Archive for July, 2010

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Eric: A day in Assilah

July 31, 2010

Here’s my last weekend in Morocco (I am flying out of Casablanca next Saturday). Gosh now it felt like the 5 weeks went by so fast, yet sometimes I feel that time couldn’t past fast enough. A couple of people studying at ALIF rented out an entire riad in the city of Assilah on the Atlantic coast for the weekend. As summer is only getting hotter here, so the idea of going to beaches and swimming in the ocean was very appealing.

The first part of the trip was pleasant. The train was air-conditioned, the cart we were in was pretty empty so we each got two seats. Through the journey more and more people got on the train, until it was full to the point that people had to stand in the area between carts. We reached the Mechra Bel Ksiri station, where we were supposed to change train, and were standing under the sun for almost 45 minutes before the train destined for Tangier (Assilah is one of the stops on the way to Tangier). We squeezed onto the packed train. Immediately we realized that we couldn’t find seats at all, so we ended up sitting on the floor by the door in a cart. At least the cart was air-conditioned.

As the train pulled closer to the Assilah station, the Atlantic Ocean all of the sudden just appeared. We got off the train, were met by another student from ALIF who was already in Assilah, and were taken to the rented riad, which was located in the old medina. We walked along the coast on the beaches, and saw flags of many countries flying on poles along the coast. I was somewhat disappointed to not have found a Taiwanese flag, even though I wasn’t that surprised. Walking into the medina, the walls of houses were painted white, different shades of blue, or different shades of green. For a few moments, I had the feeling of being in a Greek town.

Our riad was a three-story building that doesn’t really fit the definition of a riad, as it didn’t have an open space in the middle of the house. But this didn’t reduce any of its charm. The riad had everything: a kitchen, bedrooms, TV, bathrooms with showers and toilets, and a roof terrace area overlooking the Atlantic. All it lacked is Wi-Fi, but let’s face it, who needs Internet when you are going to be swimming in the sea, cooking, and enjoy the view anyway? We ate a very quick lunch, which, thanks to whoever rented the riad, consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cereal, and a lot of fruits.

Highlight of the day, or what I thought was going to be the highlight of the day, was the beach. I thought swimming in the Atlantic on a hot summer day would be a wonderful experience, but it turned out that the Atlantic was filled with seaweed and other things. So I didn’t really want to put my face under the water, fearing that I might come back up with seaweed. The cool water was pretty comfortable though. Walking out of the water to lay on my towel, I found something interesting: people here didn’t associate me with Japan. Instead, they all call me Chinese (in Arabic), which though really isn’t that much more correct in my book, it’s an interesting change. Were there just more Chinese people who have visited the town? Or maybe it just so happens that Japan doesn’t have much of a presence here in the beach town of Assilah? I don’t know, and I really couldn’t think much as I began to fall asleep on the beach.

Dinner was amazing. I’m not complaining about the Moroccan home-style cooking I get everyday, but one of the students in our group has worked in a restaurant before and together with everybody made pasta, salad, potato with garlic butter sauce, and onion and zucchini cooked in more butter and garlic. It was a wonderfully fulfilling meal (not that I don’t get enough food at home. Trust me, the single most common thing everyone who stays with a Moroccan host-family complains about is getting too much food.) I fell asleep on the couch as other people went on to the roof drinking.

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Lindsay: Maori Culture

July 27, 2010

I have my first test tomorrow! It’s for my ENGL112 class: Literature and Theatre of Aotearoa. I will either be writing on the play we read, and what remains, by Miria George or one of the many poems we read by Hone Tuwhare. I think I will probably write about and what remains because I don’t do so well with poems. At least with the play there is a story line with a theme that I can recognize. Poetry is often beyond me, although some of it is very interesting once you learn the author’s meaning behind it.

This week is also Te Wiki o te Reo Maori (Maori Language Week). And the theme is food! Something I can totally get behind. So for this week I am making use of the 100 Maori Words Ever New Zealander Should Know, mostly because I know even less than the average New Zealander.

Speaking of Maori, there is something very interesting that I have noticed about the Pakeha/Maori relationship, especially when thinking about the Native American relationship with people in the States. New Zealand seems to pride itself on its ‘bi-cultural foundation’. Everything seems to have an English name here and a Maori name. Especially everything on campus. I have noticed that every single Lecture hall has the typical “Kirk LT 301″ kind of name and underneath there is the Maori name. Or for example, the Maori name for Victoria University is Te Whare Wananga o te Upoko o te Ika a Maui. I don’t think any Universities in the States have any kind of Native American language names for everything.

Although Maori here have had many problems with retaining or regaining land that was promised to them in the Treaty of Waitangi, they are much better off than the Native Americans. It seems like the Native American’s biggest contribution to American culture is place names (and people frequently don’t even know which Native American language they come from) and kitschy tourist shops and attractions in the west. And casinos. Here however, Maori culture seems to be greatly respected. There are even Maori immersion schools all the way from Pre-school to High school for Maori children to learn their language.

On a more personal note, I am going traveling this weekend! Friday morning I am taking a taxi to the Wellington Airport and taking my flight to Gisborne. I’m really excited. Probably my favorite thing about my Australearn week was being able to sit in the car and look out the window. That’s one of my favorite things about any road trip. It’s probably even more so because the landscape here is so much different. So I get to just stare out the window for an hour! It sounds boring but I’m really excited. And it’s an Air New Zealand flight, so it has great service.

Another thing I have been doing lately is gathering recipes. As I talked about last time, I’ve been kind of struggling through the dorm food and I miss American food. So I have taken to looking through recipe and food sites in my spare time and making a collection of recipes I’d like to make when I get home.

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Meredith: No such thing as stupid questions

July 26, 2010

I have arrived safely in Buenos Aires. I love my host mom/grandma/woman. That was so not kosher to write all of that. I think I’m going to call her an abuela because once an abuela you are also a madre y una mujer. I’m so smart!

Anyway, so right now my time consists of sitting through many orientation activities, which is fine because the program director is HILARIOUS and super nice. All the employees of IFSA-BUTLER are wonderful.

A lot of the orientation is full of information to scare us from going out late at night alone, or from entering danger zones of the city, etc. But some of it is downright hilarious. See the following questions that students asked and the director read out to us (strangely enough, they may seem stupid at first, but all questions are legitimate!)

1. How can we communicate?
2. How much time should I spend in the shower
3. Is it okay to eat in the city?
4. How do cell phones function here?
5. How can we contact each other?

I died laughing on the inside. Some were actually great questions though. Here are the sarcastic answers the director gave (S), and then some real advice (R). This was all in spanish, BTW. I am doing you a favor and translating.

1. S:By speaking to each other? R: any way you want.
2. S: um…what? R: This is a good question but you don’t have to worry about how much time you spend in the shower. It is not more expensive for the home stay families if you spend a long time in the shower, but you should ask just to be polite.
3. S: No R: Of course! Ha, just don’t eat food made on the streets or sold on the streets.
4. S: Very well. R: Just like in the U.S.
5. S: You have no need to contact each other R: You have no need to contact each other.

For the last questions, the answer is the same. That is hilarious because it is so true. We shouldn’t spend time with only “los americanos” down here. We need to branch out. I’ve learned this, and also that I should not be afraid to ask any questions. Not even how much time I should spend in the shower.

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Jim: My diet?

July 25, 2010

I did a little food experiment recently, and it confirmed that my diet basically consists of hamón, queso, and arepas but it also showed me the amount of chocolate I was eating, and have since decided to stop eating, on the side. What follows is a summary of the week of June 14th, which is a typical week. I kept track of all the meals I ate and then approximated their food contents or just listed the food where a description was more appropriate than an ingredient list, although most food here is made from scratch:

6 portions of carne (pork or beef steak)
6 servings of hamon (sliced ham)
5 portions of chicken
9 servings of cheese
3 eggs
8 portions of soup (potato, cream, vegetables)
1 pizza
4 cups of pasta
2 cups rice
2 potatoes
8 rolls
6 arepas
butter and jelly
1 hojaldre de hamon y queso (puff pastry with ham and cheese)
2 cups oatmeal
8 cups hydrated powered milk
1 plátano
1/2 cup corn
1 avacado
1 carrot
1 tomato
1 orange
1 small eggplant
1/2 head lettuce
2 cups guava juice
1 cup mango juice
1 cup melon juice
1 box of pear juice
8 little cups of coffee
2 soda (7-Up and knockoff)
1 Nestle yogur de fresa
1 milky way
1 snickers
1 savoy chocolate de nueces
2 Efe helado de chocolate
1 sospiro (puffed sugar cookie)
1 galleta de “pasta seca” (another kind of cookie)
1/2 besito de coco
1 slice cheesecake
1 sweetcorn muffin
3 slices of cake
1 chicha grande

If you think of eating 17 portions of meat in a week, that’s averaging about 2.4 servings per day! I also basically ate an arepa, a roll, and some cheese and drank a cup of coffee at least once a day. That is my diet.

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Eric: Women in Morocco

July 24, 2010

Back from the desert, I was sore and tired. Getting up the next morning was almost as hard as climbing that hill back in the desert. Determined not to skip, I still went to my two classes, and found out that there was this lecture on women in Morocco. I was semi-interested, and thought I should at least go to one lecture offered by ALIF (I missed the one on Berber culture a few weeks ago). It turned out that the lecture was mandatory for students on the U of M program, even though nobody knew about it.

The guest lecturer is a linguist who has been doing research on languages and genders in Morocco. She started off by stating that like any other culture, women are a heterogeneous group in Morocco. They differ significantly depending on their geographical origin, class, job, language skills, level of education, and social status. These factors interact with each other and make women in Morocco unique, according to her. She then went on to talk about how every society is a patriarchy, but significant differences exist between the Western world and Morocco. In the Western countries, there is generally an image, maybe created by some multi-national company, that women adopt to, while in Morocco, women are more concerned with space, which is different for the two genders. Home is a private space in Morocco and is generally where women socialize and have power, while outside of home in the public space, men are more dominant. The limit of these spaces has been changing in recent years.

Changing the subject to women’s right, the lecturer mentioned that the way women seek more rights is different. In Western societies, women confront men to fight for more rights, while in Morocco, women believe that they belong to a “collective-self” or family, and it is important to sustain the harmony within a family. In terms of how women react to gain authority/power, there are two main categories.

1. Uneducated women have a lot of power in the private space. They are the “keepers” of rituals, which include marriage, birth, and other ceremonies, and they pass on traditions orally. Women in villages also could be the center of a community through carpet-weaving.

2. Educated women are a totally different story. Back in 1946, an organization known as the “Sisters of Purity” was founded in Fez by 7 women, all of whom have fathers and brothers in the nationalist movement. The organization had three goals: to abolish polygamy, to give women more public exposure, and to give women more respect in the family. Smart women these sisters were, they didn’t attack Islam as the source of women’s suffering. They only sought to gain legal rights. After the independence of the Kingdom of Morocco, the first family law was written in 1957-58, which angered many educated women, as it was pretty much everything opposite of what the sisters were fighting for. By the end of the 1970s, the Iranian Revolution encouraged the rise of Political Islam (or the Fundamentalists), which meant different things for different people. For the women, it was a chance. As the fundamentalists opposed any kind of reformation, the women fighting for rights were able to connect and incorporate the younger generation. Through stating that “the family law is the same problem for both generations,” the older generation avoided a clash with the younger generation.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the situation of women was improved at a very fast pace, as the monarchy, which viewed the fundamentalists as threats, allied with women in the fight for rights. First reform of the family law happened in 1993. A new constitution was written in 1996, while 4 women were appointed to the cabinet as ministers in 1997. King Mohammed VI ascended the throne in 1999 and was keen on improving women’s rights. On Women’s Day in the year 2000, there was a march in Rabat, and another in Casablanca. One supported reform, while the other was against it. In 2003, there was a terrorist attack in Casablanca, which was a slap in the face for everyone. This only sped up the process of reform, and the new family law went in effect the same year, giving women more rights than they ever had. The lecture ended with a discussion on the current problems facing women’s rights movement.

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Eric: Sahara desert trip

July 23, 2010

Waking up in the morning after the first night of our trip, I wasn’t quite ready to move on knowing that I probably wouldn’t enjoy the same level of comfort again for a while. Breakfast was buffet again, this time with multiple kinds of pastries, bread, and—wait for it—CEREALS! Okay, I wasn’t really that excited, since I didn’t eat that much cereal back in Minnesota, but it was nice to have something familiar. There was also a kind of pancake that was strikingly similar to the scallion pancake I used to eat back in Taiwan, except without the scallion.

Giving the pool a last look, we checked out and continued our journey to Merzouga, the city from which we would enter the desert. It was a fairly quick ride, and the more south we went, the more rough earth and dunes we saw. Even more in the middle of nowhere, the hotel stood alone off the road and before the dunes.

I guess the Sahara Desert is another one of those places that you hear about, read about, have a lot of stereotypes about, and never dream of seeing. Well, I have been having this surreal feeling ever since I first saw those huge mountains of sand. I just couldn’t believe I was about to enter the largest desert on Earth! I was a little surprised to see that there is actually a defined area that you call a desert. For some reason I always thought that it’s more like a gradual transition from non-desert to desert area.

We checked into the hotel, actually owned by the same group that owns the previous hotel we stayed at, and went to lunch. We prepared for our night spent in the desert. At 6 p.m., we gathered by the camels with multiple bottles of water and were ready to roll. Our Berber camel-leading guides first tied head-scarves onto each of us in the traditional Berber way, and then tied our water bottles and belongings onto the camels. Getting on the camel was quite an experience. Before actually seeing the camels, I always wondered where you sit on the camel. I mean, it seems quite painful and unsafe to sit on the humps. It turned out that each camel is equipped with a wooden box and a thick cushion on top.

I picked my camel, the first one in a group and its name meant “white” in Arabic. First lesson of camel-riding: hold on tight. You don’t realize how tall these camels are until they stand up. And the process of standing up involved first straightening the two rear legs, then the two front legs. Not holding on tight means that you will fall, from about 6 feet high or so.

Second lesson of camel-riding: be prepared. The first 5 minutes we set off for into the desert were really pleasant. The weather wasn’t too hot, we wobbled front and back on the camel, it was all good. Then the pain started to come in. Sitting on a camel is not the most comfortable mode of transportation. Your legs are spread open so wide to sit on the cushion, which wasn’t that comfortable after all, that the thigh area becomes very sore and literally a pain in the butt. Did I mention our trip to the camp site was 2 hours? When the camels were going uphill, it was a lot more comfortable than when they are going downhill.

The view of Sahara Desert was, as expected, very sandy. There were mounts and mounts of sand, sand blowing into my face, sand sliding this way and that way, and in general a lot of sand. So much sand led to a new question: how on earth does our Berber guide find the way? Obviously there are no signs pointing towards our camp site, and it’s not like they all carry GPS devices. The answer we got is that even though the wind continues to blow sand from here to there, the desert doesn’t really change that much. The hill that’s here today is still going to be at the same place tomorrow. Plus, they are all experienced guides who have been leading camels into the desert since they were around 6 to 10 years old. The chance of getting lost was slim. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Britta: Avignon

July 22, 2010

The IEFE institute took us to Avignon recently. Serendipitously we went during Avignon’s annual theater festival which is from July 7th to July 31st. They have over 500,000 visitors and is becoming more and more internationally known. We saw the famous Pont d’Avignon and made sure to dance while singing the song Sur le pont d’Avignon

We visited the Palais des Papes, also a well known destination in the Provence region, as it was was was the home of several popes during the 14th and 15th century when there was political unrest in Italy.

And we made sure to walk around the town and catch some theater in the air. Every street and alleyway is covered in posters advertising different shows from musicals, one acts, to dance and cinema. And people are in costume ready to entice you to come see their performance

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