Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Casablanca & Marrakech

After traveling to Tangier, the Sahara, Meknes, Fez, and Chefchaouen, I had doubts as to whether or not our final excursion to Casablanca and Marrakech would be exciting in comparison. Part of my initial woe over traveling to the two cities was the fact that both the Hassan II Mosque and the Marrakech medina had been described to me as “touristy” by a number of individuals. However, traveling to the Mosque was a very culturally enriching experience, as it allowed many of us non-Muslims to get a feel for the tranquility and serenity of such a holy center. Furthermore, the interactions I witnessed between average tourists and the determined shop-owners in the Marrakech medina helped me realize how vast the tourism industry is in Morocco. Furthermore, the degree to which the people of the city recognize tourism as an economic necessity is apparent in both their hospitality and their cross-cultural understanding, the latter of which was perfectly exemplified by the Muslims’ treatment of Europeans and Americans alike who were choosing to not practice Ramadan. Before this weekend, the word “touristy” had repugnant connotations for me. However, the Hassan II Mosque and Marrakech demonstrated that these types of places are absolutely essential in the worldwide quest of this century to strengthen cultural understanding between all nations and people.

Back home, in Hawaii, locations often visited by tourists are just as often avoided by the locals who tend to detest interacting with people who lack their intimate understanding of insular culture and lifestyle. Admittedly, I am guilty of this and, thus, have tried throughout my life to avoid becoming just another somewhat culturally ignorant tourist in a touristy place, like the two that we visited this weekend. This trip changed that for me. It made me, as well as others in my group, realize that if tourists and locals are both willing to be sensitive to each other and open to each others’ differences, touristy environments can evolve into places that promote tolerance and understanding, two sentiments that our world needs now more than ever. Thank you Casablanca and thank you Marrakech for helping me realize that.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hospitals in Morocco

As the days leading to my departure to Morocco decreased, my parents anxiety increased tenfold. They wondered, how would I take to the food? How would I take to the weather? What if I got sick? Would I receive proper treatment while in Morocco? We often hear horror stories about the hospitals in other countries such as women giving birth in unsanitary conditions due to the lack of rooms, equipment, and trained professionals. Or patients dying on the operation table due to a shortage in specialized doctors. Given these stereotypes, I found my experience at Ibn Sina Hospital in Raabat, Morocco to be quite different than I expected. The hospital, although bland and simple, is efficient in the treatment of its patients. Many African countries including Morocco need more specialists, but their creative solutions to the problem can provide valuable lessons for hospitals in the United States. Ibn Sina Hospital is able to quickly teach junior staff to carry out simple surgeries which would require years of training in the U.S. Kariima, an assistant nurse in the general surgery department, has been trained in three years to carry out cataract operations. In the United States, ophthalmologists would have to train for nine years before they could do the same surgery. Kariima, a native Moroccan who received her training in London, decided to return to Morocco despite several job offers in Britain. When I asked her why, she replied that being in Morocco allowed her the oppurtunity to work in challenging situations that tested her medical training and forced her to make the most use of her resources. Although Kariima hopes to return to London one day to continue her education to become an opthalmologist, she firmly believes in giving back to her country.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Going Native in Chefchaouen

When we entered Chefchaouen, our bus was full of the sounds of our oohs and ahhs as we took in all the shades of blue painted across the city's buildings and homes. Each door and and wall revealed a new contrast of light and dark blue, and the cobblestone streets only added to Chefchaouen's charm.
During our two hours of free time, I wandered the narrow streets of the medina with my friends and decided to put my newly-learned Arabic to good use.

Since I'm obviously a tourist, the prices shopkeepers give me are usually much steeper than the prices they would give a native speaker. Although I'll never be able to completely avoid this problem, I decided I could try and do something about it by not revealing how much of a beginner I am. Through a combination of using as much Arabic as I could, finally knowing my numbers well, and acting confident even when I wasn't entirely sure what was going on, I was able to secure a really good price for some napkins for my mother. Even our Moroccan tour guide was impressed with the price I got!
Scoring such a good bargain as a result of my Arabic skills made me feel like a true Moroccan native.


Monday, July 23, 2012

I ate a horse!... and other gluten-free Moroccan stories

by Rachel

During Ramadan, Moroccans break the fast with a traditional soup called harira. But harira is often made with flour, and since I’m gluten-free, I can’t eat any.  Instead, when my family broke the fast, I ate horse, cactus, and traditional yoghurt, which is sour, curdled milk to which you add lots of sugar to make bearable.
But how did I know I was eating horse? Before sunset, my family and I went to the souk where my host dad visited a butcher that sold just one kind of meat: horse.  In case I didn’t believe the sign, my host dad proceeded to act out a horse and say “neigh, neigh” multiple times while pointing at the meat to deter my skepticism.  He asked me, “You will try?” And, not wanting to miss the opportunity to say that I was so hungry from fasting during Ramadan that I ate a horse, I did.
So, now for the verdict – horse meat, yay or “neigh”? I vote tasty, though I don’t know if that was because of the meat itself or the way it was prepared (I am fortunate to live with excellent cooks). The meat itself was very chewy, like a well-cooked steak.  Admittedly, it’s not a meat I would prepare on my own, but if my family serves it again, I will eat it.
Yet I digress – I promised a post about gluten-free dining in Morocco.  But before I detail further, please note that my allergy is not severe, so I don’t worry about cross-contamination; more severe allergies may require additional accommodation.  Disclaimer finished.
Bread is the cornerstone in Moroccan dining, but not in Moroccan cooking. In actual dining, bread is served at every meal in place of forks and knives; in cooking, traditional dishes – tajines – typically consist of meat with vegetables, dried fruit, or nuts. The exception to this rule is couscous, which is a type of pasta served on Fridays. So long as couscous, pastelas, and pastries are avoided, gluten-free dining is easy.
Bread is also the most common breakfast food, served with jam, butter, or cheese, but most families and restaurants are accommodating: I usually eat eggs and some sort of fruit or a bowl of rice and milk with cinnamon in the mornings.
If you ever do miss the sweets, there’s no need to sacrifice your health: you can always have fresh fruit or flan, which are common desserts, or sip some sweet mint tea.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Quick Dialogue in Arabic


Five Days of the Week

Past Week
Last week  was a lot of studying and catching up from the weekend! On Thursday we visited a center for at risk youth. It was mostly younger kids, and we had music time with them, snack time and played with them. The kids are either orphans, have financial struggle, or trouble at home. Basically any problem a child could possibly have, this youth center will take them in! The Director of it is such a nice man and I can see why he does what he does everyday. I'm going to go visit the kids a few more times before I leave, hopefully once a week. I loved being with kids who are so full of life and love being around you. Impossible to not go back..


Adorable little girl we became friends with!

Love them
Visited my two friends who are interning at a juice shop close to the Medina...YUMMY!
Backyard at the school I'm attending! Sweet shot if I must say so myself...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

When in doubt, Laugh.

I had several fears before I moved into my host family's house.  
1. I couldn't speak Arabic yet.  
2. I was convinced that no one would speak English.  
3. I am horrible at charades, so communication would have to be limited to yes and no questions.  

When I met my host dad for the first time, my anxiety wasn't exactly put to rest.  "You speak french?," was the first thing he said to me.  "No," was the first thing I said to him, and then I just smiled and laughed awkwardly.  After a silent 15 minute cab ride, my nerves began to build.  What would the next six weeks be like?  Thankfully, the first person my dad introduced  me to when we got to the house was my wonderful sister, Kaoutar.  An 18 year old girl who speaks Arabic, French, and English.  

After these scary first introductions, everything began to fall into place.  The Kandousi family has welcomed many students from all around the world into their home, and they have become pros at making people feel comfortable and welcome in a strange environment.  I was no exception.  Within the first few minutes, I was already joking around with my sister and practicing the little Arabic I knew with my family.  So, basically, I just told every member of the family my name about 20 times.  

Now, three weeks later, I couldn't be happier or more thankful for the family I was placed in.  My mother and father are wonderful.  They are always willing to help me with anything I may need.  My host brother, Osama, is the same age as my own little brother at home, Grant, and they are practically the same goofy kid who never ceases to give me a good genuine laugh.  Most importantly there is Kaoutar my host sister.  We got along swimmingly from the start.  Everyday I come home, the first thing she asks me is "what did you learn today?," and then will proceed to practice it with me. If I am feeling homesick, she with talk with me.  I even help her with her English a lot of the time. 

I like to spend most of my time at home with my family.  I try and help them with cooking or cleaning whenever possible.  If they are sitting around talking and watching t.v., I will usually join them.  Once, I even lead the women in then house on a workout, which after five minutes turned into everyone playing leap frog. The next day my mom told me she laughed so much her abs hurt. The family has made me feel incredibly comfortable in their home.  I find myself calling it my home as well.  

The language barrier is not even a factor.  If Kaoutar isn't home to help me translate what I am saying, I don't let the in intimidation of using Arabic get me down.  I usually just give it my best shot, and if I mess up, which happens 95% of the time, we all get a good laugh.  I have found that if I don't understand what someone is trying to tell me or if no one can understand me, laughing usually makes everyone feel more comfortable and less frustrated.  

Everyday, communication gets better.  Everyday, I love coming home more and more.  Everyday, I get less and less homesick and more and more sad about the fact that my weeks with the Kandousi family are dwindling.  

Ashley Burke