughing and cheering as Rose grabs me.  Karis is dancing, Olivia's grinning, I think I see Josh fist-pump and there is this feeling that I'm part of something bigger than myself.
We go back to my apartment: five giddy, excited college students. It's past five in the morning and we're planning on streaming Romney's concession speech as we talk, listen to music and wait.  Of course, the internet is spazzing, YouTube won't load, and we hear that Romney's team is contesting states.  This leads to: a need for food, some cursing, and more waiting.
After all this, it's 7:30am, the birds are chirping, and I plan on closing my eyes for a few.  Obama will be big news in a few hours.  

Study Abroad: Part 19 [Halloween and the End of an Era]

Halloween is amazing. It's fun and ridiculous and sometimes, just sometimes, a perfect day. Morocco doesn't REALLY celebrate Halloween.  Oh sure, Fez and Marrakech throw some parties, expats get dressed up, and people maybe dance.

But there aren't decorations, trick-or-treaters, or candy.  And yet, study abroad students always come up with someway around it.  In between dressing up as flappers, Katniss from the Hunger Games, Joni Mitchell, and Twiggy, there was laughter, some drinks and music.

Le Comptoir is a fancy French style bar: beautiful, elegant, but always with expats and foreigners, and fairly pricey.  Then they threw a little Halloween shindig. Ghosts, cobwebs, and plenty of decorations.  The two singers (Diana and Susanna, both Spanish, both beautiful, and both amazing) were decked out in costume.  When they saw us, they cheered.  Most people had foregone an unusual outfit and looked like they did everyday.

Insert random dancing, a blur of movement, and arriving at Le Cotton Club.  Live music, ghoulish staff and plenty of Halloween decorations.  There were also other costumes: a scary doctor, Skeletor, Guy Fawkes (who could actually dance).  Throw in a dance-off, an amazing cover of Seven Nation Army, and a nightcap of tea and cake at a tiny cafe.

Then sleep as the sun rises.

This is also, sadly, the end of an era for me.  I'm approaching ISJ, finding an apartment, and trying to find a journalistic story.  This means: no more lunches at CCCL, saying goodbye to Mama Fatima, and fighting the urge to simply travel to Tangier, Agadir, Meknes.  At the same time, it means: independence, determination, and just a bit of desperation. 

Study Abroad: Part 18 [Eid, in Visuals]

WARNING: This post contains images that may be considered graphic and/or disturbing.

 The process of making rehbah cookies...

... and the other kinds I got to eat.

The selling of sheep in the medina.

The five sheep for my family.
The morning of...
You have to hold down the sheep: it struggles fiercely.
 You slice the carotid and the jugular in one clean movement.
In order to separate the wool from flesh, you insert air (either with a bicycle pump, or as the butcher did: by blowing deeply).
Two or three strokes and the head is separated from the body.
 As the butcher skins, he moves efficiently, snapping bones and slicing in lines.
Then, the butcher moves on: removing organs with precision.
He holds the knife, clenching his teeth, as he winds yards of intestines.

Blood and guts go down the drain.

The eyes of the sheep seem to stare, as glazed over as they are.
It's a bit like Christmas: calling up the family you can't see, giggling over excitement, and watching sheep die.
The cowl of the sheep (fat that surrounds the stomach) dries for a bit.
Add the liver to a tagine...

...or grill it and listen to it sizzle...

...wrap it in cowl...

...make brochettes.
The heads are roasted, grilled, and scrubbed with steel wool to remove the burnt bits.

The meat cleaver thuds as skulls are reduced to bits of bone and brain.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 17 [Eid, in Words]

Eid al-Adha is a major Muslim holiday. The tradition starts with Brahim (Abraham) about to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Isaac), until Allah (God) intervened by sending a ram to be sacrificed instead.
When we return from the village stay, the streets of the medina are filled: the smell of sheep poop and hay, wooden blocks and knives haphazardly stacked onto tarps, men visible in little shanty shacks of wooden pallets and blue tarps, sitting behind grills. They play cards, call out to the girls, and smoke packs of Gauloise.

Every night, I can't sleep: the cats still hiss and growl like possessed demons, but now, there is also the endless bleating of sheep and goats. My neighbor next door buys three and keeps them in the house.
My host mom grins at the television screen, as a man speaks in derija, and turns to me. I angle myself to look at her face. "HoulĂ­" she says, "houli." I turn back and there are sheep on the screen. I tilt my head and nod.

She dramatically draws a finger across her throat, her eyes still crinkled in a grin.
Islam dictates that you sacrifice a sheep, but only if you can afford it.  A rich man who does not offer is viewed negatively.  A poor man who does offer a sheep, when he cannot afford it, is also blamed for his actions.

Still, billboards, ads and television shows tell how people can obtain loans and credits for the sheep.  One sheep can cost 1500 dirhams, maybe 3000 dirhams.
Preparations start on Wednesday. First come cookies, cakes, pastries. The dough is simple enough: almonds, whole, sliced, diced, ground. Flour, shifted two or three times. Melted butter that is now cooling. Salt, sugar, spice.

A relative of my host family, possibly an aunt or a cousin or a sister, pats and pounds the mixture, rounding it out and evening it. Then comes the rest: cutting out half-moon shapes, that end up on a large baking sheet. The sight is beautiful: pale crescents against a dark background.

Two sheets later, we head to the baker. We weave around other people in the street. My shoulder strains from the effort of balancing the baking sheet on my shoulder, on my head, in my arms. She tells me that they rent the sheets from the baker, the same baker who is surrounded by five other women goading him, demanding their goods.

One walks away with star shaped cookies, the other with hearts. One has rolled biscuits, on a square tray more appropriate for pies.

We come back two hours later and make the ten minute trip back, the rags we're using as pot-holders barely offering us protection against the heat of the trays.

The next morning, my neck and shoulders are sore.  My host mom laughs at the grimace on my face.
Saltana tells me that she will spend Eid with her family in Ifrane.  I tell her that I will spend Eid with my host mom's family.  We promise to tell each other how Eid went, to work on our journalism story when we return.  We go our separate ways.

Later, Mama Fatima and I ride on the bus for half an hour, an hour. We go past Agdal, the glitzy European section of town. We drive past shanty towns that I've never seen, their low-doorways crumbling and barely illuminated. Several turns later, we stop in what seems to be suburbia: slightly clean streets, buildings about the same height, and streets that are lined with four-wheel drive cars.

The house is luxurious: three floors, spread out, sharing half of one block with one other residence. In the courtyard, there are five sheep. They baa as I sleep upstairs.
The next morning, I am woken up around 7:30 by the sound the Eid prayer. I go downstairs and wait.  Other people have gone to the mosque to pray, and they return around 9:00.

There's a morbid sense of amusement: there's excitement and curiosity, but at the same time, I question if I can watch five animals die in front of me.  I've done it before, but the thought still turns my stomach.

The family is gathered, thirteen adults, three children, a baby and me, sipping coffee and tea as they munch on cookies.  We wait for the butcher to come.

The process is not quick.  Death is instant (a slash, and blood, and the sheep is dead before it fully comprehends the pain).  The skinning of the animal takes ten, fifteen minutes.  The butcher reminds me of a pirate, his striped shirt and mustache intimidating as he snaps bones, slices off wool and pulls out livers.  Once one sheep is sacrificed, the five men clean the courtyard, efficiently removing traces of blood and gore.

They sacrifice each sheep separately.  They moved them to the garage earlier and now, they bring them from the garage back to the courtyard.  Each man sacrifices one sheep, and I'm told that it's one sheep for each family.  Their clothes will need to be washed later.

The fact that the sheep don't watch each other's deaths comforts me in some small way.
It's a bit like Christmas: discomfort at the sight of blood, a few fights, and endless food.  Preparations in the kitchen, trying to occupy three children who don't play well together, and a headache.  Still, it's been fun.
Eid Mubarak.

Study Abroad: Part 16 [Fez/Fes in Pictures]

After the village stay, we went to Fez for a guided tour around the medina.  Here's the visual reel.

The royal palace is getting a scrub-down... 'Cause the king's a-coming!
From where we saw the city, there was a man selling hats.
The green roofs denote shrines or other places of importance.
Alleyways are small and narrow, and you have to watch where you turn around.
There's something... intrusive about watching someone pray.  But I can't look away.
At the shrine of Moulay Idriss II, you can make a wish on a coin.
Because you always need to be reminded of Casablanca.
Talk about a colorful fabric store!
And they sell bags too!
This is the famous tannery of Fes, which also smells disgusting.  They gave us mint plants when we walked through the door to disguise the smell.
I love you too Fes.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 15 [A Village, A Family, A Whole Week, Part 1]

My study abroad program is fairly intensive: we have three separate excursions, in addition to five weeks of independent study.  During those five weeks, we will get to wander through Morocco, chasing our own journalism stories. 

But for now, we can "kick-back" a bit. For our excursion, we went to a small village near Fez: Britta.  First off, some background information: Britta is a village located within the commune of Sbaa Raoudi ("Seven Cemetaries").  Sbaa Raoudi has a bit of a ghostly legend: an old woman had seven different sons.  For some long-lost reason, they all died around the same time and were buried separately in the seven different cemetaries that surrounded the village. A commune is also known as jamma, and serves as a sort-of political hub for several villages or kabila.  A village can be made up of several different tribes or douar.

On our first day, we arrived at the local association and are simultaneously amused, amazed.  There were kids hiding in the trees who cheered at us, there were kids who were playing with spinning tops (winding string around their tops, and thrashing them on the ground, just to watch the tops tumble on uneven ground), there were kids who swarmed the gates to come say hello.

 The kids JUMPED up onto the gate, to peek over.
During the village stay, we were assigned by pairs to host families.  My host family was wonderful: Mama Fatnah taught us how to bellydance, Soufiane (the brother) was like any other typical teenager, and Sarah (the sister) was soft-spoken.  The father appeared once on the first day, before vanishing.  I thought he had returned to Fez to work. 
Instead, I learned that Mama Fatnah was one of three wives.  One lived in Fez.  The other one lived next to us, inside the same concrete wall.  I had previously believed that she was Mama Fatnah's sister.  My mind screeched to a halt before I processed two things: one, this was simply a statement about Mama Fatnah's life and, two, it did not change who she was or how she treated me like a daughter.
The other wife had three daughters and two sons.  The youngest child was Douha, an overly-enthusiastic four-year old who discovered she could chatter away at us in derija and we would simply let her take over.
Douha, the tiny half-sister of my family.
We played a rousing game of girl's soccer, our study abroad girls against the girls who were part of the association. I cooked, learning recipes that Mama Fatnah had once learned from her mother.  We walked around the fields (I even tried my hand at plowing one unsteady row) and saw the sun set.  I watched Bollywood and Hollywood movies with Sarah, as Arabic subtitles scrolled across the screen. We went to the local hot springs to shower and bathe in mineral waters (my family didn't have a shower, or even a bucket to wash with).
The time in the village was both calming and a bit chilling.  I was confronted every day with poverty, and yet, I wouldn't have given up this experience.  There were flies on everything and the family's one source of water was from a faucet outside of the house. There were aggressive dogs to protect each house and most of the girls in my program agreed that we either felt trapped inside or uneasy outside.  There was violence and frustration in general, but there was nothing specific aimed at us.
I got to dance with my half-sisters, I got to feed the animals, and I got to "slum it." But I wasn't really slummin', I was having sharing experiences with people.

This little boy was our neighbor's son and so shy.

At the end, when Mama Fatnah walked us to the bus, she said "Je t'aime" as if it was a fact of life.  I responded just as truthfully, "Je t'aime aussi."  And it was: in between teaching Soufiane English, trying to not burn myself in the kitchen, and playing with Douha, I fell in love with the countryside of Morocco and with the people. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 14 [Morocco in Bits and Pieces]

You know that information packet that you get during orientation week? Or the lectures that people give you about safety?  Well, they almost always say that you'll get sick, be careful drinking the water, watch out for the raw fruits and veggies until your stomach gets used to the local bacteria.  I probably should have listened, but to be honest, I think I got sick from eating meat in Morocco.  My host family used their home remedies to look after me: lemon slices and vinegar in a towel on my hair to get rid of my temperature, a magic powder pill known by the medical name Doliprane to help with cramps and pains, and peeled apples to settle my stomach.
She pours water into the teapot, a tall, elegant and steely teapot.  Four scoops of black tea, two blocks of sugar.  Sometimes fresh mint leaves.  Boil.  It's some sort of weird, bizarre recipe she knows from touch.  And habit.  The teapot goes inside the wooden counter, the gallon container of sugar under the tiled sink, and the black tea beside the plastic container of tumeric, but on the left of the ground ginger.
The key to lighting the gas stove is to turn on the gas, touch the lighter to the metal ring, and FLICK, right before YANKING your hand away.  She's quick, but sometimes, she'll grimace because her skin's a little too red from being a little too slow.
My host cousin makes good mint tea, but my host mama makes damn good mint tea.
The first time I wake up on the couch/bed/sofa, I want to giggle.  Not because it's a soft, comfortable king bed.  Not because my back isn't sore (yet).  Not because I'm able to completely stretch out, but because it's irrefutable proof that I'm actually doing this crazy study-abroad-in-Morocco. 
Yes, I've been here for a week, and yes, I'm pretty sure that if this were a dream, the time I've spent in this dream would be proof that I'm probably lying in a coma somewhere.  But, point being, I'm accepting that I'm in Morocco, after orientation, and somehow enjoying this weird couch/bed/sofa.
Until a week later, when my back finally cracks in face-grimacing-but-it-feels-so-good-agony once I stand up.
The funny thing the call to prayer is how used I've gotten to it.  At first, I was excited to hear it, because there's almost something... magical? mystical? about religious summons, like church bells or the steady clack of prayer beads. 
And then it became routine.  And it's a little irritating when I wake up around 5am, to the sound of "Allah ahkbar" streaming through my window.  Still, it's comforting in a way.
I finally crack.  Three, nearly four weeks in, I want a grilled cheese.  Or mac and cheese.  Even the words Starbucks and Americano sound like heaven.  I want my crappy TV screen, or at least, high-speed working internet.  I want to go back to my apartment, go back to being a vegetarian and, most importantly, go back to seeing my friends daily.
It's official.  I have no idea what I'm doing.  I'm sitting with the other students in my program, about to pair up with a Moroccan journalism student for our independent study project.  We're sitting in a circle, introducing ourselves and our ideas for projects.  We're halfway through, and I'm grasping at straws, when it's my turn.  I mumble, ramble and somehow finish on "Um, so yeah... That's it."  What has happened to my eloquence? To my ability to at least sound somewhat organized?  Oh, that's right... I kinda left it in the States, along with my ability to stop gawking.
And then, I'm smiling at Imane, who likes my idea, but it's not quite what she wants to do, and I like her idea, but it's not quite what I want to do.  And we start talking about economics, mental health, Halloween masquerades.  Even if we don't end up as partners, I'd love to stay friends with her.
I stare as she wraps once, twice and three times.  It never ceases to amaze me how my host cousin's head scarf can LITERALLY change who she is.  It's not that I look at her with her head scarf and suddenly see 'Muslim Woman' like it's a label across her head.  It's that she somehow becomes something more awe-inspiring.
She's funny and silly and I absolutely adore her.  When she has her short ponytail uncovered, she seems to just...bounce around.  She never stops being in motion, but she never rushes.  She just is in one spot, and then another.
But when she wraps once, twice and three times, she changes.  She steadily pins her scarf, but sometimes, she'll still prick herself with the pins.  She outlines her eyes in kohl without looking at a mirror because she knows how to do it exactly from touch. 
And when she looks at me, she seems so stately, elegant and poised, that I feel like I need to look back. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 13 [Graffiti, Doors, and Artsy-ness]

So, I just realized that SIT MOJ (Moroccan journalism) is going on a week-long village stay.  And we leave Saturday.  Given this, I've decided to do my two blog posts for next week, as well.  And as usual, there's a photo dump.  This one's basically all my super-artsy pictures, graffiti that I've seen, and some interesting doors.

We've got a Banksy copycat! Found right across from Parliament.

Rabat is us.

The questioning man. Found on the wall by the graveyard.

This is part of why I feel like I'm living a fairytale at times.
This is also cliched, fairy-tale, but pretty.

Oh the fun graffiti that people put on the harbor...

What a fancy phone!

Hey Che, what up?

Pretty stained glass window, not so pretty wall.
Sunset at the Rabat beach makes it seem prettier.

While in Ouarzazate, I found this in crayon!

The view from the mountains was amazing.  I was temporarily blind, though.
Such a cutie in Marrakech!

The beach harbor of Essaouira was cloudy...

...but camels on the beach were cool!

Door in the medina of Chefchaouen...

D'aww, which is cuter? Graffiti cat or real cat?

So scandalous!  But that's still a cool storefront. Found in Ceuta.

Very Parisian no?  But it's Chefchaouen.
Looking up at a mosque in Chefchaouen.

Chefchaouen in black and white.
It reads "Welcome to Xauen."
"All photographs are momento mori."
~Susan Sontag