Monday, June 27, 2011

Political "Parades" in Fez

       This weekend seemed extremely long. On Saturday, we went on a tour of the Medina where we saw many places including the tannery, which I will write about in a later post. Then on Sunday we went to Volubilis, which is a site where there are well-preserved Roman ruins. After this, we bused to Moulay Idriss, which is a picturesque Moroccan town on a hill. The view was spectacular, but the heat was getting to everyone (It was over 110 Fahrenheit) and we just trudged through the town. We had an amazing lunch and then headed to Meknes which is a smaller city than Fez, and has a ton of gorgeous architecture. There were a few old mosques that we were able to go in to get a taste of what mosques look like inside. The art is incredible. There are geometric patterns and carved plaster covering every inch of space. It is so beautiful! I was amazed at the architecture. Fez, and many other cities in the area are called "invisible cities" because you cannot see the beauty from the outside. All the riads in the medina have high stone walls that are very plain on the outside. But once you go inside, the houses are filled with mosaics, carvings, fountains, and plants. We were all exhausted and fell asleep on the bus on our way back to Fez. 

          Everyone awoke when the bus jolted to a stop because of a political..... parade. This "parade" was to rally support for voting yes in an upcoming referendum on July 1st. This referendum would limit the power of the King. Although this "parade" was in support of limiting power, they made it clear that they loved their king. They all had pictures that they would kiss and wave in the air. All the little boys saw that we had cameras and waved to us, wanting us to take pictures of them. They were fascinated that Americans were at this "parade" and we got many stares. Amazingly, this was one of the only times I have felt completely safe here. 

          Many people were wearing shirts that said "naam" which means yes in Arabic. We really wanted some so we went up to a group of guys and asked where we could buy one. They immediately took their own shirts off their backs and gave them to us. Of course, this was followed by marriage proposals, but we didn't care- we got shirts! We proudly wore them around and EVERYONE wanted to take pictures with us. Nicely dressed middle-aged men and older women in hijabs would pose with us as their friends took pictures with their cameras. 

           Everyone at the "parade" was very happy and even happier that Americans were there. People asked where we were from and when we would say America, they would break out in cheers. Moroccan flags and pictures of the king were thrust into our hands and at one point, an older woman grabbed my hand and brought me into the street to march with them. We happily clapped and marched as everyone cheered us on. 
          At one point, we came across the French Embassy who had their own sign and were marching complete with a camera crew. We took pictures from the side and they saw us and started posing and talking to us. We told them we were Americans and they were beaming and shaking our hands. They gave us business cards and we realized they thought we were journalists. 
          This was an event that some students were told to stay away from. When we first got off the bus, we were not sure what to do. We were planning on taking a few pictures and then leaving. Then we realized that it wasn't violent or dangerous whatsoever, so we stayed and supported the Moroccans. People would see us and yell out "Welcome to Fez!" and give us huge smiles and thumbs up. The atmosphere at the "parade" was one filled with hope and love for their country. So many people came up to us and kissed the picture of King Mohammad so we knew their stance. I have fallen in love with the people of Morocco. The compassion and welcoming that we have received has been an incredible experience. I am lucky to be studying here and even luckier to be able to support these amazing people. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Have I mentioned we live under a plastic roof?

     Today is the fourth day of class here and it is going amazingly well. There are six people in my class and we have two teachers. At 10am we have a two hour block with Mustafah, and at 4pm we have another two hour block with Achmed. After only a few days, we can already read and write Arabic. It's amazing how fast this is moving! In between the classes, a lot of people stay at ALIF or at cafes nearby to do homework or just chill. I love this time because I have internet and I can meet a ton of people from around the world who also have the desire to learn Arabic. There are about 200 students taking classes here, which is a record high. The building is a converted villa which is basically a really nice older home. Although many people imagine Morocco as an exotic destination where I will be sitting in a garden eating figs all day, it is unfortunately not. I am NOT on a vacation as many people imagine that I am. I go to class for four hours and do homework for about the same amount of time. When classes are done, I go home to a large greenhouse because the roof is made of plastic and does not let air in or out. 
     Before I came to Morocco I was worried about the dress and culture. I believed I even wrote a post about it below. People had warned me not to bring clothes that showed below my elbow, my collar bone, or my legs. I was also told that I would want to wear a scarf as to not attract attention to myself. Although some women are very conservative here, I have found the vast majority to wear short sleeves and jeans. About half of the women don't even wear headscarves. People at ALIF even wear tank tops and knee-length skirts. Younger Moroccan women are very Westernized and find ways to show skin without getting in trouble with their conservative mothers. I have been wearing loose fitting pants and shirts, but men still stare and make comments. I believe people warned me about the dress because they were concerned about me sticking out or offending someone, but I am going to stick out no matter what I wear. I found this true when I had taken an hour walk home in the mid-afternoon heat and was super red in the face and my clothes were just hanging on me and a man still told me I looked like the Spice Girls. I wasn't sure whether I should punch him or thank him.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Our lovely amazing fan

     WE BOUGHT A FAN!!! This fan is amazing. It is square and has a timer that goes up to an hour, three speed settings, and TWO rotating things. It’s a God send and I’m sitting on the floor in front of it right now. I am not sure why they don’t have a fan, but they don’t seem to have a problem with it. Welcome to the good life! Zanib took us to her apartment which is really nice. There are three rooms where all the walls are lined with couches and we settled in the “coolest” room to see videos of Ayoub’s birth party. Zanib explained how she “took” her baby and her husband did not know. This confused Colby and I a lot. We first thought that she literally stole the baby and her husband thought that it was her own? Then she explained that her 18 year old friend had it out of wedlock and she adopted the baby. Her husband thought it was from an orphanage. Confusion crisis solved. We then looked at photos from her wedding where she wore at least 5 exquisite dresses including one traditional “Fes” dress that made her look like a purple Pharaoh. I started yawning and nodding off from my lack of coffee and she encouraged us to take a nap. We woke up an hour later and she really wanted us to play dress-up with her clothes, so what the heck, we did. It was fun trying on her dresses and wrapping ourselves in scarves. I felt a bit ridiculous, but she seemed to love the little white American girls wearing her clothes. We then met her husband and all of us went to a very nice and expensive hotel that overlooks the Medina for tea and coffee. We got there right after sunset and the Medina was amazing.
     The next day, Colby and I headed out to the markets near our house. I bought a shirt that is kind of ugly and then we looked at rugs for Colby. We somehow ended up in a Berber rug store that was eerily silent. The two men (CusCus and man with dreadlocks) laid out about 20 rugs for us to look at even though they knew we had no intention of buying. The rugs were gorgeous, but were too expensive for our budget. We made our way up to the top of the market and met Gawad who I bought a hamza and wallet from. He was so funny and had obviously watched too many American movies. He called us scallywags and Chevy Chasers and Charlie’s Angels and gave us “romantic prices.” He knew Ethan, the boy we met at the Fes airport and was extremely excited to meet us. After, we went to an open air market with many men. We knew it probably wasn’t the best idea, but it looked interesting. We walked quickly through but not without being called out to many times. One boy was persistent and said “Spice girls, spice girls, let me kiss your ass. Let me, let me.” Now, at first, we tried holding in smiles because he called us spice girls. But after following us for a long time and me telling him to fuck off in Spanish, we were pretty irked. The culture here is very respectful and Moroccan men would not say something like that to Moroccan women. So the fact that he felt it was appropriate to say that to obviously Western girls showed us the respect that they held for us. We walked quickly back to our safe haven and our lovely amazing fan.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I conquered my fear of the bathroom

            This morning (Friday) Colby and I went to ALIF to use the computers and then decided we wanted to go on a day trip to Ifrane, which is about 65 kilometers away from Fes. To get there, we needed to take a grand taxi from the CTM station. We walked to the Super Marché and asked three or four people how to get to the CTM station. We finally gave up and took a taxi. At the station, there are about twenty white Mercedes and twenty loud men to go with them. We told one of them that we wanted to go to Ifrane and he yelled it out to all the other drivers. We waited about half an hour for another four passengers to fill the five seat car: three in the front row and four in the back so nice and cozy in the steaming hot car. (Mom and Dad please disregard this next part). We took off in the highway as we twisted and turned at 100 mph and I swear we got some air after hitting a bump. Of course, seat belts are only cosmetic accessories in the cars and are not used and you’ll get a weird look if you reach for it.
            Once in Ifrane, we got off and started walking around. Right away we noticed the temperature which was cooler than Fes because it is much higher altitude. In the winter it snows, so all the houses are constructed differently than in Fes. It is pretty European and resembles the architecture of Switzerland. Colby and I walked around the town and bravely entered a café where we got looks as if we were aliens. We are aware that usually women do not go to the cafes, especially foreign women, but we were desperately in need of coffee and sat in a corner so the staring was minimal. After, we found a nice pond with lots of shade and we sat there for a while and then walked for a while longer and found a stream that we could wade in. The cold water was AMAZING. Walking back to the bus station, we got more stares from men, but they did not call out to us. Colby pointed out that not many Western women come to Ifrane, which is a small town and that the staring was most likely out of awe. That made me feel better for the moment. After another 100+ mph ride home, we staggered around the city until we found an internet café, gave up because the keyboards were French, and caught a taxi ride home. We were exhausted, badly sun burnt, and in desperate need of a shower. The last thing we wanted to do was face the bucket shower that we had seen the day before.
After cooling off and having a snack, I faced the shower. It is basically a bucket that you fill with (thankfully) hot water and then use a bowl to rinse yourself off. Keep in mind that the bathroom is a 6 by 6 foot cement square right off of the kitchen with a sketchy drain in the middle.  Although it sounds savage and awfully dirty, it worked like a charm. I was actually really surprised and that made my outlook on the next six weeks improve. After my shower, I sat down in the living/dining/family/everything room to read and talk with Fatimah and Mohammad (the mother and father). Until today, Mohammad has said about two words to us. All of a sudden, he seemed determined to teach us Arabic. I learned the word for delicious which is beneen (no clue how to spell it). This word proved useful to me because I used it to thank Fatimah for dinner (complete with a kiss of my fingers), the shower (they openly laughed at me for that one), and the roof which we realized is about 20 degrees cooler than the house. I also learned the word for sun and the names of about twenty spices that are growing on the roof. Mohammad decided to lecture me about food and Allah. Since he only speaks the Moroccan dialect, all I understood was that Allah is everywhere, especially in the food we eat. He also told me something about birds because I was sitting on the roof and apparently he wanted me to sit in a chair either because the birds cause your legs to be chopped off (he motioned this) or the ants are not good for your stomach. I’m not quite sure, but I’m just going to sit in the heart-shaped chair.
This morning I was set on finding a different host family because I had not slept well and was afraid of the bathroom. After conquering my fear of the bathroom, buying some Advil PM, and discovering the roof, I am a very happy girl. It is impossible to describe everything that I have seen and experienced, but I hope to tell you a little about my life in Fes. If you want to hear anything specific, such as the food, markets, or locals, let me know and I’ll definitely include it in a blog.

Adjusting to Men, Heat, and Bathrooms

I needed some stuff at the super marché, so Zalib drove us there and helped me pick out some cosmetics. After we were done at the super marché, we took a taxi to the entrance to the medina and then walked through the markets to get home. The markets are amazing; there are shoes and clothes and jewelry and electronics. The shop owners do not haggle you like they do in other countries, but the men have no censors. One tonight called out to Colby and me and said “Bridget, Bridget! Please stop and talk to me” as if all American girls are named Bridget? Another took my elbow and told me that I was a beautiful girl and that I deserved a flower. Thanks for the flattery, but tell me, does that ever work for you? For all you men out there that haggle women on the street: how many women have actually responded to you? (Drunk sorority girls don’t count). The men easily give up if you tell them no or just ignore them, so why even call out? It is a man’s world where the men sit at cafés scratching their balls and call out to women to prove their manliness. I realize this takes a different form in other countries. For example in the United States, guys creep on girls trying to get their numbers and stare and wink at them. They may even go so far as to give a girl a little pat on the butt while he passes her on the street. Moroccan guys would never think of doing that. They simply call out to us, which is more obvious, but just a different way of getting attention.
We came home to find Abdullah, one of the brothers watching TV. Although he said he spoke English, it was difficult trying to understand his French with a word or two of English thrown in. I think we were talking about mountains with snow because he kept pointing to the sticker from Denali that I have on my water bottle.
The house isn’t so hot once you’ve gotten used to the temperature for a good hour or two and sweated out all the water in your body. After that it’s bearable. The bathroom consists of a squat toilet, a bucket with a hose (le douche), and a sink. No toilet paper, no shower curtain, and no flushing. But don’t worry- there’s rose scented hand soap so we’re all good. The TV channels here have an interesting mix of Amanda Bynes movies and news stations that encourage citizens to question whether protesting is really a sign of support.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It's Hot

     This morning we woke up, had breakfast, and walked to ALIF to figure out our housing situation. We walked by the same cafe three times and spoke to a man who spoke Dutch (but not really) but we eventually found it! It is a beautiful old villa and everyone there is amazingly nice. Right away, we were assigned to a house family and met a few people. After checking out from the hotel, we went back to ALIF and waited for our host sister to pick us up.
     Her name is Zaib and she is amazing. She has a 3 month old baby, works, and speaks French, Arabic, and English. Her mother and father, who we will be staying with do not speak anything but the Moroccan dialect so that will not help us whatsoever. They live deep in the Medina which is the old, poorer part of town. We parked near a cafe and entered a sketchy alleyway and then continued on tiny streets for about 15 minutes before ducking below some beams to get into the 4 foot tall doorway of the house. The house is very modest with barely a bathroom (as in a squatting toilet and a hose for a shower) and our room is up some stairs that are about a foot tall each and are slanted rock which means that I of course slip each step I take. Our room consists of three couch-like things, a dresser filled with past student's left behind books, and a small table. That's it. There's no internet, a little light, and I'm pretty sure we had anchovies for lunch. No air conditioning of course- not even a fan. I figured that if this is how most of the world lives, I can, too.
     The city is amazing. It is not nearly as conservative as I expected. Only about half the women wear headscarves and pretty much everyone under 30 wears Western clothes. Another thing is that everyone speaks French here. Mademoiselle Louisa and Mademoiselle Colby: those are our names now. I'm in love with the city and its people. Even though I'll be sweaty and dirty and confused for the next six weeks, I think it will be the best experience of my life. There are so many details I want to write about, but I have seen so much in the past day and a half my head actually hurts a little bit- and I haven't even started classes!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


     After a 10 hour flight to Paris, a 4 hour flight to Madrid, and then a 1.5 hour flight to Fes, I'm exhausted. I'm sick of airports and screaming children and Americans mocking French accents like they can't understand English. My advice: avoid the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris if at all possible. My plane landed, we took a bus to the terminal, I took another bus to another terminal. I went through customs, then immigration, then security. Then I went to the gate, where they bused me to another gate, where they bused us to the plane. RIDICULOUS. I am not sure what time it is right now because my computer says 1:15, my phone says 8:15 and I think I crossed through 5 or 6 time zones. I just know it's getting dark so that means I can sleep!!
     In the Madrid airport, I was lucky enough to introduce myself to a girl, Colby, who looked to be in my situation also. Turns out, she's doing the same ALIF program and had a reservation at the same hotel as me! This worked out perfectly because we were able to talk and get all of our nerves out. While I was waiting for my backpack (which was stuck under a baby carseat), a guy and a girl walked up and introduced themselves. They're also doing the ALIF program, but are way more advanced in Arabic than Colby and I. Their names are Evan and Bryn and have studied in Morocco before and seem really cool. I shared a taxi with them to my hotel which is a really nice hotel. Although I have to put my key in a slot for the electricity to work (super ghetto), it's really clean and pretty. Of course they're no air conditioning or a clock, which would really come in handy right now.
     The city is gorgeous. I'm in love with the architecture already. There is actually a lot of vegetation which surprised me and it's very metropolitan which I didn't expect at all. The streets are crazy with a mix of European and American cars and no stop lights and the city is framed by the Atlas Mountains. The one thing I don't like, though, is the fact that every decent restaurant is filled with men. Colby and I walked around to find a place to eat and we couldn't find one that wasn't filled with men calling out to us or just staring and nodding. Two guys actually followed us but they were easily shaken when we said we didn't need any help. We ended up eating at the hotel restaurant which was fine because we were both famished and didn't want to deal with nonsense. Tomorrow I'll find out the situation about a host family and explore the city more!

Monday, June 13, 2011

I got some really cool safari pants

     This morning I awoke to an email from Travelocity informing me that they had "rescheduled" my itinerary. This included an 18 hour layover in Paris and arriving in Madrid 12 hours after my flight to Fes. So I panicked, called Travelocity, and demanded that they get me to Madrid by 3 PM on June 15th. Needless to say, I got a great itinerary. Now I have a direct flight from Seattle to Paris on AirFrance!
     I ran some errands after that, picked up some cashier's checks to pay my tuition and 95 Euros to last me the first few days and then I went to the mall to try and find another piece of appropriate clothing. I was hoping to find a conservative maxi dress and then a light cardigan to cover my shoulders and arms, but I couldn't find anything quite right. As of now, I still do not know what people in Morocco will be wearing or what is acceptable for me to wear, but I'm planning on buying most of my clothes there. I did find these really cool safari-type pants that I'm excited about that make me look like a French journalist.
     I decided on Tully's coffee and Ferrero Rocher chocolates as gifts for my host family since I am still not sure if I will even have one, more or less who they are. I haven't even started packing yet, but I'm only bringing one big backpack and then a smaller one, so as long as I have the necessities, I should be good. So hopefully the next time I write, I'll be on my way to Fes!


     Tomorrow will be my last day in Washington. I need to go to the bank, do some last minute shopping, and pack. Somehow I always wait until the last minute to do everything. I figure that if I keep my mind busy with the petty things, I won't have to worry yet about the great unknown that is waiting for me.
     I am about to spend 6 weeks in Fes, Morocco taking intensive Arabic classes and then another 2 weeks of independent travel. Many people have told me that I am crazy to voluntarily put myself in a situation where I am a white, non-muslim, young, single woman in an Arab country. To all those people who have told me "Arabic is not for everyone", I am taking this as a challenge. I have studied the Arabic alphabet for a few weeks now and I'm pretty confident that I can pick up French, so even though language will be a huge barrier, I am excited to work through it. What I am most anxious for is the culture. I have listened to many people tell me what Morocco is like and their experiences in the country, but I am still completely unfamiliar with the Arab culture. (I'm not even sure if the term "Arab culture" is politically correct. I'll write about it once I find out.) I'm bringing scarves with me to cover my hair from the sun and also modest clothes because I do not want to stand out and make a name for myself as the "White American Girl." I am planning on staying in a host family, but since it is first-come first-served, it is still up in the air. I think that host families can be either hit or miss and I am hoping that I am placed with one that can understand and respect the culture that I am coming from while also teaching me theirs.
     I'm not looking forward to the heat; coming from Seattle, I enjoy summer days to hover around 75 degrees. The heat, the food, the language, the clothing- everything will be completely new to me and I love it. I love the unknown and that is why I travel. I am not exactly sure what awaits me in Fes, but I'm damn excited to find out!