Sunday, February 28, 2010

excursion: Marrakesh to Erg Lihoudi

It is my first full day back from excursion, and the routine reality of Rabat is setting in hard. Tomorrow brings class, homework, responsibilities, and the experiences of the past week remain only in memories and pictures. Thus is the nature of the post-vacation funk when you realize that your time is no longer free. It is universal and inescapable; I know you have all felt it.

But do not despair. I sit here and evaluate, take stock of my situation, and realize all the things I am thankful for. I think about what is to come, of all the vacations and experiences that exist only in a calendar or the imagination. In my opinion, one of the best ways to deal with days that feel boring or routine or downright shitty is to look forward to things in the future with great anticipation. Hopes, dreams, and happy thoughts of things yet to come; these can never be taken away from us and they are always there to provide solace and comfort.

So with that in mind, let me go over some of the highlights of the past week’s trip in chronological order. There were many, and I know I will never forget this excursion as long as I live.

We left town early on Saturday, February 20th and headed south. Our vehicle: a 17 seat Mercedes-Benz tourist van. Its contents: 10 people (8 students plus RD and the driver, Simohamed), their luggage, and enough bottled water and toilet paper to last a week. This left a good amount of space for us to spread out, though getting comfortable was always a bit of a struggle. The first couple of days we had a tupperware full of Farida’s cake to smooth out any kinks in the journey.

The drive to Marrakesh was about 4 hours and pretty unremarkable (besides the fact that we were in Morocco). We passed Casablanca, some small towns, some green fields, and soon the pinkish-red buildings characteristic of (as in mandated by) Marrakesh began to appear. We ate lunch at the hotel after checking in. It was standard hotel fare besides the tasty cinnamon-sprinkled orange salad dessert. After a brief siesta we went out to explore the city.

We were encouraged to check out the many attractions by the fact that we were promised reimbursement of admission prices for all museums, palaces, etc. upon return to Rabat. With trusty, but at times confusing (because of their small size), Lonely Planet maps in hand, we took in the Koutoubia Mosque, the biggest mosque in the city.

Then with a bit of searching we found the Sa’adian Tombs, the final resting place of a sultan of that dynasty. This guy went all out on his tomb, using Italian marble and gold, and it was worth seeing. His mother also got a pretty nice final resting place. After the tombs we went to the Bahia palace. With elaborately painted wood-carved ceilings and intricate tilework, it was certainly beautiful. But each room looked the same to me, and, as Aura pointed out, the fact that it was unfurnished made it less remarkable than it could have been. I know I sound jaded; it was more work for the visitor’s imagination I guess, which is not always a bad thing.

We finally wound our way to Djemaa El-fna, the city’s main square and most famous attraction. It is an exciting and hectic place that is guaranteed to get your heart pumping faster. Tons of people milling about, tourists and locals alike, soaking in the action and enjoying the sights. We had to duck away from cobra snake-charmers who tried to put snakes around our necks (at least they enjoyed it, and we did after the fact). We tried this amazing spiced and slightly spicy cider/tea/chai hot beverage, small glasses for 2 dirhams. Cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and probably a score of other spices made it indescribably delicious. There are tons of numbered dining carts that set up shop each evening at sunset and intensely advertise their food with every tactic in the book. I saw circles around musicians and huddles of men listening intently to storytellers weaving (presumably lewd and crude) yarns, part of the street theater acts. I drank my weight in fresh orange juice and wandered through some of the souqs and markets surrounding the square. It was an unforgettable place.

We returned later for dinner, though we chose a sit-down place just off the square. Fadoua informed us that we each had 80 dh at our disposal, and with that in mind we let rumbling stomachs choose for us. Nearly everyone got two plates and a drink, and we chowed down with a vengeance. I had the spiced and intensely flavorful tanjia marrakeshia, a local delicacy, accompanied by a ¼ rotisserie chicken and fries and topped off with a café au lait. It was an incredible meal. Unfortunately rain shut down Djemaa El-fna and spoiled any other plans for the evening. The verdict on Marrakesh (slightly soured by the rain): plenty of historical sights, plenty of tourists; its worth seeing if only for the square, but it’s far from my favorite place in Morocco. It makes me a little sad that some tourists only see a place like that when the country has so much else to offer.

Sunday the 21st was a long day in the van, but I still preferred it to Saturday. We left at 8 and headed southeast. The scenery began changing pretty quickly, and soon we were rewarded with beautiful mountain panoramas out of every window. I was not prepared for the grandeur of the high Atlas mountains, and that made it all the more stunning. Some people were sleeping, but I could not take my eyes off of the landscape. The hills became mountains, and the mountains soon became snowy peaks. We crossed over the tizi n’tichka pass at 2,260 meters and stopped for some breathtaking scenery. A little later we enjoyed a picnic lunch (at a restaurant) of bread with tuna, cheese, pb & j, nutella, and chips. It was deliciously plain fare.

The descent out of the mountains went pretty quickly. The road was winding, switchback, at times hairpin, and always narrow, and I held my breath on more than one occasion as we rounded a corner or passed another vehicle. But we made it down safely, and I knew that Simohamed was always in control. It reminded me of the mountainous roads we took in Costa Rica, where you are liable to get passed by a local going uphill around a corner if you are not driving fast enough for their liking (which is never fast enough). People who say driving in Boston is scary have no idea what they are talking about.

A refreshing stop to frolic and smell the almond tree blossoms rejuvenated everyone. We continued on, passing through Ouarzazate, aka Ouallywood. We did not stop, and I was fine with that. It seemed like a place trying too hard to become something it is not, though the King and his development plans are sure working hard. (Correction from a previous entry: Black Hawk Down was filmed in Rabat, not Ouallywood.)

Then we continued southeast towards Zagora, entering what I shall call the cubist realm. The rocks and the landscape between Ouarzazate and the Draa valley were bursting with right angles. It was incredible to look at, a cubist’s version of Mars. The cubes slowly faded, and we crossed into the Draa Valley, the homestretch to Zagora. It is lined on both sides with beautiful rocky hills. The left side reminded me more of the walls of the Grand Canyon, with distinct layers of rock and majestic slopes. The right side was more rounded foothills and seemed less inviting to me. Down the middle runs a wide swath of date palms that is the main source of the livelihood of the people who live there. It is lush and green and very inviting, fed by an old and extensive system of irrigation.

Finally we reached our destination, the ‘gateway to the desert,’ and checked in to our very decorated and gaudy hotel, Kasbah Asmae. After a stroll around town and a coffee, we enjoyed dinner in an open-sided tent in the courtyard. It was very tasty, a lamb tagine with salad and fruit for dessert. Afterwards I led the expedition to the Kasbah Sirocco, described in the Lonely Planet guide as having a “subterranean stone cave bar,” which I was very excited to enjoy after a long day of driving. However, and to my great disappointment, the bar has recently been converted to a parking garage. This was only the second time Lonely Planet let me down during the trip. The other time was in Marrakesh, when we could not find the ‘special coke’ (cheap red wine in coke bottles sold in Djemaa El-fna) they described. Fadoua says that a government crackdown probably made that specialty unavailable. I have to write them an email so they update these two things in the next edition (otherwise Lonely Planet has been a very faithful and informative companion, thank you Mommy dearest!). But we enjoyed Sirocco’s bar nonetheless, though we were forced to sit by the pool instead. Good memories and just a generally good vibe from Zagora.

Monday was the best day all around that I have had in a long time. In the morning turbans were purchased by all; it would not have been a proper desert experience without one. Picture 8 turban-clad Americans going around with Hassan, our Berber guide. He was dressed to impress: brown leather shoes, a 2 piece tailored suit of cloth reminiscent of West Africa, an emerald green grand boubou with wide open sides, and a pale blue turban perched with extra swaths of cloth that seemed to be a part of him. Oh, and he also has an iPhone, though Fadoua said it was a fake one. First he took us through a Kasbah which was inhabited by Jewish people until 1963ish, when they all went to Israel or elsewhere. It was either in Zagora or close by, I don’t remember exactly. We went into the old Synagogue, which is now a dusty and somewhat creepy place.

Then Hassan led us to a silver smithing house. It used to be the Jews who made the silver in this area, but in their absence other people have taken over the trade. We watched two guys make silver pieces literally in front of our eyes in only 10 minutes or so, it was amazing. They were pushing around red hot coals with short metal pokers and at times bare hands (like thick leather I’m sure). They make the molds with only two loops of metal and 2 cakes of mud, which consists of water and the dirt inside the compound. Perhaps the dirt is imported, or perhaps it is naturally useful, I am not sure. Then the molds were sealed with fresh mud and we watched as they poured molten silver from a red hot cup (of iron, perhaps?) that had been sitting among the coals. In barely a minute or two the mold was opened and there were five small hands of Fatima, connected like branches of a tree. They have to be polished and carved later, but the raw formation stage is very quick and very cool to watch. After a session of jewelry buying and bargaining in their shop, we headed back to the van.

It was time for the real desert fun to begin, and what is the most important thing you need in the desert (after a turban of course)? A safari jeep of course! Two old white land rovers to be exact, hunking solid machines with minimal comfort and maximal utility. We took them to the village of Bono, about an hour or more from Zagora. There we stopped for lunch with the Sheiyk (chief) of a semi-nomadic tribe. He welcomed us into his house with big two handed-shakes and a plain but tasty meal of salad, lentils, beans, and fruit. He served all the food, with the help of another younger man, and he made us tea afterwards too (strong, very sweet tea, no mint, flavored with a powdered root whose name I forget; not my favorite tea). Then, with Fadoua translating, we had a little discussion with the chief, whose name I also forget.

Okay so it was more of a question and answer session, but it was very interesting to hear about his life and his responsibilities as the leader of this tribe. Being old and respected he lives in the village, but as far as I know most of the younger members of the tribe are out living with the animals. He has two wives and 7 children; 2 girls and 5 boys, of which two are away at school while three are out being nomadic. His tribe keeps goats and sheep, but their main source of livelihood is their camels. They also grow crops for subsistence, including wheat, beans, etc. We talked about his relationship with the country’s government. He says they do not pay taxes, and it does not seem like they get many services or benefits from the government. He says when they get stressed, either from life or from the government, they go camp out in the desert with their camels to sing, dance, eat, and just get away from life. It was very amazing to get a small glimpse of this man’s life and to see how he lives in this day and age. Here we are as American tourists (and students) on vacation in the desert for a day, and we are doing the same thing that he does to get away. We have to do a paper on a site of memory for history class (the site can be anything), and I think I might write about this chief and our time in his house. I will let you know.

After lunch, it was finally time to head to the desert proper. The landscape began to get sandier and drier. We saw triangular patterns of brush or straw fences along the sides of the road in the sand, which are apparently to keep the sand in place and counter desertification. We soon turned off the pavement, and then the fun started. Whipping over bumpy terrain, with rocks and dust flying we made our way across the barren landscape. The driver was having a lot of fun, and we were too. We went over and around dunes, skidding through corners like we were in rally cars. After about 20 minutes or so we came to the camp. It is a ring of semi-permanent tents, plus one larger dining tent, a toilet and shower tent, and a couple of other tents for the guides and workers. It was basically a desert hotel of sorts, though, along with a French family of 6, we were the only guests.

Immediately it was off for some dune fun, including jumping and sliding down the sides of small hills of sand. It was the Sahara desert as you might imagine it, dunes as far as you could see. I was surprised by the many scrubby pine-ish tree, and also a few other plant species. There is life in the desert of course (there is life everywhere).

Then we played toss with the Frisbee that I brought (thank you Stiglitz, where ever you are). It was the first time I have played on this trip, actually the first time I have played in way too long. After that came tea and peanuts before our camel ride. Unfortunately the cyber café is closing down so I will be back in a day or two with the rest of the desert and then our trip north, to Rissani, Fez, chefchaouen, and finally home. Geez this is going to be a lot of writing, I hope you all can bear with me. Oh on the way home I finished reading Brave New World, which is a must read for everyone. And some of the stuff that Huxley describes seems all too real in these days of genetic engineering and industrial global capitalism.

I miss everyone, and I hope all is well, especially with the recent storm in the northeast. Boxford is still without power as of an hour ago, and I haven’t heard from my Mom in a couple of days. Maybe Ipswich is too. Hope everyone is safe and happy. Back to the grindstone here in Rabat, but I do get to see my lovely Jill within the next couple of weeks, inchallah. The prospect makes me glow inside. Love and hugs.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tricks, trips, and tables

Once again, father time (why not mother? father time, mother earth, hmm) is up to no good. He is playing his mind tricks on me. Saturday marks the beginning of the 2010 BU Rabat excursion, a weeklong whirlwind tour of Morocco with the eight of us, plus our lovely RD Fadoua. I am very much excited, and I am looking forward to this trip with great pleasure and anticipation. Which of course means this week has felt like the longest one since we arrived; thus it is the case with time and how it seems to slow down when we look forward to something. Of course the opposite is true as well. When that deadline or dreaded day looms on the horizon, it seems to zoom towards us as if propelled through time fueled by our own displeasure.

We had an Excursion (I feel obligated to capitalize it) orientation yesterday, so now I can tell everyone where I will be for the next week:

1. First we head south to Marrakesh for one night, where we will see museums, shops, and the Jamma Lafna square with its live theater and dance performances.
2. Then we head southeast, stopping through Ouarzazate (the Moroccan ‘hollywood’ where films like Babel, Black Hawk Down, and others have been filmed) for lunch, to Zagora, known as the “gateway of the Sahara.” One night there, also lunch with a local nomadic Chief.
3. Then to Erg Lihoudi, the real desert I am told, for dunes, camel rides, turbans, and a night in tents after a fireside music performance (Gnawa I believe).
4. To Khoub, a town with 40 or 50 kasbahs (castles), for lunch, and then northeast to Rissani for one night on the way north to…
5. two nights in Fez! Complete with a tour of the oldest and most intact Arab medina (old city), seeing one of the oldest universities in the world, and a visit to a battered women’s association and shelter.
6. Then to the Roman ruins at Volubilis (known here as Walylee), after that lunch at Moulay Idriss.
7. North again to Chefchaouen, a small, lush, mountainous city with hippie-inclinations and good sights and hiking.
8. Finally on the road home, south to Rabat with a stop in Ouazazane for lunch on the way.
7 days, 7 nights, including 3 in the dessert, many miles and many pictures. I will let you all know how it goes!

Ok now some more assorted thoughts that I have been meaning to elaborate on.

Oh the Moroccan tea, it warms my soul, it lubricates my joints, it calms my belly, it enlivens my senses. I will miss it when I leave this wonderful place. Farida has already promised to buy me a small silver teapot to take back home with me, so I will have to buy a supply of tea to go with it. I have been instructed in its preparation too, though I do still need to practice.

Normally labelled Moroccan mint tea (they serve ‘Moroccan Mint Tea’ at Mike and Patty’s, for example), there are in fact many ways to serve it. Farida likes mint tea for the summer; she prefers it in the winter with an herb she calls ‘sheeba,’ the name of which I don’t know. I will get a picture or a translation I promise. She has also served tea infused with a mélange of herbs, which included sage, mint, oregano (I think, maybe thyme), and a couple of others. That might be my favorite so far, though the Moroccan mint tea is famous for a reason.

Tables: you miss them when you don’t have them. Some people love to spread out on their beds with books, computer, and papers. This is not for me. Even when I want to read a book for pleasure, I unconsciously tend to sit at a desk or table. If I am reading in my bed, it is usually late at night as I am drifting off. Just me, my book, and my thoughts.

But for homework, I really need a desk or a table to spread out. Everything is in front of me, I am sitting with a straight back, and I am comfortable. Not comfortable in the sense of stretching out in the horizontal direction, but comfortably uncomfortable. Hence the difficulty of getting quality study time accomplished while in my room here. But I have plenty of tables available to me at the center, and the library annex, and I have also commandeered the kitchen table at home on several occasions.

Rachid works hard to support his family. 6 days a week he is at Best Wishes for 8 hours, a popular pizza joint downtown (which I regret to say I have not eaten at yet, though I have tasted his homemade pizza: benin! ledied! Which means tasty in Darija and fus’ha), and three of those days he comes home at 11. Then on the side he works at weddings, which are often late night affairs in Morocco. He is usually home by 4 or 5 am (though he does not work the whole time). The weddings are maybe every other week, though more often in the summer because of increased demand. Anyway, the point is he works hard, harder than I do in many ways. It makes me feel silly complaining about pretty much anything when I see him come home from work sometimes because he looks so tired.

There is a group of students from the School for International Training, and when I say group I mean 55. Yeah. They arrived about 2 weeks after us, and lets just say the Medina got a little more crowded. But I cant act like I own the place, because I don’t. Its just easy to feel entitled when there are only 8 american students as opposed to 63.

Still no Casablanca update yet, sorry. The cyber café is closing down, perhaps I will get to it tomorrow. My friend Alex described it as “post-apocalyptic Miami.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I think she is correct in a way. I’ll let you marinate on that until I get around to writing my own description.

I love you all, and I will be thinking of you over the next week or so.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

my life, a 'hands-on' approach

People eat lots of different things. I love eating raw fish paired with a ball of rice that has been seasoned with vinegar and sugar. Others love to suck the marrow out of animal bones after eating the flesh around them. Still others enjoy a soup made from an aged preserved bird’s nest, while someone else might eat a worm that has been pickling in the bottom of a bottle of tequila. How about scorpions, lard, dog meat, …you get the point.

People also have many ways to eat those things they enjoy. Some use shaped bits of minerals to transfer food into their mouths, others little sticks. Some use no utensils and only one hand to eat, while some might prefer to drink their food. Here in Morocco, using metal utensils to eat is quite normal. But forks and knives have not eclipsed the triumvirate + bread method, or that of thumb, forefinger, and middle finger aided by a morsel of bread. I hope that this method never dies out, nor do I think it is in danger of doing so. I really enjoy eating in this manner, and it is something I want to bring back to my American life. I might just be saying that now because I am in Morocco, but I think from now on I will eat more with my hands. (I don’t like to say I am going to do something without following through on it, though I know I am guilty of this, as you probably are too, from time to time.)

At home here we generally use our hands to eat from the main communal dish. Salad is served from a large bowl onto small individual plates, or rather, usually one plate for me and one for everyone else, and we eat it with tiny spoons. Their size matches the diced morsels of tomato, onion, cucumber, and lettuce that usually make up the salad. This is how it is done. For example, when I prepared the salad one day the size of my lettuce shreds caused a chuckle. I tried to explain that chez moi we usually serve the lettuce in bite sized chunks, but this did not fly. The size of the salad morsels here make them rather difficult to eat with one’s hands; maybe next time I will suggest cutting the veggies in bigger pieces so they are compatible with the triumvirate + bread method (and thus less prep work for the cook). Perhaps this style of salad is residual from the colonial period. How to phrase that question in Arabic…? I am not quite there yet.

Speaking of hands and their proximity to food, I would like to spend a few minutes pointing out some observations I have made concerning Moroccan habits and customs. Some are critiques, but I don’t mean to be critical in an offensive or orientalist way. It is much easier to point out the idiosyncrasies of a society when one is an outsider. It is also very easy to assume the point of view that the way we do things at home is the only way to do it, which is far from accurate. I would love to read a Moroccan’s observations of life in the US and whatever critiques they might come up with. That said, with the risk of offending or seeming like the American assuming a superior attitude that I would like to avoid, here we go:

-hygiene and cleanliness: handwashing is not a common habit when food preparation is involved, nor do I always observe my family washing their hands before we eat from the communal plate. Think about that in light of the Islamic cultural norm of eating with your right hand because left hands are reserved for other business, and you see the contradictions emerging. Also cow hoofs and goat hoofs are commonly available in the markets, and I am told they are a specialty (Aura was welcomed for her first meal at home with hoof, mmm). But I think about that as a delicacy in light of the other cultural taboo of eating pig because it is a dirty animal. Hmm, feet strike me as some of the dirtiest parts of any animal, but that may just be me.

-Motor bikes: people buzzing around the Medina often use their helmets to protect their handlebars, as opposed to their heads. Hmm.

-Minimal effort is made to keep the streets in the Medina clean during the day. People usually throw their trash on the ground without thinking twice, though there are a few trash cans on the biggest streets in the medina. You often see shopkeepers scrubbing the few feet of pavement in front of their doorways in the mornings. Every night the streets are swept by garbage crews (using big palm fronds) and the trash is collected in trucks. No sort of recycling in the formal sense with bins and collections that we have it in the States, but that doesn’t mean recycling doesn’t happen.

-Energy and resource demands for the Moroccan household are less than in the US, but that goes without saying. Less water is needed from washing fewer dishes and utensils and from shorter and less frequent showers. Energy needs for heating the home are nonexistent for some, minimal for others, and probably significant for a small minority. Gas for cooking and heating water is the extent of fuel needs in my house. I will do a bigger entry on environment and energy in the future.

-Screen Time: Television, according to more than one Moroccan, is "like another member of the family." I agree completely with this sentiment. The TV is on probably 10-16 hours per day, depending on whether or not Farida has to go out. It is sometimes more like background music rather than active entertainment, but it's on none the less. It is very important to turn off lights when they are not in use, but the TV is only turned off when the house is empty. For example, the power was out Sunday afternoon. They ran an extension cord upstairs from the neighbors house, and guess what it was used to power...the TV of course!

Perhaps they dont realize that TVs use more energy than probably all the lights in the house, but I think everyone would benefit from less screen time. I think more quality family time could be discovered with less TV time, and maybe people would start reading for pleasure more (something I have yet to witness). Of course people in the States would all benefit from less screen time in our lives, though it seems that the trend of technology and society is taking us in the opposite direction.

In the context of a discussion about the subjectivity of knowledge, Aura and I started talking about things that are universal. See Aura’s blog for her take on this topic:

The best example I have, and the most inescapable, is the cycle of life from birth to death. Everything that can be said to have life is ‘created’ (in some way or another) and must eventually die. Of course one can debate the qualifications for having life, like whether a virus is alive (I don’t know if science has settled that one yet); but you know what I mean when I say life. A similar example is time, as in we are all subject to the ticking of the clock. The process of aging will take its toll on all of us, and gray hair seems to be a universal sign of this (for some sooner than others haha).

We were also thinking about universally recognizable signs or symbols across any sort of border. Like laughter and a smile, which as far as I know always signifies happiness. How about different ways of greeting other people, especially those people we already know. It pretty much always involves some sort of physical contact, either touching hands, shaking or otherwise, embracing each other, a form of kissing, or some combination of all of the three. That’s all that I remember, but if you can think of any let me know. Or if you have any corrections for me, I would always appreciate that too.

Okay time to wrap it up. Casablanca this weekend was fun, it was good to get out of Rabat. More on that trip later, including pictures of the inside of the incredible Hassan II mosque (3rd largest mosque in the world). This weekend we have our big excursion around the country for a week, which we are all very excited for! Just 8 americans, our Moroccan RD (probably several drivers and guides), and the open road. Fez, Marrakesh, dessert camel rides, Gnaouwa musical performances (descendents of slaves who have retained that as their cultural identity), and more. It should be a blast.

The man next to me is smoking and listening to American pop music out loud in the internet café, including the artist known as Lady Gaga. I know she’s talented, but I thought I would escape her by coming to Morocco. Apparently that is not possible. I miss craisins, teddies peanut butter, chocolate covered pretzels, and all of you! Also Boston, 30 glenville avenue #1, riding Maeve (my shiny purple bike), Rhonda the Honda, Artemis, Birdy, Athena, Preston, and Crystabel. Okay Ma’salam, bislemah, love and goodbye.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Thoughts from afar

Rediscovering old music is almost as good as discovering new music. Old is a relative word; by old I mean something that I know well and have listened to many times before. New is relative in a similar manner, here it means new to me.

Two albums as examples: The Score by The Fugees. I got the Score from Allan some years ago by copying the CD onto my computer. It is an amazing CD and a very important one in many people's lives, mine included. When discussing musical tastes last week with Alex, a senior and fellow BU Rabat student, the Score came up. We were talking about its merits, and she and I both produced some lyrics on the spot. That night in my room I listened to the whole thing while reading and writing in my journal. I had forgotten how good it really is. Hence the pleasures of rediscoverng old music.

The second example is Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen. I have had Bruce's Greatest Hits CD since about 6th grade I think (it was a birthday present, along with Bob Dylan's Hard Rain). A couple of years ago I got We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions; by that I mean I copied the disc that was a present to my Mom (I think). Two very different sounds on those two CDs, and both confirm he is the Boss, no question. But neither are mainstays of everyday listening for me. Nebraska might prove to be a different story.

I copied it onto my computer before leaving for Rabat; it was a christmas present to Papa. I picture him as a young and vulnerable Bruce singing his heart out on a lonely front porch in the middle of nowhere. It really gets to me, especially my father's house. Allan, Papa, and I have a special history with that song, but I only knew the cover by Ben Harper (incidentally very good). Ok, well wikipedia tells me the album is Bruce's sixth, released in 1982, so he was not very young. But if you listen to it, you will understand what I mean. A 'new' album that has acquired symbolic significance because I have become attached to it in a place far from the one I call home.

Today is monday, and I am engaged in that most venerable of age old college past times, and apparently one that is harder to leave behind than loved ones. I speak of procrastination of course. I should be reading for my biweekly class, Constructing Gender in North Africa: Women, Islam and Politics, which I have Tuesday and Friday mornings. It is a very interesting class and it has showed how woefully ignorant I was of the place of women in the Islamic world. We are currently reading chapters from a book by Assia Djebar entitled, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment.

Ok woeful ignorance is an exaggeration. Before this semester, I have had little contact with any Muslim women (or men for that matter), nor have I studied any of these issues at BU or before. Ignorance yes, but lamenting that ignorance is neither justified nor constructive. Better to put energy into becoming more knowledgeable about the subject, which is exactly what I am doing. Or will be doing soon when I continue to read the chapters.

It seems to me that lamenting a situation one cannot influence is never very constructive. Instead it is better to take action to rectify a situation that one has deemed in their mind to merit lament. Holding regrets has also never made sense to me. What is done is done, the past is the past. Even if you could travel back in time to change things, would you? I would not. We can learn from the past, we can use things that have happened to inform the decisions we will make. The aphorism (maybe that is the wrong word, ok, the phrase) don't cry over split milk is applicable and will always be so in my opinion.

Take the situation of my study abroad plans for the West African country whose name begins with the letter N (it is not Nigeria). It was very disappointing to hear that my program was canceled, and I lamented the fact at the time. But would it have benefited me to wallow in self-pity, despair induced by a situation out of my sphere of influence? Not one bit. I cut my losses, spent some time thinking, and decided to come to Rabat instead.

I have thought about how things would be different if the US state department had not issued that travel alert, or if BU had been less concerned about potential concerns for the safety of its students. Bu those thoughts do not wear a cloak of regret or a veil of sadness. It is merely speculation about the what if?s in life, a kind of speculation that has a small place in my life. I cannot help but wonder about things.

What if I had gone to the local school in Ouagadougou, taught in french, instead of the english-speaking International School of Ouagadougou? What if I had gone to UVM instead of BU, or had been accepted to one of the schools that instead placed me on their wait-lists? What if I had never started working at Camp Roatry??? (that's a big one, as some of you know.) The point is that the course of my life has taken many twists and turns to get me here, to this very moment typing in the basement of the library annex of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in the capital city of Morocco, Rabat, on the continent of Africa. I cant help but analyze some of those turns in my mind sometimes, but in the end I always remain confident of the decisions that I have made. I hope you are all able to sit for a moment and think about the many twisting roads and criss-crossing paths that you have traveled in order to reach this exact moment in your lives.

Speaking of exact moments, ever think about the fact that the present does not exist. We can speak definitively of the past, of events and people and moments in time that have passed behind us and will never exist again. We can also think about what is to come, the experiences we will have in the future and what choices we will make. But as soon as you try to put your finger on the exact moment that you are experiencing right now it is gone. It has already rushed past you, and you will never be able to get it back. There is no such thing as the present!

I dont write these thoughts with the intention of making anyone sad or to cause worry. Just some of the thoughts spouting from this head of mine here in Morocco. The idea of the present not existing I have thought about before this semester. But my history professor brought it up the first day of class when he was introducing his flexible, liberal, 'coffee culture' style of teaching and learning that he apparently fell in love with while studying at UC Santa Cruz. He is my favorite professor here and seems like a really intelligent and interesting person. Anyways he mentioned that idea and cited a French philosopher whose name I wrote in my notebook somewhere. We are studying the history of North Africa, with Morocco as the focus. He stresses the importance of historiography (the study of how history is written) and epistemology (the study of how knowledge is produced) for understanding history. What is forgotten is as important as what is written. It should be a great class.

Ok time to head home for lunch. Hammam tonight, get excited for me! After that a lovely skype chat with my dear Jill. Ooh and part of lunch is taktooka, a saute of fire-roasted peppers, tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and spices (including cumin!). It comes out looking like a sauce I would normally put on pasta, but we eat it from a plate with bread. It is tasty mmm smoky and slightly spicy. I will get the recipe from Farida, dont you all fret, and I will be preparing it with her the next time.

love and hugs and kisses from Rabat.