May 31, 2010

More Rabat Photos

Tomb of the King's grandfather

Tour Hassan

Interesting Links:

This Rotary exchange is turning out to be more international
than I anticipated! 


The countryside near Rabat is just as beautiful and evocative as the capital city itself. I had a wonderful opertunity recently to survey this landscape from the vantage point of Chellah, perched high up on a precipice overlooking the Bou Regreg river.

Last Thursday, I went on my own self-guided excursion to this ancient site, one of the most popular and significant spots in Rabat. In addition to being a beautiful roman necropolis, Chellah is also the site of a Merinid period mosque and haman. The site was abandoned in the 13th century. Today, however, tourists and local Moroccans alike enjoy strolling among the ruins, and this is undoubtedly one of the most romantic places in the city. There are virtually no rules, so it is considered permissible to climb the ruins, walk on the mosiac floors, and stroll amongst the majestic columns and archways.

Because of the Mawazin international music festival, there was a Bengali band playing on site. Fareeda Parveen (name of the singer/group) rendered in song and dance, poetry by the Fakir Lalon Shah, a mystic poet-philosopher who's life story is unknown. Lalon evidences Sufi and Hindu influences, although his poetry is often directed against sectarian differences and identity politics. Lalon never put his words to music, but today many groups sing Lalon's songs. Here's a poor translation of a few of his versus about the Maner Manush, or the beloved:

How long should I wait for the union with my beloved
As the Lightening hides itself in the cloud
I lost his trace and find him back in my dreams

May 26, 2010

Who's that American guy in the suit and why is he at our meeting?

Last night I gave my first presentation to the Rabat Rotary Club, which meets every Wednesday at the Golden Tulip Farah. Mr. Driss Oumali, my host counselor, told me about the meeting on Tuesday afternoon, and I have been rushing to finish my powerpoint and my talking points for the past day and a half. The finished presentation is in French and includes a PowerPoint with photos of the Great Smokey Mountains.

I arrived at the Golden Tulip about 15 minutes early, and I searched all around the hotel for the meeting room, but I couldn't find it! I was in a near state of panic after half an hour of searching, and I was certain that I had made a mistake or misunderstood Mr. Oumali. In fact, though, everyone was on "Moroccan Time" and arrived later. So, in effect, I was an hour and a half early!

The Rabat Rotary Club is quite small, and so the meeting was quite informal, taking place around a conference table. There were about 8 Rotarians present. There were also two Rotaract students from a nearby school, and there was a singer. Yes, that's right, a singer! She kicked off the meeting with two solos. "You can reach me by airplane, you can reach me by sailboat, etc" and another song I didn't recognize in French. The Rotarians were thrilled and cheered loudly after she finished.

Then it was my turn. I stood up, and launched into my presentation. Because the audiovisual stuff wasn't set up, I circulated some pictures and brochures that I brought from Knoxville. About 3 minutes in, however, I noticed that the president looked restless. So I stopped and asked if I should continue. It turns out that everyone was in a bit of a rush and that they didn't expect me to say much! In fact, nobody knew about the cultural ambassadorial scholarships, and they weren't exactly sure why I was there! After a little more explanation, and with the intervention of Mr. Oumali (who explained everything to the group), everyone was at ease. I skipped to the conclusion of my presentation, thanked the club, and presented them with gifts. Finally, we exchanged Rotary banners.

Mr. Oumali drove me back to my appartment, and we had the chance to talk. It turns out that Mr. Oumali is a poet and a writer! He is interested in Sufism and other forms of "mysticism," and he composes poetry in Arabic and in French. This actually clarified some things for me, because reading an email from him is like reading the English equivalent of Shakespeare. He uses words from the middle ages that have long since passed out of common use.

Mr. Oumali is truly amazing! He composed a book of poetry that sold many copies, and then he put the proceeds towards a Rotary project: planting trees in Rabat. What a beautiful idea! He also loves philosophy, and we talked briefly about Heidegger. He said he wants to read my bachelor's thesis on Hans-Georg Gadamer.

So, even though my presentation didn't go as expected, I am very excited that Mr. Oumali is my host counselor and that we will spend more time together.

May 18, 2010

First Post

Today I spoke briefly to my sponsor Rotary Club, in Knoxville TN. Thanks to Elaine McCulloch, Dave Moser, and my sponsor counselor Bob Breazeale for all your help during the application process. It is hard to believe that I am finally leaving for my scholarship; I first applied to Rotary when I was a freshman, about four years ago! At today's lunch I also spoke to Townes, Brown, current president Sam Albritton, and Edwin Anderson. Thanks to everyone for the support, kind words, and gift ideas.

Presumably no one in Morocco is reading this yet, so I will go ahead and disclose the gifts I am bringing for my host counselor and club in Rabat: the Southern Living Cookbook, Apple Jelly, special soap made in Knoxville (lavender, oatmeal), post cards, and WDVX top hits from the Blue Plate Special (local live music recordings). Townes suggested that I bring mini Jack Daniels bottles, but I am nervous to present my host with alcohol, because Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country. Granted, some Muslims there will probably drink anyway, but I don't want to make a faux pas on my first day! I'm also bringing along Knoxville Rotary Club banners to exchange with the club in Rabat.