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.

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