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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Sweeping Salt in the Summer

June & July 2008

June 17- Metaphor for the 'Sacred Divide'

The afternoon lecture concerned the hijab, which serves as a physical, visual, and spatial boundary, and is a metaphor for the ‘sacred divide.’ Discussion mainly moved to how it fits in with the modernizing, global world. Surprisingly, the hijab isn’t considered a “reveiling” but rather a new movement, started in the Iranian revolution (though now has lost most of its political connotations) and continued in an Arabian feminine liberation movement. Four main points that the hijab serves: conforming wearers to hide social status (though with today’s fashion this seems to be broken), protection for women (including less street harassment) b/c wearers are less questioned on where/why they go wherever, wearers are taken more seriously, and lastly, more religious freedom as they no longer need permission to go to a mosque. We also talked about how fashion has taken over some head coverings, which aren’t necessary Hijab’s, and we spoke of the reaction to France’s forbidding of the covering (the head religious officials have given would-be wearers who can’t wear it pardon).

After returning from the lecture ‘the guys’ (my brother and dad and I) went down to the hammam, the public bathhouse. Wow! This will definitely be one of the highlights of the entire trip. Before entering, we stopped by a souk and bought a Kif for me, which is a rough-ish washcloth that fits over your hand. This has been the second time that Hemsa has helped me get a 10 DH item for less, this time it was 7.5 DH, about $1 (I bought a green one, as it is the only color I know how to say) . We turned left down a small alley after the sausage salesman, and right down a smaller alley at the “FAR” graffiti (Force Army of Rabat, Morocco's first official national army, and the self-proclaimed name of the soccer team). Walking by the door I would never have guessed there was an entire bathhouse inside. Hemsa called in, and the last remnants of the females left. Apparently, women use the hammam from 10AM-6PM (it was around 7:20), and men use the same one from 6-10PM. Walking in, the hammam seemed just like a house, except with tiles completely on the floor and shoulder high. But the house kept opening up. We walked down a short passage to an open cashier booth. We stripped down to our undergarments in the gelsa, which was separated from direct view by a wall stretching halfway across. The cashier room had cubbies to put our bags in as we went inside. The lecture on the hammam was only last week, but already I was surprised at what I saw.

First of all, to enter I opened the large wooden door and was welcomed with a hug of warm air. Thanks to a heavy wood block on a rope leveraging it back, the door closed on its own as I entered. The hammam is separated into three rooms, each room with small cylindric vents opening to an attic about a foot higher, which I assume opened to the sky at some point. Each room itself was arched up so as to trap the hot air, and was cut off from the other rooms by walls on either side around a middle walkway. Arches also separated the rooms, and the entire nexus gradually sloped upward with a drain at the bottom. As I walked up to each successive room, the temperature got successively hotter, with the first just slightly humid, the second slightly higher than lukewarm, and the last sweatingly hot. Each room had pipes which provided cold water, and the last room had a fountain pool of hot water, warmed by coals unseen. We left our stuff in the middle room, and I helped Hemsa fill 6 buckets with warm water (after rinsing them) for the 3 of us. We then topped off each bucket with cold water to reach the perfect temp. Meanwhile Mohamed rinsed an edge of the last room for us to sit and lie. We did so, the two doing ‘guy talk’ and me asking questions. I can see how this would be one of the greatest traditions, especially when it comes to male bonding. We lay in the sauna for at least an hour, stretching, relaxing, and pouring water from the hot water to drench ourselves.

The hammam also offers a massager, kessala, who for 30 DH will rub you down. I’m told the male massages are rougher than the women, and I think he rubbed off my sunburn, but I survived, as well as stayed in the hottest room for just as long as the locals! After laying for the front and back rubdown (neck, arms, trunk, legs, and buttocks) I started tingling like the needles you feel when circulation returns to areas where it was shut off before. I guess that’s how hard the massage was. But it all felt great. Afterwards, we scrubbed down, shampooing, and my klutz self christening the whole process by getting soap in my eye at the very beginning. Partially blinded, I somehow managed, and washed down while the kessala visited everyone else. Hemsa and I practiced the “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” principle, and afterwards we cleaned off our kis’ and went back out to change.

We came back from the Hammam to catch the end of the Italy-France game, which every male adult seemed to be watching (no women though) along all the café’s we passed. Even the men in the Hammam were talking about it. I think everyone else in the SIT program is getting a little sick of watching soccer, but I love the European Cup like a local!

June 19- How it was meant to be played…

After returning from the beach, I grabbed Hemsa and returned. This time, we played soccer for almost 2 hours. Playing soccer at the beach consisted of the same variable rotations as before. We would start out passing and juggling amongst ourselves, and while doing a kid joined in. For a while then, Hemsa and the child practiced playing goalie, this time between two paper rolls (like those found at the core of wrapping paper) stuck in the sand for posts. With set boundaries it was easy to score, which gave me some credibility with the locals. After we returned to juggling, gaining one more, before our assembled team decided to challenge another. A field dragged in the sand had already been marked out, and we used mini-metal goals (which didn’t stop a goalie from sitting to block it when times got rough).

Playing on the beach there I realized this was how the game was meant to be played. The game ran smoothly, with everyone trying to keep the play going. Players came off and on the field to join as their schedules allowed, and everyone was cool about everything. Each called there own fouls, it’s make-it take-it, and when the ball was kicked off the court, others would kick it back on the field. These onlookers would even stop mid-conversation and walk to where the ball was, almost as if they were going out of their way just to be a part of the game. Also, there was one occasion where the other team basically cherry picked a goal, but instead of shooting it in, the forward stopped the ball short, turned around, and kicked it back to his side to restart a run. I’m still getting used to playing in sand, though Hemsa and I made some awesome assists to each other and consistently split their defense. I’ve noticed Hemsa is more of a peacekeeper, as when disputes arise he would always go over and settle them in the humblest manner (usually by giving the offended party the ball). After the game everyone slapped hands and said good game (in Darija), and we all went our separate ways. Note to self – Soccer is a universal language.

4th of July - !عيد استقلال سعيد

After class today we all head to TGI Friday’s! It was probably the greatest mid-program pit stop we could ever have, and as American we could get for Independence Day. Most of the group all has plans to travel this weekend, so we part ways, as I’m staying in Rabat this weekend. Mely and I catch a cab to Chelah a bird sanctuary built on Roman ruins that just two weeks ago hosted a jazz festival. During the ride, we make small talk in French with the nice driver and other lady passenger, and the latter invites us to her house for tea. She worked in a hospital with sick children, and spoke only of how she cared for them, so previous comments on hospital corruption and greed are certainly not the steadfast rule here. When she leaves we continue conversing with the cabdriver, who is Amazigh (what used to be classified as Berber) and shows off his many languages.

Chelah is beautiful. We start off by straying off the path, taking some countryside photos before returning to the bird side of the paradise. There are seriously birds singing everywhere, and somehow we make it through without any nasty bombings from our upstairs neighbors. The ruins contrast a snapshot of nature surviving man’s self-destruction with nature’s beauty draping the entire hillside. We explore the entire bird-town, and even find the cat-ghetto, where I’m pretty sure a family lives. The edge of Chelah overlooks a sort of vineyard, and our feathered singing companions serenade us throughout.

After a cab ride back and a quick nap, I go out with Hemsa for soccer at 7. At the beach, we play past the sunset for at least two hours. I’m solidifying more of the unstated rules, such as the sidelines extending from the hot part of the sand, to literally the ocean (even, as in our case, when it is a soccer field length away). You have to call your own fouls, and your team claps if you get really close on a shot or do any sort of slide or bicycle kick. Also, if you even tip the sandcastle goalposts it’s considered not a goal, which keeps the contestations to a minimum. I start off playing horrible, but soon pick up my game with an assist and goal. Once again, score, and gain your team’s immediate trust. We play for hours, even wearing out Hemsa, who sits for a while on the sidelines to rest. As players get tired, more cycle in, and when you need a water break, you need only to go to the ocean for a quick dip before returning. Also, there’s isn’t much of a focus on the score, and conversely no one really cares if a team has one person extra, as the focus is on everyone playing. Seriously, soccer here is more like a dance. I’ve noticed even if I’m open I won’t get a pass if I’m just standing there forever waiting, and goal scoring opportunities are often foregone if its too slow and easy. Instead the forward will pass back to the defense, and the team will try to set up another run. Shinguards aren’t needed as everyone is controlled enough to almost never hit, though this group plays more like soccer in highschool, meaning you have to play the man as much as the ball (which is more my style too).

We wear ourselves out and Hemsa and I dribble down the streets on our way home, just like Paul Ingram and I used to do returning from the field. We stop to play with the neighborhood gang (in the Little Rascal sense), and there’s no difference in treatment between me and any other local kid, as we mess around with soccer moves and fake-outs in the lamplight.

July 14- Brikcha

We were warned many things before coming to Brikcha. Heat, no running water, hikes to our host families, non nearby hospital, heat… I suppose those were there. But in general the village was pretty well off. There was a small walk to the center, but it was on a gravel road – not exactly the mountain climbing I was picturing. At their center, we waited to find our host families, and we would be split up (mostly) by twos. After an hour, I found out that I would be living with Kacey at the cooperative leader’s house. I don’t remember her name exactly, but it means ‘dream’ in Arabic, and I remember it was pretty. Apparently we were waiting because some families were being switched around last minute. Life in such a rural setting is very laid back, and our SIT program was often rushing behind the scenes to try to make all the hiccups work. We took a walk down mountain paths to the various houses with adobe facades roofed by metal sheets. Entering ours, we noticed walls of nailed up plastic sheeting mimicking tiles (which I later found out were hiding a chickenwire mesh holding the wall materials standing), and a typical style of couch wrapping around the walls of the main room, all facing a TV. I wasn’t even expecting electricity, let alone a TV, which was quite an interesting juxtaposition for a village with no running water. We dropped off our bags, and learned our house would have an infestation of teachers – it was nice having them to translate, but then again each conversation was a popquiz (every silver lining has a much larger dark cloud that wants to drench on your life). Nevertheless, I get the feeling our family is one of the better off ones in the village.

With lighter loads Kacey and I went back outside to greet the family. While doing so, we were greeted by an entourage of children with a soccer ball on its last leg. I think I prefer it that way, the half flat, worn to patches ball stripped everything commercial from our games. All that was left, was soccer. We had a grand time watching the kids show off their moves, while showing them some new ones and making sure everyone got their turns. For about an hour we just passed around with some quick bouts of juggling, and when Kacey and I teased them with keep away it turned into “get the guy with the ball” (or when it started rolling down the mountain, just “get the ball”). At dusk the father took Kacey and I to the café. We learned some new Arabic words along the way (star, moon, sheep), as we walked to the top of the mountain where the café was. Of course, while there I couldn’t miss an opportunity to try out the banana juice (for you who haven’t caught on yet, I have become a banana juice connoisseur), which was mainly just the fruit (fresh, but nothing has yet beat the malted shake of Rabat). Matt met us there with one from his family (the age spread is very encompassing amongst the members – he didn’t know whether this was his father, brother, uncle, or family-friend). We finish our drinks and play each other in billiards, unnumbered yellow and red balls slightly smaller than in America but still good. All around us were village males playing Parcheesi with metrical regularity. While waiting for Kacey and Matt to finish their game, I watched a group of older gentlemen play cards, in what seemed like Shanghai Rummy best I could tell. We left the café after about an hour and walked home drenched in moonlight.

July 15- Salt Dancing

Awakened to the singing of roosters (at 4:30), I laugh to myself the parallels to my experience waking up to prayer calls during my first day in Rabat. I return to interrupted sleep bouts until 8, but regardless wake up refreshed. After a breakfast of that fried bread with jam and instant coffee mix (just add milk), I head to the salt fields for the day. Before going to the fields, we make a stop at the well, filling up our donkey (Barbara, whose colt we nicknamed Eeyore) with bottles to the brim. Packed and ready, we trudge over a mountain cut road worn by footprints long-past. The road winds to overlook the beautiful surroundings, mountains crown the horizon, and distant villages peak out in spurts. Above we see Katrina and Steph picking Humus [chick peas] with their host sister. We wave as we continue to various fields seemingly haphazardly planted and shrubs framing our trail. The trek reminds me of scouting hikes, and every so often a guava plant will pop up here and a cactus will there – I’m a blink away from El Rancho Cima back in Texas. To top off the deja-vu, rural villagers traditionally wear wide brimmed straw hats (which we also totted today, gifts from the villagers), so the countryside is dispersed among wandering sombreros. Clefts of rocks and iffy footholds lead us down the mountain to the heart, a valley where tarped “fields” of puddles await us. We first see a gaggle of 20 or so of these pools maybe 10’x20’, with a brick structure overlooking the field. This, apparently, is the old/traditional field, we will be working elsewhere. We continue on to a slightly smaller set of black tarps divided by half-foot high dirt walls. The tarps house maybe 15 pools, each glittering with various amounts of white diamonds. These are the salt pools, and as the water evaporates off crystal sheets of salt flakes are left. We take off our shoes, roll up our jeans, and wash our feet before walking around these ladies’ “pastures.” Our learning style is ‘monkey-see, monkey-do’, though we do have some upper levels to translate certain specifics. As the women mainly spoke Darhija, we had a grand time at charades throughout the day.

Three of us grab brooms and start sweeping the salt in selected pools to their most downhill corners. Meanwhile, the rest of us “dance” on the salt, breaking up the crystals to more bite-size pieces. Once the salt piles have been accumulated and ground down, we all jump down to scoop up the salt with small buckets and small hands, dumping each full load into large sacks. These scoops still carry some water with them, which either evaporates off or drains out from the barley sack. We pretty much fill up an entire sack with one pool; we resweep and rescoop each one down to its tarp, before sweeping off the leftover water to the nearby pools. Then, we move to the next pool, doing about 6 in all. All the while, we crack jokes and sing and dance, Rachel stopped by and teaches a group to Salsa, and Mely and I teach another to line dance. After making the obvious pun possible concerning Julia’s falling skirt being a-salt-ed (somewhere Benedict Voit is smiling), I move on to give each of the SIT group salt nicknames:
Sam – Kosher Salt, Naomi – Saltine, Mat – Saltan, Mely – Crusty (self imposed), Geoffrey – Basalt, Katrina – Salt Spice (referencing her Moroccan nickname, Barbie), Steph – Salt Lake (first to fall into the salt pools), Rachel – Saltza (thank Mely for that name), Fadoua (our “baby sitter”) – Melikat Milhe (queen of the salt), Hanan – Oustaitha Milhe, Fraisa – See-salt (or Sea-salt, whichever you prefer), Kacey – Ninja Assault, Bradley – Salt Lick.

Around 1 we break for an hour, and are taken by the group to a large shady tree next to our stuff, and pegged donkeys. The villagers provide a wonderful meal for us: eggplant, meat, rice, etc. but the highlight were the fries, which we could hilariously eat with our salt-stained fingers for the perfect taste. We lounge about for another good 30 minutes or so, some students nap, while others joke and laugh about various knickknacks. But the village star is by far Rachel. During her stay here she has obtained an extremely impressive command of Darhija, and the village ladies and children absolutely adore every word in their conversations.

We return to the fields for another hour, but as work depends on evaporation rates, we are pretty much done for the day (I learn later that we pretty much finished all the work for both days). Back home, the family heats a bucket of water for us, so we could take a “shower,” before lounging about for another peaceful Arabian night.