Tuesday, December 29, 2009

E(at/in), P(ray/rat), L(ove/o Lovshim Na'alayim)

At Ein Prat they both show clips of Elizabeth Gilbert (author of "Eat, Pray, Love", a book I purchased second hand today since I've now completed "Brief Interviews") and walk around at night over the gravely ground of their caravan compound without shoes.

Yes, MOST of them don't wear shoes. At all. But I decided. I'm going to go anyway. I may not fit in. Mostly because I'll probably opt for shoes.

I got there when it was dark. I actually arrived in the middle of dinner -- and discovered, almost immediately, that I knew two people there. This was convinient because I a) was feeling self-concious about my Hebrew that was all coming out Arabicized, and b) needed a caravaan (trailer) to sleep in. I attended a chug, night seder and, in the morning, daf yomi and seder boker. As I find myself struggling to classify the "feel" of the place and these experiences, I think the only thing that I can say with surety is that I know that at Ein Prat I will not only face linguistic and academic challenges (in both the horizontal and vertical directions), but also emotional and physical ones. For example, there's no place to do laundry. Ugh. But they do have horses...and camels. Priorities, I see, are in order.

Kfar Adumim (~300 families) and Allon (~150 families, plus the Midrasha) are settlements located just to the northeast of Jerusalem. They will probably be included in Israeli proper in any sort of settlment deal that Israelis and Palestinians may (inchallah?) come up with. But for now, it is still a part of the "occupied West Bank". But it is also located no where near any Arab villages. There are Druze who, err, nomad (if you'll pardon the use of the word as verb) a few kilometers away, but for the most part, the area is much safer than the settlement bloc south of Jerusalem where I spent my first extended stay in Israel. It's also a very differnet type of settlement - these are not religious Zionist settlements, per say. They were built by the labor movement, most notably by Yigal Allon, one of Israel's most famous generals. Hence the name of the settlement in which I will be living (Allon). Anyway, I'll spare you the political history and just say this: I am excited to attend this institution.

Ich Bin Ein

And that's right folks, you guessed it: I was in Berlin.
It was incredible. I think I was making up for lost karma. My plane had been late, but not too late, out of Paris. It was about 11:30 when I walked out of the airport weilding just my carry-on and headed for the TXL bus to downtown Berlin. I had 7 hours to be in Berlin and I was going to make the most of it.
My bus driver was great. He was a sort of Santa Claus(e) Figure (building on our right, I gave him the chocolate St. Nick I had stuffed in my jacket pocket after being handed it by the friendly-but-heavily-accented Air Berlin flight crew (a crew that consisted of three very gay, gracious men two of whom seemed very pissy at each other...wonder what that was about).

My bus stop stops something like 300 meters from the Brandenburg Gate, and as I'm walking I am realizing just how cold it is in Berlin. My feet are starting to frost. And then I see it: Starbucks. And I think to myself: "It has been too long, dear friend, too long" (to clarify my antecedents, the "dear friend" is Starbucks) SO -- I waltz up to the friendly building and look inside: Cozy would be the word to describe this place. Lots of tourists sipping Tall Hot Apple Cider With Cinnammon and Whipped Cream and Vente Chai Tea Lattes wtih Soy Milk and Extra Foam in 30% (or howevermuch) recycled cups, while American Christmas music seranades us all. The line was so long however, that I was almost detered. I actualyl picked up my bag to leave, but then turned back around after the door opened and I felt a gush of Berlin on my face. I had a Grande (!) Non-Fat Gingerbread Latte to honor the spirit of not-being-in-a-Muslim-country (read: The Holiday) and slowly began to venture outside when I was down to about 1/3 of my Holiday Special...

And then I heard it - or rather, I did a sort of double take with my ears as I thought I hadn't heard right he first time. "Free Walking Tour of Berlin, English, Spanish, German!" No way. Turns out I had stumbled upon the meeting point of a tour that was to begin in a quarter of an hour and last 3 1/2 hours. Pay what you want. So I did -- and I had a great time. I made friends, saw Berlin, and though my socks were soaked through by the end, and my toes were more or less ice blocks, I had a fantastic day. I got to see (in no particular order): the old W. Berlin Opera House, and the Book Burning Memorial across from the University, both East and West Berliner arcitecture, as well as the remenents of the wall, an open air market (quite clean...the contrast to Morocco was, well, absurd), multiple "Einstein Kaffe"s - a seemingly popular chain of Cafes in Berlin - Checkpoint Charlie, some Bansky graffiti, Headquarters of the Luttwaffe, Hitler's Bunker and the controversial 27-million dollar holocast memorial in the middle of E. Berlin across the way from the Reichstag (Parliament) building which, incidentally, has a dome on top of it so that "the Volk" who are allowed entry to watch the proceedings will remind the autocratically-tending German ranksters who is actually in charge. Oh and I almost forgot: there's also a place called "Museum The Kennedys" next to the Starbucks from which we departed. I found the name tickling.

That's all for now - I went to Ein Prat today, the place where I (and yes, I have absolutely decided) that I will be spending my next semester. I slept over last night. More later - running out now

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Brief Interview with the Latin Quarter

My plane was supposed to leave at 6:45. I got to the airport at 4:30. Lisa came with me (so nice!). We had had a hectic morning printing stuff, returning stuff, buying stuff (a carryon bag for me!) but it was a glorious day and my bags weren't too heavy now that I'd lost all my stuff. (ha.) And then my plane was late. It was now scheduled to leave at at 9:20. I sat down and ate some nuts. I got up and perused the duty free. I went to Zara and bought a skirt for a bat mitzvah that I'm going to the first weekend in February. I peoplewatched. I had no book. No music. No computer. I was bored. And then they changed the gate number. And a mass of moroccans moved from one gate to the next. I followed, slowly. Then they changed it again. And again. And finally - at 8:45pm - they opened the doors.

It was early in the AM when I arrived at my hotel, conviniently named "Campanlie Roissy le Mesnil Amelot", a name foreigners like me are bound to forget as soon as they read it. I arrived at 3am only to find that someone else had been checked into my room. My life is a barrel of laughs.

This morning I got on a shuttle to the airport from the hotel, met a guy from the upper west side (!) goes to Vassar, had been studying abroad in Paris, and had had his flight cancelled. Then I got on a subway to Paris. I got off in the Latin Quarter and spent the morning searching for a book. The first English language bookstore I went to was closed :.. ( so I went to a second. It's famous. Its called Shakespeare & Company, and I found a book. A book I'm excited to read. By David Foster Wallace. It is, I think, his most famous. "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" is now my sole form of entertainment after my internet time runs its course in exactly 7 minutes.

Anyway, on my way to the internet café, I walked into a little grocery store (think makolet/hanut type) only to hear a radio broadcast in Arabic. So, of course, I started chatting with the patroness in Arabic. Oh it was nice to be understood again. And gave me directions in arabic to this place which, wonder of wonders, contains computers with English keyboards! Alhumdililah wa rabi yichalik!

Again, no music. Sorry - you have to suffer the loss of my itunes along with me. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


My life is a strange thing. Actually its not really my life. Its my circumstances. My experiences. My changing state of being.

I've had this weird sense lately that stuff I've been wishing for has been coming true. I wished that my baggage would be lighter so I wouldn't have to pay so many overcharge fees when I get on my planes in a few days (it is totally uneconomical for me to ship stuff to either Israel or America). And then some shab (plural: shebab) stole my incredibly functional REI 65 L petite size...with all my heavy stuff inside of it. No matter that that heavy stuff consisted mostly of my macbook, its charger, and my sweatpants. Now I don't have to pay the 7lbs or so overcharge1 I also lost my ipod, its charger, my calendar, journal (you can't get that back), and...MY PASSPORT. But my bags are now lighter. And I hope that when this young shab opens my bag he will scratch his little mean head and think about how much of a favor he did me. And then he'll scratch it some more: A good deal of what was in there was in Hebrew.

And then - after I had alternated between the stages of grief and full-blown fury at myself for letting this happen (I had been asleep during the fateful event, covered my my Ouarzazate camel-hair blanket no less) - I wanted a shower. But I had no time for a shower. I spent the remaining hours to Marrakesh yelling at myself, talking (relatively) calmly to the ticket-taker-policeman on the train, and walking the length of it to make sure the bag actually wasn't there (it wasn't). And then I turned around, got back on the train (which I got to take for free...yaaayyy?), and went to Mohammadia, where I made some great friends. The Station Chief (prides himself on knowing all the important people) and the Chief of Train Police (who's role models are American boxers) became my saviors. We spent 4 hours together at the Mohammadia Police Station - a bathtub of a place where the slow flies that land on the single, albeit warm, computer scatter whenever anyone sits down or stands up. I paced some. The flies didn't like that. I don't think the Deputy Chief of Police did either. But he wasn't going to say anything, sitting there in his Mikey Mouse coat and double chin, pecking away at the keyboard with one hand in Arabic, only to print out four copies of a police report that I needed to sign, four times. And then he refused to give me one. I had to come back the next day to get a piece of paper with a stamp at a different office. There's bureaucracy and then there's Arabeaucracy. I think this was the latter.

So anyway, I had wanted a shower. I hadn't had a minute since Sat. night when I packed up my stuff to get it ready for my departure, and then left at 5am on Sunday morning to see Marrakesh (and some friends) for one last bash. And when I got back on Sunday night I was just too distraught to even consider it, getting up Monday morning and leaving for another Mohammadia/Casa run to get the stuff I needed to leave the next day. Anyway - they also stole my deodorant so life was greasy and smelly. And then it rained. No, no. It poured. I got to Casablanca after obtaining my Declaration of Loss from Chief Mickey Mouse after a good, long delay-of-train and a good deal more stress-of-Sheva (the Consulate opens magically at 1:30pm and then closes magically at 3pm...and it was 2pm)...it was bucketing. I got out of the train and ran to an overhang. And then ran to a taxi. I asked him to take me to Moulay Ismail (the street that the consulate is on) and he said no -- over there. I went over there. The taxis over there refused. They said - here. I went here. The taxi driver said: Across the street. There were no taxis across the street and by this time I was wet to the bone. Some cabbie had pity on me and stopped, but not before I had stepped in every puddle in Casablanca in order to get to his cab. Short Fessi leather jacket, long flowy (now dirty) skirt, non-water proof cheap-Paris boots. I was not prepared for this kind of shower.

Anyway, I made it to the Consulate, they were very nice (to me...a real American...not so much to the Moroccans who were standing outside in line, in the rain) and I got myself a passport that will last me a year.

Things I now regret:
Not drinking coffee at 5:30 before I got no the train.
Not putting my passport in my purse (duh).
Caring so much about my Mac. She was beautiful. But she's just stuff, like everything else.
Not writing my last Morocco post - which was going to be about growth, things I'd learned, how i changed, etc. etc. Mushy stuff. Maybe I'll write it some day. But for now...its still raining in Rabat.
Lots of other things but I can't go into them now because I have to go get myself some things from the medina before I leave this country (E.g. a carry on bag that will fit my heavy books and gifts, and, of course, deodorant).

No song today, folks, its just one of those days. And I have no itunes. B'slama.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

C-H-A-N-A-K-A-H (song #2) in the M-A-G-R-E-B

Winona Ryder drinks Manischewitz wine then spins a Dreidle with Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.
Lighting candles is not the same. We light with an old school oil menorah. Jacob mumbles what might be Brachot. There is no singing. I miss home Chaunkah. I feel that this must be what Christians feel like when they're not home for Christmas.

Guess who gives and receives loads of Chanukah toys? The girls from Veruca Salt and all three Beastie Boys!
So I went to another Hillulah - well, really just the meals - on the second day of Chanukah. The breakfast and lunch were both catered by - you guessed it - Baria! So of course I invited friends...I knew the food would be fantastic. And it was. Baria had been frantically cooking for this event since last week, and she went to work right after Shabbat and didn't stop (I've never seen such bags under her eyes) until Sunday night. I spent part of Saturday night and Sunday morning helping her (I mean...trying not to get in the way and be useful somehow). The hoity-toity well-to-do Casablancans Baria was anxious to impress showed up around 9, prayed until about 10 and then - finally - breakfast began! I had a lovely time, chatting with a friend who had come, not really noticing much going on around me until a group of police officers waltzed in. At first I was glad - they had invited those who protected them in to eat. But then more began to come. They took over a full table. I was a bit suspicious, sort of confused, but really thought nothing of it and continued chatting with my friend, getting up from time to time to help Baria.

Lenny Kravitz is half Jewish, Courtney Love is half too. Put them together, what a funky bad ass Jew.
When lunchtime (noonish) rolled around I came back from studying to help her again. The Casablancans didn't show up - of course - until 1:30, which made us problematize the heating of the couscous in their tajins (one of my favorite broken plurals: Tajin, pl. tawajin. Just like table: tabla, pl. tawabel. Hilarious.), but whatevs. Baria took it in stride. When the Casablancans had all settled themselves, and I prepped for my new job as waitress, in strode - and I kid you not - a platoon of military officials. Something like 30 police offers, security guards, soldiers, and other sorts of military-types all in uniform to partake of the hillulah feast. I couldn't believe it. I was totally taken aback by their absolute presumptuousness. I felt so bad for Baria I could barely speak, much less smile as I clumsily placed fish balls on their plates. The level of entitlement that they must feel to be able to do that is just shocking. But Baria pulled it off, and we fed those officers and all of their friends, brothers and whoever else they brought with them beause, as Baria said, "Ash Kayideer?" ("what can you do?").

Bob Dylan was born a Jew. Then he wasn't. But now he's back.
Depsite my state of disbelief at the chutzpah of the civil servants of Morocco, I had a wonderful time at lunch. I had no friends there, and so had to talk to everybody else. I was asked where I was from and what I was doing in Morocco every time I got to a new table (which was often), offered approximately two dozen sons or nephews or grandsons in marriage, told that I was "zweena" countless times and made lots of friends who wanted me to come visit them in Casa. A message to them: I probably won't come, but thank you so very much for the invitation.

So many Jews are in the show biz. Bruce Springsteen isn't Jewish, but my mother thinks he is.
Last night I went to a Chanukah party at the Toledanos. I don't have to tell you that the food was to die for. The best part was a sweet tajine with sugared onions, two kinds of dried apricots, and - best of all - figs. She also made three cakes. I am forever in awe of Lisette Toledano's ability to cook. Back to the Chanukah party: This was no ordinary "Lets get together and light the Menorah" (though we did that, of course, and Lisa and I were given positions of honor in front to "lead American songs" after the brachot, mizmor shir l'chanukah, and ma'oz tzur). This was a gathering of all of the American Jews (and wealthy Moroccan Jews) of Rabat. Fascinating crowd. Lisa and I were seated on either side of the American ambassador to Morocco and his wife, Minnesotan Jews, and very interesting people. I chatted with Sylvia (the ambassador's wife) the whole time. We talked about topics ranging from women's rights in Islam and how they compare to Jewish women's, to JStreet and the waxing and waning of the American Jewish left. Like I said, very interesting people. A good time was had by all, and it finally felt like Chanukah. Hopefully tonight will feel like Chanukah, too. There's another Hillulah celebration, though this time its just for the Rabbati Jews, so ti should be a more familiar crowd...and fewer marriage offers.

Have a happy happy happy happy Chanukah!
And with that, I leave you with this song, by a group called - yes - Bible Raps. I heard them first from my friend Danny at Penn. And then they came to Penn. And then I saw them again last year at Limmud. This song is called "Hanukah (Light is in the Air)", and its actually worth a listen. Quite catchy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

From Cloves-and-Ginger to Wiza and Haleeb

I bought my ticket to Marrakesh when I was in Ouarazazate. I wanted to be sure to have a spot, since I was traveling erev Eid al-Kabir, or "the Big Holiday." O dear. But when I got to the bus station at noon (my bus was scheduled for 12:30), only to be told that my bus had been canceled due to the great number of people traveling for the upcoming Eid. This made no sense to me, but then again, lots of things in Morocco don't make any sense, so I got my ticket exchanged and extracted promises from the vendor that there would, in fact, be a bus which would, in fact, to Essaouira the next morning at 8:30.

So I got on my bus the next day at 8:30. I have spent a good deal of time in the new CTM bus station in Marrakesh and the guys there know me. They remembered me from when I first traveled solo to the Hillulah way back. Actually, they more more than know me. They take an (only slightly creepy) interest. And I would say that we're friends. Sure. Friends. In any case, they were excited that I was finally on my way to Essaouira after my delay of game. So I got on the bus and sat in my (assigned) seat next to a skinny, smokey Arab man who was probably 50. He had a mustache, and his aviators closely matched mine (I had bought new ones since I "traded" the last ones. These were the Chinese classic Ray Bens). We were fast friends within the first five minutes. About an hour into the ride, the bus driver pulls over to the side of the road and announces that the bus is no good. So we turned around and went back. My Rey Bens twin looked at me down the bridge of his glasses, sighed, and rolled his eyes. The guys at the station were glad to see me.

I finally boarded ANOTHER bus and got to Essaouira around 3pm. Which was fine. I still had plenty of time before Shabbat/Eid A woman - probably in her late 40s, early 50s - from some European country (I can't remember) asked me if she could follow me to my hostel. She was feeling ill and just wanted someone to sort of hold her hand, and she saw that I spoke Arabic, so she thought I would be a good crutch. Which I was. I got us to the hostel. Which was a lovely low-budget dorm-style place run by an extremely friendly middle-aged Moroccan stoner and an super-skinny headband-sporting, Australian-Moroccan both of whom were exceptionally taken aback by my Arabic. But the women I was with wanted her own room -- and after complaining to me for a few minutes, she left. I couldn't mentally dawdle on her anymore though...Shabbat/Eid was coming, and nothing would be open in a few hours. So I went shopping. Everyone was bustling around, mostly sharpening knives. It was nice to be ignored.

My friend Amelie from Toubkal - the British girl traveling to Ghana by her lonesome - ended up at my hostel! I was thrilled to see her, obviously, and we spent the rest of our time in Essaouira together, mostly sitting and reading our books on the beach or the roof of our hostel (I finished Blood River by Tim Butcher about the Congo, and I recommend it), talking theology, and exchanging language knowledge. I can now finally count to twenty in French and ask directions. But what was really nice for me - and for her - was that one of the administrators from AmidEast, lets call him Rafiq - LIVES in Essaouira and wanted to hang out and show me around. So we walked all around with him, he showed us all of the "sights" of Essaouira, from the pier with its many boats that overlooks the island that Jimmi Hendrix used to frequent, to the long line of cannons at the bastion overlooking the sea (one had a ram chained to it...), to the Arab silver market where he introduced us to a friend of his who will, of course, give us the Magrebi price if we should find something pleasing to our eyes. So we hung out Friday afternoon, and then again Saturday night when Rafiq took us to his friend's (and mine, actually...Abd el-Hassan is another AmidEast guy) father's restaurant where we, of course, had tea and chatted. A lovely time was had by all.

Christmas is really a very apt analogy, as my dear mother pointed out. The sheep that every (EVERY) family slaughters (in the backyard, bathtub, or on the balcony) is basically the equivalent of the American Christmas tree. I saw sheep -- all rams, to commemorate the binding of Ishmael (the reading of the Bible where Isaac is the one that is slaughtered is a Judeo corruption) -- in the backs of trucks, tied down to the tops of buses, in the saddle buckets of mules (adorable and hilarious at the same time) and seated between two men on a motorcycle. And when its all over and the sheep are dead and barbecued

So I discovered another wonderful type of tea. Wiza (fresh vervaine) and frothed milk. It is delicious. I had a total of 3 in my time in Essaouira. One for each day I was there. I am already having fantasies of wiza and milk tea parties at Penn. This stuff is - and pardon neologism - BALLER.

In much more recent news (yesterday and the day before), I lost my wallet between paying for my cab and the door to my house (yeah, I don't know how one does such a thing either) AND I lost my phone between the cab and the door to my house (I REALLY don't get that one, because I had been texting a moment before...). So recent news: I feel like the worst kind of idiot. One who knows she's an idiot and there's nothing she can do about it. I think most of its due to the paper I'm writing for my "Islam and the West" class which seems to have consumed my life. And my brain. And my wallet. And my phone. On the bright? side, I didn't lose too much money, probably about 160 dirham ($20 or so), I'll get a new phone today (for free!), and Lisa's financing me until my mom can DHL me my cards. In lieu of my mood of loss and despair, a poppy pump-me-up: Gavid Degraw's I'm in Love with a Girl.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

From the Freezing Cold to Clove-and-Ginger Tea

"Skingibir" is a word I was glad I knew. It is the word for ginger in Arabic, and I remembered it when I asked what was in the tea in Marrakesh. It was phenomenal. I hope that some day I can merit to reproduce such tea. It was served to me from one of four guys on the street in a stand with a huge samivar. People - mostly men - would order a cup, and like at the orange juice stands - they would just stand there, taking their time, sipping away, and finally paying 4 dirham (45 cents) for the delicious brew.

But before I got to have my Thanksgiving tea (I had it the next day, too, which was, in fact, the American day of Appreciation), I was still tromping up Toubkal, my nose falling off, my hands icy, gripping a bottle of water I had collected from at a frozen waterfall. Marrakeshi tea was still a far-off dream.

The hike up was hard. We shimmied up boulder faces, dug our toes into gravel, lugged our tennis-shod feet up 45 degree angles -- all of which was nothing for our Super-Great Dane. In fact, when we got down, we all collapsed to eat lunch at the refuge (tomatoes, cucumber and fromage, of course), he bounded off to go valley-hopping. No joke. It took about 3 1/2 hours to climb up, but 2 to climb, or rather, ski down. We spent some time at the top. I'll include a few photos, though I don't have so many since my camera battery died. Anyway, we hiked all the way back to Imlil, grabbed our stuff, had a scream-off with the guy at the hostel because he wanted us to pay for that night, and jumped in a grand taxi (Super-Great Dane in tow) for Marrakesh...and clove-and-ginger tea.

Pictures are in opposite order:
Toubkal (like I said, I have very few), the guy who appropriated my sunglasses ("traded" me earrings for them), our friend Hassan the blanket weaver from the roof of the has-been synagogue, Krista and myself overlooking a gorge with our guide and driver from the desert, and finally: the tea.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From the Milky Way to the Freezing Cold

Imlil is a cold, cold place. And our 40 dirham-a-night hostel is an even colder place. But coldest yet is the refuge at the base-camp of Jebel Toubkal at 6:30 in the morning when the sun still has not yet fully risen over the mountain.

I'm going to start with the bad and move to the good. It'll give a nice sense of progression...

We were in the mountains. Autumn actually exists up there. And there was no heat. I had to pee in the middle of the dark, cold night. I didn't realize that the Turkish bathroom (read: whole in the ground) had a lightswitch. I ate a dinner of the same food I would eat for the next two days: piece of bread, chunks of spreadable la vach kiri fromage (that's all French. I think it means something like "the smiling cow cheese"), a tomato, a cucumber, and a bit of lemon juice. And then the next morning we paid 25 dirham for a breakfast (with INSTANT coffee!!?) that we could have bought for 5. When we got to base camp we had to pay 20 dirham for blankets (!) though we desperately needed them since it was getting dark and the only source of heat in the stone refuge was a tiny, crowded little fire in the corner of the common room.

We were in the mountains. Autumn actually exists up there. The trees were turning different colors. There were natural patches of green all around us. We met three more travelers the first night who would be hiking with us. Real characters, all. One from Nor-Cal, two from England, one of whom was 40 years old and still trekking on his own, and one of whom was in the middle of an overland journey from England to Ghana through Spain, France, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso (She and I met up in Essaouira later and had a good time). So it was a party. We were all staying together and in the morning we all set of in high spirits to begin our trek to base-camp.

Well there's not much to say here. This section title is really just so I can get on to the next one. I guess I might mention the absolute cold again, oh, and the technical difficulty of getting down from the summit. I ripped my hand open tumbling down-- good thing one of the English guys had band-aids. And I did a somersault once, and came close to spraining my ankles innumerable times.

The trek was stunning. We walked along a dry river bed, refilled our water bottles (using the Californian's water pump) at a spring where we were offered, but did not purchase, coke and orange soda that had been cooling in the frigid rivulet. We walked up hills and down into valleys, stopping often, knowing that we had all day to get to the refuge. My two companions and I had decided to put all of our stuff into my bag and to switch off, so for something close to 1/3 of the time, I was carrying nothing but my water bottle. We had lunch on the way, making an assembly line for sandwiches with ingredients that I had purchased that morning on a little excursion with Monsieur California. In the last hour of our 6 hour hike, we were overtaken by two sprightly men who we later met and trekked up with the next day. One was a British-Australian pilot for EasyJet who had just graduated an intense two years of flight school in New Zealand, and the other I will introduce as "The Super-Great Dane". He is, well, Danish, but he is also so much more. The Super-Great Dane is a few things: He is smart: Going for a PhD in polisci. He is funny: Mostly his accent, but also how he talks -- it's like he can't say enough words all at once...and of course, he's got a sense of humor. And he's fit: This guy is an "Adventure Racer". This means he travels for months at a time with a team (one woman, two men), over swaths of land through any conditions (parched desert, sheer rock faces, slippery rain, crushing snow) using any means (foot, bike, canoe, crampons) to win the prize money at the end. He's been doing this for years (he's 27) and was at Toubkal practicing. He said that the people who win these things are usually in their late 30s, early 40s because they "know their bodies so well". He told us stories of hallucinations, being so tired that he had to be literally dragged along by a massive lesbian team member, and other such experiences. Anyway....I made some interesting friends.

From Camel Blankets to the Milky Way

No, not the candy bar. The actual Milky Way.

My friend Krista and I went to the desert on Sunday. We left at 9 in the morning, picked up by our guide (Yafya) and driver (Ramdan), two Berber guys wearing great swathy turbans. They took a while to warm up to us. I think it was mostly becasue they didn't really believe that we understood Arabic, which they both (thankfully) spoke. Yafya actually spoke better French than Arabic -- so he talked to Kirsta. And Ramdan, a tiny, tough, mustachioed, early-forties, spoke Darija with a strange southern accent that took me a while to get used to, but once I did, well...he didn't shut up.

We drove from Ouarzazate through through Zagora (it was a souk day -- safety pins: 1 dirham), up to Jebel Zagora to see the exceptional view of the great Draa River which stands as a testament to the great Draa valley in all its fecundity as well as the great unfinished hotel which stands as a testament to the great Arab bureaucracy. The Kasbahs (old fortresses) out there are all used by the Hollywood industry to film things like Star Wars and Gladiator, so all in all, the views were pretty, well, great. The

When we got there we had tea. And more tea. And then went for a camel ride. And then drank more tea. And then we ran up the dunes -- because they were there. And then drank more tea. And then it got dark. After dark there was nothing to do. So we ate dinner. And then drank more tea. And then Ramdan told us jokes in Arabic. Some of them were long, some were short, but jokes in Arabic don't work exactly the same way as they do in English. When a question is posed, you are actually supposed to suggest an answer. Also, sometimes they're more like long stories than jokes.

I had to pee like the devil from all of that Berber Whiskey. As it turned out, we had only made it to the "bab" (door) to the Sahara, we were sleeping next to our jeep in a tent which had a gas burner already set up for us, and there was a tent full of turkish toilets for our use, and, get this: running water. This was car camping at its best, but I didn't mind.

NUJUM ("stars")
That night we sat on the dunes and stared at the stars. I learned some of the names of the constallations...but they were in Arabic, or maybe Berber, so I don't remember any of them. The sky was smudged with other galaxies, some looking like clouds, others like fireworks. Moonrise and moonset were dramatic. For such a sliver, it cast what I saw as a silver lining across the desert. And of course, we gaped at the Milky Way.

We left at 6:30 the next morning. We got back to Ouarzazate with enough time to RUN to the Kasbah and, yes, buy a blanket from Hassan. Alhumdullilah. He wanted us to stay for some Berber Whiskey, but we had to run back (I appropriated another taxi) to barely get on our bus for Marrakesh.

From Berber Whisky to Camel Blankets

Berber Whiskey is the tea they drink in the South, and it gets stronger as you get closer to the desert. The Saharoui (from the word Sahara, which means just "desert" in Arabic) Berbers are very particular about their strong, black tea and speak Berber, not Darija, among themselves (my one word: "Yukhrim". It means "cold"). In one day in Ouarzazate we drank five seperate cups of tea, and I heard more proper FusHa than I have all year. Perhaps the hospitality has to do with a slower pace of life, the lethargic nomadic movement, the openness of the sky and abundance of the stars. The Quranic Arabic that they speak feels crumbly, like the shrines that pepper the horizon and the mountains of the anti-Atlas.

Walking through the kasbahs, visiting the co-ops with our (unpaid, and hew knew it) guide, we stumbled across the old synagogue of Ouarzazate. There are currently exactly 2 Jewish families living in the old Kasbah we were wandering, and the synagogue, of course, is more of an attraction than anything else, with fake Hebrew/Aramaic texts on display, weird-looking Hamzas on the wall where the ark probably once stood, and a huge Hannukiah who's function was explained to us by the most nervous, timid yet sweet Berber man I had yet met. His name is Hassan and he is the grandson of the last guard of the synagogue and had inherited the care of the building from his father, along with the loom or "Anwal", a word which he claims comes from the Hebrew (?), which he still toils over every day. I came to Ouarazazate - having left my travel blanket in Chefchaouen - with a mind to purchase a blanket that I could take with me for the rest of my travels/life. And I had found it. Hassan's "anwal"-made camel-hair creations were the lightest, most beautiful, multi-purpose coverttures (French!) I had ever laid eyes on. But it was Shabbat, so I told him we'd come back later.

We came back later -- at around 7pm. But Hassan wasn't there. So we asked some of the teenagers loitering outside to help us find him. One of them walked to the house of Hassan, the synagogue key-keeper. Turns out there are two Hassans. And no one knew where the second one - our one - was, so I spent the next night in the desert where it was super-"Yukhrim", wishing I had Hassan's blanket.

From Na'ana to Berber Whiskey

I'm gonna have to do this in pieces. I'll begin when I woke up.

It was 5:35. My train was at 5:45. If I didn't make this train, I might not make it to Ouarzazate by Shabbat. Krista was on the phone: "Shev, Shev, you awake?" Oh dear.

It took a full 10 seconds for me to realize what was going on. When I finally did, I snapped up, threw on a different shirt, grabbed my pre-packed pack, leaving my toothbrush on the bedstand where it lay, and bolted. I waddle-ran down the street, cursing the fact that I live near Sale where no petit and only grand taxis go. I decided I didn't care - I would pay 50 dirham to get to the train station for a grand taxi. I flagged one down, stepped in a deep puddle to get to it, threw in my pack, shivered in the early morning chill, and forcefully whispered "ana zirbana"...I'm in a hurry. The driver got it - and floored the accelerator, shifting gears every couple of seconds. I made it to the train station in a record 6 minutes. I hit my head on the way out of the car, gripping 20 dirhams, hoping that would be enough, but prepared to pay more for appropriating a grand taxi meant to fit six passengers for just one person, and throwing him off his set track (grand taxis function essentially as very small buses). And then I was again shocked by the sweetness of Moroccan taxi drivers. He refused payment, and when I forced him to take the 20 he went to get me change. He gave me 10 back. I was stunned. And I made my train. But I didn't get to brush my teeth until I got to Ouarzazate...before Shabbat.

We transferred to a bus in Marrakesh after 4 1/2 hours on the train. It was another 5 or so to Ouarzazate, through the Atlas mountains, with one stop along the way. We walked around, finding a tourists office (!), getting a grand taxi to our budget hotel, had a lovely night on the roof of the hotel, under blankets, learning to play the tamtams (one very small bongo attached to a bigger one), eating mandarins and drinking Berber Whiskey.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How I was Charmed By Paris: A Retrospective

So I’m about to embark on my most adventurous adventure yet, but before I do I need to tell you - my dedicated readers - about a few things. Lets start with highlights from enchanting city: Paris

The Arabic Speakers:
I heard a good deal of Arabic in the streets, picking it out easily from the pretty gobbledygook that is French, but only three times did the fact that I can get farther with my Arabic than with French struck me as hilarious. The first time was at the Museé D’Orsay on our first day in Paris. We were so excited to be there, we pranced through the doors, set our stuff down to be screened, and started walking through the metal detector when the security guard says something very grave in French. I look at him, and without thinking, blurt out “Shnu!?” (“what!?” in Moroccan Arabic) and he laughed. Actually laughed, and then asked me if spoke Arabic, to which I responded “Eeya” like a good Moroccan. We stood there, making people stand in line while we discussed his Algerianness and what we were doing in Morocco…eventually he let us pass without even glancing at our bags. Turned out the grave thing he was saying was meant as a joke, which we obviously didn’t get until it was translated to Arabic.

The second time was when we were looking for the main drag of Avenue St. Germaine. We really didn’t have a clue where we were (this was before I dashed off to purchase a Lonely Planet Paris “Encounter” edition) and I heard some guys speaking Hebrew on the street. Lisa ran up to them and asked, in the proper tongue, where St. Germaine was -- the responded “At Holechet Alav” (“You’re walking on it”) and begin to walk away, which was a relief. But to their surprise and my amusement, Lisa yelled after them: “SHUKRAN!” (Arabic for “thank you”). I almost died of laughter.

The final time Arabic came in handy was when we were rushing on our way pre-Shabbat to Sarcelles, the suburb, or should I say ghetto (only blacks, Arabs, and Jews live there) for Shabbat with Baria and her daughters (yes, it was adorable. It was like having four Barias all at once.) I was nervous, as I was navigating first the metro system, then the train system (quite a disaster that was) and then the bus system, and I had three different numbers for which bus to take…so, like I said, I was nervous. In any event, I got onto one of the buses it could have been (369, I think) and just said “Albert Camus?” hoping he’d understand my meaning, which he did, and said “Oui” (which I’ve learned is the correct way to spell the pronouncement “wee”). In any case, I think it was when I was buying my ticket that he saw a dirham fall out of my change purse and said something something French something…Maroc. And I answered him abck in Arabic. I think he was more than a little stunned. Turns out he’s from a little place close to Rabat and I told him that I study there, and he was even guessed where I study (AmidEast, Agdal). We were friends after that -- and it was a long bus ride, so I was glad of it.

The Tourists:
We met some interesting people on our travels, and I think that’s actually what make traveling fun - the places themselves are nice, but its really the people you meet in the places you’re at that make the difference. Looking for directions (again before the purchase of the LP), we ran into four middle aged American women, one of whom was from Portland (originally from Seattle!) who had us take a picture of them and then took a picture of us. They were hilarious - all dressed up, carrying shopping bags, grinning from ear to ear, looking like they were just having a ball. It was a “girls trip” to Paris, it seemed, and they had done everything. They gave us some tips -- including the idea to get coffee at the clock café at the Museé D’Orsay (Which we did. It was lovely.)

The most memorable tourists we met were less “cute” and more “grimy-traveler” but definitely just as sweet. We were lost - again- and saw these two guys, one of whom was carrying - of course - his Lonely Planet guide to Paris in his hand. I was jealous. He had dreads, was wearing the same grey wool glove cut-offs and brown leather jacket as I was (weird). He and his friend were both carrying gigantic backpacks. (I had left mine at home.) But the best part was that when they opened their mouths they revealed thick Irish accents and graciously pointed us in the right direction of course with the use of their Lonely Planet. I bought one the next day.

The Funny Frenchpeople:
I wanted to buy something for our host, Greg, who had done so much for us. He, among other things, picked us up at the airport at 1am, bought us glorious kosher food (5 cheeses!), took us down the Champs Elyeése in his car (it was cold!), through the Arc d’Triumph (Napoleonic) and up the Eifel Tower (gorgeous) on Saturday night as well as up to Montmartre to see the Sacre-Coeur, and, of course, let us crash on his floor (he had a Japanese-style mattress) and me play his piano (sigh) for three nights! So I decided we should buy him something. Flowers were out, chocolate and wine were stupid (the man lives in Paris!) so I thought it would be nice to buy him some strawberries. This turned out to be an adventure. The man I wanted to buy from was just funny. Kind of a goofy-looking guy in a bright sweater, he gave me the impression that he loved what he did, selling fruit and being friendly. He had a parrot at the cash register, and a man with a Chihuahua came by and he made the two make friends. Then his friend came by - and lo and behold - started yelling at him (jokingly). The only words I understood were “Jakob” (his name, clearly) and “kippa” (!) while this other guy kept covering Jakob’s head with his hand. I got the point. Jakob was Jewish but not wearing his kippa. Oy.

The French-Moroccan Wedding:

Two words sums it all up: Singles Table. No more needs be said. Other than that there was mixed dancing at the end after the (exceptionally strict) mechitza dancing at the outset. Don't worry, I mostly danced with Baria.
Also, the old Jewish quarter of Paris is stunning sells an extrodinary amount of excellent Jewish fare.

OK well that’s enough for now - I thought I would get through more here, but Paris was just too exciting. As for me, this next week will (inchallah) include travels to Ouarzazate, the location of the sets for films including but not limited to: Star Wars, Troy, and Gladiator, then hiking the tallest peak in the Atlas Mountains known as Jebel Toubkal (lets pray for no altitude sickness!), and then a pampering weekend on the beach in Essouaira where I may (or may not) take up an invitation by one of the AmidEast language partners to join him and his family for Eid Al-Kabir. I can’t decide if it’s a good idea or not. We’ll see. Anyway, a departing song for y’all: Love Will Come Through by Travis. I’m in that sort of mood.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Pain in My Foot and Stomach

I'm skipping Paris -- for now. I'll do a quick catch-up later. Maybe. Anyway...I’m sick (because of something I ate last night). And I’m tired (because I couldn’t sleep because of something I ate last night). And I still have the taste of cigarettes in my mouth from when I got up at 4 in the morning parched as a penguin and tried to drink water out of a bottle I had bought last week that had been sitting on the dining room table all weekend, or so I thought. I very quickly discovered, however, that Khadija had helped herself to it -- and it tasted like stinky, sickly smoke. I almost threw up. I proceeded to brush my teeth especially thoroughly to no avail, and now, six hours later, I’m still sort of pissy at Khadija. SO -- I will endeavor to forget my woes in this blog post…here we go anyhow:

This weekend I went to Casablanca and Marrakesh. Actually, more accurately, I went to Marrakesh, with a two-hour stop-over to see the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca. But I’m glad we did -- it’s really something to see. It’s the third biggest mosque in the world (after two in Saudi Arabia in Mecca and Medina respectively), and it was built in the 80s. The upkeep costs are enormous because some good percentage of it (like ¼ or so) rests on the ocean, and the corrosion from the sea-salt is constant. But the place is gorgeous. They call it the high-tech mosque even though everything inside was made by hand, since it has speakers built into the stucco-work, electrically heated floors for worshippers, and a retractable roof like Seattle’s Safeco field which takes exactly 3 minutes to open. Most of the prayer facility is not used every day, but it overflows during Ramadan. The bathhouses (both Roman and Turkish for both men and women), however, are never used. They built them and the decided that instead of making them functional, they would pour the money for them into another project…I think it had to do with literacy or Quranic scholarship or some thing more…well…productive.

In any case, then we marched back onto the bus to sit until lunch, lunch at a “Minibrahim” (a chain of the best places to stop along the coastal highway, and I particularly like the name, it reminds me of one of my cousins). When we got to Marrakesh, we went to the Jardin Marjorelle, a beautiful, brightly colored garden left over from the Occupation (I believe) that I had already been to, but enjoyed nonetheless. It began my observation that Marrakesh was very different this time ‘round from when I had been there during Eid (post-Ramadan holiday) last time. There were more people around, more tourists buying things, more Moroccans selling things, more tourists paying for overpriced hot chocolate at the Marjorelle café, more Moroccans playing Genoa music for you in traditional dress hoping you’ll drop a couple dirhams in their bowl.

We got to our budget hotel in the Ville Novelle and I started making inquiries for the synagogue (thank you Mom!). It was 5 blocks away. It was almost as propitious as that time I found the synagogue next door to my hotel in Agadir. We got to the synagogue which, of course, was packed with Israeli tourists, and sat down. After shul I asked for The Guy I had been told sort of “ran” things for the Jewish community (or what remains of a Jewihs community) in Marrakesh. I asked for Itzak. First I got an Israeli tourist who didn’t know limin (right) from leesir (left), but then I found him -- the man who was taking all of the Israeli tourists home to eat a kosher feast prepared by his wife -- and invited us and my two friends to join him. So we did. We walked about 3 and ½ blocks (in the direction of our hotel, nonetheless!) to his house with 50 Israelis who were fascinated by us. All of them wanted to ask us all of the same questions all at once. It was strangely gratifying. We had a six-course meal which included fish, pastillas and lamb (I didn't eat all of it, I've learned...). Yizak's family sat with us - his wife, daughters and granddaughter - and we spoke in a mixture of Hebrew/Arabic, and I learned a few things: There are no longer Jews in Ouarzazate, there are no other places in Marrakesh to eat that were kosher, and the next day there would be a MASSIVE schina (I saw it on the platta) for everyone, and we were invited.

I managed to get a friend of mine psyched into walking with me all the way from the Ville Novelle (New City) to the Jama’a al-Fna, the main, happening square in the old part of Marrakesh. On the way, however, actually just as I stepped onto Rue Mohammad V, the main drag of the Ville Novelle, I cut my foot. Deeply. It was bleeding. My friend and I found a pharmacy, and the pharmacist, without saying a word (I think he assumed we didn’t speak Arabic or French), sat me down, used cotton balls to pour what alcohol, which he called Al-Haram (it means “The forbidden” -- it was a joke), into the gash, then taped gauze to it, and covered it with a sort of meshy gauze that he tied around my ankle. I was very grateful. And I managed the hour down and the hour back with just this bandage. I met the rest of AmidEast and we walked around, saw the Ba’ya Palace, the Saadian Tombs, the Khuttubia mosque, the oldest, no-longer-in-use synagogue in the Mellah (I was told by a few of the men there that there was one around the corner that was still in use, in fact, it was frequented by Itzak, but didn’t get a change to go see it. It was also 1 in the afternoon and I doubted very much that he’d be there). I spent the afternoon wandering through the old souqs (markets) with my friends who were buying up the town (don’t worry, I did my own shopping on Saturday night) and then walked back for a shaleshudis of sorts on the roof of the hotel. We didn't make it back to Yizak's, but maybe I'll get to go back next time I'm in Marrakesh.

I came back home, ate some old salad that was in the fridge, and proceeded to become painfully ill. I didn’t go to school today, but I hope to tomorrow, as we have Wednesday off (!) because it’s Moroccan Independence Day.

Song of the moment, as inspired by Jack: Mouthwash by Kate Nash.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Boooo, Shev, booo! I missed a week. This might be the first time. I got back on Monday night from Paris -- which is what I've been meaning to blog about and haven't --- and I'm off to Casablanca and Marrakesh for the weekend. Right now - literally - I'm running off to reach English and then heading to my favorite live music venue, an African bar called "Yakut". I'll be better next week. Inchallah.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Adventures in and out of Rabat

I just need to complain for a moment. My host parents are in Paris, where I am joining them in just a few hours. But I’ve spent the week with our housekeeper, who is not live-in usually, but is essentially house-sitting while the Ben Loulous are away. Khadija, is usually is just sugar and honey to me all the time, but - turns out- when left to her own devices, is often unresponsive and irresponsible. I will give you the three examples, briefly

1) Khadija smokes and drinks black coffee. I’ve never seen her eat. But when Baria is home, she smokes only in one room - the parlor - though she sips her coffee everywhere. Now that Baria’s gone, I've seen her ashtrays in the kitchen sink, and I smell her ciggystench everywhere. I feel like I have begun to live inside a giant cigarette.

2) T
he day after Baria left we ran out of na’ana (fresh mint) from which we make tea every morning and occasionally in the afternoons. I had been told by Baria that if I needed anything to just ask Khadjia to get it during the day since all of the shops would be closed by the time I returned from school. And I asked Khadjia to go get some the day before. She went out the next morning searching for it, but of course there was none -- it was 7:30am! And this same story repeated itself the two days following. Each morning I would ask if there was na’ana and she would respond by walking out the door only to come back empty handed just in time to make me late for school (note: I couldn’t leave the house until she got back since she doesn’t have a key). In any case, I finally had tea with na’ana this morning. Ahhhh.

3) The Kicker: Mike was dropping off Lisa and myself one evening after going out to my favorite place in town, an African bar with live music called “Yakut”. It had been a lovely evening and we arrived inside Bab Diwana around 1am. All of the balconies were closed, including ours, and as I looked through my purse for the key, a stone sank in my gut. I didn’t have it. What were we going to do? It was our first night alone, and if Khadija wasn’t there and I didn’t have the key we would have no way to get in for the next 3 weeks! We’d have to break down the door! Mike was exhausted and had no brainpower to offer us. Lisa was freaking out and waving her arms. I was pacing. And thinking. After about ten minutes this, plus ringing the doorbell a hundred times, calling the house phone (which we could hear from outside!), and yelling Khadija’s name, I had to stop and just think. I took the opportunity to explain the situation to Zohair (AKA Homo Religiosis), our as-yet unmarried, supposed do-nothing neighbor whom you will recall from previous posts. And then I had an idea. I would climb onto the top of Mike’s truck, shimmy up the awning of the hanut (local store) that lies below our balcony. So I did. With strength I didn’t know I possessed I leveraged against the flimsy iron overhang and pulled myself up and over the balcony railing. I banged on the door yelling Khadija’s name. No response. It was at this point that I despaired. It was fair to assume that she had gone home and that we were truly locked out. So I climbed down, letting myself drop gently onto Mike’s truck to have another think. I walked around the house, examining each window slowly. And low and behold - there it was. Baria’s room’s window was slightly cracked open. But, as you all know, I am short, and there was no hanut overhang to grip. I considered our friend, Mike, who is probably about 6’2 or 6’3. But I didn’t even think he’d be able to reach it. It was really high up there. And then Zohair saved the day. He asked me if I wanted a silm (Hebrew: sulam English: ladder). My jaw dropped. YES I wanted a ladder! Now I had it. I would get Mike to back into our alleyway, put the ladder in the back of Mike’s truck, and pull myself up and into our house! And it worked! I had to get to the tippytop rung of the ladder, and it was precarious, and I was nervous, and I risked my neck, and…I made it into the house. Everyone applauded. Whew. And then I ran to get the key (I knew exactly where I had left it) and saw none other than Khadija -- passed out and snoring obscenely like a teenager with a bad cold. She had been there the whole time - through the doorbell rings, the phone calls, the yelling, the banging on her balcony door - she had been narry a meter away from all of these things, and had remained lost in dreamland hearing nothing but the sounds of her subconscious.

Lets juts say I’m glad to be going to Paris to reunite with Baria, even for a short time. We only have three or four days of Khadija’s propitious care left when we get back…alhumdulilah.

I can’t go away to Paris for the weekend without writing about my trip with AmidEast last weekend to Tangiers, Chefchaouen, Ceuta and Asilah, which must been some of the most starkly attractive places located on God’s good earth. “Dazzling” might be an apt word to describe these places. Chefchaouen, for example, is basically a garden town with a Spanish-made river running through, nestled up against Rif Mountains, which we (sometimes nauseatingly) travelled through by bus. The Rif are the northern-most of the mountains in Morocco from whence comes most of the kif, or hash (some of you may recognize this Arabic word from the Hebrew use of the word "kef" which means "fun"), running perpendicular to the Atlas Mountains where I will be spending some time two weeks from now (for the preview, I will be in the Berber village of Ouarzazate, hiking Jebel Toubkal, and spending a weekend in the quaint European surfer-vacation town of Essouaira. Asilah was probably the most picturesque town we saw on the trip and we spent under two hours there. It’s a place known for its artists and sunsets and we left just before, but were able to watch it from the bus. Lisa and I made sandwiches sitting on the beach of salad and kiri (the cheap soft cheese I've developed a taste for). Yum.

My Famfam....
In conclusion to this adventure-post: I wanted to make a note - and post some pictures - about how much of an adventure and how wonderful it was to have my family - especially my grandparents - here in Morocco with me over the past two weeks. Though I saw them only for about a quarter of their time in Morocco (in Fes for the weekend, Casablanca for lunch, and Rabat for an afternoon and lovely dinner) it was wonderful to see friendly, American, familial faces and share the experiences of crossing a the street in Rabat, being stuffed full of delicious food by Baria as a family, buying coats of many colors in Fes, learning about the JOINT’s work in Casablanca, and eating kefta in Rabat’s only Kosher restaurant, Le Circle. Thanks for coming Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Louis, Aunt Bayla, and of course, MOM! It was a pleasure to be able to host you in this colorful country.

Entirely unrelated, I can't believe I've never put up one of my favorite Israeli artists of all time on this blog, so its time, ladies and gents, for a bit of Idan Raichel and his marvelous Project. I am in love with this song -- every time I listen to it I get a bit of a different tingle in my cranial cavity, and the video adds just that much more.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Burning Garbage Smell Like Home...but Seattle Will Always Taste A Whole Lot Better

I'm listening to Belle and Sebastian’s “If You Find Yourself Caught in Love (feel free to ignore the weird montage) and I can’t help thinking what a wonderful Sunday morning song it is. Sunday morning is my favorite time of the week -- mostly at home, but sometimes at Penn too. When I make pancakes or French toast (hopefully with cinnamon and not havdalah spice {cloves})…Having - at in the summer - just come back from waterskiing, still wet from the shower, but starving, I pop in a Sunday Morning Mix and just flip those pancakes with sweet sweet syrup and a whole lot of love.

Sunday morning. Ahh. (Azoses, if you're reading, you probably understand....) Maybe its because my mother and grandparents have been in town since Thursday night! I still sort of can’t believe they’re in Morocco. We went to Fez for the weekend, and if I thought the Toledano’s was a resort vacation, well, let me tell you, the Palais Jamai hotel in Fez (situated on the edge of the ancient 9th century medina, actually in the Melah (what was the Jewish quarter) was so far beyond luxury I cannot express in words the beauty, detail, and attention I received as a guest in this hotel. Not to mention the breakfast. Reminded me of Sunday mornings at home.

I want to write about Fez, but the Palais Jamai looms literally and figuratively in my mind and I am finding it difficult to put down words that don't overflow with
praises for the place. Which is why I chose my title -- its weird that burning garbage has become such a normal smell to me - its like home, but at the same time its a) not Seattle and b) compared the Palais Jamai, which is, I suppose, (in fairness, a bit above, but closer to) my personal "quote" standard of living "end quote", its this weekend was very very weird. But here goes my howla (attempt):

FEZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (sometimes with a Z sometimes with an S...in Arabic its a "Sin")
Fez is an assault on the senses. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a welcome assault, but it can be sort of, err...violent at times. The tanneries, for example, exude the ungodly smell of camel, sheep, and goat hides transported on donkeys, the primary mode of transportation in the medina itself, one of which literally tried to stomple my poor grandmother. But just a moment -- I’m rushing ahead of myself...

Back Up:
On Shabbat my mom and I walked the centuries…and the city. We walked from the time when Islam came to Morocco with Moulay Ismail in the 9th century and Fez was established directly to the Fes Al-Jedid, which means “The New Fes”. Now, “The New Fez” is actually in no way new. It was built after the mass emigration of Muslims and Jews in the 13th and 14th centuries from Spain during the Inquisition. We walked down the road that used to separate the Muslim area (25 Mosques) from the Jewish area (36 synagogues!) and saw all of the Andalusian architecture and balconies that remain. Gorgeous, but surreal. It felt like we were back in Cordoba, Grenada, or Ronda, for my Aunt Lauren’s wedding! We walked all the way past the King’s Fes palace - apparently the largest one in Morocco - with Marrakesh a close second. On our way past we took a look at the doors that were put up by a Fessi artisan in 1968. I recognized them. They were the doors that adorn the cover of my (and every other tourist in Morocco’s) Lonely Planet Guide! We got to meet this auspicious character that very day on our tour of the medina on our way back from shul! Anyway, just past the palace the French take over, and the bread becomes suspiciously white, the boulevards auspiciously wide, and the fountains conspicuously lavish.

The Shul is Green!
Going to shul in Fes was great. I still am not sure why it was Green...maybe the evil eye or maybe because the color of the city is blue and the Jews always have be contrary in some way. In any case, I reconnected with the Israelis from Agadir and the Hillulah of Rabbi David U-Moshe who seem to be following me everywhere, while my mother marveled at the similarities between “our” SBH and EB Sephardim back home and the Moroccan Jew’s tunes and customs (which involve much rolling of their throats (there's a word for that but I forget and you know what I mean) and yelling corrections at the ba’al koreh [Torah reader]). We had Kiddush with the old Fessi group (between 15-20 regulars) of which I knew-ish one through another friend-ish that I made on the way to the Hillulah from Casablanca. Incredibly friendly people. Post-kiddush lunch with the masses of Israelis - schina, of course - was delectable.

I got over my over-eating at lunch by walking all the way to and through the old medina, seeing the Rambam’s house (!), or actually just a tile in the wall that says “Maimonides House”, where a Muslim family now lives, an antiquities shop with ancient Berber-Jewish jewelry, menorahs (I bought an imitation later in Chefchouen this weekend...but that's for later), and even an ancient Torah scroll. I saw kids with no shoes running up and down the steps of this ancient (9th century, don't forget!) valley, bleary-eyed donkeys who's drivers yell "Balak!" before they try and trample you, and the Kairowan University mosque -- and although we couldn’t go in, its intricately detailed doors stand as a testament to the allegedly first university in the world, founded by a woman, and still located in Fes.

The Rest -- Briefly:
I BOUGHT A LEATHER JACKET AT THE TANNERIES. So much for the vegitarian lifestyle- but its definitely local (though I didn’t see this animal killed….allhumdulilah) I saw the hide being transported, the skin being dyed, dried and shaped -- before my very eyes. So at least its local. We saw carpets galore in a riyad with the tallest ceiling you’d never know was there if you didn’t open the door, and a view from the top that was just breathtaking. We saw potters and weavers and the man who made the Lonely Planet doors - I think I mentioned that. And then I went back to Rabat on the train. And I had midterms. And that’s why this blog is late. My mother left yesterday which was sad...sigh. Sunday mornings.

I think this post, and all of my 3-4-5 hour trips with nothing but me and my ipod warrant two songs for this post. So here's a song I had stuck in my head all through Ceuta, which I will discuss, inchallah, very soon. Its by Ben Folds, and its called Hiroshima. Listen to the lyrics. I chuckle every time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009



In opposite order - the first one is the grave site of Rabbi Moshe U-David from a distance, the Tzadik we went to visit. The second is the lush valley immediately before you get to the tomb. Third is us in the closest Berber village before the Tzadik's tomb.



Monday, October 19, 2009

A Weekend of Backseats

I spent the weekend in cars. And buses. But mostly cars. It was an incredible journey. The first leg started on Friday morning. Mike, Lisa, another friend and myself, piled into Mike's Toyota 4WD truck with his surfboards in the back and headed south. We stopped a couple times, but basically book it straight through to Agadir...which took 8+ hours.

Here's a map for all you who like things like that (I include myself in your number). You can trace my trip from Rabat --> Agadir --> Marrakesh --> Ouarzazate --> Marrakesh --> Casablanca --> Rabat. Most of which was through the Atlas mountains, which means swervy, curvy roads and lots of glorious scenery. I'll see if I can't get some pictures up towards the end of the week. I also need to write a blog preparing my family for their upcoming trip!

But first...

So, like I said, Mike took us, and I took about a thousand pictures of the scenery - the Berber villages with everyone riding motorbickles, actual bicycles, or donkeys - lots of donkeys - and the hills (They might call them the "Atlast Mountains, but I know what mountains look like, OK, these were hills) that went on for what that seemed to go on forever. When we got to Agadir, there wasn't much time for anything, and I was dead tired, so we crashed. The next day I went in search of the synagogue. I walked 15 minutes down the main street before I asked for directions -- turns out the synagogue was, and I in no way kid you, NEXT TO our hotel. LITERALLY, the building over. I laughed out loud to myself. Lots of cops, and lots of people! The Agadir Jewish community is 80 people - total. (Rabat's is 200). But the place was packed. With Israelis. Two seperate groups of Israeli tourists, mostly older people, but some kids, too, had flocked to the south of Morocco to rediscover their roots and see places that they left 50 years ago. I sat next to one woman who had left in 1955 - one year before Morocco gained independence from the French (most left in '56). One man from Agdir made an tear-choked speech in Darija (which almost fully understood!) about how much the Israeli's invasion -- I mean visit -- meant to them. A few Israeli men then got up and took turns singing Moroccan Jewish songs. The Chivas, as usual was flowing steadily. As was the snuff. I've noticed it a great deal among older Moroccan Jews, actually.

At the "kiddush" they all invited me back to their hotel rooms for Shabbat lunch, but protested that I had friends waiting for me and I went back to my hotel, walked with my friends to the beach and spent the rest of the day sunning (not "tanning", "sunning", thank you very much). After Shabbat we went back to the hotel, to get changed for the concert we stumbled upon this antiques shop with Menorahs in the windows...I had to go in and talk to the guy for a while in Arabic. The Menorahs are really ancient, and well out of my price range, but some of them were gorgeous, and strangely made with only 6 candle-holders...but I did find a jade magen david necklace which bought...But back to the subject: I think I neglected to mention that the reason that a lot of AmidEasters decided to go to Agadir this weekend is because there was this massive "Concert for Tolerance" on the beach where a lot of big names (including, among others, Haifa Wahby, the scantily-clad Lebanese pop crooner) where 250,000 people were expected -- it ended up being more like 300,000... Anyway, we finally got changed and went to the sketch bus station to buy tickets for a 4am bus to Marrakesh, and then back to the beach for to meet up with friends.

The concert was AWESOME. Except for the sexual harassement. I won't get into that. But I will say that I felt like I was in the middle of a man-caf (you'll recall my term for the men-only cafes that litter the Middle East and N. Africa) only they weren't serving coffee. We got into the 1st tier of VIP (only a bit better than nothing) with little difficulty, but I still couldn't see because I am, as you know, exceptionally short. Sigh. It was alright, I got some guy to take a picture of Haifa for me.

Got on the bus at 4am and slept - alhumdulliah - all the way to Mararkesh with only sudden jolts and the sun waking me up occasionally. I brought my travel blanket with me. Yum. Way to think ahead, Shev. I don't know why, but I had a realization on that bus. In Hebrew, "Mazal" is "luck" or, in older Hebrew you might translate it as "the stars of fate". In Arabic, the words "Ma Zal" mean "still" or "not yet". Thoughts, anyone? Abba? I think they might ahve something to do with each other.

When I got into Marrakesh, I didn't know where I was. I had no orientation, and I had to tell my friend where to pick me up, so I went into the cafe next door and a guy showed me - on his iphone, using google maps - precisely where were were located. Still and all, it too my friend an hour to figure out that I wasn't at the central bus station, but instead at the CTM station. Ahhh! Anyway, it was alright, it gave me time to drink my coffee (so important), wash up, change my clothes, and do my homework!

The road to Oarzazate was even more beautiful (if that's possible) than the road to Agadir. The mountains seemed to change color every other turn. From red to yellow to blue to purple to green -- It was astonishing. And the Berber villages were vibrant -- people walking, riding, selling, wearing tattoos, carrying goats, and just living life.

Hillulah~ Close to Ouarzazate!
So we drove and drove and drove -- the friends of Shimon Bouskilla (the guy who drove me) sang Moroccan Jewish songs, ate Israeli treats (Botnim Amerikayyim!), smoked a little, and spoke in French a lot. I was in the car with them for 4 1/2 hours on the way there, and 8 1/2 on the way back. We became good friends.

When we got there - I had a fever. I didn't tell anyone -- there was nothing they could have done -- but I popped some ibuprofen and sucked it up. I felt better, and I was even able to eat the lamb. The lamb. The lamb. The lamb. I ate the lamb. I didn't think about it. Until I saw - as we were leaving - the herd. I saw the herd of lamb. And I saw the slaughterhouse. Full of lamb. In all forms. Alive and bleating, just slaughtered, half-way skinned, all the way skinned, and hacked into pieces. All lined up next to each other. I ate the lamb.

So the big Hillulah party happened on Shabbat, while I was in Agadir. But they had a special event this year -- a new sefer torah! There was a whole big party during the 2pm feast (of lamb) for the hachnasat sefer torah in addition to the usual auctioning off of candles, chamsas, and huge portraits of the Baba Sali. They sang songs - some of which I knew from Migdal Oz, some of which I knew because they were Ashkenazi (!) and some of which I knew from just general Jewish knowledge. It was all very exciting, and was only aided by the generous flow of Johnnnie Walker Black which itself was, as the party waned, collected for hoarding by the women in empty Sprite bottles and the like. And while the women didn't "participate" as such, they certainly lalalalaed great deal - sometimes even into the microphone...ow.

Most of the attendees were Israeli -- Moroccan-Israelis who came on huge, slow tour buses up through the mountains (some of which were just dirt!). It was such an interesting sociological gathering, not just because this is a group of people (Moroccan-Israelis) with whom I've had only limited exposure but also because of the variety of religious "appearances," if you will. Women in sheitls, men in black hats vs. women in spandex dresses and doilies, and men in shorts, sandals and yankee's hats. After the meal a few women took platters of treats around (see picture) consisting of dried fruits, cookies, and Mechiya (literally, in Hebrew (or Yiddish, for that matter): "The Thing That Causes Life" -- but its really just a bottle of Arak or some other foul alcoholic beverage). The woman usually ends up leaving this platter - or whatever's left of it - inside the tomb itself where people are constantly saying Tehillim (Psalms), getting blessings from Rabbis, and kissing the tombstone of the Tzadik.

So the grave itself (see picture) is located next to the synagogue (see picture -- note the King's portrait in the right hand corner. He's everywhere. Him and the Baba Sali.) which is located next to the furnace where people burn candles. Now when you think "burn candles" usually you think - oh, light the candle at the wick, let it burn down in honor of the dead person, right? Oh no. This was not that kind of "burning". This was BURNING. The procedure consists of literally throwing your candles into the belching flames of the type of fiery furnace you imagine Abraham was thrown into. It was HOT and there was a huge dripping waterfall of wax leaking out down the side of it and onto the floor (see picture). All told, the experience was well worth the drive.

I had to sleep over in Casablanca - there were no trains or buses when we got in at midnight. So I got on the first train (6:30am) to Rabat, and made it to school...but I crashed later that day. My shower felt like the dew of angels. My food from Baria tasted like ambrosia. My bed felt like the wool of all of those lambs slaughtered at the Hillulah. Glorious.

And now I'm back -- and so is the song of the post. Here we have Peter Bjorn & John singing "Young Folks" -- I really like this song, it reminds me of how I like my coffee got a touch of dark but its mostly light and fluffy. No sugar.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Finished Edward Said's "Orientalism"

A Garbage Without A Can
My roommate made a comment today as we were leaving our mansion (French for "house" pronounced: "may-zon") today and she wanted to throw something away. There were no garbage cans around, so she just put her scrap in a pile of trash that was sitting on the street. It had been swept up, probably at around 3 or 4 am (sometimes I hear them sweeping...its super loud and they always sweep the pile directly under our balcone). They sweep, by the by, using large palm frods, which (I believe) contributes to the volume of the sweeping. Anyway, all of this is beside the point. What is TO the point is that as my roommate dropped her trash on the street she glibly and conveniently termed "garbage without a can". Which is precisely what it is.

Funny Arabic Words I Learned Today
to cause to tremble - zalzala (past) - yu'zalzil (present)
which is a good onomatopoeia, but not as good as this embarrassing one:
to stutter, stammer - ta'ata'a - yu'ta'ataee; t'a't'ta'tah (gerund) -- two of the radicals in this word are glottal stops. Hilarious.
to be devilish, act like the devil - ta'shitana, ya'shtaytan (you may recognize it from the Hebrew -or the English - Satan)
but what's funny is that it was followed immediately in the book by:
to become Americanized - t'amraka - ya'ta'amrak (Oy)
and my favorite
to "front" (to pretend to own more than you actually possess) - fachacha - yufachach

A (Very) Few Reasons Why Morocco is Hamak (Crazy)
1) I've now seen two bus crashes. People yelling, cursing, and pointing. But it turns out that they happen all the time. Incredibly frequently. Who knew?
2) My friend thought that the green yogurt was clam flavored because that's what the picture looks like on the side of the container. Its actually pistachio. Not so delicious. Or maybe I'm just turned off because its green.
3) The orange juice they sell on the street is great. You pay 4 dirham, they pour you a glass, you drink it on the spot, they take your glass, dunk it in some sort of cleaning water, and rinse it.
4) They also sell chocolate in small pieces, single cigarettes, chalk boards, nuts, boiled chickpeas, hanging shoe containers, platic Winnie-the-Pooh-playing-the-drums toys, watches, socks, leggings, sunglasses, single tissue packs (1 dirham scented, 2 unscented), and anything else you might think of. on the street. And basically everything else you could possible not want.

My Love/Hate Relationship With FRENCH
1) ) We're trying to teach Baria, my host mother, English. Kitchen-chicken (and sometimes ticket) are tough words for her. Every morning we get: "Have “egg” good day, Sheva. Have egg good day, Liza!" She's so cute.
Lisa’s faux pas: The word for umbrella in French is pronounced “parapoulwee” but, when Lisa tired to repeat this word to our friend Mike, it came out “parapoulay” which, literarlly translates, might be close to something like “chicken-hitter” or something as “poulay” means…chicken.
The French are constantly referred to in academic literature as “colons”, which I find hilarious. But the truth is, the fact that the French were here with a relatively benign occupation, gives Morocco a feeling of class that Egypt didn’t have. Good or bad I can’t judge. But the Moroccans really embraced French as a language and a culture -- and it shows.
4) All of that said, French is impossible to decipher. Lisa and I bought conditioner that turned out to be tanning lotion. We bought sun screen that turned out to be tanning oil. I guess the French come here to tan?

What to DO This Weekend:
I could go to a hillulah - a Jewish saint veneration party at a shrine near Ouarzazate - but I have nowhere to sleep for the weekend and I don't have a ride there until Sunday after all of the festivities anyway.
I could go to Agadir with Lisa for a concert on Sat. night but its really far and I'd have to skip class.
I could stay in Rabat and be bored.
I'll let you know which one I choose.

SHOUT OUT: Scotty and Jon from Amsterdam SIT. Anthony, too. Lisa too- it was her birthday, as you know. And just because I had a sudden change of mood....here's The Future of Forestry and "If You Find Her"...