A Year Later, Je Suis Là

I was quiet, but I was not blind. ~Jane Austen

It’s not quite a year later. I am three days short of the day I left Morgantown on a bus headed to DC, and 6 days short of the day I got on a plane in NYC. But nonetheless, it’s time to reminisce about my journey thus far and how I’ve grown. They’re right folks, living abroad changes you. No doubts from me. I won’t refuse all the mushy, yucky stuff about changing to be a better person, growing stronger, becoming a pro at maneuvering culture shock, because yeah — all that’s true too. But this is about me! So here are some ways that I’ve changed personally during my past year in Togo.

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My sense of time. 

This is by far the most bizarre change I’ve made. In the States, it was all about the hours or the days for me. I rarely ever got stressed about a deadline more than a week away! It wouldn’t have even crossed my mind, to be honest. But here, woah. I can feel so busy because I have a few events coming up in the next three months. That’s right, three months away and it’s on my mind already. My to-do lists used to have at least ten tasks per day to accomplish. Here, I’m on cloud nine if I can do two things a day. Three things a day and we are really pushing it… There are days that I grade a handful of papers and do my laundry by 9 a.m. and I’m so proud of myself. I think, yeah man, you’re doing great! (I actually do think this from time to time). I don’t think I’d put this change into a category of good or bad — I’m just thankful I have time to appreciate my hammock.

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Creepy crawlies 

Oh, there’s a spider running across my bedroom floor, let me crush it with my big toe! Nbd. The number of crawlies that gross my out has gone from a lot to almost none at all (barring snakes, those are never ok). I wake up in the morning, start brewing my coffee, and sit out on my porch. I have zero qualms these days about smushing unwanted bugs with my toes. In fact, I don’t even think twice about it.

Even the lizards. I hate how many lizards I have in/around my house. Can you imagine how embarrassing it is to wake up from a nap, throw on a shirt hanging in the closet, head out to the market only to find THERE’S A FREAKING LIZARD IN YOUR SHIRT THAT WANTS TO START CRAWLING ALL OVER YOUR BODY. I’m not proud, but this has happened so many times. I think, keep calm, your in public, don’t strip, don’t strip, DONT’ STRIP! Luckily my friend Benoît isn’t shy about helping me evict unwanted shirt guests nonchalantly. Let’s be real, I don’t exact blend in at the market, so freaking out about a lizard in my shirt would be quite the spectacle.

While we are talking about lizards, let me bring up the fellow lizard that lives in my latrine. My latrine is basically a fancy cement outhouse. I keep the seat covered, but somehow, this lizard just doesn’t want to leave. So after my morning coffee, when I go to the throne and sit down, he just gives me a few taps on the bum as if to say : hey, I don’t wanna be in here right now. Lemme out. I stand up, he runs out, I finish my business, and we see each other the next morning. #RealMVP

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Health above all. 

We have a handy little saying in Togo: Santé avant tous. Health above all. If this past year has brought any changes for the better, it’s how I see my health. I live close to the Burkina Faso border; it’s hot, it’s dry, it’s dusty! I have never had to drink so much water in my life. But if I didn’t, it would be a serious issue for me. Not only have I started focusing every single day on staying hydrated, I’ve been really finding the importance of eating good foods to stay on my game. My life here is the exact opposite of sedimentary. I walk to school, I walk to the market, I walk up mountains, I walk to get water, I walk to see friends… get the picture? After all, my body is a temple, right?! I want my temple to be golden with wall curtains, and lots of wine!

Let’s not forget about mental health. I consider myself lucky that I have had a really amazing experience thus far. Forgetting month 5, I’ve been so happy with my life in service. But every now and again, I can feel myself slipping into a rut that we all know. It is easy to feel isolated while serving abroad. Think about it, we left all our friends, all our family members, our native language, everything we are comfortable with back home. This past year has taught me ways to stay out of the rut and in a place where every day can be joyful. I’ve learned how closely linked my mental health is with my physical health. And I’ve been practicing being mindful. Living each second in the Present — not worrying about the future but enjoying the Now.

Wanna know one of my secrets to staying on the up & up? I sing to myself, all the time. I’m totally not shy about singing in my house when my host family is home anymore. Every once in a while, I’ll catch myself telling myself how funny I am… then I stop to think about if I just crossed a line or not. HA! Crazy is the new sane.

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Okay okay, so I only have three personal changes I’ve made in the past year. I hope you weren’t expecting a top ten! Let’s not forget about time in Togo, it takes a while to do a little. I’m certainly happy with these three changes, and I hope you’ll stay with me for the year to come. Please, share my blog, write love letters to me via snail mail (the thought makes me swoon) — keep me in your loops too!

As always my friends, stay savvy!

With much love,

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Mondays are the Worst

Greetings from a beautiful day in Korbongou! You know those first spring days when the weather is perfect and there is a slight breeze? Well, that’s exactly what it’s like here today—surprisingly! It sends me back to the States, waking up early and sipping coffee on the deck before heading to class. To go along with this nostalgia, I am listening to the Best Hits of Johnny Cash, because, why not?

I thought that after 18 months, I should finally share a typical day with me as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Monday, November 20, 2017

430am: Hit the snooze.

440am: Hit the snooze.

450am: Roll out of bed and put some water on the boil for coffee.

5am-6am: Sip coffee, review lessons for class, and listen to NPR podcasts over a Bluetooth speaker

6am: Fetch water from the well, boil a potful, and take shower.

650am: Arrive at school!

7am-12pm: Teach classes, chat with professors

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My path to school!

 

12pm: Walk home and pass through the market to buy rice or beans for lunch! You have to walk home fast because the midday sun is unbearable.

1230pm-230pm: Nap time.

230pm: It is still too hot to leave the house, so I am watching reruns of Big Bang Theory

330pm: Fetch water for second shower to wash off the sweat

4pm-6pm: Return to the market to drink locally brewed beers with friends

6pm-7pm: Return home to prepare lesson plans for the next day. Tomorrow’s lesson is about countable vs uncountable nous. Many vs much. A text where Bola is meeting his friends at a theater, and revision of sentences with “if.”

7pm: Go to Benoît’s house for dinner! Today it is pate with dried baobab sauce and fish

 

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It took me a while, but now I really love this dish. I crave it all the time and eat pate every day.
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At Benoit’s featuring his daughters Grace & Firmine, Dermand, and my dog Luda!

 

8pm: Third shower to wash off dust and sweat

815pm-930pm: Read a book. I am currently rereading Room by Emma Donoghue (shout out to my lit professor Dr. Weihman!)

Granted, every day is different here. I never do the same things twice. So I decided to randomly record everything I did today to share with you.

I am sure some of you will read this and think to yourself: “Geez Ti, you basically did nothing all day except nap!” Well, that’s true. Time works differently here. It is, after all, the small successes that count. If I can make it through a morning of teaching and still be in good spirits, I count that as a big success! In the States, I can get twenty some things done a day. Here, I am so satisfied with one or two things!

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As always, stay savvy friends!

With much love,

TrekkingTim

On Naming in Togo

Today I want to tell you the story of one man with three different lives.

As scandalous as that sounds, don’t get your hopes up too much. ;p

I have many nicknames but most of you will know me as Ti. Ti has fun. He traveled to Morocco, graduated college, and moved to West Africa with the Peace Corps.

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When Ti arrived in the training villages of Southern Togo where he would spend the next three months with a host family, he got a new name. His host mother hugged him every day, held his hand walking to school, and renamed him Yao. Yao is the Ewe word for Thursday–the day Ti was born. From time to time, Yao was also called Yaovi which means “Little Brother Yao.” Yao was in a constant state of change and learning. He learned how to handwash his clothes, how to avoid the type of mud that makes you fall, and more importantly, he learned humility.

Three months passed and Yao was placed in the northernmost region of Togo: the Savannahs. He packed up his life, hugged his Ewe momma goodbye, and moved to his home for the next two years.

Moving out of the Ewe south and into the Moba north meant–you’ve guessed it–a new name.

Et voila, Yao turned into Lalmongue. My first day in my new house, my host father gave me this name. Laré is a traditional Moba name for men that have completed their rite of passage. There are five Moba names like this but Laré is generally regarded as the most respected. “Mongue” is a suffix that means “clear skinned.” So my newest name literally means Clear Skinned Laré.

Nonetheless, I love being Lalmongue. After all, the bulk of my service is being spent under this name. Lalmongue is a teacher, a mentor, and a shorts-wearing, heat-hating bamf.

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Don’t get me wrong. Even though I live as Lalmongue, Ti and Yao are still there too. When I am collaborating on projects among my American coworkers, Ti is at work. When I return to the south, Lalmongue is put on pause, and Yao comes back to life.

Among many things I didn’t anticipate about service, having to juggle different identities takes the number one spot. Each identity holds lessons learned, and advice followed.

It is the way of many Native American tribes to be given more than one name throughout one’s life. For example, you’re born with a baby name, but that name won’t be the same when you’re an adult. Name changes can happen multiple times, but they are all earmarked by large events. Each new name marks the end of the previous. For example, I went from being Ti to Yao. Yao might be a completely different person from Ti. However, when we leave to meet the Creator, we are able to bring with us the wisdom of many different people–many different lives lived. This is how I see Ti, Yao, and Lalmongue.

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I do see this as a challenge, but I really enjoy being able to blend ever so slightly when I am traveling. Ok, well, I don’t blend at all anywhere I go in Togo. When people see me, they see a white guy that can’t eat the same foods as them, that has to have running water, and that doesn’t know the realities of village life. Introducing myself with my local language names allows me to remove this first impression. “Hey friend, my name is Yao, and I eat pâte ever day!” They no longer see the white foreigner, but instead, they think: “hey, this guy does the same stuff we do!”

That’s why I appreciate all of my names!

As always, feel free to ask me questions, message me on fb, or send me beef jerky for Christmas!

Stay savvy my friends,

With much love,

 

Trekking Tim

Rain Dances

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She’s coming in twelve-thirty flight
Her moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say. “Hurry, boy, it’s waiting there for you.”

Wow! Cheesy right?! But let’s be real. What song is more appropriate than Toto’s “Africa?” Let me tell you, though, the rains in Togo are no laughing matter — at least not for me.

As the forecast goes, we’ve been blessed by a short hot/dry season. I live in the Savannah region of Togo. It’s the northernmost region. In fact, I could easily ride my bike to the Burkina Faso border. The Savannahs are known to be hot, dry, and lacking vegetation among my fellow volunteers. Most of us just thought it was mostly desert before coming. During my site visit, I was shocked to see the lush greens and lack of desert. That was during the end of last’s year’s rainy season. Now that I almost have my first dry season under my belt. I concur that it isn’t so far from what we originally imagined.

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During rainy season.
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Yesterday atop the same hill as above.

 

But let’s talk a little about the importance of the rains in Togo.

The seasons hold such importance in Togolese life that the school years are designed around the rains. First, when the rains come, it is once again time to head back to the fields to start preparing the soil. After six months of direct sunlight, you can imagine the soil conditions. It is nearly impossible to cultivate the dry ground enough to plant things. Even at that, if we could till the soil enough, there is a high chance that the plants won’t thrive. The rains help the farmers (cultivateurs) give life back to the soil.

NOTE: The unique aspect of Peace Corps compared to other peace organizations is that we don’t live in the capital, nor the bigger cities. We live and work in the small villages — what we could call the bush. Most of our friends and colleagues consider themselves farmers first. After all, how else are they going to provide for their families? Even my coworkers at school will miss class if the rains come before the end of the school year. And who can blame them?

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In one of my classes.

 

The second important aspect, and undoubtedly the most important, is the simple fact that it gives us water. We get our water here from wells or pumps. But, keep in mind that the smaller villages rely almost solely on wells. Even in my midsized village, wells have run dry. A lot of them are communal, so lots of families rely on the same well to get water for cooking, cleaning, showering, and of course, to drink. When wells run dry, families are forced to go longer distances just to find water — something I took for granted before coming here.

I’m lucky to enough to have a private well in my compound. I live with my host dad (in my local language: n ba) and mom (n na). There is also my host sister and a student that rents the room next to mine. I spoke with n ba last night about the water situation in Korbongou (my village, google earth it!). He explained that our well doesn’t run dry not because it is deep, but because there are not a lot of people that use it for water.

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There’s my well.

 

Last week, around midnight, I heard a few drops on my tin roof. I took my chair outside and sat in the lite sprinkle. I’m still so used to the unpredictable weather in Morgantown. You would not believe how much the first little sprinkle lightens your psyche. Imagine the joy of the first snow of winter. Now multiply that tenfold.

Just a few days ago, we had our first real storm. Wind. Fresh air. Rain. It only lasted about ten minutes, but I collected enough water to wash all my dishes. The entire time during the storm, I stood outside in my tank top and short shorts with a big goofy smile. Furthermore, who doesn’t love the smell of rain?

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N na says that I’ll soon be tired of how much it rains during the rainy season. I always joke when I leave the house that I’m going out to put in an order for rain. Thye love my cheesy sense of humor, or they’re really good at pretending. Either way, it grows my ego. (;

I hope that my attempt at explaining the importance of rain has given you an adequate slice-of-life depiction of my life here. This is, after all, my new home, and it is a perfect fit for me.

So if you don’t mind, wake up tomorrow, have your coffee, and do a rain dance for me before heading to work!

From the heat to lite sprinkles, stay savvy my friends,

With much love,

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No, I Miss You More

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Surprise! Trekkingtim is back after nearly nine months of absence. I can’t possibly go back through nine months of experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Togo, so I won’t even try. Instead, I want to list a top ten of the weird and bizarre things that I miss.

Even though Togo is listed as a “hardship country,” I haven’t had that difficult of a time adjusting to my new lifestyle. Granted, eating donkey and getting over my fear of The Ring while fetching water from a circular, stone well wasn’t the easiest of tasks, je me débrouille.*  

 

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I have to say also that my house is baller.** I have 24/7 electricity (hey there fridge!), my own kitchen, bedroom, shower, and latrine. My host family is also very accommodating to the tall white man they’ve newly accepted as their son. My parents are both pretty old, but my host father is the right-hand-man to the chief of the village. It makes it 100% easier for me to get a meeting with him when I needed to do work in the community.

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My host mother and sister are lovely. They often send me over delicious dishes ranging from Togolese couscous to assorted meats. On March 8th, International Women’s Day, I bought them traditional pagne which can be a little expensive. So as of late, I’ve been getting really delicious dinners.

The best part about having retired host parents is that they understand when I need to rest. They turn away everyone that comes to greet me and I lovvvvve it. I could sleep until noon and they wouldn’t think less of me–which is quite a feat for the ever early-rising Togolese.

Nonetheless, here are my top ten most missed things in the United States. Feel free to send any sendable items to:

Ti Bedunah
Corps de la Paix
BP 291
Dapaong, Togo
West Africa

  1. My coffee maker
  2. Chewing gum
  3. Keeping my deodorant in the bathroom, instead of the fridge. (It’s hot here.)
  4. Honey Buns
  5. Browsing hipster stores only to buy cool stickers
  6. Being able to google things
  7. Thai food
  8. Cheese, just all of it
  9. Taking showers inside
  10. Watching reruns of Roseanne

 

 

Stay savvy,

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* I manage
** really cool?

#ReadyTOGO

Bonjour tout le monde! Here we are again, headed back to Africa.

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I came down to DC yesterday — a day early — to hangout with my friend Julia that is going with me to Togo. We are packed, met another guy named Kyree going with us and we are on the train. I won’t have much time over the next few weeks to write so I thought that I better update everyone now while I had the chance.

If you’re not an active blogger, you can subscribe so that you will get an email alert when I post. I don’t know how often I will, but I definitely plan on uploading some pics.

Here is an address for the first three months for letters and care packages! (Postcards are awesome too!)

Timothy Bedunah
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 3194
Lomé, Togo
West Africa

Also, this is our travel itinerary:

DC > Philly > NYC > Brussels > Ghana > Togo

Feel free to share and follow this blog. Also, if you’re a Peace Corps invitee or considering, please feel contact me with questions or advice!

I also wanted to share this great poem that a friend in Morocco shared with me. It will always help when the going gets tough.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
 
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume  of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
 
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
 
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
 
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

With love,

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Paris in 24 Hours

Back in July when I booked my ticket for Morocco, I bought a flight that had a 24-hour layover in Paris on my way home. So, last night, I met Hilary in the Gare du Nord and got a tour of the city from one of my best friends back at WVU.

Being a French major, naturally one would think that it is my dream to go to France. Well, while I loved my time there and I will be back, that isn’t necessarily the case. I didn’t choose French because I love the country—I chose it because I love the language. Having studied abroad in both Québec, Canada and now Morocco, I can say that my love for the language has only blossomed.

It seems so strange to say that I met one of my college friends in Paris. When I was growing up, I certainly had a heart full of wanderlust, but I never thought of the possibility of getting to fulfill these amazing things. I am also glad that I had someone so Paris-savvy to show me around the city and help me navigate the airport.

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I arrived from Casablanca around 2:30pm, made my way through border control, dropped my luggage off at an overnight storage, and was in the RER by 4pm. I met Hilary in the Hall de Londres, but as the sun was setting, we wanted to make our way quickly as possible to get my picture with the La Tour Eiffel.

 SIDENOTE: If you have a long layover in CDG, Bagages du Monde will store your bags from a few hours to a few days. I had two bags—both 21 kilos—and paid €34 to check them in for 24 hours. (Not a bad deal, considering I would have had to lug those things across the city otherwise. Also, as luck would have it, one wheel on each of the bags is broken. HA! My arms are so sore… )

It’s funny, because even though you can see the tower from all over the city, it doesn’t seem so big. But once you’re beneath it, looking straight up in the sky, the immense size really hits home. It was crowded, but I couldn’t help to stop and stare straight up. I was having my “Omg, I’m in Paris standing under the Eiffel Tower” moment. We didn’t make it in time to see much daylight, but it was absolutely stunning at night nonetheless.

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We decided from there to walk along the river instead of going down the Champs Elysées. As I only had 24 hours, so I wanted to hit the big points while enjoying seeing such a good friend. By the way, Hilary graduated WVU last year and then was accepted into the Teaching Assistant Program in France. So now she lives just outside of Paris and helps teach English at a school in Argenteuil. (PROUD BFF MOMENT).

Along the river, we saw many things. And I certainly enjoyed catching up. We took our time and I shared stories of Morocco while she shared her experiences thus far in Paris. She took me to Laurée. If you don’t know, this is the shop that invented the macaroon. As you’ve already guessed it, THEY WERE SO GOOD! My favorite was something to do with Marie Antoinette and Tea. I am not sure exactly what it was called, but you should definitely try it. We got 6 for €12!

After walking some more, we decided on a restaurant in the Quartier Latin. I had a tomato mozzarella appetizer, ham and cheese crêpe, and some chocolate mousse for dessert. It was delicious, but I preferred Hilary’s Roquefort cheese sauce. (Blue cheese is one of my favorites.) The waiters at the restaurant were really nice but super busy. In true Moroccan tradition, my French now has a few common Arabic words mixed in. Fortunately for me, all the waiters spoke Arabic, so had no problem with my French. (:

Even though we had already ate macaroons and dinner, I really wanted ice cream. So we headed over to Berthillon and I got two scopes of pamplemousse (grapefruit) on a cone. Perfection.

Another highlight of the trip was seeing Notre Dame de Paris. Even though I speak French, I never, ever realized that this means “Our Lady of Paris.” I suppose since I was used to hearing the phrase before I studied the language, I never thought to translate it into English. With that being said, I may have liked it more than La Tour Eiffel—if I had to chose. I am a big sucker for fascinating architecture, so Notre Dame de Paris was right up my alley. The gargoyles are gorgeous, yet creepy.

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Afterward, we bought some wine and headed to Hilary’s apartment for the night. Even though I had to leave her apartment at 7am, we stayed up late drinking and sharing more stories. We were both so exhausted and completely out of it—I am not even sure if anything we talked about made sense. Sometimes, you just need to let your brain be mush and enjoy your time. Also, Hilary’s landlord is from Casablanca, so I got to talk to her on the phone. I told her about my adventures in Morocco and my favorite cities.

Overall, my 24 hours in Paris—of course—passed too quickly. Even though the city was great and I loved the food, seeing Hilary was the highlight. Thanks for opening your home and sharing your city with me for a night.

Until next time, stay savvy and try Marie Antionette Tea macaroons.

 

With Much Love,

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بسلامة مغرب

The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience.

 


 

I am finding myself unprepared to write this last blog post. I have to say that I have grown to love change, so I am looking forward to traveling to Paris and Canada before going home. I am also so excited to see all of my family for the holidays. However, I am not ready to leave. I don’t want to say goodbyes, to pack my bags, or to cry my way to the train station.

I can’t thank Morocco enough for giving me so many amazing memories. All the way from my very first beach experience in the Mediterranean to riding a camel through the dunes of the Sahara. I am even thankful for the not so good parts of my time here. From my first time using a not-so-clean squatty potty along the highway in the South to being crammed into a bus of car sick exchangers flying down the mountain roads of the High Atlas Mountains, I have taken something away from each of my experiences.

Today I will clear my last final (French) and finish my last essay for Dr. Shoup. Then I get to spend the week making memories with my Moroccan friends whom I won’t see for a while. I have already been having quite the adventures with my friend Jordan and her mother who is visiting the tail end of our semester abroad.

We have been to play with the monkeys in Cèdre Gourard.

 

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We have explored the Medina in Fes and ended the night with dinner in Borj Fes.

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We have tried hailing a petit taxi among the crowd.

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And we said farewell to our third member of the trio.

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On top of all these amazing things I have been doing to wrap-up my time here, I threw a Farewell Potluck for my fellow exchangers. I got a room reserved through the university and invited everyone to bring some cheap snacks. The snacks ended up being phenomenal. Strawberry/Chocolate cheesecake, fruit salad, msemen of every flavor, and mixed nuts. I made a video for the group of all our photos we have taken around Morocco. I, unfortunately, wasn’t able to upload it directly on this blog, but if you’re interested in watching it, here is the youtube link:

Above all, I have to again take time to thank my incredible family for all their support in my travels. Distance really does make the heart grow fonder. I also should thank the Dean’s Office in the Eberly School of Arts and Science for providing me with a generous scholarship to use while I am here. It has been a dream.

Shoutout to my dear friend Salim. Salim has been such a great friend to me here. He encourages my questions about Islam and is always an inspiring person in my life. Congrats on your awesome thesis defense, Salim! I hope to see you soon. In Germany. In Morocco. In the States. It doesn’t matter to me, my friend.

Morocco, I will see you soon. But for now, stay savvy.

With much love,

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Dear Future AUI Exchangers,

I can barely believe that this is my second-to-last blog of my time at Al Akhawayn Univeristy. Next week, I will post of video of all of the photos my friends have taken during our time here.

For today, I wanted to offer advice to the future AUI Exchangers. Here’s the scoop, what you need to know before and during your time in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

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1. Souk

Please, please discover the magnificent souk before I did. I have just over a week left, and last weekend was the first time that I went. It is huge. And you can find whatever you need there… including turkeys. It is also so much cheaper than the marché. For example, I am a huge fan of tangerines. I usually buy two kilos at the beginning of each week, costing me around 2 USD in the marché. I bought two kilos in the souk for 60 cents! If I would have known about it earlier, I would have done a lot more cooking at home. I suggest making a trip each Sunday morning and stocking up for the week.

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2. Walk

In the beginning of the semester, you spend a lot of time discovering downtown and what it has to offer. Walk as much as you can. I wouldn’t suggest using the petit taxis to go to the marché and downtown to eat out. There is, of course, nothing wrong with using them to travel in town. I just think you’ll be happy at the end of your time having spent time getting to know the city. Save those trips in the taxis for when it gets colder. Once the snow comes, you will wish that you could spend more time walking in Ifrane.

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3. Dr. John Shoup

Why do we study abroad? We do it to learn about a new world, to experience first hand what life is like in another country. I cannot tell you how happy I am that I chose Morocco. I have learned so much, and it is because of Dr. John Shoup. I took two of his classes: Arab Society and Popular Culture in Africa. Dr. Shoup is one of those professors that knows so much about many things, that it is just so interesting to talk to him. He also takes his classes on field trips around Morocco. And are you ready for this?… His classes don’t have exams! It is all essay based. You simply have to write 5 short (8 page) essays for his class! That’s it. The best part is that because you have to do research, you learn so much more from the class. I wish so much that all classes were essay based rather than exam based. We would learn so much more. If you want to take away as much as possible  from this experience, Dr. Shoup is your guy.

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(Dr. Shoup is beside me.)

4. Be Open Minded

Okay, okay. I know this one isn’t Moroccan specific, but it is still important. On my way here, I had four connecting flights and was exhausted heading into a four-hour train ride east. Even though I speak the language, I was overwhelmed and had some trouble getting to the train. (I missed my first one, btw.) Once I finally found a train car that had an open space for me and my luggage, I sat down to take a breath. I looked out the window and noticed so much trash–everywhere (Morocco needs litter laws in the worst way). I was so sad. And after the travel day I had had, it simply added to the top of the stress. Even though I had a not-so-good first experience on the train that day, these past four months have been absolutely amazing. Culture shock can come gradually, or it can slap you in the face like my trip on the train. Rest easy, stay calm. You’re embarking on an amazing journey.

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5. Travel Often

Repeat after me: RyanAir is my friend. RyanAir is my friend. Once you’re here, you have Europe at your fingertips through the discount airline RyanAir. My roundtrip ticket to Spain was 60 USD. My roundtrip ticket to Germany was 40 USD. You’ll find that you will have a lot of extra time from the university that you can spend away. Don’t be afraid of extending your horizons. I do have to say, make a good effort to see lots of Morocco before you go to far in Europe. Now that I am close to leaving, I feel like I have been able to see a lot of Morocco, and those trips have been so valuable to my experience here. Morocco is so cheap too; you would be silly not to take up all the opportunities to travel that you’ll have.

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6. Don’t Be Shy

Let me let you in on a not-so-secret secret: Exchange students at AUI have always had a reputation of sticking together. I have heard this from a lot of Moroccan peers. Don’t let this deter you. Your cohort is your best defense against culture shock and homesickness. They know exactly how you feel because they’re in the same boat. (I suppose the Moroccan equivalent would be something along the lines of: they’re in the same grand taxi.)

On the other hand, don’t limit yourself to hanging out with only exchangers. I have made amazing friends here. Even though I haven’t been here too long, they’ve made a lasting impact on my life. Make as many friends as possible. Never burn your bridges and always be kind.

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7. Avoid the School Store

For my Moutaineers, AUI has something similar to Mounty Bounty. You have money loaded onto your ID card that you use for laundry, food, and whatever you need at the school store. At the beginning of the semester, you are given 6,000DHS. In my case, this definitely wasn’t enough to cover your food for the entire semester. In fact, I am not sure how it would be. I don’t always eat lunch and hardly ever eat breakfast. With that said, I have been reloading money on my card for a while. The School Store is so expensive. It is convenient, but you’re so much better off going to the marché to get your toiletries and other items.

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8. Buy Juice

Please, take every opportunity you have to buy fresh juice from the vendors. If you go to Marrakech — which you must — you’ll be so happy with all the juice stands. It is the most delicious juice that I have ever had. I don’t know how in the world I am going to adjust back to juice in America. My favorite is banana juice. At the restaurants, it is about 1.5 USD. But you can find orange juice stands in city centers and at taxi stations for 60 cents. Don’t pass this up my friends. (:

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9. Plan Ahead

Time is not money in Morocco. This was a big adjustment for me. Often, there are delays in the trains, so plan ahead. Same thing for on campus. Students are always coming in late to class. Don’t expect the restaurants to open at posted times. Instead, plan to show up around thirty minutes after their posted opening time. Embrace this change. Take some extra minutes to enjoy life. Take some deep breaths and remember that you’re studying abroad! How freaking exciting!

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10. Buy Local

Some of the best food that you’ll ever eat in Morocco is from the little, tiny shops and villages. In the desert, we had a fabulous dinner of tajine and soup. In Tamirlat, we stuffed ourselves on chicken, couscous, and freshly baked bread. You’ll quickly find Diafa’s restaurant in the marché. It is cheap and I love their shwarma (shwarma hassan is my favorite). There is also a little shop in the marché that makes fresh yogurt every morning. You can buy it to go or dine in and add pomegranate juice for flavor — it is my favorite dessert! Don’t pass up on the msemem, harcha, or petits pains while you’re here!

Check out Aimée and I with our yogurt. Did I mention that it is only 20 cents?!

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11. Learn Some Arabic or French

Being able to speak French has been such a valuable asset for me. I love it when people ask me to go places with them to help translate. I also enrolled in an Arabic class while I was here. You’ll always find people who are very excited to practice their English with you — the first thing you’ll get asked is if you’re from England. But there will be times when you won’t be able to find an English speaker and it will become very difficult for you. Some of my friends here have told me that not knowing either of the languages has hindered some of their experiences. At the very least, it would be extremely wise to learn numbers in one of the languages. With this, you can bargain and you can talk to the taxi drivers. These two points will prove very important for your time in Morocco. But fear not, you will pick up on some phrases and be using them freely by the time that you leave. In true Moroccan way, my French now has Arabic phrases mixed in that I use every single day. “AFEC!”

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12. Enjoy Your Experiences

There will definitely be times where you are homesick. There will be times when you aren’t so happy with Morocco. Take whatever time you need, then get over it! You’re having totally amazing experiences, so don’t waste your time harboring bad mojo. Be thankful that you are enjoying what North Africa has to offer. I went through the phases, but the end has crept up on me too quickly. I am so thankful for my time here. My heart is full.

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As always, stay savvy my friends!

With much love,

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Les Thermes de Moulay Yacoub

Bonjour all! I hope this past week has treated you well, and that you’re preparing for winter. Even though it hasn’t really snowed much here, I know that it is just around the corner.

After my weekend trip in Germany, I had planned to just stay around campus for the rest of my time here. I have a serious lack of motivation. It isn’t easy knowing my time in Morocco is limited, yet I still have to focus through these last two weeks to ace my finals.

Saturday morning I woke up with an urge to adventure. I had heard talk about some natural hot springs near Fes, so I decided to look into it more. Within thirty minutes, I had made my mind up, shaved my head, and packed an overnight bag!

I took a grand taxi just over an hour south to Fes. Coming from America, it seems quite bizarre to take a taxi such a long distance. 60kms. Here, it is totally normal, and I have begun to embrace taking taxis long distances. Transportation in Morocco receives an A+ on Ti’s Travel Tips. However, it is the curvy roads that will get you! Once in Fes, I switched petit taxi stations to save money. The final taxi 21 kms east was only $1 and it took me right to the steps to my hotel.

The picture below is Moulay Yacoub. My hotel was sorta in the center of the hillside but had many stories so I had a great view. It was very nice. I asked for a room with a view of the mountains.

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This solo R&R trip was perfect. I am not even sure that a lot of Moroccans have been here. It isn’t at all a big tourist area. In fact, I didn’t see any other foreigners while I was there. That also means that I got a lot of stares — but hey, if I saw a handsome fellow like myself, I might glare too. (:

One of the best things about Morocco is that it is completely safe. There has never been one single instant where I have felt threatened or that I had to be overprotective of my friends. Even though I was alone and can’t exactly get by with my Arabic, I didn’t feel at all out of place. One of my favorite things is to explore a new village where nobody knows me.

Unfortunately, I found the water to be much too hot for me. I couldn’t enjoy it. Also, the smell of sulfur was at times a little too much. Nonetheless, I didn’t shy away from exploring the city. Real Madrid was playing so all of the Cafés and Salon de Thés were bustling with cheers and laughter. The city is built on the hillside, so you have to take steps everywhere. For those who can’t get around as easy, they do offer donkeys that you can ride back up; the natural hot springs are at the bottom of the steps.

However, on your way down the steps, there are tons and tons of shops to browse through. One of the coolest things about Morocco is that most of the shops are completely open. So, you don’t have to necessarily go inside to see what they have. I browsed through the market, looking at chocolates, keychains, and other similar knick-knacks.

After some delicious chicken tajine and Moroccan soup, I headed back to the hotel to get some sleep. I left the window open so I could hear all of the noise from the village as I slept. Then in the morning, I left the curtains open because I wanted to wake up to the sun shining on the mountains. It was everything my big, romantic heart loves. Seeing the sun rising over the mountains was absolutely amazing.

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I decided to wait until I was back in Fes before having breakfast, and I am glad that I did. I found this little restaurant that served a traditional breakfast: bissara. It is pureed lima beans with olive oil on top. It is served with freshly baked bread and either cumin or paprika to sprinkle on top. I had reservations about it, but it was phenomenal. I finished my entire bowl. Holla for vegetarian protein! And it was so filling. Afterwards, I wasn’t just quite ready to taxi back to Ifran, so I found a Salon de Thé and had some mint tea. While drinking the tea, I read Letters to a Young Poet. My friend Michelle sent it to me from back home. She knows me so well because I loved it! I finished my tea and the book and was back on campus all before noon.

Until next time my loves, stay savvy. Relax. Love.

I’ll see you soon.

With much love,

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