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04/26/2018

Chefchaouen stole my heart

If you have ever searched Morocco on Instagram or Pinterest, you have undoubtedly seen photos of the washed out blue buildings and the majestic landscape inChefchaouen.Known as Morocco’s “Blue City,” Chefchaouen is hidden in the Rif Mountains of northwest Morocco. It is a small, conservative town that is a bit out of the way, but it’s well worth the visit beyond the travel must-sees of Marrakech and Fez.

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Chefchaouen was by far my favorite excursion for the semester. Our excursion to Chefchaouen started with a two-hour tour briefing the vast history of the unique town and exploring hidden finds.Though our excursion was plagued with heavy downpour, we soon found out that not even a little rain can ruin Chefchaouen’s unique charm. The town is unlike any other Moroccan city I’ve traveled to; Instead of vendors inviting you to their shops, you’ll find quiet men waiting for you to ask them about their handcrafted rugs. Streets are filled with locals enjoying their days and echoing laughter from children running around.Whether you are looking to brush up on your photography skills, looking for an afternoon hike, or just looking for a lax evening, Chefchaouen will leave anyone in awe.

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04/24/2018

Fez and I - Spring'18 third newsletter by Ashley Estrella

            A few weekends ago we packed our bags and headed off to Fes.

            To the dismay of my sleep schedule we left Rabat at 8:30am. After a four-hour bus ride and many snacks in between, we arrived at our Hotel in Fes. We set down our bags and then were off to our guided tour of Fes.

            Fes is an incredibly unique and beautiful city. The Fes Medina holds true to its definition that it once was a non-European city in Africa. In Arabic, medina simply means “city”. And Fes has two cities- the new city (Fes-el-Djedid) and the old city (Fes-el-Bali). Built with narrow, winding roads, Fes is a complicatedlabyrinth. Walking through the maze we eventually found ourselves at the famous Fes tannery. The tanneries of Fes produce most of the city’s renowned leather. The sight was amazing- there were dozens of men, most waste deep in dyes, working at a trade very few from the Western world will ever see. The tannery looked almost like a tray of watercolors. Deep vats held dyes in an array of colors and shades, each manned by a single tanner. Taking the raw leather in the vat, the tanners stomp on the hides until they have the desired color. Before arriving at the tannery, we were warned that the tannery would smell horrendous- the slaughterhouse is directly behind the tannery. However, there is no need to fret- the workers give you mint to mask the smell. It really is not as bad as you would think!

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After the guided tour we had free time. A few friends and I decided to continue walking around the medina. We spent hours going in and out of stores- I finally bought some Moroccan Argon oil. Believe it or not, we even made it to a cute little Thai restaurant! We wandered around a bit more before calling it a night!

The next day, we went to Ifrane, the King’s favorite city. It was unfortunately raining and cold, so we spent most of our time inside a cafe. Unlike Fes that was very Middle Eastern, Ifrane was incredibly European. It looked as if you transported a quaint city in the French countryside into Morocco. Finally, before heading back to Rabat we stopped at a park filled with monkeys! After feeding them some peanuts and taking cute selfies, we were back on the bus.

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03/21/2018

Spring 2018 Second Newsletter by Mitchel Knight

Last week, week we had the opportunity to explore Tangier and Asilah. These two lovely cities in the north of Morocco offer much to delight the senses. Gorgeous scenery and a Mediterranean atmosphere combine to pique ones curiosity.

 Despite the rainy day, we explored the winding, wonderful souqs of Tangier. Africa’s northern-most city, it is a charming, cosmopolitan destination. Home to poets, bohemians, emissaries and spies, one cannot help but revel in the diversity of cultures, languages and styles here. Moroccan, Spanish and French architecture combine to create a charming, inclusive metropolis.

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Escaping the rain, we made our way to gorgeous Cape Spartel. Spending the day exploring the rocky outcrops overhanging the azure of the Mediterranean Sea could not be beat. The breathtaking landscape (or seascape, really) was a an enjoyable change of pace from life in Rabat. From there, we spent the rest of the day in Asilah, a quaint town with Portuguese influences. Strolling through the old town, with its pristine shops and welcoming colors made for a pleasant Sunday.

 Morocco always surprises, and these gems were a welcome discovery. More than a few of us are making plans to return. But such is are the perks of study abroad. What an education!

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03/06/2018

Spring 2018 1st newsletter

Salaam from Rabat! Today marks three weeks since I landed in Morocco. It still amazes me how at home I already feel here. In the first two weeks, we went through orientation and intensive Darija classes. Five long hours spent learning a new language was tough but I think we’d all agree it definitely comes in handy. Our professor, Haddou, made sure we had tons of opportunities to practice Darija inside and outside the classroom. He once sent us on a mission to interview locals while we visited the Chellah, the Kasbah and of course, the great Hassan Tower in Rabat. 

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Last week we went on our first excursion to the city of Meknes. On our way, we visited the Roman ruins of Volubilis, a UNESCO world heritage site. We spent a couple hours wondering and learning about its rich history from a local tour guide. I was amazed at how well preserved is to this day. Our next stop was Moulay Idriss, a tiny hillside town just outside of Meknes. It's a town surrounded by beautiful sloping hills rich in character and history. The winding streets are so narrow that locals use donkeys to carry goods up to their houses. In Meknes, we toured the palace created by King Moulay Ismail and parts of the medina. The central square was packed with tourists, vendors, and snake charmers. Many of us stayed overnight in Meknes then returned home by train the next day. 

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10/15/2017

Fall'17 second newsletter by Brendan NG

As I’m sitting here writing in my bed, I can hardly fathom that only one month has gone by since I first touched down in Rabat. Between trips to Tangiers, Casablanca, Fes and Ifrane, settling into a Moroccan family and beginning to fall into a rhythm here at school, it’s really hard to believe how many incredible experiences I’ve managed to squeeze into a measly five weeks. Folks around here seem to be fond of saying that “time moves slower” in Morocco and I guess it’s got to be true because I don’t know how else to explain how settled I already feel in a place I’ve been living for such a short period of time.

Breendan

 

            As classes have started to get into high gear this week, a familiar beginning-of-the-semester deluge of reading has begun landing upon my classmates and I but that hasn’t stopped us from having a ton of fun new adventures. One thing that I’ve come to really enjoy about Monday mornings at school is just how commonplace hearing extraordinary stories seems to be. This past weekend alone, one group had a wild time visiting Spain, another group had a relaxing beach day at a renowned spot south of the city and yet another group went out into the countryside, visiting a rural farm owned by their host family. Personally, I was happy to spend some time at home after three consecutive weekends of road-trips across the country. Rabat is a beautiful city and I’d spent far less time wandering around than I would’ve liked. This past Friday, a friend and I had a wonderful time roaming across town from the old city, to the newly constructed contemporary art museum, all the way down to the beaches of neighboring Temara. On Saturday, however, when tickets to an all-important Moroccan World Cup Qualifying match against Gabon fell into our laps, a few friends and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to head down to Casablanca and check out the spectacle.      

            This proved to be the most incredible experience I’ve had to date. The Moroccan fans did not stay quiet for a single second during the game and their passionate chanting and cheering is something I won’t soon forget. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see 80,000 people in one place celebrating as hard as the folks in Mohamed V stadium were after each of the three goals scored on Saturday night. Those moments were transcendent. I had never thought I’d feel so comfortable being hoisted up by the strangers sitting next to me (who had been setting off flares for the entire game), but I also hadn’t intended to start furiously jumping up and down hugging my friends after Khalid Boutaib’s third goal. I’ll admit I was a bit surprised when the little boy sitting behind me decided to dump the remaining contents of his bottle of Fanta on my head but what was even more shocking was the fact that it somehow felt appropriate.

            On the heels of this experience, over the past week, I’ve noticed a real change in my psyche being here. There’s a kind of assuredness that the Moroccan friends and family who I’ve been spending so much time with carry with them and I feel like their attitude has started to rub off on me. People accept that bad things happen everywhere and all the time but they meet this knowledge with a steadfast belief that if and when those things happen, we can make it through them together. I am happy to say that all is well :)

Brendann

09/27/2017

Fall'17 first newsletter by Molly Keller

A-Salamu Alaykum from Rabat! We’ve been here for almost a month but I think most people would say it feels like we’ve known one another for years (others might say it feels like they’ve been eating Moroccan food for years, but kif-kif). There are 23 smart, funny, and interesting people in our female-dominated group (don’t worry–– the boys are holding their own!) and in the short time we’ve been in Morocco many close friendships have been forged.
 
 
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There is much to tell about the last few weeks, but let me give you a brief run-down. Our first day was spent resting and settling in with our host families; it seems like all the pairings are successful and everyone was matched to a great family (save for the occasional cat allergy or aversion to “sukkar bzaf”). Moroccans love their sugar (almost as much as they love their bread) and for some it’s been a little bit of an adjustment.
 
            After a few days of orientation, we began our two weeks of intensive Darija, or Moroccan Arabic. Split into two classes (one for those with experience in Arabic and one for those without), it has been fun to see our conversations become more and more peppered with Darija words. Through drills, songs, and somewhat embarrassing fieldtrips (e.g. interviewing people in the park), we quickly became more comfortable practicing the language outside of the CIEE center. A big shout out to Majid and Haddou for an incredible two weeks; 5 hours of Darija everyday is hard, but they managed to make it more than enjoyable.
Maajid
 
 
            We’ve also been on a few excursions thus far. Accompanied by our Moroccan “cultural peers” (though at this point “friends” would be more appropriate), we took the train from Rabat to Casablanca to see the biggest mosque in Africa, the Hassan II Mosque. We also had time to visit and explore Morocco Mall, which may actually surpass Hassan II in terms of size. Some of us stayed over night and returned to Rabat the following day, while others took an evening train back on the same day.
 
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            Last weekend we went to Tangier, home to one of Morocco’s biggest ports and a view of Spain across the Straight of Gibraltar. I think it’s safe to say that we were collectively much more enamored with Tangier than we were with Casablanca. After stopping at the Hercules Cave, we took a city tour of Tangier through the Kasbah and Souks, accidentally stumbling upon a large wedding celebration (Moroccan weddings often last up to 4 days!). While technically a day trip, most of us stayed the whole weekend, admiring the view, exploring the Souk, and hanging out at the beach. One of us even hopped over to Spain!
Heer
 
 
            This week we began our “real” classes, including Modern Standard Arabic (or FusHa). It’s a little tricky keeping MSA separate from Darija, but thus far it has been really interesting; and for those of us who are beginners it’s been nice to become slightly less illiterate. Our other classes are taught by local professors and include Contemporary Moroccan Society, Gender in Morocco, and a class on the Quran. While not required, many of us have also opted to continue Darija.
 
            On Friday we are heading to Fez for our last CIEE-planned excursion before a month long break. I’m sure we’ll be very ready for an overnight trip after our first week of classes, and we are looking forward to spending more time with the Moroccan “buddies”.
 
Finally, this newsletter would not be complete without a HUGE thank you to Madiha, Haddou, and Oumaima for their constant support. These three are truly some of the kindest people I’ve ever met and I think I speak for all of us when I say that I am eternally grateful for everything they do. From organizing and teaching to check-ins and hugs, there is nothing they won’t do to make us feel comfortable while abroad. So shukran, shukran, shukran.
Bslâma for now! 

07/04/2017

AL Program Second Newsletter

It gets to you eventually. You can try to avoid it; shelter yourself or stick to sterile pre-packaged versions of the real thing. But after a while, it doesn't matter how hard you try to steer clear of it all: you'll have to deal with them and struggle through whatever hardships come with adapting. I'm talking about microbes, of course. Or was it Morocco? The society, culture, and assorted oddities?

Maybe it works for both: Just like your LifeStraw can shield you (but only until you accidentally sip that tea that hasn't yet reached 100º C), you can pretend to go about things your way, constantly erecting a filter composed of six dirham bottles of Sidi Ali. Or you can give in preemptively and drink the proverbial water – because eventually, it all gets to you, and you just get used to it. And, hopefully, you come out enriched a little; both in the gut and in the mind.

It's funny how many things have become normal after only a few months here: just like with any new city, moving to Rabat brought its fair share of adjustments. Only when talking with friends back home do I realize how different things are here: All these little idiosyncrasies will only really become obvious once I'm out of Morocco, back in another culture and country. But reaching this level of comfort took some time, and there were moments whose closest analogy might be the experience of just pitifully sitting on a toilet with no end in sight (and only if I'm lucky enough to get one with a seat!)

Initially, coming to Morocco, I would experience these pressures to "take it all in" and hit all the points of interest. I'd be laser focused on seeing the mosques we visited, or getting a glance of the old medina and the oudayas, but only long enough to snap a picture and retreat from those unfamiliar – and, frankly, often frightening – places. That was my bottled water. But reflecting back now, after nearly seven weeks here, I think what matters in hindsight aren't the things that can be checked off on a to-do list or located in a guidebook: it's been the day-in day-out slog that's been the most interesting. Some of my greatest experiences here have been unplanned: I'll never forget the time I shared iftar with a couple and their friend on the beach in Casa, after I had taken their photo. That's something that  you can't schedule or find breaking your fast in a McDonalds, but is only obtainable when you open yourself up to the environment here and engage with others.

Both physiologically and mentally, living here has honestly been draining. But in the end, the numerous little stresses that I've felt here have been ultimately positive. Just like the biome in my intestines has grown and flourished by adopting the local bacteria, my worldview and perspective has expanded since coming to Morocco; and it's all been well worth the discomfort.

By : Conrad Ronk

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06/02/2017

Seven Days in the Land of Tajine, Djellabas, and Stray Cats

After a series of grueling flights, I finally arrived in Morocco last Monday. I came with no expectations, and its safe to say that I was more than pleasantly surprised. Through my jet lag-induced stupor, I was able to enjoy all Rabat (and Casablanca) has to offer.

                                                                                      The Food

            Morocco is an assault on the senses in the best possible way. It seems that I encounter a new sight, smell, and taste every time I turn a corner. Such tastes include the warm and hearty tajine, followed by the ever-present couscous and sickly sweet mint tea. I had the privilege of having all three during my first week. As an aside, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the way tea is poured here- I find myself in awe every time I see it.

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                                                                            The Sights

            The first stop for the group was Chellah, or the Roman ruins. It was surreal to see such a fascinating part of history still standing. It was a wonderful learning opportunity, especially for someone with little to no prior knowledge of the history of Morocco.

Next up was the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. Dwelling on the fact that, indeed, this is where a well-known historical figure and his sons were laid to rest was almost too much to handle, as was the architecture.

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After Mohammed V, the group travelled a ways to the quaint Kasbah of the Udayas. It’s

Mohammed V, the group travelled a ways to the quaint Kasbah of the Udayas. It’s hard to not immediately fall in love with the Udayas, and it rounded out our day trip beautifully.

Sunday came faster than anyone expected, and it was time to go to Casablanca. I will never forget the glorious Hassan II Mosque. In only six years, this architect’s dream became a reality, and quickly earned a spot among the largest mosques in the world- it holds an impressive 105,000 worshippers. The floor is heated in winter, and the roof opens in summer. Almost all of the materials used to build it came from Morocco. The images of this work of art will be burned into my mind for the rest of my life.

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                                                                           The Clothes

            Okay, I’ll admit it- I was determined to get a djellaba as soon as I landed in Morocco. I had been obsessed with the idea of owning one since I knew of their existence. Luckily, there was a store by my house, and I purchased two- one of which I wore in Salé’s ancient madrasa. They are perfect for Morocco’s arid climate. I want to buy more as soon as I can.

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                                                                           The Cats?

            Before coming to Morocco, I had always seen and heard of the hundreds of pairs of eyes silently watching passerby, but I never knew just how present they’d be. The cats of Morocco are a bit like the country itself- interesting, no stranger to chaos, and full of surprises. I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks hold.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                             By :Hannah Lynch 

 

04/27/2017

4 days at the Blue-tiful Chaou-town

We arrived Thursday afternoon to Chefchaouen, the Blue City of Morocco, and began our trip with an amazing lunch at Saaed's organic restaurant. Once the restaurant owner started bringing out food, he wouldn’t stop. In no time, the table was full of salads and olives and bread and vegetables- and this was before we even got our tagines!

After lunch, with full bellies, we took a tour of the city. We learned from our guide that the blue walls traditionally signified a dead end in the path, but today, many riads and cafes have disregarded this rule because they know how popular the painted walls are for tourists.

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We were led to several of the former babs, or entrances, to the old city. I’m always amazed by Moroccan cities because you can see exactly how the city grew by looking at where the ancient doors and walls are. Finally, we took a hike up to the Spanish mosque to watch the sunset and listen to the sunset call to prayer. It was a wonderful way to end our first day in the Blue City.

 

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On Friday, we began our day with a hike to Akchour, a beautiful waterfall about an hour Northeast of Chefchaouen. The hike wasn’t too hard, and we took plenty of stops to cool off, drink fresh juice that was made at cafes along the way, and to play with the dog that followed us for most of the hike. After two hours, we arrived at the waterfall, and even though we were warned it would be cold, we did swim in the water.  And boy, was it cold! I’m sure we looked crazy screaming and running into the freezing water, but it was refreshing after a long hike. Since we live in a city, it was also nice to go out into nature for a bit and take in the beautiful mountain scenery for a short while.

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On Saturday, we had time to explore Chefchaouen. Towards the beginning of our program, I had heard from our Moroccan friends about an amazing soap shop in the city, so I knew that I had to stop there. I can see why they recommended it; there were soaps of every color and scent, along with essential oils and other beauty products you might not need, but would definitely want to have! It was almost sensory overload, but you really couldn’t go wrong with whatever you purchased. The owner was also always willing to give you a deal or throw in a free bar of soap for making a purchase. I highly recommend stopping by to pick up some gifts for family and friends back home.

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In the afternoon, we crossed the border to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. This experience was unique because had the chance to cross a land border into a place that was Spain, but not quite Spain. We explored the city with a Moroccan guide and visited the old fort as well as a famous statue depicting Hercules creating the Strait of Gibraltar. One thing we were surprised to learn is that our Darija skills really couldn’t help us because we were in a place where Spanish was primarily spoken. I’ll never forget the look on our waiter’s face as we tried to order our food while slipping in and out of Darija, English, and poor Spanish. He finally told us that he didn’t understand Arabic, which was unexpected given our Arabic skills.

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On our final day, we went to the village of Bellota for lunch at a farm co-op. We ate a delicious lunch, and immediately after we were able to tour the farm right outside the guest house where everything we just ate was grown. After our tour, we walked to a honey co-op in the village. I couldn’t resist buying two jars of Orange Blossom honey, one for me to bring back to the states, and one for my Moroccan host family. It was then time to return to Rabat, but it was a sweet end to a very fun trip.

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03/09/2017

Spring Semester 2017- Second Newsletter

Author : Austin McCleery 

                                                                         Birds, Rain, and Greek Mythology

Last weekend we packed up our bags and set off to explore Merja Zerga, Assilah, and Tangiers.

Assilah Group Photo

Heading north our first stop was Merja Zerga. Turns out most people in Rabat do not know where or what Merja Zerga is. If you are like most Rabatiis and do not know exactly what Merja Zerga is, it is a Moroccan national park that the trusty Lonely Planet guidebook describes as one of the premier bird watching destinations in Africa. With high hopes of seeing flamingos, African Marsh Owls, and scores of other birds we headed out on boats to Hawaii Island, equipped with our homemade binoculars. While we did not actually see any flamingos or owls, the rippling water and sand dunes on Hawaii Island were beautiful.

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Following Merja Zerga we continued on to Assilah for lunch and an afternoon stroll. Running to escape the rain we ducked into a café for lunch where we munched on tomato, avocado, and cheese sandwiches and sipped sweet tea and coffee. Fortunately for us, the weather cleared up right as we left the café to tour Assilah. Appreciating the warm sun and blue skies we wandered through the narrow, colorful streets of Assilah. Like many Moroccan cities, Assilah’s old town is filled with white and blue corridors. However, unlike many towns, Assilah is known for its artwork scattered throughout the city. The bright greens, yellows, and reds provided a stunning contrast to the blue and white.

After enjoying the sun and views of Assilah, it was time to continue onward to Cape of Hercules and Cape Spartel. Rumor has it in Greek mythology that when Hercules was traveling to Atlas his ship crashed on the coast of Morocco and Hercules washed up in a cave on the coast and spent the night before continuing on. As a result, said cave now bears Hercules name and is a pleasant tourist stop on the way to Tangiers. Cape Spartel, conversely, is notable because it is Moroccan territory closest to mainland Spain. While the visibility was not great for us, if you squinted really hard you could catch a glimpse of the Spanish mountains. However, since we could not see much, we did not stay long, instead choosing to get to Tangiers earlier.

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In Tangiers we stayed in a traditional riyad in the medina. After dropping off our stuff we headed off to a surprisingly good Thai restaurant. One does not expect to enjoy delicious Thai food in Morocco, but if you know where to look, it is possible. After dinner we strolled down a slightly sketchy alley to Tangerine, a bar that stood at the heart of Moroccan Beat culture in the 1960’s. For any fans of Allen Ginsberg, Tangerine is where he penned Naked Lunch. However, as none of us are junior Allen Ginsbergs we did not stay that long, choosing venture back through the Medina to our riyad.

The next morning, after enjoying a delightful breakfast of bread, milwe, olives, and coffee/tea, Morocco again taught me what it means to be cold. That morning we were slated to go on a walking tour of Tangiers. The only problem was it was cold and pouring rain and I had failed to pack an umbrella, rain jacket, or even a warm jacket. However, seeing Tangiers was worth the cold and the rain. Tangiers is a neat city with really unique history owing to its international history and proximity to Europe. The general consensus was that it is a beautiful that we all could have appreciated more had we not had to dodge puddles. That being said, we were all pretty excited to get back on the warm bus and begin our journey home to Rabat. Exhausted but happy, we finished our trip with great memories and photos.

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