Ok kids, one week of class down, only 6 to go. This whole accelerated program thing is kinda crazy; we’ve already moved through about 2 chapters in the textbook. It’s a good pace with a lot of homework every night, but I definitely feel like I am improving. Still, I was definitely ready for a break this weekend and was actually able to get a good chunk of homework done on Friday night so I was mostly done and free for the weekend.
Friday afternoon we had a visit to the tomb of Moulay Ismail, who, according to a quick Wikipedia search, was known for being extremely bloodthirsty… Well he has a nice tomb, so let’s just focus on that. Outside the tomb was a lavishly decorated room where we relaxed from walking around in the heat. Because the actual place where the king and his family are entombed is technically a mosque, the majority of us students were not allowed to go beyond a certain point, but we got a view from a distance of the tomb.
After checking out this view, most of us spent time relaxing in the antechamber, where there was some awesome and intricate decoration and a cool little fountain.
On Saturday we had a program trip to the Roman ruins of Volubulis, about an hour away from the city of Meknes. I really didn’t know what the area was going to be like; I’ve been tricked before by places like the Petrified Forest, but this was a really cool experience. The foundations and floors of a bunch of the houses are still standing, along with some columns, pieces of the main road, and two big gates. We had a great tour guide who spoke Modern Standard Arabic so we were able to get a decent amount of information about the site. I was definitely feeling the Moroccan heat; I wasn’t kidding when I said on Facebook that I have only seen like 3 clouds my entire time here.
The remains of the main gate to the city.
A bunch of the floors from the houses are still remaining; the mosaics are really interesting and beautiful.
Let it be known that I am making an effort to ask people to take pictures of me so that I don’t only have pictures of landscapes.
After the ruins we headed to a small city called Moulay Idriss; the city was really too small for the group of 35 Americans that went swarming through its streets. There wasn’t a lot going on there, but the whole city is located on a hill (think Rohan in LoTR) so we had an awesome view of the surrounding area and the city below when we climbed up to the top of the peak.
The large building in the center is the Mosque of Moulay Idriss; again, we weren’t able to enter to see what the inside looks like. Even though that’s a bit of a bummer as a tourist, I can definitely why Moroccans don’t want their places of worship to become complete tourist destinations.
After leaving the city we headed back to Meknes; I fell asleep on the drive but woke up feeling like I was in an oven because apparently the bus was having an AC problem, I don’t know. What I do know is that when we finally got to Meknes it was cooler outside than on the bus. Most of the students headed to the AALIM center to do homework or home to relax, but I took advantage of my brief freedom from homework to do one of my favorite things when I am traveling: wander. The old city of Meknes is a great place to just stroll around; there’s plenty of shops and things to see everywhere, and it is walled in, so there are pretty good landmarks to find your way back to where you started. I literally despise walking through areas like this with a group of people, so I was glad to have the chance to go off on my own and see the market areas and such. You attract so much less attention if you walk alone and act like you know where you are going, ALWAYS STAYING IN WELL LIT AREAS WHERE THERE ARE PLENTY OF NON THREATENING PEOPLE. I ended up heading from the center towards the famous Bab Monsour, then in a big loop through the market areas of the city back to Bab Monsour, where I decided to go to one of the small restaurants and treat myself to some delicious strawberry juice and a sandwich. The waiter assumed that I was French and I didn’t bother to correct him, so I got to go through the whole meal trying to piece together what he was saying. The only real difficulty came when he told me the price of the meal and I had to ask him to do it in Arabic, which led to finally confessing that I was American.
My view during the meal; after the sun goes down this area is full of people selling things, snake charmers, and various other entertainment. After heading back to the center to meet up with some other students, we walked back to this same area (I don’t think I took the same path twice back and forth to Bab Monsour) and managed to find a city bus that would take us out to the suburb where we live. It was a great day that also exhausted me; I ended up having to call it quits and go to bed at like 11:00, which surprised my host parents because it was before our usual 11:30 dinner.
Sunday was a day of relaxing, and after sleeping in for a while my host family had a few other families over for the weekly couscous lunch, after which some of the older host brothers decided that they wanted to go swimming and they took us in search of a pool. We ended up checking out 3 different ones: one that was closing too soon, one that was really cheap but completely packed, and we finally settled at a hotel pool, which was slightly pricier than the others, but totally worth it when we got in. There was an actual lawn and a nice calm setting where we could relax and actually cool down for probably the first time in our visit to Morocco. I think we all agreed that it was well worth the money and plan to visit there again sometime.
One last cultural note: I’m starting to realize that it is physically impossible to out-manner a Moroccan host. If you are a guest (which we obviously are) there is pretty much no way that you are going to get a Moroccan to take the last seat on a bus while you stand, or have the last bit of any food. I have completely given up on trying and just give in when they tell me to do something and now get a kick out of watching the struggles that occur between the people in my program who will literally try for what seems like 5 minutes to give away decline a seat, only to finally relent and just sit down.
By the end of this week I will already be a quarter of the way through this program; time sure flies when you are constantly speaking Arabic!