Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The African Berber Drum Diaspora in Latin America

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In putting together this video together I thought of the Diaspora of African Berbers in Latin America as a result of the Inquisition in Iberia. I know from reading the Inquisition records in Mexico that many Muslims, Jews, and Africans were burned for heresy and failing to convert to Catholicism. But, besides their religion many brought with them their music, food, culture, and language. ( On my next post I will discuss my mother's Jewish heritage and her knowledge of Ladino/Judezmo). So, in this video I am connecting my knowledge of Latin America to Africa to built and make connections that have been missed and forgotten because of our forged Spanish Identity/History. In reality, the Americas continues to be a place of great diversity and infusion of cultures, music, food, and language.

The Knitting Ryad!

video

As we wandered through the Medina in Fez, we came to this very short and narrow doorway that led us into an Old Jewish home that was now a Knitting Ryad. We could here the sound of wood clamping as the men used their feet to knit. This was a cooperative of men knitting silk on old knitting machines, watch as they used both their feet and hands to create a wonderful piece of art. We were all very impress with the work and colors that many of us bought bed sheets and scarfs for our loved ones.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Moroccan Macarena

Tuesday, July 14th
Recently, as I was winding down from a demanding day, I sat in the student lounge at the university. The television set was on. As I was sipping my evening tea, I followed the program. Suddenly, my eyes opened wide, as I saw three animated telephone calling cards dancing the Macarena. Did I just see this? Yes, a funny commercial was enticing new customers to try this digital product that would allow them to get in touch globally. But I couldn't prevent the rising corners of my mouth from forming a big smile, and then, an amused laugh escaped! Why the Macarena? Why not some hot belly-dancing? Was this another sign of globalization? Sure enough, the traditional Arabic news broadcast followed on Aljazeerha. The G8 summit was being covered, President Obama made the news, and so on.....but the Moroccan Macarena was definitely my favorite! Well done, marketing crew, you got me exactly were you want me.....thinking about my global access!

Anta Arrajul, One Man Band

“Anta Arrajul, One Man Band”

We stopped for lunch on the way back to Ifrane from Merzougha. Everyone was wasted from the intense desert heat and Azeb and Younnes’ brutal-yet-rewarding schedule. On the way in, a wiry older man with limited dentals greeted me heartily. Later, we sat down to eat Moroccan salad, trout, and a fruit salad for dessert. Before we received our meals, this same man sat down and began to play a raw instrument that was one part guitar, one part drum, and one part cymbals.

He began playing a blues-like riff and entranced the entire dining area. Some of us began nodding our heads as he kept the beat and twirled a ribbon about his red fez. Apparently his family was originally from the Sudan, but he was born in Morocco. As he continued to play, folks gathered around him. A woman sat down and another person took her photo. As she got up, he waved me over. I sat down next to him and he began to sing a song of welcome. (See Jelani’s video.) He sang in an earthy voice that filled the room. Mahraban! More people came into the area from other dining rooms. He never missed a beat, making eye contact, smiling, breaking contact and continuing to play his song.

He gestured a sincere thank you and goodbye (literally, ‘I surrender to you’, according to Younnes) as we departed reluctantly. We are already several kilometers away and his voice is still haunting my thoughts. I will not forget this gentleman for many moons. Thank you, One Man Band. You Are The Man.

Laundry Daze

“Laundry Daze”

Day 1
We touched down in the mythical city of Casablanca and were slightly lethargic. We got our second or third wind, worked our way down to baggage claim, and waited. And waited. And waited. The conveyor belt stopped. A couple of people looked confused. A woman began yelling at a baggage handler, gesturing furiously and becoming increasingly agitated. I thought to myself, “Is she going to get her luggage faster if she makes a scene?” Or, would the handler do what I might have done in the same situation: forward her baggage to Siberia. A couple of Dutch girls complained to the airline representative and located their bags. I remained calm, thinking we would share the same fate. A Senegalese man and woman sat next to me as we all filled out the same paperwork. File number this, case number that, phone call to customer service. Our luggage had not made the connection, but the rep assured us that we would have our bags on the next evening’s flight.

Day 2
We began to improvise, washing clothes in sinks with hotel shampoo and air drying them at night. I was relieved that I had worn two shirts that first day, and luckily, I had a third Talib Kweli shirt wrapped around my camcorder. I am sure that some of us went ‘commando’ style if the drying process did not match our timing.

Days passed like this. We learned some Moroccan history and began studying Arabic. Every day the airline told us that our luggage would arrive late that night. Every day we waited. No luggage arrived. We began to joke about our hygiene, since although we could shower; we had limited options for clothes, if any.

Day 4
I had had enough. My pants woke up before I did the night before and walked around campus. I decided to wash my pants in the sink with some shampoo and let them air dry before Arabic class (and breakfast) at 9:00 A.M. The heat would dry them out in no time at all, I surmised.

About an hour after I had finished scrubbing and rinsing, I hung the pants out the window. I had seen other students do similarly on campus. Moments later, I heard an odd sound. Thunder! Lightning flashed in the distance. Next thing you know, rain was falling in sheets. So much for the air-dry idea.

Day 5
That morning, I woke up early to find the laundry room. Wafah, our campus guide, mentioned that it was in the basement of building 38, where we first checked in on Day 1. The only problem was that I had to shower and change… but I had no change of clothes. I put on my boxers and tied the bath towel around my waist as tightly as possible. I walked speedily toward the building, which was past the girls’ dorm and up a hill. A couple of girls looked at me strangely on their way to class. Others giggled. Then a security guard appeared behind me and started talking on his radio. He began following me closer as I picked up the pace. I made it to the laundry room, only to find that it didn’t open until 8:30A.M. By this time it was 7:45A.M. I walked back toward my dorm and noticed that the building next door to mine (#36) also had a laundry room. It was open! Apparently there were two laundry rooms: one was self-serve for seven durhams and the fluff-and-fold service was ten durhams.

I made my way down the steps gingerly and knocked on the door. The laundry woman answered trepidly. She asked if I spoke French, to which I answered mais non. We then spoke the three words of Arabic that I remembered: Anna ismi Maceo—or is that two words? She called her supervisor (who spoke English) and relayed the story to her in French. Then she handed me the phone. The voice on the line told me that I had to go to the AIU business office to buy tickets. I showed the laundry lady some coins that amounted to the cost of running the dryer. She took the phone from me and spoke in French for some time. She handed the phone back to me again. We went back and forth like this until finally, I could take no more.

I took a deep breath, spoke into the phone and explained in a calm yet firm manner: “Madam, maybe you are not aware of this, but I am standing here in a towel. There is no way I am going to walk down to the business office dressed like this. You just told me that the office opens at 8:30A.M. I have Arabic class at 9 A.M. Let’s solve this problem without me getting arrested for indecent exposure.”

She asked me to return the phone to the laundry woman. By this time, a security guard walked in named Nassir. He looked me up and down and then asked where I was from. I said “America” as the laundry lady handed the phone back to me one more time. (I hoped that Nassir was not her husband… I began to envision a series of sensational headlines from the next issue of the campus newsletter.) This time, however, the voice said that I had to promise to bring the laundry ticket back after my Arabic class.

I gladly agreed and hung up. During the time I was waiting for the dryer, Nassir and the laundry lady took turns teaching me Arabic and correcting my pronunciation. By 8:50AM, I was strutting down the walkway through the center of campus with a new attitude like Patti La Belle. Yeah, I washed the pants with shampoo, but I was april-fresh and my clothes were dry. I delivered the ticket after class, as promised, and we received our lost luggage that afternoon. Success!

GPA 1st Look

“UCLA Fulbright GPA: First Look”

Today was the day. The Fulbright Group Program Abroad to Morocco became a reality. Fifteen of us—thirteen teachers and two administrator guides-- gathered at UCLA’s Guest House, said our goodbyes, and headed to LAX at ‘noonish’, eager to depart and perhaps a bit apprehensive about our journey. To complicate matters, our direct flight to Amsterdam (KLM/Northwest) was delayed an hour, and concern grew that we would miss our connecting flight on Royal Moroccan Air. I sat next to an African woman and her daughter, but didn’t say much to them. I tried to sleep with limited success; the cabin was cold and leg room was a rare commodity. When we landed in Amsterdam, we rushed through security with some VIP assistance, and barely made our connection.

We stayed at a nice hotel in Casablanca the first night. My roommate, Jelani, and I ventured out to the local watering hole: a seedy looking joint with a neon “Night Club” sign flashing overhead. A gentleman looked us over once or twice, then buzzed us in. We walked down the stairs to a mostly deserted scene. The lighting and décor reminded me of a bad Vietnam-era movie, and the only thing missing was the Elvis impersonator on stage. After two whiskeys, we called it a night.

The next day, we drove in a bus toward the town of Ifrane, a mountain resort town where Al-Akhawayn International University (AUI) is located. I sat in the front seat opposite Jen from San Diego, who surprised me with her knowledge of Kweli, Goodie Mob and such. Taking photos and video at every opportunity, we saw slums, speed traps, half-completed structures, modern buildings, shepherds herding sheep, and vast farms of onions, corn, olive groves, among other things. Almost every residence had a satellite dish on the roof, often multiple dishes. I suppose some things are universal.

As we approached Ifrane, we learned that it was an old French military outpost which turned into a ski resort town. Apparently, during their Moroccan occupation from 1912-1956, the French could not withstand the extreme heat of the low-lying cities and compensated by utilizing the mountain retreat (oh, did I say ‘French’ and (the national motto) ‘retreat’ in the same sentence? Sacré bleu!). Many of the buildings resembled Swiss chalets. Police and military personnel lined the immaculately clean streets. The King of Morocco, Hassan II, established this private university for the national elite as well as international students. Even West Point and other military institutions send their Arabic trainees in large numbers to this campus.

We met Wafah, an amiable graduate student, who assisted us with our transition to AIU. We took a bus into town and negotiated cell phones and plans for the group: 240 durhams or so, or $30. I am glad I left my iPhone at home. We attracted a lot of attention walking around and everyone wanted to go in different directions to shop and explore. We stayed together for the most part, although we got separated from Manny and Jen. A local artisan named Aziz invited David and the rest of us to visit his studio.

We navigated through a narrow maze of alleys and corridors until we made a left under a blue tapestry. Inside, many artifacts, antiques, weapons, cushions, and a large loom awaited us. His wife and another woman were there as well. They made us mint tea and showed off their wares. We went back to campus feeling (although not smelling) refreshed.

Environmental paradox

Tuesday, July 14th
For the past weeks, as we traveled across Morocco, I have looked through a critical lens at environmental issues. Is this country progressive? Are Moroccans aware of their actions and the consequences of increased consumerism? What lies ahead for the children of Morocco?

My first impression was one of surprising road-side cleanliness, very little littering .....until, I discovered the plumes of smoke. Increasingly, they rose into the sky, like old-fashioned smoke signals..... a landscape filled with pungent smells of burning trash! I noticed that parts of the rural areas were virgin, untouched by any sign of consumerism....no plastic bags....no soda cans or plastic bottles, not even little bits of used paper in the landscape.

The road to the desert was different, however. When coming closer to Boulmane du Dades and Ouarzazate, there was more trash littering the arid land. "The wind" - I thought - "it must be the desert wind" that carries trash merciless into the desert landscape! Then, suddenly at the side of the road a picture of some rodent and a lot of Arabic writing. My frustration level rose, as I wanted to be able to read the sign, but could not! Did we just pass a sign that was announcing the protection of some endangered creature? I honestly do not know. But, I asked myself how far environmental stewardship has progressed in this beautiful country. The answer came to me in dual fashion:

First, I remembered our visit to the small elementary school near Essaouria. There, the principal had shown to us with great pride, the environmental program of his students. I was impressed, and even our guide had a tear in his eye, when he noticed the tremendous dedication at the local educational level;

Second, my visit to the Cedar forest near Azrou, evoked a feeling of catastrophic alarm. The Barbary Macaque, an indigenous monkey of the cedar forest, was being "protected". When I asked a local inhabitant about the location of the refuge for the monkeys, she said that she was unaware of their "endangered species status" in Morocco.

The floor of the cedar forest was littered with plastic bags, and merchants were readily selling peanuts to attract the monkeys.....I admit, I was guilty too, - purchasing the peanuts, so that I could take a few photo shots for my science class. What bothered me the most were that the horses for tourist rides, were galloping through the cedar forest amongst the endangered species. Their constant movement through the forest were destroying the fragile forest floor, - the very ground for future cedar growth - and the survival of the Barbary Macaque. The sign at the edge of the forest attested to the efforts being made by the Moroccan ministry and some benevolent French organizations. But is it enough?

Finally, my young "friend", and driver
, Hicham, drove me back to campus in a gas-guzzling, antiquated Mercedes Benz. To think, that I actually paid a few dirhams, polluting the fragile habitat! He explained the difficulty of deforestation for the local inhabitants, the increasingly cold winters due to climate changes, and the high prices for heating fuels/gas. His suggestion was a simple one......subsidize the price of liquid gas or propane for the local population during the winter months, thereby encouraging the reduction of use of firewood!

Wow, I thought for a minute, - my driver has an environmental approach that warrants exploring!
And who am I ? - ....looking through this critical lens at Moroccan environmental issues,.....when we ourselves, have a lot of educating to do in the U.S. After all, my eighth grade students were the ones educating their parents about e-waste recycling and its environmental impact.

Maybe therein lies the answer, and the future for both, Morocco and the US: ....it's our students, our young people, the very ones whose future and lives will be most affected by pollution and consumerism. They are the ones who are taking the lead, - here, in an elementary school near Essaouria, and far away in a small city near Los Angeles!


Friday, July 10, 2009

Week 3??? Already?


We need to get David his own blog or personal youtube account... or better yet, both.  
I just wanted to share my personal blog because there are too many to post on here.  

www.caseyqrt.blogspot.com 

But, here is an interesting one that I posted today, just for fun.

Mousharabia


Mousharabia is the Arabic word for the screens that adorn middle and upper class houses and other historic buildings in the old medinas and kasbahs.  They refer mostly to the intricately carved screens that women sit behind in order to see what is going on below them without actually being seen.  This architectural innovation comes from the Arab customs of gender segregation and the custom that women should not be seen unveiled by men outside their immediate family.  Even then, they were required to express some modesty, covering their hair and most of their bodies.  (This was especially common for upper class women.)  
Although today women are more integrated into society, they are still expected to exercise modesty, piety, humility and correct sexual behavior- which requires them to stay out of spaces reserved for men in order to maintain their family's reputation.  Many women opt for more conservative dress because they wish to ward off unwanted male attention, others choose to because they want to show their modesty, which holds significant value in Morocco when it comes to a woman's role in society.  
Mousharabia are not widely used today to conceal women from the outside world, thus relegating to them to private spaces.  Instead, they are artistic and architectural masterpieces of a time where women were forbidden from having active participation in public spaces.  While they are beautiful in their individual designs, they serve as important reminders of the position of women in the classical Arab world.  Here are some photos that depict some beautiful Mousharabia that I have had the opportunity to photograph during my stay here.









Jamal Funk

The Jamal (Camel) has been for centuries the number one source of transportation throughout the Sahara. Today, many nomads still ride the Jamal through the Sahara and wander to distant lands to discover the beauty of life and freedom.As a matter of fact, some Berber families still move around the Sahara, however, now with the militarization of the borders between Algeria and Morocco it has become very difficult to travel.

video

A Cultural Musical Exchange

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It was a full moon night, as we listened and shared our musical cultures. It was a soulful night in Africa. This video was filmed by Zaid and Mohamed.Many thanks to the Gnawa Group: Zaid, Said, Aziz, Abdellah, Bilole, and Mohamed. Also. too the Queen of Micheal Jackson Miss Shondale.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Endangered

Today we visited the Cedar Forest in Ifrane. We were told it was the home to the last of the indigenous monkeys of Morocco and the oldest tree in Africa, a cedar. It only took 20 senic minutes to get there. Much to our surprise, the "oldest tree in Africa" was dead. A bleached, leafless shell, covered in spray paint. We were instructed to buy some peanuts and headed for the monkeys. Many had said they only came out in the morning but we came across 10 or 12 right away. They seemed sweet and docile at first, but then they started chasing each other off and following us around for food. One even grabbed Beate by the pants to get more food. There environment, this Cedar Forest, was strewn with garbage and very poorly cared for. I have grave concerns about the future of the trees and the monkeys if steps are not taken to preserve this site. This brings me to a thought I have had many times on this trip...why don't the people of this beautiful place do more to try and save it for their children? As a historian and nature lover it causes me to raise another question...what can I do?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Camel Ride




One of the highlights we all had prior to arriving in Morocco was to visit the Sahara and ride a camel. We knew we were going to have a great time but yesterday as we rode the camels through the dunes, I could not articulate what I felt. It was such a surreal experience. Before we actually got on our camels, we were greeted at the Ciel Bleu Lodge by some Ghanoan musicians playing and singing an awesome song. It was an amazing feeling to walk into this place through the greeting party listening to the fantastic music while receiving a hot glass of mint tea. (The tea was got, the outside temperature was even hotter.) There were incents burning which gave the lobby a spiritual atmosphere.
By the time we arrived, we were exhausted. We had been travelling for about 8 hours. The desert heat reminded us that we were not in control here. I felt as if I was in Bakersfield. It was easily over 110 degrees. When the music stopped, we were honorably welcomed then we were escorted to our tents. Tents in the middle of the desert! I have camped before but this was new to me. I was trying to figure out how I was going to sleep since the heat did not let up. I quickly set my belonging aside and practically ran over to where the camels were. I was like a young boy eager to ride the marry-go-round. I was gestured to approach a camel. I had a smile on my face that could not be wiped off. I had seen camels on this trip before but now I was on one.
One by one my peers were assisted onto their camels. There was laughter and other interesting noises that came from both person and animal. But I think my colleagues would agree that we were in entralled. Thus began our trek to the top dune to await the sunset. All along the way there were countless flashes and videoing. We went up and down dunes trying to figure out our camels as they moaned, pooped, peed, and drooled. There was the occasional scream as the camels went downhill. When told to get off, my camel had better hydraulics than the low riders back home. It was a smooth descend.
We were led to the top of the dune to prepare for the sunset. It was very cool up there. Within minutes the spectacle was over and it was time to head back to the camp. But, not before I could absorb the ambiance. The ride back was full of laughter and people recounting what they felt. This experience was worth it. The rest of the evening was full of music, great food, dance, bonding, and a time to absorb our surrounding. There was a full moon which made the mood very romantic. I hope to share this experience in the future with my family. At long last, it was time to sleep in the tents. Although it was not as comfortable due the heat, I slept like a baby. And from the comments that I heard today, it sounds like I was out. Apparently my snores kept one or two people up. I am just grateful that I got to live a dream.

I kissed Obama!!!!!

Seriously, I did!!! It happened when we were in Marrakech.  Call all the tabloids, there will be a scandal I assure you! If only because I really, really wanted to take him home with me... Scroll down for the pictures.














Meet Obama:

Aborable, no? He is the unofficial mascot of SPANA. He is about 4 - 5 weeks old. He is named, of course after our president, and the fact that he is the symbol of the Democratic party. His mother died of pneumonia. :-( So, he will stay at SPANA to help educate the local kids.

SPANA is a wonderful, wonderful organization. They educate animal owners and local school children about how to properly take care of animals. Sad, but true that it needs to be taught... It has been the highlight of my trip so far. 

Not only do they take care of equids, but also dogs and cats. 

Their services are strictly for those who cannot afford care for their animals. They also take care of injured strays (dogs and cats), who are then available for adoption. They have a free spay/neuter program, of which all the potential adoptees take part (though I can imagine some take part not so willingly!)!  And there are a few storks running around the grounds who were injured and can no longer take care of themselves in the wild.

Here's Obama making sure I am filling out the donation form properly. He's so stinking cute!


Rooftop

We spent the night in Merzouga last night. Merzouga is a remote town in the Sahara (close to the Algerian border). The heat and dryness there is like nothing I've experienced before. Last night, unable to sleep, I went up to the roof. There are no photos to do justice to the beauty of that night, so I wrote a poem (a first for me) about it.


A steady hot breeze spread a thousand brief kisses

across exposed skin.

The earth parted her clouds to reveal a full moon

too bright for fragile night eyes.


Shy stars shrunk back

embarrassed by their inadequacies.

And night pulled away his dark blanket.


The moon stood proud and bright

bragging to his mother earth.

As he drew closer to her,

the heat of his body calmed the wind.


He was grateful for the life she gave him.

He remembered when they were one-

before his birth

And shuttered at the memory of the impact that eternally separated them.


The moon paused in the sky

and yearned to be close to her

And back inside of her

Back home


...but then continued on his inevitable journey.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Our Berber Hippie Guide

We went to Dades Gorge on a expedition through family farms to understand the basic stable crops such as corn, yerba buena (speriment), cilantro, olive trees, cauliflower, alfalfa (for the animals), thyme, fig trees, tomatoes, peaches, and rose bushes to make rose water and cologne. The water that irrigates these farms comes from the mountains and the farmers do not pay any fees. Our guide was a Berber Hippie named Mohamed who was a nomad until he discovered that being a tour guide through the family farms would offered him a stable income to live close to the mountains and along the river. I really enjoyed his sense of humor and child like spirit, especially when I asked him to sing Berber songs. I would also like to mention that many of these farmers have family in France who like our Mexican immigrants in the United States have immigrated to France in search of opportunities to assist their families in the Dades Gorge.

video

Sunday, July 5, 2009

La Barca, Morocco?







Yesterday right outside of Quarzazat we stopped to eat at a restaurant called Labaraka. This interested me because my wife’s family comes from a city in Jalisco called, La Barca. In looking at the two names, I am convinced that La Barca, Jalisco derives from Labaraka. Labaraka in Arabic means benedictions. I am sure the people of La Barca, Jalisco would not have a problem with such a positive meaning.

It is interesting to note that many people in La Barca, Jaliso pride themselves in cooking birria, a specialty goat dish. Here in Morocco, the people have perfected lamb and goat tagines, which are very tasty as well . As of yet, I can’t decide which I enjoy more. My wife’s family owns a restaurant chain in Los Angeles. I am going to try and get them a large sign with the Arabic name and spelling of Labaraka.

Along these lines, I am learning that other Mexican cities have names that have Arabic origins. He have Valladolid, Guadalajara, and Salamanca among others. Guadalajara, for example, means rock in the river. Salamanca means peace to the Anka family. As my list grows, I will have more things to share with my students.

There also many Spanish surnames that have Arabic roots like Medina, Garcia, Guzman, Gomez and Torres. There are a lot more just like many words such as alcohol, algebra, algodon, and most of the words that start with “al”, which means ‘the’. Why wasn’t I aware of so much of this information?

Today while the group took a hike along the Dades Gorge, I got a kick out of walking past pomegranate trees, fig trees, almond trees, cilantro patches, yerba buena fields, peach tress, tomato gardens and donkeys carrying firewood. It was as if I was walking along a river in Guanajuato or Michoacán where young kids frolic in the water. It was beautiful. It is amazing how much of my heritage is connected to Morocco. The longer I stay in Morocco, the better understanding I have of my identity. For too long I have been ignorant of my African roots. It feels great to know of all the great cultures that have fused together to create me: the Mexican.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Koranic School

video

After our long journey across the Atlas Mountains we arrived at Quarzazate, known to the Berbers as Warzazat (the door to the desert). The next morning we got up early to tour the Kasbah of Toaurirt, and the local village. As we made our way through the village we heard these young students reciting a prayer, as we passed by the doorway they waved at us. Our tour guide called us toward the doorway, as we approached the doorway we saw some of them writing on the tablets, and others erasing their tablet and starting over.

As I looked up I noticed that we were in front of a Mosque, and to the right was this Koranic school. In this courtyard were a group of very young students reciting the Sura 4: An Nisa (The women) verses 1-18 of the Koran. It was a Koranic school that traditionally teaches the Koran, Islam, and the Arabic Language. These students have to master each Sura before they can move on the next Sura. In medieval times it was common to have Koranic schools attached to Mosques, they were known as A Madrassa or referred to as Medersas. I was impressed with the cooperative learning among the students and motivation to learn Arabic and the Koran. (Sorry but my connection is weak and battery about to give up).

The Gift of Giving

When we went to the little school outside of it was a wonderful experience. The staff was so personable and willing to connect with us. I honestly think they were as curious about us as we were about them. As we were exiting the school they had put together a wonderful display of tarts and that wonderful mint tea. It was elegantly served in the traditional manner. No detail was spared. When I entered the room I felt it was important to reciprocate their welcoming gesture by greeting them in my broken arabic. "Ana ismee Sylvia, wa anti?" I am Sylvia, and you? "Tacharafna." Nice to meet you. Well, when I got to the last person at the table, I was feeling a little more comfortable and thought I'd give a complement to engage her in a conversation. I pointed to the broche on Soura's scarf and said "Jamela!" I thought maybe she'd say thank you for telling her it was beautiful. She immediately reached for the broche and gave it to me. I said no thank you. She insisted and began to try to pin it on me. We went back and forth a few times. Maceo and Unice told me that if I did not accept it she would be offended, although it took everything in me to accept it, I did.

To be quite honest I was embarrassed. This was such a selfless gesture on Soura's part, but how could I take it. I struggled with this all day.

Then the next day, we went toward the Atlas mountains. It was quite a trek. After a few hours on the mountainous trail the but broke down due to overheating. Some of us stayed on the bus, the others went to venture outside. I of course took my camera to take a picture of the Marrakech sign that was also in arabic for my kids. The tour guide went to a nearby house, knocked on the door, and asked the Berber family if we could stay awhile with them to escape the heat until the bus was up and running. They accepted.

We look liked the "Seven Dwarfs" from "Snow white" all of us walking to the house in a line. Upon entering the property one is confronted with a rural Berber house. They had a donkey in the front yard. As you walk along the pathway, it leads you to a courtyard and to the right was a door. Everyone began to take off their shoes, so I did too. Inside there were only rugs on the floor and pillows for us to sit on. A few minutes later the Berber woman was serving that glorious tea that was the best I had ever had. She smiled and tried to talk to us. With gestures, smiles, and some word we were able to get some ideas across. She showed us how she made fresh bread in her wood burning stove. She also also asked very sweetly as she grabbed my chin, "Berber?" I told her La, no I am not Berber. About 20-30 min later she offered us rabbit and fresh baked bread. We refused at first, but when she started to make that sad face, we immediately changed our minds and stayed. "Score!" It was delicious! When we left, she hugged us and gave us kisses, I got four on each cheek and a big hug.

As I was leaving, I was again struck by her extreme generousity. I wanted to give her something, but What? I was walking back to the bus with my head low. Aahhh, I told Sherry, I forgot something, I'll be right back. I ran back to the house and I handed Jamela, the daughter one of my blue bracletes, and I did the same with the Berber Mom. I kept one for myself.

Now it all makes sense, when I gave that bracelette it was like giving a gift to myself. Every time I look at Soura's brooche or my lonely blue bracelet I remember them. Just like Soura said when she gave me the brooche, to remember.

Sylvia Bell

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Broken Bus














When the bus broke down, I was melting in the heat until we met our new friends.

Now, you might think a bus break down in the sweltering desert heat of the high Atlas Mountains might lead to a series of unfortunate events. It began to feel that way to me at first. But, things worked out through the gracious hospitality of a Berber family who didn’t live far away. The father walked up the hill to meet us and invited us into his home. We received a tour and met his family. His wife was very hospitable and sat us quickly in their family’s living area. This Berber family was wonderful and we were served traditional tea which tasted much better the restaurants we have visited. This secret ingredient we found out later was a pinch of thyme. While we enjoyed our tea, the wife began to cook us a meal over her open wood indoor stove we had observed during our tour. As we were talking outside, the wife appeared quickly with a table and a few low stools. Then, immediately followed with a platter of rabbit with onions along with flat bread she baked for us. Soon after, our bus had been repaired and we were summoned to return. But, not before we shared kisses and friendly Moroccan goodbyes to this family.

Goats In a Tree - Dr. Seuss for Teachers











Rows and Rows of Argon Trees



Quick! Think of a Conundrum



What Could it Be?



Several Goats Standing in a Tree!

The Little School Outside of Essaouria


The bus came to a sudden stop. I was in the middle of reviewing the Arabic numbers from 1 to 10 when I noticed that Beate and Yunes, our guide, got off the bus and walked over to a small school on the side of the road. According to our agenda, there was no mention of this stop. I thought Beate wanted a picture of the school and the school kids playing in the courtyard. So, I waited for about two minutes before I got off the bus to see what the plan was. I knew something was up since it normally does not take that long to take a picture.

Upon rounding the corner as I entered the school. I saw Yunes talking to the man in the tie. Beate was inquiring if the group could look around for a few minutes. We were curious about a Moroccan school. Classes were not in session since the kids are on summer break. In fact, the few kids that were at school were helping the teachers clean up. Even though the principal had things to do, he graciously allowed us to walk around the school and talk to students and faculty. As long as we did not take pictures, we pretty much had access to the school. (After the tour, we were allowed to take pictures)

I toured some classrooms and noticed a few details that are very different from my own classroom. First of all, the classes are much smaller than my spacious portable. I was informed that classes range from 35-45 students. No more grievances from me about large class sizes. I also noticed that in front of the class there was a picture of the King. I also saw the same picture in the principal’s office. The classes were simple with a slab concrete ground, barred windows, a roll-away chalk board, and a teacher’s desk. Each room was decorated with various posters such as a mosque, animals, various people working different professions and the Moroccan flag. The student and teacher I spoke with said that the school provides the books but all other supplies are the kid’s responsibility.

For having limited resources, there was a lot of pride in the teachers and students. The principal explained about the olive tree garden that the students plant and the fact that out of the 730 students, only five did not pass their regional exams. I was blown away by this. Here you have a modest school with no library, computer labs, fancy gyms, tracks, and athletic fields yet there were no feelings of “can’t do” attitude. Rather, the teachers and principal were already planning on how to reduce the numbers of non-passers for next year. I wish our students could see the drive in these kids. To know that if you want to get a head in live at an early age can be intimidating for a young person. With all the poverty, it must be even more challenging. I came out of this encounter energized and even more committed than before because I should be able to work wonders with what I do have.

I also have to say that I felt special, along with my colleagues, who happened to show up unannounced and have the principal and staff welcome us with their hospitality. They were eager to answer our questions and show us around. They invited us for tea where we engaged in an informal exchange. I wish I could say that people feel special when they walk into my school. I appreciated the reminder that I am so lucky to work where I do and that my kids are very fortunate as well. I only wish that the Argon oil that this area is known for could motivate my more unconventional students. This little detour turned out better than anyone of us expected. I am embarrassed to admit that I do not recall the name of the little school outside of Essaouira. But I will never forget the impact it had on my soul.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Shondale's 3rd

Wassup Moroccan community!

Today was fun. In the morning I took a city bus to the center square. I (sort of)got what I was looking for, as when I finally saw all the different types of fabric, there was just too much to choose from. So then I took the bus back to the hotel, just in time for a nice, cool shower and lunch. So I got a bonafide marriage proposal (finally!) from a toothless old man who was just sitting around, not in his own place of business. Great, toothless AND unemployed!

Tonight we went to a touristy place, which turned out to be really, really cheesy. They put on a good show, though, and I batted my eyes at one of the horsemen.

Tomorrow we're off to go further south. I can't wait!

Peace out.
Shondale

23 pieces of luggage and sugar crystals!

June 25th
Retrieving lost luggage is never a pleasant task! But, we were successful in picking up every single lost item! 23 pieces in all ...In Fez, the people at the "Lost and Found" counter, and at customs, tried their best to assist us! Jelani, Azeb and I had a whole system worked out to organize the identified vs. missing items, the processed vs. unprocessed luggages, the many passports, claim checks and luggage tags. Truly, this required some major logistics! Finally, success! After loading the minivan with our loot, there were exactly 4 seats left in the van. This turned out to be a blessing! I was now sitting next to our driver, Mr. Ahmed. A native of Ifrane, he had returned to his hometown after a five year stay in Lybia. He had worked at the university since its inception. We talked about our families, our kids, about the diminishing availability of firewood in the Middle Atlas, about the recent climate changes, the resulting devastating floods, the extremely low temperatures (-19% Celsius this Winter) and finally, I learned a skill I might need:
How to tell the difference between real honey and the local imitation made from sugar.
Step 1: take a drop or two of honey and rub it between your thumb and index finger
Step 2: place a small piece of paper between your drenched fingers and soak the paper with the product
Step 3: burn the paper...if it's real honey, it won't burn easily; if it's "imitation honey" it will burn right away, because the sugar crystals caramelize instantly!
Et voila!
Footnote: It is preferable NOT to use the fire test for "imitation honey" in the middle of the forrest (where it is being sold) due to increased fire hazard! :)

A lesson well learned!

Wednesday, June 24th
After settling in at the Royal Al-Akhawayn University, we started the serious business of learning classical Arabic. Our teacher, Mr. Oussama, made every effort in getting the first letters of the Arabic alphabet into my head. However, the jet lag, heat and humidity, and the new environment were our enemies. Very little was retained that first day, and I actually started to ask myself if I had gotten in over my head! Even as a seasoned polyglot, I was facing unprecedented challenges. Writing from right to left was like holding the pencil for the first time! I was concerned about my handwriting (as only a real teacher would be)....All these dashes and dots!......This experience was a refreshing reminder of the hurdles faced by my own English Learners in Los Angeles. Although they may not need to learn a new alphabet, the feeling of being "lost in translation" was definitely real.

Exploring the Medina at Marrakesh




My roommate David and I left to the old part of the city while it was still cool (85 degrees). We were looking to buy traditional souvenirs and talk to various people along the way. The day was gorgeous so we embarked on our adventure. A few blocks into in our walking tour, we stopped at a regular shopping center like the ones we have in the USA-Levi, Adiddas, etc. I was looking for the Moroccan national soccer jersey. Every time I visit a country, I buy the national soccer jersey. Within the shopping center, we went into three stores. Not one of them carried the jersey. I was curious about the 501s. They c0st $1,690 dh which translates into a little over $200 dollars. That got us refocused real quick.

Onward we went until we arrived to the market place. We spent the whole day in this area yesterday but we were limited to what we could do. So, we were ready to navigate the windy alleys through the Medina. We made periodic stops to buy delicious fruit. David got a great deal on Argon oil and harissa powder. Harissa paste is spicy and it tastes so good. I can't wait to have them with chilaquiles. As we meandered deeper into the market, we saw a hole-in-the wall barber shop. Since we will be in the Sahara in a couple of days, I suggested we get a trim. We went inside and had a great time practicing our broken Arabic with the kind barbers. We spent over an hour talking and laughing. We left because we hadn't even started to shop for what we went to get and we had to be back at the hotel by 2:30 so we could go to a museum.

Anyway, we continued to the Souka. I thought I knew of a short cut and David suggested another direction. A local guide very strongly suggested which way to proceed. I know how these guides work based on my experience in Tangier. I brushed him aside and he went ballistic. We got in my face and yelled at me in Arabic. This slight detour did not last long. Again, we proceeded to look for the sandals and jersey. By the time we got to the Souka, it was over a 100 degrees. We went in and out of shops but could not find a jersey for me and David could not settle on sandals. It’s a good thing we ran into a music store where David picked up an array of Moroccan hip-hop.

We were so thirsty by now. We saw the square where the snake charmers, monkey dancers, henna artists and other people prey on tourists. Off to the sides were orange juice vendors. We eagerly headed in that direction and quenched our thirst with the ice cold, freshly squeezed juice. We talked to the vendor having a great time. I am convinced David will be fluent by the end of our study tour. By now we were hungry so we left to enjoy more delicious chicken Tajin. It was an adventure zigzagging away trying to avoid the various vendors until we got to Mohammad V Avenue. David and I had a great time talking about the exciting 4 hours on our way to the Ryad hotel.

The Men of Marrakesh


Life has a way of opening up opportunities for you if you are willing. Here in Morocco, it's the seemingless mundane errands and my own personal idiosyncracies that have provided the richest experiences. Shopping for an ethernet cable, index cards, and my run yesterday morning. The shopping is another blog.

Traveling around does a number on the body. We haven't spent more than two nights in the same place yet. There's no opportunity to really establish a routine. Thanks to Manuel, I've been able to establish one routine: the early morning run. Promptly at 7:15 A.M. each morning we meet. Sometimes I go to his room; sometimes he comes to mine. Manuel's usual run in Cali is 4-5 miles. Mine is 2.8 along the Charles River. And I run slowly. So, our typical run goes like this: we run together all around the university, leave campus towards downtown, at downtown I stop, do some dips, and Manuel keeps running further then comes back for me. I struggle. Ifrane is at a much higher elevation than I'm used to.

But we don't stay in Ifrane for long. Two days ago we spent the entire day on the bus to Marrakesh. Yesterday morning was my first morning run with Manuel outside of Ifrane. Marrakesh is a big city. Being a single woman is something I'm constantly cognizant of, so I was especially glad to be running with Manuel here. 7:15 in the hotel. We meet as usual. This is foreign territory for us. We decide to go left out the front door today, and right tomorrow morning. The air is crisp, not as cool as Ifrane, but not too hot yet. This is the desert. We run past la gare, the beautiful train station across from the Theatre Royal, and continue on Rue Hassan II, which has a long sidewalk. I can get into a running groove here. There are rose bushes and benches  lining a "red" wall (I would later discover that Marrakesh, the second capital of Morocco, is known as the "Red City" and that it is compulsory for people to paint their house the same color as their neighbor's. But it's not really red. It's a coral--a Florida vacation home coral--a desert sand with pink).

We make it to the end of the rue and turn left in order to avoid crossing the street (an ordeal in itself that always tests one's chutzpah in the face of sheer danger). This street is less busy, with what looks like the Great Wall of Marrakesh along the right. Someone wanted to protect this oasis town.

About 100 yards down the road, I mentally give up. This always happens to me. I consider myself a runner, but I'm lazy, and I'd rather be sleeping most times. I always, always enjoy the feeling after a run, so I try to tackle this mental block each day. This is the point where I let Manuel loose. "Go, run. Come back for me," I tell him, and off he goes.

I walk for half a song, then I tell myself to stop being such a wimp, and begin to jog some more. I don't see Manuel anywhere. I check the time, and remember that the farther I run one way, the farther I will have to run to get back. I decide to turn around. Manuel will find me.

I've been alone for about 15 minutes at this point, all decked out in a very American running outfit. The stares are plentiful, but I'm not too worried. Jen, who used to teach a women's self-defense class taught me the other night where to kick (side of the knees and the Adam's apple, not the groin). I review this information in my head as the sun shines brightly in my eyes.

Suddenly, the men appear. In hoards. They're all dressed in long navy running pants with gray stripes along the side (Adidas-sponsored?) and gray t-shirts. Perhaps some sort of military training. I've already garnered stares from the random passers-by on the street. Imagine the stare down here. When I say hoard, I mean hoard. They weren't in a nice uniform line like I've seen ROTC runs. No. They took over the entire sidewalk, which was quite wide--about 5-6 people across. I decide to stop running and stand still. This probably caused more of a disruption. Men were turning their heads, calling out something I could not understand (Note to self: Have Oussama teach me cat calls in Arabic). Not because I'm particularly beautiful, but because I'm a foreign woman alone running on the streets. Apparently, a sight to behold. Where is Manuel?

The group passes. Relief. Not a big deal. A minute later, another hoard approaches! Where did they come from?!? I try a different approach and run through them. Not much of a difference. But, I get through it. And yet another group approaches!!! This is where all the men in Marrakesh must have been! Last night at the two cafes we went to, there weren't this many.

These men helped highlight for me that I am a single woman in a foreign land. And while that doesn't really affect me much in Boston, it can here. I made it back to Rue Hassan II, stopping once to ask directions to la gare, and then Manuel found me. Of course, he was worried about me because it had been so long. But I was fine. I had found all the men of Marrakesh. 

Impressions of Marrakech

We toured the new and the old cities yesterday. I find it odd that there is a city ordinance that all the building must be the same color, but I guess they have to live up to their name as the "red city".  At one point, near the end of our time in the medina, or marketplace, we were walking through a tunnel of sorts. Ahead you could see the sun shining and the haze from the heat, it was almost blinding. As we emerged from the haze into the square it was a chaotic scene. Merchants shouting, musicians playing, the sounds of the snake charmers and storytellers were all around us. Regaining my sight and dodging a few motor scooters led me to a fruit stand. There I saw, for the first time, dried figs, not in "newton" form. The merchant offered me one and then became angry and yelled at me as I happily munched it and walked away. I was somewhat disturbed by the treatment of the animals in the square. Monkeys in tiny boxes waiting to be beaten if the did not perform on cue and dozens of horses, looking less than fit, dragging tourists around the hot, cobble stone streets. It seems like the people care more about the millions of stray cats that are everywhere here than these "money makers".  As we rushed back to the bus I was really conflicted by my concern for the animals and the understanding that these people are just trying to make a living and survive. It all makes me feel very lucky to have been born where I was. Another day, another adventure in Morocco...I'm off! 

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shondale's 2nd

Today we visited various sites around Marrakech. We ended up in the medina (old city), which is made up of a labrynth of seemingly hundreds of narrow streets, each one lined with shops and vendors eager to squeeze out our last dollars. I was mesmerized by all the colors and wares, and thus was scolded because I was making the group go slow because I was always behind. Mind you, this was our first real opportunity to experience what kinds of things are out there as well as pricing.


As I was trying to speed shop, an older man in his 60s asked me what I thought of the death of Michael Jackson. We then engaged in a short (but meaningful) dialogue in french about what a great artist he was and how there will never be another like him. So, what are your top 5 favorite MJ songs?


Sitting in the smoke-filled lobby of our hotel reminds me (and my lungs) of this great poster that is now circulating around the university in Ifran. It basically translates as, "If you're going to smoke you might as well hang yourself." Here is a pic of that poster:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Shondale's 1st

Hi out there. Yes, it's finally me. The university is pretty and the dorm rooms are not like the closets we see in the States. The food, however, is typical college food, except for the mint tea, which is excellent. This is the center of the university, with the Mosque on the left.

Since we've been at the University, it hasn't really felt like being in another country, except for our Arabic classes and not being able to communicate with the university staff (how do you say "spoon" in French? Our first field trip saved the day.

The city of Meknes is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I wasn't disappointed. It was founded by Moulay Ismail, who, legend has it, kept 500 concubines. He didn't keep them all at once - in fact, he would throw them into the acquaduct he had built in order to get rid of them. Because of their short stay, one now-famous concubine saved her life by telling 1001 stories to the sultan (Arabian Nights). This city is still considered to be a royal city, and is surrounded by many gates. It is also called the "Versailles of the East" because it was so elaborate, and Ismail was very good friends with Louis XIV. This is one of the many small alleys within the city.













Then we were off to Volubilis, which is an ancient Roman city that dates back to the 3rd Century. Very impressive, and it was very interesting to see how much of the city is still intact after 2000 years.

Next we visited Moulay-Idriss, which is a shrine city because it houses the remains of Moulay Ismail. The city is behind me here.Driving through was pretty exciting because it was market day and we saw all the beautiful clothes and fabrics that were being offered. Cruel and unusual punishment, as we weren't allowed to walk on our own to shop. We got to the entrance of the place where Ismail's remains are, but non-muslims cannot go in, so we just looked at the entrance and the elaborate door that the current king uses whenever he's in town.

Tomorrow we leave for Marrakech for 7 days!

Peace out.

The Mosque Tour

In between the three lectures today, we had a brief tour of the campus mosque. It was a great experience, although it was quite brief. Like all of the mosques I have seen in the various cities and towns thus far, the mosque here at Al Akhawyn is green.

When we were in Meknes, I asked the tour guide that was showing us a madrasa why mosques were green. The guide said that before the current dynasty, the mosques used to be white. After the change in dynasty, the new dynasty changed the color to green, as green was the representative color of the new King.

Today, in one of the lectures, a professor said that the color green is used for mosques because it represents life in a sea of desert. Since it is mostly hot in the region, it makes sense that green would be the color of fertility. Professor Monette also mentioned that the prophet Muhammad wore green; it was his preferred color. Thus, to honor the prophet, mosques were adorned in green.

The Al Akhawayn mosque is beautiful. We were given a glimpse to the inside of the mosque and we were given some information about the rituals that take place inside. First of all, as soon as one enters, one notices the beautiful architecture and unique chandeliers. The walls were painted white with design engraved around the windows and certain parts of the wall. We were shown where the imam prays and where the worshippers kneel. There was a see through wooden wall separating the males from the females. Professor Monette made a great point that in this way, women do not have to worry about being looked at by men. It is an opportunity for women to worship at ease. We were also informed that if a person is sick, he or she is exempt from prayer. Also, during fasting, a pregnant woman does not have to fast. It is strictly the woman's choice. After all, it should not be a burden to worship Allah.

One last interesting observation was that there are no idols in the mosque. There is not even a picture of the king. It is important for worshippers to know who they are revering. Finally, the carpet was gorgeous. Its intricate design was a thing of beauty. I am glad to know more of Islam and its beautiful practices.

video

In Meknes you will find Damasquines metal worked with silver, this craft was brought to the region from the Jews and Arabs of Damascus. The work entails the use of chipping tool, a small hammer, and steel wire. The craftsman creates images in the metal using Berber designs and other influences.

Video Collage of Meknes

Please click on the video to enjoy some images of the beautiful city of Meknes.

video