Thursday, August 28, 2008

Marrakech and Cascade D'ozued

So i lost my guide book a ways back, and the names may be spelled wrong, but sitting now in the wonderful hotel Ibis in Rabat, I think its time to add these to posts. And for those who are religious viewers, this will be the last random long one and now i'll be more on a schedule!!!


So Marrakech is worked up to be the largest, most touristy, and crazy city in Morocco, and well, I think it was pretty close to living up to its title.

My guide book disappeared in Essaouira, so as I hopped on the bus to Marrakech, I knew absolutely nothing, about what to see, where to go, and most importantly where to stay...but as we know, traveling has a way of figuring it self out for you. On the bus I met a girl from the UK, and decided I would follow her to her hostel in hopes of a place to stay. When I arrived, lost in the maze of the medina, to my dismay, the hostel was full. This actually ended up being great, and with a 25d tour through the medina to the square, I found the hotel Afriquia. It was located right outside the square, and for 130D a night (a little bit under twenty) I got a double bed and a hot shower. Also, this is a popular place for tourists, so some interesting conversations as well.

As expected, the square was crazy. During the day, there where a few people walking around with Monkeys on leashes, and some snake charmers, but at night, the place went wild. It reminded me of Pearl street on culturally-laced crack. The street around it was pitch black, but in the middle where 60 plus portable stands grilling fresh meat and fish, singers, story tellers, snack charmers, orange juice stands, acrobats; anything the mind could imagine, they where there performing and pedaling in the little light produced from the food stands. I was like a moth, just drawn towards the light, not really knowing why, but just floating towards it. 

As I chose a food stand to sit in, packed into long picnic benches with people I had never met, I heard English to my left, and as I eavesdropped, I heard a kid talking about an exchange Rabat...starting on Wednesday. There where probably 2,000 people eating in those food stands, with at least 10,000 people walking around the square, and as the kid finished his sentence, I realized that fate had led me to someone on my program. His name is Zach, and as we ate and figured out our nights plans, I laughed a little bit to myself thinking about how these twists life throws our way.

Zach had been on an exchange program for the 10 weeks in Yemen, and neither of us had been out in Morocco, so we decided to take advantage of the best club scene in North Africa. The guide books used the words posh to describe it, and as we reached the massive casino, lined with Mercedes and BMW's, our eyes grew a little bit wider. The line was filled with the high society of Morocco, and although we where undedressed and in the back, Zach's ability to speak a little arabic got us to the front, and into the club.

When the doors pushed open, we saw a massive old theater turned night club, lined with lights, one main bar in the center, a DJ booth, and to our dismay, no dance floor and people just sitting. We had paid about 250D for entry, but it came with a drink, so we went to the bar, ordered, and rested against the cool steel taking in the environment.  

When we finished our drinks, we went out into the waiting area to look for an atm. As Zach fiddled with the machine, I accidently bumped into a girl at the coat check. It turns out she is from France, but likes to speak English, and the coat check not only takes your unwanted items, but sells 200 dollar bottles of vodka and champagne. She told me her family is loaded, and that her and her friend where alone and weren't going to drink this all themselves. This is where the night got interesting.

Zach and I played it cool for about ten minutes, walked around, and then met up with the girls. I don't actually remember either of their names, but the girl who had interest in Zach, as I was told by the French girl, was Moroccan, and her Dad was very well known and respected in the Moroccan government. As we sipped champagne and watched the club begin to get wild, the French girl began to get very drunk. At about 3 a.m, the club was packed, and though there was no floor, most of the passerbys began to stand up and dance. We followed the lead, and mingled with those next to us until the French sugar mama got a little drunk, and decided to interrogate me. Though I told her very early I had a girl friend, she decided to tell me "i'm French, and  I'm rich, you can't resist me!" I laughed to myself and whispered to Zach what she said, and we all continued dancing. As the night went on, and Zach and his lady began to get a bit closer, the French girl's passes became a lot less subtle (yes its possible) and as I repeatedly declined her offer, she would leave, go dance with someone real close, and as I would talk to our neighbors next to us, she would get frustrated, come back and try again. When she finally got to the black out stage, and Zach's fear of his mate's Dad set in, we decided to call it a night. 

I returned to my hotel at about 5:30 in the morning by taxi to be greated by a not so happy night guard. But between all the dramatics, the club had fire dancers on the bar, a live violin show accompanied by house beats, and a lot of upper class Moroccans. Not a bad start to the program huh?
The next day I actually woke up at a reasonable hour (for college kids) I felt pretty good, so i decided after some lunch and water, I would be productive. At lunch I saw I the Canadian couple who sat near Zach and I at our random meeting. They were the typical semi-closed minded people that travel to a country, but talk about the things tha thtey consider bad there. I was told to watch out for htis and that, and that every person is a hustler, and all the typical thoughts, but the other conversation topics were quite enjoyable.

After lunch I decided i would buy my train ticket to Rabat for school, as well as my bust ticket to Azilal to see Cascade D'Ozued (very large waterfall). I guess the couple had a little more influence on me then i thought and as someone immediately tired to help me find the right kiosque at the bus station, I tried to find it on my own because I didn't want to pay him the "commision," many hustlersask for. He ended up being an employee and very helpful, so that made me feel quite bad. But i do give myself a little credit for actually acknowleding the slip.

Marrakech as a city is pretty much dead during the day, so as the clock hit three, and I had no plans till 9, I decided to actually open my French book and study in the park. Marrakech is a massive cement jungle, with dirt red buildings that match the horizon but if you travel out of the medinas, there are tons of beautiful parks with trees and grass to sit in. I studied for a good fifteen minutes, then people watched for about an hour, then gave into the sun, and went back to my hotel to take a nap.

Zach and I had decided to meet at 9 the night before, but as 9:15 arrived, and I had not yet found him, I decided to go get some dinner. On the way to the square, I met a man, whom i thought worked at my hotel. Turns out he is from Algeria, but moved to Canada, and is in MOrocco with his family on vacation. I had never seen him and his brother leave the hotel, and they tended to spend a lot of time behind the front desk, so the fact they didn't work at the hotel surprised me. He talked about how much he didn't like the people in MOrocco, and I guess that would explain why he didn't leave the hotel, but not why he was in the country. He took me to a special stand he liked for soup and cake, and continued to talk about how everyone here is only out to get your money. I wish he would have been at lunch that morning, I could have introduced him to the Canadian couple with the same mindset. Zach, once again, found me randomly while walking around the square. We all ate, and as Zach and I discussed tonight's plan, the Algerian man voiced his thoughts about how the club scene here is bad, and all the girls are prostitutes. I thought about making a joke here about the beauty of having prostitutes at a club, but I thought there maybe something lost in translation.

We heard that everyone goes to the international club Pascha on Saturday nights, so Zach and I decided to head over there. We arrived around midnight, only to find the club doors don't open before 12:30. Pascha isn't only a club, but also a classy hotel, pool, restaurant, and open-air bar, so we found a few ways to entertain ourselves while waiting to dance. We checked out the restaurant near the pool, and though we were clothed in our nicest outfits, the calm untouched pool looked very welcoming in the warm summer night. We fought the urge though, and decided to check out the open-air bar. There were two rooms in the bar, one patio, and one under cover, both having knee high tables surrounded by couches instead of chairs, and sporting hookah's and mostly non-alcoholic drinks. There was a DJ under the cover playing American songs, and a Moroccan singer, belting out the words to a Celion Dion song in perfect American accent (even though Celion Dion herself is Canadian). She had a wireless mic and no stage, and walked around the tables, seductively looking at the bar patrons.

Its funny what six months of legal drinking can do, because as Zach eyed the menu looking for the cocktail with the most booze in it, I ordered un verre de rosé, content with its alcoholic form. The nights before that i went out in Morocco, no one drank, and good times where had, so coming to the international club where many people were more interested in booze then dancing took me by surprise. We sat for about an hour in the bar, listening to live music, sharing stories, and taking in the sights. ONce we had our fix, we made our way to the place we had come to see.

The room was smoke filled and white, with blaring music and hundreds of people.  In the center was a square dance floor, filled to the brim with pumping fists and swinging hips. Up a few stairs was square walkway that surrounded the floor, and two bars on either side for optimal drink dispense. Tonight there was a European DJ, who sat high above the dance floor on a booth near the entrance. In the middle of the set, him and his entourage stopped the beat and did a drum set, but besides this, stuck to  mainstream western rap, that only Zach and I seemed to know. The feel of the club was very different from the night before, as men and women danced in separate groups, to mediocre music, squished in a small place. The romance and mystic of the last club wasn't there, and come three in the morning, I was ready to head home.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

fun and photos

so i havent had my laptop for a few days so no real post today. Have no fear though, hear are some pictures of the lovely events that you have been reading about!...with a few gems that have yet to come

* take note of the foot first jump to check depth instead of headfirst. At least I learned a lesson right!

Saturday, August 23, 2008


so i promise the posts will become more frequent and less long soon, but while im traveling this is what you get!

8/15- Travel is a relatively new thing to me, well traveling alone that is. I’ve been traveling with my family since I was born, but it wasn’t till my recruitment trip to Santa Clara that I ever stepped on an airplane all by my lonesome. Last summer was the first time I’ve been out of the country without at least one member of my family, and this summer has been the first time I’ve done the journey completely alone. Traveling for me is more than a vacation, it’s a chance to cleanse my soul, and to really take an introspective look at the person I am. This summer, more than ever with the language barrier, I’ve had a lot of time to just sit and think, which sometimes has been great, and others has been difficult, but its really brought me to some realizations. I’ve been sick the last few days, which has led me to a bit of stress, and I’ve just felt like I have some unseen standard or goal I need to accomplish. I’ve been running around, and meeting people, and trying to do this and that, and meet this person, or do this thing, and I really don’t know whose goals I’m trying to meet. So today, right now, I’m doing exactly what I need to do. Its only nine, but I’m home, laying in bed, reading and writing. I’m cleansing. I’m taking full advantage of travel.
This morning I woke up around ten and got ready to go windsurf. I felt pretty shitty, but I came to Essaouira to do this, and I just needed to make myself get out of bed. I was told earlier I needed to be there by 12:30, but it was already eleven, and the walk was about 20-30 minutes, and I needed breakfast, and I wanted to actually update my blog, but I went. Thankfully, at least in my beliefs, God was looking out for me today. I found a quick breakfast, got the fresh squeezed orange juice my failing system needed, and made it too the windsurf school right at 12:30. The day before my body basically crashed because of fatigue, and my thoughts and worries got the best of me, and the mix really wore me down. I was afraid this was going to happen today, because I wasn’t fully awake and I hadn’t really eaten, but when I got to the school, and paid for my lesson, the teacher said he would see me at three. It seems so small, but something like this is why I believe in fate. I was told all week that I could only get a lesson at this time, but even though I wanted to wind surf, I wanted to eat, write my parents an email, and finally update the blog before. I was feeling homesick a little bit, and I just needed to do these things to center myself. This spur of the moment change in windsurfing lessons gave me that opportunity. What would look like to some a minor detour in the day, ended up being such a blessing in disguise for me, and to be honest, a catalyst in reclaiming a positive outlook. I was doing what I needed to be doing.
In the two hours I had to spare, I found an internet café, checked emails, did the blog, and had time to eat. But what was most important was I had time to collect my thoughts. My Mom and I have both been very interested in enlightenment, and eastern religions this year, and I had been thinking a lot about what enlightenment really looks like. When I’ve really prayed and meditated, I’ve felt nothing. But not a bad nothing, nor a good nothing. It’s just nothing. It’s a sense of being there, not wanting anything, nor worrying, or planning. Its almost like having an out of body experience but still being in my head, watching my body act as if it were on autopilot, and seeing time go by as like it were a scene in a play. When I was in Casablanca, when I first meet Adiel, Aida, and Jasmine, and we walked along the beach, with cool ocean breeze, and the sand between my toes, I walked, replying to questions, taking in the sights and sounds, but not thinking, just doing. I remember snapping out and making myself stop and think about what was happening at this moment, how I was in another country, with three complete strangers, speaking of things like we had known each other forever. With this, I felt a high like never before. My body was tingling, my thoughts where pure, and my senses where intensified. In this moment I had decided that instead of having my body run, as if my soul was pressing the cruise control, I wanted to be in the drivers sit, and experience in full each moment, be it good, or bad. At least this is what I thought until yesterday, when a mix of frustration, cold, and fatigue led me to low, and an inability to combat the negative thoughts. I’ve always been a firm believer that there has to be a balance of good and evil in the world, and that those who have experienced the lowest of lows, are the only ones who have the ability to experience a high of the same magnitude. It was in this thought that I gained more insight into what I think enlightenment will feel like. It’s that balance. That moment when there is a complete equilibrium between the lowest of lows, and highest of highs. In that moment, want, desire, yearning, pain, pleasure; all these things will be working as one, to a feeling that is so much, but nothing at all.
After this thought I remembered I’m a kid who likes to ponder things like this, but also dive into shallow pools and do dangerous things, so it was time to counter the serious with the silliness. I paid for a two-hour lesson, and though I only got about an hour fourty of windsurfing, I think it was all I could handle. My instructor was a twenty-year-old surf bum, who lived in a beautiful town, doing what he loved. He spoke a little bit of English, and showed me how to stand up, and turn, and then let me go off on my own, while he spent time on the beach flirting with the local girls. It was great. Windsurfing, though, is amazing. It’s amazingly difficult as well, but having your actions dependent on nature like that is so cool. I ended up being able to stand, and turn my board in a complete 180, and catch enough wind to pull me at a decent speed. It was awesome. Well worth my 50 bucks. I look forward to doing it again.
When my lesson ended, and I was deciding what I should do with my night, whether I should call my friends from the night before, eat shark, drink with the bums, fate took its turn again. I knew I needed to rest tonight, and sit, and try and get past this cold, but its hard to make myself rest while I’m on vacation. But as I passed the lone liquor store, only to see it closed and remember that Friday is a holy day in Islam, I realized this was a direct request for me to go take care of myself. I walked home, sat at the local beach for a bit and stared out at the crashing waves, then returned to my guesthouse to watch a video of an immaculate Arab wedding. I showered in warm water, watched my first Moroccan sunset (which I know seems weird, but I’ve been running around) and now I sit reading and writing, just like I’ve been wanting to do all trip. What a great day.

8/18- Today was a day of tested moral value. Though there is a language barrier, what I’ve found out in my short 21 years on earth is that words only account for such a small part of communication, and most of the time eyes and can speak more words then the lip sever could
The day started out with some pickup basketball at the courts near the beach. I played with Choukri (the unfaithful Moroccan man) as well as Hassan. Its difficult to play basketball outside when there is wind, so to take a shot from further then 10 feet out in Essaouria is almost impossible. We played three on three, first team to four, and as the games progressed, I felt like I was learning a new sport. The game is a lot less physical in Morocco, and almost any contact is foul. You also have to be stationary when you start dribbling, and if you try and start dribbling on the run, its considered traveling (marche). But these new rules didn’t seem to effect our team to much, and we ended up winning until we were finally kicked off the court.
As we walked down the beach road back to the house, Hassan and Choukri began scouting for talent. This was interesting to watch, but these men where definitely professionals. It started with a look, as you kept walking by females walking the opposite direction. Then as they passed by, you turned your neck to see if they did a double take, and if so, then you shoot a wink, and raise the brows a bit, and if all goes as planned, go spark up a conversation. It made me laugh at first, but as I caught a glimpse of the girls they were eyeing, I felt a bit of a lump in my stomach. It dawned on me that I was with two married men, and the girls who they were talking to looked very young. It turns out the younger sister was only 18, but the girl Choukri was interested in was 25, and actually older then the two.
We got the girls numbers, and decided we would meet up for (non-alcoholic) drinks around ten, and then went on our way. As soon as the girls were out of site, we found another two, and Choukri and Hassan started again. It was weird because, although I wasn’t the one talking nor getting numbers, it just felt a bit wrong to me. We walked, and as the two chatted up the opposite sex, I thought about my stance on what was happening. Either way, whether I wanted to participate or not, I was impressed with the social skills of the two.
Before the rendez-vous, I went with Hassan’s younger sister Hajaar to watch some local music. We walked through a couple dark allies, and found ourselves in a small colorfully tiled room packed with people. All the musicians were wearing traditional garb, and they all played clappers except for one man who played an Arabic bass. Everyone was pushed together around the musicians, and with a few people dancing in the ,iddle. At one point the musicians, who I think were high up religious men, did a synchronized dance, with jumping, spinning, and a lot of moves from and to the knees. It was quite a site. There were kids as small as 6, and men up to what I think would be 80 (give or take 20 years depending on nicotine and caffeine intake). As my mind started to wonder a little bit, a girl next to me began flailing wildly. Her arms went wild, and if I were deaf, I would have thought she were at a heavy metal show. The girl got pushed through the crowd and into the dance, where she was then harnessed with a scarf and somewhat held up while she continued to rock out. I don’t really know what was happening, but it reminded me of the one time I saw someone speak in tounges at my Grandma’s church. Both this girl, and the women at the church, were caught up in something which looked as if they couldn’t control their own bodies. Though this girl’s spiritual consumption was more physical, but are quite moving sights.
This set the tone for the night, because what was to come was also filled with interesting sights. At ten, as promised, we met with the girls, and were on our way. Hassan was at work, so this rendez-vous quickly turned into a double date. As Choukri and Zakia Immediately fell into their own conversation, I found myself in an interesting situation. I was now playing wingman for a 24-year-old married Moroccan man. Now I know its every man’s duty to do this once in awhile for his friends, but the fact that I can barley make sentences in French, and I know about three Arab phrases, really made my job difficult. But I think I passed with flying colors. The wingmanee was named Salima and was about to start university. We struggled through a conversation until we got to the café, where we all sat together. My role tonight was comic relief. Instead of trying to speak in French, the group had me repeat the Arabic words for the parts of the face, and laughed wildly. I also had quite a reaction when I told them the one Arabic word I already knew before I came, Haraar, which so nicely translates into shit in English. Technology also came into play, and we all took pictures and watched videos on cell phones.
It ended up being a pretty nice little date, and as Zakia and Choukri began to get close, I did my best to keep my pseudo-date as unromantic as possible. I thought I got some aid from Caroline, as my phone buzzed with a text, but when I announced it was my girlfriend, it didn’t seem to phase anyone. I guess infidelity is common in Essaouria. We left the café, and headed on our way back into the Medina, where we found Hassan and a large group of women. Two were white Italian women he met at work in the Hammam (reoccurring theme?) and the others where actually related to Zakia and Salima. I think two where cousins, but I one recognized from the photos on Zakia’s phone. Her name was Hakeema, and from now on will be referred to as SMAMW (sexy middle aged Moroccan women). We all talked for awhile, with the Moroccans in one conversation speaking Arabic, and myself and the Italians in another speaking English. The family of Moroccan girls decided to call it a night, and the four remaining persons decided to head to Choukri’s.
This is where the night took a turn for me. Choukri’s place was very nice. It was a two bedroom, one bathroom apartment with a big fancy TV and a few couches. The Italian women had never smoked Sisha before (for those in the higher age group, not hash, but a very mild form of tobacco smoked out of a water pipe) so we all sat around the hookah, and listened to an eclectic mix of wordly music. Choukri and Hassan had been telling me about when they were paid to be extras in Alexander and Kingdom of Heaven, and so he grabbed a stack of pictures and began to pass them around. After the film pictures came, then came pictures of him in referee school, followed by the ones of him and his wife, as well as a two-year-old son. This came as a shock to me, as well as to the Italian women. Choukri continued to pass out photos, and showed one of a Spanish woman who he dubbed his “next wife.” The Italian women asked him if he was divorced, and with a look in his eyes I hadn’t seen before, he said yes. He got pretty quiet after this, and then began to smoke a cigarette. He had told me earlier he didn’t smoke, and as he took long drags, he stared at the floor. I guess the Italian women’s reaction to his antics really got to him, and as I sat in the smokey room, watching Hassan dance, Choukri sulk, and the Italian women take in the moment, it hit me what was bugging me earlier. I was concerned about my morals. I knew both these guys had wives, and with the recent news of Choukri being a father, I really began to feel bad for aiding and assisting in their devious encounters. I was pretty quite for the rest of the night, and as I got home I prayed and thought about what this all meant for me. But as my eyes began to get heavy, I realized that my intention in all this was to meet people in a different culture, and take in the sights. As long as I was clear that I had no love interest in these girls, and stayed faithful to my relationship, I should have no moral qualm.

The final two days
After having my realization the night before, I came into day one of the final two in a better mood. Both days looked very similar in form, but the actual happenings of the events where quite different. Each day we went and played basketball at three, then had random meetings with the Casablanca girls, then a fun night out. But if that was all I had to say, I probably shouldn’t have a blog.
Basketball ended up being pretty frustrating because of the nonsense international rules (I know that’s an ugly American comment, but come on! Basketball is the one thing that the US has ever actually created, and we still some how have different rules then the international standard). In Morocco taking three steps is legal, but it’s a foul to swat the ball from someone’s hands when they are dribbling. I didn’t get the rules at all, but the fact I was playing basketball in Morocco, with a bunch of Arab kids, near the beach really made up for the frusteration. Besides the first day, I ended up being loosing teams. what can you ?
I guess since I met the guys, my checklist in Essaouira changed, but thats what traveling is about, Having initial perceptions that completely fluctuate once you arrive. Plus, I realized that the shark that looked so appetizing the first night, was the same shark sitting in the ice the next day, and the following, and the one after that…so I had to find a substitute. This came with out question in the final two days, with a fish feast, and a traditional Moroccan family platter. With the poisson, we ended up buying the seafood at a market, then the bread at a bakery, then cooking all of it at a hole in the wall Moroccan restaurant where you can grill your own fish. I had never seen anything like this, where all the customers where the cooks, but our food was great. We had Kalamaria, Sardines, Shrimp, and a bigger fish I didn’t know the name of. It was excellent. The next day for lunch, the women cooked, and we ate at home, but it was still quite eventful. The dish consisted of an olive-based sauce spread over chicken and crepes, all in one large dish, eaten with the hands by everyone. The food was great, but what made the lunch eventful was the family feud that ensued. From the bedrooms very close to the table, I heard Marium, the oldest sister, start screaming at Hajaar, the youngest. I had no idea why, but then I heard a smack, and La Haardisha (mom), Hassan, and Niama, the youngest, all ran into the room. The yelled for what seemed like hours, which in reality was probably ten or so minutes, so loudly. Through the curtains I heard squels, and tears, as I sat awkwardly reading my French textbook, hoping for any reason to leave the house. This was the second fight I heard in four days of staying in this house.
The nights, although very eventful, were quite the opposite, and both filled with lots of fun. The moral realization gave me excitement for the night, and as I left the house the first night, Hassan only showed me to the door, because he was staying in to be with his wife. Again we met the two girls, went to the café, played games, took pictures, and left. We then went to the top of the Kasbah to watch the waves crash, and again Salima and I where in an awkward situation as the other two ran off. To ease the tension, I began asking what if questions in French, and then we sang songs she knew from the US. At one point Salima asked me what the other two where doing, and I replied embrasser, kiss in French. She couldn’t understand my accent so I closed my eyes, made a kissy face, and a loud kissing sound. We laughed, and the other two heard us, and we convinced them to move on.
Our final destination was a hidden dance club near the Kasbah. It was on the top floor of a hotel, with a DJ, and a huge mix of Moroccans and Travelers. We saw our Italian friends there, then sat down our things, and began to dance. The club had really good music, with a mix of hip-hop, Arab, and house. We all danced wildly, spinning, and jumping with the rest of the floor until about two o clock when we called it a night. Choukri walked me home, and I thought I would have to sneak in the house quietly, but to my suprise i found the family just sitting down to eat dinner.
My final night coincided with the first night of the Essaouria music festival. It started at ten this evening, and since everyone was running pretty late, I went by myself at first. The stage was at the entrance of the mediana, and people where lined from the guard rails of the stage to the wall that lines the ocean. The first band was an Arab jam band, which got the crowed wilderyone was jumping around, swinging in circles arm in arm, and just having a good time. There were barely any people standing still, and as I began to get self-conscience dancing by myself, I found Niama, and jumped in the mosh pit of his friends. There was a fancy hotel bar on a roof, which had a great view, so I decided to sneak up there for the second band. It was actually easier then I thought, and as I listened to the traditional Berber music, I found out my secret agent ability saved me from having to by a twenty-dollar pint like the other fools on the roof. I watched the crowed move, and saw patterns of bodies grooving in synchronization that looked like a wave crashing from one side of the stage to the other. I felt like a VIP, but then decided that I would rather dance with the crowed, then snooze on the balcony.
I met up with Choukri and Hassan, as well as Salima, Zakia, SMAMW, Fatima-zarah, and a new Marium. We went to go eat, and then at 1:30, went back to the stage where the concert was still rolling. We got the end of another traditional band, which few people danced too, but then got to partake in the largest, most sporadic dance party I’ve ever seen. The loud speakers boomed with a song by a guy named H-kayne, and as the roadies fixed the set, easily 20,000 people shook their hips. It was incredible. This must be one of the biggest songs in Morocco because the entire area went nuts. The song ended, but the energy stayed high as a funk/punk rock band from Essaouria came on to close the show. The entire crowd danced like those obnoxious people at a concert who, if you are them, are way fun, but if you aren’t them, you try and dub as obnoxious, but really your just jealous of the fun they are having. We jumped around, did summersaults, lifted people on shoulders, danced in circles, did the train, and anything else a person could imagine. When the clock struck three, and the last chord faded out, I knew the night had come to an end. As we walked the girls, and SMAMW, to the taxis, I thought about how the next day I would just be another tourist, running around on my own. Before this summer I’ve never been lucky enough to have perfect ending to anything, but with this, and my send off weekend from Boulder and Littleton, I have to say my luck has changed. Essaouria gets an A in my book.

Friday, August 15, 2008

everything from the trip thus far

sorry for the lack of posts, but I promise when I am stationary I will be better about posting regularly, but till then here is a lot!

Kindness of Strangers- This has truly been a reoccurring theme since I’ve stepped off the plane in Casablanca. That’s not to say there aren’t bad people everywhere, I did have my camera stolen yesterday (though this is the first thing I’ve ever had stolen abroad, they guy was talented, he unzipped my backpack, stole the camera, then zipped it back up), the good has definitely outweighed the bad.

When I arrived at the airport in Casablanca, I had no idea where I was or where my hotel was. I needed to exchange money, find my bags, and figure out the cheapest way to get there. Maybe I had some good Karma from the plane, or maybe people are generally good (I choose to believe the latter), but as soon as I got off the plane I met a middle aged women from Brussels who spoke about three words in English and a lot of French and Arabic. She had kind eyes, and maybe realized I was lost, and as I tried to speak French to her, she seemed to realize I needed help. She showed me where to buy a train ticket, then tried to explain that the sim card I got for free only worked with local calls (which luckily she was wrong.) She pushed our way through the crowds, and then verbally assaulted a middle aged Moroccan man who didn’t want us on the train with kind words. In retrospect, I guess I don’t know what she said, but she was calm when she spoke, and for the rest of the ride the man seemed to suck up to her, so I’m assuming she said something with force. A women with both French and Moroccan decent spoke with me on the train while my new friend continued to speak with the Moroccan man. Her bag was very heavy, and I had lifted it on the train for her earlier, and she said that this is why she likes Americans. I guess the Moroccan man asked her for help with his bag, then refused to help her. I was thankful my weak arms could carry the bag, and we continued to speak. The lady was named Fadi, and she told me all about her life in Paris, and her new vacation home in Casablanca. She offered for me to stay with her and her family when I go to Paris, and gave me her phone number. I was astonished with how nice everyone had been, but the best was yet to come.

When the train stopped, my Belgian friend grabbed my arm and pulled me through the crowed once again. When we were about to part ways she asked me where my hotel was, and I showed her my receipt form the Internet. Apparently it was far, and so we went on a twenty minute journey looking for a cheap taxi, or one who would actually use the counter instead of give us a foreigner’s price. When we finally found someone, I hoisted our bags on top of the cab and we were off. My hotel wasn’t far from the station, and as we pulled to the side of the street to hop out, I reached for my wallet and she hit my hand. I pleaded for her to let me pay, but she just smiled, pointed to her eye and the hotel, and waited for me to go. She gave me her number, and I’m truly sad that the maids through it out, because this act of kindness has set such a wonderful precedent for my trip. If I ever see her again, I’ll make sure to pay for a lovely meal, and I’m sure karma will repay her in full.

I spent the night wondering around the Annciene Medina, and looking at the massive Hassan II mosque. I felt safe here, and thought about beautiful Casablana was at night with lights shining on the mosque and market. I was already in awe, and I had no idea of what kindness was to come the next day.

8/13- It’s not easy to paint a grand picture on a small canvas, but I’ll do my best. The last few days have been a whirlwind of sights and sounds, as well as revelations and mini-epiphanies, the biggest one being how my recent frustration came from having these epiphanies as well as a language barrier stopping me from sharing them. But things have been great, and as I sit in the master bedroom of a guesthouse in Essaouira, I must say life is good.

My first few days were spent in Casablanca, and the random kindness of strangers did not cease to exist once I got to my hotel. I spent the first night wondering the Anncienne Media of Casablanca. It is the old city, which is basically a walled circle of traditional Arabic buildings about twenty feet high, pushed very close to one another. At night, it is filled with people, bright lights, loud sounds, and foreign scents (at least to me). It was right behind my hotel, and from there I visited the Hassan II mosque, which according to some reliable sources, is one of the top five biggest in the world. It is massive. It sits on a cliff, and has a glass floor so attendees can see the ocean under their feet, as well as the sky above their heads with the retracting ceiling. At night, its chaos, but in a beautiful way. Though it sits in the Anncienne Media, the mosque is a wonderful mix of traditional and modern ways. It’s like walking to a packed stadium in the middle of the night in a massive field. All you can see is the light of the mosque, and once you get there, people are everywhere. There are vendors, tourists, families, homeless, you name it, those people are there. Everyone is happy. Everyone is at peace.

The next few days in Casablanca went by fast, but most were spent with new friends, with whom I communicated with through broken French and English. I spent a lot of time with two girls named Jasmine and Aida, with the highlight being our dinner at a restaurant called La fibule. It sits on a cliff over looking the sea, with giant windows that allowed the patrons to view the waves crashing on the rocks below. We were seated next to an open one and the sound of the ocean accompanied our exquisite meal. I had cous cous with beef and vegetables, and aida had some sort of Moroccan meatball dish that looked like meatballs in rague sauce with scrambled eggs. The restaurant had couches instead of chairs, and even though we arrived at 11:30 at night, there were still no empty…couches.

Aida is both Moroccan and French, and lives in Paris, and though she speaks of her love for Casablanca, every other meal we ate was at a foreign restaurant. I had to remind myself that I was in morocco when we at a sushi place and spoke English the whole night.

One thing that was really interesting was the Moroccan choice hang out. People would stay up until two or three in the morning eating gourmet gelato at a place called G-ice. We went there two nights in a row, and both nights struggled to find a seat at 1 in the morning. It was bizarre, but very fun to watch.

My last night, before staying up way to late for having to catch an early bus, before I met up with Aida and Jasmine, I stopped to have a coke with a few older guys at a café right by my hotel. There were two Rashids, a Robert, a Jalied, and a Kaled. Kaled was the oldest, and spoke English very well, and Jalied was the youngest, and had dreds from his head, all the way down his long boney back. Robert was my favorite, and although we could barely speak to one another (due to my lack of French) he talked to me for three days before I actually sat down with him, always very enthusiastically, and very inviting. The guys bought me a coke (which I thought was incredibly generous) and we spoke of things like politics, music, and school. They smoked cigarettes and drank tea while I attempted to explain what I was doing in Morocco. Jalied finally chimed in and spoke some English, and talked about being a musician in Morocco and school. As the conversation went on, they openly smoked hash, and their comments became quite amusing. Before I left Jalied talked about quitting school when he was sixteen because of fees, and before I could respond he said, “but why pay, life is one big school, everyday.” I loved this comment, and I left the table with a smile on my face.

What has amazed me about Morocco so far is the blatant kindness and welcoming attitude. Everywhere I’ve gone, even if it was a street vendor who I didn’t by from, or the thief who had the decency to zip up my back pack after he stole my camera (while it was on my back, quite impressive), I’ve been treated so kindly. I came home one night at 2 or so in the morning only to find the front door to the hotel locked. As I began to freak out, I saw a visibly drunk homeless man approach me. I thought for sure I was dead, but instead, he just showed me where the doorbell was. It’s all these events (excluding the sarcastic thief joke) that have made my time in Morocco amazing thus far. If the strangers of the country have been this amazing, I can only imagine what my host family will bring. I only hope I can return the kindness.

After Casablanca, I went to Agadir. Although it was nice, the place was a pretty large, modern city, and very touristy. After a few nights of not sleeping, and having not yet had my epiphany on relationship dependency and the language barrier problem, I had a rough first night and day. What was amazing was my entire perception changed after a skype conversation, and a good nights sleep. I decided I didn’t want to be in a big city, so I bought a bus ticket to Essouira, and I spent my remaining days in Agadir with a French man named Jean-Jaques. He spoke a little bit of English, but really pushed my to speak French and it made a huge difference. Instead of feeling stupid, I began to feel pretty happy about the progress I’ve made in only 3 semesters of French. We ate dinner at a traditional Moroccan restaurant, where we had soup, eggroll’s Moroccan style(with fish as filling), and small pieces of Chocolate cake. The Moroccan kindness shined once again when we were at dinner. We were sandwiched between two tables, and as we eyed their food, both made us taste the different specialties before we ordered anything. When in Agadir, eat dates!!! We also saw a bit of a bollywood film, as well as Mad Max in French, and then walked the touristy strip on the beach.

I left Agadir feeling good, only to feel almost blissful when I arrived in Essaouria. It is exactly what I have been looking for. It’s a small village on the beach, with almost all traditional architecture and glorious scenery. My guesthouse is in the traditional part of town, far from the touristy hotels, and right next to a secluded beach. I spent my day traversing the labyrinth of the old medina, which was built in the abandoned Souq (fort). There are twists and turns, dark alleys, and large streets. I love the sounds and smells that come from these markets. They are so strong, yet very subtle. What I imagine is that aroma hand you see in cartoons that circles you and touches your noise, only to have you float off the ground to the scents origin.

After my walk, I made it to the beach in time to price tomorrow’s windsurfing adventure, and catch a glimpse at some of the riders. Its incredible how high both the kite and windsurfers get. I can’t wait to try. Hopefully the lone four scares on my face already are all that will come this summer.

I returned to the souq after the beach, and walked to the viewing area on top. It has restored cannons, as well as friendly pastry sales men who offers special cookies that make you strong (…or high). As the sun began to set, I found a lone liquor store, bought a single Casablanca beer, and snuck off to a hidden beach. As I drank out of a can covered in newspaper (sporting a beard and my hood on my head), I realized that I wasn’t the only one with that idea. I found a magnificent beach with huge rock walls to climb, and a natural arch over a secluded pool of rogue ocean water, as well as the home to Essaouria’s low life…at least to Moroccan standards. Since alcohol is pretty much forbidden to Muslims, these people were the outcasts, but man were they friendly. They took pictures of me on my camera, offered me what tasted like Moroccan sake, and just were just generally welcoming. I snuck off for a bit and climbed the rock structures and watched the powerful waves break close to my feet. The magnitude of these waves mixed with Essaouira’s constant wind is awe-inspiring. I made damn sure to get off the rocks before high tide came in. When the sunset, I said by to my new friends, and went home.

I had a great time with them, and the beach was so beautiful, I think I’ve found a new nightly ritual (except with wine, because Moroccan beer has yet to satisfy me). So far, my checklist is coming along pretty well for Essaouira. I can already mark of the sunset on the secluded beach with bums, now all I need to do is windsurf, eat shark, get a message at the newly renovated solar powered hammam, and ride a camel. Life is rough.

The take home message thus far is when in Morocco, throw yourself out there. Try to speak a little French and Arabic, be very outwardly nice, and carry two water bottles. The easiest way to make friends is to share your water.

Time for me to return to the life’s giant classroom. A tout á l’heure!

* somewhere in here I wrote souq for a fort instead of Kasbah. We actually rock Kasbahs not souqs (markets)

8/14- it was nice not sleeping on the ground for a night, but unfortunately I woke up sick. I think the mix of jet lag, sleepless nights, and the bus rides all finally caught up with me. But today was windsurf day, or at least I thought it was, so I got up anyway. I caught a quick breakfast before I went, and it turns out the shop keeper used to live in Florida, and is well known for his windsurfing abilities in Essaouira. He taught me a few basics, and I began my walk to the beach.

Due to the lack of wind, I decided it was a regular surfing day. I got my board, and my wetsuit, and hit the beach. Unfortunately when I’m sick, I get a bad case of the hots and colds. The water was bearable, but since I was sick, I would get really cold really quick. I stayed in the water for about an hour and fifteen minutes, caught a few waves, then laid in the sand for about an hour to try and get my body temperature back up. It was probably 80 outside, but with a strong wind, and my teeth were chattering. This led to me meeting some friends though, and the lack of string on my wetsuit made me meet more friends by asking random people to zip and up zip me. I surfed for another 45 minutes, and then headed in. My cold was getting the best of me, and I needed to rest. I ate lunch on the walk back and washed it down with two delicious French pastries. If I come back a few pounds heavier, this would be the reason.

I laid in bed for a long time, and my cold seemed to get worse, but I finally forced myself up so I could go to the internet, then hopefully the hammam for a steam shower to cleanse my system. This was a very good decision.

I checked my mail and saw that I got an email from CIEE. It had all the last minute information, as well as a list of people on the program and where they are from. It was interesting to see the schools, and it got me really excited for my trip. It also made me so happy that I forgot about my cold, and I had a new hop in my step.

The hammam was the next stop. I was greeted by two large men who spoke a little English, and I was talked into not only using the Hammam, but also getting a scrub down. Basically, a hammam is a large single sex steam room with a shower, and the option of personal scrub downs, and if you’re a member, a massage. The room was in the basement of a hotel, and had blue and white tile. There were three rooms, one for changing, one for cold water, and one for the scrub down. I had no idea what I was in for, but what I got was a man pouring bucks of hot water on me, then an herb-laden scrub down, and a cold shower in a hot room. The man who gave me the scrub down was named Hassan. We talked for awhile, and as I was leaving, he finished work and offered for me to go out with him and his friends. We first went to his house, where he offered me tea, then food, then a room for the night, then…..O your disgusting get your mind out of the gutter, he only offered me a trip to the café sisha with him and his friends.

We met up with two guys, whose names I don’t want to butcher, and then three girls. One of the guys spoke pretty good English, and with him I had my first glimpse of infidelity in Morocco. Apparently, two of the girls were his sisters, and the other was his girlfriend. His wife was in another city, and while we were at the café, his wife called, only to be passed off to Hassan to say that he wasn’t there. It made me a bit uncomfortable, but I didn’t really know what to say.

What was difficult this evening was the language barrier, because the group started to talk about Descartes and then the former king Hassan II, and it just sounded like it was a very interesting conversation. I guess just another reason to really focus on learning French and Arabic.

I had to leave a it earlier then the rest to make it back to my guest house before one. The family locked the door, and unfortunately my key hasn’t been working two well. I found a cab, and prayed the whole way home for my key to work for the first time, and luckily fate was on my side. I didn’t want to have to knock and wake up the family, so I was very happy for the initial success of my key.

Enshallah, windsurfing lessons tomorrow.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

leaving on a jetplane

Since the Moroccan keyboards are different then ours in the US, I figured I would save myself some time and money by just typing on my laptop, and uploading the word document. Anyways…
As of 6:30 am on Tuesday I started my journey. Although the first step out the door is when the journey begins, my last post was from DIA and nothing to exciting happens until you at least leave your own state.
After an hour and a half delay in Colorado, I made it to Chicago in time to run to my gate…where I found I hate yet another delayed flight, this one for two and a half hours. I wasn’t upset though, I was actually pleased with the fact I booked a ticket with an extra long layover in Brussels, so it seemed I did some of the planning for this trip right.
In the Airport I met two girls who were teachers in Texas, but decided to quit their jobs and move to Liberia to live on a stationary ship and help out a medical team. They had both traveled before, but nothing like this, and were oddly calm for having such a long commitment at their fingertips. We talked for a while, and one of the girls had been to Colorado a few times, but had only been to Pagosa Springs and Durango. Since I met my roommates two years ago, who are from Pagosa, I had never met another soul who knew about the city until this year, and both were from another state, that I met at an airport.
Two hours after our departure time we finally boarded the plane, only to hear over the intercom that the central hydraulic, which apparently works with the landing gear, was broken and the pilot estimated another hour. I laughed and made a silly joke to the person sitting next to me, only to receive a sheepish smile before she threw her head down. I then tried to make some conversation, only to realize that she was from France…and that I did not attain conversational skills from my three semesters of French. I tried to say a few things, felt silly, and we ended up awkwardly looking at each other, smiling, and looking away until the flight started.(commencer!)
Its funny how one moment can really change a relationship with someone…and how fast the first near death experience of a trip comes. While the whole plane slept I began to write a bit before I could fall asleep. As my eyes drifted and I began to put away my laptop, time slowed, and I felt my stomach drop like no rollercoaster has ever made happen. It was like a movie, people were screaming, butts were a full foot out of seats, lights flickered, and I sat silently, wondering what would happen next. My seat neighbor jumped awake, horrified, and looked at me as if I knew what was going on. The plane continued to jump up and down, then side to side, and I still sat calmly. I grabbed her hand immediately, then closed my eyes and prayed. What was funny though is I wasn’t all that scared. I thought back to a Christian concert I went to in eighth grade, and remembered a man preaching about an experience just like this. I didn’t pray for safety, or for the plane to right itself, I prayed for acceptance. If this was my time, it was my time, but if not, then let me be strong and calm. After a few minutes the plane stopped bouncing, and as fast as the bad weather came, our flight seemed normal once again. My neighbor, who I later found out was named Julia, was really shook up. I stroked her arm, and in French she asked me what happened. I didn’t really know how to reply so I said il fait mal, which I think means bad weather. She seemed to understand, and slowly calmed down.
After about twenty minutes the plane was back to normal, and I finally got some sleep. When I woke, Julia was in a great mood. We attempted to talk for about two hours, understanding a fair amount and having a good time. Turns out the girl whom I thought was probably sixteen was actually twenty-two. This took me by surprise, and I laughed about how skewed my perception of age with people really is. The flight ended and we parted ways, but not before she asked how to say mucho gusto in English, turns out she knows spanish too! She got a bit teary eyed and thanked me for holding her hand with French and attempted sign language. Though in retrospect we were probably weren’t in a near death situation, experiences like that can really open someone’s eyes. As weird as it sounds, this was a great start to my trip, and gave me a lot of hope for overcoming the language barrier I’m going to have. One day down and already I feel the twist of fate that landed me here wasnt a twist at all.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


So i've been meaning to start this blog for awhile now, just to ease the hassle of the mass email to people who probably won't read it anyway, but I just never took the time. I couldn't think of a name, and I was trying to see everyone before I left, so now I sit in DIA twenty minutes before my flight finally blogging. 

I couldn't have asked for more from my last days in Colorado. They were amazing. I got to see all all my friends, spend time with Caroline, see my family, dive into a pool and scratch the entire right side of my face.... just all the things a person would want to do before they left the US. This has been a summer to remember, and has created so many wonderful memories, and now to top it off, I get to board a plane and be abroad for nearly six months. Life is at an all time high.

I fly into Casablanca today, spend four days there, and then created the rest of the itinerary as I go. School starts on the 27th, and I need to be in Rabat by the 26th, but until then, everything is fair game. 

I'll try to write on this as much as possible, but I can't promise much wisdom, insight, coherent sentences, nor good grammar or correct spelling. So on that note, bon voyage, and stay posted!