Friday, November 18, 2011

Token update

If you hadn't guessed, classes and teaching have eaten my life. I think I've had a max of 6 free hours a week this semester. And by 'free' I mean time other than classes, homework, and grading, or life-sustaining actions like eating, showering, cleaning my room. And I'm about to go grab lunch, and teach some more. But thought I would tell you. I don't really know why..... Enjoy!

Monday, August 15, 2011

This is what I do for my building

Google apparently ate some of my careful divisions of recipes, which is really obnoxious as it took too long to do in the first place. I don't really feel like doing it all again, so I moved them all do a different site.

If you want to see what keeps me busy for 5-6 hours on the weekends, this is the link. It should take you to a website with tons of folders and often 'loose' recipes that I haven't moved to folders yet. It's on a site called Dropbox, which is a pretty popular file/cloud sharing site that I'm hoping will simplify things a bit with google docs not wanting to do what I am looking for.

If you're looking for large group recipes, then this may just help!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bom Dia from Lisbon

K, I have no idea if I spelled that right. I bought 30 minutes of internet access because a Moroccan guy was going to be rejected from boarding the plane if he didn't have the address of a hotel in the US where he'd be staying. (It was just 2 euro, and I'd hate to be in his place.) But now I'll get to post what I was writing before he started talking to me!

Sooooo tired. I think that I slept about two hours last night. Luckily, I got to the airport safely and in plenty of time. Then I went and got a bottle of water (since I didn't want to risk tap water in a new city right before flying for 24 hours - high disaster potential) and after a bit got on the plane and fell asleep as we were taking off. I woke up a couple of times because I was uncomfortable, but only really woke up 90 minutes later when we were landing. I'm typing this from the Lisbon airport, waiting for my flight to Newark.

Casablanca was interesting. Big, busy, and dirty are the adjectives that come to mind first. We stayed in the youth hostel there, which was surprisingly nice. For 75Dh a night, got a clean room with two twin beds, wifi in the common area, and a typical hostel breakfast in the morning (bread with butter & jam, cheap OJ, and tea or coffee.) They also were able to call a taxi for me so that I didn't have to spend the night at the airport as my flight was leaving too early to catch a train. The taxi cost a lot more, and is very expensive by Moroccan standards but when you convert it to dollars - less than $55 for my last two nights and then the taxi - I can't really complain.

A lot of the students in Fes were saying "oh, it'll be so hard to go back to dollars!" because when you compare them directly Morocco is so much less expensive. But I haven't felt like that yet. I don't know if I will. I feel like we just get lucky there in a way, but it's due to the fact that the people there are so economically UNlucky. Yeah, you can get an amazing peanut 'macaron' on the street for 25 cents (and I am so figuring out how to make those!) but there's a lot you can't get, and a lot that the people who live there and the little boys (8 or 12 at the very oldest) who wander around and sell those will never get or see or do.

Sometimes when bartering in the medina it's hard because part of me wants to show that you can't just tell tourists ridiculous prices and expect them to pay it, but sometimes I'm shocked at the low prices of things. I kind of want to say, "value your time more, you're a person!" But I know that they do think they're getting what they can. I mean, there's no way I'd pay much for a screen-printed t-shirt. I got one yesterday for 60Dh in Casablanca and I'm pretty sure I could have had it for less if I had thought about it more carefully at first (the guy started at 120Dh, which is absolutely ridiculous, but so much so that he dropped it to 100 when I just gave him a look and said that was a lot. In Fez they never drop that quickly, but they venders are known for being tougher.) I can accept that the restaurant next door in Austin sells me a breakfast for around $7 instead of 7Dh because we all get paid reasonable wages in the US. And while inflation is weird to me - like why should food costs be THAT different - that's the way the world works. And I can pay $7 now and then when I really want it because I have access to so many different opportunities.

The last two days in Casa gave me several quick impressions that exemplify Morocco:
  • Creepy guys walking 2-3 steps behind you, asking where you're from and if you want to drink tea with him in a voice that's quiet enough to be deniable. Welcome to Morocco.
  • Helpful guy walking same distance behind, same level of voice, warning of pickpockets. Welcome to Morocco.
  • Taxi driver telling you the pharmacy open on Sunday is very far away and offering to take you for 50Dh. Welcome to Morocco. And then lowering it to 40, then 30 as you walk away.
  • Another taxi driver giving you directions to said pharmacy, complete with road names and landmarks. Welcome to Morocco.
  • People almost getting in fights late in the day during Ramadan, and getting water splashed on your foot from a NASTY bucket as a guy goes to throw it on someone else. Welcome to Morocco.
  • Spotting a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant about 10 minutes before breaking the fast and being allowed to sit with 5 Moroccan men and have harira with mint green tea with them (which cost a total of 8Dh for the two of us) after we hear the local call to prayer. Welcome to Morocco.
  • Visiting an $800 million (Yes, DOLLAR) mosque paid for with public funds.... which isn't very far from some borderline slums. Welcome to morocco.
  • Catching a ride with a car of Chinese guys that took pity on you as you tried to catch a cab once you realized you were close to an area that you probably should *not* walk through. Welcome to Morocco.
  • The taxi driver at 3AM also saying he's in a famous Berber folkloria (sp??) group and has played around the country, in other countries and for the king. Welcome to Morocco.
I don't know how much more time I might have on my 30 minutes, so that's all you get for now! If I'm awake at all during the flight home, I might write you more. Or I might study Arabic. Or maybe watch whatever movie they put on. I guess you'll have to wait and see!

Saturday, August 6, 2011


That's how I was feeling about 20 minutes ago. Where was I? Looking for the Casablanca Youth Hostel, and realizing that I had headed the wrong way to get there. As in the OPPOSITE direction of where I wanted to be. Lugging my 50-ish pound suitcase behind me. (Ok, I don't really know how much it weighs, but I'm nervous that it's going to be over my 50-lb limit and I keep re-writing a mental list of what I'll ditch if it's only a little over, b/c if it's too much over I'll have to suck it up and pay some crazy fee of $60 or sthg.)

Streets in Morocco tend not to be clearly marked with a name. It's apparently not a big deal. Here in Casa, from what I've seen so far they are marked a bit better than in other areas, but the map I was using (in the lonely planet) didn't show many of the street names, so that wasn't much help anyway. But then we realized (me and Michael, I picked him up in Rabat - ok, he was at ALIF, too) that we were walking parallel to the train tracks. And the map showed that the tracks should have stopped behind us. NOOO. So there were a few guys around, so he asked for directions. Yup, the other way, then turn right the guys says. Turning right does not seem accurate, but we do believe the 'go back where you were' part.

We headed back and saw a couple of girls, which meant it was my turn to ask. Yep, keep heading straight. The road forked and they had gestured to the left fork, but we weren't sure so we stopped to check the map. Yup, indeed that one would take us to the medina... and the opposite side from where the youth hostel was. Good thing we checked. We crossed the street to the correct fork and kept walking. After a bit we checked the map again, still looked right.

Then, what is that? Could it be? A SIGN, directing us to the hostel?? Amazing! We followed it and saw a cute, clean place. With women working there speaking English, French and Arabic. And being friendly. And it's got wifi. And a big, clean sitting space. And apparently breakfast, even during Ramadan. I bet it's just tea and bread with jam, but I have been dying for tea now every time I get up. Got too used to it with the host family, I guess. My body can't cope without the daily jumpstart of a tablespoon of sugar. I'll break it of that when I get back home.

We may be lucky enough to be able to stay two nights, but it's unclear as apparently the online reservation system seems to let them know each day who is coming, even though you have to reserve online 3 days ahead. Although I will have to ask anyway if they can call me a taxi at 2AM tomorrow because I have to be at the train station at around 4. Ridiculous, I know, but it's either that or take a train that would get me there at 11pm and make me wait ALL NIGHT. And the chance of a little sleep is better than no chance at all. I think.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Well, ok, Fes!

I apparently failed to tell you about the city that I spent 9 weeks in. I suppose it's rather good that I have an extra week here without all of the distractions at home to take the time to tell you about such things. Because I will definitely be busy when I get back home. Finally. In 5 days. You can't blame me for counting, I'm in a silly HOTEL for heaven's sake, and it's Ramadan, so I can't even get a cup of tea in the middle of the day because I can't make it myself and there's none being sold. Mmm, tea.... iced tea... at home......

But Fes. Fes is a very interesting city. Fairly large. It's called one of the Imperial Cities, though honestly I never paid too much attention to why. It's something that the region is called. One of its biggest claims to fame is the medina - the English and French word for the old city. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site, which means it's protected and isn't allowed to change (in theory except to restore, but one person's 'restoration' is another's 'bullllloney.') It is, in theory, the largest pedestrian-only urban space in the world. Don't tell those people about the motorcycles, k? Or the little 3-wheeled guys that carry in building materials. The 3-wheelers stay to the outside edges from what I've seen, but the motorcycles may be anywhere. Don't think Harley, though, no way. These are very cute little motorcycles that maybe should be called mopeds. And definitely some scooters in there, too.

I guess it was the capital for a long time, too. Like 600 years. Now it's considered the capital of culture and handicrafts, at least by the people there. They consider the area generally well-educated, and very traditional. It's kind of funny, because the medina in Rabat has a lot of really neat stuff that kind of blends the traditional with the modern (like the leather bags and some of the shirts that look almost traditional, but have plunging necklines), while the Fes does mostly the traditional. And a whole lot of it. They say that most of the hand-made stuff comes from Fes, I suppose it's possible. But I can't believe it's ALL from there, I mean transportation here still takes effort and having a weaving loom in another city would make a lot of sense.

Walking around in the medina is pretty amazing. You can find probably everything you'd want. Ok, close to it at least. There are so many tourists and others coming through, though, that the shop owners can get kind of pushy and less friendly. They seem to get told by everyone that they're 'just looking' but of course some people end up buying stuff after this phrase, so they really don't understanding what 'just looking' means. And when you ask a price, some places will assume that you really want the thing and have whatever it takes to buy it.

Like I saw this GORGEOUS yellow amber bracelet in a store, made with sterling silver, and asked how much it was. The starting price was around 400Dh, I think, or $50. Now, had I wanted it, I probably could have had it for $25-30, but I didn't want it THAT much. I wanted it like $10 much. I honestly don't know how much real jewelry should cost, having only purchased one necklace that wasn't from Clare's or of similar quality. Oh, and one for my mom from France. The lady working was very nice, and was actually the host mom of one of my classmates who had just left, and was trying to get me to bargain, but I realized with that starting price, there was no way. I tried to tell her that I really hadn't known and really didn't have the money, and she was just like "tell me what you would pay" and I tried to protest and say I didn't want to offend her, I know it's nice, but she made me say, so I did (and I was honest, as I didn't want to get stuck buying it for $25 or more) and she was like "oh, no, this is original and quality" and seemed slightly offended, and in my head I was just like "which is exactly why I was just trying to walk away from it."

The guys in the medina aren't always friendly and can even be rude (sorry, "F* you" and "go home" are rude in any country as far as I know, it's not just a cultural difference) so you get used to just ignoring their constant calls and carry on your way. But it does get tiring to have to ignore nearly everyone who speaks to you. I've mentioned that before, that I know they're not all jerks, but there are just too many jerks to risk being nice to all of them. And that sort of attitude is also found in the new part of the city, though to a somewhat lesser extent. I thought that maybe it was all over Morocco, but Rabat is proving otherwise, luckily. There are still plenty of undesired comments and invitations, just a whole lot less. And more of them are from a distance, which I am finding makes a huge difference to me.

There are also plenty of historic sites in the medina, including the world's first university (according to UNESCO, and I guess they should know!) It's an old Mosque/University. From what I understand, there are 3 main ones - one in Cairo, one in Tunis and one in Fez. Maybe that means I am gonna go live in Cairo some day? Seems unlikely. Maybe just visit. I have loads of pictures of old buildings and stuff, but few of the streets of the medina. Partly because I am concerned for my camera, but more because it seems like people don't like it. My guess is that they feel like animals in a zoo when people come through and take pictures of them at their jobs like that. Well, ok, that's how I would feel. And you can definitely see they aren't happy with being part of the pictures many times.

The new part of Fes - actually, back up. There's an area called "Fes Jdid," or "new Fes" in Moroccan, that is from the 13th century. It's much more relaxed than the medina, and next to it. We used to walk home through there on a regular basis. We never decided if it's actually longer (I think it is) or if it just takes longer due to the need to weave through the crowds (does slow you down even more) but it's prettier than the 'shorter' way, which is along the road that runs around the outside of the medina walls. I bought a pair of sandals there that I wore to the wedding. So I now have a pair of heels that I will have to try out at an appropriate time. Like dancing.

Ok, on to the "ville nouvelle" or new city. As you might guess, it was the part started by the French, so you'll find more restaurants, more stores, and things like the train and bus stations in this area. I guess 20 or 30 years ago, people with money still lived in the medina, but apparently they have all left for the ville and left a good bit of poverty in the medina (which I'm sure contributes to it being less comfortable.) This area reminds me of Tunis a good bit, or at least Tunis other than the medina, which I really don't remember too well because I didn't go in there much. Now it seems SOOO silly that I was concerned about venturing in, now that I've gone into the medina on a near-daily basis for 9 weeks. Ah, hindsight and all that. People use a lot of French in the ville on signs and in restaurants, etc, etc, etc. It's not all terribly safe, because it still is a sizable city, and I guess because of the number of tourists in the area in general - I'm not quite sure why, really.

Overall, the city was really cool, and I'm glad that I was there, but even more I'm glad that I had people to share it with. Because I couldn't have done it on my own because one girl alone gets just as much harassment without anyone to ignore the guys with, or to laugh at the guys or to make comments after like, "did he just say 'look with your eyes'? What else do you look with??" or "dates are aphrodisiacs? since when?" I don't think I could live there for a year, on my own or with support. Which is part of the reason Rabat was such a pleasant surprise.

Who knows, though, I may end up with a topic that will be mostly completed from an apartment in Austin and not make it back at all. Seems super unlikely, but that's what I would have told you just 6 months ago about me spending the summer here at all.

Did I miss any details you're curious about?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


So, how's Rabat? It's nice. Other people had told me that they thought it felt like Europe. After two months in Fes, I still can tell it's not Europe. But I can see what they mean. The streets are wider, even the old city is less crowded and easier to get through, people bother you less, the buildings are cleaner, there's a bright new tram way (about a month new - so new that their ticket-validator doesn't work and instead they have a guy working on there to mark your ticket for you.)

I actually tried to change my ticket to come home earlier when I realized that most friends were headed home. For better or worse, all them planes was filled up by then. So instead I got to know Rabat a bit. It's a nice city. Quiet, not too big. Nice for just getting stuff done, like the people who work here, or for just relaxing, like I have been doing.

Even Ramadan here isn't too terrible. Yesterday I had lunch at a restaurant. It is inside the Institut Francais. I had heard that in some countries, you can eat during the day in restaurants that have their windows blocked off to the street. That's actually not so true. Or true at all. Several restaurants are plain just open for tourists (and kids) without any kind of shielding. It leads to an interesting question. These people are hungry and uncomfortable, for religious reasons, yet working. Is it better to go and eat there, in front of them when they're not supposed to have so much as a sip of water, and yet justify their being open and help pay their wages -OR- to not go their because you don't want to eat in front of hungry people? I don't know. And not too many are open. I went to La Veranda, but I'm not sure how many others I'll go to.

I have been warned that pickpocketing goes up, because it costs so much to get the special dinner and breakfast on the table, and that tempers are short (as I would expect!) but it seems like as long as you're a bit more careful than usual - or maybe just as careful as I was all summer in Fes - that it's doable.

Did I ever tell you what Fes is actually like? I don't feel like re-reading my posts, so if you would like more info on that, just tell me. Two guys from ALIF are coming into Rabat tomorrow evening, but until then I have plenty of time to help fulfill your curiosity. Unless I go out to the Chellah for a couple hours. We'll see.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Farewell, Fes!

I'm now on the train from Fez to Rabat and will post this later. For my final week in Morocco. When I bought my ticket, I was sure that I'd find other students to travel with the week after the program. Oh, how very optimistic I was. There are some people staying around, but some only for a few days, others for other language schools, and yet others for places I am not really interested in and moving around far more than my 45-pound bag will allow. How did I let myself stick that much into my suitcase??? It was so easy because the bag still wasn't full. Ah, well, I'll find things to do.

The last week of classes was very busy, as you might imagine. I studied a bit, went to class (sometimes wishing I hadn't) and ran around doing things that needed to be done. Like buying goofy little presents. There are so many cute things that I tell myself, 'oh, someone will like that.' Hopefully I'll actually give them away this time. I think I still have a couple of keychains from Tunisia. You know, other than the one that I actually use on my office keys.

One of the things I did this week was to go to the hammam, or public bath. I still had never been, in part due to not knowing who to go with, and in part due to my dislike for saunas and jacuzzis. I had heard that the hammam is hot, and part of the idea is that you kind of sit around and sweat off the dirt for a while. That did not sound the least bit appealing to me. But then some of my friends went and said that there are actually rooms of varying heat, so it's possible to not be dying-ly hot. I was convinced.

Of course, going to the hammam is not as simple as grabbing your shower stuff and heading out. You need supplies. Typically, Moroccans use this stuff called 'black soap' that is made in part with olive oil at the hammam. It is thick and dark and doesn't really suds, but is supposed to be amazing for your skin. You can get it in tourist shops. And you may pay 35 MAD (about $8.50) for enough to last you 2-3 showers. My friends somehow had a Moroccan guy helping them, and they each got the same amount for just 2 dirhams, or 25 cents.

Well, our second Moroccan mama (she's the mom's cousin and lives with them, doing the traditional woman's work of cooking and cleaning) knew we were headed back and also that we wanted to go out in to the souk with her, so she took us the other night. Before we even left the house, she told us several times that we were not to say a word, but we could go with her. We agreed and set off, trailing close behind her, but trying to look innocent and uncomprehending. My roommate had brought a small tupperware dish that she wanted to fill, it would hold about 1 cup, but mama 2 said we wouldn't use it right then. We walked up to one of the general stores and she started talking to the guy, and I thought I heard the word "kilo" but thought she must be getting other things too. I mean, one KILO of soap?? It's dense, but still! No, no, we walked away a few minutes later with a rather large, heavy bag with half a kilo of soap for each of us. To use and then take home. Not in any nice container, but in a plastic bag. Our family is incredibly sweet. When we asked how much we owed her, she said it was 3 dirhams each, but that she wouldn't let us pay her back, that it was a present. It's crazy, less than 40 cents! And people are stilling it online for about $15 for a few ounces. Crazy, crazy.

[Now that I think about it, I don't know how well that bag is closed in my suitcase. I know that she said it stays better in the fridge, and I observed that it gets softer when it's hot. Ah, well, nothing to be done at the moment but hope that it doesn't ruin anything. And if it does, I guess it'll lighten the load a bit!]

Back to the hammam. You put the soap on and then scrub the heck out of your skin with a little bath mitt that is to a loofah what a loofah is to a t-shirt. They are incredible scratchy, and help get off the dead layers of skin. I got one the first time the others went to the hammam and have been using it in the shower, since it's hard (or impossible) to get a loofah in Fez, but I don't press very hard. At the hammam you're supposed to do it so hard that your skin turns red. Yeah, no thanks.

When you go into the hammam, at least the one we went to, you pay 10 dirhams and go into a room where you leave your clothes (and you give the lady who sits in there and watches your clothes another 5 dirhams... or at least foreigners do, who knows how it works really.) Well, there was a teenage boy there on Thursday that the girls hadn't seen before who was insisting that it was 50 to get in, because it was closed to everyone except those getting a massage. Don't let the word fool you, it's not actually a massage, but a brutal scrub-down by a Moroccan woman who knows how to wield a scratchy mitt. Not what we were looking for. One of the girls who had been there before speaks great French and started arguing with the kid, saying that was ridiculous, that we'd been there at the same time and always paid the 10 that we know it should cost, and that we weren't willing to pay more than that. He insisted and said it was a new rule and we could go find another hammam if we didn't want to pay. Then she asked him if it was a price for us just because we weren't from there. He said no, and that any Moroccan would pay the same. He said to watch and see.

A Moroccan woman came up and he asked her if she was getting the massage as well, and she said yes. Then somehow we started talking to her a little bit (I'm not sure how, now that I think about it, b/c she didn't speak French) and she told the guy not to be ridiculous, that if we wanted to come in without a massage, we could. Hooray for helpful lady! So we came in and she made sure we were comfortable and knew what we were doing and every now and then she'd make sure things were ok. I'm not sure if she worked there, or just felt like we should be treated 'right' because 10 or so minutes after we came in, three Belgian girls came in and she led them around a lot, too, and ended up doing their 'massages.' But she did pay to get in herself. I don't know.

So, we sweated like crazy and drank water (we'd brought some in) and soaped up and scrubbed down and poured water over ourselves and got clean and poured more water over ourselves and eventually went home. When we got home, mama 2 and papa's sister laughed at me, saying I must have gone to the pool and gotten a sunburn, not to the hammam. And then pulled me in front of a mirror so I could see that my face was tomato red from all of the heat. I don't know how it does that, especially since we'd been out of the hammam maybe 20-30 minutes by then, but eventually I became a normal color once more. I just don't like hot water.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How nice do I feel today?

I turned on my computer to let you all know what I've been up to and I saw an email from my mom checking if I was still alive. Now, when I was young if we guessed where we were headed when something was supposed to be a surprise or treat, or said out loud what she was doing if she thought she was being slick, we wouldn't get to go there or have whatever treat. Punishment for spoiling her fun or something. So in a way, I think I'm not allowed to write anymore. But maybe I can move past that. Besides, I don't know the next time I'll get to update you!

The wedding was very interesting. Loads of amazing sweets and beautiful clothing, but I think I overdosed on sugar and my stomach hasn't recovered since. (Yes, that really was me who just typed that. The girl who will eat brown sugar pie and buttermilk pie in regular-pie-sized slices. And always has room for dessert.) Actually, I think it was weakened by the antibiotics for my supposed sinus infection (Dr gave me a second med just to help keep my stomach ok b/c their non-penicillin one is apparently good at messing with that) and the gallons of sugar made it worse. I will upload all the photos when I have a better internet connection and the time to do it. Maybe tomorrow? If you're lucky. We'll see.

I have been busy trying to figure out what to do next week. Classes end Friday and I have no one to travel with (there are a few people headed places that either I'm not really interested in, or feel too far, or would be a huge pain with my giant suitcase, or a combination of the above) so I have been looking at couchsurfers, but most that sound interesting are away from home right now! It's almost Ramadan, so that's how it is - foreigners who can are leaving the country and Moroccans are with their families. Plus I am picky about who I'd stay with, as I am sure you will all appreciate :) My basic plan is Rabat and Casablanca, in that order, and I do still have a few options that I haven't heard back from, so we'll all keep our fingers crossed there.

With classes ending soon, I am studying more to try to be ready for the final here and, more importantly, for the placement test at home that will prove that I learned enough here to be allowed into second year at home. Because if I don't make that cut.... you will not see a happy girl. Before I left, I talked to the department chair (and co-author of The Textbook) and she said that usually students who go abroad are a little behind, but don't have trouble catching up. Crossing my fingers for that, but with the other students in my class often sick or traveling or both, I don't know how my summer studies compare. I'm sure I'll be more or less fine because I will work hard and don't get scared by tests and remember things easier than some. But I still wish I didn't have to take the dumb thing. I'll definitely be studying for it next week when all the stores and fun stuff are closed for the afternoon (because of Ramadan) so that will help, too, because I have two chapters that I have to get through on my own.

Well, peoples, it be midnight and a moth is trying to get friendly with my ear so I will leave you now. Have a wonderful afternoon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Today's lunch

This was before she brought out the meat and squash (beef that was kind of slow-cookered and some squash I don't know, but was good.) You can see beans and fresh bread (still hot) and cucumber/tomato/onion salad, which also had lettuce this time, and potato carrot salad and okra and these tasty cumin vinegar carrots. Coming home for lunch is well worth it.

And lunch is the main meal of the day so, no, dinner isn't that big. But it's still pretty big.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Well, that's not fair!

Yesterday we were at the beach. It was great, of course! I had forgotten my sunblock in the van, but it was really really cloudy (like, gray clouds) so I didn't worry. We played in the water and had a good time. Then we got hungry and when to one of the little beach-front restaurants (why didn't I take a pic of those???) and sat there for probably two hours. Barely after we sat down under the covered area, the sun came out. And guess what? I got a sunburn from the reflection off the water or sand or something!! I'm sure it was then because the lines are from both my suit and my dress, clearly at the same time, and the only time I had on both was when I was under that shady area. Stupid deceiving shade. At least it's not as bad as a full-sun burn.

More on the weekend when I have more time!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Um, a bonding experience?

Yesterday I felt awful. Like horrible, no-good, terrible kind of awful. Today I went to all four hours of class so, as you might guess, I am feeling much better. That is also why I'm writing for you now instead of yesterday. "What happened???" You ask?

Well, it started on Tuesday, really. At 2, when we got back to school, my head started to hurt enough that I wanted drugs. Luckily my roommate keeps some in her bag. I went to class, and wasn't feeling much better. We'd all been planning to have dinner, so I went over with everyone else and talked and helped make food, to try to distract me from the headache. Probably not the smartest approach, I know, but sometimes my head hurts for a bit and then stops. And I didn't think it was from heat, since it hasn't been that hot, or from dehydration, because I felt MUCH different several weeks ago when I actually was super dehydrated.

So, we talked, we laughed, we ate dinner and had more tasty petit fours. I continued to feel bad as the night went on. Then we went home and I realized that if I still felt that bad I should NOT go to class in the morning. I did take some cold medicine and was drinking loads of water just in case, but I wasn't feeling any better.

As the interwebs are all public-like, here is the basic version:
I felt crappy and stayed in bed in the morning. My family checked on me and I still wasn't great. They asked if I wanted breakfast, I said no. At lunch they insisted I get up to eat. I just wanted to be in bed with my eyes covered (I think it was maybe a migraine, but who knows).

But I got up, tottered out to the kitchen, sat down, and fainted. They moved me to the living room and force-fed me yogurt and soup and called the school because they were worried and I ended up going to the doctor who decided the headache and fever (because I was feverish, so that's why I'm not sure about the migraine) were due to a sinus infection (and I have had a cold that's been hanging on for about 2 weeks, it could be) and gave me a prescription for antibiotics and told me what headache medicine to take and all is well now.

The funny thing, though, is that they have re-told the story a bunch of times, and partly joking around, 'oh you're not going to do that again, right??' so it seems maybe like they don't consider it that big of a deal, though I can't imagine they often have students passing out. I did get told about one of the more recent students that ate a ton of olives and was so sick in her bed that they had to have the doctor come to the house (which is done here, but more expensive) and told her she couldn't eat any more olives. Well, that's what I got from the story, who knows what exactly the whole thing may have been if I had understood it all :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

'Speaking' a language

My roommate here knows a whole lot more Arabic than I do. She's in 3rd year(ish) and I'm only in first. But who does our family *think* speaks better? It seems to be me. I've made an effort to figure out some of the local dialect, while she's been really focusing on the standard one. Result? They don't always understand her. It's pretty funny in some ways, and I'm sure frustrating.

At UT they take the approach that students should learn standard as well as one of the most commonly understood regional dialects - Levantine (Lebanon/Syria) and Egyptian. Most people say that sounds like too much work, and I hear it does try to take over your life, but now I can see much better why. For any other language (or almost any?) when you learn it, you can go and speak with people. You may sound a bit too formal, but they'll understand. With Arabic, they might understand, but might not. And even if they do understand, they may not be able to carry on a conversation like that.

Today I have had a CRAZY bad headache and had to try to communicate in Arabic despite it. Ouch. But I've managed to make due, mostly, though I don't think I got across that there is nothing wrong with my stomach and I am not sick from something I ate. Whatever, we do what we can!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Note to self:

Must find/create recipe for amazing coconut/chocolate/coffee cookies from tonight. Don't think it was even cooked. Or if it was, it had egg white in it.

Monday, July 11, 2011


I went to Meknes yesterday. It's about 30 minutes away. We had fun. We took the train. It ended up not being at the time it says online. That happens now and then. So we are good at adapting.

After we got off the train, we decided to walk to the old city. On the map it looked straightforward, so down the hill we headed. And after a bit, we started to see more people and stuff. And we followed a direction with more people and more stuff and found a covered market. It was cool. I got Valinda a present there. I think it's cute. We also got little bags of popcorn there for about 5 cents each. After wandering a bit more and seeing cool stuff, we stopped at a cafe and had coffee and tea (we shared a little pot of tea that would be two American cups and it was only 5 dirham!)

Then we decided to figure out where we were, because we were certainly not in the main part of the old city, as we had planned. We showed a map to some guys and asked them where we were. They looked at it as if they'd never seen a map of their city. And maybe they hadn't. Because, for a lot of people, why would you? You learn where you need to go, and you get there. There aren't a ton of street signs or anything. And some people live in the same city their whole lives, so it's not like there is a big need to learn how to read a map of a bigger area. Plus, honestly, the map wasn't that helpful. They did know the name of the square we were on, and it was nowhere to be found.

We thanked them and left and decided to just ask a taxi driver. He similarly didn't know what to tell us about the map, but did know where the old city was. We decided to let him take us. Which may have been a bad idea, but we didn't realize it at the time. Think about it: You just told a taxi driver that you have no idea where you are. And how does a taxi driver make money? By driving you further. We are quite sure that he took the verrrry long route to the old city because when we left it in a taxi to get back to the train station, we realized that we had approached it from the west with him, though we had definitely gone too far east while we were walking. Ah, well, supporting the economy, etc, etc.

The medina was cool, though. We walked around, bought some stuff (we had all heard that it was easier and cheaper to buy stuff there than in Fes b/c Fes is so much bigger and more popular with tourists - I mean it's a UNESCO site and the largest car-free city area in the world. Who wouldn't want to come???) And we had a good lunch and then went to a museum that was in an AMAZING building built toward the end of the 1800s by some crazy rich guy. There was a sign that said no pictures. And then one guy told us pictures of the building were just fine, but not the exposition. And then we came to a room that was hard to tell which category it would fall into... and I will post the pictures for you later :) I just didn't think to bring my camera card today.

We had fun with the rest of the afternoon. Walked more, bought more, got told a thousand times to eat at the restaurants in the touristy area (we didn't) and went into the covered food market area. I feel weird about taking pictures of people I don't know going about their everyday jobs, but I certainly considered it in there. There was a whole row of cookie-making people. Soooo pretty and soooo tasty, I'm sure. The problem is that the bees agree with this tastiness. It used to creep me out a lot, but then you kind of get used to bees being everywhere. But there were more here than anywhere else I've seen, due to the density of the cookie people. Still, we walked through, drooling, and decided we'd come back. We passed some vegetables and meat and then it happened. Another girl said 'ah!' and looked like she almost tripped. The Moroccan guys who saw her said (in French) 'it's ok, he fell' and I'm thinking, 'what? yeah, it's ok, but SHE is fine and didn't trip.' Then she asked if we could see a bee stinger near her collarbone. Oh, THAT 'he' fell. So I guess the bees aren't as friendly as I'd like to think. We waited a bit before we got cookies, and we got them from a stand separated from the rest (and therefore with much fewer bees.)

In other news, my class schedule changed. Now it's 10-12 and 2-4. Gives me a nice amount of time to eat lunch and then get back. I am off to a nearby hotel and see if I can get a pool membership for 3 weeks. We'll see how it goes. There's a rumor that it's $13. And another that it's $13 EACH TIME you go. I'm good with the first, not the second. And I do have lots of sunscreen, don't worry :)

***UPDATE**** Neither rumor was true. It's *just* $11 per swim. (grumbles rude things about snooty hotel)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Slow it downnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

There are plenty of things at home that I miss. And will be thrilled to do/see/smell/taste/touch/etc when I get back. But there is still a lot left to do here! Most of the people who got here when I did are leaving this weekend, or shortly after. So I've heard a lot about their plans and about what they are gonna do back home.

Now I have one month left. I leave crazy early the morning of August 8th from Casablanca. That gives me 3 weeks of classes to enjoy (or not enjoy, depending on the specific class period) and loads of things to see and do and eat.

Lately I've been walking home with a couple of other girls. We've been stopping now & then to try different sweets and other foods sold by the guys on the street. Today I got a giant macaroon-like thing. It was tasty. I've also had a savory chickpea thing, a very thin-doughed pastry (kind of like phyllo) filled with 'sweet,' as the guy told me. I think it was left over fried honey-cookie-things, chopped up and wrapped in the pastry and either baked or fried and then coated in honey. Mmmmm, delicious honey. There was also a night that we got a box of different kinds of pastries from this one place and each had 1/4th of each. They were pretty big. And the other time that I got about a pound of petits-fours for $6. So tasty.

I'm sleepy, I may try to take a nap now.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some pictures from Asilah

I'm not sure why, but some of the others didn't want to upload. I'll have to try them again later, but this should get you started:

On the floor in the hotel

At the beach

And still the beach

The beginning of sunset (ate during it.)

A small fair we found while looking for suitable dessert (didn't find any I liked)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

shta, shta, shta!**

For some reason, my host mom sometimes repeats things, like a single word, 3 times. I think it might be b/c the last student did. Or maybe it's a typical thing here. Hard to know. Today seems to merit it, though, from all of the 'shta'-ing that happened.

Tonight there was a concert for free at the school's residence. I went over and saw that it was some sort of drumming group. They also had something like a tambourine as well as 2 long horn things (silver colored and seriously like 6-8 ft long when assembled) and two short oboe-ish things (dunno, reed instrument that reminded me of a recorder due to its open finger holes).

Here, people don't just listen to music. They clap. They sing along. They dance (shta). So I think that for these groups it must be really weird to play for Americans who don't know when to clap. Or any of the words. And sit and watch politely and silently. One of the drum/tambourine players would motion at us to all clap along, and it would happen for a bit. Then he came down and started trying to encourage people to stand up. We were sitting in the front row & felt like we should play along, so me & 2 others got up. We found ourselves soon drug along into dancing. Sometimes there would be two rows of people facing each other, and it was like a scene from West Side Story, as one person later said, as a person from one side would show the rest a movement and then the group would walk up the other row doing the movement (shaking a finger, clapping a certain way, kicking, holding hands and bringing them up in the others' faces, anything it seemed) and then back off. Then it was the other guys' turn to step up.

There was some really cool dancing, too. Some of the guys could do some cool footwork with jumping around - one of the American girls said it looked like they were made for stepping. And some of the dancing looks sooooooooo suggestive to us. It's funny that I, a person who has no hesitation dancing in ways that are absolutely suggestive (in the right company,) am surprised by it. But there is lots of hip and lots of shoulder movement. After a while, an older lady (guessing by her face alone, her body and hair were all covered) started dancing. And WHOA could she move. It was amazing. She danced with me for a little bit and I tried to imitate her movements. After maybe 15 seconds of one, she'd add something or change something and I'd try to follow along, mostly just mesmerized that her hips and torso could still be attached while doing all of those things.

We also had cookies and tea and got rose water sprinkled on us (traditional for the type of music, apparently for religious reasons as well as cooling affects) but, seriously, at one point I thought that I might just collapse from jumping around so much. And I was wearing a linen dress that went just past my knees. I can't imagine in a long-sleeved jellaba, with a full outfit underneath, how they keep going. I know, I know, they're used to it. But you know what I mean.

** Disclaimer: I keep mixing up the words for rain and dance because they're pretty similar to me as a non-speaker-of-the-language. I think this is dance... and that rain is 'stash'... but I could have it backwards. Or both of them wrong, come to think of it....

Sunday, July 3, 2011

So, I paid $90 for this and it's not waterproof

I went to Asilah with 10 other Americans this weekend. We all had a nice time, I think, except for the girl who apparently got sick from last night's dinner. Sad. It was much cooler, we got to swim in the ocean, and just relax and not worry about stuff.

Travel here is so much less expensive than France or the US. Obviously it's due to the general wages and cost of living, but it was about $25 for my roundtrip ticket to the city 3 1/2 hours away. I am well aware it's a lot for locals, but at least I can make it work for once. We stayed in a hotel a couple of blocks from the beach, ate food at a restaurant that I thought was pretty good (I had the same thing as the sick girl, so either I got lucky, her system is just different, or it was something else. Or all of the above) and mostly just had fun being somewhere different.

It was also pretty amazing that when we came back, it was actually chilly in Fez. It was a very pleasant surprise, and it's supposed to be a bit cooler this week than last. Wait, I'm feeling like I may have already told you that. Well, whatever.

I'm actually feeling tired now, though there are still guests in the main room. I may just close the door to my room. For now, then the mystery $90 item? ........................ Wait for it. Chimney's passport. Yep, boys are bright at times. Like when they run into the Atlantic with a passport in the pocket. Oops. (Chimney = nickname for the only one that smokes out of the group who went.)

Ok, goodnight!

Friday, July 1, 2011

I wake up in the morning feeling incredibly sweaty

Yesterday some dark clouds rolled in and the wind kicked up a bit in the afternoon. A lot of places I have been, that means that it is going to rain and get cooler. Which seemed like a nice idea and we all started hoping for rain - as long as it started after we were in a taxi home because they seem to disappear the second that rain starts.

It didn't rain while we were at class, or later when we went to wander the medina to look at potential future purchases. It didn't get around to it til about 12:30 when I was finally going to bed. I don't know why I stayed up so late, but I planned to get up at 8:45 today, so no problem.

At 7:45, though, I woke up just nasty sweaty with sun in my face. I closed my curtain, but the darker curtain that blocks the sun, but still lets in a breeze, has been reappropriated to a window in the main room. I'm sure it needs it, too. It probably wouldn't have made a difference today anyway, it is just hot and pretty humid for once. I couldn't sleep anymore, but I remembered that I haven't updated all week, so here I am. It's supposed to be a little cooler this weekend, but if it stays this humid it won't be much of a relief, if any.

That's ok because I'm headed to the beach! It's supposed to be 91 tomorrow and 85 Sunday there. Doesn't that sound beautiful??? (It's supposed to be 100 and 94 here each day, which is actually cooler than it has been.) There's a city on the coast only 3 1/2 hours away that is the movie-typical mediterranean style (white walls, blue doors & trim.) It has about one paragraph on travel sites, which call it a break from the bigger cities and a 'sophisticated' introduction to Morocco, whatever that means. All I care is that it's got water to play in. And probably sand to sit in :) And I do have sunscreen, don't worry!

This week has been surprisingly packed with stuff to do. I've been hanging out with my roommate and a girl who grew up about 10 minutes from where I did, as well as a few others. Wandering the medina on your own isn't fun for me because you get too much attention in certain areas, and some people try to intimidate you. With several of us, we each get slightly fewer offers of 'help,' massages or aphrodisiacs (did you know that dates, olives and oil are among those? Just ask the guys here!) And if a shop-keeper tries to get you to buy stuff (we told them all we were just looking and most were ok with that) it's easier to just leave when you have company.

Tuesday night I went and bought some groceries (and wine and desserts!) with a couple of other grad student girls studying here and then we went back to the apt one of them has and made dinner. And ate it. It was wonderful. Really, it was just afriheims (taste like bell peppers, but shaped like big anaheim peppers) with rice, egg, spices, almonds 'in,' or on, them and some couscous. Plus the wonderful petit four things. We will probably do it again, but the boys will have to buy the wine and desserts if we are cooking. They were all properly appreciative of good food and even since then have been saying that they are for buying the expensive stuff if we cook. Yay for grateful people.

I'm very excited about my new clothes. Tuesday while shopping we saw that there is basically a used clothing market just up from where the food is, and one of the girls really wanted to go back. Wednesday she asked if I wanted to come and, having nothing better to do, I agreed. It was actually fun to look through all of the stuff. Some of it was obviously used or crap, but a lot of it was in really good condition. I got 2 skirts, 1 dress, 1 shirt. The shirt is 100% linen, white, and fits me very well for something to wear over a tank (gaps at chest when buttoned.) It was 10MAD ($1.25). The dress I actually can't wear here, but couldn't pass up. It is missing a strap to go around the neck, but it was still worth the 15 MAD ($2). It's cream and will go just above my knees, with a halter-style top. One skirt is a linen/cotton blend (50/50) and the other doesn't say but looks and feels like it could also be, but probably more cotton. Each 15MAD as well. For a grand total of 55MAD, or just under $7. I don't think I could have gotten 2 of them for that at an American goodwill. Goodwill is actually getting kinda pricey lately.

More to say, but I should be getting ready for class!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

One month in.

One month ago today I arrived in Morocco. Which means I have 1 1/2 more here. That's not a lot of time, really. I am glad I have it, even after all the sick yesterday (and I am feeling much better btw.) I can't believe some of the other students only have 2 weeks now. I have hardly bought anything and not seen very much of the country. More than I saw of Tunisia, as crazy as that is (which is why I hope to go back eventually), but still not very much!

I have definitely learned a lot of language here, both standard and Moroccan, though I do wish I had more :) haha, so hard to satisfy, but that's why I am staying longer than almost everyone else. I have also noticed some interesting things about the use of French and language attitudes that I may be able to wrap into something for a class at the very least, but possibly even my dissertation.

The next few weekends I am going to try to travel a bit more. Some people are going to a city near the coast and I may head over there with them (though if they continue on to a city further up, I may just stay in the nearer one. I also know people in two different cities within weekend distance - Meknes (45 min) and Rabat (2.5 hours) and I plan to go to both before leaving. Since I have one full week here after my classes end, I am starting to look at possible destinations and potential couchsurfers to stay with. Most of the Moroccan couch offerers are guys (or at least it's a guy who made the page) so I'll end up staying with non-Moroccans, but that should be fun, too.

It turns out to be very hard to meet Moroccans. There aren't a lot of groups to join or classes to take. People tend to meet others through their friends. I realize it's a lot like that at home, but there are a lot more places at home that it's acceptable for young people to hang out. Here, some more modern people will go to cafes, but it's still mostly older males. And that's not really my scene. It's typical for guys to get married around 30 or 35 to a girl significantly younger - and I have no interest in being seen as a possibility by them. So people meet their friends mostly at home and maybe go out walking or shopping together. Maybe get something to eat, depending on how much money they have, what their parents are ok with, etc. I was hoping to meet younger people, in order to get ideas on what kind of research might work (plus it's more fun to talk to people of a similar age/interests) so I have been trying outside and now have one Moroccan friend. The first couple times we talked I think she didn't know what to do, so we just helped each other learn more words and phrases. The third time started similarly, but we talked more after that. She speaks pretty English and ok French as far as I can tell so far, so we can get a lot across. We'll see how it continues.

Well, it is time to leave the study center - it closes from 1-4:30 on weekends. So I suppose that is all you get for now!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

(home) sick

I think many people here would agree. The distance from home becomes most obvious when you are feeling like crap and just want a hug/shower/the medicine you know/the foods you know/your favorite movies, etc. I don't know what exactly I did, but this is the worst my stomach has been from food. Really, it's not that bad - my stomach hurts and I'm uncomfortable, but I'm not accidentally pooing my pants or anything (has happened to a few others here, poor them.) But I do want to be at home. With some bland soup. And gatorade. And crackers. And people to go 'awww, you're not feeling ok? Have you tried this?' But over the internet it won't be the same, so don't try. Oh, right, and definitely the movies. May try to download Casino Royale. Can't feel crappy watching Eva Green, right?? I did figure out how to download this Moroccan soap opera I've been hearing about, though. They switch back and forth between Moroccan Arabic and French, it's pretty cool. And so much in line with my research interests. K, that's all for now :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Turning the tables

In the mornings, I meet with other students headed to school and we take a taxi together. Today we were trying to see if one other person was coming (turned out she was at school already) and while we were standing there a group of Moroccan teenagers walked past. One of the boys asked us (in arabic) if we could take a picture. We could tell by the looks on his friends' faces that he was kind of messing with us, so we said we didn't have a camera. (I bet none of us actually did.) Then he was like, 'no, we have a camera.'

We were still confused at what was gonna happen, but he called his friend with a 'camera' (a handheld game - maybe an old sony one? Or nintendo ds before the ds? I recognized it as old.) Then he started to act like he was going to take a picture WITH us. As in him & his female friend standing goofily with us with the other boys watching. And I told him "whoa, no, no, we will take a picture of you, but not with us in it." (K, don't know how much of that actually got across with my major lack of words.) Understanding well or not, they laughed and walked away.

While it was kind of odd, I am pretty sure that is what tourists here do to people sometimes and it was pretty funny that the kids decided to do it right back. I suppose we could have just taken a picture with them, the other girls may have been willing, but since it just seemed like a big joke, it didn't seem worth it.

Another interesting thing this morning was a comment my teacher made in class. One of the girls got our morning teacher to go off on a tangent that was actually pretty cool. He was talking about the purity of the Arabic language and how there is a saying that basically says you can tell who someone is by the way they talk (meaning whether they speak a language well, I think.) He also said that he judges news and television channels first by the language and second by the content - that if it's 'bad' Arabic he just can't listen to it no matter what, but if it's fluff news presented well, then it's fine.

The fact that the language used in the Koran is seen as the 'pure' language gives the people a really different relationship to it, and I'm still surprised by it at times. The teacher said that a king or president of an Arab country would never give a speech without reading it directly unlike American or European presidents (I sort of wanted to bring up teleprompters, but was enjoying his little diatribe too much.) He also said that if a king or president started speaking 'bad' Arabic or Darija (dialect), he would turn it off no matter what the topic or proposed program was because it is not the 'right' way to speak. I know from some of my research that in Tunisia the former president would sometimes give speeches in Tunisian Arabic, so now I'm curious what people here and there thought of it. And what language the speeches for the upcoming elections are in. He said that even the parliament uses 'pure' Arabic speeches, often written by someone else, so show how educated they are.

It's so hard to think of being required to change your language THAT much. If someone was raised without learning 'standard' Arabic, they would understand some words, but not really get the tenses or a whole lot of information. I can't figure out a good comparison, but maybe as different as Spanish and Italian - definitely some words in common, but different pronunciation. Some grammar similarities, but plenty of differences. You know, some dialects may even be more different. But don't tell that to some native speakers. For religious and political reasons, they're all considered the same language. K, I'll quit being a nerd now.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sweating is good for you!

I was lucky that the first two weeks here the weather was cooler than normal. Last week it started to heat up. And now it is high 90s all week. Still cooler than Austin (105 the other day) and much dryer. But the big difference is that there is no AC in my house here. Which means lots of sweating. For the next 6 weeks. My host mom says it's good for you, and that AC is bad. Wake up sweaty. Walk to taxi. Windows down, but no AC. Get to school. AC in classroom (reasonable amount) but before and after class, again none. But all the trees and plants surrounding the school keep it shady and cooler. In the afternoon, I head over to the school's study center. It's in a big, old house that is built properly for the heat, so it's cooler. But still not actually cool. Less sweating, anyway.

I have been drinking loads of water (and trying to keep enough salt in me to not just lose it all immediately) so I can tolerate it. I am actually starting to get used to it, which I find pretty disgusting in itself if I stop and think about it. But what can you do? Accept it and move on. And hope you can actually fall asleep.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Camel 'saddles' are not comfy and sand dunes are big.

The title is all you need to know.

I had a lot of fun over the weekend. I saw a ton of Moroccan countryside as well as the Sahara. We set out Friday after lunch (skipping all afternoon classes) and made our way down to a hotel in Erfoud. The city seems to be pretty small - mostly just a place for hotels. Or all of the hotels are outside of the city (totally possible, I just don't know which.) They are definitely built around people headed to/from the desert. Since the trip was organized by school, we stopped on the way down there for bathroom breaks at set hotels that knew we were coming.

The hotel we stayed at in Erfoud was ridiculously nice. Giant rooms with two double beds (and directions on how to make them stay together in case you wanted one realllllly giant bed. Then a TV and two couches to sit on. The bathroom had the toilet separate with its own door, which is pretty standard in France as well as many hotels, but the rest of the bathroom didn't have a door at all. So to get to the shower, you walked around this corner, and hello!. I ended up rooming with a very nice girl that I hadn't met before. She actually isn't studying at ALIF, she's doing an internship in Rabat. A group of students from her school is here, though, so she asked the professor and got permission to come on the Sahara trip with us. That first night we swam and ate. The food was a big buffet and for once there was plenty of fruit and vegetables! I was so very happy about that. I didn't even have a piece of bread.

A bunch of students had decided it would be a good chance to get drunk, too (no drinking in homestays, of course, or at school or the study center, so you are limited to not drinking or to drinking in hotels.) As you might guess, many of us felt that actually drinking was probably about the worst thing to do before heading into the desert as it would probably just make you dehydrated and possible hung over - not the things one wants to be while riding a camel in the heat. So I swam a lot and talked and showered and went to sleep.

The 'sitting area' of my hotel room the first night

The next day, we ate breakfast, had the option for more swimming (since it was all sunny I didn't want to be in the water for fear of getting totally worn out) and hung around for a bit until we moved to the second hotel. The second hotel was really just a staging area to get out on the camels. We had lunch there, could swim again if wanted, but a lot of us just relaxed. There were two rooms - one for the girls' stuff and one for the boys'. And these rooms were quite a bit smaller than the last ones, so it really was just peoples' stuff in them.

We grabbed what we would need for the desert (a lot of water, scarves, jeans and long sleeves) and met around 5:30 to meet the camels. Camels are pretty big animals. When they sit down on the ground, they are not that tall, but they have some serious legs on them! The guides would gather a small group of people and then start putting us on camels. And those serious legs make for an interesting experience as they stand up or sit down. Hold on tight and lean in the opposite direction of where you're trying to fall off. No one did fall, though. The saddles or seats or whatever you want to call them were the problem. Sort of boxy and squared. Covered in a blanket, as well as wool sewn directly on to it, but I have no idea what was under there because it was sooooo square feeling and awkward. The way out there wasn't much of a problem. It was waking up the next morning and standing up that you realized how uncomfortable you must have been. Which did not make the prospect of getting back ON a camel to head back the least bit appealing.

My view from the camel's back
The first ten minutes of the ride, I think that the only thing I was thinking was why hadn't I thought about the fact that camels are BIG animals. And not always happy to have riders. They move around, you shift with their every step, and I am not so sure what to do with animals. I've only even ridden a horse a few times, and you are closer to the ground with horses. Or at least the saddle feels better. After I got a little used to it, and quit gripping the thing you hold on to quite so tightly, I would take off one hand to take pictures (strap securely around wrist.) Like so very many things, pictures just can't do it justice. I mean, you're in the middle of a sea of sand. And it's so pretty but so big and dry. And those kids in A Far off Place? Never would have made it, even with the native friend's help. I know it was a different desert, but they were not dressed well and would have needed sooooo much water.

After about 2 hours of bumpy camel ride, we made it to the oasis that we would stay at. It was pretty funny because the place was divided into about 4 'camps' that are apparently owned by different families or people at least. We got settled and, as it was a little before sunset, some of us decided to climb the sand dune directly to the west of the oasis. It really didn't look that big. We started climbing. And got tired. And kept climbing. And climbing. And became exhausted. But refused to stop all the same. Forget stairmasters, some genius should make a sandmaster - that would be the true work out.

Brilliant me, I had left my scarf at the camp because I was hot and sweaty. So when I was about 15 feet from the top (maybe 5 minutes at my pace by then) the wind started to pick up. On our way in, we had heard thunder and I just thought it was cool. When that became sand blowing in my face, it wasn't so cool. I stayed at the top for a bit, feeling the sand attack my skin, lips, ears, nose and eyes. It didn't hurt in my eyes, really, just felt weird (at least not til I tried to get some out of my eyes.) After maybe 15 or 20 minutes at the top, enjoying but only having time for one picture before the wind was too strong (don't want sand in camera!) we headed back down. Some people had been up there longer than me, others shorter. Walking down was soooo much fun! The annoying part of getting up - feet sliding backward all the time - became a game of seeing how far a single step would take you. But that thing was much bigger than we thought, as my pictures of the tiny camels from the top should tell you.

From the very top of the sand dune.

Back down at the bottom, the winds continued. It wasn't a full-on sand storm, but it definitely got sand EVERYWHERE. At least I was at the bottom with my scarf by then. Still, it was very uncomfortable. Someone said we were all getting free microdermabrasion. And it's true that my hands were really soft afterward and my lips stung when I had orange for dessert. Didn't make up for it all, though. We had to have dinner inside this big, low tent. It was very hot in there, and the bodies of 45+ people did not help it in any way at all. We had a giant dinner for here (lunch is the main meal of the day) with different vegetables and tuna with rice, followed by kefta (meat balls) and fruit for dessert. I'm pretty sure the stuff was brought in on ATVs, not camels, as we saw plenty of tracks on our way it. I would much rather ride a four-wheeler than a camel.

After that there was drumming by some berber guys that was really cool sounding and a bunch of people got up to dance. I'm find with dancing, especially if it's having fun and learning how they do it. But instead it was a bunch of sweaty Americans sort of moshing around. And being covered in sand and hot, I decided it was better to stay out of the dancing and enjoy the sky. I think I have seen more stars once - at the MacDonald Observatory in west Texas. And probably only because there were some clouds and the moon was near full. It was still amazingly pretty. So pretty that two other girls and I decided to sleep out of the tent (most everyone did in the end). One of them grabbed pillows, but as soft as sand is when you're directly on it, when it's covered by a heavy carpet it's just hard and lumpy. We lied there for about 5 hours, but I probably slept 3-4.

We got up early to climb the dune again to see the sunrise. I guess desert sunrises can be amazing, but this one was very nothing. The sky just lit up, and the sun came up. No cool colors, nothing surprising at all. There were some people who stayed on the hill longer, and later it sounded like they were waiting for more. Um, sorry people, that's not how a sunrise works. We headed back, uncomfortably, on the camels and I was soooooooooooooo ready for 'breakfast' once we finally got there! I was crazy hungry, but unfortunately they didn't think fruit was a breakfast thing at that hotel so it was mostly bread stuff. I did have a hard-boiled egg and a tomato at least.

Then we showered (there was a shower building, not just the one in the room) and headed out. The van was hot and sticky both directions. The air was on, but not high enough. And I was just in a skirt! I don't know how the people in jeans survived. After lunch at another hotel (which seems to have upset my stomach) we made it back to Fes about 11 hours after we left Merzouga (camel start/end hotel city.) It was cool and I had fun and it was great to do something different, but I was also tired and happy to be out of that car!

I think I got a little sick from lunch at the last place, but here I am at school all the same. I'm sure I will live!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ants for breakfast!

My host mom is very nice. Every morning she makes tea and puts it out before I get up, as well as bread, butter and jam. Then she goes back to sleep. I think she stays up on the phone til 1 or 2, so I don't blame her for sleeping late. With the heat that is starting to set in, it makes even more sense.

Today I went out to pour myself some tea (it's always really hot, so I pour it a bit before I want to drink it) and noticed a few ants on the table. Odd, but considering that there aren't screens, the windows are usually open, the door is usually open, and the windows and screens probably don't close very well anyway, no big deal.

I came back a couple of minutes later to drink the tea and eat something and when I went to grab some bread I realized that it was fulllll of ants. Yay, yummy. Ant bread. So I brushed a few off and cut a piece in half, trying to decide if I'd eat it anyway, and found more ants wandering through the interior of the bread. That decides it, no ants for breakfast. There is a little food stand at the school that has lots of stuff, I just usually try to not spend money on food there when there's plenty of similar stuff at my house.

I was just told that I'll be getting a roommate tomorrow. She's not with a program, which I think is good - no built in group of people. It sounded from the housing coordinator's description that she's not excited about sharing a family, which is also good in my book, since I'm not either. Maybe we'll end up with different schedules. Only time will tell... I don't think I'll meet her til Sunday night since I have the desert trip. Yay, weekend!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I found a place that I can reliably upload photos! It's a miracle! And it's close to school and it's not a cafe, so I don't have to buy something to use their internet! It's the student residence for the school - people who aren't living here are allowed to hang out from 9am to 6pm. It's pretty handy. So here's what you get now. More pics next week - of sunrise and sunset from the desert!

Inside old traditional house American fulbright girl lives in.

scaffolding holding up said house

Fountain in ville nouvelle (new city) looking towards old city.

Cute kitty, don't know how it got there.

American playing keep away with Moroccan kids :)

Inside the study center

Floor of study center. I like all the stars.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Morning in the medina

This morning I walked around the medina with Karen and her host sister. Her host sister is 11 or 12, I think, and doesn't seem to mind wandering around with us, half showing us places and half just seeing with us. We speak mostly Arabic, but when I totally am lost Karen will use French with me. It's a nice way to get in some practice, unlike in class! Plus she speaks more slowly than native speakers, so I understand more. And we talk about immediate things that are easier to understand anyway.

Here is a picture of some plaster carving that I think looks really cool. The whole place is.... old. I just checked - apparently built in the 1350s. I don't know if this is that old, or if it's part of the restoration efforts, but the cedar in the building is apparently at least from the 1500s. CRAZY.

I am sooooo hungry, I am going home for tea! (at study center now.)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Food and laundry

The other night for dinner, we had a goat's head. Or maybe a sheep's. As in the whole thing. It was pre-cooked over a fire from the flavor, and then soaked for a few days and boiled in a little pressure cooker that Malika uses for just about everything. The flavor was fine - the hard part was the texture and knowing what was edible or not. I had been warned ahead of time, and when she brought it out there was the familiar direction, "eat!" I started slowly and was again urged to eat. So I asked, 'eat what?' and then she kinda realized I didn't know how to go about it and started pointing out good bits. Then handed me some. I started out with what I recognized as meat, and when there was something unfamiliar I asked "and this?" Every now and then, no, that was not a good eating part. Then she handed me a piece and said 'that's its ear.' Gee, thanks, as if this wasn't difficult enough already. Some of it, the texture.... ughhhhhhhh, just thinking about it makes me want to puke. But, with a decent dose of bread I made it through.

Tonight I got to do some laundry. They do have a little machine, but I don't know how gentle it is so I asked if I could wash my underwear. I did learn things in Tunisia - like how to effectively wash underwear by hand quickly and how many rinses it actually takes to get the soap out. Plus here I didn't have to lean over a bathtub - there is a part of the roof that's about chest height that I put the little tub on so I wouldn't have to lean over on the ground. But even that is better than leaning over a bathtub. Plus with the music festival in the background, it wasn't so bad. After hearing so much of it, I decided to spring for one of the shows, so I'm going to see Ben Harper on Sunday. It's like $35, so a small splurge, but way less than it would be at home! Like most (ha, out of like 5) of the concerts I've been to, I know the name, and am sure I know some songs, but honestly can't be sure of what they are. Always fun, though!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Still here

Since I've settled in, things have really slowed down. I go to class for 4 hours a day, with a 4 hour break in the middle when I go home, eat lunch, and do some homework (they tend to give us hw for the break.) I'm pretty frustrated with how slowly the course is going, especially since I found out that one of the other classes that started from the very beginning has been moving faster than us. I have to get through a certain # of chapters in order to take Arabic in the fall, and at this rate we will never make it - if some of the students can't even remember their alphabets still, how much will they slow us down later?? I thought at first maybe it was just ppls' motivations differ, but the two other girls who are doing well are learning arabic more or less for fun, so that's out as an explanation. I'm sure it will end up ok, blahblahblah, but I wish our profs would tell them, "go home, memorize this, you should know it by now." We're taking a whole 40 hours to do what I know they do in the program in Austin in 25-28. More people come in 1 1/2 weeks, maybe they'll mix up the classes then.... I kinda hope for that, but at the same time it could get worse probably, too. I'm hungry so food and slow class are the only things on my mind, which means I should stop now. Hope you all are well!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Two more pics

See more below!
A small part of a mosaic at a not-running public fountain in the 'ville nouvelle' (new city)
Couscous lunch on Friday - that reportedly made a few people sick. Oops.

Rude or smart?

It is SO hard to know what to do sometimes here. Lots of people try to talk to us. You can tell a lot of them are just jerks trying to get a response or who would later ask if you need a guide and then insist on money. We were told to ignore everyone and not feel bad about it, and in the old medina I feel like that's a very good rule. Sometimes outside of it, though, it's harder.

The other day I was walking home with another girl in my class and a guy tried to say sthg to us. Assuming he was just another jerk sitting near a store in a touristy area, we ignored him and went into a little store-stand to see if they had stamps. They didn't, but when we left, the guy we had just ignored told us where to find them. Oops. Still, with several shouts of "beautiful" and for some reason "Spice Girls" I don't feel bad for ignoring adults.

I had been wondering about what to do with kids. Little boys in the medina can be pretty aggressive, and again I was comfortable with brushing them off. But outside of there, maybe they are just trying to practice their language skills. I was staring blankly in the direction of a store area and a woman inside waved at me. I smiled back and heard a little girl call "bonjour!" and her mom corrected her, so she changed it to 'bonsoir!' and I laughed and said bonsoir back.

After a few minutes, a little girl came up and looked like she was going to pass me. On her way past, she said bonjour. I decided to say it back. Then she stayed with me. And asked for a pen. I told her no. Then she asked for candy. I said no again. If she asked me again I was going to tell her 'shame on you' which is sort of an effective thing - apparently in public people care, but when no one else is around (like me & the little girl) other students have said they don't care because there's no one there to enforce the 'shame.' Luckily she gave up on me and went back the other way. Brat.

It feels ridiculous because I think the nice, honest people are going to start thinking that foreigners are all unfriendly jerks, but it's not worth it to get followed or harassed by the jerk locals. And I bet that some of the Moroccans are well aware of the treatment of foreigners, but certainly not all. And not the little honest little kids that I will now be ignoring.

I also get annoyed by the tourists who fall for it - who would just give the little girl stuff not realizing that it's not cool and it's going to get her to keep asking everyone for gifts, or money. Or the girls who giggle or chat with the boys when they call them spice girls or britney spears. If they would all just knock it off, the rest of us could probably walk down the street without so many shouts. Brain-dead jerks. I think some people do it out of wanting to 'help' when they see the level of poverty, but that is NOT the way to do it.

I made some pictures work!

View from my roofMe on the giant castle stairs in Lisbon (where I apparently left my umbrella. grrrrr.)

Sunset from the plane!

Ok, it's not much, but it took like 15 minutes for these to upload from school, so you better appreciate it! Time for class now!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Answering questions

K, I'm not feeling so hot this morning, so I guess it's a good time to answer questions. Several asked about the marriage conversation - the guy was speaking in French, so I was translating that to English for the girl. Every now and then, she would ask him questions directly in Moroccan, or he would clarify a bit in English.

I am sure that the chicken will last just fine, but 3 chickens and only 3 people, one of whom is an 18 yr old who almost doesn't eat... it seems like a ton at the moment. We'll see how it goes.

My classes are at a place called ALIF. It's actually a bit like the place I worked in Tunis. They mainly offer english courses, and have a bunch of centers that do, but they also offer arabic - standard or Moroccan - to foreign students. Mostly, if not completely, American students. The instructors are all Moroccan as far as I know. I have two and they both are. One teaches us for two hours in the morning, the other for 2 in the afternoon. They definitely have different styles, so it's nice to have them both. I think some of the teachers may do it as a summer job, but others it's definitely their full-time job. One of my instructors is the language coordinator, so he would be there year-round. I know there are 4-5 times as many Arabic students in the summer than the rest of the year, so I imagine they must pull in extra. Or maybe they all just work more in the summer, who knows.

I live in what I guess is an apartment. It's in a 3-story building that probably used to be a big house. We live on the top floor, there are 2 bedrooms, a big main room, and a tiny kitchen. At least the kitchen's its own room. On the roof there is what I think of as a study/relaxing room, as well as plenty of space to dry clothes. There's also a storage room up there. The bathroom is sort of separate from the apartment, but we have it to ourselves. It has a western toilet and a shower whose drain is not in the curtained off shower 'space,' but on the other side of the toilet near the sink. Unfortunately not quite the lowest spot in the bathroom (anymore?), so you get to use the squeegee the excess water into the drain. I have practice with such things from the Taos kitchen. There isn't a yard, but there are trees here and there because some people do have them in courtyards. The streets are sort of a modern cobblestone, I guess. Bricks that are laid in together. On the bigger streets they are big stones that have a very pretty pattern to them. I'll try to upload some pics sometime, I just don't know where I might. There are also poured concrete sidewalks that are sometimes funny because they look like they were 'leveled' with a rake. (At least there ARE sidewalks, unlike some parts of Austin.)

I had some cheap local chocolate last night. I don't know how it passes for 'chocolate.' It's all waxy and doesn't taste like much. Mostly left my mouth feeling like I'd eaten 5 cookies worth of oreo guts. gross. My stomach doesn't feel great today. My host mom gave me some tasty instant coffee stuff made with milk. How to explain that milk will NOT help my stomach? I just took some lactaid and drank it anyway.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

No pictures for you!

I decided Saturday would be a good day to try to upload pics. It turns out that while my internet is helpful and relatively speedy, it does not agree with pictures. I shall try this again somewhere at some point. But for now, you all must be patient. Not fun, I know, but I am quite sure you will survive it!

On the menu for today is a walk through the old city with Karen (that I met in Lisbon) and her host sister and then maybe watching a soccer game with Selma (I'm horrible at fake names) and *her* host sisters.

Week 1 of classes left me tired, and not perfect at everything we're doing, but still feeling like I wish it would go faster. Having to learn a new alphabet for a language makes the process so much slower! And when our professors pronounce words, it's easy to her the long and short vowels/consonants. Not so much from the dvds we work from. Good practice and all that, I'm sure.

Friday, June 3, 2011


This evening I wandered around the medina a bit with Malika. She got Amira's watch strap fixed (guy did it in 2 minutes and was less than a dollar - people are cool about easily making things usable for longer here) and then bought some chicken. Yep, you may have guessed - whole, live chicken. She didn't kill them, the guy did. But just easy as that, picked out 3, one at a time. She'd kind of point, the guy would grab one, twist its wings together so it wouldn't move, weigh it, tell her a price (I gotta get better with numbers!) and she agreed. Then, slit it's throat, put it upside down in the blood-drainer-thing. Then we walked a bit more to see where they're going to have a bunch of the concerts for the next week (google fez sacred music festival, it's maybe 10 min from my house on foot and I could hear it from the roof this afternoon), bought some soap and noodles, and went back to pick up the chickens. All nicely plucked now, of course. I wonder how long they last like that. At home, it's supposed to be 2-3 days after buying, but clearly these are a BIT fresher....

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Apple, apple, apple!

(Make sure that was in a dancy/singsong voice.) My host family has bread with butter & jam for breakfast. With super sweet tea. Not surprising, not unusual, but I am used to fruit with breakfast. Usually a banana. I have actually been putting butter on my bread in an effort to have breakfast get me through til lunch time. This morning I had to go get a notebook because I didn't bring one (assuming they'd be cheaper here, and I think they are) and once I secured two - using only Arabic - I decided to look for fruit. There was a place that sells fruit juices and stuff, and had a ton of whole fruit. I asked (French this time) if I could just get an apple. She seemed surprised, but said ok. Then she looked for a prettier one, washed it for me, and gave it to me. Before I could even ask how much she said I didn't owe her anything. 'Are you sure?' 'Yes, yes' and I suddenly forgot the word for thank you in Arabic but found it after a second and she was just like 'no big deal' (assuming the words matched the body language.) It looks like they have good juices, too. And they're like 1.50 for a fresh whatever. I will certainly have to go back to try them.

Where I am

I have sthg I wrote on my netbook, but the internet's not connecting right. So a quick note on where I am living. Go to google maps, type in fez, morocco. Once there, type in Batha. I am not too far from the bus stop (comes up on my screen with a bus symbol and on the left says 'Batha bus stop'). A lot of the other students live in this area, too, so we tend to get to/from school together. Taxis cost the same as a the bus if there are 3 of you, and it's much quicker and more comfortable. And that way walking home there is no problem. Class time!

Monday, May 30, 2011

First day of class!

Today went by pretty quickly. There are a CRAZY number of American students at the school during the summer. I heard that there will be about 100. The first session started today, the second starts in 3 weeks. Some people are only staying 3 weeks, but more will be here for 6. It seems like not many are sticking around for as long as I am. I don't think it's going to be a place that I will hang out, though, because today at 6 when I was done with class it was tough to even walk around outside, with few to no places to sit. I don't mind, my main goal isn't to meet other Americans anyway.

I have two class sessions per day, like I said before I think. There are 2 different instructors, which is kind of nice because they have different styles. Today it didn't feel much like they were on the same page with what we should do, but it worked out anyway. Hopefully it will be a bit smoother in the future, though. The first one told us what to expect and all that, and the second one pretended not to speak any English as the start of class. There was one girl who kept translating everything he said at the beginning. I think that she was trying to show that she understood, but I mostly found it annoying. (And if she ever sees this, sorry, it's true!) Luckily the girl next to her leaned over and whispered that she thought he was going for immersion, so the translator stopped.

Like I kind of expected at first, I have a definite advantage over the others from learning to read the alphabet in Tunisia and the studying I've done since then. Things like vowel and consonant length distinctions don't surprise or bother me. For example, there could be a word ba and baa that have the exact same vowel sound except that the second one is longer. Same goes for a word like hamock or hammock. Actually, the words for pigeon and bathroom are distinguished (phonetically) by just a double consonant in the middle.

I'm typing this from the roof of my host family's place and will post it tomorrow. I did my homework here and really like being able to come up here. It's quieter, there's a nice breeze, and of course a gorgeous view. I finally paid attention to the sun, too and realized that the windows of my room face NE, as does the view from the roof. My host mom is really upset right now because there is a sort of bed & breakfast next door that has decided to build a patio on their roof. Nice for guests - awful for her and her privacy. Normally, she walks around in the house however she wants and won't feel able to do that with peeping tourists 10-20 feet away. The new patio is higher up, too, so the 3-4 foot wall on the roof won't help. What makes it worse is that the whole medina is a UNESCO world heritage site. In theory, you can't make changes to the outside - it's all protected. In practice, if you pay off the right person you definitely can. And if you are a small hotel/B&B, you probably have that money.