Monday, March 18, 2013

Morocco Days 1 & 2

Hola chicos! Where do I even begin to explain Morocco? The worst part is that I can’t even put into words how amazing this trip was. When people ask me how each trip was I always answer “It was amazing!!”. But the problem is the word is so overused that it loses its meaning. My time in Morocco was more than just a trip, it was a complete experience.
I went with a program called Moroccan Exchange, which is a completely separate program than my study abroad program but several of our students also went on it. This program is worth every penny and then some. I like it because it is focused around the people rather than the history. At the end of the day, how many facts do you really remember from your day-long tours? Instead, we interviewed and held discussions with Moroccans from several different cities and asked them questions about their lives. We also stayed with Moroccan families for two nights. I learned so much about the Moroccan culture during these times and truly feel sorry for those who only had the opportunity to stay in hotels.

As mentioned before, I can’t possibly put into words this experience but I can certainly try. There no way I can mention all of the incredible things we did on our adventure or my blog would be 5,000 pages long. So I’ll mention the highlights. I apologize in advance for the long post(s).

Day 1:
We were off to a great start of Thursday morning when we were running for our lives through the Barcelona airport, out past through security to get our stupid ticket stamped because we forgot. This mad dash all took place as the plane was boarding. Thankfully, we made it back through security and all in time, but arrived back at the gate with a lot more stress. And so it begins…
So we flew to Malaga, a city known for its gorgeous beaches in Southern Spain. From there we met our fantastic program advisor Blaire who took us to our bus. We rode in the bus for about an hour and a half to the port. At the port we got our passport stamps and headed for Africa on the ferry. Spain and Africa are actually extremely close together which I didn’t know before I came abroad. They’re only about 10 miles apart! This makes illegal immigration a very big problem. But it is also very difficult sometimes for the illegal immigrants to make it across because The Atlantic Ocean meets The Mediterranean Ocean right in the middle, thus making the waves gigantic. Many people die trying to cross the sea to get to Spain. So far this year, Blaire said they've found 16 bodies and its only March.
Since it was a clear day, we could see Africa from Spain. 

            When we made it over to Africa, we got on another bus and headed to a town called Tangier. We walked through one of the Tangier markets, which was like nothing I’d ever seen before. There were ginormous carcasses hanging from the walls, and the smell was terrible. The fish market in particular was very different, some of the fish were about 4 feet long!! Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law wasted no time in paying me a visit in Morocco. While walking through the market, I wasn’t looking down and kicked this yellow bin that was on the floor to cover a hole in the ground. My left leg sent the bin flying and my right leg went right into the hole, about up to my mid-calf. Thankfully I was wearing boots, but I was pretty stuck. It was a hole filled with this sludge of God knows what. My friends pulled me out revealing my boot to be completely covered in sludge. I had my first taste of Moroccan hospitality when they ran to my side to make sure I was okay and rushed me back with them to clean me off. After they cleaned me off with water and sponges my boot never looked better! My luck is so bad its almost comical…
Tangier's city center 

We then went to a local women’s center and for a discussion with some young local Moroccans. There was one boy and 2 girls. They gave us this delicious mint tea and some little pastries. We discussed their religion and how dedicated they were to it. Traditionally, Muslims don’t drink alcohol, it is forbidden. There are clubs and bars in the cities but they are mainly for the tourists. They pray at least 5 times a day, and have a very strong connection with Allah, their god.
Mint tea is SO popular in Morocco. We had it about 5 times!
The date in Arabic. Arabic is read right to left with the exception that numbers are read left to right. 
After spending some time discussing Muslim marriage and other topics we got back on the bus. Next on the agenda was camel riding! I was looking forward to riding camels so much, even before I even left for Barcelona I kept saying how much I wanted to ride a camel. There were 3 camels, and one baby so we rotated riding the camels down the beach. The baby was adorable, he followed behind his mom every rotation. Getting on the camel was so strange, and getting off was really hard. Because when they stand up you feel like you’re about to fall. And when they lay back down is even worse, I screamed! Nothing like dismounting Thunder, I’ll tell you that!
The baby!

After camels we headed to tour The Medina which means city center. The streets were these beautiful little winding streets colorfully painted in light blues, greens and pinks.
The star has 5 points to represent the 5 pilars of Islam and it is green because green is associated with paradise.

This is Fatima's Hand. Fatima was the prophet Muhammed's daughter. Her hand is a very popular symbol that is supposed to prevent bad things from happening to you.

Mosque's have green roofs to represent paradise. Only Muslims are allowed inside Mosques in Morocco.
Afterwards we headed towards Rabat, Morocco’s capital city. There, we were assigned to our homestay families. We first met our homestay brother named Fahed (I was calling him Fred for a while until I realized there was no “r”). He was 25 and was fluent in English. He told us that he learned English by watching American movies. This family loved American movies. They were very very modern. We had a movie on while eating dinner even. The father was by far my favorite, he reminded me of my grandpa. He was so cute and witty! He was also able to speak pretty good English since he used to travel the world because he played for the national Moroccan rugby team. He wore the traditional Muslim man dress, with his yellow little house shoes. The mother was so very sweet. She spent significant time cooking our meals, and each morning she delivered our breakfast to our room. Her English wasn’t very good so we weren’t able to talk to her as much. Fahed also had an 18 year old sister but we didn’t see her very much. They also had a study abroad student staying with them named Jake from New York. He actually had heard of South Windsor, CT before! Finally, the family had adopted a stray cat from the streets named Lilou. She was very playful and clearly was boss of the house. It was so nice to have a pet again even if it was only for a day or two. Lilou even slept with me.
Speaking of cats, if dogs are Barcelona then cats are Morocco. There were cats everywhereeeeee. I even saw one lady throwing food to cats like they were pigeons one day. It was a bit sad because they were all strays but for the most part they all looked healthy and well fed.
Our first night
First night's delicious dinner. (Everyone eats their section from the plate in the middle)
Cats everywhere!

Here is a little tour of our house. The homes is Morocco are so different. They have an open area in the center throughout the whole house that is not covered by a roof.
This is our house mom preparing our couscous
The main level 
This acts as the dining room, and the bedroom for the parents.  

Looking down from the top floor
Looking out from the roof terrace
Stairs up to the roof

Day 2:
After enjoying our amazing delivered breakfast, we headed out to meet up with the group. We got on the bus and headed to Salé. This particular event was very eye opening for me. We caught a glimpse of the shanty towns which were literally shacks made out of trash on top of each other. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it before, it was so sad. It sends a shiver down your back, and you really are able to finally grasp how lucky we actually are, and how rich we are. These people don’t have plumbing, their electrical wires were installed by themselves, and when it rains on their dirt floors, it is literally a disaster. We went to this NGO called Hope for Salé which was founded a couple years ago to provide an education for young people from the Shanty towns. If these kids don’t get an education, they are literally hopeless, they have nothing. Hope for Salé gives them an accelerated education so that they can get their degree ASAP and sets them up with an internship after they receive their degree.

            We sat down and had our delicious mint tea and held another discussion  with some boys our age from Rabat. This particular discussion was particularly interesting because they had such a large spectrum of beliefs. On one side was a boy who was basically anti-Islamic culture, he drinks, he smokes, he believes in gay marriage etc. On the other end was a very conservative boy that followed the Islamic religion very closely. We discussed very controversial subjects such as their hatred towards the Moroccan king, gay marriage, drugs and alcohol, pre-marital sex, arranged marriages and much more. It was very interesting, and at times our discussion turned into a very heated debate between the boys.
            Afterwards we headed out to check out some Roman Ruins. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly excited to see more Roman Ruins because we literally see them every trip we go on. I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at Chellah. It was fascinating! On one side was a Islamic mosque from 900 and on the other was a Roman graveyard from 900! At one point flocks of school children came in to have lunch and play. It was so incredible to watch these kids run around and play atop of 1,000 year old Roman Ruins! There were also tons and tons of these gigantic storks nested ontop of the ruins. They made these hilarious noises by clapping their beaks together. There was also this tiny pond where an old lady sat all day. She fed the cats also, so this pond was a prime hang out for all of the cats too. Legend has it that if a woman is having trouble getting pregnant, she can come to this pond and feed the eels that live in it and she will become fertile.

This is an old Minaret. These are where the muathin calls the Muslims to prayer.  They are expected to pray 5 times a day and now a days the call is projected throughout the city. We heard the call several times, it was very neat!

This lady must have a lot of children...

Taylor, my good friend and I :)
The silly storks. Maybe their overwhelming presence is due to the fertility pond.

Little kids playing on the Roman ruins

The cat hang out 

The entrance to the Chellah
         After the Chellah we all headed back to our homestays for lunch. Since it was Friday it was couscous day. Every Friday, the muslums eat couscous. Like Spain, lunch is the largest meal of the day. The chuschus was delicious. It had various vegetables such as pumpkin, onion and zucchini.
He was the cutest little man ever!

This is our dad's pet bird, "my little coocoo". We found him after lunch up on the terrace feeding him a spoonful of couscous!
            We then took a walk around Rabat’s center with some of the kids from the discussion from earlier.

Arabic Coca-Cola 
Barça literally runs the world. There were Barça jerseys everywhere!
A street vendor tried to sell me a rug for my camel. 
If you ever go to Morocco you HAVE to try their pastries. Fantastic!
            Our next activity was the Hammam. All I can say is wow, it was increbile. A hammam is a public bathhouse. Usually, it has 3 chambers that the people rotate through. They are separated by gender. We were a group of 13 girls and 2 boys (one boy being our director). So the girls and I went to one and the men went to another. It was a bit awkward at first because we were only supposed to wear our undies, but we got over it and did it! It was actually really cool. We got a bucket and walked into this hot room filled with steam. We filled our buckets with scalding hot water and then added a little cold water to make it bearable. We then rinsed ourselves off using a dish to scoop the water in and then used this olive oil-based soap. We then used a scrub thing to scrub off all of the dead layers of skin. Some girls got a professional scrub for a couple dirham, but I’m glad I didn’t because it looked kind of painful. After we rinsed off, my skin had never been softer in my life!! Not to mentioned how relaxed we all were. It was such an experience, and so cool. I highly rrecommend going to a hammam if you ever get over to Morocco.
We had a wonderful last super with the family. We said our goodbyes that night because we had to be up very early the next day. The family was so so sweet; I already miss them. They told us that we were now apart of their family and invited us to come back and stay with them whenever we want. I truly believe them when they say that.
This was my favorite meal. It was so good. There were meat ball patties under the eggs and we used the bread to scoop with.
It is disrespectful to eat with your left hand.

Our adorable family; I miss them already!

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