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October 2, 2013

The hospitality that I received in Meknes was unlike any other. The first day we met Mouhsin he took us on a small tour of the city. As soon as we took our first step out of the hotel with him. A small, orange, and white cat, one that would reside outside on the hotels rug, greeted us. He would constantly be chased out by the staff who worked there and we were unable to pet or touch any of the animals, which put a strain on my heart. We walked around the corner and were introduced to small grocery stores and a smoothie shop, it would become a place where my friends and I frequented often. He walked fast, and spoke loud for all of us to hear. We would move to one side of the walkway to stay out of everyone’s way, yet as hard as we tried, our efforts were futile. Mouhsin would often put his arm around someone and spark up conversation, he would smile and ask questions like, “how do you like my city? It’s beautiful isn’t it?”. He was proud of where he was from, and who were we to blame him. The city was alive and well, as were the people who lived there. We all struggled to keep up with the man who seemed as though he sprinted for a living, Luckily it was nighttime and we weren’t all dripping sweat in struggles to catch up with him. At first I found it odd that one person would touch another while engaging in conversation, but as my affection grew for Meknes, I realized that it was the way they communicated. It wasn’t just verbally, but physically. Before we knew it we were back at the hotel after a brief tour of the town. He smiled and we headed off to sleep. That next week I learned all about how people in Morocco talked, how friendly they were and how relaxed they made everyone feel. Meeting with everyone who was associated with ISA was wonderful; they made me feel like I was part of their family. Each and everyone of them were concerned about our safety and how we felt, and if one of us wanted to head home early, one of them would volunteer to walk us back to the hotel just to make sure we were ok.

It was refreshing to know that there were really great people in the world, people who gave and didn’t expect anything in return. That is what I figured out I should focus on more, being good to others and not expecting a reward or some kind of compliment. I can only hope to have their welcoming spirit for those who come to visit my country, instead of looking at them through a filtered lens like many normally do. By the time I left Meknes I felt as though I belonged there, and I didn’t want to leave. I had made so many friends that it was difficult for me to leave to Madrid. There is no other city like Meknes, and I know that one day I will return.


The Café

October 1, 2013

We had just completed a three-hour class in hopes of picking up a small portion of Arabic, enough to greet locals, get around in Taxi’s, and to purchase items from markets. I had just stood up and was ready to walk to where we would be meeting the Moroccan students.  Little did I know that the people that I would meet would that afternoon would change my experience in Morocco for the better. We all met at a café, some were already there and others on Moroccan time- meaning they’d be there eventually. They weren’t dressed as I thought they would be, they weren’t dressed any more conservatively then we were, some were veiled and others weren’t, but many of them wore jeans and t-shirts, just like the kids back home do. We sat down at small tables and spread the chairs out so that we could form two large groups. All of them were very talkative for just having met us. They opened up and answered all of the questions that we had in line for them, and when we had finished with our questioning we continued our conversations with laughs and jokes. We had just met, yet we had all hit it off. Yes we spoke different languages, no, we didn’t always understand what one another were saying; yet the laughs we shared united us. It didn’t seem as though we were from two different countries. We all had hopes of becoming successful, being happy, and living lives the way that we wanted to. I sat with a small group of people, and I had been rustling around with a question in my mind. “What do you guys do in your free time for fun?” I blurted out.  A young man named Salah replied with a laugh, looking around as if what I had asked was a trick question, “We live in Morocco. We always have free time here. There are no schedules. But for fun I like to play sports, dance and hang out with my friends.” His answer was simple, yet it made me feel like an idiot, and just then it hit me. We are all on such strict regiments at home that we end up calling our non-scheduled activities, ‘free time’. He made me rethink the way I went about my day. It was unlike any response I would’ve received in the U.S.  Where I come from, it’s crazy if you aren’t organized and don’t have everything in order from when you wake up, to when you lay your head down on a pillow to fall asleep. The conversation then turned to rap music. Katie got up and rapped and Salah and Hamza got up to dance, which drew everyones eyes and ears.

The fun continued as they took us back to our hotel, but we wanted to go out and have dinner with them. They agreed and we found a small restaurant where we could all find something to settle our grumbling stomachs. We ate fries and bread, drinking water and soda, but the conversation never ceased. We went on from topics of music, to dancing, and even to things like college and the classes that we were interested in. Shortly after finishing our late dinner we made our way to play pool. There I had an interesting conversation with a young man I met, his name was Amine, and he was one of the most kind-hearted people that I had met in Morocco. He told me all about his aspirations to be a teacher, to learn the English language and teach in Morocco. Him and I had very much in common, I too want to be an English teacher, and if all goes well I might just end up back in Morocco. He asked me numerous questions about the United States, about where I lived and what I liked to do for fun. He asked me about how I liked Spain, and wanted to see the pictures of it that I had captured on my call phone. I proceeded in showing him and with every snapshot that I had taken his response was the same, “Wow, just wow”, he would said, over and over again. He then told me that he wished he could travel; see the world that I was seeing.  Amine told me about how difficult it was for them to obtain a Visa, which made me appreciate how lucky I was. I lived in a place where it isn’t hard to acquire a passport to travel. His heart held a lot of faith, and to me this was encouraging. He taught me to be thankful for all the opportunities that I had, and he didn’t even realize it. Coming home was a difficult transition, and I tell everyone that part of my heart still resides in Meknes. I took a lot from this trip. I try to be more laid back and relaxed instead of constantly being so fast-paced and worried. I also thank God everyday for everything that he has granted me with. Coming back here made me realize just how blessed I really am.


October 1, 2013

“Tremendous pleasure from the mere cleaning of ones body and turning it into a sensual ritual, constitutes one of the major differences between Muslim and Christian cultures” Mernissi states in her book, Scheherazade Goes West. If we in the West ever heard about women showering with one another our minds would immediately flood with sexual fantasies of what could be. It would be turned into something erotic, which is not what it was at all. Needless to say I was I was anxious, I had mixed emotions about the whole process. I kept telling myself to have an open mind. We walked in and I was hit with the moisture in the air. The first thing I saw was the woman at the desk, she was older, veiled and had wrinkles that covered her dark skin. I couldn’t help but wonder, was she the woman who would be scrubbing me today? She smiled, although she was missing teeth and rather frail, her easiness filled the room and triggered me to relax some.

We dropped our belongings and began to undress. I had debated whether or not I would keep my sports bra on or not earlier and I was adamant about keeping it on if I could. The gray sports bra clung to my skin comfortably along with the bathing suit bottoms that I was sporting. Iman walked us back into the farthest room; there she gave us each a small pink bucket and a place to sit in front of a spout of water. I was overcome by the heat and found it difficult to breathe as soon as I entered but eventually my body caught up with my brain and I was able to carry on. We were instructed to fill the bucket with hot water and get ourselves wet, so we all did as we were told. The water was refreshing and it fell nicely on my skin. Iman then came around with a bucket, she put a small portion of the green clay in our pales and added some water, then told us to mix it around until it was thin enough to rub all over our bodies. It was a dark green substance with a mushy feel, it smelt like henna, in fact it was henna.

As I sat there mixing the cold material between my fingers, in the back of my head I knew I had forgotten something, and right then it struck me, I didn’t have a hair tie to put my hair up. Iman came around again, checking up on everyone of us, she walked up to me and cautioned “You might want to take that off,” as she pointed to my sports bra, “the henna will stain it and it will be ruined”. I looked down and forced a smile, looking both to my left and right, I hesitantly took it off over my awkward shoulders. She then proceeded in giving me her hair clip so that the henna wouldn’t get in it, “You don’t have anything for you hair? Here take this.” She said with a kind-hearted beam. She handed it to me and instantaneously I could feel how soft her skin was. I rubbed the henna into my skin and sat there; content with where I was at in life, and for once calm. Being uncovered in front of all of these girls wasn’t what I thought it would be, especially since we were all covered in dark green goop. They weren’t judging, they were laughing and talking with one another, relaxed enough to carry on a conversation while being exposed. The last thing we were worried about was looking pretty. It was interesting to me, back home I would have been worried about peoples empty stares, my weight, how I looked, and what people were thinking, but being in the hamam was different. I wasn’t getting that feeling. It became more of a community. Instead of constantly trying to look better than someone else, or exclude someone that wasn’t cool enough, we were conversing. We were having a great time even though we were practically naked.

I was the second person to be scrubbed by the woman sitting in the middle of the walkway. She motioned for me to go over, so I scooted myself along the tile floor about three feet to where she was located. Immediately she began to scrub, first it was my stomach and chest, following this were my arms and underarms. I closed my eyes and let myself unwind. The scrubbing felt like sandpaper. At first I thought it hurt. But after a minute or so of scrubbing I realized that it was enjoyable. I opened my eyes to turn so that she could scrub my legs and saw all of the dead skin that had resulted from the cleansing. Before I knew it I was done and she sent me to get a bucket of water for her next client. I can’t explain the feeling I had after, but I just wanted to lie down and think. Iman didn’t have to help me as much as she did, but that didn’t stop her from assisting me. I had predisposed notions of this country as well as the people who lived here, and thinking about how people don’t truly know things until they experience themselves hit me hard. Being cleansed in such a way was powerful, fascinating, and one memory that I will always cherish from Morocco. I had to experience it for myself to fully understand what Mernissi was talking about. I get it now. The west has inclined philosophies about Morocco, ones that need to discontinue in order for us to get anywhere. We all need to try and understand where everyone is coming from, without this there will be no reconciliation. It took traveling to Morocco for me to fully understand this concept and it opened my eyes and my mind completely, changing the way that I thought from there on out. The hamam cleansed me of my illogical outlook.

Crossing Cultures: A New Dialect

October 1, 2013

We arrived on a long air conditioned bus, one that all of us didn’t even fill up, around twelve in the afternoon. As I went to grab my purse, which housed my wallet, sunglasses and expensive new cell phone that I had purchased before leaving to Spain, I felt uneasy. I pulled my hand back -grabbed only what I thought I would need-with my two-liter water bottle in hand I hopped off of the cool bus into the Moroccan sun. The previous day we had purchased school supplies and soccer balls for the kids of the institute, a majority of them poor. The side of the white bus opened up and each of us grabbed a small backpack or two. The sweat was already forming on my forehead; I picked up a bright pink one, fixed the straps and went on my way up the steep hill leading to the school.
We walked up the lavender painted stairs to see an open courtyard with smiling faces of all shapes and sizes, who greeted us and walked us to where the children were. We dropped their gifts off by the shade of two large trees, and I put my water down hoping that it would stay somewhat chilled. Turning around I saw their faces, the colors of their veils all different, but their eyes all the same, buoyant and blissful, hungry for something new. I was amazed with how willing and sociable all of them were, they were the ones who lead us out to the courts to play games. We split into two groups, basketball and soccer. Hania, Natalie, Katie, Mouhsin, Jordan and I went off to play soccer on the upper court. As soon as the worn out ball hit the hot cement we were off, sprinting from left to right all in efforts to get the ball away from our goal. The boys were all yelling in a playful manner, taunting one another with their innocent grins, showing the pink of their gums, and some even sticking their tongues out. All of them were aggressive with one another and in no way did they hold back against any of us girls. Before I knew it the score was 1-1, I was wearing my sandals- I found it difficult to make any clear passes or suave moves like everyone else was, instead, I dribbled.
Another goal and we all high fived, there was a common ground among the team. We all had that feeling of delight, the adrenaline rush, even though it was just a game of soccer. A boy from the other team dribbled, lifted his head and shot, it bounced off of someone’s foot and then Mouhsin knocked it in effortlessly. In no time at all the score changed, 3-3, someone had declared that the next goal would be the winner. At this point all of us were exhausted, not because of the amount of running, but because of the skin seeking sun, it craved our energy. The ball went from person to person and then got stuck in the middle, each and every foot within a meter radius were kicking, trying to gain possession. Jordan passed the ball across the court and I felt it hit the outside of my foot, I dribbled and took a shot. The goal was composed of two large rocks and I watched as the ball left my foot and skid right by the rock. GOAL! We had won. A short boy in red came up to me, as I went in for a high five he stopped me, he grabbed my hand and smiled showing the whites of his teeth. *Right hand, left hand, inside, out, fist bump, fist bump, high five*, our eyes met and I let out a laugh, which in turn caused him to laugh along with me. That handshake accompanied with a smile meant the world to me. He couldn’t understand the words I spoke, and I couldn’t understand his, yet the communication was there. It doesn’t matter where in the world one travels. A smile is an international symbol of happiness that everyone is able to comprehend. I came into his country and picked up one important thing that I will carry along with me wherever I go. The dialect of happiness is one that can be expressed without words.

Breaking down barriers

September 1, 2013

After finishing the book Scheherazade Goes West by Fatema Mernissi, I was left perplexed. Not only had my outlook on Western Culture changed, but my thoughts about the gender roles in society were skewed as well. By reading this book I realized that I have been kept hidden from reality and have been blinded by superficial materialism ever since I can remember. Fatema tells stories that have been passed down from her grandmother and displays a different world, one that we seem to have been concealed from, and by doing this breaks down barriers which separate the West from the East.


The Wedding Song: The Female body & Friendship

May 24, 2013

The Wedding Song was a very thought-provoking, encouraging, movie that brings forth the horrors that many had to undergo with the Nazi occupation of Tunisia. It affected all of the individuals who lived there, regardless of whether they were Muslim or Jewish, man or woman, child or adult. The film depicts the friendship of two young girls. The Muslim girl was named Nour and the Jewish girl, Myriam. They have a difficult time understanding the situation that they are in due to their age and lack of knowledge. I found this movie to be at times cruel and unpleasant. But at others I found it heartening, it shows the power of true friendship.
I was shocked with many of the things that took place throughout The Wedding Song, many things that we in such a privileged land don’t think about or consider. In most cases we would be led to believe that the forced marriage would occur for the Muslim woman, but it is in this case the Jewish girl. This film opened my eyes to what pain and torture young women from other cultures and different countries had to go through during this time. It also broke down many stereotypes and changed the view of Islamic women in Tunisia.
It was interesting to see how nudity and the female body played such a large role in the movie as a whole. It wasn’t used to exploit women and it wasn’t used to sexualize, it was used to create community with others, to show the holiness of the human body. But at one point in the movie Myriam is in fact turned into a sexual object. The scene that disturbed me the most was when Myriam was getting waxed before her wedding due to the preference that her husband had. In this way she wasn’t treated as a human being, but a sexual object. Her feelings are disregarded and her soon-to-be husband gets to choose how he wants her.
My favorite scene in the movie is soon after Nour and Myriam get in an argument about their current situation, seeing as though Myriam was able to go to school, and Nour was not. This upset Nour, eventually she was told by her fiancé that Myriam was wrong in her beliefs. She was told that she should no longer speak to her. The two of them spot one another in the bathhouse, shortly after it is raided by soldiers who are ready to arrest anyone who isn’t Muslim. Nour grabs a hijab and throws it to Myriam, saying that she is a sister, she is a Muslim. The veil wasn’t used as a symbol of oppression, but as a symbol of power and resistance. She saves her best friend and they realize that their friendship is stronger than anything that they’ve ever encountered.
I overall truly appreciated this movie, even though at the beginning it was a difficult concept to grasp. But it also gave me an understanding of how people in other countries suffered in a way that one living in America could never comprehend. The discrimination towards a select group of people in this case of the Jews disgusted me. But the fact that these girls were able to stick together gave me hope. In many ways these young girls were set against one another, but that didn’t stop them. Even when things became more difficult and they were each married their friendship surpassed my expectations. In the end it shows how strong a friendship can be and how hardships can essentially bring two people closer together. This film was heartwarming and mind-twisting and it gave me hope for humanity as a whole and relationships all together.