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Journey to Fes

MOROCCO | Monday, 16 June 2014 | Views [244]

Without needing to go to Casablanca for vaccination, my morning (and most of the afternoon) was nice and quiet. I ate a nice breakfast with my host mother and Saida, gave her my laundry so it would be done when I got back at the end of the weekend (it felt weird not to do my laundry myself. I tried, saying “I want to do my laundry” instead of just “I want clean clothes,” but after a brief consultation with my mother, Saida said that I didn't get to do it myself.

 For the most part, our conversation consisted of new words. My host mother would point at something and say it in Darija, and Saida would repeat it in Modern Standard Arabic. I repeated the Darija word until it reached my host mother's satisfaction, stumbling the most over the word for “bowl,” which had a rolling-r-like sound to it.

 The only word that stuck was the Darija word for “table,” “tabla.” (It cems from the French, since the standar Arabic word bore no realtion to the English.

 For lunch, I had my first couscous in Morocco. It was beef, vegetables that were cooked to the point of crumbling when you tried to eat them, and garbanzo beans served over couscous. There was also a special sauce that could be poured over the couscous, but I didn't get to it.

 I ate with Saida, Abir, and my mother, and we ate in the kitchen. (Breakfast had been served in the kitchen, but all other meals had been in the salon.)

 Arabic lessons continued here. My host mother pointed at th garbanzo beans and said “hummus.”

 That one I understood, and would probably remember. I repeated after her, needing another clarification to know it wasn't quite identical to “hummus.”

 Then she asked me what it was called. “Well, it's either 'garbanzo beans,...'”

 She did not like that at all. “La, la.'

 “Or 'chickpeas.'”

 That made both her and Saida much happier. The repeated it a couple of times, smiling. “Chickpeas. Chickpeas.” It is a pretty fun word, though I'd never thought of it that way before.

 Then I gathered all of my stuff and made my way back to Sidi Faha, our group meeting point. (It was more defined than the meeting point everyone had been trying for the day before. The main problem being that, although it was relatively close to our homes, we weren't quite sure how to get there. Our first goal after meeting up would have been to go there. Erika and I had concluded by going to check it out.)

 We left Rabat at 4:00, got on the bus, and drove for 2 dull hours to Meknes. We got off at a gas station there, walked around for a bit seeing what they had for sale (about what you'd expect. They had flavored kit-kats [caramel, hazelnut, and I believe one other option] which I considered, but it was too hot to buy anything meltable. So I settled for water and made a mental not that at some point when I was not too stuffed, I should try some of their flavors.

 Matt, the IES director of Student Health and Welfare, had accompanied us on this trip (he was leaving on Sunday to go to South Africa) and we talked a bit about our schools and our majors. (International Relations, Bio/Sociology, Psychology, International Affairs with a concentration in security policy/French, and Political Science/French.)

 Then we got back on the bus and drove for another hour until we reached the hotel. After checking in, we had an hour and a half to do what we wanted (for many people, swim) before meeting for dinner.

 In lieu of a definitive place to meet (the hotel had two or three areas that looked like they served food, and a bar) it seemed logical to wait in the place where we had been when Nisrine told us to meet. That's where I, Erika, Natasha, Cynthia, Megan, Nathan, Matt, and Mahjit's shoes (he had forgoten them after swimming, and I'd grabbed them) were all waiting. Except for Matt and Nathan, who went over to the TV to watch the game (Spain vs. Netherlands). 8:30. 8:35. 8:40. 8:45.

 Eventually, Nisrine came over and told us we were supposed to meet in the restaurant. So we went there.

 Dinner was good. It was not a buffet like Nisrine had been expecting, so we had to order each course ourselves.

 For the first course, we had a choice between salad and mashed vegetable soup. All but three people had the salad.

 For the second course, we had a choice between meat crepes and a plate of meat. All but two people chose the crepes.

 For the third course, we had a choice between lamb tajine and chicken skewers. All but two people chose the chicken skewers.

 The salad was decent, but it was a salad. I know there are some people for whom a salad can be a meal all by itself, but for me, the salad is a necessary evil to get to the tastier follow-up. (So why did I have the soup, apart from liking to be in the majority? It was hot, and I prefer my soups to have solid chunks and not just mashed vegetables.)

 The crepes were really good. I'm not quite sure what kind of meat they were, but it was tender and there was cheese and a nice sauce. The majority definitely one on that one.

 The chicken skewers were a bit tough. I also had my first bite of preserved lemon, which is interesting. It's not as sour as just chewing on a lemon would be, though the lemon flavor certainly comes through. It's also really really chewy. More so than the tough chicken.

 During dinner, we talked about our reasons for choosing this program, the reaction of our parents, and general discussions about our hometown and our schools. It was in the middle of the latter that the waiter came back and wanted to know if we wanted to have fruit or cakes for dessert.

 “Cake?” I answered like that was a wrong answer. (It wasn't. This was the one course that people were pretty evenly split on what they had. If everyone else had gotten fruit I would have probably been the last one served, but it would have been worth it.) The cake turned out to be a selection of 4 different pastries, most of them almondy and all of them good.


When dinner was over, we went back to the bus and drove to the Cafe Clock. It was a pretty famous cafe, and someone came over to talk a little about the namesake clock (a water clock that didn't work anymore, but was really old) and some of the people who had visited it, like Bono. I ordered a mint lemonade. It was less sweet than the tea is, and was refreshingly cold.


 While we were waiting for the drinks to arrive, we had a mini-tour of the cafe. There was a room upstairs with sofas and TVs (stereotypically, the men took advantage of that to check on the game) and lots of photographs on the walls (and for sale.) They were pretty good, and ranged from naturalistic settings to portraits of humans.


 No tour of a building in Rabat is complete without going up to the roof. (Me: “You know those action movies where people are jumping from roof to roof? You could definitely do that in Morocco.” Cynthia: “Yes, but would you want to?”) Fez isn't as lit-up a city as Chicago or Paris, where the lit up buildings and sparkling Eiffel Tower are gorgeous all by themselves, but it is lit up enough that you can't look up at the sky and find many stars, so I wasn't that impressed with the view. Apparently it's beautiful at sunset, though.


 Then we went back inside to enjoy our drinks. And there was silence.


 “Someone tell an amusing story from their life,” Matt said. No one could think of any. Eventually, we settled on playing Two Truths and a Lie. Except for Nisrine, who played Two Lies and a Truth. The story behind her truth (I removed mice teeth) more than made up for that, though.


 “My brother [he was 14 at the time] was raising rabbits in our old apartment. He started with two and ended up with 35. You'd open the door and immediate there would be rabbits. But there was a mouse that lived in the toilet bowl, and he came out and bit the rabbits. And they died. All but 6 of them died. And my brother, he was so upset. This was his work of a year. And he didn't want to eat the rabbits, or skin them. He just wanted the rabbits. And that stupid mouse killed them. So he grabbed the mouse by the tail and said 'you bit my rabbits, so I'm going to remove your teeth.' And he started pulling them out. And he was so upset, he was crying as he did, and I was watching. And I tried to stop him, but he said 'it's either its teeth or yours,' so I just watched him. It was so awful.”


 It was a hard story to follow, but Cynthia managed pretty well. We'd met a little under a week ago, so there were still a lot of things we didn't know about each other, and this was one way to remember and mention them.


 The prompting “tell a story about your life,” never really works. Life is so full of fascinating memories, but no one can remember them all at one moment. Natural conversation is the best, because one person's stories feed into another person's memories and prompts another story. But natural conversation tends to die out when people are tired, and we were all pretty tired. Especially the people who had gotten up to go to Casablanca at 7:00 in the morning and been injected with yellow fever. So after we got back to the hotel, we all went straight to our rooms without even checking the score. (I'm in a country that's much fonder of soccer than the US during the World Cup. I shouldn't be surprised that people like talking about it. Shouldn't be surprised, and yet didn't spend the two minutes it would have taken to understand which teams were good so I could at least nod at appropriate times in the conversation.)


 We were told that we'd be returning from our tour of Fez without much time before we headed to the Hammam, so we needed to pack for that the night before. After a little bit of preparation, and a little bit of worrying about what, exactly, the Hammam would entail, we decided we were packed enough and got ready for bed.


Tags: arabic, classmates, food

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