Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bazaar Things

You know that blog I posted about how wonderful Spain was?

Well imagine that and imagine a place that is nothing like that. And this would be Morocco. A mere strait separates the two, but they are a world apart.

But let me be fair....Morocco was wonderful too. Just in very different ways... if you're willing to have some patience and a mind for adventure. I think I can now officially say I "rocked the casbah". My Aunt Becky and Uncle Jeff were in Morocco and they hated it, so I wasn't sure what to expect. They were in Tangier though- and everyone I've spoken with said Tangier is the armpit of Morocco and most people who go there don't enjoy it. Sorry Aunt Bec- I wish you had had a better experience.

So before we got to Casablanca we sat outside Gibraltar for an entire day waiting to bunker (fuel). But the water was much too choppy for the bunker ship to extend a line to our ship. Sound confusing? Yeah, it did to me, as well. But finally we got our fuel and we had one heck of a bumpy ride to Casablanca. I didn't feel seasick, but I did feel quite dizzy and spent most of the day lying down in my cabin. Our staff also tried to organize some activities for the additional unexpected day at sea. We came up with the idea of a Rock/Paper/Scissors Tournament and my clever title was "We've got the Rock (i.e. Gibraltar!)- You bring the Paper and Scissors."

When we finally got to Casablanca and were just about ready to pull into the port, the British Captain came on the PA system and said something that reminded me of a quote from All About Eve: "Fasten your seatbelts, it's gonna be a bumpy ride!"

Was it ever. We took this turn which basically made us pop-a-wheelie (if the ship were to have wheels) and caused the entire ship to lean over far to one side. I fell out of my chair into a glass table and I have a huge bruise on my entire upper arm to prove it. My friends think it's funny and have been taking pictures of it. Maybe I'll post one. Maybe I won't. (I know you guys are dying to see it. How do I know this? Because you were all fascinated that time in NY when I slid through a puddle and fell between the subway and the platform and had a huge bruise on my thigh.)

How do I get so off-track? Where was I? Morocco. Right. So I was a Trip Leader (chaperon) for a trip to Marrakech. Marrakech is a city with a rampart (wall) with a Medina (Islamic city) contained within it. In that Medina is the souk (dust-filled open arena with a bunch of narrow winding paths situated with thousands of merchants all luring you to buy). In the souk are monkeys, snake charmers, donkey carts, beasts of burden, vendors selling orange juice, figs, and dates, fortune tellers, and merchants selling their wares. Most of the women are covered in head-dresses and some are even covered so that only their eyes are peaking out. The entire city smells strongly of incense. Every so often there is a loud chanting/singing that echoes within the rampart. That would be the Islamic Call to Prayer. I learned all this from our Tour Guide, Mohammad.

There was one point where I thought we'd lose all the students. Narrow alleyways and tons of people and construction. Somehow I herded all 41 of them together and we made it through.
After a tumultuous trek through the souk, trying to avoid the high-pressure sales tactics we went to this Moroccan dinner with Camels and Belly Dancers and a horse show. Here are Nate (Dustin), Sarah, me and Rose:

The food has been amazing here. It reminds me a lot of Greece. For lunch the other day we had Lamb with dates and potatoes and olives in this amazing sauce. And for dinner we had cous-cous with some sort of meatballs and fried eggs. For dessert there were large bowls of fresh oranges. They were so sweet they almost tasted like sugar had been injected into them.

Today we visited the Ourika Valley which is home to the Berbers who have inhabited Morocco for many centuries. They are the Mountain People and we were fortunate enough to visit one of their homes today. The hosts were Fatima and Mohammad (not to be confused with our tour guide Mohammad.) Their home is in the Ourika Valley and it is made of adobe. You have to walk down a muddy footpath to get there. Their home is quite large and it is open-air. This was interesting since it was pouring down rain. It felt damp in there, but the top was covered by a tarp. There was a big kettle in the kitchen and the smell kind of reminded me of girl scout camp. They served us this decadent mint tea and bread that they had harvested by hand. The bread was hot and delicious and we dipped it in this olive oil that was also home-pressed. There was also homemade butter and honey. In Mohammad and Fatima's back yard they grow olive trees, orange trees, and avocado trees. They own several cows and some sheep. They are very self-sufficient. Believe it or not, they also have a steam room! It is not uncommon for Berber homes to have a steam room to rejuvenate, cleanse and aid their breathing. I think the visit to the Berber home was my favorite part of the visit.

Here I am in the Ourika Valley. I love this place!
This was after the rain, but it was still quite chilly up in the Mountains.

We went back to the souk for lunch and to bargain with the vendors. I am still trying to figure out if I got screwed buying some souvenirs. I did buy some cool stuff, but I got confused with the diiram exchange rate and this guy was pressuring me and I felt rushed. His name was Mohammed. (Big friggin surprise there.) These women who did Henna also lured me over for a "free sample" which turned out to cost $7. I don't even like Henna. I did not want it on my hand. And I did not want to spend $7. This woman named Fatima (quelle supris!) yelled at me and told me she has starving babies to feed. She was demanding $50 US dollars. No way. No how. I looked her straight in the eye and told her how much I hate Henna in the first place (I really do- maybe it's my imagination but my whole hand feels tingly and I feel like I have Moroccan Rosacia or something). A free sample means "free" in most languages and Fatima is lucky to get $7. So now I have this crappy orange stuff on my hand, which is smudged because I washed it off before it was dry. I waited a total of fifteen minutes, but I still have a pretty solid marking.

Even with the pushy vendors, I am still digging Morocco. The Berber home and the sensory wonders made up for all of that.

After a three and a half hour bus ride back to Casablanca I was exhausted. I was supposed to have dinner with a Moroccan family, but there were too many students signed up, so I stayed back. My buddy Becca in the field office will hook me up with another cool trip somewhere else to make up for it. Instead a few of us played a game similar to charades in the faculty-staff lounge. It was Jason's last night here and he was on my team and guess what our team was called? Uh huh. You guessed it- Cafe Con Leche!

So starting Thursday night we've got an 8 day stretch at sea after our departure from Casablanca and before we get to Namibia. So who is going to leave comments on my blog to keep me entertained? ..........Here's looking at you, Kid.


Angela said...

I guess the email alerting me that there is a new entry in your blog is a bit slow!!! I couldn't wait to read the blog after chatting with you. Everything you described sounded just like when I had been there. Regrettably, we never made it to the mountains.
I'm glad you had a great time!! And 8 days at sea?? I would definitely have "cabin fever"!!!!

Mendy said...

You do such a fantastic job describing everything, I feel like I'm there with you. :) It seems odd that they would put Henna on your palm; I wouldn't like that either.

Looking forward to more of your adventures.


Dara said...

Stupid Henna Jerk Woman! I HAAAATE pushy people. $50....hahahaha.....some people are suckers or fearful for their safety and just pay it....YEAH RIGHT!
Although, I wish I had been there to see her try to sucker you...haha.....

Mexican Jumpin' Frijolier Than Thou said...


I *finallY* have learned how to work this thing...ha!

Hi Laurie! *waving hand*

Hi Dara! *waving hand*

So did you tell your homies Mohammad & Fatima that you have a Fátima homie in NYC...of Mexican descent? Ha!

Did I come into mind when you were surrounded by Fatimas? hhmm? hhmmm?

I want MORE pics!!!

Laurie said...

You guys are cracking me up.

Yes, but NONE of them were as cool as MY Mexicana Fatima back home.....not close. But I did find you a nice "hand" (wink, wink!)

Alena said...

The Ourika Valley looks amazing in your photo!

Some more questions for you, Laurie.
1) What has Semester at Sea said to the passengers about pirates? Are there any security concerns sailing the waters around Africa and Asia?

2) Do the faculty go on the excursions you are describing? Do faculty also chaperon? How do they prepare you to do the chaperoning when you haven't been to the location before yourself? How is the land transportation arranged? In other words, did they charter a bus or something to get you to Muhammad and Fatima's house? You had 40 students in your group. Where were the other groups -- is there some sort of excursion rotation so a location isn't hit by hundreds of students all at once?

Your descriptions and photos are exciting! Thank you for sharing your adventures.

Laurie said...

Hi Alena!

1) They actually re-routed us to avoid pirates. Instead of Morocco, Namibia, South Africa and Mauritius we were supposed to be going to Italy, Egypt, and Istanbul but that involved going thru the Gulf of Aden to get to India. Their answer to pirates is "Our ship is the fastest in the world" :)

2) Yep! Faculty and Staff pick our trips just like the students do. Faculty or Staff may be Trip Leaders and Bus Leaders (for trips that have more than one bus they have additional leaders). We aren't really guiding the trip, as we do have a Tour Guide, but instead we are taking attendance and keeping everyone together and making sure that no one is left behind.

We took a chartered bus to get to the Berber Home and to Marrakech.

There are literally dozens of other trips, in addition to students doing independent travel, so the small towns are not bombarded. You have a huge choice in where to go, what to do, how much you want to spend. Some people went to Fez or Rabat or did day trips in Casablanca.

Faculty also have what is called FDP (Faculty Directed Practicums) which requires students to take certain field trips. Those faculty are the trip leaders for those trips. Some ports require such trips.

Hope that answers your question!

Alena said...

Thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions! I really appreciate hearing all the details. It sounds like such a well organized voyage. And I'm very glad you are safe from pirates!