Rabat

Toward the end of our trip to Morocco, we spent a week in rabat.  Our homestay family was amazing.  Our mom was a professional chef and she had fresh bread for us every morning.  We visited many amazing sites like the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the Kasba, the beach, and many amazing museums.

 

 

Our last day, we visited Casablanca.  We saw the mosque and spent the day in the Mall of Morocco.  I would have liked to explore the city more, but it was still an amazing experience.

 

Chefchaouen

Probably one of my favorite independent trips was our trip to Chefchaouen.  Every so often, our program would allow us to travel wherever we wanted outside the program.  This free weekend, my friends and I decided to travel to Chefchaouen, the blue pearl.  What makes this city so beautiful and unique is its color.  The entire city is blue.

We stayed in one of my favorite Riyads with a beautiful view of the city.  The food was delicious and the city was gorgeous.

Our first day, we took one of the hardest trails I’ve ever hiked to “God’s Bridge” and then swam in the watering hole near the damn.  It was gorgeous and felt so good to swim after a long hike.

The last day, we just enjoyed and experienced the city. Chefchaouen is the relaxation capital of Morocco.  It was so nice to explore the city.  I bought so many perfumes and spices and essential oils.  This was definitely one of my favorite cities.

 

Merzouga

Our first trip as a program was too Merzouga.  Merzouga is located in the Pre-Sahara.  We took a very long bus ride (13 hours) before finally reaching our hotel in Erfoud.  The hotel was gorgeous with unlimited food and a freezing pool.  The next morning, we took a shorter busride to our real destination in the desert.  Along the way, we stopped in a berber tent for tea. It was delicious!

We stayed in gorgeous tents.

Later in the afternoon, we had the opportunity to ride camels up the sand dunes before finishing the trip on foot!

The last day, a tour guide took us to the Erfoud Kasba, Souk, and Rug Market

First Month in Morocco

Only starting my trip to Morocco and I can already tell that this experience will change my life.  We entered the country during the middle of Ramadan and it has been a little chaotic trying to survive in a country where nothing is open during the day.  However, it’s been a very interesting experience.  The people we’ve met so far have been very helpful and patient with us.  We are studying at Al-Akhwayne University in Ifrane.  The city is a place where everyone knows each other and not a lot happens.  I’m told that it is very busy in the wintertime because of the mountains and the opportunity to go skiing.  Out professor flew out to meet us at the university to help us settle in.  She took us to Meknes and let us explore the city a little bit.  The end of our first week was Eid which marks the end of Ramadan.  Because of the holiday, students were allowed to travel.  My group and I decided to take a trip to Tangier.  We stayed in a beautiful Riyad.  We visited Hercules Caves, the beach, and the divide between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.   After a long day of exploring, we hiked us large rocks near the seashore and watched the sunset.

F

Arab Identity

I recently read Bassam Frangieh’s book “An Introduction to Modern Arab Culture” and thought I would share my impressions.

Although I have studied the Arabic language for a couple years, I haven’t had much exposure to the culture outside the classroom.   I’ve discussed certain aspects of the culture with my professors and fellow students, but never about the Arab Identity.   Because of my studies in the Arabic language, I know how important the language is to the culture and its important ties to the Arab community.  However, Bassam’s analysis of the “Arab Identity” both challenged and confirmed my understanding of their identity and their values.

I always thought that Arab and Muslim were basically synonymous.  Bassam does not necessarily challenge this view.  The Arab identity is primarily composed of language and Islam and it is nearly impossible to separate the two.  Language and religion have preserved the Arab culture and unified the community throughout the centuries.  Even with all the turmoil in the Middle East, these underlying concepts of the Arab identity remain.  Religion plays a very large part in identifying as Arab.

Bassam spends the majority of the first thirty pages of his book attempting to define the Arab people.  I never realized how important community is to the Arabs.  They are constantly searching for a sense of belonging whether it be through culture, religion, nationality, heritage etc.  Bassam seems to think that even if the Arab identity is destroyed by the modern political tension, the Islamic identity will persevere.  Despite the political divide among the Arab World, the people are still connected through the Arabic Language and their cultural heritage.  They share values, characteristics, and traditions which unite them through social, linguistic, and religious bonds.

Bassam’s introduction of the different religious sects was fascinating and challenged my basic understanding of the topic.  I knew about the different religious sects but I always compared them to the different denominations in the Christian church.  Where the Christian church’s denominations have different views or interpretation of the Bible, Islamic sects have their own rituals, traditions, and social interactions.  It’s almost like a new culture.

It was fascinating to really get a firm grasp of the values of the Arab World.  One thing that really stuck out to me is the importance of family.  Most cultures stress the importance of the family structure, but in the Arab culture, the family is the focal point of Arab social life and plays an important role in teaching cultural values.  The family is where religious and social expectations are set.  Through the America media and various books, I’ve always viewed Arab values as very formal that focus on reputation and honor within the family.  It was interesting to see Bassam’s emphasis on the family and emotion.  Despite the media’s depiction, Arabs’ culture prioritizes warmth, trust, and openness with one another.

The Arab’s image of themselves was fascinating because of how much it differs from my own culture.  Bassam paints the people as a group that seem resigned to their situation.  Despite all the talk about community among the Arab World, to me, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of Nationalistic pride.  Bassam states that Arabs lack self-determination.  Despite previously talking about how the people are passionate about political topics, Bassam explains that there is no current conversation concerning a strategy to link Arab heritage to a political or economic plan.  The people blame foreign influences and their rulers for their “under-developed society”.   It’s strange seeing this analysis as an American.  Even despite all the political turmoil happening in my own country, the people are still passionate about their country, take pride in their nationality, and work together to solve issue or corruption among our rulers.

In just the two chapters I have read in this book, it’s easy to say that the majority of the world has a skewed perception of the Arab world, especially concerning Arab values and views.  Even books that claim to be “unbiased” tend to take a prejudiced look at the Arab World.

A Poetics of Hope

I had the privilege of attending a lecture discussing Seven Stories written by the Syrian write Osama Alomar.  The guest speaker provided insight into the context of the stories, analysis, and her own personal revelations from the stories.  The seven stories include:

  1. Thieves of Youth-a short story about the turmoil in Syria and how it steals innocence and opportunities from the youth.
  2. Birds-this short story paints a picture of a bird being swept away by the wind and returning changes.
  3. Springstroke-tells the story of a wealthy king who goes into his kingdom to see the people.  But after a short while, he develops sunstroke and has to be carried back to his palace by his servants.
  4. In Union…-a leader mobilizes a group by saying their is strength in union.  However, they are easily defeated despite their unity.
  5. Community of Dust
  6. A Story for Children
  7. The Tears of the Phone

Almost all of the stories carry undertones of hopelessness.

Feminism in the Middle East

Feminism refers to the discourse between the women who want to change the expectations and responsibilities of women in society and societal discrimination and prejudice.  Islamic feminism focuses on alleviating the status of women in Muslim societies and fighting against the injustices against them stemming from Islamic origins.  As a broad definition, Islamic feminism seems to have the same goals and aspirations as western feminism.  It is only when we start looking at re-Islamization that Islamic feminism begins to differ.  Many Arabs idealize the past and are so focused on recreating past glory that they forget to solve current societal challenges.  This leads to an unwillingness to break tradition and progress into the modern era.  Unlike western feminist movement, Islamic feminists have to constantly fight against prejudice and toxic ideals while still trying to maintain their tradition and culture.

There are many views on the Islamic feminist movement.  Contemporary Islamic revival movements challenged the idea that modernization and feminism is only possible within the framework of progressive secularization and liberal westernization.  These thoughts trapped Muslims into two ways of thinking: Either embrace the ways and ideals of the West or blindly adhere to their own traditions and never change.  Because the West (specifically America) is a melting pot of different cultures and identities, the fear of losing one’s traditions or values never really seems to impede the feminist movement.  In fact, westernized feminism has become saturated with women who believe that you have to dismiss men and any views or practices they view as “toxic”.

Another key difference between Islamic feminism and Western feminism is access to the media.  In the West, the media is full of women who-despite their views-are mostly allowed to speak freely to the public.  They have a voice and platform to express their beliefs.  Most Arab countries did not have this luxury until recently.  It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Arab people were granted access to private satellite channels and exposed to new cultural, political, and social influences from around the world.  The government had a tight grip on public television broadcasts to publicized the government’s political, social, and religious ideologies.  This meant that many of the merging Islamic voiced in the Arab world did not have a platform to express their beliefs and reflect on public interests.  This meant that many Arabs watched religious channels that rendered women invisible.  Yet, influential and dedicated women fought to be heard and managed to use the media, social media, and the internet to spread their beliefs and empower other generations.  The media is such an influential outlet.  It gives people an opportunity to express and defend their beliefs.

The West tends to neglect and misinterpret the modern Islamic resurgent movements and the feminist Islamic movement.  Islamic feminists are resourceful and dedicated, networking with each other across borders. They are engaging in discourse and interrogating the norms and values of Islam as a cultural and religious practice.

Emara

Last Friday, the Arabic Film Club put on a screening of the web series Emara.  I fell in love with the adorable tv series and finished the entire show in a single day.  It’s characters are adorable and the story is fun to watch.  I love movies and tv series and I have an interest in films from other countries and culutres.  Movies give us a way to observe a different culture.  Emara focuses on a superhero names Emara who fights crime in the UAE.  During the Day and when she is not fighting criminals, Moza in a young girl who is busy helping her mother run a small tea shop.  She is clumsy and often spills coffee and tea on the floor, tables, and customers.  She loves her mother but does not have patience for mean customers or a busy shop.  By night, Moza becomes Emara.  Emara is a powerful and clever superhero with strong values and powerful arm cannons.  She is popular with citizens but the police and government do not trust her.

Emara does not fight alone and is accompanied by a boy with rockets on his legs names Dhabian.  By day, he is called Sultan and is a boy stuck in a wheelchair.  He sometimes helps Moza and her mother in the shop.  Later, it is revealed that Sultan a strange part of the government whose president is a strange woman names Zeina.  Zeina is more powerful than normal criminals and has dangerous motives for Emara.  Zeina has a right hand man names Ali who dislikes and distrusts sultan.

Sadly, the series only has five episodes.  The last episode was a cliffhanger.  It focused on a new villians sames Solomon who has sending out wanted posters of Emara.  While Emara was searching for him, he arrived with a dog mask and took control of her mind and Dhabian rescued her.  It is revealed that Solomon has the ability to change human beings into monsters.  The series ended with Zeina taking Emara.

I am excited for the new season to be published.  The series hinted to the audience of a deeper storyline that includes government experiments, robots, and more superheroes.  I would tell everyone to watch this show.

Arabic Film Club

This semester, I was a member of the Arabic Film Club.  This semester we watched multiple movies like:

Caramel
Terrorism and Kebab
Omar
Tickling Giants
Fly Away
We also watched Emara, an animated online series about a superhero in the UAE who fights crime at night and is a regular girl during the day.  It was one of my favorite screening experience.  I am a huge film nerd and I really enjoyed witnessing and experiencing a whole different culture through film.