But so many interesting things happened on Monday that the majority of the storytelling will probably be about that. But I gotta do this in chronological order, so the week first.
Ramadan started this week! This hasn’t actually involved a whole lot of change on my part, but there have been some adjustments made at school. First of all, we changed the clocks an hour for the month of Ramadan, so I got an extra hour of sleep on Monday, which is always a win. Second, we actually changed the hours of classes to 10-2, which gives me some extra time in the morning, also a win. Third, now pretty much every restaurant in Meknes is closed during the day, which makes getting lunch more difficult, not so much a win… All of the students who are not fasting have started packing lunches and my roommate and I are lucky enough to have a host mom who packs food for us from the previous night’s leftovers, in traditional Moroccan copious amounts. This means that I haven’t even had to break into the peanut butter and jelly supplies that I bought last weekend. The lower level of the school has been designated as the eating area, out of respect to the teachers who are fasting, so now we all gather in the little kitchen or classrooms down there to eat during breaks or after classes. After classes we now head back to the suburb at about 6:30 to be home in time for Iftar, when our host families break the fast with a big meal. The meal is pretty yummy and has become an all-family occasion as the entire family has come home for this holiday, meaning that we now have a 12 year old sister who usually is in another city studying, a 21 year old sister who is married and lives in Germany with her husband, a 25 year old brother who just finished cooking school, and the 28 year old brother who has been around the whole time and is in the army. It’s a full house and it is pretty fun coming home to a whole group of people who are excited to see you. Still, the semi-isolation of living in the suburb has been getting to a lot of us, especially now that we are heading to school later and returning to the neighborhood earlier, so when the bus driver offered to take us back to the city occasionally after the Iftar meal, several of u jumped on the opportunity on Thursday to see what was going on, and were extremely glad that we went. In the city, the custom is for everyone to go out during the night after breaking the fast, so all of the markets and stores are open and there are people everywhere, as well as entertainers and stuff in the main square. A group of us wandered through the market area, where most of the shops were just opening at 9:30, and then sat in a café for a while before heading back home at around 12, when the whole area was still poppin’. All of us were seriously elated at the freedom we had and the nice weather during the night, so I think that we will definitely be heading out into the city more often in the future. The downside to this experience was that my host family was still waiting for us to eat when we got back, and though I was tired, I didn’t really have a choice and ended up eating a heavy meal right before sleeping, which caused me to have what I think was the first heartburn of my life…
On Friday we had our first free weekend without any program trips, so a group of 7 other students and I traveled to Casablanca for the weekend. I have never actually seen the movie, but I got a slightly negative review of the city from a friend who visited there previously, and in all honesty, it didn’t do a whole lot to change my mind. Disclaimer: I had kinda a rough day today, you will see why later, so I’m being more negative than the usual “everything was really pretty and awesome”. I figure that you should see that side of the experience too. Anyways, we took the train to Casablanca, which was a pretty smooth trip, including a cool moment because we were on the train during the time to break the fast, so they handed out a few dates to everyone on the train and we all ate together. We got to Casa, got taxis to our hotel (and were wildly overcharged) and then found a restaurant where we got some more substantial food before wandering through the city and looking at the souqs, restaurants, and cafes. There were some eat places and we had fun getting lost and chilling in a café for a while before making our way back to the hotel at around 2 am, at which time there were still a decent amount of people on the streets. The next day the streets were as empty as they had been crowded before; that whole Ramadan thing is no joke, and after snacking lightly on granola bars and things we had bought the night before, we headed out in search of an art museum that one of the other students had researched before we came. This girl took charge of the trip and made hotel reservations and had maps and such; I was super impressed and more than happy to take a backseat on this trip. We got to the art museum, which I am just gonna say was kinda creepy and leave it at that.
I said creepy…
Afterwards we started to feel the pressure of what I call accidental fasting, which is when you aren’t actually fasting on purpose but there is no food available so you don’t get to eat. We wandered through the city, where the weather was actually enjoyable thanks to sea breezes and a generally lower temperature and made it to the main sight I wanted to see: the Mosque of Hassan II, which is the largest in Africa, and located right on the Atlantic.
We were able to walk up to the front doors and peek inside, but once again, not enter; for some reason I thought that we were allowed to here.
The whole group of us in front of the mosque.
Click on this for a big picture.
For those of you keeping score back home, in my travels I have now visited the largest church in the Middle East and the largest mosque in Africa. And then right after that, we went to the biggest mall in Africa, the Mall of Morocco, where we were able to eat without feeling guilty because there were a bunch of people using the food court, though in all honesty I think it was mostly children who were eating.
After the mall we found a nice sandy beach and sat until about sundown; by this point we all realized that because the sun wasn’t literally frying us alive like it does in Meknes, we had spent way more time in it than usual and were a little sunburnt. We took our slightly red selves to a French restaurant near the beach that was full of other foreigners because all the Moroccans were at home breaking fast and had some good seafood, as well as some Moroccan wine! I will admit, everyone was like, “Oh, I might try a little bit” and I was sitting there saying, “Bring me a half bottle.” What can I say, I appreciate my wine. We moseyed back to the hotel and dropped off pretty quickly thanks to the long day, and the next morning got up and tooled around a bit before getting on the train and heading back to Meknes.
Sunset on the beach!
We made a new friend that I promise I did not pet.
And that’s when the fun really started…
Saturday morning at least one other student and I noticed what seemed to be bug bites on our bodies after sleeping in the hotel; and by Sunday we were more and more sure that they were from bedbugs. Come Monday and there were some more bites and one of the girls had found an actual bedbug in her stuff, so the 5 of us that were infected went to the director to ask her what to do about it, initiating a whole chain of fun events. First was me sitting in class fairly pissed at life and all of the inconveniences that I was about to have to go through. After that we talked to her more and got the ball rolling on a solution. This took some initial explaining because it seems like most Moroccans don’t quite understand what bedbugs are; they think of them more like lice and don’t get that you have to like crazy clean all your clothing and stuff. Or they just assume that you have mosquito bites and they are nothing to worry about. We finally got everyone on board and they came up with a game plan: the woman in charge of the AALIM center called all our host families and explained to them that all of the clothing and sheets needed to be washed at a very high temperature to kill the bugs, then we moved on to treat the clothes we were currently wearing, as well as ourselves, by taking a trip to a public bath house.
This is probably the most hilarious/awkward thing that has happened to me thus far on the trip. We get to the bath house and they tell us that we are going to bathe and put our clothes in a bag to be cleaned, and that they bought us clothes to wear or the rest of the day. And that was how I ended up with my snazzy traditional Moroccan clothing:
And then this happened with my host mom and roommate…
Luckily they bought us underwear as well or else I would have been wearing this big robe and nothing else; it also happens to have a slit in the side where the pocket would be, because people usually wear regular pants under them and need to access those pockets. One of the male directors made a big spectacle out of handing out the different pairs of underwear to the girls and it made all of us crack up laughing in the middle of the street, bedbugs and all. The other guy victim and I headed into the bath men’s area, accompanied by one of the male school employees, who though very helpful, did not quite give us the information we needed about the proper protocol. We start out in a locker room type place where in addition to the guy we were with, there are like 3 other dudes just chilling. We get told to take off our clothes and put them in plastic bags; after stripping down to our underwear we both pause and wait for some sign that we should keep them on or make this little show x rated. None came… After milling around and awkwardly shrugging at each other, we decide to stick with our underthings and enter into the actual bath house, where we are validated by the sight of several older men still wearing like speedo things, so we made the right decision. I am expecting to see a big pool or locker-room like showers, but instead we just see a room that has faucets all around it wall at about waist height and a bunch of little bench seat things. We get handed big plastic buckets and sit down in front of some of these faucets to fill them up, and then awkwardly splash water over ourselves from the bucket and shampoo and soap up as best as we can. I was kind hoping for a better clean than I get from the slightly limited shower that I get in my house, but unfortunately this wasn’t really the case. We notice that there is a guy whose job it seems to be to scrub down the patrons of the bath house, and realize that he is working his way down the line towards us, which we take as our cue that it is time to leave. Of course, in Morocco, it is never that easy to turn down service, so as we were leaving the guy calls out to us and tries to stop us from going because it is absolutely necessary that he lather us up. We tactfully say, “No thank you” and make a beeline for the door, where our escort meets us and asks if we got cleaned up and why we didn’t wait for the guy, to which we respond that we did just fine by ourselves. We get back to the locker room and change into our new clothes, which thankfully fit, though the other guy’s is slightly see through, which isn’t a great feature when you are only wearing boxer briefs… Apparently the girls were not lucky enough to escape the scrubbing and are slightly unhappy with both the awkwardness and the pain of getting sunburn scrubbed. But we did all look snazzy in our traditional clothing, which our relentless director made sure to photograph. I have to hand it to her and the other staff; they definitely dropped everything to help us out in this situation, and managed to make it pretty entertaining at the same time. I definitely will not be forgetting my trip to the Meknes bath house any time soon.
Sorry that this is a super long post, but there is something kinda therapeutic about what was going on and it is a great way to avoid studying for the midterm that we have coming up this week. I think the only thing that I have as a conclusion is this: If you go to Casablanca, everything will be closed and you will be hungry and get bedbugs, which will lead to very strange, but memorable experiences. And maybe something about a plane?