Posts Tagged ‘Fez’


Kadie: Here’s to belly-dancing, eating snails, birthday weeks & a Good Rosé

April 9, 2011

So the smell of Jasmine is EVERYWHERE in the Medina these days, and it has made me come to realize that it is now spring here in Fes. Its April already, I’m not sure how that happened….but, as the changing weather and tree blossoms might be hinting, time never does stop or slow down.

Since my last post, I’ve had the most amazing experiences, with a few really rough days scattered in between. I guess, even when you are “living the dream” you can’t expect every day to be absolutely perfect? I suppose if they were, you would never appreciate them anyway. BUT some of the more perfect days were the ones spent in the Sahara Desert. We were able to spend an entire weekend gallivanting up and over sand dunes via camels! Let me tell YOU: riding Camels is HARD work! I was so sore afterwards…but it was also such a rewarding experience. My camel’s name, in case anyone is interested, was Petey. He did great, and he had a nose ring…which. was. AWESOME. After a couple hours of camel-riding to our camp, we were able to watch one of the better sunsets I’ve ever seen, and one of the most spectacular moon-rises. It was an interesting night, filled with a lot of clichés, but, something I’ve been realizing is sometimes, clichés aren’t so bad…and actually, sometimes, they make an experience all the better. So I clapped along with the “locals” who played music for us all night and made us tea, and I took all the touristy pictures on top of my camel, and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it.

After such a weekend, it was almost inevitable that we would need a weekend to rest here in Fes. (Our weeks are so packed full of programming and classes and homework that no one gets the proper amount of sleep, so we’re always playing catch up on the weekends). Last weekend, a few of us traveled to Rabat (the capital). We had a relaxing few days of laying on the beach, (fully-clothed mind you, well, at least all the girls were), shopping and watching protests in front of the Parliamentary building from our hotel balcony. (No worries, everything here is still SUPER peaceful).

The girls at one of our Hefla Hefla Party Discos

Sunset in the desert

ME! on a camel!

And now, it’s our last week for our first term. My birthday is in coming up, and so are my finals, and then, our spring break! And then, it’s almost too painful to think about, my last six weeks in Fes! Its unreal how quickly the days are slipping by.

Speaking of my last six weeks, I, along with a friend of mine here, have decided a change of pace is in order for the next term. We’re going to be moving out of our homestays and moving in to our very own place here in the medina! I’m so excited about all the possibilities, cooking all our new favorite Moroccan dishes, inviting our friends over for tea, tanning on the rooftop terrace, shopping for all our weekly groceries, etc. Should make for even more fun experiences and surprises next term.

BUT before the next six-week session starts, I’ve got to make it til the end of this one. I’m a little nervous for my finals, not only because they’re on my birthday and the day after (and I’ve been known to have less than perfect concentration skills when I’m so excited) but also because a full college semester in six weeks equals a LOT of information to know, but I’m feeling okay about it for now. We’ll see if I’m singing the same tune come Friday afternoon?

And then, on Saturday, we’re setting out for our road-trip through Southern Morocco! The plan is to rent a car and see all we can/want to. Hopefully driving stick through Moroccan mountain roads is easier than it sounds?? I’m sure there will be too many stories to tell.

OH and if you’re wondering about the title to this post. Last week, this was an actual toast of ours at a party we had. YES I took belly-dancing lessons (they were awesome, and we have more planned!) and YES I ate a snail. (Mummy I still can’t believe I did it, like, I literally scooped it out of the shell and in to my mouth. I’m sad nobody caught it on film, because I realize that most who know me will NEVER believe me…but, trust me, I did it!) And we’ve already celebrated a few birthdays within our group, and mine is coming up! Along with my friend Jake! LOVE celebrating! And…well the last part is fairly self-explanatory? I’ll never turn down a good glass of wine.


Kadie: Fassi familiarity

March 16, 2011

So somehow over the course of my first month here, Fes has become “home.” It has those aspects of certain familiarity that, upon returning after weekend away, just make me feel like I’m coming home. Its also everything I associate with my day-to-day routine, including the ever-stressful and ovewrwhelming class schedule. I know my medina streets, at least in and out of my little neighborhood, the rest of the medina is still a mystery, but the woman who owns the corner shop down the street from my house nods hellos of recognition to me now whenever I walk by, and the owner of the sweet shop outside the center we all study at welcomes us with smiles and ‘how are yous’ every day now. It is a phenomenon I’m beginning to get used to, when the “foreign” becomes the “familiar.” And I couldn’t be more in love with it. Of course, there is still too much to learn about this city and this country, and I don’t by any means claim to know evem a small fraction of the culture yet, but I do know that it already feels like home, that the roots I’ve laid down so far are going to be hard ones to rip out when its time for me to leave again.

And those roots I’m talking about aren’t just embedded in to this city and culture, but with my family and with all my fellow students as well. This last weekend some of us took a trip to Chefchaoun, which is “easily” accessed by a nice 4 hour long bus ride through the Rif Mountains in northern Morocco. This little city is BEAUTIFUL and tucked away in the most picturesque of valleys. The air was noticeably cleaner, and the weather noticeably wetter, and the people noticeably far less concerned with our presence…except of course when they wanted to sell us “kif.” Kif and hash are EVERYWHERE in this region, and I’m guessing it was offered to us ohhh, 30 plus times over the course of the weekend. Its sad kind of, that this beautiful mountain village is being tainted by such a horrible industry. But, if one ignores all the hustlers, and the police always walking around trying to catch them, then Chaoun can be really fun.

The history of the town is fascinating, and I’m not going to attempt to summarize it here, as I’ll probably get some details wrong, but it has been inhabited and controlled by almost every group of people one can imagine in Northern Morocco, and it’s now famous because the Jewish immigrants that arrived in the 20th century decided to paint the ENITRE town blue. So, walking through the streets, its as if we were dropped in to someone’s technicolor daydream…so many shades of such perfect blues, all attempting to erase all worries of the rain and the cold, and open our eyes to how beautiful our surroundings were. Wandering the streets was impossible without a million and a half stops to take pictures. And when we found ourselves with a few hours without rain, hiking up the closest mountain was the surest way to be absolutely blown away by the most picturesque scenery I have ever encountered. I found myself, once again, extremely frustrated at how the pictures I was capturing on my camera just were NOT doing the real scenes justice. The hiking felt amazing, and the friends I was with made it that much better, and, as everyone who knows me would guess…seeing more of the world always puts me in a better mood. 🙂

So it is with such a mindset that I returned “home.” And now, not even today’s exam can get me down…this next weekend we’re headed south, to the Sahara….and this one is sure to be EPIC.  Can I get three cheers for seeing the world?? Hip hip HOORAY! Hip hip Hooray! Hip hip hooray!! 🙂

Liz and I next to some of the waterfalls we encountered on our way up the mountain trails!

Soooooo BLUE!

ME! In front of a panoramic view of Chefchaoun below…


Eric: Thanks & some feelings

August 20, 2010

So, I am pretty much back to my normal life. I am sleeping in pretty much every single day (not the best habit to get into before school starts). I am cooking stuff that I am used to eating, and most of all, I am living with people who can understand what I am speaking. (I’m also thankful for the working shower). I have so many people to thank for supporting me throughout my 10 weeks of studying abroad. Without them, I don’t think I would have made it.

First and foremost, I want to thank my family, particularly my parents. You really have to give them credits: what kind of parents would pay money to let their son go off on his own to Europe and Africa for the summer. I am thankful to have them support me financially and mentally while I was abroad. Most of the financial resources that paid for my program fees, tuition, and other related costs came from the university financial aid (federal, state, and school) and scholarships, in particular the Gilman Scholarship. Thanks to them, my family doesn’t have to go bankrupt sending me abroad. I want to thank the Ben Yassin Family in Fès who welcomed me to the city when I couldn’t even effectively communicate with them. They have done so much for me and I am truly grateful. I also want to thank the U of M Learning Abroad Center for setting up wonderful programs for students to attend. I want to thank Dr. M. E. White for making the Florence program the best class I have ever attended. I want to thank Dr. Ianeva-Lockney (who was my first Norwegian instructor) for writing me that recommendation letter that allowed to me be accepted to the Morocco program. Last but not least, I want to thank whoever has been, was, is, or will be reading my blog.

Now we are done with the touchy feelings, I just have a few comments. Regarding the Cordoba House to be built in New York City… I am usually not a very political person, and I am not a supporter of any political parties. But having just returned from a Muslim country, I have to say that Americans aren’t showing as much tolerance as they should, not to mention that it’s not even a mosque they are building. I walked on the streets of Fès and was never ever harassed because I am not a Muslim. There are Christian churches in the Kingdom of Morocco and you don’t see anyone having a problem with them. Yes, 9/11 happened and yes, those who attacked America were Muslims. That doesn’t mean people should generalize the entire Muslim population as terrorists and hate on them. If we can’t even tolerate a Muslim community center, how can we expect people of other countries to understand that the US is a country proud of its “freedoms” and tolerant of all people regardless of their religions? We always fear what we don’t understand, so why not use this opportunity to show that the US actually opens her arms to all religions and melt the hatred and fear that led to 9/11 in the first place?

With regard to people who are still wondering whether they should studying abroad, I say, stop wondering and go apply for a program already. It really will be a life-changing experience.


Eric: Moroccan Music & GLBT Issues

July 15, 2010

Today we talked about music in our Moroccan Society & Culture class. Not traditional music, but rap music. Personally not a fan of rap, I found it interesting that rap is actually quite popular in Morocco. We were introduced to Don Bigg  (we watched a video about him), pioneer of Moroccan rap. A very politically active man, even though not associated with any political parties, Don Bigg raps about problems in Morocco in Moroccan Arabic—the first to do so. Like him, many Moroccan rappers use rap as a medium to send out a message: Moroccans should united as one and work together for the better future of the kingdom. Often their lyrics criticize the political situation or certain attitudes of Muslims. Religious groups have criticized them as bad influence on the minds of Moroccan youth, which only makes them even more popular.

We then went on to discuss Moroccans’ attitudes toward the gay and lesbian. The answer is quite straightforward: not tolerated. As the Qu’ran explicitly contains verses forbidding homosexuality, the kingdom doesn’t approve of the affection between same gender individuals. Obviously it still exists in Morocco, but it’s considered to be a taboo subject, and people just don’t talk about it. Our teacher told us that publicly displaying affection for individuals of the same sex could result in being arrested and sent to jail. How they actually execute this I have no idea. One important thing though: holding hands together on the street is not a sign of homosexuality. It merely means that the two people are very good friends, and holding hands is just a sign of friendship. A Moroccan gay organization known as “Kif Kif (“the same” in Moroccan Arabic) does exist, thought its founder is said to be abroad in Spain in fear for being arrested.

Combining the two topics together, our teacher mentioned that just a month ago, Sir Elton John was invited to perform in Rabat. An internationally-acclaimed musician, Moroccans anticipated his arrival. Yet as more and more newspapers reported on his sexuality, the religious groups tried to stop him from coming (using the same argument mentioned above). He came anyway and was a big hit. The young people of Morocco really didn’t if he’s a homosexual or heterosexual—they just want to listen to his music. I guess this really is reflecting what Morocco is like: the younger generation, which is better educated and more tolerant to new ideas, is becoming the main voice of the public and the authorities and religious groups are trying to find a way to protect the traditional and conservative values, even though more and more radical ideas are challenging them. Who knows what will happen in 50 years?


Eric: Regular routine & television

July 14, 2010

After living here for almost a month, I should provide some updates on my daily routine. Everyday around 7 am, my roommate and I wake up, get dressed, and head to ALIF by taxi. We usually wake up earlier than the rest of the family so we don’t usually get to eat breakfast at home. The taxi ride costs exactly 7.60 Dh for both of us. Depending on how early we get to school and how much homework we need to finish (procrastination doesn’t happen only in the US), we may or may not get breakfast at a nearby cafe.

Our first class is from 8 to 10 am. My break from 10 am to 2 pm is usually spent updating my blog, doing homework, checking email, having lunch, and maybe a little nap if I feel like it. This week the weather has been a lot more comfortable than the past two weeks. Walking out of the house in the morning is even a little chilly. Class again from 2 to 4 pm (in the awesome-looking classroom pictured below). Depending on whether we feel like going home or using the Internet, my roommate and I either stay at ALIF to use the computer lab, go to the ALIF Riad in the medina, or go back home. The Sun doesn’t really set until 8 or 9 pm, so sometimes we don’t even go home until 9 or 10 pm (dinner’s at 11 pm anyway). I didn’t really realize how much time I spent on the Internet in the past when it’s readily available until I get here. It’s kind of scary.

Going home, there isn’t that much to do, as my ability to have a conversation with my host-family is pretty much still zero (although I actually managed to teach 3 of my brothers what duct tape is called in English using Arabic), even though I am starting to understand some stuff they are saying. For people who wonder whether I ever took a shower since that time I went to the hamman, the answer is actually yes. It turns out that the family does shower at home without using an actual shower. I have been “showering” using a bucket and a water scoop. With the weather being extremely hot the past two weeks, I didn’t really mind showering with cold water. I did find out that one of the taps near the floor produces warm water, so it’s pretty nice.

As for laundry, so far I have only done laundry twice, and by I have done I mean my host-mom did it for me. The turnaround time is about 8 or more days, and I don’t have enough shirts to last through the period. So I have been trying to sweat as little as possible, and re-wearing some of my t-shirts. I also went out to buy my first Moroccan shirt, which looks kind of like a robe with short sleeves and is extremely comfortable to wear in the hot weather. I was pretty proud of myself for bargaining it down to 70 Dh from 110 Dh. Then I went home and had my host-family tell me that they have a relative that owns a shop and can sell me the same thing for 50 Dh. Oh well, lesson learned.

Dinner is at 11 pm, and consists of bread, small plates of salad and olives, and a main dish in the center of the table (sometimes vegetarian and sometimes with meat). Recently the family has also been giving us a kind of pudding thing (different colors ranging from white-ish, purple, to pink) at dinner. I really have no idea what it’s made of. All I know is that it’s sweet and probably is a kind of dessert. Fruit is also a must after the meal. So far I have eaten peaches, a kind of melon that looks a lot like a honeydew but has yellow skin on the outside, watermelon, and small apples. After dinner, the family either stays up a little to watch TV, or just goes to bed. My roommate and I usually go to bed earlier than the family. Read the rest of this entry ?


Eric: Sharing

July 12, 2010

Moroccans share a lot of things. More than likely, food is brought in on big plates to be put in the center of the table, where everyone shares it, instead of the individual plates Americans are used to. This is actually also pretty common in both Italy and Taiwan, where you order dishes to be shared with everyone (obviously individuals plates of food are also available if you want them). However, that’s not the only thing Moroccans share. Going to a cafe, a tea stand, or an orange juice stand, the drink you order comes in a glass or a cup, just like in the US. However, if you ask for water, it is very likely that you will see the waiter pour water into a communal cup and give it to you. He will do the same for every other customer who wants water. That cup is specifically for water, and is not rinsed after one person uses it. It’s a little hard for me to adjust to that, as I couldn’t help but think about what other people may have and what I may get if I drink from the communal cup. I am fine with doing that if it’s with my host-family, but when I have no idea what proportion of Fez’s population drinks from a certain cup, I am a little skeptical.

The sharing doesn’t stop there. Sitting in a train compartment, if you are drinking or eating something, you should offer some to people sitting in the same compartment as you, whether you know them or not. I don’t have a problem with food, but if it’s a bottle of water, I am a little hesitant. I really don’t mind if it’s someone I know, but knowing that I might still want to drink from the same bottle later, I really don’t want to get whatever the previous person may have. It’s even worse when you can visibly see what the person has, but not have enough strength to actually say no to him/her. Yes, I know I probably worry too much, but I rather stay as healthy as I can manage in a country that’s not so familiar to me, even though seeing a doctor here is very very cheap (about 10 to 15 Dh per visit).

Sharing is a very much agreed upon value. In my host-family, I obviously could eat something without offering any to my host-brothers, but that would be considered rude. It is more socially acceptable and correct to offer whatever you are having to them. Maybe Americans place too much emphasis on private property. I am really impressed with how much people trust each other here (it’s a different story when it involves tourists though), enough to the point that sharing doesn’t create much problem. We have so much to learn…


Eric: History & cooking lesson

July 2, 2010

Before coming to Morocco, I had this impression that Africa is a really hot place. When I got to Fez, I thought the weather was pretty similar to weather in the Twin Cities in the spring, which was really really nice. Well, Ispoke too soon, as for two days in a row already, the temperature high has been around 37 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit), and staying in the shade doesn’t really help.

Today we officially finished all the alphabets in Arabic, and we will be learning the alphabet song tomorrow. As part of the U of M program, we take not only a language course here at ALIF, but also another 1-credit course called “Moroccan Culture & Society,” which helps us dig deeper into the local lives. Our first class meeting was yesterday, in which we talked about Morocco as a country and its history. I probably wrote this in one of the other entries, but Morocco operates under a constitutional monarchy. The constitution was introduced after Morocco’s independence from France. However, unlike the constitutional monarchies in Europe (the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, etc.), the king of Morocco actually participates in the decision-making process and can actually dissolve the parliament if he deems the country to be in peril (a rather undefined term). Morocco has existed as a sovereign country since the 8th century, and was a sovereign country until 1912, when the French declared Morocco a protectorate as part of its campaign to expand control in North Africa (Algeria had been under French control since 1830). Trying to make Morocco a permanent part of France, the French issued the “Berber Degree” to separate the Berber population from the Arab population in 1930 as an attempt of “divide and rule”. Didn’t really work out that well as it started Morocco’s resistance toward the French, and with the rise of nationalism in 1940s, the cry for independence was getting louder and louder. In response, French exiled the king at the time, Mohammed V (now known as father of the nation). But as resistance continued, the French sought negotiation and allowed the king to return in 1953. Morocco gained its independence in 1956.

We also had a Moroccan cooking lesson today, in which we learned to make a couscous dish with chicken and a variety of vegetables. What I got out of it is that Moroccan cooking doesn’t really involve much cooking. All we did was chop up onions, zucchinis, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and pumpkin. We then put pieces of chicken, and the vegetables into a big pot, added water, and waited for it to boil. The couscous was put in another pot that can be put on top of the first pot to be steamed for 20 minutes. The rest was pretty much waiting. It did look very good when the dish was plated on huge plates though.

Those two huge plates of couscous were more than enough to feed 12 people. There was plenty of food left when everyone was full (couscous does expand in the stomach though). This was at around 9 pm. I went home, and my host-family had dinner at 11 pm. Trying not to hurt anyone’s feeling, I ate very slowly. I think this may just be the first time I didn’t want to see food in recent months…


Eric: Medina tour

June 28, 2010

We had a guided Medina tour on the first Saturday in Morocco after the program started. We walked down into the medina, first stopping by a communal bakery. Families living in the medina make their own bread, known as khobz, and then put the raw dough in plates with a piece of cloth for identification. The plates of dough are then sent to the bakery, where the master baker would put the dough into the wood-burning oven and take the khobz out when they are done. He also could remember which dough belongs to which family and put the khobz on the right plates. The bakery also sells other types of bread.

We were then taken into this very narrow alley, which was only one person wide, as opposed to regular medina roads where about three people can fit (or one person and a donkey). Considering the population of Fez, the streets of the medina are always crowded, and we had to stop several times so we could stay as a group. Every so often we had to flatten ourselves to the side of the streets so we didn’t get trampled by carts, donkeys, or tiny motorized carts.

On our way to the Medrasa, which could mean a school, or lodging place for students, we came across this little kid who apparently knew our guide. He first recited the first five lines of the Quran, proceeded to say goodbye in Darija, Modern Standard Arabic, English, French, and Dutch, and then sang “Twinkle twinkle little star.” It was pretty impressive for a child of his age. According to our guide, he is the best student at the school he goes to. The food market was also on the way. Like in Italy, there were people selling seafood, vegetables, fruits, meat, and more. The difference is that each vendor has his own cubicle, there are a lot of cats around the place, and markets are a lot cleaner in Italy. Taiwan’s market would probably stand in between Italy and Morocco in terms of cleanliness.

Fez is still the spiritual center of Morocco today, having one of the most important mosques in the Arab world—the Qaraouyine Mosque, currently the 4th largest in the world and the 2nd in Morocco, after Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca built recently. Themosque also is considered the oldest continuous operating university in the world, starting at 859 AD. Since it is a mosque, non-Muslim cannot enter. We did peek at the inside (see picture below) from one of its 14 gates (appropriate for the mosque’s size) in the medina. But the religious school (madrasa) is open for public to visit. We visited one that has ceased operation for the sole purpose of history and tourism (meaning they charge you at the door for a ticket).

The madrasa has really impressive exterior and interior. Walls are decorated with facades, curving of Arabic calligraphy, and different geometric shapes of different colors. The wood windows are also very well decorated. According to our guide, the madrasa did not just study religion, but also the sciences. For a student to be admitted to the religious school, he has to recite the entire book of Holy Quran (114 chapters of different lengths) by memory.

After the madrasa, we visited one of the city’s textile operations, which makes scarves, head scarves, bed sheets, and different fabrics that later could be made into other cloth items. We each had a head scarf wrapped around our heads in different styles. The people there (who obviously have done this before) told everyone to put our cameras on a bench (ready in the middle of the ground), and just started to snap group pictures. I got a black one, and apparently looked like some kind of terrorist/ninja when my face is covered according someone else in the tour.

The last place we visited was the tanneries—the leather making places, which are one of the most famous place in Fez, mentioned in almost every travel guide. Animal skins are first soaked in water mixed with lime for a few days, then moved to different vats to be dyed into different colors. The place didn’t smell very good because of the use of pigeon poop, which contains ammonia that helps soften the leather. Even though we were watching from a balcony above and had a sprig of mint in our hands, the smell just kept coming. It got pretty gross after standing there for a while.

At the end of the tour, the guide pretty much left us in the middle of the medina. Following the signs set up to help guide tourists, a group of successfully made it to Cafe Clock following the signs directing towards Bab Boujeloud. I actually remember the way home from there, maybe I have gotten used to Fez…?


Eric: Friday

June 27, 2010

Friday is a big deal in Morocco. It’s kind of the equivalent of Sunday in the US, when many stores are closed and people go to the mosque. A lot of men go to sit in café to have tea and watch TV for the rest of the day. I like Friday because it means the weekend is coming. Not that school really is something I dislike, but it’s nice to have breaks. Me and my roommate overslept today and woke up at 7:50 am. As we both have class at 8 am, we scrambled to go out to take a taxi to school. I was out waiting for my roommate, and our host-dad went out to get breakfast for us. I, having no way of telling him that we have class in a few minutes and won’t be eating breakfast (he could have understood me but still insisted that we eat breakfast), could only watch him go and return with bread. Feeling bad and trying not to hurt our host-family’s feeling, we grabbed the bread and ran to get in a taxi.

We had a free couscous lunch today, courtesy of ALIF, and it consisted of huge plates of couscous with vegetables and chicken piled on top and watermelon for desert afterwards. It’s kind of weird how many of us feel that everything tastes so good here and just keep on eating. I doubt that I will eat that much in the US when the same food is put in front of me (it’s possible though).

After class, a group of us went across the street to the café to watch the World Cup. I didn’t really pay that much attention as I was taking advantage of the free wireless Internet. We later went to a bar in the hotel I stayed in the first night to watch the match between Spain and Chile. Bars do exist in Morocco, you just need to know where to find them. And even though Morocco is a Muslim country, alcohol apparently isn’t banned, as the bar has a wine list, and everyone in the bar sitting at a table was having some type of alcohol as far as I could tell. Other than beer, most alcohols do cost more than what they cost in the US (from what other people were saying anyway. I had no idea).

We went home a little later than usual, and our host-family somehow ate dinner earlier than usual today. But our host-mom still made us something, which was really nice of her (well, she sat down to eat too, so it could just have been that she hadn’t eaten yet also). We went out after dinner again to our new favorite place in the medina—Café Clock, which has staff who speaks English, and serves really nice drinks for reasonable prices. Here’s a thing about Moroccan culture: if you are a boy, parents are a lot more relaxed about the time you have to be home. If you are out late, they usually just tell you to watch out for yourself. On the other hand, if you are a girl, parents are a lot more protective. Many girls on our program or studying at ALIF have curfews, and they usually have to be accompanied by someone if they are out after dark (a host-sister, roommate, etc.). Probably not for no reason. I would feel a little uncomfortable walking by myself at night, even though I probably won’t get the harassment that some girls experience.


Eric: Moroccan Etiquette

June 26, 2010

Living with a host family in Morocco means I meet a lot of people, including both relatives and friends of the family. Thus, greeting and proper etiquette are very important. For people who I meet for the first time, they generally give me a handshake (right hand only) and then place the hand on their hearts. They greet the family a little differently. In the in addition to the handshake, they also kiss each other on both cheeks. I did this first time yesterday, and it was a good thing I learned how to do it in Italy, otherwise it could have been very awkward. The trick is not actually to kiss, but rather make the sound when you place your cheek next to the other person’s. On the other hand, for the family members, the normal greeting would include a handshake and some form of verbal greeting, which I am still learning. My highlight of the day was that for the first time since I have been here, I managed to have a conversation with my host mother, in Arabic, which though only involved normal day greeting (“Hello, how are you. Good, fine”) and lasted like a minute but still a big step. Those Arabic lessons are definitely paying off.

We also had our on-site orientation yesterday. I did not know that Fez is a city with 1.5 million (possibly 2 million) inhabitants, which is a lot for a city that’s really not that big. I also learned many things about Moroccan culture, such as that the goal of a male–female relationships is usually marriage, and public displays of affection iare considered to be offensive and in poor taste. I can see how Westerners would offend the local people, with our emphasis placed on freedom of expression (of every kind apparently). Many people have the impression that women are not equal to men in a Muslim country. This is not so much in the case in Morocco, where law has been modified to give women rights men have. The king, Mohammed VI, has been reforming the country ever since he became king in 1999. After the orientation, people on the Minnesota program were invited to have lunch with the program coordinator here, which was quite delicious, but lasted all the way into the afternoon class. Lunch time really is between noon to 3 pm in Morocco, and is considered to be family time, which is quite similar to Italy.

After class today, me and my roommate went across the street to one of the cafes to watch the World Cup and saw the US beat Algeria. It’s quite an interesting experience, as most Moroccans root for Algeria (being the only team from the Arab world to compete). So whenever Algeria misses a shot, there were both cheers and groans in the cafe. It’s a good thing that we don’t have people super into football (as they call it in everywhere else outside of the US) with us and in the cafe, otherwise it could very well have turned ugly.

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