Friday, August 15, 2014

Visits Home

My old roommate Grace came to visit as well so I got to play tourist for a few weeks.  Here are some of our adventures.  I wish I had pictures of working our church's annual luau which is always an interesting experience but I was too busy in the imu pit!

Makapu'u Tidepools

Arizona Memorial

View from Punchbowl Crater

Polynesian Cultural Center

And of course its always great to see old friends.  Love them!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Birthday Adventures in Chefchauoen

I turned 23 this weekend and got to spend birthday in the Blue City.  This city was incredibly picturesque so I think I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.  I love Google photos because they create a lot of cool things from panoramas such as this to photo compilations called stories.  Check it out I really love this one!

My Google Story of Chefchauoen

I really enjoyed my weekend because although this is somewhat of a tourist city, it has a small town feel and I found myself interacting with shop owners and other locals along the way.  The stories and banter we shared were told in a mix of English and Arabic between bartering sales and learning about childhood years I enjoyed this town the most thus far because of the people who made it special.  So thank you to my travel companions for the celebratory drinks (yay for Ramadan being over!) and for the many engaging strangers I met along the way.  This morning was a peaceful morning filled with a stroll by myself through the town and the images came out beautifully (I'm no photographer but seriously check out the photos in my Google story!).  I also ended up wandering to the base of the hiking trail where Erik, Kasey, Ross, and Tim went hiking yesterday evening so I decided on a quick hike to the Mosque at the top before I left.  Along my way I passed a curious dog who decided to join me on my hike and met a loquacious primary school teacher who told me all about his passion for environmental sciences and eco-friendly technologies.  We had some great conversations and stories about teaching and our students, and frankly we got a little carried away by our conversations that I ended up cutting it a little too close to our departure time.  However, luckily he was a Chefchauoen local because he was able to escort me back to the hotel in the shortest possible route although my power-walking amused him because the rushing is not the Moroccan way. Our route took us through this oasis in the middle of the town and I made it back just in time to grab my suitcases and load them onto our bus by 10.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Home is where the minions gather

July 31, 2014

I haven't been blogging for a while, because I've been staying with a home stay family here in Fes and I don't have internet access except when I'm at my Arabic classes or lectures at INLAC.  Here in Fes I am staying with the matriarch of a large family, named Fatima, and her adult son Adil.  Fatima speaks no English and Adil's English is quite limited so I'm definitely getting some Arabic language practice in although my most commonly uttered phrase is I don't understand or la afahamu لا أفهم 

The home itself has three stories (not counting the entrance on the ground floor) I am staying on the second floor in a room that I suspect was set up as a salon (living/sitting room), as there are banquette chairs lining all the walls (one of which has become my bed for the time being), with an ornate table in the middle.  However, we usually spend our time in the living room area that you see in the photos because that's where the TV is and its right next to the kitchen.  Moroccan TV is interesting and our nightly ritual of watching the news (mainly about Gaza), an odd but hilarious hidden camera prank show with no dialogue, and what I'm guessing is Morocco's Got Talent...which I'm not quite sure they do.  There's some decent acts, but mostly weird ones!

Perhaps most importantly though I should mention that we are celebrating Eid! The end of Ramadan and the breaking of the fast.  While I wasn't exactly fasting every day, its nice to be able to not worry about needing to hide in order to drink some water on a hot day.  Generally speaking I avoided eating or drinking in public during the day out of respect, because if I was fasting I wouldn't exactly appreciate an ignorant tourist rubbing it in by eating or drinking in front of me.

But getting back to Eid and the fun traditions involved. One aspect is the visiting of one's elders so as the matriarch of the family all of the Fatima's children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews have been coming by for some juice and sweets throughout the day.  The three young minions in the photo are Hamudah and Abudullah the sons of Fatima's daughter who lives across the street from INLAC, and

I don't understand how the Moroccans eat so many sweets. I feel the diabetes forming with the sugar I've been consuming and I am nowhere near the level of the Moroccans surrounding me.  You see those cookies on the table in front of Fatima and I, those are but a tiny fraction of what was consumed over the last couple of days.

An interesting cultural lesson for me today was I finally found out the purpose of those silver baubles that are on the table that I noticed so many Moroccan families had.  The item with the long thin top is filled with perfumed water, or in this case rose water and when offered one should cup their hands allow the host to sprinkle some of the water and then smooth the water over your face (which I learned by Fatima's miming for me).  "For your beauty" was Fatima's daughter's explanation.  It really is quite refreshing and smells very pretty. The orb shaped object (by me) was an incense burner.

Eid also brought about goodbyes to Chiranyu another American student living with with Fatima, Adil and I in Fes.  He had finished his program a few weeks before I arrived but wanted to stay through Eid before heading up to Tangiers.  He's been in Morocco for several months now and I must say I'm impressed with his Arabic skills, but he's been studying Arabic for a couple years back in the states so my 3 weeks of study are nothing in comparison. Check us out in our snazzy caftans to celebrate Eid!  Being a casual short sleeved one mine's is more meant for wear inside the house and is only worn around outside by silly tourists like me, but whatever it's still pretty.  Its not that its caftans aren't worn outside, but in a city like Fes which is the spiritual and cultural capital of the country, the standard of dress is a bit more conservative than the rest of the country.  So pro tip, if you want to fit in as a woman, don a djellaba.  They are also just really convenient because you can throw is on over whatever bum clothes you were wearing around the house, throw on scarf and your out the door looking like a perfectly respectable Moroccan lady.

Although, its been a long couple of days with so many people coming in and out of the house, its been my favorite days in Fes so far.  These minions might tire me out especially because they're allowed to be up and loud well past midnight due to the celebration, but I enjoy having some excitement around because its pretty quiet when its just Fatima, Adil and I.  Also here's what happens when Hamudah gets control of your phone.  You end up with about 50 pictures which are pretty much identical to the one on the left from his button mashing amusement and the occasional nicely posed photo of two cousins who like each other for a moment.  Sorry for the rambling, I'm pretty tired so until next time...Laila Saida or good night!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Music Appreciation and Collaboration Part 1

To be honest, I didn't have very high hopes for Midelt going in.  This small city is not exactly ripe with tourist attractions or shopping opportunities, but we were blessed with passionate guides who showed us immense hospitality and truly went above and beyond to ensure that we enjoyed our time there. L’ hamdu li'llah (Thanks be to God).  Being spoiled for a night with a GORGEOUS hotel room and elaborate meals and surprise musical performances didn't hurt either. ;)

This first video is made primarily using music that our group made together in the form of drumming, along with the Amazigh (Berber) music that we had the opportunity to listen to later on that evening.  The pictures are just a random montage of pictures from throughout our adventures and are not limited to our journey to Midelt. 

These two lovely doctors are passionate collectors of fossils and gemstones, and invited us into their home to tour us through their collection and then took all 15 of us into their home and entertained us for with drinks, snacks and life tales until it was time to go.  

We were also joined by Drs. Fatima Sadiqi and Moha Ennauji who would be the ones to bring us into the next chapter of our journey in Fes, the spiritual and cultural capital of Morocco. 

Overall, I feel blessed to have met these individuals as they were an unexpected gift that lifted our spirits with kindness and enlightened us through the use of difficult to translate humor.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Hawaii vs. CT History Lessons in Saidia

July 25, 2014

We are taking a little break from reality this weekend and took a trip to the resort town of Saidia on the Mediterranean coast.  Here we stayed at an all inclusive resort and I felt very out of my element, which is weird because you would think sandy beaches and sunshine would remind me of home.  This was definitely the "tourist" experience, and something that I would typically avoid while traveling, but this definitely provided some perspective on my Morocco experience.

Looking around at the Europeans sunbathing on the lounge chairs spattering the beaches I felt the love-hate feeling that I typically feel towards large crowds of tourists in Hawaii.  Tourists are vital to the economy of Hawaii and the industry creates many jobs throughout the state that many of my family members and friends rely on and for that reason I love tourists.  However, I always felt that tourists are only interested in the superficial elements of Hawaii and do not care about the realities of life and not about anything but the carefully crafted presentation that we deliver of hula dancers, surf lessons, and postcard worthy photo shoots.

Tourism is the biggest money maker of the Moroccan economy and with a beautifully crafted experience it's no wonder why resort life in Saidia is so popular among the European tourists and many of my American companions were loving it as well.  However, although the beaches of the Mediterranean are a cool site to see, this to me wasn't the real Morocco and I'm excited to see what Fes has in store for us. I'm looking forward to the homestay and getting to see the real day to day life of Moroccans rather than the "tourist experience."

Camel Rides on the Beach

Dana, Donna, and myself sat here with our cocktails and had interesting conversations on Social Studies teachings in Connecticut and Hawaii.  I shared with them a bit about the Hawaiian monarchy and the culture of Hawaii that we learn about in our schools instead of the additional US History classes.  Lessons about ahupua'a's and ali'i; Queen Liliuokalani and King Kamehameha; and the accurate parts of Lilo and Stitch.  It was a lovely way to our only evening here, but like I said this glorious evening was a nice break from reality, I'm looking forward to exploring to Oujda, then heading off to Fes.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

#tbt: Schools and Outfits 1,000s of miles apart

July 17, 2014

Today we went to visit a small school in Ifrane, and met four college-aged volunteers who have been working here during the summer to instruct these students in French.  I feel that being here in Morocco I have learned almost as much French as I have Arabic because when people see a foreigner they typically start speaking to you in French.  Morocco was formerly colonized by the French and even today French is taught in Moroccan schools, and is considered a high status language. The school was a humble one room structure located on a former dump that has been filled in and it now the home of many cows (who get up close and personal with you) and a few dogs as well.  It is also the only permanent structure in the area.

We also walked to nearby village (a shantytown of sorts) where most of the children lived.  We were warmly welcomed by a village elder who offered me a seat next to her in the shade and seemed to enjoy talking to me even though I did not understand what she was saying.   I didn't take any pictures of the village because I wasn't sure if it was appropriate to take pictures of their private homes without permission, but most were makeshift structures formed from recycled materials such as vinyl signs.  This was a far cry from the university housing and the beautiful classrooms of Al Akhawayn School in the same town of Ifrane.

#tbt to my tenth grade year and our church Mission trip to India

The children here are from MBKG Pannai in the Tamil Nadu region of India and I seeing the children in the school that we went to today reminded me of my experiences there.  Mudihiyor Balar Kudumba Gramma Pannai has the English name of Family Village Farm because it the children here were primarily orphans, who are cared for by "house mothers" who are destitute women who are also taken in and help to cook and provide for a hut of about ten children each. After my trip I had wanted to work at King's School where all the school aged children from the Family Village Farm are educated.  Today's visit reawakened my desire to do this إن شاء الله I will apply to work there for a few years after getting certified.

Also kids who have limited access to technology are fascinated with digital photographs, the photo above was taken by one of the children who borrowed my camera to snap some pictures of his friends.  Today I saw the same phenomenon happening where the kids wanted nothing more than to take our phones so that they could snap away.

After the visit to the school and accompanying village we headed back to AUI for a lecture on Arab culture, some fun facts that I learned include:

  • In Saudi Arabia there is a type of religious police who can come up to you and spray paint parts of your body with black spray paint if you are not appropriately covered
  • The belief that depictions of the prophet are not allowed in Islam is incorrect, there exists depictions of Mouhammed in books about his life.  However, such depictions are not allowed in mosques and schools because it is believed that people might ignorantly start to worship the image instead of Allah
  • Minarets (the spires that most Mosques have) are built to a particular proportion.  2/3 of the minaret should be visible above the walls of the mosque as this is a visually pleasing ratio.  Although some minarets are built to different proportions, those who have seen many mosques will think they look weird because they do not have the same visually pleasing proportion.

However, my favorite part of today's lecture was that our professor, John Schoup brought in a large bag full of artifacts, including traditional outfits and veils from different Arab countries.  So of course we had fun dressing up in the various garbs.  Check out some images from our fashion show below.

Perhaps anklets which weigh a kilo a piece are more your style!

Throwback to my sari draping lesson by the sister of a doctor that I met in Vellore, India

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lessons and Purchases

July 15, 2014

We might be a little crazy but we decided to back to Azrou after our meeting with the public school teachers so we headed over there with Hassan and Mohammed (one of the teachers who spoke with us during our educator discussions).

Mohammed had an interesting story to tell about the school that he works at in a rural area in northern Morocco, which Hassan had to translate for us.  Mohammed is a primary school teacher and teaches grades 1-6.  However as a rural school there are only about thirty students in the whole school, and limited amount of materials for him to use in his lessons.  This year he taught all 30 students by himself for the whole day despite having to teach to 6 different grade levels, because the other teacher at the school is pregnant.  Talk about a challenging set up!  Despite having more than a dozen educators in the room I think we came to the conclusion that there is no magical solution to perfect differentiation.  The rural nature of Mohammed's school is such that the nearest city is 40 km away, and due to the lack of paved roads the last 7 km need to be traveled by mules or donkeys.

In Azrou, I finally tried my hand at haggling and it was a lot of fun as the good spirited people of Azrou were fair and kind to us.  I ended up buying a book bag and a coin purse originally 110 dirham total, which I got down to 80 dirham total (about $10).  I also bought this beautiful rug from Si Mohammed's shop, not the teacher, but a wise old man who is close friends with Hassan's father)

Fun facts learned over the last few days:

  • Morocco has a very large fishing industry but it is being over fished by European fisherman.
  • The major reason why the Western Sahara issue is not settled (this territory has been claimed by Morocco, and is considered my Moroccans to be part of Morocco) is because both sides cannot agree on who should be allowed to vote.  Should Moroccans who moved to this territory be included? Should those living in Western Sahara at the time of the conflict, but currently living in exile in Algeria be included? It's now been well over 30 years and this has yet to be settled, despite the popular sovereignty mandate. 
  • Sharia (Islamic) Law is not as akin to Hammurabi's code as it may seem in Western media.  In fact it is moral and civic reasoning is a major part of this legal system.  For example, in the Qu'ran it says thieves are to have their hands cut off, however in the case of a famine, poor people were and should be excused from this punishment if they are stealing food because they had no choice.  (I suddenly have the sounds of Les Miserables in my head)
Until next time. مع السلامة