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