Saturday, March 12

greetings from sunny morocco!

There have been so many times this week where I’ve taken a mental snap-shot and filed them under the ‘wish you were here’ compartment in my brain. My favorite way to travel is solo — but there is something so… dare I say… romantic (not in my vocab) about this place that it’s a shame not to share. So, this is a shout-out for all of my favorite ramblers and favorite weird-food eating companions back home in the ole US of A.
A doorway in the medina
Rabat is the capital of Morocco, home to almost 650,000 folk and, as I sadly learned,  zero camels. I was surprised that it’s hardly touristy, with only one shop in the medina that sells postcards. And get this: it looks like the Morocco I had pictured. Pre-excursion, I had this mental picture drawn from the Epcot pavilion and Casablanca (I’ll admit that using Disney and Hollywood to base real-life ideas is usually poor form)… you know, the palm trees, the souks the stretch into a labyrinth of stalls, the men with moustaches in jalabas crouching on stoops drinking mint tea… but it’s all here.
I don’t know if I’m sun-drunk, but I haven’t been this jazzed up to just be somewhere in a long while. I love Amsterdam, absolutely. But, the city does lack a certain joie de vivre sometimes. I was telling Kelly that it feels like I’m walking through the pages of National Geographic — the colors everywhere are so vibrant, the sun and shadows seem to fall just perfectly and there are so many people here with money-shot mugs. The city is rich in photo fodder. Being here reinforces how much I want (NEED!) the Fulbright so I can keep moving. I should be hearing anyyy dayyyyy nowwwww… until then, I’ll be biting my nails and sprouting grey hairs.
Our days have been jam-packed with lectures and stuffing ourselves silly with the local cuisine. We came at a really interesting time — with all of the social/political upheaval going on, Morocco has gone down the ‘evolution,’ not the ‘revolution’ route. Example: the two days ago the king surprised everyone by a) calling for a press conference out of the blue and b) announcing that he will be handing power over to the Parliament. People had be protesting (something not uncommon) for such change, but for him to actually up an do that without some sort of cataclysmic catalyst makes one kind of cock their head and go ‘huh…that was easy.’ Relatively speaking in comparison to other parts of Africa and the Middle East, of course.
I was trying to sum up my week in a wee nutshell because I’ve been lagging a bit behind here. So, a few happenings of note that left me either inspired, supa fresh or in a food coma:
Visit to Tidis
A woman selling her wares — live chickens — in Tidis
Our itinerary mentioned something about an ‘authentic’ Moroccan village. We all hopped a small bus and headed two hours out of town to the village of Tidis, a rural Berber settlement. One of our program directors grew up here, so for him it was no problem to bring us back. It was market day, a perfect time to see what life was like outside of the city. I was a bit wary. My thought process went as follows: Here we are, 11 loud American kids oddly wearing t-shirts in Moroccan winter, wielding cameras and being herded around. Was it really our place run around gawking and taking pictures with donkeys and the village grandmas for novelty sake? I’m all for interacting with the locales, but not just have them on display for us to consume for entertainment. Did we have any business being here? I was afraid it was going to feel like a field trip to the zoo. But, ohh how quickly those tables turned! As soon as we got there you could feel the eyes. People were pointing and talking, and, endearingly enough, a swarm of kids followed us around. They would follow a step behind and when you turned around, they would suddenly feign disinterest or ham it up for the camera (wish we had polaroids to give them!) I’ll admit that they warmed my heart a litttttle bit, but probably because I couldn’t understand what they were saying/they weren’t crying/throwing rocks, etc. Anyways. We involuntarily caused quite the commotion and, by the end, were being grabbed and embraced and smooched by an older woman and waved at by a pack of little girls who saw our bus off.
Market day in Tidis
I’m always very conscious how I wield my camera. You’ve gotta grab the shot when you see the shot, but there is something to be said for gently easing into a situation and forming a rapport with your subjects if you’re going to be somewhere for a while.  There’s an art to being incognito and stealthy, but I always feel way more satisfied with my frames when I’m engaged. I love portraits. I didn’t get any stellar ones this week, but maybe next time… 

It was a great visit, overall.
The Hamam
Before we came we were told YOU MUST GOT TO THE HAMAM. The public bathhouse is just that: no spa, just a place for people to go for a casual shampoo and naked socializing with guaranteed relaxation. Why not? We went to the market and grabbed the black sludgy soap and scrubbing mitts (i.e. BRILLO PADS) and buckets to wash with. There were a male and a female hamam (always separate, of course) located right around the corner from our center. As we walked into the place —three connecting open rooms of varying degrees of hot and cold — the ladies who worked there POUNCED on us. Before we knew it we were down to our skivvies in a big room of similarly naked bathers, getting buckets of water dumped on us and being violently scrubbed with said brillo pad. Flipping us around, bending us — someone described it as “being in a wrestling match that you knew you were losing.” Never the less, I am as smoooooth as a newborn baby. And, for being as au naturale as we were, it wasn’t an ounce awkward. Mostly because you didn’t have the time of where-with-all to be awkward while worrying if your nipples were going to be chaffed off. Check that one off my life bucket list.
Maggie and Kathleen in the souk
Quoth another student studying in Rabat, “I miss what it feels like to be hungry.”  While I certainly do not, I can understand where they (that poor, poor soul…) is coming from. The first thing we smelled stepping off the bus was a thick, sweetly musky odor that hung over the sidewalks. Sidewalk escargot. People stood outside of a stall where the snails were being steamed, sipping on the classic OJ and snail snack combo. Along the sidewalks you’ll find stands and carts of vendors hawking their edible wares — everything from massive oranges to cow feet. While we were warned it probably wasn’t a good idea to drink the snail/snail water, we got to feast upon other local delights. Besides the couscous platters and tajines, my favorite dish had to be the pastilla. Imagine baklava, less syrupy by filled with spiced chicken. What we’re looking at is a chicken, phyla dough, and nutty crunch nibble topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar. A meal and dessert in one. #2 had to be cactus fruit. In the medina center there are huge carts of these little purple bulbs. For a dirham, about 8.6 cents, the man working will slice one out of its bristly skin and hand it to you with a toothpick. It looks exactly like a beet but tastes like a mild pomegranate, seeds and all, with the texture of a watermelon. It turned our mouths a pretty stellar shade of fuchsia to boot. My third fav. treat was an avocado-honey smoothie. Since boozing is frowned upon in the Muslim culture, Friday night in Rabat often consists of hanging at the juice bar. Around the corner from us was a cute place filled with hoards of produce, green fluorescent lights and a few tables for standing room only.  It faintly reminded me of a sweet, drinkable guacamole. I swear, it was a lot better than it sounds!
So, off we go. We're packing (and by packing, I mean sitting in the hall and getting internet) and listening to bed intruder and Barbie Girl. We're out in about 14 minutes, ish. So, until next time — ciaocito!
Brenner and Stephen enjoying the view

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