Thursday, January 30, 2014

Salamu Alaikoum!

"Peace be with you!"

Tuesday, January 28th

I have now ended my second full day in Morocco! I'm sorry for not updating sooner, but the WiFi is quite spotty at my hotel and I haven't had much time to spare. I figured tonight would be a good time because I am completely exhausted and I don't want to wear myself out or get sick.

Rabat is absolutely beautiful, and I am so happy I chose to come here. The views are gorgeous, the people are warm and friendly, and my group is awesome. There is still a lot that I need to get used to, but that's expected for any first-time experience in a different culture.

I was pushed out of my comfort zone before even arriving in Rabat! I was about to board my connecting flight in Paris when my name was called over the loud speaker. I had been standing in line with some brand new SIT friends and I realized I had a different class on my ticket, so I thought they just wanted me to board before them. But when I got up there a man pulled me aside and told me (in English, thank goodness) that the receipt on my luggage had been ripped off and I had to go to the plane with him and claim it before they board it on the plane. I said okay without a second thought, but as he led me outside and down a flight of stairs to a white van and told me to get in, I got a bit worried. It just seemed so strange and I hadn't told anyone where I was going. I've never flown out of the country or by myself before either so I was already overwhelmed and tired from jet-lag and my previous 6 or 7-hour flight.

He could detect my discomfort, so he explained that the plane was not attached to the ramp and parked further away. Then he asked me about my trip and why I chose to go to Morocco. We chatted the whole way to the plane and he told me that I was going to love it and not to worry because the people are wonderful, the food is delicious, the sights are breathtaking, and it's very safe. In the end he completely settled my nerves about everything, not just the luggage, and after I said the suitcase was mine he allowed me to board the plane early.

Sorry for the length before we even get to Morocco, but that story has been on my mind since it happened because it's just so crazy!

When we got to the airport in Rabat we were pleasantly surprised that it was over 60 degrees and sunny. We were silent with awe during the drive to the hotel, watching all of the people and seeing the beautiful archtecture, open spaces and the Atlantic Ocean (which has much bigger waves on this side, by the way!).

I just tried uploading a picture but it's taking forever and I need to get to sleep soon, so I'm going to ignore all of the blogging rules and write you a long text post with no pictures. I'll post those when I'm at school and the WiFi is better.

Speaking of school, it is the most beautiful building I have ever stepped into. I can't believe I'll be taking classes there--it's called the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning, or 3CL as I nicknamed it, which has caught on with many of the students. It's an Andalusian-style building (influenced by the Andalusian era, 1400-1600) built in the 19th century with all of its original mosaics and structure still in place. We have a rooftop terrace where you can go up and see all of Rabat and its several districts, all with architecture influenced by French, Spanish, Moorish, and Arab styles.

Our school is the tallest building in the medina, or the old city that has completely tiled streets and is surrounded by walls. Everything is in there--homes, marketplaces, even cars although I think they're technically not supposed to drive through there with the narrow streets and mass crowds of pedestrians. It's chaotic, but you learn to navigate it quickly and it's a wonderful experience. The food areas always smell amazing.

THE FOOD. Oh my gosh, the food. I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of the meat, but that's expected from a previous 4 and a 1/2-year vegetarian. I try everything though in order to practice for my host family (we meet them on Thursday), and the chicken isn't bad when it's not dark meat. I really don't like the beef though, but the sauce is always really yummy so normally I have a little bit of meat and then just dunk my bread in the sauce. The bread is amazing, and it's served with every meal. We also get chocolate croissants every morning from the hotel. Yum! There is always fresh fruits and vegetables, and now I understand what people mean when they say American produce has no taste. I've had the best bananas, oranges, apples, cucumbers and tomatoes I've ever eaten. So far my favorite things are the tagine (vegetables that are stewed in a certain way, and sometimes chicken or other meat is added), and the lentils and sweet squash we had with lunch today. I want to try the street food too, but the program coordinators told us to go slow with that and make sure we get something served hot so as to avoid illness.

Today we went on a "drop-off," where we all got on a bus and were dropped off in groups of 3 around the city (the "new city" outside the medina) and try to find our way back to 3CL. My group was the first to be dropped off and we were still quite close to the medina, so it wasn't as challenging as we hoped. We even had time to stop and buy minutes for our cell phones (although mine still isn't working...hmmm...). We were still the first ones back! But don't worry, we were all given 20 dirhams to take a cab in case we got too lost.

By the way, it's about 8 dirhams for a US dollar. Cab fare is very cheap, as are most things--I paid 215 dirhams for a cell phone with SIM card. A cup of mint tea at a cafe is about 7 dirhams, less than a dollar. By the way, I'm already addicted to the tea!

We also went on a bus tour today, so we got to explore all of Rabat and Sale (Sah-lay), which is a more French-influenced city right over the bridge from Rabat. While in Rabat, we drove through a protest in front of the parliament building. Our guide Nabil said he thought the protest was for teachers (hey dad, you reading?!) demanding better pay and asking to not have to take exams in order to get a promotion (all teachers already have a degree). It seemed pretty peaceful, with people walking in lines holding hands, chanting and carrying signs. Badrdine (Badr for short), one of the journalism program coordinators, said they're very common due to the high number of human rights organizations and NGOs. He told us not to participate in them, but as journalists we will be fine standing on the sidelines and asking someone near the edge what they're fighting for. I may never end up doing that depending on what I choose to research, but it was good to know that students have done it in the past.

Among the many orientation lectures we've had so far, I've enjoyed the ones with Badr most. He gave us a lesson on bargaining today because in the medina, it's not appropriate to buy something for the first price offered. Especially as an American, bargaining is a way to show an understanding of the culture. To prove that, it's obviously best to bargain in Arabic, so we learned some key words and phrases (I think I will make a sidebar at some point to keep track of words I'm learning). We also take a "survival Arabic" course tomorrow before we're given 20 dirhams and sent off to bargain on our own. I'm more nervous about this than the drop-off because I know zero Arabic besides what I've been told so far. All of our classes start Monday.

I'm so sorry for the length, and believe it or not I haven't told you everything! I'll try to update more frequently so that you don't get novels. And pictures to come!

Besslama (Cheers!),


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