Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day One: Introduction & First Impressions

Day one began with breakfast in the mezzanine café. Standard fare, I suppose, an assortment of croissants, yogurt, eggs (I’ve eaten sooo many eggs on this trip!), juice, and this one hard, pancake-y-type flat thing that, served with honey, was the bomb! Shortly after 8:30 am we were on the bus for a quick, 10-minute ride to Université Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah, Fez. The university sits atop a small hill right outside of the ville-nouvelle (the newer, more modern part of Fez). Walled off from the main street, the university’s entrance is located on the side of a small parking lot. At a good five or six stories high, the yellow angular school doesn’t look like much from the outside – a large concrete/drywall peninsula with a fairly large courtyard and a fountain in the shape of an eight pointed star. Otherwise, the school was pretty uninspiring – door after square door that made the place look more like a tenement than a prestigious university (and one that reminded me terribly of my own high school). What was impressive, however, was the sheer energy of the campus. The school was teeming with university students everywhere it seemed and on every floor. Hundreds of men and women hanging out in the shade under the cover of the floor above to avoid the oppressive morning sun. Men and women engaged in deep conversation and trivial gossip greeting each other and laughing as professors lounged around or spoke with interested pupils. It was here that Morocco’s paradoxes and contradictions began to reveal themselves to me. A mixture of old and new, religious and secular, traditional and modern seemed to merge in this marketplace of ideas. Men and women sauntered the open halls, some in traditional jellabas and others in skinny jeans and flaunting the hippest styles. Heavily bearded and clean shaven men walking side-by-side while more conservative and covered women crossed the quad passing their trendy, exposed classmates.

We settled in the teacher’s lounge where we were promptly served mint tea and where my addiction to the stuff would start. After a short welcome by the dean, we headed towards our classroom and began our Arabic language instruction.

We left campus around 1 pm and went to grab some lunch. We ended up at this really nice restaurant full of business types on their lunch breaks. I ordered a piping hot lamb tajine with caramelized sweet plums and vegetables. The food was absolutely spectacular – una gran mezcla de sabores attacking my palette at every turn. This was the first of many amazing meals yet to come. (Our program director, Azeb, claims that we will probably lose about 10 lbs. before the trip is over… not going to happen.)

Two hours later we were back in class though everybody would have preferred to be back in bed. Our afternoon session consisted of two lectures by distinguished professors, one about Moroccan history, the other about the future of the Moroccan educational system, pedagogy, and politics/philosophy. Amazing stuff! It had been a while since I was involved in the kind of high level, passionate discussion we were having and I was loving it. Issues about race, capitalism, the role of school as institution for societal progress were all brought up and it was great to listen to the Moroccan perspective as well as those from my colleagues.

We returned to our digs and had a lovely chicken couscous for dinner. After a meal spent recapping our first day, we retired back to our rooms exhausted, bellies full, and looking forward to doing it all over again.

Currently listening to: Sea Wolf - Get to the River Before It Runs Too Low

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