When traveling around Morocco in my free time, I find myself having similar conversations with new friends and explaining to them that I’m living in the city of Meknes for the summer, where I study Arabic at Moulay Ismail University. And then, as usually goes with travelers, they become interested in whether or not they should check out my city: “Wow, Meknes! Do you think it would be worth it for me to go there? What’s interesting or cool in that city?”
Posts from the ‘Meknes’ Category
If I were to spend all of my life in a classroom being taught by the most talented Arabic teacher, I might gain proficiency in Arabic. However, learning a language goes hand in hand with experiencing a culture. This is why I’ve chosen to study abroad in Morocco, to experience Moroccan culture first hand. Here is what I’ve observed so far.
Since I arrived in the country three weeks ago, I have formed many first impressions of Morocco. Among other things I noticed the passion for food, the reverence for religion, the blazing hot temperatures, the slower pace of life, the amazingly detailed architecture, and the beautiful fabrics. Yet most of all, I noticed the natural hospitality which Moroccans share not only with other members of their country, but with foreigners as well. Where better to experience Moroccan hospitality than at a baby shower?
The other night when I went to go visit some other students in my program at their apartment, we heard ridiculously loud music coming from downstairs. After debating for a while on whether or not to check it out, two of my friends finally went to see where the music was coming from. They ran back upstairs to let us know that there was a fancy party in the apartment below and that a traditional Moroccan band was playing music while a lot of people danced. As soon as we heard this information, one of the women from the party came upstairs and invited us to join them. We didn’t realize that we’d be joining a family’s celebration of a new baby, born just a week ago. The family didn’t realize how many students were in our group, a total of eleven extra people cramped into their apartment.
The party had already been going for two hours, and there were at least forty family members already there, filling the apartment to its brim. Despite this, the family insisted on inviting us to dance, eat, and then dance some more with them! The sister of the baby’s mother even kept in touch with us after the party and has offered to help us learn Darija, the colloquial dialect of Morocco, in her spare time. While the American news is currently blasting us with stories of rage in the Arab world, what I have personally experienced in Morocco is heart-warming hospitality.
In my previous blog posting I mentioned how I like to use video to document my experiences while being abroad in Morocco. After beginning my second summer program four weeks ago I had a mountain of unedited footage from different excursions I have taken around Morocco. So, after four days, copious amounts of coffee, and numerous late-night visits to Moroccan cafes I have successfully managed to piece together four videos from my favorite excursions around the country. My aim is to make up for my mediocre photography talents by doing videos. Besides this, I truthfully don’t know of a better way to express my time and my experiences in these magnificent places if not through video. There are many moments and memories that I have had that no amount of words or pictures would sufficiently be able to do them justice. You know those moments we all have had when attempting to retell second hand information. Sometimes the best response is “you just had to have been there.” However, through videos and music I feel like I get to take the people that watch them along for the amazing journey that I went on. With these short clips, my hope is that you get to laugh at the same ridiculous moments and see the same breathtaking sites that I have. The videos that I am posting are from the cities: Fes, Azrou, Asilah, and Volubilis. Before each video, I will do my best to give some background about each place.
The best conceivable way to describe the city of Fes is to compare it to the busy and chaotic vibe of a major metropolitan city during rush hour. Fes is the places where you feel like you are in the center of something vibrant and exciting. The “medina” is filled with artisans, restaurants, cafes, and tanneries. Moreover, I could also make the comparison between the medina (old part of the city) in Fes and a Russian nesting doll. Every high walled maze of streets holds new opportunities to stumble upon something interesting and unique. Also the winding streets that house a quaint cafe and shops full of leather goods and Moroccan clothes provides the perfect way to spend a long afternoon of shopping.
To the south of Fes is a small city called Azrou. The most memorable part about this city was the sprawling wide open spaces and the beautiful views from the hike that I went on. Moreover, the group that I went with made the experience extremely memorable, because nothings says group bonding like a 2 1/2 hour hike up steep mountainous terrain. Oh, and feeding monkeys was also a significant highlight of the trip.
After, weeks of three hours in accelerated classes one of the best excursions you could be presented with is a well deserved escape to the beach city of Asilah. This city by the sea is possibly one of the most scenic cities I have visited during my stay. Clear ocean water, seafood, and beautiful painted murals scattered along the walls throughout Asilah contribute to the easy and relaxed feel of this city.
Lastly, the Roman ruins of Volubilis is usually not the most popular excursion that I have been on, but the history behind the site still resonates with me. The one component that really makes the trip is the company that you are in when you visit the ruins. The past two times I have seen Volubilis, I have had the good fortune of having an amazing group to share the experience with.
So, I have told you some of my favorite sites and memories from my time in these four amazing places. I hope that you enjoy the videos as much as I enjoyed the fun and hilarious moments that went into making them…
Africa is not your ‘typical’ study abroad destination. Most students I know tend to favor programs in Europe or South America. However, studying in Morocco has so much to offer! Let me share with you the top five reasons why everyone should want to at least visit, if not study in, Morocco:
Morocco is not beautiful in a traditional sense; it is dusty, often smoggy, and it rarely rains during the summer months. Especially when traveling in larger cities such as Tangier or Casablanca, it is easy to categorize Morocco’s scenery as crowded, dirty, and uninspiring.
If you doubt Morocco’s real beauty, though, there is only one solution: go up. The view from a Moroccan rooftop at any time of day is a special thing, but especially so at sunset.
Meknes is nicknamed “City of the Hundred Minarets,” and it certainly lives up to its name. The beautiful towers reach up to the sky all over Meknes, marking the location of the city’s many mosques, but also giving a spiritual feel to the Meknes skyline. In Casablanca, you can visit the world’s tallest minaret, at Hassan II Mosque. This mosque in the largest in the country and the 7th largest in the world; 105,000 believers can worship at the same time!
Moroccan Mint Tea
You have not truly experienced Morocco until you have drank the traditional mint tea. Served in a small silver teapot, the tea is made with green tea, mint leaves, and a heaping of sugar. Drinking tea together is a social experience, and this tea is often served when you are a guest in someone’s home.
When served, the tea is often poured into the traditional glasses (no tea cups in this country) from two or three feet above the glass, allowing the tea to be cooled by the air. One of my fellow ISA-ers, a physics major, argue that this practice really has no palpable cooling effect; regardless of its true effectiveness, seeing the tea being poured from a pot several feet above without spilling a drop is an amazing sight.
Even if you aren’t a feline fan, the thousands of street cats found throughout Morocco are still a sight to see. Morocco is home to a virtual army of street cats; dogs are rarely seen in comparison. Many of these cats are flea-infested, maimed, or otherwise not as cute and cuddly as the ones you can buy at a pet store back home. Still, seeing kittens cuddled up behind a street vendor’s cart or taking a nap in a potted plant is a comforting sight; these predators keep the rats and other creepy creatures at bay.
The Story of Moulay Ismail
Known as the Warrior King, this former ruler of Morocco was known for his cruelty as well as his economic success. Under Moulay Ismail’s reign, Meknes was known as the “Versailles of Morocco.” Moulay Ismail built beautiful palaces, including one that houses the university we ISA students study at. His influence and legacy is seen throughout Morocco, not just in Meknes. Plenty of stories, ranging from historical to the bizarre, are told about him. Among other accomplishments, he is said to have fathered nearly 1,000 children!
Regardless if you are interested in the cats, the crazy dictator, or the culinary aspects, Morocco is a country worth visiting. If you’re lucky, maybe you can even spend some time in Meknes!
As I’m sure you can assume, studying abroad is a roller coaster of emotions. You are excited, nervous, happy, and most of the time, overwhelmed. It is easy to see why people get homesick from time to time.
Having been in Morocco for six weeks, I’ve gotten over most feelings of homesickness; I’ve figured out when I have time to Skype friends and family back home, I have a schedule I enjoy here, and I’m comfortable in my surroundings. However, I would be lying if I said there weren’t a few things I miss dearly about the good ole USA.
Moroccans, like many nationalities, love their French fries. Golden-brown and fried in the traditional olive oil, they accompany nearly any meal you can buy here. They are served with ketchup and mayonnaise to dip them in. Although tasty, there is one thing wrong with this culinary treat: the ketchup, although deceivingly similar to our traditional Heinz or Hunt’s back home, is sweetened. Therefore, you are eating your fries not with the traditional tart, tomato-ey sauce, but with an almost sickeningly sweet jelly.
It’s an acquired taste; most of us eat and enjoy it. For those of us that don’t, or for when we just need the American flavor, there’s always a solution: McDonald’s, which serves normal ketchup, is only a five-minute walk away.
Because of the Moroccan heat, flip-flops or sandals are the most comfortable footwear option; they give your feet room to breathe and when your feet swell from the heat (a very weird sensation, let me tell you), sandals are more comfortable as tennis shoes or boots.
The problem with flip-flops however, is that they expose your feet to the dusty, dirty Moroccan streets. I am continuously convinced that my feet are least three shades more tan than they actually are because my feet are constantly covered in the dirt and grime. One of the girls who just recently arrived for Summer 2 cutely told us that back home she gets a pedicure every two weeks; for those of us that have been here since May, the thought was hilarious.
Back home, the rules of the road are straightforward. You drive on the right side, at a designated speed, and signs or lines are there to guide things such as turning and stopping.
I’ve been here six weeks now, and I’m still not always sure that Morocco has any sort of traffic laws. Roads that are built to fit two lanes of vehicles suddenly have three and a half lanes. In roundabouts, the cars entering the roundabout have the right-of-way, not the ones already in it. As a result, you can sometimes get stuck waiting in the middle of the roundabout, as other cars file in.
As far as pedestrians go, you spend a fair amount of time playing “Frogger.” To cross the street, you do not use a crosswalk or wait for the light; you simply wander out into traffic, dodging cars as you go and staring down those who aren’t considerate enough to weave around you.
Although exciting, I can’t say I will be too sad (although I will certainly be very surprised) to arrive back home to drivers who drive on the correct side of the road, yield to other traffic, and who actually stop at traffic lights.
So yes, there are things I miss about home, especially as friends and families tell tales and post pictures of Fourth of July celebrations. However, if the cleanliness of my feet or the condiments for my fries are my worst homesickness triggers? Life could be much, much worse.
Until next time!
As of this past Friday, I’ve officially been in Morocco for six weeks. In every way, it seems like it’s been ages but also, like it’s only been a few days.
I came to Morocco to have an adventure, and I can safely say, I am a month and a half into the greatest adventure of my life. Along the way, I’ve encountered crazy taxi drivers, persist carpet salesmen, eccentric Arabic professors, and enough stray cats to last me a lifetime. I’ve jumped off of cliffs into waterfalls, ridden horse-drawn carts to secluded beaches (sounds way more romantic than it actually is), and eaten delicious food that later turned out to be questionable parts of animals’ anatomy.
Lately I’ve been answering a lot of questions from the second summer session students about what they should pack (they arrive in a week and I can’t wait to meet them), and it has made me think about what items are essential to have here. Here are three important things to bring to Morocco, even though you can’t quite pack them in your suitcase:
Item #1: A Deep and Unwavering Love For, Or At Least Tolerance Of, Olive OilOlives, and products made from them, are used in absolutely every aspect of daily life here. Food is fried in olive oil, olives are used in salads and as decorations, and nearly every restaurant serves them as an appetizer. Olive soap, shampoo, face cream, and the ever-present argan oil (either ingested or used topically for clear skin and shiny hair, among other things) are sold on every street corner. To get to school, we tell the taxi driver “Zeitoun!” It means “olives” in Arabic and is the name of the neighborhood where our school is located.
Item #2: Nerves of Steel When It Comes to Public Transportation
The three main ways to get around town are petit taxis (for up to three people), grand taxis (six people), and the bus (lots and lots of people). It is not uncommon for drivers here to get within mere centimeters of other vehicles, usually at high speed. Also, there are no seatbelts; in the grand taxis, the seatbelts are used to keep the front row of seats from falling down. As for the bus, get ready to sacrifice your personal space and quite possibly your toes; the buses get so packed sometimes that losing your shoes trying to get off at your stop is a legitimate concern.
Item #3: First-Rate Charades Skills
Morocco’s “official” languages are French and Arabic, but on any given day in Meknes, I hear at least three or four different languages being spoken. Most Moroccans speak French and Dariija, the local dialect of Arabic. Additionally, English is commonly seen on advertisements and on television, although not always understood. Some of the more northern areas also speak Spanish, and the guy at the pastry shop near Tangier spoke German. This linguistic melting pot makes for some interesting language barriers; the other night in Asilah, I think we ordered our dinner using a combination of four different languages and plenty of gesturing. Although initially very daunting, it makes things exciting; the other day in Rabat, a fellow ISA-er ordered what he thought was shrimp…. It turned out to be brains.
I hope this gives you a little insight into the wonderfully overwhelming experience that Morocco is!
Araka fi ma baad! (See you later!)
After being abroad since early May, I can safely evaluate my time being overseas. During this period, I have successfully completed ISA’s in Morocco, had life-changing experiences, and forged new friendships. Moreover, when my friends and family ask me about my new host community I am usually at a loss on how to answer. My dilemma is finding a sufficient way of vocalizing all of my feelings about Morocco. The best and most effective way that I can describe living in a different socio-cultural environment is to equate it to various stages one goes through when learning something new. Initially I was intimidated by Morocco and all of its complexities. For instance, I did not understand the differences between the two primary taxi services in Meknes, or the art of the double cheek kiss upon greeting someone that I struggled to master smoothly. However, once I came to the realization that I was bound to make social faux pas, my time in Morocco became a lot more enjoyable. Overtime I learned from my mistakes and embraced my errors and awkwardness as a learning tool. Now, after one full program, I am beginning to think of Meknes as my home. This happened the moment people in my day to day life would smile at me with friendship and familiarity. It continued when I began to make friendships and do well in my classes. Overall, my most significant realization after being abroad for summer one is that becoming well acquainted with a place, person, or group takes time and patience.
Before coming abroad I knew that I wanted to keep a blog to document my experiences. I firmly believe that experiences like these are valuable and significant and therefore deserve a proper platform to document your travels. Before leaving on my summer excursions I knew that it would be a terrible waste to not have a way of reflecting on my experiences in Morocco. Many of my friends who had done previous study abroad programs had used postcards, vlogs, facebook, and photography as a mode of recording their trip. However, I choose to do a blog not only as an ISA featured blogger, but on my personal travel blog so that I could take other people along on my travels. Blogging served my needs of documenting my trip creatively and allowing my family, friends, and readers to comment and post to me. Furthermore, on my blog I plan to use a lot of pictures and video to add more substance to both of my blogs. I’ve always felt that for my own satisfaction, pictures and writings never seemed fully sufficient in capturing the essence of an experience. Many times I take pictures that have a lot of personal relevance to me, but many people are unable to see it because they weren’t there. With my videos, my aim is to capture moments and memories that would be hard to explain solely through words or pictures.
So, as my summer 2 session quickly approaches, I hope to have another round of new experiences with a new group of people. Moreover, I plan on having more awkward moments and learning experiences. It is also my hope to immerse myself further into this beautiful country and its culture. While doing so, I look forward to taking my family, friends, and readers with me for the duration of my journey. Hopefully you find happiness and understanding in either my pictures, videos, writings, or both.