Monday, May 26, 2014

Amman, Aman, Oman

As I was making tajine tonight, I decided it was time to upload some entries I had been sitting on to edit....So, without further ado, I give you the Fulbright trip to Jordan.


As the title suggests, I have journeyed once again.  At the end of February I attended the Regional Fulbright Enrichment Seminar in Amman, Jordan.  Ironically enough, Amman is incredibly hard to pronounce.  It is really 'Amman with the first sound being a glottal stop.  In Arabic, there are three words that sound quite similar: 'Amman, Aman, Oman.  Gong through airports in Morocco and Egypt in order to get here, we have been misdirected a hundred times because of the similarity of city names.

Although I am extremely well traveled in North Africa (been everywhere except Libya) this was my first trip to another region of the Middle East.  Our flights back and forth were harrowing, filled with layovers without wifi, and general pandemonium of course ensued.  Once we got to Jordan, got out of the airport - which is named after the first wife of the last king who tragically died in a plane crash, no irony there - it was roughly 3 am!

We arrived at a super zween (read: swanky) Landmark Hotel in Amman, Jordan's capital.  I roomed with other Sarah, my name twin.  The next day we had time to visit some sights around Amman.  Fulbrighters from other parts of the NEA region arrived.  It was kool to see everyone and hear about their experiences as an ETA and just their lives in general.  We had the evening to catch up with each other as well as ask the Jordan Fulbrighters all kinds of oddball questions.  We learned very quickly that our darjia skills were no match for our shami brethren.  I quickly became friends with Matt and Christina, two of the Jordanian ETAs.  Instead of being placed all over Jordan, which is much smaller than Morocco, all the ETAs are located in Amman.  It makes for a close knit group that is used to being in and out of each others' lives.  We, the Morocco ETAs, are a gregarious group and never really see each other as a group.  So, what happens when you put a bunch of Fulbrighters into a conference setting? Tons of silliness, giggles, bad jokes, interesting conversations, drama, and everything else wrapped up into one.  The Enrichment seminar was three days long.  Each ETA from the region (including Israel, Oman, the Emirates, Jordan, and Morocco) gave a presentation on 3 to four person  panels followed by a discussion section.  I led off our ETA team and did a general introduction of the seminar.  It was great to hear about what the researchers were doing, too.

After the conference, I ended up going on a road trip with Evan, Matt & Tyson.  We went to Jerash, a huge Roman ruin, and to the north of Jordan at Umm Qays, where you can see into Syria, Lebanon, and Israel on a clear day.

Because of the internet, I am not posting more pictures.  They are mostly on my facebook :) 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Politics of Community

Morocco, like many other countries, is culturally more focused on the collective than the individual. For foreigners living here, this can be both good and bad.  For example, my neighbors know who I am, where I am from, my age, ethnicity, and what I do.  They also know when I go on vacation, and who are the usual people I hang out with.  This leads to very interesting interactions.  Like when I go to my hanout guy (the small shops located everywhere that sell basic necessities) he usually asks me how my last trip was, why I haven't been to see him, and how work is going.  We frequently talk about the weather, if its a cold winter compared to other winters, etc.  As a foreigner, I am used to a certain level of anonymity living in the West.  I go about my life as I choose to live it.  That is not the case here.  I go about my life constantly wondering who will cross my path on the street, what is said about me behind my bag, and how my behavior and life choices will affect my community.  Clearly, a lot goes into deciding what situations are worth the risk and which ones are too detrimental to deal with.

Community is something you revere here in Morocco.  I am happy to have my entourage-that motley crew of Fulbrighters, other miscellaneous foreigners, my family upstairs and all of the characters that make life here both interesting and frustrating.  People make choices based on what others will think of them.  In the classroom, this can serve to the teacher's advantage regarding crowd control, discipline, and generally getting people to cooperate.  However, this can also work to everyone's disadvantage. For example, students who have been given scholarships to study abroad have been known to turn them down because of family pressure.  People have broken off engagements because of what other people have thought of their significant other.  One of my best friends here frequently says that Moroccans have a PhD in stare.

My point in writing this is not to criticize.  Yes, there are moments when the pressure of living with the confines of a community can seem suffocating.  However, it is those members of the community that are your first line of support.  It goes both ways.  Compromise is healthy, although sometimes it is at the expense of freedom.  Each individual has to make choices based on the import of the community in his/her life.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Exploring the South of Morocco (Picture post!)

Now that my story of the infamous break in has been told, I want to share with you some of the best moments of my time here thus far in Morocco.  About two weeks ago, I went on an epic four day adventure to the South of Morocco.  I went with three friends: Jon, Ari & Connor who we surprised and met up with in Agadir.  I am going to post some of my favourite pictures and describe our journey.

This is me surprising Connor in Agadir.  He had no idea we were coming! 

The guys are broing out in Agadir! 

 Ari, our resilient driver.  During our trip, we were pulled over for speeding.  Ari's quick thinking and savvy answers saved the day! 

 Here is the sign for Tiznit...which is actually the highlight of the city.  When we got there, everything was closed for siesta time, so we kept driving...

 We arrived at Aglou Plage, had lunch, walked on the boardwalk and took some pictures before continuing on our way to Mirleft. 

 Ari found a wonderful spot to stop and watch the sunset.  Here are some of the highlights of the beauteous event.  One of the most memorable sunsets in my life thus far! 

Ari posing with the Gwar Car (the car of gwar- the plural of clueless foreigner in Moroccan Darija)

The half hour break we had in Guelmim.  The cafe was nice and the server was super helpful in helping us find an oasis to explore!

We journey about an hour south east of Guelmim and followed signs that pointed us to this Sahraoui guest house in an oasis.  We were offered tea, advice on what to see, which was followed by an impromptu drumming session.  This entire visit was such a welcome surprise!

After discovering the oasis, we drove back up to the coast to Legzira.  

This might be my favorite picture of the trip!  This is the sunset at Legzira, which is only accessible at low tide.  We found the one sign for Legzira, turned, parked, walked down a hill and then followed the beach for about a mile until we saw the rock formations.  This was taken on the way back...

This trip was wonderful and has made me excited to continue to explore this lovely country.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Do you sleep walk?"

Happy 2014!  I have been such a bad writer it's not even funny.  I really have about three stories to tell, but instead of going in chronological order, I have decided to reverse it!

So, this story begins with the arrival of Leanna from the US.  Leanna arrived on January 16th and I was so excited to see her.  I had just moved into my apartment (more on that later).  The first day I showed her around the medina and we slowly began the task of furnishing the apartment.  I showed Leanna some of the medina where I do shopping, and she met some of my neighbors.  We had a great and we went to bed super late.

We were awakened in the morning by my next door neighbors, Jessica & Anna.  My door was wide open and my keys were nowhere in sight.  Jessica stood in my doorway saying, "Do you sleep walk? Your keys are in my door."  I told her that I don't sleepwalk.

At this point I was extremely perplexed.  Then I noticed that my keys really were in her door and that one key was missing.  We all started checking our apartments for missing items.  Leanna came out of her room asking me, "Have you seen my computer? My camera was here on the table last night..."  With that, Jessica ran upstairs.  Our landlady and her family of five sons live above us.  Over the course of the next ten minutes three of the five "brothers" as we call them stumbled into our house.

We explained the situation to the brothers.  We went through who had been in our apartments the last few days.  We thought about how the thief had gotten in.  We had so many questions, fears, and literally no answers.  Leanna made a description of her computer, while the brothers decided on the best course of action.

They decided to ask their contacts in the electronic souk. We also decided not to involve the police.  This was mainly because we thought it very unlikely that her stuff would be returned.  Leanna and I would take our laundry to the laundromat in Agdal while Jessica and Anna stayed at home while all the locks in our collective abodes were changed.

Before I continue, let me explain the door system.  We have a screen door, a main wooden door that opens up into our entryway, followed by our respective doors.  We now have deadbolts on most of these doors. It is literally like Fort Knox getting into our apartments.

Anyway, Leanna and I got a cab and went to Agdal.  The weather was miserable-rainy and cold-just to match our moods.  On top of all of this, Jessica's birthday party was that night.  We had gotten broken into in the morning, and we were supposed to be happy and joyful that same evening? I remember wondering how that was all going to be possible while sipping a nus-nus (half milk, half espresso) with Leanna in Agdal.  Right before Jessica's phone call, I do not think that this story would have a happy ending.

Jessica called to tell me that the thief had been caught.  Leanna's stuff had been found.  No harm, no foul.  Insert sardonic laugh and dance of joy here.  Apparently, there had been two other break ins that same morning, and the entire neighborhood was on the look out.  An off-duty policeman/neighbor proved invaluable in catching the thief.  This experience really solidified my views on the importance of communities in Morocco.  Had the entire neighborhood not banded together, who knows if Leanna would have ever seen her stuff again.  Our locks were changed thanks to the brothers.  In the end, we ended up having a fabulous birthday party for Jessica.

Monday, December 23, 2013

when the veneer begins to tear a little...

What happens when you combine an elderly man, a catheter, and a train at rush hour?  That, ladies and gentlemen, would be a story I am about to share.

I take the train from Rabat to Mohammedia anywhere from two to five times per week, depending on how many classes I have, etc.  My classes are either 9-12 or 2-5, leaving time for an ample lunch for both students and faculty in between.  The events I am about to share with you all occurred on one of those trips from Mohammedia to Rabat at rush hour-between 5 and 7 pm.

In order for this story to make a bit more sense, I am going to give you some background.  The trek from my front door to my classroom is roughly 2 hours.  Here's why.  I walk about 20-25 minutes through the medina to the train station.  Then I get on a train.  This can either make or break my day.  There is a fast train, which is roughly 30 minutes and only 1 stop between Rabat Ville and Mohammedia.  Then there is the slow train of doom with 4 stops and tons of people who get on at each of these stops which ends up around 50 minutes.  Once I get to Mohammedia, I need to find a taxi, meaning I have to run quicker than the other eight million commuters and then get to the university, make copies, etc.

The day that this insanity took place, it was of course on the slow train.  After work, and on a train full until bursting.  I had gotten on at Mohammedia and spied an empty seat.  Taking it, I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped that the train ride back to Rabat would be uneventful.  This was not to be.

At one of the next stops, people continue to get on, crowding around.  Only this time, it was a bit different.  From a crowd of people, I begin to hear a man praying in pain.  I turned to see who was praying fervently but could only hear a voice.  The voice got louder as men began to rise up from their seats investigating the noise.  Finally, I saw him-an elderly man wearing a cream djellaba stooped over praying to God to deliver him from his misery.  Behind him was his wife who was stooped over more than her husband.

The men ran towards the elderly Moroccan and tried to help him into a seat.  It was then that I realized the source of his discomfort.  Peaking out from underneath his djellaba was a catheter in a plastic pharmacy bag.  The moment I saw that, my heart just died.  I got up from my seat, wanting to help these people in some way.  One of the men saw my distress and came over to calm me down, saying that there was nothing I could do.  Taking one last look at the man, his wife, the eager helpers, I got up from my seat and walked away.

Although that was a few weeks ago, I still cannot help feeling like I could have done something to better that man's life.  I keep wondering where his family was, why weren't they helping him, and, this experience more than any other showed me the solidarity of the Moroccan people.  I doubt I will ever forget that. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

the trials and tribulations of apartment hunting

I arrived in Rabat at the end of October, and since, I have been fruitlessly searching for an apartment. Now, you might think this task would not be so difficult, but trust me, it has been!

First, you have to decide where to live.  In Rabat, there are four main areas: Agdal, Hassan, Centre Ville and the medina.  I thought I wanted to live in Hassan, which is centrally located and pretty modern.  However, the more I looked, the higher the prices became.  So, I ditched that idea.  Then, I had a few interesting propositions in Agdal.  The cost there was also prohibitive.  So, I focused my search in Centre Ville and Medina.  This was more than a month ago.  Since then, I have seen roughly six apartments.  I would like to share a few interesting stories.

The Prostitution Scare
I went with another Fulbrighter to see an apartment in Centre Ville.  We arrive at the location which is next to one of my favorite restaurants.  A woman meets us there and takes us up to the apartment.  The apartment has THE BEST American kitchen that I have seen in Morocco.  There is ample counter space, a huge open space kitchen, basically I like the kitchen.  There is also a living room and big bedroom.  Now, this is where the entire experience goes pear shaped.

The woman explains the rent which is MUCH higher than normal.  Then she said that the person renting the apartment would not be allowed to have any guests.  Any guests coming over for dinner would have to leave the apartment and could not spend the night.  She explains this by stating that she could raise the rent and have rich businessmen use the apartment with prostitutes but that she would prefer to trust Americans.  So, rather than having a good trustworthy tenant, she prefers to harass a trustworthy tenant.  I basically had to clarify that my job was not as a lady of the night, but as a Fulbrighter.  To this day, this encounter still makes me laugh.   Clearly, I did not take this apartment.

The Never-ending Visit 
The other highlight of the apartment search was a visit with the same Fulbrighter in another area of Centre Ville.  This apartment was big enough for two people and in a nice, well lit and modern building.  When we arrived, we met the girls who were currently living there as well as their mother, and two younger sisters.  Their father came home during our visit and we were immediately invited to stay for juice and tea.

This discussion lasted longer than 3 hours.  While the father was very interesting, it was clear that he desired an audience more than conversation partners.  We tried on many occasions to depart, but it required a finesse that neither of us had after a three hour spontaneous lecture.  Needless to say, this apartment also fell through.  Le Sigh.

The Solution
So, having looked at apartments for the last month, I have decided that I will be taking the apartment next door to where I am living.  The move in date has been a continuous dance.  Hopefully, the apartment will be ready in the (very) near future.  I am enjoying spending time with my friends, but I really want to nest and decorate my new abode! 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Casual Ham

The visa situation in Morocco is such that either we deal with bureaucracy and get residency permits, or, we leave the country every 90 days to renew our tourist visa.  Since coming here in September, I haven't yet left the country.  Because my 90 days are coming up and we have a three day holiday, eight Fulbrighters decided to go to Barcelona, Spain.

Travelling with eight people can be challenging, especially with eight people as strange, yet intelligent as the Fulbright crew.  However, all went well.  We had an amazing time in Barcelona, whether it be consuming sangria and pounds of ham, visiting the sights, going clubbing, or just enjoying an environment with slightly less constraints.  Although we didn't need it, this experience brought us closer together.

Upon our return to the Magic Kingdom of Morocco, work has been in full swing.  The past three weeks have been some of the busiest in recent memory filled with: make up classes on Saturdays, grading 40 papers, lesson planning, as well as dealing with the 1.5 hour long commute back and forth from Mohammedia.  Whereas my previous posts are all about enjoyment, self reflection and actualization, I feel like this one is just business.

My time at Mohammedia has been amazing.  I really like my students, and we seem to have a lot of fun together.  With the way the system works out, I am not sure if this week will be my last with them, or if I will be able to continue meeting them on Fridays, but I do home I can continue to get to know them. That's all for now, will report more often!