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,
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!