German Reflects on Gibraltar, Morrocan Visits

Jake German ’11 – My program in Granada periodically schedules weekend visits to different cities of cultural interest in Andalusia like Cordoba, Sevilla, and Cadiz. However, the main trip of the semester is the week-long excursion to Morocco by way of Gibraltar.

Gibraltar is still part of the United Kingdom, using both the Queen’s English and the British Pound Sterling. It is a fascinating city, built right up out of the water. It has been part of the United Kingdom since 1713, and it is a strategic point of defense for the British Armed Forces. When we arrived in Gibraltar, the Royal Air Force was doing training exercises all over the Rock during the day. Chinooks and F-14’s were executing aerial maneuvers above the Straight of Gibraltar. We took a bus tour over the territory and saw the tunnels remaining from World War II that the British used to house 39,000 troops – including a full-working hospital – all underground. We then drove to a mosque that overlooks the gap between Gibraltar and North Africa. The mosque was founded by the King of Saudi Arabia. The actual mountain itself is guarded by tribes of wild monkeys. Monkeys are nice creatures until one of them gets angry, and then they all get angry. At the top of the Rock on the clear day that we were there, I could see the coast of Morocco in front of me and all of Spain behind me. What a breathtaking view! Gibraltar is definitely a unique blend of Arabic, Spanish, and English cultures.
We traveled by ferry across the straight and landed in Tangier, Morocco. Morocco was formerly a French colony; therefore, French and dialects of Arabic are the predominant languages. Our first stop in Morocco was the Center for Women which educates them to be seamstresses. The goal of the center is to provide training to make women more economically independent. Morocco is an absolute monarchy; however, my experience there indicated a very progressive Islamic system focused more on women’s rights.
After Tangier, we drove through the countryside to Rabat, the capital and home of King Muhammad VI. We stopped once to ride some camels which were awesome. My program arranged for us to stay with host families for two nights. That was a very interesting experience. Many travelers see Rabat and visit its great landmarks, but very few actually get to experience what it is like to stay with a Moroccan family and eat traditional Moroccan dishes. We visited the sights around Rabat – including the old Roman ruins, Yacoub Al-Mansour (unfinished 12th century mosque), and the Royal tomb of the Muhammad family. The last night we also visited a traditional Arab bath house. It was very intense heat, but my skin never felt cleaner.
Our next visit was to Chechaouene, a city located on the eastern side of Morocco. On the way, we stopped in the Rif Mountains to talk with a rural family to see what life is like outside of the big cities. The conversation we had with this family was one of the most interesting aspects of the visit to Morocco. In Chechaouene there is considerable Spanish influence, and so we were able to speak Spanish again. That night we had a very traditional Moroccan dish called chicken Tajin; it is eaten by dipping bread into the dish with your hands. There were no eating utensils! It is a very sweet dish that contains dates and raisins.
Morocco was a great experience and a true highlight of my study abroad so far. It was my first visit to an Islamic nation and also my first to Africa. This visit has reinforced many of the concepts that I have studied in both my art and architecture class and my Spanish history class in Granada. The Islamic presence in Spain lasted nearly eight centuries, and certainly the Moorish influence is still seen in architecture, language, foods, and many other customs. Moreover, I sense a more openness in my thinking about other cultures and other faiths.

Avtgis ’11 Swirling in Morrocan Culture

Alex Avtgis ’11 – While most of the globalized Western world employs modernization in order to boast of their pluralist hybridities (cultural, social, or otherwise), Morocco can proudly claim the latter without needing recourse to the former; a dynamic cornucopia of Arabic and Moorish influences, Berber native ancestry, and communities originating from several Sub-Saharan African nations traditionally subsist under the royal name of the state, without ever acknowledging the multiple foreign and European influences – be they French, Spanish, Japanese, or American – which also intertwine in Morocco’s present day.

Yes, fresh and highly modern influences do exist already. Cell phones are found in every pocket, be it the pockets of rural jellabas (a Moroccan tunic) or urban designer jeans. Televisions talk constantly, and the internet informs homes across the country. You can locate the centers novelle (new) in every major city (coastal or inland). Some even boast of large corporate Megamalls. In certain parts of Rabat, such as the trendy Agdal, you’d think you had lost yourself somewhere along the way in Chicago or Indianapolis.

And you’d also think that would surprise me, as a Westerner coming for his first time to an African country. But that’s not what I’ve noticed the most.

I live in the capital city of Morocco, Rabat, and arguably the most representative of the entire country. Characteristically, it’s not overly sensational like Marrakech, exorbitantly touristy like Tangier, highly relaxed like Essaouira, surprisingly rural like Boujaad, or fanatically bustling like Casablanca. It combines all of these spices into a nice complex blend, which I breathe in (deep!) every beautiful morning from the leisure and comfort of a second-story bedroom window.

What I have found most astonishing about this charming capital is its constancy in revolving around a romanticized Medina khdeema (old city). Even after hundreds of years, the city’s pulse directly stems from those ancient, cement structures which inhabit the three square miles encased by red stone brick.

Though the city has expanded for miles southward over a short decade or so – through which it can now boast one of the best and prestigious universities on the African continent – most of the life and activity occurs in this conservative, coastal center. All energy found in the Villa Novelle centralizes right outside of the old medina’s busiest hub; where the dusty Avenue Mohammed V intersects the equally worn Avenue Hassan II marks the location, on average, of the most foot, taxi and motorbike traffic found in the entire city.

See, when this intersection dies out, there won’t be a soul wandering the newer French city. What you could find is the chatter of elderly patriarchs (always accompanied by the hurried scurries of younger relatives bearing cups of tea on metal trays), female conversation floating from windows and doorways, the smell of roasting onion and beef rising from street vendors, the calls and scrapple of animated alley soccer games – all of which are screened only for kdema’s citizens.

At times, life inside of it is like life in the Wabash fraternity. There are certain walls which simultaneously bind and liberate individuals, both foster and inhibit growths, and all the while provide concrete boundaries which forge and force relationships to occur.

In short, everybody knows everybody. A shocking story reveals this best – when I was jumped during the first few days, and had both a copy of my passport and an IPOD stolen, it was the medina which came to my aide; I credit the networking of its inhabitants. Immediately following the incident, my host brother rallied the entire police force in a five mile radius by walking from post to post and talking to ‘friends’. While the ensuing search revealed nothing, the situation was resolved hours later, when a fruit vendor, who was also my brother’s friend, informed him of the thief’s home.

When my brother returned triumphantly with my passport and IPOD, I knew it was only possible by the help of a friendly, small city. He confirmed it was. The laughs we now share over the topic confirm my love and deep gratitude I have for the opportunity to study abroad.

That’s only one of many such encounters I have with the kdema’s numerous characters. Everytime I pass the reggae vendor on ‘fish and vegetable’ street (which we’ve appropriately named after its two main foodstuffs), who sits all day listening to music, we smile at each other. It’s the same simple relationship I have with Karim, my friend at the hookah café down the street, who gives me a hug and calls me his brother.

And that doesn’t stop at the peer-level. I’ve been invited over to over for coffee, tea and discussion by a myriad of people who are old enough to be my grandparents.

Alas, I mustn’t keep you any longer. I’m being kicked out of the café in the new city – I should’ve known. Find attached some pictures of Rabat and others documenting some my journeys outside the beloved city.

To me, it isn’t funny I just used the adjective beloved. I guess I have developed a deep love for it; the same way that the freshman must be seeing our dearly beloved Alma Mater right about now, with the leaves falling golden and the warming promises against DePauw circulating.

Before I forget – I recently completed my search for a place to stay during my independent research period. As I turn back home, and navigate the kdema’s ancient streets tonight, I will probably grin as I put the key in my apartment off avenue Sidi-Fatah; I am both proud and happy to continue calling this ancient community my home for the next month.

In Photos: Top Right, Chefchaouen city view; at left, looking up a cathedral bell tower in Casablanca; second right, Casablanca’s Cathedral; lower left, Beni Mallel street vendors.

Tian Embracing French Culture Daily

Tian Tian ’11 – With the combination of an art major with French and economics minors, as well as a life-long passion for classical music, I simply cannot think of a better place than Paris to spend my study-abroad semester. This is a city that helps me digest what I have learned in the past, inspires me to learn a lot of new things at present, and shows me a lot of possibilities to better develop myself in my future.

After a whole months’ advanced French language immersion at a beautiful medieval town named “Tours” located in southwestern France, I returned to Paris and started my five classes at the Catholic Institute of Paris – an art history class ranging from the period Renaissance to Impressionism, a French history class and three advanced-level French language classes.
My favorite class is the art history class, partially because the location of our classroom is in the Louvre Museum! One out of every three class periods, the professor takes us to the Louvre Museum to observe and analyze in front of the real paintings or sculptures that we had studied and analyzed during classes. Moreover, I also get a great opportunity to do an externship call “Louvre Nocturne” during December. My responsibility during this externship is to present and interpret the paintings in French, English or Chinese language to the visitors of the Louvre Museum. I regard this as a great opportunity to sharpen my French language skill and my oral-presentation skill.
Another class called “The grand period of French history” is the most challenging history class I could ever expect. Other than the all-in-French nature of this class, the contents range from the 5th century to the 19th century of French history. During this class, I follow very carefully the three-hour-long lectures stuffed with key words and details given by the professor. Meanwhile, I am expected to burn some serious time myself in the library to fill in the details relevant to the topic mentioned during the classes because those will be in the exam! The most productive part is that I get to do comparative study on how differently the French history is interpreted in its own nation, in the US and in China. This really helps me to realize critical thinking and develop objectivity.
During my leisure times, I take full advantage of the richness of the top-notch museums in Paris. Since I hold an “art history student museum pass”, I get to visit all the art museums in Paris free. After appreciating the French impressionism for over ten years, I finally get to visit the “Musée de l’Orangerie”, in which there are Claude Monet’s famous “Waterlilies” oil paintings on eight huge canvases with a total length of ninety-one meters. Meanwhile, I have already developed my favorite activity in Paris which is to walk along the left bank of Seine River, watching the amazing views and culture relics the left bank bears. Walking along the bank that has influenced countless painters, musicians and writers, I understand better the core value and history of Paris.
During “All-Saint’s Day” on November 1st, the local Parisians’ custom is to visit Cemetery “Père-Lachaise” to respect the tombs of their favorite celebrities, including Balzac, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, Maria Callas etc. That day I visited my long-worshiped composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin’s tomb. It was definitely a spiritual experience, blessing me with considerable inspiration and confidence to my own upcoming Chopin solo concert in April 2010.
I am truly grateful to Wabash for offering me such an amazing study-abroad semester. It allows me to experience in person the culture and arts I have been studying and practicing. It goes without saying that this experience enhances my previous studies at Wabash as well as offers me a lot of new inspiration for my future development.