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When class gets cancelled…

Today my arabic teacher didn’t show up to class. So that means that I have a free 1.5 hours to do something before my 3:30 class. So I’m writing this blog post instead of working on research for my final paper in North African Government and Politics (NAGP). Haha. But I guess to be semi-productive, I’ll write about how interesting my paper topic is!

My professor gave us a list of questions that we could pick from, one pertaining to each week of our class reading. So I knew which one I wanted to pick right away: Islamist parties. I don’t know why they intrigue me so much. That, along with terrorism and national security really pique my interest (although, not when it deals with the United States). Last summer, my final arabic presentation was on Moroccan National Security, and I researched the Casablanca bombings of 2003 and the Café Argana (Marrakech) bombing in 2011. The latter was the work of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which I had never even heard of before; and now they are all over the news with all that’s going on in Mali and Algeria. I’ll be writing another article for the Princeton Progressive Nation on AQIM and the events in Algeria.

Anyways, back to my final paper for NAGP. The question I’m exploring is, “Why did the Islamists fail to take power in Algeria?” An important thing to note is that there was not just one Islamist party in Algeria, and that their failure to take power is just the idea that the FLN kept control of the government after the Algerian civil war (1991-2002). Right now, I am combing through my sources for quotes that I can use in my paper. The article I am looking at now is written by Mohammed Hafez, “From Marginalization to Massacres: A Political Process Explanation of GIA Violence in Algeria.” As the title explains, it focuses mainly on the Islamist party al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha, or the Armed Islamic Group, GIA. The GIA is the most radical Islamist group that arose in Algeria, as they are (most probably) responsible for the horrendous massacres from 1996-9 that killed thousands of Algerian civilians.

As I read more and more about not only Islamist parties, but also the Algerian civil war, I begin to wonder, why have I never learned about this before? Why did I never read about this in my world history class? No one has ever mentioned this to me before, even in my “Issues in Contemporary North Africa” class last summer. Come to think of it, the American educational system is extremely lacking in African/Middle Eastern history. We are taught in such a euro- and ameri-centric way that it’s actually quite abhorrent how much I know about other regions of the world. Maybe that’s why I like college so much: because I get to learn about things that I had never even heard of in high school. I mean, as a high schooler, I would have never thought that I would be studying abroad in Morocco (of all places!)! I would have never thought that I would learn Russian and Arabic in college and discover a passion for philosophy.

Well, I think I’ve gotten sufficiently off-topic. I would just like to close by saying that my final paper for NAGP will be very interesting, and I am so glad that I have the opportunity to learn about these fascinating events that I have never been exposed to.


Finals Schedule and the Last Two Academic Weeks

I absolutely cannot believe that there are only two full weeks left of classes. It seems like just yesterday I was going to my first class, collecting syllabi, and stressing over my schedule. I’ve come a long way from that, and it is absolutely surreal. Now I’m beginning to work on my final papers, finishing up my last assignments for Berber and Arabic, and even planning my last weekends here in Morocco. Where on earth has the time gone?!

Anyways, these past few days, I have been collecting information on the dates of my finals–and luckily none of them are scheduled for finals week! That means that I will have a “free” weekend in Morocco before I go home! Those of you who know me definitely know where I’ll be… (; But not having finals in the third week of May does come with a price… that means that all of my finals are due the week BEFORE, which includes a presentation and paper for Field Methods (Wednesday), oral finals for both Arabic and Berber (Thursday), and my final paper for North African Government and Politics (Friday).

So how am I supposed to get all this work done, you ask? Well, I am going to have to impose on myself a personal Dean’s Date. And that, my friends, will have to be next Thursday because I want to travel next weekend. But I think that it’s do-able. If I outline my NAGP paper tonight and start writing tomorrow, I should be able to get it done by next Tuesday (I’ll be busy collecting data in Erfoud this weekend), which gives me next Wednesday to work on my Field Methods presentation and paper. And I will, of course, practice my Arabic and Berber over the weekend I travel and when I come back.

Sounds like a plan, right? Well, someone is going to help me stick to my Dean’s Date. (Look, Princeton, I can’t shake you, can I?) But thankfully it’s not a ridiculous amount of work, so I think that I can get it done. We’ll see. Wish me luck!

From a Café in El Jadida

Observation, 10 April, 17:00-18:30

I am situated facing a busy main road. I can hear cars passing by and can tell their size based on the rumbling they make: small motorcycles have a high-pitched rumble to them, while large buses sound like a scary monster who is very hungry. In addition to the rumbling, honking is frequent, and every so often I will hear a brake squeak, indicating its need of repair.

To my right, a café a few yards away is playing faint Arab music. I can’t make out the words, but I can tell by the beat (at 18:10, the music is definitely Khaled, as C’est La Vie and Hiya Hiya play). Also to my right, I can hear many conversations going on, mostly by men sitting at the tables outside. Since only a black metal fence separates the café I am at from the next, I can also hear what is going on in their kitchens—the rattle of silverware and the clanking of plates as they are being handled. At first, I think that the jangling metal I hear is that of coins in a waiter’s pocket, however after further observation, I realize that it is actually the sound of keys that people walk around with for apartments on rent for the night.

To my left, the noise is very loud coming from a construction site—I can hear a woodcutter that runs every ten seconds or so. There are not many cafés to my left, and so most of the noise is indeed construction.

In front of me come two teenage boys who have come to pester me for money. They try to get my attention by repeatedly calling me “my sister” in Arabic, but I don’t even look up and eventually the nice waitress comes to shoo them away after a few minutes. Also right in front of me is a pay phone. I am immediately behind it, so I can’t hear what anyone is saying very well, but there have been about five people so far (time: 17:30) coming to use it for 2-5 minutes at a time, mostly women.

I pick up on a few conversation as people walk in front of me, but very few. Most conversations are calm in nature; however, a pair of men recently walked by who were definitely arguing. Also, a small gang of boys has formed close by and I can hear their little voices chatting and joking with each other.

I am sitting in a male-dominated area, and I am the only single, stationary female as far as I can see. There are three men at my café, sitting at tables by themselves; in the café to my right, there is a group of three men, slightly older than me, sitting and eating. Actually, one is eating soup and a sandwich, while another is talking on the phone and the last is simply staring out into the street. There is a group of three women sitting by the payphone in front of me, one of them having already used it and now seem to be waiting for someone. The one who used the payphone has a little boy around the age of twelve.

Although I am not in an extremely visible spot, I have been thing of amazement in my short time here. So far, four little boys, a beggar woman, and now a man who looks to be homeless have approached me. The man did not want money from me (as he did not hold out his hand), but seemed to want to talk to me. By the tone of his voice, I feel as though he was reprimanding me for something (being by myself, not having my head covered, etc.).

And apart from those who have physically come up to me, there have been a lot of stares from men passing on the sidewalk, standing around with their friends, and even from those in the café I’m in and next to mine. It really must throw them off to see a woman sitting by herself in a café with a tea, busy writing something. I wonder what kind of reactions I would get it I weren’t busy writing this and instead were just observing them normally, enjoying my tea like all the men here seem to do. (And as I wrote that last sentence, another little boy came up to beg for money.) Perhaps I will try that someday.

On Being a Woman in North Africa, Part II

Before reading this, I hope that you have read the first part to this post, On Being a Woman in North Africa, Part I. On the whole, this first edition was very negative, focusing on the harassment that my friends and I have received. I would now like to balance out this last post with some positive aspects to being a woman (expand to: young western woman) in Morocco.

It is true that just walking though the streets of a souq or industrial city, the majority of interactions that one will have will be with males. Most merchants and waiters are male, and as handicrafts and food power the tourist industry, it makes sense that a tourist will mostly encounter Moroccan men. Indeed, my own interactions with Moroccan women in public are few and far between. However, I will say that they are, on a whole, much more enjoyable.

For instance, on my way to El Jadida this time, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a woman on the bus. Not because she had purchase the ticket in the seat next to mine, but because she didn’t want to sit next to the man who had purchased the seat next to hers. She made light conversation with me, asking if I thought the seats were small, and I replied that they were, and then she said lots of unintelligible things and laughed, so I laughed too. She then asked me something that I didn’t understand, and I told her that I didn’t. She was bewildered. “Ma fahimteesh al-aaribiya?” and I had to admit that I only understood a little (“shwiya”). She then tried, “parlez-vous français?”, which I shook my head at. Finally she asked, “do you speak English?” and I nodded my head, in shock. This woman was probably older than my mother, and she knew English! Well, the extent of her English seemed to be that sentence, as she repeated, “you speak English!” and smiled widely. As we figured out that we had no real language in common, we sat in silence for the rest of the time. But that did not stop her from kissing me on both cheeks as I left the bus.

And just today, I had another female-bonding encounter. I explored El Jadida on my own for a bit: half looking for food, half just enjoying the warm weather and trying not to get lost. I eventually settled on entering a café where I saw there was a waitress, rather than a waiter. I sat down, and she came over to me, speaking in darija. I had absolutely no idea what she had said, so I just asked for the menu. She asked if I spoke English, I said yes, and she explained that they didn’t have any food, as the kitchen was being renovated. So I ordered tea. When she came back with it, she asked me some questions in English, to which I responded in Arabic. Eventually my functional Arabic ran out, as she started asking me more complex questions, and I just decided to switch to English, as she probably wanted to practice listening to English as well. She left me alone for a few minutes, but before I knew it, she was back with a book in English, saying that she was starting to read it. She showed it to me, and it was the book version of the Disney movie “Atlantis”. She left me again to browse through the pages. She came back a little while later, pulled up a chair and started talking to me. Not just about the book, but about her life. How she had to stay in El Jadida because of her mother, even though she had a diploma in commerce, and how she was secretly seeing a man who worked upstairs from the café. She sounded like a school girl with an exciting story to tell her friends. And although I was completely confused as to why this stranger would be telling me all about her love life, I was kind of honored. I think that she chose to share this information with me because I am a western woman about her own age, which would make me much more receptive and/or less judgemental of her. Sometimes being a foreigner has its perks?

Those are just two of many stories that I have of the camaraderie that women have here in Morocco. It might not seem like much, and it might not outweigh the negative aspect of harassment; but in the moment it is a beautiful thing, and I’m glad that there is this positive side of being a woman in North Africa.

On Being Homesick

I haven’t been homesick often. With not living at home for nine months of the year, it’s become easier for me to simply “wait” to go home. And with the extensive traveling I’ve done every summer, I’ve accustomed myself to being content with hearing my mom’s voice on the phone or seeing my sisters on Skype.

But there are times when I do feel a strong pang of homesickness. It’s usually brought about by something my mom will say to me over Facebook chat, or just seeing a picture of my family that I absolutely love. And those times are hard. I’m reminded of how little I actually see my family, and it saddens me. To think, I’m 20 years old, and I have seen my family for probably less than six months total for the past three years. What all have I missed? Many birthdays and concerts and games; smiles and hugs and kisses. And my little sister Rebecca is graduating high school and will be going to Johns Hopkins in the fall.

To combat this homesickness, I have to tell myself that I will be there for the really important things: I am going home in time to see Rebecca graduate and I’ll stay the whole summer at home with my mom, dad, and sisters. Like it used to be before mom and I started going to Brasil and before I became insane and took summer classes abroad. This summer will be great. I plan on doing lots of fun things with my sisters… perhaps a road trip (that is, if I have made enough money by then) or something memorable that we can share together. I get through the low points of being homesick with planning for the future.

Overall, I am so lucky to have such a supportive family. If I were even slightly religious, I would say that I am blessed. And I can’t wait to spend my summer at home. And that is what keeps the homesickness away.

just missing dad. love you all!

just missing dad. love you all!

On Philosophy in the Maghreb

One of the most striking differences that I find between American students and Moroccan students is their reasoning behind pursing higher education: Moroccans are very much geared toward gaining skills for a future career, whereas I feel like most Americans who attend liberal arts schools seek to refine their worldview and absorb knowledge that they won’t have a chance to when they do have a career. That is why one of my professors at AUI says that Al Akhawayn University is not a liberal arts college, but rather a trade school that is (half-heartedly) preparing students to enter the business, engineering, and communications fields.

My favorite philosopher: Plato

My favorite philosopher: Plato

Although I was excited to study in Morocco again, my excitement immediately turned to disappointment as I browsed through the course offerings: there were only two philosophy classes being offered, both of which were introductory courses that would not count for any credit at my home institution. If you don’t know by now, I am a philosophy major at Princeton University. I chose to study philosophy because it was something that I had never been exposed to in high school, and I absolutely loved it. My first philosophy class was phenomenal and opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking. It wasn’t something that I was good at, but it was something that I wanted to try to be good at.

Anyways, my first encounter with the perception of philosophy in Morocco was on the train to Ifrane (well, to Fez, and then to be picked up and taken to Ifrane). A man sat in our compartment and began talking to us: asking us where we were from, where we were going, and what we study. I was the first to respond, and immediately after the words came out of my mouth, he started laughing. Not a small giggle or snicker, but an actual full-hearted laugh. I was taken aback, and quite frankly, offended. Why on earth was this man laughing at my choice of study? I am, at least, getting a college education! The man didn’t speak enough English to explain to me what was so funny, and I didn’t know enough Darija to understand what he said afterward. So I quickly clammed up and barely said anything else to our rude cabin-mate for the rest of the ride.

It was only in Essaouira that I understood why the man had laughed. As I have written, we met some nice men with whom we had dinner, and one of them explained the situation to me. He said that philosophy is looked upon as a “useless” subject in Morocco because, “what kind of job can you get with a philosophy degree?” I asked what lawyers studied in college before law school, as many who go to law school come from philosophy backgrounds, and he replied with “pre-law.” Seeing as Princeton doesn’t offer a pre-law program, that was never an option for me.

I got an even more in-depth look at how philosophy is perceived by interviewing a philosophy professor and the Vice President for Academic Affairs at AUI. Both of them said basically the same thing: that AUI students had no interest in philosophy because they think that it would not help them to get a job and because it is taught in a completely different manner than what they were exposed to in high school. In the Moroccan school system (and perhaps some of the French system), the emphasis for learning is placed on memorization of material. Obviously, this is not possible in philosophy, for it really teaches you how to critically think and argue, rather than having you memorize useless dates and charts and other information. So when students enter college, they do not like this “new” way of teaching, and thus, the subject itself. I think this is a very unfortunate way of thinking.

Even as I talk to people my age about philosophy, it’s mostly negative. My roommate, for example, has repeatedly told me that philosophy was her least favorite subject in school (she is currently a business major), and that for her next elective she will be taking comparative religion rather than philosophy. Other students have told me the same as well, even praising me for being so “brave” to be studying philosophy, as they don’t like it and don’t see a future in it. I have, thankfully, found a few sane souls who actually do like philosophy and are willing to talk to me about it, including my boyfriend.

In conclusion, I can tell that much of the stigma of philosophy comes from the fact that Morocco is a developing country that places an emphasis on finding jobs in an economy that is mainly supported by agriculture and tourism. I can now see how privledged I am to live in a country that puts the emphasis on education as being a wholesome endeavor, rather than a means to an end. I still haven’t sorted out how I feel about this, exactly, as I can see the logicality of this reasoning in Morocco; however, I must and always will stand by the belief that philosophy is a worthwhile and necessary subject to study, for its benefits are enormous, if not always “practical”.

Spring Break 2013

It’s been a while since I’ve updated, and for that, I apologize. I will first start with my adventures in Portugal and Spain.

I’ll make this short and sweet: I loved Spring Break. It was a nice respite from the busy every-day life at AUI. I particularly enjoyed not having to think about academics for an entire week (something that, in reality, is not heard of in the spring semester at Princeton). Before we even step foot out of the country (“we” being me, my roommate, and three of my good friends), we went to Casablanca for a night. When we got to the city, we had not made any hostel reservations, so the first thing we did was to go find a cheap place to sleep that night. Thankfully, we found a really nice grand taxi driver who knew of a pretty nice place for cheap, and he took us there. It ended up being just as expensive as the hostels I had looked at online, but it was in a nicer area (not the medina of Casa!) and the rooms were bigger. So as soon as we put our stuff in our rooms, we headed out again to go to the Morocco Mall, something that I had not visited over the summer. It was the same taxi driver who took us, and indeed, he stayed with us the entire time we were in Casa and gave us a great rate even to go to the airport.

As for the Morocco Mall, it was awesome. For the first time in two months, we all had a Starbucks drink (and although I am not a coffee addict, it was a nice change from the Moroccan coffee that I’d been drinking… who knew that an iced mocha could taste so good?!), shopped at H&M and Zara, and ate at McDonald’s (…my first time in Morocco!). At H&M, I got a gorgeous blue dress and cute little brown purse that I was desperately in need of because my only purse-like thing that I had brought was a small brown backpack that, albeit cute, was not quite as functional as a purse.

Starbucks, oh Starbucks.

Starbucks, oh Starbucks.

We stayed in the mall until it closed around 10 PM, went back to the hotel, talked for a long time, then slept. When we awoke, we went downstairs to go find a café to have breakfast, but apparently the breakfast at the hotel was included in our stay, so we enjoyed a carb-filled breakfast with coffee and orange juice before we left for the airport. At the airport, three of us ended up having to check in our bags on the flight because of weight/size restrictions. After having such a horrid experience with Iberia and lost baggage coming into Morocco, I was extremely hesitant to let it go. But eventually I decided that I couldn’t argue and just hoped for the best (no worries, though! I checked in my bag on every flight and it never got lost!).

Our first stop was Madrid, for we had a 15-hour layover there on our way to Lisbon. When we got to the airport, we found the remaining luggage, locked it up in storage for a few hours, then headed out into the city for some dinner and exploration. We took the metro to the center of the city (which also happens to be the geographic center of Spain!) and walked around to find a good, cheap restaurant. While in the plaza, however, I was able to get a picture with some guys dressed as Spongebob and Patrick. It made my entire night!

Me with Spongebob and Patrick!

Me with Spongebob and Patrick!

Eventually we stumbled upon a burger place that was cheap, had wifi (crucial for us to plan what we were to do in Lisbon), and ended up being delicious. After a filling meal, we walked around for a little bit, accidentally running into the royal palace. It was an absolutely gorgeous building with a gorgeous fountain in front of it.

The Royal Palace in Madrid

The Royal Palace in Madrid

We took lots of pictures, then quickly found the nearest metro station as it started to rain. Back at the airport, we goofed off for a little bit, as we were the only ones in the terminal after 1 am, and then we tried to sleep (keyword: tried). It was very cold and uncomfortable to lay on the metal seating, so none of us slept well, if at all.

On to Lisbon. It was wonderful to be able to understand people again. Our hostel (highly recommended: Backpackers Oasis, located in Bairro Alto) was great, and we surprisingly spent more time there than expected, as the other guests there were awesome and we ended up making lots of new friends. While we were in Lisbon, I met up with a friend of a friend from Georgetown (who knew that our first meeting would be outside of the United States?), we went to visit the monastery, ate pasteis de Belém, had dinner at a great cheap rodizio (Brasilian restaurant), learned all about Portuguese beer at the Museu da Cerveja, and explored the Castelo do São Jorge in the historic district.

Near the Castelo de São Jorge.

Near the Castelo de São Jorge.

View from the castle.

View from the castle.

We didn’t do much else during the day, as we usually started our day around noon after an absolutely delicious breakfast at the hostel. At night, we either stayed in to play games and talk with the other guests or we went out. We found two cute little bars that played live Brasilian music, which I obviously loved, so it was all pretty low-key. Overall, I absolutely adored Lisbon and hope to go back one day to explore not only the city more, but also the rest of Portugal, which I hear is gorgeous.

Barcelona was pretty amazing too. There, we rented an apartment in a pretty central location, which was really nice. We mainly lived off of hard-boiled eggs, bread and jam, and pasta with peas. It was great to be able to save money on food by making it ourselves, as everything was so expensive in Barcelona! We did a lot of walking around to look for things, as we were too cheap to buy a metro pass, and the fact that most of what we wanted to see was within walking distance. We visited some gardens, walked along the Rambla, saw the outside of the Gaudí museum, visited another castle, and did lots of shopping.

Lovely Park Güell in Barcelona.

Lovely Park Güell in Barcelona.

Outside of the Gaudí museum.

Outside of the Gaudí museum.

Oh! And we found this little guy at a protest for Syria.

Oh! And we found this little guy at a protest for Syria.

I got a pair of white heels and a pair of flower-print flats for 3 euros each at H&M! Our nights were spent exploring the night life that Barcelona had to offer, and by the time our week was up, everyone was definitely ready to get back to our small little Ifrane and stay put for a little bit. Traveling is so tiresome!

Last night in Barca!

Last night in Barca!

Like I said before, Spring Break was awesome, and I do think that it had a lot to do with the wonderful friends that I was able to share it with. So a big shout out to the girls I traveled with: you guys are the best! (: