Tuesday, December 17, 2013

As we say here in Morocco....Safi

Asleamu Aleikum everyone,

The day has finally come, I leave in a couple of hours to start the long trek back to the United States of America.
If you are looking for pictures in this post, there are none. Simply my final thoughts before departing.

I remember coming here four months ago, I remember my fears and apprehensions, my family's fears and apprehensions. I remember the uneasy feeling of traveling alone, being responsible for yourself. I remember looking out of that plane window and seeing the red dirt that makes up this continent. Seeing a donkey cart being pulled down a dusty road and men in "dresses" walking.

I remember stepping off the plane into the African heat, and thinking to myself "what am I doing".

Now four months later, I feel fears and apprehensions, I again feel the uneasy feeling of traveling to something new, and while I am not on my way to a country moved by donkeys, I am a little nervous for what awaits me.

The fact is that I spent 19 years and 8 months of my life in the United States, and I am proudly American. I love my country, I love the culture, and I love my freedom.

But I would be kidding myself if I pretended like Morocco has not changed me. I am simply not ready to leave. I will miss the constant input that my brain receives. The noises, the sounds, the languages it absorbs, even some of the smells.
I will miss the cats, I will miss "it takes a village to raise a child" mentality, the impromptu soccer games in the street. I will miss the warm days ( I will not miss the cold unheated nights). I will miss living in a walled city where the grocery store is still a market, where chicken is still living when you buy it, and friends are made by simply saying hello.

I will miss the Arabic language, I will the bargaining for everything, I will miss the unregulated way of life that is so foreign American culture.

I will miss the sitting around and drinking tea, I will miss the couscous and I will miss the milawi. I will miss my egg sandwich guy.

I will miss the sayings of this country, the sayings that convey true emotion
Bisharaha- To your health
La Shokrun Ala Wajeb- Do not thank me, for what is my duty

But most of all I will miss some of the sincerest people I have ever met. I love this country, and I love these people. And while sometimes it is not easy, you adapt to the uneasiness, and eventually you begin to love it.

I have now lived four months without regular access to internet, there is no 3G here. I have proven that I do not need a cell phone at all times. Sometimes even toilet paper is a luxury in this country, but I would not trade this experience for the world.

To those thinking about studying Abroad. Do it.
Go for a semester, Better yet, go for a year. Go for two years.
I have been to numerous countries, seen some of the worlds greatest sites, climbed one of the worlds tallest mountains, and met people who have impacted me forever.

I honestly am a little nervous to go back, these four months have been a blessing, truly a blessing.

On another note I am thrilled to see the people I love, I miss my family and my friends, I miss my dog. I miss my truck and being outside in America. I miss seasons and I miss American food, Mexican food, Chinese food. I might even miss school a little bit.

And as happy as I am to be going back, part of me is still sad.

I want to thank all of you who have read this blog for the last four months. I want to thank the 27 students who were on this program with me who taught me so much, and provided culture shock within itself.

Most of all I want to thank my parents, for all the support they have provided both before and during my trip.

Morocco will always be apart of me, and I am sure I will return, hopefully very soon, Inshallah.

I will try and post one more blog about my readjustment back in America.

See you in less then 24 hours America,

Kevin

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I do not Parlez Francias

Bnjour everyone,

I spent last weekend in Paris and it was a blast.
I am still amazed of all the amazing sites I have gotten to see while I have been abroad, and all the countries I have gotten to visit. Paris was an obvious hit and I am so glad I went.

We left Rabat last Thursday and headed down to Casablanca for our flight, travelling just with Dom, we were cutting it a little close. We hit our first minor snag when we reached Casa and had to switch trains and board the direct to airport. None of the ticket machines had any change, so we could not buy our tickets, and the ticket line was much longer then the amount of time we had before our train left, and if we missed it we would surely miss our flight. Dom thought with his stomach and purchased skittles at the convenience store, breaking his 200MAD bill and being able to get us two tickets.

When we reached the Casablanca airport we were greet by the now familiar lack of security, we put our bags on x-ray where a man did not watch them go through, and then passed through the medal detector, with nearly everyone in line setting it off, and no one being stopped.

We made it to our flight with a few minutes to spare in the duty free shop, picking up some supplies for Europe.

The flight from Paris was around three hours, with a time change adding one hour. So we were on the ground at 11pm. By the time we made it to our hostel it was nearly 2am.
Our hostel was in the Monmarte neighborhood, known for its prostitutes and sex shops.

While checking into our hostel they offered us the 4 person room instead of the 10 person room which we had booked, and for the same price so we felt very lucky.

The following morning we slept in until around 11am, after waking up and showering, we headed out of the hostel and followed our noses to a nearby bakery and sampled some of the stuff. It was amazing.

We then headed to a small Italian deli type restaurant and ate our first meal of the day.

Following that we hopped on the Metro (which is very efficient in Paris) and headed for the Arc De Triumph, while it was a neat site, I was largely unimpressed by it. It did not live up to the pictures you see on postcards and in movies.
Here is also where we were exposed to our first Paris scam, where a man walks by you, and tells you he found a ring on the ground next to you, he then gives the ring to you as a gift and begins to walk away before turning around and requesting some money. Since we didn't give him the money he snatched the ring and walked off cursing.



We then walked towards the Eiffel Tower, visible in the distance. This attraction did live up to the hype, and though we did not go up to the top, I am determined to return someday and do so.


This is where encountered our second gypsy scam of three card monte, for those of you who do not know what that is (because I certainly didn't). A man plays the simple game of moving three cups around with a ball underneath it... he moves it and keeps moving it, and then people bet on which one it is under. There were numerous games like this set up around the Eiffel tower and in the heat of the moment I lost 60 Euro, only to be told by a couple passing by that me and my buddy were the only people playing, and the other people "betting" were also gypsies, and were in on the scam, that is why we lost and they didn't. Just as she said this the gypsies gathered their cups and hauled ass.

Still angry about our stupidity, we walked around and admired some of the other buildings in Paris.


We kept wandering until reaching the River Seine and we walked up that until reaching The Statue of Liberty, sister to the one that sits back in the waters of NJ, this was a cool reminder of America.



We saw a large number of diplomatic cars, and as I approached a police officer to ask him what it was, I started with "Do you speak English", to which he replied "Do you know what country you are in, why would I speak English"...Parisians are not known for their hospitality. (Though most people we met were very nice).

 After The Statue of Liberty we got to see the Eiffel tower light up, and it is even cooler at night.


We then walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

The next day we again woke up later then we would have liked, and headed right back to the French bakery. This time we skipped the Italian restaurant and headed straight for the Louvre. We saw more groups of the gypsies and as I tried to tell tourists what was going on, one of the gypsies hit me in the arm, he was much larger then me so there was not much I could do, and I began to realize how organized their scam was, with spotters up and down the street.

Reaching the Louvre we hopped and line and as he we headed to the ticket booth, some nice lady gave us two tickets as she was headed out.


We walked around the Islamic are for a little while, and then the Coptic art, before heading to the Mona Lisa, which is what everyone is there for anyway.



Post Mona Lisa we headed to the LoveLock bridge, where people write their name and the name of their significant other onto a lock and lock it onto the bridge, and throw the keys into the Seine.

We continued walked and eventually reached Notre Dame, and after a walk around we decided we would come back that night for mass.


We continued on, first to subway, and then to Pantheon, which we did not actually get to enter, as it is no longer a Catholic church and costs money to enter....which is my kryptonite. We decided to go into a nearby church, this has become a hobby of mine in Europe, as nearly all churches are always open, they are always beautiful, and may of them contain the bodies or relics of saints or some other important person.

After some gelato we headed back to Notre Dame for the French language mass and then headed back to the hostel to get ready for dinner.

We went to a fairly nice streak place a couple of Metro stops away. The problem with this is that I grew up eating well done steak. In France, well done is a foreign concept, and I am pretty sure the steak goes directly from the cow to your plate, with no fire time. Needless to say I sent mine back for a little extra time of cooking...I actually sent it back twice.

After dinner we called it a fairly early night as we wanted to get some stuff done before leaving on Sunday afternoon.

We woke up again a little later then we wanted on Sunday morning...it must be something about Paris.

We headed up the hill to the Sacre Couer, only a few steps from our hostel, a beautiful cathedral at the top of the hill overlooking Paris, it was an awesome thing to see. After passing through all of the vendors towards the bottom, and the Sub-Saharan Africans who tie bracelets around tourists wrists and then demand payment, we made it to the top.






The view was indeed amazing, and the inside was stunning.

After the Cathedral we walked around a Christmas market that was taking place around the outside of it, and then headed back to the Italian deli for lunch.

We then headed back to the hostel to gather our things, and finish the supplies we had purchased back in Casa....we then headed to the metro and headed back to the airport, and onward to Morocco.

This was my last major trip during my time abroad.
Six days left.
Before I leave I will post about the very end and some farewell notes, and then at least once more when I return home to the states.


Shokrun,

Kevin

Arabic Word of The Day- باريس- Baris- Paris

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Running out of time, two cities in 48 hours

Aselamu Aleikum Everyone,

Let me start off with going over my Thanksgiving.
While it was very strange not to be home for such an American and family oriented holiday, I had one of the best Thanksgivings of my life here in Morocco.
While we did have school this past Thursday, there was clearly excitement in the air as people were preparing foods to bring to our potluck dinner, and the school was having a turkey catered for us.
I started off my night at the Marine house, where a few friends and I shared Thanksgiving dinner with Marines posted here to protect the diplomatic mission.
This was an amazing experience with amazing people, and the food was better then I could have hoped for here in Morocco.
After dinner with them I headed back to school and shared more festivities with my classmates, everyone was very satisfied and we had more then enough food.

On Saturday a friend and I boarded a train for the city of Marrakesh, located about five hours south of Rabat. It was a relatively easy train ride until a teenage boy sat down across from us, and started talking to us. He indicated he was "deaf" but I am not so sure, as he was listening to music, and when we did not understand his hand motions, he seemed to pronounce some words pretty well. I was trying to read my book and the boy kept trying to talk to us, he eventually started asking for money, and when I told him we had none he called me a liar, he kept interrupting my reading and eventually told me that when we got to Marrakesh he and three friends were going to kill us. This pushed my last button, not because I was afraid of this kid, but because I was trying to read, so I got up and went to find a train employee. When I found one I began to tell him what was going on, and I could see the boy was trying to get out of the cart before the employee got to him. It was a minor commotion and we were not bother after that.

Upon reaching Marrakesh we got into a taxi and headed for Jemaa-el-Fnna, the main square of the city, and a landmark very close to our hostel. The site of 2011 bombing, the square is a place where both locals and tourists congregate. It is filled with snake charmers, men with monkeys, orange juice salesman, story tellers, and costumed dancers (males dressed as females). This weekend was extra exciting as it was the International Film Festival, and a large projector was set up in the square for movies

After checking in to our hostel, we headed back to the square and found the snake charmer, and he managed to get the cobra around my next before I managed to say no. Nothing is free in Morocco, not even a picture, and he asked for 300MAD, we gave him ten.


The square had been transformed as rows and rows of food tents had been set up, and very aggressive men immediately tried to get us to enter their tents. Everyone had mostly the same food and everything was similarly priced, a little too much and not very good.




After dinner we got a quite a bit of souvenir shopping done, which takes awhile due to the bargaining,  and headed back to the hostel with all our stuff, and headed to a bar.
After a twenty minute walk to the bar we were told we cannot go in....because we were wearing flip flops, this has never happened in Morocco....ever.

The next day we woke up, ate breakfast with other guests and the hostel owners and made our way to the train station for our ride back.

I got off in Casablanca (Dar-el-Beida on above map), an hour south of Rabat, and the largest city in Morocco.
I ate lunch as I waited for a friend of mine from school and was meeting me there to spend the day in Casa before picking up her friend at the airport.

We first visited Hassan 2nd Mosque, a huge structure and the only mosque open to non-muslims in Morocco. Well it was not open to us, as we arrived at 3:45 and apparently it is only open to non-muslims until 3pm. No big deal, it was still nice to look at.



Next we headed to the Mall of Morocco, the largest mall in Africa, and after heading through Moroccan slums we arrived at the cleanest place I have been in Morocco. There are two Starbucks in the entire country, and both are located fifteen feet from each other in the mall. I was able to score some not so good Chinese food and frozen yogurt, which was great.


Post mall we headed to the Casa train station where we were to take the train to the Casa airport. We purchased our tickets and awaited our train, and at the right time and at the right track we boarded.

After about 30 minutes, I turned to a man on the packed train and asked which stop was the airport, he informed me that this was not the airport train, and it was headed down to Marrakesh. We got off at the next stop, and after a few chaotic moments of trying to figure out where we were, we linked up with a guy who offered to drive us to the airport for 200MAD. We made it there within thirty minutes and finally met up with Holly's friend and headed back to Casa. After a long delayed train we finally made it back to Rabat and my weekend was over.

From today there are only 14 days left till I am standing back in the United States, it is surreal.

I leave for Paris tomorrow and will post about that adventure as soon as I get back.

See you all soon, Allah M3ck,

Kevin

Arabic word of the day
مطار- MtAr- Airport 


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Milawi, Rain, and Berbers

Aselamu Aleikum Everyone,

This past weekend was spent in Ein Louh, a little village high up in the Middle Atlas Mountains.

Our weekend started Friday morning, departing Rabat at around 10:30am, the drive was mostly uneventful until it began to rain and thick fog set it. I have mentioned in my other posts the road conditions in rural Morocco, and when I say conditions, I mean lack of conditions. Many of the roads are dirt or crumbling asphalt, that wind through these mountains with no guard rail and very little room for a two lane road. So when the fog rolled it, and you could not see in front of our van, it got a little scary.

We made it to Ein Louh by 3:30 in the afternoon, and entered the SAFAR center, an association partnered with the local community to bring in tourists and provide income for a deeply impoverished region. Here we met our guides Zacheria and Hassan. Zacheria now lives between New York and Ein Louh, and Hassan spoke perfect English, as he was raised by an American Christian missionary and spent a few years in the United States.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the building was the lack of heat, which is common in Morocco, but I would argue heat is necessary in the mountains, where winter is long and harsh. Instead they had a wood burning stove, which reminded me of cabin camping with the Scouts.

We then waited to be picked up by our host families that we would be staying with all weekend.
A note on the people of Ein Louh and the Middle Atlas Mountains in general, these are not Arab people such as in Rabat and other parts of Morocco, these are Amizigh people (Berbers) the indigenous population of Morocco before the Arab conquest centuries ago, while they are Muslim, they have a different culture and a different language than the Moroccan Arabs.

We were brought to our host family by a neighbor or a cousin...I am not sure, and I came to learn that our host family was actually not Berber, but Arabs and spoke Darija (Moroccan Arabic), this still proved a bit problematic as I speak Fosa Arabic which much of the older rural population cannot speak but for the most part understand.

There was a father, a mother, two twin sisters and an older brother. As soon as we got there we were served bread, cakes, Milwi (which I have everyday for breakfast, it is similar to a pancake and was delicious), and Mint tea as usual.

Following this tea time, we went to a nearby Auberge (hotel) for a Berber music demonstration, in an unheated room.

Returning home we were fed a dinner of kefta (beef with seasoning) and soup, before eventually going to sleep in the only heated room in the house, and being given the two spots closest to the stove.

Saturday morning we woke up to find that it was still raining, and we set out to our meeting point before boarding our buses to take us to the starting area for our "hike".
I use quotation marks because in America you hike somewhere that you cannot drive, here they dropped us off on a road, to walk 1.5 hours in the rain to a village that they drove to slowly behind us, I thought that was a little unnecessary.


Now thoroughly soaked we reached a small village, where would later eat a Tajine lunch as they attempted to sell us woven goods from their women cooperative.

From the village we hiked up a ridge through beautiful deep green scenery, past donkeys, and goats traversing the rock side, seeing frogs, snails, waterfalls that dropped hundreds of feet, it was beautiful and made up for the rain.















We returned back to our homestays where we just tried to stay warm as we watched Arabic cooking shows.

Sunday morning, we board our buses and met up with three Peace Corps volunteers who told us about their experiences in Morocco, certainly something to think about for the future.

We then headed to Azrou, a larger city where we ate lunch and then kept continuing towards Rabat, but first we stopped to hang out with the wild monkeys, known as the Barbary Macaques that inhabit these mountains. Most of them are pretty friendly.


I also got to play with the dog, I tried to bring it back on the bus with me but the bus driver did not like it, dogs are haram(forbidden) in Islam and considered very dirty, I reluctantly returned the dog to the woods.

We continued on towards Rabat arriving home around 5pm, a slow but nice weekend.

I want to wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving on Thursday


Selam all,
Kevin

21 Days till home
Paris Next weekend 

Arabic word of the day
قرد-KuRd-Monkey


A video of a protest that I witnessed, very scary to see protesters running towards you, throwing things at the police, and the police chasing them in riot gear
video