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

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