Posts Tagged ‘medina’

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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.

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Eric: Food

August 4, 2010

This is one of my favorite topics to write about. In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of pictures of food in this blog. I think food is a really good representation of a culture, and I try to eat as local as possible. Among many other things, Moroccans do eat many western food such as crepes, pizza, McDonald’s, and omelets. I try my best not to join the crowd.

When it comes to Moroccan food, most people first think of couscous. I do admit that I was worried that I will be having couscous every single meal before I arrived in Fez. Turns out that I was just scaring myself. Other than the lunch sponsored by ALIF and the cooking lesson, I didn’t really eat that much couscous. My host-family hasn’t prepared couscous as a meal, and I don’t usually see it on a menu when I go out to a cafe or small restaurant. They do have them in big fancy restaurants for tourists, possibly as a response to the stereotype. Typically couscous comes with chicken and a lot of vegetables which are cooked so tender that they break apart when you try to use a fork to pick them up.

The national drink of Morocco is mint tea, also known as “Moroccan Whiskey” by the locals. It is made with green tea, a lot of mint, and a lot of sugar. Moroccans have really strong sweet tooths, so sugar is always added in the tea before brought to the table. It’s usually also boiling hot when it’s brought to the table, no matter the season. The only place I know in Fez that serves iced mint tea is a cafe owned by a non-Moroccan. Many people, men in the medina specifically, go to a cafe or tea place to drink tea with friends, strangers, or by oneself (rarely happens). The tea place, most famous for mint tea in Fez according one of my Moroccan friends, is usually packed from the morning all the way to midnight.

Tajine, another thing Morocco is famous for, actually refers to the cookware instead of the dish. It is a pot usually made of clay with a flat base and a cone-shaped cover. The food is piled at the bottom of the base, and then cooked on fire with the cover on. All sort of things could be cooked in a tajine. My host family pretty much cooks every meal except breakfast using a tajine, and so far I have been served chicken, beef, lamb, and a lot of vegetables. I sometimes also get eggs with some kind of salty meat (not bacon, as Morocco is a Muslim country) at a cafe across the street from ALIF.

Bread is an essential component of a meal (unless you are having couscous). It is both a tool and a food. You would use a piece of bread to scoop whatever is in the plate, and eat the entire thing. I have been having bread for almost every single meal I had with my host-family (there was one night when we had spaghetti and the other when we had a kind of really thin noodle with powdered sugar on top), and I am surprisingly not sick of them yet. Breakfast, though we have been waking up earlier and not had breakfast at home for a while, usually also consists of bread (usually French bread) and an assortment of things to put on it.

Olives appear on the table at every meal, even breakfast. It’s not really a main dish or a course, but just something to eat while waiting for the main course, or to change the flavor in the mouth a little bit when having too much of something else. The olives here are usually preserved in some sort of brine. Some of them are further mixed with tomatoes and carrots to give them more flavors.

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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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Eric: Late night shopping with my host brother

July 19, 2010

Tomorrow, I will be going onto a ALIF-sponsored excursion to the Sahara Desert. We had our orientation on Tuesday, in which the program director mentioned a couple of things that it’s best to have but I don’t have. So my roommate and I decided to go to the medina for what we needed. We also took one of our host-brothers with us, who turned out to be very very helpful. Even though he’s only 12, he knows how much things should cost. It was kind of funny to see the vendor’s reaction when he first offered a price, and our host-brother would tell us what he thought the price should be. Some of them looked at our host-brother first before offering a price.

For the desert trip, we were directed to wear sandals with straps (no flip-flops, as they are more than likely going to make walking on the sand difficult or just get lost in the sand), a headscarf, jeans (we will be riding camels, and they have long, rough, dirty hairs), and bring along swimsuit as both hotels we are staying at will have swimming pools.

It’s really interesting to observe the vendors’ behavior. They can obviously tell that we are not locals and by that standard should pay a higher price (as much as they tell us that they give the locals and tourists the same price). Not all of them speak English, but they all know how to say “I will give you a good price” in various broken forms (“I give you good price”, “good price, eh?”, to females: “you are a pretty flower, I have good price for you”). They also try very hard to get people’s attention, and when it comes to Asians, they yell out any Asian countries (or what they think is an Asian country). I have gotten so many “Japan? Japan?” it’s not even funny anymore.

My favorite quotes of the day, coming from the vendor I bought my Moroccan shirt from: “you don’t buy fish from the beach” in an attempt to explain that he is selling real cloth made in the Sahara. After I put on the shirt to see if it fit (I was wearing a collar shirt inside), he proceeded to tell me that I will look like a “Mohammed couscous” if I wear the shirt without my own shirt inside. I guess that’s a compliment (?). After some bargaining, I got the shirt for 90Dh. Just when we were about done with our purchases with the cloth seller, our host-dad walked by. A shop owner himself, I was pretty sure that he was thinking we were being ripped off. He later bargained a pair of sandals for me (or at least I think he did, as he had this conversation in Moroccan Arabic with the vendor, and both of them were kind of yelling at each other).

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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…?

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Eric: First day of class

June 23, 2010

Today is the first day of class for the Arabic Language and Culture in Morocco program summer session II. Depending on the level of MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) or CMA (Colloquial Moroccan Arabic), different classes have different meeting times. As far as I could tell, there are only two kinds of schedules: have class between 8 to 10 am and 2 to 4 pm, or have class between 10 am to 12 pm and 4 to 6 pm. Good thing me and my roommate have the same schedule, even though we are in different levels.

We woke up early today to get to school so I could get my textbooks. ALIF wasn’t open yet, so we went a block away to a café for breakfast. I got a cheese sandwich (4 pieces of toast with cheese in between), orange juice (fresh-squeezed), and mint tea for 22 Dh (a little more than 2 USD). Definitely a good deal.

Despite the breakfast being so cheap, books however do cost approximately the same as in the US (possibly more). Probably because the textbooks I am using are published by Georgetown University and are the same ones that most English speakers use when learning Arabic. I got mine right at 8 am when the bell rang and ran up to third floor to join my classmates.

As I learned, Arabic is a language with a set number of alphabets, each of which is associated with a particular sound. So like English or any Western language really, you can pronounce a word by just looking at it, even though you have no idea what it means. It’s really different from Chinese, which uses characters that don’t really associate with their sounds, but you might be able to guess the meaning of the character based on what it looks like. For the first period, we learned the first 4 alphabets out of the 28, which are called alif, baa, taa, thaa. I tried typing those in Arabic, but as you read Arabic from right to left, typing them in a left to right written document creates problem. Our teacher speaks English and is really funny with his over-emphasized pronunciations and different facial expressions.

Two hours flew past, and I used wireless Internet in the ALIF garden before meeting up with my roommate to go out for lunch. It turned out that the Wi-Fi in my host-family somehow just stopped working, so now ALIF is my only access to free Internet. We had lunch at the other café that’s one block from ALIF (there are only two), at which I ordered a maghretta pizza, and ended up getting what I think is a seafood pizza, as there were pieces of fish (I thought it tasted like tuna) on the thin crust with olive, cheese, tomato sauce, and probably a lot of other things that I just didn’t know were there. It was the first time I had fish on a pizza, and it didn’t taste bad.

The afternoon period involved some hardcore Arabic pronunciation instruction. We learned so many different sounds, some of which do not exist in English (such as kh, which involves making a sound really deep in the throat, kind of like before spitting), and tried to pronounce some many different words that we had no idea the meaning of. It was pretty satisfying to see progress immediately though. Our teacher in this period speaks perfect Arabic (both MSA and CMA), French, and English (flawless without much of an accent), and also has a really expressive face (probably a requirement when they recruit language teachers I guess). I think I will be able to learn a lot in the 6 weeks.

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Eric: More exploring

June 20, 2010

Sometimes you  realize there are things that are the same no matter where you go. For examples: brothers always fight (if there are 4 of them, the frequency is even higher); mama’s cooking is always the best; mom’s lecture on not watching TV when eating or not playing so much video games sounds the same (no matter in what language). I also found it amusing that people here always assume I am from Japan at first—so many people said こんにちは (good afternoon in Japanese) to me, it’s getting old… I can’t really blame anybody. How can I expect anyone to tell the difference between Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese (these 4 groups are most likely to be mixed up) if they are not from East Asia? It’s like asking me to tell whether someone is German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian. I just can’t do that, and I am usually amazed to find someone that can.

Like a normal weekend, I slept in today, woke up, had breakfast, and continued to doing nothing. There really isn’t that much to do in the house except for watching TV (I have been watching the World Cup, and I don’t usually watch sports at all). I really don’t want to give my host-family the impression that I can’t live without Internet (even though they probably already figured this out), so I try to go online (that is, bring my computer to the living room) just three times a day (noon, afternoon, late night). I also finally managed to remember what some of the food is called. The flat bread we eat everyday for lunch and dinner is called khobz. They are broken into smaller pieces, and we break off even smaller pieces from it to scoop from the main dish in the center (which are cooked in a tajine).

In the afternoon we went out to walk in the medina and around the town again. The medina is full of narrow roads that follow no particular order in getting people to places. I think I wouldn’t be able to walk back home even with a map. Plus, there were distractions from every direction: people selling carpets, head scarves, shoes, and other goods.

After heading for god-knows-where for about an hour with my roommate following one of my host-brother’s direction, we got out of the medina and took a taxi to a slightly newer part of the city. There, we walked by the royal palace, which is still being used whenever the king, Mohammed VI, or the royal family comes to Fès. The royal palace is gigantic. Taking up 80 hectares of land, it stretches all the way from the old medina to the newer part of the town. Regular people are not allowed into the palace, and despite my travel guide saying no photography, we saw quite a few people taking pictures and we followed their examples (well, only the large door with one guard, who has a large gun, on the side. I didn’t dare take pictures of the side wall where there are more security guards and police, all with guns).

Walking on the 8-lane road in front of the palace gate, we reached Ville Nouvelle and stopped to get something to eat. Feeling more like drinking something, I ordered a banana juice, which was a glass of white liquid that tasted like banana-flavored milk. Not my favorite, but it wasn’t bad. We ended our exploration by taking a taxi home.

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