Saturday, July 31, 2010

To Merzouga

Driving from Meknes to Merzouga proved to be one memorable bus ride. Nothing particularly eventful happened necessarily, except that everything sort of happened.

It was our first long daytime bus ride - well really long, because before this trip we had only gone from Fez to Taza. Heading into the desert was a trek.

This was the bus trip that set a tone for future bus trips. Well, maybe that was Taza, with the Five Sleeping Beauties of Taza and all. We fell into a groove for travel. I sat in front of Azeb and Jelani was just behind her. To my right was Ben, and Joel was in front of me. I was feeling a lot of love for my fellow Fulbrighters. What's not to love, they're clever, each and every one has a good sense of humor - not always the case in a group, and the anticipation of heading into the desert was palpable. We assembled our gear: scarves, hats, sunscreen, plastic bags for delicate items, long sleeves, snacks - on the seats around us. The sprawl begins. This was the first day of leaving things around. Before today, we tended to take our stuff with us when we left. One of the most amusing recurring incidents occurred after this day, but I believe this was Day 0 for clutter. Ben amassed several items (let me clarify that he was by no means the only one, we are all guilty) that he couldn't contain in the seat next to him nor in the overhead compartment nor under the seats. He would slink, well no, he was brave about it, maybe even brazen, to the back row to claim a space, but Azeb was reserving that row for the infirm. He would take a seat, and Azeb, inevitably, would say, "Are you serious?" Ben would attempt negotiations, but always ended up with his goodies around him in his regular seat.

Lots of laughing on this trip - this could be the single most important thing to keep me going in most situations - have to laugh, and the group was generating this important daily element. This group is funny, no doubt.

Jelani and I traded southern sayings throughout the trip. Youness, who had rejoined us in Meknes, sat in the back with us for a large part of the trip. We taught him all about camel toe, hoe cakes, and Vaginal Creme Davis. We laughed a lot.

The terrain was incredible. Amazigh tents pitched here and there on the hillsides. The hillsides were red and sandy and rocky with a Moroccan chaparral growing here and there. Donkeys were here and there grazing and standing and staring in fields and by the side of the road. We stopped for teas and coffees, and lingered in chairs scattered around, getting to know one another, trying to read some Arabic - not yet worried about homework for class, that would come next week, closer to Fez.

The thing I remember best though is this incredible happiness. I would listen to music and look at the Moroccan desert, all that fine red sand soon to be trapped in every bodily crevice, and feel ecstatically happy.

Positive Vibrations

Positive Vibrations

Oh my God! I rode Bob Marley with the Wailers - Rastafari, Barry White, Jimmy Hendriks, Yala, and Riding High, trailing behind me in a caravan across the Western Sahara Desert to watch the sunset. It was the first time I was seeing a camel up close and, of course, mounting one! They are huge and almost have a donkeylike quality, except for the hump, indeed. I was apprehensive about mounting and riding one because of my full figuredness. However, Bob Marley was most gracious, he sat on all four and didn’t move a muscle as I easily opened by legs and straggled him. He did not moan or groan as he tried to stand. First on his back legs and then on his front legs. The rocking motion made my heart leap. Bob Marley must have sensed my nervousness because he stood still and waited patiently as my heart beat return to normal. I sense this Bob Marley was trying to carry out its namesake wish by

"Making way for a positive day
Cause it was a new day
New time new feeling."

Bob Marley and his Wailers have beautiful almond shaped eyes with extra long lashes. They need those lashes to protect their eyes as they travel through the windy and sandy desert. (I now know why women need long lashes that they would spend so much money on mascara and newfangled cosmetics like Latisse. The women want protruding lashes to accenturate their eyes.)
   
As we made our way to the special dune, I was given the Berber name Isha by our guide, Yousef. I asked him if he prefers to be called a Berber or Amazith.
           
He replied, “Amazith” and then said, “You are learning Arabic.”
“Yes!” I responded.
    
He named Kim, who was riding high on Jimmy Hendricks behind me, Fatima. I told him I was glad he did not call me Fatima. While a few people chuckled, he had a quizzical look on his face as he gasped, “Ahh!” I am afraid my attempt at some humor was lost on Yousef. As we rode to the dune, the children’s song “Alice, the Camel” popped in my head and I kept singing it. The big difference is that this camel, Bob Marley, did not lose its hump to become a horse.
   
When we got to the foot of the dune to watch the sunset. We took off our shoes to climb the dune. I was so aware of my physical limitation and hesitated. But, not for long, I had three men helped me to the summit. As the real Bob Marley sang, “Why not help one another on the way. Make it much easier.” The setting and the scenery at the top of the dune was simply spectacular. Many dunes of differing sizes and hues framed the setting sun. It was simply breathtaking.
      
As I was about to descend the dune back to Bob Marley.Yousef, the guide said, “Sit!” I sat on the sand and before I realized what was happening I was descending the orange colored sand dune being dragged by two Amaziths, Yousef and his friend, each holding a leg up high. I simply laid back and relished the ultimate joyride, Saharan Style!

"Say its a new sign
Oh what a new day"

Marrakesh Day 1

Saturday

The day began with a 4 hour excursion from Ouerzazate through the High Atlas Mountains, and when I say High I mean HIGH. We were working on our Arabic, but the roads were so windy that we decided to stop because all of us on the bus were beginning to feel queeezy. We stopped at a roadside stop, and it is amazing that even in remote areas Coca Cola is even there. We finally got to Marrakesh, and it was hot. We checked in to our rooms, Luis was my roommate, but there was only one small bed to share, so Sherrie let us switch with her because she had a king size bed that can be split into two different twins. So we moved to our second room, then I went into the bathroom to change into my swim shorts for the pool, when the incident happened. I went to get out of the bathroom, when the door would not open. After many, MANY attempts by me and 4 other people I realized I was stuck, so we called the hotel reception desk. After an hour in the bathroom waiting for help, the sound of a flash flood thurnderstorm outside, and my self diagnosed claustorphia I suddenly experienced for the first time in my life, a hotel worker came. They could not open the door from the front, so they unhinged the window, and I crawled out that way….[see video for the full effect]. I decided to chill out in the hotel for a few hours after that, then got ready to go to dinner for Younis’s bday.

We left the hotel around 9pm, looking swankified and ready to have a night on the town. There is something different about Marrakesh, then the other places we have been and you can just tell by a drive through the city. The lights, the hustle and bustle, the excitement its all here. Women were not as covered up, in fact many were looking like they were heading for a club in Hollywood. Families were out late, motorcycles everywhere, and even passed an open air rock concert. We got to the restaurant and it was definitely a vegas style NICE restaurant. It looked like a ryad, with dark candle lit ambience and music bumping, and a pond with stones you can walk on in the middle. As we began to order, belly dancers came out and rocked the house. I was not expecting it, and they were fabulous. They had a good 30 minute set danced with a few of the guys in the group, and were out. Our food came, and it was nice to not eat tagin and couscous for a bit. After a three hour dinner of jokes, laughter, and chillen, a few people decided to head back to the hotel, while the others decided to stay at the restaurent had a live band in the back and it looked bumping. 10 of us stayed, and it got really loud and great. The band was LEGIT playing western/Jamaican/ throw back/ and Arabic music. I was dancing like a maniac, and Kim was my partner getting crazy with it. Everyone was enjoying themselves, as well as happy for the surprise of this random nightclub that we stumbled upon. As the night went on Gnaoan percussionists came out, and were in sync with the band, by then we were starting to have a really good night, and with the Gnaoan percussionists…belly dancers came out got on top of the bar stand and starting dancing with fire works in their hand. IT WAS INSAAAAAAANCE!!! It was a sensory experience I will always remember. The lights came on around 2 30 and the music stopped we gathered together to begin to leave when we heard a loud thumping. We heard that there was a night club, and we decided to check it out for a few minutes, we went in the back entrance because it was a part of the restaurant and as we headed down the stairs and into another dance hall. The walls were lcd screens with purple raindrops, black lights everywhere, music crazy. So many people, we were there for 2 hours and I am not even going to justify it with words and have the experience in my head and heart. We got home about 5 am, and passed out.

Gendered Spaces

As our trip winds to a close I am still processing the gender realities here in Morocco. One of the most noticeable things has been the gendered use of public space. So often we have moved through what appears to be male public spaces. The cafes are particularly noticeable as male spaces. It can be quite an odd and disconcerting feeling to walk into a café where all the patrons are men. I do not know what they are thinking, but it is clear they notice us as we take our seats. But it is more than just the cafés. There are times when walking the streets in various cities and towns that the men far outnumber the women, and I get a feeling that the public spaces are defined as male. Even the lounge at the university where we took our Arabic lessons was almost always filled with only men: teachers, staff, etc. The Moroccan wedding we attended was a great example of male space as well. In a large public hall there were tables set up and the women and men often sat together. But then many men went outside to drink alcohol. We as foreign women could join them but it was still a decidedly male space. If their wives had joined them I assume it would be quite scandalous. The work world is a public space of sorts too. The heads of organizations, the administrators, the school officials, and the politicians that we met were all men. Men gave all the lectures we attended as well, except predictably, the gender lecture. To be fair, many of the teachers we met were women. And some of these things are not that different in the States. Positions of power, public officials are often men, or mostly men. The Senate and the House of Representatives are good examples. What I believe is different is the use of public space. It is definitely more homosocial in Morocco than in the US where there are more opportunities for the mixing of men and women. I think I need a caveat here. I don’t buy the various dichotomy of modern versus traditional, or that women in the Moslem world are oppressed and women in the West are free. That is a whole other discussion. In this blog I want to talk about a female space that I finally experienced at the end of the trip.

So here is the story. On our last night before heading to Casablanca we visited the hometown of Youness and Azeddine. The whole day was simply fantastic and I’m sure it will be covered well in other blogs. This one is about gendered public spaces. A soccer game was planned for the evening between the Moroccans and the Fulbrighters. It was marvelously fun and a very special bonding moment between our group and our hosts. But it was quite gendered. The men were going to play and the women watch, and perhaps cheer them on. The guys even joked that the women might have to cook while the men played. We didn’t have to cook but other women did, and there were few of the wives at the game. Again this is not so different from the US. Imagine a Thanksgiving where the men sit around and watch sports on TV and the women work in the kitchen. Ah, but let’s stick to Morocco and this trip. I did have great time at the game, but I had an even better time afterwards. I was finally able to be in a women’s public space! After the game the men went to a hammam, the traditional bath. But the women also got to go to their own hammam. It was really the only time I have been in a women’s public space. Luckily we had a Moroccan friend to tell us what to do. We sat in what were essentially cavernous sauna rooms, lathered on black soap, washed our hair, poured water buckets over ourselves, and then got a scrub down and light massage from the women workers. There are few similar types of public baths for women in the States. You have spas for women or hot tubs and saunas, but rarely do you see the age range at the hammam. There were even little babies there when we first arrived. Beyond that, there was much more of a family or communal feel. It was a relaxing and a much needed break from the unrelenting male public spaces.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Fes

 I have enjoyed my time with my mentor, Nezha Youssefi. This is one of the best component of our Fulbright-Hays journey, providing us professional colleagues. Our, Sherrie and I, trips through Fez with her has been so light and breezy. We laughed, smiled, chatted, ate fruit, drank mint tea, and joked with each other as if we were old childhood friends visiting each other after a long separation. It’s as if we picked up were we left off the last time without missing a beat. I wonder if Nezha is so friendly and open because she is the only girl in a family of three. She is sandwiched between two boys. She lives with her parents along with her brothers. She is the only breadwinner in her family. (That’s why she has to think carefully about certain purchases.)Her younger brother is working on a degree in economics and her older brother has a degree. The unemployment rate in Morocco is quite high. I think 34% . After all, 60% of university graduates are unemployed. However, the jobless rate has not prevented the Moroccans from being cheerful and generous to us.

Nezha introduced us to the nurse who treated her mother. She greeted us with a warm, wide smile and shook our hands. We met the doctor, who performed her mom’s surgery. He was a very pleasant man who welcomed us warmly and taught us a few words in Arabic. Below the doctor’s office, we said we would stop into the bookstore for a few minutes. Well, being teachers, we walked from bin to bin, shelf to shelf looking at and discussing books and writing tools. We were trying to find alphabet books and picture books for me to practice Arabic. All the books were in Arabic or French. There were no English books but there were many familiar English titles written in Arabic. We saw many fairytales such as Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Three Little Pigs. I bought an exercise book for me and my students to practice writing the Arabic alphabet, calligraphy pens and pencils. Nezha said she often buys school materials to supplement and enhance her students learning experiences. Cherie and I both smiled and told her we often spend our own money purchasing materials for our students. She said her friends in United States and elsewhere usually sends her English books. We learned that the school year begins in September and ends in June. The first semester ends at the end of January. There are about 34 students per class and the students go to different teachers for different subjects. My mentor teaches four classes a day. I do not know how long each session / period last. The children are tested twice a year.They are tested in all subjects at the end of the first semester and then in math, science and reading at the end of the year. School here is free all the way through college. I wonder what free college for everyone who is capable would feel like in the US? Not being saddled with hefty student loans as an under graduate! Can you imagine if middle and high school teachers in the United States only teach four classes a day. Think of all the planning they could do and how hey would be better able to spend more time with their students.

As we walked, I tried to read all the signs and words. I called out the letters and tried to sound each letter and blend them into recognizable words. Nezha laughed and smiled a lot as she listened to my pronunciations and translated for me. I certainly understand the vast difference between decoding and comprehending. I was certain;ly calling out words but had not a single clue about what I was saying if a picture or recognizable drawing was not beside the word. I also behaved like my beginning reading students who pointed out and tried to read every recognizable letter, word, and number on our fieldtrips.

Nezha lives is an apartment that is not far from the hotel. It’s about a fifteen minute walk straight from the hotel but we had taken the scenic, circuitous route to her home. We met her mother who was convalescing on a bed on the floor in the living room. Her mom had a colonoscopy bag. She welcomed us with a wide smile and sparkling eyes. We shook hands. While our mentor was in the kitchen preparing food, her little brother sat and spoke with us. He read some pages of a book, written by my students, called Our Unconquerable Souls I had given to his sister. She had given me a copy of her student produced magazine, entitled, “Student’s” when I visited the school. He said the students were quite smart for sharing their thoughts and writing so much. I wholeheartedly agreed. He is attending the University - Universite Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah, Fes- where we are having our Arabic lessons but he was not taking any summer classes. Her dad greeted us warmly as well and said he was happy to have us in his home and that he wishes we have a wonderful stay in Morocco.

Nezha served tea, coffee, hard boiled eggs with cumins and salt, croissants, rolls, little savory sweet cookies, olive oil. I have never had eggs with cumins. It added a tasty flavor to the eggs. The olive oil was dark green, heavy and tasty served on the bread. She told us that the family made the olive oil from the olives from a piece of property her dad owns. Over tea and coffee, she and Sherri discussed the role of women. She stated that American women believe that Muslims women are oppressed but they are not. She only wears her veil when she is going to pray and not during her regular daily life. She said that many people think that a woman who wears a veil is more pure that a woman who does not. She does not let that thinking concern her because she is comfortable with who is because she knows herself. She helped to negotiate the price for two veils for me in the Medina. I like the viels and think they are quite becoming on the ladies. Nezha laughed when I made the statement. She says there is a stigma of single women and especially of single mothers. They are vilified but not the men. The men often marry someone else a family member has chosen for them. She said the girl has to be a virgin to be married but the men do not have to be.

When it was time for us to return to the hotel, our mentor asked her older brother to accompany us because she said it was not proper to walk on the street alone at nighttime. She would need her brother to walk her back home. We, all four, jauntily walked, happily talked, heartily laughed and playfully teased each other as we journeyed back to the hotel.










Midnight in Marrakech

Ok. Let’s be honest here. I have never blogged in my life and I am still not really clear on the concept. But I will give it a try. We have been in Morocco for four weeks and I have already had a myriad of experiences, everything from the absolutely delightful and transcendent, to the trying and tedious. One of my very favorite experiences was while we were in Marrakech. Marrakech is a big city, rather exciting and hip for the southern part of Morocco. Marrakech has a long history as a center of power in Morocco and was a terminus of the Trans-Saharan trade. Marrakech also has a long history as a tourist attraction, drawing foreigners who imagine the “exotic,” the possible, when they visit. We are talking Edward Said orientalism at its best here. But it was not the tourism or the imagined exotic that colored our visit. Instead it was the heat. While we were in Marrakech it was hot as hell (covered well in Aileen’s blog.) The famous square, Djemaa el Fna, was unbearable in the afternoon heat. Just walking across the square at midday to get a taxi seemed nearly impossible. Being the only one from Sacramento on the trip I had convinced myself that I could take the heat. But really I could barely stand it. At times the plaza seemed to stretch on forever and at one point I was sure that I would pass out from the heat. As foreigners we were not he only ones suffering. Even the few Moroccans working the tourist crowd seemed wilted in the heat. In fact, the famous square was largely deserted during the heat of the day. Only a few venders, and a few snake and monkey handlers braved the heat under their umbrellas. Even the hustle and bustle of the shaded market slowed down in the heat of the afternoon. Only gradually, very gradually, when the sun set would the heat begin to lesson. And that is when the fun began.
It was our last night in Marrakech. We ate a huge meal very late, as usual, around ten o’clock. After dinner Joel, Eddie and I decided to go back to the square. I wanted to say goodbye properly to Marrakech, see the square one more time, and grab some dried fruits and nuts from the venders for our trip to the coast the next day. So the three of us jumped in a taxi and headed for the square. As we rode in the taxi I noticed that the streets had come to life as the heat dissipated. There were people jammed into the parks and sidewalks—kids in strollers, families having picnics at night, groups of young people promenading. As we got to the square the crowds were incredible. The square that had been largely empty during the day came to life at night! It was packed with people. A whole row of food stands had been set up all along one side. Even many of the shop stalls were still open. Orange juice stands were still in full swing, and, as I had hoped, the nuts and fruit venders as well. We shopped a bit. Eddie got a beautiful lampshade out of camel skin, I got a couple of t-shirts, and Joel just helped us bargain. Buying “stuff” in the markets is definitely part of the experience of being a tourist in Morocco. If you get into the sprit of the game it can be fun. Eddie developed this theory of good bargainer, bad bargainer—like good cop bad cop. Eddie and I were more the “good bargainer” type, a bit more polite and softspoken. Joel, on the other hand, would step in as the tough guy and go for the hard sell, or hard buy I should say. A bit later Louis and Ben joined us and they all downed some steamed snails from one of the food venders. By the look on their faces I was glad I hadn’t tried them. We all had some of the delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice and I finally got my dried figs and almonds. The vendor did get a little annoyed with me. I wanted to mix and match. Very American. We tried to get some evening shots of the Mosque. We couldn’t quite capture it, as this blog can’t quite capture the evening, but the midnight visit was a perfect way to say goodbye to Marrakech.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Did I Do Last Summer?

There are many things this trip has given me. This opportunity has given me new friendships, a sense of how multiple languages help navigate and make global connections, and it has allowed me to step outside of my world and see a new reality. However, what I have come to realize the most is that this trip has given me a desire to travel and experience more of the world. I started to think outside the box of career choices and the possibility of working outside my country. I don’t have to stay in the US to work; I could leave and give my children more life experiences than is possible when sitting in a classroom in the US. I thought to myself, “why not teach during the summer in another country?” I mean, what did I do last summer that was so exciting and life changing? I could not think of one thing. I know this summer I will never forget my travels to Morocco. How wonderful would it be to teach in a Spanish speaking country and allow my girls to be immersed in the culture and language? US schools don’t provide the cultural experiences and don’t emphasize language. I don’t want my girls to be trapped in a bubble of possibilities. I want them to think of opportunity as world wide not countrywide. So, may plan is from now on never to forget what I did last summer and make sure I travel abroad and give my children experiences outside their comfort zone. They are only 5 years old, how excited I am for them and myself.

Whose Feet Are Those?

A five-week trip with strangers is a screenplay waiting to be written. We were winding down and on week four the ladies were invited over our Arabic professor’s home for traditional Friday Couscous. Four ladies packed into one cab and the rest rode with our professor. He just got his driver’s license a few months ago and driving in Morocco is a precarious situation. Place his new driving skills on to the traffic mayhem; just say we were happy to get to the house.

As usual, his wife and family members were more than hospitable and welcomed us like family. They enjoy meeting over food and there was a lot of food to eat and get lazy. I was very tired from the night before. I went to a henna ceremony and did not get in until very late. So, I asked if I could lie down for a few to regain my strength. I was offered the bed of my professor and his wife. Back home in the States that does not happen. Your friends come visit; they sleep in the guest room not in your bed. As I went to the room Q and Kim decided to join me for a quick nap. Q and I laid on the bed and Kim on a make shift bed on the floor. As we talked and laughed at the situation I started to get a whiff of something. I eventually yelled out, “whose feet are those? I hope they are not mine.” See a few days ago Louis came to my room to use the computer and told me that my shoes were funked-da-fied! All the sweating and heat have made our feet rough and not so refreshing. My feet look like I have been kicking rocks. After my question, we all started to smell our feet and then Kim realized that it was here feet. We could not stop laughing. I was just happy they were not mine. Of course Kim said she was going to through out the shoes, but she didn’t. She wore them the next day.

A five-week trip will make you mighty comfortable with the folks you once thought of as strangers. We have become close and accepting of each other in every sense of the word. We should all be this accepting.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I love monkeys?

After two weeks of traveling around the country in a bus, I had reached the point of too much togetherness. I was ready for a break from the group, but our guides were worried about letting us split up and go off alone. Youness expressed concern that I “wanted to have an adventure,” and he more or less made me promise to fight my natural instinct to wander off.

One morning in Marrakesh, five of us decided to go to the main square to explore. We were greeted by rows of carts selling freshly-squeezed orange juice and salesmen who will pour you a tall glass as soon as you make eye contact. We stopped for a drink, purchased mixed nuts from the next set of carts, and then proceeded into the medina.

It was crowded, and we knew it wouldn’t be easy to stay together. I turned to Paulette and said off-hand that no one should worry about me if I got separated from the others. Since I’d lived abroad before and I speak French, I would be fine. In a classic case of Be Careful What You Wish For, mere moments had passed before I looked up to realize my friends were nowhere in sight.

I knew they couldn’t have gone far, but with so many shops to look in, I couldn’t find them. They told me later on that they looked for me, but it must have been like a scene from a bad comedy – they stepped out of one shop as I walked into another and we crisscrossed each other’s paths. I imagine that the movie version would include an overhead, fast-motion shot of us darting back and forth and just missing each other by seconds.

Over the course of my travels, I’ve done a wide variety of things that were probably not so wise but seemed like good ideas at the time. In the interest of not giving my mom a heart attack, I won’t list them here. At any rate, I was mostly concerned that the other teachers might be worried about me.

It seemed like they might have gone back to the main square, so I retraced our steps. While I didn’t locate my friends, there was a whirlwind of activity to explore. I knew enough to keep my distance from the snake charmers, but I made the mistake of wandering too close to the monkey handlers.

Now, I have to say here that I think monkeys are awesome. In fact, my interest in them may qualify as an obsession. The only thing cooler than a monkey is a boatload of pirates. Needless to say, the day I went to the Hallmark store and found greeting cards featuring monkey pirates will go down in history. One of my friends even joked that I should bring back a monkey for him at the end of the trip.

Still, nothing prepared me for the moment when one of the men dumped a cat-sized monkey onto my arm. He dug into my shirt with his little claws and stared at me with his beady eyes. The handler wanted to sell me a photo of myself with the little beast, so he was having none of my protests. His mantra was “Il n’est pas mechant.” (“He’s not mean.”) You can’t just drop a monkey, so I backed away. I was holding the critter as far away as I could, considering he was sitting on me. In retrospect, I should have gotten the photo, but my brain wasn’t working so well in the 115-degree weather.

Eventually, I offloaded my furry friend. Other monkey men called out to me and gestured to their animals, so I hightailed it out of there before I had any more close encounters of the simian kind. My cell phone was out of minutes, so there was no way to contact anyone in my group. Armed with nothing but a dead phone and a bag of mixed nuts, I plunged back into the bustling warren of shops as I tried to wipe off the monkey dust. Based on the spots of my sleeve, I’m guessing the monkey wasn’t a big fan of showers.

The day was just what I needed. I dodged donkey carts, browsed through dozens of shops, and had time to reflect. Even better, I was able to indulge in my new-found addiction: “gazelle horn” cookies. One of the little boys at my school had been telling me for months about how great the sweets would be here, and he had even brought in some to share with the class. When I asked him what they were called, he showed me the package. Conveniently enough, it had been labeled “Moroccan Cookies.” While they were okay, the ones here are even better. Not quite as awesome as a monkey, but close. Plus, they’re much less likely to leave mysterious spots on your sleeve.

Time passed, and I located a shop where two boys who looked all of about 12 years old loaded new minutes onto my phone. Brilliantly, I then realized I hadn’t written down the numbers of any of the people who were with me that day.

Continuing alone, I wandered into the depths of the marketplace until I reached a place where people repeatedly told me to turn around and go back to the main square. After about the third time, I decided I should probably take their advice. I wove my way through the maze and stepped into plaza again. It was so hot that my eyes hurt – I hadn’t known that your eyes could feel heat like that, but apparently they can.

This time, I veered to the side to steer clear of the Monkey Zone. As I looked up, what to my eyes should appear like a mirage but my four colleagues. Paulette’s bright orange scarf stood out like a beacon and guided me back to them.

As I looked back on the day, I realized the lessons were clear: 1) wandering alone is good for the soul, and 2) if you see a monkey headed your way, dodge him while you have the chance.

My Moroccan Tea Mania

In any town, village, or city in Morocco, you can bet your bottom dollar that you will be served hot tea. It is a ritual which entertains guests, completes meals, and marks special occasions. It is part of the rich Moroccan culture.

Tea was introduced to Morocco during the 18th century and Sultan Moulay Ismaei was a major tea lover! He was originally given the tea as a gift from the British and Dutch. Traditionally, a "moulatai" or tea man was hired to ceremoniously brew and serve the tea by pouring it into tiny tea glasses from high above the glass in order to aerate the tea and produce a foam on the top. The tea was served in order of age and social rank.

Moroccan Tea is an official drink of the nation and its nickname is "Berber Whiskey." Morocco is actually the largest importer of Chinese Green Tea in the world. A Moroccan friend we met in Marrakech said, he drinks up to 21 cups a day. That's a lot of tea! He was nice enough to include us in a traditional tea ceremony in the back of his uncle's shop in the medina. It was such a neat experience. I bought a tea set there and am so looking forward to sharing tea with family, friends, coworkers, and students.

Although I love the tea, what I adore the most about this tradition is that having tea brings people together to converse and this is where I have learned so many wonderful things about my "fellows" and the Moroccan people. Turning down a cup of tea is considered rude and due to my "Moroccan Tea Mania," this has not been a problem. Shukran to all my new Moroccan family for sharing so much more than tea with me! Bismillah!

*Check out the youtube link so you can learn how to make Moroccan Tea...Click on the title My Moroccan Tea Mania to view the video*

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The limits of mere words

Uncharacteristically mute. I struggle every time I sit and try to find words to explain what I have seen, heard, smelled, touched, tasted here. All that sensory stimulation melds together into this narrative in my head, but I cannot sort it out on paper. This is attempt to begin to twist those pesky letter formations called words that, by the way, seem suddenly so woefully inadequate - not big enough nor vibrant enough to represent my mind's movie. I'm gonna write though, because when I am not here anymore, I don't want my struggle to find those pictures - having it all slip away because I was too reticent.

Self-indulgent moaning aside, I need to talk about how much I miss being on the road and the frequent "10-minute" bathroom breaks. A bathroom break on the road for us never meant just time to queue up and pee. Cigarettes had to be smoked, tea had to be poured and slowly consumed. These are the times when we all sat around tiny towns tucked in gorges and perched on mountain ridges. We sat in cafes with espresso machines spitting and tagines steaming. We sat for long, delicious minutes talking, wondering where we were going - where we were REALLY going, and trying to see everything around us without staring too much. We were tired from staying up too late every night talking, talking, talking, we slept cautiously - well some of us were unabashed in falling deeply asleep - trying to not drool since being photographed while sleeping was inevitable. I miss that.

A Special Moment in Fes

A Special Moment in Fes


I had the most incredible evening! My teacher mentor, Nezha, whom I met at the middle school in the Medina came to the hotel to visit with Sherri and they both insisted that I accompanied them on her errands. I did not really want to go because I was so tired and my feet and ankles were swollen and aching from visiting the Medina two days in a row. However, after stating that she walks everywhere and walks quickly, and then observing the look on my face, she quickly suggested that we could take a taxi to get to the business center. I didn’t want her to spend extra money so I relented and said I would accompany them if she walked. So, I ran how to my room and took an ibuprofen to help with the swelling and the aching. We walked and chatted on our way to the business center. It was like I was with a childhood friend. I quickly forgot about my aching and swollen feet. We talked about how women can be prejudice against other women who are voluptuous like me. She said I was light on my feet after witnessing me dancing to the music and singing of the Ganoa musician at the Medina.(I guess the idiom” light on your feet” transcends countries, languages, and cultures.) She said her older brother had a girlfriend who was from Senegal and how conscious the girlfriend felt because people always stared at her because of her size. She said her brother was quite passionate about her and she loved her also because she had a pure heart. Her brother’s girlfriend returned to Senegal after completing her studies because she could no longer stay in the country. I told her I considered my robustness as a rite of passage, my journey through life and living of menarche, motherhood, and menopause. We both agreed that we like women who are comfortable in their own skin and who think for themselves. But, I wondered if Moroccan women are adopting Western style of thinking when it comes to body size because their women used to be robust, with wide girths, if the women’s clothings in the museum are any indication.


While Nezha conducted her business, Sherri and I relaxed in the air condition and I took some pictures of two anti smoking ads. One ad depicted a man being hung by a smoke made noose, the other showed the burned lungs of a smoker imprinted on a white T shirt. I wondered how people could smoke after seeing those ads.They are so graphic. These pictures will go to Miss Terri Young, the health coordinator at Crescent Heights.


After leaving the business center we strolled into a clothing, accessories store and looked at the purses, bags, necklaces and sandals. I realized that Moroccans like slippers / sandals and like to shop just like their American sisters. They are very fashion forward and have great taste in clothing. I saw large and small colorful dangling earrings, purses, bags, belts of various lengths and width, scarves in every size, shape and color. I felt like I was in a store in Los Angeles. The only difference were the many languages I heard being spoken simultaneously. I am completely taken by the Moroccans’ language dexterity. They switch from language to language with such fluidity. The store clerk was conducting business in French, Spanish, English and Arabic. It makes me envious. I thought about my children and my students and how they are growing up in a monolingual society. I feel like the world is passing them by. I told my oldest that he needs to learn to speak another language not because he will be studying business in University but because he needs to learn to communicate with his brothers and sisters around the globe, especially his brothers and sisters who look like him.


After walking out of the store, Nezha said that store was one of her favorites because they sell beautiful things and the prices were very affordable. She said she never impulse shopped. Whenever she sees something she likes she mulls it over for a few days before making the purchase. I told her that I was the same and often missed out on items that had stayed on my mind for weeks especially if the items were on sale. Well, we did not buy anything.


As we ambled to the doctor’s office- Nezha’s mom just returned home from the hospital- I looked at and admired every scarf that the women were wearing. Some scarves were simple and others were beautifully embellished and draped over their heads and necks. I notice the scarves were tied in many different styles and how sensual it made some of the women looked. Their eyes and faces were meticuously made up. I saw many women wearing bright colored lipsticks. I wondered what is the undertone? I am so enamored by the scarves. I will buy a few and learn how to tie them. I looked at the clothing and noticed that some of the women’s loose clothing showed the curves of their bodies. I wondered if all this clothing is not more tantalizing to the men. They have got be wondering “What it is like to hold that woman?” “What are her eyes saying?”


I also notice that the cafes were filled with men socializing as they drank tea and other beverages. The men greeted each other by kissing each cheek and held hands as they walked. Some even hugged as they walk down the streets.This is a beautiful sight, indeed. Men being free to hold each other. Can you imagine if we all adopted this behavior and display it to everyone outside our cultural, ethnical, and racial boundaries? There would be no prejudice, no genocide, no war because we would be too busy acknowledging our brothers and sisters. Witnessing these behaviors brought back to mind what my grandmother use to say- God did not give his only begotten son for people to be miserable and hurtful. On the other hand, I thought about the gays and lesbian population in a place where the men interact so closely with each other. How do you know when boundaries are being crossed? What is the social consequence? I also though about our African American boys in the United States and how their comraderie is shown through the intricate handshakes. I wonder also if the slaves who were brought to the Americas also held hands and if they did when did ithe behavior stop.


Yes, my afternoon wandering in Fes caused me to wonder a lot. Isn’t this the whole idea of spending time in Morocco? As I am writing this I realized that the thought had not occurred to me to take out my camera or video to record the sensations, sights and sounds. I was so totally immerse in the moment, culture and the experience. I felt at home. Thanks, Nezha Youssefi!



Old McDonald’s Had a Factory (eeyi eeyi oooh): Learning that time and money do not always have to be the focus... but for where I live they are.



As has been the case during this entire journey, I continuously find myself comparing various aspects of my home culture of the States to that of Morocco. Generally speaking, I have found a few experiences here to be less favorable than that of our Western society, and these times tend to be more comfort driven. Bathrooms would be a prime example. But more often than not I seem to gravitate towards a higher appreciation for some of the social structures I have experienced here in Morocco. That is not to say I find Morocco’s examples to be better. Rather, in this comparative mode of mine, I have looked to Morocco for a modeling of social constructs that I can utilize back in the States.


Yesterday my colleagues and I were led through the comprehensive maze of the medina (old town) here in Fez. After repeating ‘La, la, la’ (No, no, no) to the local children begging for a few durhams (money), our tour guide navigated us through a few of the 9,000 plus walkways that make up this specifically expansive medina, passing by literally a hundred shops, reminiscent of a swapmeet in Los Angeles, to which we arrived at what we found out is the biggest leather tannery in North Africa. This was not obvious at first, however. The very unassuming entrance we were lead to by our entertaining tour guide (whose name escapes me) was at the dead end of a walkway we eventually reached. Having sent a young man standing outside to prepare mint (I originally thought for tea), we walked in and were immediately greeted by a different young man who declared we follow him. He then lead us up what I imagined was a good 5 flights or so, to which the need for the mints was made glaringly clear. The stench of drying animal skin protruded the entire place and good whifs of the scented leaves did as good a job as any to offset that.


Upon reaching the top flight and walking past the vast amount of hand crafted leather products, was what can be described in my Western World lingo as a leather making factory. The problem with labeling it a factory, actually, is the fact that it is the exact antithesis to what we have come to know factories to be. The site was intense (which was obvious with the numerous 'Wows!' heard from my colleagues). Several flights below us were an endless amount of five-person-jacuzzi sized vats. I can only guess the total number of vats to be anywhere between 75 and 100. One half of the vats were a dark brown color with similarly colored liquid found within. The other, somehow a bright white container with a bluish-white tint to the liquid.


Our host, who was the second gentleman that welcomed us into the shop, began detailing the makeup of the tannery and the process that goes into manufacturing the leather products. He began to enlighten us on how the skin is cut and how the hair is removed from the skin using limestone by hand, I believe. He then explained that the leather was placed in the brown liquid tanks for several hours while the men found in them manipulated them to the needs of the process. The skin is treated once again to remove anything originally missed. It is then taken to the white vats, which are filled with naturally produced ammonia as well as other natural elements, where it sits for several more hours. They then use a product they extract from an animal (I do not recall which animal and what it is) that naturally removes the ammonia from the leather, which keeps it from irritating human skin. Our expert goes on further explaining how much more work goes into producing the amazing bags, shoes, wallets and the like that we found surrounding us. This didn’t include the artisans who hand craft the eventually treated hide.


All of this work by hand immediately struck me. The amount of patience one must have in order for this to be their manufacturing technique, and, moreover, what that reflects about the society itself was quite astonishing. The title of this blog refers to the McDonaldization, as it has been aptly named, of America and the individuals in it. It is clear that we live in a society where time, material, and money dictate the rhythm of the social structure. If the driving force here were strictly time and money, this process would have been obsolete long ago. Instead, it is the same process that has been used for centuries...CENTURIES. What does this mean in regards to the general fabric of this society versus ours?


My associate Ben gave a great demonstration of this argument today. When dining in the States, most of us are used to having our waiters in restaurants ready at a moment’s notice (to some degree). If they are not, we, in general, are quick to be frustrated about our service, even tipping them less as a consequence. Is that fair? Our waiters here in Morocco have been much less timely than we are used to in the States. Is that bad service? I don’t believe there is a black and white answer to that. Maybe it is. Or maybe here in Morocco, where time is not as much a factor, there is no need for hurrying. Maybe the patrons here are more into enjoying the moment and less into getting in and out. Though the business wants to make money (make no mistake, money has its importance here), maybe the business is not in a rush to get you out and the next paying customer in. In essence, what I have grown accustomed to in the States is NOT actually the only way, and that has been proven dramatically in my stay in Morocco, and even more so at the tannery here in Fez.


If asked, I would say I definitely wish we were much less time and money focused. I believe our acute attention on them single handedly attributes to much of the imbalance I see in our country, and the world. Our lack of focus on the human factor, and our exceedingly intense obsession with accruing as much as possible has done our people, and our planet, a disservice, to say the very least. With all of the goods we have accumulated, with all the technology we have developed, and with all of the resources and connections we maintain, it is blaringly clear that if you cannot produce some financial reason for why one should help you, a majority of the time you will not be helped. A general statement (as some of my commentary is), but no less actual.


Truthfully, though, it can be argued that it is our country's fierce (and often cruel) attention to time and money that has brought us to this position of having goods, technology, resources and comfort in abundance. How can one use the wind and the currents of the ocean to sail home, then get mad at those same forces if they destroy that home. It is not that simple, I know. But I am living in America, supporting its system, and, it can be reasoned, thriving in it, and thus, for me, the correlation fits. Again, I do not agree with our methods by no means, but my lifestyle is supporting it. Our Director Azeb reminds me that I am doing so in the periphery. Regardless, in my eyes, I am doing so.


One thing is evident, I have given myself/been given the opportunity to see life through a different lens. I am not exactly sure how I will respond to this, both ideologically and in a realistically applicative way. I am glad, though, that I have found something in life worth responding to.


P.S. I ended up giving a few durhams to one of the kids when we were leaving. It is hard not to.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Oasis

The drive from Merzouga to Dades proved to be another treat. Between the Atlas Mountains is Tineghir; a wonderful oasis.  It was difficult to fathom miles and miles of lush, green vegetation blossoming right in the middle of what had seemed to be a barren, God-forsaken desert!  Our driver stopped the bus along a steep cliff to allow us to take pictures.  Wow, how can I describe this paradox?  It looked as if God took Her finger and carved her name into the hard, rocky, earth forming deep, winding canyons (much like we’ve all done on a much smaller scale in the sand at the beach). Except, everywhere Her finger touched, produced a thick blanket of palm trees.  If this vision I see before me were in a competition, it would run a close tie with “paradise.”

Said

Shortly after, we met our guide, Said (pronounced Sah-eed), which is Arabic for “happy.”  I found his name very appropriate for his disposition. He greeted us alongside the road with his camels.  I remembered that one’s name was Jimi Hendrix, and he suspiciously stared at me from the corner of his eye as if to say, “Come a little closer so that I can show you how accurately I can spit on tourists.” I moved in a little closer to take a picture, but quickly recognized the hint for him to maintain his space.  As we descended with Said into the canyon, I noticed how the temperature comfortably dropped to provide relief.  Among the rich foliage were alfalfa plants used to feed the animals, fresh mint for the tea that has been our staple beverage, rows of cabbage, corn stalks, and peach and pomegranate trees. We walked carefully along the narrow dirt path that was accompanied by the serene sounds of the irrigation stream that nourished the crops.  While we walked, Said would occasionally stop to pull fronds from trees in between jokes, songs, and chat to weave the ladies in our group flowers or snakes, which we proudly adorned our heads.  I was so impressed to learn that he spoke several languages:  Tamazight, Arabic, French, Spanish, as well as a little Italian and Japanese.  It made me wonder why I had spent so much time in school, but never bothered to acquire another language.  Here he was in the middle of “nowhere” and could communicate easily with people from all over the world, while I have accented my wall at home with college degrees and pray most of the time somebody speaks English. Hell, my own students can linguistically “leave me in the dust.”

The Ice Cream Man

Anyway, I was totally immersed in the sounds, fragrances, and light-hearted conversation.  From a distance, I could hear a man cry out on a loud speaker to the surrounding homes embedded in the sides of the cliffs.  We asked Said if it was a call for prayer, as is customary in all of the cities we visited.  His response was cute.  “No, he is asking the women to shop at his store,” he replied.  I’m pretty sure he was serious, but it would have been great sarcasm if he wasn’t.   I thought to myself, “The Loud-Speaker Man functions like the Ice Cream Man without the annoying muffled Disney show tunes.”   It brought back memories of scurrying around the house to find an adult to take me to the ice cream truck.  I wonder if that experience was happening in a similar way in one of those cliff side houses.  I imagine that it probably does.  Perhaps in a small, beautiful village in the middle of a Moroccan oasis, a child is running to meet “The Ice Cream Man.”

The Transformers

It is interesting to see someone change right before your eyes. As I watched Suzie gallop on a horse along the beach in Essaouira and as we conversed about our lives while drinking Sangria and watching the sunset, I thought to myself, “who is this girl?” She is not the same person I met 4 weeks ago. However, during our Moroccan wedding adventure I finally saw her. I did not have to ask who she was anymore. She had a smile so big that it most certainly was the biggest and brightest in the room. She let go and allowed herself to be swept up in the moment, enjoying the culture and the experience that is too breathtaking for me to even explain. I knew in that moment she was transformed into a new Suzie. Not completely different, but different enough that she seemed new in my eyes.

The funny thing is that while you watch everyone else transform you don’t realize when you are being changed by your experiences. As I spoke about Suzie’s transformation, Jelani reminded me that my new vision of Suzie is a transformation for myself. I realized that in order for me to see Suzie, I mean really see her; I needed to let go of my preconceived notions about people and allow myself to see her and accept her. In doing so, I was able to see her change and say “wow”. So, we have both transformed in different ways. I appreciate her making the shift and Jelani for pointing out my transformation.

Cool Breeze


We arrived in Essaouira, a beautiful beach town. Quite windy. It was a pleasure to be in the sun after over two weeks of hot miserable, drenchingly sweaty weather -without searching for the next shady spot. On our way, we stopped at the argon cooperative. We were given a quick overview of the process of making argon oil. It is done in the traditional way of women breaking seeds with stones, kneading with hands and grinding with mortar looking untensils. I over heard our guide telling one of the fellows that the women rotate positions along the assembly line process every fifteen minutes. The ladies doing the laborous work were all ederly while the ladies in the fashionable display show room were all young and attractive. I bought peanutbutter and honey for David, argon oil and soap for Alex for his face and shampoo and lotion for me. The young ladies in the store were much fun and friendly. The girl who was assisting me wrote the names of the items I bought in Arabic and tried to help me pronounce the names. It was an arduous task for both of us. I am certainly tone and or language sound deaf. I am happy I provided some entertaiment for them because they certainly laughed out loud as they listened to me trying to sound out the words.

Before we entered Essaouria, we stopped at a look out point to take pictures of the town and the coast. There was a camel there and I became interested in it’s poop. Its poop is dark brown with slight green and compact. It has an oval, cylindrical shape. Actually, I was not able to discern the smell. I am glad it is not an awful odorous scent. Susan gave me a sandwich bag to put it in since she did not want to smell it. I am hoping to find a sample of donkey and horses’ poop. I think I will have a difficult time collecting the horse’s poop since there is a bag / catchment under the tail that is attached to the carriage. The poop are in this container. I guess they have to save the poop. My grandfather always said that horse’s poop is priceless manure. Anyway, who wants to walk the streets and clean up after the horses. I can do a lesson on different animal poop by reading the book, Everyone Poops. I know the first graders would enjoy a lesson on poops. They talk about bodily functions all the time. I hope I will be able to take home the poop without crushing it. I guess I’ll have to wrap it gently in some soft clothing.

In Essaouira, we ate lunch at the sea side cafe called the Fanatic. It was an ejoyable meal of fish combination - whiting, calamarie/squids, sole, and shrimp - and of course bread dipped in olive oil. It was a refreshing change from the tangines. I noticed that fish is prepared with the bones as in Jamaica -unlike the US where it is filet before cooking and serving. It was fun watching the fellows clearing the flesh of the fish from the bones before eating. They searched each bit of flesh for bones and once they put the fish in their mouths they chewed slowly to make sure the forkful was boneless.

Sherri, Susan and I strolled down to the boardwalk. The headwind made us use a few extra muscles to increase our stamina. We had tea at a little cafe and then we gaily walked on the shore like three litle girls experiencing the ocean for the first time.

“It took me fifty years to get to the other side of the Atlantic,” Sherrie muttered.

“Took me much longer,” I replied.

“I have to take a picture in the water.” responded Susan.


We talked about how low the tide was. We looked at all the footprints and shoe prints that were deeply embedded in the sand. The sand that was covered by the ocean before the water ebbed was moist and compact. It was easy to walk on. We took off our sandals and made our own footprints. I thought of the stanza in the poem, “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that states:


Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And departing leave behind us

Footprints on the sand of time,


Sherri thought of Jimmy Hendrik’s “Castles Made of Sand.” We heard that Essaouira was Jimmy Hendrick’s favorite place. Maybe that’s why so many camels are called Jimmy Hendricks. I wonder why he would write such a melancholic song while sitting on these shores- A girl getting rid of a drunken, wayward lover. An indian boy being killed in his sleep. A cripple girl and her wheelchair. The refrain states:


And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually.

And so castles made of sand melts in the sea, eventually.

And so castles made of sand slips in the sea, eventually.


We took out our cameras and the snapping began. Sherrie’s picture had the island in the background. Susan’s picture had every concievable detail. Well, mine had to show that I actually touched the water in some way.


Sherri and I snapped some pictures of some camels on the beach. I would never have put the two together- camel and beach. I collected some dry beach sand so the children can compare and contrast desert and coastal sands and do some artwork such as sand painting. It was much more difficult to walk on the dry beach sand because It is much looser and finer than the wet sand and the sand I collected from the desert.


Yes, Essaouira made me think of Longfellow so I will close with the last two stanzas of the poem:

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.


Let us then be up and doing

With a heart to every fate

Still acheiving, still pursuing

Learn to labor and to wait.


I wonder was Jimmy Hendriks a socially “shipwrecked brother” who found solace on the shores of Essaouira!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day Nineteen: We Can Dance If We Want To

The official name of our Fulbright program is “Multicultural Morocco: Lessons From Africa.” What an appropriate title. For one, the first part of the name – Multicultural Morocco – not only captures the very essence of the different cultures coexisting in Morocco, but I think also encapsulates the general spirit of the country – a rich and complex “dance” of intertwined, symbiotic histories, languages, peoples, and experiences that make all of these elements somewhat distinct in their singular parts, yet each fully Moroccan. The second part of the title also resonates with me as I really do feel as though I am learning so much from this place. What has struck me the most over the past few weeks is this dance I keep alluding to. I call it a dance because I can find no better way to describe the different intersections and interactions of Morocco’s various elements.

We’re currently on the road on an eight-hour ride from Essaouira to the capital, Rabat (or as I keep calling it, “Robot”). As we drive down the highway I am reminded of the dance – old and new, traditional and modern, African, European, and Middle Eastern, first world and third world. Our coach zips past kids on rusty bicycles, horse drawn carriages, new Renaults, Volkswagens, and Mercedes, and entire families on mules – all sharing the same road. I expected this. After all, Morocco has historically been an important crossroads between different “dances” and “dancers.” Guidebooks and literature on the country will no doubt emphasize this point, but there is nothing like experiencing it firsthand. My first encounter with the dance was during my first day of language instruction (see: Day One: Introduction & First Impressions) observing the university kids walk around school, some dressed traditionally and conservatively, others hip and chic (and still others mixing the two). Some days later, another (more subtle) example of the dance caught my eye. On the narrow side table that doubled as a desk and affixed to the wall in my hotel room was a sticker carefully positioned so that it pointed towards Mecca. Next to the touch-tone phone and under a window overlooking Spaniards in two-piece bikinis rested this sea green on white sticker proudly directing the faithful towards the holiest of Islamic sites (complete with the hotel’s insignia on the bottom – the same company that owns Motel 6). Fascinating.

No moment on this trip has more accurately captured the dance, however, than what happened at lunch yesterday. After a morning walk through Essaouira’s laid-back medina and touring the Skala du Port (the fort at the harbor’s edge) our group stopped for lunch at a small café between the harbor and the medina’s entrance. An inviting spot along a small stretch of picturesque sidewalk cafés, it stood out for the American funk and soul blaring from the speakers and its servers in bright yellow t-shirts with musical notes on them. Ecstatic to find pizza on the menu, we sat down and ordered. Essaouira being on the coast, the temperature was near perfect and the sun happily shined on us as we lounged under the shade of bright parasols.

As we sat in complete relaxation, it was just a matter of time before many of us broke into song. Between a James Brown set of “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World,” our group sang along, instantly becoming the center of attention. How American of us, right? Imagine the scene, 14 Americans of different ages, colors, and ethnicities singing and gyrating in their seats while local Moroccans smile at us curiously and European tourists stare stoically. Food served and feet still tapping, we proceeded to nosh when right in the middle of “Sex Machine,” (Yes! Of all songs, “Sex Machine”!) the music came to an abrupt halt replaced by the daily call to prayer. All along the stretch, it seemed, cafés muted their stereo systems to pay respect to the adhān. Not immediately realizing why the music had stopped, it took our brains a second or two to catch up with the sound trickling in and focus on the muezzin’s voice off in the distance. I was floored.

It’s as if even the heavens purposely planned out the climate and topography in such a way. One minute you’re in one of the driest, most brutal areas on earth and right in the middle of it, quiet and unsuspecting, will lie the most wonderful oasis stretching for what seems forever – lush, verdant, and life-giving. We’ve seen this time and time again: a couple days’ journey can take you through the majestic passes of the Middle and High Atlas mountains, to the doorway of the Sahara, and to the temperate beaches of the Atlantic coast.

Like I’ve said before, Morocco is obviously a land of contrasts and linkages. Bold tajines paired with sweet, caramelized apricots and raisins, a medieval medina a skip away from the ville nouvelle, snowcapped mountains visible from arid lowlands, different generations listening to the same song – one the classic tune, the other a dance version – the organized chaos that is driving on the streets of Morocco. This is a remarkable country characterized by the dance, the complementary nature of its vivid dichotomies. It’s a heck of a dance and one I enjoy participating in every day.

Currently listening to: Major Lazer & La Roux - Lazerproof

Monday, July 19, 2010