Monday, January 7, 2013

Christmas Break

For Christmas break our school got two full weeks off (much more than the local school system) and AMIDEAST did indeed have all sorts of fun activities for us.

Christmas Eve in Morocco.
Not exactly a "White Christmas," but I won't complain. 
Thank goodness for air mail!
On Wednesday, the day after Christmas, we had a cooking class taught by an AMIDEAST host mother. We learned how to make a traditional tajine and, of course, mint tea.
That evening we met several Moroccan students who studied in the U.S. last year with the YES inbound program. We will be starting a photography project with them, and we had a professional photographer come to talk to us about what he does.

On Thursday we went to Souk al-Khamiss, a huge weekly market in Salé. All sorts of things were for sale, even more than the everything available in the Rabat medina. There was an entire field devoted to animals; hundreds of people were buying and selling sheep, goats, cows, chickens, and horses. Entire tents were devoted to clothing, secondhand books, shoes, and power tools in addition to the traditional spice and cookie vendors. The butchery was also quite impressive.

The situation wasn't conducive to a lot of conspicuous picture-taking,
but here's a view from the outside. It was amazing.

On Friday we had a calligraphy lesson from master calligrapher Mohammed Qarmad. His work actually appears on the Moroccan currency as well as the mausoleum of King Mohammed V. He taught us about the art form in general as well as specific instructions on forming the Arabic letters.

He wrote my name in several different styles

My own beginning attempts.

That weekend we took a trip to the Middle Atlas mountains and the quasi-Alpine village of Ifrane. The mountains are beautiful, with great cedar forests and valleys that are really reminiscent of Europe. We had a fantastic guide who has been hiking these mountains for fifty years and has even learned the local Tamazight (Berber) dialect. Most of this land is Berber-owned and agricultural, with the exception of a growing tourist industry (there is even a ski resort, apparently.)

Parts of it are remarkably similar to my own vision of the Scottish Highlands.

Our guide and some of our group
A remote Berber village we visited

Wednesday and Thursday of the next week we went to Salé for some traditional pottery classes. We also got to see tajines being made, on human-powered wheels and dried out in the sun.

Our last trip of the break was to the largest city in Morocco, and probably the most famous; in Arabic it's الدار البيضاء or literally "the White House" — Casablanca.
It's famous, of course, for the movie; this was filmed entirely in Hollywood but there is (now) an American-owned Rick's Café. In any case, it was great publicity for the city and the country.
Despite the famous name and status as the economic capital of the country, Casablanca in fact has very little to see. It is known as Rabat's dirty big brother; there is much more wealth disparity and crime.

It does, however, contain the largest mosque west of Saudi Arabia: the Hassan II Mosque. It's the seventh largest in the world, and it's only a few decades old so it has cool features like a retractable roof and a giant laser pointing towards Mecca. It's one of only two in the country that are open to non-Muslims. We didn't actually get to go inside, as it was closed, but the exterior was quite impressive.

There were a lot of tourists. I'm just glad we weren't as obvious as these ones.

We then walked down along the ocean to get lunch, and then we went to Morocco Mall, the other main attraction in Casablanca and the largest mall in Africa. I think it's good to consider how we Americans can be so utterly unimpressed by a giant mall when Moroccans are so thrilled to see so many American stores in one place. Among other outlets, this mall has two Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Domino's, American Eagle, Gucci, and Rolex. That's some serious wealth.

In some ways, this city could almost be Hawaii.

Now we're back in Rabat and we've started school again, which always imposes that ambivalent mixture of normalcy and math homework. Sometime soon (إن شاء الله) I'll put up pictures of what I see everyday, so you can get a glimpse of my regular world. 

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