Wow- I can hardly believe that three days from now I will be on a bus headed for the airport, and America-bound! I have this odd sensation of the summer both flying by (seriously, where did the time go?!) and at the same time feeling like an entirely new lifetime has gone by (our orientation in DC, or the last night that I spent at home in my own bed seem like ages ago). On my best days in Morocco I had a great family to come home to, three "uncles" that own souks in the old medina, two "brothers" that work in various shops and always take care of me, three "sisters" who make the most delicious pastries, and a wealth of love and awe for this beautiful, beautiful country, its people, and all of the new "family" that I have here. On my worst days, I would have killed for a hot dog and a baseball game, I cried out of homesickness and longing for something that was more familiar, and painfully missed my loved ones that I left behind. I am blessed to have traveled abroad before, but I have to say that actually living, although for a short period of time in the grand scheme of things, has been quite different. There have naturally been strong points and weak points, but I would do it again in a heartbeat given the chance. At some point without even realizing it this summer I settled into Morocco, and it became a home to me. I hadn't realized that until I started packing last night, but it's true. I have favorite restaurants, favorite hangouts, favorite stores, inside jokes, favorite television shows and musicians and authors, tons of stories and even more memories here, and although I don't know when, at some point Morocco stopped feeling foreign to me.
Last weekend I went to the Sahara desert near the Algerian border to ride some camels and camp in the dunes under the stars, and let me say- it was every bit of the experience as it sounds! I went in a group with five other colleagues, and I think each of our individual experiences varied considerably. We finished our regular Friday exams at about 3 pm, and were at the train station ready to take the 7p departure to Meknes. Now, everything about this trip is a great example of what Ramadan does to this country. In spite of the fact that the official published schedules said that our departure was at 7p, and the time of departure printed on our tickets was 7p, that was waaaaaay too close to the fiToor (the meal that breaks the day-long fast for Muslims) which happens officially around 7:30p in Morocco. So, we didn't actually leave until sometime between 8:30 and 9p. The train ride from Rabat to Meknes was about three hours long, and we were supposed to catch a bus there that would take us from Meknes to Merzouga. Buuuutttt.....because we were so late getting to the station we missed the bus. Let me clarify- Merzouga is a TEENY, TINY, ITSY, BITSY town 9 hours away from Meknes. There is only one bus from Meknes to Merzouga per day, so if you miss it, you are in big trouble. However, we spent some time talking to an employee at the train station who understood that we had already paid the fare to take the bus from Meknes to Merzouga, and that we had only missed the bus because of the Ramadan delays. So, he redirected the funds that we had paid for our bus fare to a Grand Taxi, and the six of us made the long, long, long, arduous journey from Meknes to Merzouga in a Grand Taxi overnight. Let me give you a quick image: a Grand taxi has room for four, maybe five people. The front seat is a single bucket seat, and there is a bench seat in the back. We had SEVEN people in there, sleeping (because it was an overnight drive in order to get to Merzouga in time to catch our camel trek), with all of our bags and food, etc. Seven people. Needless to say, we become close friends and got very creative with our sleeping positions and bodily arrangement. It was pretty ridiculous at the time, but it makes for a good story, now! :-) Anyway, we made it to Ksar Bicha in Merzouga without incident the next morning! Ksar Bicha is actually a hotel, but the Sahara is quite literally the back yard, so it has a great camel trek/camping service. We were allowed to use some of their amenities throughout Saturday until our trek started, so it was actually very pleasant. They had a large lounge room with air conditioning, a big pool, showers we could use, etc. We left on our camels Saturday evening at about 5:30 and headed for the desert!! First of all, the first time that a camel stands up if you have never ridden one before is absolutely terrifying! Apparently my face was priceless- my whole group cracked up at whatever expression it was that I was making. The trek was really great, though! We rode for about two hours deep into the Sahara in a caravan. Our camp was at the base of the largest dune in Morocco- 150 meters high! Once we got there our Berber camp hosts broke their fast, and then served us a delicious dinner, played some fantastic music, and spent time talking and just hanging out with us! They gave us sleeping mats and pillows, and we settled in right under the stars. The sky was actually pretty cloudy at the beginning of the evening, so I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to see the stars (the very thing that everyone raves about after camping in the Sahara) but they turned out to be really spectacular. Interestingly, it rained two or three times throughout the night and we had a few mini-sandstorms that took my breath away. Imagine waking up to sand blowing everywhere around you so strongly that you can't breath, and rain falling on your face in the desert, and things like dishes and beds being blown out into the massive abyss of sand never to be seen again. Craziness. The return trip was great, however, and we actually did catch the bus and train on time. Although, when we were waiting in the bus station there was an outrageous sand storm! All of the locals closed and locked all of the windows and doors in the station, but so much sand still got inside of the building that we couldn't see the television screen! (We were all rallied around the tv in the bus station watching the Olympics and cheering for every American competitor we saw with claps and hoorays and laughing "high fives". It was a great snapshot of how Americans bond when they are in the middle of another country stuck in a sandstorm.) :-)
I have to be heading off to class now, but check out some of the pictures from my trip below! Also- the video of the camel is "my camel", whom I named "Dixie" before I was aware of the fact he was, in fact, a he. Fail. Regardless, he was a terrific camel. :-) I have no idea what he is doing in the video though....warming up for the long trek home, I guess!
Lots of love from Morocco,
|A leather boot that shrank in underneath the hot Sahara sun!|
|Mosque in Merzouga|
|The young boys that took Gary and I through the city to the hanout|
|Greg being awesome|
|The view from atop "Dixie", looking down to our guide "Saad"|
|The Sahara again!|
|Our whole caravan|
|Our camp hosts playing Amazighi music for us!|
|My first successful couscous ball! Now I am Moroccan :)|
|My host mom, Saida, and I at dinner two nights ago|