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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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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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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Riding on the Marrakech Express

“Looking at the world
Through the sunset in your eyes
Trying to make the train
Through clear Moroccan skies”

~Crosby Stills Nash, Marrakech Express

I’ll have to admit that this is a delayed post. My weekends away from school have left me swamped with essays, tests, and books to read. I am glad to say that I think my cold is finally waning, and as of today, I have cleared all my “short” 8 page essays that are due this week. Hallellllllujah!

However, I could never forget to post about my time in Marrakech. It was actually our first destination of my week on the road. We had originally planned to leave the campus at midnight, but we learned just ten minutes before that our driver would be 4 hours late. What are you gonna do, right? Some of my traveling friends had the idea to stay awake until four and then just sleep on the long 8-hour ride from Ifrane to Marrakech. All’s well, yeah? No. This is the actual moment where I promised myself to never try and sleep in a car traveling on Moroccan roads again.

We arrived just around three in the afternoon. Our “hotel” that we were staying at was actually more like a resort. It had high walls around the perimeter. Inside the walls were our bungalows, palm trees, two beautiful pools, and peacocks roaming the grounds. (That night, I swam in the pool under the moonlight with the silhouette of the palm trees all around. It was a surreal moment for me.) We had just enough time to freshen up and put our bags down before we had to leave to make our reservations for lunch. We ended up meeting some Moroccan friends of our friends to take us through the maze-like old medina to find our rooftop location.

A man handed me this hat and said "and this is your hat." So I left with it... HA!
A man handed me this hat and said “and this is your hat.” So I left with it… HA!
The view overlooking the medina was amazing.
The view overlooking the medina was amazing.
Here's the gang. Morocco was being featured on Snapchat so we tried to get added for the world to see!
Here’s the gang. Morocco was being featured on Snapchat so we tried to get added for the world to see!

I ended up having just a fruit salad. I was still a little car sick and was in no mood for a big meal. It was 40 DHS (4 USD), which was actually expensive. Typically you can find a full meal for 30 DHS.

After lunch, we had free time to explore the streets and shops of the old medina. Every medina brings new adventures and new sights. I mostly window shopped in an effort to stop buying items on my “want” list. We met up with everyone at Café France around 20h30 that night. I sat on the rooftop and enjoyed an ice cold coca-cola while enjoying the hustle and bustle below.

I didn't want to be 'that' tourist, so I just snapped one quick pic. This is inside the medina with shops on each side. This street wasn't busy. There's usually no free standing room!
I didn’t want to be ‘that’ tourist, so I just snapped one quick pic. This is inside the medina with shops on each side. This street wasn’t busy. There’s usually no free standing room!
This is the center square of the medina. There's a HUGE open space where vendors will set up. This is a view of the thousands of people in the square with the shop lights in the background.
This is the center square of the medina. There’s a HUGE open space where vendors will set up. This is a view of the thousands of people in the square with the shop lights in the background.
Here's my rooftop view from Café France.
Here’s my rooftop view from Café France.

Our two days in Marrakech weren’t consecutive. So it was our first and our last stop on the trip. I want to include some magical moments from the in-between spots (excluding the Sahara. There’s a whole other post about that.)

We stayed in a place called Gorge de Dadès. The hotel wasn’t anything special, but the location was amazing. It was roadside in-between two cliffs with a booming river just on the other side of the road. My bed was right next to the balcony, so I left the door open all night to hear the rushing river while I slept.

I took this as soon as my alarm went off. It was so peaceful.
I took this as soon as my alarm went off. It was so peaceful.
Here's the hotel.
Here’s the hotel.

After leaving this hotel in the morning, we stopped at Monkey Finger Hills (English translation, of course).

My friend Jeni is
My friend Jeni is
very photogenic.
very photogenic.

Our next stop was in a town called Ouarzazate, where we hiked through some beautiful gardens. We learned that the entire valley is gardening space shared by several nomad families. The division of the gardens is marked by which ways the rows are tilled. Ouarzazate is also a popular destination for filming. MIA, for example, shot one of her music videos here. So is U2’s music video for Magnificant. It’s an appropriate title for this area of Morocco.

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Our guide told us that this river never dries up... even in the summer.
Our guide told us that this river never dries up… even in the summer.

We were actually in the village on Eid, so my friends and I were very thankful to the families that allowed us in their homes and served us the famous, delicious Moroccan Tea. We went inside the home of a half nomad family that was living in the valley. They taught us about their lifestyle and demonstrated how to make the always beautiful Moroccan carpets.

This man was so kind. "Big smile, we are all family here."
This man was so kind. “Big smile, we are all family here.”
She showed us how to make the carpets. They use living wool which is apparently better than the alternative. Always a learning experience...
She showed us how to make the carpets. They use living wool which is apparently better than the alternative. Always a learning experience…

This was also the location where I purchased the scarf that I wore in the desert. It was hand made in-house–possibly even from this woman pictured. It was 80 DHS and worth every cent. I will wear it back in the states and smile with all the memories it holds for me.

My second day in Marrakech started later than I would have liked. I was miserable in bed for most of the morning with the worst cold. That was the peak of my misery… (I’m not dramatic, right? ;p )

We arrived in the medina around 2 to find lunch. There are literally hundreds of places to eat. So many so that they don’t all have names. Instead, they have numbers. You walk past and they all try to get you to eat there. They are really good at getting your attention too. I was called “muscles,” “handsome,” and my favorite “Hey Vinn Diesel! Ready to eat?” After you politely tell them you’ve already had something to eat, they look at your stomach and say “where, it doesn’t look like you eat.” Then they will tell you their restaurant number and say “See you tomorrow then!” HAHA! It was really nice for me to practice my quick response French, though. So, I enjoyed the attention anyway.

One of the many pleasures of medina in Marrakech is the freshly squeezed juices. You can buy freshly squeezed orange juice for 4 DHS–40 cents. Me, I prefer pomplamoose juice (grapefruit). It ended up costing me 10 DHS–1 dollar. I may or may not have bought more than one or three. Maybe… (;

During the day in the big square that I have a picture of up above, there are many, many snake charmers who aren’t shy about putting a snake around you. I caught a glimpse of one King Cobra and STEERED CLEAR OF THE AREA FOR THE REST OF THE DAY. It only takes one mishap and those bad boys will be all over. haha. I’m mostly being facetious. If you like snakes, go for it. More power to you. You will not, however, find me hugging ’em.


Just a quick note. I have been inspired by a friend back home and want to share it with my readers. Always be ferocious in fighting for your dreams and what you believe in. Stand tall for rights and never let anyone tell you can’t stand up for what you believe in.

With much love,

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Our Night Among the Dunes

I’ve done many amazing things in my life, but this was definitely a first for me. Let’s start by giving a piece of advice. Never plan on sleeping in the car while traveling through Morocco. It just won’t happen. The roads here are far beyond the curves of the West Virginian mountains. I remember thinking to myself: Okay! Lesson learned — you can’t sleep in the car.

I just finished up a week of traveling and I am exhausted. We arrived at the university around 4 am this morning, and I have been fighting a wicked cold.

Nonetheless, I didn’t let a cold get in my way of having a good time.

Peggy and I.
Peggy and I.

If you’ve ever been on a camel, the first thing that you notice is that they are really tall! I was cautious snapping pictures because one fall could surely be a broken bone. As we approached the desert, you start to see little sand dunes. Then, almost out of nowhere, you see huge dunes — comparable to mountains in the distance. Luckily for us, it wasn’t hot at all. I am not even sure that I broke a sweat. So, if you’re planning a trip, go towards the end of summer.

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In fact, about an hour into our ride, I decided to take off the turban and just wear it as a scarf. By the way, this turban is one of my favorite things I have purchased while abroad. I bought it from a Woman’s Cooperative somewhere in the mountains of the south. The family I bought it from were half nomads. That means that they live half of the year in the mountains and the other half in a little town. I bought it for 80 DHS = 8 USD. It served me well when the wind picked up and along with it came some of the sand.

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I would consider my friends and I extremely lucky. On the way into the camp, we got to stop and watch the sunset over the dunes. By this time, the city where we left our luggage was far out-of-sight, so it was just us, the camels, the dunes and the sun. We laughed on the way in, joking about our camels’ names but we also took a few minutes of pure silence to take in everything that we could. It was magical — heart warming.

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After about two hours of riding, Peggy and I successfully arrived at the campsite. Behind our tents — which were huge and gorgeous by the way — there was a huge dune. It was comparable to a mountain. The dune was at a 45-degree angle too, so it was so steep. Many of my friends climbed to the top. I made it about halfway and couldn’t go any further. It was the hardest climb I have ever attempted. I made it up to where my friends Jordan and Kathryn were sitting then took a few minutes to catch my breath. Climbing up sand that steep is very difficult. Climbing sand alone is hard. You take one step then slide down further than where you began.

Soon dinner was ready. The nomad guides made us the most delicious chicken and vegetable tajine. A tajine is a dish cooked over the fire in a huge clay pot. It is often cooked for many, many hours. My table finished ours in no time then scavenged for more. It was the best meal I have had since arriving. After dinner, the guys broke out the drums and all listened to them play and then danced some around the fire.

After my stomach was full and I had time to digest, I decided that I would never be here again — so I needed to make it to the top of that sand dune. After about two hours of climbing on my hands and feet, I made it to the top. My shirt was twisted on me and I have pockets full of sand. Once I reached the top, I realized that it wasn’t the highest dune. So, I climbed solo for another hour along the ridge line of the dune. It was so peaceful. I was so high up that my campsite looked like tiny little specs. Hearing the sand shift was scary — but I felt totally safe, so I continued. I looked out over everything as far as the eye could see. I felt so close to the stars and the moon. About twenty miles out, I watched a lightning storm roll over a sea of light from a far off city. I could also see the Algerian border from my sanctuary in the sky. My heart was so full up on the dune. I sent messages up to the sky to my family and friends back home. Peaceful is an utter understatement.

About thirty minutes later, Jordan and Geoff caught up to me and we continued to scale the ridgeline until we were the highest thing in the desert. It was interesting because the side of the dune our camp would have been on was so warm, but you could lie back on the other side and the sand was cool to the touch. It was exactly like the cool, other side of the pillow. We sat on top of the world for at least an hour. We sat in silence some, and then told some jokes. Before we started our decent, we collected some sand in an empty water bottle we had. This sand is so fine and soft. It holds so many wonderful, wonderful memories for me. I’ll treasure it for a lifetime.

That night, I decided to sleep outside of the tent — under the stars. It was partly cloudy, but the stars we could see and the moon were so bright that it cast shadows of everything. You could see perfectly well without a flashlight, even at 1 AM. I awoke the next morning by one of the nomads walking through the tents saying, “Hello! Hello!” haha! Some took camels back, but a few of us stayed behind to sit on a dune and enjoy the sunrise.

I took this as soon as I woke up.
I took this as soon as I woke up.
A few minutes later...
A few minutes later…
And a few more...
And a few more…
And finally the sun completely above the horizon.
Almost completely above the horizon…
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Voila! Completely above the horizon.

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This was the view to our backs as we watched the sunrise. The dark spot that looks like shrubbery on the bottom right at the base of the dune is a camp. That is also the giant dune I climbed to the top of.
This was the view to our backs as we watched the sunrise. The dark spot that looks like shrubbery on the bottom right at the base of the dune is a camp. That is also the giant dune I climbed to the top of.
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My friends and I enjoying the view.

After the sun was up, we loaded our stuff in a jeep, the climbed on top of the roof and zipped back to the city where we left our things. Going up and down big dunes on the roof of a jeep is just like riding a roller coaster.

The Sahara Desert is a dream for me — a dream that I’ve lived.

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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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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