Monday, September 25, 2017

Weeks 12, 13, and 14: My Birthday and a Trip to the Desert

Hello all! Long time, no see. Things got very busy over here very quickly so the frequency of my blogs diminished quite a bit but I'm back and have plenty to talk about. My Birthweek was incredible and filled with many well wishes, lots of singing, cakes, and topped off with a trip to the desert, which I will talk about in detail in a bit. Classes are now in full swing and this week is actually the first week that we will be attending our direct enrollment classes. I will be attending a Social and Psycholinguistics class as well as a Semiotics class and will choose one to attend regularly. The college experience here as you can imagine is quite different from my personal experience at UMD. For one, there is essentially no interaction between the professors and the students during class. The professor shows up, lectures, and leaves. No discussion. No clickers. None of that. Additionally, the entirety of your grade is the final exam and as a result apparently some Moroccans don't really go to lectures. Ok, so maybe its not super different from some stereotypes of US college classes but it was a little shocking for me to hear.

I also finally have gotten my Community Service position up and running. I am working in a Community center essentially as a librarian for the time being. There are some PhD Linguistics students coming to the center in October to work on some sort of long term project for the semester so I am going to dialogue with them and determine if we can collaborate on a project. But until then, I will be categorizing the brand new library using the Dewey Decimal System and helping kids find books whenever they show up.

And finally, the desert. Without a doubt, it was one of the most breathtaking and surreal places I have ever visited. I didn't really know what to expect with regards to our accommodations but if you can imagine taking a pretty chic European hotel and plopping it in the middle of the Sahara desert (which literally means "desert" desert btw as "Sahara" means desert in Arabic) that's basically where I stayed. The first evening, I walked out back of the hotel which lets you out immediately to the Sahara and the dunes to do some stargazing until my wonderful Resident Director pointed me toward a dune far enough away that my view was not polluted by light if I laid down. It was simply incredible. The next day we went on a tour of the desert in 4x4s and that we took an obligatory uncomfortable camel ride to a camp in the desert. The next morning, some of us got up bright and early to climb an 800 meter dune to watch the sunrise over the Sahara. Many pictures can be found on Facebook and I highly recommend all of them. Sometimes, when I look at them it's hard to believe I was there. I would highly recommend Merzouga to any fellow Morocco travelers. It is well worth the fact that it is quite off the beaten path!

All for now,

Johnny M.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Week 11: Eid al-Adha and the First Week of Fall Classes

Hello Everyone! Welcome back to another edition of John in Meknes! This week's adventures included getting used to new classes and eating sheep intestines. I'll leave it up to you to decide which was more exciting.

I had been hearing from many people that the Fall semester really kicks things up a notch, for obvious reasons. Our language abilities at this point are pretty advanced so sitting us down and having us memorize vocab lists from a textbook doesn't really cut it anymore. Therefore in addition to having the usual Formal Arabic class we also had a choice between Women in Arab Society and Arabic Literature content courses, both taught in Arabic. I chose Literature as I mentioned in previous posts and my literature teacher also happens to be my Egyptian Arabic teacher from the summer and my Formal Arabic teacher for the fall (and my Egyptian Arabic teacher for the Fall). Here's to hoping that Essam doesn't get tired of my puns and goofiness and want to end me come December. In all honesty, Essam's a wonderful person and a great teacher like all the teachers at the center and I anticipate a great semester ahead for us both. Our usual Formal Arabic class will also focus more on reading and listening to authentic Arabic texts, as we did in the summer, but with more of a focus on higher level analysis and discussion of these works and use of more complicated grammatical structures and phrases to push our speaking and writing to the professional level. Our Moroccan and Egyptian Arabic classes will focus more on specific social issues as opposed to learning vocab and phrases relevant to certain tasks or social situations. For our first Moroccan Arabic class we watched a video interviewing young Moroccans about how they have dealt with the job search post graduation (very easy to relate to) and discussed those issues in comparison with our experiences with the job search process in the US. I still have not started my community service or my direct enrollment class but I will be beginning my community service this week (direct enrollment won't start until the University classes begin).

In addition to acclimating to a new schedule, I was also able to experience Eid al-Adha for the first time in an Muslim country. For those who do not know, Eid al-Adha (or Eid al-Kibir) is the Muslim holiday based on the story of Ibrahim (Abraham) who was willing to sacrifice his son, Ismael, to Allah (God) as a demonstration of his faith. In the end, Allah allowed the sacrifice of a sheep instead of Ismael so each year Muslims around the world sacrifice a sheep, goat, cow, or camel. It is also tradition in many Muslim countries to give a part of the meat to the poor, a part to your neighbors and extended family, and keep the last part for yourself. After witnessing the sacrifice in the morning (not as bad as I thought it would be), we spent most of the day cleaning the roof where we sacrificed the sheep and prepared various parts and organs for cooking. For lunch we ate bulfaaf (liver wrapped in sheep fat), the heart, the lungs, and some chicken all barbecued on kebabs. It was all delicious but my personal favorite was the heart. For dinner we ate a stew with the stomach and intestines and other insides and I just could not get over the texture or the smell. When the butcher that helped with the slaughter was cleaning the sheep, he and my host father had to empty the stomach and intestines of all the poop and I could not rid my mind of that image or smell as I ate the stew. Yesterday, I ate the shoulder and leg and some other fantastic parts of the sheep and I would highly recommend those to any fans of tasty meaty treats out there. The brain is also pretty flavorful even if the texture is a little slimy. As always keep the questions coming and I'll be back next week!

All for now,

Johnny M.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Weeks 9 and 10: End of Summer testing and Beach week!

Hello Everyone! I hope you all missed me. I have officially started the fall semester after spending a very relaxing week on the North Moroccan coast in a beach town called Asilah. My loyal followers may recognize the name of the town from my travels in Morocco two summers ago. I even stayed in the same Hostel. In addition to spending 4 blissful days on the beach (and finishing two books), my classmates and I went clubbing in Tangier and spent a couple days exploring the old medina in Asilah as well as the secondhand clothing markets. We arrived in Tangier around 11:30pm thinking the clubs started getting busy around midnight but little did we know that peak club time in Tangier is between 1:30am and 2:30am, which normally is waaaay past my bedtime. Nonetheless, it was one of the most enjoyable nights (or mornings I guess I could say since we didn't get back to our hostel in Asilah until about 4:45am) of my trip thus far. I have an abbreviated week due to Eid al-Adha (al-Kibiir) with roughly translates to Day of Sacrifice, where my host family will be slaughtering a goat. I have never experienced this holiday in an Arab country before so I will be sure to give a detailed description in my next post to give you all a more holistic picture of its traditions and what not. Since many families eat all the of goat and obviously do not want to waste anything I have heard descriptions of many different interesting meat dishes that I will be sure to share with you all next week! Thanks for reading and keep the questions coming!

All for now,

Johnny M.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Week 8: Last week of classes for the summer!

Hello Everyone! I can't believe I'm saying this but I have finished my summer classes and in two weeks will be moving onto Fall classes. I believe I went into some detail about what the fall will entail course-wise so I won't elaborate on that. It's been an incredibly beneficial summer in which my Arabic has improved a lot in a very short period of time so I am very excited to see what will happen in the fall and spring. I noticed two questions in the comments of my last blog post.

1 - What classes are there at the Community center?
2 - What classes are offered at the gym?

In regards to the first questions I do not know for sure but the director definitely talked about there being Writing and Reading and Computer Literacy classes but he also added that if we would like to lead special seminars on topics of interest with the older kids and adults then we are more than welcome. He was also creating spaces for art and dance and music classes to eventually make their way into the center. In terms of what I would do if I had to teach it would really depend on what the kids want. I'm simply at the center to interact with the community and use Arabic rather than to teach the children topics I personally consider important or interesting. I don't consider it appropriate for me to enter their space and say here's what you need to know. If they want to learn a little more about a topic I have some background in that's a difference story. I also am not super interested in teaching a class by myself but who knows? That may change.

My gym, judging by the music that always seems to be blasting whenever I go, has a lot of dance classes. There is also a pool (which I do not have access to, costs extra, I'm cheap) and I believe they have swimming classes and water aerobics and the like as I see many fairly large groups of people coming and going. Other gyms in the city have similar classes and even some martial arts. A good friend goes to a kickboxing class at her gym a couple times a week and they've already gotten into sparring. So there seems to be a good bit of variety in what classes gyms in Meknes offer but the offerings also vary by gender and many gyms have separate (at times less convenient) hours for women.

As always, thanks for reading and keep the questions coming (feel free to ask about anything). Next week I will probably discuss my upcoming beach trip and plans for the break.

All for now,

Johnny M.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Week 7: Winding down to the End of the summer program

Hello everyone! Well I can't believe I'm saying this but I'm already almost done with the summer! This upcoming week is our last week of classes complete with a final recording for our Moroccan Arabic class (~10 minutes covering 5 different cultural topics like souqs, clothing, music, etc.) and a final paper for Modern Standard Arabic (800-1000 words). The last week of the summer program involves final interviews, signing up for fall content courses and direct enrollment classes, and finalizing community service placements. I will most likely be volunteering at a local community center potentially teaching (hopefully not, I don't particularly want to work with kids but I'm always flexible). The director of the center knows some doctoral students in Linguistics who may want to do some sort of project with me so more details on that will follow as I get them.

This past week I finally joined a gym and its really invigorated my daily routine. The gym's not the fanciest in the world but it gets the job done. My main issue is the club also has group classes which would be fine but they blast odd remixes of Western techno and 80s music so regardless of what's in my headphones I get to listen to odd remixes of Western techno and 80s music. Additionally, there are no clips for the barbells to hold the weights but I haven't had any problems as of yet. At first the fact that everything was in kilograms threw me off but I got used to that fairly quickly. The last major issue is there are about 3 or 4 different styles of dumbbells and some styles have complete pairs and some don't so you have to mix and match but the more difficult part is you have to guess the weight cause only 1 or 2 of the styles are labelled. As much as I seem to be complaining about this place, its maybe a minute from my host family's place and its like 16 bucks a month. There are cheaper places but I'm paying for the convenience of a close place so I can't talk myself out of going (I went 4 days last week so I think it's working!).

That's all for now. As always questions, comments, and concerns are always welcome!

Johnny M.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Weeks 5 and 6: Second trip to Rabat and Gearing up for the end

Long time no see! Sorry I neglected to post last week. I normally take my Sundays to make these posts but we left around 9am and did not return until late Sunday night so alas, I did not write a post.

At the end of the last post I was asked if I would go back to the Hammam and if Moroccans usually eat late. To the first question, I will go back but not in the summer. It's too damn hot to go back in the summer as going from 105 degree into a sauna and strenuously scrubbing yourself is a helluva time and it makes me feel clean but it's a bit too hot. I've heard its great to go in the fall when its cooler and the sauna and scrubbing warms you up and feels refreshing but at the same time it gets more crowded and the one thing I hate more than crowds is being sweaty and wet...and in a crowd...of equally sweaty and wet men. But nonetheless everyone goes so it can't be that bad.

On the topic of dinner, yes most Moroccans tend to eat pretty late but after awhile you kind of get used to it. The only downside is I usually wake up in the early morning hours having to pee. Then again this happens fairly often even in the US, as those who know me will tell you, because I have a tiny bladder and drink a lot (usually water and coke and juice here because there's not much in the way of beer, especially with the Host fam, very haram).

This week, I have a debate to moderate for my formal Arabic class and next week as well as final presentations and interviews for Moroccan and Egyptian Arabic classes in the next two weeks. Only two more weeks of class before final exams and then summer break!

All for now,

Johnny M.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Week 4: All the dialects and all the homework

Hello everyone! I just capped off my first month back in Morocco with a trip to the hammam. For those who don't know, a hammam is basically a spa, but unlike in the US, both men and women frequent hammams and they are gender specific. The layouts of hammams vary somewhat but in general they are like big shower rooms with a single sauna room. You usually start by spreading a special olive or argan oil infused soap over your entire body. You can do this yourself or pay someone to do it for you. After sitting in the sauna for a few minutes you use a rough wash cloth called a "kish" to scrub all off the dead skin off your body. After that you finish with a shampoo and body wash of your choice. You can either bring shampoo and body wash with you or buy some there but not all hammams sell shampoo and body wash. It's about 20 or 30 MAD (2-3 USD) to go and 40 to 50 MAD (4-5 USD) if you want someone to do the scrubbing.

This past week was our first week of Formal, Egyptian, and Moroccan Arabic all together. Every day we have 4 hours of class for a total of 20 hours a week. We have 2 hours per day of Formal Arabic and 2 hours of a dialect. On Mondays and Wednesdays, we have Moroccan Arabic and Formal Arabic. Tuesdays and Thursdays we get Egyptian Arabic and Formal Arabic. Fridays we get all three; 2 hours of Formal and 1 hour for each dialect.

A received a request from last week's blog for more info on my daily routine. It's not all that much different from routine in the US. Classes start every day at 10am at the Center and I live about a 25 minute walk from it so I get up every morning around 8:45am to get dressed and eat breakfast around 9 or 9:10 after which I brush my teeth get my things together and am out the door between 9:25 and 9:35 each morning. Normally, I get a break for lunch between 12pm and 1pm and there are two places I frequent. A sandwich place and a lentils place, the former of which is my favorite. The sandwich place makes sandwiches with an egg, cheese and your choice of  fried meat (Sausage, turkey, Kefta, liver, or intestines). No, I have not tried the intestines (but I might). The lentils place sells...lentils, among other things. But they also give you bread and a big jug of homemade pulpy juice (I had carrot and orange, which was delicious) to go along with your meal. The mother of the two owners makes everything in the morning and they carry it to their shop for lunch everyday. You can get a complete and filling lunch at both places for less than 20 MAD (about 2 USD). Classes usually end between 2 and 4pm depending on which day. I then work on homework for 2 to 3 hours. Additionally I have to meet with my language partner 4 hours each week, which I prefer to spread out across 4-1 hour sessions. After I finish with school work, I will sometimes go running in a park across the street from my homestay before eating dinner  between 8 and 9. I'm usually in bed and asleep between 11:30 and 12am after reading for a bit.

Keep the questions and comments coming!


Johnny M.