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.
WSU Flickr Video: “Hassan II Mosque Tour, Outside and in the Courtyard”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831605835/
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.
WSU Flickr Video: “Inside the Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831803954/
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.
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.
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.
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.
WSU Flickr Video: “Mawazine Concert, Rabat Morocco”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97085118@N08/10831887073/
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.
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.
Link to: Seun Kuti Page http://www.festivalmawazine.ma/fr/artistes-2013/seun-kuti.html
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.
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!