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.