The Sahara Desert

Our last excursion as a program was to be a three day trip to the town of Merzouga, in the South East corner of the country on the very outskirts of the Sahara Desert. We left on a Friday morning and a nine hour bus ride through the Moroccan country side and Atlas Mountains. Night had fallen by the time we arrived in Merzouga where we met a local Berber businessman in his hotel who had a small group of workers take our bags to the campsite around half a mile to a mile away. With the moonlight and starlight guiding us we walked to the campsite set up for us in the desert. It was set up in a traditional Berber manner. On one side was where the beds were located. There was a line of tents connected together to make a square leaving the middle of the square barren with sand. On the other side was the dining tent; all of these tents were decorated and floored with extravagant Berber rugs. There was also a generator to give us temporary light, during the cold, dark Sahara nights.


We were welcomed as if we were royalty, with a four course meal and stories, song, and dance around a warm bonfire. Before our dinner many of us explored the sand dunes, some of us pinching ourselves to just make sure we are actually in the Sahara Desert. Later on, the generator was turned off and there was pure silence. I remember learning about the Sahara Desert in elementary school and seeing pictures of endless sand dunes and Berber nomads leading caravans of camels to their next destination. I could have never imagined that I would have ever witness firsthand the Sahara Desert, the largest desert in the world (let alone Africa for that matter). After the generators went off one of our hosts led us to a nearby sand dune to watch to stars. The night was illuminated with numerous stars. I could see constellations, stars that I’ve never seen before, and even from time to time I could see shooting stars. It was a very humbling moment for me and many others in the group. I was already amazed by the Saharan night, and I was looking forward to what other experiences lay in store.

The next day our itinerary consisted of 4 x 4ing through the desert and riding camels, can’t get any better than that. While we were eating a delicious breakfast around six 4 x 4s drove up to our campsite and soon after we piled in and drove off. We drove through some small villages and eventually stopped at one village to visit a Berber band. The band played traditional Berber music which consisted of primarily drums, a ginbri (like a guitar), and a qaraqib which is a type of metal clacker. Eventually everyone was dancing (including me, of course) to the rhythm of the music. After we were finished dancing we went back to our vehicles and drove off deeper into the Sahara Desert. It was quite the experience driving over sand dunes and seeing the occasional camel and Berber hut. We eventually made it back to the hotel of the Berber businessman and had couscous and relaxed for a while. Now it was the part that I was looking forward to for this entire trip. After a couple hours we went outside of the entrance of the hotel to see a line of camels pass by us going up the road to a little open space off to the side of some buildings. We followed the line of camels and one by one each one of us was given a camel to ride. To be honest I was a bit nervous getting on the camel, primarily because that most of these camels were possessed with some demon as most camels having some sort of foam coming out of their mouths. It was kind of creepy to say the least. Also, probably for the first ten minutes of the camel ride I thought I was going to fall off but thankfully the ride became smoother and my camel didn’t trip over anything. We trekked through the Saharan dunes and it was yet another humbling moment on this excursion. This was a once in a life time opportunity which was like a dream made into reality.

We eventually made it to a dune that was the size of a very large hill and we stopped at the base of the dune. We dismounted our camels and climbed the hill, just in time for the sunset. There, on time of the sand dune, I witnessed probably one of the most beautiful sunsets in my life with shades of yellow and orange and red engulfing the twilight sky. We then descended down the dune, back to our camels and returned to our camp.

The next day we left for Meknes. No one wanted to leave, but all good things have to come to an end I guess. During this excursion have realized what really matters in life and there is more to this world than my home town of Woodbridge, Virginia, or even the United States. The world is like a mosaic, if you stay in one place all of your life you will not be able to appreciate or witness the full pattern of the mosaic. The Sahara Desert was an experience in which I shall never forget and I will make sure to use the inspiration that I received from the desert throughout my life.

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Teaching English

During these past few weeks here in Meknes, I’ve had the opportunity to teach English at a women’s center which is a NGO (Non-Government Organization) for women in Meknes to converse and establish a close, exclusive community with each other, giving them an escape and break from their daily lives. In a way, it is a brief liberation of women from the daily oppressions that they may face in Meknes. I was asked if I would be willing to volunteer to teach English at the NGO and I said yes not only because it would look good on my resume, but this is something that I’ve been somewhat interested in for a little while. If I really enjoy this opportunity I could possibly look at a short career in teaching English with the Peace Corps in Morocco. Anyways, every Monday at 4:30 another ISA student and I go to the NGO to teach for about an hour. In the first class we introduced the alphabet and numbers, and yesterday we taught and introduced pronouns and verbs. It has been an interesting experience to say the least.


While teaching English to these women, who have no prior classroom experience in English, I am made aware (well I already knew this because of Spanish) that as fluent, native English speakers we forget or don’t even know some of the basic rules and concepts of our own mother tongue. For example, in Spanish what always gave me trouble was the “por” and “para” for which both mean “for”. Each word is used in a different context but has the same meaning. Talking to native Spanish speakers, all have said that they don’t know the rules on when to use “por” and when to use “para”, it just sounds right whenever they use one or the other. That ideas that “it just sounds right” is a universal concept that applies to all native speakers, not just English or Spanish. Overall, it has been fun teaching English. It’s really exciting to see people really eager to learn your language and I would be more than willing to teach English in the future if the opportunity arises.

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The Forum

Every fall semester the ISA program at Moulay Ismail University coordinates and hosts an event called the Forum. The Forum was designed to bring together students from colleges all over the world to discuss issues in the world today. Schools from Spain, Australia, England, and China were in attendance along with the Moroccan and ISA students. The theme was how to integrate yourself into the global market, and how to market yourself during the current global financial crisis. It started Thursday, November 15th and lasted until Saturday, November 17th. Friday was kind of an “iffy” day since it was the Islamic New Year which meant classes were cancelled that day but also many people (at least for the morning session) stayed home to celebrate. Because there were no classes on Friday, the Forum couldn’t be held at the University (which was the original plan) but thankfully the Community Center where the opening ceremony was held was available for Friday. During the morning session on Friday I, along with five other ISA and Moroccan students, gave a panel discussion on Intercultural Communication and the Global Market. I spoke for five minutes about how various aspects of Globalization and tourism have played a significant role within the Global Market. Also, I explained how Intercultural Communication integrates itself within the Global Market, and for that I focused on the internet and businesses such as IBM and McDonalds who use Intercultural Communication to sell their products. Along with our panel discussion there were other panel discussions after us and on Saturday morning discussing the same issues on the international job market. During Friday and Saturday evening, there were performances of ISA, Moroccan, and Spanish students displaying their various artistic talents such as singing, dancing, and a short play. Probably my favorite of all the performances was the Spanish Flamenco dance. As I’ve mentioned before in my entry about Spain, the country is like a beautiful piece of art with every characteristic and aspect of Spain fitting together to create a intricate and colorful mosaic. The Flamenco dance is a great example of the artistic qualities of the Spanish people with the serenading guitar complementing the spectacular voice of the singer along with the beautiful dancing señorita. Overall, the Forum was a great success, with lots of fun, music, and dancing along with intellectual discussions discovering ways for the next generation to have a positive impact on the current global society in which we live in today.

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Odds and Ends Around Meknes

Here are some observations that I’ve made around Meknes both regarding the Coffee Shop and the Barber Shop. The Coffee Shop: This is only one observation of the many that have caught my eye recently and I feel that this is worth sharing if you want to get a good insight of the Moroccan lifestyle and economy compared to the American lifestyle and economy. Throughout Meknes, and in any city in Morocco, one will find numerous coffee shops. Now, these coffee shops are all small businesses (not many Starbucks or Caribou Coffee Shop’s in Morocco) with their customers, all of which are men (the occasional female customer but it’s not that common to see). What I found interesting going to these coffee shops is that the customers are just sitting around all day socializing, drinking coffee, or just staring into space. This might seem a wast eof time to some, I’ve asked myself why don’t these men get jobs, help Morocco’s economy grow. What actually happens is that most of the men who sit in these coffee shops are business men and the coffee shop serves as their unofficial office. For instance, let’s say that a Moroccan needs to sell their house and they need a realtor, many realtors are at the coffee shop down the road so the Moroccan goes to the coffee shop and talks to realtor and they start a dialogue. Many business transactions occur at these coffee shops, so it might not seem that anything is getting accomplished at these coffee shops, but in reality there is a whole economic system that is based on the coffee shop.

The Barber Shop and Language Barriers: I believe that going anywhere in Meknes alone allows you to experience to culture in its unedited, purest form. When I say unedited, I mean that although the Moroccans know you are a foreigner and might still treat you differently than another Moroccan, the intimidation factor that comes with a large group of Americans is almost eliminated. People are much more willing to try to talk to you and want to show how Moroccans really live. That being said, going anywhere alone also forces you to use the vernacular so you have to put your Arabic skills to the test. A good example of this is my two visits to the local barber shop. During my two visits I’ve had to use a mixture of Derija and French to let the barber know what type of haircut I want. Along with some charades I usually get my point across. Communicating like this can be fun but also can be frustrating for some people. I try to take advantage of these situations to use and practice the Arabic that I know and I also use it as a learning experience to learn more words to improve my proficiency in Arabic. I also have this experience almost every time I go to the medina to buy something. When the person I talk to knows Classical Arabic, I usually can get my point across pretty easily. But often, I usually end up using what little French and Derija I know along with some charades to get what I need.

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During my stay in Morocco I had the pleasure of witnessing a very special Islamic holiday, or in Arabic an Eid (عيد). This Eid was to celebrate the sacrifice of Abraham’s son, Ishmael and how Allah provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son. Weeks before the actual Eid people buy rams and goats for sacrifice. On the actual day of the Eid the leader of the household will kill the lamb (there are some interesting videos on YouTube on how they sacrifice the ram, but as one may expect it’s a bit graphic so if you have a weak stomach I do not advising you to watch a sacrifice) and then for the next week or so the family will eat the ram or goat and give thanks to Allah. It’s really a unique holiday for an outsider to witness a religious/ cultural ceremony.

Unfortunately, I was not able to witness the Eid because I was travelling to Madrid, Spain for three days with two of my friends. A day before the Eid we took a train from Meknes to Tangier and stayed in Tangier for the night. The next day it was pouring rain and a lot of streets were flooded, but thankfully we found a taxi to take us to the airport for our flight. Once we arrived in Madrid we booked a room in the Cat’s Hostel in downtown. Apparently, this is one of the more famous, nicest hostels in Europe. The building was originally built in the 18th century there were signs all over the place describing the historical significance of the structure. We arrived in Madrid during the evening, so exploring was kind of limited plus the weather in Madrid was significantly colder than the weather in Meknes (thankfully though I brought a sweatshirt) but we did go and explore the night life. What I noticed first was the amount of people out and about at 10 p.m. Families were taking walks, people were walking their dogs, and people were just conversing in plazas, cafes, and in restaurants. One of the other aspects to Spain, and really in Europe, that I took a keen interest in was how attractive the women were. Overall, the people are beautiful in Spain and have a nice relaxing culture (probably too relaxed since they are experiencing a depression right now) and I don’t know what’s in the water or maybe it’s some weird breeding technique but Spain has gorgeous women. Gorgeous women aside, my first night in Spain was an experience I’ll never forget and I already had great impressions of Spain. The next day my friends and I went to explore the city. Madrid is one of the more historical cities in Spain so the architecture and the buildings are very intricate with some of my favourite buildings having Islamic influence with Arabic script and architectural style woven into the fabric of the buildings foundation. Our hostel had Arabic script along its walls which I thought was extremely cool.

The first place we visited was a Catholic church. This was my first time in a Catholic church, and this church took my breath away with the elaborate, sophisticated carvings of scenes from the Bible and paintings of various saints throughout the church. Towards the back of the cathedral there was an enormous organ which I really wish was playing and I could only imagine how the church would sound with the powerful music coming from that organ. In the center of the church was a statue of Jesus hanging from the cross and to the right of that, about 30 steps, was a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The whole church was in a shape of a cross with the Jesus statue in the middle; along the walls were various paintings and statues of saints. I had to chuckle at one point because many of the images of Jesus had Him with abs which I don’t think was historically accurate, don’t think he was really ripped but that’s just my opinion. Conveniently located behind the church was the royal palace and just for five Euros each we went on a tour of the palace. Now, I can’t say that I’ve ever been to a palace before, but this one had to be one of the better ones. It was neat seeing rooms from the 18th and 19th centuries still intact (in a way it reminded a lot of the White House). We saw the throne room which was really cool and after we finished our tour of the palace we saw the royal armory with manikins of horses and nights all about in their armor from the Middle Ages. After the palace we were all pretty tired so we decided to call it a day… until the night came then went out again. At this point and time I was really enjoying my time in Spain. I feel that I have a better grasp on my Spanish than I do with my Arabic so I was able to communicate with Spaniards with ease which was really exciting for me and rekindled my love affair with Spanish.

The next day we were all pretty exhausted from staying out too late (but I would say it was so worth it) so we started our day late. We went to a park and went people watching, the day was a crisp, cool fall day with couples walking about, runners running, kids playing, and people having a good time. It reminded a lot of those good times in high school when I was a part of Model United Nations and we would always have a conference at William and Mary and the weather would always be so beautiful like in Spain. After the park we went to an art museum during the period were they allowed people in for free which was awesome. I saw many masterpieces (which I believe were originals) from artists like de Goya and el Greco. It was definitely a once in a life time experience; the museum along with the park but things into perspective for me, I am so privileged to be where I am now and if someone was to tell me 5 years ago that I would be in Madrid, Spain or in Morocco for that matter, I wouldn’t have believed them. That Monday we left which was really depressing for me (but I knew I had to because Spain and the EU is a very expensive place to have a vacation) but I vowed to myself that I would visit again someday and maybe even get a job there which is not all that farfetched with my ever increasing proficiency in Derija and Spanish. I love Spain.

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The Lost Voice of the People

In the early to mid 1800s a man named Alexis de Tocqueville stepped foot on the shores of the infant United States and took a historical account of the government of the United States and its various functions. One the most outstanding aspects that came to De Tocqueville’s attention was the amount of power that the people had and how they were able to use that power to dictate their own lives through the government of the United States, at the federal and state levels. This government, commonly known as Democracy, has been used throughout many, many centuries with political thinkers critiquing and elaborating on how the people, not the state, truly control how the government functions. I believe as Americans, we take this aspect for granted on a daily basis. Although with the evolution of American government power has become more centralized and with the Two- party system the people, in a holistic sense, has less power than they did when the United States was born. However, the people do have a large amount of power at the grassroots level from town hall meetings to state elections. The foundation laid out for the people by America’s founding fathers is effectively in practice today.

Through my observations and with talking with the local Moroccans the freedom and voice of the people is strictly limited. If you were to look up what type of government Morocco had you would find that Morocco would be labeled as a constitutional monarchy. In the de jure or in the official sense, yes, Morocco is a constitutional monarchy they have a monarch and they have a constitution; however in the de facto sense Morocco is an absolute monarchy with the king making all of the governmental decisions. As a person coming from a society where the freedom of choice is a core value it is confusing that a society can accept such a backwards, unprogressive system of government. Mind you that this is only my opinion, but I believe that my opinion is shared by many, not just Americans but with people across the globe. Through talking with Moroccan, specifically students, they tell me that there is corruption, the king has too much power, and the changes promised to the Moroccan people last year during the Arab Spring have not been implemented. I get the sense that the Moroccans feel that they are between a rock and a hard place with a corrupt government but with no reasonable alternative for change. Even at the grassroots level, elections are based a bribes and corruption with no politician ever keeping his word. However, what is probably more shocking to me is that even though the Moroccan “government” is riddled with corruption, the people (most of them at least) are happy and content. I ask why, and my Moroccan friends tell me that they rather have safety and security even if it means not having a voice in the government. I could not disagree more mainly because I feel that it is a fundamental human right for a person to make decisions on matters that affect them.

However, one thing that the Moroccans did say is that for any change to happen it would have occurred from the bottom-up with improvements in education which would improve the social infrastructure, economy, and the overall state of living in Morocco. It is ideas like these that give me hope that change is possible in Morocco, however in my opinion, it’s very unlikely in the near future. The reason I say this is due to the fact that Morocco is an Islamic society with many rules and practices coming from the Quran. Now, I would like to stress that I have no personal problems with Islam, I have many friends who are Muslim and that it is a very interesting religion to study. My disagreement with the Islamic government is that I firmly believe that the church/religion and the state should be two separate entities which should never collide with each other. Again, this is my western/American thought process coming through, but I have to ask the question: “Is progress possible if a society’s laws and structure is based on a religious pretext?” I think along with governmental backwardness, a government with a lot of religious influence prohibits the freedom of choice. Allow me to elaborate with the example of choosing ones religion in Morocco. Contrary to what most people say being a Christian or a Jew is very difficult and it is even more difficult to be an atheist or an agnostic in this society. Recently, I met someone who was atheist, in fact the first Moroccan atheist that I’ve met, and he told me to be an open atheist was very dangerous and can be punishable by death. I was a bit shocked to hear this but the fact of the matter is Islam has integrated itself into Moroccan society to where it dominates the culture and societal mannerisms. My Islamic Society and Politics professor stated during one class that for Morocco to progress, Islam has to progress. For the time being I do not see that happening with the current government. It might seem that I am criticizing the Moroccan government (which frankly I am) but this problem of where the people lack a voice in their own government. For me, I would rather have the freedom to choose than just sit back and let the government make the decisions for my life. Only time will tell if progress will ever be achieved.

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Languages, Languages, Languages

Languages are the corner stone to any society and culture. Each language has its own unique mindset and thought process which makes learning new languages fun, yet at the same time very frustrating. However, there is a misconception of learning new languages, especially by Americans, which is learning new languages it too hard and is an impossible task. It is amazing to me how many people overseas are at least bilingual and many educated people can speak English fluently. During the past couple of weeks I have encountered two instances, or “ah-ha” moments about the perception of languages, more specifically the English language. I recently took a weekend in Morocco’s capital city Rabat to visit the various sites like the beach and zoo. A couple of friends and I booked into hostel for the night (first hostel experience!) and during my stay I met a German student, Jacob, who was traveling through Morocco for a holiday. Like me, he was a student in, as he put it, the “Islamic Sciences” and was very well educated. During our first conversation the topic of languages came up and I asked Jacob if English was difficult for him to learn; the reason I asked this question was due to the notion that I have always thought that English was a difficult language to learn so I was interested in the German’s opinion. According to Jacob, English was very easy (which was a blow to my American pride). The way Jacob explained it was that English, unlike German and most languages around the world, do not have traits such as case endings and genders (German has 3 genders in its language which is crazy to say the least). That made me think on how English has permeated itself through globalization and how English is somewhat of a universal language with most of the educated population knowing English around the world.

The Second instance of me being “schooled” by a foreigner on his languages skills was on a Monday when I was on the campus of Moulay Ismail studying my Arabic. I saw a Moroccan friend, Fatima, on a balcony waiting for a class to start. She saw me and waved me over and asked if I wanted to join her and sit in on the class. I thought that would be an interesting experience so I obliged. I picked up a few words here and there from the professor (he was speaking in a mix of dialect and French, neither of which I know very well at this point and time) but the overall concept of the class was basic computer stuff. For example, what binary code is, what a modem is, etc.. After the class, we went and sat down in the professor’s café along with another friend from ISA, Colin, and another Moroccan student. It is worthy to note that of all the Moroccan students I have met, Fatima has to be my favorite. What I like about her is that, other than the fact that she is extremely nice and a pleasure spending time with, she goes out of her way in explaining Arabic to me. Unlike other Moroccan students who wouldn’t bother helping you and only wanted to talk to you because you’re a native English speaker, she doesn’t mind going over a packet from Arabic class going over the rules and concepts of the Arabic language. Now, going back to the café, it was Colin and I and a few Moroccan students talking about languages. There was one student in particular, Omar, who was practically fluent in English and again I had to ask: “was English difficult to learn?” and again the answer was no. The explanation that came with his answer was that essentially it’s up to the individual to learn a language. The classroom helps but the emersion and the daily usage really solidifies how a person learns a language.

My conclusion was Americans have a hard time learning other languages, is because English is the main language spoken in the country. There are obvious exceptions like your location (in Texas and Florida there might be a little bit more Spanish spoken and maybe in the Northeast a little French influence). But overall the stress of knowing multiple languages is usually during the period of life when young adults are entering the job market for the first time. It should be stressed much earlier, like when a person is 3-5 years old. Anyways this is just an observation of not how the English language is easy (because it’s really not there are very little rules and patterns to go by and pronunciation is ridiculous for none native speakers) but that foreign language in the United States isn’t stressed enough, and that is a issue that needs to be addressed especially with globalization and the connectivity of foreign markets.

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Baby Shower!

I finally had a bit of a routine down here in Meknes. Classes were going well and I was getting to know Meknes much better. I can’t emphasize enough how nice and pleasant the Moroccan people are towards us Westerners (no less Americans for that matter!). They always tell us they love Obama and are infatuated with American culture and way of life; what’s even better is that once they find out that one of us speaks Arabic it makes their day, which for me is really cool seeing someone so excited that you speak their language.  Speaking of language, I have never had such an enjoyable experience learning a language as I am here. I actually look forward to my almost daily, two and a half hour Arabic class because I learn so much during each class and every day my Arabic is improving. My confidence grows even more when I actually use the Arabic in the medina or in Hamria (the part of Meknes in which we are living). The only downfall of having a lot of Arabic classes is a lot of Arabic homework, which at times, can seem useless (but isn’t all homework useless??).

One night I was working on my Arabic homework when all of a sudden a loud, obnoxious noise came from the stairwell in our apartment. The cause for so much noise? A family below us just had their first baby. One thing that I have observed about Moroccans is that, even though Morocco itself is an Islamic country, many of its people like to party (even the conservative people at times) and they’re pretty good at it too. Some of my roommates went to check what all the commotion was all about and soon after that a waiter showed up at our front door inviting us to join the festivities. Personally, I felt like I was intruding, first I don’t even know the family, and second I felt was a bit rude of me to “crash” the baby shower uninvited. Nevertheless, the family was insistent on having us join the party. In the family’s apartment was a traditional Moroccan band consisting of four men, a catering service (obviously this family had money), and lots and lots of guests (apparently all family). There was lots of singing, some dancing, and lots of food, a three course meal in fact with lamb, chicken, fruit and ice cream (which was awesome).  Periodically, the new mother would come out of the back of the apartment into the living room were the party was happening, every time with new garments of elaborate patterns and colors and made out of expensive materials.  The band played until about 2:00 in the morning and the party ended around 2:30 in the morning. The experience gave me, yet a new perspective of Moroccan culture in a more traditional and conservative manner. Occasions like weddings, births, and deaths all have a significant place in Moroccan culture and are celebrated in a different manner and practice in comparison to the United States. I think Americans can learn a lot from different cultures, such as Morocco, and in turn improve their lives and their perspectives on life.

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In Meknes and Moulay Ismail University

We finally arrived in Meknes and got the keys to our apartments. My apartment is known as “Azhar” who I believe used to be a king…. but regardless, the apartment was definitely an upgrade from the dorms back home. The apartment consisted of three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and two showers. There was no a/c but the breeze throughout the day helped make the place nice and cool; the apartment also had a kitchen with a fridge stocked with food. On top of all of the excellent accommodations was that we had A MAID!!! The maid comes to our apartment everyday (except Sunday) to cook and clean. I was really shocked when I first heard that we had a maid and it’s a really nice to have.

Classes started on that Thursday with Arabic at eleven. I realized that the scheduling would be a bit of a problem considering each class goes for about three hours and having a three hour session right after another really drains the brain. But, overall the classes I’m taking are very enjoyable and educational. I have Arabic four times a week, which I think will help me a lot with my overall Arabic skills, two political science classes in the Geostrategic Importance of Morocco and Islamic Society and Politics, and French. I decided to take French due to the amount of French that is used in Morocco. I knew that Morocco was influenced by France, but I didn’t know the amount of French that is used on a daily basis and since I’m white everyone assumes I know French, which I don’t blame them. Islamic Society and Politics is also a very interesting class. The professor is very educated and knows his stuff (although quite opinionated on some topics). During our second session in that class, the professor took us to the medina and explained why the medina is constructed the way it is and how the medina plays a role in a Moroccan society, both socially and religiously. My Arabic professor is very excitable; when he wants to get a point across he lifts up his voice and does some sort of interpretive dance. Fun enough though, it works and I have to say that after a few classes I’ve learned so much from my Arabic professor.

Overall Meknes is a small (not village small but in the comparison of NY city and Miami, Meknes is Miami) relatively conservative city. However it’s not so conservative that people can’t go out and experience the city’s night life. There are plenty of cafés, bars, and lounges where the Moroccan youth and westerners can go. To really know the city you have to do a little bit of exploring, get lost a couple of times, and make a fool out of yourself, not in a bad way but just don’t worry about making mistakes out in public, after all I am a foreigner. You learn to do what the Moroccans do and try to be as polite as possible when encountering a local. It really amazes me how skewed the American perception of the Islamic world is and how entities like the media and education fuel that ignorance. If America is ever going to better its image in the Islamic world, it has to understand the religion and understand the culture.

Anyways, I think I’m going to enjoy my stay here in Morocco and am proud to say that Morocco is my second home.

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I knew when we arrived at Marrakesh due to the sea of clay colored buildings that seemed to go on for miles. The ISA group would be staying in Marrakesh for two nights until we head for Meknes which gave everyone enough time to explore Marrakesh. Now, Marrakesh is known in Morocco as a huge European tourist attraction, so therefore, it’s more liberal and more open to other ways of life than the more traditional city (like Meknes). Like any other western city, Marrakesh has an interesting night life; however, it’s not all sex, alcohol, and club, there is also the medina which gives any foreigner the perfect picture of the traditional Moroccan way of life.

During the first night the whole ISA group decided to explore the city and go to the Medina. You can tell when you’re getting close to the medina with the growing density of people and traffic and overall excitement of the atmosphere. The entrance to the medina is an open, brick courtyard with a wall to the left and a row of horse drawn carriages to the right. From the courtyard you could see lights, smoke, and a mass of people that seemed to move in unison. There were these bright, blue toys that were launched high into the night sky that gave the medina a carnival/farmers market on steroids type of vibe. There were an array of different noises and smells (some good, some not so good). There where live bands playing for those who passed by and numerous shops yelling at the tourists in French and English. My group walked towards a row of booths that have been around in the medina for many, many years. Once we got close enough for the individual booth keepers to make eye contact with us, they swarmed around us trying to convince us to eat at their booth. We eventually came to a booth were the keeper promised us free green tea (which we did get). For the most part, our meal was very nice, the food was excellent and it was interesting to see the medina in action while we ate. At points the chaos of the medina was a bit overwhelming with shopkeepers constantly trying to get us to go into their shops to buy something. The locals were constantly asking us where we were from and were very pleased to hear that we were American. Those that knew English attempted to use what English phrases they know like, “Obama number one” and “Fish and chips mate”. For me, if one wants to know the true pulse of a Moroccan community they need to go to the medina. The new city is nice and is unique in its own way, but I feel that the tradition and culture can be found in the medina.

The next day, the ISA group took a guided tour through the entire city of Marrakesh. We even visited the medina again, which had a much calmer atmosphere during the day but can still seem chaotic at times. After the tour some friends and I explored the medina and came across a snake charmer. Personally, I don’t mind snakes unless they’re the ones that kill you; however, the snakes that were displayed were two big rattlesnakes. There were some harmless garden snakes as well, which the snake charmer took one and put it around my neck, for” good luck” he said. I thought that experience was kind of cool and it made me think on how unpredictable things can get in a foreign country. Morocco was already having a profound effect on me and I was excited on what I will experience for the next three months in Meknes.

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