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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Marv & I

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Everyone, meet my friend Marv! He lives in Hannover, Germany, and this weekend, I got to meet him for the first time. Marv and I have been penpals for many years. We started writing each other before facebook, and I am pretty sure before I even had a cell phone. A lot of people start writing their pen pals in school as a project but don’t continue it very long. Marv has become more than just my friend and pen pal, he is my brother. After all, it seems like we have grown up together.

Before flying here to Morocco, I messaged him and asked how likely it is that I could fly to Germany to see him. Never did I ever think that I would actually get to do it. Seriously, it seems so funny that I thought I would never get to meet him in person, and then it happened! How surreal. I booked my flight into Düsseldorf early in the semester and began planning my next adventure in Europe to see my long lost brother.

Once I arrived in Düsseldorf, I rented a car and began the 3.5 hour drive to Hannover. The first thing I noticed was how great the radio stations are in Germany. It seemed like every preset station in the car was amazing. Bravo Deutschland! I can’t tell you how thankful I am that I chose to rent a car and make the drive. One of my favorite things in this world is to drive at night. It clears my mind and is so relaxing — strange, huh? Not having slept the night before, I stocked up with RedBull before leaving the airport, although looking back, I was so excited that I probably could have managed without it. Driving to Marv’s house allowed me to see so much of Germany. I would have never thought that I would find the same joy and wonder that I have for Québec in another country. But after a few minutes on the Autobahn, I knew Québec had its competition.

After enjoying the sights from the Autobahn and the smaller roads that I took, I finally arrived at Marv’s! I buzzed his apartment’s number and heard the door click signaling that he had let me into the building. I opened the door, and he was there waiting to give me a big hug.

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Thursday night, the day I arrived, we decided to go out to dinner and then come back to catch up. We had lots to talk about. We relaxed with our stomachs full and stayed up late chatting.

Friday morning, we both slept in. We had plans of traveling a bit, but decided we would be too crunched for time, so we stayed in Hannover. He took me to see Old Hannover and even took me inside the New Town Hall — which was incredibly beautiful on the inside. They had displays of how Hannover looked throughout the years. It was cool to see how the city changed and test my limited knowledge of the streets. It was also interesting to see the miniature replica of Hannover after the British bombed it, completely destroying the city, and then post rebuild.

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Outside the New Town Hall.

On Saturday, Marv and I drove about an hour away to Wolfsburg to visit Autostadt. Autostadt is a huge museum that showcases German made cars, both old and new. Each building is dedicated to a different make of car. We toured the Porsche and Lamborghini buildings. We also saw the older cars displayed in a larger portion of the museum. Along the way, Marv had some good laughs as I practiced reading the signs in German. Yikes!

We spent the rest of Saturday enjoying each others company and watching funny movies. I, unfortunately, had to leave Hannover at midnight in order to make my flight back in Düsseldorf. On the way back to the airport, I took a different route so that I could see even more of Germany.

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Thanks Marv for the awesome weekend in Germany. It was crazy finally getting able to meet you in person after so many years of writing. As I told you, it is your turn to come to the States now. (; Danke mein Freund.

Until next time my friends, stay savvy.

With much love,

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Fossils, Palm Tress and Sufism

This past weekend, my classmates and I traveled south with our prof, Dr. John Shoup. Our destination? The second largest oasis in the world (the first being the Nile Valley): the Tafilalt Oasis.

My first trip to the South was a total shit show. We went with a travel agency but quickly realized that the agenda we received wasn’t at all correct. Nonetheless, that was the trip where I slept under the stars in the Sahara Desert, so I guess I can’t say too many bad things about it. Moreover, this trip was an absolute blast.

Friday

2 pm: We all arrived to see only one van waiting to take us a few hours south. Uh-oh! We began having flashbacks to being carsick in crowded taxis and buses while flying down some of the curviest roads that I have ever seen. Dr. Shoup quickly came to our rescue. He called a second grand taxi — one of the nicer ones — to take the other half of the group.

8 pm: Finally arrive at Hotel Salasil in Erfoud. The hotel was gorgeous. It had a huge open courtyard where we could see all the stars in the Heavens. We had a great three-course meal — it was included in the price of the rooms. We were are pretty much completely drained, so I went to bed pretty quickly after dinner.

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The view for my bathroom window.
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A little like paradise, right?

Saturday

7:30 am: Breakfast time! As I filled my tummy with delicious, fresh off the stove msemen, this is when I first learned about the attacks on Paris. I am an early riser when traveling, so Dr. Shoup and I sat at breakfast and he filled me in with everything that I had missed. I am not nearly good enough to understand the Arabic spoken on the news, so he was my only source.

8:30 am: By this time, everyone was up and we were ready to start our day. Our first stop was to see an older form of irrigation. Basically, there were large-scale networks of underground tunnels that the water ran through. Occasionally, there is an opening to the surface that looks like a huge anthill or sorts. These tunnels have to be built on a certain grade because, as you can imagine, it is especially easy for rocks to break free and clog the entire system. In fact, it is someone’s job to crawl through them and clean out debris. I couldn’t imagine. I am not claustrophobic, but this would do it for me. We also learned that theses underground waterways were used by the Taliban because they’re extremely difficult to police.

Something interesting about these old forms of irrigation is that the people in the villages that used them, preferred them. When the government implemented a modern irrigation system, people began to break them so that they could still use the older form. I suppose this is a case of “if it is not broken, don’t fix it.”

Funny Fact: Not far from these pictures is a little village where Hillary Clinton donated money. The people thought, why would this white woman donate all this money to us. So they created the story that Hillary Clinton’s great grandmother is from their village. Why else would she have donated, right? HA! 

Also that morning we walked through Sadd Rasif on the Ziz River. We learned about village life, why people burn palm trees, and the distribution of water to people in the villages. Then, we went to Qasr al-Fidha. We toured the building and saw a gorgeous hammam.

To finish our morning, we toured the ruins of Sijilmasa. I had atteneded a discussion on this site a week or so prior, so it was a real treat to visit it. It dates backs to 756. Old is an understatement. Unfortunately, this site is in no way protected by the Moroccan governemtn, so before leaving their excavation site, researchers have reburied the site to protect it from vandalism–which is a huge problem for Sijilmasa.

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4 pm: After our lunch back at the hotel and a cat nap, we headed out for our evening programming. Our first stop was to the only government recognized fossil museum in Morocco. The owner is completely self-taught and has even had different fossils named after him because he discovered them. Cool, huh? We walked through his museum, toured his workshop, and spent a lot of time looking at all the marvels in the gift shop. I bought some really great gifts for my friends and family here!

Fun fact: Fossils are among the most important export from the area and provide more than 1 million US dollars a year in taxes for the Moroccan government. 

After leaving there, it was dark. We stopped at the Rissani Suq where a friend of Dr. Shoup invited us to his carpet shop for tea. He had some gorgeous carpets and blankets at really good prices. I had to buy an extra suitcase for all the carpets that I have already bought, so I restrained myself from buying more here. However, a beautiful deep blue shirt caught my eye. I am sure you guys will see it when I get back. Dr. Shoup eneded up buying the first shirt I found. But I found another that fit better and had the matching pants with it. Dr. Shoup bought it for me as a gift for being invited to the Peace Corps! If I haven’t mentioned it already, Dr. Shoup is also from the Crow Tribe. So, I suppose that makes us cousins or something. ;p

Our final destination of the day was Zawiyat Sidi al-Ghazi. This is by far one of the coolest experiences I have had here in Morocco. We were invited to their homes for tea and dinner. They served us fresh dates, peanuts and cookies all evening until time for dinner. The coolest thing is that they were so happy to answer all of our questions about Sufism (a very spirital aspect of Islam) and Islam. They opened up to us about anything that we asked, all in the name of brotherhood and friendship. Moroccans have really made a big impression on my heart. I feel like these guys truly understand what humanity is and they were not shy to show it.

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This was sorta like a calzone without sauce. Very delicious!
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Clapping along with some songs.

After getting home from the long day away, I ordered some white wine, relaxed in the tub, and listened to the wind run through the palm trees. The bathtub was lined with deep blue tile, and I could feel the fresh night air come in through the window. Talk about relaxing… (:

Sunday

10 am: After our breakfast and check out, we were headed back to Ifrane! We stopped in a town called Midelt for lunch. Midelt is where one of my best friends is from, so it was cool to be able to see his hometown.

On the way home, we stopped at an overlook of the entire oasis. So, here is the area where I spent my weekend.

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As a side note, I have spent a lot of time this week thinking about the refugee crisis and what we can do. I have exhausted my list of delegates, governors and news stations to contact. It is my beleif that it would be the greatest shame to turn these refugees away. Nevertheless, I don’t want to use this blog as any sort of political outlet. I just would like to encourage you to call your delegates and encourage them to oppose Delegat Nelson of Boone Coutny’s open letter to Govenor Tomblin.

My professor recomended a journalist who is very good on these subejcts: Robin Wright. If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, look her up. (:


 

As always my friends, keep the love in your hearts and be kind to one another.

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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