Thursday, December 5, 2013

The market!

Today on the way to work with my assistant I stopped by the market by her place. I've heard that their market is better - that they are closer to the farms and have fresher, cheaper produce.

I had some stuff still, so here is what I got:

From top left: just over a kilo of bananas, 7.5 dirham. Bunch of mint (don't know price on its own.) half kilo lemons. kilo clementines, 2.5 dirham. kilo turnips, 8 dirhams with the lemons and mint. kilo potatoes, 3 dirham. half kilo green beans, 4 dirham.

Total 5 kilos for 25 dirham. As in just over $3. and all good quality and so fresh that they're mostly still covered in dirt!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Differences

A lot of people ask me what I like better - Morocco or X. X might be America, France, or Tunisia, since those are usually the places I'll say I've been. So in the spirit of trying to give little bites of life in Morocco: phones.

Morocco: Cell phones are more ubiquitous than the US, if that's possible. A good number of people have more than one because they get better rates for different things. Pre-paid phones cost by the second, although at 1 cent a second, it's comparatively expensive to what I'd expect in the US. But, you also only pay outgoing calls - people can call you no matter what and it never counts against you. You can also get super small recharges, even 5 or 10 MAD (65 cents for the lower), and the recharges are available all over the place in the corner stores. Oh, and there are constantly promotions. Like when I charged my phone in AUGUST there was a seven times multiplier if you put 100 MAD ($12.50) on your phone. So I haven't needed to do it again. One company always has at least a doubler, but often triple, making the one cent a minute never really true.

US: Unlimited. Almost everyone has it now. It's nice, but it's expensive and not always necessary. Still, the possibility for limitless is there, which people like. And why wouldn't they?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Henna night

From last Wednesday at the house of one of my adopted sisters.

Small children I've met everywhere love to make faces for pictures and then see them.

A more "full" women's (i.e. married) henna. In the end, her finger tips were completely filled-in, too. This style is from one area in the Sahara. The boy is hers and she's pregnant!

And me in my awesome three layers of pjs with my girl's henna (you're a 'girl' until you're married until you get 35 or 40, they you get to be something like an old maid.)


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Trim! And sexy slippers

The ends of my hair were getting icky, but since plenty of American stylists have made it worse, and I've trimmed it plenty of times when it was longer, I decided to try it here. Luckily I found a couple of tips and decided to just take off a little trim.

Before: 

After:
I was turning my head, but I think it's even.

And look at my new slipper socks!
They didn't have anything that I would normally pick, so I figured why not find the very best ones? And here you have them, bright purple leopard print. It's like that time I asked for a 'plain' hair clip and the seller showed me one with just 3 big rhinestones and 10 little ones. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Buying just a little

I really love that in Morocco it's completely normal to buy just a little. I bought a couple little tubes of yeast a few weeks ago (think sugar packet size) but it was really finicky, even though I attempted to pre-proof it. It's not like I'm new with yeast! So today on the way home I stopped by the small store on my block (there's an average of one every two blocks I'd say, maybe more) and asked for yeast. The guy pulled out an open brick of yeast and crumbled about a quarter cup onto a paper (the typical way of giving some - at least this paper was clean) and asked if it was enough. I didn't recognize it as yeast, but I know I had the word right and I know I've seen that package before and it says it, so I was just like sure! How much? 1 dirham. 13 cents.

You savvy bakers probably can guess - fresh yeast! It apparently has a short shelf life, which makes it even better than I didn't have to buy a pound of it. But if you're nice to me, and it's allowed and wouldn't go bad, I might bring you some. Now to figure out how to use it to make me some cinnamon rolls...

Friday, November 22, 2013

WHAT THE???

Two participants were filling out my questionnaire when I heard something that sounded like a heavy cart rolling down the hall. But then it got louder. And sounded like the cart was spilling things all over. Then I realized it was an airplane. An incredibly close, loud airplane. Like the kind that makes you cringe and look up wondering if it's gonna hit your head. 

I looked up at the two of them thinking WHAT IS GOING ON?? And realized that they were simply sitting there, writing. They hadn’t even looked up from their papers. Me: “Is that normal?” Them: “It’s the airport.” Me: stare. Them: “It’s only our second year, so it’s not really normal, but it happens a lot.” Me: “What kind of airport?” (It’s my third day here and the first time I’ve heard that.) One: “military” while the other mimes shooting.


Ok.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tree-trimming

Dude stands on metal ladder, placed in street, only kind of in the lane, and trims branches with a pair of gardening shears. Make sure the ladder you are envisioning is metal and the cross-brace, that keeps it from opening too much, is a frayed old red rope.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Quick observations on the university

I spent an hour between lunch and a meeting and noticed a couple of things:

1. There is no restaurant at the university, but there is a cafe. There are restaurants a short walk away, though.

2. There are lots of places to sit outside, but no tables. Somehow this doesn't surprise me.

2b. some of the benches are painted 2x6s on metal frames. About half of those are missing parts of the wood.

3. There is a big, nice grassy area where you can sit and chat with friends.

4. The main walkways are covered, I'm guessing to protect from both sun and rain as both can be nasty.

5. There is a solid dirt-colored stripe around knee height on many of the walls, particularly near classrooms. Apparently a lot of people wait while leaning against the wall with one foot on it as well.

6. Speaking English gets you stares and eavesdroppers (I eavesdrop on other languages in the US, so I'm ok with that). Speaking Arabic gets giggles (although they seem to be surprised ones, so I guess that's a compliment?)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to shower when it's cold in Morocco

Step 1: Ten minutes before you want to shower, move a portable radiator into the bathroom, turn it on, close the door behind you.

Step 2: Do jumping jacks or pushups or run in place for ten minutes to attempt to get hot/sweaty.

Step 3: Go back to bathroom, turn on water all the way to hot and let it try to get warm.

Step 4: Take off all four layers of clothes and put towel in a place easily reached from shower, preferably without opening door/curtain. All while water is running.

Step 5: Water is probably warming up. Enter shower, check to be sure, and start showering.

Step 6 (optional): If you are crazy like me and still concerned about saving water, crouch down when the water is off to conserve body heat.

Step 7: Grab towel without opening shower curtain/door and losing the beautiful warmth. Dry off as much as possible in shower without getting towel all wet.

Step 8: Jump out, throw jeans onto radiator for the 30 seconds it takes to get on other clothes.

Step 9: Put on jeans, turn off and unplug radiator. Close the door behind you in the hope of keeping some of the warmth.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hijab + haircolor = ?

I'm terrible at remembering to write real things. I keep meaning to... and then I don't. I even will sometimes start to write by hand away from my computer. And then lose it or forget or get wrapped up in something else. So here is something I just saw instead, for a little bite of flavor.

Setting: Mostly-empty grocery store (2ish on a Friday afternoon - people are almost all eating couscous with their families and/or praying.)

I am standing at the one open cash register, waiting to buy my stuff, and a girl comes and stands behind me. She is wearing a store vest and a hijab (headscarf). Her one item that she's purchasing is hair dye.

It made me wonder - is she going to dye her hair? No reason that she couldn't, but why since she covers it? Maybe it's like the people who get hidden tattoos. Or maybe it's for someone else? Who knows...


Saturday, October 12, 2013

.... In less than 80 days!

If you were planning a trip around the world in an air balloon I hope you started a day or two ago. That way you could get to Austin the same day as me!

The first six weeks here I was focusing on my original study plan: high school seniors. I tried different ways to find them and kept coming up short. So now I've switched to just young people. There are lots around. University students or working or unemployed. Luckily I already know some of those! And then they know others. So that is a start. I'm going to record two later this week, and then the hope is that they will tell their friends and some of them will agree to do it. You see, I only have 78 (or is it 77??) days left, and my original goal was to get AT LEAST 20 pairs of people recorded with a hope of 40 pairs. My current tally of zero is woefully short of that.

Funnily enough I have done better on the younger front so far as well, haha. Finally figured out how to get into the high schools. I have always heard that going out and doing original research is slower than you expect, but it's been SOOO much slower that I couldn't believe it.

So, I shall count down the days as motivation to do as much as possible, work my butt off and count down the pairs left that I need. And that way  when I make it back home I can celebrate the new year as well as having all of my dissertation data! Now, I think I shall make another attempt at cake baking on the stove top...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Photo Fail!

We went on a lovely day hike to Azrou. It could have been longer, but it was still fun. David took lots of pictures. Or thought he did. At our last stop I realized I hadn't taken a picture of him and asked for the camera. After taking one picture I noticed a message flashing on the screen - "No Memory Card."

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fish. AND chips. Because morocco. [Guest post!]

From my house guest, with a few minor additions from me. Should have posted it 6 days ago when he wrote it!

And so, the second chapter of my visit to morocco begins with a long, slow train ride from rabat, location of chapter 1, to assilah, coastal town just south of tangier. there Beki and I strolled the streets of the medina, this one distinctive for both the white and blue painted walls of their Spanish heritage, as well as the annual ritual of inviting artists to paint murals on the blank facades, resulting in an outdoor gallery that lasts four seasons. Of course beki chose a lovely town to initiate me to morocco with, and the breeze is cool and intermittent from the ocean only feet away. We wander the alleys and discover sites seen for hundreds of years. the guys in the stores aren't pushy at all, so we can actually look at stuff without feeling like we're being interrogated, which is a plus.

Our second night in town, we find casa garcia, a Spanish seafood joint that wouldn't have looked out of place in Galveston, and had some Spanish omelette and filet of sole. Beki taught me how to properly debone a little fish, as it was served whole, and so now I know! she herself had learned in France or Tunisia, and so life's journey of learning continues. The appetizer for the meal was a version of fish and chips that would cause most pause, we think. It was chips, as in thinly sliced potato, with some kind of long sliced smelt or sardine draped over the top. Rather than the English fried cod and French fries of the same name, this one is literally - fish. And chips.

Second day we took a grand taxi ('grand' meaning in morocco - recycled mercedes Benz from the 70s) down the road to a beach south of town, including a kilometer of dirt 4x4 trail in said taxi. Well it was either that or the "four heel drive" donkey cart, which is a little slower and unupholstered. As well as not having doors, floor, or a roof. They are hard on their cars here, but do get their value out!. We travel via a street market. Imagine a one lane country road with shade trees along one side. Add people strolling thick among impromptu shops of goods strewn on blankets and sold from the backs of vans, including full furniture sets, hardware, and clothing - groups huddled around particularly interesting deals, mothers with children in tow. Bicycles and wheelbarrows crisscrossing. This went on for a kilometer, at least. Cafes with grilled fish, open air meat, turkey, I think, dangling from a wire, flies abuzz. now Add two way thru traffic, like us, in the grand taxi, and the donkey carts, and motorcycles, mostly at a crawl. THAT was the Thursday street market in the country on the way to the beach.

The beach is lovely, straight, clean and empty on the Atlantic coast. It sits wedged into the feet of a hilly outcrop that is serenely free of any development not shaped like a grass hutch, though the sandy rutted road down the way could use some grading or drainage work to cut back on the washout sections. I'd not want to drive there in a rain for fear of accidentally parking upside down a hundred feet below. A half dozen little tent bodegas built out of, it looks like, whatever floated up on the beach today are set up for the post peak season straggling tourist crowd. And all silently fight for the thirty total gringos now wandering the surf. Paleys in sagging faded bathing suits who surely must go from one beach to another in their futile and yet seemingly ubiquitous attempt to become tan while also smoking cigarettes by scorning shade. Now plus two, minus the bit about cigarettes, shade, and tans. We picked a forward set of deck chairs situated under a canopy of rebar and hay for some serious relaxing closest to the water, but first need to be properly softened/beaten up by the brisk early fall surf. Heavy crashing Waves about chest and stomach high buffet us about after wading in to the knee deep chilly. Is there such a thing as a light wave when you are trying to stand in it?  Some waves catch us off guard (sneak up on us?) and we happily get knocked on our butts. One older gringo busies himself with pulling up a crab fishing line the locals have set, and gets in to an ongoing discussion, very animated, but sounding to us only like more waves crashing in the crisp September sun and surf.

We laze about and talk, and listen, and are busy doing not much at all. But we are happy and it is calm, but for the noisy earthmoving water. We Walk a bit and see the surf from a different angle then return to our gear, which has been helpfully moved out of reach from the slowly rising tide by our cabana man. A trio of camels employed as tourist photo backdrop can no longer nap head down in the sand, but must stand improbably in the surf runoff and also wait patiently for their blue turbaned minder to come lead them to higher land, lest they get wet. And who has ever heard of a wet camel? They might melt. The sun starts to move a little faster than us, finally, and it's time to eat a little tagine, the cumin heavy chicken stew, with dipping bread and a side of sliced vegetables before leaving. We take turns paying a dollar to hose off (beki suspects the guy who unlocked hers then proceeded to peep at her from the cubicle next door, but what do you do with no proof?) before getting back in the taxi for the climb out to town and the train station, our ride to meknes and chapter three.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pictures!

You can thank T and V for these.

First, let's start with leaving Rabat. I don't know if the main AC at the airport had broken or what, but there were crews installing these standing units here and there. And I'm assuming they were temporary due to the way they were dealing with the excess water - see the bottle? A lady came around to change it about every ten minutes, when it would be half full and starting to get close to spilling out. She had several empties in her hand, so I think she probably just kept walking around, switching out the bottles and emptying them.

Brussels! On the Grande Place (Big Square) that it is known for. Pretty, no?

This is looking at the main belfry from a couple of streets away. I like all of the shops down below, with the buildings above, with the belfry still towering above them all. Apparently that's the typical Flemish style. It's not part of a cathedral or church, they usually aren't, but a kind of watch tower.

The obligatory peeing boy. Can you see him up there?

Belgium is proud of their comics. I'm not quite sure what this one is, but Brussels has painted walls of different ones around the city and they are pretty neat. I like how it keeps the style of the actual face of the building next to it and the windows and all.

Art near outside a design studio right near my hostel.

Cool/creepy statues in a very pretty, calm square with a very big pool. The decoration kind, not the swimming kind.

And the belfry all lit up at night. Super impressive.

Pictures like this remind me that I have actually learned something about how to get a decent shot over my 10 years of traveling. It's not terrible, but what would I want over half of the picture to be the cobblestone square itself instead of the amazing things around it? No wonder some of the random people who have asked me to take their pictures have seemed genuinely happy when they saw the way I took it for them.

Hall of the hostel, where you can see it's an old converted factory. I think the hall is as wide as my room was long. There were 4 beds in the room, 2 regular and one bunk.

I am not sure what this is about, but it looked cool. It is in the arts and museum area.

Look, the waffle has stuff in it! Filled waffles are typical of one city (Liege?? I forget) while other cities have stuff on top. The traditional is just powdered sugar on top, but of course now you can get fruit and chocolate and icecream and even nuts, I think.

Antwerp's Grande Place

Castle near the river in Antwerp, with more modern architecture right across the street.

I thought this statue/fountain was cool. Still Antwerp.

Fries! This accidentally ended up being my dinner that night. I think the guy switched my size up because it cost more than I thought it should, but I couldn't figure out exactly what happened until I saw it. I was too hungry to be thinking straight and catch the jerk in his overcharge, I guess. At least he gave me the big one since I paid for it (even if I couldn't eat it all.)

Super awesome coffee shop! I like how they have the little filter holders ready for up to five cups. It's apparently kind of 'their thing' which made me laugh since that's the way I make it for myself at home. I haven't seen the filter holders in Europe much, though, so I guess it's unique there.

One of two instances of cappuccino art I saw in Belgium. Most of the time the milk was just poured in however.

Bruges! Or Brugge, if you want to go with the Flemish/Dutch name.

I liked these guys holding up the benches. Maybe they are water dragons? Not sure.

A square I found by accident at 5AM on my way home. Turned out it was 2 blocks from my hostel, ha.

And the same square a couple of days later! This was on Saturday, after I wandered through the market and bought myself breakfast, then found a covered terrace from which to sip a coffee and read. It was raining. And wonderful.

Bike path along a canal between Brugge and Damme, a small city nearby. I did a bike tour and it was really fun, despite the rain.

If you enlarge the picture, you can see it says "here is my bank" across the top. And then clearly it really is MINE, since it says bpost.

More Bruges.

Ghent! I stayed in a hotel along the left, and you can see the castle over to the right. Yep, a castle-y castle. Right in the city.

Here is a better view of the castle for you. It looks so American-fairy-tale to me. Square tall part in the middle, round turret-y things around the outside, castle pointy parts and everything. Get an architect if you want the right words.

I have no idea, but found it awesome. And disturbing. Made me think of Le.

I read that you haven't seen Ghent if you haven't seen it at night. They are apparently very proud of their lighting. I thought it was pretty cool myself.

Europe and Africa, trying to touch. They're actually only 14 km (8.7 miles) apart and crazy people swim it for fun.

So there you go, you can't say I never gave you anything.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Vay Cay Shun

So.... what was I doing that made it so I had the opportunity to come back?

I ran away. It was hot, and sticky, and my Arabic classes ended and everyone I knew was going away for two weeks, so I saw my chance, grabbed it with both hands, and ran to a cooler climate. One with chocolate (which they don't do well here) and people who don't stare so much and pork products. Because not having access to things just makes me what them more. I am only human. Like that weekend I went to Malta and had pork with every other meal. I think 7 times in 4 days. But that was after 7.5 months in Tunisia, with just a 2 week jaunt to France to lift my spirits, so I didn't need to go quite so overboard this time.

There are cheap flights from here to many countries in Europe now, so I chose Belgium based on the accessibility as well as the other virtues extolled above. I stayed in two nice hotels (first and last nights) and two pretty nice hostels (but, still, hostels) and enjoyed myself. I got to eat food I chose and walk in the park and read wherever I wanted and dance in the rain and all in whatever clothes I felt like because nobody there cared. And why should they? That's right, they shouldn't.

I started out in Brussels because I could. It was very nice and very international. I should have eaten more Asian food there, and I kept saying that I was going to, but then... I forget. I did meet up with some couch surfers, though. Oh, and one of the European guys in my hostel room stole my electric toothbrush. I have many bad names for them. Or one of the housekeepers. I mean, who steals a toothbrush?? Even an electric one? I had even left the charger in Morocco.... I was so sad to go buy a normal one. Only more annoyed when it cost me over $3.

I also made a day trip to Antwerp (Antwerpen) from there. I had some awesome coffee, and bought a book and a purse and a really cute dress. I really went there to see the old stuff, not to shop, but there was suddenly something so comforting and home-like. And they were unique purchases, so I'm cool with it.

After that, I went to Brugge. Spelled the Flemish way because it's in Flanders and that's the way they prefer. It was very cute, but had a bit of a feel like I imagine you'd find in Colonial Williamsburg or something - real city but very kept to look like it was before, and lots more tourists than actual residents wandering the streets.

Finally, I spent a day in Ghent because I had heard you should really do that. I am glad I got that advice because it was a great city. It had plenty of old stuff, but managed to feel more alive.

By that time I was kind of done with hopping around, but not really looking forward to coming back. Not that it's bad here, but I AM here to work on that big stupid research project that has already been eating my life for years. And I still don't know how to get the participants I need. It's so scary! But, I've got a helper, I'm knocking out the bits that need to be translated, and it should all turn out. Should. I mean, once I put an ad on Facebook saying that I'm PAYING people to just let me record them it should go quickly, right? Right? Please, someone, agree with the woman here.

As I have time (i.e. get bored of my work and want to do something else) I will come and fill you in more on the different cities. Maybe even with pictures if you're extra nice.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Back in Morocco

Someone asked how my trip back was. So I told him. And now he says it needs to be here. But, really? Does it? I mean, if I post that, what about my 9 days spent AWAY?? Do those count for nothing? They certainly count to me! It was great with the cool weather and rain and skirts and parks and relaxing and softer beds. And ham.

But, it's already written, so here you go:
Travel here often has the potential to be crazy, but it's not always. And the worst part was in Belgium before I left. Which sucked because I had made sure to buy my ticket the day before in order to not risk long lines. Like I mentioned, I screwed up the time of the train, and that got me worried, but as soon as I realized it I also reminded myself that I couldn't do shit about it other than get there as quickly as possible. So, I looked on the boards for the train I thought I wanted, and I thought I saw it, but it didn't say it went all the way to the city of the airport. I then got worried over again and went back to the ticket desks, found the one with the shortest line (just a couple people) and asked the girl. They almost all speak English, it's crazy. And super helpful. So she told me to go to Brussels and change there. Awesome. 

Found next train to Brussels, was in 20 minutes, so I went to the platform and started reading. It came, I got on, and then I realized there are THREE stops in Brussels. And I THOUGHT I knew the one I needed. But I just kept reading til we got to Brussels and when I got off I asked the train lady (who was speaking in French when I walked up, but had been in Dutch before that, but spoke to me in great English) and she told me the platform number of what she thought was the next train to the other city and its time - in just over half an hour. I went to look at the boards myself, as she wasn't 100% sure and realized there was another - in two minutes! So I dashed down the stairs to the "find your platform" area, headed one way, realized it was wrong, turned around, and ran for the other platform, hopped on, and got a seat as it was making the "doors closing" noise. Very lucky. 

Then I just had to wait to get to the city of the airport, but I thought I'd made up enough time. The bus from the city to the airport doesn't run constantly, just every half hour (luckily I didn't realize that til I got there) but... who got extra lucky? Yep, there was one leaving just 5 minutes later and people were just starting to board. I grabbed food at the airport, which ended up being lame, but possibly not as lame as the Ryanair food. 

The flight itself was ok. I was sleepy but had the whole row to myself, so I could spread out a bit. And I put on harry potter to relax me. I do that fairly often now. So I dozed and nodded for three hours and got off in Rabat. I saw the sign for the shuttle and a bus out front with the same lame symbol on it, so I asked the information desk and they said, yeah it's 20 dirham (when my dumb ass grand taxi TO the airport had been 150!) and I happily went to pay my fare. It only stopped twice, once in the other big city near Rabat, and once next to the train station. Perfect. 

Went in, got a first class ticket (people talk more, but in a good way maybe because they usually have compartments or maybe because chatty people like it better? or have more money?) and went to the platform indicated on the sign. Noticed the train number was different, but if this one was headed the same place, why not? Well, because it had had a one hour delay before, that's why not! As in, there was probably something wrong with the stupid thing. We got a couple of stops away and stopped. For too long. And sat there. At one point another train was a couple of tracks away and we started to notice people running by outside. And we're like, "ummm, what?" so someone went to go check and came back and said the other train was headed the same place and leaving sooner, and he was going. 

I grabbed my stuff and cautiously headed toward a door. I wanted to talk to a train person first. Indeed, another benefit of first class is that you're likely to find a train person nearby. And the guy said, yes, that one's leaving first, go for it if you want, and come back here if you miss it! Sounded like a good plan, so I went with several others. Even was faster than them and found a seat, lol. After that, it was just a matter of waiting like on a normal train. 

Oh, but I was a little concerned that my host fam may not have known. See, I realized in Rabat that my phone wanted a pin code that I had left in Meknes. I asked some people probably younger than me in the station restaurant (where I got juice and a snack) if there was a public phone and the girl said probably somewhere outside. But she couldn't remember the word for outside in French and asked the guy in Arabic. When I told her I understood she was stunned and they were both amused, and I used the guy's phone to send a text to my host mom and just hoped it would work. Plus then I ended up being an hour or so late. But, extra luck, and they had been at my new place, then went over to the park in front of their place, which is also in front of the train station, and noticed there were lots of people coming out and then saw me! yay!! so they came over, she called my name, I was thrilled, and we went home, they fed me, and I slept on the horribly hard bed again and remembered what it's like to be back. But at least I wasn't traveling anymore.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Taza!

I started this post for you, and then didn't finish it. So, here it is now, and I will finish it... sometime.

So, I just got back from a long weekend with my host mom’s extended family. It started out as supposed to be just for Eid, the big holiday at the end of Ramadan, but then it turned into Eid PLUS a wedding.

Let me start from the beginning. Well, but without every little detail. We took a 3.5 hour train with my favorite 2 year old to get there, and our first stop was the grocery store. It’s a big chain, probably of European origin, that is sort of Walmart-like in the fact that it has about everything, but it’s more focused on food. So put yourself in the grocery store on the eve of Thanksgiving or Christmas, and that’s about right. But add the whole family because apparently sending one or two people to pick up what you need just wouldn’t do. You need kids to get lost or nearly run-over by shopping carts to make it a more fun experience. Yay? We got what we needed and at least some of us got out of the way to wait while the ones with money did the checking out. While that was going on I talked to Host Uncle 1, who said that his wife was light like me (there’s one word for light-haired, light-skinned, blue/light brown eyed) and I didn’t think much of it. I did ask how old his wife was and was told 24. WHAAA??? Was my thought. Because he looked much older to me. But I’m bad at ages here.

So, we pile into the car (two kids in the ‘far back’ with the groceries and no seats) and continue on our way. My Host Mom did tell me that they live on a farm, but I guess I didn’t think about that meant they were ten minutes OUTSIDE the city. Not just from the center, but really out of it. Everyone was hanging around, waiting, and so I got to be introduced and probably heard names but didn’t even register that, and was definitely told ‘this is my sister, this is my brother’s wife,’ etc. And was told to come and sit.

There was a lot of that. Sit! A bit more polite, maybe ‘have a seat!’ But constantly. Because I was a guest and guests should be comfortable, and that means sitting. Although this guest is TERRIBLE at sitting still for extended periods and had just been on a train for 3.5 hours where she…. sat.  But, whatever, I tried very hard and was pretty good at sitting for the first 2.5 days. I started to rebel a bit and stand after that, but even that was hard because someone else would walk into the room and be like, ‘have a seat!’ and I’d have to say no thanks over again, and eventually someone would literally bring me a chair from another room as if the ones available were the problem. I tried to explain that I like not sitting all the time, but either I was unclear, or the concept was too weird. Hard to say. But I know all of the offers of seats were well-meant, so that’s something.


It’s funny to be able to half-understand what’s going on. I mean, I could often understand things, and I wasn’t usually uncomfortable, but I couldn’t understand what was going on fast enough to really participate unless something was addressed to me. With all of the sitting in the room with women, there was LOADS of chatter and I caught enough words to not glaze over too often, but not enough to actually add anything or participate.

Monday, August 5, 2013

4 weeks already?

You got a bit of an update yesterday, but considering that I wrote it 2 weeks ago I'm not sure it counts. So here's some more! It is almost the end of Ramadan. I've had four Moroccans tell me that "there's none of it left." Eïd dates are determined by citing of the moon with the naked eye, so at this point we know it's probably Thursday or Friday. Probably. But I'm hoping for Wednesday, haha. 


Last weekend I went to Tangiers with my host mom to visit her sister. It's different because it is really RIGHT next to Spain, and on the Atlantic/Mediterranean. Pretty cool location. There are ferries to Spain that apparently take about 45 minutes. there is a very nice beach there, and I walked along in the water holding up my skirt so I could really be in the surf. Before going I decided against taking my swimsuit because I wasn't going with anyone else who was going to swim, and that made it sound like less fun. I think it would have been nice, for a few minutes, but overall it would have been awkward. Normally the beach is really crowded, but because it was Ramadan it was mostly just kids. All of the adults are fasting (food and water) during the day, so they don't want to be really active or out in the sun. That was on Sunday.

On Saturday, the day we got there, we mostly stayed inside with the fasting family during the hot part of the day. There was a lovely two year old who was slightly sick and.... anyone who has been around a two year old who is sick enough to feel bad, but not enough to just sleep and cry will know how much fun that is. She is also the least communicative kid I've met that age. I don't know if it was b/c there were two weird girls in her house or what, but she said very little and when she did talk it was mostly "mama." She made some yelly sounds, too, and laughed. (Side note: All little kids I've been around here are seriously confused by me. Not sure if it's looks, accent, or both. Probably both.)

A couple of hours before dinner, we went out with my host mom and a third sister and walked through the city, saw a popular street market, and then my host mom made sure we had written down the name of the street we were staying on and told us how to get to the old city. I had brought my camera to Tangiers, but NOT out that day. Oops. The old city was really different, it looks like it was much more updated after the Moorish/Jewish expulsion from Spain. The Fes medina is super traditional with really narrow 'streets' and basic buildings. I think there are laws that make it have to stay the same, since it's a UNESCO world heritage site. But in Tangiers there were lots of balconies, white-washed buildings, and much wider streets. The stores were bigger, too, and I have no idea how to explain that one! After dinner we went out again to see the streets at night. They were very crowded, and EVERYTHING was open. We actually went down the the beach, too, which was cool to see at night. Of course I didn't have my camera because in crowded streets at night where I already stand out... I don't want to have anything that looks interesting. But there is one picture of it! In my host mom's phone...

It was a nice city, and nice to see, but I don't feel the urge to go back. We'll see. There are so many other parts of this country that I haven't been to yet!!

I guess the last thing is that my language class is ok, For the first three weeks I had one teacher who was new to it all, but did well with what she was given. It was ok, but we really stuck to the lesson plans, which are made to be approachable to first year students. Meaning that we went through about 10 pages an hour. I mean, I got a good bit out of it because I have some idea how to learn a language. Then this last week I got two more teachers added to the mix, since they had finished up their own classes (the students went back home) which was helpful but a little disorganized. And then on Friday I found out that my original teacher was temporary and that I will just have the other two for the last two weeks. Pretty nice because they are good teachers, but they were also both in Austin with me this year, lol.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Fes, just for a day

I forgot to tell you about Fes! I went there two weeks ago. I don't know why I didn't, other than that I was tired at first and then... who knows. I'll have a post for you about Tangiers tomorrow so that you're not overloaded with info. Also, anyone related to me should thank #6 because writing to him on Sundays is what reminds me to write here, too! Send him a postcard. Or pictures. Or both.

Well, Fes was pretty nice. Partly because it was a good reminder of how chill Meknes is in comparison, and partly because we were just somewhere different. I was officially more or less the tour guide, and I only got us seriously turned around once, but even then once we walked down the street I knew right where we were and was able to correct. We just had a less pretty 10 minutes of our walk than it should have been. We walked from the train station to the old city, which was really nice. Partly because it avoided obnoxious taximen and partly because it took us past interesting things. Plus it was really nice weather in the morning. Really, they day in general was pretty good by way of weather, but in the afternoon in the medina it got a bit sweaty. I was feeling sick, but really didn't want to sit around at home, so I was stubborn and went out.

So the first cool thing we saw was a mall. They were building a Carrefour right by where my school was when I was here before, and now it is done. Although it is not JUST a Carrefour -- it is a full-on, French-style commercial center with lots of FRENCH brand stores inside. Crazy! Although at 10:30AM only the Carrefour was open. That's ok, though, it was cool to look at and we really didn't need to go in the stores. We did go into Carrefour and the two others I was with bought peanut butter. I bought a French-style folder because they keep giving me papers at school, but I have nowhere to put them. And dried apricots and a thing of bread (that one was like 18 cents) because I really wasn't feeling well still.

Then, back off down the road! Past the odd little Coranic school behind its closed gates and past the king's palace where we took some pictures (me, being brilliant, left my camera at home again. When will I learn??) Then we walked through "Fes Jdid" which means 'new Fes' but it's actually the area that was built largely by the Merinids over 800 years ago. Yep, that's the 'new' timescale around here. The shops were starting to open up, and we saw all of the pretty, pretty local, traditional clothes, as well as some random stuff. Then I took us on the wrong turn and we missed a pretty garden, oops. But then we got to the Blue Gate, which is where I meant to go and the one closest to the two main Souqs, or markets. We walked down the big one all the way to the Karaouine Mosque, which is argued to be the world's oldest university. Around there is where I start to get lost, and I admitted it, but I still accidentally got us to a little open area where guys still do traditional metal work so it has a nice constant ringing or cutting and pounding, and near where the tanned leather comes out, so there is a donkey or horse laden with fresh leather every 5-10 min. Apparently donkeys and horses and mules count as pedestrians. There was also a small café there, serving during Ramadan, so we helped out his business by buying water, sitting down and having a snack. I had actually brought my own water, due to the yucky tummy I did not want to be in desperate need of it. Of course, that also mean that we got to watch everything going on in the square so that I can tell you about it now.

Then we headed back, and I was able to steer us through a nice covered market area that has lots of fabric and traditional clothes, and then we passed by a dagger shop and one of my friends had decided earlier that he needed one, but the first guy he had talked to had wanted too much for the one he liked. So he got this one, and the guy selling it looked vaguely annoyed, and in my book I think that's a sign of successful bargaining in Fes. They are known for always telling people way higher than it should be - apparently even other Moroccans whose accents tip off that they're not from there - so if they are willing to sell it to you for a certain price that you prefer, even if they look annoyed, I don't feel bad for them. We also talked to a few other vendors in different parts, and it was nice to be able to throw them off of their English or French greetings by all of us speaking Arabic decently. Maybe not fantastically on my part, but whatevs. Plus the guy with us has a super good accent in Syrian Arabic so he's much more convincing as "don't mess with me." And male. Because that makes a big difference here. Then I got us back to our starting place and both of my "guid-ees" were impressed. They don't know that it was part luck, and partly that I kinda recognized certain areas and knew they would take me SOMEWHERE I knew, even if not the exact path I was hoping for. But even that comes with having traipsed through the old city, either exploring and getting 'lost' on purpose with one girl or following on others' shopping trips just to be out and about. Oh, and at the train station I had orange/apple juice with ginger. I thought about an avocado-based smoothie (delicious!!), but didn't want to find out if that would aggravate my stomach.

All in all, it was very nice, considering that I had started the day not sure I should leave the house due to stomach issues. Really, it was quite good to get out and do something. Plus I got a little lucky that I wasn't any more sick and actually made it through the day. Then when we got home there was still time for a nap before dinner and to study afterward!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Made it through the first week!

First week of classes. Not first week of Ramadan yet. Only on the fifth day of that excitement. So, things here are good! I have private lessons, which means that the instructor and I sit across the table from each other and I ask questions about things usually in the packets that they give me, and we practice conjugations and mini-conversations and vocabulary, and then I go home and in theory review it all, but there are no grades for me so I do whatever I feel like with the language. No, it is not wasting time, but sometimes I'd rather listen to a song and try to make out the lyrics than write sentences about people being sick (the current unit theme.) Believe me, with my lovely research hanging over my head, I am plenty motivated! Besides, words for being sick in Morocco are useful when our pale sad stomachs are not accustomed to their foods and water. I've been able to keep mine ok and functioning, so don't worry, it's just kind of ok that it's Ramadan since I'm less hungry than usual. And then everyone else is a bit tired, too, so my tiredness from not eating quite as much is not noticed.

This morning I went out early and wandered through the old city with two others. Let me tell you, 'early' during Ramadan is the way to see it if you really just want to see the city and not the people or things to buy. It was even beautifully cool out! It was 8:15 by the time we got down there, and there were very few people around. Enough that it didn't seem super sketch (like I'm guessing 6:15 would have) but not so many that they were all yelling at us to buy things. Though I don't know if this city is like that, maybe it's not. But we walked for about 2 hours and by then the sun had decided it was time to actually beat down on us and we headed home.

So what could we see? Mosques that are older than our country, houses that are the same, lots of scrawny cats. I was brilliant and left my camera at home. I do useful things like that. We mostly just wanted to see what there is to see. There was a mausoleum where someone important to Islam is buried. Then a nice part of the old city where the shops were just starting to open up. We talked a bit to two women and a man working at a dessert store (desserts are very important here) and they looked at us like we were 3-headed aliens. All for speaking in Arabic. It is always hilarious that people can't get around the idea that other people can speak their language, even if just a little bit. I'm sure that #6 understands.

I also went out last night for the first time after Iftar (break-the-fast meal) and got to see the city really 'normal' for the first time. Our family doesn't go out much then, so we haven't had a chance to just head and explore. Luckily, there are two of us girls here, so we are allowed to leave then. If it were just me, I would have to find another person to rescue me from my "single female=target"ness. It's ridiculous in a way because if they would just insist that women on their own are NOT targets, then I wouldn't be one. I mean, in Austin I may not go to any neighborhood I feel like on my own at night, but I wouldn't go there in the day, either. And I'm not quite sure where more than one of those neighborhoods is, really.

Where was I? Oh, going out! Yes, we went toward a very lively part of the city and met with a friend for coffee. COFFEE!!! YAY! It's kind of hard to get coffee during Ramadan. As in, very hard unless you make it yourself. Very few places serve food or drink during the day. And, really, why would they? No one but tourists would buy it, and Ramadan is not a very touristy time! So we got to sit on the street (had a guy with us, so we attracted fewer looks) and watch people pass and see what the city looks like all busy. I bet it's busier during Ramadan nights than other times because that is when EVERYONE is suddenly like, "yay, it's cool enough to go outside, and I have the energy for it!" But that's just my take on things. I definitely liked that area - stores (food, books, clothes), cafés, people.

But I have to admit that I'm going to start a Ramadan count down. Because, really, I don't fast and as fun as it is to have empty streets in the morning and full streets at night it would be nice to be able to drink water while walking around. Maybe I'll call it motivation to learn the language faster? Yeah, let's call it that.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Made it!

Getting here was the most messy, ridiculous travel situation imaginable. I shall abbreviate it slightly. 

Got to the airport 2.5 hours before take-off. This airport was about the size of the Austin Greyhoud terminal. Which means, just about any bus terminal. There was NOTHING there. There is one flight that boards/leaves at a time. Half an hour later, they started checking in peoples' bags. Ryanair is friendly and make their money by charging for bags. Well, Ramadan is about to start so I was traveling with TONS of Moroccan families heading home. I saw no less than 3 French dads kiss their Moroccan wife and kids goodbye as they headed off for the holy month. I think the flight was easily 1/4th kids.

Ok, back to the bags. So with everyone going home for a month, loads of people wanted to take lots of stuff. But you can only have 20kg (44lbs) as the max for one bag, and if you want a second it's 15kg. After that, it's 20 euro ($28) per bag. Ouch. And where do you get to weigh your bags? Only once you are at the front of the line. This leads to many, many frustrated people trying to figure out what they really need, or trying to redistribute stuff in their bags. This leads to everyone else behind going "what's wrong with you people, don't you know how to read? Get on with it, move out of the way, hurry up!" And it's true that the system was ridic, they really should have just had a scale at the end of the line so that you could get out of the way if needed before reaching the counter. I remembered their brilliance from being in France before, and had weighed my bags this morning. And knew that one was 1kg over, but was hoping they'd be ok with it.

So, 1.5 hours later I finally make it to the front of the line. And put on my heavier bag. And their stupid scale said it was THREE kilos over instead of 1. I was shocked and annoyed. I told the lady I had weighed it that morning and it wasn't that much, but of course she wasn't having any of it. Then she had me add my second bag, and told me that it was also too much. And in my head I said "WHAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTT???" but I was so tired from sleeping just 5.5 hours (packing my bags, writing the last postcards) that I didn't think clearly. So I believed her and assumed their scale was off, and went to figure out what I could leave. 

Luckily there was one scale that you could use to re-weigh your bags as you were redistributing. So I kept weighing and shifting things around. Then at one point I realized that my smaller bag was at 10kg. As in, 5 less than my limit. And I had NOT taken out that much stuff. At this point, I started swearing at the lady in my head. Profusely. And stuck with the obnoxious new arrangement of my bags (because it was much less convenient) and went back to her. And, oh, look, your bags are all under the limit! How amazing! (More swearing at her in my head.) I did be sure to tell her that I didn't even need to take anything out in the end. Helpful, dear woman.

So then I went through the SLLLOOOOWWW security line. Apparently in Morocco you don't need to pay attention to liquids or electronics when going through the line. Which meant that lots of people didn't. The lady in front of me explained it to me. She grew up in France, but is Moroccan and lives in Rabat now. The teeny tiny airport did not have a very efficient security check to begin with, and then they kept having to argue with people who wanted to bring more than 3 oz of honey, or water, or liquidy snacks for the kids. I finally got through (and had forgotten that I had a small applesauce, but they didn't see it, so that was a nice bonus snack on the plane) and then had to do customs to leave. The guy was confused about why I didn't have a visa. Luckily the other dude was like "Americans don't need them for less than 3 months." I hope he was new? I guess Americans don't come through there often.

Finally, to the boarding area. Where I got directly in line because the flight was scheduled to depart then, but with how slowly everything had been going there was no chance of that. Got out to the airplane. Found an empty spot in the overhead bins for my bag. Sat down. Waited. And waited. And people kept trickling out. And then some more. We couldn't figure out why after a bit. Then a family of 5 came out. Sucks to be them was the general impression, as there were no seats together. But they made some room and the parents stayed with the kids (the youngest was a lap child.) Then we kept waiting. And waiting. 3 more came. More waiting. 8 more. Whaaa??? Where will THEY go? No idea, but they made it work. I believe it was then 12:15, when our scheduled departure was 11:30. 

The pilot made an announcement in ENGLISH that we missed our takeoff time by too much and may have to wait almost two more hours, but hopefully not that long. I don't think more than 4 other people on that plane understood it, b/c I was the only one outraged. Then after 5 min they tried to explain it in French, but the mic was too quiet. Then somebody came on in Arabic and THAT got people riled up. Can you imagine a plan, 1/4 kids, waiting for about 2 hours total?? Talk about a disaster. And at lunch time. I had assumed I'd be able to buy lunch at the airport, so I didn't have anything with me (b/c there was nothing to buy at the airport.) Then they tried to calm people in French when the lady who was in the security line with me storms up to the front and starts yelling in good French Mama fashion. And about 5 minutes later they tell us all to sit down because they found a departure window. She definitely decided it was her doing, and I'll let her think that because all that matters is that we left.

It was super cute because when the plane took off, and gave that roller coaster feeling, all the little kids cheered. When we landed they all yelled in surprise because it was a bit hard, but then cheered again.

The airport in Fes was actually really easy. The taxis there have posted, set rates, which is awesome because you always get ripped off those places. Then I went to the train station, bought a ticket for the next train to Meknes (40 min away = $2.50, but no AC and sometimes crowded.) and finally got to eat. First bought a delicious fresh-squeezed OJ because I could. Another $2.50, haha. Then had a sandwich for lunch in the mildly ACed 'fancy' restaurant there, that we used to turn our noses up at 2 years ago for being overpriced. After being in France, I was fine with it. I mean, it's at the train station after all! 

Then to the train! Got loads of help from people getting on and off the train, then down and up the stairs at the main station in Meknes. A girl who looked about my age was the one who took pity that time, and was surprised when I spoke to her in Arabic. Then she asked if I spoke French and we talked for a minute as we walked. Then I asked her if there was a trick to getting a taxi for a good rate and she just asked a guy. He told her less than half of what the institute had told me should be the max, so major win there! Turned out to be $2.50 again, come to think of it.  She actually told him it was a lot, and not a nice thing to do to foreigners, lol. 

Finally, got to the institute, met a bunch of people, and my host mom came to get me! I am writing this from the double bed I will be sleeping on. There is another American here for 3 more weeks, from UT as well, and we're sharing a room. She has her own bed, no worries. I am super exhausted from the heat (like 95 when I arrived) but the family (just the parents again!) seems really nice. And I am trying to wipe all of the rust off of my Arabic. We'll see how it goes!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Accro-branche

I've never done a ropes course in the US. I've heard about them. Team-building, fun, up in the trees wandering around on tottery rope and beam bridges. A friend here suggested that we all go ziplining near Lyon. Ziplining near the city??? That sounds awesome! So, off we went to France Aventures. Which, it turns out, is mostly rope courses. On steroids. Possibly while taking speed. With some ziplining thrown in, yes. The friendly little squirrel guy is so happy doing it, see? (Note: all pics are links to their original pages since I was brilliant and brought my camera.... with my memory card still in my computer. At least I realized it after two attempted pics.) http://www.france-aventures.com/index.php/fr/nos-parc-fr/lyon

It's up on a hill, and does have an awesome view like that. So, once we were there, I was still a bit confused. See, I was picturing something like this: http://www.saferoller.com/medias/Pictures/outdoor-artificial-trails/Saferoller_outdoor_mast_ropes_course_belay_saferoller.jpg. Up in the air, with a solid footing, even if it would be tough for someone afraid of heights. And the little kid/beginner course is fun and welcoming, with stuff like this: http://www.loisirs.fr/photo/activite/520/france-aventures-lyon-3.jpg and this http://www.123sejours.com/gestion/indigestimg/listesej/listesej7735/Accrobranche.JPG

It turns out, though, that those things aren't super stable. And sometimes the planks or ROUND log/branches don't always look in good condition: http://www.lyonpoche.com/cg_media/lieu/2521/images/600/1270218375418.jpg But then you quickly get to things like the tightrope. When I mentioned it to my host dad, he was like, "oh, so you walk on one cable, while holding the other above your head?" No, no, I wish. In fact, you walk on one wobbly cable while holding onto another wobbly cable NEXT TO YOU. Yeah, so when you start to lose your balance (as if I had any to start with) you are either going to fall and find out how it feels for the harness to catch you, or you get to fight leaning back and forth with the side cable, looking like a crazy. This doesn't quite capture it, but it's the one: http://tinyurl.com/mkz5f79

And there's stuff like this tunnel: http://www.encyclopedie-gratuite.fr/Definition/nature/image/accrobranche-tunnel.jpg Looks nice, right? Yeah. Kinda. But it's 30 feet in the air and wobbly, and is kinda fun at first. But... umm... how do I get to the next one. Ok, gap that gets wider as I lean out traversed. Then the second. and now.... platform, please? Get closer? I'm small enough that I just turned around and stuck my feet out first and pulled myself up holding onto the cable. I could just see a repeat of kindergarten when I tried to grab the last bar and landed on my head. Only instead of falling into the gravel, I would have smacked my head on the wooden platform and been bleeding, dangling from a cable (safely, yes) next to the tree.

In the middle of the last, hardest course we lost one of our group. Here: http://www.le-lyonnais.org/_uploads/tourismeweb-img/sitraACT422793_accrobranche-parc-yzeron-aventure.JPG They don't show that there is a trapeze that you have to hold onto and then you zip like a human fly for 50 feet and smack into this rope wall. You know what a PAIN rope walls are? Especially when there is nothing tethering the bottom, allowing them to swing freely as you struggle up them? Too much for our runner who will now start working on push ups as well. The nice boy who works there and had a good time laughing at us a LOT jumped impressively to grab onto the rope wall thing and climbed up past her, to grab her hand and help her up to the platform. Impressive. I want to jump up there like that!

Ugh, and I can't find a picture of the smaller rope wall, the one that WAS attached on the bottom. Why? Because you basically just jump into it. Your jump is 'guided' by a rope that doesn't have enough tension on it to actually SWING you, it just leads you as you fall, SMACK, into the rope wall. Um, thanks?

I don't know if you can see this one well: http://tinyurl.com/kdmevaz The lovely young man is walking by putting his foot through the bottom of those round-topped.... handles?? that are each suspended at the bottom of a rope. About 3 feet apart. Left, right, left, right. So you either get to kick at the next one and hope your foot goes in it, or you work on your balance and leg strength by letting go of the rope keeping the back leg straight while leaning forward and grasping at the next, hoping to catch it to then move up the back foot. It was tricky, but we all made it.

I can't find the pic of the last really hard part, where we lost another of our team. Four rope walls, unsecured, on opposite sides of the safety cable, that you had to go back and forth between and use a LOT of arm strength to hold on and move yourself forward. Let's just say that he lost strength and the poor boy who rescued the girl had to spend 20 minutes or so trying different things and eventually lowered him to the ground.

After ziplining twice for the grand finale, we then got some delicious ice cream to replace all of the important calories we lost during the previous 3 hours.

K, I know that was a lame ending, but I got tired. And I don't even have my own pictures!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Un leçon de café

It's amazing how much you can learn when you just ask questions. Today I was in a café with some others who wanted ice cream and I noticed that they had on their menu "café colombie - 100% Arabica." It also cost $1.30 more than their usual espresso. So of course I had to ask what it was. Then he told me it was pure Arabica. Now, I'm pretty sure that this is more or less standard in the US (or I never pay attention - entirely likely) so I asked what the difference was. And got a short history of coffee. Here is my retelling of his info.

You see, coffee is like wine: there are different varieties of the bean. There is Arabica, which is all aroma, and Robusta, which is all acid. Normally, coffees are mixed - up to half Robusta [he didn't say why, but I think it's partly price.] Now, when you have a good, 100% Arabica, then it is all aroma and more likely to be good.

But that's not all that matters in a coffee. You also have to pay attention to the roasting process. Too little and you don't have enough flavor, too much and it's burned, no good. Then to the beans themselves - the best coffees will have full beans (and here he got some out to show me) where the cheap kinds that businesses give employees (his description) will be all broken up. The full beans are more evenly roasted and will have a better flavor. For his espresso, he prefers a mix.

Then you have to pay attention to how you actually make it. First, your machine has to be kept in good condition and he makes sure that he's the only one to service his machine. In this area they have hard water, so they have a water softener installed before it even reaches the machine. Then the water temperature (at least for espresso) should be 80-85º C (175-185 F) and he makes sure to test his water in his machine at least once a week. [Interesting that it's so much below boiling!] After that, be careful how you grind it. Grind it too big and the water can't extract all of the goodness. Grind it to small and it becomes burned [over-extracted, I think, is our term] and bitter. When you get an espresso, you should look at it. The top should be a nice, foamy hazelnut color and should stick a bit to the sides of the cup and not change color when it does so. That means you did it right.

Finally, many cafés and restaurants here serve coffee with a bit of chocolate. He doesn't because he would rather charge for good coffee than mediocre coffee with a bit of chocolate, which is typically bad anyway. Be sure not to eat the chocolate first if you are in one of these places. If you do, you will have the taste of the chocolate on your palate and you won't be able to taste what the coffee actually tastes like.

And it was a nice espresso, at least. I mean, it would have to be after that.

But do you know where coffee comes from? [Yes, we did.] And how it was discovered? A herder was taking his goats to pasture and knew that the sheep normally had a nap during the hottest part of the day. One day he took them to pasture near bushes with red berries and the goats went wild, eating the berries, and then all afternoon they were running everywhere and didn't take a nap. The herder didn't think too much of it, but the next day went somewhere else. The following day he went back to the place that the goats had gone wild and noticed that they were all enjoying the berry bushes. Then he tasted one himself and got to experience the caffeine first-hand. Thus coffee was discovered. [And as unlikely as that sounded, I just looked it up and found that same story repeated many other places!]

After all of the stories he said that we should come back and we could help him with English while he helped us with French. I took a gamble based on looks and said I already spoke French, but if he spoke Arabic, maybe. He was born in France, but does speak some Arabic. I doubt I'll be back for lessons, but I will certainly be back for coffee!

Monday, January 7, 2013

The best-laid plans...

Here we are, at the Hong Kong airport. At least they are kind enough to give us free wifi. Unlike our last hotel. I mean, seriously? Who doesn't include that in 2013??

Last night, we took a lot of time to carefully pack our bags so that I can head to WA for a few days before classes start, and my partner in crime can head home to return to work. We get to the airport today, and put our two bags to check onto the little weighing belt, no problem, then she saw the size of my carry-on (full of everything I'll need in WA since my ticket is actually to home, so I am bailing on the last leg of it.) "I'm sorry, this one is too heavy, you'll need to move some things to another bag or carry on a different bag." My only thought: "NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!" for some reason, my tired shocked brain did not think to ask how much too heavy it was. We had absolutely zero room in our other bags, we filled every bit to make sure we could take everything. Plus, what would I do in WA with less stuff? I guess I could've stolen clothes from someone there.

Well, you can tell that our solution was not to shuffle items. When you clear customs in the US, you do it at the port of entry - San Francisco this time. Which is where I will change itineraries and continue on to WA. So I should at the very least be able to see my bag and re-pack things there. We'll see how it goes. Otherwise, I will have fun with boys' clothes and no presents for people :)

Our last day was nice. We found a post office, bought stamps, wrote and mailed postcards, bought final presents for people, and the. Went out to an area we hadn't seen at the Western end of the tram line. They don't even have the subway out there yet. The trams are cool, though. I need to make sure I have a ride from the airport... More later, maybe!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Malls and people and food

I was so busy before we left that I didn't think too much about what Hong Kong might be like. It's crazy, but really what I've noticed most so far is SO MUCH SHOPPING. Obviously Jon is not here for that, and who knows if he even notices it. His current area is pretty far north (google it if you haven't yet) so I bet it's different up there.

Today we made it up to Kowloon Tong to drop off the 5 pounds or so of stuff I had accumulated for him. And that's forgetting the postcards (noooo - I just wanted to give people a hope to be answered this century!) It's a super nice area. Their mall has an ice skating rink. That may just be for winter, who knows. I met Sister Kesler, who's been here for 17 months with her husband. I really wonder how often their kids get "whatever you say, Kesler," but I didn't ask. She said that Jon is always cheerful and brightens her day when he comes into the mission home. It's actually in the same building as the ward (or stake?) building, but has a different entrance. She gave me a guide that someone put together about things to do in Hong Kong. There is one mention of shopping - that the whole city is basically a giant mall. It's nice to have another source of other stuff to do, and we've actually already done a lot of their suggestions.

 I hope that Jon enjoys all of the things we left, especially the silly ones. They really do have loads of  Western things in the stores - Miracle whip, coke, Oreos, bread, pasta and pasta sauce, chocolates, cookies, Ferrero rocher and even...... Almond Roca. They are easier to find here than in Texas!! Expensive, but available. So when he says they can get 'everything' here, you still don't need to believe him, but it's enough that I bet he's not dying for any foods from home.

I have been amazed by the consumerism. Tonight we saw a 1 carat diamond. And a 3. And 5. And 8. And 10. Yes, 10, it was ginormous and heart-shaped. There are jewelry stores EVERYWHERE and they are proud of their diamonds. David was tall enough to read the price tag on the 8 carat one, if you guess it right you win.... Something, I don't know.

We also had dinner at a really tasty dim sum place.  We left absolutely stuffed, it was delicious. I think the hardest part about deciding what to eat here is just narrowing it down since we can't have it all. I also left Jon some money to go out to eat because sister Kesler said they can go pretty much wherever on p-day, the only limitation would be budget. And I don't even think Seattle has so many good, easy food options. But I could be wrong.