As we headed out of our hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, young hotel staffers near the door greeted us with wide smiles and folded palms. I’m sure it was required of them, but over time we found that their warmth and friendliness were very genuine. Buddhism’s call for kindness to others is part of Cambodia’s culture and there was a gentleness to many of the people we met during our time in Cambodia.
Outside, several tuk-tuks offered us rides. We declined, preferring to walk the short distance to the tourist market area, where there were hundreds of shops all selling basically the same stuff: cheap jewelry, clothing, and leather goods. High-quality, gray-market Nike and Under Armor shirts can be had for $5 if you’re willing to negotiate. Continue reading “Buddha Day”
It was so windy in Essaouira the evening we arrived that my hat flew off of my head as I exited the car. That much wind was exceptional, but it isn’t called the Windy City for nothing; this coastal town and its tradewinds are world-reknowned for kitesurfing. The typical weather during our visit was cool and overcast in the morning, even foggy sometimes, while afternoons were sunny and breezy. It was much more like San Francisco than hot Casablanca, which is 200 miles north. Continue reading “Jimi Hendrix, Where Art Thou?”
We went to bed around midnight in Chefchaouen, only to be awakened at 1:30 AM by the loud, rhythmic banging of a drum. It started in the distance and slowly got closer. I looked out the window just in time to see a young man jogging by, banging his drum on the run. A woman across the street was looking out her window also, smiling and watching the drummer as he disappeared and his drum faded into the distance. Finally, the 1-man parade ended as I heard the final drumbeat.
But about 15 minutes later, just as I was falling back to sleep, the muezzin in the mosque next to our hotel called out for several minutes. Loudly. After that, we didn’t awaken until around 8 AM, despite an alleged call to daybreak prayer. Continue reading “Ramadan”
“Je ne comprends pas les plans, et je ne comprends pas beaucoup de français, so, est-que vous parlez anglais?” I actually figured out how to say that while walking to the Maroc Telecom store, without using a translation app! And don’t go commenting that the word “so” is English. I don’t care.
The last time I was in Tangier, I spent the entire week walking around and exploring. Now we were back for just 2 days, and today was Yvonne’s last day of work. The next day we were leaving not just for Chefchaouen, but also for the next phase of our trip to Morocco: Full-on vacation. So today, I took it easy. No exploring, no writing. But first, I had to learn how to renew our cell phone service; even Google couldn’t explain it to me. Continue reading “The Best Fish Restaurant Ever”
We reached Chefchaouen around noon, to begin a whirlwind 24-hour visit of the “blue city” on the eve of Ramadan. You enter by crossing over a small waterfall where women and men wash clothes with buckets and washboards. There are many myths throughout Morocco about why Chefchaouen is painted blue and white. The reality is that at one point in its medieval past, the Jews of the area were ordered to relocate within the walls of Chefchaouen for their own protection. They decorated their new town with colors that are still used worldwide in traditional Jewish décor. The Jews are gone (to Israel, mostly) but the tradition remains. Continue reading “The Blue City”
In my last post, I mentioned how Islam is woven into the fabric of life here. Back in the U.S., some people view the call to prayer 5 times per day as a ridiculously stringent requirement. But if you were a devout practitioner of any religion, how great would it be if 5 times a day, you were reminded to think of God for a few minutes? Here’s what I’ve seen in the cities of Morocco so far: When the calls of the imams go out (and many mosques have them so you hear it everywhere), those who want to pray for a few minutes go somewhere private to do so. Those who don’t work might take time go to the mosque if they want. But many people ignore the call; you can’t always just drop everything to pray at a moment’s notice.
On Fridays more people go to the mosque, or at least take time to pray. Yvonne was teaching a workshop last Friday and 2 women in the group went missing after lunch. They had gone to pray and everyone had to wait for 30 minutes until they got back, which was completely acceptable to the other participants.
We have now been in Casablanca for 6 days and I have pretty much seen everything a tourist would be interested in seeing. This city reminds me of of growing up in Manhattan, when New York was still dirty, polluted and full of dangerous traffic. Continue reading “Here’s Looking At You, Kid”
We’ve been in Rabat for 2 days now, still adjusting to the 8-hour time difference. Yesterday, we had a pleasant all-day walking adventure.
One thing I’ve been struck by is the contrasts in the ways women dress. One might see a woman in a kaftan and hijab, walking by another woman in torn jeans and long, flowing hair. Many women wear a hijab with western clothes. And we see them socializing together, not separately. I find myself wondering if there is a deeper cultural significance than just how strictly they practice Islam. Or maybe I just have preconceptions to let go of. Yvonne talks about culture being like an iceberg: What is visible is a very small part of it. Continue reading “First Impressions”