Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Big Couscous

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Celebrating Rosh Hashannah with a Moroccan family and some American friends.

Touring Rabat: The Main Attractions

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This past weekend I finally got to play tourist in the city where I now reside, Rabat. When you live in a place and get into the routine of daily work and activities, you sometimes forget to discover what more it has to offer.  Well, the truth is that it’s pretty easy to see all of Rabat’s tourist attractions in a single day, so I really don’t know why I waited until I had a guest visit me to get to them. Anyways, we hit up the three main tourist areas: 1) Old Medina with market and Oudayas leading down to the sea. 2) Hassan Tower and Mausoleum, and 3) Chellah fortress. We also dined out in Agdal, a classier area. And, I owe a big thank you to my host family for their hospitality in treating my guest and me to a wonderful, traditional Moroccan tea and dinner Saturday that extended late into the night.

Hassan Tower

Me at Hassan Tower

Chellah

Me at Chellah

Fascinating Conference at the Jewish Museum in Casa

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Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating conference at the Jewish Museum in Casablanca, organized by an inspiring group of young Moroccans, all Muslims, I believe, who have come together to preserve Morocco’s Jewish heritage. Actually, the conference spanned a few days, but I only attended one afternoon session dealing with issues of mutual understanding and Moroccan responses to the Holocaust.

Speakers included Museum Director Dr. Simon Levy, who spoke about the meaning and challenge of preserving Moroccan Jewish heritage; Museum Curator Mrs. Zohr Rhihel, who discussed her experience as the foremost Muslim world expert on Hebrew and Jewish Culture; Mr. Forsan Hussein, Palestinian Muslim CEO of a Christian institution (YMCA) in a Jewish country (Israel), who shared his personal story of overcoming stereotypes and fostering intercultural understanding; Mrs. Suzanne Baazat, Vice President of the High Atlas Foundation and AmeriSource, who spoke about the exuberant reverence of rural Moroccans towards Jewish holy sites and the need to alleviate rural poverty to help these communities continue to care for these sites. Afterwards, Mr. Peter Geffen, co-sponsor of the event who led a group of American Jewish students to attend, moderated a discussion on Moroccan responses to the Holocaust. After a tour of the museum, led by Dr. Levy, the event concluded with a wonderful performance of traditional Sephardic and Moroccan Jewish music. U.S. Ambassador Samuel Kaplan had also spoke at the event, but in the morning before I arrived.

UPDATE (Nov. 11): For more information, please see:
-“Morocco’s Holocaust recognition rare in Islam: King’s stance reflects country’s history in Jewish-Muslim relations.”
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32147263/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/moroccos-holocaust-recognition-rare-islam/
-“History of the Jews in Morocco”
http://www.projetaladin.org/holocaust/en/muslims-and-jews/muslims-and-jews-in-history/history-of-the-jews-in-morocco.html

Speakers

Left to Right: Rhihel, Geffen, Hussein, student club President Mehdi B., and Baazat

Museum Director Mr. Simon Levy

Museum Director Dr. Simon Levy leading a tour of the collection

Musical performance

Performance of Ladino / Judeo-Arabic music

First Rotary meeting: Regional seminar in Casablanca

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Yesterday I attended my first Rotary meeting. It was a regional seminar in Casablanca at which leaders and members of many Rotary clubs from Rabat, Casa, Aggadir, and other nearby cities were present.  What a great introduction to the Moroccan Rotary clubs! I gave a brief presentation about myself in French. It was a bit difficult since I only found out about the meeting the night before and hadn’t prepared too much, but I was grateful for the opportunity, and I think my words were well understood, if not 100% grammatically correct. In addition, I established contact with a number of Rotarians, one of whom offered to take me to a orphonage to begin volunteering. The focus of the meeting was how to further develop Rotary in Morocco, and it was particularly interesting to find out about the new “New Generation” club in Rabat, targeted towards younger professionals, as well as a new club of “Anglophones” in Casa.  I was also fascinated to learn the statistics of Rotary in the district, which in addition to Morocco, includes Algeria, Mauretania, and Tunisia. As mentioned at the meeting, perhaps it could expand to Libya in the coming years! In attendance were the district governor as well as the governor of the Rotary Clubs of France.

Rotary meeting

District 9010 Governor Ahmed Mikou addressing Rotarians from diverse clubs at regional seminar in Casa.

Settling in… and Casablanca

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Wow, this week flew by fast. School has kept me busy – in a good way. I had a presentation and exam, and can say with certainty that my Arabic has already seen substantive improvements. For my presentation, I chose to speak about Rotary International, and I think it went quite well 🙂 I’ve also started studying a bit of the local dialect, Darija. It’s wonderful to be able to make use of what I learn in the classroom in conversations with people I meet. And I’m fascinated by how Darija mixes Arabic with several other languages, especially Berber and French.

My health has improved, though my digestive system hasn’t entirely returned to normality. And I’m still learning to adapt to the different way of life here. The school’s orientation handbook was spot on in warning: “Please be aware that the Western concept of spending money on non-essential items such as air conditioning or hot water heaters are against the traditional way of thinking in Morocco.” I’m just going to have to get used to the cold showers and hot rooms. I also have to start decreasing my energy consumption, given complaints from my host family about the bill. I’m fairly certain this is mainly due my extensive laptop use. (While my host parents seem to keep the TV running all the time, I don’t think they have a computer and are very careful about the lights.)

I’ve also done a bit of traveling. During the week, I went on a school trip to neighboring Sale, and I spent today in Casablanca with a couple friends. First, we lunched at the famous Rick’s Café, modeled after the café in the movie, “Casablanca,” and met the owner, Kathy. Then we wondered through the marketplace of the Medina, before making our way to the grand Hassan II Mosque.

Rick's Cafe, Kathy and dog

The owner Kathy on the terrace of her famous "Rick's Cafe" in Casablanca. The restaurant is modeled on the set of the movie "Casablanca."

Moroccan dress

Trying on the Moroccan garb I bought at the Casa marketplace today.

UPDATE (9/18): My host family just told me they do have hot water. They don’t use it now to save electricity, but as the weather is getting colder, they will show me how to turn on the water heater.