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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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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Big Blue Sea

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I used to lay awake at night and dream of adventuring across the world. Learning new languages, enjoying the freedom of travel and swimming in big blue seas. Now that my dreams are becoming reality, those uncanny “pinch myself moments” seem to be happing more frequently. This weekend, I went to the beach for the first time in my life! This was no regular beach, ohhhh no. It was the Mediterranean Sea! What a gem, right? My first time ever going to the beach and I am lucky enough to go there.

Before I get too carried away, let’s take a moment to appreciate once more the beauty of the road there. Driving through the mountains of Northern Africa is simply breathtaking. I had my window down the entire way, not because I was hot, but because the fresh mountain air was unbelievably refreshing. My only note about these mountain roads, don’t forget to pack your dramamine!

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Notice the road ahead on the bottom right disappearing into the mountains…

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“The world I’ve created on the outside

is finally as beautiful as it was in my mind’s eye

when I first began writing and dreaming.”

-Lana Del Rey

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Here it is folks! My first appearance on the beach — officially documented. (: I love that it was a pebble beach rather than sand. It was soft to walk in (for the most part) and the sound of the waves washing around the rocks on the beach was soothing to the soul. I collected some white rocks from the beach in a water bottle to take home as a souvenir. Though, I seemed to have collected more rocks in my swim trunks rather than the bottle. (Shout out to the restaurant owner who now has a tons of rocks that I emptied out of my swimmies in his bathroom. haha!)

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There was something so magical about this beach town — Oued Laou. I was mesmerized by the way the mountains gradient in the distance. How the shades of blue in the sea mixed with each other. How the clear blue sky met the sea on the horizon.

I can easily see how people visit the beach each year. Myself, I am a nature guy. I love the feeling of totality that you can get from spending time in the forest. However, strangely enough, I have found that same level of evanescence here at this beach. I could stare at this picture for hours and just feel so happy because of all the beautiful memories and people that it captures for me. I have made many new friends since arriving at AUI. However, the people that went on this trip with me will always have a special place in my heart. Big hugs to you all. XO

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Another souvenir I took from the Sea was a wicked sunburn! (Not on my head though. Surprising, huh?)
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Driving along the promenade en route to dinner!

Until next time, stay savvy friends!

With much love,

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Exploring the Blue City

Before coming to Morocco, I had a handful of places that I promised myself I would visit. Chefchaouen, or the Blue City, was near the top of that list. In the 1930s, the jewish community that lived here painted the city blue as an ode to the ancient holy city of Safed where the same was done.

I was told that the blue of the city would be soothing to my soul. They were right. The gorgeous shades of blue makes it feel like you’re exploring an underwater city… almost like Atlantis.

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Similar to Fez, the Old Medina here was maze-like. We arrived at our hotel in the evening, so we hit the city to soak up as much of the sunlight that was left as possible. We walked entirely through the medina, then doubled around to find a great place for dinner. On the way back through, I stopped and bought some new postcards to send out — I am old fashioned in that sense.

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The medina was decently crowed while we were there. It isn’t as busy as Fez or Marrakech, but you can still buy the same quality of goods, maybe just a little less in stock.

We were close to Spain, so a lot of the merchants and tourists spoke Spanish. Fear not Frenchies, I still used primarily French while here. Pas de problème. A lot of the exchange students with me were excited to finally be able to brush up on some of their Spanish. I, however, found that the dialect here was really difficult to understand. I did test out my skills some, but didn’t get very far. The best that I could get was understanding directions given to me in Spanish — I didn’t ask in Spanish, the merchant just switched mid sentence.

That brings me to another fascinating point about studying outside of the US. At my university here, all students must be fluent in Arabic, Spanish and French to meet their graduation requirements. Maybe this is one of the reasons that I love it so much here. We could be talking in French then switch to Arabic and English all in the same sentence. Of course, I still get lost when the Arabic comes in, but I am never too far from the general idea. While going abroad, or choosing a destination to study, don’t let a language barrier affect your decision too much. You’ll learn quick.

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Some more advice: step out of your comfort zone with the food. Try whatever is local! Here we stopped at a little place in the medina to try a sweet and a salty food known for being from this area. The sweet treat was delicious. I really can’t explain it though. I know for a fact it had rose water in it — which I absolutely love. It was soft and sticky, but definitely hit the sweet tooth. The salty treat was… kinda slimy and tasted for some reason strangely familiar. It had a hard top and bottom, but the middle layer was the slimy part. It wasn’t my favorite, but I was happy that I tried it.

At dinner that night, we found a place that had a special going on. One soup, one main dish (tajine or couscous) and one desert with a glass of mint tea for 45DHS. That’s $4.50 USD. I had the fish soup and fish tajine. A tajine is a very delicious meal in Morocco made in a clay pot. It is usually some sort of meat cooked with tomatoes or other vegetables with an egg in the middle. It is served in the clay pot it was cooked in and always comes to your table still bubbling. You can, of course, get the vegetarian one.

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After dinner, I got the name of our hotel, and set off to explore on my own. There is a beauty in walking solo through a new place, a place you don’t know too well and taking in everything that you can. I walked back through the blue maze and made sure to take in all of its beauty. It’s almost overwhelming — but in a good way! We normally associate blue with sadness, but the blue of Chefchaouen has a much different effect. It’s calming. Peaceful.

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For my last piece of advice while staying in Chefchaouen, find the highest point of the city, take a cup of coffee and let the city wash over you. For me, it was the roof of our hotel. I took this picture the morning we were leaving at about 8:30 am. I was the only person on the roof and the sun still rising in the sky was gorgeous. From one side of the roof, you can see the entire city nestled into the valley. On the other side, you can lose yourself in the wonder of Le Rif Mountains. You can also get a great view from a rooftop restaurant. Some friends said it was reasonably priced, and well worth it.

Find your high spot. Drink some mint tea or coffee. Make the memories you came to make.

With much love,

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Paradise in the Mountains

Disclaimer: There is simply no possible way that I will be able to capture the gorgeous mountains and rivers of Akchour in words.

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No better place to begin my attempt at explaining the best weekend of my life than at breakfast. My friends and I woke up at 4am, crammed tightly into an Al Akhawayn van and began the long drive. One thing that you’ll quickly notice about other countries is the culinary differences. Most places other than the US have freshly squeezed juices. In this case, I was trying a freshly blended apple juice. Being vegetarian, I am in love with the natural sweetness of fruit, so freshly made apple juice sounded right up my alley. I quickly learned that I much prefer the fresh orange juice over the apple.

While in Morocco, you simply must try the harcha. The best way I could describe it is that it is similar to cornbread… but denser. It is most common to eat it with cheese (la vache qui rit) but I prefer apricot jam (ou bien, confiture).

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Located in the peak of Le Rif Mountains, the road to Akchour is terrifying. I am certain we have all seen photos or videos of mountain roads that zig zag down cliffs. Well, I got to experience it. Most of the time there weren’t guardrails, but the view was worth it. Carsickness has nothing on the majesty of these mountains (neither does The Smoky Mountains for that matter). Be prepared with your swimmies on beneath your clothes, because 1) the restroom costs 2DHS to use and 2) you won’t wish to wait any long than you have to.

This picture was taken from the parking lot. You have to hike through the canyon to get to the best spots.

Don't be fooled, the hike was far from paved.
Don’t be fooled, the hike was far from paved.

I just took a 1.5L bottle of water with me, but next time I will definitely plan ahead. There are several places along the trail to stop and enjoy the views. The fresh air and the sound of the river easily soothe your soul. A picnic lunch would be perfect. Even though the parking lot was packed, people go to all different places in the canyon, so you’ll never feel like you’re in a crowd.

We basically followed the river to the best spots. The further up you go, the clearer the water gets.
We basically followed the river to the best spots. The further up you go, the clearer the water gets.
“God’s Bridge”

This is the part that pains me. I was unable to capture the top of God’s bridge in the photo. It was actually pretty thin, so it made the experience have even more of a paradise feel. Nonetheless, as my friend Aimée writes in her blog, some of the best moments are the ones you can’t capture with a photo.

This was where we could no longer continue without swimming–hence why I left my camera behind. On the way up, we had climbed (up AND down) cliffs, crawled over rocks and crossed very roughly made stick bridges. I originally did not plan on swimming at all because I usually just get a headache from the reflection of the sun on the water. But the water here was so clear. I could see every detail of the river bed with ease. That, coupled with the fact that there was no way I was going to miss out on what was just around the riverbend convinced me that not swimming here would be a crying shame.

The water was ICY! What else would I expect from a mountain stream, right? A word of advice: don’t be afraid to make some noises while you adjust to the water temperature. I was very vocal with my “Ohhhhs” and “Awhhhhs.” It helps. Go ahead and let it out.

As we passed under God’s Bridge, monkeys swung on the cliff walls above us–sending little pebbles down on our heads. I did get hit with one but luckily it wasn’t big enough to do any damage. This was also the first time that I saw monkeys in the wild!

Not far past God’s Bridge, we found the best swimming hole–as we would call it in WV. After gathering up a lot of courage, I even jumped from a 6 meter rock that hung above a small waterfall. “Aim for where the bubbles end!” I recall very vividly looking down into the water and having to hold my heart in my chest so it wouldn’t jump out. “This is what study abroad is about,” said Aimée. Needless to say, I survived. And I jumped many more times after that.

Akchour is nothing short than a paradise. I could have spent days there letting the crystal clear water carry all my worries and aches downstream. Even though I didn’t get videos of my cliff jumping or pictures that could do this paradise justice, I made life long memories with amazing people from around the world.

What else could I ask for?

With much love,

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