This past weekend was extra long because of مولد (Mawlid), the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday. We got out of class on Wednesday after lunch and didn’t have to be back until Monday morning, so we decided to make the most of it by traveling around northern Morocco a bit. We ventured to Meknes, Azrou, Ifrane, Meknes again, Volubilis, and Moulay Idris (I don’t really know much about any of these cities or why they were the ones that were chosen. I pretty much just tag along and hope we meet someone who doesn’t speak French, and reduce the amount of cat-calling the girls have to suffer). Darby, Leslie, Gabby, and I took a train from Rabat to Meknes on Thursday afternoon (everyone else took a grand taxi on Friday morning). It was so packed that for the first hour or so, I had to stand at the back of our car next to the doors, which was a little unnerving because the door kept trying to fly open every couple of minutes. However, I met a young mechanic from Rabat named Mustafa who was traveling to see his cousin in Tangier for the holiday. He wanted to practice his English, so that was the language we used to communicate. We talked about the “American Dream” and he assured me that I would be able to get a good job once I graduate if I continue learning Arabic. We exchanged phone numbers, so I hope to have lunch with him or something in the near future.
We stayed at a pretty baller hostel in Meknes. We got hot showers, breakfast, and even heaters in our rooms for about $14! It was really dreary because of the rain, but Viviana wanted to go on a carriage ride around the city, so Lesley, Darby (maybe? I can’t remember, sorry!), and I indulged her, and we ended up having a pretty good time. Our driver was a charismatic young fellow who spoke to us in a hodgepodge of French, Arabic, and English. Afterwards, we thought we were gonna see a snake charmer and his buddies do something crazy in the plaza near our hostel, but the rain began to pick up and they packed up their stuff and left. Our hostel was located in the old medina, which is lined with various little stalls and shops, and the differences in demeanor between shopkeepers always interests me. Some are overeager to get you to enter their stores, while others, like the owner of a shoe shop I looked around in, can hardly even be bothered to look up from their phones when you ask them how much something costs. We woke up early Friday morning, ate breakfast, then Lesley, Gabby, Viviana, and I left to try to find transportation to Azrou. We were trying to find the bus station when we inadvertently ended up asking a group of taxi drivers where it was. Of course, they said there WERE no buses to Azrou and tried to convince us to take a cab. After about 10 minutes of frazzled and disjointed communicating, we found a man who directed us to the bus station in earnest. We walked there, inquired about tickets, found out the next bus to Azrou leaves now, ran over there, and nearly the last seats.
Driving into Azrou we couldn’t see much because the windows were all fogged up, but suffice it to say, it’s a little city tucked into a valley of the Middle Atlas mountains, and there is plenty of hiking to be done in the surrounding area. We were eventually joined by the rest of our group, except for Uchenna and John, who slept in at the hostel. Six of us went on a guided hike with my favorite Moroccan to date, our guide Yunis. Yunis speaks decent English, French, MSA, Darija, Amazigh, and German (He lived in Germany for two years and worked at a bagel restaurant. wut?), and he does hikes and treks all over Morocco. He took us on a two-ish hour hike during which we were somehow transported to Scotland. We were hiking up this mountain, came over a ridge, and boom, we found ourselves on the edge of a grassy pasture, on the side of a mountain! We even ran into a herd of sheep and their shepherds. We also met a group of 3 ten year old Amazigh boys who were on break from school. ‘they hung around and followed us all the was back to town, where Yunis used some of the money we paid him to buy them each some food; and then he bought each of us two mandarins! We enjoyed his company so much that we asked him to have dinner with us. I sat beside him in the restaurant, and we got to talking, in Arabic FINALLY. I can’t remember how we got onto this thread, but the bulk of our conversation was spent contemplating the difference between “living” and merely “surviving” (Switchfoot, “Thrive” anyone?), the ability and responsibility we have as humans to make choices, and justice. I can’t say it wasn’t gratifying to finally be able to hold a conversation with someone in MSA. We got his contact information, and I’m hoping to get to do some more hiking with him before my time here is up. After dinner, we went back to our hotel, which was pretty reasonable for what we paid (~$9 each). However, despite my general exhaustion and extra blanket, I could not stay asleep through the night because of both the cold, and the fact that my bed was slanted and trying to dump me on the floor.We got picked up on Sunday morning by Rachael and Abdul Rahim, two of our program’s employees. With them, we went to Ifrane to see a lion carved out of stone by a prisoner that represents the last lion killed in the Atlas mountains, around 60 years or so ago. That was cool, I guess. But after that, we went to a nearby Amazigh village and had tea in a family’s house. The husband, I guess, who Abdul Rahim knows met us when we parked, but didn’t accompany us to the house, so I’m assuming he had other obligations. But the matriarch of the house and a younger lady who I think was her daughter walked us there and served us tea and little cookie-esque snacks with coconut. Also at the house was this adorable little 3 year old girl wearing an Adidas track suit. Seriously, so cute. She brought out a bunch of stuffed animals, one of which was a T-Rex with which she proceeded to attack Chessy to thunderous applause from the rest of us. After tea, we walked around the village a bit. And when I say village, I don’t want you to picture a bunch of people living in yurts with no paved roads. It looked like any other small Moroccan communal dwelling, although there were more donkeys. Perhaps the coolest thing we saw was a cave which I guess used to be inhabited by an Amazigh family. It was interesting because the entrance to the cave was blocked by a house. It was actually kind of like a basement. After that, we departed to return to Meknes for lunch. After lunch, we went to Volubilis, where we had a short guided tour. Our tour guide was nice, but he was really strict, and since we were short on time (we still had to go to Moulay Idris and then get back to Rabat), we didn’t have much opportunity to wander around for ourselves.
Moulay Idris, it turns out, is the poor man’s Mecca. Our guide told us that 6 trips to the city during September (I don’t know why then, but that’s the month everyone makes pilgrimage) are equal to one trip to Mecca. I find it exceedingly interesting that Islam tries to quantify every action. Maybe I’m biased and haven’t given it sufficient thought, but do we do that in Christianity? Because I feel like we don’t… Anyway, Moulay Idris is pretty awesome. It’s a collection of neighborhoods built on a bunch of hilltops that all sit right next to each other. Our short walking tour consisted of a hike to the top of the city, prompting someone, maybe Darby or Lesley, to make the comment, “I feel like we’re in Minas Tirith!” After that, we saw the only cylindrical minaret in Morocco. This might be just me, but I didn’t find it nearly as beautiful as the rectangular ones, maybe because I felt like the aspect ratio is off; it appears short and fat. Anyway, we were walking through the town back to our bus and we realized that the Morocco- South Africa game was on, so what seemed like all of the men in the city were sitting in the various cafes watching it. We were about to walk to our bus when every single one of them erupted with excitement- Morocco had scored an 83′ goal to go ahead 2-1! It was like the whole town exploded!!!The bus ride back was spent playing “Would You Rather…?” which led to some pretty (what’s an antonym for small talk?) about politics, religion, and the fundamentals of sensory perception, among other things, and we managed to stay calm the whole time and respect each others’ opinions! In retrospect, that was actually probably my favorite part of the trip. Besides the whole Scotland thing, of course.