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.

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