Saturday, June 11, 2011

Last couple of weeks went by so fast!

At Guinness Storehouse

Ireland. Wow, I don't even know where to start besides saying Ireland is amazing! It's so beautiful there and their social life revolves around the pub. In my last blog, I told you that we got stuck in Holyhead for the night. When we finally made it to Dublin, we got to our hostel and slept. We tried sleeping on the ferry but all the good sleeping spots were taken so we were dead tired at 7 in the morning. When we woke up, we grabed some food and then headed to the Guinness Storehouse. That place is huge! If you go to Dublin, you have to go there. We ordered our tickets online so we could skip the lines (need to do that). There were seven floors and the building was shaped like a pint. it was great. We got to see every step they have to go through to make Guinness. We rode the elevator to floor seven where they had a wonderful view of the entire city and of course their bar. We each got one free pint. I could only drink a couple sips because it's to bitter for me so Matt got to enjoy two pints. Lucky him. After the Guinness Storehouse we had to hurry to our hostel and grab our tickets for the Rogers Water concert. That concert was amazing!! We were in the standing section which was pretty sweet because we were close to the stage. All I can say is make sure to see him if he comes to or near your town. Matt can't stop talking about it. :D

So that was our first night in Dublin. The next day we went and picked up our car. It was really frightening at first because for one, they drive on the other side of the road and two, we didn't know what any of the street signs were oh and three, the roads are wicked tiny and curvy. At least some of the signs had English underneath the Irish. Our first day in the car we drove to Galway, Salt Hill, and Ennis. It was pretty cold and rainy and I for sure did not pack for cold and rainy (I thought it was hot just like Morocco and boy I was wrong) so I tried to stay in the car as much as possible. We then went down to the Cliffs of Moher and Ennis by taking the scenic route on the map. It was so much fun because we stopped the car every so often to take pictures. We finally got to the Cliffs of Moher one hour before they closed. And to our surprise we had to pay to get in because it is a park (didn't know). We went up and enjoyed the view and watched the storm come in. We then went to Ennis. Our plan was to stay another day on the road but it seriously doesn't take that long to drive from one side of the country to the other so we went to the hostel and asked if we could move our dates forward. They didn't have any problem with that. Ennis was so much fun because they were having a traditional Irish music festival. Our first night we went and got dinner and then went to bed because we were so tired from traveling. The next day and the one after we walked around Ennis, went to listen to music at the museum and went to the pub to listen to music and drink. It was wonderful. We liked it so much that that night we extended our stay by one night. The next day we did the same thing plus some dancing lessons :). We liked it so much that again, that night we extended our stay by one more night. This next day we did the same thing and also watched a movie about a famous Irish singer, took a class on Irish (Gaelic) and went to an Irish Traditional music concert. So our initial plan was to stay only two nights but we extended to staying four nights in Ennis. We had so much fun and met so many wonderful people.
After our extended stay we drove down to the Dingle peninsula. This peninsula was amazingly beautiful. We seriously stopped every five to ten minutes because of the amazing view. We stopped in Dingle to buy some gifts and on our adventure we came across Guinness and Bailey's ice cream. Of course we had to have it! Driving around the coast, we saw sheep, cows, beautiful Irish houses, farms, museums, rivers, oceans, and mountains. It was so beautiful!
Dingle Peninsula
After exploring the peninsula we drove back to Dublin but since we didn't book our hostel for that night, we slept in the car. It was so cold that we woke up every couple hours to turn on the car to get the heat running enough to make us fall back asleep. The next day we dropped off our car, went to the hostel, took a nap and then went into town.  We went and saw The Book Of Kells! It was so awesome!! After The Book of Kells we went to the Jameson Storehouse. We did the beer tour, now we have to do the whiskey tour. The tour guide selected eight people to be whiskey tasters at the end of the tour, and Matt was chosen! There were about 40 or so people in the tour, so Matt was super excited to be one of the lucky ones. The tour was awesome, and the tour guide was hilarious! He said he had a three strike policy for cell phones going off during the tour: if your cell phone goes off, he'll strike you three times. After the tour we were led to the bar and were given our choice of a Jameson drink. Our options were Jameson with cranberry, sprite, ginger ale, or neat (no ice, no mixer, in a snifter). I chose it with cranberry, Matt took it neat. Then, the tasters sat around a table and were given a shot of Johnny Walker Black scotch, Jack Daniel's, and Jameson; they were taught about the differences in distilling each whiskey, and about the flavors and tones to be aware of in each one. Matt was so thrilled that he made me record the whole thing. After the tour we went out for dinner and drinks with two American couples we met on the tour. They were really awesome, and we had a great time with them. We pub hopped a bit, and even had drinks at the oldest pub in Ireland: The Brazen Head. Then, it was time to say goodbye, go back to the hostel, and pack up. Matt was a bit worse for wear, so I got us to the 4:00 a.m. bus to the airport and onto the plane at 6:30. Next stop: Italy.

To say that Rome was amazing would be like saying the sun is warm. Rome was unbelievable! It was breathtaking! We stayed in a cabin at a country club about an hour outside of Rome. The first night, we took the train into the city, had dinner and gelato, and walked around. We were awe struck when we walked out of the train station and found the Colloseum looming monsterously across the street. It was a great welcoming to Rome:). The first night, we also saw the Pantheon which was massive and beautiful as well. We knew we were going to love it there.

The next day we headed straight back to the city and got our combo tickets to see Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum, and the Colloseum. Words cannot even describe how incredible it all was. We walked around the ruins at the Forum and Palatine Hill for three or four hours, snapping pictures left and right. Then, we had lunch across the street from the Colloseum and readied ourselves to actually go inside. Let me tell you, the Colloseum does not disappoint. To really understand how breathtaking that place is, you have to be there (or at least look at all of the pictures we took). It was awesome beyond compare! We saw quite the sight while we were there; there was a group of American guys scheming as we walked past them. One of them told the other to cough if security was coming, so we knew something was up. We doubled back and watched from around the corner to see what they would do. One of the guys walked up to a small observation deck where there was no one else, took off his shirt, dropped his pants and underwear, and raised a hand in the air as if to cheer himself on. His buddies took pictures of him from behind, while others presumably took pictures from across the Colloseum. It was hilarious, really.
After walking around a bit more and watching the amazing spray painters in the streets, we had another Italian dinner, gelato, and headed back to the country club to get some rest before moving on to Pisa and Florence the following day.
The train to Pisa was ridiculously crowded and we were forced to huddle in a corner of a tiny car on the train since all of the seats were taken and there were still countless people standing everywhere. It was miserable at first, but once we reached a beach town, half of the train emptied out and we got seats. We quickly realized, upon our arrival in Pisa, that there isn't much to do there, unless you're visiting the Leaning Tower. Lucky for us, that was exactly what we had come for. Pictures cannot do justice to just how strange this tower is. It leans more than you can tell in pictures, and it is massive. It was hilarious to see people everywhere doing the famous holding-up-the-tower pose. Naturally, we did the same. It started raining just in time for us to head to the train station and hop a ride to Florence.
Hehe, I love this picture :)

Florence, like every other city in Italy, was beautiful. We spent two days walking around, eating Italian food and drinking wine. At night, we got gelato from Grom, the best place in town. They use all natural organic ingredients and their gelato is delicious! No matter what time of day, there was always a line of 20-30 people outside the shop waiting to get some. We went at 11:00 at night and there was a line around the building, and we went at 2:00 in the afternoon and the line was just as long. We'll never forget how amazing the gelato was.
Our last night in Florence, we enjoyed the sunset and a bottle of wine from a lookout point above the city; it was really romantic. Florence was definitely very good to us, but the next morning we had to go back to Rome.
The line for gelato

On our last day in Rome, we went to the Vatican City to see the Pope give his blessing. We waited and waited with thousands of people, only to be disappointed when we realized the Pope had gone somewhere else for the day, and that we weren't going to be able to see him  :(. It was quite a let down, but we were still just happy to be there. We got caught umbrella-less in a downpour, and after getting sopping wet, grabbed gelato at another incredible place, San Crispino's (they had whiskey gelato), and took the train back to our hostel. Matt pulled an all nighter to make sure we caught the taxi at 5:00 in the morning, and just barely caught our plane back to Morocco at 6:30.
And so, here we are - back in Morocco. We spent 5 days in Marrakech relaxing and enjoying the beautiful weather. We met back up with my friend, Khalil, from the exchange program. The first couple days in Marrakesh we relaxed at the wonderful Riad in the medina. Then, the Mediterranean Delight International Bellydance Festival began. The hotel that it was at was luxurious! It looked like paradise - a grand entrance for the reception area, two huge pools, flowers and plants everywhere, and a couple restaurants. I was freaking out the night before and morning of because I had to try to find this place. The night before I tried to get directions to the hotel but I fell upon many different websites locating the hotel all over town. I seriously circled four places on the map for possiblities of where it could be. Thank goodness on my first guess, we (Khalil and Matt helped me) actually found it. So I made it just in time for the workshop. There were twelve workshops in three days. The first day went wonderfully. I took all four workshops and was ready to learn more. So, the next day Matt walked me to the hotel (he got lost in the medina on the way back by himself but finally made it to the riad a couple hours later). I took all four workshops, a little tired this time. That night we said our goodbyes to Khalil which was really sad :(. I am so glad that we got to hang out with her before going back to the states. The third day, Matt came with me an hour early so we could learn how to play the Darbuka. Exciting!! The drums didn't come in time for us to play with them, so we had to wait until 5:30. Matt stayed around the pool underneath an umbrella and still got burnt. I only made it to three of the workshops that day because I was dead tired. After lunch, I took a nap by the pool with Matt and I'm so glad I did. I went to the last workshop of the day and then headed to another room to play with drums. It was so much fun and I seriously need to work on my rhythm. We went and grabbed dinner and went back to our riad for our last night in Marrakech. We packed everything up (it was a project because our luggage seriously exploded and everything was everywhere).

We are now in Essaouira for one night before heading back to Meknes and then to America. The trip is ending quickly. I'm sad and almost relieved at the same time. I don't want to go back to reality, but I think it's time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Adventure: Chef, Fes, England, Wales

 A LOT has happened since I last wrote. Sorry about this long delay in writing but it's hard when there is something to do everyday and at night all you want to do is sleep.

Chefchaouen: Anyways, I left you with Matt and me going to Chefchaouen with Hannah, Khalil, and her parents. I would have to say Chefchaouen was one of my favorite cities in Morocco. This city is gorgeous because of a couple reasons: one, it's nestled right by two Rif mountain peaks, and two: most of its buildings are painted blue. The people there are amazingly nice and chill, but I think it's because everyone is high and everyone is willing to share. Chefchaouen is basically the capital of hash in Morocco. Matt seriously got asked multiple times during the 2 1/2 days we were there. So, our first day in Chefchaouen was a relaxing walk around town, taking lots of pictures, and visting all the fun shops. The next day we tackled the mountain with a five-hour hike. We first started on a trail and climbed high up the mountain, but then we made our own trail going down the mountain. It was so much fun, but terrifying at the same time. Going up the mountain was pretty interesting; we ran into a few strange groups of folks. The first one was the the three ladies carrying twigs on their backs. They asked for money because we were kind of taking pictures of them so we gave them 13 dirhams. They weren't happy with what we gave them and they asked for more. We refused and they just walked off angrily. The second group was obviously hash dealers/guides. On a couple different occasions we had some guys try to sell us hash and then when we refused, they tryed to guide us up the mountain to make a little bit of money. It was quite funny because we were on a clearly marked trail. The third group of strange folks were two little boys that were tending to their flock. I took a picture of their sheep and they were not happy. Then, we tried to find a picnic spot for lunch near where they were at. They were not happy. In the outside of our backpack we had a thing of cookies and a thing of Pringles. On our way back to the trail to find a different spot for a picnic one of the boys had a sling shot with a stone in it and pointed it towards Matt. He wanted the Pringles but instead we gave him the cookies because we were not going to give up the Pringles! He was not happy but we got away unharmed. So, yes, even up a huge mountain we can have an interesting time.

Fes: The next day Matt and I went to Fes where we spent our time with James and Melissa. James and Melissa are friends of my Aunt Roxanne. They were great hosts and drove us around town. We spent two days in Fes. The first day was exploring the medina and showing Matt all of my favorite shops. The next day we focused on finding the tannery, talking to shop owners, and buying souvenirs. Randomly at a side shop, we met a shop owner that grew up in Germany, so Matt talked to him in German. The shop owner was so impressed that he got took it upon himself to get us great deals at the other shops. We had a list of things we had to buy, so he took us all over, found the best deals, and negotiated for us. We took his business card so that way when we go back to Fes at the end of our trip we can buy some more things :).      
London: We then headed to London on the 17th. We stayed for 2 full days with a couchsurfer. On the plane to London, we met Aziz. Aziz is a Moroccan that married a British woman and lives in London. He had a great bloody accent. Our plane landed at eleven at night and his sister, Wafa (also Moroccan), was picking him up and she lived about five minutes away from where we were staying, so they drove us there. They were so much fun! They were speaking in Darija and with a British accent while mixing English in as well. The first day we did a Beatles tour of London by foot with a book that Matt bought through Amazon. By the end of the tour, my feet were killing me because it was about six hours of walking! It wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't wearing my new shoes that I bought in Fes. That night we went and saw The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre. Amazing!!! I was so happy :D. The next day, Matt put together a Harry Potter tour for me around London. We visited Platform 9 3/4, Gringotts bank, the Leaky Caldron (old and new), the exterior of the real train station, the train station that inspired J.K. Rowling, Millenium Bridge, and we also added Shakespeare's Globe, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace. I would say we did London on speed.

 Leicester: We then went to Leicester for one day. We stayed with Hannah, a girl from our high school exchange program like five/six years ago. She was so sweet. There wasn't much to do in the town, so we bar hopped. There was a really sweet Hawaiian-themed bar that she took us to first. Our first round was in pineapples and coconuts. The second round we got a dessert drink with chocolate ice cream. It was so good! We ended the night at the Uni Bar- a bar on campus. Yup, that's right. It wasn't only a bar, but it was a nightclub with a DJ and two floors with two bars. It was so much fun!!                                  

 Liverpool: After Leicester we went to Liverpool. Liverpool was pretty amazing as well. We spent two days in Liverpool and also stayed with a couchsurfer. The first day we went on a tour called the Magical Mystery Tour. This tour brought us all around Liverpool. We ended the tour on Mathew Avenue, where the Cavern Club is. There was a musical festival going on called The International Pop Overthrow Festival. It was great because there were bands playing at every bar and people were getting drunk at 4:00 p.m. We grabbed dinner at an Irish pub that closed their dining at 5:30 and only served alcohol after that time. We then went to the Cavern Club. The Cavern Club had two different stages, so there was always a band playing. Of course we graffitied the wall and took pictures of it :) and we started drinking around 6:00 and we were way behind the group of other Liverpudlians drinking. The next day we went on a National Trust tour. We went through Paul's and John's houses with explanations. So, Matt and I walked in the pathway in the making of The Beatles. Before and after the tour, we went shopping in The Beatles stores. We then met Nick (one of the roommates of the couchsurfer) at the bar he worked at and he brought us to a great pizza place where we tried great mixed drinks. And that's where we ended an awesome night.

Holyhead: Well, we only wanted to pass through this town but someone had a different plan for us. Yesterday morning we double checked our ferry from Holyhead (which is in Wales) and found out that it never went through because we used an American credit card and had to mail a copy of our passports (didn't know) to them and that our ferry has been canceled because of high winds (our ferry would have left at 5:00). Right after we found that out, we rushed to the train station to find out if we could get another ferry to Ireland. The lady said that there was only one ferry running and if we were fast enough, we could grab the next train to Chester. The only problem is that the next train left in 8 minutes. We ran to the platform to find out that it was running 20 minutes late which meant we will miss the next train because there was only a 13 minute gap between the connecter train in Chester to Holyhead. When we finally made it to Holyhead the next train was scheduled to leave at 12:23 (our train was supposed to leave at 11:09) which means we would arrive in Holyhead at 14:13 and the ferry would leave at 14:10. The Chester help desk told us that there might be other ferrys. When we finally got into Holyhead we found out that the next train would leave at 2:30 the next morning. There was a lot of angry people but I say we made the most of it. We met two Americans and one French/Irish girl. We couldn't leave our luggage at the train/ferry station because their lockers hours were from 9-4:30 meaning that we couldn't pick up our luggage before we could catch the ferry. So here we go, exploring Holyhead with our suitcases and luggage. We found a pub and started drinking (it was about 4 or 5). We were told that there wasn't much to do in Holyhead besides the one cinema that played only one movie at 8:00 and of course drinking at the pubs. So we decided to stay at the pub and find something to eat. Apparently the pub we chose didn't serve dinner so we had to go elsewhere for dinner. After dinner, we went back to the pub and headed to the movies around 7:50. There was a long line going outside the cinema and about 20 minutes later we found out that the bulb wasn't working in the projector so no movie for us. We walked back to the pub only to find out that we got kicked out because a couple girls stayed back because they were to drunk and puked all over the bathroom. We made it to another pub across the train station and stayed there until 12:30ish. Thankfully this ferry wasn't canceled

We are now in Dublin, just got back from the Guinness Storehouse and are now heading to the Roger Waters concert tonight. I will be putting pictures up when I have the chance - maybe tomorrow morning.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

One adventure ends, another one begins

My program ended today at noon. It was really sad to see everyone leave. We said most of our goodbyes last night. Morocco is such a beautiful country and will always have a spot in my heart for many reasons: the landscape, the people, and the food.

All my classes ended on May 10 (on a Wednesday) at 7:00. My boyfriend (at the time) and I decided to do a date night on the rooftop. We picked up pizza at V.I.P. (Very Italian Pizza) and Matt picked up a couple bottles of wine from Label Vie and we headed to the roof. The weather was beautiful all day until around 7:00 (of course, always happens like that). It looked like it was going to downpour any second but we still went to the roof. We had a romantic night watching the storm, eating pizza, and drinking Moroccan wine. Matt then got on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said yes!! :D We decided to finish our pizza and head downstairs to show all my friends. Everyone was super excited!! There was a lot of screaming, jumping up and down, and crying going on. And to answer the question that everyone has been asking me: no, I did not know he was going to propose to me. He did a great job at keeping it secret (usually I figure out all the secrets he has for me - especially my birthday presents). The ring is so beautiful!! He did a great job at picking out the perfect ring for me. It has three diamonds in the middle and on each side of the ring there are three little diamonds. What a story to tell - I got engaged in Africa!!

I am going to miss everyone but the people I lived with had the most impact in my life - we ate together, went to school together, and all lived together. We really didn't have a break from each other.  Let me start with the Chi-O sorority girl - the loudest but proudest girl in our apartment. One night, MK and I had story night with her and hours later we were still talking (the stories could go on more and more but it was about 1 in morning). I got a better understanding of sorority life. Then there was the Alabama sweetheart - the sweetest person I have ever met. She and I made up two-thirds of our French class (yup there were only three people in the class). She had so many friends come through that we told her that she got the most-friends-coming-to-Morocco-to-see-her award. My favorite expression from her is "Shut the front door!" Then there is the princess, germophobe diva. Being a germophobe in Morocco is not the best thing, but she did it. I don't know how, but she did. She's very independent and does what she wants when she wants. Then there is the U.P. talent (U.P. as in upper pennisula) from Michigan! She was the most talented out of the group. She is basically a yoga master, plays the violin very well, sings marvelously, and picked up bellydance the quickest. I'm proud to say she's from Michigan :).  My last roommate, if she would write this year in a book, I would suggest this title: Drink, Write, Save the rainforest. Just like Eat Pray Love but instead she went to Morocco (Drink: Moroccan whisky), is going to Italy (Write: learning how to travel write), and then shes going to India (Save the rainforest: well, she's going to save the rainforest). Oh, I'm going to miss living with them but I am ready to have a one bedroom apartment with my fiance.

On our last day (Friday) with the group, we had a closing ceremony where we recieved our grades, speeches were made, there was more crying, pictures were taken, and the Dean blessed our engagement. After the closing ceremony, we (Matt and I) went to the medina to pick up a suitcase and say goodbye to a couple shop owners. After buying the suitcase, we went back home, filled our stomaches with cous-cous for the last time with my roommates (the ones who didn't leave early), and then filled our suitcase with our rugs and other goodies we collected in the medina that day. After packing and dropping our luggage at the ISA office, I went to the hammam for the last time with a couple of the girls here and I'm so glad that I did because it was so relaxing and a great closure to the trip. As one of the girls mentioned it was a like a we made a complete circle and feel we have made the most out of this experience. We felt complete after the hammam.

So here I am, just completed one circle in my life, and now starting a very large circle with my fiance. A week in England, a week in Ireland, a week in Italy, and then back to Morocco for the final week. Then, it's time to go back to the real life of going to school, working, and now wedding planning :D

Monday, May 2, 2011

Whirlwind of events

A lot has happened since I last blogged - sorry it's so long but it's worth reading. Morocco has been shaken by a blast, protests galore all over Morocco, dangerous protests on campus, the King came to town, I tasted the desert (literally), and the world is celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden.
Firstly: Morocco has been shaken. If you followed the news, you would have noticed that on last Thursday there was a bombing in a popular café in Marrakesh. A little information about Marrakesh: It is about seven hours away from Meknes, it's a very popular tourist city, it has a ton of foreigners, everyone speaks English there, and that is where the workshop is going to be in June. The bombing was supposedly an attack from al-Qaeda and was not a suicide bombing but instead it was set off by a remote control. A guy, from what I heard, brought his suitcase to the counter, ordered an orange juice and then left. Many people have been injured and 16 people died. In the past couple days, there have been protests from Moroccans denouncing terrorism. I was talking to the owner of the riad we stayed at in Merzouga and he told me that a French family of six who visited that riad a couple days before lost one of their family members in the blast. Morocco is mourning this event and hoping that the Moroccan police can find the man responsible.
 - Thoughts and prayers to Marrakesh and everyone affected by it
Protests Galore
Morocco has been having protests just like every other North African/Middle Eastern country but these protests in Morocco have mostly been peaceful. It didn't start peaceful at first but now they are. Moroccans mostly have been protesting about the political and economic freedom and the change in constitution brought about by the February 20th event (major protest). They want to change all the wrongs and the corruption. Morocco is ranked 89th (corruption number 3.3) on the transparency international chart. The scale is from 0 (highly corrupted) to 10 (very clean). United States is ranked 17 at corruption number 7.7. (2009 numbers) The King made a speech about the change in the constitution but apparently the government is not really listening to the demands of the people and what they really want changed. The new constitution will take into effect sometime in June and protesters are saying that if there is still a problem with the constitution and the government is still not listening that there will be more protests (hopefully still peaceful). Another thing they are saying is the SNI company is a royal family monopoly. SNI is a big company that has a little bit of everything.  Basically SNI makes Morocco's economy go around. 48% of Moroccan's biggest bank is owned by SNI as well as 50% of the biggest cement company, 63% of the biggest dairy firm, and 63% of the sole sugar refiner. They also own some telecommunication businesses, insurance companies, renewable energy, supermarkets, and steel. So basically SNI is pretty huge and all the money goes to the royal family. Bribery is huge in Morocco as well. I have heard that if you have a huge wallet, you can go far in this country and if not, well then, good luck to you. Moroccans are not looking for a democracy but a better constitutional monarchy and they look at England's government for an example.
Not only are Moroccans protesting about those issues above but the students at Moulay Ismail are protesting for other reasons. They have a list of demands that they gave to the Dean awhile ago. Apparently he didn't meet all their demands so they started protesting. First they (there are four main political groups on campus) started stopping students from going to class (started a couple weeks ago). So basically they haven't had class for over a week. Last Thursday (yes, the day of the Marrakesh bombing) was when the protests started getting serious. Note to readers, I was nowhere near campus - went shopping in Fes that day. They had to escort the Americans off campus and the military and police had to intervene. There were some deaths but I don't know how many. I know for sure a police officer died from being hit by a rock to the back of his head. It was said that the protests started in the Fac de Science building (right next to my school) and then went to the Fac de Lettre (that's the school I go to). We were told we were not allowed anywhere near campus on Thursday. Later we found out that the students were trying to capture the Dean. Scary! The Dean closed the campus on Friday. Today, Monday, I heard that campus was very quiet.
King came to town
One exciting news (which caused some more protests in Meknes) is the King came to town. The town got all snazzy with cleaning crew and the Moroccan flag all over. All the fountains were working perfectly and some streets were blocked for the King's arrival. He came to inaugurate the annual agricultural fair. This event is called the SIAM (translated to English: International Exhibition of Agriculture in Morocco). It's a leading exhibition for agriculture in Africa, for its size, number of stake holders and its professionalism. That's right - it's a big deal and the King came to town. Unfortunately I was not able to see him but I heard the event went really well.
Death of Osama
Let me next talk about the death of Osama Bin Laden. Being away from news was hard for all of us so when we came home Sunday night and watching Al-Jazeera Monday morning, seeing the death of Osama Bin Laden was crazy to see especially after everything that has happened in Morocco. I really want to know the Moroccan opinion on this so there may be an update in a couple days if I get one. There is now a travel alert out so keeping a low profile and not traveling to major cities is very important right now. That travel alert is not only for Muslim countries but for everyone all over the world traveling anywhere and everywhere so please do not have the misconceptions that Morocco is an unsafe place to be at this moment in time.
The Sahara
Now onto a lighter note, the Sahara!! That's right Bellydance Barbie went to the Sahara Desert (aka Erg Chebbi in Morocco), bellydanced there, rode camels, slept in the desert, sandboarded, bought a turban, and went 4x4-ing! Friday, we left Meknes at 8 in the morning and didn't show up to Merzouga until 5/6-ish. The original plan was to spend the first night in the desert and then the second night at a riad but there was a storm that came through about an hour before we arrived which blew away the campsite so we had to stay at the riad first. It was nice finally seeing a never ending line of sand and actually touching the Sahara desert to make sure that it was real. So Friday we stayed at Riad Nezha, had dinner by candle light, and then went to sleep. Saturday we woke up and went 4x4 around and through the dunes. We even convinced the drivers that we needed to ride on top of them so they let us. Here is a short video:

After the dunes, we had lunch and relaxed a little. Some people went to the pool and others went shopping. I went shopping for a huge turban. As a group, we agreed on renting two snowboards to sandboard down the dunes. So around 5:30, our camels arrived and we each got our own camel.
My camel :D
My camel was like the baby in the group (small camel for a small girl). I named him (all the camels were boys but actually called it a her) La Petite Ginger. It was given a long weird name that I would have never remembered it so I changed it. Our first stop was to a HUGE dune that we had to climb up to watch the sunset but no one was interested in the sunset because we had snowboards. I was the second out of the group to go down and it's so different than the snow. For one, you get sand in your eyes and you really seriously can not see and two, in order to go down you need a steep hill because the small ones won't get you far because of friction. Everyone (that wanted to do it) only went down once because when you are all the way down the dune, you have to climb back up with the board and there are no lifts. It was really really hard to climb that dune twice. I actually needed two different Moroccans to help me up the dune. One to carry the board and then another to pull me up. Now give me some credit. I say I climbed the board up about halfway...ok maybe a little less than halfway and then climbed myself up three quarters of the way until a Moroccan helped me. It was so much fun though!!
After sandboarding we all walked down the dune and rode our camels to camp. That is where we had a wonderful dinner, made some music and spent the night. And yes there were a few big bugs - typical dung beetles, a big spider and then another big spider slash scorpion thingy. It was a scary sleeping at night but we all wrapped ourselves in our turbans so we wouldn't swallow or find something crawling on us in the morning. 

In the morning (Sunday) we walked back to the riad where we ate breakfast and headed back to Meknes. We stopped at a fossil factory where we saw people cutting through stones and shaping it into decorated things. 
Cool thing
We also stopped at a famous souk about an hour outside of Merzouga where I had someone try to get my hand in marriage with a trade of 6,000 camels - jokingly at first and then he turned serious. I had to quickly buy the necklace that I really wanted and leave quickly. The negotiation process in Morocco can be a serious things when it comes to buying things. After the souk we finally had lunch/dinner at about 5 at a really really nice restaurant. It was about three hours outside of Meknes and to my surprise they had dancers at the restaurant!
Check it out!! I have not seen this before in Morocco so it was great to finally see dancers in a restaurant. After dinner we finally made it to Meknes . . . about five hours later - we got caught up in a snowstorm (not a bad one but still, we just came from the desert and we saw snow all in the same day) in the Atlas mountains driving towards Azrou and Ifrane.

We finally made it home safely with sand in our ears and bellybuttons (I'm for real about that) and had an excellent night of sleep.

A whirlwind of events happened this weekend one after another. Another thing that I wanted to mention is what happened in Alabama on Wednesday - the tornado. One of my roommates goes to University of Alabama. The tornado was very devastating and whipped out a huge city. Thoughts and prayers go to Alabama as well.
So much has happened within less than seven days. On a brighter note, thinking in the future, the love of my life is making his way to Morocco on Thursday :D and I am super excited for that. Then Friday I am performing at an event that ISA and Moroccan students have been working very hard at. So wish me luck - first performance since I left the states.
Sorry that this is so long and I want to thank everyone that actually made it to the end of this blog - so congrats.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Nummy, nummy in my tummy

I talked enough about what I have been doing everyday and the trips that I have been on. Now it's time to talk serious important stuff about Morocco - food. I thought I was going to starve in Morocco because not only am I picky eater, but I only eat chicken and fish. Boy, was I wrong. I think I'm putting on the pounds because everything is so good! I can't stop myself sometimes.

Breakfast: Breakfast here does not consist of my two bowls of cereal but instead, a very chocolaty pastry and café au lait (check out my Starbucks in Morocco post to see the picture of my breakfast). Moroccans love their coffee and their huge supply of pastries. The only thing that boggles my mind over and over again is that they don't have cinnamon rolls. They have everything else under the sun but not cinnamon rolls. If you don't like coffee, no problem. You can order freshly squeezed juice or the wonderful mint tea.
At Café Florence
Lunch: There are two main dishes - tajines and couscous. You cannot leave Morocco without trying those. Moroccan's biggest meal of the day is lunch.
Tajine can be anything! You can have chicken tajine, vegetarian tajine, beef tajine, beef tajine with olives, and the list goes on and on. It's called tajine because that is what the kitchen dish is called - they cook tajine in a tajine. It looks a little strange so let me try and describe it to you. The top part of a tajine looks like an upside down ice cream cone but instead of a point, its kind of rounded so you can lift it off the bottom part which looks like a thick pie crust that has a little shelf around the edge to set the edge of the ice cream cone on.
Tajine dish
Now couscous is not kitchen dish but an actual food name - couscous is not cooked in couscous. I have no clue what's in it but its really really delish! Couscous is served EVERY Friday in Morocco - and I mean every Friday. Some Moroccans that I have talked to say that they don't like couscous because they have been having it every Friday of their life. I don't know why they have it every Friday but they do. There are different types of couscous but we (my roommates and I) usually get a vegetable couscous or a sweet raisin/dates couscous and its always comes with chickpeas. Couscous is meant to be eaten by hand. To do that, you ball it up in your right hand (don't eat with your left!) and plop it in your mouth. Some people eat it with spoons only out of the main middle dish. Me and my roommates opt to do it the very American way - with separate plates and spoons.
Dinner: Dinners are light and are served around eight or nine at night. It's usually pasta or soup. Their famous delish soup is called Harira. Everyone knows what pasta is - our usual pasta dishes are spaghetti or baked mac and cheese (my favorite!!). Harira, well, I don't know exactly what's in it (I know it has chickpeas and lentil - sometimes) but I do know it's really good. I also know it takes a while to make and this soup is eaten during Ramadan to break the fast and during the end of the wedding ceremony sometimes. There is a restaurant in Meknes that is known for their Harira soup - they are busy busy busy during dinner time.
Every second of the day: Mint tea (will do a mint tea culture blog for you). If you get invited over for anything at all at a Moroccan's house, you will get served tea. They sure do love their tea. I do to, but I don't think my teeth do.
Mint Tea

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Starbucks in Morocco

...without the Starbucks
Morocco has a strong café culture that Starbucks and their large coffees to go and their convenient drive through windows would fail here. After being in Morocco this long, it's normal to see about three or four different cafés on one block. I came here hating coffee and if I drank it in the states it was mixed with lots of goodies so that way I couldn't taste the bitterness of coffee. Now, after being in Morocco, when I go back to America, I probably won't be able to start my day without coffee - I never thought I would say that...
I am now becoming a regular to a café where the server knows my drink and my pastry that I like to get - I never thought I would say that as well...
My breakfast
And one good thing about my drink and my pastry (there are many good things) - it's about less than $2 including tip! Oh, and check out how many sugar cubes they give me for a little cup of coffee - yup there's four there. I only use two but some Moroccans will use all four (just imagine their dental care's...yeah).
Before going to my café, I fill my backpack with my laptop, internet stick, all my French books, my French dictionary, my reading book, notebook, and whatever else I want to "work" on when I'm there. I go to the cafés like I'm Moroccan but I don't act Moroccan when I get there. Let me explain their café culture. Moroccans are always at a café and if they are not at a café...wait, that's not even possible to not be at a café. Everything revolves around the café life - the economy, the social aspect, friendships, and life. In the olden days, cafés were men only clubs while the women only clubs were in the hammams. That concept is dying of course but some girls won't go certain cafés because they are known as "men only".  The girls are welcome to go to the "men only" but if they do, they will probably get harassed and continuously stared at. Now don't freak out! I go to a nice café where I can do my French studies without getting harassed.
A lot of Moroccans do nothing when they go to cafés. A few (very few) will read the newspaper, no one reads books and most of them people watch, chat with friends, or play with their phones (in my standards of stuff, that's nothing to me). So you can just imagine my surprise and enthusiasm when I actually saw a Moroccan reading/studying a textbook the other day - a marketing textbook to be exact! Crazy!
Now, me on the other hand, I bury myself in my French studies or my current book (which is Eat Pray Love) - very not Moroccan. But hey, I haven't quite learned how to relax and do nothing at cafés. Hopefully one day I can. Time will tell.
Well off I go to bury myself in my French books at a café. Bslama!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Plans, plans, plans

Hello world!
I would like to give you an update on my future plans. Our (Matt's and my) first initial plan was to go to Kenya on a safari then head to England, Ireland and then back to Morocco (for the bellydance workshop!!!). Looking at mine and Matt's finances about fifty billion times every which way possible, we have decided to drop Kenya and go to Italy instead. With plane tickets, vaccinations, and malaria pills to Kenya, we wouldn't have enough money to enjoy England and Ireland. Oh, and trying to get information on the yellow fever vaccination was a pain in the butt! The website was down for like two weeks, the phone numbers that I got from the embassy didn't work or no one answered (tried for like five days straight), and when I finally got a hold of someone, it was difficult communicating in only French (my French class didn't prepare me with yellow fever and malaria pills vocab) so yes...pain in the butt. Since we are dropping Kenya, we promised to save a little every month and go within the next five years.

This morning, I woke Matt up at 4:00 his time, 9:00 my time (we skype every morning and e-mail each other regularly...oh how cute) thinking it would be another "Good morning. How was your day? K time to eat breakfast. Love you. Bye" sort of conversation but two hours later we booked all our flights around Europe! Exciting!! So in the order of country, we will be flying out of Morocco going to England and then whenever we feel like it head over to Ireland and then we will be flying to Rome and then back to Morocco. I will update it in the "Events" section of my blog - make sure to check it out!

Keep checking up on my blog. I will be writing more and more about the culture but for now, bslama.