Tag Archives: adventure

“Marhaba Morocco” by Allison Brady

In the past forty-eight hours, I have said goodbye to my friends and family back in the U.S., and said hello to my new home for four months here in Rabat.  I am sitting in my new bed in my new house after an evening of meeting my new family and seeing my new neighborhood.  I am exhausted and happy; I can’t wait to fall asleep, and I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow morning.  I am living in the Hassan neighborhood of Rabat that is not far from the Rabat Marina and Medina.  I know this only because my host sister, Zubida, showed my roommate Claire and I a beautiful tour of the town.  We saw the tomb of King Mohammed V just a minute’s walk away and a festival atmosphere along the marina with children riding merry-go-rounds and rolling around in toy cars.  We took in a stunning view at sunset from the Kasbah as Zubida gave us exclusive access to a terrace closed to most tourists (but open to friends of the guard, apparently).  Next, we dodged our way back by way of the medina around families, shopkeepers, and sheep being carted in preparation for Friday’s Eid-Al-Adha.  Unfortunately, I brought nothing with me along the walk, and so I still have yet to take any pictures here of my own. However, Claire shared some of hers from the walk!

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Rabat Medina

We also have a host mother, father, and brother.  Our mother, Karima, welcomed us with a plate of cookies and traditional Moroccan mint tea for a snack, and then a wonderful array of dishes for dinner, of which my favorite was a lentil soup with lots of vegetables. The family speaks mostly Arabic (Darija, Moroccan dialect) around the home, but engaged us with French and Fusha (MSA Arabic) to help us communicate better on the first night.  I definitely leaned into my French more than I hope to by the end of my stay, but was so grateful that everyone was eager to help with translating words from French to Fusha to Darija.

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Claire, Me, Zubida, and our welcome plate of cookies.  Our host parents not pictured as they were taking the photo!]

The home itself is beautiful.  Claire and I share a room decorated with bright accent colors that opens into a salon lit by a windowed roof and tiled artistically.  The dining/living space has wonderful embroidered cushions that are both beautiful and comfy, and Karima invited us to treat the home as our own after dinner by following her example and stretching out to lounge on the cushions while we watched a Moroccan drama on T.V.  I am so happy to start settling in, and I cannot imagine a better place to do it.  My time so far has been exhausting and overwhelming, though in the best ways possible.  I am looking forward to finding a rhythm and becoming comfortable in all the new relationships.

So far, Morocco is a million different things, and I feel a million different things.  Of those, the predominating feeling is fatigue: Bonne nuit and ila liqaa!

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“Fun in the Sun” by Dan Fitzgerald

Studying abroad is a lot like going into a new relationship. You start out in that honeymoon phase where everything is new and adventurous, you are excited by every little thing, and you can’t possibly imagine what life was like before it. But then that honeymoon phase ends and you realize that the world is still spinning and suddenly things aren’t as interesting anymore. You finally realize your significant other has little quirks that annoy you and the spark that once arose in you by every little thing is going out. Typically, in a relationship one of two things could happen: you either break it off as there is nothing left to inspire you, or you find that raw spark in all the little things that truly makes you happy. If you haven’t caught on already, I’m talking about my relationship with Morocco.

I am more than half way done with my semester abroad in Morocco and I am certainly out of the honeymoon phase. I soon realized that outside of studying for class, eating, and sleeping, I have a lot of free time on my hand. I don’t know about you, but free time is my worst enemy, as I become bored and restless very easily. Most people abroad, especially those in Europe, would solve this by traveling more, but even extensive travel was starting to wear me down (as well as wear my bank account down). So where do I go when I need to cure my angst? The beach.

 

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I know what you are thinking. “Dan, that is so stereotypical. Of course, everyone loves the beach. This isn’t something unique to Morocco.” You’re right, but cool your jets, because the beach here in Rabat is much more than your average beach back in the States. I frequent the “Plages de Salé” so much that I will most likely go there today once I finish this blog post. It’s a large beach that lies next to the Oued Bou Regreg river and the Atlantic Ocean. The place is magical especially in the evening as the sun sets on the water and bathes the Rabat Kasbah in an orange glow. It’s also the perfect place to let loose with both my American friends and meet some new people, especially when it comes to volleyball.

One Friday in February, a bunch of AMIDEAST students and myself decided to meet at this beach after couscous lunch to play some soccer and volleyball on the beach. We all meet up, draw our volleyball court in the sand, and start the match. In all honesty, we all chose to play volleyball because we knew we would make fools of ourselves in front of Moroccans if we played soccer. But soon all the Moroccans playing soccer matches around us started watching us play volleyball and soon joined in a classic Morocco v. United States volleyball match. This match could have lasted until the sun set, but strangely enough a large cloud of fog blanketed the entire beach. That’s when we had to call the match a draw even though the Moroccans clearly beat us, but that will be our little secret.

 

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Besides the views and activities on this beach, my favorite things about Plages de Salé is that it is only place where I have found Moroccans outside of their comfort zones. I’m talking about real Moroccan couples enjoying time together, Moroccans playing with their dogs in the ocean, parents building sand castles with their children, the list could go on. What I have found is that Moroccans operate their lives very differently between the spheres of public and private, making it hard to see Moroccans as who they really are. But here on this beach, I see their vulnerability more than ever. I see them enjoying life.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Dan Dan Fitzgerald, Morocco, Rabat, Uncategorized

“You Had Me at Mountains” by Dan Fitzgerald

Have you ever been to a wave pool at a water park? It starts out like a normal pool where you stand comfortably with the water around you. But then a machine generates waves and they get bigger and bigger until the next thing you know a wave hit you and you’re under water. That’s what it felt like when culture shock took its effect on me this past week.

I was missing the little conveniences at home like access to a Chipotle and Target, a guarantee that if I walk into a bathroom there would be toilet paper, etc. I felt like I was missing so many important moments in my friends’ lives back home, and I was beginning to tire of bartering in almost every transaction I had in Rabat. My individualistic viewpoint of the world and comfort with convenience I was accustomed too in America was in conflict. I was not alone though in these feelings as my friends also felt stuck in a continuation of annoyance and conflict, and the fast pace stress of the city wasn’t helping. I knew I needed a cure and fast.

“Why don’t we go to Ouzoud?” my friend asked me. “It’s deep in the mountains far from the city and tourists.” I responded, “You had me at mountains.” I packed a backpack worth of clothes, some toiletries, a book, and some snacks for the journey ahead.

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Ouzoud is this small, rural town in central Morocco known for its cascading waterfalls, mountain hiking, and monkeys. The town itself was full of construction sites for new hotels and buildings when I arrived, but it was still secluded and calm with just locals. I must admit, I never really enjoyed or preferred nature or scenic beauty back in the United States just because I thought it was boring. I’m a fast-paced kind of guy that craves constant stimulation and activity, and I always wanted city life. But this time was different.

I stood on the edge of the cascading waterfalls, looking at the mist covered canyon below. The water flowing out from the streams was a soft red as the earth around Ouzoud was mostly clay, and the sunlight hitting the falling water created a brilliant rainbow across the canyon. Monkeys near the cliff climbed on my shoulders and played with my hair and I was happy to let it happen as my stress started to drift away. The world seemed to get bigger as I got smaller. Now here I am, writing this blog post on my iPhone as I sit on top of a rock mountain, watching the last glimpses of light from the setting sun hit the adjacent mountain sides.

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Before I came to Morocco, I was so obsessed with doing as much as possible and constantly over spreading myself as I always did back in the United States. I assumed that since the world moves fast, I too need to move just as fast. But since arriving in Morocco and visiting places like Ouzoud, I’ve realized that life will keep going on no matter how fast or slow you move. It’s okay to slow down sometimes and just enjoy the world around you.

I haven’t read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s works since high school, but a quote from him couldn’t be more fitting. “Have mountains, and waves, and skies, no significance but what we consciously give them?” For me, these mountains and waves and skies of Morocco signify that time may pass and things may come and go, but the world will still stay relatively the same as long as you accept it that way.

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Filed under Dan Dan Fitzgerald, Morocco, Rabat, Uncategorized

On the Marrakesh Express by Dan Fitzgerald

I love trains. Actually, I’m obsessed with trains. As a kid, I always played with and watched Thomas the Tank Engine, I read piles of books about different kinds of trains, and when I was three years old I dressed as a train for Halloween. It’s one of the earliest forms of industrialized transportation dating back to the early 19th century, and even now I can still feel a certain magic about riding in one.  If you haven’t guessed already, I’m a nerd for trains. Putting my obsession aside, you would love trains too if you rode one in Moroccan. Many tourists typically don’t use the train system in Morocco and instead use planes, but I am about to tell you a train is the best “off the beaten path” experience.

My goal since I arrived in Morocco has been to meet with real Moroccans and experience Morocco alongside them. Tourists can easily afford to ride première classe in a train, but not many locals ride in that compartment. If I wanted to truly live like a Moroccan and talk to locals, I had to go where the locals would be. Let me tell you, deuxième classe is where the fun is. The best way to describe deuxième classe is like a game of tetras, where you see how many passengers and baggage can fit into a train car since trains are always over-booked and seats are a on first come, first serve basis. Not convinced yet to brave this journey? You will be after I tell you about my trip from Marrakesh to Rabat.

 

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It was a windy afternoon at le Gare de Marrakesh when my friends and I were literally running to catch our train back to Rabat as it is just departing. The train is a rustic style from its design in the 1920s-1930s with vibrant tan and orange patterns along its side. We were the last ones on the train that was clearly overbooked and we knew that we would never get a seat. Carrying our bags in the hot and crowded spaces, we walk through the first car with no luck finding seats. Second car, still no seats. By the fourth car, I gave up. I put my bags down at the end of the car by the train doors and sat on the floor. Best decision I’ve made in Morocco.

A Moroccan man sitting across from me propped the door with his foot while the train was moving and this gust of fresh wind hit my face. “C’est d’accord si la porte est ouverte?” he asks (“Is it okay if the door is open”). I responded with a cheerful yes as I watched the country pass before my very eyes. I saw patches of cactuses and the steep Atlas Mountains, roaming goat and sheep herders who waved to me, children playing soccer on dirt fields, secluded mosque towers in the middle of expansive fields of crops. I sat by this open door with the wind blowing on my face and the smell of the Moroccan man’s cigarette on me.

 

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Soon other passengers joined us as they too realized there were no more seats on this train. For the rest of the train ride I talked to an elderly couple from Casablanca about their life in Morocco and how excited they were that “a foreigner wanted to learn Darija”, and I played peak-a-boo with a small Moroccan girl from Mohammedia who shared her cookies with me. After a weekend in Marrakesh filled with tourists and classic tourist sites like the Jemaa el-Fnaa square, it was amazing to see and learn so much about Morocco just on this train. If you want adventure and to truly see Morocco, take the Marrakesh Express.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Dan Dan Fitzgerald, Morocco, Rabat

“Can I get you something?” by Elyse Desrochers

“Can I get you something?”

I wake to the sun filtering in through the window pane above the spot of my friend’s couch where I had fallen asleep the night before. The bright sunlight and the snores of my other friends piled around me are alarming. Where am I?

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AMIDEAST threw students a farewell dinner where we dressed up in Moroccan clothes.

Only having returned to America two days prior, I was particularly prone to confusion of my whereabouts upon waking in addition to jumbling up the trois languages that were running through my head. Where was the bright pink walls of my bedroom in Morocco? The sound of my host mom in the kitchen preparing tea? Arabic soap operas playing on the television? I may no longer have been in Morocco, but my mind certainly was.

I roll over and check the time- 5 in the morning and I show no indication of being able to fall back asleep. So one hour passes. Then two. Then four. Finally, one of my friends emerges from beneath her covers. Eager to be somewhere we can speak without disturbing those still sleeping and famished after waiting four hours for my friends to wake up, I convince my friend to make a coffee run with me. We head towards the closest coffee and donut shop, thankfully just a short drive away.

I walk in and go up to the counter, confident in my ability to successfully order a coffee and donuts. I make eye contact with the lady as she says “Can I get you something?”. It was harsh. Direct. To the point. And for a girl that just got back from Morocco, completely astonishing.

I freeze. My mind goes blank. This was not part of the dialogue I had created in my head. How rude, she didn’t even say hello, I thought. “Ummmmm, hi,” I mutter. The next words tumble out slowly and disconnected as my mind rushes to readjust. “Can I get…. a regular coffee? Medium… oh and hot.” Success. The woman may be looking at me as if I have never before ordered coffee before in my life, but at least she understands the order.

“Anything else?” she asks.

“Can I get some munchkins?”

“How many?” she asks.

Confused, I pause. I don’t remember ordering being this difficult. Can’t you only get one order of munchkins- an assorted box? “How many can I get”.

“Anything. You can get up to 1000 if you want.”

Annoyed because it was quite clear I didn’t want 1000, I answer “Well, thanks, but I don’t want that many.”

“Well you can get a cup of 5.”

I’m exasperated at this point, and so is the lady. I just want a box of munchkins to share with my still sleeping friends. I finally ask, “What about for a group?”

She answers, “How does 25 in a box sound?”

Finally, a box is mentioned. I quickly agree and pay, eager to get of there and flustered at the situation. What just happened in there? Why was ordering so difficult? Why was she so rude?

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My family came to visit Morocco and met my host mom and host sibling. The whole time, I had to navigate the two cultural situations successfully while translating. It may have been harder than my coffee order.

Up until that point, my time since coming back to America had been simple and all together easy. Things were different, but not dramatically so. It was that experience, my inability to order a coffee and donuts in a shop I had visited regularly throughout my lifetime, that brought me back into the reality of reverse culture shock.

My mind no longer operates as it once did. I am an American, but an American that has adopted cultural practices, behavior, and viewpoints from two other cultures. Three different cultural modes “American Elyse”, “American Elyse in France”, and “American Elyse in Morocco” battle it out and understand interactions through their own lens in my head as I try to respond appropriately. American Elyse is craving a coffee and donut because of nostalgia from my childhood, American Elyse in France is alarmed that I’m considering ordering coffee TO GO, and American Elyse in Morocco is astonished that the server did not greet me and ask me how I was doing. To have this all going through my head while ordering is confusing and hard, but I wouldn’t change it. I know that it will allow me to see the world in ways that would not be possible had I decided to stay in the US for my junior year of college. And I know that it will allow me to see myself more clearly as I navigate new situations in the coming months. Let’s just hope that in the meantime, ordering coffee will become easier.

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Filed under Elyse Desrochers, Morocco, Regional Studies in French

“That’s a Wrap!” by Shante Fencl

Five days have passed since I left my life in Morocco behind. This is exactly how I feel, as if a part of my life decided to stay there wandering the streets of Rabat while the rest of me got on a plane. After I said my goodbyes (that are actually just “see you laters”) and shed more than a few tears with my friends, I got on a train to the Fez airport to board my flight. As I made my way through the train cars with my luggage, I continued to think of all the people I met over the past four months. Every face that entered my mind was accompanied by a memory and it made me want to burst into tears. I sat down in my seat and immediately pulled out my headphones to block out my thoughts with music, but as I searched my purse I realized I left my headphones at AMIDEAST! I did not care much about the headphones (that were already broken) but without music I had to face my fear of being alone with the thought of leaving Morocco.

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Rooftop overlooking Casablanca.

At that moment, a woman next to me asked me why I was going to Fez. In Arabic I responded with the word for “airport,” trying hard not to show interest because I did not feel like talking to anyone at the moment. The woman continued to talk to me and eventually her husband entered the cabin. They could obviously see that I was travelling alone and wanted to know my story, so I had to build up the strength not only to force conversation, but to do it in Arabic! The couple spoke no English and I knew within a few minutes I would exhaust all the Arabic I know and they would stop talking to me; but, to my surprise, almost an hour had gone by and I was still conversing without issue! My spirit had been lifted by the realization that I had accomplished one of my most important goals: I can carry on a conversation in Arabic! We talked about culture, food, politics, religion, and family. Each minute that passed made me feel as though I had done something great with my time abroad. This was the ending I needed to wrap up my experience in Morocco. I left the country proud of what I accomplished.

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Me with two of my closest friends Alae and Sam.

I did not return to the US after leaving Morocco. Instead, I am in Italy with my Italian host family from when I went abroad in high school. Every year or so I come back to spend a month with them. I always planned to come to Italy after leaving Morocco and then return to the U.S. from here, but one of my best Moroccan friends invited me to celebrate the end of Ramadan with his family. Yes, this mean I will return to Morocco in less than two months!!! Now that I know I will be back in Morocco so soon, I have something to look forward to. But I am afraid to see what happens after I leave the second time. I don’t know where my life will take me after graduation next year, but now I know I have a place in Morocco if I choose to return. These four months have given me so much. I am so grateful for the opportunity.

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My little Italian cousin Beatrice and I finally reunited

Now that I have completed the program, and therefore this blog, I want to thank you all for following along. It has been an honor to share my experience, and I hope I have inspired those reading to do the same! Until next time!

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“Oh Yeah: It’s the Desert Post!” by Shante Fencl

I can remember back to a day in middle school when it was time for our science lesson. The topic of the day “Ecosystems,” and we learned just how diverse the world was outside of the plains of Ohio. We talked about the rainforest, the mountains, the swamplands, and even the desert. This hot and dry stretch of land with massive sand dunes was always the most fascinating to me. The idea of one day travelling to a desert never entered my mind. It was always mythical to me from the start. I would watch the old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby classic Road to Morocco and see the two make their way over sand dunes in the Sahara. I never thought that, one day, I too would ride off into the sunset on a camel!

In the months before coming to Morocco, I knew I had to visit the Sahara, but I had no clue who I would make these magical memories with. I was lucky enough to go with Sam, one of my best friends that I have met on the program from North Carolina, and Alae, one of the most amazing Moroccans I have met thus far. These two gentlemen and I took a 12 hour trip from Rabat to the desert town of Merzouga in the South East of Morocco. After arriving, we made our way to the town center to buy our desert attire. One of the most important things we needed was the blue Saharan scarf. This not only made us look fabulous, but protect us from the sand rays and the sand.

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Me on a camel!

Towards the late afternoon, we prepared to embark on our journey to our campsite two hours into the desert by camel. Our guide, Brahim, helped us each onto our camels. I was nervous at first, but after getting on the camel, the only thing I could feel was pain! As a public service announcement, when riding a camel, bring cushion! After reaching out campsite, we were able to sand board down the dunes, watch the sunset, and play the drums under the stars. We even woke up early enough to watch the sunrise over the mountain boarder between Morocco and Algeria.

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Sand in my hair in the desert.

The ride back home to Rabat after our stay in Merzouga gave me time to reflect on how many different things this beautiful and unique country has to offer. I have spent most of my semester in the capital city surrounded by concrete and taxis. The fast paced life of Rabat made me appreciate the simplicity of the Sahara that much more. Now, as I am writing my final blog post in country, I have come upon the realization that even if I lived in Morocco for the rest of my life, I could never fully embrace the diversity and complexity of this wondrous and enchanting land. In the coming weeks, as I take my final exams and come to grips with the fact I must soon return home,  I hope to hold on to these memories for the rest of my life!

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Sam, Alae, and I on our camels!

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat, Shante Fencl