Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On the Road Again...

My stint in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is coming to an end, in about two weeks. I have a few last adventures, and then its back to the Western world for Alex and I. Admittedly we are more than looking forward to our return, but of course I am leaving with great memories and a desire to return sometime in the near future.

Our last two weeks are jam-packed with plans and here is a brief run down of them. First, Alex and I were accepted to attend a conference in Rabat run by the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED). It is a cross-cultural and political forum for Western and Moroccan youths. Alex and I decided to do a home-stay, or stay with Moroccan individuals instead of a hotel, during the conference to get a little taste of Moroccan life. I will definitely let you know how it goes.

The final ceremonies of the conference are on Saturday night, and we plan to stay in a hotel overnight so that we can join our mutual friend from ALIF for a Mormon gathering in Rabat on Sunday morning to afternoon. We will meet many of the American embassy families staying in Rabat, and will join them for dinner after the Mormon church service.

We only have two days of study and rest next week before we head out to Ifrane, a Moroccan town that looks like it was modeled after a Swiss village, for my birthday. The town has the only university in Morocco modeled on the American education system. It has a sister high school, which is rumored to be switching from the American system to a French education system and Alex just wrote a story on it for Executive magazine.

On May 1st, Alex’s boss is traveling to Morocco to do a bit of sightseeing and business. Although we will not be hosting him right away as he is traveling to Marrakech alone, we will meet up with him the weekend after he flies in. We have plans to visit Chefchaoun and show him around Fez, and then we will finish up with one day in Rabat and another in Casablanca. For Alex and I, it will be our last sightseeing opportunity in Morocco. I will miss Chefchaoun the most.

Our time in the MENA region may be ending on May 9th, BUT the fun doesn’t stop there. Alex and I just finalized our travel plans from May 9th to June 4th and our plans would make even Kofi Annan jealous.

From Morocco we are flying into Venice, Italy. We may spend a full day there, but our real goal is to take the ferry from Venice into Croatia. We are arriving to Eastern Europe with only a backpack and lots of suntan lotion. We have no concrete plans except to eat well, enjoy as many beaches as possible and do a bit of partying in Serbia’s well known clubs. Who knows what will happen.

Then somehow…we haven’t figured this part out yet…we are going to travel from Serbia to France. We will make our way up to Paris, where we will meet Amy and her cousins Kevin and Fabrice for a relaxing week in the City of Love. Paris is, of course, the most exciting part of our month of backpacking through Europe and I cannot wait to see it!

Undoubtedly it will be hard to depart from Paris, but we won’t be giving up much as we are going straight from Paris to the beautiful countryside of Portugal. Alas, we only have a few days to indulge ourselves in delicious Portuguese food and activities before hopping on a plane back to Casablanca.

Now, I know that I just said we wouldn’t be returning to Morocco after May 9th, and it was a bit of white lie. However, it only counts as half a lie because we are just flying into the airport for a layover on our way back to America. We spend about half a day in Casa, and, if everything goes well, we will arrive in America on June 4th.

So, I know what you are thinking and yes, we do know – in fact, we have a list of what we want to do as soon as we land in the amazing red, white and blue. They are:

1. Drop $100 in the most quality and price efficient store that has ever existed…Walmart.
2. Find a restaurant with pork steaks and potatoes.
3. Get American coffee.
4. Buy normal sized cups.
5. Listen to American Radio.
6. Get phone plans.
7. Shop for normal American clothes.
8. Literally talk in the English language as much as we can.
9. Take a jog on residential streets (without the fear of being yelled at).
10. Alex will probably burn his Al Kitab (Arabic Texbook).

On the last note, Alex and I are working diligently to set up internships and jobs in Washington DC so that we can set up shop there immediately after our return. We both already have interviews with a few places. If anyone knows of any job openings or any opportunities please let us know. Or if you know of any vacant apartments for rent. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hammams Galore

A friend once turned to me and said, “In a culture that was once known for its hammams, soaps, perfumes and cosmetics, there is truly a lack of cleanliness among the people now.” And in a sense he is right. If you casually walk down the street and take a look around, you will find many children and people covered in filth.

Of course some of there people may be beggars and do not have access to running water. The children may just like to play in the dirt. And others are shopkeepers, farmers or something of the sort and do not place as much importance on daily hygienics as, say, Americans.

On the other hand, he is absolutely wrong. The hammam culture in the Middle East is still thriving. At least in the three Middle Eastern countries I have traveled well, hammams were readily available to men, women and children. One trip to the hammam will leave you cleaner than you have ever felt, or been, in your life.

Mondays are now the official day Tove, a fellow language student and friend, and I grab our towels, olive oil soap and exfoliation mitts and head down to the old medina to get a good scrub down. It’s an experience like no other, and actually quite addictive.

So let me explain this hammam thing to you. Hammams are pretty much a sauna and bath all in the same place. It usually consists of two to four public tiled rooms: a hot room, a cold room, a sauna and sometimes a massage room. Nicer ones, of course, have more goodies inside like private showers, pools, etc. The hot room can sometimes serve as the sauna which makes cleaning much easier (I will explain this).

So the process is pretty simple, although time consuming. But, take it from me, it is definitely worth it. Trips to the hammam are really inexpensive as you only need a small rinse bucket, olive oil soap, a matt to sit on and an exfoliation mitt. I also bring shampoo and body wash, but there are preferential and not necessary.

You take your goodies and a couple of buckets and take your place on the floor, either in the hot or cold room. The cold room is only a little cooler, as it is either further away from the sauna or the hot water fountain, but it is a bit easier on the lungs. And then you take your buckets and fill one with hot water and another with cold, unless you have the luxury of having water heated to the right temperature.

After you mix water to a nice temperature, you sit in the hot room or sauna and let your skin soften. Wet your hair and body and just relax. After a good ten or fifteen minutes it’s time to get to work. Sitting on your mat, you lather yourself up in olive oil soap and let it sink into your skin for five minutes. Rinse it off and prepare yourself.

The majority of the time you spend scrubbing yourself vigorously with the exfoliation mitt. It is pretty much a glove of sandpaper. Maybe a better way to describe it is a pumice stone that you can wear. And you start at your legs and work you way up, leaving yourself raw and red afterward. Bring a friend to do your back!

It may sound a bit overexcessive, but while you are scrubbing yourself down you will see and feel rolls of black or grey dead skin detach itself from your body. It is the most disgusting but absolutely invigorating experience. After you rinse all the dead skin off, you can finish up by washing your hair and doing a final rise with body wash.

When you leave the hammam you will literally feel like your body was freed from a prison. Your skin will be able to breath and your sense of touch and feeling will be slightly different…a bit more acute.

For some women and children it is their only bath for the week, but in essence they cleaner than I was for the first 20 years of my life. During my first hammam experience in Morocco I paid a lady to exfoliate and massage me, and she found amusement in pointing out the sickening amount of dead skin that was coming off my body.

These people grew up being scrubbed down by their mothers and now spend at least one day a week indulging themselves in the king of all cleanings. And Americans spend their time nitpicking over cleaning behind the ears with a washcloth and making sure a child spends at least 20 seconds washing their hands with soap after using the bathroom.

For anyone who has the opportunity, I would definitely encourage they go to a hammam, but this experience is not for all. For women (not men) and children, the hammam is pretty much a big public bathtub. Everyone is naked or with underwear on at the most, and everyone is just doing their thing. Those who like privacy or are germophobics should not even give hammams a try.

But for those up for the chance, hammams can be found throughout the Middle East. In Lebanon it was almost impossible to find a hammam with women’s hours but I know they exist. In Syria there was a really nice one in the old medina, and the prices were ridiculously cheap. I paid the entrance fee, for soap and supplies and a massage all for like ten dollars. In Morocco the prices are even cheaper. The entrance fee at the hammam I frequent is ten dirhams, or a little over a dollar, and the massage is about 50 dirhams or eight dollars.

Speaking of hammams, after my scrub down today (which put me in a really good mood) I went online and received an email from an organization in Washington DC that I had applied to for an internship position.

I came across the position by chance while surfing the web, but it immediately grabbed my attention and it’s been on my mind ever since I sent in my cover letter and resume. I worked really hard on the application because the position seemed really competitive.

Also the organization said they were only contacting those for interviews that they were considering for the position. Getting the email really made me feel good because it was an affirmation of all my accomplishments this year. Needless to say it put me in a giddy mood, and I really needed the lift in spirits.

I won’t name the organization because I don’t want to jinx my chances. I will have an interview in the next two weeks, and I will give an update after it takes place.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bibi Begs Bills Behind the Bodega!

While at lunch yesterday, Alex made an interesting observation about the people we have become while in the Middle East and North Africa. Of course, we have essentially adapted to a new culture with different standards and taboos but this has translated into disturbing changes in our attitudes.

So here was the situation: we were eating chicken and rice at one of the restaurants we frequent in Fez, and a little girl, no more than 5, approached us with a couple packages of tissues. It was quite obvious that she wanted to sell us the packages for a dirham apiece, but we treated her like any adult beggar and shooed her away.

The fact that an older woman, presumably the cute little girl’s mother, was encouraging her to sell the tissues to us did not pass our attention. But I am not so sure if that is a justification for being rude Westerners to such an adorable little girl who happened to be born of a beggar woman.

What bothered me most was the little girl’s demeanor. She held herself almost like a grown woman. She had the facial expressions of a seasoned beggar, and the insistence of an adult. These are learned traits, most likely from watching her mother approach countless people on the streets. Regardless, she had lost the innocence of childhood in her face and it was replaced by something much colder.

To tell the truth, I don’t remember the episode well. We come across so many beggars in the street and around the restaurants we eat at that I don’t even notice anymore. In contrast, during my first year in New York City it was a shock to see homeless people and beggars in the streets or subway stations. I almost felt obligated to give money, although friends and elders dissuaded me from doing so.

So what has happened to Alex and I during our travels? Has being subject to widespread poverty pushed us into an elitist or ethnocentric mindset? Definitely we appreciate being Americans more than ever. And often I try to convince myself that the problems of Middle Eastern nations do not concern me, and thus I should not have to hand out money to the desolate citizens of defective governments.

Living in areas consumed by poverty, Morocco being much worse than Beirut, must desensitize us to the effects of it. The little girl cannot even get twenty cents out of us, and the woman asking us for money for water is answered with a wave of the hand. This vicious circle began when we simply declined the services of “tour guides” and bothersome shopkeepers, and after months of this our indifference shows no preference to men, women or children.

Of course we are only students, and we would go broke if we shelled out money to every beggar on the street. I am not so optimistic that I can save the world poverty single-handedly. At least not right now. Maybe our indifference is the only way we can cope in a society that doesn’t care for its poor.

It is true that citizens of both Lebanon and Morocco usually do not give a second look at beggars. In fact, we have witnessed some terrible acts carried out by Morrocans against their own poor.

Not too long ago, while having dinner, a group of tourists called over a little beggar girl who was selling fake flowers. She had a sad face, laced with dirt, and she didn’t make a sound when they asked her how much the flowers were. She probably sold them every day for hours, and made only a handful of dirhams. Who she gave the returns to at the end of the day, who knows?

The tourists seemed to like her enough, and they wanted a couple of pictures with her. Although Moroccans are not keen on having their picture taken, she didn’t seem to mind. If I was in her position and I thought the tourists would buy more flowers if I cooperated, I would’ve amicably agreed to take pictures with them.

The waiter of the restaurant was not so happy about the situation. He approached the table like a pissed off father, unreasonably angry that his daughter was being intrusive. The girl, however, was being nothing of the sort. She was invited, and the tourists had no qualms. They even tried to calm the waiter, saying they would love to have some pictures with her.

But the waiter was determined to shoo her away. She probably picked up the fact that he was irritated, and she began to walk away, looking more sad than ever. He made her walk around him, and as she was leaving he hit her extremely hard on the head. I don’t mean a slap, he PUNCHED a little girl.

In his American way, Alex found himself unable to let it go and yelled at the waiter. It went something like this:

Alex: “Hey, don’t you ever hit a girl like that.”
Waiter: “What?”
A: “You heard me, if I ever see you hit a girl like that again I will hit you. You are not her father. That was unacceptable. And stupid.”
W: “You have no business in this. She is not allowed here. You can eat here, but this is no business of yours. It is our policy not to allow them here.”
A: “A man shouldn’t hit a little girl like that. I mean it, if I ever see you do it again…”
Me: “Alex, don’t. We are going to eat then leave. Just stop yelling.”

Rather than try to change the situation with yelling and more violence, I tend to be more passive and so I was trying to be the calm one at this point. I was just as upset as Alex, but there was nothing we could do to change what had happened. Alex’s intentions were good, but we are currently living in a country where hitting beggars, no matter the age or gender, is acceptable. Although I doubt the man would’ve so readily hit a 30 year old beggar man.

We don’t see such episodes everyday. In the handful restaurants we rotate lunches, we have witnessed waiters handing leftover food to beggars, or letting this sit down and have a plate of food for free. Not everyone treats the poor with such disdain, but animosity toward them is quite prevalent.

Everyday we see something very strange. One evening we were walking through a popular square, and we caught a ten year old smoking a cigarette. Well, we didn’t really “catch” him – he was doing it in plain sight of everyone. He was just walking around smoking, as if kids smoking at such a young age was perfectly normal.

Even more bothersome, was Alex’s story the night he had to catch a train at one thirty in the morning. At that time usually the streets are deserted, and nothing is open. But as Alex was walking, he came across a boy which he guessed to be younger than eight, sitting on a street curb and crying. He was crying loud enough for Alex to hear as he passed, and Alex guessed he was hurt or something. Alex did not stop to help.

It is our indifference at times like this, where if we were in America we would react in a completely different manner, that make me wonder what has happened in the last nine months. Surely, when I return to America I will throw a bit of money into the hat of a teenager trying to make some money playing the guitar on the streets, or my heart will go out to the deaf man selling sign language cards.

But what is the difference? In fact, shouldn’t it be the other way around? Didn’t the teenager in America, the deaf person or the bum in Central Park have numerous chances to be successful in life? Isn’t it still possible for them to get a minimum wage job and get off the streets? Why does my gut tell me to care for those living in poverty in America, in the land of opportunities and capitalism, and not the poor subject to the whims of usually less than desirable governments.

Perhaps it is nationalistic sentiments – I feel some kind of obligation toward my fellow Americans. I mean, it has to be more than just philanthropy. If I just had a big heart my obligations would extend to all peoples. Right?

More important question: Why, when seeing these things, are some people emotionally caught up in the injustice of it all – of all the poverty and desolation in the world – and put all their efforts into fixing it, while others resolve improve their own lives?

For instance, I have a friend who went to the Palestinian territories and after seeing so much tragedy and poverty can only think of how she is going to tear down the occupation wall and stop Israel’s human rights abuses against the Palestinians. It is a brave endeavor, without a doubt, and not one that most would take on.

Others can travel the world, see the same things, and afterward feel only fear that they themselves will fall into the same trap if they don’t ____________. Fill in the blank with whatever you like: finish their education, get a stable job, marry, prove themselves, etc.

In a nutshell, living in a region where poverty is rampant, and signs of it exist at every street corner, has truly revealed some aspects of our personalities that are a bit disquieting. When we return to America I’m sure this won’t extend to the Girl Scouts selling cookies, or the occasional fundraiser for high school sports, but it just makes one wonder…

Saturday, April 5, 2008


My birthday is not going to be like most other 21st birthdays. I’ve known this for a while. Not only have I experienced alcohol many times, Morocco is the kind of country in which liquor stores probably wouldn’t care if a ten year old walked in and put down 15 dirhams for a shot of straight vodka.

Furthermore, Fez, a city in a Muslim-dominated society (and where Muslims are banned from converting to Christianity), is far from being the kind of place where I can walk a few blocks over to my favorite local bar and get krunked on my birthday. A few liquor stores are operating but they are inconveniently located and have horrible selections.

Bar-hopping isn’t my style anyway. In reality, there is a much bigger reason my attitude has changed toward my birthday - the day is just not important to me anymore. No giddiness is arising in my as the day comes closer, even when Alex mentions to me that it is coming up so soon. I have no preference in plans on the actual day.

Even up until last year I found it hard to believe adults when they tried to convince me that they didn’t care about celebrating their birthdays. Birthdays were all about going out, having fun, skipping school to do whatever you wanted, and getting gifts – so of course who wouldn’t be excited about it?

The thought that I may be growing up is a bit scary. I’m starting lose that slacker high school/college mindset and am replacing it with a practical frame of mind. . I don’t really get bored and don’t plan partying into my schedule, because I can’t find enough time in the day to do all my errands, study and spend time with Alex. It’s like I went from being the college kid to being a woman in less than a year.

And I guess what goes along with being a woman is letting go of frivolous occasions, like birthdays. My studies won’t go away on my birthday. The dishes won’t clean themselves on my birthday. And it is definitely not a reason to damage my liver. I really want to see what womanhood brings and I’d rather not begin it by drinking so much that I blackout and wake up embarrassed and sick.

Nevertheless, I still have a birthday list. To be completely honest, gifts of any kind make me happy all the time. That is the one nice thing about birthdays I guess…people actually want to give you gifts (or feel obligated to).

Anyway, here is the small list of things I wouldn’t mind having for my birthday:

~An acceptance letter to Georgetown University (George Washington is a great second) so that I can kick ass in my studies.

~An Amazon reader (digital book reader) so that I can kick ass if I ever decided to join Oprah’s book club.

~Gift card to Walmart because convenience shopping kicks ass.

~Athletic Jump Rope in order to kick ass with toned legs and triceps.

~Hybrid car so that I can kick the ass of outrageous oil prices.

~Pure white Quinoa for outrageously healthy and ass kicking recipes.

~Dr. Scholl’s Cut-It-Yourself shoe inserts to increase my ass-kicking methods (I guess if you got me the Walmart gift card you would be kicking ass by killing two birds with one stone!)

~Season 5 of Nip/Tuck (which I must say kicks the ass of all other TV shows).

~An authentic hoodie - unfortunately the Middle East is not on the same ass-kicking level as America when it comes down to comfortable and long-lasting clothing (I love college hoodies, and any will do fine).

~A bright ass-kicking red leather bag I saw in the old Medina of Fez.

Well, that’s about it. I’m all about ass-kicking if you didn’t pick up on that. And I will be doing the same on my birthday…can’t let it slow me down. I will probably indulge in a great glass of wine or two.

Alex and I have plans to go to Ifrane for my birthday weekend. It is a cute little village an hour outside of Fez and it stands out quite a bit. This is because it is modeled after a Swiss village, with the steeped roofs and all. There is a famous university there, and it is a really nice clean little town with lots of green. It may just be one of my best birthdays yet….

Friday, April 4, 2008

Confessions of an Arabic Professor

Finally the weather is beginning to resemble springtime, so I’m going to make the most out of it by blogging under the sun. I have a wonderful Arabic professor, who goes by Usteth AbdelHafid, and he says the most interesting things during class. I would just like to share a bit about him.

Not only is he one of the greatest professors I have ever had, at least in the language department, he is one of the most intelligent men I have met. First I’m going to explain a bit of his teaching method.

I can only imagine how difficult it is to teach classical Arabic – to Middle Eastern students as well as Western students – but he manages to make it seem easy. Never before have I understood the methods to learning to a language as much as I have this past six weeks. My understanding of Arabic has grown tenfold, and my vocabulary is becoming quite extensive.

Of course my success also comes from my drive to do well while overseas, but I cannot deny AbdelHafid has a great deal to do with my success. In fact, he makes me want to do well and has the ability to guide my energies so that I am getting the most out of my studies.

As there are only two of us in the class – Alex and I (we had three but she choose to do the 3 week option instead of the 6) – we can monopolized the class with our interactions with the teacher. We are able to move at the pace we desire, depending on how much we study and work toward understanding the material completely. Thus far Alex and I have moved very fast, and have grasped concepts of grammar that some students far above our levels still cannot.

One of my favorite aspects of our class is the fact that AbdelHafid has an extensive knowledge of the etymology of Arabic words. For Arabic, it is a bit easier than the English language because every word is a form of a three character root. I will give a brief example of this, and maybe you will understand why I love it so much.

The verb z-a-l (zaal, alif, laam) means he went away, or disappeared. This is not exactly the meaning, but that is the best way to explain it in English. The word “mazal” means “he still is”. This is because the “ma” negates the verb “zal” literally meaning he is not not gone from it.

The masdar, another form making the verb a noun (like running), “izzuwaal” has a meaning that I did not expect at all. It is usually used to mean “12 noon”. However, there is a more commonly used expression meaning noon, and that is “ithuher”. So of course I asked why there were two, and the difference between the two expressions.

Unbeknownst to me, the term “ithuher” actually refers to one of the five daily prayers Muslims are obligated to, and this one takes place at noon. Because this is done daily, it was just adopted as the term for noon.

However, “izzuwaal” has a much more interesting history. It is the exact word for “noon”, and it originated from the position of the sun. At noon, when the sun was at its highest, all shadows would disappear. So they used the verb for “to be gone” to describe this time of day. It is just small things like this that make me appreciate the language, and appreciate my professor for sharing them.

Outside of the realm of Arabic grammar and vocabulary, we have had some interesting discussions in class. Usually the discussions originate from a question that Alex or I have about a word, and we somehow get into deep discussions on the difference between Western and Middle Eastern culture.

One of his most interesting views is on the English language. One day I brought up the problem of dualities of the English language, as he was explaining that Arabic has a word for everything, no matter the degree of it. And he broke into a monologue about Arabic language and the English language and their respective cultures.

He said, Western thought has evolved to a higher level of consciousness. That is, we understand the concepts of respect, individuality, privacy, and protecting people’s “rights”. We are brought up acknowledging that life is sacred and we have to treat each other to show that.

Even if a family or individual is not religious, we are conscious of this fact. Even if one chooses to kill they know by doing so they are committing an inexcusable act, thereby proving they are aware of the sacredness of life.

But, he said, the English language is still on an elementary level because we do not have the means to express our rich ideas. Arabic, on the other hand, is a very rich language with a way to express anything you want, and more. Many words and expressions cannot be translated into English because the idea of them does not exist in our language. But the majority of MidEasterns are not able to put their language to use and cannot grasp the intricacies of the language because they themselves are not on that level.

Abdelhafid pointed out that many Middle Eastern people have no concept of individuality, privacy or respect for others. People are advantageous and are fed information and religion by one source.

He mentioned Sufism mantra as the most similar frame of mind to Western mentality. I am not sure if he is Sufi or not, but he seemed to hold it in a high regard. And he said that Sufism requests that Muslims acknowledge that they have a physical body, a mental body, an ego body, and a godly spirit. This godly spirit, or soul, is in every one of us and so we must treat others the way we would treat god – with respect and love.

As a Westerner, I definitely notice a huge difference in my way of living than the Middle Easterners I have lived next to for the past year. I have no judgement on whether it is better or not, but it is interesting to ponder why we are so much different.

Anyway, back to AbdelHafid. Alex and I have decided to hire him for private tutoring for the last three weeks we will be in Morocco. We will be taking a media Arabic class alongside the tutoring, so we will have a lot on our plates. However, AbdelHafid has already pledged to make sure we finish Al Kitab, which means we will have completed 11 chapters in only 9 weeks. Quite the feat, if you ask me.

Last class I encouraged him to write a book on what he has learned from teaching Arabic to western students, because he sheds so much insight into different cultures by sharing his observations during his career as a teacher. He was meant to be a teacher, I am pretty sure. I couldn’t imagine him doing anything better.

And I mentioned that he should move to America and teach there. He could make so much more, doing the same job. America needs more language professors like him. I really hope I inspire another American to spend a bit of time studying at the ALIF center in Morocco, and studying with Usteth AbdelHafid. If only I could import him to America…..

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mr. Sandman, Bring Me A Dream

The funniest thought occured to me the other day, while atop a camel: What the hell am I doing in the Saharan Desert? I couldn't help but laugh outloud, but it was a bad idea because all I got in return was a mouthful of sand.

Seriously, I really could not recount how I ended up traveling in a caravan two hours into the dry, expansive Sahara. It wasn't my short term memory I was having problems with, rather it was the past eight months that were baffling me.

Somehow I managed to find myself leaving my home, the great US of A, for the first time in my young life. And I ended up in Beirut, of all places. I didn't even go to Europe or Canada before packing my bags for an extended stay in the Middle East.

As if moving to Beirut wasn't exciting enough, I found myself exploring Central and Eastern Europe, visiting countries like Syria and now I am studying in North Africa. The whole trip has been a blur really. One great big dream, which I seem to drifting in and out of.

And suddenly, I was in the Saharan Desert. I think I remember reading about this region of the world when I was a freshman in high school. Wow, never did I think I would experience first hand how it looked, smelled and tasted.

The ride was so...interesting. It had its own sort of beauty. The scenery was all the same color, made of all the same substance, and did not boast any sort of wildlife, except the occasional beetle. But there was something so wonderful about how the sand blew off the tops of sand dunes in long brown streams. And the wind was sooo dry and pure. Elongated shadows of sand dunes, or riders atop their camels shed the only contrast to the blue sky and the brown sand, and the shadows made the desert come alive.

For the first hour the people in our chain of camels, and there were four of us (Me in the front, and then Karl, Alex and finally a good-natured Brit named John) we played a few rounds of 20 questions and commented on how unbearably uncomfortable it was to ride camels.

But after a while all the riders fell quiet, and if any of the others had an experience similar to mine, it was because we were pondering how we ended up in the desert and how surreal it all seemed in that moment. Of course these thoughts only came to me during the moments I could take my mind of the huge wedgie the camel and the saddle were creating.

After arriving to the "oasis", the hotel's sort of resort in the desert, I climbed the sand dune with Karl to see the view. The climb was ridiculously difficult, but it was well worth it. To get back down I tried an unconvential tactic, which was to slid down on my bottom. I didn't get too much sand in my pants and actually it was a lot of fun as the dune was very steep.

We spent the rest of our time playing cards, socializing, eating a feast and being entertained by the Berber men who served us and danced for us. Our board for the night was to sleep in tents, and there were surprisingly comfortable but that may be due to our exhaustion from the day's activities.

We went to bed late, and got up early to see the sunrise. Our return trip was nothing special...just as uncomfortable, and this time everyone was just a bit more tired. Upon finishing our Saharan excursion, we showered, ate a hearty breakfast, and then hit the road back to Fez.
Most of the students, including myself, slept and stared out the window. It was nice and relaxing. And we were probably all wondering what the hell happened...and if our trip into the desert was just another dream.