Greetings from a beautiful day in Korbongou! You know those first spring days when the weather is perfect and there is a slight breeze? Well, that’s exactly what it’s like here today—surprisingly! It sends me back to the States, waking up early and sipping coffee on the deck before heading to class. To go along with this nostalgia, I am listening to the Best Hits of Johnny Cash, because, why not?
I thought that after 18 months, I should finally share a typical day with me as a Peace Corps Volunteer!
Monday, November 20, 2017
430am: Hit the snooze.
440am: Hit the snooze.
450am: Roll out of bed and put some water on the boil for coffee.
5am-6am: Sip coffee, review lessons for class, and listen to NPR podcasts over a Bluetooth speaker
6am: Fetch water from the well, boil a potful, and take shower.
650am: Arrive at school!
7am-12pm: Teach classes, chat with professors
12pm: Walk home and pass through the market to buy rice or beans for lunch! You have to walk home fast because the midday sun is unbearable.
230pm: It is still too hot to leave the house, so I am watching reruns of Big Bang Theory
330pm: Fetch water for second shower to wash off the sweat
4pm-6pm:Return to the market to drink locally brewed beers with friends
6pm-7pm:Return home to prepare lesson plans for the next day. Tomorrow’s lesson is about countable vs uncountable nous. Many vs much. A text where Bola is meeting his friends at a theater, and revision of sentences with “if.”
7pm:Go to Benoît’s house for dinner! Today it is pate with dried baobab sauce and fish
8pm: Third shower to wash off dust and sweat
815pm-930pm: Read a book. I am currently rereading Room by Emma Donoghue (shout out to my lit professor Dr. Weihman!)
Granted, every day is different here. I never do the same things twice. So I decided to randomly record everything I did today to share with you.
I am sure some of you will read this and think to yourself: “Geez Ti, you basically did nothing all day except nap!” Well, that’s true. Time works differently here. It is, after all, the small successes that count. If I can make it through a morning of teaching and still be in good spirits, I count that as a big success! In the States, I can get twenty some things done a day. Here, I am so satisfied with one or two things!
Today I want to tell you the story of one man with three different lives.
As scandalous as that sounds, don’t get your hopes up too much. ;p
I have many nicknames but most of you will know me as Ti. Ti has fun. He traveled to Morocco, graduated college, and moved to West Africa with the Peace Corps.
When Ti arrived in the training villages of Southern Togo where he would spend the next three months with a host family, he got a new name. His host mother hugged him every day, held his hand walking to school, and renamed him Yao. Yao is the Ewe word for Thursday–the day Ti was born. From time to time, Yao was also called Yaovi which means “Little Brother Yao.” Yao was in a constant state of change and learning. He learned how to handwash his clothes, how to avoid the type of mud that makes you fall, and more importantly, he learned humility.
Three months passed and Yao was placed in the northernmost region of Togo: the Savannahs. He packed up his life, hugged his Ewe momma goodbye, and moved to his home for the next two years.
Moving out of the Ewe south and into the Moba north meant–you’ve guessed it–a new name.
Et voila, Yao turned into Lalmongue. My first day in my new house, my host father gave me this name. Laré is a traditional Moba name for men that have completed their rite of passage. There are five Moba names like this but Laré is generally regarded as the most respected. “Mongue” is a suffix that means “clear skinned.” So my newest name literally means Clear Skinned Laré.
Nonetheless, I love being Lalmongue. After all, the bulk of my service is being spent under this name. Lalmongue is a teacher, a mentor, and a shorts-wearing, heat-hating bamf.
Don’t get me wrong. Even though I live as Lalmongue, Ti and Yao are still there too. When I am collaborating on projects among my American coworkers, Ti is at work. When I return to the south, Lalmongue is put on pause, and Yao comes back to life.
Among many things I didn’t anticipate about service, having to juggle different identities takes the number one spot. Each identity holds lessons learned, and advice followed.
It is the way of many Native American tribes to be given more than one name throughout one’s life. For example, you’re born with a baby name, but that name won’t be the same when you’re an adult. Name changes can happen multiple times, but they are all earmarked by large events. Each new name marks the end of the previous. For example, I went from being Ti to Yao. Yao might be a completely different person from Ti. However, when we leave to meet the Creator, we are able to bring with us the wisdom of many different people–many different lives lived. This is how I see Ti, Yao, and Lalmongue.
I do see this as a challenge, but I really enjoy being able to blend ever so slightly when I am traveling. Ok, well, I don’t blend at all anywhere I go in Togo. When people see me, they see a white guy that can’t eat the same foods as them, that has to have running water, and that doesn’t know the realities of village life. Introducing myself with my local language names allows me to remove this first impression. “Hey friend, my name is Yao, and I eat pâte ever day!” They no longer see the white foreigner, but instead, they think: “hey, this guy does the same stuff we do!”
That’s why I appreciate all of my names!
As always, feel free to ask me questions, message me on fb, or send me beef jerky for Christmas!
It’s not quite a year later. I am three days short of the day I left Morgantown on a bus headed to DC, and 6 days short of the day I got on a plane in NYC. But nonetheless, it’s time to reminisce about my journey thus far and how I’ve grown. They’re right folks, living abroad changes you. No doubts from me. I won’t refuse all the mushy, yucky stuff about changing to be a better person, growing stronger, becoming a pro at maneuvering culture shock, because yeah — all that’s true too. But this is about me! So here are some ways that I’ve changed personally during my past year in Togo.
My sense of time.
This is by far the most bizarre change I’ve made. In the States, it was all about the hours or the days for me. I rarely ever got stressed about a deadline more than a week away! It wouldn’t have even crossed my mind, to be honest. But here, woah. I can feel so busy because I have a few events coming up in the next three months. That’s right, three months away and it’s on my mind already. My to-do lists used to have at least ten tasks per day to accomplish. Here, I’m on cloud nine if I can do two things a day. Three things a day and we are really pushing it… There are days that I grade a handful of papers and do my laundry by 9 a.m. and I’m so proud of myself. I think, yeah man, you’re doing great!(I actually do think this from time to time). I don’t think I’d put this change into a category of good or bad — I’m just thankful I have time to appreciate my hammock.
Oh, there’s a spider running across my bedroom floor, let me crush it with my big toe! Nbd. The number of crawlies that gross my out has gone from a lot to almost none at all (barring snakes, those are never ok). I wake up in the morning, start brewing my coffee, and sit out on my porch. I have zero qualms these days about smushing unwanted bugs with my toes. In fact, I don’t even think twice about it.
Even the lizards. I hate how many lizards I have in/around my house. Can you imagine how embarrassing it is to wake up from a nap, throw on a shirt hanging in the closet, head out to the market only to find THERE’S A FREAKING LIZARD IN YOUR SHIRT THAT WANTS TO START CRAWLING ALL OVER YOUR BODY. I’m not proud, but this has happened so many times. I think, keep calm, your in public, don’t strip, don’t strip, DONT’ STRIP! Luckily my friend Benoît isn’t shy about helping me evict unwanted shirt guests nonchalantly. Let’s be real, I don’t exact blend in at the market, so freaking out about a lizard in my shirt would be quite the spectacle.
While we are talking about lizards, let me bring up the fellow lizard that lives in my latrine. My latrine is basically a fancy cement outhouse. I keep the seat covered, but somehow, this lizard just doesn’t want to leave. So after my morning coffee, when I go to the throne and sit down, he just gives me a few taps on the bum as if to say : hey, I don’t wanna be in here right now. Lemme out. I stand up, he runs out, I finish my business, and we see each other the next morning. #RealMVP
Health above all.
We have a handy little saying in Togo: Santé avant tous. Health above all. If this past year has brought any changes for the better, it’s how I see my health. I live close to the Burkina Faso border; it’s hot, it’s dry, it’s dusty! I have never had to drink so much water in my life. But if I didn’t, it would be a serious issue for me. Not only have I started focusing every single day on staying hydrated, I’ve been really finding the importance of eating good foods to stay on my game. My life here is the exact opposite of sedimentary. I walk to school, I walk to the market, I walk up mountains, I walk to get water, I walk to see friends… get the picture? After all, my body is a temple, right?! I want my temple to be golden with wall curtains, and lots of wine!
Let’s not forget about mental health. I consider myself lucky that I have had a really amazing experience thus far. Forgetting month 5, I’ve been so happy with my life in service. But every now and again, I can feel myself slipping into a rut that we all know. It is easy to feel isolated while serving abroad. Think about it, we left all our friends, all our family members, our native language, everything we are comfortable with back home. This past year has taught me ways to stay out of the rut and in a place where every day can be joyful. I’ve learned how closely linked my mental health is with my physical health. And I’ve been practicing being mindful. Living each second in the Present — not worrying about the future but enjoying the Now.
Wanna know one of my secrets to staying on the up & up? I sing to myself, all the time. I’m totally not shy about singing in my house when my host family is home anymore. Every once in a while, I’ll catch myself telling myself how funny I am… then I stop to think about if I just crossed a line or not. HA! Crazy is the new sane.
Okay okay, so I only have three personal changes I’ve made in the past year. I hope you weren’t expecting a top ten! Let’s not forget about time in Togo, it takes a while to do a little. I’m certainly happy with these three changes, and I hope you’ll stay with me for the year to come. Please, share my blog, write love letters to me via snail mail (the thought makes me swoon) — keep me in your loops too!
I hear the drums echoing tonight But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation She’s coming in twelve-thirty flight Her moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation I stopped an old man along the way Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies He turned to me as if to say. “Hurry, boy, it’s waiting there for you.”
Wow! Cheesy right?! But let’s be real. What song is more appropriate than Toto’s “Africa?” Let me tell you, though, the rains in Togo are no laughing matter — at least not for me.
As the forecast goes, we’ve been blessed by a short hot/dry season. I live in the Savannah region of Togo. It’s the northernmost region. In fact, I could easily ride my bike to the Burkina Faso border. The Savannahs are known to be hot, dry, and lacking vegetation among my fellow volunteers. Most of us just thought it was mostly desert before coming. During my site visit, I was shocked to see the lush greens and lack of desert. That was during the end of last’s year’s rainy season. Now that I almost have my first dry season under my belt. I concur that it isn’t so far from what we originally imagined.
But let’s talk a little about the importance of the rains in Togo.
The seasons hold such importance in Togolese life that the school years are designed around the rains. First, when the rains come, it is once again time to head back to the fields to start preparing the soil. After six months of direct sunlight, you can imagine the soil conditions. It is nearly impossible to cultivate the dry ground enough to plant things. Even at that, if we could till the soil enough, there is a high chance that the plants won’t thrive. The rains help the farmers (cultivateurs) give life back to the soil.
NOTE: The unique aspect of Peace Corps compared to other peace organizations is that we don’t live in the capital, nor the bigger cities. We live and work in the small villages — what we could call the bush. Most of our friends and colleagues consider themselves farmers first. After all, how else are they going to provide for their families? Even my coworkers at school will miss class if the rains come before the end of the school year. And who can blame them?
The second important aspect, and undoubtedly the most important, is the simple fact that it gives us water. We get our water here from wells or pumps. But, keep in mind that the smaller villages rely almost solely on wells. Even in my midsized village, wells have run dry. A lot of them are communal, so lots of families rely on the same well to get water for cooking, cleaning, showering, and of course, to drink. When wells run dry, families are forced to go longer distances just to find water — something I took for granted before coming here.
I’m lucky to enough to have a private well in my compound. I live with my host dad (in my local language: n ba) and mom (n na). There is also my host sister and a student that rents the room next to mine. I spoke with n ba last night about the water situation in Korbongou (my village, google earth it!). He explained that our well doesn’t run dry not because it is deep, but because there are not a lot of people that use it for water.
Last week, around midnight, I heard a few drops on my tin roof. I took my chair outside and sat in the lite sprinkle. I’m still so used to the unpredictable weather in Morgantown. You would not believe how much the first little sprinkle lightens your psyche. Imagine the joy of the first snow of winter. Now multiply that tenfold.
Just a few days ago, we had our first real storm. Wind. Fresh air. Rain. It only lasted about ten minutes, but I collected enough water to wash all my dishes. The entire time during the storm, I stood outside in my tank top and short shorts with a big goofy smile. Furthermore, who doesn’t love the smell of rain?
N na says that I’ll soon be tired of how much it rains during the rainy season. I always joke when I leave the house that I’m going out to put in an order for rain. Thye love my cheesy sense of humor, or they’re really good at pretending. Either way, it grows my ego. (;
I hope that my attempt at explaining the importance of rain has given you an adequate slice-of-life depiction of my life here. This is, after all, my new home, and it is a perfect fit for me.
So if you don’t mind, wake up tomorrow, have your coffee, and do a rain dance for me before heading to work!
From the heat to lite sprinkles, stay savvy my friends,
Surprise! Trekkingtim is back after nearly nine months of absence. I can’t possibly go back through nine months of experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Togo, so I won’t even try. Instead, I want to list a top ten of the weird and bizarre things that I miss.
Even though Togo is listed as a “hardship country,” I haven’t had that difficult of a time adjusting to my new lifestyle. Granted, eating donkey and getting over my fear of The Ring while fetching water from a circular, stone well wasn’t the easiest of tasks, je me débrouille.*
I have to say also that my house is baller.** I have 24/7 electricity (hey there fridge!), my own kitchen, bedroom, shower, and latrine. My host family is also very accommodating to the tall white man they’ve newly accepted as their son. My parents are both pretty old, but my host father is the right-hand-man to the chief of the village. It makes it 100% easier for me to get a meeting with him when I needed to do work in the community.
My host mother and sister are lovely. They often send me over delicious dishes ranging from Togolese couscous to assorted meats. On March 8th, International Women’s Day, I bought them traditional pagne which can be a little expensive. So as of late, I’ve been getting really delicious dinners.
The best part about having retired host parents is that they understand when I need to rest. They turn away everyone that comes to greet me and I lovvvvve it. I could sleep until noon and they wouldn’t think less of me–which is quite a feat for the ever early-rising Togolese.
Nonetheless, here are my top ten most missed things in the United States. Feel free to send any sendable items to:
Corps de la Paix
My coffee maker
Keeping my deodorant in the bathroom, instead of the fridge. (It’s hot here.)
Back in July when I booked my ticket for Morocco, I bought a flight that had a 24-hour layover in Paris on my way home. So, last night, I met Hilary in the Gare du Nord and got a tour of the city from one of my best friends back at WVU.
Being a French major, naturally one would think that it is my dream to go to France. Well, while I loved my time there and I will be back, that isn’t necessarily the case. I didn’t choose French because I love the country—I chose it because I love the language. Having studied abroad in both Québec, Canada and now Morocco, I can say that my love for the language has only blossomed.
It seems so strange to say that I met one of my college friends in Paris. When I was growing up, I certainly had a heart full of wanderlust, but I never thought of the possibility of getting to fulfill these amazing things. I am also glad that I had someone so Paris-savvy to show me around the city and help me navigate the airport.
I arrived from Casablanca around 2:30pm, made my way through border control, dropped my luggage off at an overnight storage, and was in the RER by 4pm. I met Hilary in the Hall de Londres, but as the sun was setting, we wanted to make our way quickly as possible to get my picture with the La Tour Eiffel.
SIDENOTE: If you have a long layover in CDG, Bagages du Monde will store your bags from a few hours to a few days. I had two bags—both 21 kilos—and paid €34 to check them in for 24 hours. (Not a bad deal, considering I would have had to lug those things across the city otherwise. Also, as luck would have it, one wheel on each of the bags is broken. HA! My arms are so sore… )
It’s funny, because even though you can see the tower from all over the city, it doesn’t seem so big. But once you’re beneath it, looking straight up in the sky, the immense size really hits home. It was crowded, but I couldn’t help to stop and stare straight up. I was having my “Omg, I’m in Paris standing under the Eiffel Tower” moment. We didn’t make it in time to see much daylight, but it was absolutely stunning at night nonetheless.
We decided from there to walk along the river instead of going down the Champs Elysées. As I only had 24 hours, so I wanted to hit the big points while enjoying seeing such a good friend. By the way, Hilary graduated WVU last year and then was accepted into the Teaching Assistant Program in France. So now she lives just outside of Paris and helps teach English at a school in Argenteuil. (PROUD BFF MOMENT).
Along the river, we saw many things. And I certainly enjoyed catching up. We took our time and I shared stories of Morocco while she shared her experiences thus far in Paris. She took me to Laurée. If you don’t know, this is the shop that invented the macaroon. As you’ve already guessed it, THEY WERE SO GOOD! My favorite was something to do with Marie Antoinette and Tea. I am not sure exactly what it was called, but you should definitely try it. We got 6 for €12!
After walking some more, we decided on a restaurant in the Quartier Latin. I had a tomato mozzarella appetizer, ham and cheese crêpe, and some chocolate mousse for dessert. It was delicious, but I preferred Hilary’s Roquefort cheese sauce. (Blue cheese is one of my favorites.) The waiters at the restaurant were really nice but super busy. In true Moroccan tradition, my French now has a few common Arabic words mixed in. Fortunately for me, all the waiters spoke Arabic, so had no problem with my French. (:
Even though we had already ate macaroons and dinner, I really wanted ice cream. So we headed over to Berthillon and I got two scopes of pamplemousse (grapefruit) on a cone. Perfection.
Another highlight of the trip was seeing Notre Dame de Paris. Even though I speak French, I never, ever realized that this means “Our Lady of Paris.” I suppose since I was used to hearing the phrase before I studied the language, I never thought to translate it into English. With that being said, I may have liked it more than La Tour Eiffel—if I had to chose. I am a big sucker for fascinating architecture, so Notre Dame de Paris was right up my alley. The gargoyles are gorgeous, yet creepy.
Afterward, we bought some wine and headed to Hilary’s apartment for the night. Even though I had to leave her apartment at 7am, we stayed up late drinking and sharing more stories. We were both so exhausted and completely out of it—I am not even sure if anything we talked about made sense. Sometimes, you just need to let your brain be mush and enjoy your time. Also, Hilary’s landlord is from Casablanca, so I got to talk to her on the phone. I told her about my adventures in Morocco and my favorite cities.
Overall, my 24 hours in Paris—of course—passed too quickly. Even though the city was great and I loved the food, seeing Hilary was the highlight. Thanks for opening your home and sharing your city with me for a night.
Until next time, stay savvy and try Marie Antionette Tea macaroons.
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.
We have explored the Medina in Fes and ended the night with dinner in Borj Fes.
We have tried hailing a petit taxi among the crowd.
And we said farewell to our third member of the trio.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. (:
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!
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?!
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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… (:
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.
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.