24 July 2005

Deutschland.

I officially love Germany (although, considering I've never disliked any country I've visited, this probably shouldn't surprise anyone!). Despite some decidedly "Soviet" weather (gray, chilly, and drizzly- the entire city looked like Cold War-era pictures from behind the Iron Curtain), I had a fabulous time. I don't speak a word of German, but it looks a lot like English and sounds a bit similar, so at least there is some one-sided communication going on. Almost everyone we've encountered speaks some English, however, so the language barrier is smaller than we expected. We'll see what happens in Poland and Slovakia, though!

We stayed with a woman named Ilka, Jason's homestay from last summer, who was an experience in herself. She's in her mid thirties, single, and works as an actress. Her flat was charmingly disheveled, and she was as flighty as they come. She took us to a hole in the wall bar serving (in her words) "left minded people," which essentially translates as "cheap beer." She dated a British man in the past, so she speaks excellent English. Contrary to the popular German stereotype, she was not fanatically punctual or angry- she thought Americans were angrier than Germans, and showed up 4 hours late for a dinner date. She has lived in the East since before the wall fell, and the difference between the two worlds is still blatantly obvious, even today. The buildings still have that block concrete communist look, while all of the upscale shopping, restaurants, and hotels are squarely planted in the West.

Ilka lives a few blocks from where the wall used to stand, so it never failed to amaze me walking out of her house each morning. One of the most subtle, but also most interesting differences was in the crosswalk signs. In the West, the walk/don't walk lights are fairly typical and similar to those in America. However, on the eastern side, the walk man is a distinctive little communist worker energetically walking to work- I bought a magnet with the picture, so ask me to see it when I get back. It's become a symbol of the new culture of the east- no matter how integrated the city becomes, the crosswalks will always stay. Considering my fascination with Soviet culture, I was constantly entralled, and they were handy when trying to remember where we were in relation to the city!

Berlin is absolutely beautiful, on both sides- since it was almost completely rebuilt after WWII, a lot of thought was put into the organization, so there are quaint little parks and tree lined areas throughout the town. Looking around, it's incredible to think that the vast majority of the city is only 60 years old. I did most of the touristy-Cold War highlights- Checkpoint Charlie (and museum), the Reichstag, fragments of the Wall, the TV Tower (although we didn't go up to the top because of the Soviet weather), and the Brandenburg Gate, among other things. As a Cold War history nerd, it was incredible to stand on the site of the Berlin Wall, or at checkpoint Charlie, where the US and Soviet tanks met at the end of WWII. Germany, and especially Berlin, marked the symbolic and (in the early years) physical center of the Cold War, and I can't even begin to imagine what it would have been like to be there for even a fraction of what happened. In the Tiergarten (Central Park of Berlin) is the "Memorial to the Soviet Victory," an enormous memorial the Soviets built to themselves in the immediate wake of WWII. The Germans have since added their own information area behind the monument, and it shows a series of pictures of the monument's development while the surrounding city lay in complete rubble. The resentment of the Russians is still alive and well throughout the city, both east and west.

One surprising aspect of Germany- I love the food! I was expecting to be disappointed here, since I thought I didn't like sausage, but I was quite mistaken- apparently, I just don't like American sausage! The pretzel also has its roots in Germany- you can buy them from vendors on bikes with baskets and sticks full of fresh pretzels for a euro. Since homemade pretzels made my list of foods I missed in Morocco, I did a little happy dance when I first spotted the pretzel biker. Berlin is a surprisingly cosmopolitian and worldly city- I've never seen quite so many different ethic restaurants. The first night I arrived, I had an excellent Vietnamese dinner, and the next day we had Indian for lunch and Italian for dinner. I even got to practice my Arabic here- with a Turkish man at a flea market, and with the proprietors of the ubiquitous Doner Kebab shops, run by either Arab or Turkish men. How ironic that I've encountered almost as much Arabic in Europe as I did in Morocco!

The Doner Kebab is another interesting concept- a huge rotating spit of meat (lamb and/or chicken) and fat in front of a flame, and the outside layer is shaved off to make a pita or sandwich, similar to the Greek gyro. I didn't get a picture yet, but I'm told the kebab is a staple across Eastern Europe, so I'll get one soon. With all of this great food, I'm even more excited about the next few countries. The homeland is up next (via a 6am train...ouch!)- Warsaw, Krakow, and Auschwitz. Update coming soon, in sha Allah!

20 July 2005

Viva España.

At long last, Espana! We left Saturday afternoon from Fez, and after a train to Tangier, a night there since the last ferry had already left, then a ferry to Alegeciras, a train to and a night in Granada since the train was full, we finally made it to Madrid. We missed the Alhambra since we arrived late and left early, but we did have dinner at a fabulous Indian restaurant, and after 6 weeks of couscous and tajine, Ive never tasted anything so good!

Finally, after a morning train to Madrid, we arrived in Spain´s capital Monday afternoon. We found a cheap pension near the train station, halfway between the Prado and the Reina Sofia. Martin, Andrea and I spent the afternoon in the Reina Sofia, Spain´s modern art museum, since the Prado was closed. We saw Picasso´s Guernica (along with quite a few other Picassos), among other things. I also finally visited a real tapas bar and tasted authentic sangria- both among the best things Spain has to offer! A meal consisting entirely of different appetizers and sparkling fruit juice mixed with wine- what could possibly be better?! Although I miss the uber-cheap prices of Morocco, the better food of Spain is worth every penny, and our sangria-induced haze certainly helped ease the pain.

Yesterday, Andrea and I slept in late, then went to the Prado. After three days of traveling with a Marine and waking up obscenely early, we needed the rest! The Prado is beautiful, but since I prefer modern art, I was more impressed by the Reina Sofia. We did see an amazing collection of Goyas, however. After the Prado, we strolled through the streets of Madrid in search of paella and more tapas- the city is beautifully laid out, with small parks scattered everwhere to break up the urban sprawl. I absolutely love the city and the country- I hope to come back in the future and really spend some time getting to know the place. I've heard amazing things about Barcelona, so I'm going to try to make it there next year, in sha allah.

The next morning, we took the train/bus combo to Toledo, a small town outside Madrid, famous for swordmaking. It's situated on a series of hills, which made for quite the hike around town. We visited the famous cathedral- unlike any other I've seen. It was unusually ornate and colorful for a church- there was even an enormous (some 20 ft high) painting of Jesus on one wall. A very odd church. There is also a classic art/history museum, which for reasons beyond me was free that day- always a nice surprise. It had a fabulous exhibit celebrating the 400th anniversary of Cervantes' Don Quixote, showing dozens of the different artists renditions of the story over the years. There's something to be said for paying homage to the world's most famous idealist in his home country.

After a late lunch (more tapas and sangria, of course), we took the train back into Madrid, where Andrea found out that her parents managed to switch her flight to an earlier date- as in the next morning, so we cut the evening short to find out how to get to the airport before our last dinner in Madrid. I manged to get bored with Moroccan food in the first week, but I honestly feel I could eat in Spain for years before it got old. After dinner, we walked through the royal gardens near the hotel, where we saw the "Fallen Angel" statue, heralded as the only monument to the devil. The next morning, I visited the Thynessen Museum, a private collection similar to the Guggenheim, which had an breath-taking collection of contemporary surrealist and other paintings- my favorite of the three major art museums in Madrid. After the museum, I came back to the pension to pack, where I discovered that checkout time in Spain is noon, not 2pm as I originally thought! The woman who ran the place was not happy, but since there wasn't exactly anyone beating down the door to stay there, she got over it fairly quickly. Off to the airport for the flight to Berlin- German update coming shortly!

Adios!

jess

12 July 2005

Polar Opposites.

Well, we're in the home stretch here in Morocco. Between recovering from the 4th of July, Marrakesh, and trying to "nanjaha (succeed)" in class, it's been a rather slow week. Our last weekend was rather...interesting, however. We took a grand taxi (5 people, rather cozy, and we made the mistake of putting the skinny guy in the front seat, leaving four of us squeezed across the back) for the 3 hour ride to Chefchaoen, a quaint little mountain town north of Fez. You can't reach the town by train, since the Moroccan rail system basically runs down the Atlantic Coast, with one track going inland to Fez. The roads are the terrifying winding mountain road sort, so sleep was out of the question. Chalk it up to cultural experiences- with the way we were wedged in there, it was safer than any seatbelt could ever hope to be.

All complaints aside, Chefchaoen was worth every minute of that cozy taxi ride! The city is small, only 50,000 people or so, and all of the medina walls are painted a vibrant blue, so the entire town just feels calmer. Terraces and balconies are popular across the country, but Chefchaoen takes them even more seriously, considering the stunning views. Chefchaoen's nestled in the Rif mountains, so the scenery is absolutely breathtaking from all angles, and a waterfall/cascade runs down the mountain to the edge of town, where women come to wash clothes and rugs, and young boys play soccer in the water (see pictures). It's touted as one of the most relaxing cities in Morocco, and with good reason. It's also the kif (a stronger form of hashish) capital of Morocco, which probably explains everyone's laid-back attitude! The natives don't hesitate to offer it to you ("I make your carpet fly!"), but are generally understanding if you decline the offer. The further north you go in Morocco, the more Spanish influence you find, so we were able to practice our Spanish skills- it proved rather confusing, and we ended up speaking a "Arabish" combination, but we got the point across- nothing like the thrill of successfully communicated in a foreign language to make you feel good about yourself. It's not as exciting as Marrakesh, but Chefchaoen is something special on its own- it's really beyond description, it's the experience that makes the town so unique.

In the spirit of Chefchaoen, we decided not to book a hotel in advance, and just wing it when we arrived in the town. We had the taxi drop us off in the middle of the medina, and followed the guidebook to Hostel Guernika, a popular student hostel in town. However, since it's in most guidebooks, and there was a music festival in Chefchaoen that weekend, the hostel was booked solid. Just as we were leaving to wander the streets in search of another hostel in the area, the owner called Matt and I back into the lobby, and told us he had a house up the street that he and a friend were converting to a hotel, and rented to travelers, and if we wanted, he'd take us to see it and we could opt to stay there. Feeling adventurous, we decided to risk it- if all else failed, we figured the five us us could take him in a fight!

The house was a beautiful four story, centered around a hole in each floor looking up to the skylight on the top ceiling, with three bedrooms (which meant beds for all us!), and three different levels of balconies and terraces overlooking the mountains and cascades. For $8 a night with breakfast, we couldn't go wrong. Jose left us his keys, and we had the place to ourselves. Since most hotels are so small in the medinas, it was great to be able to stay all together in one house on such short notice. And no neighbors to object to late night debauchery- what could be better?

After we got settled, we ventured into the medina to check out the music festival. We passed by the Ministry of Culture just as a long train of tuxedoed waiters walked by carrying trays of gorgeous appetizers, so we stopped to find out (1) what was going on, and (2) how we could be a part of it. It turned out to be a party for the Ministry, but there was no way we could get in. However, the man we asked about it was so impressed that we were learning Foosha (Formal Arabic), he invited us to a cafe for tea. Tea is an enormous part of Moroccan life- in shops, the owner will typically offer tea to his guests while he shows them his goods, and any visit to a Moroccan home will include tea. It's minty and ridiculously sugary- just the way I like it, but it makes other people's teeth hurt. We sat and talked with him for over an hour, and it was great to practice formal Arabic with someone, instead of them just responding in French. I think we offended him when we insisted on paying for our own tea, since he seemed rather perturbed and explained that if a Moroccan invites you somewhere, it's their treat. We learned our lesson, but still felt guilty making him pay. We met up with the other half of our group who came up later, and found dinner at a cheap, but "laisa jaid (not good)" restaurant. You win some, you lose some.

The next morning, we woke up to Jose, our host, slaving in the kitchen to make us breakfast. He spent more than an hour juicing oranges for several gallons of fresh juice, and frying an absurd number of eggs. Since most of us barely wake up in time for 8am class, let alone breakfast, it was a welcome change. And for those of us not in homestays, it was wonderful to experience living in a real Moroccan home. Staying at Jose's house instead of a hotel was definitely one of the best decisions we made on the trip. We spent the morning exploring the medina, and doing some major shopping. Not only did Chefchaoen have better and cheaper goods than Fez, all the kif floating around made for some pleasantly low pressure salesmen! We had originally planned to go to Tetouan and Martil, a city and neighboring beach town on the Mediterranean coast, but on a whim, we decided to see if all of the legends surrounding Tangier were true. Jose called us a couple of grand taxis, and we crammed in again for the 2 hours to Tangier (although, this time, we were smart and put the tallest in the front!).

The taxi driver dropped us at the Port of Tangier, which bore a creepy resemblance to Naples, Italy, with an even sleazier vibe. In the 1960s and 1970s, Tangier was a popular city for American and European writers, but much of the charm appears to have worn off. After being accosted by begging children, we set off to find a hostel. The port area is the cheapest section of town, but also the sketchiest, as we quickly discovered, so we wandered back along the beach to the cleaner area of town. En route, we found a pair of Welsh girls looking horribly lost and confused- they were fresh off the ferry from Spain, their hostel had lost their reservations, and they'd been wandering around for hours fending off sleazy men and trying to find a new hostel, so we took them under our wing.

While a few people went in search of a hotel, the rest of us went to...(wait for it...) PIZZA HUT for dinner. Yes, they have such paradise in Morocco! After more than a month of the same three Moroccan dishes and the horrendous food-poisoning inducing Italian restaurant down the block, it tasted like heaven. Pizza, pastas, sandwiches, desserts....pure bliss. Perhaps not very adventurous, but sometimes you just need a taste of home. We found a cheap, sparse, but relatively clean hostel a couple of blocks from the beach, and settled there before venturing into the city.

In a word, Tangier is "sleazy." The hotels, the restaurants, the men, the women- everything. We went to a few of the clubs and bars along the beach before deciding that the entourage of leering men we'd attracted was more than anyone could handle. In a more amusing incident, one of the bars we visited was also hosting a pretty girl's 20th birthday party. After a strong dose of liquid courage, Fleming bravely decided to ask her for a dance - in Arabic. Roughly tranlated, "I want the dancing with you." Needless to say, she turned him down. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for equal rights organizations in the United States, the club employed a midget in a sailor costume on to sit in laps and pose for pictures to cheer up lonely patrons.

The next morning, we went to the beach for a little while before hopping on a train back to Fez. The beach was utter chaos- thousands of men, a handful of covered women, and many children (see pictures). We attracted a lot of attention, as usual, but most of the men were more interested in talking to Fleming than gawking at Candace and I, which was a refreshing change from the previous evening. Tangier lacks the exoticness of Marrakesh and the charm of Chefchaoen, but at least we can say we walked in the footsteps of Hemmingway and Burroughs, among others.

The London bombings- a few people have asked me about the response in Morocco to the London bombings, so I thought I'd mention it here. Morocco is technically an Arab country, but in reality, the culture feels more European, so it's rather unique in the Arab world. Also, politics just aren't discussed here, especially with strangers. The only political discussions might occur in the privacy of a home, but clearly, we're not privy to such conversations. So, the only real response we saw from a Moroccan was from Leila, the villa maid. Everyone was watching the news in English on BBC, so she found Matt and I and asked us to watch it so we could tell her what was happening. When we explained it to her, she was genuinely upset. Moroccans have been very resistant to fundamentalism in their country- the King has begun many reforms, and the population supports him completely. After the May 2003 bombings in Casablanca, demonstrations broke out in most of the major cities agains Islamic fundamentalism. I presume Leila's reaction is rather common- just as we don't want to be classified as stupid, arrogant Americans, Moroccans and other Arabs understandably appreciate not being labeled terrorists. Just some food for thought...

Nothing else too exciting out here- we're trying to cram the last two chapters of the book into this week, I got the highest grade on the last exam, we found out that the cafe on the corner serves crepes for breakfast (al hamda allah!), and we're all starting to realize that the "bubble" we've been living in for the past 5 weeks is about to pop. The people on this trip are some of the most interesting I've ever met, and we're all making plans to continue to see each other back in Gainesville (most of which involve gorging ourselves on some kind of food or another!).

For the rest of the week, we'll be finishing our last minute shopping, shipping home a small fortune in souvenirs and excess clothing, taking Leila to dinner, and having our goodbye party Friday night. Just as we're starting to settle into a routine here, and really feel like we live in Fez, it's time to leave! I'm looking forward to seeing Spain and Europe- we'll be leaving Saturday morning for a full day of trains and ferries to get to Spain, then going to Granada, Toledo, and Madrid before I fly to Germany. Some of the people here are excited to be going home, but I'm glad I get another month to ease the transition back to American culture. Pictures from last weekend are on their way up, slowly but surely, and there are a few more from Marrakesh. Hope all is well back home!

Ma'salaama!

jess

06 July 2005

Snake Charmers, oranges, political fantasies, unpasteurized milk, and more monkeys.

Another crazy week in Morocco- it's just hitting us that we have less than two weeks before this is all over! I finally found people willing to come to Spain with me, so I'll be traveling with two other people in the group before I fly to Berlin. Classes are still moving along- I've done well on the last two exams, so that's refreshing. We're learning one of the more complicated (and utterly useless) aspects of Arabic grammar now, so that's been frustrating. It's a system of case endings to indicate how a word is used in a sentence, but the entire lesson is prefaced with a note about how they aren't used in spoken Arabic and only occur in the Koran, where it's more important to be able to read them than to understand why they're there. To add to the frustration, we have a teacher who likes to drop complicated grammatical concepts instead of answering our simple questions, and since we're all products of the fabulous Florida public school system, it just serves to confuse us more. Thus, we're all feeling unnecessary frustration at a system with more exceptions than rules, but I think we're beginning to see the light. On a brighter note, we had a break through last week involving the verb system in Arabic, which, although complicated, enables you to create new verbs. Very exciting.

Other random tidbits from the week-

Hanging in the Center is a rather prominent portrait of Bill Clinton next to one of the King, and we never really knew why until recently. In every home, restaurant, and store in Morocco is a picture of the King, in some pose or another- the sunglass shops often have him wearing glasses, a few restaurants have him drinking a Coke, etc. The King is hugely popular in Morocco- he's made a lot of democratic reforms and he's a outgoing sort of man, so the people are crazy about him. This is normal, but no one understood why Clinton, instead of Bush, hung in the American Center. We finally asked Mustafa, our fun (not confusing) professor, why the Center didn't hang a picture of the current US President, and he (jokingly) explained that they just like to pretend that Clinton was still President and that last five years were just a dream. An amusing reason, but really the administration was just too lazy to get a new portrait. Crazy Moroccans...

I think I've already mentioned how the produce here puts everything I've eaten in America to shame, but I've made another discovery that makes the fruit even better. A few blocks from the villa is a cafe called Fez Fruits, specializing solely in fresh juices- mango, avocado, strawberry, banana- you name it, they have it, and for 10-12 dirham, depending on your fruit (<$1.50). It's like smoothies, but better and healthier! They also make a amazing fruit salads with ice cream- it's become our new favorite place to eat lunch (and breakfast...and evening snacks...). Between that and the gelato shop in the Ville Nouvelle, we're not going hungry. We probably won't be missing much of the food from Morocco when we come home, but we'll definitely miss the fruit!

Last week, after a dinner at a rooftop restaurant in the medina, a group of us went to visit our friend Fleming's homestay family, who lives in a palatial house in the heart of the medina. It was the first time we'd really ventured off the main shop-lined streets of the medina, and into the twisting, narrow alleys. Knowing my sense of direction, it's a wonder we made it out alive! The house was absolutely stunning- the entire first floor ceiling and walls were covered in intricate tiling, and of course, wall to wall couches overflowing with cushions. The house centered on the ground floor living room, so all of the upstairs bedrooms had windows opening into the center of the house, as well as the outdoors. Three stories up, a rooftop terrace circles the skylight from the center living room, and there was an incredible view of the medina (not to mention a cool breeze!). After we finished touring the house, we came downstairs to find that Fleming's mom (in traditional Moroccan fashion) had brought out homemade biscotti-esque cookies and milk. No matter how full you are in Morocco, you're expected to eat and drink when offered food, so we all skillfully juggled our milk glasses and cookies around, and a few of us "took one for the team," so to speak, and drink some probably not pasteurized milk. Chalk it up to another cultural experience, but let's just say, if you ever have the chance to try it, I'd recommend avoiding it at all costs.

For the weekend we went down to Marrakesh (via an 8 hour train ride!). The cabin fever started to get to us, and we were chastised by the conductor on both trips for singing too loud and spiking our Gatorade, but fortunately the train ride ended before anyone went over the edge. It was quite an ordeal to arrange taxis to get 16 people to the Djemma al-Fna to find our riad, but we made it. The concept of the riad is uniquely Moroccan, and definitely worth a stay if you're ever in the area. Riads are old mansions converted into small hotels. The traditional Moroccan house, like Fleming's homestay, centers on a courtyard with an open roof. The rooftop patio is a staple, providing both an escape from the heat and a stunning view.

We were planning to sleep on the roof of our riad, since it was full when we tried to book it during the week, and general practice in such situations is to let travelers sleep on the roof for a few dirham, but when we arrived, there were three open rooms, so we were able to sleep in beds. Since I had found the place, I handled the checking in, organizing our rooms, and the registration of all the people (like Europe, Morocco requires a passport and entry stamp to stay in a hotel)- all entirely in Arabic. Not going to lie, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Our riad was a block from the Djemma al-Fna, which is the chaotic, enormous main square of the Marrakesh medina, so we couldn't have found a better location. We ate dinner on yet another rooftop restaurant overlooking the square (if you haven't caught on by now, the terrace is very big in Morocco!), and wandered around the souks and the square, just taking in the chaos. Between the street performers, food vendors, tourists, and hordes of native men trying to cop a feel, Marrakesh defies description until you've stood there and taken it all in.

The Djemma is famous for its fresh squeezed orange juice, and speaking as a Florida girl who doesn't even really like orange juice, it's amazing. The center of the square is lined with 50 some odd orange juice carts, all numbered, and all selling fresh orange juice for 3 dirham a glass (about 30 cents!). If you're within shouting distance of a row of carts, all of the vendors start waving your over, since their business depends solely on how many customers they can lure in. After you finish, they usually pour you an extra half glass or so to entice you to come back to their numbered stall. The free market system at its best!

Saturday morning, Matt and I got booted from our hotel room, since one of our rooms in the riad was only available Friday night, and moved up the street to another hotel owned by the same people. It's an interesting Moroccan phenomenon. On any given block, most stores or hotels will be owned by a few people- if you're shopping in one store, you will almost always be invited to one across the street or next door, with the same owner and proprietor. Once everything had been settled (again in Arabic!), we all ventured out to explore the souks and shop in the daylight. Since Marrakesh is a much more "touristy" city (especially for Europeans), we saw many more white faces, and most shop keepers assumed we were French or British, instead of American. A popular greeting for white faces was "Fish and Chips!" We were also promised "democratic prices," which seemed a bit ironic, since the vendors in Marrakesh tended to start with obscenely high prices (probably due to the tourists), but would haggle down to prices similar to Fez. Again, going on the British assumption, one vendor proudly told us he had sold leather bags to Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher for many dirham, but would give us "student price." If only such barganing were possible in American malls! Marrakesh is usually 10 degrees hotter than Fez and the entire city pretty much shuts down in the afternoon, so we went back to the hotel for siesta and some massages.

We came back into the medina for dinner, and then dove into the chaos of the Djemma, which doesn't really wake up until the sun goes down. Like the orange juice carts, there are also rows of street food restaurants, all grilling any number of unrecognizable foods. All of the grills create a giant smoky cloud above the square, which, combined with the lights, just adds to the mysteriousness of the entire area. The square is full of snake charmers, dancers, acrobats, and all sorts of other acts. They make their living collecting money from tourists taking pictures, so if you try to snap a free one, they tend to chase you down until you cough up a few dirham. The square is also fully of women selling henna tattoos to unsuspecting tourists. A popular trick is to grab a woman's hand, and start painting henna, calling it a "gift," then demanding absurd amounts of money for the "gift." It happened to Andrea in our group, but fortunately there were enough of us to convince the woman to back off with a few dirham.

Similarly, there are also men with tame monkeys, who dance and pose for pictures with tourists (see pictures). They like to essentially throw the monkeys on you, especially when they work in pairs and get you from both sides, then while you're laughing and taking pictures, they'll demand absurd amounts of money. Speaking a little Arabic and reminding them that you never asked for the monkeys worked wonders to get them to leave with a reasonable amount of money. The monkeys are much heavier than they look, just for the record. Later at night, the square fills with groups of people watching story tellers and dancers, and the packed crowds scattered with foreign women are paradise for the young men of a nation full of covered women. After the first few pinches, catcalls, and grabs, we developed a "circle the wagons" technique, with the men circled around the women, which worked like a charm.

Sunday, we did more shopping and medina exploring (and orange juice drinking!) before embarking on the train ride home. Unlike Fez, Marrakesh is almost all medina- nothing higher than two or three stories, except the Koutb mosque in the distance. Interestingly enough, atop ramshackle houses as far as the eye can see are countless satellite dishes. Families of 8 or more people, crammed into two room houses, many without indoor plumbing, but everyone has satellite television. Definitely some misguided priorities in the eyes of the American girl who's never owned a television in her life. All in all- Marrakesh is definitely the most interesting city we've seen in Morocco thus far!

Happy belated Fourth of July- this update is a bit late since we spent Monday prepping for the hafla (party) and Tuesday recovering from it. Since we couldn't get our hands on a grill, we ended up negotiating a deal with the McDonald's up the street for discounted cheeseburgers, french fries, and apple pie- in a foreign country, nothing's more American than the Great Satan. The gas oven proved a bit tricky, so no baked goods, but we did manage some nachos. Some of the other villa residents (and probably the neighbors!) didn't seem to appreciate our loud, off-key renditions of classic rock and country songs, but our nation's birthday only comes once a year! Leila, the villa live in maid, joined us for the party, and although she loved her "American yohib Leila (America loves Leila)" shirt we made for her, she didn't seem to appreciate our music as much. Some things just don't translate well...

until next time,

jess

27 June 2005

Berber Love stories, part 2.

Well, our lovestruck desert girls (and chaperones) have all returned safely from the Sahara. They went to a Berber wedding, but fortunately, none of them were in it. They actually ended up having a pretty amazing trip- they went to the houses of the men they'd met, and met their families, ate large homemade meals, and got invited to a traditional Berber wedding ceremony, which they said was beautiful. One of the guys in our group, Demetrius, who's African American, was quite the hit with the dark skinned Berbers. Apparently, they tried to find him a wife, but failed. Pity...would have made for a great story!

In other news- tonight, Leila, the fabulous maid who runs the villa, gave us cooking lessons! About six of us helped with the preparations for a chicken tajine, and another eight people helped eat it. It was a lot of peeling and chopping of potatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, carrots, tomatos, and other seasonings, then we sort of sat back and watched Leila do the cooking while she taught us dirty words in Arabic. But, we wrote down the recipe (as accurately as possible, considering our Arabic vocabulary), so perhaps I'll give it a try back home. It was definitely the best tajine we've eaten here. She's had a few lessons in the past, and we've been tortured with the amazing smells coming out of the kitchen, so it was fabulous to finally partake in the deliciousness!

And one last cultural oddity- today in class, our professor was trying to explain the word for "continent," and he said there were 5 in the world. We couldn't figure out what he was talking about, so he finally got exasperated and told us the answer. Apparently, in Morocco, North and South America are one continent, and Antartica just doesn't count. Who'da thunk? On the bright side, it makes my goal of visiting all the continents that much closer- just one left!

26 June 2005

Berber love and monkeys.

Well, I'm at the halfway point of my time in Morocco, and I'm sad to realize I have to leave in another three weeks. At least I get to spend some time in Europe to help ease the transition. It's been another eventful week here- Almost everyone is completely recovered from their digestive troubles now, I've been bathed by a stranger, Caroline moved out into her homestay and my new roommate is from England, I've touched a wild monkey, and two of the girls on the trip just might come back married. Intrigued...?

The Sahara, pt. 2- A few (7) members of the UF group went back to the desert this weekend, and nearly sparked a major crisis for Dr. Bamia, the professor running this trip. It appears that two of the girls going back fell in love with Berber camel guides, and wanted to go back to see them again, but they didn't tell Dr. Bamia about the men at first. Although a foolish trip in the first place, it would have been even sillier to go alone, so more people joined them. They all left Friday night on an overnight bus down there and should be back late tonight, and now we're all waiting to see if either of them come back married- I'll post an update online when we find out.

Thursday night we all went out to a nice dinner at a restaurant overlooking the medina, since Dr. Bamia leaves today. A bit pricier than the average cafe, but still cheap by American standards. I had an authentic pastilla, made with pigeon instead of chicken. It was much better than I expected- a bit darker than chicken, but if I hadn't known, I don't think I would have noticed a difference. It sounds strange to mix scrambled eggs, meat, and nuts in a sugary pastry, but it tastes fabulous! We watched the sunset over the hills of the medina and danced with the drummers before we came home to study for Friday's test. That "study" part of "study abroad" just seems to be getting in the way of traveling!

We originally planned to go to Rabat this weekend, but fortunately, we overslept on Saturday morning and missed the train. Instead, we spent the day relaxing by the pool at the hotel next door, where we discovered that Moroccans can't dive or swim well, and the Speedo hasn't gone out of fashion yet. Although the sight of our pale bodies was rather shocking, I think the other people at the pool were more amazing by our ability to dive without belly-flopping.

Azrou/Ifrane- Since we missed the train to Rabat, a group of us decided to take the advice of some of our classmates and take a grand taxi ride out to Ifrane. The six of us are all in the same intermediate class, but we managed to find the train station and haggle our taxi ride down to 500 Dh from 800, using our limited Arabic (and Candace's blonde hair!), and also ensure a return trip with a stop for lunch. A very proud moment! The city is a complete anomaly in Morocco- in the winter, it's a ski resort (yes, it does snow in Morocco!) for wealthy Europeans, and the city looks hauntingly like Geneva. No beggars, no random donkeys roaming the streets, and only a few stray cats. Very un-Moroccan!

Outside of Ifrane is the little village of Azrou, famous for its Barbary Apes. The apes are used to humans and practically tame, so people go out there to hand feed them. Since you all understand my love for feeding quasi wild animals (Pigeons in Venice, deer in Japan, etc), you can only imagine how exciting it was to be that close to monkeys! We brought loaves of bread, and the monkeys would come right up with no fear and take pieces from us. The spunkier ones even tried to sneak up on us to steal the whole loaf. By far one of the cutest things I've ever seen. We also gave them water, and Candace and Fleming tried to show them how to drink from water bottles (see pictures). I think they understood the concept, but our bottles were too big for them to handle. We ended up cutting off the bottoms and making little cups for them. The bigger apes tried to steal food from the babies, but we made sure to feed the runts. It was absolutely surreal to be that close to wild apes, and they were hilarious, running around and wrestling. One of them even climbed into a tree with a water bottle and threw it at the others. Definitely worth the cramped grand taxi ride to get out there! We saw Moroccan families who brought picnic lunches, but we weren't thinking that far ahead, so we went back into Ifrane for lunch.

More Cultural Oddities and strange things I've seen in the past week:

-2 Female police officers- it's an Arab/Muslim nation. Need I say more?
-A fat donkey (most of the animals in this country would never be described as "well-fed"- starving cats abound at local cafes, begging tourists for scraps)
-A Moroccan boy "using the facilities" in the middle of a central plaza. Perhaps from his perspective, he was behind the pillar, but from ours, he was most certainly in front of it!
-Medina food- I ventured into eating street food from the medina Wednesday night. We started off light, with some fresh donuts, which were excellent (not to mention cheap- about 12 cents). No one's died yet, so we'll be back for more varieties in the coming week.
-Moroccans all drive like lunatics- in an average taxi ride, 5-6 pedestrians almost killed is normal. Extra points for bikers and pregnant women. Makes crossing the street rather exciting- we've taken to shouting "in sha allah (if god wills it)" for good luck. We actually hit a man the other night. Driving into the medina, our cab stopped suddenly, which isn't rare. But Matt grabbed my arm, tossed some money at the driver, and told me we were there. I tried to tell him we weren't at Bab Bjloud yet, but he insisted. I completely missed it, but apparently we hit a man on a bike, and as we were leaving, he was picking a fight with our driver. Better to walk the last block into the medina!
-There are no trash cans on the streets in Fez, but also a disproportionately small amount of trash...it's an unsolved mystery!

All in all, another amazing week. Next weekend we're off to Marrakesh, one of the "don't miss" cities in southern Morocco. It's an 8 hour train ride, so it'll be a looong weekend! I'm also seeking advice on where to go in South/Central Spain- I've got 5 days. Any thoughts? Until then-

jess

25 June 2005

Droopy middle aged bits.

Candace, Zuleyma, and I finally experienced the Turkish bath, or hammam. Definitely an event to write home about, although there will most certainly not be any pictures. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a Turkish bath, it almost defies description, but bears a slight resemblance to a sauna-high school gym locker room shower hybrid. Hammams are strictly unisex, with separate buildings for men and women, or separate times for each sex. You pay your 10 dirham admission, then strip down to your underwear and leave your clothes and belongings in the outer locker room while you head into the shower rooms.

Traditionally, Arab women come with a friend or two, and gossip and help scrub each other down- it's one of the few times in their everyday life they're free to say and do as they please. However, you also have the option of paying a woman at the hammam to scrub and massage you, and since the three of us didn't feel we were THAT close yet, we opted to hire a professional. Plus, they'll keep getting buckets of water for you, and save you the trip. The process is rather complicated, so if you've never done it before, you stand out like a sore thumb (as though the pasty white skin wasn't a dead giveaway).

Fortunately, Zalayma had been the week before with her homestay family, and she could fill us in on the details. First, you sit and sweat in the steamy room for a while to loosen up the dirt while the attendants fill your buckets for you. Then, you soap up and rinse once before the attendants come over and scrub you down with an exfoliating mitt- they lay you on the floor, across their bodies, roll you over, etc- they leave NO area unscrubbed. You can see the black dirt (and top layer of skin!) just peeling off. Then, they rinse you down again, throw a bucket of hot water across the floor to "clean" it, then lay you down and massage you on the floor (with soap yet again, bringing us to three soapings in one bath).

Finally, they leave you to wash your hair, shave, etc, before you finally leave. Longest bath/shower I've ever had- the entire process takes over an hour, but I've never felt so clean in my life. It's a bit awkward at first to be surrounded by so many strange naked women, but each group just stays in its own world, sharing the latest gossip. Although, we were almost certain some of that gossip concerned the confused looking white girls in the hammam. For the men, however, the experience is a bit different. Instead of the pampering massage the women receive, the men get what they've described as "beatings from old men." Some of the guys have begun to really enjoy their weekly beatings, but some of the others decided that one cultural experience was sufficient. I'm not sure if I'll be going back anytime soon, but it was definitely an experience.

ohibukom,

jess

22 June 2005

al-Sahara momtez.

And finally, the most exciting part of the trip- our trek through the Sahara Desert. The entire experience was fabulous (save the bus ride home!)- best $100 most of us have spent in a long time. We drove down Friday afternoon to a ridiculously nice (air conditioned) hotel near Erfoud for the night before continuing to the desert on Saturday. We ate an amazing buffet dinner- the hotel caters to tourists, so of course it would be an all you can eat buffet! Also tried some Moroccan red wine- not bad, but as Matt would say, "nothing to write home about." The hotel had a beautiful swimming pool, which was a relaxing break from the har jidan weather (very hot!). There were also some Moroccan drummers who ended up dancing with us until the wee hours of the morning, and (sort of) teaching us to drum and belly dance while we communicated in broken Arabic and English. They seemed to appreciate being treated as more than entertainment, and talking to us about our experiences in Morocco.

The next morning, after breakfast, we all purchased our turbans to keep the desert sun and sand off (see picture). The store owner tried to overcharge a few people, but once he realized we were all together, he ended up teaching everyone how to wrap their own turban. We got back on the bus and drove a few more hours south to another hotel, where we had lunch and siesta'ed until the late afternoon when it wouldn't be unbearably hot in the desert.

Then, at long last, we mounted our camels for our trek into the Sahara! The camels were big and dirty and smelly, but it all just added to the experience. They make a noise like Chewbacca when you first climb on them, or when they get upset about something or other- rather amusing. Each little group of camels was led by a Berber- ours happened to be a young boy, probably no more than 10 or 12. They all walked barefoot through the sand! Riding camels bears almost no resemblance to riding horses, however- no saddles, just piles of wool and blankets, and camels have a distinctly bumpy gait (hence, I took very few pictures from my camel!). We can't walk today, but it was definitely worth the pain! Both of my camels were good boys, they went nice and slow on the downhill bits, and sat down and stood up with as much grace as a camel can muster.

Not everyone had such luck- Juan, a guy in the caravan ahead of us, had some minor camel issues. His camel was old and tired, and he fell down at one point, but the camel ahead of him didn't stop, so when he went down, the nose ring connecting him to the others was ripped out (and Juan fell off). The camel was screaming, as only camels can, and bleeding- the Berber leading the group tried to make the camel sit down so Juan could get on again, but fortunately Juan elected to walk and give his camel a break. He said the walk was just as fun- he was free to run up (and roll down!) big sand dunes.

The Sahara is incredibly beautiful- the sand really is that reddish-orange color you see in photos. Just a vast, desolate expanse of sand. The pictures really can't do it justice, with the immense rolling dunes as far as the eye can see in any direction. No signs of life aside from our camel tracks and the occasional insect or salamander. The oasis was a bit livelier, with palm trees and other miscellaneous plants, and even scorpions (although I personally didn't see any).

After two hours of riding (which is about the limit for first timers!), we arrived at our oasis campsite. The oasis was in the shadow of a particularly large sand dune, and a few brave souls climbed to the top and skied down. The campsite was quite a contrast with Friday night's five star hotel- we slept in low Berber tents on mattresses, and there was no running water or electricity to speak of. Fortunately, the oasis provided several large, secluded plant clusters! We watched a stunning sunset over the dunes, ate dinner and enjoyed more Moroccan drumming and dancing before turning in for the night.

With no lights except a few flame torches, the desert was amazing at night- we could see thousands of stars, and an almost full moon. Since the Sahara is almost devoid of life, the night was absolutely silent- no birds, no rustling in the bushes. It was spooky at first, but it just adds to the allure of the Sahara. We all prepared for a chilly night, but apparently that legend about cold desert nights is just a myth- the temperature did drop a bit, but considering where it started, the night was actually still relatively warm. The Sahara is absolutely intoxicating- laying under the stars, with nothing around for hundreds and thousands of miles, you realize just how small you are in relation to the rest of the world. Our tracks into the desert were gone by morning, as if we'd been there our entire lives. It's hard to believe we're slowing destroying our planet in the face of such massive, beautiful desolation.

We woke up at sunrise the next morning to ride back to the hotel before the sun came out in full force, but although we left at 7am, it was still blazing hot. The pain from the camel ride the day before had started to kick in, so the ride back was less exciting than the way out, but we were still on our "riding camels in the Sahara desert" high. Plus, we were able to take showers back at the hotel, so that helped dull the pain of leaving the desert! All in all, definitely one of those "once in a lifetime" kind of experiences - I highly recommend it to anyone next time they're near the Sahara. The 9 hour bus ride home put a bit of a damper on the elation, since the two girls in front of Matt and I were unskilled in charter bus etiquette, and decided to put their seats all the way back and crush us, and our air conditioning vent was well past its prime, but we still rode camels in the Sahara, and all is well.

Although the Sahara camping will probably be a highlight of this summer, I still have four weeks left. Next weekend we're planning to go up into Tetuoan in the mountains, and then to the Mediterranean beaches. Sometime this week will be a hammam experience, and maybe even some rug shopping. I'll try to update the blog during the week with some amusing anecdotes, and send another email next weekend. Until then-

m'salama!

jess

20 June 2005

Random tidbits and cultural oddities.

Marjane- the Moroccan (well, French owned) Wal-Mart. Quite an exciting adventure- Publix meets a shopping mall with just a pinch of Target, and lots of air conditioning. It's just a cheap taxi ride away, and has almost every western food product known to man (except for jello and normal marshmallows). Also a gelato (Italy's gift to the world, aside from the art and all) stand at the entrance AND within the maze of the store. Pure heaven. No less than eight varieties of orange soda- it's quite popular over here! The entire complex makes for a nice taste of America whenever homesickness sets in (or the temperature becomes unbearable!)

Stoning- I forgot to mention an amusing anecdote from last week. After emerging from the medina in the suburbs of Fez last weekend, Matt, his roommate, and I actually had rocks thrown at us! No one panic- it's not as awful as it sounds! While we walked up the road trying to find a taxi, a few little boys threw rocks at us from a hill as we passed, then continued when we walked back again. They were just amused by the idea of three lost foreigners, and they ended up leading us through the medina to the real taxi stand after we talked to them in our broken Arabic. But, we do have the distinction of being the first (and to date, only) members of the group to be literally stoned in the street. Quite the honor...

Homestays- Thursday afternoon, Candace and I had the opportunity to experience a real Moroccan family lunch! One of the girls in our group, Zalayma, is staying in homestay up the road from the villa, and Candace and I walked her home one evening, and her "mom" ended up inviting us in to see the house. Now, Moroccan tradition dictates that you offer something to your guests, so when she asked us to sit down, we figured we'd get some mint tea, talk for a little while, and head home. Au contraire! We ended up with fresh homemade peach/orange panache (i.e. smoothies), homemade bread, homemade strawberry jam, cheese, and cookies. "A little snack." Over an hour later, Candace and I finally rolled home, stuffed with one of the best meals we'd had so far. But it gets better- during our conversation with her mom (who happens to teach at the ALIF center, so she speaks fluent English), we somehow got on the topic of couscous, which she hadn't made yet, and when Candace said she hadn't eaten it yet, and I said it was my favorite Moroccan food, we got ourselves invited back for lunch on Thursday. By far the best couscous I've had in Morocco! Traditionally, everyone eats from a large community plate in the center of the table, with their hands or silverware, depending on the family or restaurant. We literally ate a plate of couscous two feet across- no exaggeration. Excellent chicken, miscellaneous vegetables, and more panache, this times orange and carrot. For dessert, she served the best honeydew melon I've ever eaten- all of the fruits here just seem to taste so much better than back home- bananas, cherries, melons, oranges, everything. She just kept urging more and more food on us- it was amazing!

Potato Sandwiches- we discovered the cheapest and most filling lunch in the world at a little sandwich stand by the central market. It serves fried potato sandwiches with egg and mystery meat sauce for 4 dirham (about 50 cents)- the sandwiches are about 18 inches long and delicious- with a soda, it comes out to about a dollar, and you'll be full for hours. There are a lot of vegetarians in the group who order the sandwiches without sauce, but since we only recently learned the word for "without," we communicate by frantically repeating "la, la, la" (no!), when the man reaches for the spoon. Now, he just laughs at us when we go there, and pretends to put sauce on the sandwiches- at least we can be amusing in our ignorance!

13 June 2005

Ahlan Wasahlan.

I arrived last Saturday in Casablanca, and took a train to Fez. En route, I discovered how ridiculously friendly the Moroccan people are. Simply by looking confused and speaking broken Arabic, I found two men who told me which station to change at, carried my luggage, waited at the station and found me a Moroccan woman who lived in Fez and spoke some english to keep me company on the train. On the train, I sat in a car with Khawla, my new Moroccan friend, two new guys we met, and an older woman and her two daughters. Between my limited Arabic and their English, we managed to keep each other amused for the five hour duration. When we finally arrived in Fez, Khawla not only hailed me a taxi, but rode with me to my villa and paid the cab fare for me. I already love Morocco and especially Moroccan people- they never fail to amaze me with their generosity. Surprisingly, the people here are much more "westernized" than I ever expected. Many of the women wear western dress, including things that would be considered risque even in the states, and I've seen only a handful of fully veiled women. The culture is much more liberal than most of us ever expected- more European than Arab in many respects. In addition, thanks to the Spanish influence in Morocco, the concept of the siesta is alive and well here. It's hard to beat taking a two hour nap in the middle of the hottest part of the day!

Fez is a fascinating city, considered the intellectual capital of Morocco. French is actually spoken more widely than Arabic, but people switch effortlessly between the two languages, which makes understanding them quite a challenge. I'm living in the heart of the Ville Nouvelle, or the new city, just a fifteen minute walk from the massive medina (more on that later). There are hundreds of tiny cafes and patisseries in the Ville Nouvelle, and the French influence comes through in delicious breads and pastries. Mainly men eat at the cafes, so when a group of American girls walk in, we're quite a sight! We've learned to ignore the cat calls and just eat our pastries, although Matt received offers of several hundred camels for some of us!

I live in a villa across the street from the school where we take classes, and share a tiny basement room with Caroline. Although the basement was disappointing at first, since the building isn't air conditioned, the basement actually ends up being the best room- it's about 10 degrees cooler down here. Considering it reached 105 last week, it's a nice bonus! Part of the group lives up the road in a beautiful, enormous apartment since there wasn't enough room in the villa. Some other people are living in homestays around the city, and although they're getting a lot of language practice, some of them are living very different lifestyles. One of the poorest families has no running water, just a squat toilet in the living room, and the shower involves a bucket on the roof. The guy staying there has to go to the hammam (public Turkish bath) to take a real shower. I'm going to a hammam next week with Candace and Caroline to get the full experience- everyone who's gone so far says they've never felt cleaner in their lives!

And of course, my favorite part of travel- the food! Moroccan food is delicious, but the selection is pretty limited. My favorite so far has been couscous dajaaj/poulet- chicken with vegetables over couscous. Tajine is a vegetable stew with some sort of meat, usually lamb or chicken, served in big cone shaped dishes. Pastillas are rather interesting- traditionally, they're made with pigeon, but you can also find them with chicken. They're pastries filled with meat, scrambled eggs, almonds and some seasonings, with powdered sugar on the top. It sounds like an awkward combination, but it's surprisingly good. Moroccan bread (khobz) comes in round flat loaves, and thanks to the French, is fabulous! There are a few cats living around the villa and the school, and we've named them Tajine, Couscous, and Khobz, much to the consternation of the staff!

We've become attached to an Italian restaurant called La Traviata around the corner, which even delivers pizza! Matt and I discovered Cafe Mauritania, and we've been back four times with different people, so now the owner recognizes us and knows about our special requests, and immediately sets up tables for us whenever we walk in. Although it's great to feel so special at the restaurant, we're hoping to branch out and try some different places next week. Today, at lunch, a man kept walking by selling random things, including a loud squeaking bird puppet that he used to scare us repeatedly. Of course, no foreign country would be complete without a McDonald's, and we just happen to live down the block from Fez's. We broke down tonight and had dinner there- nothing special or Moroccan on the menu, just the basics. Portions are significantly smaller than back home, which made for a disappointing McFlurry! The McDonalds seems to be the popular hangout for Moroccans though- the building is enormous, and tonight we even saw a Moroccan Ronald McDonald singing and dancing on a stage outside the playplace. Of all the aspects of American culture we could have exported...

One of Fez's most famous features is its medina, which the guidebooks describe as a "labyrinth." The medina is essentially an enormous market, selling everything from food to clothes to leather to electronics. It has two streets, Kabir and Saghir (big and small), and an infinite number of smaller unnamed alleys. It starts on a hill, and just continues further and further down- which makes for a painful trip back up! From the moment we walked in, we were accosted by "faux guides," who offer to lead you through the medina for a price. We've been to the medina a few times in the past week, and still find ourselves lost every times.

Today Matt, his roommate, and I went into the medina for a few hours, and managed to wander all the way to the bottom, where we found a school with a picture of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on the wall. After trying in vain to find a taxi, we ended up walking back up to the top and out the way we came- a very long uphill hike! En route, we stumbled across the tanneries- Morocco is famous for leather, and Fez apparently makes the best of the best. In the tanneries, the hides are treated with a smelly mixture of materials and hung out to dry before being made into their final products. The process hasn't changed much in the last 700 years, and judging from the smell and appearance of the tanneries, they've been in the same location for just as long. Although the man who led us through told us the tour was free, when we tried to leave, the "gatekeeper" demanded money, so we gave him a few dirhams and left. Since we got to go up on the balconies and look at the entire process from a high vantage point, it was worth the 50 cents we ended up paying. The medina is definitely one of the most exciting places in the city- constantly full of people, donkeys and mules loaded with wares, and little children offering to show you one thing or another in exchange for a few dirham. It never gets old!

Saturday we took our first day trip out of the city- the majority of the group went to Meknes and the Roman ruins at Volubilous (Waliilii in Arabic), about an hour train ride from Fez. Our first class tickets cost just under 3 dollars- the dollar may be struggling in Europe, but it still goes quite far down here! The entire group ate at a kabob restaurant, then we split up into smaller groups to explore the city and the ruins. We decided to explore the Meknes medina first, and found a Moroccan man to lead us to the Imperial City and a mausoleum, only to find that it was closed for siesta.

We crammed all six of us into a "grand taxi" (read: old mercedes) by wedging against the door, then having the driver slam it shut to lock us in- it was cozy ride, but at least we're all that much closer now! Two of the girls in our group spoke excellent Arabic, and sat in the front with the driver and talked about how he planned to go to Europe to find a wife. They had a fabulous time, but unfortunately for the four of us crammed across the back seat, he drove at about 35 mph, and the trip took far longer than it should have. The ruins were beautiful- reminiscent of Pompeii with columns and arches and even a few mosaics still in excellent condition, considering their age. Since a rainstorm was approaching, the temperature even dropped enough to approach pleasant, and we could walk a few feet without breaking a sweat. We came back to Fez for the evening (again via our first class train) and fell asleep early since we missed siesta!

And of course, since this is a study abroad trip, I feel obliged to mention my classes. We meet four hours per day during the week, 8-10 and 2-4 (leaving us with a perfect window for a siesta!) with two different teachers, both of whom are fluent in english and very witty. Candace, Matt, and I were afraid we'd be behind in the class, since our teacher at Florida was pretty lax, but we're actually sitting quite well in the advanced section of Intermediate arabic. We already had a test on Friday- we'll see how that goes! We're practicing speaking as much as possible, but since most of the population speaks French, it's often a struggle to get a Moroccan to respond to us in Arabic. But all in all, it's a beautiful, friendly country. Next weekend we're going trekking in the Sahara, complete with camels, which should be an amazing trip.