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.