Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
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.
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!
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.
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.
We had an opportunity to interview a teacher Mustapha and two of his students: Said and Mohamed from Southern Morocco. In this dialogue we shared experiences about teaching, learning, and creating relationships between our schools.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
As we were rushing through the old Medina in Meknes, just outside of the Palace was a large zocalo, plaza, or public square. It was surrounded with restuarants, cafes, and performers. People gathered to hear a story teller the first to arrive before night upon which many come to tell stories of wisdom, culture, and mythology. "C'mon you got to move with the group", said a voice, as he was engaging me the crowd in his story I had to move on....
Volubilis a Roman settlement in North Africa during the Cathaginian period. The Romans choose this location because of it's fertile valley to harvest olives and grapes. As we walked the ruins, I was impressed with "Home Decor" during the 3rd Century BC. The mosaic art in the homes that represented Roman-Greco Mythology with Berber designs was impressive. So, I asked were these wealthy Berber homes?
I was just excited to leave the Palace at Ifane, and begin to explore the real Morocco. We drove from Ifrane to the city of Meknes built by Moulay Ismail Ibn Sharif (1672-1727), the second ruler of the Moroccan Alaouite Dynasty. He moved the capital of Morocco from Fez to Meknes and constructed an Imperial Palace. We arrived at the gate of Bab-el khemis, one of the many Palace entrances. Our good friend Abdullah provided the group with historical facts about Meknes and the great sultan Moulay Ismail.
Finally! A short trip to someplace less isolated and less Western feeling than the university... as an aside Ifrane (location of the uni) is called Little Switzerland... so that should give you some idea of what it is like... built by the French as a resort town in the 1920s.
Anyhow, we arrived in Meknes yesterday and after dropping bags at the hotel, we got back on the bus for a quick tour of Meknes and the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail. Meknes is a large city (1 mil people I think)... the old medina (city) has the longest emcompassing wall of any city in the world at 25 mi total!
The gate we saw (there are 3) is called the Bab el-Khemis (Thursday Gate) pic above, called so because of the Thursday market that drew people to the medina. A lovely gate, with same aeration holes all throughout where swallows and chickadees have made their homes. Lucky birds!
We then drove to see the stables and graineries of Moulay Ismail. Moulay Ismail was a great sultan, who ruled for 55 years (1672-1727)... to put that in perspective, he was a contemporary of French King Louis XIV (14th). We couldn't go inside the structure, but was told that Moulay Ismail stabled 12,000 horses! My kind of guy! :-)
The Mausoleum of the Moulay Ismail was next (above). A beautiful structure, containing 3 rooms with wonderful zellij (geometric tilework), fountains and carved cedar wood ceilings. Although we could go inside, we weren't able to go into the actual room where the tombs are located.
We walked through the medina, which I loved. I love markets. Here is a shot of a man stoking the hammam fires by throwing sawdust in the fire...
I was informed that because of the current economic situation, many Moroccans are fleeing. The number of jobs have declined in France. Kereem also mentioned that the undocumented are the hardest hit by the recession. He told me that there are government campaigns aimed at deporting undocumented Moroccans. Sound familiar? And, the legal Moroccan immigrants are losing jobs. That is forcing many Moroccans to leave France and ride the recession.
That, however, is having a negative impact for some Moroccans returning from Spain. Since the educational system is in French, these Spanish Moroccans are at a disadvantage since their French is poor and their Arabic is no better. Plus, many of the youth are not used to live in Morocco. They are are confortable of their European livelihood.
Morocco already has a 15 % to 20 % unemployment rate. Jobs are scarce and with the growing migrant population of sub Saharan Africans immigrating to Morocco; the job market will not be able to handle the surging demand.
Kereem is not an educated man but he works selling postcards trying to make ends meet. The good thing is that Kereem works in a tourist location. He has busloads of tourists come through Volubilis daily.
I hope to learn more about the growing number of immigrants coming from sub Saharan African. I want to know more about their trek to Morocco and their struggles to get here. When we go to Tangiers, I intend to interview immigrants waiting to try their luck to enter the EU.
Volubilis was wonderful, but I want to focus on my research question as much as I can.
I'm in Meekness which is quite a tourist city. It has a beautiful mosque with impressive mosaic and wonderfully structured architecture in the arched shapes of doorways. The smells of the city and sounds and sights including the colorful people made it a very pleasant and educational day trip. It left me wanting to learn more of the life of the probably million people in this city. As I began to retire to the end of my busy day, I heard upbeat dance sounds from outside the hotel window. I looked out and my attention was drawn up to a beautiful half moon sitting perfectly between two tree branches. I was reminded that this is the same moon that will be over my house tonight. I sighed and felt fortunate that my life is more than half full. Needless to say... I went back outside to see a bit of night life.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
For weeks my mind had been elsewhere. Eighth grade end of the year. If it weren't for the constant, excited inquiries to my summer in Morocco, I wouldn't have known I was going. Four A.M. the day I left I was up and packing. A good friend asks how much Arabic I'd been studying. None is my reply. So he teaches me how to greet people in two ways: marhaban and asaalaamu alaykum.
I am also looking at the role of remittances. Like in Mexico, remittances are second only to tourism in raising revenue for the state. I wonder if this is a viable plan for the future. With Moroccos' vast Sahara region, why has it not tapped into producing solar energy for itself and for export?
I am looking to learn more about Morocco's public policies and how these issues are being addressed. Is France and Belgium in particular benefitting with the 5-8 million Moroccans? What immigration policies are being devised to deal with this pressing issue? I hope to come closer to a conclusion before my stay is over.
Aside from this learning experience, I feel like I am in Mexico. So many of the people here look like my relatives. Having gone to Spain and now living in Morocco, I feel I have a better grasp of who I am as a Mexican. The professors here have given me an insight into the Moorish culture that has shaped me as a Mexican. I can't believe how much I did not know. Sometimes one can be so arrogant to think that one already knows enough. I am relishing the future lectures to learn even more.
On the Road to Ifrane, we past many nopaleras like the ones in my father in law's house and the ones that decorate the landscape throughout Mexico. There were corn fields, vineyards, goats, men driving donkey carriages, many types of vegetables growing in the iron rich fields, houses that resemble those in Mexico with iron rods sticking out from the roof waiting for the family to save more money to complete a necessary room. The only difference was the omnipresent Arabic.
When we arrived to Ifrane at the University of Al Akhawayn, it did not resemble the Morocco I was witnessing for four hours after departing Casa Blanca. Ifrane is a community designed by the King as a resort town. The University in nestled in a nice mountain side surrounded by oak tress like the ones that border my home in Aromas, California. This particular university is so different from the one I was expecting. I will just say that it is quite liberal. I already scouted all the corners around this place during my morning jogs.
As for my progress in Arabic, I did not expect to have learned so much about Arabic in just two days. I am familiarizing myself with the alphabet and simple survival phrases. At this rate, I may be fluent at the end of the journey.
Well, I have given you enough to digest. If you have questions, I will try to respond to your questions immediately.
At 10:30 a.m. we departed from Casablanca to Ifrane. The trip to our host university was a four hour ride traversing the country on toll road highways and local streets. We headed north towards Rabat, then East, towards Meknes, passing through Khemisset. Finally, we drove South, passing El Hajeb and arriving in Ifrane.
The diversity of the landscape, agriculture and villages was striking:
burning of trash; dried out vegetation; orange-brown soil; cacti and palm trees of all sizes and shapes; a coastline littered with huge freight ships; cork tree forests; olive trees; vineyards; donkeys and sheep everywhere; sunflower fields in bloom; harvested wheat fields; creeks and canyons; a sign advertising 4 months of free internet for only 49 dirhams; a constant flow of transportation of liquid gas and propane via trucks.
Suddenly, - the words "Allah el o watan almelik" (?) are carved onto a huge mountain slope in front of us. Our driver translates it loosely as "Allah is the King of Morocco".
Our first morning in Casablanca was filled with new images, interesting smells and intriguing observations. Before breakfast, my friend Sylvia and I walked through the streets of Casablanca, when we noticed that the shops were just starting to open. On the way to the market, a young woman was buying a piece of Moroccan bread with mint tea from a street vendor, before rushing off to her destination. A group of men were reading the headlines on newspapers that had been displayed on the floor of the pedestrian walk. The air was filled with the aroma of morning coffee, fresh bread and increasingly dense street pollution. At the market, mostly men were at work,- cleaning lettuce in a bucket of water to present fresh produce, unloading crates of fish and cutting up fresh meat. There were the usual flower bouquets, displayed and waiting for a special occasion. A woman, the only one in the market, was preparing pickled "everything", - ranging from pickled lemons to onions to cucumbers...A few stalls over, a young cook was preparing the terrines that he would serve his customers later that day. On the menu this Tuesday morning was a terrine made of onions, carrots and beef ribs, mixed with a dozen of pungent spices. There are cats everywhere in the market. Some are well nourished, others starving - survival of the fittest feline! One vendor offered us turtles. Immediately, I was alarmed, asking whether they were intended for food. He laughed and said: "No, they are for the children to play with!" ...and my sigh of relief was audible throughout the market hall. Every time we asked to take a picture, the answer was a friendly "of course". This market place reminded me of the many markets I had seen from Mombasa to Mexico City. One notable difference was that only food items, and no consumer goods, were being sold here. Later during the morning, we traveled from Casablanca to Ifrane in the Middle Atlas.
Funniest moment of the day: Sylvia's Marilyn Monroe experience - read her blog! We giggled all the way back to the hotel,.....at least I did!
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Today, I flew in from Barcelona and landed safely in Casablanca. With the delays of passport control and a lost luggage, I was still able to rendez-vous with my colleagues from the UCLA Fulbright GPA Morocco team. After a long day, we enjoyed a great stay at the Hotel Oum Palace.
Most precious resource of the day - the knowledge of the French language and a glass of fresh water!
Monday, June 22, 2009
1st night in Casablanca, we had dinner at the hotel. We knew that there would be no alcohol, but a beer sounded so good after 24 hours of traveling. We asked the doorman at the hotel where the nearest bar was and fortunately, it was across the street. Unfortunately, there are no women allowed in bars, unless they are of the working variety. The boys were allowed to go, but there was no way under any circumstances that we were allowed to go. We had tea and went off to bed instead, leaving the guys to fend for themselves in Casasblanca at nght.
Ifrane in the AM, we'll see if our luggage meets us there.
Lesson of the day: Inshallah is something that we are getting used to already, after only a few hours here. It means "if God wills it," a religious manifesto that means both "maybe" and "I'm not responsible for what happens." I'm wondering how things get done around here. ;)