Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Moroccan Life

So I have conspicuously not been blogging lately, and it probably has something to do with the fact that life here is so great. I also recently realized that I've never explained what I was doing in Morocco in the first place, so I figured it would be a good time for me to explain a) why life is great, and b, closely correlated to a) what I'm doing here.

CLS (Critical Language Scholarship) is a government scholarship (which means that everything is completely paid for) to do an intensive study of the Arabic language for two months. We have (roughly) five hours of class a day, with a heavy emphasis on fusha, the written, formal Arabic in media. This means that I do a lot of this:

But fortunately, the government (or at least my site director) is big on us using our language in more practical situations and learning about the culture and country through personal experience. This means that we have lots of activities after class hours that get us out in Tangier and Morocco as a whole, which means that I spend a lot more time doing stuff like this:

Bou Inania Madrassah in Meknes

Tangier, Kasbah Museum

And going to places like this:

Rabat, capital of Morocco

Bou Inania Madrassah in Fes

Aqshour, near Chefchaouen


And eating food like this, since we happen to be in Morocco during Ramadan, the most holy month in all of Islam:

So yeah, that's why I haven't really been blogging too much. The experience has been great so far, and (I hope that) my Arabic has been improving a lot. More to come.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Holy hafla, batman!

So I've been working on this blog post for about a week, and trying to upload all these videos has been a massive headache, especially since I don't have much time to actually work on stuff like this. I was going to talk about CLS, the fun were having, and all that blah, but it's just going to be too long for one post. I'll update in a day or two and tell you how we have maids who clean for us, a cafeteria with free food, and a weekly stipend to boot.

For some reason, my first week in Morocco led me to a lot of musical activities. It was like one party (hafla, in Arabic) after another, and it was awesome. The video quality of these videos isn't super high, but the sound came through alright. So, sit back and enjoy some authentic Arab music.
So on Monday night (June 25), I went with Monica, Mari, and Youssef on a photo scavenger hunt of the city. We ran into this legit little club next to the Kasbah Museum with some old guys who graciously obliged us with some lovely Moroccan music (at the price of 10 dirham- about $1- as we found out as we were leaving). It picks up around 2:30 if you start getting bored.

On Wednesday, we went to the practice of Oud al-Ramel (literally, the "Sand Guitar"- sick name, right), which is the name of Houdaifa's family's band. They are awesome- super smart, super talented musically, and the nicest people ever. We had tajiin, a traditional Moroccan dish that was more less really tasty meatballs, at their house afterwards and discussed politics and Adele (with the little sister). Here's a clip from Oud al-Ramel:

So Friday night, Monica, Mohammed Ali (not the boxed, but he's a pretty big dude anyways), and I went to the second night of the Maharajan, in the Kasbah Museum. Check out the the Roman/Arab style architecture. The first group we saw was from southern Morocco and played a style of music called Malhun- it's, um, kinda, slow. It talks about a woman named Ghariita, or something like that. I didn't understand a word of it, but the guy ahead of me was getting a real kick out of it:

This next guy was just too legit to quit. We moved to an outdoor theater, were we cooled off a bit thanks to the breeze coming from the Mediterranean. Hailing from Pakistan, he jazzed on a double-reeded flute that played similar to a bagpipe: one reed made a constant note and the other whistled and whined as he used inhuman rapidity to run his fingers along the reed. Oh, and the drums are pretty cool, too.

The group below, the Hmadcha Brotherhood, is interesting from mainly a cultural perspective- the musical aspect is dull and repetitive to say the least. Apparently they're some kind of religious association that dates back to the early days of Islam and plans/does celebrations on important Islamic religious days. One of the most entertaining parts was the old guy (who you can't really see in the video) who couldn't keep rhythm with the others and who kept on yawning during the concert.

So if you don't listen to any other of these groups, listen to this one. Inouraz combines traditional Amazigh (Berber) music, complete with the gambri (a Amazigh version of the guitar), rubab (similar to the Easter rubaba, which is more or less a violin), something else from Iran, and one of the craziest drum sets I've ever seen (gourds, triangles, tublas, hands, you name it), and jazz music. I liked it so much I bought their cd. 

Finally, to round things off, we had a little action from across the straits, from good ole madre Espana in the form of flamenco dancing. Aside from the lithe and frenzied dancer, the guitarist was simply amazing. I could only dream of playing an instrument with that much versatility. The singers had a passionate and slightly annoying throaty sort of voice, but it really only made it that much better. 

Finally, the grand daddy of them all was Sunday night, the night of popular Moroccan/Arab music brought to you by Oud al-Ramel. The group is led by Rasheed Tsouli, the father of Houdaifa, one of our speaking partners. A violinist, he leads a chorus of 15-20 college students hand-picked for their abilities, a couple ouds, a guitar, a bass, several drummers, a couple other violins, a couple cellos, a keyboard, and a saxophone. Singing in this clip is his daughter Soukina, who does a duet with a guy from the group.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Parlez-vous francais?

So before I launch into another blogging spree, I figured I ought to let my faithful followers know what I'm up to (although I assume if you really are a faithful follower, you'd know what I'm doing). I'm sitting right now in beautiful Tangier, Morocco, on a government scholarship for a 8 week intensive Arabic study program. There's about 40 of us from all over the United States (including four BYU alums/students). We had a two-day long orientation in DC- it was wonderful to be back- and then flew out of Dulles International at 4:40PM on Thursday, June 22.

And that was just the beginning of our troubles. Our AirFrance flight ended up leaving Dulles an hour late, which means that we got into Charles de Gaulle at 7AM the next morning. The actual flight itself was pleasant; I sat next to a nice hippie lady who had done her fair share of traveling before settling in West Virginia. I also saw Jurassic Park, which I had never seen before. It was dece. Anyways, our connecting flight to Casablanca was at 7:20AM, so despite the "efforts" of AirFrance to hold our plane, we ended up missing up. That meant that there were 30 Americans (the other ten left through JFK) that needed to be put on a flight to Casablanca.

Enter French customer service, which is less than stellar to say the least. By this point, remember, most of us have just spent a sleepless night on a plane over the Atlantic (although AirFrance has pretty good food for an airline). So of the group of 30, only another guy who spent seven years living in France and myself speak French fluently, so we start talking with the AirFrance customer service rep to look for other flights. Because we're such a large group and the tickets are group tickets, it's tough to find us tickets to get us all over to Morocco together. Additionally, we have to wake up our poor coordinator back in the States to tell her what's going on, and she ends up calling us about once an hour over the next day to get things figured out (what a sweetheart).

So it ends up that AirFrance doesn't have any open spots to Casablanca for the rest of the day, but their partner Royal Air Morocco does. The catch: RAM doesn't fly out of Charles de Gaulle but out of Orly, which is the airport for southern Paris and happens to be a 1.5 hour bus drive south of CDG. Another catch: we can't fit all 30 of us on the same flight, so we have to split into two groups, one of 20 and one of 10. As one of only two French speakers, I go with the second group (of 20) to try and catch a 3:20PM flight out of Orly. The nice AirFrance lady fills out a form for us, which ends up taking approximately a billion hours to do. We figure we can make the flight if we can get our baggage in 10 minutes and head out. At least we get a free breakfast of lukewarm hot chocolate and a pain au chocolat out of it.

We make our way to the baggage claim and lo and behold, our baggage is missing. Thus begins round of negotiations numero deux, this time with the baggage claim lady. She speaks decent English, so I'm able to take a quick break from French. They don't know where our baggage is, as during the time it took to fill out the form our bags were shuttled off to somewhere else. This means that we miss the 3:20PM flight and have to go upstairs to find another flight.

Negotiations numero trois: Max from Martinique starts helping us after at first seeming completely uninterested in our plight. Erica gives him the glare of death, and starts helping us thereafter. As it turns out, there are flights at 7:20 and 9:20PM, both from Orly and both with 20+ seats. We decide to get the baggage thing settled and eat lunch (this time a fluted, jambon cru sandwich at Paul's, also brought to you by AirFrance). Max and I agree to eat lunch together in Martinique should we ever happen to be there at the same time.

We go back, and Boaz has the baggage thing under control. Most of the bags have been found in the four corners of CDG, and they are slowly being brought to us. At this point, some of the girls seem to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown. My brain has completely flipped from Arabic to French, and I can't form a cohesive sentence in Arabic if I wanted to. On the plus side, I can feel my French power bar recharging (think that Sims game or Scott Pilgrim or something).

Negotiations raqam arb3a: Max has gone for the day, and a nice looking French lady is at his desk. That is, after waiting for a half hour in line because her coworker decided to leave before her replacement got there, meaning there was one person at the AirFrance service de client desk for that whole time. We hit another snag: the 7:20 and 9:20 flights no longer have room for 20 Americans, so we have to split into a group of 6 and 14. At this point, it's 4PM, so the group of 6 has to book it right after she books us (nice, right?). Monica takes over negotiations at this point and performs admirably. She's a champ.

We head off to Orly, and I sprawl out in the backseat and sleep for an hour before being jolted awake by the stop and go of Parisian rush hour. I talk to a French dude who tells me that not only is it Friday (wait, it's Friday?!?) but it's also the last day of French school, so everybody's beating it out of Dodge to escape to Marseilles or wherever. We arrive in the nick of time after navigating an extremely confusing and surprisingly poor designed Orly airport. The RAM agents seem flabbergasted by the form that I bring them, but eventually it works out and the six get on their flight. I listen to the Fleet Foxes while waiting for the other 14 to show up.

We get through security without a problem, and our flight doesn't end up leaving until 10:20PM. We get into Casablanca around midnight local time, a full 24+ hours after leaving DC.

I think that's good for today- more on Tangier later.

Oh, but here's some videos of our mad rush:

Us trying to catch the connecting flight at CDG.

Everyone's just so happy!