lunes, 14 de octubre de 2013

The real work starts...on a beach, in Southern Spain

It’s finally over. The intensive “review” month seems like a distant memory now, and with that means a new timetable which, consisting of three half days, it really doesn’t help settle my mind that this is what is being addressed as ‘intensive’ (fingers crossed I don’t get a JCB pouring work onto me tomorrow). Along with having finished the review month, it also means that we no longer have Moroccan Arabic classes, and whilst that’s all well and good, the only way we’d be seeing off that module is by taking a final exam. The shock horror in having an exam that counts towards the final mark for the year this early on was enough to get to the best of us, but thankfully the majority of said test was reading comprehension. The elation when leaving that room wasn’t quite the “schools out for summer” type which after years of taking external exams has become almost a right of way as soon as you leave the humdrum atmosphere of an exam.

The “special relationship” (get your political thinking caps on for that one) was once again at the foray over the weekend, since we had our fellow Trans-Atlantic cousins over for dinner, who we’d met whilst traversing the fringes of the Moroccan desert. Although no politics were mentioned, things such as the sheer crudity of British English were discussed at length, and made me realise how awful my language had gotten since I graced the doors of Leeds Uni last year. It was nice to actually sit and chat with them like civilised human beings instead of simply going for the old antiquated arguments about the Empire and other typically annoying ‘yarth’ as one of my housemates calls it.

With Eid drawing closer (in a matter of days in fact), the sheer thrill of not having to study for a week is enough to make even the most studious pupil happy. It has to be said as well, you can certainly feel the sense of celebration in the Medina. Unfortunately we had to decline celebrating the day at our neighbours’ house due to travelling, but the streets have been increasingly busy in the past few days, with not only humans, but sheep, cows, all being taken to their respective homes in time for the big day. The worst case of congestion as it were appears to be in the local Carrefour, where queues are getting out of hand as people ‘Hail Mary’ various groceries from one end of the supermarket to the other in order to keep their space in the long, winding queues which are reminiscent of the pre-Christmas rush back home.

Finally, everything is planned for our big crossing back into Europe for the week via the Spanish town of Tarifa, where I await to indulge in some of Spain’s finest gastronomical offerings, since the sights of tagines and mint tea is starting to grate a little, despite the fact that if someone offered me either I’d still happily accept them, but they come nowhere near some churros con chocolate or boquerones fritos. Oh and there's a beach, where I intend to sleep. A LOT.

sábado, 5 de octubre de 2013

The One Month Wall

Today I'm subject to that strange feeling all year abroad students get, the “one month wall”. Having survived the past four weeks is quite a big milestone, especially for someone like me who jumped (or more realistically, skydived) from the no inhibitions partying of first year into a more study-intensive second year, without actually feeling like a second year student, more like an in-transit Fresher who hasn't quite made it yet.

A lot of things have happened over the past month, from sorting out our housing, trying to become fluent in the local dialect, or travelling to the desert. And studying A LOT. University here has slowly started to take its toll thanks to the abnormally early starts on a Thursday and Friday, having to wake up even before the cockerel-shaped alarm clocks that are in the Medina here sound for the crack of dawn. Thankfully, we get a new timetable next week for the rest of the year, which we're hoping is a lot less strenuous.

Another event which is fast approaching is the Islamic New Year which happens in about a fortnight, and consequentially means HOLIDAYS. One huge advantage of following typical university semester dates whilst in a country observing Islamic traditions is that you get an extra little holiday that wouldn't exist in the normal academic calendar. We've all worked out that there's practically a reading week's worth of days off, so travelling is the priority for when the times comes. The majority of the students have decided to head to the Catalonian dream city of Barcelona, whilst others have gone with a return to Leeds, which leads onto the next topic of being “university sick”.

The pictures bombarding social media sites from the past two weeks of the drunken antics of the student masses, or put more basically, the sheer end of summer carnage on campus is enough to make anyone miss university life, especially when you’re not even in the same country, making even the slightest attempt to get back there for one night impossible. But in typical “the glass is always half full” mentality that has to be taken in this situation, there is always something to do here to get one up over all those people who are suffering from “Fresher’s flu” including the weather which is still in the 30’s, and the ridiculously inexpensive train tickets that take you from one side of the country to another, making Morocco a travellers paradise.

A final thing to cover is last week’s desert trip. Despite being cooped up in a minibus with other students for seven hours (and in the process driving them absolutely insane) the weekend definitely felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity. Hopes were almost dashed when we were told there was a sandstorm, but no one backed out and went on with the first part of our journey, a camel trek. It took three hours to get to the oasis against the constant battering from flying sand, and by the time we arrived, I couldn't feel the lower half of my body, but the night was incredible. There was traditional Berber dancing, a dinner, then we spent the rest of the night stargazing, which is much better than the many attempts tried back at home since each star that we could physically see was clear, uninterrupted by the light pollution that’s graced modern day society. Something which topped even that was the sunrise in the morning, which I happily woke up at five o’ clock for. All in all, it was easily one of the best trips that I've taken in my time as a student. Just to leave you with something, here are a few pictures taken by myself and my house mate of said sunrise.

domingo, 22 de septiembre de 2013

واحد جوج تلاتـه... learning dialects

The first week of lessons is finally over, and thankfully it wasn't as strenuous as it was last year, since the dreaded Fresher's Flu is non-existent, albeit being replaced by the unholy "Medina water flu" as our house has named it, and experienced over the course of the week as a result of (as the name suggests) drinking the water in our area, which isn't recommended for people on a short stay in Fez.

Since we've officially started university, the evenings have been consumed by the number one favourite pastime of students, doing homework. A consequence of this was having that worrying epiphany that this year is essential if we're aiming for that First Class in final year. Luckily, surpassing the stage of being a fresher means that the work is actually getting done for the moment; undoubtedly there will be a stage later this year where I'll be found procrastinating, or attempting to do the most menial and pointless tasks such as rearranging my room, or absolutely nothing, in an effort to avoid the ski run of sheets that will have formed from my desk to the front door.

The one major discrepancy that I (and most probably the whole group) currently have is with the colloquial dialect here. It's wonderful to learn, and the locals are elated and equally startled when they see a foreigner learning what is known to be a very hard version of the Arabic language. There have been times where I've mentally curled up in a ball and started rocking back and forth since the word I might have know in Modern Standard is completely different in Moroccan. Despite this the teachers are very patient with us which is a great help, since half the class felt illiterate when they walked into lessons this week.

Apart from being educated, myself and many of the Leeds students have been slowly integrating ourselves into the Medina life, with neighbours and shopkeepers starting to recognise our faces, even having our preferred coffee stall (which provides a better cup of Joe than a certain international coffee chain). The kind attitude of the locals still hasn't waned, and I doubt it will at any point. There's no hiding that we have all enjoyed the feeling of "local celebrity" if you will, or using a standard phrase from university, feeling like a BNOC (Big Name On Campus for non-Leeds folk).

On a final note- I think my blood sugar level has definitely increased due to my continued intake of mint tea which is that sweet you could pass it as liquid sugar. I can't foresee curbing the addiction though.

martes, 10 de septiembre de 2013

First steps in Fez- The view from Dar Xariffa, the "Dishonest House"

 I’m currently writing this looking out on the old Medina from the balcony of my Dar. If that doesn’t describe the elation I’m feeling with being on my year abroad, then I’ll put in in layman’s terms for you, ITS AWESOME! I’m still not used to the scorching hot weather, and with having stupidly packed for the winter without thinking of the continued summer here, a trip to the local shopping centre to get some shorts was much needed, which was accompanied with a trip to what appears to be the only remnant of Western culture out here, a Carrefour.

The first few days of being here are all a bit of a blur at the moment, since sorting out housing for the first time and being in a foreign country was definitely a lot more difficult than the experience that many of my counterparts back home went through to secure a half decent house, especially since myself and some other students were looking for a home within the constantly buzzing and labyrinthine old town, also known as Fez el-Bali, instead of copping out and going for an apartment in the not-so-new Ville Nouvelle; and despite the chaos of house hunting whilst dodging the onslaught of donkeys, walking tours and various stalls thrown at us in the narrow streets of the Medina, everything and everyone seemed to slow down a little when we returned to the Funky Fez, which is one hell of a hostel, not only are the people in there amazing, but the price is ludicrously low, to the point where I felt bad for paying next to nothing to get treated so well!

By this point in this entry, you’re probably wondering where the madness of student life that exists in good old Blighty is about to appear, but you’ll be surprised to know that there is none, and with that I can see that student life here is going to be very calm; worlds away from the apocalyptic “party like its ‘99” style nights out on the neon (and vodka) soaked high street of Leeds. This assumption can simply be made based on the fact that the majority of the group here have lived off Moroccan mint tea, maxing out on some days at 5 cups of the stuff, leaving people relatively flat out relaxed and wanted to do nothing but socialise, the alcohol-free way, which is a nice change since, for the first time in a long time I’m not the minority living in sobriety.
The other part you must also be undoubtedly questioning is most likely to be the lack of studying that appears to be going on. Yes it’s all well and good that I’m abroad and taking countless photos like any other tourist, but why haven’t I picked up a pen and paper yet you ask? Simply put, my course hasn’t started yet, and to put everyone (mainly my parents) at ease, I have been to ALIF (the place where I’m studying) a number of times for everything from sorting out housing, welcome talks and collecting my course books for this year. The school is a much better setting for learning than the settings of Michael Sadler or Hilary Place, which many a Leeds student who studies Languages will be familiar with.

Finally, my first experience of the Moroccan people. To everyone that has mentioned the seedy mind-set of North Africans who apparently “want to exploit you for easy money”, then unfortunately they are sadly mistaken. The Moroccans are wonderful people, and yes there is the occasional hassling from someone offering drugs or a street kid begging for money (at one point I had my arm kissed), but they prove to be relatively few, with a lot of people wanting to help you, and not for profit, which is a great thing to see.

Oh, and the house is called Dar Xariffa, which we've translated as the "dishonest house" and assumed its called that since the door is quite small, yet the house that lies behind it is enormous given the path in which it's located.

miércoles, 4 de septiembre de 2013

It's all coming together, I hope...

OH MY GOD. Those three words have constantly been on repeat in my mind for about a week now, and with only a few hours to go before I need to make the gargantuan trip from Liverpool to Stansted before my flight to Fez tomorrow, the mental state of taking everything but the kitchen sink is in full effect. The frantic running around the house making sure I've got my books from last year (which were nestled under a tonne of dust from all that "work" I did during the summer) is hardly ideal, but then again it wouldn't be me if I wasn't packing my bag with such little time to spare, yet trying to fit all of my life into one bag as if I'm permanently moving to the Maghreb.

Despite all the apocalyptic chaos that I've described my life in, I can reassure you that it's just exaggeration from the sheer excitement/confusion that I won't be coming back to the lovely shores of Britain for at least three months, and won't be seeing my beloved Leeds University for the whole year abroad period. It also doesn't help that a multitude of people who have been fortunate enough to go to Morocco keep feeding me scare stories of their mothers, sisters or any other female companion being offered up to a shopkeeper in exchange for an army of camels, or the purveyor of the all-you-can-eat tagine restaurant located down some ill-lit alley of Marrakesh who's food hasn't sat well with what seems the entire contingent of people that have graced the shores of Morocco.

Although it's not all bad. The fact that my flights are of an extremely reasonable price means that I've had every single friend, acquaintance and their aunt tell me that they're going to come and visit, which in one way is a good thing as I'll have some form of support hopefully, but on the other hand I'm sure the authorities will have their suspicions if they see a group in excess of about 25 people charging through the Medina looking for me and my house (which still hasn't been sorted out).

So as a little bit of advice for students going on their year abroad now and in the future, just remember this is your personal experience. It's nice that people have been to the country you're going to be living in for a year, but remember they've only been on holiday, so there's a lack of full immersion there, they won't be in the country with the same mindset as us year abroad students, since we're "in it for the long haul" so to speak, and have to adapt to the environment we're in.

I'm sure it has to be said, if not on my behalf then at least for all year abroad students leaving or those that have already left, the level of enthusiasm that I'm facing right now is unbelievable, and I am looking forward to it all now!

sábado, 3 de agosto de 2013

Ramadan in the Arab lands

The usual routine of fasting for a whole month is nearing its end, which always gives time for reflection.

Ramadan every year is a weird one, as often enough I seem to spend half of it holidaying somewhere (this year being Benicàssim), meaning I spend the rest of the year making up for lost days, or so I attempt to.

On top of that, going from fasting 20 hours a day to almost half that has kept me sort of sane, albeit for the insane amounts of food being consumed at Iftar (Sunset), which here in Dubai is like feeding time at the zoo, or climbing an Everst sized mountain of rice amongst other Arabian gastronomical wonders, leaving you feeling like your waistline has expanded to the measures of said mountain.

Despite the supposed "madness" many people think you're being subjected to simply because you don't eat or drink for a while,  it's definitely the calmest time of year for a lot of people. Thank God it didn't fall in the academic year,  I couldn't imagine having to fast whilst being exposed to the endless party season in Leeds.


miércoles, 19 de junio de 2013

The Roadtrip

So, at the time which I'm writing this, I'm about to venture off on what the title suggests, a roadtrip (suggestive titles are my forte obviously).
Sharing what is essentially a capsule on wheels for several hours tests friendships to extreme limits,  whether it be the varying music tastes, with arguments over listening to Drake or the latest Scooter song (God forbid), the war that ensues over the opened packet of crisps which imploded during said process and left the driver partially blinded, or the classic "shotgun" rule which clearly segregates one member to the cold, harsh environment of the back of the car, unable to listen to the conversation happening in first class ( AKA the front of the car) and mostly loathe their own being until reaching the set out destination.
Despite all the trouble that are presented from breathing the same air as people for a few hours,  it's an experience that should be had, because everyone loves to pretend they're as angry as the driver and shout at the old woman doing 25mph in the slow lane!