Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dinner with a Moroccan

Semester at Sea blog post

The bus pulled up. The street was crowded with Moroccans shopping, selling, on their way to dinner or meeting up with friends. It was nighttime and the city of Casablanca had transformed. There wasn’t a tourist in sight and 18 Semester at Sea students and staff stepped out of our safe confides of the George Washington Academy bus and into the scene. Fatima, our host for the night, led us to her apartment across the street, up two floors, and welcomed us into her home for the evening.

Fifty-seven students were place into small groups and invited to join eight families for an “Evening with a Moroccan Family,” a semester at sea organized field program. This included being invited to the family’s home, conversation and dinner.

“It is a glimpse that you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise,” SAS Professor Linda Kobert said.

Kobert and eight other SAS voyagers spent an evening with two families in one house.

“We had great conversations,” Kobert said. “We talked about everything from arranged marriages, the school where this guy teaches, children and how they were behaving.”

In Fatima’s house SAS voyagers crowded into her one bedroom apartment and enjoyed a traditional Moroccan dinner, which consisted of a few courses: a salad course, a meat dish, desert and traditional Moroccan mint tea.

For some students, this was their first opportunity to interact with a Moroccan one-on-one.

“The other trips show the touristy part of Morocco and I think this trip was one of the few trips that allows you to go one-on-one personally with a person from another country and ask them what their life is like in the country and you probably cant do that in a Market place or a restaurant,” Howard Li, SAS student, said.

Krystal Everett, SAS student, said there is a strong contrast from walking around tourist sites and observing places to participating in the culture.

“They are letting their guard down, being hospitably, feeding you and I felt like that is more of a personal experience than other trips offer,” Everett said.

During the trip many students learned Moroccan woman aren’t allowed to be addressed or have their photos taken without their husband’s or a man’s consent. Kobert said for her the trip provided an opportunity to learn what it is like to be a Moroccan woman.

“The wife of the host didn’t even join us for dinner,” Kobert said. “It gave me the chance to see the dynamics between men and women, between the father and the little girl and the kids.”

Kobert said this intimate experience created an atmosphere of trust and friendship.
“By the end of the night, we were doing three kisses, which means very good friends,” Kobert said. “Something happened there.”

Friday, September 17, 2010

“Morocco Loves Hip-Hop”

In the Marrakesh market place vendors hassle tourists to buy their mass-produced souvenirs. “Come look at the beautiful crafts. They match your beautiful eyes,” the vendors told me. But, I didn’t want their dinky camel statues or Moroccan hats — I was looking for a Moroccan Hip-Hop CD.

This kind of music goes against their way of life — their traditions, religion and laws (No one is allowed to speak ill of the King of Morocco or criticize the government).

Hip-hop in the United States is about relationships, love, sex, and drugs. We all dance, sing and listen, but for Moroccan rappers music is their freedom of speech.

My quest to find Moroccan hip-hop began with a documentary in Video Journalism class. The film talked about artists such as Fnaire and H-Kayne working together in 2005 to put together Morocco’s first hip-hop concert “Morocco Loves Hip-Hop.” They not only struggled with getting sponsors, but with their family's blessing. Their songs speak about Moroccan politics, important historical events, and change.

I was worried about finding the CDs in Morocco because I didn’t know the language and knew the music was offensive to the majority of the population.

The first day, I got the courage to ask my waiter about Moroccan hip-hop, but he immediately said it didn’t exist. Then a few days later while I was on my Semester at Sea trip to Marrakesh I asked my guide, Miriam. She looked at me for a while and finally said she knew where to find them in the market.

There was a small stand pushed between a restaurant and convenience store. At first glance I could only see the typical “sounds of Morocco” CDs, but after asking the man and reassuring him that I really did want hip-hop music he pulled out a small box from under the counter. The CD covers were cracked, they weren’t covered in plastic wrap and the artwork looked like it was made on a home computer. I found the artists I knew and paid the man the equivalent of 5 dollars for each one.

Back at the hotel I was sitting down by the pool in my blue Moroccan dress with my friend. A hotel employee was passing by and complimented us on our dresses. After talking for a little bit and learning that his name was Aman, I asked him about the CDs I had in my hand.

Immediately he got excited and began talking about the different artists, where they came from, and how important the messages of their songs were. He made me promise that I would translate the songs, analyze the lyrics and learn from them.

I knew at that moment I held something important to the future of their culture.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Hammam Experience

I stood naked in Morocco.

Despite spending the past six days in Morocco visiting a Children’s Village, ridding Camels through the palm groves of Marrakesh and exploring the interior of the third largest mosque in the world I didn’t understand the culture until I bathed among the women of Morocco.

The Moroccan bathhouse or Hammam was situated down an alleyway far from any average tourist destination. This was my first independent trip in Morocco and I was skeptical when the cab driver dropped me off near Hammam Ziani on a street populated with only men.

Inside the Hamman a man appeared and asked me if I spoke French. I told him no only English and a little Italian. He shook his head at both, but pointed to a menu with a British flag placed on it. I choose the most expensive package. He handed me the printed receipt and sent me up a flight of stairs. At the top a woman took the receipt and I paid her 300 dirham. She handed me a basket of soap, a wrap, and pointed to a changing room while telling me to take off all of my clothes but my underpants. I finished tightly tying the wrap around me and opened the curtain of the dressing room. Standing just outside I saw two Moroccan women pulling off all of their robes.

Out in the streets of Morocco the only interactions I had were with men trying to get me to buy things in their store or in the taxi’s. This place was only for women. It was their place.

The spa worker led me down some stairs into a small steam room with marble bowls, chairs and faucets. She took my wrap and instructed me to wash myself with black goo. I sat at on a stool in front of a bowl with my arms wrapped around my chest. I had no idea how I was going to wash myself and stay as modest as I could. The bowl didn’t have drain so the water spilled over the sides. The steam was like a sheet and covered the room. Several minutes of uncertainty and rewashing occurred until a different spa worker came in and lead me to a bigger room with marble slabs in the center surrounded by more drain-less bowls and stools. I laid down on what seemed like a butchers block and she proceeded to scrub me so hard that it felt like I was being tenderized for a meal.

The next step, after being skinned alive, is to marinate for about 30 minutes. I was first covered in a grainy brown substance and wrapped in plastic. During that time two Moroccan women had walked in and began washing each other at one of the bowls. They were talking together in Arabic, laughing, and what seemed to be joking around with the spa workers.

The women were wearing thongs and black lacy underwear. Underneath all of those robes they aren’t that different from me.

I got up and looked around sure that the Moroccan women would be staring at me analyzing all of my flaws like at spas in the United States. But they didn’t and I realized they weren’t judging each other or me. I felt comfortable and almost accepted into their lives because I was taking part in this tradition.

Ablution in the Islamic society is apart of their daily lives. They have to clean themselves before being in Gods presence. Some of these women come once or twice a week to the Hammam.

It was empowering to be among these woman who completely mask their identity to society, but come together in a secure place, reveled their bodies and gossip about their lives.

After rinsing off and redressing in my skirt and black shirt I walked outside feeling welcomed into their lives because I had been apart of such an intimate part of their lives. I saw them without their robes on and heard them speaking to one another without asking their husband’s permission.

On the street, however, I was again confronted with the men staring as I walked with my hair uncovered. As I quickened my walk I passed by a woman and her children. I gave her a friendly smile, but I didn’t receive one in return. At the most basic level we are both woman, but there are many different customs that divide us.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Moroccan shoes

The Moroccan streets are filled with bicycles, motorcycles, people walking and cars rushing by. Along each of these streets there are small vendors selling metal goods such as lamps and jewelry, clothing and/or spices piled high.

And as you strolling through the Moroccan market streets the aroma of the saffron, curry, Argan nut oil and cumin is overwhelming. Of course, there is a lot of pollution in Morocco and garbage that lines the roads. People love to j-walk and driving is a sport in Morocco. The only rule here in Morocco, according to my observation, is not to hit each other and every other driving maneuver is fair game.

Everywhere there are tourists, Moroccans, and stray animals congesting the roads, alleyways and stores. It is interesting to see the mix of dress. The Moroccan women dress can range from being American/European style to being completely covered so their feet and hands are hidden. For example, some dress in pants and a t-shirt, but wear a headscarf. Men dress in jeans and a nice shirt or wear long shirt-dresses or a loose fitting shirt and pants.

But everyone, men and women and children, wear slipper-like shoes. They are sold everywhere and come in every color. They are usually made out of leather and have a pointed toe.

The Moroccan lifestyle is about tradition, family and religion. When you walk into a person’s home you take off your shoes. Before you enter a religious place like a Mosque you remove your shoes.

For meal time a family gathers around a table usually on pillows on the floor or sometimes in a chair and shares a meal from one giant bowl. This meal is a time to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate family. During Ramadan the family shares three meals after sunset and before sunrise so there is a lot of time to relax and wait for the next meal. This culture is always removing their shoes and slippers are perfect for this kind of lifestyle.

Camel Trek in Marrakesh

The Children's Village

On my first day in Morocco I traveled to the SOS Children’s Village in Casablanca. There are 99-orphaned children living there. Each one lives with six to seven other children, ranging from 0 months to 17 years old, in one house. There are 11 homes. Each home has one mother and there is one father for the entire village.

It was surprising to learn that none of the children get adopted. Apparently the Islam culture does not believe that an adopted child could truly be apart of the family.

I met some amazing children. Some spoke several languages and others loved to play tennis or basketball. But, most of all, they loved to play with my camera and did a pretty good job taking photos.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Photo diary of Spain

In Cadiz, Spain

Flamenco dance

La Playa de la Caleta

Hike at Grazalema National Park

Croquettes ... filled with Cheese, Tuna or meat

Spanish dreams

There is a legend told in the towns surrounding Grazalema National Park. It is about two lovers whose families lived in the same valley of Grazalema and the families couldn’t of been more different. One was Christian and the other Muslim. The son of the Muslim family and the daughter of the Christian family fell in love, but their families forbid them from seeing each other. So the boy would play the Rubella every night for the girl and each tune would signify a different meeting place. They had to keep their love a secret. After they died, the people of the valley, to this day, still claim that they can hear the soft melodies of the boy’s Rubella being played in the Valley of Grazalema National Park.

The sounds of Spanish music being played in the tiny streets of Cadiz paints an enchanting path for tourists and locals to follow. As the music plays, the constant smell of cheese, seafood, and bread makes waiting till 9 p.m. (Spanish dinner time) almost impossible.

Cadiz is a peninsula and her beautiful beaches outline the cities edge and the warm air blows inland from Africa making it a perfect vacation destination for any traveler and Spaniard.

On September 4 the ship arrived in the Puerto de Cadiz early in the morning. Students rushed to grab their passports and head down the gangway. Many took independent trips to as far as Barcelona, Madrid or they stayed close and traveled to Seville, Cordoba and/or Granada.

The city of Cadiz had much to offer. After getting acclimated with the city by going on the Semester at Sea organized City Orientation I was ready to explore.

Ashley, Hans, and I traveled to La Playa de la Caleta, which is right near Castillo San Sebastian. It was Sunday and the beach was scattered with perfectly tan Spaniards, colorful beach umbrellas and flip-flops.

That is one thing about the Spanish — they love their sandals … flat or high heeled. Most of the windows displayed flat canvas shoes, but the majority of the women walking on the street had four-inch strappy heels on. While they are dancing, however, they wear more traditional and conservative shoes that help express their anger and struggle as they pound their feet into the floorboards.

I will always remember Spain for their good Paella, beautiful white towns and gruesome bullfighting.


The intensity in her face spoke of struggle, anguish, passion and suffering — all crucial elements of the Spanish Flamenco dancer.

As part of the Andalucian Flamenco Night FDP, Semester at Sea students got to enjoy an amateur bullfight, tapas, and a Flamenco show.

“Tonight was wonderful,” Jim Law, lifelong learner, said. “I enjoyed sitting down and having a drink and watch the good dancing and even watching the kids dance was just wonderful.”

There were three women Flamenco dancers dressed in red, white and black. Each topped off with a headpiece and a shall. There was also a male dancer in the traditional suit wear accompanied by a guitarist and singer.

“I was impressed with how they kept their faces so intent,” Amy Thoburn, Semester at Sea student said. “I think that if I was doing it I would be all over the place and it really impressed me that they maintained the passion in their faces.”

The Flamenco dance showed more than just a form of dance to the students, but them insight into what it means to be a Spaniard.

“[The dance] just shows the really rich traditions they have and that it is such an art form to them,” Thoburn said. “It’s not just something they do to party. It’s art and it is something they really want to perfect and master.”

Thoburn said enjoying the Flamenco dance performance and then participating in the demonstration was the best example of traditional Spain.

“All of [the flamenco dancers] up there really just poured all of their self into what they were doing,” Thoburn said. “They looked exhausted afterwards, but while they were up there you couldn’t tell. They just gave it their everything and I think that really speaks about what their culture is about and the artistry in their culture is about.”

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Bridge

Today Ashley and I had a tour of the Bridge, the place where the Captain Roman Krstanovic steers the ship, and got to sit in his chair. Unfortunately, we couldn’t try out our steering skills.

A daily log

Day 6 — September 2, 2010

My time on this ship has consisted of rudimentary routines and daily chores of cleaning my room and doing my homework. I know excitement waits for me when we reach the docks in these unfamiliar places. I wonder what they will offer, bring and how I will be influenced by them.

I hear rumors about each country and get excited and fearful about a language barrier, gender inequality cultural practices, getting kidnapped, or some other crazy theory someone can come up with.

Up till now the only places I have traveled to do not compare to these third world countries. I have been to towns where the only cultural experience left after the touristic places, events and shopping has conquered is found out in the rural areas.

Currently I have four service visits in Cape Town, India, Singapore, and China. I hope this coupled with my desire to use my time in these ports as an anthropological study I will be able to begin to understand what it means to be a citizen in these countries today, the issues they face, their hopes, dreams and the essentials for a happy life.

Land ahoy!
Day 5 — September 1, 2010

We have been at sea for six days taking classes, eating, getting to know each other, eating, going to the gym, eating, and scheduling field programs when we dock in the different countries.

8 a.m. - I just had breakfast and decided to climb to the seventh deck. Looking out to sea at the vast emptiness of the Atlantic that stretches out all around me made the ship seemed insignificant and defenseless against this monster of an ocean.

It’s only moments after these thoughts darted in and out of my mind does land appear over the horizon line. It’s the first sighting in six days. All of a sudden a rush of students, faculty and staff run to the starboard side with a camera in hand.

Click! Click! Click! Everyone’s camera goes off as if in unison. The whole incident felt like we were in the movie Waterworld and we had only dreamed of the day we would see land with all of the beauty and magic it could posses.

All day long people were talking about seeing the Azores.