Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Joyeux Noel!

Merry Christmas to everyone from Paris! I hope this year has brought many glorious events. As for me, I couldn't have asked for a better year. Its weird not being home for Christmas, and this probably won't become a habit, but seeing the Champs Elysees and the Eiffel Tower was a nice consolation. So Merry Christmas to all, and if you can find time in your prayers for my christmas wish to make her flight, it would be greatly appreciated! Joyeux Noel et bonne année!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Eye-ed Moo-bar-ack sigh-eed

My semester abroad came to end a week early because of a religious holiday called the Eid (pronounced eye-ed). Though my business teacher swore that the Islamic calendar didn’t affect education or economics in the Arab world (HA!), all schools, as well as the majority of local businesses, were closed for about a week for the Eid celebration (give or take some days depending on the institution). So what does this glorious school ending holiday entail? Well the Eid is in remembrance for the time when Abraham was so faithful to God that he was willing to sacrifice his only son at God’s command. According to the Old Testament, God stopped Abraham at the last minute, and praised him for his faithfulness, and then had him sacrifice a sheep instead. The Quranic version varies a little, but regardless, the celebration is a symbol for this act. So what does a festival entail that glorifies an ancient sacrifice? Well a modern day sacrifice of course! Each year, every family must buy a sheep, slaughter it, skin it, and then cook it. My family was no different, so my final week in Rabat was spent participating in the Eid. These pictures aren’t for the faint of heart, so be warned!











Though I’m a bit torn on whether this event was a barbaric display of questionable lingering tradition, the holiday, over all, was magnificent. Families spent the day together cooking and preparing, laughing and indulging, and finally, digesting and relaxing. It was kind of like Thanksgiving, but instead of one day of gorging and sleeping, the gluttony lasted for a week! Though this semester has been a difficult one, being part of this festival was a beautiful way to end my time abroad. I got to spend quality time with my host family, as well as share an Eid meal with all my friends and teachers from school. Though some of the situations seem bizarre, being able to spend Ramadan and Eid in the Arab world opened my eyes to the majesty of the religion. These holidays are such amazing spectacles, and not only do they portray a divine faith, but also how truly linked and communal the Arab world is. I'm very thankful to have been a part of both, and I hope I can open some eyes about what Islam really is, regardless of what the media portrays.

Friday, December 12, 2008

lessons learned

So like every great adventure, I came to Morocco in hopes of finding answers. As my trip comes to an end, and I have a looming train waiting for me tonight at 2 in the AM, I'm pretty sad to be leaving Rabat...but on the bright side, I still have two weeks of solo traveling, then a much anticipated 12 days with Caroline in Italy. While I'm still trying to figure out what this trip means to me, and look back on all the experiences I've had, I do know one thing for certain. I wrote a blog at the beginning of the trip, talking about Zen, and if I would rather go through life feeling only content, or if I would rather feel magnificent highs met by pain-staking lows, and all the feelings in between. I know full well now that I would prefer the latter. Though sometimes its hard, I'd rather feel the lows of missing a place, or saying good bye, because I know i've felt the highs of the days spent there. I would rather feel lost without someone, then never have felt whole. I would rather feel the pain of scrapping my knees as I fall, then never having felt the exhilaration of the jump. I would rather feel the entire spectrum of emotions, then feel nothing at all. Thats one lesson I'll take to the grave.

But until I figure out the other lessons, here is a list of things I'll miss in Morocco as well as what I've really come to appreciate about America.

Morocco
  • haggling prices
  • having no rules
  • being able to plead ignorance because i don't speak the language
  • living by the ocean
  • Kasbah's, Medinas, fancy tiles and doors
  • relying on a foreign language
  • traveling every weekend
  • using "Enshallah" like its my job
  • my host family
  • stray cats 
  • Marrakech night clubs
  • Broing Out
  • Walking forty-five minutes to school
  • Hearing the call to prayer five times a day
  • long lunches
  • Ramadan (well the nights during Ramadan)
  • the desert
  • Islam
  • Islamic Holidays
  • Essaouira 
  • Western Sahara
  • Bocce ball
  • silly nick names
  • Bab al-heb after the sun set
  • sun sets in general
  • train rides
  • under $100 flights to Europe
  • having a new roommate every weekend in my host house
  • packages from loved ones
  • watching nuggs highlights instead of paying attention in class
  • Bramadan, Broctobro, Brovember
  • cous-cous
  • dirham prices
  • cheap wine
  • sweets
  • bread and cheese
  • best chwarma
  • wearing the same clothes over and over
  • checking the exchange rate at the bank
  • not relying on the internet, but appreciating it
  • to be continued...
America
  • toilet paper and soap in every bathroom
  • being able to communicate what I'm thinking
  • public transportation thats reliable (Morocco makes the 204 look good)
  • Broing out with my ex-roomies
  • a plethora of choices to eat at
  • having a campus
  • the mountains
  • a fixed schedule
  • insulated buildings
  • Qdoba
  • trivia night
  • CEB
  • Exercising
  • Colorado
  • Wifi everywhere
  • mustang sally the red rocket
  • my takamine
  • an extensive network of people
  • illegal petes
  • CHIPS AND SALSA
  • quesadillas
  • warm showers
  • my aging bed
  • my parents paying for my cell phone (thanks mom and dad!)
  • having a job
  • being in (or near) the same time zone as people I care about
  • above all else, Friends, families, and loved ones
Though it had its highs and lows, and there were times were I couldn't wait for it to end, I'll never regret my semester abroad, or my choice to come to Morocco.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Moroccon Sunsets

The Moroccan sunset is like a long goodbye with a lover. It drags on for an eternity, but feels like no time has past. As the sun sits in the sky, and the hour of departure approaches, the anticipation is immense, but there are no signs of leaving. The goodbye is pushed away. As if trying to avoid parting, the sun retains its bright yellow color and grand size, until the second before its bottom reaches the horizon. The moment finally arrives, and the passion is overwhelming. The sky tries to remain true to its color, fighting the growing darkness, and with each inch the sun drops, its light pink glow embraces the blue sky. As the sun drops quicker, the pink remains entwined in the blue, like locked fingers not willing to release. As the last bit of burning orange falls below the eye’s sight, the deepening pink and light blue stay grasped in one another, trying to fight the darkness, which forces their departure. As time refuses to quit, and the sun has become but a memory, the darkness begins to over take the sky, but the deepening pink remains. Even as the light blue finally disappears, and the first stars begin to shine, the pink lingers in protest, refusing to let go, denying the inevitable. But finally, as the weight of the world sets in, the pink submits to the night, slowly fading away, accepting that fate which she has been bestowed.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Braving the Desert

There comes a time in every man's life where he finds it necessary to don Arab gear and traverse the grand sand dunes of the Western Sahara...Well maybe not every man's life, but for myself and four other men, our time has finally come. We left from a town called Layoune, walked through an Oasis that was home to a mine field of spiders a bit to colorful for comfort, and climbed a sand dune. What a great way to spend a vacation!

The Oasis
Lost in the Sand Dunes
Summiting the Dune (a nice view of Layoune and the Oasis in the back)
The Bros
Me, mid panic attack after seeing the spider field
Trying to teach the others to be ninjas
Long jump, Sahara style
Life in the great abyss

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My life in Rabat

Seven o’clock each day, my strapless watch alarm goes off, I cringe, reset it, then realize I can’t go back to bed after I wake up.

I open my eyes to an archway above my head, and my 30 ft long room I share with another American. We both wake at the same time, and grumble hello. He walks to the kitchen; I turn on my phone, walk out of my room, and hug the wall through the common area, as to avoid the elements that enter the house through the open-air roof. After brushing my teeth and utilizing the facilities outside of the house, I return to my room, smile brightly at Caroline’s morning text, and stretch my back. After a smell check of what clothes are deemed clean, I make it to the kitchen pour une tranche de pain avec confiture. By this time its 7:45 or later, and I’m out the door.

The burgundy behemoth resides in the bathroom outside the house, so I carry her up the bathroom stairs, pull her through three doors, knocking the pedals on every wall, and walk out of the medina. The ride to school is about fifteen minutes, but is enough to give even the most caffeine-addicted person adrenaline to make it through the day. Moroccans are by far some of the worst drivers I’ve seen, so each day is like working in New York as a bike mail carrier, weaving in and out of cars, hoping they see you with enough time to slam on the breaks while they continuously run red lights and stop signs. Waiting for the light to turn green isn’t based on sight, because Moroccans are physic, and begin honking almost before the light turns green…that is if they stop at it.

I arrive at ESDG normally with a few extra minutes or a few minutes in the hole, but either way, class hasn’t started, and all the American students are congregated near the computer lab, scheming.

Class is held on the top floor, and as our teacher barks at us in Arabic, as the sound of horns, tires screeching, metal crashing, and sirens blaring float through the window. About half way through the class, our teacher’s cell phone rings, and each day she looks at it, puts it back in her bag, and lets it ring. Two hours pass, our brains are fried, and we leave class.

Between my morning and afternoon class I have a four-hour gap. Sometimes the first two hours are spent running, showering, and eating at home, but as of late, it has been spent slowing easing our way in with the Moroccan students. At first, when we would attempt conversation, the girls would congregate and giggle at us, as if we were all in 8th grade again. But now, we’ve broken the language barrier, and started to actually assimilate. Lunches are shared, conversations are had, and lots of tea and coffee dates are made.

From 12-2 I find a corner to hide, in hopes of getting a tiny bit of privacy to talk with Caroline. My computer turns on, rings like an old time phone, and as if I were eating lunch in Colorado, Caroline appears on my screen. I’m awake and wide-eyed at this point, but due to a massive time difference, Caroline’s eyes are still filled with sleep, although smiling because I’m her wake up call. We talk undisturbed for about 45 minutes, then my corner is discovered, and our conversation is broken into segments by different students coming to see what she looks like, or in the case of the Moroccans, giving me shit because “I must be home sick, [I’m] always on skype.” Two o’clock hits, I run to the bathroom to save my kidneys, and then its off to another class.

I stay attentive for the first hour and a half, but from 3:30 till five, I battle with my attention span, trying hard not to drift into thoughts outside of the classroom. By 4:30 the sun is starting to fall, and when we get out of class, night is almost upon us.

By the end of the day a new fight is brewing. Maybe it is an unexpected, unannounced schedule change, or an added class, but the students feel blindsided, and the staff is upset. I hear both sides of the argument, and am truly torn. The students have every right to be pissed, but on the other hand the staff is dragged like a rag doll by CIEE. All of us are affected. Our daily schedules have been the recent casualty, and although some of the changes make since, it’s difficult to not take the side of the students, and want to take out all my anxiety on the program director. Stupid devil’s advocate upbringing, and being able to see the bigger picture!

The ride home is much calmer, because the majority of Moroccan’s are already home from work, and I coast down hill back to Bab alhead. The sun sets while I ride home, and as I reach the Medina entrance, the sky is black, The medina streets are lined with lights, and its so bright I feel like I’m walking down the Vegas strip. Street vendors are yelling, full chickens and lamb heads are roasting, and the sights and sounds mix into an intoxicating concoction that dissolves all the distaste I’ve built up that day. The troubles at the school become minuscule, and Rabat looses its pompous edge, once again becoming beautiful by my eyes.

My host Dad is always home to greet me, and we exchange small talk until dinner. He’s a very happy guy, and very funny, but the language barrier makes it a bit difficult to bring this side out in him. My American roommate is normally locked in our room, engulfed in the computer, head phones on, watching one of the many bootleg American movies in my host brother’s collection. My roommate, our host parents, and the four-year-old problem child all eat dinner together, speaking a little bit of French, English, and Arabic, but mostly making silly faces. My roommate eats quickly, and returns to his room. I sit and speak a little more, sometimes help with dishes if they let me, then begin my homework.

The four-year-old problem child follows us into the room, and punches us in the arm or pulls our hair, while we try and ignore her and learn a foreign language. She finally leaves, and periodically over the next hour or so, I her hear screaming bloody murder, as if she was getting tortured, but knowing full well she is just a monster.

As eleven o’clock rolls around, I’m ready for bed. My roommate is already asleep, and I read via headlamp, while my host brother sneaks in and whispers a question about borrowing my bike or my headphones, that he doesn’t want his Dad to hear. I then turn off my light, close my eyes, and pray to the God who becomes more clear to me day I've been abroad, then I fall to sleep, awaiting another identical day, that is anything but the same as the day before.

“She would consider each day a miracle, which it is, when you consider the number of unexpected things that could happen in each second of our unexpected existence.” Paulo Coelho

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pictures!!!

Instead of having class in October, our school decided to give us a weekend excursion to Marrakesh, and 12 day long break. As a result, I had a personal mission to see as many Moroccan cities has physically possible.

Itinerary: Friday: 3:00 am, over night to Marrakech, 9:30 am bus to Essaouira
Sunday: 9:00 am 13 hour bus ride to Tan Tan, followed by a 11-2 grand taxi ride to
Tarfaya
Monday: 2 hour grand taxi trip to Layoune in disputed Western Sahara
Wednesday: 8 hour bus to Tan Tan, twenty minute taxi ride to the untouched Atlantic beaches
Thursday: Six hours to Agadir, one night of dancing and gambling
Friday: 8 hour bus to Ouarzazate
Saturday: 3 hour grand taxi ride to Zagora
Sunday: 2 hour grand taxi ride M'hamid, 1 hour camel ride into oblivion
Monday: 1 hour camel ride from oblivion, 2 hour grand taxi ride to Zagora, 3 hour Grand taxi ride to Ouarzazate
Tuesday: 5 Hour bus ride to Marrakech, 6.5 hour delayed train ride to Rabat

Here's a few gems, expect more to come this week!

Mountain Village that made me homesick
Camel Trek fun!!
The Sunrise in the Desert. The Entire Sky was cloudy except one piece where the sun popped up
The Summit of Jebel Zagora! (According to lonely planet it takes three hours to summit...this was taken 45 minutes after I started hiking)
The Kasbah in Ouarzazate
Another of Ouarzazate
The Debacherous group in Agadir!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

a lesson in United States Politics

(excuse the poor grammer, spelling, punctuation, ect because im using a moroccan keyboard and cant find all the keys i need)

A group of Americans walk down the streen in the capital of Western Sahara. They see a group of saharans/moroccans trying to push a large truck of a side walk back into the street. The republican of the group decides it is our duty as Americans to go help these struggling men to better Americas image. Before there is consent, the republican sprints to action. The group follows slowly and speaks to the officer in charge in French. Everyone starts to push, and after a few hard fought minutes, the truck is off the curb, in the street, on a hill, held in place by a small rock behind a tire. The group of Saharans stare blankly, and the Americans return the stare. At this point the Republican starts to walk away, while the democrat notices that the tire that was stuck on the crub is flat, and the problem was not getting the truck off the crub, it was getting the tire to spin so the truck could make it up the hill.

As the democrat brings this problem up to the group, the republican continues to walk away while saying mission accomplished in my eyes. The democrat stands stunned on the side of the street with the truck, while the republican continues, without breaking stride, on the other side... The independs stand in the middle of street barley dodgeing traffic chating American, while not taking a side, nor acting in any way.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I finally got to use my travel insurance

Fate is a funny thing, and more times then not, I find it very hard to understand. I’d like to think of fate as a guide that, when your heart is in tune with your desires, leads the way like a light shining through a wooded path. Last night though, fate was more of a blinder, that guarded my eyes from seeing what lay ahead.

After preparing dinner for my family, and before I had even finished eating what I made, I felt my stomach start to rumble. I leaped up from the table, ran to the bathroom, which lies in the entrance to the apartment, ran back to the kitchen for toilet paper, and finally ended my trek on top of the western toilet with no actual plumbing. I had been feeling a little sick since Tuesday, but this was very unexpected. The meat had tasted a bit off to me, but I assumed it was just the fact I didn’t really enjoy the taste of Moroccan ground beef. The rest of the family seemed quite satisfied with my patented cinnamon laced burgers, but my stomach begged to differ. As I filled up the dump bucked while I washed my hands, my stomach actually felt ok, leading me to believe it was the end of a few days of nausea. But as I walked the few meters from the toilet to my bed, my steps got shaky, my body tensed, and my vision turned blurry. It was only 8:30, but I knew if I had any hope of feeling better tomorrow, I needed to go to sleep at that second. After brushing my teeth, and explaining the situation to my host family, I fell to sleep with little problem.

As if something was trying to tear through my stomach, my body was ripped awake by a gut wrenching pain, localized entirely on the left side of my stomach. My eyes could barely open, and the entire room was dark, but I stood up quickly, found my slippers, and ran to the bathroom. I situated the dump bucket between my legs, and my body atop the toilet. Fatigue was battling along side the foreign intruder in my body, and as I prayed that only one of the two geysers would erupt, my eyes remained heavy, and my head swayed back and forth, as if keeping rhythm with a favorite tune. My prayers were answered though, and as I filled the dump bucket with water, using it for its actual purpose, the pain in my stomache seemed to subside. I remember thinking to myself how that was the worst food poisoning I’ve had yet to date, and if it would have lasted any longer I would definitely need to visit the hospital.

I returned to bed, and tried to lie on my left side, but found a tender spot, and decided I shouldn’t trigger anything. I looked at my watch and saw it was only 12:30, and thought I would still be able to get enough sleep to feel ok tomorrow, and let my head crash into the pillow.

Before I knew what had happend, I found myself writhing in pain, rolling back and fourth on my bed, sighing in agony. The enemy had returned in full force, and this time, it seemed like they were there to stay. I repeated the process to the bathroom, only this time I found that after a half hour, coughing, and still only utilizing the western toilet, the pain in my stomach did not subside. I washed my hands and retuned to my bed, hoping that sleep would come again. I lay my back, then rolled to one side, then finally, like a lost child discovered by his worry stricken mother, I found comfort on my right side, curled in a ball. I found sleep again, but only for a short time, as the process then repeated. This happened four more times through out the night.

I had sent a text somewhere between the hours of 1-4 in the morning, and after the last battle of the epic war, I was awoken by a call from the program’s assistant director, saying the van to Marrakech was still near my house, and it would drop me off at the clinic. This morning our program was supposed to travel to Marrakech for the weekend, but as my body endured the effects of dehydration, and my stomach rumbled like train speeding down the tracks, I decided it was probably a better idea for me to hit the clinic. After dealing with problems of kids forgetting their passports, and seeing if anyone left anything at home, I arrived at my destination, feeling even worse then when I woke up.

The assistant director checked me in, showed me the waiting room, and was off. I was now alone, in a clinic in Agdal, Morocco, barely able to open my eyes, hoping I wouldn’t throw up. I lay across the empty chairs, and covered my eyes from the light. As soon as my head was down, I felt a poke at my arm, and was pulled off my chairs and throw on a queen size bed with white sheets. The doctor spoke to me in a mix of French and English, and before I felt I had said anything, he had an I.V. rolled into the room to fight the dehydration. I was happy to see this, but I was more concerned that I had something worse then food poisoning. I closed my eyes and cringed as the needle broke the skin, plunging into the vein at the peak of my forearm. I tried to explain what my concerns were, but the doctor quieted me, and said “there’s something in there that will make sleep.” This was no joke, and as quickly as I felt the cold sensation run up my arm and circulate through my body, my eye’s where shut, and my worries were transformed into dreams.

“Monsieur, fini fini, sortir.” What?, I said with my eyes still shut. The charming demeanor promised from my assisstant director seemed not to exist. The nurse repeated what he said, and hustled me out of the room towards the reception. He must have known I was still half asleep, seeing as I was just given a mild sedative, because he made sure I didn’t actually wander past the desk to the automatic doors. The receptionist waved me away immediatly, knowing that I was covered through the travel insurance of the school. I gave a somewhat dirty look to the nurse, and I headed towards the door. Before I even left the parking lot, the receptionist came running out. She spoke quickly in Arabic, and I told her I didn’t understand, and to speak in French. She said D’ccord, and after one other French word, returned to Arabic, then looked at me as if I had just shamed her family when I didn’t understand. She dragged me to the front desk, and continued to speak very loudly in some foreign language, all the while acting as if I had just knocked a stack of papers out of her hands. The other receptionist finally translated to French, and asked if our director was still here. I told her she had left for Marrakech, but I would be able to give her whatever they needed. This didn’t seem to be a sufficient answer, and after a few seconds that felt like hours, they handed me a prescription order in French, then showed me the door. This was the event that catalyzed the rest of the day.

I left annoyed. Upset how I was treated. Upset that I still felt horrible, and didn’t know if I had stomach worms. Upset because I was in Agdal, and if I would have come with out anything like I was told, I would have had no way of paying for the cab ride home. Upset.

I decided I would walk for a bit to make the cab fair cheaper, as well as find a huh-noot (corner store) to get water and see if I could keep down food. When I found one, I bought a big bottle of water, as well as a bounty, and was told it cost 12 dirhams. I was surprised that this store I was foreign to gave me the local price for imported candy, but this made me happy. I gave the man a twenty, only to find that I received a little over half the change he owed me. I looked at him, made a gesture as if waiting for the rest, only to be gestured by the man to leave the store. The fatigue from the sedative had taken my ability to speak French away, so I left, a little more upset, but realizing life could be much worse.

I found a cab outside the huh-noot, but I should have known from the start he was going to be trouble. Before asking me where I was going, he asked if I was seul (alone) and I said yes. He then asked where to, and I told him the medina, at the bab nearest to the ocean. He said this was fine, and I jumped in the car, and saw him turn on the counter. This was a good sign, but it was quickly over-shadowed when he pulled off the road to pick up another passenger. I know this is normal for taxi drivers, and I normally don’t have a problem with it, but the new passenger was going to a different place in the medina, out of the way, and if the driver took her to her destination, he would have to go a very round about way to get me to my destination. I watched the counter roll in synch with the wheels of the cab, and soon after dropping of the other passenger, our vessel slow at the mouth of traffic jam. The taxi driver honked his horn wildly, and made jokes about the traffic. We traversed the jam, and pulled to the opposite side of the medina from where I live, and the driver said this was fine. He then charged me the full price of the meter, and smiled and said thank you in Arabic as I waited for my change, which never came. I walked through the brown stone gates furious, still feeling fatigued and food poisoned, trudging towards my house.

I walked in the doors to a concerned family, and this brought some joy back into my life. My host parents asked me how I was doing, then my brother walked me up the street to the pharmacy to get my prescription filled. There were five things on the list, and as the pharmacist grabbed them, he drew tally marks on the boxes to indicate how many times I should take them during the day. While he totaled the bill, I looked at boxes written in Arabic. I was questioning what these boxes were filled with, and why I would need five different medications if the doctor just thought I had dihrea. The back of the boxes had French writing, and I found out that one of the boxes was oral re-hydration salt, one was an anti-acid, and one had something written that led me to believe it was a pain-killer. I finally had enough, and by this point, my ability to verbally communicate came back. The pharmacist wanted 170 dirhams for everything, which is a little over 20 bucks, and I refused. I said I didn’t need an anti-acid or painkillers, and that I had just been attached to an I.V., so I didn’t the salts, and all I needed was medicine for dihrea. My host brother looked shocked, because before recently, we hadn’t spoken much more than Bonjour and Ca va, and he definitely had never seen me raise my voice (which really wasn’t raised, I think he was just surprised I could speak like that). The clerk shot me a shit-eating grin and said some things I didn’t understand, and then said that since the pharmacist wrote on the boxes, I had to pay for them all. My brother, who’s about 6 foot 5 and easily above 250 pounds, gave me a look of fear, and told me just to pay. I did as he said, upset, but still calm, grabbed the bag, and left. We walked back to the house, and he told me that his femme in Belgium had this same thing happen when she visited, and all these things helped her. I wasn’t mad at him, and I had no need to be pissed off at something that had passed, so I thanked him, and began a new conversation about this wife.

I went directly back to bed when we returned, and as I curled in my ball, various members of my family came in asking me if I wanted to eat. I told them I felt horrible, and that if I tried to eat anything, I would just end up back in the bathroom. I had forgotten it was Friday, and my host Mom came in to try and bribe me with cous-cous, my favorite Moroccan meal served exclusively on Friday’s. I declined, and this time with a little more force, because the frustration I thought had subsided began to fuel up again. At that point, tired, cranky, sick, and not wanting to snap at anyone, I decided I would rather be sick on the train, and spend the night in Marrakech, then have to wake up the next day and loose most of it in transit. This would become a much bigger task then I had originally planned.

I didn’t know what time the next train left, but my parents said they would drop me off at the station. This was appreciated, and I thanked them a little extra just incase I had offended them when I refused food. We got about 100 m from the train station, only to be blocked by a mass gathering, which are very common on Mohammed V Street. I told them the current location was fine, and hopped out. The reason why there are so many mass gatherings here is because, right next to the train station is the Moroccan Parliament building. Groups commonly gather here to protest one law or another, so its very rare cars actually get to drive on that end of the street un-harassed. The group was extra-large today, so I stopped to ask someone what the deal was. Apparently this day held a parliament session, and the king was in the building. People were waiting outside for hours to see him, but no one knew what time the session would end. I continued to walk, and saw that the barricades stopped at the end of the parliament building, but didn’t block out the train station entrance.

The next train to Marrakech was set for about 45 minutes later, which was a little bit before four, so I bought my ticket, and decided to go to a bank, then sit and see if I would get lucky enough to see the king. Everything was basically closed around the parliament, but as I peered through the window of the barred western union, my eyes nearly teared up, as the glistened with the red light of the exchange rate board. Today, in the midsts of all hell breaking loose in the American stock market (and probably the result of the UK’s bailout push Wednesday or Thursday) the rate had jumped from yesterday’s 7.09 to 8.0 dirhams per dollar. My cash had been running a little low, and with a trip to Marrakech on my plate, it seemed like the clouds were starting to clear for me. I withdrew money, and then waited in the middle of the crowed, with thirty minutes remaining till my train came.

Twenty minutes passed, and I saw no king, so I decided to walk back to the station to get a good seat. The crowed looked as if it had doubled, but as I got closer to the station, I saw the actual cause. Within the thirty minutes I had left the station, the police and king’s security had completely blocked off all of the Mohammed V street. Though the streets where empty, I stood on the opposite side of the security gates from the station, with time dwindling before my train’s departure. I asked the guard what I was supposed to do, and he smiled, and said wait. I told him I had about five minutes before the train left, and he just laughed a blissful laugh, as if the day was glorious, and walked away. At this point my temper was flaring, and I jogged up the street to see if there was a barrier break anywhere.

No. Not one. I had two minutes till the train left.

I asked another security gaurd what I was supposed to do, and he said he didn’t know. A man standing at the guardrail told me to get a petit taxi around the outside of the Medina, to the other side of the station. This would take at least five to ten minutes, and I didn’t have that time. I began to argue, but my vocabulary limited me. He asked if I spoke English, and I let loose. I told him that I didn’t have time to do all that, and that the guard should just walk me across. I had no intentions of anything but getting to my train, and the king was still in the parliament building. He replied by saying that the only solution was to do what he said. I told him there wasn’t time, and he repeated what he said and told me to stop wasting time. I took a deep breath, furious, ready to lash back, but stopped. I had nothing to gain. The last minute before the train’s departure passed, and I began my livid walk down Mohammed V out of the medina.

I walked at a quick pace, with thoughts racing through my head. My stomach still rumbled, but now, it didn’t only rumble of pain, it was also empty, wanting nourishment. The day was wearing down on me, and I just thought of how upset I was. I focused on how much I disliked Morocco, and how I wish I was back home with my family, enjoying the Colorado fall. In my current state, although I do miss life back home, I know I don’t dislike Morocco, and besides this horrible serious of events, I’ve had a great time here, but this was not easy to convince a de-hydrated, fatigued, and troubled mind. My heart was heavy, reinforced by stone, and unwilling to soften. At least I thought. Before I even made it half way down the street, I stopped. I saw a man, hobbling on crutches, with only one leg. Next to him was a boy strewn out on the street on a blanket, physically disabled. To my left was a women being arrested, and seeing what I had seen all day, I assumed for an unjust reason. I hate using examples of other people, because it is blatantly belittling their lives, but as I walked so angry and furious, I couldn’t help but have a change of pace. I have both legs, and I’m not disabled. Though today was a horrible day, and I really saw the ugliness of strangers instead of the kindness I’m used, life could be worse. It was a hard concept to grasp, even having it shoved in my face, but I focused on these last sights, trying hard to forget the indecencies of earlier.

I got to the station to find a train left at 5:45. This would still put me into Marrakech around 10 or so. My expired ticket still worked for the next train, and now I had a chance to maybe see the king. Just like that, it seemed like life had turned around for me. I walked back into the medina, bought a small pastry, ate, without throwing up, and waited for the king. My hope was that I would see the king soon enough so that the crowds would disperse and I wouldn’t have to walk to the back of the station again. I guess my positive thinking catalyzed this, and with half an hour still remaining before my train departed, the king triumphantly walked from the parliament building, through his extended family all dressed in white, to the sounds of local drums mixed with his royal horn section.

I got to the train station with time to spare, and asked someone where the bus to Marrakech was leaving from. The pointed me to the track, and as the train came, told me this was the right one. I found a spot next to the window, said hello to my neighbors, and began watched a bootleg version of Indian Jones. The day seemed to make since again…or so I thought.

About 45 minutes into the ride, it seemed like everyone had cleared off the train but me. I now had my own section, and put my feet up on the chairs across from mine. I watched my movie until a couple came and sat across from me. For some reason, I decided I should make sure this was the right train, even though the man at the station promised it was. Once again, I had been turned around. Apparently, this was the train that went to the Casa airport. The reason it had cleared out was due to the fact I was at the last stop, and the new people were heading to where I had just come from. I felt very stupid for listening to the person at the train station, but I was so relieved that I had acted on my guts and spoken up when my heart said to. The man told me I just needed to ride the train back one stop, and from there I could catch the right train to Marrakech. I thanked him, and hopped of the train to find I only had another hour and half until the next train. I thought to myself how it could have been worse, I could have missed the last train, and spent the night in some foreign city. But luckily this wasn’t the case.

It’s amazing how immensely 24 hours can actually change a perspective. Its now almost midnight, and I’m still on the train to Marrakech, with the only perception of arrival time based on strangers in my compartment. Though I hope they are correct, I find it hard to trust this random gesture. I’m not angry with Morocco though, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I now have the perspective of those travelers who only see the ugly side of the country. Those who have been hustled constantly, or led astray, or who can’t speak a language that is understood. I understand why so many westerns I’ve met have had such a negative outlook on Morocco, and I just hope that this lack indecency of strangers ceases to continue. I’ve had a great time in Morocco, and fortunately I’m blessed with the ability to adapt well, but today was a day that gives testament to the impact 24 hours can have.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The night that was

To preface this entry, I must begin with the fact that I have a strong belief in God. To some, this may be referred to as Allah, energy, or random occurrence, but in any case, there is some sort of force that drives the universe, all of its inhabitants, as well as their actions…

As I sat tonight drifting between conversations, listening, thinking, and feeling, I thought of what existence means to me. This is not a something foreign to my life, nor is it new, but with each passing moment, new thoughts come and go, just as the days which carry them like chariots to their destinations. I thought about right and wrong; is it relative, or are there things that are inherently good, balanced by those which are inevitably bad. As I roved between conversations, hearing one’s thoughts about existence, specifically where it comes from, I questioned myself and my stance, not only on a higher being, but on how I approach the thoughts of others. I consider myself a very open person, specifically to beliefs and ideas, and I think those who know me can attest, but the core of all this thought is the fact I am still only human, and will always have biases and agendas. As my body graces my temporary bed, and my ears fill with the sound of a ticking clock and jangling keys, I press my mind hard to fill a blank page with thoughts that only moments ago where so clear. I try and recount the revelations of the night, knowing full well this feat is impossible. What was felt tonight was the collective action of individuals connected in a moment, and though it is my interpretation, recreation is unattainable. A glimpse of enlightment is all I can offer.

The night that was

I came to Morocco in hopes of finding answers, and what I realized is this was the first mistake. It’s not our human duty to ask how, but to ask what. What is the purpose of existence? What caused this? What am I supposed to do with life, during the blink of an eye I’m on this earth? For one to find answers, they need to have questions, and at my stage in life, this is my longing. So to rephrase, I came to Morocco searching for something. My experiences abroad before have been quite different. The summer before the last, I spent my days with one other American, surrounded by Ugandans, engulfed in their culture, doing the best my body was capable of doing to shed my American skin, and experience life through their eyes. Since the start of this semester, I’ve felt like I’ve been living an American life in Rabat, more so then the feeling of being immersed in the culture. I spend my days at school surrounded by mostly Americans. I eat dinner with my host family, and sit silently when the language barrier bars me from the conversation, and I use the Internet to stay connected to home life. This has been the basis of my discomfort, but all was dissolved today in a solution of discovery.

We sat at our own table, united by our birthplace, in the heart of a café booming with Moroccans. We made eye contact, order drinks in Morocco’s native tongue, and even sparked basic conversation, but tonight these occurrences resonated with me. I have Moroccan friends, whom I talk with on a daily basis, but I am still American, and this fact will never change. But to me, this isn’t a bad thing. Shoes will never fit two people the same way, so all we can do is try and empathize with and understand one another. I’ll always be an American, whether I’m abroad or not, but that does not have to taint my experience. So with this new thought in mind, I was ready to live the life in which I’ve been bestowed.

Though I did not change seats through out the night, the final shuffle of others left a familiar face next to me. Before tonight, I had yet to discover what lies behind her brown eyes. She is typically shy, and very sweet, but her lack of assertion in an overanxious group, has left much to the imagination. I asked her about her home life, where her family lives, and in her case, where they came from. I heard an eye-opening story, and as she continued to speak, our conversation was buried under the forceful words of an argument in close proximity. We laughed about our classmates’ stubbornness, and unknowingly arrived at this evening’s conversational turning point. Since the other argument was about God, she asked me my belief on existence and creation. I told her I believed full well there is God, and that this God, as long as I’m right with my emotions, will give me insight and direction into my life’s path. She replied with the fact she’s agnostic for the most part, but had never felt she could grasp the feeling that most believers cannot convey in words alone. She is a science major in college, and a person who relies on equations to come to specific conclusions in life. I told her this is where I believed the problem lies. What makes the existence of God very hard to grasp is his omnipotence. For a rational thinker, trying to explain an answer, which is not a single solution that can be drawn through a constant equation, is a difficult battle. For an imperfect being, trying to explain perfection is like trying to fit a circle into a square, the outcome will never be what you hoped for. To her, It was as if this humble comment had been a flag of surrender. Our shields were lowered, and our armor was discarded. We were now ready to have a conversation.

His existence led us to the next chapter, one which was concerned with heaven and hell. I told her I believe in the afterlife concept, but that I didn’t believe good people, in their earthly skin, who did not accept God, would spend eternity in Damnation. God is merciful, and I believe that once all is said and done, a person will have a chance to see their existence, with all the good, bad, wrong, and right turns, in the presence of a maker, and if at this point they still denounce him, then damnation would be their fate. But then again, what do I know? She seemed in intrigued, but said that this was one of the hardest concepts of religion for her, because she believed that life right now was all we are given. She said we can choose to do good, or bad, but at the end of the day, it was our choice, and we as people are defined by our actions. Her final words rang, and I sat dumbstruck, watching the smoke billowing from ashtrays littered around the café. The staggering conversations of our peers tried to impede our boarder, but the moment we created could not be stopped. It had become a wave during high tide, pushing its way to the shore, regardless of what lay in its path. My mind processed what she said, and I asked her if she believed her life had a specific person, and where did she derive her values and morals. Her reply was bare, and was backed by a source that has long since been neglected, her heart. She said that she wasn’t for sure if there was a specific purpose, but before she died, she wanted to know and understand the outside force that her physics classes were so reliant on. Morals where brought by the same force, as well as values, but she didn’t believe anything that didn’t feel right in her heart. When my reply was called, I told her that I believe each person has a purpose beyond themselves, regardless of their belief in its creator, and it was their choice to find it. For myself, my purpose is still hidden, but I know that part of it is to be a positive attribute to the community which I’m in. If my actions are hindering those around me, and my words hurting instead of helping, then in that moment, I’m not following my purpose. I told her of my religious upbringing, and how for years I was blinded by the morals the church dubbed as truth, but now I knew this was wrong. My morals come from the same source as hers, the heart. If something feels wrong, then it isn’t something I should partake in. If I’m hurting another with my actions, or if I feel my conscious scream, I need to reconsidered what I have put on my table. Morals should not be defined by another, they should be defined by your heart, but to be able to do this, one must connect with something many chose to ignore.

We sat in silence for a moment, catching the occasional eye as we stared at the room, submerged in cleansing thought, washing clean the inhibitions which prohibit such connection. She surfaced us by thanking me for my thoughts. We had been on the same level, and she was happy to hear another person, though with some what different beliefs, could share such a similar outlook on life. We continued to talk about the importance of knowledge, but only if it was backed by a warm feeling in you heart, reminding you it is something which should not be taken lightly. As our group began to pay our tab, and we left the café, our ambiance stayed locked to our sides, and the cool night air added a welcomed comfort. We began to talk about drugs, and their detrimental role in finding ones heart, and this lead to a conversation about high’s and low’s. Being able to reach this point tonight, we knew that what caused so much turmoil when trying to connect with the heart were the fatal flaws of doubt, self-conscious, and fear that are innate in humans. Though drugs and alcohol can temporarily silence these, what both of us had devoted much of recent times to, was finding this mental state in a natural way. I posed the idea of subjective highs and lows, whether the appeal of all natural existence was clear to us, because of a high we have reached naturally that others had never experienced. As if we had found the final clue that solved a mystery, she and I together, let loose the floodgate of what lies in our hearts.

Highs and lows seemed to be the key to us as people. When we feel that natural high, when self-doubt submits, when fear flees from the light, when every God-given talent in our bodies works to its fullest potential, nothing seems unattainable. But this could be countered when the low comes barreling through our thoughts like an avalanche, engulfing the strength, light, and guidance, leaving us stranded and alone, knee deep in the cold depths of misery. Lows were not what scared us though, it was the middle. Though centering oneself is important, the middle area is not the same. If highs are secluded white-sand beaches, and lows are like a blizzard, then the middle is like a desert, with no end at sight. When hitting that middle area, you see the world through apathetic eyes. You don’t feel happy or sad. You don’t feel anger. You don’t feel bliss. You don’t feel a thing. It’s like being a ghost, wandering the earth, questioning why you are still here when your body was banished so long ago. I had felt this a month ago after an incredible high on a bus to Cascade D’ Ozued, but I could never put it in to words like she had this evening. Though it would depend on what state our minds our in, the ability to recognize such states helps one peer into their own heart.

Speaking of relative experiences set ablaze an already burning flame that has been raging in me since February. This fire of relativity was sparked when I had the chance to hear a lecture from author Ishmael Beah. He is from Sierra Leon, and spent a vast majority of his youth as a child solider. This man has seen his family die, been forced into killing the innocent, completely desensitized, brought back to life, and still suffers from nightmares and insomnia as a result of his experience. As miraculous as this is alone, what sets him apart is his ability to understand relative emotion. Though through an objective lens, a very unfortunate select few could say they have experienced something to such a magnitude, but what Ishmael preached was the fact that no one should belittle another person’s suffering. He used the example of a person loosing their pet, and said if this person feels the worst pain possible, relative to them, resulting from the loss of a loved one, then why should his worst suffering as a child soldier be considered any worse then the person who lost their pet? Though Ishmael stands a mere five foot four inches, I remember looking at him, wondering how he could fit in the hall which held over two thousand people. This man’s soul, his prowess, his wisdom, and most of all, his heart, are large enough to fill a city. I told her, as we walked down the street towards our home stays, that my hope is to one-day amount to a small piece of what that man is. To have the ability to not underestimate what a person is feeling, as well as sacrifice my pride to truly empathize with another. I looked at her as my words came to a close, and I could see our moment had only grown with this segway.

With a look of query in her eye, she asked me if I would ever be able to sacrifice my family, friends, and loved ones if it was what God called for. If God wanted me to renounce all my possessions, leave my home, and move to the world’s end, would I be able to do it? I would love to say yes, and think that I was an island, but being stripped of all my pride, in my barest form, I told her the truth. My most prized possessions in life are my loved ones, and the thought of having them stricken from my life devastates me. I know how important soul searching is, and I think months at a time I could go with very little communication, but actually not having them be a part of my life is something I cannot fathom. She told me how one of her favorite books is “The Razor’s Edge,” and how this is the premise for the story. She felt the same as I did about her loved ones, but found herself in a similar situation on a relative scale. Her mother and uncle fled the east, against less the 50% odds, during the Vietnamese war, and it was this act of selflessness that brought her and her family to safety and prosperity. She had worked hard in school, since the point in which grades became lasting, in hopes to gain acceptance to a prestigious grad school, which would grant her a high paying job. With this, she could continue to aid her family, and guarantee the same life to her kids to which she had been shown. She had come to Morocco in search of an answer, already knowing her question, and as we walked past the vendors, smelling the aroma of foreign cuisine, she realized this was her razor’s edge. Her heart felt content, and spoke to her as if they were timeless friends, when she was working with youth and volunteering in orphanages. She is a person who loves to give and she felt that she was following the right path when she was donating her time, being a beckon of hope for those who have lost their way. Her family, unfortunately, did not see this as a prestigious career, leaving her with a life-altering dilemma. I thought for a second that the answer was simple, do what your heart says, but then realized how ridiculous that thought really was. She was torn between what she loved, and whom she loved, and it seemed certain that the fork in the road would lead her far away from one. At this point I was stumped, and although we reached many conclusions this evening, the means for this end were going to take her more then one heartfelt conversation to find. Maybe it was the last remaining minutes of that high, but this seemed to be a very acceptable answer for her. We embraced, and I thanked her for every thought she had that evening, and we went our separate ways, accompany two different groups, still arguing, but not hearing the words the others spoke.

One of my favorite lines in “The Alchemist,” talks about how a person whose finds days monotonous has blinded himself from the simple beauties in life. The most basic beauty of humanity is interaction, and tonight was a testament to that. We had been on this program for a month now, exchanged subtitles, but nothing more. If we would have moved seats, or kept the conversation superficial, we would have missed our chance at a moment of bliss. What was amazing was the fact these self-conclusions could not have been reached without the guidance and wisdom of one another. I would like to consider myself a decently intelligent person, and she obviously has much wisdom, but without each other’s insight, neither of us would have been able to take the spiritual step we did that evening. I think this is why human interaction is important. A lot can be learned from a sabatical, or a trip spent alone in the woods, but the aid of another, someone who is on a similar spiritual plan, will always triumph the insight of a person urning to be an island.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Preperation vs. Planning

Last summer, on a bus from Kampala, Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya, I talked to an African man who told me the problem with Westerners was planning. He said that we spend too much time planning for life, instead of living it. He said that was the difference between us and African’s, that African’s prepare themselves for things, but they never try and plan what was going to happen. That summer I learned the truth in the man’s statement, as I watched my African friends go about their daily lives, facing and surpassing all obstacles, triumphs, and failures that came their way. From this experience, I learned the true importance of adaptation in daily life, and how the world will turn, regardless of what I have planned.


Although Morocco is on the same continent, few lessons I learned from my time in sub-Saharan Africa have been relevant here. Today was our first day of Islam and the Koran class, and though this is a topic I find very interesting, the possible enjoyment was nowhere to be found. Professor Zaki, the program director who I’ve already butted heads with, has appointed himself the teacher of this course, and although his intelligence is abundant, there seems to be a missed connection between his thoughts and their articulation. We spent a three hour course reading choicely worded, long winded, vague questions, whose soul purpose was to inform us that studying religion is not the same as studying other subjects. The study of religion is used to train a person how to think in a way that encompasses the mind and the heart. My favorite phrase was when a person’s intelligence was referred to as their “cognitive stock.” Zaki spent an entire lecture trying to explain to us how one should approach learning the Koran, without teaching us a single thing about it. His motive was the fact that there are certain aspects that make studying religion difficult, such as how times are different now then when the books were written, and problems, politics, science, ect., differ from each time period. Though this is true, what Zaki was trying to do was not map out how we would learn the Koran, but try and pre-create our interpretation of what we will eventually learn. This has been the theme for the entire program with CIEE. Instead of diving into this new culture, and experiencing it first hand, getting an impression, then debriefing, Zaki has tried to create pre-emptive judgments and interpretations before we (well those of us who didn’t travel before) have experienced anything. He is trying to plan a group reaction to situations that will be completely subjective to the person who experiences it. Preparation is so important when it comes to experiencing a new and different culture, but trying to plan out how you’ll react to something you’ve never experience before is absurd. It’s like trying to plan a reaction to a surprise which you have no knowledge of. Like I said before, Zaki is an intelligent man, and his ultimate goal of trying to teach a kid to think and analyze, instead of accept and store is my philosophy as well, but unless someone has already learned to attain information this way, his message is lost in his endless sea of million dollar words on PowerPoint slides. What the real take home message is, is that one cannot plan nor teach someone how to experience something. A knowledgeable person can offer advice and insight, but the interpretation, the reaction, and the lesson learned is all in the eye of the beholder.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Toubkal

This weekend we decided we needed an adventure, so Zach offered the idea of climbing the highest peak in North Africa, Mt. Toubkal. The peak is 4,167m tall, and its base is located in a town called Imlil, which is about an hour out of Marrakech. It seemed like a good idea, and with our new lovely schedule, we could catch the night train Thursday, and be at the base of the mountain before noon on Friday. We offered our trip itinerary to all the kids on the program, but come Thursday after class, Jesse and Helen where the only other takers. This was a perfect amount for a climbing excursion.

After asking around, we found out that the night train left from Rabat at 3 in the morning. We all thought this was a great way to start an adventure, so come three in the morning, the four of us met in the alley of the train station, waiting for it to open. A few minutes after three, the gates opened, and we pushed our way along with the others waiting for the ticket window and then the train. We rushed in hopes of snagging two compartments, only to find out that the train, for some horrible reason, did not have compartments, but individual seats, two on each side, facing another two. Besides Helen, who had been out all night with her host brother, we had all slept a few hours before coming here. With the help of exhaustion and an empty train, we found some semi-comfortable positions, and restlessly slept the four-hour ride to Marrakech.

Upon arrival, we set out to find a super market in Marrakech before catching a grand taxi to Imlil. This was an adventure in itself, and after our accidental tour of the nouvelle ville, thanks to the precise directions of local strangers, we found our way to the La belvie.
With a bag full of dates, bread, and jelly, we crossed the street to go barter with a few taxi drivers for a ride. In the high season, rides with four people should only cost 50-70 dirhman a person, so at the end of the season, we should be paying no more then 50. Apparently the driver didn’t have the same outlook as we did, and after finally giving us our price, he refused to talk to anyone for the duration of the drive. But he had an outlet for his anger, blindly passing on curves on a mountain rode…

We thankfully made it to the mountain in one piece, and immediately after hopping out of our taxi, we started our ascent. Our crew, besides Zach the mountain man, looked like the saddest bunch of misfits the mountain had ever seen. All three of us where wearing running shoes instead of hiking boots (mine purchased the night before in the medina at the knock off nike store) designer (or knock off designer) glasses, and whatever random fitness attire we decided to bring on the trip. Preparation was not the name of the game this weekend, but adaptation is a very important aspect of travel.

The hike started through the main town of Imlil, which consisted of two hotels, and random shops with ceramic animals and wool hoodies, that looked like they had been stolen from hippies in the 90’s, were the only goods. After passing the buildings, hikers get the first glimpse of the valley. Before starting on the mountain path, there is a stream that runs through apple orchards and green grass, and down through the town. It also follows the hiking path all the way up to its source beyond the refuge. The mountain itself is a mix of deep gray and brown, and hides the summit for a good majority of the hike.

Guides aren't really necessary for the trip, so we decided to hike on our own. I think guides normally designate pass, so our guide free trip came with a hellish pace. It can take anywhere from 3 1/2 to 6 hours to make it to the refugee, but with our pace, we could have probably made it in two. We followed the stream for a little over an hour until we reached the half way point, which consisted of a waterfall draining into a pool, as well as obnoxious sales men thinking its a good idea to sell large items to people who are walking up a hill. We stopped and ate lunch here, dipped our feet in the freezing pool, then started up again.

As we continued to hike, we passed several groups of people, the most outspoken of course were the Britts, who would loudly comment "there go the Americans." But Even at our pace, we were constantly being passed by Moroccans on mules, carrying supplies to the refugee. At anyone moment, you could also turn your head and see packs of wild and herded goats working their way up and down the mountain.

What was fun about the small group was the ability to chat with one another, and after a few hours of ice breaking questions, we dove into questions that would break the surface a bit. As we walked in the mountains, surrounded by the elements and the sound of moving water, we talked about all the things young people thrive on; love, lust, relationships, the future, parties, the opposite sex...the opposite sex...the opposite sex. Its amazing how fast you can really get to know a person after only a few hours.

What is difficult about the hike to the refuge, is the fact it is hidden until you are about twenty minutes out. After about 2 and half hours of hiking, Helen began to feel the effects of altitude sickness. I think we all were feeling it a bit, but since she hadn't slept the night before, and restless train sleeping sufficient, I think the exhaustion intensified the effects for her. That morning we had been at sea level, and now we where just under 11,000 ft. According to lonely planet, and your local physician, this is a giant no no. But Helen, who was a DII soccer player, is very stubborn and tough. We slowed down a bit (but she didn't let us that much) and we fought our way to the refugee.

The concrete building, which matched the color of its surroundings, on the inside felt like a secluded, yet humble ski lodge, somewhere far of the beaten path. It was a sight for sore eyes, and although freezing, and lacking the burning wood fire of a ski lodge, it was a great place to be after a hike.

They greeted us with mint tea as we arrived, and we threw our bags in our shared dormitory. There were sixteen beds altogether, two bunk beds, with four touching mattresses on top, and four on bottom.

Helen, unfortunately, spent the rest of the afternoon battling the sickness, while the guys played cards and talked about life. Since we are currently in the Muslim holiday of Bramadan (bro Ramadan)...and at the top of a mountain in Morocco, our hope for beer and wings for dinner was in vain. Even the Moroccan equivalent, Cous cous and Hawaii soda, wasn't available tonight, so we had to settle for fanta and chicken tangines.

Since the refuge didn't like to use its power, lights where out at 8, and at 9 we went to bed. Sharing a bed with three other people isn't the best environment for sleeping, and after hearing the symphony of alarms from other groups ring from 1-5, we finally got out of bed to summit.

There is a distinct path to take to the summit, but we decided, in honor of Bramadan, to make our own path. We found ourself on all fours, climbing up boulders, and pushing our way through loose rock. We slipped and slid, and fought our way up the steepest incline, then took the already made path when the mountain flattened out a bit into a valley. From this point we could see the summit, and although it was still far, we could begin to map out our route to its graces. At this point the sun was out, but our half-assed gear was still not warm enough to be completely comfortable.

As we got closer to the summit, the terrain got gradually steeper, while the air became a little bit more thin, and the temperature fell just a bit more. What amazes me is how fast, when the elements are against you, the comfort of your own thoughts can turn from a treasured ally, to a sworn enemy. I was cold and exhausted, and my thoughts had betrayed me, but as we saw the summit, and crawled up the loose dirt on all fours, I put all my hope in the view from the top. This was a very good idea.

From the summit you could see for miles. There was little cloud cover, and the entire anti-atlas mountain range came in our view. There was a green valley at the bottom, and some how, less then a hundred feet under us, a stray heard of goat. We took pictures, laughed, ate snickers, and took in the amazing view, all the while trying to keep warm and gasp in the glory of climbing North Africa's highest peak.

After about an hour, we packed our bags and headed down. The descent was faster, and although it was down hill, it still was very frustrating with all the loose rock. To battle the traitors in our minds, we talked about a wide range of topics, from life and where it comes from, to pokemon. After about an hour and a half we made it to the refuge.

Helen was there waiting for us, looking a lot more colorful, and feeling a lot better. We talked about what our next step was, and decided that we would rather spend another night at the refuge, then go to Marrakech and battle the heat and street vendors. It was around noon when we got back, so we spent the day playing rummy on the patio, watching groups of hikers, goats, and mules make their way up.

After about three hours of rummy and omlete eating, someone brought up the idea of maybe hiking down and catching the last train home to Rabat. It seemed only fitting to put this choice up to Allah (or God, whichever name you choose) and used cards as a medium for him to speak. We made up a ridiculous game, with contradicting rules to decide what we would do, and after about twenty minutes, we got the order to stay the night. A few more hours of card playing led us to the cous cous dinner I had been waiting for, then to our now empty dorm room.

Though there were only four of us, and four completely open spaces to sleep, we all decided to sleep on one bunk and share the space. It does sound like a cute situation, but it was actually the result of fear after telling ghost stories before bed. Everyone told their real life stories, or stories of friends with ghosts, and to finish the night, I payed tribute to my Grandma by telling the "Mary I’m at the foot of your bed story." It didn’t scare my friends as much as it did Megan and I when we were little, but it still made me smile thinking about every time my Grandma spooked us before bed.

The next morning we packed our things and calculated how much our bill should be. We were told it was 30 dirham for each meal, 20 for tea and 80 per person for the room. The English speaking man who had told us the prices was asleep while we were getting ready to leave, so we grabbed another employee to ring us up. We spoke a little bit of French with him, but he knew we were Americans, so he decided to try and charge us double for each meal we ate, and 10 dirham extra for every time we ordered. This sparked an argument, which led to a stand off, which led to him storming in and out of the room, then finally locking the front door, as to try and lock us in the refuge. Zach made a joke and asked him if he was kidnapping us, while threatening to call our embassy, but this seemed to be lost in the heat of the moment with the worker. As we sat in a stare down, we saw our friend begin to wake up, but instead of hopping to his feet, he started to writhe in pain, moaning and rolling on the coach. He said it hurt right under his stomach, near his groin, and so our only thought was that it could be a kidney stone. Jesse had Advil with him, so we dished out enough for two days, and told him how to take them. The other employee, who had tried to cheat us, was watching the whole time, and after this spectacle, decided to give us the actual price for our stay, and let us leave the refuge (even though the back door was open the whole time.)

Because of the stand off, we were in a bit of a rush to catch the one o’clock train back to Rabat, so we hiked down as fast as possible and went straight to the taxi stop. We ended up hailing the only passive/timid taxi driver in Morocco, and instead of speeding through the mountains, we arrived in Marrakech about fifteen minutes after the train left. But like I said earlier, the key to traveling is adaptation, so to occupy ourselves, we paid 50 dirham to swim and shower at the hotel Ibis next to the train station.

The four-hour train ride back was spent digging a little deeper with one another, as well as watching the scenery pass by. Even with the mornings delay and missing the first train, we still made it back to town only a few minutes late for Fitar (break-fast).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

where you go is where you are

As a result of the frustration, and voiced opinions, I think the program realized it was dropping the ball, and after much deliberation, we now don’t have class until one on Monday, and no class Friday. This is way way way more then we asked for, and I couldn’t be happier. But after just taking a test completely in Arabic after only have about 8 days of classes (most of which only about speaking not writing) I do believe we may be entitled to it. Either way, my future holds many wild adventures.
As for the title; though the announcement of our class schedule was quite amazing, the scales of life did balance themselves out for me today. I’m in Morocco, I’m experiencing life, I’m speaking three different languages (which is sweet!) but even though I’m here, I’m still a son, a brother, a friend, and a boyfriend. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the “experience” of traveling, and how they would hate to be tied down, or they don’t use email or phones when they are traveling, because it will take away from this so called experience. The phrase “where you go is where you are,” has been a real eye opener this trip, and I really think it distinguishes between those who are traveling and experiencing, and those who are running away. When I left home I was an overly emotional, self-intuitive, twenty-one year old kid. Now, though maybe a bit wiser, I’m still that same kid. When you leave a place, though hopefully you’ll inherit a less glazed pair of eyes, you are still the same person at the core. Your problems will follow you, along with your habits, ideas, and thoughts. What I’m getting at is the fact that, although one journeys to far off destinations to learn and experience, the over all experience should encompass life as a whole. I’m in a long distance relationship right now, and what my other half thought was that I didn’t want to talk much, because I wanted to experience, which unfortunately, led to a scale balancing argument this afternoon…but for me, that is the experience. Its living in this new culture and learning, but finding time to still be the person you are, for the people you care about back home, and finding out how these new ideas and thoughts will correspond with day to day life. How will the experience influence you with the ones you love? If I wanted to run away, and try to hide from my problems, or maybe take a sabbatical, then yes, the experience would be me, on my own, trying to figure myself out. No email. No phones. Just books, a pen, and a journal. But that’s not what this trip is about. To me, that’s running away. I’m a firm believer in soul searching, but when was the last time anyone truly had the world to themselves? Soul searching happens with other people as well. I like who I am and my life back home, and though I’m here, and experiencing, I think the full journey comes when you embrace all aspects of life. Why neglect what you have at home? The journey doesn’t begin when you arrive at the airport, and end when your ears ring with captains muffled voice saying your city’s name. The journey is what happens before the trip, during the planning, the participation, and the lessons, values, and thoughts manifesting themselves in your day to day life when you return. So how would taking time out of the day to catch up with the ones you love, and process thoughts really take away from the experience? In my mind, this luxury is a cherry on top.

Monday, September 8, 2008

frusteration

This has been a pretty reoccurring theme since the start of the program. We have been in the dark in all aspects. We found out about host families the day we were told we were moving into the houses. We find out about meetings five minutes before they start, we are finding out our class schedules this Wednesday…when school actually starts Thursday. We have no say in what is happening, and we are spoken to like lost children. Our questions are answered with vague long-winded rants that go in circles, and I’ve learned more about the program from the CIEE website, than from those who are running it. We are also stuck in a small building, and we found out this week, to our dismay, that we are not going to be in classes at the regular university, but still stuck in the small temporary building, only taking classes with the kids on our program. Half of the problems coming are from trying to correspond our classes and what not with the main university, so it seems dumb that they would try and separate us from the school when its painstakingly obvious the fact that we came to Morocco that we probably don’t want to just study with other Americans, we want to be with Moroccans. They have dubbed us trail blazers, because this is the first year with the program, but I’m pretty tired of sporting this title at the expense of my education and experience.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this attitude, and whether its justified, or I’m just being an ugly American, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it is relevant. My problem has nothing to do with the culture, it has to do with our program. I’m just upset with the inability for our program to deliver on promises, and it has become burdensome being so blind about something which I’ve paid to do. So yes, this frustration is justified, and I’m hoping it doesn’t continue as a theme throughout the education here in Morocco.
But luckily I’ve always been a firm believer in you create your on outlook, and as long as I can survive from 9-3 each day, life is great. I’m living with a host family, I spend each afternoon at the beach playing bocce ball or Frisbee, or even studying Arabic. At night, I have a massive Ramadan feast, and following, I go on walks through the city, taking in the atmosphere of Morocco. So maybe this is just life's way of balancing itself out. Though my day at school is relatively miserable, with barked orders, boiling classrooms, and edgy teachers who are fasting, it makes me so excited for 3 o’clock to role around, and city exploring, or beach dwelling to commence.

Saturday night: Right now we are still in the middle of the two week long intensive Arabic course before actual school begins, and since our school found it necessary to put a class in the morning on Saturday, Saturday evening was our only real weekend night. The girls on our program were no where to be found tonight, so the five guys went solo to walk around town.
Since its Ramadan, all the bars and nightclubs are closed until October (hence the upcoming weekend trip to spain!) so the happening places to go are cafes. The night started out pretty typical with guys talking about guy things. What did this guy think of that girl? Who is the cutest? Where did the parents go wrong with that one? All the typical conversations you could expect guys to have. I’ve been curious about one guy on the program, he’s a pretty staunch republican, foul mouthed, boarder line prejudice/racist, hard guy from Brooklyn. Seeing as this is his mantra, I’ve been really intrigued as to why, for one, he is in Morocco, two: why he is here for a year, and three: why he is studying Arabic? I took initiative tonight (much like I’ve had to do in classes to keep our teachers form just barking vocab at us for 5 hours a day) and asked him why Morocco. Like I thought, it was counter terrorism, but what was so interesting was hearing what events in his life has actually brought him to that point. He grew up in Brooklyn, he said his apartment has a view of ground zero, and before had a great view of the towers. His father had done service, he believes in American and its values, and his grandparents, who fled the Nazi’s, came to the US, lived the American dream, and made life much better for his family. He talked about his distaste for the war in Iraq, and how decent men are dead, and how noble war is gone. We no longer are fighting another Army, but we are fighting men disguised, using women and children as shields, and attacking us when our backs are turned. I definitely didn’t disagree with him in that view, which is interesting given our backgrounds and beliefs, but our difference wasn’t the result of these themes, it was the extent to which we believed in them, and how we thought we should act. Of course we all know that terrorism is real, and that there is a threat, but to him it is our countries greatest threat, and what we need to be doing is counter terrorism work, and to me, I just don’t see the same way. All five of us launched into a conversation (and I emphasized the word conversation) about current happenings in the world. We talked about terrorism, and how to stop it. When do we draw the line with where we put our funding, our troops, our talents. I threw in my two-cents about education and anti-poverty efforts being a huge weapon in the fight for terrorist organizations to be able to recruit. We talked about international aid, The US having to downsize life and subtitles if we ever wanted these problems to end, and to level the playing field. We talked about how simple drug trade on college campuses inevitably fuels crime on some level, and how even buying products whose crude materials come from other countries, also elongates the gap between everyone. We talked for hours, and though we didn’t come to any life-altering conclusions, I think this sort of dialogue and thought, is what will lead this next generation to massive positive change. We talked till around 11:30, then all laughed as we gathered our things to make it home by our host families curfews.
What I really liked about the conversation was the mutual respect of one another. We all gave and took a little bit, and acknowledge truth no matter whose side it came from. For me, the conversation really made me question what I want to do with life. For the last few years I’ve been tiptoeing with the idea of international work, but with the last few years I’ve also had my eyes opened by seeing both the positive and negative effects of international work. In our conversation, we talked about a girl on the program whose goal is to become a teacher, and work with impoverished kids who have been basically forgotten, and give them hope, and a chance at a brighter future. I guess what I’m getting at is where is help, talent, and passion most effective? Which level do these self-less workers need to be at? Is it more useful to be placed domestically, and work in one’s country, in hopes that their will work will inspire others, and lead to unification of nations later? Or should we focus on infra-structure and education abroad, in hopes to curb the problem of radical groups and poverty for this new generation, all the while creating positive sediment and bonds between the involved countries? I definitely don’t have the answer at this time, but my hope is that we do both, and one day both these paths will be able to meet in the middle.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thank god for fire fox! here are all the posts... in one day, hope you enjoy!

Program d’exchange, Rabat, broing out


I began to get a bit nervous as I walked to the hotel, but when I talked to the man at the counter, and he gave me my room key, I felt pretty good. I went up the stairs to my room to find my roommate for the hotel passed out on the bed. I tried to be quiet, but he quickly jumped awake, and we began chatting. His name is Yoseph (actually spelled with a J, but using this spelling for pronunciation), but he goes by Joe, and he is of Eritrean descent. I knew I would like Joe from the start, and both of us hung out, watching the news until our program’s seven o’clock meeting time.
First impressions are always rough, and as the jeg lagged kids struggled to remember names, we all packed in two large vans to eat, before heading to bed. The program is made up of 5 guys and 20 plus girls, and at dinner I sat at a table with Zach, and a few girls from all around the states. Dinner was nice, but to my dismay, the first decent restaurant I ate in, compared to the shacks and hole in the walls I’ve been dining at the past three weeks, actually gave me my first bout with “stomach problems.” It didn’t hit until right before bed, so the entire dinner and our late night walk where very enjoyable.
Thursday was the real start of the orientation, and we stayed in one big group in the hotel until Saturday when we moved in with our host families. Until now, I had been traveling alone, with no agenda, inconspicuously, only revealing I was American through speech. Now, all of Thursday, we walked in a group of nearly thirty, through crowded streets, being gawked at, as we did tours of banks and cell phone stores trying to get each kid ready for the program. It was really stressful for me, and though I tried to enjoy the company, the heat, mixed with the stares and asinine errands was a bit much. But after making it through the morning, Thursday ended up shaping into a pretty nice day, with a visit to the King’s palace, as well as the unfinished Mosque of Mohammed V and his mausoleum.
After a ten o clock dinner, and about 4 or 5 hours of sleep, CIEE planned Friday to be our first day with three-hour Moroccan Arabic courses, followed by a very long-winded, virtually worthless, culture course. The Arabic class was interesting, but having slept for a very short time, mixed with the heat of the classroom, it was very hard to stay attentive. We ate a nice lunch afterwards, and were told we had a 45-minute “discussion,” before we had free time at the hotel. The discussion ended up being a two-hour monologue given be the program’s director, where he asked questions about what we have seen since we have been in Morocco. Seeing as only two kids had seen anything outside the hotel and lunch, and that the culture we were supposed to be discussing was unfolding right outside our window, I felt pretty frustrated. Everyone was tired and hot, but before the end of the discussion, we were told to formulate questions, that we would not revisit after seeing some of Morocco. After this, Professor Zaki asked the class for honest feedback about the lecture and if it was worth the time. I raised my hand, and told him in all honesty, that if we had no intentions of revisiting the questions, and only two kids had seen anything outside of the school and the hotel, that we probably could have spent our time in another way. There was a silence, and a load of agreeing eyes shot towards mine. Professor Zaki thanked me for my honesty, and after a few more moments of silence, a brave soul took the responsibility of feeding his ego, and talking about how interesting the lecture was. Maybe it was the heat talking, but I felt that if he asked for honesty, that moment was a good time to be truthful.
That night we had a lovely dinner in a traditional Moroccan home, which consisted of an open-air courtyard living room, four or more floors, beautiful tiles lining the walls, and chandlers hanging from the second and third floor walk ways. The main floor is the only floor with a living room, and all the other floors are basically a square walkway the looks down on the first floor. Since it was Friday, which is a holy day in Islam, we ate cous cous. The dinner was long, with four courses, and tea and cookies for an aperitif. There was live music, and many guests where dispearsed through out the four tables of students. I was lucky enough to sit next to Michael, a man who worked for the US embassy, who gave me a lot of good incite into how to get a job with the foreign services, the job the duties, and positive Moroccan rappers. All together, the dinner more then made up for the arduous day, and that night I slept well, dreaming of meeting my host family.
When the day arrived, and I traveled to the Anncienne Medina to meet them, I wasn’t disappointed. I’m staying with a family of five, 2 daughters, one sun, on the first floor of a four floor traditional house. We have internet and two TV’s, a toilet (with no running water), and a shower. I feel like I really lucked out, and even though my French is pretty shotty, my family has been very nice.
Our place, and the medina, is a five-minute walk away from the beach, so I spent the weekend lounging, as well as buying a bike for the commute to school.
The fun has just begun in Rabat, and with talks of the upcoming trips, I can just hope to do them justice on this page. Sorry for the delay, but in the end, I think it will be worth it!

Boot camp

I don’t know what studying abroad looks like to other kids, but I can’t remember a time where I’ve ever had a three-hour class, especially one that has an hour break followed by another two-hour class. Monday was our first full day of lessons, and between the nine o’clock start, and the verbal assault of Dearisha (Moroccan Arabic, sorry for the horrendous spelling) my day seemed a lot less like school, and a lot more like basic training. My professor’s name is Ben, and although he is nice, he speaks very fast, and believes that after hearing a word once, and not seeing it, we should have it completely memorized. I’ve always heard that college takes all the language you learn in one year of high school, and squeezes it into one semester, but on Ben’s plan, I should be toping Morocco’s bestseller’s list with a novel near thanksgiving.
The hour break was welcoming, and for 25Dhs, I got a cheeseburger with an egg on it, as well as fries and rice. Though it was delicious, class in a hot room, on a full stomach is not a good recipe for learning. The afternoon class was brutal, and as our new professor Norah expected us to read assignments in Arabic, I felt a little unprepared, along with the rest of the class. 4 o’ clock is a glorious hour here, and I think everyday at this time I’ll feel as if I just finished a triathlon.
What made school fun today was definitely the bike ride there. I live a few kilometers away from the school, and am currently the first student out here to buy a bike, so instead of sharing a cab, Zach and I decided we could both ride the burgundy behemoth to school. Though she is a looker, the twenty year old, rusted, not level bike is not fit for two people, and after a near death experience riding down a small hill in traffic, we decided to suck up our pride and call the program director, Media, to pick us up. But as I’ll quickly find out, the best way to be ready for school, as well as have some cheap fun, is to buy a bike in a city with no traffic laws, and ride to school.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on the beach playing paddleball and swimming. I’ve never lived near the cost, but I could really get used to running each morning on seaside cliffs, and taking a dip after school.

Ramadan started today, and I decided to participate, at least for one day. Right now its 6:17, and I actually don’t feel terrible, but I’m pretty sure I maybe learned about half a phrase in five hours of class today, so I don’t know if this habit will continue. We woke up a little before four this morning to eat breakfast that is supposed to last your stomach until 7:30 at night. To my dismay, it was all bread, and knowing how long carbs actually last, I figured today would be pretty awful. The routine is to wake up early, eat, fall back asleep, then wake up late for the day, take a long nap, binge eat from around 8 at night until midnight, wake up around four again, and do it all over.
Today in class my brain refused to function. I heard every phrase over and over, but I couldn’t retain a single word. Though I was there in body, my brain definitely was in another place, and after five hours of wasting my professors’ time, I figure that if I want to get anything out of this program, I should probably eat and sleep. Besides fasting, Muslims are not allowed to smoke, have contact with the opposite sex, or swim. I think I can do the fast, and since I don’t smoke and my girlfriend is half a world away, those two steps should be easy, but living by the beach for the first time in my life and not taking advantage of it seems like it’s a bit of a waste for me. So, if I’m gonna fail one, I might as well fail them all (or at least the two that pertain to me).
Ramadan was fun for a day, but I don’t think I have what it takes to be Muslim. I really do have a lot of respect for the religion, and especially for those Moroccans and Arabs who fast while continue to train for sport.