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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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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Turning A Page

“People don’t take trips. Trips take people.”

-John Steinbeck

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Here it is!

How can I possibly write into words how important today is to me? Today is Day One — the first day of an amazing journey and a life filled with travel, wonder and excitement! I have been counting the days before I leave for Morocco since the end of the spring semester. I can hardly believe my countdown reached zero this morning. Soon I’ll be embarking on a big adventure.

There are always certain things that I wish for when I am starting a new chapter of my life. I wish my best friend was with me. I wish I knew all of the curve balls this trip has in store. And I wish I was more confident that I am not forgetting to pack something! Nevertheless, I am unbelievably ready to turn this page in my book of life and to ease my traveler’s heart.

I have to take the time to thank my parents, Angela and Timothy, for equipping me with the tools that I need for a successful life. Also, for understanding my wanderlust and encouraging me to live a life full of dreams. As the youngest, I was eager to get out on my own, and you’ve supported me the entire way. I’m lucky to have you. (They’ve given me small gifts to travel with that remind me of them: turquoise, fire opal & an owl locket.)

I also have to say that this trip would not be possible without the guidance of my Aunt K8, the Gr8, and the support I’ve received through the Eberly Enrichment Grant given to me by the wonderful people in the Dean’s office. Truly grateful.

Today, I’ll be traveling through Toronto, Paris and finally Casablanca (which is my final flight destination). From there, I hope to rendezvous with a fellow AUI student from Texas for a five hour train to Fez. Once in Fez (let’s hope that I make my connections on time!), we will meet representatives from the university that will take us the final hour of our journey.

Here it is. My bags are packed. My coffee is perked. And I am out the door.

With much love,

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