Paris in 24 Hours

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

With Much Love,

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بسلامة مغرب

The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience.

 


 

I am finding myself unprepared to write this last blog post. I have to say that I have grown to love change, so I am looking forward to traveling to Paris and Canada before going home. I am also so excited to see all of my family for the holidays. However, I am not ready to leave. I don’t want to say goodbyes, to pack my bags, or to cry my way to the train station.

I can’t thank Morocco enough for giving me so many amazing memories. All the way from my very first beach experience in the Mediterranean to riding a camel through the dunes of the Sahara. I am even thankful for the not so good parts of my time here. From my first time using a not-so-clean squatty potty along the highway in the South to being crammed into a bus of car sick exchangers flying down the mountain roads of the High Atlas Mountains, I have taken something away from each of my experiences.

Today I will clear my last final (French) and finish my last essay for Dr. Shoup. Then I get to spend the week making memories with my Moroccan friends whom I won’t see for a while. I have already been having quite the adventures with my friend Jordan and her mother who is visiting the tail end of our semester abroad.

We have been to play with the monkeys in Cèdre Gourard.

 

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We have explored the Medina in Fes and ended the night with dinner in Borj Fes.

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We have tried hailing a petit taxi among the crowd.

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And we said farewell to our third member of the trio.

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On top of all these amazing things I have been doing to wrap-up my time here, I threw a Farewell Potluck for my fellow exchangers. I got a room reserved through the university and invited everyone to bring some cheap snacks. The snacks ended up being phenomenal. Strawberry/Chocolate cheesecake, fruit salad, msemen of every flavor, and mixed nuts. I made a video for the group of all our photos we have taken around Morocco. I, unfortunately, wasn’t able to upload it directly on this blog, but if you’re interested in watching it, here is the youtube link:

Above all, I have to again take time to thank my incredible family for all their support in my travels. Distance really does make the heart grow fonder. I also should thank the Dean’s Office in the Eberly School of Arts and Science for providing me with a generous scholarship to use while I am here. It has been a dream.

Shoutout to my dear friend Salim. Salim has been such a great friend to me here. He encourages my questions about Islam and is always an inspiring person in my life. Congrats on your awesome thesis defense, Salim! I hope to see you soon. In Germany. In Morocco. In the States. It doesn’t matter to me, my friend.

Morocco, I will see you soon. But for now, stay savvy.

With much love,

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Dear Future AUI Exchangers,

I can barely believe that this is my second-to-last blog of my time at Al Akhawayn Univeristy. Next week, I will post of video of all of the photos my friends have taken during our time here.

For today, I wanted to offer advice to the future AUI Exchangers. Here’s the scoop, what you need to know before and during your time in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

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1. Souk

Please, please discover the magnificent souk before I did. I have just over a week left, and last weekend was the first time that I went. It is huge. And you can find whatever you need there… including turkeys. It is also so much cheaper than the marché. For example, I am a huge fan of tangerines. I usually buy two kilos at the beginning of each week, costing me around 2 USD in the marché. I bought two kilos in the souk for 60 cents! If I would have known about it earlier, I would have done a lot more cooking at home. I suggest making a trip each Sunday morning and stocking up for the week.

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2. Walk

In the beginning of the semester, you spend a lot of time discovering downtown and what it has to offer. Walk as much as you can. I wouldn’t suggest using the petit taxis to go to the marché and downtown to eat out. There is, of course, nothing wrong with using them to travel in town. I just think you’ll be happy at the end of your time having spent time getting to know the city. Save those trips in the taxis for when it gets colder. Once the snow comes, you will wish that you could spend more time walking in Ifrane.

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3. Dr. John Shoup

Why do we study abroad? We do it to learn about a new world, to experience first hand what life is like in another country. I cannot tell you how happy I am that I chose Morocco. I have learned so much, and it is because of Dr. John Shoup. I took two of his classes: Arab Society and Popular Culture in Africa. Dr. Shoup is one of those professors that knows so much about many things, that it is just so interesting to talk to him. He also takes his classes on field trips around Morocco. And are you ready for this?… His classes don’t have exams! It is all essay based. You simply have to write 5 short (8 page) essays for his class! That’s it. The best part is that because you have to do research, you learn so much more from the class. I wish so much that all classes were essay based rather than exam based. We would learn so much more. If you want to take away as much as possible  from this experience, Dr. Shoup is your guy.

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(Dr. Shoup is beside me.)

4. Be Open Minded

Okay, okay. I know this one isn’t Moroccan specific, but it is still important. On my way here, I had four connecting flights and was exhausted heading into a four-hour train ride east. Even though I speak the language, I was overwhelmed and had some trouble getting to the train. (I missed my first one, btw.) Once I finally found a train car that had an open space for me and my luggage, I sat down to take a breath. I looked out the window and noticed so much trash–everywhere (Morocco needs litter laws in the worst way). I was so sad. And after the travel day I had had, it simply added to the top of the stress. Even though I had a not-so-good first experience on the train that day, these past four months have been absolutely amazing. Culture shock can come gradually, or it can slap you in the face like my trip on the train. Rest easy, stay calm. You’re embarking on an amazing journey.

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5. Travel Often

Repeat after me: RyanAir is my friend. RyanAir is my friend. Once you’re here, you have Europe at your fingertips through the discount airline RyanAir. My roundtrip ticket to Spain was 60 USD. My roundtrip ticket to Germany was 40 USD. You’ll find that you will have a lot of extra time from the university that you can spend away. Don’t be afraid of extending your horizons. I do have to say, make a good effort to see lots of Morocco before you go to far in Europe. Now that I am close to leaving, I feel like I have been able to see a lot of Morocco, and those trips have been so valuable to my experience here. Morocco is so cheap too; you would be silly not to take up all the opportunities to travel that you’ll have.

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6. Don’t Be Shy

Let me let you in on a not-so-secret secret: Exchange students at AUI have always had a reputation of sticking together. I have heard this from a lot of Moroccan peers. Don’t let this deter you. Your cohort is your best defense against culture shock and homesickness. They know exactly how you feel because they’re in the same boat. (I suppose the Moroccan equivalent would be something along the lines of: they’re in the same grand taxi.)

On the other hand, don’t limit yourself to hanging out with only exchangers. I have made amazing friends here. Even though I haven’t been here too long, they’ve made a lasting impact on my life. Make as many friends as possible. Never burn your bridges and always be kind.

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7. Avoid the School Store

For my Moutaineers, AUI has something similar to Mounty Bounty. You have money loaded onto your ID card that you use for laundry, food, and whatever you need at the school store. At the beginning of the semester, you are given 6,000DHS. In my case, this definitely wasn’t enough to cover your food for the entire semester. In fact, I am not sure how it would be. I don’t always eat lunch and hardly ever eat breakfast. With that said, I have been reloading money on my card for a while. The School Store is so expensive. It is convenient, but you’re so much better off going to the marché to get your toiletries and other items.

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8. Buy Juice

Please, take every opportunity you have to buy fresh juice from the vendors. If you go to Marrakech — which you must — you’ll be so happy with all the juice stands. It is the most delicious juice that I have ever had. I don’t know how in the world I am going to adjust back to juice in America. My favorite is banana juice. At the restaurants, it is about 1.5 USD. But you can find orange juice stands in city centers and at taxi stations for 60 cents. Don’t pass this up my friends. (:

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9. Plan Ahead

Time is not money in Morocco. This was a big adjustment for me. Often, there are delays in the trains, so plan ahead. Same thing for on campus. Students are always coming in late to class. Don’t expect the restaurants to open at posted times. Instead, plan to show up around thirty minutes after their posted opening time. Embrace this change. Take some extra minutes to enjoy life. Take some deep breaths and remember that you’re studying abroad! How freaking exciting!

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10. Buy Local

Some of the best food that you’ll ever eat in Morocco is from the little, tiny shops and villages. In the desert, we had a fabulous dinner of tajine and soup. In Tamirlat, we stuffed ourselves on chicken, couscous, and freshly baked bread. You’ll quickly find Diafa’s restaurant in the marché. It is cheap and I love their shwarma (shwarma hassan is my favorite). There is also a little shop in the marché that makes fresh yogurt every morning. You can buy it to go or dine in and add pomegranate juice for flavor — it is my favorite dessert! Don’t pass up on the msemem, harcha, or petits pains while you’re here!

Check out Aimée and I with our yogurt. Did I mention that it is only 20 cents?!

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11. Learn Some Arabic or French

Being able to speak French has been such a valuable asset for me. I love it when people ask me to go places with them to help translate. I also enrolled in an Arabic class while I was here. You’ll always find people who are very excited to practice their English with you — the first thing you’ll get asked is if you’re from England. But there will be times when you won’t be able to find an English speaker and it will become very difficult for you. Some of my friends here have told me that not knowing either of the languages has hindered some of their experiences. At the very least, it would be extremely wise to learn numbers in one of the languages. With this, you can bargain and you can talk to the taxi drivers. These two points will prove very important for your time in Morocco. But fear not, you will pick up on some phrases and be using them freely by the time that you leave. In true Moroccan way, my French now has Arabic phrases mixed in that I use every single day. “AFEC!”

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12. Enjoy Your Experiences

There will definitely be times where you are homesick. There will be times when you aren’t so happy with Morocco. Take whatever time you need, then get over it! You’re having totally amazing experiences, so don’t waste your time harboring bad mojo. Be thankful that you are enjoying what North Africa has to offer. I went through the phases, but the end has crept up on me too quickly. I am so thankful for my time here. My heart is full.

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As always, stay savvy my friends!

With much love,

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Fossils, Palm Tress and Sufism

This past weekend, my classmates and I traveled south with our prof, Dr. John Shoup. Our destination? The second largest oasis in the world (the first being the Nile Valley): the Tafilalt Oasis.

My first trip to the South was a total shit show. We went with a travel agency but quickly realized that the agenda we received wasn’t at all correct. Nonetheless, that was the trip where I slept under the stars in the Sahara Desert, so I guess I can’t say too many bad things about it. Moreover, this trip was an absolute blast.

Friday

2 pm: We all arrived to see only one van waiting to take us a few hours south. Uh-oh! We began having flashbacks to being carsick in crowded taxis and buses while flying down some of the curviest roads that I have ever seen. Dr. Shoup quickly came to our rescue. He called a second grand taxi — one of the nicer ones — to take the other half of the group.

8 pm: Finally arrive at Hotel Salasil in Erfoud. The hotel was gorgeous. It had a huge open courtyard where we could see all the stars in the Heavens. We had a great three-course meal — it was included in the price of the rooms. We were are pretty much completely drained, so I went to bed pretty quickly after dinner.

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The view for my bathroom window.
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A little like paradise, right?

Saturday

7:30 am: Breakfast time! As I filled my tummy with delicious, fresh off the stove msemen, this is when I first learned about the attacks on Paris. I am an early riser when traveling, so Dr. Shoup and I sat at breakfast and he filled me in with everything that I had missed. I am not nearly good enough to understand the Arabic spoken on the news, so he was my only source.

8:30 am: By this time, everyone was up and we were ready to start our day. Our first stop was to see an older form of irrigation. Basically, there were large-scale networks of underground tunnels that the water ran through. Occasionally, there is an opening to the surface that looks like a huge anthill or sorts. These tunnels have to be built on a certain grade because, as you can imagine, it is especially easy for rocks to break free and clog the entire system. In fact, it is someone’s job to crawl through them and clean out debris. I couldn’t imagine. I am not claustrophobic, but this would do it for me. We also learned that theses underground waterways were used by the Taliban because they’re extremely difficult to police.

Something interesting about these old forms of irrigation is that the people in the villages that used them, preferred them. When the government implemented a modern irrigation system, people began to break them so that they could still use the older form. I suppose this is a case of “if it is not broken, don’t fix it.”

Funny Fact: Not far from these pictures is a little village where Hillary Clinton donated money. The people thought, why would this white woman donate all this money to us. So they created the story that Hillary Clinton’s great grandmother is from their village. Why else would she have donated, right? HA! 

Also that morning we walked through Sadd Rasif on the Ziz River. We learned about village life, why people burn palm trees, and the distribution of water to people in the villages. Then, we went to Qasr al-Fidha. We toured the building and saw a gorgeous hammam.

To finish our morning, we toured the ruins of Sijilmasa. I had atteneded a discussion on this site a week or so prior, so it was a real treat to visit it. It dates backs to 756. Old is an understatement. Unfortunately, this site is in no way protected by the Moroccan governemtn, so before leaving their excavation site, researchers have reburied the site to protect it from vandalism–which is a huge problem for Sijilmasa.

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4 pm: After our lunch back at the hotel and a cat nap, we headed out for our evening programming. Our first stop was to the only government recognized fossil museum in Morocco. The owner is completely self-taught and has even had different fossils named after him because he discovered them. Cool, huh? We walked through his museum, toured his workshop, and spent a lot of time looking at all the marvels in the gift shop. I bought some really great gifts for my friends and family here!

Fun fact: Fossils are among the most important export from the area and provide more than 1 million US dollars a year in taxes for the Moroccan government. 

After leaving there, it was dark. We stopped at the Rissani Suq where a friend of Dr. Shoup invited us to his carpet shop for tea. He had some gorgeous carpets and blankets at really good prices. I had to buy an extra suitcase for all the carpets that I have already bought, so I restrained myself from buying more here. However, a beautiful deep blue shirt caught my eye. I am sure you guys will see it when I get back. Dr. Shoup eneded up buying the first shirt I found. But I found another that fit better and had the matching pants with it. Dr. Shoup bought it for me as a gift for being invited to the Peace Corps! If I haven’t mentioned it already, Dr. Shoup is also from the Crow Tribe. So, I suppose that makes us cousins or something. ;p

Our final destination of the day was Zawiyat Sidi al-Ghazi. This is by far one of the coolest experiences I have had here in Morocco. We were invited to their homes for tea and dinner. They served us fresh dates, peanuts and cookies all evening until time for dinner. The coolest thing is that they were so happy to answer all of our questions about Sufism (a very spirital aspect of Islam) and Islam. They opened up to us about anything that we asked, all in the name of brotherhood and friendship. Moroccans have really made a big impression on my heart. I feel like these guys truly understand what humanity is and they were not shy to show it.

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This was sorta like a calzone without sauce. Very delicious!
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Clapping along with some songs.

After getting home from the long day away, I ordered some white wine, relaxed in the tub, and listened to the wind run through the palm trees. The bathtub was lined with deep blue tile, and I could feel the fresh night air come in through the window. Talk about relaxing… (:

Sunday

10 am: After our breakfast and check out, we were headed back to Ifrane! We stopped in a town called Midelt for lunch. Midelt is where one of my best friends is from, so it was cool to be able to see his hometown.

On the way home, we stopped at an overlook of the entire oasis. So, here is the area where I spent my weekend.

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As a side note, I have spent a lot of time this week thinking about the refugee crisis and what we can do. I have exhausted my list of delegates, governors and news stations to contact. It is my beleif that it would be the greatest shame to turn these refugees away. Nevertheless, I don’t want to use this blog as any sort of political outlet. I just would like to encourage you to call your delegates and encourage them to oppose Delegat Nelson of Boone Coutny’s open letter to Govenor Tomblin.

My professor recomended a journalist who is very good on these subejcts: Robin Wright. If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, look her up. (:


 

As always my friends, keep the love in your hearts and be kind to one another.

With much love,

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A Dream Coming True

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For the longest time, I had dreams of joining the Peace Corps after college. I have always had an innate need to help others. I longed to do something that was bigger than myself, something that would mean a lot to people. It wasn’t until I learned via That 70’s Show what the Peace Corps was exactly. Then, I knew it was the right avenue for me. I am sure that some of my longest friends can attest to remembering me saying that I wanted to serve a term in Africa.

Well, I am so thrilled to announce that it has come true. I have been invited to join the Peace Corps to serve 27 months in Togo, West Africa.

The best phrase to describe how I feel is just that my heart is incredibly full. I have been adding other volunteers that are leaving for Togo on June 6th with me on Facebook. During my time in Togo, I will be serving as a Secondary Education English and Gender Equality volunteer. This means that I will have my own classroom where I will teach English and promote gender equality. I will be aiding in promoting and sustaining community led endeavors to support the continued education of the youth in the village I will be living in — especially for girls as part of the #LetGirlsLearn campaign.

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Togo is a small country in between Ghana and Benin, and under Burkino Faso. I was reading that it is relatively the size of WV — ironic, no? The main language is French! YAY! However, I hope to learn a few of the 60 local languages used in Togo. Volunteers in Togo live in 2 to 3 room houses that are usually on a Togolese family’s compound. Most homes have tin roofs, but there are a few that have straw roofs. It is unlikely that I will have running water and electricity — it will be a big change for me, but I have no doubt that the rewards far outweigh this small aspect.

In preparation for my almost two hour interview for this position, I read many, MANY blogs that created a timeline of their experience. So, in hopes that someday, someone interested in joing the PC will find my blog, I shall do the same:

Sept 27 – Submitted my online application. I saw on FB that hundreds of jobs would be closing on Oct 1. I was traveling in Northern Morocco at the time but found a couple of hours to sit and focus on the application. On this same date, I completed all the complimentary forms such as medical history, placement preference, etc.

Oct 6 – I received an email saying that I have been placed under consideration for this position in Togo. Capture d’écran 2015-11-01 à 12.33.46 AMOn that same date, I received this email from the placement specialist:

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Oct 9 – I had my interview from 7-9pm (my time in Morocco). I was incredibly nervous, as you can imagine. I reserved a classroom here on campus and arrived thirty minutes early just to make sure that I had everything set up exactly as I wanted. You can find the general questions that they ask online. They proved to be pretty accurate for me. I had made four pages of notes and placed them just out of sight of the webcam. In reality, I was really prepared and didn’t end up glancing at any of the notes. I must have done pretty good because at the end of  the interview he said “Your know by date is Dec. 1, but I don’t need that long. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t offer you this job.” My heart hit the floor like a ton of bricks. What incredible relief. I told my closest friends and family.

Oct 27 – I received the official invitation from my placement specialist!

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So there you have it. My complete outline as of today. When I started college and started to mention that the Peace Corps is something that I would love to do, the usual response I got was “Good luck, it’s super competitive.” Hearing that as often as I did was extremely discouraging. I am here to tell you to be fierce in the pursuit of your dreams. The way this world works is, if you want something bad enough, eventually, you’ll get it. I know this new chapter will bring many great adventures, and I can’t wait to share them all with you!

With much love,

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The Beauty of Madrid

This past weekend, my friend Jordan and I packed our weekend bags and set out for Madrid. In order to get there, we took a petit taxi > grand taxi > train > grand taxi > plane > metro. As you can see, it was quite the journey, but well worth it.

If you’re on my facebook, you probably already know that my iPhone was stolen at lunch one day. However, I didn’t let it ruin my trip. I have decided to dedicate this post to all of the other beautiful things that I did/happened on our trip to Spain!

  1. Our hostel we stayed in was great!
  2. Jordan turned on the lights when we first got there at 3 am, waking everyone up. “The Americans have arrived!” : P
  3. Then she fell down the stairs, making everyone we just woke up giggle.
  4. We met Ali from San Fransisco
  5. We took a walking tour where we saw the World’s Oldest Restaurant, the Royal Palace, etc 11013479_1084512178250437_4311184078379104672_n11990562_1084511804917141_1620735210079529231_n
  6. I got to play a Spanish king known as the “lazy king” in front of our tour group 12191595_1084511908250464_596218140023779615_n
  7. We ate paella almost every day
  8. We saw a temple donated to Spain by Egypt IMG_5223
  9. We spent time in a gorgeous rose garden
  10. We listened to street performers 12047081_1084512598250395_3929082080662056145_n
  11. We took pictures with the famous bear statue
  12. We indulged in a taste of the West with Dunkin’ Donuts
  13. Spent time in Buen Retiro Park
  14. Ate tapas on a tapas tour of Madrid Taberna-del-Chato-08
  15. I drank tons of XXL Sangria, my favorite
  16. I tried ordering food in Spanish… and accidently ordered two of everything
  17. Ate some great Thai food (I miss Chang Thai!)
  18. Visited the “Museo de Jambon” ate tried expensive hams MuseodeJamon-01
  19. Found some great gifts for my family and friends
  20. Made it home safe and sound

I recommend Madrid to anyone that wants to visit Spain. As one of my favorite professors told me, Madrid is great for getting lost to the city late at night. It was so refreshing to walk around late into the night, exploring the beauty of the city.

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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