Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Things I want to learn...i.e. aperception:

Being here has taught me many things, including the fact that I know so little and desire to know so much. Here is a list I've been keeping of necessary things that I want to learn or master in life, just for kicks and in no particular order:

1. More Arabic
2. Microsoft Exel
3. Capoeira
4. Kierkegaard's philosophy, especially existentialism
5. How to surf better
6. political systems/regimes
7. Latin America
8. The art of conflict mediation!
9. How to bake Gluten-free bread
10. Hunger
11. Camping, backpacking
12. How to drive stick, after all my years of failed attempts
13. How to do my taxes right

This list grows ever longer. ready, set, go!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Remember: The Entire Universe is Conspiring in your Favor

Where does time go?

So much has happened since I returned from Morocco, but as I think about writing it all on here, I get ovewhelmed that I'll forget an important detail. Let's start from the ending...

After much drama with the airline company (including the threat of legal action by some parents- not mine), I have finally changed my return flight home. I have nixed my plans to stay in Senegal and do an internship, for various reasons. Simply put, I know its not the time. I have unfinished business in America, as well as a new life to start. Right now, my return flight is for June 24, I'll be in Chicago on the 25th. However, because this is before the official end of my academic program, I have to try to change the date again until after July 1 if possible. June 24 was not my choice- its too early in my opinion- but I guess there's a reason I have to leave then. I'm trying not to think about it too much. Ah, leaving.

Oh, you'll laugh at this: I joined the choir at church! We sing in French, Wolof, Lingala (the pastor is from the DRC), and Serrer. No English, but they want me to teach them some. You'll laugh even harder at this: today, unbenounced to me, they named me an elder of the church. Wha? I know! It's an honor, and I can really tell that they're hurting for some leadership....but whaaa? I dont know how to be an elder of a church. I barely speak the language, for pete's sake! TIA, always an adventure.

What else? Oh, I just finished the book The Alchemist, by Paolo Cohelo. Highly recommended to all of you. I really loved it, and it takes place in my beloved North Africa. Its about a journey from Spain through Morocco and to Egypt, but more than that it's really along my lines of Personal Legend philosophy. I'm also in the middle of reading a giant anthology of Langston Hughes' poetry and the memoirs of David Livingstone.

Campus is moving along at the pace of a goat in the African heat. The weather is getting hotter by the day, and so is school. Since I only have 2 months left (sigh), I have to do an entire semester's worth of work tout de suite. At the moment, I'm deliberately distracting myself from writing a paper on the comparative politics between the Truth and Reconciliation Committees in South Africa and Morocco. Interesting, but I'd rather be playing outside. This week has been fun: water, electricity, and internet shortages. I've been doing a few more interviews about the conflict in the Casamance. Wow, the stories that are uncovered just tear my heart apart. What can I do!? What am I supposed to do in situations like this, in the future!?

Okay, that's enough Holy Frustration for one day. Gotta stop procrastinating. I cant believe it's almost May! Life moves pretty fast. If you dont stop and look around sometimes, you might just miss it.
Ah, the wisdom of Ferris Bueller.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Welcome to Morocco, The Final Installment

April 7. Drinking avocado juice in rainy Casablanca. 2 pm.

It would rain on our last day in Morocco. How fitting. I think it always rains on days that I leave places I love. It happened with France last year too. It's good. It washes me clean and prepares me for the next place, while letting me indulge in a little self-pity, sorrow, and grey nostalgia.

Now we're back in Casablanca, after the bus ride from hell. We checked into the same hotel as our first night in Maroc...I like to bring things full-circle. Today we had breakfast in the fruit market and are taking it easy in the city. Jill and Claire are going to see a movie this afternoon, because there are no theaters in Senegal. I will do what I do best- explore.
Learning more about my traveling style right now. Putting myself on a tight budget worked, but i had to sacrifice some things, like full meals. I'm learning to be flexible and not to over-plan and to live for Quality, not Quantity. I may not ever be back in Morocco again, so i do want to take advantage, but I am really not meant for full-out tourism, and dont think I ever will be. I want to do more hiking and meeting people and wandering off the beaten path and learning the local language and joking and staying out late and getting up early and reflecting and listening to stories and not being afraid. This time around was incredible and indescribable, with two lovely and amazing women.

I have been surprised by many things in Maroc:

1. The amount of English spoken here is pretty astounding, especially coming from Senegal. I got to practice my Arabic, but many Moroccans spoke English to us right away.
2. There are so many ¨dentists¨ in this country! Especially in Mkch, there would be a sign for a dentist's office practically every 50 meters. Our theory is that it is really code for something else, like a liquor store, prohibition-style.
3. Coming from months in West Africa, I've been suprised at the level of development here and all the bright colors. Desormais,to me, Morocco is blue for the ocean and open doors, yellow for the sun and desert, red for the crazy nights, and green for Islam.
4. I was suprised to find that I didnt really like Marrakech like I thought I would. From what I had read before, the city held such mystery and allure to me. It certainly was the Noise and Color that I thought it would be, but more. Too touristy. It will be lovely to hike in the surrounding countryside.

Reactions? Final thoughts?
Morocco is just....indescribable
An amazing blessing and gift that I will not ever forget. Made possible by many generous people. All of this I will pay forward someday, hopefully to wide-eyed travelers like me. I absolutely need to come back and do some hiking in the Atlas Mountains. I want to learn more Arabic and want to decorate my house Moroccan-style. Thank you for the lovely-jovely time. Shukran beezef.

Finally, here are all the photos from Morocco. Look at the Albums ¨Morocco and Favorites¨ 1, 2, and 3. There are some of my favorite Senegal pictures mixed in, too. Or else, check my facebook for 4 albums.


Welcome to Morocco, Vol. IV

April 6. Sitting on a bus, somewhere between Essaouira and Casablanca.

I should take this time to describe Essaouira, before I get carsick. The little kid in front of me has already been throwing up.
If Casablanca is European and bustling, if Fes is ancient and intricate, if Marrakech is sultry and overwhelming, then Essaouira is bright and breezy. A great last stop. Ess is on the coast in the south of Morocco. Contained inside the walls of it's Medina is an old shipping port-turned-tourist-destination, decorated with a universal color scheme of bright blue, bright yellow, and bright white. This ancient city has high Kasbah walls that surround the web of wide avenues and shoppy streets. It certainly is touristy, but in a different way than Marrakech. Ess's tourists are a slower, more relaxed, older generation that is content to ramble through the kitchy markets and along the ramparts. There is also a good number of surfers who pass through the town, but they're a pretty laid-back crew too.

Before arriving, travelers we'd met had all mentioned that Ess is very windy. All of them said this. Random observation....must be true. But when we were there, the sky was bright and blue like the front doors of houses, and there wasnt even enough wind to surf.

The arts are very strong in Ess. Its known as an artist's colony and was once regarded as a hippie haven. Jimi Hendrix owned a house on the beach just south of town. Jill and Claire saw it when they went horseback riding (for real, they went Black Market Horseback Riding. Morocco has everything.) Indeed, bright colors abound, but so do hustlers. I think the vendors were almost as vicious as Mkch.
Thanks to a generous donation from Jill's parents, we got to stay in the Riad Nahkla in the center of the medina. A riad is a house with 4 floors and many rooms centered around a courtyard with a fountain or garden. There was a fabulous terrace where breakfast is served overlooking the ocean. Opulence. And, for the first time on this trip, our room even had a shower!

In Ess, we did a bit of the usual Walk, Shop, and Eat. Jill and I Walked to the port and sat on the harbor and listened to the sounds of the waves (my favorite sound in the world. I even want to get married by water), and speculated at what kinds of romantic things take place on all the Chateau d'If-type islands just off the shore. We walked to the Skala- the old rampart walls fixed with cannons and lots of seagulls. We Shopped in the medina, where the glazed tangines and silk scarves and berber jewelry and African drums and babouche shoes and leather purses and carpets and paintings of women in haijabs all began to look the same. I just cant shop so much. I felt sort of out of place in this touristy town disguised as a hidden hippie oasis. Also, we Ate. Oh, how we ate! Lets see...trying to take advantage of Moroccan food, while also putting myself on a budget: gallons of orange juice, avocado smoothies, a Portuguese omelette, a Mexican salad, fresh strawberries and dates, frothy cafe au lait (not instant nescafe, my usual breakfast in Senegal) and, la piece de la resistance: Fish! We actually went to the stalls on the harbour where you can see what they caught that day, order it, and they'll grill it tout de suite. Bass, red snapper, the best shrimp Ive ever had, crab, calamari, lobster, etc. All of that gets set down in front of you. Afterwards, we went to our terrace and drank the wine that I had bought at the creepy prohibitionesque liquor store. (Alcohol is strictly forbidden, so I had to go outside of the city walls to find it.) We savored it with wine's best complement: chocolate. It was a great final dinner.

What else did we do in Ess? We went to a nice hammam and got scrub-downs and massages with clay and argon oil. It was just us 3 this time, in the steamy cavern, with 2 friendly old ladies who chatted away in Arabic as they flopped us all around to scrub all our nooks and crannies clean. It was very refreshing and invigorating and only cost us $2 each.

I spent some good time alone. I took a walk to the beach as Jill and Claire took the horse ride to have tea with the ghost of Jimi Hendrix. I had to escape the medina for the sounds of the waves. The sunset was incredible- impossible to capture on a camera, as usual. I definetly need to live by big water in my life. When the water makes the sand like a mirror, the sunset is reflected from the sky and you cant tell where the sky ends and the Earth begins- one giant, endless horizon.

April 6. Same bus. Hours later. Kid still throwing up.

Digression...I'm sitting on this bus in the middle of the countryside in Maroc and I'm thinking about Squash Monster. I'm thinking about the games my dad used to play with us as kids, when life was relatively straightforward and uncomplicated. I'm thinking about my parents and the blessing of my family. I owe my wanderlust to them.

They tried their best to raise Beth and Steve and I to be cosmopolitan, open-minded, curious, caring, with a sense of Eternal Perspective. They have depensée everything so that I could grow up with wide eyes and listening ears. They have taught me that there are moments to be in transit and moments to settle...the hard part is finding contentment in both. However, as my mom once told me, wherever you place your foot, there is purpose.

We're driving past migrant workers in the vast mint fields. My parents have worked as hard to create the best life for us. I take this so much for granted. I guess being away this year makes me nostalgic. Dont it always seem to go...

I hope that if I ever have kids (oh gosh...) that I can raise them as strongly- with wide eyes and listening ears and curiosity and bravery and joy and wisdom- yet without all the neuroses that are passed down through generations. I owe my parents an irrepayable debt. I guess I'll just pay it forward. I owe this trip, and many others, to many many people. It takes a village to raise someone wild at heart.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Welcome to Morocco, Vol. III

April 1. 11 pm. Hotel de la Paix, Marrakech.

Marrakech is as viceral as I imagined, but different than I expected.
After 8 hours on the train, we arrived in Mkch after sundown. The arrival at any new place is always the most overwhelming, and the departure is always the most reflective. Us 3 girls were standing with our bags outside of the train station, trying to speculate the cost of a taxi downtown, when a friendly Ecuadorian backpacker named Phillipé asked us to share a cab to the main square. A really pleasant type of traveler. Alhamdou.

The heart of Mkch is the square- the Djmaa El-Fna- with all its souqs surrounding it. Out hotel was buried in the maze of tight alleys to the south of the Djmaa, so it took us a while to find it, walking in the dark with our luggage, becoming more and more tired and annoyed. The hotel we booked was a bust, so we left and found another. The proprietor at this new place was stoned pretty much the whole time we were there, but he was nice and funny. Karim-esque. This place was recommended in Lonely Planet, so it was a little pricier...but pretty crappy. But beggars cant be choosers. Poor Claire was fuming. What lesson to be learned from this? Oh well, we checked out the next morning and God sent another miracle in the form of Hotel de la Paix. This hotel is centrally located, just off the square. Clean, spacious, cheap (170 Dh- less than Hotel Souria above).
We searched for some breakfast this morning. I actually had hot chocolate for the first time in months. I have been discovering and perfecting my traveling style. I am all about choosing the cheapest option, as long as its not ridiculous. I like to use as much of my day as possible to see/do as much as possible, without burning out. I like to keep moving, but I also like to sit and talk with as many people here as possible. Living for Quality, not Quantity.

Anyway, breakfast. I finished our dates and peanuts, then walked around the city. We visited the ruins of the Palace Badji and the Saadian Tombs. Impressive and reminiscent of Jerusalem's ruins, but not worth the 20DH. Orange juice and avocado shakes and fresh strawberries in the Place Ferblantier. Shopping in the spice souq. In Morocco they harvest Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world. You can get a gram for about $1.50, whereas it costs $10-20 elsewhere. One kid selling spices took us to his ¨laboratory¨ and gave us free facials with crushed shells and rose water. My face smelled like a garden all day. I bought pure Patchouly oil for Molly's mom.
Afterwards we dressed for dinner and headed to the Djmaa El Fna. This place is a trip. I cant even describe it now, Im too exhausted.

April 2. 6:15pm. Sitting in the bay window of Hotel de la Paix. Marrakech.

The Djmaa El-Fna is the beating heart of Marrakech's medina- the largest open market in the world. The Djmaa is the giant square where it all goes down. It is always bustling, but it comes alive at night and takes on a personality of its own. Watch this...

Enter the Djmaa from the main shop-lined street. See the expanse of people- at first a heaving mass, formless in the smoke from the food vendors' grills. Smoke swirls all around, giving everything a silver haze. Come closer and you see what you imagine exotic Morocco to be. Snake charmers, monkeys, storytellers, henna artists, fortune tellers, vendors of all types of lotions and healing potions, chefs trying to intice you to sample their craft, orange juice vendors cracking jokes and asking if you know their brother who lives in Los Angeles. See the flashes of color, as if the city is lit by a giant red glass lantern. Taste the sheep's heads cooking and the mounds of snails waiting to be pulled apart and eaten with safety pins, the orderly piles of dates, apricots, nuts, and desserts balanced trepedaciously on carts. Can you smell the mint tea? Or the golden spices: cumin, ginger, saffron, wafting from mortars and pestles? Can you catch the faint whifs of hash? See the wide-eyed teenagers holding hands, as if they were on first, clandestine dates to the local mall. See the piles of tourists, with their cameras poised ready around their necks, and their socks and sandals bought new for the occasion. Hear the whispers of exotic, romanic adventures from vendors and young men looking for adventures themselves. Hear all the beautiful, broken English trying to get on your good side: ¨You are lovely-jovely!¨
A place like this plays with all of your senses at the same time, all the time. You love it for being so rich and full and sensual...but you hate it for being so cliché and exhausting. It is the place you thought Morocco would be in some way, but never actually belived existed. The haven for artists, adventurers, tourists, toureg nomads, chic young Moroccans, and those trying to make a profit off of the life that exists in the Djmaa. I guess that would include all of the above.

April 4. 6 pm. Terrace at Riad Nahkla, overlooking the sun setting on the beach. Essaouira.

Joyeux Jour d'Independance du Senegal! I cant forget this, my home country.

We have sucessfully escaped the madness of Marrakech to the peaceful sea breezes of Essaouira.
Mkch was starting to get to be a bit much. Im glad we got out when we did. We visited the ruins of palaces and the Jardin Majorelle- a giant gorgeous garden with a bright blue house-turned-Islamic-art-museum in the middle. And of course we walked around the Medina some more. I found my Africa ring (I buy a ring for every place I visit) in a tiny antique shop down a dark alley. It actually reminds me of a baobab tree. I had to sip tea with the jolly old shop keeper, and promise to marry him, but I got a great price and it is gorgeous. real silver, but Im sure the stones are fake.
Walking around the city by myself is refreshing and interesting. You can observe so much more when you are alone and not in a conspicuous group of toubab girls. I have a feeling that I travel really well alone. I really want to try it someday...maybe backpacking Morocco? Friendly, non-creepy gentlemen in the market gave me a bouquet of fresh roses because I could speak a little arabic with them...also something I want to work on.

I must note a Moroccan treat with which I have fallen in love: Avocado smoothies. I think its just avocadoes, blended with plain yogurt and almond milk. I'll re-create it chez moi.

Scenery in Mkch? Gorgeous. Stunning. This country has everything: desert, greenery, olive groves, even snow-capped mountains.
Nevertheless, we were all tiring of Mkch- it has acutally turned out to be our least favorite city. It is just so overwhelming, cliche, and touristy. We booked a bus and headed for the 4 hour trip to Eassaouira early in the morning.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Welcome to Morocco, continued

March 31. 2 pm. Train from Fes to Marrakech.

Goodbye Fes! Bonjour Marrakech!
We are on an 8-hour, semi-comfortable train ride to the city that has always held wonders for me- Marrakech. The legend goes that I read a spread about weddings around the world in a National Geographic when I was a kid and I was enchanted by the photos and story on Marrakech. Ever since, it has been my dream to go and it was made possible by a Moroccan Miracle that I will try to pay forward someday.

Our last day in Fes was great. We walked around the medina some more. For some reason, Arab men must think it is charming if they say really awkward English phrases like ¨lovely-jovely¨, ¨sweet dreams¨, or my favorite ¨You want aphrodisiac? I am her!¨. We had lunch of grilled chicken and olives and tomato salad and orange juice at a little restauraunt for cheap. Delicious and satisfying. I bought some pure jasmine oil from an apothecary, which made me excited to hit the spice souqs elsewhere.

After lunch we went to a hammam. Oh gosh. What an experience. Let's just say you have to have no shame and be completely comfortable with your body. Pay 8 dirham to get in and recieve a bucket. 10 more dirhams gives you clay-rose paste/soap and a scrubber and 30 more dirhams finds you spread-eagle on the floor of a sauna as naked Moroccan women scrub you up and down. First, you sit in the sauna and pour warm water in yourself. Next, Moroccan Granny #1 used a scrubby mit to slough off rolls of dead skin I didnt even know I had....in all my nooks and crannies. My skin was bright pink. After that, Moroccan Granny #2 gave me a ¨massage¨ where she rubbed this pasty soap all over. Again, all over. I lost it a little bit when I was strewn across the floor with this Moroccan women's boobs flapping in my face as she oiled me up. After that, they washed my hair with other soap. Then douses of buckets alternating hot and cold. A slap on the bottom and I was the cleanest I've ever been in my entire life.

It is rude to walk outside with your hair wet, as a woman, because it implies that you have just finished the intimate action of showering. I felt so self-conscious taking the short walk from the hammam to our hotel, thru the medina. Interesting. Karim, our friendly hotel owner, invited us for orange juice, which apparently is good for the health after the hammam. But its so cold here that we opted for ¨Moroccan Whisky¨, as Karim calls it = sweet mint tea.

More walking and one bowl of chickpea soup from a cart brought us to Cafe Clock. Stone highly recommended this place and asked for a full report, so we were obliged to go. Its easy to miss, down a dark alley, but it is gorgeous- a full riad (mansion) converted into a chic concept restauraunt. After that we bought train food (oranges, chocolate and dates are the best travel food!) then returned to pack. Note: train rides would be even more interesting if I understood more Arabic. I resolve to learn more throughout my life. Its such a gorgeous, useful language- especially for where I think my life will lead...

This country! This scenery! I resolve to return to Morocco someday and go backpacking. There is so much more for me here that I can't discover in just 2 weeks. Forest, desert, mountains, cities, Berber villages, Toureg nomads. The Atlas Mountains in the golden light of the sunset cut the horizon in a jagged, timeless edge. The snow-capped mountains in the distance reflect the sun back on this approaching train...j'arrive.

Welcome to Morocco

Here are some exerpts from my travel journal that I kept in Morocco. More coming later, including photos...

March 27. Hotel Negotiants, Casablanca

Left Senegal in the wee hours of the morning with Claire Deboer and Jill Speer. After a bit of airport hassle, we descended on Casablanca at 7 am. I can already tell that this is a country that I want to come back to. The rich African and Middle-Eastern influences permeate the air. Walking down the street smells like fruity hookah. The architecture of Casa looks like the tight, cosmopolitan, cafe-lined streets of Paris.
People are so terranga here. Already, night guys helped us find our trains. (There is an EXCELLENT train system in Morocco.) and as we walk down the street, people cheerfully and sincerely say ¨Welcome to Morocco!¨ ...without trying to get us to buy something afterwards. Good vibes here.
We checked into our hotel- basic but cheap. We went to go see the ridiculously opulent Hassan II Mosque. It is the world's largest mosque after Mecca and Medina (and the 4th largest Mosque is in Senegal!). It has a retractable cedar roof, a glass floor over the ocan, and a lazer that points to Mecca from the minaret. It can fit 105,000 people praying at a time (out of those, only 5000 women).
Where should we go tomorrow? Fes or Marrakech?
I cant belive Im actually in Morocco.

March 28. 1pm on the train between Casablanca and Fes

We decided to go to Fes and spend a few days exploring ¨north Africas oldest city¨.
Casa was nice and more European than I thought, but the outer suburbs look like a tired, post-Soviet Russia. There are plenty of factories and shanty towns and cable satelite dishes.
I'm suprised at the Mediterranean weather here. Coming from the desert of Senegal to the humid, lush Moroccan springtime has been a treat. Everything is green and it reminds me of a crisp spring day on Bascom Hill in Madison. I keep expecting to see guys wearing shorts throwing a frisbee. I got a little sunburned, but I'm wearing a sweater, scarf, and jeans.
We walked around the market a little in Casa and it was so beautiful! I was overwhelmed by the flowers, mangoes, stawberries, avocadoes, dates, honey, live turtles, piles of olives, and the best orange juice I've ever tasted.
4.5 hours to Fes, across a countryside reminiscent of the paysage between Paris and Aix-en-Provence.

March 29. 9am, Hotel Erradhat.

Crazyness! Yesterday when we got off the train at Fes, there was a girls who had been sitting in our cabin, who saw that we were a little lost. She invited us to her house, but then changed her plans and helped us find a taxi to a hotel ¨moins cher¨. She even paid for our taxi! She gave us her number and told us to call tomorrow to meet her family.
Our hotel is hilarious. There is a charming terrace and a nice owner, Karim (Khadim..), who is just a little older than us, who is always trying to get us to join him drinking beers in his ¨berber night club¨... a little corner of the terrace with a rug.
Even more crazyness! When we were walking around the medina in Fes, we ran into Stone, Lurks (John), and Tim- the 3 South Africans that Megan Alaska and I had met 2 months earlier in Senegal, as they are surfing their way up the West coast of Africa. What a random reunion: miles and months from where we started. They remembered me too! They were celebrating their 1 year anniversary of being on the road, so I bought them a little cake and we hung out in their swanky hotel. They had the most gorgeous view from their rooftop terrace: all the ancient stone houses with their green tiled roofs and the tannery vats in the distance. Anyway, the guys were hilarious. It is hard to belive that they are all 28-year-old university graduates. We went to dinner (where the proprietor wrapped their beers up in toilet paper and said ¨this is mint tea¨. Alcohol is highly illegal in Morocco, but still clandestinely bought and sold), then out to a ¨club¨- Fes-style. This ¨club¨ in the new part of the city, was unmarked, smoky and sparsely populated. There were half-hearted bellydancers downstairs and sad Arabic Kareoke upstairs. Take your pick. I was just a few sips into my red wine when they started closing the place down! It was a holy Friday night, in a conservative city, but it was only midnight! We did, however, see Karim there, drunk and jolly.
The guys drove us back in their Africansurfer.com truck and we said lovely goodbyes, as they will be leaving for Casablanca tomorrow. I hope I see them again, in another 2 months, in another random exotic location.

March 29. 11pm. Fes.

What a full, overstimulating day.
We walked around the medina, the old city of Fez with all the souqs (markets), after our morning cups of orange juice. This medina is: noise and color, pottery, instruments, jewelry, tapestries and rich fabrics, leather, tanneries with giants vats of brighly-colored dyes, tight alleyways, vendors of all kinds of exotic foods, donkeys, spices, hidden passageways, snails, mint tea, roasting nuts, fruit, kaftans, Korans, and life. The medina is the pulse of every middle eastern city, and Fes' medina is marvelous. I learned that Fes is indeed considered the oldest city in North Africa. Next week the city is having a giant party to celebrate its 1200th aniversary. Even the king is coming (he's obliged, because his wife is from Fes).
I bought a bright blue embroidered tunic, a towel for the hammam, scarves, and the richest red fabric I have ever seen, hand-woven and huge.
After that, we called Fatima Zohra, our train friend. She met up with us at our hotel and took us to meet her family in the cartier outside of town. Her mom, dad, brother (a dead ringer for Borat + a mullet), sister, and niece all live together in a tiny but well-decorated house. they dont speak any French, but we managed to communicate in my broken Arabic and with plenty of hand motions. We were able to laugh over a meal of chicken and rice and tomato salad and oranges. It was simple, but so kind and generous of them! Reminds me of what I experienced in Paris. I must pay this forward someday. After dinner, we took photos, watched American TV dubbed in Arabic, and a friend of theirs did hennah on our hands. I cant get over the generosity of the Moroccans, especially this family, Fatima, Hassan, and the turbulent little Shaymeh. Brother and sister took us home in taxis and we promised to garde le contact. I am touched, grateful, and changed a little more. She taught me a lesson I needed to learn.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Marvelous Moroccan Miracle

Sabah al kheer, usdiqaaty!

Bonjour from the beautiful Magrheb. Im sitting in an internet cafe, just off the Place Djmaa El Fna in Marrakech, Morocco. A serious dream come true. I have waited a long time, saved a lot of pennies, and prayed my little heart out for this to come true. I'll write a bit as I wait for my photos to load on photobucket. (Link to photos coming soon).

I left Dakar on the 26th of March with two friends from Uni in Madison, Jill Speer and Claire Deboer. We landed in Casablanca on the 27th and spent one night in a cozy, well-tiled hotel. The city is very European, and I felt like I was in Milan or Paris, with the tight cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes and street vendors.

On a whim, we decided to change our plans and head up to Fez, north of Casa. The next day we took a 4-hour train ride to what they say is Africa's most ancient city. And indeed they have done a great job preserving the Medival-ness of the city, without it being kitchy. We wandered around the Medina and the souqs...the labrinth market that is an overwhelmingly sensual experience. It is lovely to get lost among the ruins and taste some mint tea and snails and smell the spice stalls and hear the exotic instruments. We met a really nice girl rom Fez, Named Fatima Zohra, on the train and she invited us to her house, so we hung out with her and her family, which was an experience. Also, we randomly met the 3 South African surfers that I had met 2 months before while at Zebrabar with Megan Alaska in Senegal. It was such a lovely chance meeting, and we hung out and had a jolly old time in the city. I love Fez and was sad to leave.

We took an 8-hour train ride to Marrakech 3 days ago. Let me tell you, the train system in Morocco is incredible. Senegal would do well to have something like this, even just between Dakar and St. Louis. We ended up staying our first miserable night in a creepy hotel down a dark alley...but oh well, its part of the experience. We moved out to Hotel de la Paix, early the next morning and we are well-installed there for the moment. Marrakech is fantastic, but much more hectic and touristy than Fez. I'll describe the Djmaa El Fna later, but it is the central marketplace that is the beating heart of the city. The best word to describe it is crazyness! Yes, there really are snake charmers, and storytellers, and belly dancers, and sheep on spits, and spiced tea, and henna artists and chic young moroccans and middle aged european tourists, all in a swirling mass of silver smoke and red firelight. More description to follow surely will not do it justice.

We've been walking around Marrakech, shopping in the souqs (everything is way cheaper here than Senegal), visiting the gardens and ancient ruins. Its been relaxing, but I'm excited to get to the ocean in Essaouira, where we're going tomorrow. I hear there's a little surfing to be had there.

Man, I love this place, and I already know that I want to come back and backpack to see more of the countryside and the berber nomad culture and what else this place has to offer. I'll be back here. In shah allah.

Love you all. More complete descriptions later.

Photos from my trip...some are of Senegal still, and none have been edited or rotated. Ill do this later: