an chronicle of my adventures in Ifrane, Morocco and travels within the surrounding area

Monday, August 30, 2010

Getting into the Swing of Things

Well, here I am. Welcome to AFRICA! (This sign is on the way to downtown, I guess in case you forget where you are.)

I'm settling in and learning to enjoy the local customs, especially hookah and mint tea. Always makes for a good night. I had read about mint tea in about every travel book or other information source I sought out about Morocco, but nothing could prepare me for how incredible it is. It's a warm tea, no doubt full of copious amounts of sugar, served with a large sprig of mint in the glass, or in the pot, depending on presentation. I enjoy eating the mint when I'm done with the tea, and that flavor will last you for a while.

On Sunday we took a day trip to Azrou (a city about a 20 minute drive from Ifrane) to practice using the Grand Taxi (smaller ones are Petite Taxis), which is usually an old Mercedes or Cadillac that they insist on stuffing five passengers into- two in the front, three in the back.

The cab drivers are pretty scary- on the ride back our driver passed another car on a two lane road (happens frequently) while an oncoming car was in the other lane! It was exciting to say the least. But the trip to Azrou was wonderful- lots of time to gaze at the mountains and the goats, and the city was very typically Moroccan in its beauty.

It was Sunday afternoon during Ramadan, so the market (marché) was pretty dead, but I bought a nice tapestry for my bed

and a poncho jacket, thanks to my Moroccan friend Salma who helped me bargain for the best prices. I really enjoyed getting to see a real Moroccan market with spices,


tapestries, and a variety of other handicrafts.

As for things here at Al Ahkawayn, other than the frustration of the inept bureaucracy here on campus, things are going well, and I guess I should have expected this from a developing nation. Anyway, I have a very nice double dorm room (note the poncho I bought in Azrou on the chair)

complete with our own bathroom (quite nicer than any dorm I've seen in the States)

and a nice big window with a lovely view.

In other news, classes started today. I had by Beginning Arabic class at 8am, but was pleasantly surprised to hear that the professor needs to move it to another time so that he can get his children to school in the morning. The class is of course full of exchange students, including the entire group of my closest friends, so it should be great fun as soon as it starts meeting at a rational time of day. My only other class today, History of the Arab world was cancelled, and by that I mean that the professor never showed up, and the Moroccan students in the class told us that after ten minutes the professor cannot count you absent, so I left and went to work out instead. I went into the weight room and had just begun to do some leg lifts when the stunningly fit attendant, Mustapha, came in and scolded me a bit for not warming up, and then proceeded to start me on a bike for ten minutes and then give me a personal ab workout for about 45 minutes. It was pretty intense, but quite fun. He kept asking me if I was okay, probably because of my face's embarrassing tendency to turn bright red when I work out. I feel okay today, but will likely be pretty sore tomorrow. It's okay, though. I should probably keep going back to Mustapha to get in shape before soccer tryouts! Yes, that's right, I'm trying out for the soccer team. We were told during orientation that the university teams (women's soccer especially) depend upon participation from international students, so a bunch of us are planning to try out. Evidently the team travels a good bit (fun!) and only practices twice a week (yes, please) plus an optional physical training session on Sundays. Basically, it sounds perfect. Tryouts are next week, so here's hoping they need a keeper!

As you may know, it is currently Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, and so most students on campus are fasting every day. I am going to try to fast a few days, too, just to get the full experience, though fasting is much more extensive than I realized. Not only do Muslims abstain from eating from sunup to sundown, they don't consume any beverages, water included, and smokers aren't even allowed to smoke during the day, which means it is incredibly rude to eat or drink in public for non-Muslims. I didn't eat yesterday, which wasn't too rough, but I have a feeling going without water will be rough. I'm going to serially chug it tonight to prepare. The only exception to the fasting rule is for children and women on their periods (don't get me started).

Which leads me to my next topic- women in Morocco. I expected the status of women to be significantly behind what I am used to, but sometimes I just hate being a woman here. I hate that if I am out alone late at night without a man, it is assumed I am available for sex. I hate that I can't drink publicly without being assumed a prostitute. The list goes on, but you get the idea. The division of labor is rather disgusting. Most literally the ONLY people I have seen serving food (which must be the absolute WORST during Ramadan), cleaning floors, bathrooms, etc. are women, and very few women have places in the campus administration or even as professors. As for sexuality, we were told during orientation that Queer students should operate under a "don't ask don't tell" policy, which I guess is better than it could be as legally any sort of "homosexual conduct" is forbidden, but obviously is a little disheartening. I expected this for the most part, though when coming, and despite these unfortunate circumstances, I am having a wonderful time. Having such a beautiful campus with artistic surprises like this painted ceiling outside the bookstore

really makes everything else worth it. I am excited now that classes have begun to get to know more Moroccan students, as I spent most of orientation associating with only International ones (because we were alone on campus for so long). I commend you if you have continued to read this extremely lengthy entry. I can claim to be many things but certainly not succinct. So long for now!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

So finally, at about 11AM GST (5 hours ahead of CST, for the record) I arrived at the University in Ifrane, Morocco. It was quite a trip to say the least. All day long I had had the feeling that I was forgetting something, but I didn't figure out what that was until about five minutes after my plane took off from Chicago for London. It was then that I realized that instead of forgetting something replaceable like toothpaste or deodorant, or even something more crucial like a voltage converter, what I had actually forgotten was the notarized letter from the University telling the customs officials that I am a student and should be allowed into the country. So when I got to London I made a $23 phone call home from a pay phone asking my mom to scan the letter and email it to me, and then begged the desk attendant at the airline to let me use his computer to print it. Well, after all this work, the document didn't scan and so I printed another email from the University, though I really needn't have gone to all that trouble. The customs officials in Casablanca were lax to say the least. I beeped when I went through the metal detector and they didn't stop me, and the man who was supposed to be watching the X-Ray machine was texting as my bags went through. Needless to say, I got into the country with no problem.

So after begging a favor from the airline attendant and checking in London, I had six hours to peruse the Heathrow shopping mall.

I hear you can get flights there, too! Seriously, you could buy everything from fine French wine to designer handbags to luxury cars in this place. It's a little obscene. I did, however, find the third season of The West Wing for just £7.00 so it wasn't a total waste. I did enjoy my brief stint in London quite a bit. I find the British perpetually charming, whether it be their constant need to remind you that there is in fact a gap between the platform and the train,

the way they refuse to beat around the bush,

or the funny signs on the "loos."

I did not experience the same fondness for the people or the culture when I arrived in Casablanca. I did, though, feel like a total jerk for being the monolingual American who gets frustrated when people on another continent don't speak her language. I think I spent an hour in the Casablanca airport trying to figure out which way to go to get through customs, how to change money, and where I should wait for my next flight. Once I figured things out and found a nice comfy metal bench on which to spend the night,
I wondered the airport, and man was that place a trip! I hardly know where to begin. The funniest thing I think is the No Smoking signs posted all over the airport in which EVERYONE smokes. The man who exchanged my money for me was smoking while he did my transaction. The man at the luggage desk was smoking when I checked on my bags. I wanted to snap a picture of a couple of men smoking in front of one of these signs, but figured it might be wiser to tattoo AMERICAN TOURIST to my forehead. Another crazy thing about the airport are the golf carts they drive around the place. I think every time I got to sleep another one whizzed by and woke me up. The highlight of the night was the kitten friend I made, who evidently lives in the airport.
I thought this was strange at first and pretended not to be petting it when some security came by, but they didn't seem to be surprised to see it there, so I continued.

Finally, after hours of checking my watch and waiting for the sun to rise, it was time to head to my final airport, Fes. The plane we got on was tiny, and we rode a bus out onto the tarmac to get on.
I think we left late, but I slept from the moment I was in my seat until I felt the plane hit the ground.

From then on, things looked up. The ride to campus was gorgeous and I spent most of the rest of the day exploring campus and the town with the friends I made on the bus. Campus is absolutely beautiful, my dorm room is much nicer than the one I had at Miami, and the library is the biggest one in all of Africa! Below is the mosque in the center of campus and some of the other buildings, all in Swiss chalet style.

Dining has been an adventure thus far- I had a dry salad for lunch, as it seems salad dressing is not commonly used here, but also some pears in a sweat syrupy sauce which was absolutely delightful. I had a nice hearty supper of lentil and chickpea soup, a tuna pastry, and a hard-boiled egg, but I don't know that I'll get so lucky when it isn't Ramadan (these things, from what I hear, are traditional things eaten to break the fast). One of the Moroccan students with whom I had supper tonight upon hearing I was a vegetarian said "you're going to have a hard time in Morocco. We like to eat meat all the time." Also, salt and pepper don't seem to be available anywhere, though there was a plate of salt and cumin served with the meal tonight which served me acceptably. I bought some hot sauce tonight when we went into town to spice up my eating life. I'm sure I'll get the hang of things soon enough.

Well, while I have a million more things to say, I also have orientation to attend at 9AM tomorrow, so I'm going to say goodnight. Thanks for reading, more later!


P.S. The weather is absolutely gorgeous! It's hot but the humidity is extremely low. My friends from Seattle and Montana are complaining, but after a summer in Missouri this is quite a delight!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Well, I leave tomorrow for a four month journey to Study Abroad in Morocco. I'll be based at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco (pictured below), but who knows where else my travels may take me.I leave St. Louis tomorrow evening at 6:40 PM CST and arrive in Fez, Morocco at 8:20 AM GMT on Wednesday morning, where a school official will transport me to Ifrane, about a half-hour car ride away for orientation.

It will no doubt be a long and arduous journey with layovers in Chicago, London, and Casablanca, but I am ready for the adventure! I hope to post again sometime Wednesday or Thursday, but getting internet may be tricky at first, so standby. Wish me luck!