Why I Haven't Been Writing
20.09.2007 20 °C
You know, one of the problems with writing any sort of blog or column is that whenever you are remiss in your writing duties, the amount of material tends to stack up, becoming rather like a snowball rolling down a hill. As the topics increase, this makes the writer less inclined to write, knowing that it’s extremely difficult to prioritize the pile of information which he or she wants to present to the reader. It truly is a vicious circle, and my circle was certainly not helped by being rather busy, both in terms of classwork and travel.
Fortunately for yours truly, I am turning the proverbial lemons into lemonade, and I shall be covering these two
obstructions for this column (thus wrapping up that sappy little bit of writing about my writing!). After around a month on the ground here in Ifrane, I can now safely report about my academic life on campus. The term had quite a slow start, in great part because of the need to take placement testing as courses were already starting! The Arabic exam two days before classes started, while French was completed only after the first day of classes. I am currently taking 13 credits worth of classes, which is a light but recommended load for us international students. I’m taking beginning Arabic II (where I placed, as well as the place in the book where we stopped in the summer!), Algeria since independence, 20th century international history, and computer programming in C.
But wait, you might be thinking: What about French? Well, I placed into consolidating French (kind of like beginning II/intermediate I French) but I ran into a major scheduling conflict: the French class conflicted with both sections of programming. This gave me three options: drop programming for French (didn’t want to), try to take the next highest level of French (probably not a good idea for someone who hasn’t taken French in a classroom for over four years now), or work in my spare time to improve my French for placement back at W&L. The third choice, needless to say, became the least bad option for me.
Enough about placement, though; let’s talk about the courses. I am in the fortunate position of being in two classes with mainly international students (Arabic and Algerian history) and two classes with mainly Moroccan students (Programming and 20th century). This provides an interesting situation, especially in my programming class, where I am the only non-Moroccan student in both sections. Some funny situations have occurred, such as when I was asked a question by a classmate in Moroccan Arabic! My blank look must have been priceless. However, programming does have one major advantage: we are all on the same playing field when it comes to language, since we are all newcomers to the C language.
Classes in the sciences are certainly interesting outside of the States, particularly when you are not a major in that field. I have been asked countless times by my classmates why I am in programming; they are quite surprised that a liberal-arts major would take any science/math course for (essentially) fun. The other classes, though, are quite different, especially since they are in my major area. The two history courses are great, although one of the biggest surprises I’ve had thus far has been in the area of textbooks, or rather the lack of them. At W&L, it’s not uncommon for a history class to have at least five or six books, if not more! Here I have two texts for both history classes. I was shocked when I picked up my books here.
Of course, studying abroad is not merely about textbooks and lectures; one of the most important parts is taking the opportunities to visit and enjoy your host country and culture. Two weeks ago I was presented with a prime opportunity to do just this: Morocco had parliamentary elections, which meant that the university was closed to allow students to go home and vote (they don’t have absentee voting here). For those who didn’t vote (only about 37% of the electorate voted) and internationals, this meant that we had a three-day weekend. A few friends and I decided to go up to Tangier (also spelled Tanger (French), Tanja (Arabic), and probably other ways too!), which is on the northern tip of Morocco. As we wanted to make the best use of the three-day weekend, we took a train from Meknes – the closest train station – at around 2:45 in the morning on Thursday night/Friday morning. We got to Tangier around 7:30 AM, meaning that we went to our friend Khalil’s apartment overlooking the port to recharge our batteries (travelling in second-class meant that it was impossible for some of us to sleep!). We then went out for a delicious lunch at a Lebanese restaurant along the boulevard running alongside the beach, then went up to Cape Spartel, which is where the Atlantic Ocean becomes the Strait of Gibraltar. On clear days you can actually see where the water changes, even current and color of the water. Needless to say, it wasn’t a clear day. Oh, well.
After a quiet evening (for some of us!) I got up bright and early at 6:00 in order to cross the Straits to Europe with a friend. After getting to the port and buying our ferry tickets, we waited for our 9:30 AM crossing, which would take approximately an hour. We arrived in Algeciras, Spain, around 12:30 PM. Now you’re probably wondering where those two extra hours went. Well, Spain is one hour ahead of Morocco in terms of time zone (though they are at the same longitude), and Morocco, unlike Spain, does not have Daylight Savings Time, causing a two-hour shift. Undaunted, we walked to the local bus station in order to get to the city of La Linea, which is the Spanish side of the Gibraltar border.
Gibraltar’s name comes from the Arabic “Jebel Tariq,” or “Tariq’s mountain,” for the Berber general who landed there and started the Muslim conquest of Spain. When one approaches “The Rock,” it becomes apparent why the names for the area revolve around the big hunk of stone. It’s huge! After arriving at the bus station in La Linea (cost only 2 euro to get there!) we continued on foot in the direction of the mountain. Then we arrived at the border. For a territory which is a constant thorn in the side of Anglo-Spanish relations, the crossing was surprisingly simple: the Spanish authorities gave a glance to the passport, as did the British customs official. After that, we were in the realm of the Crown.
Knowing that our time in Gibraltar was going to be limited (since we needed to return to Morocco), we immediately set out on a walk. After walking across the runway of Gibraltar’s airport, which is the only such road crossing of its kind as far as I know, we continued along Winston Churchill Avenue into the town proper. Union Jacks and the Gibraltarian flag were flying everywhere: it turns out that the next Monday was Gibraltar’s national day, and patriotism in Gibraltar is at levels I never thought were possible! Finally, after a long trek, we managed to find the cable car which goes to the top of the Rock. The view was incredible. Also, we got to see the monkeys; legend says that as long as the Barbary monkeys live on the Rock, the British will remain in Gibraltar. Not surprisingly, the monkeys are treated extremely well. After many photos on the top of the Rock, we descended, almost ready to go “home.”
Before we left, though, I had one obligatory stop: one of the many pubs in the territory. After sitting down to a pint of bitter (incredibly the drinking age in Gibraltar is only 16!), my friend and I decided to take in the atmosphere of the pub. There were three separate sporting events going on, all involving British teams: Scotland-Lithuania in soccer, England-India in cricket, and (as we were leaving) England-US in rugby. I found out later that we showed a lot of spirit in a 28-10 loss to the current world champions! But we needed to get back to Algeciras in order to get to Tanger, so we took a bus to the border, meeting an American couple along the way, and then the bus back from La Linea to the port.
Several hours later, we were back on Moroccan soil, where we found several of our friends quite ill (possibly a case of food poisoning, possibly a bit of a bug). The rest of the group decided to go get some food, so we walked over to the local Pizza Hut. I had some Pizza Hut while in Casablanca before returning to the States, and what I had remembered (some of the best pizza ever!) remained just as true in Tanger. A Moroccan friend and I split a large pepperoni (beef pepperoni, of course!) pizza with what they called “Cheesy Volcano” crust. Imagine an over-stuffed stuffed crust pizza with mozzarella and cheddar, and that’s what it was. The next morning, we hopped on the next train homeward, and got back in the middle of the afternoon.
Looking at this, I think it was a bad idea to remind myself of that incredibly delicious pizza, since we are in the middle of Ramadan. However, as it seems that I’ve run out of space for now, I will have to leave that for next time, which hopefully will be sometime this weekend. Of course, given my track record, I make no guarantees!
Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let me know what you think!
Good night from the Middle Atlas,
PS: I have set up an account at Flickr for my photos, and I am slowly uploading a small selection of pictures from my travels. Feel free to visit it at http://www.flickr.com/photos/12487417@N03/.