Magical Morocco – A Tour of Morocco in 10 Days

We are down to our final countdown for our trip to Morocco. The anticipation over the past few months has been excruciating. My fiance Christopher and I are visiting Morocco, Africa with our friend Patrick and a small group of students from Worcester State University, Massachusetts.  This trip is turning into an annual event that is led by Professor Mohamed Brahimi, a professor at a few central Massachusetts colleges.  We are scheduled for our first “meet and greet” this afternoon on campus at Worcester State.  I wonder how many students will be traveling together?

As part of our immersion experience, our Professor has asked that we maintain a blog about our visit. I will attempt to keep a regularly updated account of personal experiences as we travel through bustling cities and dune-scapes.

Here is a printout (courtesy of Google Earth) of Morocco.

morocco map

I highlighed different portions of the trip based on how long we are staying at different locations in Morocco. You can see we will be visiting locations such as: Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Fes, Ifrane, Azrou, Midelt, Errachidia, Arfoud, Merzouga, Tinghir, Quarazate, and Marrakesh.  It looks like we will be doing a LOT of driving!  I cannot believe how many cities we are going to be able to visit.  Christopher has been dubbed our ‘official photographer’ of the group with our new camera and I hope that he is able to capture some really inspirational photographs during our group journey.

I will admit, I am most excited to travel on camel back/ATV out in the desert to Merzouga on the border of Algeria. I have experienced the feeling of being out at sea with miles of ocean surrounding me, now I can’t wait to feel tiny out in the middle of the desert accompanied by good friends and billions of dazzling stars.

I have traveled to Mexico and Canada before – as well as taking two separate cruises with Christopher to Bermuda, but I feel that this travel experience will be NOTHING like I have ever experienced in my life. I am excited and anxious to go!  I cannot wait to meet my fellow travel-mates and to make new friends.

Will update again soon -

Inshallah

Beth

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WSU Faculty Trip Itinerary – The Fun Stuff!

Our meeting at school went very smoothly yesterday, we were prepped on proper garb to wear and what some customs are in Morocco. Before all else, Professor Brahimi has stressed to us over and over again — BRING YOUR HEALTH! Our itinerary is chock full of amazing places and events and we will all be up at the crack of dawn; and then hitting our pillows very late (or early!) at night. There was one night he was reminiscing about from last year’s trip where some students pulled “all nighters” because they just couldn’t sleep with everything that was happening around them!

Professor Brahimi also distributed school supplies and some clothing to the other students who are traveling because we will be visiting an orphanage while we are in Morocco and are making the most of bringing donations with us. Christopher and I have collected many articles of clothing for little children and a lot of school supplies. Our professor shared that the visit to the orphanage was probably the highlight of the entire trip last year.

Here is a list where we will be visiting and what we will hopefully be doing on our journey:

Day 1: May 26th CASABLANCA – RABAT

Explore the largest cosmopolitan city of Morocco-Casablanca.

You’ll visit the impressive Hassan II mosque, the second largest mosque in the world after Mecca.

Continue to the square known as the place Mohamed V, a busy shopping street lined by residential blocks dating from the 1930s.

Next, visit United Nations Square, designed by French architect Josef Marrasat, and the league of Arab States Park, which was built in 1925 and offers a large area of greenery with palm trees, arcades, pergolas and cafes with shady terraces.

Lunch in Casablanca; Moroccans pride themselves on having one of the best cuisines in the world. Food will be nothing short of an experience.

A 60-mile drive brings us to Rabat, the present capital of Morocco and official residence of king Mohamed VI.

Check into our Hotel.

Afternoon tours will include the old medina; the picturesque Kasbah of the Oudayas, and the Oudaya Gate, built during the Almohades dynasty. Also see the well-reserved Hassan Tower; the Chellah, built by the Merinids in the 12th and 13th centuries; and Mausoleum of Mohamed V.

We will drive past the ramparts and the walls of Mechouar that encompass the Royal Palace.

Dinner and overnight at our hotel in Rabat.

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Day 2: May 27th RABAT-MOULAY IDRISS, VOLUBILIS, MEKNES, FEZ

After breakfast, a seminar is scheduled for us with an official from the Moroccan ministry of Endowments and Religious affairs. The talk will be about the history of Islam and religious pluralism in Morocco.

We will then be taken to start our exploration of Morocco’s fascinating Imperial Cities. The first stop will be at the holy city of Moulay Idriss.

In the afternoon, we will visit the archaeological site of the Roman ruins at Volubilis. Next, we will drive to Meknes, founded in the 9th century by Zeneta Berbers.

A visit of this former imperial city includes the old ramparts, Bab El Mansour, one of the most beautiful gates in Morocco; and the Moulay Ismail Mausoleum, one of the very few holy sites in Morocco, which may be visited by non-Muslims.

Continue to Fez for dinner and overnight at the hotel.

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Bab Mansour gate, named after the architect, El-Mansour. It was completed 5 years after Moulay Ismail’s death, in 1732. The design of the gate plays with Almohad patterns. It has zellij mosaics of excellent quality. The marble columns were taken from the Roman ruins of Volubilis. When the structure was completed, Moulay Ismail inspected the gate, asking El-Mansur if he could do better. El-Mansur felt complied to answer yes, making the sultan so furious he had him executed.

Day 3: May 28th FEZ

A full day to explore Morocco’s most fascinating city – Fez. The tour of this world’s last surviving medieval city includes the old and new medina.

First, we will visit the King’s Palace. After walking through the Jewish and the Arab sections, we will see the South king Palace. Then we will visit the 14th century religious schools (medersas) of Bouaanania and Attarine.

Also, we will visit the Karaouiyine University, which is the oldest in the world, Najarine Fountain, the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss and a famous tannery where skins are cured and then dyed in enormous vats.

Explore the impressive labyrinth of Souks in the old medina of Fez, declared by UNESCO to be one of the world’s cultural treasures.

Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight.

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Day 4: May 29th FEZ

Breakfast then a visit to a house being rehabbed or built from scratch that shows the fascinating Islamic architecture.

A seminar on Politics taught by an Expert from the Moroccan Interdisciplinary centre for Strategic and International Studies.

A visit to a Henna parlour and a calligraphy artist.

Cooking class day and discovery in practice of some typical Moroccan dishes.

A meeting with peer students and a cross cultural dialogue about the three axes (Religion, Culture, Politics)

Dinner and a show

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In harmony with the Berber‘s belief in Baraka (good luck), Henna worn on the body offers protection against illness, the evil eye, and brings joy.

Day 5: May 30th FEZ – IFRANE – AZROU – MIDELT – ERFOUD – MERZOUGA

We start early morning with a full day drive acoss the cedar forests and picturesque scenery of the Middle and High Atlas ranges to the desert.

High Atlas Mountains

From Midelt (the Berber capital of the Beni Mguild tribe), we will travel along the Ziz Gorge to arrive to Erfoud.

Erfoud is situated among the impressive sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, and it is one of the largest oases in Morocco.

We will have a working lunch in Erfoud having a seminar on Culture; a thorough presentation about the racial, religious, and cultural diversity of the Moroccan people.

From Erfoud, we will travel approximately one and a half hour by 4-wheel drive vehicles to Merzouga.

From Merzouga, a short drive will take us out to our Bedouin camp on the edge of the Sahara Dunes. After settling in to our bivouac tent we will have th eopportunity of camel riding to explore the area further. (Our camels will be fitted withi Mauritanian saddles for comfort!)

Experience Bedouin life first-hand as we spend a night of adventure under the vast Saharan sky.

Dinner and overnight at our camp.

bedouin tent

Day 6: May 31st ERFOUD – TINGHIR – TODGHA GORGES – OUARZAZATE

We will depart the foothills of the High Atlas on our way to the south’s most picturesque attractions; valleys that drain snowmelt off the mountains into the Sahara.

From Tinghir we’ll visit Todgha Gorges with its spectacular 1800 feet deep gorge. Then, we’ll visit the Kelaa d’Mougouna where roses for making perfume are planted. “Paris” is the famous perfume by Yves Saint Laurent is made from the extract of these roses. We’ll find some nice shopping here for rose products such as rose water, body milk, dried petals etc…

We will possibly stop at Sekoura to visit the Kasbah of Amerdhil.

After driving the 1000 Kasbahs road, we arrive in movie shooting center Ouarzazate (Moroccan Hollywood).

Dinner and overnight at our hotel.

1000 Kasbahs Road

1000 kasbah road

Day 7: June 1st OUARZAZATE – AIT BEN HADDOU – MARRAKECH

Before heading to Marrakech, we depart this morning to experience the intriguing kasbahs. Visit the Kasbah of Tifoultoute, and then the famous Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah; a fortified adobe village protected by UNESCO. This site has served as the setting of numerous movies such as “Laurence of Arabia” and “Romancing the Stone”.

Continue driving across the High Atlas on the breathtaking road of the Tizi-N-Tichka Pass. Arrive in Marrakech, check into our hotel.

Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah – Protected by UNESCO…. Why does this picture remind me of “The Mummy”?

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Day 8: June 2nd MARRAKECH

A half-day historical sightseeing tour begins with the old medina, buried within the imperial walls.

Stop at the foot fo the famous Koutoubia Minaret, a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. Continue to the Kasbah, the 16th-century monument site of the Saadian Tombs.

Admire the wonderful Hispano-Moresque architecture surrounding the burial grounds of the royal family.

Afterward, we will visit the aristocratic Bahia Palace with its lush Moorish-style courtyard garden and beautifully painted residential rooms.

Finally, we stroll through the world famous Jemaa El Fna Square, the ancient meeting point of the tradesmen in Northwest Africa; an open air theatre with singers, story tellers, fortune tellers, snake charmers and street entertainers. (Not to mention the colorful and exotic fast food joints). *The afternoon is at our leisure!*

As the day progresses, the entertainment on offer changes: the snake charmers depart, and late in the day the square becomes more crowded, with Chleuh dancing-boys (it would be against custom for girls to provide such entertainment), story-tellers (telling their tales in Berber or Arabic, to an audience of appreciative locals), magicians, and peddlers of traditional medicines. As darkness falls, the square fills with dozens of food-stalls as the number of people on the square peaks.

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Day 9: June 3rd MARRAKECH — THE VALLEY OF OURIKA — MARRAKECH

Departure of Marrakech at 9AM. We shall cross rivers and mountains where Berber villages are implanted. We will pass by Tafza to visit the ecomuseum installed in restored Kasbah: We will discover and learn about the life of the Berber world. We will take the back road to join the Waterfalls of Setti Fatma.

Waterfalls of Setti Fatma

settifatma falls

Lunch will take place by the river in a Berber typical restaurant.

Depart to Casablanca towards the Old Medina, Morocco Mall and have a chance to juxtapose the two places to appreciate the co-existence of Modern and traditional Morocco.

Dinner with select students from Local Universities in another chance for cross cultural learning.

Overnight stay in Casablanca.

Day 10: June 4th CASABLANCA – FLY HOME

Breakfast in Casablanca

Transfer to Mohamed V airport for our return flight home :(

Keep tabs on us while we visit this magical locations! We should have plenty of pictures and stories to share!! Next Saturday cannot come soon enough for us!

- Beth

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Day One: Leaving On a Jet Plane – NYC to Morocco [May 25th 2013, Saturday]

Worcester State University Faculty Led Morocco Program – 2013 (Day 1)

Day one…. Travel to Casablanca

Everyone arrived earlier than originally scheduled at Worcester State. University to give us plenty of time to drive in the rain. Today was very grey and gloomy.

—— *Blog Photographs are Courtesy of Christopher Lippmann, one of thirteen WSU Morocco 2013 Travelers | **Video Links are short ‘clips’ uploaded from the entire WSU Group to our WSU Flickr Account to enhance the blog experience. ——

My mother drove Christopher and I to WSU. The mist outside kept all of the travel group onside their own cars but as soon as the van showed up, we all hopped out and started dragging our bags over (laden with donated school supplies, clothing and toys for children that we would all visit in Morocco) to load them up into the van. There were not enough seats for all of us in the van so we got to know each other very well, very quickly by squishing onto the seats for our drive from Worcester, MA to NYC to catch our flight. We began our journey to Morocco together … but of course, we needed to visit Dunkin Donuts first before we left as a group.  In New England…. Everyone runs on Dunkin!

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Our first glimpse of the New York City skyline.

Our trip down to NY was pretty uneventful, which I suppose is a good thing. We are a group of 13 travelers, including our Professor Brahimi. When we got close to the airport, Brahimi asked of we would like to stop at Little Morocco in Queens for a quick sandwich before we left. Everyone agreed to partake in this mini adventure.

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The owner of ‘Little Morocco’ in Queens – Haj Driss Lazhar talks to us about Morocco.

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Our first meal together and delightful experience with Moroccan mint tea to keep us warm on a surprisingly cold May afternoon.

We scrambled into a small food shop named “Little Morocco” owned by this really personable Moroccan gentleman. The restaurant was long and narrow and the smells – oh the smells!  My mouth was already watering.  The owner was quick with our orders and all of a sudden struck up a rapid-fire conversation with Professor Brahimi in Arabic. There was a lot of smiling and handshaking exchanged over the small counter. We then found out that the owner of the restaurant knows Brahimi’s brother and the two men had actually spoken with one another over the phone a few times but had never met. The owner was incredibly hospitable and kept op a steady stream of piping hot Moroccan mint tea to keep us warm outside on the terrace.

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Mohamed says, “I want at least one blog entry before we board the plane!”

Our group exchanged stories and we got to know one another better. This is definitely a fun group to travel with. We arrived at JFK airport and went through security pretty painlessly. Christopher really disliked the body scan contraption that we needed to walk through. Once in, we all took turns walking the terminals while others stayed behind to attend the pile of carryon bags until our flight was called for boarding.

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A view of the runway from Royal Air Maroc taxiing for takeoff to Morocco!

Let me be very clear… professor Brahimi knows EVERYONE. A quick conversation with someone at the flight desk had us upgrading our seats. So that we could all sit with one another right behind first class.

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The sunrises and sunsets are prettier in Morocco.

The flight itself was pretty quick. The only thing that I regret is not being able to fall asleep on the plane. I really wish I had those few hours because they sure make a difference. Most of our group was able to sleep and AJ turned onto a venerable zombie because he took two sleep aid pills. We arrived on the outskirts of Casanlanca at the Mohammad V Airport at approximately. 7:30 am. We saw a beautiful bright red sunrise as we were landing. We were lucky to get a few pictures of it as we were descending.

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We have finally arrived! Let’s go!

We were quickly pushed through customs, the exchange line to grab Moroccan Durham currency, and then we spent quite a bit of time finding all of our luggage.

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Outside of the Mohammed V Airport waiting for our van driver, Adil.

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We are greeted at the Brahimi home in Casablanca for a welcome breakfast feast.

Our first experience in Morocco was the trip to Professor Brahimi’s home. His father built the home in the 1970s. It is gorgeous with carvings all over the ceilings and so much custom detailing that is typical for Moroccan culture. We broke our fast with his lovely family, including his brothers, sister in law, mother and his nephews and niece. We chatted with Mohamed’s older brothers Abderraman and Amine, and younger brother Omar, who is a Northeastern University graduate who lives in Boston and is an Engineer.

There was goat cheese spread, a flavorful lentil soup called Moroccan Harira, various types of olives with nuts, honey, jams, home baked French bread and other sweet breads. The juice was fresh squeezed orange juice. We had Moroccan mint tea again which is the national drink in Morocco and SO DELICIOUS. I need to get the recipe for it. Brahimi’s entire family was extremely welcoming to us and greeted us with welcome arms and a few kisses on the cheek. The room we ate breakfast in was very opulent. Think of plush covered day beds. Now think of an entire room lined with these day beds without separation. You literally just lounge on pillows and kick up your feet on nine or ten giant stuffed ottomans around the room. There is no television in this room. Just good company, great conversation, and excellent food. When traveling in Morocco, always bring gifts for the people you meet. We gifted a small token of appreciation to Mohamed’s mother Saada as a courtesy for her hospitality in her home.

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We have done so much more than just this so far, but I am extremely tired. I haven’t slept since Friday night and it is now 1am on Monday morning. We have been napping on our bus when we can but instead of doing that tomorrow on our 2 hour drive from Rabat to Fez, I plan on updating this blog about our adventures we had today when we drove around Casablanca; visited “Rick’s Cafe”, and then received a secret tour of the Hassan II mosque on the shore of the Atlantic ocean.

Goodnight!

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Day One (Continued…): Casablanca and Rabat [May 26th 2013, Sunday]

Worcester State University Faculty Led Morocco Program – 2013 (Day 1)

Who would have thought that you could learn so much in such a short amount of time?

I am now home in the states and will be writing these travel blogs as though I am still on my journey. I will relive my experiences by reading my chicken-scratch that I call handwriting in “Beth’s Book of Awesome”. I carried around a black spiral bound notebook with me while I was traveling which I am very grateful for. Had I not kept track with notes and tidbits of inspiration, I would never remember what happened on which day because we did SO MUCH!

—— *Blog Photographs are Courtesy of Christopher Lippmann, one of thirteen WSU Morocco 2013 Travelers | **Video Links are short ‘clips’ uploaded from the entire WSU Group to our WSU Flickr Account to enhance the blog experience. ——

After a beautiful breakfast at the Brahimi home we traveled onward to the Hassan II mosque. It struck me as odd that a president (or anyone for that matter) would build such a huge monolithic building so close to the ocean. It certainly makes a statement! We parked on the side of the road and literally fell out of the bus bleary eyed and content from the massive amounts of good food that we had just consumed. Reaching high into the sky the mosque dwarfs any other buildings that come close to it. There is a majestic courtyard that spans around the mosque for quite a ways. Victoria and I were just getting to know one another at this point of the trip and we joked to one another that wizards must have built this place. The architecture is astounding. How can mere mortals lay stones like this? I am simply typing out my thoughts now as I recall them, but I will be posting images to complement my blog when I am able to.

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The Hassan II Mosque soars into the sky.

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The sprawling courtyard able to hold thousands of worshippers at Hassan II Mosque.

WSU Flickr Video: “Hassan II Mosque Tour, Outside and in the Courtyard”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831605835/

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The majestic Hassan II Mosque on the coast of Casablanca.

Our little group closed in on the mosque and a giant door opened. We milled around taking pictures of the tiling on the walls and the intricate detail of many doors on the outside of the mosque. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mohamed speaking with one of the men shaded in the doorway that had just opened. He quickly waved his arms to us “Let’s go! Let’s go, hurry!” All of us scrambled over to him and nearly fell over in our hurry to take off our shoes out of courtesy and custom before bagging them in plastic baggies that were handed to us. We then scurried inside. Everyone had no idea what was going on, to me – it felt like we were doing something forbidden or that we were going to experience something that nobody else has ever experienced before.

Words fail me that are able to describe the sweeping buttresses that grace the ceilings of this mosque. Mohamed was able to work his magic again and finagled us a private guided tour of the place before official touring hours. I swear, the words “we are students from America and are on a tight time schedule” seem to be magical. We learned that the massive doors are usually made out of wood, but because we are so close to the ocean they opted to make the doors out of titanium instead to hold up better against the weather. The smooth carerra marble floors are heated underneath so that when locals pilgrimage to pray they will be warm in the cooler winter months. I did not catch the exact figures of how many people are able to be fit into this massive enclave, but thousands of men are able to worship on the main floor. Women are able to worship separated on the higher wings partitioned from the men below.

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Intricately carved and painted ceilings of Hassan II Mosque.

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Intricately carved plasterwork on the walls of the Hassan II Mosque.

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A reflection of the pillars gleam off of the marble floors.

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Two men resting or reflecting at the Hassan II Mosque.

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WSU tours the Hassan II Mosque barefoot.

WSU Flickr Video: “Inside the Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831803954/

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Our travel group outside in the courtyard of the Mosque.

I was surprised that our guide was not wearing a hijab (my spelling is probably way off — it is a woman’s scarf wrapped around the head for modesty) while she was giving us the tour. All of us girls had brought scarfs to wear around town or in the mosques while visiting. We mainly wore them around our necks but had them ready to drape in the customary fashion should the need arise. At no time did we need to cover our heads, but some of us did anyway to protect ourselves from the sun. These scarves are very versatile.

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In the ablution rooms of the Hassan II Mosque.

I digressed… the rest of our tour of the Hassan II Mosque was incredible. We visited the ablution and bath rooms below. I was amazed at how the bathrooms were built. These three large bathrooms are heat regulated. The closer the room to the fire, obviously, the warmer the air/water will be. The tiling! I must post photos as soon as possible. Words do not do the stonework justice. I could literally type out so much about each individual thing that we did on this trip. I have not even scraped a tiny bit off of this one day. We still have not had our guided tour of the city, I have not talked about our short 2 hour road trip north along the Moroccan coast to the city of Rabat. I have not talked about our late lunch at Omar’s family’s home. There has been no mention of the free concert that we saw in Rabat later that night! So much to write about. I will continue later.

More to come…

Guided Tour of Casablanca:

We picked up our guide in Casablanca after visiting the Hassan II Mosque. This gentleman was knowledgeable about the city and gave us some history. He discussed various topics like the tramway that was built to help with the congested roadways in Casablanca. Unfortunately, the tramways seem to have had the reverse effect. It is impossible for Casablanca to have a subway because the water table is so close to the surface on the coast.

Our group settled in on our tour around the city and we even got to visit “Rick’s Café”- a tourist site created down-town based off of the older movie “Casablanca”. Casablanca was not filmed here, but it was interesting to visit this iconic café, even if we just took pictures outside of it. We learned about religious tolerance where everyone is protected in Morocco. We tried to see some stained glass inside of the “Our Lady of the Lords” Church but it was closed. There was a brief visit to the United Nations Square where there was more amazing architecture all around us.  We then we said goodbye to our guide.

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Off we went to Rabat, the Capitol of Morocco. This was definitely one of my most favorite cities. Rabat is only a little over an hour north of Casablanca – another city close to the Atlantic Ocean. It was breezy outside and not too hot for us. We saw some interesting sights on the highway of everyday life of the locals. Many people live in poverty very close to the highway. Various trucks passed us with livestock attached to the vehicles in various ways. One older Ford truck passed us with two horses in the bed! Sheep are transported on the roofs of the trucks in pens, and we also saw many people just chilling in the bed of trucks animatedly talking to one another without a care in the world. This is definitely a different lifestyle.  So interesting! I felt like I was staring and had to try to be less obvious.

This reminds me… here in the states, it is natural to show appreciation for artwork, textiles or anything you may wish to buy in a store. Mohamed had to keep reminding us to not be obvious about what we wanted to buy while we were traveling! It is so different and I had to keep my hands firmly by my sides when I wanted to reach out and admire the softness of an article of clothing for sale or to feel the supple leather of a pair of shoes. I love to compliment people and what they sell, especially if I can tell that it is handmade or being sold by the person who made it. This does NOT help with haggling! The more appreciative you are in a shop (especially in the souks), the more difficult it became to negotiate a price. Once they saw that gleam in your eyes, forget it. They are more likely to ask twice (if not more) than what their original asking price is. It was hard playing cool and hard to please, let me tell you!

Haggling was definitely an experience — something that our friend AJ had a very difficult time with. Time and time again, Mohamed warned us NOT TO BUY ANYTHING WITHOUT HIM PRESENT. He drilled this into our heads time and time again. For the better half of the trip AJ would slink back to the group after making a random purchase of an item (often broken or poor quality at a ridiculous price) muttering something like,  “I messed up, I messed up, I messed up” while shaking his head. We all laughed but AJ learned by the end. We all did.

(Later the Same Day — Still DAY ONE! – Rabat)

There is a young man in our group named Omar and he is from Rabat, Morocco. When we drove to Rabat, we went to his family’s home. We were greeted warmly and welcomed with -you guessed it- More Food!! There were delicious little sandwiches folded over in this pastry like delicate crust and there was a very yummy bread-like dessert. We had plenty of Moroccan Mint Tea which Mohamed poured for us in the typical Moroccan fashion (cups down low on a tray while tea is poured from way up high from the silver tea pot). We all chatted in the sun room and became more acquainted with each other in the group and started to feel more comfortable. We then ate MORE food at two separate tables. Everyone shared a giant platter of couscous [which are typically served on Friday, the holy day]. The couscous were piled warm and high surrounded by tender, juicy vegetables and topped with fava beans, chick peas, raisins and spices. A giant dish of seasoned broth was placed on the table to make the dish nice and moist. It was a steaming mound of perfection. We also had some nice select portions of tender beef to eat with our cous-cous too! I could write an entire blog just about all of the delicious food that we ate on this trip. I’m not kidding. Each and every one of us was stunned when this next course came out of the kitchen because we all thought that the sandwiches, fruit drinks, dessert bread and tea were more than filling. We were wrong. With each meal there was always an overabundance of food and we all felt really guilty never being able to finish it all. Later in our trip we learned that nothing is ever wasted and it always gets eaten.

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Mohamed teaches us the right way to pour Moroccan mint tea at Omar’s family home.

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Sharing a meal with Omar’s family — couscous of course!

As darkness fell, we drove to our hotel in Rabat. We checked in but didn’t get too comfortable. Once our items were stowed safely in our rooms, we ran downstairs again for a brief, late dinner in order to go out on the town for another adventure. Our bus parked and we started walking. I thought that we were just going to do a little bit of late night shopping (it was around 10:30pm and the streets were packed!), but we heard music. Music? We walked closer and a huge stage with bright lights and theatrical smoke was dazzling a crowd of thousands. Literally thousands of souls were out there singing along, dancing and mingling in a crowd. People of all ages were at this show — even little children on their parents’ shoulders.

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Our view from the crowd at Mawazine, a free concert to the public of Rabat.

WSU Flickr Video: “Mawazine Concert, Rabat Morocco”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831887073/

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Mohamed takes a photo with the girls at the concert.

I was amazed that this concert was FREE TO THE PUBLIC! Nothing like this really exists in the U.S. You have to fight for tickets to every show that you want to see and then you get lucky to find one at a good price. Here, everyone just walked in and got to join the party. It was incredible. The main show that we had the time to see was full of Nigerian/”Afrikaans” beats. The music artist was very animated and was jumping all around the stage, throwing water from a water bottle and saying over and over again “PLAHNT EET AN’ LET EET GROWWWW!” What he was singing about is open for interpretation. Planting some weed? Planting some love? Planting tolerance? Who knows. It was a good rhythm and had a slight reggae beat to it. There were no flyers explaining who was headlining each night that we could see. Mohammed and Omar explained that this is “Mawazine” – a week of free concerts during the summer for the public throughout the country in many of the larger cities.

[MAWAZINE 2013 SUMMER CONCERT PROGRAM] http://www.festivalmawazine.ma/fr/programme/concerts.html

Whaaaat! We need that HERE in the United States! It was really cool to be able to visit concerts at Mawazine during our stay. We were uncertain about who was performing our “Plant It and Let It Grow” song, but we have narrowed it down and we are pretty sure it might be Seun Kuti.

Seun Kuti

Link to: Seun Kuti Page http://www.festivalmawazine.ma/fr/artistes-2013/seun-kuti.html

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A quiet, beautifully lit alleyway in Rabat.

Another cool sight in this area was Le Dhow. This was a docked, old-school schooner (pirate-like) looking shop that has been re-hashed into an upscale, floating restaurant. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the lights on the deck right next to the concert. It was a beautiful ship. I have been doing research to find out exactly where we were at this point in time on our trip, and by researching “Le Dhow” Restaurant, I came to find that this concert was held in a square at Avenue Al Marsa, Quai des Oudayas, Rabat, Morocco.

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What a wonderful evening and way to kick off our travels together! This concludes day one of our trip – but don’t hold me to this! I may think of other things to add to each daily blog so come back often… it will not be the same, I promise. Pictures will be added, links, names of locations etc, as I am able to find and research them. Time to break out the Black Book again to review travel notes for Monday, May 27th! Day Two!

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Day Two: Rabat [May 27th 2013, Monday]

Worcester State University Faculty Led Morocco Program – 2013 (Day 2)

Months have gone by but not a day passes where I do not miss Morocco. And so the blog continues…..

*Blog Photographs are Courtesy of Christopher Lippmann, one of thirteen WSU Morocco 2013 Travelers | **Video Links are short ‘clips’ uploaded from the entire WSU Group to our WSU Flickr Account to enhance the blog experience.

Our second day of our amazing trip dawned bright and early in Rabat with a trip to a local University to meet with Dr. Abdelilah Al Abdi. Our group of bright, young adults sat in a conference style fashion to discuss Democracy, Arab/Islam culture and the Moroccan monarchy. We learned that foreigners have the opportunity to participate in elections locally. Some controversial subjects arose and we lightly touched on current debates. I learned much during this discussion including information about Arabs economic and social rights. Women are given opportunities to run for offices. Morocco in the past relied heavily on agriculture as a source of income but because of recent droughts, they are turning to other methods of income generation, including call centers. The youth are starting to begin their own companies.

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Our meeting with Dr. Abdelilah Al Abdi at University.

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AJ and Mohamed present gifts of gratitude for meeting us to Dr. Abdelilah Al Abdi.

You can see that we were in a learning environment and discussed many things of importance that affect Morocco and the world currently. We had an in-depth conversation about poverty in Morocco and the distribution of wealth. Mint tea was served during our meeting at the University with our Professor, of course. We gifted Dr. Abdelilah Al Abdi a few things for being so kind to meet with us.

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Inside of Parliament learning about Moroccan policies.

After learning much about the Moroccan people, their government, policies and current events; we all took a brief ride to Parliament in Rabat for a guided tour – given to us by Mr. Rfifi Mohamed. Dr. Abdelilah Al Abdi and Professor Mohamed were kind enough to translate for us during our tour.

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Inside of Parliament, Rabat.

We experienced a rare treat while visiting Parliament — we were able to sit in congress. Our travel group was ‘officially sworn in’ as honorary Ambassadors of Morocco. Dr. Abdelilah Al Abdi was very kind and heartwarming during our visit to Parliament and made us feel very important to visit such a wonderful place. We saw many rare paintings in the halls of Parliament and were offered to take a short detour in front of the building in order to have a nice photo opportunity on the front steps. Little did we know that at the main gate in the front of the building that there were peaceful protestors. When they saw us step outside the building they became loud and we were ushered quickly back into the building. No photo op outside for us!

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The narrow hall into the Rabat Restaurant “Dar Naji”.

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Me (Beth) having water poured on my hands to wash as we enter Dar Naji.

By this time it was lunchtime and we were all famished. We visited a beautiful authentic Moroccan restaurant in Rabat called Dar Naji. When we arrived, we walked up a narrow, winding halloway where an older gentleman poured lightly scented water onto our hands to wash before entering the restaurant. AJ attempted to drink the water — oh, AJ.

We sat together at a long table on the terrace outdoors under the colorful canopies.

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A perfect example of color and intricate details found everywhere in Morocco.

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Peace. Man sits inside his tent preparing ingredients for Moroccan Mint tea to be served inside the restaurant Dar Naji.

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Omar shows us Arabic script on the supple leather menus at Dar Naji Restaurant.

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‘Salad’… a traditional Moroccan appetizer that can easily feed four as a meal alone. Typically shared among friends.

The menus for the restaurant came in all different languages and were written in beautiful script on rolled leather pieces. The closest language that I could barely distinguish was French. Some root words look similar to Spanish which I took for many years in high school and in college. But really, you don’t need to know what you’re reading. Any Moroccan food is delicious. The best thing that I can suggest to you is to take a stab at anything. Close your eyes, twirl your finger around and stab down at your menu. Bingo! That’s dinner. Try to learn how to pronounce it if possible but what you’re about to eat will sure to be Heaven. We all shared massive platters of salad for an appetizer and had orders of chicken and kefta (rolled beef meat balls in a savory sauce).

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Waitstaff at Dar Naji show us how a tea pour is done.

Waiters fascinated us by doing what we called the “Epic Tea Pour”. Two men in colorful garb both held a metal tray in one hand with small glasses balancing on top and in the other hand poured from up high the hot, steamy mint tea. It was amazing.

A Flickr Video of the waiters’ “Epic Tea Pour”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9068989277/

After our lunch at Dar Naji we traveled a little bit to meet up with a young man named Ali. He was extremely outgoing, friendly and couldn’t wait to show us around his home, Rabat. Our group had learned that he is trying to create a small library of American books. Many of us gave him novels to help him achieve his goal. He was very pleased and moved that we gave so many books to him. After this exchange, we entered a high-gated entry way into a school to meet up with the school’s director, Touria Kourita. The students that we traveled with to Morocco knew that we would be visiting locations along the way and this was a treat to see first hand where our donations would go. We were able to meet with the students who needed the school supplies. WSU distributed school supplies to over 75 top students.

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We meet Ali. He leads us into his school to donate our collected supplies.

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Some of the items that we brought to help the students.

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Mohamed praises these young students for being the highest achievers in their group.

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Victoria and Tim hand out packets of school supplies to the children.

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The teachers present tea and cookies for our group.

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The school’s director, Touria Kourita looks on.

It was a lot of fun to meet these creative kids. They wanted to give us something in return, so they asked us to take pieces of handmade pottery home as a ‘thank you’ gift. We laughed and talked with Ali, Mohamed and the ladies who worked inside of the school over almond cookies and yes… more mint tea.

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There is one thing that may have seemed trivial to other people in our group – but I feel that it is worth mentioning in the blog. Adil was doing an amazing job driving us all over the country but we found ourselves pretty much stuck in this narrow alley by the school and we couldn’t turn around. There were many vendors on this street that we were on and they had all of their wares displayed on blankets on the sides of the road.

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An old man assists us in a narrow and busy street.

An older gentleman came up to the side of our travel van and Adil and the man talked briefly. The old man directed us around and the people around us moved their items off the road so that we could turn around. This is one of my favorite pictures from this point of the trip.

Visit to Hassan Tower

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The partially built Hassan Tower creates an imposing landmark.

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An out-of-focus snapshot of police as they gather to deter protesters.

We quickly rushed into the Hassan Tower location but there were protesters near this location and the police did not want to cause a scene so they were rushing tourists (us!) through to close it down just in case the protesters decided to come into the area.

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A group shot quickly taken in front of the Hassan Tower before being escorted out.

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A beautifully tiled water fountain before exiting the Hassan Tower courtyard.

We sped through snapping a couple of pictures and on the other side of the wall outside of the Hassan Tower I was pounced on by a crazy henna lady. She had a henna pen and kept saying that she wanted to give me luck and grabbed my hand. I told her again and again that I didn’t have money to pay her (which was true — I had left my backpack in the van because we were not going to take long at this location). She didn’t care though. The Henna Lady ended up drawing a design and our friend Patrick gave her a 20 dirham coin to pay her for it. I was grateful that he had a little money on him. I was getting a little panicked because in the U.S. we are trained that nothing ever comes for free.

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Water man.

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The water man wearing his ceremonial clothing poses for a photo with us.

An old man in crazy ceremonial garb covered in metal water cups took pictures with us. He was really funny and outgoing.

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AJ meets a goat at the pottery exhibition.

Ali suggested that we visit a Oulja Pottery Exhibition on the outskirts of Rabat. Everyone looked at one another and said “why not?” Many local artists gathered in this area to sell their products. We took pictures in the shops and happened upon a goat. The goat was cool. Our first lesson in buying and haggling from Ali and Mohamed was to never show appreciation of anything. Here in the United States we always gush over how wonderful quality is and show the maker appreciation. Well guess what? In Morocco, the more appreciation you show for an item… usually that increases the price. Olivia was the first to try her haggling skills with a ‘5 dirham hair flip’. It didn’t work, but it was very amusing.

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Ali, “It’s okay guys! Come on over, they say we can check out the pottery!”

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Local potters feed a giant outdoor kiln some brush. The heat was intense.

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The late afternoon sun seemed to make the giant pottery vats glow from within.

Further down the street where concrete turned to dusty road; we stumbled onto an area where men were feeding a giant, fiery kiln some brush. The sun was just starting to sink lower in the afternoon sky and the lighting in this area was perfect. We noticed giant pots drying in the sun in rooms behind the kiln. Ali bounded over and asked the men in Arabic if it was okay if we saw what they were doing. We were able to wander around and take beautiful shots of the pottery that they were making RIGHT THERE. It was definitely a wonderful experience.

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A stop at a local café to catch a breather and a little WiFi.

We all walked back up to the main road to visit a Café for a restroom and we all sat a spell and had Hawai for the first time. It was delicious! Hawai is a soft drink soda that is very fruity and bubbly. The Café was a great place to stop and mingle over the drinks because we could snatch a little wifi (‘weefee’) connection to talk with family members and check in. Surprisingly, Omar’s uncle, Jamal Fadli somehow found us at the Café (how random!) and he paid for all of our drinks. That was very sweet of him. Thanks Jamal!

We were able to drive back to the Kasbah in Rabat on the ocean, the wall was closing at 7:30PM to the public and we barely made it into the gardens before they were closing. Whew!

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Entering the Kasbah in Rabat.

There were cats everywhere we went. Just think of cats like they are squirrels and please try to not touch them! They can have diseases and you can get sick from touching them. I’m an animal lover and it was hard not to cuddle all of the little kittens everywhere, especially one that Kayla, Megan and Victoria found later in the night that had a broken leg. It’s heartbreaking, but there is nothing you can do. On another note, the gardens were gorgeous.

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The gardens behind the massive walls of the Kasbah in Rabat.

We walked through the winding hallways of the Kasbah that were white washed and painted a gorgeous blue down at the bottom of the walls. It felt like a completely different atmosphere – like we were walking down roads in Greece instead of Morocco. The doorways were old and weather beaten with beautiful metal work.

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Is this Morocco… or Greece? These walkways in Rabat are too much fun to get lost in. It is like a maze in here.

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A resident’s door with flattened metalwork adornments in the Kasbah of Rabat.

The walls had very few windows. Surprisingly, the narrow alleyways were all residential buildings. Little shops were found peppered throughout the alleys. The cobblestones and uneven walkways lent to the charm of the location. Even the manholes were decorative.

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Cliff wall of the Kasbah on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Rabat.

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Brightly colored abandoned boat during low tide – Rabat, Morocco.

We stumbled upon a local hotspot as the sun was setting – about thirty people were on a terrace clustered around small tables or standing drinking various drinks and talking. Everyone was so relaxed and there were people of all ages, even small children. A breeze climbed up the side of the cliff that we were sitting on and rustled through the wooden beams above us. The entire setting was so surreal.

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A band named Fanfarai warms up for the free concert this night in Rabat at Mawazine.

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A view of the city of Rabat from the Kasbah wall.

A group began to play music that they were practicing for Mawazine later that night. Mawazine is a celebration in major cities on giant stages where musicians come together to give free performances to the public. This group was called Fanfarai and they had a jazzy feel to their music. They warmed up with a few songs and then they sang ‘Ya Rayah’. Ya Rayah is a popular Algerian song about a traveler who is cautioned about the wants of travelling, but ultimately will only get tired of it and come back home. The song questions, ‘Why go in the first place? Take pride in your own home.’ All of the people on the terrace started singing Ya Rayah together with the band. It was amazing to see and hear.

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A group photo with the music group Fanfarai as they were leaving the café… also notice the small child up front who snuck into our photo!

Lost. We got lost in the labyrinth of windy passage ways. Dead ends greeted us but we didn’t care. We had fun taking pictures of each other and the Fanfarai group as they were leaving the café. DSC02640

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An astonishing sunset fading into the horizon on the Atlantic Ocean.
Christopher took this photo from a wall on the edge of Rabat, Morocco.

We finally existed the Kasbah in Rabat and walked over to a pier. The sunset over the Atlantic Ocean was so gorgeous. We then took a drive to a place called Sahabi (which means ‘homey’ or ‘friend’ in Arabic). Sahabi was recommended to us by Ali who assured us that this is another local hot-spot at night and the best place to get smoothies. I actually ordered the Sahabi smoothie and it was incredibly delicious — only costing 15 dirham or about $2 USD for a 12 oz. drink.

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Traffic jam leaving Rabat to head to Fes.

After our smoothie experience we said goodbye to Ali. We hope to see him again later in our trip but for now, we all exchanged Facebook information and wished each other well. All of our things were in our van and we were off again on the next leg of our travels — a 3 hour drive from Rabat to Fes.

We arrived at our hotel bleary eyed and exhausted at 12:30AM in Fes. There was a mad scramble to get out our passports to sign in to our hotel rooms. Mint tea was served upon our arrival and dinner was waiting in our room — French fries, cold soup, chicken skewers and seasoned veggies. Our beds and pillows were incredibly firm and the blankets were thick like heavy carpets. We didn’t even care though, Christopher and I fell into a deep sleep as soon as our heads hit our pillows.

Posted in Magical Morocco - WSU Travels for 10 Days | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Day Three: Smile, You’re in Fes! [May 28th 2013, Tuesday]

Worcester State University Faculty Led Morocco Program – 2013 (Day 3)

We woke up this morning and climbed up many flights of stairs in order to get to breakfast at our hotel. The view that greeted us was astounding. The city of Fes is surrounded by mountains and the views from the walls of windows was impressive. After a quick breakfast, we met up with our favorite guide, Khalid!

—- *Blog Photographs are Courtesy of Christopher Lippmann, one of thirteen WSU Morocco 2013 Travelers | **Video Links are short ‘clips’ uploaded from the entire WSU Group to our WSU Flickr Account to enhance the blog experience. —-

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Atlas Mountains in the distance.
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Olivia and AJ concentrate on what our favorite guide, Khalid, has to teach us about Fes.
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The Royal Palace Gate – Fes, Morocco.
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Out for a stroll, off to see the Jewish Quarter or ‘mellah’.
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So, apparently the person who lives here loves Tony Stark (Ironman). Check out the poster in the window! American Hollywood at its finest.

Our first stop was the Royal Palace Gate with its graceful doors. We were unable to take photos of the far left gate that was protected by guards at the time. The Mellah or Jewish Quarter of town was within walking distance. The name of this quarter sounds like “MEH-lahh”. There were many balconies in the Mellah and an overall feeling of neglect and desolation.

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Many intricate balconies hung above our heads as we walked through the mellah.
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Crumbling buildings seem to be stacked one on top of another in this section of town. Even though it was a little dark and dirty, one can still appreciate the architecture and archways found everywhere.

Khalid taught us about the Andalusian style of architecture with Art Deco and French influence – NOT “Moorish” as this has negative connotation to the people. DSC02706 DSC02726 DSC02733 DSC02753

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A food market inside the Gates of Fes.
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A butcher shop displays pig legs for sale.
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Blue Gate of Fes.

The Souk was teeming with stalls where locals sold food items. there were stalls with meats, nuts, fish, fruits and vegetables. We then took pictures at the famous Gate in Fez before walking into the souk “Bab Bou Jeloud” or the Blue Gate of Fez. Behind the gate in most photos is a school or “medrasa” – it is the only medrasa in Fes to have a minaret. I learned that the colors stand for Blue of Fez / Green of Islam (different colors on each side) of the gate as you enter and exit. DSC02809

Khalid taught us something of great importance… “BALAK BALAK!!” It means, “Get out of the way!” If you only hear “Balak!”… it is already too late. Many people transported goods loaded on the backs of beasts of burden, like donkeys. There are no vehicles within the medina walls, the streets are too narrow. It is your duty to keep your wits about you and to make sure that you are paying attention to the streets and to get out of the way quickly as necessary. Also, be wary of your belongings. A young man tapped Mohamed on his shoulder and told him to tell Kayla to put her cell phone in a safer place. She had it in her back pocket. The young man was just trying to make her safer because sometimes you never know what might happen – the same as in any busy city here in the United States.

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Group picture in front of the Blue Gate of Fes with the madrasa framed in the background.

The whole city is called the medina, but the souk is the market. There can be many souks including a food market, a tanners market, etc. We entered into the medina and learned about the minarets in Morocco and how they are square, unlike other minarets in the world which are rounded. The square architecture is typical Andalusian style. Thick and wide walls surround the city and make up the buildings which keep the buildings well insulated to keep heat in during winter and the sun out in summer. Khalid knew a lot about the architecture of the buildings and how builders sometimes add in marble powder to the plaster in the buildings to make the walls last longer.

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Our group turned a corner in the city and we were surprised when there was a wooden beam plastered into the wall, about chest high. We questioned this beam, and Khalid said that we were entering into a holy section of town, and that the beam was placed there to keep out the donkeys. They would be too tall with their burden on their backs, and unable to pass through – which is entirely their intention.

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A local craftsman takes a hammer and chisel to a piece of marble to make beautiful artwork in the souk.

Flickr Video: “Interview with the craftsman and his stonework”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831815363/

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Inside of a museum in Fes, Morocco.
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Olivia and I (Beth) inside the museum looking down from a balcony.
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These are the balconies we were just walking in up above inside the museum of Fes.
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Khalid is giving us some information on history while Omar is in awe of the architecture above.

In this section of town we visited a beautiful Museum. Some of the doors within the museum had a smaller door cut out of it inside of a larger one. We jokingly called this ‘door-ception’ after the movie Inception. The purpose of having a smaller door carved into a larger one is so that when the people need to open the door in winter, they can use the smaller one and therefore trap more warmth within the rooms instead of needing to open the much larger one and allowing the heat to escape. Makes sense to me!

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Casandra proudly wearing her fez.
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Victoria is giving tips on negotiating in the streets of Fes. “La la la la!” = “No no no no!”
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Mohamed is trying on his new Moroccan garb. Styling!

Flickr Video: “The boys shop for clothing in Fes”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831465855/

On we went for more shopping in the medina of Fes. Khalid was great trying to help us purchase jalabas (long comfortable robes) and other formal wear for our dinner that we were to have later in the week when we had a dinner and a show. The men in our group found a shop where they were able to get a good deal in a fez and outfits. Casandra wanted a fez too, and I think it looks quite nice on her.

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This shop keeper was very nice, he sold us ladies some argan oil and various scented oils like jasmine and orange blossom.
So friendly!

Flickr Video: “A man rehabilitates a tile wall and shopping in the souk of Fes” [I apologize for my fingers in the video!]: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831766723/

Let me tell you, if we didn’t have Khalid with us, we would have gotten hopelessly lost in this city. You cannot see over the buildings, you are literally in narrow hallways that branch in every direction. He was quick to guide us to great little shops where the shopkeepers greeted us with a smile and were quick to find just what we needed.

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A wall of brightly dyed leather purses, wallets and bags on our way in to see the leather tannery in Fes.

Flickr Video: “Walking to the Old Fes Tannery”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831387315/

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A man shears the hair off of skins which will be soon cleaned and dipped in dyes to become shoes, bags, and purses.
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The city of Fes inside the medina, photo taken from the balcony of the leather tannery.
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A man labors hard to make sure the leather is soaked sufficiently in the natural dyes inside the vats at the tannery in Fes.
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Many natural items are used to get different hues in the vats of the tannery in Fes, Morocco.

The tannery was quite an experience. I loved being able to see the city from above. The workers were working the vats of natural colored dyes made from raw materials. Different colors were made from pomegranate, roses, saffron, mint, henna etc. The skins and hides are scraped on site, soaked in pigeon poop to get rid of the smell of the animal, and then soaked in the colored dye. Then, the skins are stretched and dried in the Moroccan sun. It is such a labor intensive process but the results are absolutely stunning. I could not help purchasing a large reddish leather worked bag to take back some Moroccan treasures in before I left the country. The smell of the tannery was rather potent… we may or may not have shoved mint leaves up our noses.

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The Police Chief of Fes sends a detail unit to escort us around the city and then they take us to a restaurant for lunch.
Casandra with her new friends.
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The Morocco group enjoys lunch at Restaurant Nejjarine.

An unexpected event happened after our tannery adventure – the Police Chief of Fes sent us a police escort to tour us through the city, and then treated our group to lunch at Restaurant Nejjarine. Our lunch consisted of the traditional couscous with tagine dajaaj (chicken) with vegetables, fava beans and raisins. Semolina bread was difficult for us to keep on the table because everyone loves it so much. There was also an epic spread of appetizers for our ‘salad’. Mint Tea and dessert of sliced banana, oranges and strawberries sprinkled in cinnamon and some powdered sugar was completely irresistible even thought we were all completely stuffed from our lunch itself.

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“Salad” — an appetizer to be shared between guests. It took up the entire table!

After this we went to a clothing store to search again for outfits for our formal dinner. On the way out of the city, we decided on visiting a Museum called Moresque which is currently being built by master tile-makers and is not currently open to the public yet.

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Kayla and Casandra got behind a shuttle loom and learned about weaving wool.

Flickr Video: “We learn how to use a shuttle loom in a Fes Shop”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831604474/

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Kayla gets decked out in Moroccan clothing at a shop.

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When we arrived at Moresque, (a museum not yet open to the public) we viewed the beautiful work on the main floor and how the tiles are made and laid. We were given personal tours of the building and shown how the tiny tools work to create such magnificent pieces of artwork. The work that is being done at the Moresque Museum is completely funded by the King. He was impressed when visiting once and wants to see their work finished. The ceiling of the museum was a kaleidoscope of colors. Carvings in the clay and plaster, wood work, inlay were all done to perfection.

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Moresque, a museum funded by the King of Morocco not yet open to the public.
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Artisans make tiles by hand in Moresque.

Tile workers inside Moresque show us how to make tiles, Flickr Vide0: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831673253/

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One of a kind in the world. Carved by hand from plaster.
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Hand painted and carved cedar.
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Taking a tour inside of the museum while it is being built.
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A kaleidoscope of color filters through from above.

A Video of our walk through the unfinished Moresque Museum: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831393836/

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A man who works at Moresque demonstrates how to use the tiny chisel to carve out the intricate details in the plaster.
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Pat and Christopher posing with their small gifts from the gentleman who gave them a private tour through Moresque.
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Group photo outside of Moresque with the employees and craftsmen.

Patrick and Christopher were gifted little plaster figurines by a gentleman who has been working on this project for many years.

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A view from Borj Fes or “Tower of Fes” overlooking the city and the mountains.
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Fes captured at dusk right as the lights start to turn on in the twilight.
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A tower illuminated in Fes as the sun starts to set.

Flickr Video, “A Quick ‘PANORAMA’ of Fes”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9692784611/

This sun was setting rapidly into the mountainous horizon but we were able to stop at Borj Fes which translates to Tower of Fes. There are actually two towers but we were able to enter one of them. Our group got there right at closing while a call to prayer was happening at dusk. The attendant at the gate let us in briefly to see the sprawling old medina nestled in the countryside hills. So beautiful.

A quick regroup at our Hotel followed by a 30 minute allowance to get ready for dinner and we were off again for dinner and a show.

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Victoria and Tim look around while Kayla takes video of performers as we wait for dinner.

This restaurant was wonderful and had performances with magicians, musicians and a belly dancer who danced and played with fire.

Fire/Belly Dancer Flickr Video: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831242486/

After that, Kayla, Olivia, Casandra and Pat were all able to participate in different parts of the show. Again, Mohamed works miracles. Olivia was part of a magic act, Kayla did a little dancing on stage, Casandra and Pat got married in a traditional Moroccan style. Pat had excellent dancing moves and Casandra was lifted high into the air while everyone danced around her. It was stunning. Very fun! Tea was served (of course) after fruit dessert.

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Arabic for “Coca Cola”. It tastes nothing like American Coke. A little sweeter and more syrupy, perhaps.

A short clip of dinner and the ambiance — Flickr Video: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9696013504/

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Olivia dances and becomes a part of a magic show on stage.
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Pat learns a couple of new dance moves on stage while we wait for dinner at the restaurant.

Pat learns some new ‘dance moves’, Flickr Video: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/9692948451/

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Sooo…. Casandra got married to Pat on our trip in old traditional Moroccan fashion. What happens in Morocco… doesn’t seem to stay in Morocco!

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When the show was over and everyone left, the manager of the restaurant gave us a tour of the rooftop to see the surrounding buildings at night all lit up on a terrace.

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On the way back to our van, we were accosted by street people trying to sell clothing for very cheap. It was very sketchy but we did some quick wheeling and dealing and ended up getting some excellent deals.

We returned to our hotel too hyped up to stay inside to blog even though it was very late. Everyone was talking in the hallway outside of our rooms. After a quick conference we all decided to take a walk around the block a few times in our newly purchased Moroccan garb. Omar came with us as our body guard and we did not go too far.

Mohamed had been in the lobby and saw us outside, he came to talk with us and we were discussing how cool it would be to go to a Moroccan wedding — and then a wedding party drove past us. They pulled into the hotel next door!

We ran down the street to congratulate them. It was a joint wedding where many brides and grooms were getting married at the same time.

It was a perfect ending to a perfect day. Our group animatedly talked about our eventful day as we were walking back to the hotel. I filled Christopher in on what happened on our walk.

End of Day Three.

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Day Four: Fes, Volubilis, Moulay Idriss, Meknes [May 29th 2013, Wednesday]

Worcester State University Faculty Led Morocco Program – 2013 (Day 4)

Another brief sleep — there is no time to sleep when you are traveling! My fiancé Christopher and I were getting used to packing and unpacking. Honestly, our advice to you before your leave for Morocco is to pack your things. Then pack half of that amount. Then, pack half of THAT amount. That is how much you truly NEED to bring to Morocco. There are opportunities to pay to launder your clothing at the hotels if you need to wash.

—- *Blog Photographs are Courtesy of Christopher Lippmann, one of thirteen WSU Morocco 2013 Travelers | **Video Links are short ‘clips’ uploaded from the entire WSU Group to our WSU Flickr Account to enhance the blog experience. —-

A small plastic bag that you can carry all of your toiletries in is super handy so that you don’t have to dig through your luggage for different items. Also, a roll of toilet paper is a plus. Anyway, I digress again…

The morning was sunny and warm. We walked around trying to find a
shop that sold water before our drive to Volubilis or the Roman Ruin Outpost north of where we were staying. All of the shops were closed because we had woken up so early. Many shops do not open until much later in the morning. This didn’t deter us from leaving though. We took off and some of us caught a quick cat nap during the drive.

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Personally, I was too excited to see the ruins and I was amazed by the landscape on La Route Nationale (the road from Fes to Volubilis). This wasn’t much of a highway, in fact it was just a two way road with many shepherds tending flocks in the hills. It was very scenic and the hills were a patchwork of colors. The poppy fields were beautiful with the bright red flowers.

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Oh, hello there friendly travelers!

We stopped in the Low Atlas Mountains in order to take pictures of a man made dam. Christopher was our unofficial photographer and was unable to catch cat naps during our travels between destinations – but he didn’t mind much. He ended up moving to the front of the van with Adil in order to capture better photographs. We saw many agave plants, roaming animals and random bumpy roads.

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Finally, after what seemed like forever but was probably only about an hour and a half, we arrived at Volubilis.

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Our first glimpse of the Roman Ruin Outpost of Volubilis.

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I will not write about it here – but if you ever happen to get a chance to visit these Roman Ruins, look in all of the enclaves where the stone walls are slowly caving in. There is a stone pedestal with something carved into the top which is hilarious. We had a lot of fun in this location with pictures to say the least, but I cannot share what it is we found. Go see for yourself!

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A stork watches us as we walk toward the weather beaten pillars at Volubilis.

There were giant, graceful storks nesting on top of the crumbling pillars of Volubilis.DSC03745

As the rest of the group ran ahead, I became amazed at the different types of flowers that were growing all around that I had never seen before so I stopped to collect a bunch to press inside of my little black notebook where I was taking notes about our travels.

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There were many different mosaic masterpieces just open to the elements. The rain and air on top of this hill have had an impact on the mosaics but they were incredible. It is a pity that they were not more protected, but very beautiful to see in their natural element unmoved from the time where they were first laid by the Romans.

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After our short stay in Volubilis, our travel group jumped back into the van to visit Moulay Idriss — the city on the mountain. This city was really neat to visit! The cobblestone streets zigged and zagged up the side of a mountain and many of the alleyways cut right through the buildings and the stone wall of the mountain itself. Many people looked out of their homes curiously at us. I don’t think that too many tourists visit this location. It certainly seemed off of the beaten path. At one point, Omar and Mohamed were kicking around a soccer ball with some local teenagers. It was fun to see how sports break down verbal barriers. Everyone knows the language of sports.

Omar, Mohamed and Christopher kick around a soccer ball with the Moulay Idriss kids: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831173475/

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Half of our group got separated from the rest because we kept stopping to take photos. It wasn’t our fault that we were fascinated by a donkey with a refrigerator tied to its back! Omar was able to guide us back by his very distinct whistle. Moulay Idriss is definitely one of the oldest cities in Morocco. We took photos above the city. I happened to have charcoal in a art kit in my backpack so we scrawled ‘WSU Was Here!’ on the wall where there was a lot of other graffiti scribbled.

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A view of Moulay Idriss.

AJ gave Mohamed a heart attack at this location by getting too close to the edge of the cliff to take pictures. It was such a far drop! A running joke during our trip was that many people were falling in love with Casandra. We joked that by the next time we came back to visit Moulay Idriss together, the locals would have a statue of Casandra built in her honor.

By this time, our small group of student travelers were very comfortable with one another. Nobody knows when the moment was when we all connected. We were joking and laughing while walking around saying things like, “You’ll get great asses if you live here”… referring to hiking up the very steep walkways and double entendre referring to the donkeys for transportation.

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Arabic for “Coca Cola”

By the time we came down the mountain and returned to the main street, we popped into a small store to buy some refreshment after our hike. We each paid a little extra at the shop to keep the glass bottles for Coke, Poms, and Hawai — the companies usually came by to recycle the bottles from the shops. We didn’t mind paying a little extra so that we could bring the bottles back to the U.S with us with the Arabic writing on them. They made for a unique souvenir.

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Let’s go run to the sunflower fields! We have 10 minutes!
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Just two dudes hanging out in a sunflower field. (Joe and Pat)

One thing is for certain… never let a moment pass. When we were driving through the Low Atlas Mountains to head to Meknes, each of us glanced out the right hand side of the windows of the van and noticed a sprawling field of humongous sunflowers. Megan, Olivia and I both wished out-loud to stop so that we could go to the field. Mohamed heard us, talked quickly with our driver Adil, and the next thing we knew the van was swinging off to the side of the road in a cloud of dust. Mohamed said loudly, “Alright! You have ten minutes!” Half of us from the van were already out the door and running down the side of the hill.

We reached a drainage ditch and I couldn’t go any further because I was wearing a long skirt and flip flops (hardly the clothing to wear during adventure-time). Patrick, Megan, Christopher, Joe, and Olivia ran up the other side of the ditch and through massive prickers to take photos in the sunflower field and goof around.

Drove to Meknes

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Tagine!
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Talking in a learning laboratory with local college students at a community center in Meknes.
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A group photo with the students that we met during our discussion at the Community Center in Meknes, Morocco.

After stopping for a brief lunch, we visited a Community Center to visit students in Meknes. We had discussions about politics and exchanged ideas with like-minded individuals. We discussed languages, society, culture, education and religion. We talked about “Waiting for Superman” which is a documentary and educational system in the United States. After our meeting, we took photos with the group and exchanged email and Facebook information. You will never meet more friendly people than the people you will meet in Morocco.

Mohamed was a little worried that we were not going to be able to visit the Orphanage in Meknes because with everything that we did today we were a little delayed. Adil drove quickly from the meeting with students to reach the orphanage. We arrived on time and they let us in.

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Donated toys set up for the children at the orphanage in Meknes.

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Christopher beginning to unpack the clothing donations that our group brought for the children at the orphanage.
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I’m (Beth) helping sort the clothing, school supplies and toys in a back room at the orphanage so that they can be distributed to the children who need them after we leave.

This was our opportunity to unload the bags of clothing and toys that we brought with us from the U.S. We unloaded the clothing into a small room and then were guided around the building to meet all of the children that reside there. Many children in this particular orphanage have special needs.

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Mohamed and Casandra greet the children on the playground as they run up to meet us.
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Olivia makes friends with one of the children at the orphanage.
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Kayla and a little boy become friends too!
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Joe walking around and getting ready to meet some kids.

Outside in the play area, we gave candies to the children, picked them up and played with them. Tim gave the kids piggy back rides. As we were walking back into the building, the children started singing to us in another language. It made me cry.

When we went back into the orphanage, we were brought into a brightly lit room where cribs lined the walls. Babies lived here too. Recently, police men brought in a child that was only newborn — literally left in the street. The police had brought the baby to live at this orphanage. The stories we heard were heart-wrenching. Before we left, Patrick went around to collect a sum of our groups own money to donate to the orphanage coordinators in order to help with costs. The children were beautiful and I did not want to leave them behind.

Our drive from the orphanage to our hotel in Fes was very quiet and depressing. It gave us all a chance to reflect on what just happened. Surprisingly, we had a little bit of down time when we returned from the orphanage to relax for a bit before dinner. This was a good thing because some people in our group were starting to feel sick (myself included), so a short nap was welcome. After the nap, we all got ready for our dinner out and we dressed up in our Moroccan clothing that we purchased from the ‘sketchy’ people the night before.

Dinner was a wonderful experience. We ate dinner at a hotel called Riad Al Amine [Address: Riad Fes, 94,96 Bouajjara bab Jdid, Fes 30000, Morocco]. The lighting was gorgeous and low from lanterns hung all around and the light reflected off of the tiny tiles on the pillars around a sunken pool in the grand entry way. Low benches with plush pillows were scattered around the pool. There was a man playing an oud by the pool. An oud is a rounded string instrument that looks like a cross between a guitar and a banjo. It has seven strings doubled. It must be incredibly difficult to play. Later in the evening we had requested the man to play “Ya Rayah” and he played it beautifully on the oud. We were incredibly pleased to have requested this song and that he was able to play it for us while we were relaxing at the restaurant/hotel for dinner.

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Performer playing a fourteen string oud next to the pool accepts our request to play “Ya Rayah” and does a phenomenal job.

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Beautiful tiling inside of the hotel/restaurant we ate dinner at this evening.
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A picture of Casandra, Olivia, Kayla, Meghan, Victoria and Beth all decked out in Moroccan clothing.
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Omar, Pat, Tim, Mohamed, Olivia, Victoria and Casandra with her henna posing for a picture before dinner.

Over in a corner there was a woman who created beautiful artistic henna on the ladies’ hands. Casandra was first — when the henna was completed the lady sprinkled the still-wet henna with green and blue shimmery glitter as a finishing touch.

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Finished Henna – stunning!
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Casandra says, “I love my henna, but now how do I eat my dinner!?”

It must have been difficult to eat dinner because the henna was drawn on her palms and the outside of her hands. Casandra later confessed that Mohamed needed to cut up her food and feed bits and pieces to her during dinner later that night because the henna had not dried yet (it can take hours to develop good color).

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Victoria and I (Beth) taking a self portrait in the lobby of the hotel before dinner.
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Pat, myself, and Christopher wearing our jalabas.
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Our incredible photographer Christopher taking a rest for a moment to soak up the atmosphere before going back to ‘work’.

We were given our own private key to a room to store our belongings. Once our things were stowed away, a gentleman came around and handed us all a drink called a “Moroccan Mojito” (sans alcohol) as Omar called it.

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Meghan, AJ, Joe, Tim, Mohammed and Omar partake in the non-alcoholic delightful beverage called a Moroccan Mojito.
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Another round of “salad”, our favorite shared appetizer!

Dinner was a dream in itself. We had bread and salad followed by course after course of delicious food! There was a course that had lamb and kefta (kefta is sort of like a squished steak/hamburger-like meatball) and chicken skewers. There were little packets of dough fried with pigeon and chicken meat with almonds called dfaya. Finally there was a fluffy, light layered flaky dessert with whipped cream inside which Mohamed explained is just a custard pie, Moroccan style.

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Applause all around for our gracious stay at this magnificent hotel for dinner!

This dinner was a great opportunity to get to know one another better. We all sat in a plush room with two main tables and shared stories. At one time, Mohamed was laughing so hard he almost puked. By far, this was the best sit down and relaxing dinner that we had had so far on our journey. We were able to wear our new jalabas and Moroccan clothing and enjoy a beautiful atmosphere in great company.

Today was a great day.

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