Monday, February 28, 2011

A series of fortunate events

One word that sums my week-end up: epic (That's for you Jamie). The one thing that I really enjoy about traveling outside of my culture is meeting other cultures through people. This week-end I drank tea with a local family, rode and saw royal horses, and was able to show off Meknes to travelers passing through. Let me start off with the family and the horses. Right next to my school, there is a family that tends the royal horses. A year long student (I would like to describe him as a "cool cat"-he says "groovy" all the time) brought me, Tiffany, and Jennifer to meet the family and ride on the horses. It's not like in America where you pay someone money, get on the horse, have fun and then leave. No, here, you drink tea with the family, eat pastries, and have a small lunch with them. Then they take you to the horses and see all of them (there will be pictures on photobucket). They took us to a riding area and basically gave us lessons on how to ride the horses. It was an awesome experience that I am blessed to have. I was told I had good form. The family is very sweet! After riding we went back to their house and they gave us some more tea and invited us to couscous to their house this Friday :). I'm pretty excited.

So that was Saturday afternoon. Saturday night I met up with a guy from couch surfing that was in Meknes Thursday night. Long story short this guy was in another city in Morocco, met a couple from Holland (real Holland, not Holland, MI - the guy is actually from Australia but is working in Holland) and then re-met them in Meknes. I met up with the three of them and took them around town. I brought them to a cafe that sold beer so we drank Special beer (seriously that's what it's called) then I took them to get dinner at a great restaurant and since they have never smoked shisha (hookah) I took them to a shisha bar (that's where a bunch of ISA students came along too). They asked about the nightlife in Meknes and let me tell you there really isn't one unless you go to a nightclub. So nightlife here is going out for tea and shisha and that's it. We took everyone back to our apartment and pretty much had a party. There were at least 20 people here! It was great. The funny thing is, I was explaining my Holland to the Hollanders and they were shocked at our festival - Tulip Time. They said that we probably know more about the Dutch history than they do because we celebrate Tulip Time every year. Oh and they thought the dancing was bizarre (youtubed it).
Sunday, we headed up to the souk (it's like a flea market). The souk is in Zitoun where our school is. It's like a Medina but people from all over come to the souk on Sunday (it's only on Sundays and it closes at 2) to get great deals. Some of the things are second hand items and some are brand new. We were told not to bring cameras, purses, wear jewelry, and keep your money in your front or inside pockets because theft is really high there. We checked out the clothing area and each of my roommates including myself got at least one article of clothing. We paid all together to get the price down and total we only paid 10 dirhams (that's a little over $1)! Crazy!! One thing that was a huge shock was the live chickens. We past at least 10 different shops that sold live chickens, can kill them right there and skin them right in front of you. There were chickens, feather, and chicken feet all over the place! If I had my camera I would have taken a picture. It was insane but I guess that's the freshest way of doing things.
So that was my week-end of epicness. Today (Monday), my roommate and I met up with a Moroccan girl who took us around the Medina. She's so nice and sweet!! She helped us lower prices and communicating to the shop owners. It was wonderful and I had a great time! 
And that's why this week-end is a series of fortunate events. ISA delayed our trip to Casablanca and Rabat because of the protests and because of that, I was able to meet a lot of different people and make new friends all over the world. 


*Correction from last blog: the CIA has the unemployment rate wrong - it's more like 40-50% of the people are unemployed (that's the word from the street). 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Calling for change

So as many of you know, the Arab world is calling for change. It first started in Egypt, then it went to Bahrain, Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Iran, Libya, Jordan, and yes Morocco. Before you freak out, I am safe with no riot activity. And not planning on any riot activity or even being within a 100 miles from a riot. Anyways, the riots in Morocco are different than the others because the main problem that Morocco is facing right now is an economic problem. These riots are classified as peaceful protests. They don't want to over rule their government because they like their government; they just want more jobs. They inspire to have a government like England. There is a high unemployment rate in Morocco right now. According the the CIA World Factbook, Morocco's unemployment rate is at 9.8% as of last year and 15% of the population is below the poverty line as of 2007. So yeah, people want jobs and moneys. That's why the highest crime in Morocco is theft.
Again, don't worry, I am safe where I am at. Now if I was studying in any of the other countries, then I would be worried. If you looked in my Event tab, this weekend I was supposed to go to Casablanca and Rabat. It's getting postponed because there is a possibility of a strike on transportation. Moroccans are like the French with their strikes: planned and they always have them. So this weekend for me is free. I'm not sure what is going on but I will update as soon as I know.
Here is a picture of Meknes on my way to school:
This is a huge intersection in Morocco. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Merry Christmas...wait wrong holiday and religion.

In the Muslim world the Prophet's Birthday is like Merry Christmas to us (Christians). People take it seriously and there are many festivities that go along with it. Morocco (especially Meknes) does something very unique for the Prophet's Birthday. Before I talk about the uniqueness, let me tell you how they determine when it's the Prophet's birthday. They determine it by the moon. The Islams are on a lunar calendar instead of a calendar like we are on. So Tuesday night they declared that the Prophet's birthday is on Wednesday (ISA told us that we didn't have to go to school on Wednesday and Thursday). ISA decided to give us an extra day off from school so we can celebrate the Prophet's birthday longer so no school on Friday too :D. I'm spoiled.
Alright so now a brief history about religion in Morocco (after this you will understand the uniqueness): The people of Morocco were first the Amazigh (like Native Americans to us) and the Amazighs believed in pagan rituals, for example trances, animal sacrifices, self mutilation, dancing, music, and so on. When Islam was first introduced to Morocco (in Moulay Idriss - I've been there) the people didn't want to let go of some of their rituals from the past. So they created a, as I like to say, Islam fusion. They incorporate the Islam traditions along with their own pagan rituals - *uniqueness*. The Qur'an reinforced the significance of evil spirits (like in Christianity, there are possession of demons and we need an exorcist to release the demons). Their main fear are the djinns (this word is spelled like 10 different ways but literary translated, it means genie). Djinns can be evil, good, or neutral spirits that either consume someone, a place, or a thing. Each djinn has it's own unique trait, for example: one djinn may only like the color yellow so the person being possessed by the djinn wears yellow (strange, huh). Anyways they have rituals to get the djinns out of the body and that ritual is done by dancing. Women will dance bent over, twirling their head from side to side, around in a circle, and up and down to try and get the djinn out. They consider this a trance. Once done with the trance, the women will collapse to the floor ending the process.
Here's a picture of a trance:
The lady in the stripe purple caftan is dancing, the guys behind are playing music, and the guy in the center was saying something...don't know what because I don't know the language. Later he came by asking for money.
So in Meknes, people from all over come to participate in the religion and celebrate together - Islam fusion.  Tents were pitched in an area by the Medina-old city of Meknes (reminded me of Harry Potter and the Quidditch World Cup). There were people trying to sell what they brought. Some people set up camp and opened a "restaurant" in their tent. In the actual Medina people were lined up, reminded me of people waiting for a parade. There were people all over, on top of walls, on top of roofs, in the trees, and wherever else they can squeeze in to see the so called parade. I don't understand what exactly was going on but I can try to describe it to you. It looked like there were different tribes or different something because each group of people that I saw was carrying a flag (that was in the front of the group). In the center of the group, people were making a circle and dancing crazy and the back of the group was the musicians. All the people in the center wore white. Oh, it was advised to us that we should not wear black. Black symbolizes evil or evil spirits.  
Here's a picture of a group passing by:
It's kind of hard to find where the center is but it's there somewhere and they are dancing and playing music. I did not see any animal sacrifices but I did see a woman take a little lamb into a square blocked off by the police here so I figured that is where they are sacrificing the lamb. 
To describe how busy it was, I went back down to the Medina later on in the day (with a group of friends) and we had to take shelter in a store because there were so many people trying to get in and trying to get out. People were pushing and shoving their way through which actually caused a fight!
Here's a picture:
Me sheltered in a store looking at the mob of people. 
Like I said, I did go to the Medina later on and when I tried to show people where all the tents were, they were all gone. It was bizarre to see an empty space but I guess everyone went home after the morning rituals. 
Well, that was a very Merry Prophet Birthday party.
Bslama (good bye in darija)

Check out the tents!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It snows in Morocco!

Wait, what?! I thought I left the snow to go to a non-snowing country, well I was wrong.
Yup, snow. Where you ask? Well, in the mountains. Yup, I climbed a mountain! Well before we get to the mountain part let me start with what I did on Saturday. Saturday was our day trip to Volubilis and Moulay Idriss. Some background on both of those: Volubilis was a Roman town when Rome pretty much ruled everything. They used this town to export exotic animals to Rome for the gladiators. Today this town today looks like this:

So we toured this area and then headed to Moulay Idriss. History on Moulay Idriss: Islam in Morocco started here. This town was off limits to non-Muslims until five years ago.
Here is a picture of Moulay Idriss:
So that was Saturday. On Sunday we went to Ifrane, Zorgan's house (a friend of ISA) and then we climbed the Atlas Mountains. Ifrane is a very clean town because there is a prestigious private University (all the other Universities in Morocco are government funded) so this town reminded me a little bit of Sweden or something like that. It's close to the mountains so people go to Ifrane to go skiing. After Ifrane we went to Zorgan's house. Zorgan is an Amazigh (another name for a Berber). We ate breakfast there and it was amazing! So good!! This is what it looked like:
Yum! After breakfast, we headed up the mountain. It was a long walk up but it was worth it. There was snow and cedar trees everywhere! When we got to the top, we had to walk slightly down the mountain to see the monkeys! Yup, I said monkeys :), well technically they are apes because they don't have tails but they are the same in my eye. We were able to feed them and get really close to them.
Aww, how cute. We walked up some more until we reached our bus. We were only on the bus for no more than 10 minutes and then Daniel (program director) told us we have to hike some more! At this point we already hiked for like 2 hours. I'm glad I hiked this last one because I was pretty much on top of the world! Here's a pic:
It was wonderful! What goes up, must come down so we had to walk back down this mountain and I think our hiking time totaled to 3 1/2 hours. Pretty intense but it felt wonderful! We then went to Azrou to get lunch and headed back home.
So that was my weekend. It was amazing and beautiful!
Yesterday was an experience for me. Okay so I already experienced the squatty pottys (eeww! I know!) but yesterday I experienced the Hammam. If you don't know what a hammam is, it is basically a public bath. It was very relaxing and wonderful. I have never felt so clean and smooth before. When someone goes to a hammam they bring a mat, a scrubby and whatever they usually use in the shower. It felt like a sauna in there. Everyone had their own little facet - one with warm and another with cold. You first wash yourself with the water and then use this green glooby stuff mixed with henna and rub it all over you body. You wash that stuff off and wait to get scrubbed down by the hammam ladies. Dead skin everywhere (eww!). After being scrubbed (seriously my skin turned red by being scrubbed so hard), you wash yourself like in a shower but sitting down. Volia! That's basically the hammam.
This week is going to be an interesting week. I don't have school Wednesday or Thursday because it's the Prophet's birthday. People from all over come to Meknes to celebrate it so there are going to trances, animal sacrifice (maybe), dances, music, and whatever else goes with a celebration in the Medina. Hopefully I can take some great pictures and share it with everyone!
Pictures are now up: Check out the Tangier, the mountains, Volubilis and Moulay Idriss, and I added an album in Meknes to show you my school. I hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bellydance Barbie Attacks!

Bellydance barbie is taking Morocco by storm one dance at a time and yesterday was my first dance class that I attended. I actually enrolled in that bellydance class which is about 3 minutes away from my apartment. They offer bellydance 5 times a week: Tuesday and Thursday from 10-11 and 6:30-7:30 and Saturday at 4:30-5:30. I paid 150 dh (which is like less than $20) for the whole month and I can go three times a week! I attended yesterday from 10-11. To get to class, I have to walk down the street and turn on a, as I like to call it, "a dark alley" (there are seriously no businesses down this alley, just random doors and no signs). The class is with locals (oh, I'm mingling with the locals) and is in French (oh, and using my French...somewhat). I will not be able to go this Thursday because I have Arabic at 11 and an ISA meeting at 7:00 and this Saturday we are going on an excursion. The dance class was not exactly what I was looking for. I'm looking for technique and being able to advance more. Even though this dance class isn't going to advance me in bellydance, I realized that it will advance me in other areas. I say that because it's a reminder to me that bellydance isn't always about technique, perfection, and performance but instead it is really about a dance of expression. An expression of being a woman and enjoying her body for who she is deep down inside. Bellydance has had a bad view in society because it was related to the harem age when women had to entertain men by dancing sensually. There are women all shapes and sizes enjoying the wonders of their body, being themselves on the dance floor and not worrying about what others think of them. Beautiful!

So whether I like it or not, I did come here for school. I have Arabic four times a week for three hours, French once a week for three hours, Derija once a week for the next four weeks for three hours, Islamic Society and Politics once a week for three hours, and Exploration of Moroccan History and Culture once a week for three hours. I love all my classes that I have, and yes even the French one (I'm not really good at French but someday, hopefully I will figure it out). My professors are really interesting. My Arabic teacher has limited amount of English so if he doesn't know the word in English he will say it in French, my french professor is a Berber (and can speak the language!!), and my Islmaic society and politics and Moroccan history and culture classes are taught by the same professor and he has a wealth of knowledge of Morocco!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Morocco: Roots in Africa, branches in Europe

Post on Feb 1: (because I didn't have the internet until now)
Hello everyone! Guess what? I'm in Morocco right now in the beautiful town of Tangier (also spelled Tanger). The start of the journey started this morning when we left our hotel and boarded the bus for a four hour ride to the edge of Spain. Hopped on a ferry for an hour to finally stepped foot on Africa. It is *amazing****. I am super excited for this trip and am very very pleased with my decision to choose this study abroad. What's really exciting is that tomorrow we will be touring the town of Tanger and finally heading Meknes. I will finally know my school schedule Thursday night :D.
Post today:
Yay! I just got the internet! So I survived my first day of school! Hurray for me!!! Today I had class from 8:00-11:15 Moroccan history and culture. That class is so cool but it's at 8 in the morning. Then I had Arabic 1 from 11:15-1:30 and Derija (Moroccan Arabic) from 3:30-6:30. Let me tell you, my brain is fried right now.
So Moroccans have a tradition that every Friday is Couscous friday :D. Yum! The food is amazing, the people are amazing, the clothes are amazing, the water is . . . well I have to get used to that still but once I do, it will be amazing. Yesterday we took a tour of the Medina (old city of Meknes) and in the city center they actually had acrobats, snake charmers, drummers, and the list goes on and on. I live in Meknes (the new part) and it's called Ville Nouvelle. I would describe Ville Nouvelle as downtown Grand Rapids. There are tall buildings, traffic, people all over, and it's quiet at night.
One big culture shock is the driving! There are lanes in the road but no one obeys it so in a two lane one-way road, there are at least 3 cars trying to get through. The traffic lights really don't work, there are no walking mans, you can do u-turns in a middle of a 4 lane road, honk your horn at a pedestrian if they aren't going fast enough when they cross the street, if a car is stopped in front of the taxi and the taxi realizes that it's to soon to stop, they will drive around the stopped car and continue on, and they drive in the middle of the road if they feel like they want to. Good thing that I don't drive here! One key advice: let the locals drive.
Tomorrow I have a free day so I think I'm going shopping with some of the girls and I'm going to give myself some time to relax. We seriously haven't had time to sit and think about nothing on this trip.
I'm posting my pictures of Tangier and Morocco on photobucket so make sure you check it out! (probably check it out tomorrow).
Oh and one more thing that you wouldn't expect from a country in Morocco. Days are warm but nights are freezing! In each of our rooms we have a space heater and like 5 blankets on our beds to stay warm.