Thursday, August 13, 2009

Moroc and Casablanca

Our visit to Morocco consisted of 4 days in the country. On the first day I did a city orientation trip of Casablanca (our port city), then I went on an overnight to Marrekech and the Ourika Valley, and on the last day I had a field trip for my International Business class to the Coca Cola Plant.

The city orientation was a really good trip. Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco and is the second largest city in Africa behind Cairo. There are 3 million people that live here and is much more modern and clean than I expected. The movie Casablanca was not actually shot here, it was filmed in Hollywood, but there is a replica of Rick’s CafĂ© in the city. During the orientation we visited the Hassan II Mosque which is the world’s third largest mosque. It was built in 1993 by the president Hassan II and is gorgeous.  The minaret is the tallest in the world and stands 689 feet tall. There is a sliding roof that opens on nice days to allow for air circulation throughout the mosque. Half of the mosque lies over the Atlantic Ocean. As is stated in the Qur’an “The throne of God was built on the water” so Hassan II wanted the mosque to replicate that statement. Part of the floor is glass and allows for 25,000 worshippers to actually pray over the water. There is a large courtyard and 80,000 additional worshippers can worship outside the mosque. The mosque has about 3 levels under the area of prayer. Theses floors have baths and wash rooms for the worshippers, similar to the Turkish baths.

The religious breakdown of Morocco has mostly Muslims, but there are 7% Chrisitians and 2% Jewish people. However, there are 200 mosques, 8 synagogues and only 4 churches throughout Morocco.

After the mosque we drove around Casablanca. We drove past the area of Anfa where Churchill and Roosevelt met for the Casablanca Conference during World War II, as well as the Ain Diab Corniche which is the beach road where all the clubs and restaurants are. There are also public and private swimming pools on this road that go right up to the ocean. We visited a few palaces and the mechouar bazaar in town.

The first night I went out to dinner with Amanda, Lucas and Matt. We walked around town and finally found a French Restaurant. The primary languages in Morocco are Arabic and French and there is still a heavy French influence from the days of colonization.

The next day I had my trip to Marrakech. It was a 3 hour bus ride south of Casablanca. When we got to the city we had lunch at a local restaurant located in Djeema el- Fna Square. This square is the center of activity for the people. There is a market with fish, fruits, spices and goods that is the center of people’s lives. The square also has snake charmers, henna tattoos, acrobats and monkeys. After lunch we visited the Bahia and Dar Si Said Palaces and the Majorelle Gardens. The Gardens were absolutely gorgeous. It had bamboo and desert plants everywhere and there were brightly colored pots and buildings within the garden.  We also visited a spice place that was a tourist trap the tours bring you on. They showed us many different spices and oils that help with different ailments etc. I did buy oil that is supposed to relax you and help you sleep.

That night we went to a Moroccan dinner with a folklore show and horse fantasia at Chez Ali. It was a much touristier spot than we expected but we had a great dinner. The horse show was a lot very cool and they shot off fireworks at the end. The horses and their riders were doing tricks throughout the evening.

The next day we visited the Ourika Valley and a Berber village. The village was nestled among the Atlas Mountains and we had a short walk throughout the village. The visited a Berber home and the lady of the house made us mint tea. It was a very neat experience that I wouldn’t have gotten without being on an SAS trip.

After the Berber village we went back to the Square from the day before.  I got a henna tattoo on my ankle which I think is really cool, and we went back to the same restaurant for lunch. I walked around the square with Lindsey and Rachel until it was time to head back to the bus.

On Wednesday I had a field trip to the Coca Cola plant. We got to see the process of making Coke and then the bottling process for glass bottles and plastic bottles. After, we went to lunch with local business owners from America that had been living in Morocco for many years. It was interesting to hear their perspective on American businesses in Morocco and how the business worlds differ.

One of my best friends Julie left us in Morocco. She will be graduating in December and doesn’t need the credits from SAS classes and decided that she didn’t want to be on the ship for the next 9 days across the ocean. I knew she was thinking about this the night before but it was still sudden. It was really hard to watch us pull away from the dock and we are going to miss her a lot. It did get us all talking about where our reunion is going to be though.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Egypt: A "Pharonic" Experience

On day 3 of my travels in Egypt I took an SAS trip to the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. The pyramids are located a few miles away from Cairo on the Giza Plateau. The Pyramids of Giza are the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. The Sphinx is said to be standing to protect the tombs of the great pharaohs of Egypt. We were able to go into the tomb of one of the wives of the pharaoh. After the visit to the pyramids we took a jeep safari through the Sahara desert. Then we rode camels through the desert and back to the restaurant where we had a typical Egyptian meal. After the camel ride we visited the tomb of Mere-Ruk. His tomb was robbed of his jewels before it was discovered by present day archeologists, however, the robbers were not able to find the actually mummy of the pharaoh. The mummy was found after the excavation and was the first actual mummy to be discovered. It is on exhibition at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Next we visited the Step Pyramid which was the first pyramid to ever be built. It has 6 levels and was built for King Zoser in 2800 BCE. My day in Cairo was very fun and I was amazed at the grandeur of the pyramids. We could see them from the road before we were even close to them and they were just absolutely magnificent. I still can’t believe that I got to see them and I am still in awe of their size.

That night I went to Chili’s with Amanda, Dan and Lucas. We had a lot of fun and we hung out and ate for almost 2 hours. We ordered so much food and it only costs the equivalent of $65 dollars for the 4 of us. The waiters loved us and gave us free chips and sodas. Lucas likes to think they thought we were from corporate headquarters lol. On the way back our cab driver tried to weasel us out of more money for the cab fare even though we knew what our agreement had been. We handled it well and ended up casually walking away from him.

I hung out on the ship during the second and fourth days in Alexandria. There really didn’t seem to be much to do in Alexandria since I had seen just about everything on the first day, and Cairo was a far trip it seemed. Amanda and I took a break from doing homework and visited the shops that were in the port. I bought a cartuge bracelet with my name in hieroglyphics which is pretty cool. Supposedly it is silver and only cost $20. One thing I have found, especially after talking to our tour guides etc, Egyptian prices are extremely cheap compared to the prices in the United States. Their standard of living is much lower and their monthly income is obviously much lower, but compared to the conversion rate of the Euro, the Egyptian Pound is a dream. My tour guide told us that Egyptian government workers only make about $150USD a month and workers in the private sector can sometimes make almost 10 times that much, which is still nothing compared to most Americans. The rent on a 2 bedroom apartment is about $60USD but that still means working as much as possible in order to survive. The school system is mandatory and free for children starting at age 6 and they usually continue schooling until around the age of 16 or 18. Children in the cities are encouraged to attend University. I was amazed that my tour guides (all of them women) had 2 or 3 children and all had their Master’s degrees and were about to finish their PhD’s in Egyptology. Egypt is comprised of 85% Muslim followers, most of which are of the Sunni origin. There are also 15% Christian Orthodox.

On my last day in Egypt I visited a Children’s Cancer Hospital in Cairo. I also got to see the Nile River which flows from south to north. The Nile is a very large river (larger than I expected) and is the main source of survival for the people of Egypt. In fact, Egypt is only inhabited in 8% of the countries land because the rest is desert. The government is building canals in an attempt to move water into more rural parts of the country and spread out the population. There are 20 million people in Cairo alone, but the people really have nowhere else to go. Overpopulation is the most threatening thing to Egypt at the moment.

On my trip into Cairo for the hospital visit we stopped at Kerdassa which is where many of the rugs, scarves and galabiyyas (long dresses worn by muslim women) are made. Then we visited the Saqqara area where we visited harraniyyah, a tapesty workshop. The workshop was started by an architect named Rames Wissa Wassah in the 1950’s as a sort of socio economic project. He wanted to bring a trade to the people of the village and taught them how to weave carpets. The workers are able to work as often or as little as they wish and the rugs are made completely of their own desires. They can weave whatever pattern comes to mind and when they finish the rug they make 1/3 of the profits. There is also a pottery section of the workshop and I bought a plate. Next we had lunch on a floating restaurant on the Nile. We had traditional Egyptian food again and then we went to the hospital.

Kasr el Aeni is the largest Children’s Cancer Hospital in the world. It is called “57357” because that is the bank account number where people can donate money. It was modeled after St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and can give as many as 100 children chemotherapy at one time, and the waiting room can hold up to 500 people. The hospital was built by an American architect and is mad of mostly glass. The design of the building is meant to resemble a ship and the world, a sign that the entire world is welcome at the hospital. Anyone can come for treatment, no matter religion or where they are from. The hospital runs completely off of donations and treatment is 100% free for all patients. The Egyptian government donated the land where the hospital was built, but otherwise no money is received from the government. The in-patient section of the hospital has 179 beds, more than any hospital in the world. They have the most up to date technology, donated by Siemens. The technology includes the latest machines for brain scans, MRIs etc. as well as muscle and rehab centers. The chemotherapy area is also equipped with comfy chairs for the patients, and private chemo rooms for older patients. Since many of the patients and families that visit the hospital are illiterate, the architect used many colors both to put the children at ease and for easy directing through the hospital. For example, if a family needed to visit radiology and they were illiterate, then the nurse could simply tell the family what color hallway to visit. We did not get a chance to visit with patients as we were originally intended to which was disappointing. We did see many sick children in the chemo area and waiting room though which was extremely sad. I am very glad I visited the hospital. I was expecting a run down, rural hospital but I was pleasantly surprised by how new and up to date the hospital was. As run down a city as Cairo is, the people of Egypt are gradually starting to try and raise the standards of the city.