Archive for the ‘Trans-National Reflections’ Category

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.
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Transnationalism lives in the Al Hambra

October 1, 2013

The hike up to the Al Hambra was full of deep breathing and excitement of what was going to appear. Once we finally reached the top my eyes became like a deer in the headlights about to get hit by a semi truck. I was amazed at the beauty in front of my eyes. The immaculate detail in the different buildings intrigued my gaze and the endless fountains reminded me of my childhood always loving any change I got to enter the water, which is so pure and calming. The fascination with the Al Hambra to me was not just the physical beauty but also the beauty behind the majestic waterways and gardens; it was the idea of peace. Being in this beautiful place you could sense the peace. This was a place where all three monotheistic religions were able to live together in harmony without judgment of one another but with love and kindness. The transnationalism appeared in every building we entered for example entering a mosk and finding a cross. Transnationalism filled the waterways with different touches each religion was able to bring to each fountain or building. They would live in these building that were not only about them but their brothers and sisters through Christ that they respected and worked side by side to build these structures together as one. My breath was taken away as I heard the tour guide describe the peace but my mind was filled with anger. I was confused as to why it is so impossible now to all live in peace, what has this world come to? If we all believe in God why do the details matter now? I left the Al Hambra in peace knowing that I was in a beautiful structure with others of different religions all coming to see this peace. I began to wonder if all these people that pass through are able to feel the peace and seek the peace that was brought to them in Grenada. To me I left wanting to seek peace and understand my brothers and sisters and show kindness amongst all no matter the differences because to me God made everyone different and that is truly beautiful.

El nino de las Pinturas

October 1, 2013

“Woah, what’s with all the graffiti here?” We had all just landed in Madrid, I was star-struck and could barely peel my eyes off the window as we drove to Toledo for the night. What I was seeing though was a lot of graffiti.

“It’s the youth here” Christian our tour guide explained, “it’s everywhere, just wait until you see Granada.”

“Isn’t there a famous graffiti artist from there?” another voice piped in, “el niño de las pinturas right? I’ve heard his work is incredible!”

The name stuck in my mind, I couldn’t wait to see this guy’s apparently famous graffiti. The next day we were in Granada and the graffiti hunt was on, I wanted to find this art. Fortunately a little wandering around Granada had us in front of el niño’s work in no time at all. The rumors are true, his graffiti is amazing. We found more than one wall with his signature on it and I got excited every time. There was something rich about his work, something that resonated with me; it wasn’t just things he painted, nor large misshaped words, but people. He painted beautiful faces, male, female, young, old, and they all were lovely and they all had value and something to say. Being that the murals’ accompanying phrases were always in Spanish I couldn’t exactly read the writing on the walls, but I know a picture that’s calling out for peace when I see it and that’s what his work resounded within me.

We left Spain on a boat for Morocco five days later, goodbye el niño, I thought, I may not see you again for a long while. The boat ride was short, these continents are close, so, so close. We were in Africa. I could hardly believe the different world we had so quickly entered. Everything was new. It was just a boat ride but suddenly the language was different, the people were darker, the driving was slightly more chaotic, the clothing more modest, and there were men everywhere sitting out front of cafés lining the streets of Tanger. I have to admit it took a minute to adjust—ok, more like two days. Suddenly what little Spanish I could speak was now completely irrelevant, French or Arabic was now the key to success, I was definitely out of my comfort zone.

Much to my surprise, I ended up falling in love with Morocco. And then, so quickly, it was time to leave. Its ruggedness had worn on me I guess, and all the new things had become friends and good memories, I was sad to leave. We had two days left, this time in Asilah rather than Meknes where we had spent most of our time. While walking through the lovely and clean streets of Asilah’s medina my heart jumped as my eyes took focus on a familiar art style in the distance. El niño’s been to Asilah! Suddenly the struggle I was having at the prospect of leaving became a much smaller issue. It’s a small world I realized. The gap I was feeling in my heart between the two worlds was suddenly bridged, a little bit of Spain had found its way into Morocco and I had found and fallen in love with both. Art, life, and beautiful people exist in both places and el niño successfully captured a little bit of all of that.

 

Granada

Granada

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Graffiti in Granada

Graffiti in Granada

Asilah

Asilah

Graffiti in Asilah

Graffiti in Asilah

Top 12 iPhone Photos

October 1, 2012

Moroccan Beauty

October 1, 2012

The medina of Tangier was a sensory overload in the best way possible. Walking through the twisted cobblestones paths in what can only be described as a labyrinth was like a stroll through a travel brochure of Morocco. There were massive bags full of spices and stands entirely dedicated to olives. They had raw meat hanging and ready to be purchased. And the smells were incredible, intermittent with horrible ones too of course, but you could vividly smell the vinegar of the olives and the sugary smell of freshly baked pastries. You would stumble upon kids running around and playing, and cats too, so many cats, each one tempting you to pet it. The buildings were definitely something to behold as well. They were straight from a postcard. Old, white buildings with little verandas stacked on either side, capturing you inside, it was magnificent. That was my first experience of Morocco and it did not disappoint.

All this history made me long for more and for history in my own country as well. Even though the U.S is not nearly as old I want to find the beauty in my own country as well and Morocco has inspired me to do that. Shukran Morocco.

Mohammed (aka the best tour guide ever)

October 1, 2012

 

The tour of Tangier was such an eye opening experience. Our tour guides name was Mohammed and he definitely one of a kind. He was wearing the classic pointy, leather, Moroccan shoes in bright yellow, accompanied by a jellaba and a fez. But then he was also rocking a pair of classic black Raybans, which i also have a pair of. Needless to say he was the most stylish tour guide in Morocco. Mohammed didn’t just survive on his great fashion sense though, he was also very intriguing. He would talk about God in a way that involved everyone and it was no longer his God but it was our God. It no longer felt like Islam or Christianity, but just about doing the right thing because we are all people of faith.

Mohammed was also fond of telling us to seek council from are parents on all important decisions because they are much wiser than us. Some part of me wants to believe that this is also because he is a father but the idea was interesting. I’m extremely stubborn so it would be very difficult for me to just listen and do everything my parents told me to do. While I don’t know if I completely agree with Mohammed it would show an immense amount of respect and love towards my parents if I asked their advice on life changing decisions.

Another thing about Mohammed that really stuck with me was his uncanny ability to get vendors to stop trying to sell us things. First there was a man trying to sell us jewelry and Mohammed called over the crowd saying, “They don’t want jewelry, they want history”! The second instance was a man trying to sell us drinks and Mohammed then explained to the man that we couldn’t because we were all fasting. He then proceeded to turn to me and said, “You’re fasting right”, and I told him we were. It was so funny! Mohammed is just one of the unforgettable people I met in Morocco and he will forever have a place in my heart as the greatest tour guide of all time.

Crossing Oceans and Boundaries

September 30, 2012

Within Morocco there exist extremities of poverty, political unrest, and societal uncertainty, but there is also the unseen oppression of stereotyping. The Western world has been lulled into a false sense of supremacy, perceiving the cultural ambiguities of Muslim culture with near condescention. Transnationally, it is difficult to navigate these uncharted waters as a Westerner because of a preexisting assumptions concerning Islam. Stereotypes such as the oppression of women, the lack of democracy, and terrorism among others can cause cultural gaps to widen when they go unexplored. As an American student in Morocco, studying literature refuting Islamic stereotypes has been the compass that has allowed me to find my way around the negativity widely published in the West.

Mernissi has opened my eyes to the issue of the “male gaze” while my experience among Moroccan students has tested my Western bias. Our Western harem, though not entirely apparent to us, is our enslavement to body image and attempting to fit in. Many fail to conceptualize the shift in reality when it comes to public image, but how is it that the Muslim tradition of the hamam, or public bath, becomes difficult to embrace? Mernissi argues that our full potential is inhibited by our self-conscious nature, a common-place occurrence in the Western world. On the other hand, Lalami challenges our stereotypes of Muslim culture by cultivating characters that possess the depth that many in Western society lack. As a part of a selfish culture, the West places itself on a pedestal above all others. Through my experiences in Morocco, I have been able to see that the West endows itself with the ability to subjugate an entire culture, creating assumptions based on falsely relayed information.

Likewise, injustice is present in each and every society. Just because the actions of few extremists are the focus of international news reports does not give the West the right to encompass the entire Muslim community as offenders. Discussions with a group of students concerning stereotyping lead me to probe further the crime of stereotyping. If the Muslim world is one of terrorism and oppression, than isn’t America a nation of 500 pound citizens who lazily wonder about with lose morals? To discount the essence of Muslim culture that was founded in community, equality, and dignity for all, is to defame it’s people and the goodness that they have cultivated. Similarly, we believe that the issues that develop between our cultures is solely based in the conflict between religion. Never has a stereotype been demolished so violently as when an Imam treated our group with utmost respect and reverence. There is redemption in the leap of faith that accompanies serving the people who are apart of a society that partakes in the injustice of wrongful accusations.

My transnational journey isn’t only a physical expedition into a foreign land, but also one into discovery that has allowed me to question the workings of the society that I am apart of. The Atlantic ocean seems like an extremely large distance between two countries, but the gap that exists between two cultures is much more vast. Reflecting upon my experience, I am confident that I can claim myself as a success story of this transnational journey. I have crossed the oceans and boundaries, returning with an understanding that I will carry both emotionally and spiritually for the rest of my life. I only hope that now, I am challenged within this Western society to separate myself from the stereotyping majority and apply my life-changing journey into a transformative personal narrative.

Calat Alhambra

September 29, 2012

I cannot even begin to describe how breathtaking that Alhambra was. Many times throughout the tour I was so overwhelmed with awe and emotion that I had tears going down my face. Let me bring you into one of the many rooms in the palace, where there was detailed carvings and stucco work on the walls. In the corner, where Allah was engraved on the wall hundreds of times, were two Islamic men staring at the name and taking pictures. How defining of a moment it must be to see a 750 year old form of worship and to know that your very own brethren stood in that same spot, worshipping the same God hundreds of years ago. That thought alone is so powerful. The details in every aspect of every inch in the castle were awe-inspiring. Not one piece of wall or ceiling was left out or forgotten. How could one not be blown away by this scene. Walking through the palace and knowing that each piece of marble, every inch of the wall, was a form of worship is one experience that you will never forget.

And then we walked into the harem. This walk was different. There was a dark shift in the mood as soon as one realized that this was the place where women were at the mercy of their sexualities. How ironic the juxtaposition! How could one walk around such a place of beauty and yet feel so suffocated? Were there ever any women who enjoyed living in the harem? The details were no less amazing than other parts of the castle, but the knowledge that this was a room of oppression once darkened that experience for me. This brings us back to the ideas Mernissi talks about in Scheherazade Goes West. The West has a tendency to sexualize the harem and perceive it as a sexual playground. In the East though, the harem is not treated so lightly. People know what happened there and almost seem to sweep that part of their culture under the rug. It was quite an experience to be in the presence of such beauty and know that the floors and walls were haunted with women’s sexual exploitation.

Do a Turn or Light a Match

September 27, 2012

“Las manos arriba,

Sintura sola,

Da media vuerta,

A saco duro”

This is one verse from a song that my professor would sing (or try to make us sing) when she was missing her young daughter, who she left home in the states during our trip. It’s a Spanish song about a girl who is sad, so she does a little turn in this dance and makes herself feel better. She does something about her bad feelings. While this is just a song, it resonated deeply with what I learned about the Arab Spring.

People like Fadwa Laroui and Mohamed Bouazizi had lost everything, hope included. They had to do something about their problems. Yes, they lit themselves on fire and sparked the Arab Spring. While it is sad that they had to do something so extreme, their protest is exactly what the world needed to see in order to recognize the issues of unemployment and housing in countries like Morocco and Tunisia.

We read two books by Laila Lalami that seem to have predicted the Arab Spring, since they were written years before Bouazizi even got his food cart taken away. Of course she predicted this – it seemed so imminent, looking back. Just as the writer of the song predicted this girl would do something to fix her problem, so too did Lalami with the Arab Spring. She knew the issues in her home country and she knew it wouldn’t be long until the desperate would begin standing up for themselves and their rights.

A few of us at an Imam’s home in Meknes. We learned so much about Islam during our meeting with him, & it helped us gauge our learning of the Arab Spring as well.

My Homestay Inspiration

September 26, 2012

You know that moment where you think you have your future perfectly planned, and then you get put into a situation where you realize how painfully unprepared you are? Yeah, I had my moment in Spain.

In Spain, we were placed in homestays with families who spoke nothing but Spanish. I was placed with my best friend, Chelsey, in the home of Antonio and Margarita and their 6-year-old daughter, Marga. Every day during siesta or before/after dinner, “Baby Marga” (as we called her) would insist that we play with her. Since she spoke no English, we depended on hand gestures and what little Spanish we both knew to communicate. It was a great time; we danced, played school, and made a “pelicula,” complete with hair and make-up. Being with her was a joy.

It was during my four nights with her, however, that made my heart sink in realization. When I’m a teacher, I’m going to have students who are English language learners and with them I’ll have the responsibility of making sure that they are learning; it’s not just going to be playtime like it was with Baby Marga. It has inspired me to continue keeping up with learning Spanish and to research how to teach in an ESL classroom.

I don’t want students to fall behind because of a language barrier. It is my job to ensure that they get the education they deserve. My time at this homestay in Granada has motivated me to find ways to do this. I’ve already found lesson plans that teach English and concepts at the elementary level through songs. There are so many ways to help these students. I’m just glad I discovered this early on.

Our amazing host family. So kind, patient & generous!