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


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!