A Travellerspoint blog

A Bittersweet Goodbye

Goodbye Rabat, Helllloooooo Spain!

sunny 85 °F

I have been walking around singing all day, as Big Head Todd said it best, with the following lyrics:

It's bittersweet, more sweet than bitter, bitter than sweet
It's a bitter sweet, surrender
It's bittersweet, more sweet than bitter, bitter than sweet,
It's a bitter sweet, surrender

Well, the time has come. I am leaving Rabat today and heading off to Spain. The volunteer portion of my trip has ended, and while I am so excited for the next portion of this adventure, I can't help but feel emotional about my departure from a country, and people, I have come to love dearly.

There aren't enough words to sum up the value of my experience here. So, I will just say that it has been life-changing, amazing, and truly, utterly impossible to forget. I will keep my students and the little orphans in my heart as I leave Rabat. I am also so thankful for the incredible friends I have made along the journey, as well as the wonderful in-country CCS staff. I would recommend this program to anyone. I have truly felt as though I am living a movie...I sometimes can't believe that I am lucky enough to live this life. Off the top of my head, here are a few things I will miss about daily life here:

--Waking up to the call to prayer each morning
--The view from our shower into the gorgeous atrium that is filled with hibiscus, hydrangeas, and palms
--Our 4PM teatime where we sip sugary mint tea and some fried, honey and strawberry-covered pastry
--Hearing "Thank you, teacher" and getting my welcome kisses
--Hugging and loving the toddlers
--Saying good morning to the little precious babies
--Sitting on the terrace, off of my bedroom, reading books and looking out onto the beautiful backyard
--The strong and flavorful coffee prepared each morning
--Couscous Fridays (couscous is the national lunchtime meal each Friday in Morocco...even the toddlers at the orphanage have it)
--Watching the kitties in our backyard wrestle each other and claw their way up the palm trees
--Taking the van to work each day and seeing the city of Rabat
--Sharing a house with so many funny and interesting people
--THE FEELING OF GIVING BACK AND MAKING A DIFFERENCE EACH DAY

Some fantastic news was received today...3 of the orphans that I have been volunteering with...are being ADOPTED! One of the crazy toddlers and two of the adorable babies will have new homes come September. What heart-warming news to know that they have mommies and daddies in waiting!

Here is a picture of all of us on our way to the orphanage this morning:
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Here are two pictures taken from our backyard with the wonderful Khadija and Mohamed. I will miss them so much.
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Once again...thank you all SO much for your support. This experience wouldn't have been possible without all of you....and I am forever grateful.

Posted by chasethis 00:58 Archived in Morocco Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

Human Emotion

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The gorgeous thing about human emotion is that it transcends all limitations - gender, race, economics, language, etc.

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With a shaky hand and tears in her eyes, she hurriedly scribbled down her phone number, knowing that if she did it quick enough, there would be time for one last hug before I hopped into the CCS van...possibly the 10th hug within the last 15 minutes. The "she" I am talking about it "Fatima"...whose real name happens to be Fadwa...yet, it was "lost in translation" a few weeks back.

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Today was the last day that I taught my incredible group of kids. I can't say that I knew it would come without emotion, yet I wasn't fully prepared for the sadness that welled up in their eyes, the aching hugs, or the prolonged goodbye that ensued. I found out yesterday that my next volunteer placement will be back at the orphanage for my remaining time here. I may or may not have the opportunity to return to the school, which leaves me with a knot in my throat...and a feeling that it flew by too fast.

I know that I felt this same way when I recently said goodbye to my 2nd grade class in Pleasanton about 5 weeks back. I was as equally unprepared, then, for all of the tears and sad hearts that my little ones showed me. And I can safely say that I didn't expect my students here, in Morocco, to exhibit much emotion beyond the kiss, kiss, "goodbye teacher" routine we had established. However, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Once I was able to explain to the students that I was to be at the orphanage from now on, they all started talking in Arabic or French to one another...with their mouths held open, unable to hide the shock.

After taking a few pictures with my students, writing my email address on the board, and saying "Thank you and good luck" with my hand over my heart....I saw it. I saw the tears in 3 of the girls eyes and the sad expressions on the others' faces.

Fadwa came up and embraced me in a way that said, "Please don't go." She has given me 3 bracelets over the last few days and today she put another one on my wrists and held her hand over it and drew me closer. Yesterday I gave Fadwa one of my LIVESTRONG bracelets as a trade for the loving gifts she had given me. Today, while holding her hand, and proudly showcasing our LIVESTRONG bracelets and our "LOVE" bracelets....I truly felt like this is why I am here on this Earth - to touch people's lives, to crossover boundaries, to connect with others, and to live with an open, loving, and accepting heart.

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Life is a beautiful thing.

There is so much love in this world - and so much to give and to be gained - if we only allow ourselves to seek it out, to feel whole heartedly, and to give without condition. I am grateful beyond words for the ability to feel such deep emotions and to know that I evoked such emotions in others.

As I as walking out with Fadwa's arm strung around my waist, I sadly learned that Fadwa doesn't have email so she can't email me. She then mimed "telephone" and I said, "Yes. But, not in Rabat. Only U.S.A. phone." She didn't understand at first, but then shook her shoulders and handed me a pen. I jotted down my number, handed it to her, and then she did the same. Ironically, she and I only really communicate through very limited words and rely mostly on pictures. I kept thinking...even if we were to call to one another...how would we communicate? But, I happily took her number, memorized her face, and hugged her tight. I think we both knew that the phone call will never come...but that's ok, because the connection she felt to me, and then I to her, can transcend all - email, telephone, letters - and that can't be taken away...or "lost in translation."

Posted by chasethis 22:39 Archived in Morocco Tagged volunteer Comments (6)

LIVESTRONG 5 - Sahara Desert

I love you Auntie and Anastasia

sunny 85 °F

The sweetest fruit is on the skinniest branches.

In essence, if we all lived with that in mind, we would take more risks and live life to the fullest...everyday. I am in awe of the ability of my Aunt and Anastasia to do just that...even in the face of extreme circumstances.

I am so proud of them...keep on livin' strong, ladies!!

xoxo
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Posted by chasethis 23:51 Archived in Morocco Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (2)

LIVESTRONG 7

sunny 100 °F

When I was in Marrakech there were at least 20 or so fresh orange juice booths set up in the medina. I knew I wanted to try the juice, but how do you choose which stand? It wasn't until I came across the heart-shaped fruit decoration that I knew which one to pick: bright, beautiful, and cheery...just like Kathy and Anastasia. You both have a way of standing out from the crowd and I am so happy that you are CHOOSING to live strong! I love you both.

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Posted by chasethis 09:58 Archived in Morocco Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (1)

Camping in the Sahara

Part Fear Factor, Mostly Awe-Inspiring

sunny 105 °F

If you have ever watched an episode of Fear Factor, then you won't have any trouble trying to conjure up images of what it's like to sleep in the Sahara Desert. But, I will get to that part later...
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Me and 9 other CCS volunteers headed out in a van to Merzouga which is within the Sahara Desert. It is in southeast Morocco, and only about 20 miles from the Algerian border. We had a guide named, Hamza, who drove our van and figured out the logistics of everything...everything from Sara puking in a plastic garbage bag all the way into the desert and Alexandra puking off her camel for the entire 1.5 hour ride. While Moroccan food is very tasty...it is often not the easist on our wimpy American stomachs.

After 9 hours we arrived in Merzouga and were greeted by extreme heat, mint tea (what better thing to do than drink hot beverages in the 105 degree heat?!), and headscarfs to protect us from the sun and sand. The first thing I noticed were the gorgeous orange dunes. They seemed to go on forever and the sand looked so soft and fine. We met our camels and hopped on for our 1.5 hour ride. The ride, while a bit uncomfortable, was beautiful and I quickly allowed myself to relax in the magic of the moment. The rolling golden waves of sand spread out in front of us, unbroken and endless, until they disappeared over the horizon. Riding in the middle of this humungous space gave us an unshakable feeling of solitude.

Our camels traversed the dunes with ease and we soon came to our campsite. It was incredible to go into what appeared to be the middle of nowhere and then apparently stumble onto our perfect campsite. The campsite was simple: traditional tents pitched into the sand, and no facilities, water, electricity or fire at all.

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We had arrived with just one hour until sunset. We were told that we would be able to hike up the dunes to watch the sun slip past the horizon, signaling the end of another day. What we didn´t realize, however, was that this trek would probably be the most difficult workout of our lives! While the main dune looked high, its relative difficultly was impossible to determine until you started up the steep ridge. I termed it the "Saharan Stairmaster"... in all of my collegiate lacrosse days or triathlon training nothing has made me feel the burn like this before!

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There were 10 of us in our group and we huffed and puffed as best we could....we would stop for picture breaks, sling a few profanities here and there, and then we´d trudge along....one foot in front of the other. I would count 20 steps and then sit down.....sounds pretty pathetic, don´t you think? Well, out of us 10 trekkers, only 4 of us made it to the top. How do you like them apples?? :) Upon hitting the tip of the peak, I was filled with the most gratuitous feeling to be in the presence of such awe-inspiring greatness. After letting out a celebratory and excited yell, we settled down to watch one of God´s greatest gifts unfold before our willing eyes.
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Filled with appreciation, there seemed to be no better time than now to take a LIVESTRONG photo. The large dune signified a hurdle in what brought us to something truly magical. I know that my Aunt Kathy and Anastasia are up against significant "dunes"...however they are not alone and each day that passes they are allowing us all to see the magic within them, with each hurdle they overcome.
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My most favorite and exhiliarting moment I have had to date, was the feeling of running with abandon, down the dune. Most people walked down the ridge and followed their original footprints that were made on the trek up the ridge. However, I could think of nothing better than running at full speed, letting the grade of the dune propel me forward. I could feel the warm wind in my hair and hot sand on my feet. My whole body was filled with energy and excitement.

Once at the bottom we were met with more mint tea and our dinner tables were being set up. Hamaz set out candles, carpets, and plates for our feast. We were served incredible salad, chicken tagines, and bread. The chicken in the tagine was cooked with onions, potatoes, and vegetables...my favorite part was that it was "cameled in". How we could be in the middle of the Sahara Desert, yet served with such decadence??
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After our meal, we were treated to some traditional Arabic song and dance. We were all dancing, laughing, and clapping under a brilliant sky sprinkled with shining stars.
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However...it was at this point that I realized that all of this greatness did not come without some degree of uncomfortablness. As we watched the drummers, we saw huge bugs flying, jumping, and crawling towards the lights. The musicians, of course, didn´t flinch, as they are used to bugs the size of your palm. Yet, us Americans were screaming like babies, jumping up from our spots, and feeling a layer of goosebumps cover our hot skin. Jami started reaching down and picking them up in her palm and flinging them into the air...and saying, "It´s ok. Just sit back down, " in her mothering tone. I sat back down, eyes darting here, and eyes darting there. It was then that I saw a huge blob moving in a circular motion across one of the carpets. I grab Alexandra´s iphone...yes, I said iphone...and used it´s "flashlight function" to shed light on this moving figure. I quickly saw that it was one of those huge bugs...rolling what appears to a large rock across our carpet. But, no, upon further inspection we learn that it is a dung beetle who is pushing camel "you-know-what" across our beds. OMG. There is no way in hell that I am going to be able to sleep knowing that these HUGE poop carriers have invaded my bed. Sick, sick, sick. And this is coming from the girl who does a "spider check" in her bed back at home in Rockridge every night before slipping into the sheets. Therefore...can you say, no camel fast enough???

Upon getting ready to sleep, we are given a thin sheet which is pretty rediculous considering the fact that it´s still roughly 90 degrees or so. But, I decide to cocoon myself with this sheet from top to bottom as I wrap myself up like a pig in a blanket...no jokes!...and then I use my headscarf to cover my entire face. Only problem is that now I am sweating and can´t breathe. Let me weigh my options...death by poop beetles...or death by asphyxiation and dehydration... Hmmm...I prefer death by chocolate instead. But, then as I glanced up at the glittery blanket of stars laid out before us, I knew my choice was made....and 5AM would come soon enough.

We arose early to take in the sunrise from a nearby dune...but, not "the" dune...so it wasn´t quite the workout that it was the night before. While there was a pretty dense cloud cover that didn´t allow for much color, it was still quite a sight to see the sunrise in the Sahara.
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Around 8AM we made our way over to our trusty camels once again and rode off into the sun...
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I know that my words will never quite capture the emotions or the greatness of the experience, but they are an attempt to record a memory that I feel pretty confident in saying...was a once in a lifetime experience, for which I am forever thankful.

Posted by chasethis 16:05 Archived in Morocco Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

Things Aren't Always As They Seem...

A lesson learned from a 15-year-old girl

sunny 80 °F

As a teacher it's in my genetic makeup to question myself, my teaching abilities...and to be overly critical. I often wonder how I can be better, do things more effectively, convey more passion for a subject, or impact more students in a given day or lesson.

Over the last few days of teaching, I have paid close attention to Fatima, a 15 year-old-girl who acts uninterested, speaks in Arabic to her friends, and rolls her eyes. Upon looking at her, I kept thinking...she thinks I'm so lame. I must be boring her so much. Or...I bet she just made a joke about me in Arabic to her friend. Maybe I have pen on my face....maybe that is what she is saying...oh, God, am I really standing up here teaching with green pen all over my face??? I know, I know....a bit egocentric, right? I agree, but it's where my mind goes at times.

Well, it turns out, I shouldn't be so quick to judge - not my abilities....and certaintly not another person. I'm realizing that most of these judgments just aren't true. And upon judging someone else, I'm not seeing them for who they truly are. These snap judgments can negatively effect these students and also cause me to worry about things that aren't even there.

Today I was teaching a lesson that involved a lot of speaking on the part of the students. They were walking around and asking each other questions and then recording the answers. Fatima wasn't talking with people and kind of stayed on the sidelines. l happened to be talking with another student when all of sudden I am hit on the chest! It's Fatima. She has a small cylophane heart-shaped balloon with the words "I Love You". She took the balloon and again she tapped it against my heart and held it out for me to read. She said, "Thank you, teacher" and then hugged me tight and kissed me on the right cheek, then my left, and finally my right cheek again.

She showed me her paper and I saw that she didn't have any answers filled in. She said, "I'm sorry." I helped her to write one answer down, and then I said, "Little bit each day" and I gave her a hug and a big accepting smile.

Today...instead of walking out quickly, she light heartedly lingered around with a smile on her face.

I guess all she needed was a teacher to see her for who she is: a young girl with a huge heart...who happens to be a bit self-conscious in her abilities...and nothing more. I think about how I have reacted over the last few weeks during our French or Arabic language lessons and I realize that she and I are no different. We are just two people doing the best we can to learn and grow...and to hopefully not be judged by those around us.

Posted by chasethis 23:34 Archived in Morocco Tagged volunteer Comments (6)

Awkwardly Naked in Morocco

Hammamania

sunny 85 °F

The word of the day is...awkward.

Never in my life did I imagine that I would be laying in only my bathing suit bottoms, on a tile floor, being scrubbed by a large topless Moroccan woman. Oh yeah, and I was trying not to make eye contact with the equally naked Jami, Kristen, Alexandra, or Rachel...for fear of bursting out laughing as a response to the uncomfortableness of the situation. Did I mention that what was supposed to be a serene experience, ended up with Moroccan women screaming at us...which only became more intensified by the echo from the tile walls? True, and awkward, story.

What started out as wanting to experience more of the Moroccan culture, I casually suggested to Jami that we go to a Hamman before she leaves Morocco. Hammams are an integral and cultural tradition within Islamic society. They are public bathhouses dating back to when most homes didn’t have a bath so people made weekly gatherings at a Hammam.

In an attempt to fully explain this ridiculously awkward story, Jami and I joined forces to give the full and naked scoop...So, here goes...

Khadija, our house "mom" talked us through the experience to be sure we were prepared - she warned us to take soap, shampoo/conditioner, and a towel and to expect to be in topless and in bathing suit bottoms or just fully naked altogether...basically check our prudish ways at the door. She told us to expect 3 rooms - a cool room, warm room, and the hot room. And she said there would be buckets. Somehow we pictured something so much more Western than what we encountered. If Seinfeld was still running, you can bet they would capitalize on this story.

We took these blue tickets from men at the gate and we walked through a frosted glass door that was on the bottom level of what appeared to be an apartment complex. Through that door, my friends, was a world for which we were totally unprepared. In this society of women who are modestly dressed and sometimes mostly covered, there lurks a subculture of nudiness - and comfort with such nakedness that caught us completely off guard. We walked in and before us was a room of women, tits to the wind, and some all the way bare. Whoa. It was really challenging to know where to look so we weren't staring at someone else's goodies. We knew right away that this was the authentic Moroccan hammam experience because no one (and I mean NO ONE) spoke English or French. Imagine the fun in trying to figure out what to do with the buckets, where to sit, and all the other details of a very involved bathing experience.

Once we paid our 12 dirhams and got our 1 dirham-worth of authentic african black soap (goopy, molasses-like and smeared onto a scrap of paper...nasty, yet interesting...I am thinking), we stood around like, well, Americans, trying to determine what to do next. Jami's words of wisdom to the group: "It's time to get naked." So we did. Awkwardly. Because how else do you get mostly naked with people you've known for 4 weeks?

Then they gave us buckets. Ahh, the buckin' bucket confusion. We walked through the swinging door and into some antechamber of nakedness were a woman was squatting and scrubbing. Nice. And that was just a sort of hallway, actually, so that should give you some sense of the level of modesty we were dealing with.

In the hot room, 3 of the girls found their spots against one wall trying to be out of the way and inoffensive as we were already quite the spectacle in this place....there was not a set of eyes in the room that weren't watching our every (clumsy and confused) move. It takes us forever to navigate the buckets and determine which faucets are for bucket filling....and how to not scald yourself - as, based on the temperature - the water appears to flowing straight from the gates of hell. It should be noted that most all the women were totally naked...and all of us prudish Americans were standing around with bathing suit bottoms on, with our arms in front of our chests...well, and I of course, being the germaphobe that I am, was still wearing my flip flops...because nobody wants a Moroccan foot fungus. So, the girls, attempting to "do as the locals do" once again....began smoothing the smelly black soap on their skin, and me and Alexandra set up camp across the room from the rest of the crew (antisocial while naked? who knew!). Only problem was, was that we had a huge bucket filled with water...but no smaller cup to pour the water over ourselves. So, I laughed in a "what the hell, now?" kind of a way....and attempted to "splash myself clean". Unfortunately, we didn't realize that we'd set up shop in front of the faucets for bucket-filling, and that caused a bit of a ruckus. We were shooed away like little American flies and forced to come sit in the other part of the nakedly-packed room. So, there the girls were...American, naked, and soapy. Good clean fun, right? Then, as Jami began rinsing off, she saw a river of suds flowing in our direction...well, MY direction, really. And it was in that moment, that Jami saw that I was downstream from, and in the direct path of a large lady's bath-time run-off. Bad news, sportsfans. Jami said that watching my face, as the realization dawned was me that I was sitting in filthy suds that were not my own, was one of the funniest things she has ever seen.

As the washing and rinsing ended, it was clearly time to go ask one of the naked Moroccan women in the first room to give us the rubdown for which the hammam is famous. After leaving a hammam, you are supposed to be so thoroughly scrubbed and exfoliated that your skin should be likened to that of a newborn baby. Everything up until this point turned out to be mild and semi-normal compared to what happened next. But, let's be clear...when I think "exfoliated"...I think of that St. Ive's apricot granular scrub that all of us girls have used at least once in our lives...apparently I was way off base...

There were 2 ladies. I'll call the first lady Berber Mama because 1) She had 2 tattoos on her face - forehead and chin - that were symbols of her tribe and family, common in Berber tradition a few generations back; 2) She was older - 50s or 60s, perhaps, 3) Her boob saggage suggests that she was someone's mama at some point; and 4) She scrubs with the force and authority of one who has scrubbed more than an ass or two. And then there was the other lady...which, in retrospect she reminds me of some of the scary women from American Gladiators. Apparently, that's her scrub style.

Berber Mama splashed a bucket full of hot water on the tile wall and floor in a corner of the warm room and motioned for us all to sit down. I didn't realize at that moment that she was staking her claim on us. So young. So naive. So American. She pushed Jami down and so she sat, but she gestured that she needed to lay down, so she did. Partially because she had face tattoos and partially because she couldn't run out of there naked. And so it began. Lying on her back in only bikini bottoms, this woman put on a single scrubby glove, and with no soap and no precursor, she ran that gloved hand from her stomach, up one boob, and clean to the shoulder blade. And she got rolling with the scrubbing everywhere. Jami and I made eye contact and were trying to stop laughing like idiots....because, well, when I get nervous I laugh awkwardly to try and take my mind off of things...and because there are no words when you are in a situation like this. All I kept thinking was: 1) Where the hell are we? 2) I really don't want these naked women touching me. 3) I'm gonna freak out if her boob rubs against me in this process. 4) The fact that I wore my good silver sandals in here to "protect" my feet against the "fungi" is kinda hilarious, as I am about to be forced to lay face down on this tile...with nothing between my body and the tiles...but, dirty soapy water. Nice. It was then that I saw Berber Mama slap Jami's right flank and gave her a hand gesture that seemed to mean, "Roll your fat ass over." So she did. But to do that she first had to untangle her legs from Berber mama's lap...which was quite the pretzel configuration.

Oh, God...here comes Gladiator and she's eyeing me...

She has me lay down and she rolls me to one side and nakedly spoons me...we are kinda laying like lovers which is freakin' me out. She begins to scrub me like a maniac, while her lengthy boobs brush across my legs...damn you inertia and gravity. She yells in Arabic and motions that I roll to the other side. So I rolled. And she scrubbed. At this point, I glanced over at Jami and see that Berber Mama has completely ignored Jami's bikini bottoms, as the boundary they were clearly meant to be, and shoved them up her crack and did some cheek scrubbing. And still we laughed because ... when you're naked, laying on tile, and having your skin scrubbed straight off by some woman who speaks no English...and has a glove that could be considered a weapon by the TSA, well, you're not going anywhere...and laughter is really all you can do.

While all of this was taking place, a heated debate was going on, and we're still not sure what it was about beyond the fact that we were clearly the topic because it all took place - loudly and in Arabic - where we were sitting. My theory is this...Berber Mama and American Gladiator had claimed all 5 lily white and gullible Americans as their turf. Other scrubbers were ticked because Berber Mama and American Gladiator were hogging up all the big - stupid - spenders. So while it is supposed to be an enjoyable experience...it's tough to drown out the screaming and even more challenging to enjoy any basic part of this - uncomfortable and strange - world we have willingly walked into. At one point, my lady puts my hand on my leg to feel all of the skin that has been removed as she showcases a big, toothless grin...and then flashes a wild look in her eyes...clearly, she is enjoying torturing me. Once she has finished the scrub-a-thon...she yanks me up and walks me over to the faucet. From here, she sits me down and dumps a bucket of water over my head...I mean, seriously, so much water I felt like I was drowning...I tried to take a breath and took in some water....started coughing it up....and then was hit with another bucket. She then runs that sandpaper glove over my skin once more, stands me up...and then...she fast-as-lightening, yanks my bathing suit bottoms down. Holy hell, I need out of here. My eyes dart over to Jami in a "help me" sort of a way....but she's no savior...as she and Kristen are just watching and hysterically laughing. So, free as a jay bird, I stand while she gives one good last scrub and I anxiously and embarrassingly wait for this horrific thing to end. She throws a bucket of water in my face...slaps my ass and points to the door...wham, bam, thank you ma'am!! Barely able to catch my breath from the direct water hits, I quickly pant through the main door to get dressed.

It's clearly safe to say...we could have lived happily and regretless...without ever having experienced the world of the hammam.

Although...it has made for a good number of laughs these last few weeks...

Posted by chasethis 09:56 Archived in Morocco Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (6)

The Baby Cuddler

sunny 80 °F

38 newborns - 4 nurses.

It has become very difficult to fall asleep at night because of the little cries that I hear, over and over again, in my head.

I have been volunteering each day at the orphanage, but instead of working with toddlers, I have been with the babies. I was really excited to help in a different area, although I admittedly sneak out each day to see my wild and crazy toddlers. I am working with the littlest babies I have ever seen - today a baby was brought in weighing only 3 pounds. There are two rooms that are filled with tiny cribs for these tiny babies....16 newborns in each room. To give you perspective on the size of the rooms, each room is about the size of just one of my friend's nurseries at home...just for their one baby. There are small plastic bins lining the walls - each one pressed against the other - holding one precious baby in each.

These are not orphan babies in the sense that their parents may have died in an accident...these are not babies that have been given up for adoption...but, rather, these are babies conceived through adulterous relationships and have been abandoned. Under Islam, adultery is criminalized by law and includes both pre-marital and extra-marital sex...not mention, it is considered a shameful sin. So, these babies are brought in by the police and they are often found by trash cans and dumpsters around the city and within the alleyways of the medina.

Talk about breaking your heart.

Out of the 38 babies only 4 of them are girls. Girls are the first to be adopted here for a variety of reasons. First, men are thought to be able to take care of themselves, where girls are taken care of in Moroccan culture. For example, I have learned that you will see no homeless girls or women in Morocco, but there are boys and men who are homeless. Females will get picked up from the streets and brought into someone's home instead of living on the street. Also, since men are free to go off to travel, work, and get married, they are less likely to take care of an aging parent. Whereas, women are less inclined to do such things and will therefore care of their parents as they grow older.

Anyways, when I get to the orphanage in the morning, I help with changing their beds, bathing them, changing diapers, clothing them, and then feeding them their bottles. However, the thing I do - and give more than anything else - is LOVE. There is so much work to do and the nurses here move fast.....so fast in fact that they move from task to task like a machine...not like nurturing providers. Babies are woken up without a word, pulled from their clothes, and put under the faucet...talk about a rough wake-up!! But, I make it a point to carefully wake each baby by name, saying "Good Morning, ______!!", while hugging them, and singing to them. It's difficult to know which one to pick up and how long to love on them before moving on to the next baby. However, it's the putting them down that is the toughest, because once they leave your warm arms, they start sobbing. Even with all of us volunteering, each baby is probably only held for a total of 20 minutes a day. How much does that hurt your heart? There's no way for these babies to get what they deserve and it's so sad having a first-hand account of what an orphanage is really like. I often wonder after we leave, how long do they lay there before they feel someone touch them again? If they cry, how long does it take before they are checked on? What repercussions will they live with from this lack of attention and touch?

When I snuck out of the nursery today, I quickly went and sat in the toddler's playpen and let them crawl, drool, kiss, and hug all over me. It's amazing what their laughter does for my soul...they are hearts on legs.

I feel blessed to know, however small it may be, I am making a difference. I am proving love where they wasn't any and I am giving human contact to their love-starved bodies. I think it's safe to say that I have been forever changed by what I have seen and what emotions pulse through me by living this experience.

Posted by chasethis 09:32 Archived in Morocco Tagged volunteer Comments (3)

Riding Solo

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So, it's relatively easy to "do as the locals do", but way more challenging to feel COMFORTABLE in doing so.

It has been 4 weeks and 3 three days, and for the first time in my journey, I felt genuinely scared today. I wanted to make my final trip to the medina for some last-minute gift purchases. I decided to go alone since I wanted to be able to meander through the souks at my leisure, taking it all in, one last time. Instead of taking a cab, I decided to save money and travel as a local. So, I walked out of my house and waited for Bus 58 to swing by its stop. I have taken the bus a number of times before, but always with Jami, Kristen, or Natalia in tow. It should be noted, that it really is false advertising to call it a bus "stop"...since in order to board, one must literally get a running start, in order to dive through the open doors, before it passes you by.

Upon standing in the aisle of this "furnace on wheels", I am ushered up the third row to fill in the empty seat...but it's at this moment that I realize I'm in a situation that I find very frightening. There is a man who is every bit the personification of American-fear-based media. We have seen a myriad of such images coming from our televisions in the wake of September 11. This man is what one might think of when hearing the term "Islamic Extremist". He has a long and course salt-and-pepper color beard, he is wearing a white loose fitting kaftan, traditional yellow balghas on his feet (soft leather slippers), a white headscarf, and he is madly waving the Koran. But, that's not the scary part, as I see men who look like him every day here. The differentiation is that this man is shouting in Arabic so loudly it could wake a sleeping baby from the back of a bus...and he appears rabid with ANGER. He keeps referencing "Allah" and the "United States" and is getting more upset by the second and he is only standing two bus seats from me. I felt trapped, scared, and I feel the panic rising within me.

I start immediately fearing the worst, and through my darkened shades, I scan his trunk for extra padding.

Morocco prides itself on being a peaceful nation and there has only been one suicide bombing since 9/11. This was back in March of 2003 when 45 people were killed in Casablanca. So, while acts of that nature are rarities...it is in this moment...that I think...

What if?

What if he's strapped to a bomb under that flowing kaftan? What if he detonates himself in an act of martyrdom - and we are the evening news? What if he becomes a human missile and blows up this bus???

Although his chest and midsection appears to be void of anything detrimental, I am so freaked that I am even considering such a horrific thing. However, as I start to look around at the other passengers, everyone else on the bus looked about as interested as if they were watching paint dry. I knew that for my own piece of mind, I had to get off that bus as soon as possible, but how could something so frightening to me, evoke no reaction from others?

As the bus slowed near the next stop, I quickly jumped out and took a deep breath. While contemplating a cab, I wondered how much of what I saw was truly a situation about to go awry and how much of it is a "normal" occurrence here? Just then, another Bus 58 swung through, and I lunged on and we carried on towards the medina....except this time, the bus was void of noise. Thank God.

After doing my shopping, I once again hopped on the bus and made my way home, which was thankfully, uneventful. Upon walking through the door, I came upon Mohamed, our program manager. I told him detail all about my troubling bus ride and asked him what he thought. He replied saying, "Oh that's nothing to worry about - that happens all the time...those people preach about their beliefs and then walk through the bus asking for money." I counter saying, "Yeah, Mohamed...but, he was so angry. It didn't seem OK." He smiled and said, "It is nothing to worry about. In time you will get used to that type of thing and think nothing of it."

"That happened to me last week," shouted Olivia from the next room.

Nicole chimed in, "Me too!! But, now I just look out the window and tune it out."

I guess that experience was a potent combination of my not understanding his words, not having anyone to explain what was going on, the fearful images that have been ingrained in my mind since September 11, as well as being in a country and a situation so completely foreign to what I am used to.

While my bus situation was extreme, I am learning a lot about the culture, the language, and the daily interactions of the Moroccan people...and, in turn, I am discovering how I react in various situations, as well as feeling a whole array of emotions in the process.

Posted by chasethis 13:30 Archived in Morocco Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Welcome to the World, Baby Eleni!

I'm a Thea X 3!!

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Although I am far away, I couldn't help but send some "Eleni Love" all the way from Rabat.

Welcome to our family, little girl!!!!
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I can't wait to meet you!!

JD and Maria, I am so happy for you both! Anisa & Demi you are both going to be such incredible big sisters!

YEAH FOR HEALTHY BEAUTIFUL GIRLS!

XOXO

Posted by chasethis 11:04 Archived in Morocco Tagged events Comments (1)

Beautiful Chellah

Necropolis and Roman Ruins

sunny 80 °F

After posting pictures of the house I living in...I don't know if I need to do much more convincing about the beauty of Rabat. However, we recently took a side trip to Chellah, which is only about 10 minutes from our house and I couldn't help but fall in love with this city even more.
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It is filled with overgrown palms, bamboo, banana, and fig trees. There was a city here for 1,000 years before it fell to ruin. Today the ruins are toured daily while visitors view the gorgeous gardens as well as various mausoleums, the minaret, and even the nesting storks.
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An interesting fact is that at the furthest edge of Chellah, there is a dark pond populated with eels. It is said that women seeking a cure for infertility will buy an egg, peel it, and throw the white into the water as they watch the phallic eels come up for a taste.

It goes without saying...I neither had eggs this day, nor visited the pond. :)

Posted by chasethis 13:24 Archived in Morocco Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Happy Henna Hands

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Khadija, our "house mom", adorns CCS volunteers in henna as a special treat. She is truly talented, as all of her henna designs are different from one another. These are done free form and as she creates beautiful and intricate designs.

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The use of henna for decoration in Morocco goes back to when the Berbers first migrated to the area. While tattoos are forbidden under Islam, Berbers have used the henna as a way to express aspects of their daily lives as well as a connection to nature. While they are aesthetically decorative, they are also representative of faith in the supernatural. They can be used for protection against the evil eye and evil spirits.
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Khadija decorated my hand with a floral motif containing the image of a bird, which is representative of a messenger between heaven and earth.
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Posted by chasethis 06:43 Archived in Morocco Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (2)

LIVESTRONG 6 - Marrakech

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Marrakech is a wild, vibrant, and bustling city chalk-full of people...and animals...coming at you from all angles. In the middle of all of this craziness...I took a moment to honor the two people in my life who are living strong.

I love you Auntie and Anastasia!! You are both inspirations to me...and I take your spirit and love with me wherever I go.

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Posted by chasethis 08:46 Archived in Morocco Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (2)

Good Morning, Teacher

Kiss, kiss...

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My Moroccan mornings have recently settled into a glorious routine.

After waking up, I walk downstairs and sip dark-roast delicious coffee over casual conversation with my new friends. We talk about upcoming volunteer work - whether it is at the orphanage or at the East-West Foundation teaching english. It's great to get feedback and to bounce ideas off one another. We pick at flaky Moroccan pastries...talk about how today should be THE day to join the gym down the street...and then we smile, and pop some more doughy goodness into our happy mouths....thinking...maybe tomorrow.

The volunteers at the orphanage leave in the first van. I then have the next hour to myself to shower, continue on with another cup of coffee, and prepare my lessons.

Upon walking into the language school I bombarded by running kids and teenagers who want to be the first to wish me a good morning. It's adorable!! They each say, "Good Morning, Teacher" and then they kiss my right cheek and then my left. It's especially precious when little eight-year-old Aeymon does this.

My class has jumped up to 23 students!! It's amazing to be able to impact so many students, yet very challenging. I now have a mixed group of students ages 8-35....so you can only imagine how difficult it is to plan lessons that meet the needs (and expectations) of such a wide range of students. I often think the adults might find me to be pretty silly with annoying little kid games, while the little ones probably think I go too quickly or am too dry at times. However, for the most part, I leave the school feeling very fulfilled with the work that I lucky enough to do. My teaching here is making me a more patient, creative, and enthusiastic teacher who values the differences I see in each child and/or adult. I feel like I am living a dream and can't express in words how grateful I feel for my life and for all of you who helped to make this experience happen.

After returning home from teaching today, I sat down in my favorite chair on our terrace and dove into another book. I'm up to 4 completed books since I have been here. I don't know when the last time I actually had time to make it through an entire book, until now.

I feel fabulously happy and I am making sure to enjoy each and every moment...and keep them stored in my memory bank.

Posted by chasethis 03:44 Archived in Morocco Tagged volunteer Comments (3)

What started with tequila shots, ended with the "Salam Game"

My "21st" Birthday in Rabat

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For those of you who know me really well, it shouldn't surprise you to hear that I don't like getter older. It's not about vanity or the increased responsibility that comes with the added years...but it's the time that you can never get back. As I age, so do my parents and those around me who I care deeply about. I don't want to take time and people for granted because you never know how long you get with them, or how long you have on this Earth. I guess it's also hard for me to think that you only get to experience stages of your life once...I would love to say that age is just a number and that I don't mind blowing out the candles on yet another year...but, as I am inching towards my 30's, waving goodbye to my 20's...I feel nostalgic for those wild and crazy Lair and Cal Poly lacrosse years already. But, I can honestly say that each year gets better and better as I grow, mature, and add life-altering experiences to my rolodex of memories...but, how amazing would it be if we could relive moments - far in the past - all over again?

Therefore, I think you can imagine how elated I was to celebrate my 21st birthday - for the second time!!! And, no, it didn't end with regrettable pictures or embarrassing stories like my first celebration....Inshallah. :)

The girls within the house planned a fun night out on the town in Rabat for me. The girls were Jami, Kristen, Katie, Mary Fran, Mel, Courtney, Alexandra, and Sara...and they are goofy, smart, caring, adventure-seekers.

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They made reservations at a Tex Mex place called El Rancho...I know what you are thinking - nothing says Ciprol like Mexican food in Morocco, right?!? Well, it is supposedly the hip new spot in Agdal, a community within Rabat that is home to Expats and Moroccan socialites. As soon as we sat down, our waiter served us a celebratory tequila shot, on the house...which was later followed by a round of drinks purchased by a group of elderly Texans...yeehaw!! And, while the cosmopolitans came out looking - and tasting - more like a tequila sunrise and the chicken fajita salad was more cheese than salad...it was heavenly!! Some of the girls even walked to a nearby French bakery, picked up a small birthday cake, got to the restaurant early, and gave the desert to our waiter as a surprise. They are so sweet - I am wishing that I could bring them home with me. What incredible friends to have made so quickly. And it should be noted that they gave the waiter a "2" candle and lots of smaller single candles....but, he said I looked 21...and I didn't want to offend him, so I thought it was only fair to go along with it!
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We had planned on going out dancing, but the club wasn't open yet, so we spent the rest of our night on the patio of Hotel Bellima sipping on beverages and lapping up the surrounding culture. At 11PM the patio was filled with tables of dread-locked Moroccan men, women groups in burkas, young men in suits smoking cigarettes, and young women in Western clothes speaking a mix of French and Arabic...and some loud women laughing and carrying on in English...hint, hint...
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After me, Jami, and Kristen jumped into a petite taxi to return home, Kristen started the "Salam Game" which basically screams "obnoxious Americans". But, Kristen (the gorgeous blond of the group with a Minnesota accent) rolled down the window and yelled, "Salam Alaikum" to any person that we drove by on the street. I'm pretty sure this doesn't happen often in Morocco...nor should it...but, we were surprised by the response. Most men acted very shocked at first, then rebounded with a large smile and wave, or a "Salam!!!". Our taxi driver really got into our little game. He antagonistically started pointing to groups of people, slowing down, waiting for our yell, and then pounding his hands against the steering wheel in fits of laughter. When we got to our house, he said, "Me love Americans. You so funny!"

While I doubt we will continue with this game, it did make for a good laugh last night - and this morning.

Man, it was fun to be 21 again... :)

Posted by chasethis 04:06 Archived in Morocco Tagged events Comments (4)

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