Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Happy Halloween! It is an invisible holiday here, but I had a totally creepy (and vague) dream last night to commemorate the event.

The good news is that Inez, my dearest room mate, is staying at Haverford next semester instead of going abroad! I am very excited to live with her again. I have a lot less anxiety about going back now.

So I'm getting on a bus in an hour or so that will take me far, far away with some girls from my program. It's my first real trip without IES planning everything, and I hope everything goes OK. We are going to Galicia, the land of rain and Gaelic tradition, and I think it's going to be gorgeous. I can't wait for real vegetation! I'll let you know how it went on Sunday or Monday.

Wish me luck! (Good luck!)


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Morocco is Lovely

I got back yesterday from my five-day trip to Morocco, and am so glad that I went! It changed my perspective on the Arab World, on Spain and on the United States. I'm going to tell it chronologically:

On Friday morning a group of about thirty of us took a bus to Gibraltar, the port city owned by Great Britain. We took a little tour of the city and the huge rock that towers over the ocean. There are apes running wild in Gibraltar (the only place in Europe), and you'll see some pictures of them if you look on my Picasa web album. The weather was very temperamental but but I was thrilled to be in an English-speaking place again (it had been a long time!). There were a lot of sailors. We spent the night in the adjacent city on the Spanish side of the border:

On Saturday we drove to Algeciras, met the guide for our 15-person group (Ben, from Connecticut), and rode the ferry over the Strait to Tangier. The first place we went was this open-air market full of meat. Lots of animal carcasses, fish, chickens (dead). Also olives, which contributed to the somewhat nauseating smell. I was a little freaked out. We ate couscous for lunch at a women's center called DARNA, which teaches women in bad circumstances the skills they need to make a living (computing skills, textile manufacturing, basic schooling). We talked to a few of the women who worked there. They were only in their twenties, and were very friendly. In the afternoon we got on the bus again and drove to Rabat, the capital.

On the way, we pulled over to the side of the road and got short camel-rides on the beach. It was fun, but silly. They smelled bad, but had pretty eyelashes and didn't try to spit on us. We stopped at a coastal city called Asilah, and were shown around by a friend of Ben's who skipped out of his job at a restaurant while his boss was at prayer. On the highway we passed by more than one serious accident, with fatalities. It was scary.

When we got to Rabat, we met our host families (three students to a family). The best English-speaker in our house was Jaula, and she was 21; she lives with her parents, her brother, her sister, and a New Mexican exchange student. This girl, Michelle, is one brave cookie. There are only four people in her program. The first night we had the most delicious meatballs in sauce. They were slightly spicy and they were in this big communal dish we ate from with bread in hand. Mmmm... The layout of the house was so different from apartments here or in the U.S.: the middle is a large square space with a railing that looks down into the courtyard of the family that lives downstairs. There are basically four rooms: parents' bedroom, guest room/prayer room, children's room, and living/dining room. The kitchen and bathroom are squeezed in the corners, and the other rooms are one to a side of the square. The walls in the guest room are lined with a continuous couch, where we made our beds. There is lots of pretty tile and elaborately embroidered cushions. We watched part of a video of a wedding that took place in that house, of a cousin to a British guy who converted to Islam in order to marry. There were lots of wedding dresses involved, and apparently the weddings go from about midnight to 8am.

On Sunday we had pancake-like things and buns with sesame for breakfast and went to a discussion with a professor of the university about Islam and perceptions between the West and Islamic worlds. I was bored almost to tears, I'm sad to say, because the entirety of the discussion consisted of Professor Zaki citing and justifying verses from the Qur'an. After that we went to these Roman ruins at a site called Chellah (see pictures). There is an old woman sitting by a pool there who sells hardboiled eggs to peel and thrown to the eels as a fertility ritual. No one in our group particularly wanted to get pregnant, so we didn't do that, but the ruins were pretty. On the way back to Rabat proper we stopped at the Mausoleum of King Mohammad V and Hasan II, which smelled unmistakably of kittens.

In the afternoon we went to the beach, where there was a conspicuous absence of women, and then met up with some Moroccan university students who showed us around the market and talked with us. I really enjoyed meeting the two Moroccan men who walked with Callie, Tanya and I: Yasid and Bashir. They are English literature majors and nice guys. There were some subtle sexist overtones, but in their context they were cool people. That evening my temporary room-mates (Tanya and Jess) and I went to the bath house, which was completely different from the supposedly Arab bath house in Granada. In this place there were just tons of topless women with buckets, scrubbing themselves with exfoliating mittens and pouring water on their heads. No pools involved. We had no idea what was going on, but some nice ladies sort of adopted us and showed us what to do while laughing at us.

On Monday morning we said goodbye to our host families and rode the little bus through the countryside and up into the Rif Mountains to visit this tiny village and be introduced to the agricultural side of Morocco. We ate lunch (couscous with vegetables again) in the house of a farming family (26-year-old husband, wife, and two young children). We brought an interpreter and talked about what their life is like and what impressions they have of the U.S. The most interesting thing about the life of the poor in Morocco to me is that, though they are very poor, everyone has a satellite dish. Everyone. They watch all sorts of things that make it over the Atlantic: TV movies that flopped in the U.S., Jackie Chan movies, and popular shows like Prison Break. We walked through the village and up the hill strewn with trash and were rewarded with an incredible view of the surrounding mountains. The children were curious and cute, and as we were walking back to the bus this old woman started laughing hysterically at us.

We then made our way to Chefchaoen and dropped our stuff off in a really nice hostel and went shopping (people in Chefchaoen speak Spanish, for which I was absurdly grateful). The bottom section of all outside walls is painted blue, and it is the most charming city to walk through. It has definitely felt the effects of tourism, but not in too tragic a way. We had tea at a cafe and dinner at a restaurant. For dessert I had oranges with cinnamon. After dinner we had a closing discussion with our group and told jokes, and it felt really cohesive and comfortable. In the morning we walked up the hill above the city and got a great view of the valley as the sun was rising. We got on the bus soon after and drove straight through to Ceuta (Spanish city in Morocco), got on the ferry and drove back to Granada. On the ferry and on the boat I talked for a long time with the program director Javier (nicest guy in the world) about Morocco and about the Northwest (he used to live in Ellensburg), Leavenworth and Vancouver B.C. It made me miss the natural landscapes of my home, which I hope I will no longer take for granted.

If you managed to read that whole thing, congratulations. If not, it's cool. I'm not going to wax philosophical about my journey, but write me if you want to know more. It was an eye-opener.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Path of Homo Ergaster?

This is not a real post. I just wanted to leave a message for you all that I am leaving for Morocco today and will be back on Tuesday, when you shall hear all about it.

In my prehistory class we are learning about the possible paths of early man to Europe from Africa, and the Strait of Gibraltar is the second most plausible. Pretty sweet.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

You very beautiful

I like dancing a lot. I can do it for many hours, and if I'm in the right mood, it doesn't matter what the music is. The thing about dance clubs in Granada is that they don't really open until about 2am, so you end up staying out very late if you want to get a couple of hours in.

I am sorry to say that reports of sleaziness of the type of Spanish men that frequent these clubs are not exaggerated. If you go dancing with your girlfriends, as I tend to do, you need to be prepared. As far as I can make out, there are three types of creeps:
1) Doesn't try to talk to you or even dance with you; would rather leer from afar and/or cop a feel as you walk by.
2) Spontaneously decides to dance very intimately with you without saying anything or even making eye contact.
3) Repeatedly tells you how beautiful you are, follows you around the dance floor, will not shut up about "Where are you from? Do you like Spain? What is your name? How do you like Spanish guys? Do you think I'm attractive?". Keeps trying to strike up conversation even when you tell him in intelligible Spanish to go away.

There were some seriously persistent guys of the third persuasion last night (and they were young! Like high school!), and we got so worked up that we had to leave or pretend the music was metal so we could start moshing (i.e. "accidentally" throw a couple elbows to the face). We left. Though the experience of being pursued in that way is unpleasant, it gives me a peculiar pleasure to feel that belligerent.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007


I thought I'd talk a little bit about my plans so that when I recount my travels it's not totally out of left field (baseball aside: Yankees suck. Good work, Indians).

Not this coming weekend but the weekend after that, I will be in Morocco for five days with my program! Super cool. We got to choose people to be in our group (each group has about twenty students), so I'm with my closest friends here, which is going to be great. I'm a little nervous because despite Arabic classes I know less than fifty words, all of which are nouns. I won't be able to communicate in Arabic at all, so I hope people speak Spanish.

We have a long weekend the first days of November, and at the moment I am planning on traveling by bus and train to Galicia, in the north westernmost part of Spain (above Portugal, on the Atlantic) with a couple friends. I am really excited about that trip because I get to ride a train through the countryside, and because everyone agrees that Galicia is totally gorgeous. With any luck there will be forests and castles on cliffs involved. I admit I have an unrealistically romantic notion of the region.

The final trip I have planned is to Barcelona, during the third weekend of November. I sort of doubt it will be that great. But whatever. Maybe I'll meet a famous futbolista.

OK! Those are the plans that I have, and they please me. I am missing a bit of class, but am I really here to learn about Mao Zedong's philosophy? No, no I'm not. :D


Sunday, October 7, 2007


I uploaded the pictures from Córdoba, and you can see them at

The first site we visited (after 2 hours on the bus) was the ruins of Madinat al-Zahra, which were rediscovered near Córdoba less than a hundred years ago. The city was built in the tenth century under the direction of the new independent Umayyad Caliphate in the west. The Caliph ordered the construction of this, the largest city built from scratch in Western Europe, to demonstrate his power and wealth. Unfortunately for successor, he forgot to demonstrate his piety, and made some enemies that ended up razing his city less than a hundred years after its construction. It was deserted, picked apart by people in search of building materials, and eventually covered by earth for some thousand years.

We got back on the bus and headed to Córdoba. We walked through the streets a bit and took a look into one two synagogues remaining from ancient times in all of Spain. It was an awesome enough accomplishment, but the structure itself was entirely underwhelming (that's probably how it managed to survive). I didn't take any pictures. It was just a square room.

Then we went to the cathedral, which my guide claims is far more architecturally and historically important than the Alhambra in Granada, though it is less famous. If you haven't already, you should really look at the pictures; they show more than words can how obvious it is that the structure was originally intended as a mosque. There are only parts that have been changed to reflect the Catholic aesthetic of the time (i.e. high ceilings, gold-gilded virgin Mary's, etc.). It's really quite beautiful, much more attractive to me than the cathedral in Sevilla. They still hold Mass.

We stopped for a time at the royal palace (no longer in use). One nifty thing I learned is that the Caliph had a special subterranean tunnel to travel between the palace and the mosque, because he thought himself to holy to be seen by commoners. I went there with an eye for the gardens, but just ended up taking like eighty pictures of cats. It's funny that I can see cats anywhere in the world, but I still find them more interesting than architecture. What can you do? They were cute.

So for my birthday last night nine of us went out to this Mexican place that turned out to be freakin' delicious. I was so happy to be eating a burrito it was not even funny. I ate myself sick and drank tasty strawberry margarita. I did not go out afterward, because I went out until 5am on Thursday and once every two weeks is about as much as I can take. It was a good birthday.


Saturday, October 6, 2007


My, that last post was a little mopey, wasn't it?

Today I went to Córdoba with pretty much all of my program and saw some cool stuff: an excavated lost city from the tenth century and the famous mosque-cathedral. I'll put pictures up soon. More importantly, it's my birthday! I am going out with some friends in a minute for Mexican food, which is what want to eat most (I would go for Thai food, but there is none here). My host mom got me a birthday present: a doll. A doll? A doll. She means well, but she's a little nuts. Gotta go, will write more later.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Imminent Darkness

Sounds morbid, eh? Well, my chances of getting depressed just went up a good 40%*. Tonight my host mother told us that we are not to turn on the lights anymore. She has provided desk lamps. Apparently the cost of electricity in the area has just risen. What this means for me is that unless I spend all the daytime hours outside, my moods are going to darken quickly. I don't mean to sound inconsiderate of her money-saving efforts, but I'm worried about it. Moral of the story: light in eyes = sound mental health.


*this percentage is not based on any statistics


Hey, it's been a while, sorry. Last weekend two girls that I hang out with had birthdays, so we went out to dinner at this cute Italian place with about 15 people, and then around town a bit. I had a good time but made it an early night (before 2am) because my shoes were trying to skin my feet.

On Monday MariRuth Petzing was in town, so we had a drink in the afternoon and chatted a bit. It was surprisingly normal to see a former Junior Friend in another part of the world. She's working as a teaching assistant and taking classes in Córdoba. I'll be traveling over to her turf on Saturday (my birthday!) on an IES field trip.

Also on Monday was my first university class. I had some trouble finding the classroom, and freaked out a little bit, but I ended up walking in right in front of the professors. At first they were hard to understand, but I just needed some time with their accents. This class on the history and philosophy of Mao Zedong looks like it will be interesting, and manageable. The other class, which I had yesterday, is going to kick my butt. There are only about ten people in it, they are fourth-year art history majors, and the accent of the teacher is thick as hell. It is really going to develop my linguistic intuition (i.e. when she only pronounces a quarter of the word, I will still know what she means). The subject is prehistory, and the evaluation is a test. Good news: it doesn't affect my GPA at Haverford if I fail, and I don't need the credit. So I have nothing to lose!

I have set three goals for myself this week: no ice cream (there's a store on every corner, and it's the best ice cream I've ever had), no clothes shopping, and run at least once. I think I can do the no's, at least. Woohoo!