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3 posts from November 2014

11/24/2014

Fall 2014, Issue I

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1960984_389723057858391_7005595291873761788_oThe entire fall group on an excursion to the Fes region

We have asked one of our fall students, Corrine DiGiovine, to help spread the news from Rabat. Corrine is a junior at Scranton University in Pennsylvania. Even though she is the jokester of the group, she aspires to be a journalist one day, and takes her academics and writing very seriously...so why not ask her to write our newsletter for us! Good work Corrine, and we all hope you enjoy our news from Rabat. 

Program Update

Upon arrival, students were welcomed by CIEE staff as well as young Moroccans.  They will accompany students on excursions and activities around Morocco throughout the semester. Orientation ran from September 6th until the 22nd and included formal and informal discussions about the program, Moroccan culture, tours of important landmarks in Rabat, and an intensive class on Darija, the Moroccan dialect of the Arabic language. 

Students have been living with their assigned host families since September 7th. On weekends and days off, CIEE staff offered students optional day-trips to places such as Skhirat Beach for surfing lessons and Casablanca to see the Hassan II Mosque.

With Intensive Orientation having recently ended and classes officially starting, CIEE Rabat 2014 students are eager to adjust to their daily routines that will last until the end of the semester, in mid December.

Classes began Wednesday, September 24. Courses offered for the Fall 2014 Semester include: Modern Standard Arabic (early beginner through mid intermediate), The Koran, The Arab Spring and Birth of the Arab Citizen, Contemporary Moroccan Society and Culture, Gender Issues in Morocco, and Morocco, Northern Africa and France: Historical and Political Perspectives.

Many of the students have also chosen to do weekly volunteer work. The volunteer projects offered this semester are at locations including the Dar-Chabab, a youth center in which volunteers lead weekly workshops in activities such as art or American Culture, Caios, an English-language program offered at Mohammed V University in which volunteers run their own classroom teaching either English-language or American culture workshops, and a local hospital in which volunteers spend an hour per week mentoring and playing with young children who suffer from terminal illness.

Classes will not be in session from October 6-7, 2014 in observance of the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha. This gives students a 5-day break from classes. Some may use the break to travel, while many will want to remain in Morocco to learn how their host families celebrate the holiday.

Above: Corrine, Kawtar, Cassandra, Ruby, Kelsey, and Nadia take a 'selfie' on a tour of Rabat. 

 

Meet a Student:

Name: Kelly Parliament

 

Hometown: Highland, Michigan

University: Cedarville (Ohio)

Kelly Parliament is a junior who will be graduating from Cedarville University this spring. Ms. Parliament will earn a degree in international studies with a minor in Middle Eastern studies. She also studies French and Arabic languages. These skills and interests have drawn her to numerous study abroad programs. Just before her arrival in Morocco, Ms. Parliament spent the summer studying and doing research in Palestine. She said that she came to Morocco because she wanted the opportunity to practice both her French and Arabic skills. Ms. Parliament currently lives in the Agdal neighborhood and has recently visited Casablanca. Her favorite Moroccan dish so far is a pudding that consists of rice and sweetened milk. When she is not traveling, exploring, or studying, Ms. Parliament fills her spare time by browsing Reddit and reading and watching her favorite series, Game of Thrones.

 

Around Rabat:

Skhirat: Skhirat is a small town about 20 minutes outside of Rabat. It is a popular, yet quiet location for both tourists and locals to enjoy a day at the beach. Students recently took a trip with local Moroccan students here for surfing lessons and  a quiet day at the beach. 

From Left: Janice, Lindsay, Cassandra, Sherin and Lauren hang-ten in Skhirat           

Keep an eye out for our second Newsletter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sherin makes ill-timed jokes in a foreign country

It’s been an unreasonable amount of time since my last blog post, but I’ll make the grand assumption that no one is too particularly appalled. Many tantalizing events have since transpired, and I’d be glad to share each one with you in excruciating detail.

First of all, I would like to reiterate the fact that Morocco is an insufferably warm country. Having said so, I would like to extend my condolences to Saudi Arabia, seeing as my face has now become the number one exporter of oil worldwide.

Nonetheless, I’ve been having an absolutely wonderful time here, all made better by the fact that I completely adore my host family. My host mom is an incredibly sweet woman who always offers me reassuring smiles when I feel I’ve done something stupid (which is quite often) and wakes up unreasonably early to make me breakfast and delicious mint tea. Because she doesn’t speak French, communicating with her often consists of games of telephone, some Darija I’ve learned, and various facial expressions (but who says a relationship can’t be built on smiles, amIright?!)

My host siblings are equally awesome and endlessly patient with me. My host sister always helps me with my homework, and on occasion I’ll provide an impromptu English lesson, which would be really great except for the fact that during my attempt to teach numbers, I forgot how to spell the word “three” for a good 5 minutes. I must be held in high regard.

In general, I feel so much more relaxed. On the very first day I met my host family, my awkwardness was almost tangible. Family time consisted of me sitting on the couch like a mannequin, with beads of sweat trickling down my forehead. However, I am proud to say that I have recently graduated to lying splayed on the couch like the hippo-sloth hybrid I truly am. Life is good. My host siblings and I just played cards and did magic tricks last night and I seriously had the time of my life.

Last week, I made a feeble attempt at comedy during dinner, when after being asked as to whether I was enjoying Morocco, I emphatically replied, “Il est terrible!” with grotesque facial features to match. I think I heard crickets in Casablanca. I never quite regained my composure after that incident and it certainly made me reconsider my budding Moroccan stand-up career. I’m also fairly certain that my family thinks I’m from Holland instead of Poland. Because I don’t believe they’re attending covert anti-Dutch meetings, I will passively maintain my alternate identity for the time being.

Cultural Enrichment Corner:

Meloui is a crepe-esque, bread-resembling Moroccan staple that I indulge in for breakfast and supper on the daily. For about 3 days last week, I truly believed I couldn’t eat another piece. However, I’m proud to say my appetite has predictably returned with a vengeance and I must guard myself at the dinner table lest I come off as a half-starved velociraptor. In fact, I am quite certain that at the time of this publication meloui constitutes approximately 67% of my body mass, with the other 33% being sweat and broken dreams.

An age-progressed photo of me in December:

Meloui

I have also visited a hammam (a bathhouse) and climbed some mountains since my last post! Both of these are experiences that deserve their own long-winded paragraphs, so please wait patiently for my next installment.

Here is a picture of me resembling homo sapiens at my mother’s request:

Sherin in Imleel

Salaam!

11/13/2014

I mean, who needs a Toothbrush in the Sahara, Anyway?

I know, I’m a lean, mean blogging machine, right? Actually, thanks to meloui and kefta, “lean” is probably a fallacy. Whatever, I guess I just love Morocco so much that I can’t stop talking about it!

Last week was Eid, which is one of the the the the big holidays of Islam. It is tradition that families sacrifice a sheep. At first I thought this was kind upsetting but when you really think about it, it’s not much different than the American tradition of feasting on a turkey for Thanksgiving…especially for those who hunt…not to mention,  Muslims donate portions of the lamb to those in need.

Anyway, Eid was just an all-around  delightful weekend with my family. The weekend started off with a huge breakfast that was so good that if I could be stuck in that moment forever I most likely wouldn’t complain.

After that we sat outside and greeted relatives who trickled into the house for the day. My host sister gave me a jalaba, which is a traditional piece of Moroccan attire. Lunchtime rolled around and we were treated to lamb heart and stomach. (Think tripe and safrita). I sampled it but wasn’t feeling the love. I’m guessing it’s an acquired taste.

 

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The rest of the night was spent sitting around with my family and their friends playing games and watching tv and honestly, I really started to feel at home. I started to forget that the people I was sitting with, have only been in my life for a short amount of time.

 

The big meal of day 2 consisted of lamb head and couscous. Again, acquired taste. Definitely worth trying, though.

The remainder of days 2 and 3 were more relaxed- my host sisters took me to the beach twice, put up with my attempts at speaking to them in broken Arabic, and cursed at men who cat-called me. Who knew you can feel so close to someone with whom you can barely even have a conversation?

Eid came to an end and classes started back up again. So, moving on. I guess it’s pretty much assumed by now that my friends and I just took the long awaited trip to the Sahara desert; the travel down in and of itself was one hell of a journey.

First, we hopped on a train to Mekenes. I entered the train with a good feeling about the weekend, believing that nothing could go wrong. It was at that moment when I realized that I forgot my toothbrush.

The train was super crowded and several of us had to stand in the small space between the two bathrooms for the better portion of the ride. Here, we made friends with a local man who spoke English and asked me to read his poem about Obama cheating on Michelle with a “sexy blonde woman.” You can't make these things up.

We got into Mekenes around 8 and walked around the block to find a place to eat.  We found a restaurant called “Marhaba Restaurant,” which, if you know any Arabic, you can see is the most touristy name for a restaurant. Nevertheless, we had a very satisfying dinner that consisted of harira, a noodle and lentil soup; hard boiled eggs, bread, and some pillow of deep-fried gold that could have been socks for all I care but I was hungry and it was fried and that’s all that matters. Best of all, the meal was about 12 dirhams which equals about $1.50.

(This is where I would have inserted a picture of the meal but I was so hungry that the meal was gone before I can even see what it looked like)

Then we took our 8 hour busride from Mekenes to Rissani which, if I go to hell when I die, I won’t be surprised if I find my soul on that busride for the remainder of eternity. Now, I took a 24 busride once from Pennsylvania to New Orleans, so i thought 8 hours would be a breeze, but it was far from a breeze. Speaking of breeze, it was the first time since I came to Morocco that I experienced air conditioning.  And it was so cold that it made up for all the other times in the past month when I actually needed air conditioning. Also, the bus had an occasional unspecified odor and my one friend got sick during the ride. To top it off, every rest stop only had squat toilets and I haven’t warmed up to squat toilets enough yet to use one in public. So, it definitely wasn’t most comfortable 8 hours of my life to say the least.

We finally made it to our hotel in Merzouga at at around 7 in the morning. Merzouga is a small village on the fringe of the desert. Apparently the hotel managers had a pot of tea ready for us upon our arrival but we fell sound asleep before he can even offer.

Our hotel was called “Auberge Sahara,” and in my opinion, it provided the ideal accommodations one could need for a weekend in the desert at a very reasonable price. They provided a room in the hotel for the day, giving us a place to sleep after our long bus ride and a place to stay while we waited to set out on our journey. At 5 o’clock, guides from the hotel took us out to our camels.

First and for most, riding a camel is nowhere near comfortable. It is a bumpy ride. The aftermath leaves you feeling like you just gave birth. Also they’re not super friendly.

 

Ok, that’s a lie, some of them are.

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So after a scenic, uncomfortable ride through the dunes, we reached our campsite, which is also part of Auberge Sahara. The campsite was interesting. We were told we’d be staying in tents, but they were slightly different from what we expected.

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The picture is pretty distant, but I hope that gives an idea. The tents were basically rooms separated by Moroccan carpets. There was even electricity! We had some time to run around in the sand and take pictures of the sunset.

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When you think camping in the Sahara, you’d associate that with roughing it, right? WRONG! The guides cooked us a huge dinner that consisted of a rice and chicken stew, beef tangine and pomegranate.

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After dinner, we spent more time in the dunes, went to bed and woke up the next morning to return to the hotel, where we were provided breakfast and coffee. We checked out shortly after and headed toward across the village where we rented a small house to spend the night.

Now for sand boarding….

A few friends and i decided early Saturday evening that we would attempt sand boarding on the dunes. Among the four of us, we split two boards and two pairs of boots (we’re on a college budget, of course we’re going to share shoes!). Sand boarding is pleasantly easy, provided you have stable weather conditions, which we had for a solid 15 minutes. We had just graduated from the bunny dune and climbed to a larger dune when I saw a dust storm in the distance, which was rapidly moving toward us.

The sandstorm provided two benefits.

1. A test of one’s survival skills: We made it out alive by huddling on top of each other with our shirts pulled above our faces. This also challenged my ability to prioritize: send suggestive messages to the guide by pulling my shirt above my face, or remain modest and choke on sand. We can’t have everything in life! My two friends hiked to the bottom of the dune where, apparently sand was not blowing and they were able to stand freely and go about their lives, while my friend Sherin and I took the dramatic approach that was lying on top of the dune in the midst of the storm, watching our lives flash before our lives.

2. A complimentary Hammam treatment: Having strong winds blow sand at you in every direction is not easy on the skin so I like to think that it exfoliated in the same way a trip to the hammam would. (Just let me think this so I could go to bed knowing that I got a lot out of the 50 dirhams I spent on this experience).

We spent the following day in Rissani waiting for our overnight bus home. Now, Rissani is not the nicest part of Morocco. It is interesting and worth visiting to catch a glimpse of a more traditional, Moroccan town, but it is very dirty and many of the people are less friendly than those I’ve met in Rabat. Nevertheless, we found a very nice clean restaurant n the center of town called Cafe la Baraka. The restaurant had free wifi and air conditioning. The owners let us stay in the dining room and hang out for the day while we waited for our bus. We also had Berber pizza and let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you try Berber Pizza!

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We left Rissani an took an overnight bus home. We arrived in Rabat at about 8 Monday morning. I even had the privilege of sitting through 7 hours of class on 2 hours of sleep. Totally. Worth it.

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In short, the trip to the Sahara was perhaps one of the most exhausting weekends of my life. But all the accommodations and trips fell together so nicely that experience was absolutely sublime. I hope that should you travel to the Sahara, In’Ch’allah, that this post provides helpful tips on where to stay!

Ma3 Salaama!