Al Akhawayn’s Mosque

Day One-ish in Morocco

So… I am writing a blog while I study abroad in Morocco. It will be mostly a way to share stories, thoughts, and images as I have this experience, and as a way for those at home (that is you) to keep up to date with what I am doing and where I am going. This will be pretty free form. I expect this to be mostly a mix of anecdotes and pictures, but we will see what happens.

Taking off from MSP

Tonight, I am quite tired. It was a long trip to get here. I showed up at MSP airport at a little after 2pm. My flight left at 5:20pm, and I landed in Paris at 8:30am after a very pleasant and uneventful flight. Of course, my body still thought it was 3:30am, and was very confused by the bright sunshine streaming in through the windows. After an uneventful layover where I met two of my travelling companions, we got on the next flight at 12:45pm. (At this point, all times are in Moroccan time).

This flight was less pleasant. I had a middle seat (the worst), and the flight was loud, bright, and completely packed. I still managed an hour or so of sleep, to complement the hour or so I got on the way to Paris. Then we landed in Casablanca. I met the third of my travelling companions on this flight.

From here, we hopped on (what we thought would be) a short couple of train rides to Fez. First was a quick but uneventful ride to the central Casablanca train station, where we laid over for 30 minutes before catching our train to Fez. As we waited on the platform, two soldiers walked by carrying automatic rifles. That was a new experience for me, but I decided not to try to fumble out my camera and take a picture.

We got on our train to Fez, which we were told would be a two hour trip, at 6:20. At this point, it had been 29 hours since I woke up in St. Paul on Tuesday morning, and 22 hours since I left for the airport.

We were initially seated in a train compartment with an Iraqi family on vacation. The father of this family was very friendly, so we got to talking. Eventually, it came out that he knew seven languages, including Swedish sign language, but not French.Some of the others are Arabic, Farsi, Russian, Swedish, and English. This man had learned all of these langauegs through wars. He told us that in war, you need to know the language of your allies, to coordinate. You also need to know the language of your enemies.

Our Iraqi friend ended up leaving once he realized his family was on the wrong train in the wrong direction, but not before giving us one final piece of advice. “Don’t try to be the smart guys” he said, “be open, even if it means looking stupid. People like you if you are open, you make connections and get help. If you try to be clever, there is competition, it closes off possibilities.” A very good piece of advice.

The train ride went downhill after our friends left. It was dark, we were alone in our cabin, and there was about two hours when when, at every station we passed through, “The next one will be Fez!” Spoiler alert, the next one wasn’t Fez, until we finally arrived around 10:30. For those keeping score at home, it was about a four hour train ride, and we were all exhausted, and ready to get to AUI.

Unfortunately… we were much later than our intended pickup time, so our ride had gone to pick up other arriving students at the airport, leaving no room for us in the van. Which we did not know at the time. We piled all of our gear in the corner of the station, and sat down to wait for an indefinite period of time, for our rides to come. And come they did, at 1:30. I slept the entire car ride to AUI, and we arrived, got our keys, and got into our rooms a little bit after 2:30am. This made for 37 hours with a total of two hours of sleep, six time zones, and an ungodly amount of time sitting in chairs inside of moving vehicles. But we made it.

Dinner at the marche

Once I woke up (too early) we had the general rounds of orientation. People told us about rules, we did some introductions, the university president addressed us (and the incoming freshmen and their parents), and we exchange students set about meeting each other. What I can conclusively say so far is that the campus is beautiful, the people (both Moroccans and exchange students) are incredibly friendly, and the marche (the market where we did some shopping and had dinner) is incredibly different from anywhere I have ever been. But… more marche stories later. It is not 10:00pm here, so if my math is correct, I have slept for 8 out of the last 57 hours, and it is past time for me to go to bed.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
-Neale Donald Walsch