Archive for October, 2013

Our Story Does Not End Here

October 2, 2013

Our story does not end here,

The story does not rest in a city surrounded by water

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It does not lie in the bosom of a statue in the middle of a plaza

It does not sit to watch the gypsy dancers perform their art,

It does not stand guard at an age old fortress

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It does not walk among the streets of builders

It does not eat lunch with a welcoming family

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It does not get lost in the medina of a port city

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It does not hide in a cave

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It does not sit at a desk repeating after an enthusiastic professor

It does not have coffee with fellow students

It does not have milk and dates with an amazing man

It does not ride a horse-drawn buggy through an ancient palace

It does not watch Moroccans “boogie” American style

It does not get lost in a market

It does not go to a bath with friends and leave it sisters

It does not visit ancient ruins in the middle of nowhere

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It does not play soccer or basketball with kids at a school on a hill

It does not wander within a city that has thousands of streetsImage

It does not see a sunset on the ocean

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It does not await a ride on a camel

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It does not tumble in the tides of the Atlantic

It does not cry when crossing the Strait of Gibraltar by air

It does not take its time viewing paintings

It does not stay in the opulent architecture of a palace

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Our story does not reside in the words of a blog

It still changes and grows

Our story stays with us, wherever we may go

Our story does not end here

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Camels, Spices, and…Hip Hop Dancers?

October 2, 2013

Before coming on this trip, I had a picture in my head of what Morocco was going to be like. I saw rolling hills of sand, camels everywhere, market stalls divided by cloth walls. What I actually found was bustling cities with rundown stone sidewalks where you had to watch your step for fear of breaking an ankle. There were cars that zoomed by with no rhyme or reason to the speed limit or lanes. I found small convenience stores where I had to buy water, there was no oasis. Even though this world was not what I had imagined, it was still new and different. I still knew that I was away from home. I couldn’t speak Darija with the locals. Women on the streets wore a jellaba and a hijab. Men whistled and made kissing noises as I passed on the street. I couldn’t understand the advertisements for ice cream that were in all of the convenience stores.

After having my ideas about Morocco crushed right before my very eyes, I tried not to have any expectations about our meetings with the students from the local university. I knew that any of my made up scenarios would go up in smoke and there is only so much of that feeling you can take on one trip. You can imagine what a shock it was to find people in Morocco who danced hip hop. “Hip hop is American!” screamed my brain as I watched these talented men dance. The fact that hip hop was in Morocco, an ocean and a continent away from my home was disconcerting.

We had talked about transnationalism in class in Granada, but it was completely different seeing it firsthand. The fact that dance could cross an ocean and take root in this exotic place is astounding! I could see the passion these men had for their art in their eyes. When we attended the auditions for a competition a few days later, I was even more impressed by these young people’s dedication. They have the courage to get up on stage and freestyle. There were no carefully practiced routines when I was there. On the stage, it was just the man and the music. Having never seen hip hop in the United States, I cannot say if we have the same passion or not. Regardless the fact that these people could find passion in something that came from so far away is admirable. Hip hop in Morocco, who’d have thought!

A Little Bit of Morocco

October 2, 2013

New FriendsIn the KasbahDSC_0168_2Cutting LeatherMeknes MarketMouhsinRooftopMoroccan LunchAsilah at NightKeeper of the Snails

Transnationalism

October 2, 2013

Transnationalism is the crossing and mixture of different nations or cultural aspects. One of the biggest examples of this was the Alhambra. We visited it during our time in Spain and were able to have a tour of all the grounds and all of the buildings inside. The place was amazing and enchanting and so breathtaking. It took three hours to tour the entire Alhambra and throughout all of the buildings, there were so many examples of transnationalism. The buildings showed a mix of Christian and Muslim architecture throughout the entire Alhambra. You could see it through the use of which stone was used as well as the different shapes of the arches. Muslim architecture was very famous for using limestone in their buildings as well as the clover-shaped arches; Christian architecture was very famous for using bricks in their buildings and curved arches. Throughout the Alhambra, there was a mixture of all of these characteristics and an interlapping of the different cultures.

I experienced my favorite example of transnationalism during my time in Meknes, Morocco: the obsession with American hip-hop music and dancing. Some of the local university students that we met while in Meknes are part of a hip-hop dance crew and there was actually a dance battle going on while we were there. It was so crazy to see so many people with such a passion for American music, some of them that don’t even speak english or understand what is being said. It was a very clear way to see the influence that American culture is having in Morocco (well, at least Meknes). It was really good because we were able to form bonds and build relationships through shared passions and knowledge of the American culture that they are so interested in. It was definitely a step in the right direction for reconciliation.

The Girl Selling Dates

October 2, 2013

 

 

In Meknes, the Medina is a constant. The sellers in the market fill their stalls day after day, offering the same woven rugs and spices as they did the day before. The smells of each alley and corridor were always the same but no passage smelled the like another. It’s a small market compared to the ones in the big cities like Fez or Marrakech, but it’s familiar, manageable. The market is slow today, she thought. Must be because of the rain. Nadia and her sister sit on wobbly wooden stools next to each other in their stall, resting their arms and elbows on the shelves full of dates, apricots, nuts and pastries. There is nothing really to talk about, today is a lot like yesterday. The radio hums along with the bustle of the market. Her parents owned this stall, and now that she and her sister are old enough, their father has them manage it for him.

Being a woman seller in the market is tough; it’s men’s territory. But Nadia knows she’s not alone, that there are many women who have their own stalls and who rival all of the big-shot sellers in the market. It is a slow day. A cat wanders by, still wet from the rain outside. A couple old men talk and laugh loudly leaning against the wooden crates near the hanging meat. Nadia’s thoughts wander as she stares off down one of many long hallways of the market.

Eventually, she feels her sister elbow her and looks up to see a group of girls, possibly European, maybe American, standing in front of her stall. It always surprised her when people picked her goods over the others all around her. Meknes doesn’t get too many tourists but enough for her to be able to tell that these were American girls. Americans are easy to rip off; she’d seen it happen many times. Nadia quickly snaps out of her daydreaming and stands, nodding to the Americans. She wants to be cool and confident like she had seen the other women in the market act. She doesn’t speak at first, waiting for them to approach her. The American girls point to the dates asking, “how much?” and she responds, in English, a price maybe triple what she would have offered a Moroccan. She sets her jaw firm but there is a glimmer of playfulness in her eyes, she wants to know what the Americans will do, sort of as an experiment, for her own curiosity. Her sister glances at her and sits back down, bored but mildly interested in the exchange. The American girls offer half of her first offer and she feels the eyes of the male sellers on her, watching her. It’s all a game really. She shakes her head no, and smirks at them, undermining them, as if they don’t know what they’re doing. The girls look at each other, unsure, and offer a little less than her first offer. Nadia smiles and shakes her head. She’s in charge and it feels good. She hopes the men are still watching her. Finally, the Americans agree to pay her first price, each buying a half-kilo and leaving, smiling at her like she had done them a favor. Nadia smiled back and waved, then turned to her sister who rolled her eyes and chuckled at her. Of course she felt a little bad for ripping off the poor tourists, but after all they’re just dates, and God knows they had the money. The air was humid, but the day was cooling down and Nadia knew it was almost time to close down. It was a pretty good day. She smiled, remembering that it was raining. She loved the way the Medina smelled when it rained.

Eyes Closed, Hands Open

October 2, 2013

 

I don’t think she washed her hands, I thought as I watch the old woman roll a ball of couscous in her hand, picking pieces of rotisserie chicken off the bone and clumping it into the yellow ball of couscous. She then pours sauce over it, the sauce seeps through her fingers and she turns and looks at me. This perfectly organized handful of food was prepared just for me. I reach out my hand and she plops it in the middle of my palm, and I slowly raise it and put it into my mouth. It was delicious. That was the thing about Moroccans. You just have to trust them. There’s an irresistible honestly in their eyes. Intimacy bled into everything they did. I spent a week hanging out with some Moroccan boys and it amazed me how they embraced each other, shared food, paid for each other’s cigarettes and kissed the cheeks of each other’s mothers and sisters. I didn’t understand this intimacy at first, and then I went to a Moroccan hammam.

The entrance of the hammam looked like the inside of a rec-center locker room except for there was a cash register and an older woman standing behind it. The room was cool and dimly lit with wooden benches along the walls. I had never been to a public bathhouse before, but it was a place Moroccans visited once or twice a week. After paying, the woman gives me a couple of buckets, and I am told to undress and enter the next room. The other room is tiled and rectangular with two pipes that run along the perimeter, one for hot water and one for cold. The women sit on the tile floor next to their buckets facing the faucets on the wall. Many women are there with friends, comfortably chatting, washing their hair and rubbing black soap and henna on their skin. The room is humid and smells strongly of henna and rust from the pipes. I walk in and pick my spot and rinse the place where I’m going to sit. At the hammam, you also pay for another service, which is essentially a scrub down. After I’m settled, an old woman walks in, her breasts sagging to her hips, and her gray hair pulled back in to a bun. She smiles, saying a couple words to me, exposing the few teeth she has left. It was my turn to be cleaned, and she was the one who was going to do it. She sits herself in the middle of the muggy tiled room and motions to me. At first I sit in front of her, hugging my knees to my chest while she scrubs my back. It hurts and I wince as she scrapes the skin and dirt off of my body. Then she pulls me back and lays me across her thighs, all of my skin laid out in front of her. I close my eyes. This old woman I had never met in my life had access to all the secrets and scars on my body. Then, for the next ten or fifteen minutes, she methodically pulled at my skin with a scrubbing mitt, silently, turning me over and over, cleaning every inch of my skin. I had to trust her, and I did. When she was done, I felt indebted to her. It was intimate, it was physical and it bound me to her as if she were my mother, and I her child.

In Morocco, everyone is family. When you give your body up to someone else you are connected. To my surprise, those eyes and hands I entrusted myself to never betrayed me. There was a certain sense of intimacy and trust that I had never known before. When a Moroccan reaches for my elbow to lead me across a busy street, I could close my eyes and walk. I would go wherever they wanted to lead me. Honest.

Children of the Village

October 2, 2013

During one of the days that we were in Morocco, we traveled to one of the nearby villages and we were able to play sports and do crafts with the kids. I was sick so I was not able to participate in the activities, but from the sidelines I was able to observe the relationships that were being formed. Because it was a Moroccan school, there was a pretty big language barrier between us and the kids, but when everybody was playing together, it didn’t really matter so much that they couldn’t communicate through words; they were communicating through sports and art and passion. It’s the little things like this that allow different cultures to bridge their gaps and start forming bonds with each other.

The day before we went to the village, we had all gone to the market and we had boughten a bunch of school supplies, backpacks, and soccer balls for all of the kids in need of financial help. We put one of each item into a backpack and then after we were done playing with kids, we handed them out. The appreciation that was shown to us was enough to break your heart; in America, people aren’t so grateful for something so simple as a backpack or school supplies, but these kids were very appreciative. After everything was handed out, one of the school leaders gave a little speech that was directed at us and it was so sweet. She kept saying how thankful they all were for what we did for them and how it was an honor to have us there. It was incredibly humbling to see how grateful these people were for the smallest of gestures. It really made me think about what I hold dear and question if I would have been so thankful for it all. The fact that I had to even question it, shows how much we all take for granted in America and how good we really have it. I am going to take this experience to push myself to appreciate more in life and to not take anything for granted.

Soul Meets Body

October 2, 2013

In Meknes, Morocco, on my way back to my hotel after a long day in the city, I briefly passed by a neighborhood mosque. It was hot and humid and I felt positively dirty and sweaty from walking around all day. Through the small green tiled doorway into the mosque I saw some men rolling up the sleeves of their silk djellabas, washing their faces and hands and arms in a basin. Some others quietly slipped off their sandals and continued walking through the inner doorway. I wasn’t used to seeing people preparing in that way before worship, but I liked it. I saw it as a symbolic act of purity and humbleness. I felt good after seeing that and cheerfully hurried home along the mismatching, uneven sidewalks gazing up at the off-white stucco buildings. It never had occurred to me that I was wrong in my judgment of what I had seen through the doorway. I wasn’t even close to understanding the way in which Muslims worshiped.

When people get sick, when their physical bodies are weak, they tend to call on God. I know this phenomenon well. A week after being in Morocco, when I was traveling in Spain and my immune system was extremely low, I got very sick. When the one thing I believed to be my own, my body, was compromised, I was reminded that I wasn’t the one in control, that I was not the God of my own body. In this vulnerability, all I could think about was what an old Muslim man from the Kasbah in Tangier had told me. He explained the way Muslims pray. Enthusiastically, he told me that when you are on your knees with your face on the ground, you heart is held above your head. And in this way, he said, with the gravel and dust pressed to your forehead, you let go of trying to control everything in your life, you let go of doubt, and you let go of yourself. There is a rhythm in the prayer, and in the resounding beat of your heart. With the heart above the head, we are reminded of who keeps it beating, of who fastened the ribs around it, and that we are not in control of our physical, mortal selves.

As I watch the teenagers of Morocco run around the streets at night throwing their arms over each other, kissing the faces of friends, it’s so clear that they know their physical bodies are vessels. For Muslims, physical expression is not symbolic, it’s an act of faith and devotion. When you look at the 5 pillars of Islam, four out of the five of them are physical acts of worship. Islam, as well as basically everything in Morocco, is physical, and everything is reserved for God. The body is a means of connection and sacrifice: an expression. It is a gift and therefore they honor God with it. I think about the men preparing for prayer, and now I see that they aren’t cleaning themselves as a symbol of purity or respect, but rather the cleaning is worship itself. 

Overwhelming Hospitality

October 2, 2013

The overwhelming hospitality that was shown to me in Morocco was so humbling and it was so refreshing to see that it still exists in the world. Part of it is that the culture in Morocco is naturally giving and hospitable but it was more than that, the people wanted to give and show love in every way that they could, even if they didn’t have much themselves.

From the very first moment that we met the people that worked at the Meknes ISA office, they were so open and friendly and wanted to make sure that each of us had the very best experience possible. They went out of their way to accommodate us and help us whenever we needed it. The first time that we were brought to the ISA office, they were very insistent on us making ourselves comfortable and made sure that we knew we could come by anytime and hangout or ask questions. It wasn’t just because it was their obligation to help us out, but because they really wanted to get to know each of us and wanted us to have a place to feel comfortable that we could hangout at.

One of the days in Morocco, we went to the house of an Imam to ask questions and gain a better understanding of Islam. I was expecting to just go inside, sit down, ask our questions, and leave, but he was such a generous man. Right when we first got there, he brought out milk and dates for us and then served us each individually. It was such a humbling moment because this man that is in such a high-position in Islam, was going around and personally serving us even though we weren’t Muslim and didn’t follow Islam. And after that, he was so open when answering our questions and made sure that we understood everything he was saying. He also just has this grace about him and he showed such love and kindness towards all people, regardless of faith. Not once did I feel awkward or judged for being a Christian instead of a Muslim because he kept saying that God loves all people and he never tried to convert us, he simply provided us with the information about Islam and let us do with it what we felt right. He was a very good man.

Towards the end of our week in Meknes, we split up into three groups and went back to the house’s of some of the local university students for lunch; the families were providing food for us. Right when we first got to the house, the families were so excited and told us to come in and get comfortable and were genuinely happy that we were there. For lunch, they made this giant bowl of coos coos with vegetables and chicken; it was so delicious. I just really appreciated the fact that these people were willing to provide food and give up their time to make lunch for a bunch of American kids that they didn’t know at all. It really shows the level of hospitality that is so common among the people of Morocco. They are so willing to share what they have with anybody who needs it.

Crossing the Atlantic

October 2, 2013

As I stand on a rooftop late one muggy night in Meknes among clotheslines drying the day’s laundry, I gaze out at the glow of the Medina. Next to me is Salah, a Moroccan boy my age with a princely bone structure and eyes like rich caramel. He leans back against the railing quietly discussing the Koran with me. He explains a part in the Koran about the mixing of two different bodies of water. When salt water and fresh water collide, he says, there is sweet water. While the two bodies remain separated, where they touch, in the middle, the water has a different composition. I wasn’t sure how this was relevant, or what it said about the Koran, or whether or not I believed it, but the idea was striking. I thought about the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, this grand ocean that touched everything. The same body that gently caressed the worn beaches of Asilah is the same body that wraps itself around New York City. Yet there is far too much in between for us to understand. We only know the small parts of the Atlantic that we’ve seen and ran our fingers through. And even though it’s all the same water, there are still these currents, points of intersection and collision that are entirely unique. I thought about this in context of my life. I thought about myself as a flood of history. I had dragged it all with me to this country, this city, and to this rooftop. My history swirled inside of me, but it seemed that the swirling streets of the Medina, the smell of spices and amber, the constant movement, the intense sound and color rivaled the chaos inside of me, and as if through osmosis, had calmed me. It felt like a point of collision, a mixing and blurring of two different nations and cultures. I didn’t know exactly how to explain it.

After a little while, Salah and I went inside the house. We stood in the kitchen leaning against the window in the small space next to the oven. The light was dim and there was a faint throb of hip-hop music humming from the living room. The smoke from Salah’s Marlboro Red swirled out the open window, his arm wrapped around the middle of my back, my head tucked under his chin. The smell of cigarette smoke mixed with the salty smell of his arms. Outside, the city is quiet. Our friend’s voices blend with the melody and the deep bass notes that buzz in the walls of the house. Suddenly, Salah yells in Darija to turn down the music. I look up at him confused. He explains, pointing out the window with his cigarette that we can’t play music during the call to prayer. I nod, remembering where I am, as if I had forgotten. And then, with the music turned off, I hear the gentle cry of the caliph drifting over the flat rooftops of the city. The sound seeps into the silence of the kitchen where Salah stands smoking, slowly and silently, his chin still resting on my head. The waves of sound and smoke from the window float in with the night air, rippling and reverberating in the space between us. I close my eyes and let it wash over me. We were in the same body, the same ocean, swirling like an eddy somewhere in the middle. After all I had been told and had seen, in the dim light of that tiny kitchen nestled up against his chest listening to the call to prayer, I understood everything. I felt the sweet water coursing through my veins, my body fuller and lighter than it had ever been.