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), caf├ęs, 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!