Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Off to the capital today, Rabat, in our Land Cruiser with our very adept driver, Azadine. One thing I'm loving so far is that we'll spend the month touring via three Land Cruisers, not a huge tour bus, so it feels so much more personal to be on street level. Of course, it's also then quite a rush to sit in the front seat and see how close you come to getting in a wreck, over and over again (but the funny thing is, we have yet to see one). Rabat is smaller -- only about a million people, cleaner, and we saw blue sky today (and also lots of car dealerships). We had four very engaging lectures today, one by the President of the Human Rights Commission (someone who was himself imprisoned for 11 years for being part of an anti-monarchy Marxist/Leninist group in the 70s), and then from experts on the history of Judaism and Christianity in Morocco. To sum it up, let's just say that both have very long traditions in Morocco, and that both are practiced freely. The details beyond that are too complicated for a blog, but it's important to note that the sometimes prevalent Western view of all Muslims disliking / disagreeing with all Jews is completely false. One the of speakers, a professor, reminded us that being Jewish is not synonomous with being Israeli. Food for thought. We're off to Ifrane tomorrow, where it supposedly will be a bit cooler near the mountains.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Days 1-2-3 of my month-long journey in Morocco (thanks to the University of Arizona's Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Fulbright-Hays program): I had three seats to myself on the flight from Minneapolis to Paris (good news in a bad economy?), so I was rested and ready to go when I got to the Casablanca airport. Thanks to Hicham, my friendly local taxi driver / tour guide, I got a tour of the city on the way to the hotel. We passed "Casa's California," palm tree-lined streets and huge mansions, as well as the King of Saudi Arabia's vacation home. I'm sure I'll have one like it someday. :) The traffic is horendous, and we almost collided with a Land Rover and a donkey cart at the same time. We had an interesting talk about everything from Moroccan history (the airport area was the US base during WWII) to how Moroccan women make lousy girlfriends because they're too greedy. He made me promise to pass on his business card to any of my single friends, although I tried to assure him that American women weren't his answer to high-maintenance Moroccan girls. After settling into the hotel by myself (I got here a day ahead of the group), I went to a local seafood restaurant and did my best to decipher the French on the menu. As it turns out, pommes frites was the only thing I could read! The nice waiter then brought me an English menu so I could order more than just carbs. The jet lag hit me at 3 a.m. and I had a glance at all of the street vendors firing up their stoves to cook breakfast for the dock workers headed to work at the port across the street. It's nice to be so close to the water and to smell the sea air from the Atlantic. Early this afternoon the group arrived in 3 Land Rovers (yay - no tour bus for the month!) and we set out to eat a yummy Moroccan lunch and begin siteseeing. Kudos go to Bill from New Jersey for bravely ordering sheep brains and cleaning the dish - I admire your sense of adventure, although I can't quite replicate it. Visiting Hassan II Mosque after lunch (largest mosque outside of Mecca, holds up to 600,000 people), it was easy to feel so insignificant next to this huge, ornate building. I only wish we could have toured inside. Our afternoon coffee came by the seashore on the patio of KFC - gotta love the colonel's worldwide influence! Watching the Spain/Portugal game in the hotel, with cheers in French, Arabic, and other languages was great fun, and I can hardly wait to see what the upcoming month will bring! Off to the capital city, Rabat, tomorrow.