Markets: An afternoon in the souq

A fellow WordPress Blogger, Ailsa over at “Where’s my backpack” did it again with this week’s travel theme of Street Markets.  What a fantastic topic for who doesn’t love the vibrant colors and fragrances of a world market?  Markets are amazing as they give you such a slice of culture.  Whether it be the divine floral markets of Paris to the brilliant indigenous markets of Peru, a market always has a treasure to find.

One of my favorite markets of all is the souq.  In the spring of 2011, I spent a week volunteering in Rabat, Morocco and had a wonderful time exploring the ins and outs of a Moroccan souq.  You could truly find literally every thing for sale; pretty much whatever your heart desired.  The colors, the sounds, the people, the smells and the diverse offerings of goods made the souq one of my favorite places to wander and buy gifts for my family and friends.

Follow me through the winding paths of Rabat’s central souq….

There is always a mosque shooting up towards the sky and summoning the daily call to prayer.  The sound of the call echoes throughout the souq, bouncing off the curvy walls of the serpentine streets.  

CULTURE TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Weekly Photo Challenges

The Trials and Tribulations of Teaching English as a Second Language

About two weeks before my departure to Morocco I received the long-awaited email answering the great unknown: My volunteer placement for my program in Rabat. Before signing on with Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS), I knew the deal. Volunteers would not find out what their placement was until two weeks before the trip. It is standard protocol for CCS and although it may sound strange, it actually makes a whole lot of sense.

In order to really make a difference, there is no way for the organization to know exactly what volunteer work and service will be needed at the time of a volunteer’s arrival. This is especially true since most volunteers like me sign up at least three to six months ahead of time. As a past CCS volunteer, I knew the drill and was not concerned. Once a destination is picked, the rest would follow. Each country offers similar kinds of work such as placements in an orphanage, a day-care center for underprivileged or disabled kids, a nursing home, a hospital setting or teaching English to those in need. I had already done the nursing home last year in Costa Rica and surprised myself by loving it (see earlier blog posts filed under Costa Rica). However, I was game for anything.

As expected, my email came approximately two weeks before my flight to Morocco. I would be teaching English to local Moroccans at an organization called the East West Foundation that works with Moroccans and other Africans living in Rabat who want to learn English to improve their lives. The job sounded interesting enough (although for some reason I personally craved the chance to work with kids). I would be teaching my own class and would have to prepare some lessons in advance. Lessons? What? Then the panic hit. How would I prepare lessons when I had no idea what level I would be teaching or where the students were at? Furthermore, how would I plan lessons when I could hard plan the last two weeks left at home in Minnesota with two kids and a husband and nothing at all packed. I took a few deep breaths, remembering CCS’s words to be patient, open-minded, and flexible. Ok, I could do that, but still how on earth was I going to find the time to prepare for teaching this class?

I sent off a few emails to past volunteers at the East West Foundation and received many helpful and positive responses. Everyone who had worked there loved it and had plenty of advice for a stressed out, over-tired mom like me. I tried my best to print out the best ideas and bought a book called “Teaching ESL The American Way”, and quietly thanked myself for my past ESL experience ten years ago teaching English to illegal immigrants at a church and tutoring Somali girls at a charter high school. Sure, it was ten years ago but I could do it again successfully, especially if I was under pressure.

The days before I left for Morocco were a blur. I could hardly get everything in order before I left, let alone any lesson planning. But I remained optimistic and tried to ease any fears or concern. I’d be fine. I knew how to work in the spur of the moment and make things happen.

I arrived a day and a half early in Morocco which I spent on my own, discovering Morocco and adjusting to the time change (Morocco is six hours ahead of Minneapolis). On Saturday, I did a five hour excursion to neighboring Casablanca which was fantastic and then headed over to the CCS Home Base late Saturday afternoon to check in and get settled. There were five volunteers already there who had been volunteering in Morocco for the past few weeks. One woman was from Canada in her mid-twenties, another woman from New Zealand in her thirties, an American woman in her eighties from the East Coast, and a semi-retired couple from Canada. The new batch of volunteers coming in for my program included a twenty-five-year-old woman from CCS in New York (who is amazing and just so happened to be in a wheelchair, an amazing accomplishment in itself), a grandmother and her grand-daughter and friend from the west coast, and a well-traveled quality manager from New York in her thirties like me. We had quite a diverse group of people (ages, backgrounds, geography) which added to the fun and adventure of the trip.

Sunday afternoon we had a group meeting to discuss the volunteer placements for the week. CCS Morocco was currently working with three NGO’s inside Morocco:

1. A group that worked at the Children’s Hospital to provide entertainment and care for the children in the asthma ward (and give their worn out parents a much needed break).
2. A local NGO called “Ibny” (which means “my kid” or “my child” in Arabic) which provides care and education to the street children of Rabat who the NGO is trying to keep off the streets (in 2009, a survey conducted counted 2000,000 beggars on the streets of Morocco. Sadly enough, many parents use their children and even drug them to get money). The objective of this NGO is to get kids off the street, fed, bathed and in school, for a few hours a day.
3. The last volunteer opportunity was at an NGO called Femin Pluriel, a women’s association created in 1999 to offer courses in English, French, computers and other subjects to help improve the lives of women.

Apparently the placements at the East West Foundation were put on hold for awhile so I was slated to work at Femin Pluriel helping Gwen teach English classes to beginners. I remembered the words be flexible, be patient and be open-minded and decided to go with the flow on the change in plans. It wouldn’t actually be that different from the East West Foundation, just a different kind of clientele (mostly educated, unemployed women looking to learn English and improve their lives).

Monday morning I spent some time pouring over the CCS internal library which provides a wealth of information on ESL courses, sample lessons, vocabulary and grammar books. I decided to bring a few good books along in my bag and then headed to the CCS van that would drive us to our placements. First stop was the hospital, followed by the school which hosts Ibny, and finally we were at the gray stone building that held the offices and classrooms for Femin Pluriel.

Photo of road leading up to Femin Pluriel:

View from Femin Pluriel of surrounding street:

Entrance to Femin Pluriel:

I felt my stomach drop as we left the van and rung the bell to be let in. What would it be like? Was I prepared? Would I have enough to teach? All these thoughts raced through my head as we walked into the first floor office and were kindly greeted by two of the woman who ran the administrative side of Femin Pluriel. We took a small tour of the space which featured a classroom at the front, a long library with tables in the middle, and another classroom and computer lab in the rear. It was a nice space with tons of books in French, Arabic and English. Apparently Femin Pluriel has speakers once a month as well usually on women’s topics.

Gwen and I were lead to the classroom area in back near the computer lab where we set up shop and waited for the arrival of our students. Slowly but surely in they trickled in: Four women and two men in all ranging from their early twenties to late thirties. Overall the women were a highly educated group who were fortunate enough to go to university yet were still looking for steady employment (unemployment in 2010 was 8.6% and GDP is $4,600/person). Although education in free in Morocco, if you don’t have the grades to get in to university than you are pretty much out of luck (unless you come from a wealthy family). One of the problems with the educational system in Morocco is that many feel it doesn’t prepare graduates for a real job meaning there is a disconnect between degreed graduates and new employees.
Learning an important world language like English greatly increases a woman (and man’s) ability to find a good job, especially in commerce and the government. That is where Femin Pluriel comes into play: By offering daily classes in English at a small fee taught almost exclusively by volunteers.

The first class went much better than expected. I was extremely thankful for those grueling years of French because teaching English to beginners completely in English would have been impossible (or at least for someone like me who is not a trained ESL teacher). Thus for the most part we were able to teach the class in English and I could clarify things in French. It worked out very well! The students were delightful and very appreciative. We had lots of laughs, especially when we involved a little charades into the mix, and I truly enjoyed the work.

Inside Femin Pluriel: Our classroom

A lovely collage of pictures featuring traditional Moroccan village dress:

The rest of the week was more or less the same, except for the arrival of a new student: Yosef, a twenty-one-year-old security guards who just so happened to be a long boarder on the weekends and illiterate. Yosef was my inspiration. He was abandoned by his parents at six years old and sent to Rabat to be raised by his uncle. He never went to school and somehow managed to survive with a joie de vivre or joy of life that was infectious. His smile was so big and so enthusiastic that his presence in the classroom was hard to ignore. Although he didn’t know how to read or write, he still showed up for class every morning with his enormous grin and desire to learn. He work up every morning at 4am for his job as a security guards, then took two hours off in the morning to attend the english class, then headed back to work until 6pm. Now that is dedication! He had only been coming to classes for a few weeks and had already learned a great deal. It was truly wonderful to help him and the others out.

Our last day came before we knew it. I felt bad to be leaving so soon after we had just gotten to know our new friends and make some progress. We had talked about food, about hobbies, about jobs and about life. It was a great learning experience for us as well. As the class was ending, a fresh pot of Moroccan mint tea appeared along with some homemade Moroccan biscuits and sweats. Traditionally tea in Morocco is something that happens every day from 4-6PM and cannot be rushed. Yet the door bell rang and our van was waiting. It was time to say goodbye and hope that somehow we had ever so slightly made an impact on their lives.

Our students:

Friday morning I had the opportunity to visit another work site, the asthma ward at the Children’s Hospital.

Packing up our bags of fun for the children:

There are only two Children’s Hospitals in all of Morocco: A country of 33 million people! Thus families of ill children often have to travel very far away from home in order to receive care for their children.

Picture of the outside of Rabat’s Children’s Hospital:

The volunteer work needed at the hospital was mainly entertainment (coloring, playing, drawing, singing, reading, etc) of the children in the playroom so their wary, tired parents could get some kind of break. I enjoyed this experience immensely.

Inside the playroom at the hospital:

Although the children are sick and being treated for asthma, they still are just kids and were smiling, laughing and playing with rigor and energy. It was a perfect place for me being an energetic mother of two! I played ball, I tickled and hugged them and just showed them that I cared. The mothers watched carefully from outside the playroom and a few times I caught their eyes and were rewarded with a kindhearted smile of appreciation. As a stay at home mom, I know exactly how important it is to get a break away from the kids and even more so, for these moms who were far away from their homes and villages holed up in a small, not so clean hospital room for sometimes weeks on end.

I also enjoyed speaking with a couple of interns as well as one of the doctors about their lives and work in the hospital. I was amazed by how gracious these people are to work in an overcrowded, understaffed hospital for probably a lot less money than they would receive being a doctor here in the United States. I am always amazed by the incredible people I meet when I volunteer. It sure brings hope that there are good people in the world who care about others and not only money. Truly inspirational people that keep me motivated to come back again and volunteer and help out in any way I can, even if it is small. This kind of rounds up my review of volunteering in Morocco. It was not so much what I did but everything that I learned and everyone I met in such a short time. I hope that somehow they felt the same and I was able to give them something, even if it was small. Perhaps a glimmer of hope?

Me and Mohammed, the CCS Country Manager:

My favorite quote posted inside the CCS Home Base:

Morocco TRAVEL BY REGION Volunteering Abroad

Dating 101: Rock the Kasbah

Once again, I found myself at the city’s beloved landmark of beauty: the Kasbah des Oudaias. A Kasbah is a fortified area that once housed the ruling family, its guards and everything needed for living under attack. Nowadays, Kasbahs are still a beautiful place to live, with its traditional whitewashed and brilliant blue blue painted buildings and stunning, winding alleyways with gorgeous, lush gardens and views of either the landscape or in Oudaias case, the magnificent blue sea.

With Khadija as our tour guide, we spent the afternoon exploring the lovely Kasbah and all its splendors, including the hidden Moroccan dating game. As mentioned in my earlier post (Islam 101), dating is forbidden in the Islamic world. Premarital sex and even kissing the opposite sex is a no-no. However, with the advent of modernity and the constant throng of romance seen on the Internet, TV and Western movies, a new kind of dating in Morocco has been created: Secret Dating.

When walking through the lush gardens of the Kasbah, I was shocked and stunned to see young lovers, somewhat hidden from view, in the process of making out. Per Khadija, this is the new secret dating game that can be found throughout urban Morocco.

Here are some examples:

The lush gardens offer the perfect place for hidden romance:

The gorgeous flowering trees offer perfect protection from the sun:

Per Khadija, this is what is going on. For Muslims, dating is strictly forbidden. If you are interested in getting to know someone from the opposite sex, then technically you need to meet them in a public place with a third person present, usually a member from the family such as a brother. Thus if you are in love with someone or even just like them a lot, generally in Morocco you skip the whole dating game and go directly to marriage (of course after asking the young woman’s father for her hand).

However, for some Moroccans, this is beginning to change, especially among the young generation (like the ones seen smooching in the photo above). Dating is done completely in secret, meaning the parents have no idea, yet it always takes place in a public place such as the Kasbah or another favorite, the beach.

Here is a photo of the beach dating scene. Note the hijabs and jellabas, not your typical beach wear in a western country:

Another interesting fact Khadija told me about dating: It is only done IF there is a future of marriage ahead. You do not date just to date. Instead, you start at the end game of a relationship. You start when a man tells you that he wants to marry you. Once it is determined that you will get married, then you can start going on your secret dates. During the secret dating process, you always go to public places and never go to a private location because to do so may dishonor the woman. Normally the secret dating game goes on for about six months until an engagement. Finally, it is never acceptable in Morocco for a woman to ask a man out. It simply does not happen.

Khadija herself has been involved with a man, who she has been secretly dating for two years now and will eventually get married. Her parents do not really know about him however her friends do. She is an educated, career-driven woman yet she remains traditional at the same time and respects her religion.

Khadija told us a very interesting fact. Apparently over the last four years that CCS has been open in Morocco and had volunteers, six volunteers have met and married Moroccan men! One even met her future husband in only two weeks and neither one could speak the same language. Amazingly enough, they are still married today (and hopefully they can at least communicate now). Thus, bottom line: Love can happen anywhere, even in Morocco!

(Note: Non-Muslims can intermarry. However, a non-Muslim must convert to Islam in order to marry a Muslim).

Here are some more lovely photos of the Kasbah as well as the beach in Rabat. Two romantic places for a public secret date!

Coming up next….more posts on Morocco!

CULTURE SOCIAL GOOD

Here Comes the (Moroccan) Band

Moroccan music comes in many genres (ranging from Arab, Berber, Classical and Popular) and is surprisingly diverse. Every region in Morocco has its own type of music thus there

A good site reference for the various kinds of Moroccan music can be found at:

http://www.al-bab.com/maroc/cult/music.htm

The music we heard today is called “Chaabi” (also known as “shaabi”) which means “popular” or “of the people” in Arabic. The music is pop music that has Arab, African and Western influences and is generally played at large celebrations and events such as weddings.

Here is a fun YouTube Video I found that demonstrates this energetic, rhythmic music.

http://m.youtube.com/index?desktop_uri=%2F&gl=MA#/watch?v=KR1yLZCqSHE

http://m.youtube.com/index?desktop_uri=%2F&gl=MA#/watch?v=Hia-w5q43tY

(Note: I tried to embed the links so you can easily view them but it does not work well using an iPad. Thus you will have to copy and paste the link above into your browser. I will fix them when I return home. The video is worth seeing!)

The musicians use a variety of percussion instruments such as the bender which is a goatskin covered wooden drum, the daff which is a wooden-framed drum, covered entirely with stretched goatskin and played on both sides, the garagab which are metal clackers resembling double castanets (one holds two in each hand), the naggarah which are double kettle drums made of pottery, the taarija which is a kind of handheld drum that is either cone or vase shaped and made of pottery or metal. There are also the tan-tan and tbilat, which are kinds of bongo drums.

Our visit with the band was absolutely fabulous and fun! We had just finished our Moroccan cooking class and were hanging out in the large living room when we heard the loud pounding and thumping of the Moroccan band. They had parked their van outside the Home Base and entering playing loud, rhythmic Chaabi music. Instantly we all smiled and the music brought our energy to a new level. The bank comprised of five musicians all playing different kinds of drum, singing and one playing a variety of percussion instruments such as the “moroccan symbol” which was the axel of a car wheel and he played this by wearing it on his head and pounding it with sticks.

Here are some pictures of our day with the band:

Here is the musician playing the car axel on his head! It was very heavy and he joked around a lot by placing it on volunteers heads and playing it.

The volunteers learning how to dance in Morocco:

Me doing Moroccan dance:

Ken, the sole male volunteer, from Canada, dancing Moroccan:


Wearing the traditional hooded jelaba:


Morocco TRAVEL BY REGION

A Day at the Souq

Every Moroccan visit requires a visit to the local Medina and Souq. The Souq (market) is not only a shopping expedition but a cultural experience in itself. That is where tourists go to shop and to see the Moroccans shop. It is not for the faint-hearted nor those who do not like crowds. The Souq is extremely overwhelming and non-stop eye candy. The sights, the smells, the people watching are amazingly intense. You can literally find everything including the kitchen sink at the Souq (but apparently it takes Moroccan “know-how” to find good old fashioned body lotion!).

Bargaining is a necessity in the Souq. Generally you take the given price and deduct it by 50 or 60% and start from there. It is extremely helpful to speak French or else bargaining can be quite the challenge. The prices are extremely cheap in western standards and it is hard to get out of there without buying too much.

After three visits to the Souq, however, I’ve reached full capacity and do not plan to go back. I’ve had enough! But I did get several great things to bring back home to share with my family and friends. Here is a photo journey of my buying excursion at the Souq:

Andrea and Khadija (our office manager) entering the souq:

Looking the other direction of the medina towards the Ville Nouvelle (new French part of Rabat city):

The old walls of the Medina:

Entering the Souq:

The couscous:

The jelabas (robes with pointed hoods) and caftans (robes without hoods and usually a v neck adorned and decorated) which are the traditional dress in Morocco. In Rabat, you see about half women wearing these robes and half wearing western attire. About half wear the hijab (head scarf) in city and some don’t. It is a personal choice even though it is stated obligatory in Islam. In rural Morocco, you would see everyone wearing hijab and dressed in traditional clothing:

You can even find outfits for belly dancing:

There are lots of shops that sell “babouches” or Moroccan slippers:

And tons of places to buy scarves and blankets (my favorite addiction!):

Moroccan lamps and lanterns are everywhere as well as cats (not for sale!):

The presence of the mosque is all encompassing, especially when you hear the Call to Prayer:

Yet you still can find lots of shops that sell lingerie (exotic and traditional), counterfeit sunglasses and pursues (Chanel seems to be a favorite), traditional shoe repair shops, skinny jeans and t-shirts. We even saw a small shop with four tvs inside where children and men were gathered round and watching shows. Plus there is always the presence of Moroccan mint tea (a specialty and an event in itself).

I especially liked the nicer shops found under the covered part of the souq as seen here:

The architecture inside the Medina was gorgeous as well. There were interesting doors, beautifully tiled terra-cotta roofs in greens and reds, and lots of pretty tiled fountains such as here:

Me taking a breather:

After a couple hours at the souq, the third visit, I bought five blankets, six pillow cases, a scarf and a “hand of fatima” amulet. The gorgeous silk blankets (which are enormous—fits a queen size bed) below costed me about 200 dirhams which is about $15! Who will be the lucky recipient?

And the colorful silk pillow cases ran about $5 each:

I could make a steal selling these at the Pottery Barn!

No more visits to the Souq….I’m “souq-ed” out!

Coming next….the role of women in Morocco and Islam followed by “experiences on the road as an ESL teacher in Rabat”

Morocco TRAVEL BY REGION

My Home Away From Home in Hay Riad Rabat

So where do you stay when you volunteer with Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) in Rabat, Morocco? Good question! No, we do not stay in some kind of crazy mud hut. I was pleasantly surprised to find that our home away from home, known as the “Home Base” is quite lovely. It is located in the nice, posh neighborhood of “Hay Riad” where all the ex-pats and embassies are located. It is quite a different experience than being in the medina, that is for sure! Instead of ancient, white-washed buildings, the neighborhood is lined in majestic palm trees and enormous, mediterranean mansions all huge, all with gorgeous, lush and tropical gardens and security guards.

Here are some pictures of the Home Base:

Our street:

View down the street:

Entrance to our residence:

The Home Base common area and dining room:

A tagine:

Lunch:

The Home Base garden:


The Home Base at night:

View from outdoor terrace into my room:

I must admit it was not at all what I was expecting. After staying in the old medina area my first night in Rabat, I was very surprised that this neighborhood exists. But as Rabat is the capital city of Morocco, of course there has to be a place for all the embassies and wealthy people to live.

Here are some pictures around the Hay Riad neighborhood:

Some of the gorgeous homes nearby:

Our home base used to be an embassy which opened for CCS in 2007. It is a large building that can accommodate up to thirty volunteers (there are about four bunk beds per room) however we are quite fortunate now as there are only ten of us here, meaning I only share a room with one other volunteer.

The rent cost is huge, especially in Moroccan standards. It costs about $3,500 a month which explains some of the high costs involved in short-term volunteering for CCS.

Our residence has a beautiful, tropical garden and yard space filled with hibiscus flowers, birds of paradise, roses, palm trees and of course turtles! (There are several ones living in the backyard so you have to be careful not to step on them!).

The main living space downstairs is lovely and has a traditional moroccan “coach” that is L-shaped, and the room is lined with large windows. There are also several “poufs” or moroccan ottomans around so you can easily kick back and relax.

We are served all our meals at the home base, which are homemade by two Moroccan ladies. Breakfast usually consists of french baguette or Moroccan crepes, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, coffee and juice. Lunch is served at one pm after we return from our volunteer work and is always traditional moroccan food such as tangines, couscous, lots of vegetables, soups and lentils. Dinner is then served at seven pm and is usually the same types of meals served as lunch (but of course different each meal and each day). The food has been quite delicious so I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

The nearby local grocery store is called Acima, and there are three in Rabat. You can buy all Moroccan spices such as in this picture:

And my beloved harissa, my favorite morccan spicy sauce (in red):

Plus there is a gorgeous nearby patisserie, french bakery:

Our general routine has been wake up (today I woke up unexpectedly at 5:17 am to the sounds of the muezzin (call to prayer) which could be heard through closed doors AND my earplugs! I of course went back to sleep!). After breakfast, we leave for our three volunteer placements: The Children’s Hospital, The school for street children and the Women’s Association (My placement where I teach English). We work for a few hours and then come back for a late lunch.

Here is a picture of our CCS bus:

After lunch, we have cultural activities and learning. Yesterday, we did a city tour (which I will discuss more later) and today we are having a two hour lecture on Women in Islam.

Then we typically have a little downtime which can be spent shopping, resting, reading or talking with the other volunteers, followed by dinner at 7 PM and a bit of down time before bed. It is an exhausting day, especially given the jet-lag and cultural immersion (it is difficult in itself being in another country and speaking another language, ie. french, all day).

Everyone is wonderful at the Home Base. All the volunteers are very interesting people. About half are from the US, three from Canada and one woman is from New Zealand. Our Director, Mohammed is fabulous and a super funny guy. He worked in the Peace Corps for several years and now works for CCS. He is extremely knowledgeable and we’ve had several fascinating conversations.

The biggest surprise of all has been our discover (of course from past volunteers) of the one restaurant in Hay Riad that serves alcohol! I totally forgot the rules about being in a Muslim country! Muslims are not allowed to drink thus finding booze can be tricky. We are lucky that Morocco is more “liberal” and “modern” than other Islamic countries as you are able to find alcohol. All hotels serve it and the one french “tapas” bar we found serves alcohol but only after 8 PM. We have been there almost every night so far!

Here is the one and only place to get booze in our neighborhood:

An important point to remember: This neighborhood is NOT TYPICAL Rabat. This is the wealthy area. Most Moroccans live in homes styled after medina area or in old apartment buildings. I will show more pictures of other neighborhoods later. I wanted to show you where we are staying and also that there are nice areas in Morocco! Most people wouldn’t believe that there is money everywhere, of course, along with lots of poverty.

More later!

Morocco TRAVEL BY REGION Volunteering Abroad

My First Visit to a Mosque

The highlight of my visit to Casablanca (Casa) was by far my visit to the Hassan II Mosque. I met my guide, Anis (pronounced and named after the spice) who again spoke French and had a fabulous one on one tour of the mosque, which is the third largest mosque in the world (after Mecca and Medina).

The mosque was built from 1986 to 1993, and required over 10,000 artisans and 12,500 workers to complete the work. They worked day and night, non-stop.

The minaret (the tower) is the largest in the world (200 m above sea level) and is quite impressive.

Here are some more shots of the outside of the mosque and the minaret:

The colors of the mosque symbolize the colors of Islam: Green and White. Green symbolized peace and white represents universalism.

I was in awe with the immense beauty of the mosque and it’s exquisite detail:

This is my favorite picture…the sun just happened to capture me and lighten my soul:

The inside of the mosque holds a capacity of 25,000 people and the outside courtyard area holds up to 80,000 people.

This is the ONLY mosque in all of Morocco that allows tourists inside (due to ancient French law, not due to religious reasons).

The official religion of the Moroccan kingdom is Islam (Sunite Malekile) and there are about 70% practicing Muslims. In the Islam religion, there are five official daily prayers at: Dawn, Mid-morning, Mid-Afternoon, Sunset and Night. Each day a minute is added to the prayer time to reflect the change in the rising and setting of the sun. The call of prayer can be heard throughout Morocco and the first time I heard it, I was mesmerized. It is loud and melodic, calling all Muslims to come to prayer. An amazing event to experience!

The inside of the mosque is constructed with all Moroccan materials. The ceiling is made with Moroccan cedar that is sculptured and then painted in beautiful colors and images.

Here is a picture of the elaborately decorated ceiling:

The mosque has three levels. The bottom floor level contains the fountains of water for purification. Men and women each have a separate door to enter and separate rooms that contain 41 marble fountains full of water where Muslims wash every external part of their body before they are allowed to enter the mosque.

Women and men are completely separate in a mosque. Women are allowed only on the second level and there is a capacity of up to 5,000 women. Here is a picture of where the women stay:

Here is a picture of the “jalousie” or “moucharabia”, an intricately carved door made out of cedar where women can “hide” and not be seen:

Other interesting facts about the mosque:

1. The ceiling completely opens up so you can see and have contact with the sky which is extremely important for Muslims.

2. Le Mihrab: Is like the alter in a church where the IMAM (leader of prayer) heads the prayer. It is of course facing Mecca.

3. There are four positions of prayer, called in french, Les genuflections. First, you face Mecca and greet by lowering your head to show humility. Second, you place your hands on your knees. Third, you slightly flex your knees. Fourth, you lay on the ground on your knees with your forehead touching the ground.

4. Muslims only use right hand to greet and eat. Left hand if for doing the “other” dirty stuff involved with being a human (i.e. blowing nose, using bathroom, etc).

5. Muslims are called to prayer five times per day as mentioned above. However, Moroccans are the most modern Muslims in the world thus it is not obligatory that you go to the mosque five times a day to pray.

6. There are varying degrees of how religious a person is. Just like in the States.

7. Not all women where the hijab (veil). Many more women are dressing western nowadays.

What I discovered is that Islam is a very fascinating religion. Obviously it is a religion that is very misunderstood thus I look forward to sharing what I find.

Morocco TRAVEL BY REGION

Searching for Body Lotion in a Moroccan Medina

The flight to Rabat was uneventful except for all the crying babies who kept me awake. I was really looking forward to sleeping the entire way yet it wasn’t in the cards.

As we made our approach, I looked out the window longingly at the beautiful countryside and array of colors. There were greens, earth tones, yellows and the brilliant blue sea. It was gorgeous. The landscape was such a contrast to brown, barren Minnesota! It was like eye candy and I gobbled it up.

We landed safely and I was relieved to finally be here in Africa after such a long journey. For some reason, I didn’t have much luck with customs and was questioned for at least ten minutes about what I was going to be doing in Morocco. It was becoming a pattern. I was stopped in Minneapolis and had the pat down due to an oversize tube of toothpaste, my beloved face lotion was seized at the Paris airport and now I was being grilled over and over again about my volunteer work in Morocco. I think he must have been simply messing with me. I looked tired and was easy bait.

My “chauffeur” met me outside the arrivals gate and we headed to his old white Mercedes car where I practically collapsed into the seat. It was very warm and I was sweltering. Probably due to my Nordic blood.

I was thankful to know French. Yes, it has been eighteen years since I lived in France but suddenly and magically it all came back and it was pouring out. My driver, Mohammed, was full of information and facts about Morocco. I wasn’t in the mood to chat but it helped me stay awake and everything he had to say was of course very interesting.

We arrived at the hotel in less than thirty minutes. I was staying at a Riad, or private historical mansion, in the center of Rabat. The windy, whitewashed walls of the medina were like a maze that somehow lead to the green sign stating RIAD DAR KERIFA. Atlas, we arrived!

Here is a photo of the entrance of the hotel:

The inside of the hotel was like a hidden treasure. One would never know from the outside that there was a gorgeous mansion inside! I was instantly impressed. Here are some pictures of the inside of the raid:

The architecture and furnishings were all traditional Moroccan:

Even the light fixtures were spectacular:

I unpacked my stuff and took a quick shower. There is something about being on a plane and traveling for hours that just makes you feel disgusting. The shower felt fabulous and gave me that much needed second wind and energy to go on my next quest: In search of body lotion in the Moroccan Medina.

I left the hotel and immediately got lost. There were many Moroccans in their traditional attire, the jellaba (hooded robe) and caftans (decorated robes):

The old medina was amazing, like nothing I’d ever experienced. It felt like being in some kind of crazy maze full of endless twists and turns against whitewashed ancient buildings. I somehow managed to find the “souq” or the market. I looked around and realized that I was the only foreigner in sight. But I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. Nothing like what I experienced in India. Thus I was able to fully take in the unbelievably overwhelming experience of searching for American Body Lotion in a Moroccan Medina. Ok, I’m at a souq which is an enormous open air market where they sell pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. No big deal, huh? It would be no problem at all to find the lotion and head back to my peaceful, relaxing hotel for a glass of wine. Right! I should have known better! I was in a foreign country, North Africa, to say the least! My mission to find some lotion was absolute madness.

I saw EVERYTHING that is for sure. I saw turtles for sale, ladies underwear fancily displayed (hilarious given I am in a Muslim country), fruit stands packed with dates, olives and figs, jean shops, electronic shops and stuff I couldn’t even guess what it was. It was the most crazy place I’ve ever been. There was shouting, there was chanting, there was clapping….there was absolutely every sales tactic employed to get a sale. It was the most incredible market I’d ever seen! Yet, the lotion was no where to be found.

After two and a half hours of searching frantically, I finally gave in to the pressure of getting a little help. A nice Moroccan man asked if I need his assistance. Yes, this is a no no for sure. I knew he’d probably want money but I was so utterly exhausted and I was lost. He walked me to a place where I purchased some crazy “milk lotion” and then showed me my way back to the riad. He was a friendly guy yet was missing several bottom teeth so I was a little weary but quite frankly too tired to deal with the situation. Finally when I found the way out of the medina and said my farewell, he surprisingly walked away, of course after a request for a small donation, which I gently refused. I was angry with myself for accepting some help but then again, at least I found my lotion!

In the coming week, I know that I’ll definitely be back for more experiences in the souq. Hopefully this time I won’t be so tired and weary! It a place that one could spend hours in. A place of wonder that makes me remember why I travel and see the world.

Here are some of my favorite pictures of the market:
Ok, this first one was the beginning where I freaked out because everything looked like it came from a garage sale. But trust me, it got much better:

Now we are talking:

Pet turtles for sale (they bring good luck in Morocco!):

Now the beautiful, fresh dried fruits, olives and figs:

More wonderful things:

Moroccan beauty supplies (for making homemade facials):

Anything is possible to buy (except lotion!)

I returned to the hotel, beyond exhausted, and headed up to the lovely terrace affording a gorgeous sunset view of Rabat. I had a glass of red french wine (which I grabbed from the Air France flight) and listened to the call for prayer from the nearby mosque. This is quite a country!

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Morocco TRAVEL BY REGION