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