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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The Truth About Ti

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What if I admitted that I am actually a big scaredy cat? Can we call it a lion, though…? A big scaredy lion — like the Wizard of Oz.

I can’t explain enough how deeply this picture speaks to me. I am young, just 21 years, but I’ve learned some of the most beautiful things about life through traveling.

To my friends and family, it may seem that I embrace change easily. The truth is that I actively try to embrace it. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but over the years, it has certainly become easier. I think that as creatures of habit, we are wired to not stray far from our daily routines. As humans, we seek easy, good, and more importantly, the comfortable. We are inherently programmed to associate comfortable with good, right? Right!

My comfort zone is quite small. I don’t like to act, yet one of my favorite things is teaching. I don’t like to dance, yet I am never a wallflower. I don’t like to study, yet I am intellectually curious.

With that being said, I have decided to dedicate this blog to reasons why your comfort zone isn’t a safe zone.

Your comfort zone is nothing but a belief. A mere reflection of your thoughts. You desire something better, yet you fear change. Self doubt will bind you there. Belief is all you need.

  1. Your comfort zone limits

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This is the number one reason why I detest comfort zones. Maybe it is because I am a literature student — I always feel the need to grow in many different directions. To learn about new things, people, and customs. I can’t tell you how many times I would have preferred to stay inside in my warm pajamas while sipping chocolat chaud than face the harsh québécois winters. My comfort zone was fireside reading a book — not outside where my scarf froze around my face within minutes.

Nonetheless, if I would have chosen the easy route — the comfort zone route — I would have never experienced dog sledding. This picture was taken in Québéc City, outside the Information Touristique, waiting for our bus. This experience is at the top of my list of most magical experiences of my life.

Personal growth is something that should ever stop being important. Don’t let your comfort zone limit you from growing!

2. You’ll never see the world 

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Every new adventure brings new lessons to learn about life. Traveling is stepping out of your comfort zone. As I said goodbye to my aunt at the Columbus Airport, I was so excited that it numbed my fear. But it was still there, my comfort zone told me that I should be scared. I had packed up my life in under 50lbs and was moving to the other side of the world. It is challenging, but each new day brings more reasons for me to be grateful. I have been living without a cell phone — it’s so great. I love it so much that I would like to downgrade from a smart phone. I rarely have a connection to the wifi. If I am lost, I can’t google, I have to ask. I have never favored the argument that technology is handicapping my generation. From living without my cell phone and constant connection to the world wide web, I’ve realized it is just apples and oranges. It is two different lifestyles that fit people differently.

Seeing some of the world has always taught me some lessons about money. I know so many people who are constantly concerned with their money that they don’t even get to enjoy the things that they buy. I would much rather spend my money on experiences rather than material items. OKAY, OKAY, books are the exception. 

3. Eliminate the What-ifs and regrets 

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Because your comfort zone tells you to stay home, after a while all that you will have are what-ifs and regrets. Nobody wants to live a life thinking, what if I would have taken that opportunity, or what if I would have joined my friends on their road trip.

One of my good friends describes change as a kind of medicine or vegetable. It is something that she would never really choose for herself, but in the end, she leaves healthier for having had it.

One of the biggest changes that I have had to make while being abroad is the realization that time is not money everywhere like we are cultured into believing in America. People elsewhere like to enjoy life, take their time. I am often the only student in a classroom four minutes before it starts — the teacher often isn’t there as well. Even though punctuality is still something that is important for me, I challenge you take a walk on the other side for a day or a week. It will change the way that you see things. That I promise. 

4. Change teaches.

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Maybe it is just me, but I have come to realize that change makes you more resilient — it makes us flexible and teaches us to think positively. Until recently, I hadn’t thought about how I have incorporated change into my life every day to use is as an avenue to learn. My best friend taught me this through a letter she wrote about me:

Coming from West Virginia myself, just like Tim, I know how sheltered of an environment this region can be. However, it has only stimulated Tim to be outward-searching, never afraid of meeting new people from different cultures, intimating himself with foreigners and cultivating an understanding of those whose backgrounds were vastly different from his own. If anything, Tim is actually more at home with people from different countries as he so greatly enjoys the life lessons he learns from others.

I can’t tell you exactly the best way to leave your comfort zone. What I can tell you is that even if you’re a big scaredy lion like me, you’ll never, ever regret seeking the new. 

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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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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Exploring the Blue City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With much love,

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Paradise in the Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else could I ask for?

With much love,

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Couscous Galore!

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
 Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

~C.P. Cavafy

Another week has passed, and I am still discovering how incredibly lucky I am. I am lucky to be able to study abroad. I am lucky to be able to chase my dreams. And I am lucky to be able to spend this adventure with so many amazing people. My friend Minna, from Finland, shared this poem with me. I have read it so many times this week. Not because I am feeling homesick, but because it captures so beautifully how I feel about this life. Whenever I am feeling the triple threat, tired, hungry, hot, I remember that finding Ithaka is what makes you rich of heart. So here’s my breakdown on this week’s journey to Ithaka:

Anyone who really knows me knows that I find everything I need by spending time in nature. Today, I joined a big group of students on a long hike not far from the university. It was incredibly refreshing to be out in the woods again, just breathing in fresh air and enjoying the open forest.

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Along the way, we stopped at this natural spring. It was the first time I have ever drank from anything like this. After assurance that the water was entirely safe to drink, I cupped up as much as I could. It was crystal clear and ice cold. One of the faculty members with us told the group that one of the professors at my university comes every Saturday to fill up water jugs for the week. After trying some, I can see why. I thought to myself: “Experiences like this are what makes my journey incredible.”

You’ll notice that I am wearing a sweatshirt, it’s because I didn’t pack any winter clothes. I thought I had a good month or two before it started getting cold for the winter snow. Oh boy, was I wrong! You have to have a jacket here in the evenings and mornings. I even wore my sweatshirt for most of the hike. (; I’ll be winter clothes shopping soon.

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Along the way, we came across many caves and picturesque waterfalls. I am living in a city called Ifrane which actually means “caves.” The hike wasn’t far from where I live and the path was clearly marked so I can go back anytime. The best part of the trip was our destination: Zawia Sidi Abdeslam.

We were hiking to this village because it is the original settlement of this entire region, long before Ifrane was built. A 16th century holy man named Sidi Abdeslam came to the small village to teach the Quran. The original houses (and some that exist there today) were built into the side of the mountain around caves. So the cave was an actual part of their home. In the time of Abdeslam’s life, the Sultan lived in Fez–only an hour’s drive away. The sultan had several wives, but one of which was very young and beautiful. She had a habit of bathing outside at night. One night while she was bathing in the garden, some men came by and spooked her so she climbed up the tree. Eventually the sun came up and people started noticing that one of the Sultan’s wives was naked in the tree. He called on his advisors for suggestions on how to get her down without brining shame to him–and her for that matter. Sidi Abdeslam came and when he got to Fez, the sultan’s advisor spat at his feet because to them, he was nothing more than a simple country man wearing pedestrian clothes. Abdeslam quoted a verse from the Quran that said night was a cover; they just had to wait until night and then she could come down safely. The king was so grateful that he granted him some money. Every year, him and his direct decedents would receive this money in appreciation. This tradition still exists today. And the cool part is, we were able to visit his shrine.

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After our long hike and visit to the shrine, we ended our trip in one of the houses I was talking about–the ones that still have a cave as part of their home. This is the view from inside the cave looking at the entrance to the rest of the home. I wish I would have thought to take a picture from the house viewing into the cave entrance! We told cave stories from Islamic, Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Karen Smith is the chaplain at AUI and she arranged this amazing day for us all. No matter where you go–you’ll also meet kind hearts!

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Once we got the cue from the kitchen, we split up into groups. Here is part of the group that I was in. We chose to sit in a traditional Moroccan parlor. We were served a giant dish of vegetarian couscous from which we all ate. For dessert, we had fresh melon and grapes. If you’ve never had couscous, let me tell you, you’ll never feel more full in your life. It was a real treat to experience a traditional meal in Morocco.

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Here are some other pictures from our hike:

Here you can see some caves off in the distance.
Here you can see some caves off in the distance.
Me in front of a limestone cave, which are very common in the Mediterranean region.
Me in front of a limestone cave, which are very common in the Mediterranean region.
This was our first glimpse of our destination where we visited the shrine and had dinner. There were many breathtaking views along the way.
This was our first glimpse of our destination where we visited the shrine and had dinner. There were many breathtaking views along the way.

With much love,

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5 Things to Know

Bonjour à tous,

I have almost completed my first week in Morocco. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Expect to be exhausted

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Aimée, Esther, Bella & I crammed into the back of a “grand taxi” coming back from Fez.

Maybe this goes without saying, but you should expect to be tired. Whether it is from jet lag or a bus schedule, it will happen. For me, I had no idea how long I had been awake or been traveling thanks to crossing over so many time zones. I left Columbus at 6:30pm and arrived in France at 2pm (I believe). Of course it was impossible for me to sleep on the plane. I kept having flashbacks to “big man in a little jacket” except I was a big guy in a little seat. How lovely, aye? Nonetheless, traveling always brings new adventures. After I cured my jet lag by resisting the deep, intense urge to siesta, I realize that it is all worth it.

2. Don’t buy into gossip and stereotypes

Our first trip to the marché with a funny local expert. (By the way, he's a great bowler so don't think about challenging him!)
Our first trip to the marché with a funny local expert. (By the way, he’s a great bowler so don’t think about challenging him!)

Before I got here, I heard a lot of rumors and concerns about solo travel in North Africa. Isis. Ebola. Beggars. That was a big one. I heard to never talk to kids on the street when they address you because they will scam you or ask for money. It has been my experience that this isn’t the case. At least, you don’t have to ignore them. I ended up talking to one local that showed us around the marché (market) out of pure kindness. Another Moroccan actually bought antibacterial wipes for me because I scraped my knee. Moroccans are incredibly nice and humble people. Never shy away from talking to them.

Can I just add everyone that gave me crazy warnings about traveling here also made remarks like: “What country is Morocco in?” “I heard the exchange rate for the Euro isn’t good.” & “I hope you know Spanish.” No offense, but that makes your opinions pretty invalid.

3. Haggling hassel

I visited a tannery in Fes today where these bags were made.
I visited a tannery in Fes today where these bags were made.

One of the biggest adjustments that I have had to make is that you must haggle. Unfortunately, I am quite dreadful at it. Most of the commercial items you buy at a fixed price, but almost everything in the marché and souk is negotiable. Also, as an American, you are spotted right away and the merchants know that you won’t realize what is a bad price and what is good. I have been shopping with locals and it has also been the best. One of the Moroccan students haggled the price of a cell phone yesterday and it was nothing less than entertaining. At first, I was just okay with the first price they gave me. Then you could see in their face a look of pure happiness, like they just made 200 more dirhams than they actually should have. My best advice is to set a price in your head of what you think something is worth before you start the negotiation. With that price in mind, you won’t walk away with regret…maybe buyer’s remorse but that’s an entirely different story.

For the love of everything great, please don’t try to venture through the medinas by yourself. It is maze-like and it’d be easier to make it out of the Triwizard Tournament Maze. Seriously. Your best bet is to go with a friend that knows the area. Be aware that there’s the chance a stranger will lead you into the maze and then ask for money in order to make your way out. (It hasn’t actually happened to me, but in this case, better safe than sorry!)

While in the narrow streets of the medina, if you hear someone shout “BALAK!,” that’s your cue to get out of the way or be crushed by a heavily loaded mule. Just a life saving fyi. (:

Looking down on the tannery in Fez.
Looking down on the tannery in Fez.

4. Weather

En route to Azrou. Check out the tomb atop the hill.
En route to Azrou. Check out the tomb atop the hill.

I had read on one of my favorite travel blogs that you left a trail of sweat everywhere you went in Morocco. I have found this to only be half true. It is pretty warm here–probably about an average of 84F. However the heat is different here. It is very bearable and today walking a few miles around Fez was the first time that I actually broke a decent sweat. I like it though–it is a great change. It is always better to buy the 1.5 litre of water instead of one of the smaller ones because you won’t have any issues finishing it. In fact, I drink a couple a day. Hopefully, drinking this much water is a habit that I take back to the US of A with me. (:

The land is mostly brown here but not sandy. You’ll see a lot of orchards (pomegranates, apples, oranges, etc) and lots of places with tons of aloe plants around. It is really quite breathtaking and an entire new experience for me. I am used to looking at the beautiful mountains of West Virginia and the lush green forests. I never thought about a brown landscape being equally as breathtaking. On the route to Azrou–a city about twenty minutes from the uni–there are these distinct hills that have tombs at the very top. It’s a sight worth seeing.

By the way, the lines on the road are pointless while driving in Morocco.
By the way, the lines on the road are pointless while driving in Morocco.

5. Meeting new friends

The A team: Myself, Katherine and Jordan!
The A team: Myself, Katherine and Jordan!

While studying abroad, a worry should never be meeting new friends. Right away you’ll meet other students that are in the same boat as you–hungry, jet lagged and often traveling into uncharted lands. You’ll meet tons of new people, and probably more people than you even care to meet. The best part is, there are no strangers, only friends that you haven’t met yet. Like I said, Moroccan people are rich of heart. They’re more accommodating and friendly than a lot of folks back home in the states. Let’s be real, being a foreign exchange student in itself will gain you several new friends. (;

With that being said, I am doing great at Al Akhawayn University. I’ve met some amazing people and absolutely love the campus. Classes start tomorrow (Monday 31st) and I am biting at the bit to get started in my studies. I feel like I have chosen great classes to enrich my experience here.

French for Academic Purposes, Arab Society, Major Works in World Literature, Arabic 1, & Pop Culture in Africa

With love,

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