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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The Big, Bad West

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Hello my dear friends and family. I can’t wait to see everyone again, and don’t fret, I have a HUGE batch of postcards to send soon.

This week, I have been reminded a time or two that my perfect idea of the United States isn’t always matched in other countries. While being here in Morocco, my eyes have been opened to how some of the world views the US–ou bien–the “West,” as it is called here. Every time I hear something being said that isn’t true about the States and that is hurtful, I am not sure whether I should listen, be upset, or defend my home. Within the first few weeks here, I went to a club meeting that discussed the stereotypes of Islam and the Arab World. I was, let’s be honest, offended to hear that all the examples given were supposed to be from the US. In many cases, they were completely wrong. I sat on the sofa contemplating whether I should same something or remain silent. I chose the latter.

Just this week, I listened in class as a girl responded to a question with “The Mid-Western United States probably doesn’t even know what Africa is.” Again, I was offended. It is hard for me to comprehend how someone can so blatantly–and obviously–speak about another country in such a way. Let alone the fact that it was out loud in class. The Americans in the room (three of us) whipped our heads around and gave her our best Gary Coleman face. You know the one: “Wat yoo talkin’ bout?” Out of respect, I suppose, we silently protested with our glares. However, our teacher, an American, quickly corrected her and spoke about the elephant that had been dragged into the room: The American struggle with geography. He addressed why it is a stereotype and why we have it. Thanks, prof. 

Because it has been on my mind so much lately, I have been thinking about all the stereotypes that I make. Now that I know all too well how it feels to be on the receiving end of a stereotype, I started to brainstorm ways to stop [unknowingly] using stereotypes.

It is quite clear that stereotypes come from ignorance and overgeneralizations. I find that when I do address something said as being a stereotype of hurtful, I begin by saying that I totally agree there are people in the States that don’t know much about Africa. And that goes for many, many parts of the world–not just the US. Maybe they don’t do well in school, or just don’t care. Regardless, it isn’t fair to me, an American student studying in the Arab World, to be generalized within this group. Then I continue by saying that I wasn’t raised in a close minded culture at all. Coming from rural Appalachia, I face those stereotypes in America, but it doesn’t mean that I fit into them. I find that it is so difficult to react in a constructive way, rather than the way I want: angrily.

I had a great discussion with a great Moroccan friend a few days ago over dinner. He really wants to go study in the States but is scared from all that he has heard from his friends. People aren’t nice to foreigners. People will hate him because he is Arab. People will make fun of him. Etc. Even though those all made me incredibly sad to hear, I explained to him that I heard the exact same thing about studying in a Muslim country. I’ll be looked at funny. It won’t be safe for an American. It won’t be clean there. I went on to say that I totally acknowledge the US has incorrect stereotypes of the Arab World–ever watched Fox news?–and that I chose to study here specifically so I could learn. What I knew previously was limited to the news and what I heard from my friends or read in books. I wanted to be here so that I could learn first hand, the only real way to do it.

Stereotypes are almost always a fallacy. So, even though I don’t have the perfect way to respond to being placed into a category that doesn’t fit, it helps to know that it is a two-way road. And even though responding constructively definitely isn’t first nature, the other option will only make the stereotype worse.

Now to be clear, I don’t want to stereotype Morocco into being full of haters (said in Josiane’s voice–she does it best). I have so many amazing friends. Friends that I hope to catch at dinner so that I can eat with them. Friends that love reading as much as I do. And friends that invite me to travel home with them to meet their families. To say the least, I am immensely happy to have chosen Morocco as my home for a few months. Going home will be a double-edged sword.

As always, stay savvy my friends. Until next time…

With much love,

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The Truth About Ti

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What if I admitted that I am actually a big scaredy cat? Can we call it a lion, though…? A big scaredy lion — like the Wizard of Oz.

I can’t explain enough how deeply this picture speaks to me. I am young, just 21 years, but I’ve learned some of the most beautiful things about life through traveling.

To my friends and family, it may seem that I embrace change easily. The truth is that I actively try to embrace it. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but over the years, it has certainly become easier. I think that as creatures of habit, we are wired to not stray far from our daily routines. As humans, we seek easy, good, and more importantly, the comfortable. We are inherently programmed to associate comfortable with good, right? Right!

My comfort zone is quite small. I don’t like to act, yet one of my favorite things is teaching. I don’t like to dance, yet I am never a wallflower. I don’t like to study, yet I am intellectually curious.

With that being said, I have decided to dedicate this blog to reasons why your comfort zone isn’t a safe zone.

Your comfort zone is nothing but a belief. A mere reflection of your thoughts. You desire something better, yet you fear change. Self doubt will bind you there. Belief is all you need.

  1. Your comfort zone limits

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This is the number one reason why I detest comfort zones. Maybe it is because I am a literature student — I always feel the need to grow in many different directions. To learn about new things, people, and customs. I can’t tell you how many times I would have preferred to stay inside in my warm pajamas while sipping chocolat chaud than face the harsh québécois winters. My comfort zone was fireside reading a book — not outside where my scarf froze around my face within minutes.

Nonetheless, if I would have chosen the easy route — the comfort zone route — I would have never experienced dog sledding. This picture was taken in Québéc City, outside the Information Touristique, waiting for our bus. This experience is at the top of my list of most magical experiences of my life.

Personal growth is something that should ever stop being important. Don’t let your comfort zone limit you from growing!

2. You’ll never see the world 

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Every new adventure brings new lessons to learn about life. Traveling is stepping out of your comfort zone. As I said goodbye to my aunt at the Columbus Airport, I was so excited that it numbed my fear. But it was still there, my comfort zone told me that I should be scared. I had packed up my life in under 50lbs and was moving to the other side of the world. It is challenging, but each new day brings more reasons for me to be grateful. I have been living without a cell phone — it’s so great. I love it so much that I would like to downgrade from a smart phone. I rarely have a connection to the wifi. If I am lost, I can’t google, I have to ask. I have never favored the argument that technology is handicapping my generation. From living without my cell phone and constant connection to the world wide web, I’ve realized it is just apples and oranges. It is two different lifestyles that fit people differently.

Seeing some of the world has always taught me some lessons about money. I know so many people who are constantly concerned with their money that they don’t even get to enjoy the things that they buy. I would much rather spend my money on experiences rather than material items. OKAY, OKAY, books are the exception. 

3. Eliminate the What-ifs and regrets 

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Because your comfort zone tells you to stay home, after a while all that you will have are what-ifs and regrets. Nobody wants to live a life thinking, what if I would have taken that opportunity, or what if I would have joined my friends on their road trip.

One of my good friends describes change as a kind of medicine or vegetable. It is something that she would never really choose for herself, but in the end, she leaves healthier for having had it.

One of the biggest changes that I have had to make while being abroad is the realization that time is not money everywhere like we are cultured into believing in America. People elsewhere like to enjoy life, take their time. I am often the only student in a classroom four minutes before it starts — the teacher often isn’t there as well. Even though punctuality is still something that is important for me, I challenge you take a walk on the other side for a day or a week. It will change the way that you see things. That I promise. 

4. Change teaches.

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Maybe it is just me, but I have come to realize that change makes you more resilient — it makes us flexible and teaches us to think positively. Until recently, I hadn’t thought about how I have incorporated change into my life every day to use is as an avenue to learn. My best friend taught me this through a letter she wrote about me:

Coming from West Virginia myself, just like Tim, I know how sheltered of an environment this region can be. However, it has only stimulated Tim to be outward-searching, never afraid of meeting new people from different cultures, intimating himself with foreigners and cultivating an understanding of those whose backgrounds were vastly different from his own. If anything, Tim is actually more at home with people from different countries as he so greatly enjoys the life lessons he learns from others.

I can’t tell you exactly the best way to leave your comfort zone. What I can tell you is that even if you’re a big scaredy lion like me, you’ll never, ever regret seeking the new. 

With much love,

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Ce que j’ai fait cette semaine!

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Yeah, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel.

~Nina Simone

It seems like it has been a while since my last updates. I have been combatting senioritis and playing some big-time catch-up in some courses that I let fall to the side in order to travel. Have no fears, I will still pull out that 4.0! In an effort to get back to my regular postings, I am going to go back to posting on the weekends before Sunday evening. Because it has been a  while, I have decided to just fill you in with some great highlights.

I have visited two amazing places this past week–here’s their stories.

Tarmilat

Tarmilat is a very tiny village just ten minutes away from campus via car. The families in the village originally settled there because the men were brought up in this area to be shepherds. The kids and other family members collect materials from the garbage dump near their homes, they sell what they are able to recyclable. With other materials they find, they use them to make their homes (flattened out powdered milk cans and such). About ten years ago the AUI (my university here) club Hand-in-Hand wanted to help the community and rather than giving them a donation of money they raised money to buy them a few looms. Students found one woman who was really good at weaving and had her teach other women in the community. AUI students also helped the women learn to read and account for all of the material costs and sales income. Often, you can find handmade items that they are selling that have typos on them. This makes these items even more special to me. I can appreciate the genuine heart they have while making these beautiful pieces of art. The women now sell woven carpets, purses, coasters and such and as they are able to generate their own income they have reinvested in solar panels for their community. So although the prices are a bit higher than what you would find in a medina and there is no bargaining, it is awesome to find the woman who made your carpet, hand her the money directly and know that it is going to make a difference in her life. I did buy two carpets which were about 40 USD a piece. Unfortunately, neither of the women that made my carpets were present, but I got to meet their sisters and daughters. It was more than a treat for me.

"Chickens and Teapots"
“Chickens and Teapots”
Each carpet has a short bio and photo of its creator. After you choose which one you want, you find the lady pictured and pay her the money.
Each carpet has a short bio and photo of its creator. After you choose which one you want, you find the lady pictured and pay her the money.

After purchasing our carpets and handing out some suckers that my friend Aimée purchased at the marché, we were invited into their homes (the same ones that they made out of found items). They served up delicious freshly baked bread–some of the best bread I have ever had. They also served us chicken. It is traditional here to use the bread to tear off pieces of the chicken. It is also covered in a delicious sauce, so you can dip your bread and chicken in the sauce before eating for the best tasting meal you’ll ever have. One of the ladies could tell that none of us were really that experienced in dining like this, so she came over and tore all the meat of the bones for us. HAHA! As she was doing this, I whispered to the group “you can tell she’s a mom.” After we were full on chicken and bread, they brought us couscous and vegetables. No matter how full you are, you simply just don’t turn down couscous. ESPECIALLY the kind that is home-made is tiny villages. So, we started what seemed like a second dinner and ate ourselves into the best food coma I’ve ever had.

The chicken dish with an amazing sauce.
The chicken dish with an amazing sauce.
Here are the kids enjoying their suckers and watching us as we chatted before eating.
Here are the kids enjoying their suckers and watching us as we chatted before eating.
You have to cheers to couscous!
You have to cheers to couscous!

Meknès

Today for my Arab Society class taught by Dr. Shoup, we traveled to Meknès to interview people on whether or not they consider their neighborhood a “functioning” one. We divided into groups to make sure that each one had a Moroccan student that could speak Dirja (Moroccan Arabic). We decided to go to a neighborhood called Touta. These neighborhoods aren’t like what I would have normally imagined. They are only about 150 meters long. So it is just along a very short street. Ours was in the medina which meant that we had to go through a huge maze of narrow streets lined with small shops on either side. We interviewed a lot of people on the street about whether or not the used the public oven (They all do, women prepare the dishes in their homes and then take it to the oven to be cooked. Usually, they send their kids to pick it up. During this time, the women get together and gossip. It is sorta like a daily meeting time. It should be noted that they all use the public oven because they live in such close quarters that having one major oven helps reduce the risk of fire), where they do their shopping, which mosque they go to, etc.

Our goal was obviously to learn as much as possible. However, the last door we knocked on was a true treat. This little old lady answered the door and had the biggest smile. We explained that we were students from Ifrane wanting to learn more about Touta. She invited us into her lovely home and served us tea and biscuits. Her home was absolutely amazing. It was definitely one of the most gorgeous homes I have seen…maybe ever. She was the sweetest too. In many ways, she reminded me of my grandmother. As she served us mint tea, she told us stories about growing up in a different neighborhood, studying in Rabat, how her mother was always mistaken for an American, her time as a principal at a school and how she spends time with her grandchildren. She told us about how she has watched the neighborhood change since the many years that she has lived there and explained that she allows the neighborhood kids to play in her home with her grandchildren. Before we left, I asked the translator to tell her how wonderful the experience was for me, and how being around her reminded me so much of home–a beautiful gift. She invited us back to her home anytime we wanted and gave us big good-bye kisses. ❤

I was listening intently even though I could only understand that thrown in French during the conversation.
I was listening intently even though I could only understand some thrown in French during the conversation.
Panorama of the salon.
Panorama of the salon. Notice the gorgeous tile on the walls.
You can see here the upstairs of her home where her son lives. You can also see that this entire area is lit by a sky light--natural lighting.
You can see here the upstairs of her home where her son lives. You can also see that this entire area is lit by a skylight–natural lighting.

I’ve been making some more amazing memories and continuing to meet wonderful people that touch my heart. It’s been an amazing week for me. I’m thinking of all my friends and family back home and sending love and hugs!

( NB: I used my friend Aimée’s description of Tarmilat with my own little twist. Thanks for organizing the trip Aimée! ) 

With much love,

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Volunteering Abroad

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This weekend is so packed with homework, essays, and readings. In fact, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. I will be leaving soon to trek in the Sahara Desert, visit Marrakech and make some more great memories. That’s the true reason I am so booked — I have to stay caught up around my travels.

Nonetheless, today I had the beautiful opportunity to volunteer at an orphanage in Azrou. One of the things that I promised myself I would do is find time to volunteer to be able to see some of the real Morocco. I have yet to make a better decision on this trip than to visit those kids today.

Volunteers don’t always have the time to do things like this, but we make the time because it is more than worthwhile. Today, I helped with English lessons during study hours, got completely SCHOOL’D by some incredibly talented eight-year-old soccer players, and helped straighten up a cramped storage room.

Cue the shameless plug:

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If you are not already aware, there’s an amazing campaign going on at WVU right now called the Million Hour Match. In an effort to show residents of WV how Mountaineers embody the Mountaineer Spirit, the student body is inviting WV residents to complete one million hours of service my 2018! Volunteering is an amazing way to leave your mark on the community. Every hour of service is an hour of learning. 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Volunteering Abroad

  1. DO match your skills to the need. You want to be productive while volunteering. Pick something that you’re good at so that you can help in the best way — while having fun!
  2. DON’T pick a service project that will take away a job from someone in that country. While our intentions are good, this one can sneak up on us without knowing it. Be mindful that your project might actually be a source of income for someone else.
  3. DO choose a project that will help a local endeavor. No matter how big or small, do something that will impact the residents in that particular community. Always support local! (;
  4. DON’T wait for the right moment to volunteer. We will always be busy — it’s in our nature. Especially for study abroad students, finding time to rest is rare. However, this is what being abroad is about. Meeting new people. Learning as much as possible. Making a positive impact. As my dear friend Esmerelda told me before I left the States: “Do everything! Even if you don’t feel like it. Try it all.”

With much love,

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Couscous Galore!

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.

~C.P. Cavafy

Another week has passed, and I am still discovering how incredibly lucky I am. I am lucky to be able to study abroad. I am lucky to be able to chase my dreams. And I am lucky to be able to spend this adventure with so many amazing people. My friend Minna, from Finland, shared this poem with me. I have read it so many times this week. Not because I am feeling homesick, but because it captures so beautifully how I feel about this life. Whenever I am feeling the triple threat, tired, hungry, hot, I remember that finding Ithaka is what makes you rich of heart. So here’s my breakdown on this week’s journey to Ithaka:

Anyone who really knows me knows that I find everything I need by spending time in nature. Today, I joined a big group of students on a long hike not far from the university. It was incredibly refreshing to be out in the woods again, just breathing in fresh air and enjoying the open forest.

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Along the way, we stopped at this natural spring. It was the first time I have ever drank from anything like this. After assurance that the water was entirely safe to drink, I cupped up as much as I could. It was crystal clear and ice cold. One of the faculty members with us told the group that one of the professors at my university comes every Saturday to fill up water jugs for the week. After trying some, I can see why. I thought to myself: “Experiences like this are what makes my journey incredible.”

You’ll notice that I am wearing a sweatshirt, it’s because I didn’t pack any winter clothes. I thought I had a good month or two before it started getting cold for the winter snow. Oh boy, was I wrong! You have to have a jacket here in the evenings and mornings. I even wore my sweatshirt for most of the hike. (; I’ll be winter clothes shopping soon.

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Along the way, we came across many caves and picturesque waterfalls. I am living in a city called Ifrane which actually means “caves.” The hike wasn’t far from where I live and the path was clearly marked so I can go back anytime. The best part of the trip was our destination: Zawia Sidi Abdeslam.

We were hiking to this village because it is the original settlement of this entire region, long before Ifrane was built. A 16th century holy man named Sidi Abdeslam came to the small village to teach the Quran. The original houses (and some that exist there today) were built into the side of the mountain around caves. So the cave was an actual part of their home. In the time of Abdeslam’s life, the Sultan lived in Fez–only an hour’s drive away. The sultan had several wives, but one of which was very young and beautiful. She had a habit of bathing outside at night. One night while she was bathing in the garden, some men came by and spooked her so she climbed up the tree. Eventually the sun came up and people started noticing that one of the Sultan’s wives was naked in the tree. He called on his advisors for suggestions on how to get her down without brining shame to him–and her for that matter. Sidi Abdeslam came and when he got to Fez, the sultan’s advisor spat at his feet because to them, he was nothing more than a simple country man wearing pedestrian clothes. Abdeslam quoted a verse from the Quran that said night was a cover; they just had to wait until night and then she could come down safely. The king was so grateful that he granted him some money. Every year, him and his direct decedents would receive this money in appreciation. This tradition still exists today. And the cool part is, we were able to visit his shrine.

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After our long hike and visit to the shrine, we ended our trip in one of the houses I was talking about–the ones that still have a cave as part of their home. This is the view from inside the cave looking at the entrance to the rest of the home. I wish I would have thought to take a picture from the house viewing into the cave entrance! We told cave stories from Islamic, Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Karen Smith is the chaplain at AUI and she arranged this amazing day for us all. No matter where you go–you’ll also meet kind hearts!

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Once we got the cue from the kitchen, we split up into groups. Here is part of the group that I was in. We chose to sit in a traditional Moroccan parlor. We were served a giant dish of vegetarian couscous from which we all ate. For dessert, we had fresh melon and grapes. If you’ve never had couscous, let me tell you, you’ll never feel more full in your life. It was a real treat to experience a traditional meal in Morocco.

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Here are some other pictures from our hike:

Here you can see some caves off in the distance.
Here you can see some caves off in the distance.
Me in front of a limestone cave, which are very common in the Mediterranean region.
Me in front of a limestone cave, which are very common in the Mediterranean region.
This was our first glimpse of our destination where we visited the shrine and had dinner. There were many breathtaking views along the way.
This was our first glimpse of our destination where we visited the shrine and had dinner. There were many breathtaking views along the way.

With much love,

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5 Things to Know

Bonjour à tous,

I have almost completed my first week in Morocco. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Expect to be exhausted

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Aimée, Esther, Bella & I crammed into the back of a “grand taxi” coming back from Fez.

Maybe this goes without saying, but you should expect to be tired. Whether it is from jet lag or a bus schedule, it will happen. For me, I had no idea how long I had been awake or been traveling thanks to crossing over so many time zones. I left Columbus at 6:30pm and arrived in France at 2pm (I believe). Of course it was impossible for me to sleep on the plane. I kept having flashbacks to “big man in a little jacket” except I was a big guy in a little seat. How lovely, aye? Nonetheless, traveling always brings new adventures. After I cured my jet lag by resisting the deep, intense urge to siesta, I realize that it is all worth it.

2. Don’t buy into gossip and stereotypes

Our first trip to the marché with a funny local expert. (By the way, he's a great bowler so don't think about challenging him!)
Our first trip to the marché with a funny local expert. (By the way, he’s a great bowler so don’t think about challenging him!)

Before I got here, I heard a lot of rumors and concerns about solo travel in North Africa. Isis. Ebola. Beggars. That was a big one. I heard to never talk to kids on the street when they address you because they will scam you or ask for money. It has been my experience that this isn’t the case. At least, you don’t have to ignore them. I ended up talking to one local that showed us around the marché (market) out of pure kindness. Another Moroccan actually bought antibacterial wipes for me because I scraped my knee. Moroccans are incredibly nice and humble people. Never shy away from talking to them.

Can I just add everyone that gave me crazy warnings about traveling here also made remarks like: “What country is Morocco in?” “I heard the exchange rate for the Euro isn’t good.” & “I hope you know Spanish.” No offense, but that makes your opinions pretty invalid.

3. Haggling hassel

I visited a tannery in Fes today where these bags were made.
I visited a tannery in Fes today where these bags were made.

One of the biggest adjustments that I have had to make is that you must haggle. Unfortunately, I am quite dreadful at it. Most of the commercial items you buy at a fixed price, but almost everything in the marché and souk is negotiable. Also, as an American, you are spotted right away and the merchants know that you won’t realize what is a bad price and what is good. I have been shopping with locals and it has also been the best. One of the Moroccan students haggled the price of a cell phone yesterday and it was nothing less than entertaining. At first, I was just okay with the first price they gave me. Then you could see in their face a look of pure happiness, like they just made 200 more dirhams than they actually should have. My best advice is to set a price in your head of what you think something is worth before you start the negotiation. With that price in mind, you won’t walk away with regret…maybe buyer’s remorse but that’s an entirely different story.

For the love of everything great, please don’t try to venture through the medinas by yourself. It is maze-like and it’d be easier to make it out of the Triwizard Tournament Maze. Seriously. Your best bet is to go with a friend that knows the area. Be aware that there’s the chance a stranger will lead you into the maze and then ask for money in order to make your way out. (It hasn’t actually happened to me, but in this case, better safe than sorry!)

While in the narrow streets of the medina, if you hear someone shout “BALAK!,” that’s your cue to get out of the way or be crushed by a heavily loaded mule. Just a life saving fyi. (:

Looking down on the tannery in Fez.
Looking down on the tannery in Fez.

4. Weather

En route to Azrou. Check out the tomb atop the hill.
En route to Azrou. Check out the tomb atop the hill.

I had read on one of my favorite travel blogs that you left a trail of sweat everywhere you went in Morocco. I have found this to only be half true. It is pretty warm here–probably about an average of 84F. However the heat is different here. It is very bearable and today walking a few miles around Fez was the first time that I actually broke a decent sweat. I like it though–it is a great change. It is always better to buy the 1.5 litre of water instead of one of the smaller ones because you won’t have any issues finishing it. In fact, I drink a couple a day. Hopefully, drinking this much water is a habit that I take back to the US of A with me. (:

The land is mostly brown here but not sandy. You’ll see a lot of orchards (pomegranates, apples, oranges, etc) and lots of places with tons of aloe plants around. It is really quite breathtaking and an entire new experience for me. I am used to looking at the beautiful mountains of West Virginia and the lush green forests. I never thought about a brown landscape being equally as breathtaking. On the route to Azrou–a city about twenty minutes from the uni–there are these distinct hills that have tombs at the very top. It’s a sight worth seeing.

By the way, the lines on the road are pointless while driving in Morocco.
By the way, the lines on the road are pointless while driving in Morocco.

5. Meeting new friends

The A team: Myself, Katherine and Jordan!
The A team: Myself, Katherine and Jordan!

While studying abroad, a worry should never be meeting new friends. Right away you’ll meet other students that are in the same boat as you–hungry, jet lagged and often traveling into uncharted lands. You’ll meet tons of new people, and probably more people than you even care to meet. The best part is, there are no strangers, only friends that you haven’t met yet. Like I said, Moroccan people are rich of heart. They’re more accommodating and friendly than a lot of folks back home in the states. Let’s be real, being a foreign exchange student in itself will gain you several new friends. (;

With that being said, I am doing great at Al Akhawayn University. I’ve met some amazing people and absolutely love the campus. Classes start tomorrow (Monday 31st) and I am biting at the bit to get started in my studies. I feel like I have chosen great classes to enrich my experience here.

French for Academic Purposes, Arab Society, Major Works in World Literature, Arabic 1, & Pop Culture in Africa

With love,

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