Friday, August 21, 2009

Day 56- Marrakech to Zagora, Morocco

Our wake up call did not happen this morning. Luckily Katie set an alarm so we could be on the mini buses by 7 am to start out 8 hour drive into the Sahara towards Zagora. I slept through most of the ride but stayed up for the switchbacks through some of the Atlas Mountains. They are so beautiful and I would love to return some day to backpack through them. We stopped for lunch at a random roadside restaurant where we had some sort of meat in various shapes. Our long and hot journey led us to the side of the road in the desert. Not really the middle of the desert and there weren’t many sand dunes. There were actually power lines that we followed for part of the way on our camel trek. Janae and I shared a camel for our hour long ride to the nomad camp. We passed some houses and saw children staring at the crazy Americans.


INSERT MUSIC REPORT HERE: (I already wrote about this once and I’m pressed for time so forgive me if it’s not exactly what you want to hear)

We were greeted by singers and dancers at the entrance to the cluster of tents. As we hopped off our camels, our group cautiously filed past the nomad performers, under the archway, and into the center of the camp. After putting our bags in our individual tents, we settled on carpets around the campfire. While we chatter, a group of performers entered the campsite. It was a group of thirteen men, dressed all in white with caps on their heads. They wore black belts across their chests and small swords at their hips. They lined up as if setting up a stage and two men crouched in front with big drums. They sang a traditional Berber song in Arabic accompanied with hand gestures and slight body shifts. At one point two men stepped out of line to dance in front of the group. The two danced in a back and forth way, mirroring each other’s movements. When they returned to the group, the lined joined hands and continued singing in unison. I originally thought their sound was homophonic; the melody of their voices sounding over the supporting beat of the two drums. As I listened more closely, I could tell there was something else going on. I scanned the faces of the singers, looking for a clue. The second to last man, on the far right of the line, was the one who was throwing me off. He was not singing the same sounds as the rest of the group. He wasn’t even singing on the same rhythm. His voice was contrasting the group in pitch and in time. His high pitched shout poked sharply through the solid melody of the rest of the line. The fact that he rose forward on his toes as his voice piped up accentuated his oppositional stance. Once I recognized the source of the contrasting sound, I was totally fascinated by it. I whispered to everyone around me and pointed excitedly to my discovery.

I spent the rest of their performance sitting with my mouth hanging open trying to soak up any and all details I could observe. At that moment I tried to take in the moment and the experience as a whole while trying to thinking critically about the music I was listening to. As much as I was wrapped up in the surreal concept of being somewhere in a huge desert in a nomad camp with the sun setting colorfully behind me, I was aware that the men in front of me were at work, performing for tourists. If I turned around the little bubble that I was in with those men would pop and I would be once again sitting with two hundred other students watching a show instead of living the life of a Berber nomad. Although the music, the singing, and the dancing were authentic Moroccan, there was something holding it back from being completely traditional. I think that something was the setting and the audience. When one of the singers brought a girl up and placed her in the middle of their line to join the group, I was again aware of our position as outsiders. As far as I know, a woman would not just jump up and join the ensemble for laughs in any other situation. However, the look of sheer terror on the face of the girl was too priceless to be critical any longer and I laughed along with the rest of the audience.

As the men’s troupe exited, another musical ensemble entered with two female dancers. This group included a ney, and three different drums. One of the drums was played with the hands but the other two were different than any other drums I’ve seen. They were played on both ends at alternating times, with two different kinds of sticks. The four musicians played while the women walked around the audience dancing. They grabbed students and got them dancing; first in a small circle and eventually in a long conga line around the entire central part of the campsite. The audience participation was the same as the night before, when we went to the folk show and horse fantasia. The women danced throughout the group while the male musicians followed behind.

Although I had experienced similar musical performances through video clips before arriving in Morocco, I do not think I would have been able to understand the attitude the performance creates in person. The look of happiness on the women’s faces as the led a train of young Americans around in the flickering fire light or the serene but serious expression of the men as they chanted deep into the night. Watching a documentary, reading other’s research, or listening to recordings would not do this experience justice. There is no way to learn what it’s like to fall asleep listening to a drum séance from reading a book. Being in the field and having the opportunity to get to know the people you are studying on a personal level is the only way to have the complete experience. Facts and figures are the same in life as they are on paper, but culture cannot be fully transmitted over distances through various forms of technology. Culture needs to be experienced firsthand, from those who live it daily. Culture is shared, learned, patterned, adaptive, and symbolic.



As the night went on, some annoying kids decided to get drunk and cause a ruckus. We had settled into our tents and fallen asleep after gazing up at the billions and billions of stars that reminded me of The Lion King when the starts form Mufasa and he talks to Simba. Around 1:30 am we heard a commotion from the tent next door. A guy and a girl had run up the top of the (handmade) tent and slid down the other side. I sat up as they were running up the top of my tent and they stepped on my head. I ran outside to yell at them as they jumped off the other side. As they ran past me I said, “You stepped on my head.” The boy’s response was, “You’re lucky that’s all I stepped on.” I don’t know this boy and he doesn’t know me so there is no reason for him to say that. Yelling amongst the drunken people continued till 3 am when Pearson finally intervened. I was so angry and embarrassed by the vulgar things that these people were saying that it was really hard to sleep.


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I have never seen anything more amazing (although I probably said this in another post) than the stars in the middle of the Sahara. I really expected Mufasa to start lecturing me on my purpose in life.


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I don’t think I have to explain what my minus for today was.

Day 55- Casablanca to Marrakech

Early this morning 198 students gathered in the fifth deck dining hall to prepare for our camel trek into the Sahara desert. I was slightly grumpy because 1) there are way too many people on this trip and 2) there were too many clouds to see the sun rise this morning. The trip leader Michael Pearson divided us into 2 groups and passed out our passports. Jon and Janae ended up in the other group but I knew Jay Roberts in my group. Since there are so many of us we have to stay in two hotels in Marrakech. Our group loaded into 16 mini buses (about 15 people per bus) with our 4 guides (2 of which actually spoke English). The drive from Casablanca to Marrakech was approximately three hours. The scenery was surprisingly like the Texas country side. It was relatively flat and since it is summer, mostly brown. Our caravan stopped a few times along the way but our bus mostly slept. Matt Place actually slept on the floor of the aisle.


We arrived in Marrakech at the main square/plaza/bazaar around three o’clock and took over a whole restaurant for lunch. My first experience with Moroccan food was interesting. The first course was an assortment of veggies served with bread. We had potatoes, carrots, beets, eggplant, and peppers. The second course was chicken with some sort of yummy spices. Dessert was a variety of cookies and very thinly sliced oranges topped with cinnamon and some sort of crushed nuts. The oranges were fantastic and I highly recommend looking up a recipe.


We had some free time to explore the square before going to our hotel. The square was like a scene from a movie. There were snake charmers, monkeys, ladies doing henna, and carts selling food all around. Music filled the air as did all sorts of smells, good and bad. Jay and I browsed the shops for a bit but didn’t buy anything. He got a snake thrown around his neck by a local man and had to pay to take a photo and get it off. There was a man playing with a cobra and a man who got a funny looking snake to bite him on the nipple.


After this lovely cultural experience, we headed to Hotel Oudaya to check in and put our bags down. Kate and I decided to share a room so we cleaned up and got ready for our evening activities. We went by bus to Chez Ali for a folk show and horse fantasia, whatever that means. As we walked down the promenade around the arena, we passed several groups of performers, each playing a different tune. All around the complex there were rooms full of tables set for dinner. We were ushered into various rooms to await our meal. I found Jon (a little tipsy) and sat with him, Catherine (ex DASH) Kira, Euphae (sp?), Galla, Chen and Huong. Chen, Euphae, and Huong are from China and Galla studies in Mongolia. Huong and Chen are in ethnomusicology so we talked about how much we like Dr. Jones and his class. The performers walked from room to room, giving us a little preview of their music. I was really tempted to join in the dancing.


Dinner was similar to lunch but involved some couscous. Dessert was delicious fresh fruit: peaches, plums, and oranges. The folk show started after dinner and took place in the arena. There was a camel with a little house on top that you could go on for a ride around the arena. The main group of horseback riders galloped across the dirt in a straight line, back and forth with rifles in their hands. There were a handful of riders who did tricks like flipping off, running alongside the horse, and jumping back on. There was also some belly dancing by a lady on a platform built over a car that drove around the arena. The finale was a bunch of fireworks while the musicians from earlier played a song fit for movie credits. I fell asleep almost instantly when I got back to the hotel after such an adventure packed day.


Days 50 to 54- At Sea

These five days at sea ended up being a whirlwind but a much needed break from running around a foreign country. The first two days were spent at sea, catching up on school work, writing papers, giving presentations, sunbathing and sleeping. Our third day was an off day and at first no one knew what to do with ourselves. We were all thinking, “What the heck do we do without classes?” Well, SAS took this opportunity to ask us for more money! Day 3 at sea was the Shipboard Auction that featured artwork, clothing, vacations, food, dinner dates, stargazing, packing assistance, powerpoint tips, etc. etc. etc. I was very amazed and impressed by the items students and faculty came up with to donate. There was a silent auction going on for most of the day and the live auction after dinner. Most of the trips were auctioned in the live auction and went for a lot of money. A trip to Pakistan for a week with a private cook, driver etc. went for approximately $2,000. Sounds like a great deal compared to planning the trip on your own but still a big chunk of money after going on this voyage. I was shocked by some of the money people were spending. Up until this point I hadn’t really noticed how many of the students on this trip are really really privileged but tonight really brought out how spoiled some people are.


Day 4 and 5 at sea were class days again, we have been working on a class project for my education class. A lot of work and research and group meetings but still better than writing another 5 page paper. One night we watched the movie Casablanca in the union as a group. I had never seen it before and I thought it was great. I am a little bit sad I won’t have time to visit Rick’s Café when we finally arrive in Casablanca but I will try to make it there one day. Even though I know that Sam won’t be there.


Day 5 was spent bunkering in Gibraltar again. It was kind of a long day and we speculated as to where Gibraltar really is. If anyone knows who it belongs to or any other information please share! The last night after pre-port we gathered in the Golden Palace for Jon’s haircut. He has beautiful brown hair a la Zac Effron but decided it needed to go before our camel trek in Morocco. Erik grabbed the clippers and I grabbed the scissors and we went to town. An hour later Jon had a fantastic mohawk and looked like quite the BA.  There was a pile of hair on the ground that looked like a dead cat but he looked great. The crew kept passing us as we worked through the mass of hair on his head and giving us crazy looks. I am very proud of the result and can’t wait to see his parents’ reaction when they see him in Virginia!


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I went on a bridge tour today and was very surprised to see that only two people work there at a time. We learned about all the gadgets on the “dashboard”, the computers, the flags, and all that jazz. We each got to take a picture in the “captain’s” chair, looking with binoculars out at the wide open ocean in front of us. It was really neat and interesting but I don’t think I could ever work there. Too many flashing lights, buttons, phones ringing, and fire alarms going off for me.


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Erik tried to shave my arm hair with the clippers; he might have gotten a patch.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Day 49- Sharm El Sheikh to Cairo to Alexandria, Egypt

This morning was a repeat of the other day with a 5 am wake up call for our 8 am flight back to Cairo. We ran into a little trouble in the airport because apparently we didn’t have the right visas/stamps in our passports. We had port stamps, not general Egypt travel stamps. Good thing Elias was there, otherwise we would have never made it back. After some smooth talking (I bet it helped he had a gun) we boarded the plane for the hour long flight. Once back in Cairo, we headed to the National Archeological Museum, also known as the Egyptian Museum. We saw King Tut’s mask and various treasures from his tomb. His body/mummy is still in his tomb, but we saw a bunch of other mummies. There were human mummies of all sizes, cats, dogs, birds, snakes and even a crocodile that was at least 16 feet long (according to my feet)!


We had a speedy lunch at the same hotel by the pyramids then said so long to them as we started the three hour drive to Alexandria. We arrived fifteen minutes early to beat the group of 200 to make it on the ship without standing in the blazing sun for too long.


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I did not get detained in the Sharm El Sheikh airport or get taken to jail.


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The museum was not air conditioned and all the mummies started to look the same after a while.


Day 48- Sharm El Sheikh

This morning I tried falafel for breakfast…not really what I think of as a morning food but it was ok. We jumped in mini buses at 8 am to head to Ras Mohamad National Park to go snorkeling. Once we arrived to the park our first stop was the camp grounds, where there is no camping allowed. Strange, I know, but it has something to do with protecting the environment which is totally understandable after seeing the pollution in Cairo. Next we saw the gate that was built to commemorate the agreement between Egypt and Israel about who Sinai belongs to. One on side it saws God in Arabic and on the other it says it in Hebrew. It is made totally out of cement. Then we saw some mangroves and some funny looking crabs. They had one huge pincher and one little one. Next was the magic lake. We all changed into our bathing suits and stood in a line at the water’s edge. With Sayid’s guidance we joined hands, took 10 steps into the lake, shouted “habibi” (or something like that, it means darling in Arabic) three times and jumped into the water. Supposedly this ritual will make you younger. Grant and Matt Stamper (professor Stamper’s sons) were worried about being any younger so they snuck in an eleventh step to become older. So far no one shows signs of aging in either direction.


We finally made it to our snorkeling spot and had the equipment distributed. I ended up without flippers but didn’t think that would be a big deal. I just had to learn how to use the snorkel because my breathing is not that coordinated usually. I have been snorkeling a few times but this was the best spot I’ve ever been too. I’ve never been in such crystal clear water, seen so many fish, or coral. We swam for about an hour looking at damsel fish, napoleon fish, and trigger fish maybe? I can’t remember all the names but we saw at least 7 different kinds of fish in schools and then a bunch of other fish on their own. Sarah got burned by fire coral on her butt so we headed back to the hotel to take care of her wound. I spent the afternoon laying around and watching movies, taking it easy so my cold wouldn’t fully develop. After dinner Marissa and I did some shopping in the old market. More souvenirs!


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I’m glad Marissa and I went all the way to the old market because until tonight I felt like I hadn’t seen anything except for our hotel. Now I can recommend places to people who might visit Sharm El Sheikh.


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Apparently I had a wedgie while we were snorkeling because my butt got sunburned.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 47- Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

Another early wake up at 6 am put us on the bus at 7 am for the three hour bus ride to St. Catherine City to visit the St. Catherine monastery. Not everyone chose to go with us today so the 13 who did slept on and off between Eman’s announcements. Eman is our guide for this trip. She said we could call her mom if it was easier for us. She told us this area is sacred because many prophets passed through here; Moses, Joseph, Jesus. At the monastery we saw the cathedral and the burning bush. The burning bush was not burning today, it only burns on Sundays. It was found by Moses who heard the voice of God telling him to go to the pharaoh of Egypt and ask him to believe in God. Moses, who had been rescued by the wife of the pharaoh way back when, did what God asked and then escaped from Egypt. He went to Sinai and married a daughter of Jethro who he met at the well, which is also at the monastery. This information is what Eman told us. What I learned in catholic school all those years was not really in line with her story. She left out the part where the Jews were being held captive by the pharaoh, the plagues, etc. etc. I think that may be due to the different perspectives between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Certain things are more important depending on who is telling the story. Anyway, Moses went up on Mount Sinai and got the ten commandments and found his people worshiping a golden calf and then broke the tablets and had to get new ones…I think most people know how it goes.


The monastery is a Greek Orthodox monastery whose patron saint in St. Catherine. St. Catherine lived during the fourth century and was from Alexandria. She was part of a rich, royal, pagan family. Her tutor was a monk who taught her about Christianity and encouraged her to convert. The emperor tried to get her to go back to the old religion because all who converted were killed. St. Catherine was tortured but the next day all her wounds healed so she was ordered to be beheaded. Rumor has it that milk flowed out of her wounds when she was beheaded but that’s about where I stopped listening to Eman.


We were fortunate enough to be shown the library thanks to some connections between the monks and our bodyguard (each tour group has one) Elias. We met Father Justinos who is the only monk here from the United States and only one of two who are not of direct Greek descent. He told us about all the books in the library which is in the process of being rebuilt so most of the books are being packed up. There are thousands of handwritten manuscripts which are written on skins and parchment. There are over 11 different languages in the manuscripts and books but most are in Greek.



After leaving the monastery we went to Dahab which is a few hours away to have lunch at the Hilton. Another buffet with Egyptian food that we are getting tired of, surprisingly. Once we returned to Naama Bay and the Marriott we rested by the pool before showering and having dinner. Most of us decided to go out to Soho Square which is a very popular tourist spot in Sharm El Sheikh. We took a cab there and found the Ice Bar that we had heard about. We bought tickets for 20 Euros (good thing I had some left over). This bar is supposedly one of 6 famous ones although we hadn’t heard of most of them. The ticket is good for warm clothing (as stinky parka with a hood and gloves), 30 minutes in the ice bar, and one free drink. They might as well say one free juice or soft drink because there was no alcohol in those drinks. It was a little awkward because we were the only people in the tiny little room that had ice sculptures of a fish and an eagle. There wasn’t a bar tender and the bottles at the bar were empty. They brought our drinks from the bar outside and the music seemed to be coming from one tiny speaker in the corner. All in all it was a good experience but it wasn’t as spectacular as we had hoped it would be.


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 I was called upon as the resident Catholic to tell the stories behind the sties we saw today. Ms. Betty and crew back in high school should be proud of me!


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God did not speak to me from within the burning bush today. I did, however, get followed by a small child for 15 minutes while he tried to sell me an egg made of stone.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Day 46- Cairo to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

I was up way before the sun was rising this morning. Also, before most people had left the club in our hotel. We saw them leaving around 6 am when our group was loading the bus to head to the airport. We each received a breakfast box from the hotel which contained 2 Danishes, 2 rolls, ham, cheese, jelly, honey, a muffin, and a piece of fruit. They know how to feed hungry college kids here. The ride to the airport was quick and we flew through security. (They don’t check for liquids or many weapons). The flight lasted less than an hour and before I knew it I was back in Asia. (Sinai is part of Asia although it is no longer part of Israel).


We checked in at the Marriott in Sharm El Sheikh in Naama Bay. Sharm means group of bays and there are 6, I believe, in Sharm el Sheikh. Naama means peace and is one of the most popular resort areas in Sinai. The Marriott here is a five star resort and we all walked into the lobby with our mouths wide open. It is beautiful and has a huge pool just 50 feet away from the Red Sea. We set our bags down to wait for us while we went on a jeep safari in the desert. Four jeeps (really Land Rovers) picked us up and took us about thirty minutes away to the desert where we off roaded in the sand around the mountains for a few hours. Our trip stopped occasionally to take in some amazing views of the vast desert and then half way through to ride camels. We took a 40 minute camel ride, led by some young children. It was much more comfortable the second time around, having the whole saddle to myself. It is pretty similar to riding a horse but the saddle is made of wood and has pretty sharp angles so you have to find that special position to stay balanced. The end of our jeep safari was a Bedouin camp where we lounged on pillows and rugs while we enjoyed homemade bread and tea. The bread was made thin and unleavened like a tortilla and served with goat cheese. The tea was hibiscus tea with more than enough sugar for my taste. As the sun was starting to set we laid in the breeze taking in the quietness of the desert.


Lunch was had at the hotel, a buffet with Egyptian inspired but Americanized dishes. I spent our downtime until dinner laying by the pool and occasionally napping. I wouldn’t have thought I was in Egypt looking around if it weren’t for the ladies swimming in full covering. There are burkas made out of swimsuit material so that even the most devout Muslim women can enjoy water activities. The lack of spoken English around me was also a clue that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. (Side note: I’ve never actually been to Kansas). Most of our group partook in happy hour at the hotel before dinner. We lounged outside by the beach where we were entertained by some belly dancing and sheesha. JJ and I were pulled up to join the belly dancer and we got a standing ovation. Not really, but I heard we weren’t bad at it.


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I have never been in a more relaxing and peaceful place as the Bedouin camp we visited today. It was obviously put up only for tourists but I think I could get used to their way of life. All I need is a life time supply of SPF 70 sunscreen.


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I fell asleep by the pool this afternoon…all by myself. I must have looked like such a loser!