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.