Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 14 - Marrakech Mania

Back to the madness of Morocco with the zooming and honking cars, screaming children, and donkeys trotting down the street. Quite a difference compared to the last week I spent in Barcelona with artists painting on the street and families lounging on the beach. Barcelona was very nice but it was easy, too easy. Does that make sense? I could go out for food, for drinks, sit by the ocean and dream the day away, whereas Morocco takes a lot of work. After nearly getting run over by motor bikes and beating off harassing street vendors, you appreciate your bed and privacy that much more.

I left Barcelona the day after Christmas and stayed in northern Morocco for one night. I met a Canadian boy on the train who is working in Morocco and we went to eat at his favorite restaurant. The owners love him and were ecstatic that he brought an American girl to their shop. They sat with us for hours drinking tea and smoking cigarettes, speaking in English, French and Arabic about the military, the villages of Morocco, and international politics. All was going well until they found out I had yet to eat cous-cous in Morocco. Everyone got up shouting as if the world was going to end. It was worse than the apocolypse!

(Which, by the way, I didn`t know Muslims beleived in. According to them, the Jews are going to rise up and try to kill the Muslims but Jesus will return and save them. Just a tidbit for ya.)

So anyway, after all the cous-cous drama they told me that I must come back the next day and eat homemade cous-cous. This would mean missing my morning train but I agreed. Who gets the opportunity to do this? They told us to arrive at 12:30 so we could eat leisurely and leave by 3. Well we arrived the next day right on time, the food was ready only 20 minutes later, but we sat and drank tea for two hours before eating. Time is relevant here. Once we started, we all sat down to eat with our hands. There was cous-cous, vegetables and a chicken in the middle of the communal tray. Have you ever eaten cous-cous? It`s damn near impossible to eat with your hands. So they taught me that you need to grab a clump and toss it around like you would if you were playing with coins in your palm. The food should quickly turn into a perfect ball which you pop into your mouth. Oh boy, the American girl made everyone laugh until they were crying when I tossed and tossed but just produced a messy clump of cous-cous and mashed vegetables. I tried to eat it but it fell all over the table, which made them laugh even more. Want to make friends? Embarrass yourself.

And now here I am in Marrakech after a long day of walking around the market, navigating through the medina which is the walled center of the city. Here`s a link to a map of the medina: http://tinyurl.com/24bra4t

You can see why I`m confused.

I can`t even begin to explain the sensory explosion here. It truly feels like you are in a movie with spinning cinemetography and special effects. Imagine listening to clarinets enticing snakes to dance and villagers banging on drums and playing finger cymbals, while smelling curry, sage, cinnamon, fried fish, and fresh squeezed orange juice. At the same time donkey carts go flying by squeezing you between horses and a dozen motor bikes zipping past. Vendors are calling you to buy their product at "a good price! a good price!" Women walk by wearing head scarves or burkas and men follow the loud speakers call to prayer. All the while you are caught in a whirlwind of sounds, people, and smells, lost in the medina, unable to find your way out. Scary? A little. Exciting? Unlike anything you`ve ever experienced.

I will stay in Marrakech exploring the endless streets of the medina until the 1st and then I will bring in the new year with a camel ride in the desert. Happy new year everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 9 - Barcelona

What makes a city great? What are the attributes that makes anything "great?" That is, what differentiates between a good movie and a great movie, a talented painting and a great painting, some good food and a great meal? Sure there are people who study this stuff: food critiques, art historians, anthropologists. But I don´t want to discount that the average joe or jane does not have the ability to declare something great. How do we know when we are walking down the street of a city that it is a great city? Cities include buildings, people, cars, busses, bicycles, restaurants, street lights, plants, everything that every other city has. So what separates from Paris from Dallas? New York from La Paz? Barcelona from Omaha?

After days of rain I finally had a sunny day to explore Barcelona. I listened to Spanish roll off the tongues of the natives as children ran around the dried leaves falling from the city trees. I followed the cobblestone streets to the harbor and watched the white capped waves crash into rocks near the beach as wandering souls built sandcastles for Euros and painted pictures for change. Pigeons swooped toward old men throwing bread crumbs and ladies gossiped on the park bench. How does this city differ than any other? Maybe it is the scences I see that I have read about in poetry and seen in movies and paintings. So why did artists choose a city like this? Does Omaha have the same potential of becoming a great city? It may be as simple as that we just need someone to write a famous poem about the beauty of Omaha.

The flat plains of glowing Omaha,
Oh how you make me wanna
Jump around the suburbs
In my Dodge Caravan
and sing about every woman and man
who goes to church on Sunday,
shops at Target on Monday,
and dreams about their growing roth IRA.
Oh glowing Omaha.

Ok now I´m just being mean to Omaha. But really, I´m not sure I can answer my own question of what makes a city great. I think it depends on the weather, if you have eaten or slept, and who you are traveling with. Cities do not give birth to greatness; it is the people as a collective that are responsible for their own greatness. Because of this, cities are in a state of constant flux and no one person could ever pin point the greatness of a city, or even what defines a city at all. So what defines Barcelona? I do, right at this moment.

But now it´s gone.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 6 - A Man´s World

I have never been intimidated by a culture, but somehow I feel defeated. I had to leave Morocco, (temporarily,) to gather my thoughts and find my independence again. So I find myself at a really cool hostel in the center of Barcelona, listening to Spanish instead of Arabic. Here´s the story:

I have heard many local Moroccans say they believe that men and women are equal in their country. I´ve heard this from both men and women. Men say that women can get jobs, can go to school, can do everything that men can do, therefore they are equal. Unfortunately, I just don´t see this.

In Morocco, men line the streets, standing with their arms crossed, typically one leg bent up against the wall, staring at the women who pass by. They understand that the local women are off limits but believe the foreigners are fresh off the boat and very available. I had to muster up the courage just to leave my hotel room and walk down the street. I couldn´t enter a cafe or a restaurant because they were filled with men drinking tea, searching for their visual dessert. Usually I can ignore the comments and the whistles, but the number of men to women was like 20 to 1, and I was the absolutely only white tourist on the street. I don´t want to paint a horrible picture of Moroccans because I met many who were very nice and willing to help me in anyway possible. The only problem is any way possible.

Men give off a vibe that they are superior to women and that women are objects for them to possess. I couldn´t look anybody in the eye because it was perceived as an invitation. Because of this I was forced to keep my gaze to the sidewalk and was unable to converse with the locals. Me, not able to talk? A travesty!

I was told from a local who spoke very good English, that the Qaran says men are responsible for women. ´Responsible´ in the sense that they must take care of them financially, spiritually, physically, etc. He told me that if a man has a wife and they both make money, the woman is able to put money into savings but the man must pay for everything, including everything for the woman. At the end of their careers, the woman may have thousands in her savings but the man may have none. "It´s more of a burden than a responsibility if you look at it like that," he said. I was starting to understand his reasoning but then he explained what I believed to be true. "But, throughout history, some men began to believe this responsibility was a privelage, or a right." This is exactly what I felt as I walked down the street or met a man who wanted to help me. He was responsible for me in the sense that I was inferior.

When I travel I am not a very good sightseer. I can´t just check things off the list and browse through a museum; I need to totally immerse myself in the culture, meet the people, feel the history. But in Morocco I couldn´t do that. I couldn´t go anywhere without feeling objectified, without feeling uneasy or unsafe. So, as much as I hate it, I had to leave. But just temporarily.

I´ll be in Barcelona for seven days, through Christmas, and then I will be meeting my wonderful friend Marissa in Marrakesh, Morocco. Until then, you will have to follow me around Barcelona and then we will all travel safely back to Morocco together. Thank you for following - you give me energy!

Adíos amigos! Créo hay un adventura esperando en ésta ciudad, Barcelona...

P.S. Feel free to sign up as a follower to post a comment. It helps me continue writing!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 3 - Rabat

I am off to eat dinner, but first a quick lesson in how to embarrass yourself in Morocco:

So apparantly Fridays are not the day to travel as a tourist. It's like a Sunday in small-town Alabama. Everyone's off praying and resting and nothing's open. I figured this out after I took the train across town, got lost like ten times, and sweated my face off. I walked past mosque where all the men were gathering to pray. I didn't want to be disrepectful and walk by when they were all praying so I dipped into a park next to the mosque. As I said in the previous post, women are not allowed to pray where the men pray, so it would probably be forbidden for a little white girl to jump in the middle.

So here I am wandering around this park as the loudspeakers are chanting and praying, and I find that the entire park is fenced in. I am hot, thirsty, hungry, and cannot find a way out. It's like Escher's stairs where every pathway leads to a wall. I finally manage to find an exit and bee-line for it before it somehow disappears. I head out feeling a sense of accomplishment, turn right, and notice that I am standing directly in front of all the kneeling men facing Mecca. Hundreds of men, all praying to Allah, now staring at me.

Moment of panic - turn around and get lost in the labyrinth of the park, or continue to the end of the block?

I decided to continue so I put my head down telling myself, 'just to the end of the block, you're almost there.' I finally got there and quickly took another right down the block only to find another hundred men who had gathered in the street, now staring at me. Are you kidding me? While I had been in the park hundreds more had gathered to pray and flooded out into the street and sidewalks. I had no other choice but to climb over these Allah-loving men and throw my pride behind me. Let it be known that everyone in Rabat wears very dark, black clothing, but I had chosen to wear my neon green tank top, bright yellow scarf, with a bright orange purse. Oh yeah, I blended right in. I was a narwal going up the down escalator.

Tomorrow - new city, more ways to embarrass myself.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 1 - Casablanca

8am - a cafe downtown

I arrived this morning only half afraid of the violent turbulance on the plane. It got so bad that I instinctively put my shoes on in case of a water landing. I think my instinctive actions scared me more than the turbulance.

I don't know what it is, but I can't stand talking on airplane rides. Maybe it's the fact that I feel sedated the instant I get on the plane or the fact that I have to crink my neck left or right to listen to someone talk about the "cutest" thing his kid did over the weekend. Well I lucked out on the plane ride over, sitting next to a woman that spoke no English, only Russian. This older plump woman, clad in leopard skin and a black dress hat, did not say a word until half way through the flight. As I was munching on a Luna bar she unwrapped a giant croissant, tore it in two and offered me half. I gestured "no thank you," but she shoved it closer. I smiled and tried again, "no thank you" except this time she nearly threw the thing at me and had a look on her Russian face like, "if you do not eat this croissant I will break a vodka bottle over your head." I accepted, for my own safety, and looked inside. Sausage. There is something you should know about me if you do not already. I am a very picky meat eater at home; I eat hunted meat or meat that I know is local and sustainable. But when I am traveling I refuse to say no. How rude and pretentious to refuse the food that a stranger is willing to give to me? This woman did not understand the word 'no' let alone 'organic' or 'sustainable'. So I ate it with guilty pleasure.

Let that be the theme of this trip: unapologetic indulgence.

7pm - in the home of the family I am staying with

Earlier today I visited my first mosque. It sat on the coast of the ocean, half buried in the sand and crashing waves. You can never imagine how large the grounds are until you see this. Children's school groups follow in long lines, men and women prepare for midday prayer. I was forbidden to enter because I am a woman, but it did not bother me. These are not my customs and rituals therefore I have no right to criticize them. I stood back and marveled at the grandeur of the building and listened as the loud speakers began the chants and prayers. Men flocked from all corners to enter the mosque while others continued on like the disruption was white noise.

Later on I was honored to have been invited to eat at my host's house for a late lunch. I wasn't sure what to expect as I climbed the winding stairs to his family's apartment. I entered onto an open air terrace that appeared to be a type of living room. Other rooms opened off of this courtyard. We sat around a small table in a side room and Ghassane's mother presented a large tray with onions cooked in curry, large homemade bread, and a roasted chicken. I observed what others would do before I dug in. No plates, no silverware, just hundreds of years of tradition on a family platter. We ate with our hands and they laughed at my timidness. I was giving it my best but this was a new concept! (Just like peeing in a hole and flushing it with a bucket of water...) They kept putting food in front of my face but I just couldn't continue. I felt like they were slightly insulted but it only lasted until tea and cookies were brought out next. Everyday they take the time to make traditional tea from scratch. They call it Moroccan whiskey and laugh and laugh at the word "whiskey." Let me tell you - they weren't kidding. After only two sips I felt the room start to sink into itself, my body get heavier, and my mind get a little fuzzier. I'm not sure what was in that tea but I had to say no after only half a cup. I didn't want to wind up passed out in Africa on my first day. Maybe the second or third but not the first.

And now as I think about falling asleep on their insanely hard couches that everyone sleeps on, I listen to children outside in an African drum circle. I thought it was adorable how they gathered around to beat on anything with a sound and sing communal songs. Yeah, not so cute anymore when they set fire to a pile of twenty tires in the apartment courtyard. The billowing black toxic smoke engulfed the windows as people lit off fireworks and sang even louder. I am now going to peacefully drift to sleep as the toxic fumes take away my consciousness. Goodnight Morocco. Thank you for your whiskey tea and burning tires to send me off into a pleasant hallucinatory dream-state.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Take A Trip With Me

There is something about seeing passion and emotion in another person that I love. I get addicted to listening to people talk about their obsessions, loves, and fears. We are all so tainted by social norms, Hollywood, the media, the ethics of daily life, politics - do we know anything else? The way we present ourselves is mirrored to the way we want to see other people. Seeing passion in another person is like taking an eraser to the front we all construct.

Years ago, when I used to meet people and fall "in like" with someone, I would imagine what they were truly like beyond the socially fabricated façade. In my head I would imagine that person in an emergency situation. I would picture a car accident, a burning building, a gunman in a bank. Then I would focus on his face and how he would react in that situation. Strange? Probably. But there is something about fear that turns a person inside out for the whole world to see. Situational fear is spontaneous and so real and unpredictable. 

Passion resides in many other forms as well. I don't need to picture all of you in a burning building to get an idea of what your emotions are. Music, art, food, athletics, social work, politics. Obsession knows no boundaries. 

For me? It's traveling. 

While traveling on a bus across South America, I wrote this following piece. I scribbled in a journal while gazing at the rolling landscape of central Argentina. All alone, with all of my possessions crammed into a pack below the bus, I felt obsessed and invincible.

Traveling is not for vagabonds, the irresponsible and careless. Traveling requires patience, determination and above all else passion. It requires a sense of passion that reserves itself for the diehards, obsessed and insane. Traveling is a time when the past is irrelevant and the future is undetermined, a time when a person frees themselves from the restrictions of societies, nine to fives, and the struggle to stay afloat. Traveling is this moment, and this moment only.

No one cares who you were yesterday, or the status you have in your "other life," because there isn't time. People flow in and out of your days so quickly that all you can do is appreciate them for who they are, study their face, their mannerisms, and promise yourself that you'll remember them forever.

Three years ago, I got off a small plane in Patagonia and planned on taking a taxi into town. The ATMs weren't working in the airport and the nearest hostel was miles away. Before I could panic, two fellow travelers offered to share their taxi with me. "Where are you going?" they asked me. I paused and took a step into the unknown. "Wherever you guys are going, I guess." That small gesture changed everything. I was dropped off at a hostel by the water and met three Australians. From there we jumped from glaciers to islands to local bars. (I happened to meet two drunken sailors who said their naval fleet left them at the port thirty years ago for being too drunk.) A week later, living at the same hostel and two days before I was supposed to fly out of the tiny village, I was somehow coerced into buying a last minute ticket to Antarctica. While some people plan this trip for a decade, I was hopping on board three days before departure. When I stepped foot onto the expedition ship and climbed onto the upper deck, I felt it - I felt the obsession of travel, the feeling that I could "never go back" to a normal life. The two peninsulas of land on either side of the harbor left a small opening out to the ocean. Beyond that passage was nothing but rolling waves until the land at the bottom of the earth. The ship sounded the fog horn for departure as I held onto the cold railing and stared at the horizon where water met sky. Nothing but water and a small boat, but somehow I felt like the possibilities were endless.

Come along for my next journey as I travel solo to Morocco next week. I have a roundtrip ticket, a backpack, and an empty journal. I have no plans except to step off the plane and not trip. After that the rolling sand dunes and busy medinas will lead the way. 

Somehow this post, as like the ones previous, ends hanging on the edge of the unknown. I seem to find myself wondering about the beyond, the darkness, the uncertainty. Maybe it's not just travel that provides my emotion and passion, but the feeling of perpetual flux and potential fear.