Friday, December 11, 2009


Hello all,

The end of the semester has arrived quickly. Finals week has begun and many of my classmates are beginning to prepare for their journeys home. For me the end of the semester means almost six free weeks, which, inshallah, I shall spend traveling.

In the meantime, I'm putting up a few photos of Chefchaouen (Chaouen as the locals call it). Chefchaouen is the major tourist destination in the Rif mountains, renowned for its quaint mountain-town atmosphere, nature and an economy based almost entirely on herding, wool production, tourism and hashish production. These factors have made Chaouen a major stop on the hostelling-backpacking route through Morocco. Thus the old medina abounds with Riads (traditional houses) converted into hostels and young European tourists out to see the world and smoke some cheap hash. For me and my traveling companions this allowed us to meet some other youthful travellers from around the world and share our experiences as well as sleep for cheap.

Stay posted, not really sure what the next few weeks will entail!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Eid Al-AdHa

Happy Thanksgiving and Eid Mubarek Sayyid to everyone!

Last Saturday was eid al-adha or the feast of the sacrifice here in Morocco and across the Muslim world. In commemoration of Abraham's (Ibrahim's) willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael, Muslims come together to spend time with family and celebrate with their families. In addition eid al-adha, being the feast of the sacrifice, involves the sacrificial killing of either a goat, cow or, most typically a sheep. I was invited to spend the eid in Fes with a good friend of mine, Atman, and his family. In addition to being treated to four days of excellent, delicious and more than plentiful home cooking by his mother, it was a great treat to get to return to the wonderful city of Fes and experience again it in a festive mood. It was a great weekend replete with a day trip into the beautiful mountains around Fes, particularly to the pretty mountain town of Ifrane where all of the trees were in full fall splendor, and with the exciting Real Madrid-Barca game which meant that every cafe across Morocco was packed with excited fans. And yes, we did indeed sacrifice a ram as you all have no doubt surmised from the picture. At least for me it was initially surprising how blasé the people around me were about the sacrifice. Although it was clear that certain members of the family preferred not to take part it was also clear that this was, for the most part, not that exciting--after all it takes place every year.

We had quite a bit of rain overnight in Fes but by the time I returned to Rabat the weather was once again gorgeous if a bit chilly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Weekend in Barcelona

It's late and I want to go to bed so this will be fast:

9:00 AM: Wake up. Realize our Moroccan friend Badr has spent the night in our apartment.
9:20: Finish final packing
9:25: Go to the hanout (corner store) to buy supplies (one [1]pack of eight [8] spreadable laughing cow cheese products, one [1] roll of bread, two [2] bimo crackers [golden variety]).
9:28: Return to apartment. Decide to make breakfast of sauteed potatoes, tomates and poached eggs.
9:35: Go to other hanout to buy potatoes, tomatoes and two eggs.
9:37: Find peppers and onion in fridge. Decide to add them to breakfast.
9:43: Start eating breakfast. Badr still asleep.
9:44: Get text from Jacob asking me where I am. Reply that I'm still at my apartment
9:45: Get text from Jacob telling me that train for the airport leaves at 10.
9:47: Finish cramming breakfast into my mouth. Badr still asleep. Debate waking him to tell him I'm leaving. Decide it's too much effort; time becoming urgent.
9:49: Arrive train station. Buy ticket. Cost is 75dhs. I have 50 dirham cents left.
9:50: Meet Jacob and Esther on platform. Mention how I thought we were taking the 10:45 train. Realize I haven't showered.
10:00: Train to airport departs.
11:00: Transfer trains in Ain Sebaa. Second train about 25 years older than the first with limited air conditioning. Realize again I haven't showered.
11:30: Arrive Mohammed V airport
11:43: Pass through security checkpoint. I set off the metal detector, gaurd waves me through anyway.
12:10: Check in for flight.
12:15: Fill out departure information form for immigration.
12:17: Pass customs checkpoint. Officer sees the cover of our passports and waves us through
12:23: Pass Immigration checkpoint. Officer looks over departure form, checks a box and throws it in trash can.
12:28: Pass security. I set off the metal detector, officer pats down my torso and pockets (which are full), asks me "labass?" (are you ok?) to which I reply "labass" (I am ok) and he waves me through. (Jacob brings his full 1.5 liter bottle of water through, Esther brings her pocket knife through in her carry-on)
12:38: Walk through duty free store. Alcohol and tobacco for cheap
12:47: Eat one packet of bimo (golden) crackers
1:12: Board plane
4:30 (Barcelona time): Arrive Barcelona
5:00 Pass through Immigration
5:10: Pass through Customs
5:12: Withdraw money from ATM. It works (al-hamdu l'allah)
5:23: Ask information desk for cheapest way to get to hostel in Barcelona
5:37: Buy ticket for Barcelona metro
6:00: Get on train.
6:45: Get off train. Walk wrong way
6:53: Realize we are walking the wrong way. Backtrack
7:14: Lost again
7:29: Realize hostel was block and a half away from metro station. Jacob buys pork cracklins from kiosk. Pork is delicious
7:43: Check into hostel.
8:16: Overwhelmed by how nice the 12 story high high-rise hostel is. Intrigued by pool which guests have access to
8:23: Go out to explore.
8:34: Buy two varieties of Cava (Catalan sparkling wine) from bottle shop. Total: 7.90
8:44: Meet Vicki and Laura, two of Esther's friends who are studying in Granada and who are staying in the same hostel for the weekend.
9:00: Finish second bottle of Cava. Decide to get dinner
9:15: Eat dinner of french fries and copious amounts of cheap meat. Realize how much I miss cheap meat
9:37: Go back to the hostel to meet Felicity, another one of Esther's friends studying in Belgium
9:54: Go out to explore
10:17: Get an Estrella Damm in local bar. Tapas are extra
11:14: Return to hostel. Sit in common area and meet other random travelers. Italians in Laura's room are loud obnoxious and speak only broken english and spanish.

8:30: Wake up and take shower in what is the best hostel shower I have ever experienced. Soap provided.
9:02: Go to free breakfast in hostel dining area. Include cereal, rolls, butter, jam, nutella, yougurt, coffee and juice. I stock up on rolls, butter, nutella and jam.
10:02: Depart for Picasso Museum.
10:25: Get sidetracked by open air market reminiscient of a souk and run mainly by North Africans
11:44: Find Picasso Museum. Meet with Steven, another one of Esther's friends who is studying in Granada
12:00: Pay 6 euros to get into Picasso Museum
12:49: View Picasso's numerous renditions of Las Meninas
1:37: Picnic lunch
3:48: Go to Park Guell (designed by Gaudi)
4:54: Arrive at Park Guell (designed by Gaudi)
6:47: Leave Park Guell (designed by Gaudi). Start walking back to the hostel
8:23: Buy bottle of wine at grocery store for 74 euro cents
9:04: Arrive at hostel. Decide to change and get dinner
9:27: Eat dinner; meat and french fries
10:20: Return to hostel. Try to go to pool. Realize that pool closes at 10 on Saturdays
11:32: Meet Ben from Mississippi. Goes to Ole Miss. Studying abroad in Greece and is here for a few days. Will be taking up the fourth bed in our room.

12:05: Open my bottle of wine
12:27: Finish bottle of wine. Start drinking Jacob's 4 euro fifth of whiskey
12:48: Depart for discotheque
1:03: Arrive discotheque. Get another drink.
3:30: Realize discotheque is comprised of 4-5 three story warehouses connected by balconies. Go to balcony with Mississippi Ben. Start conversation with Spanish guys about Morocco in French.
5:06: Leave discotheque. Arrive in time at hostel to help Jacob pay off his cab.
10:14: Get woken up by Esther. Realize that check out is at 10:30
10:32: Check out of hostel. Realize this now means I never got to go swimming
11:15: Leave bags in Felicity's room
12:20: Leave everyone napping at hostel. We agree to meet at Sagrada Familia (designed by Gaudi) at 2
12:23: Decide to go to Las Ramblas.
12:27: Arrive metro station. Realize I don't know where Las Ramblas is. Decide to take metro to station with the most amount of intersecting lines.
12:43: Leave Catalunya metro station. Notice large masses of tourists. Cross square with fountain and realize I have found Las Ramblas
12:44: Realize Las Ramblas is a solid traffic jam of tourists on foot.
1:00: Reach end of Las Ramblas. Walk along water. Still hungover
1:37: Realize I need to get to Sagrada Familia. Also realize I am now hungry
2:07: Get off at metro station for Sagrada Familia. Purchase ham flavored chips from vending machine.
2:08: Arrive Sagrada Familia (designed by Gaudi). Church is modern, crazy and awe-inspiring. Ham flavored chips amazing.
2:28: Still waiting for friends. Buy another bag of ham flavored chips
2:49: Still waiting for friends now concerned and angry. Watch angry French female tourist with her daughter drag a pickpocket out of the metro station and demand help from a security guard.
3:07: Realize that the clocks around me say it is 2:07
3:10: Meet friends. They tell me that time has moved back an hour.
2:20: Depart for Casa Battlo (Designed by Gaudi)
3:40: Arrive Casa Battlo. Very nice neighborhood. Mississippi Ben leaves o go meet friends at the Cathedral. Realize that the entrance fee for Casa Battlo is a staggering 16.50 Euros. Decide to get coffee. Jacob decides to go into Casa Battlo anyway
4:50: Meet with Jacob. Decide to go to Las Ramblas and find paella for dinner.
6:30: Eat dinner of paella. Extremely good.
7:00: Jacob departs to go see the Barca game. Esther and I are leaving in a few hours so we can't go
7:25: Get a gaufre (waffle) with gelato on it
8:15: Return to hostel to get our bags. I buy a chorizo along the way to take back to Morocco
9:00: Say our goodbyes and go to metro station to go back to airport.
10:30: Arrive airport. Check in.
10:45: Pass security. Esther's knife goes through fine.
11:30: Board flight.

12:55 (Moroccan time): Disembark flight. The doors into the airport from the gangway are locked. People bang on the window until security officers come to open it.
1:23: Pass through immigration. Receive another 90 day visa.
1:37: Pass through customs.
1:43: Exchange money. Train schedule confirms our belief that the next train is at 6.
5:30: Wake up on bench in the airport.
5:48: Board train back to Rabat
6:23: Switch train in Casablanca
7:30: Arrive back in Rabat. Eat a breakfast of leftover bread, nutella and nescafe.
8:30 Depart for class

Needless to say it was quite the weekend. In additional news my room now has curtains and I have purchased mobile internet.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Princes and Paupers

Last Friday the King opened parliament. Since my apartment is next to the train station (which is about a block away from parliament on the route between the royal palace and parliament) I naturally had to attend the festivities. I should mention that the city of Rabat has not been remiss in preparing for the big day. Crosswalks have been repainted, palm trees trimmed, new flags placed in the traffic circles and along buildings lining the grand boulevard of Mohammed V. In addition the police and army presence has been overwhelming. The parking lot outside my building was crammed full of anti-riot vehicles, and various military and law enforcement officers milled about in their freshly laundered and tailored dress uniforms. I met up with a few of my IES compatriots and we took up a position along the police barricades in front of the Hotel Balima. Men wandered through the crowd passing out small Moroccan flags made out of paper stapled to wood sticks as well as portraits of the King.

After a few minutes of milling around an honor guard of riflemen dressed in billowing white trousers, short white jackets and green fezes took up their position in front of parliament. There uniforms were, amazingly enough, not even close to the most spectacular costumes on display which ranged from traditional dress uniforms of green, gold and orange to military dress costumes of gray and black with white sleeves, belts and jackboots and of course the traditional white djellabas and red fezes. As the King pulled up in his motorcade all of the uniformed men came to attention and as he walked down the red carpet (which extended the length of the block) the honor guard presented arms and every officer turned and saluted. The captain of the honor guard bowed, sank to one knee and kissed the hand of the King and his brother, an act which was repeated by every dignitary. Meanwhile the crowd had erupted with all of us pushing and jostling to get a view of the King. It was quite an expereince both to see and to be in such an excited crowd.

This weekend I also had the good fortune to experience a true Moroccan souk. I went with some of my new found Moroccan friends, Aziz and Adam to Salé the city which is directly across the Bouregreg from Rabat. The easiest and cheapest way to get to Salé is to take a grande-taxi which involves cramming yourself into a Mercedes sedan with five other people (not counting the driver) and taking about a twenty minute scenic drive. The grande-taxi route between Rabat and Salé passes one of the major shantytowns which, my Moroccan friends assured me, is nto actually that dangerous. Although the houses are rickety and the alleys between them unpaved and filled with trash, every (and I mean every) household has a sattelite TV dish-a cheap form of escapism in our digital age.

The souk of Salé is held in in a large empty lot littered with trash picked over by the local cats, dogs and donkeys. In the center of this lot a variety of tarps, awning-tents and tables are laid out, strung up or cobbled together. It is on these tarps and tables that piles of clothes either rejected from European boutiques and department stores or purchased in bulk secondhand are piled, roughly sorted by type of clothing (men's jackets, women's jeans, t-shirts, shoes, etc.). The souk is essentially a large and well attended rummage sale, and (shifting our cell phones and wallets to our front pockets from our more easily picked back ones) we dove in; jostling for a good position to pick through the piles. Everything is cheap in the souk. Typical clothing prices are 8dh ($1) a t-shirt, 15dh for a pair of jeans or pants, 15-30dh for a jacket, sweater or pair of shoes and 50-60dh for a suit. Although much of what one finds at the souk is generally worth what you pay for it, half of the adventure is rummaging through and finding a good pair of designer jeans, a quality dress-shirt or an ironic t-shirt which is a true bargain. Combine this with the fact that tailors here are commonplace and cheap (3dh a shirt, 5dh for pants and about 20-30dh a suit) and I plan to be quite the well-dressed dandy for most of my time here.

Leaving the souk (which I should mention sells other goods than just clothing--I saw tarps and tables piled with everything from lightbulbs to teapots, blenders and stereos) we went to have lunch in the food market of Salé. This market was half permanent stalls and half shanty-stalls, with vegetables, fruit, fish, spices, grains and olives piled high. The pathways were narrow and mostly dirt, lined with trash and populated by beggars and roaming chickens. For lunch we had a salad of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and onions and then a main course of fish; grilled sardines, grilled ground fish with spices, deep-fried calamari and another larger grilled fish which I couldn't identify.

Both the souk and market (and Salé in general) provided a look into the other side of Morocco. Unlike Rabat which has a much more cosmopolitan feel and is clearly the center of power and government, Salé is much more laid back, with less bustle and plainer streets and buildings. Salé (or at least the parts I visited) also seemed to have less of a wealth disparity. Although there are clearly differences in wealth, people tend to shop in the same places, eat the same food, wear the same clothes and sit in the same cafés, something which is certainly not reflected in Rabat

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

God, Country, King

Dear blog followers:

As always my life has been quite busy since I last bared my soul to the nebuluous domains of cyberspace.

This past week I was fortunate enough to consume an improperly canned tin of sardines which caused me to break out into a set of hives large and extensive enough that my Rastafari Moroccan friend, Aziz, was extremely perturbed and insisted I visit a pharmacy. Upon arrival at the pharmacy, the hives which had now spread from my arms to my legs, back and stomach, were severe enough that the pharmacist informed that I would need to visit a hospital. After a fifteen minute IV administered by the able staff of the Clinique des Nations Unies I was fully recovered and had a newfound lack of available funds, a common side effect of quality medical care even in developing nations.

This weekend was also the IES-organized trip to the Sahara. Departing from Rabat we were treated to an exhuasting bus ride over increasingly winding and bumpy roads which crossed the Atlas mountains (stopping to view some monkies) and ending at a upscale tourist resort whose luxurious pool is apparently featured prominently in a number of Moroccan music videos (Lonely Planet-Morocco, "Xaluca," 2006) and was replete with all the necessities of a tourist trap-cum-resort trying to make it on the Orientalist circuit; Moroccan attendents swathed in robes, sedated camels being led around for pictures and pettings, "Berber" tents for poolside loungers to escape the ravages of the desert sun, wandering musicians banging drums as local women extravagently attired sensually gyrated their hips and, most essentially, hordes of middle aged european tourists wearing semi-casual and largely unflattering attire designed for comfortable and practical travel.

We, the only group of guests with an average age below forty, spent a most relaxing and enjoyable night in this opulent and extravagent oriental compound of wonders. And after enjoying a continental-style buffet breakfast departed to the town of Erfoud, a short and bumpy bus ride away. In Erfoud we all purchased the traditional blue scarves of the Saharawi (the people who live in the Sahara) in which to wrap our heads against the brutal sunlight and stinging sand. We also visited a number of small villages in the environs of Erfoud, stopping in each to pay a visit to the local school to combat adult and female illiteracy, become objects of fascination for the local children and eat dates right off of the trees (the area around Erfoud is famous for its dates).

Around four our trip moved into its second phase as we all donned our scarves and mounted long lines of camels to be led into the desert to our camp. Riding a camel is like riding one of those rides for children outside of a supermarket only it lasts for hours and the animal which you are riding is ten feet tall. Camels, unlike other animals such as dogs or even horses, don't seem to enjoy human attention and generally adopt a somewhat apathetic attitude characterized by periods of slight annoyment. Aside from that the camel ride was beautiful, exotic and enjoyable (magical!). Upon arrival at camp I and a few of my IES chums decided to climb the gigantic dune behind our campsite, which turned out to be much larger than we had thought and resulted in an exhausting hourlong climb. The view from the top was astounding as you realized the vastness of the desert as well as the uniform chaos of the dunes below you. With the moon rising over what we were informed was Algeria it made quite a sight.

The rest of our trip largely revolved around sitting in a bus on the way back to Rabat. I will add however that one of the most interesting subjects to be brought up on the trip was the motto of Morocco - Allah, WaDhan, Malik- God, Country, King. For those of you who are familiar with post-colonial identity politics it no doubt has already struck you that the two main unifying national symbols of Morocco are included in this motto; Islam and the Monarchy, both of which are said to transcend the numerous ethnic, linguistic and class differences of the country. It is also notable that these three words denote the "red lines" or issues which the Moroccan media is not allowed (by law) to dicuss or even mention in passing; Islam, the Western Sahara and the Monarchy. This motto is cut, painted or burned into numerous hillsides, rocks and roadside barriers all along Morocco's highways. Symbols of unity -real or invented - which show not only a historical legacy of les colonisés but also a desire for stability and a rejection of the divisive ethno-politics which have plagued Morocco's Maghribi and Sub-Saharan neighbors.

As a final note, my appartment now has hot water, desks, a stove and kitchen utensils. Inchallah, by the end of the week we will have a refrigerator, a portrait of the King and wireless internet.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Settling In

I and my fellow IES Abroad-Rabat compatriots have been here in Rabat for about ten days now. Last Monday was the celebration of Eid al-Fitr (also known as Eid as-Saghrir) here in Morocco. Unlike other muslim countries Morocco still relies on sightings of the moon certified by religious scholars to determine the start and end of Ramadan. Therefore, unlike much of the rest of the muslim world which celebrated Eid on Sunday, Morocco chose to celebrate on Monday, meaning that both Monday and Tuesday were declared a religious holiday.

Eid al-Fitr is rather lackluster from an outsider's point of view. Moroccans use the occasion to return to a normal eating schedule, smoke their first daytime cigarettes in a month and visit family and friends. This meant that the city was mostly deserted as most Moroccans were using their day off to sleep in or visit with family. While this sounds disappointing, I have been assured that Eid al-Kabir (the big festival), which happens around the beginning of November, will be much more lively with more public celebrations and the sacrifice of a number of animals.

In other news, my roommate Jake and I finally received the keys to our apartment which is located on the fourth floor of an colonial art deco building behind the train station complete with a 1940's elevator with the manually opened and closed door. Our apartment itself is roomy with marble flooring and tiling, a western-style bathroom, kitchen, ample closte space and windows which come so low that they would be a lawsuit waiting to happen back in the US of A. As of yesterday we had electricity and running water as well as one and a half beds (Kitea, Morocco's answer to Ikea, forgot to deliver the necessary parts). However we have been assured that in time we will be fully equipped with hot water, a couch, a refrigerator, a stove, fully assembled beds and, inchallah, wireless internet. Stay tuned for further updates as well as epic sagas of interior decorating.

On a final note: it is now officially "post-adan" which means that, you guessed it, bars and liquor stores have finally reopened. Marjane, Morocco's answer to Walmart, has finally raised the metal gate which separated and hid its stacks of alcohol from the devout and fasting eyes of Moroccans. Alcohol tends to be fairly expensive relative to other foodstuffs here, although I have found the local "Moghrabi" red (made at Morocco's own Celliers De Meknes) to be a fairly delectable and affordable at around 25 dh ($3) a bottle.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Weekend of Firsts

It's been quite an experiential weekend here in Fes.

My homestay roommate and I got to experience a traditional Moroccan hammam or bath. Conveniently located almost directly below our host family's apartment, and for the low price of 37 dirhams apiece we were promised a cleansing, relaxing and rejuvenating experience. This hammam, the hammam ziat, was probably built a few hundred years ago and certainly looked it. Descending the narrow winding stairs, we entered a changing room lit by dim flourescent lights where we stripped down to our underwear, before entering the bathing room. Sitting on an ancient tile floor we were handed bucket after bucket of steaming hot water with which to rinse ourselves. This lasted only a few minutes after which the hammam attendant motioned for us to lie on the floor for a rub down with a mysterious brown grease. This was followed by an extensive "massage" session in which I was less massaged and more twisted, streched and realigned by our faithful attendant. Having had every joint in my body prodded, pulled and popped, our attendant proceeded to the next stage which entailed vigourously rubbing every surface of my body with what felt like sandpaper. It's difficult to describe what goes through your mind lying next to naked on a dirty tile floor in a dim, subterranean, steaming hot room while a strange man speaking a foreign language literally scrapes off the top layer of your skin. All in all the hammam did actually deliver, I left feeling cleansed, rejuvenated, lightheaded from the heat and richer for the experience.

Another personal first for me has been fasting for Ramadan. I got up at 3:30 this morning to join my host family for iftar, the pre-sunrise dinner, which consisted of homemade yogurt, a soft cheese, jam, nutella, eggs and bread. So far fasting has gone well although it has made concentrating in class a tad bit harder.

The final first of this post gets a little grittier so those of you with daintier constitutions may want to skim over this last portion. I have had my first encounter with foreign gastrointestinal parasites and the experience has not been beneficial. There is something deep and poignant about the moment when look down into the hole you are squatting over and notice that, yes, indeed, you are defecating your own blood. Perhaps it is the full realization of your own individual humanity, or a reminder of your own physicality. Anyway, stay posted for other details of my bowel activity.

In case anyone had forgotten today also happens to be the end of my teenage years. It is my birthday and perhaps there was a larger meaning in the fact that I ended my second decade of existence evacuating my own essence. I, for one plan to ruminate on such while continuing my daylong fast.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I'm sitting the courtyard of a villa in the ville nouvelle of Fes. As part of our orientation we're taking classes in derija or Moroccan Colloquial Arabic at the Arabic Language Institute of Fes (ALIF) which is housed in a converted villa. Alif is a 10-15 minute taxi ride away from our homestay which is in the Medina of Fes.

The Medina of Fes is an amazing place. It's right out of the middle ages with winding streets, high buildings and arched Moorish doorways. Since its Ramadan, the Medina is fairly sleepy throughout the day, empty during the breaking of the fast (around 6:30) and then comes alive from around 8:30 until midnight. The Medina contains more than 200 mosques, medersas (schools), fountains and hammams (traditional baths.) The large number of Mosques in the Medina adds a particular flavor to Ramadan. One cannot ignore or mistake the setting of the sun each evening, as the call to prayer (which signals the ftour or fast-breaking) is blasted from every minaret of the Medina and often accompanied by fireworks, whistles bells and general noisemaking.

The Medina is the spiritual and historical heart of the city as well as a major center for commerce. Walking down the winding cobbled streets of the Medina is not a spectator sport; the flows of people going about their business are like a stream in which your every step and movement is taken with a heightened awareness of your surroundings. This experience is only heightened by the high walls of the buildings along the streets which can widen and and narrow at a moments notice. On top of this the streets are lined with stalls crammed full of everything ranging from traditional rugs, djellabas, teapots and souvenirs to Gucci knock-offs, Qurans and foods of every sort and description. Every turn brings new sights sounds and, above all, smells.

As you may imagine, life in the Medina is an experience unto itself. During Ramadan, the busiest hours of the day are from 8:30 to midnight, but since many Moroccans choose to stay up all night for the iftar the "dinner" which occurs before sunrise during Ramadan, you will often hear shout yells, singing and music until early in the morning. It is not uncommon for us to hear children playing, cats fighting or motorcycles roaring past as we are going to bed. Although this may sound unpleasant, one need only wait a few minutes after which the noise blends into the background and simply becomes part of life in the Medina during Ramadan.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Early Days

Well folks, I'm in Morocco.

After a long day of flying from BWI to Madrid and then Casablanca I have arrived. From there my fellow IES participants and I took a bus to our hotel in Rabat, located on the wide, well-populated and scenic Rue Mohammed V. After shopping around for cell phones and operating ATM's we were treated to a walking tour of Rabat as well as a visit to the local Marjane, Morocco's answer to Wal-Mart. Because of Ramadan, many of the local markets, restaurants and shops are closed so for the next month Marjane may be a constant stop. We had a picnic dinner on the river boardwalk of Rabat, conveniently as the rest of the city was breaking their fast, with fireworks ululations and the call to prayer. The past few days we have been visiting local sights in Rabat, such as the ornate and gigantic mausoleum of Kings Mohammed V and Hassan II, as well as being introduced to the local culture with an opulent couscous lunch at a host family's house in the Medina or old city. (A little awkward as none of them could eat.)

We are now in Fes, resting up in a hotel before we join our host families tomorrow. Again, because of Ramadan, the daily schedule of the entire country has changed. In the cities, people go to work around 9 or 10 in the morning, and leave around 3. Shops close around 4 and people return home to nap before breaking the fast at sundown around 7. At around 8:30 all of the shops, cafes and restaurants reopen and entire families come out to sit, walk, eat, shop and socialize until around midnight. After a short sleep many people reawaken about 4 am and eat a large meal before sunrise, which holds them through the day. As such, must of the life of the city occurs between 8:30 and midnight, and is the best time to sit in a cafe and enjoy a sugary mint tea.

Unfortunately, I have misplaced the cord which connects my camera to my computer so I cannot share pictures right now. Look for those as well as more posts (once I find reliable internet) in the next few days.

Until then,

Toshiro Baum