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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Day 2 -- Rabat

A special birthday cake made for me in Rabat

Today is my birthday and I would celebrate it in Rabat with a tour of the city, including some Roman ruins, lunch on the Atlantic seacoast with fish kabobs, an afternoon rest that I spent hooking up my wifi and blog, a drink in a local bar (yes, Muslims do consume alcohol here), a walk through the medina at night, and a marvelous dinner in what was once somebody's home and is now a beautiful restaurant that looks very Moroccan. We had a musician play throughout dinner on a traditional Moroccan stringed instrument. After our dinner of 4 or 5 courses, they brought out a birthday cake for me—with my name on it. I was quite touched. It is part of the wonderful hospitality of the country and our guide's pledge to make our stay in the country the finest possible experience. I ended the day with another bubble bath, which is a relaxing treat after a long day.

More to come.  It's late and it's been a long day and......zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

This morning before we left for our tour of the city, Yemani led us in a short lesson on Arabic. We went through words like hello, please, thank you, etc. so that we could participate with the culture, one of the tenets of Overseas Adventure Travel. It seemed all so simple until we actually tried to remember the words! At least when we hear them, we can recognize a few.  The hardest sound to make is that which comes from the throat and sounds like you are clearing it.

King's Palace
What is most outstanding about these buildings is the imagination it took to create their incredible beauty. Geometric design is one of the hallmarks of Arab art, which was adopted by the Muslim religion.  The detail of the design along with the arches, elaborate doors, magnificent walls and ceilings are a sight.

The gate is made of sandstone and ceramic tiles.  A verse from the Koran is inscribed on the top.

This was the only place that we were allowed to take photos of military or police.  The royal guards wear red, the soldiers wear green, and the police and gendarmes wear gray. 

The royal palace is where the King Mohammed VI receives honored guests and dignitaries. He ascended to the throne in 1999 after his father, King Hassan II (1961-99) reigned for 38 years.


 The Moroccan flag with the five-point star represents the five pillars of Islam:  

Red represents the royals and symbolizes bravery and strength.  Green is also often associated with religion.

Hassan was considered a good king with his many building projects. Among them were 75 dams built on the 75 lakes of Morocco. This project today feeds all cities and villages in this country of 34 million. It irrigates over one million acres of farmland. Despite his good works, Hassan's life was threatened three times by the army that wanted control of the country. Yemni attributed these actions on the king's life as evidence that people don't always like change. However, the king's survival was seen as God's protection. If he hadn't survived, Morocco might likely have become a military dictatorship like Libya or Syria.

In 2006, King Mohammed instituted a parliamentary government where he is more of a figure head while the prime minister runs the nation. The king is much loved by his people and goes among the people every year be meet them in common places like schools, medinas (the old part of the city), hospitals and in walking tours. He is known as a man that gets things done and he has contributed much to the modernization of Morocco. He married a woman from Fez and they have two children, a boy, 6, and a girl, 3. 
The Alawite dynasty has been in power since 1664.  The royal palace was built in the 18th century and restored several times.  Over the years the best artisans from Fez are usually called upon to do work there. 

Roman Ruins and 14th Century Mosque
Going through the Roman ruins in Rabat was very interesting, although I didn't “feel” that sadness that I felt at the first century A.D. Roman ruins in Rome itself. Rabat was an important port city for the Romans where they obtained grain and olive oil for trade as well as wild animals for their games in the period from 200 B.C.E to 100 A.D. In all likelihood, they just left the area. They were quite sophisticated in building their cities as they had hot and cold running water and sewers as well. The hammans used these Roman baths when the Muslims took over these cities.

Jews occupied Rabat until the Romans came. The Muslims took over the city in the eighth century when the new religion spread throughout northern Africa. The Jews remained in Morocco until the 1960s when 600,000 out of 800,000 residents left to live in Israel, France and the USA.   We would see the effects of their absence in several cities throughout the trip.
14th century mosque & madrasa (Koran school)
In this same place the Muslims built a mosque in the fourteenth century and an exclusive mandrasa or boarding school for young students who stayed there for their education. There were bedrooms for about 20 kids whose studies were free. A garden plays a prominent role in the layout of the buildings and it makes sense when you consider that you are in a desert. Water also plays an important role not only for drinking and bathing, but for ablutions required for religious purposes.

Storks sit atop the old minaret.
water receptacle for baths
This mosque operated until 1755 when the Lisbon earthquake toppled everything, including the old Roman city. There is a peacefulness in this area, which was enhanced by temperatures around 60 degrees, the cool breezes and sunshine of this winter day. (During the summer Rabat can get to 120 degrees F.) Government gardeners were at work in chopping down weeds and building a trench next to the sidewalks that wound their way around the lush gardens.

Storks sat atop the minaret.  Their rapping noise (lak lak in Arabic) pervaded the silence of this place. Storks are considered good luck. They keep the same nest and add wood each year.

a saint's tomb with graves nearby
It has been interesting to see how prominent a role Islam has played in this region--and we will learn a lot more as the trip continues. It appears to be as much of a way of survival as it is a way of life. The rules are there for a purpose, so changing them in order to enter a more modern world has been both difficult and exciting for the people, I'm sure. In this way the Middle East may offer a unique laboratory for seeing how cultures change and struggle with the changes.

I am reminded of the struggle Catholics in America went through as the religion changed due to Vatican II's new policies that took place in the first half of the 1960s. People are still struggling with them. To change what you have believed in as the right way to do things feels like a betrayal or a desecration, so you resist. Of course, those who embrace the changes move it forward.

I had a conversation with a few members of the group about the changing landscape of higher education, which is adopting e-learning as a way of instruction. We can't fathom not having real time, real place interaction with an instructor while young students can as they have navigated their world with computers. We sigh and say we're glad we're at our end of a lifespan that doesn't really have to make this transition. And yet, every person in our group has an iPad or a cell phone. Changing culture is not without paradox or inconsistency!

Rabat is an old, walled city but it wasn't until 1912 that it became the capital city. Fez and Marrakech had served as capital cities in the past depending on whether the Berbers or the Arabs were most dominant. A new town, Mekenes served as a compromise until the French colonialists took over in 1912 and moved the capital city to Rabat, which remains the capital today. They built the buildings where the various ministry offices are now. The town has about 2 million residents.

Its twelfth century walls were built around the medina while modernization took place in the eighteenth century. As we walked the medina we could see how modernization had taken place in these old buildings with stores that would be recognizable in any city around the world. And yet, traces of a traditional way of life remains, including the night market which starts revving up around 4 p.m. when people get out of work.

Life Today
People work from 9 until 4. They have their main meal around noon, but there is no siesta, as in some European and most Latin American countries. Teachers start their day at 8. It is the evening and night after work when people head for the medinas and go shopping for food or clothes. The medina is a noisy and busy place as people bargain with merchants for the goods they want. Later in the trip we will learn to bargain, too, however, the general rule is that you ask the price and make a funny face as you respond that it is too much. Then you make a counter-offer of 1/3 of the first price and gradually meet somewhere in the middle. If the price is marked, that is a fixed price and you don't bargain. Gold is a fixed price always. Back home in my tutoring business I dealt with a Saudi student who handled me in this same way. Of course, it alarmed me and took me off balance. Now that I know the trick, I can maybe do much better. The students also bargain for grades and THAT is something the I have learned to be firm, i.e., it is a fixed price.

Negotiation is a way of doing business. It takes a while and it means that a relationship is built as buyer and seller haggle over price. Of course, it is not the most efficient way to get what you want at the store. In a fast-paced culture like ours, we prefer a fixed price and we decide whether we can pay it or not and whether we want it or not. If you are brought up on negotiating everything, I can imagine that it is very difficult for international students who must make the cultural shift in this every day practice.

Lunch and Shopping


After lunch we went shopping at a local store.  I bought some cough drops in an attempt to kill my cough.  In the store downstairs was a liquor store where some of our group members stocked up for our desert experience.

What we also learned was that some of the people drink, despite the fact that they are Muslim and not allowed to drink.  We would learn that Morocco was far more liberal in its religion than our perceptions have taught us.  It is not flaunted or hidden, however.  Before dinner tonight, we went to a Moroccan bar.  Of course, only men were there—as they were in the coffee shops we passed later on. Respectable women do not go to such places, although the more “modern” women are starting to go to the more upscale bars and coffee shops.  Unlike the U.S., a lot of people smoke, and it hard getting used to that. The bar was especially bad as the men sat around, drank, and puffed on their cigarettes.

We walked through the shopping district of the city on our way to dinner.  Here is the restaurant where we ate dinner tonight.  We were accompanied by a man with a traditional Moroccan musical instrument and we sat at little tables for a five-course meal of traditional Moroccan cuisine.

First, we washed our hands.

And then we feasted on pastilla, which is made with phylo dough with chicken inside and then topped with sugar and cinnamon.

A lamb dish with apricots and prunes

For dessert, a pastry with 12 layers of phylo dough and cream inside that is then smashed down and served


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