Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The newest members of our family

Don't get too excited! The newest members of our family are living creatures but they're  not very huggable or likely to learn any tricks. But they will (hopefully) be delicious!

This is my first shot at gardening, something that I've been wanting to do since we came to Morocco. Since we can't have a dog here, I figure I need something to tend to other than Justin - and I am really craving some of the fare that we can't get locally. If all goes well, in a few weeks we'll be seeing the start of spinach plants (on the left), basil (in the rigged up greenhouse covered in plastic wrap), and some herbs for cooking (thyme, rosemary, and oregano). 

Keep your fingers crossed for me! Green thumbs don't run in my family but I'm hoping that I can succeed nonetheless. I'll share updates either way!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Moroccan Travels: North and beyond!

Riddle me this...  

I walked from the UK to the EU on Tuesday.

I walked from the EU to Africa on Wednesday.

Where was I?

(Hint: Buses and a boat were involved, 
but only traveling between places in Spain!)

Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Many people may know how close Morocco is to the Spanish mainland (only about 9 miles apart!), but they might not know exactly how close, because there are in fact 2 Spanish cities not across the water from Morocco but literally ON the African coastline, sharing land borders with Morocco! 

Perhaps this piece of information solved the riddle for you. If not, then I will add one more hint from the other side of the Strait: Gibraltar, territory of Britain, but pretty far from England: Gibraltar is located on the Mediterranean and shares its border with Spain.

Got it now?
I walked from the UK to the EU on Tuesday. --> From Gibraltar to Spain
I walked from the EU to Africa on Wednesday. --> From Ceuta (one of the two Spanish cities on the African continent) to Morocco

Enjoy the photos and descriptions below from our travels in northern Morocco, the UK, and Spain!

Moulay Bousselham
A small beachfront town along the Atlantic. Very popular resort among Moroccans in the summer for its beach and also the Merdja Zerga Lagoon and National Park, known for birdwatching! We visited a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer living here for a half birthday celebration and a trip on the Lagoon.

Getting ready to board our transport for the afternoon :)
Hassan Dalil, our guide for the afternoon - our tour
books recommended him but there are apparently
lots of imposters. Now you have photo evidence
of the REAL Hassan!
Justin and me on our boat.
A flock of flamingos in flight!

Continuing north from Moulay Bousselham, we spent 1 night in Asilah, also on the Atlantic coast. Asilah's famous for its annual International Arts Festival in the summer. We were of course there in the winter, but got to enjoy some of the many murals that line the walls of the medina that artists paint each year as part of the festival.

Beautiful murals:
View from the medina rampart with a cemetery in the foreground.

One of the northernmost cities in Morocco, this was our second visit to Tangier, but you'll see photos below from both trips. Tangier has a unique history because for much of the 20th century, it was an International Zone, controlled by a group of foreign powers, and not actually a part of Morocco. The city of Casablanca in the movie Casablanca was really inspired by Tangier during the International Zone period. And it's also known for having housed many international writers over the years. Some beautiful buildings, in many ways very cosmopolitan, but still very Moroccan. From Tangier, it's less than an hour ferry ride across to Tarifa, Spain. From there, we caught a bus to the town nearest to the UK border and walked into Gibraltar!

In the American Legation Museum.
A beautiful old theater. The facade has
been somewhat restored but sadly the building is unused.
Inside St. Andrew's Anglican Church.
Inside the Kasbah Museum.
Justin and me at a cafe with great views.
At a cafe, looking across the Strait at Spain!

A small peninsula across the Strait from Morocco that various empires fought over for centuries (the name actually comes from Arabic for "Tariq's Mountain," after the Moor who led the invasion of Spain) but has been controlled by the UK for three hundred years now. The territory is dominated by "The Rock," much of which is a beautiful nature reserve with the only wild monkeys in Europe! From Gibraltar, we walked into Spain and took a bus to a nearby town to catch a ferry back onto the African continent.

Walking across the border, greeted by "The Rock."
View of 3 countries and 2 continents!
Morocco to the left and Spain to the right.
Monkeys playing on a tour van.
Monkey portrait... I am not using any zoom on my camera!
Inside a beautiful cave.
More monkeys... can you tell this is very exciting??

A piece of the European Union on the African continent, Ceuta is one of the last remaining outposts of the formerly huge Spanish empire and a point of contention between Morocco and Spain with periodic flare-ups. From time to time Morocco asks Spain to return the territory (along with Melilla, a city farther east along the coast), comparing the situation to that of the British control of Gibraltar... but Spain doesn't quite see it that way. Ceuta has a large military presence but also some interesting sights, public spaces, and tapas!

Ceuta is largely a fortress town - some of the
Royal Walls remain and are open to visitors.
Casa de los Dragones - House of the Dragons. Very cool building!

Moving southeast from Ceuta along Morocco's Mediterranean coast, Tetouan is characterized by its mostly green and white medina walls. It was the capital of the Spanish zone during the colonial period and feels much more Spanish influenced than  other cities that we've visited in Morocco. It has a great archaeological museum and a really cool artisanal school where people get trained in traditional Moroccan craftwork such as zellij tiles, woodworking, and carved plaster.

Huge cemetery in the medina with gorgeous views!
Cut tiles in the artisan school.
Amazing painted wood in the artisan school.
Roman mosaic in the Archaeological Museum.

Our last stop, Chefchaouen is the city that most Moroccans (even those who haven't been there) tell us is the most beautiful in the country. And its famous blue and white walled medina is really something special. It also has the good fortune to be situated along the gorgeous Rif Mountains, allowing for some great hiking opportunities just close by. And a lot of artists have also made their home in Chefchaouen so there are lots of galleries to visit and good shopping!

Our first Moroccan painting!
Hiking in the Rif Mountains.
View over the medina from the Kasbah.
Beautiful blue walls and archways.
Aerial view of the medina - you can even see the blue from here!

After trains, cabs, buses, ferries, our trip home was easy and uneventful and after so much time away we were glad to be back home and to see our friends in Tiflet. We only have about a half a year left and there are still many places that we want to visit in Morocco! We're so excited that we were able to see these cities in the north as they were high on our list. The time is flying by quickly but we very much want to see more places, and as we do I will of course share with you :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World)

I am happily back in Tiflet after a few weeks of being on the road! The first half of my travels involved an 11-hour journey to a small town in the south of Morocco called Taznakht. One of my Peace Corps friends organized a camp called Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) and I joined 8 Peace Corps Volunteers and 10 Moroccan staff to help run the 4-day program. 

GLOW camps were first started back in the 90’s by Peace Corps Volunteers and since then have spread throughout the Peace Corps network as a way to educate girls on important life skills and to empower the girls to use those skills in their lives and to share with their communities. Our camp had a variety of workshops ranging from very serious topics to more lighthearted: gender roles, self-esteem, Morocco’s family code law, goal-setting, self-defense, women's health, beauty, calligraphy, rape laws in Morocco, harassment, henna, belly dancing and cinema. In between the workshops, we led them in singing, dancing, games, scavenger hunts, field trips, and did I mention dancing?

For many girls, this is often the first opportunity to leave their town and participate in a camp-like experience and it was really amazing watching them grow over the course of the 4 days, develop a sense of comfort with the group, and make lots of new friendships. For me, it was also a welcome challenge with my language skills - the camp was run almost entirely in Moroccan Arabic, and in leading some of the workshops and participating in others, I found myself talking about topics that I had not yet discussed with Moroccans. It was nice to step outside of the boundaries of typical language that I use in English classes and in day-to-day interactions. 

I left the camp feeling mentally and physically exhausted but so grateful to have had the opportunity to share this amazing experience with 45 of my newest Moroccan friends ;) Fortunately, my recovery came in the form of an awesome vacation with Justin. More on that in the next post - In the meantime, enjoy the photos from the camp!

First day of camp, getting everyone up and moving.
Homemade face masks in a beauty workshop.
A "Hands of Peace" poster that girls created.
One of the MANY impromptu dance sessions during the camp!
Girls practice moves in a self-defense workshop.
Some of the Peace Corps Volunteer staff, on field trip day.
Playing games with the girls on field trip day.
In my harassment workshop, girls wrote on slips of paper how
harassment can make them feel. In the middle, in Arabic,
it says "Everyone deserves respect."
Girls create a poster about a world without harassment.
With 2 other Volunteers, enjoying the beautiful weather!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Morocco in Tiles

It’s been a while since I’ve done a photo-heavy post so I thought I’d focus on one of my most favorite parts of Moroccan sites – the amazing zellij tile designs. Zellij refers to a type of terra cotta tilework that is covered with enamel in the form of chips set into plaster- and they can be seen on everything from thousand-year-old remains to newly designed buildings.  And each design showcases the most amazing patterns and colors. I just can’t get enough of them. Hope you enjoy!