Middle East Beast to the Funky Old Medina to Rockin the Kasbah- travels afar...

Middle East Beast to the Funky Old Medina to Rockin the Kasbah-travels afar

It's a new year. It's a new country. It's still the same brew of coffee I'm sipping in bed as I type. It's full of new and prior motivations- the year, not the coffee.  I'll start out this journey by saying that I journeyed to Morocco for the new year!  This was good fortune indeed that manifested in a few ways.  First, and the main reason for this sojourn was that, I confess, I'm an ELF… I haven't really discussed with ya'll about my work these past 4 months.  I guess because I'm still discovering the many layers itself, and how I fit into it and give it my own flair.

So, back in May of 2013 while I was still in SE Turkey working/living, I got wind that I was accepted to the US DoS's English Language Fellow Program that Georgetown University in Washington DC manages.  I was, of course, over the moon (reference to you my dear Delia :) upon receiving this news tidbit.  I believe there are about 140 of us English educators galloping around the globe at present. It is quite the prestigious reference to have on one's resume and, I'm told, can open doors with keys to 'the kingdom.'  Well, I'm here in the kingdom- the kingdom of Bahrain :)

 I'm the only ELF in the Middle East this year though, but I met my ELF counterparts in Morocco and Algeria over New Year's while attending the Moroccan Association of Teachers of English (MATE) conference in Tangier.  I came a few days earlier and met up with another ELF- a delightful ELF living in Algiers, Algeria named D. It was a classic meet-up in Marrakesh.  I flew into Casablanca and made my way to the train station and made the 4-hour journey southeast. Now, it started out with a bang I might say.  The train arrived already packed.  I had a 2nd-class ticket.  People on the platform were pushing in people trying to get on the train so that they wouldn't fall backwards…  I could smell disaster.  I had to think quick.  The train was departing within minutes and there was no way that I was going to get into this compartment, or the other 2nd class compartments that I could view from where I was standing.  It was simply a sea of black (it's cold in Morocco and black is the color of choice for winter wear) on a cold, white concrete foundation. I glanced to my left… 1st class… No one on the platform. BAM!

I found myself in the company of 5 other intrepid travelers with the same idea as me.  We knew that we couldn't get into the 1st class compartments without the proper ticketing, so this "no class" hallway was to be our home for the next 4 hours.  We plopped, with relief that we even managed to get on, onto our bags and hunkered down for the journey.  The whistle blew. People on the platform were waving to their family and friends. The train starts to move. Enter "The Stranger". Yes, a man is running on the platform with his backpack towards our doorway.  We all are encouraging him to throw his backpack on. He complies.  The train picks up speed and BAM he jumps onto the step in another moment and greets us all like some surreal scene from a James Bond flick.  He barely misses a step and introduces himself to me and the Moroccans that are to be his travel companions. We graciously give him the space right next to the bathroom… We are all right next to the bathroom actually… Mr. "X" is from Utah and is traveling.  We share stories, and his bottle of Jack Daniels (he conveniently had along with a diet Coke).

As the story goes (and I think I already managed to tell it in my previous post), the train was delayed (more like stopped on the tracks in the middle of nowhere) for over an hour.  As we were stretching ourselves out on the steps and tracks and looking at all the people on the slope just hanging out and smoking cigarettes and texting, I was reminded of a time while hanging out in Brasil.  It was a jejavu.  The bus had broken down on the road and we were all spilling out of the bus and hanging out in various scenarios.  Of course as it was in Brazil, there was an instant dance party, as well as an absence of a lot of clothing :)

But I digress… The point, I think, is that traveling is lovely.  To travel by train, there is this vintage feeling. This is not a glossy 'bullet train mind you. This is slow poke train with layers of textured rust so thick with random, momentary chapters of people's lives that you can almost hear the whispers dripping down off the walls.  I felt honored to simply surrender and soak in the passing scenes like a silent film, except I'm talking and drinking Jack Daniels with "A Stranger on a Train."

Marrakesh was a maze. D and myself took on that maze and delved in.  We trotted. We laughed. We ate vegan food. We shopped till we dropped. Thicker than thieves we became. There is so much imagery racing through my mind right now.  How to express it to ya'll?

Come hither. Let me entertain you
     Atmosphere on steroids
Monkeys, snakes, leeches oh my!
    Incense wafting, suffocating reality
leaving only mystical to purify
   my searching soul seeking out a brief respite
from daily life
My hardened shell softens
   with every breath. Dying a slow death
Rebirth! Always a delight after the fight
    Where to bury the afterbirth?
Nurture this pleasure bomb
     As I wander off into the night, I know not  right or wrong
This is Marrakesh alright.  It is one helluva captivating singsong.

Djema el Fna- the main square of Marrakesh with every tourist, con man, snake charmer, begged, food vendor, magician, monkey-trainer, etc. I found using my taxi-cab Turkish was a good idea as that seemed to be the one language they couldn't respond to… There were moments of respite from this fascinating chaos as we found ourselves upstairs at a charming coffeehouse above the scene.  We now had an eagle eye's view of the show.  We were a captivated audience. Delightful! Encore! Bravo!

We decided to take the midnight train to Tangier to make our way to the conference once we realized we needed to escape Marrakesh.  Great choice indeed.  We arrived to Tangier just before the guts of the city are awakening. Magical indeed.  What's our game plan?  Game plan? Don't you have one? No, you? No.  Okay, let's go! Moments later a funky taxi driver whisks us away up into the winding mazy of the Kasbah to help us look for accommodation. The city still sleeps. So do the people that run the small pensions apparently… We find a coffeehouse.  That'll do for now we decide. 

We finally settle into a cozy home (with a shitty shower and even more shitty shower curtain, but loaded with charm… ahem). Whatever.  Some avant grade dude with a great piece of property and a collection of art decided he can inflate his prices and people will simply eat it up.  Cute it was, eating it up (the price) I wasn't pleased about.  I'll find his email at some point and let him know…

Overpriced accommodations is no reason to deter from a lively excursion through the Kasbah of Tangier though so off we went.  There were plenty of kitty cats in our immediate space to distract us momentarily.  Soon we found ourselves engulfed in the maze. We felt normal here. We walked. We shopped. We talked and talked and talked. I guess that is another thing to mention.  I was traveling with someone.  Usually I travel alone.  Only on occasion do I have a travel partner.  One gets used to traveling alone and meeting all sorts of kooky characters.  I like this.  I like kooky characters.  They fill up my electronic address book (FB)…

It's always fun to travel with a kooky character.  Someone that matches you in spirit.  So, as soon as I met, D and I, we just bonded.  We had similar food tastes, clothing styles, and views on life.  So, we had our fun in the Kasbah and it was time to charge into reality- why we were here in the first place.  After the maze of the Kasbah, the shoreline of Tangier seemed a different dimension.  The hotel seemed luxurious with it's hot water and central heating. We rang up fellow ELF M and chatted ourselves silly.  After all, it was New Year's Eve and we had Lebanese food on our mind.

Fast forward to New Year's Day… and the first day of the MATE Conference.  Before THAT conference though, we ELFs had our own ELF conference to attend at the American Ligation (historic) building inside the Kasbah!  The Kasbah again, and so soon!  Back to normalcy we decided!  We met up with the remaining ELFs R and R/J and our ELF leader set us all off on our walkabout to the Kasbah.  So we had our ELF conference and excitedly explained our host countries, host institutions and ELF duties that we had been carrying out for the past 4 months or so.

The day progressed into late afternoon and it was time for us ELFs to pick up and head back down to Hotel Almohades for the opening ceremonies of the MATE Conference.  Triumphantly we trotted back to the beach.  We were a happy ELF gang. 

For 3 days we talked education. For 3 nights we had sing-alongs at restaurants.  There were 2 main, educational, highlights for me- both from Tunisian educators.  Ilhem (?) talked about using mind maps inside the reading classroom.  I adore mind maps, and I'm teaching reading/writing next semester so I soaked up her knowledge.  Chaouki, another Tunisian, was a laid-back breath of fresh air.  He talked of using (the game of) chess inside the classroom as a tool for students to absorb English. This magnetic character just had a mild manner to him and relaxed into his talks.  He speaks poetically so you don't just hear words, you listen to words and you weave them into a fabric that you can understand.  A fabric that is comfortable for you to digest so you can replicate it inside your classroom.  Anyway, he's legendary in my book. There were other cool cats as well. Too numerous to mention.

One mention though that really hit me on a melancholy note.  A fellow ELF(R of R/J) was giving a presentation on poetry in the classroom and he asked us all to make up a poem/poetic phrase on the spot.  One man in the audience stood up when his turn came and said something to the effect: 'In Syria, a journalist stands amid war while still asking about peace.'  I don't have it exactly, but no matter because it hit home.  I sat there in my seat fighting back tears, knowing it was nearing my time to stand up in front of everyone and proudly speak out my witticism.  My floodgates opened up, but had nowhere to go as I dared not cry.

 Perhaps I should of just let loose, but I decided to keep it together.  It's just that it brought me back to living in SE Turkey and how the years there culminated into such an intensity for me, with Syria spilling across the border into my city.  There was such sorrow.  There was such a zest for life- what life remained.  There was such a hope for friends/family still inside Syria.  There was bittersweet reality. they made it out, with nothing, and left others behind that didn't/couldn't have the chance.  All these thoughts racing through my mind in these moments where I held my emotions silent prisoner.  I looked at the man, who I had noticed earlier (hard not to as he was one of the few with a full beard), and thought I might say something to him afterwards.  I never did muster up the courage to though, for whatever fucked up reasons that prevented me from doing so (sometimes we are our own worst enemy).  Perhaps he will read this passage as likely many new friends from the conference will.  Perhaps someone will let him know  his words filled my heart with such a heavy beauty that has an ugliness that doesn't seem to end.  Writing these thoughts brings tears in this moment in fact. Thank you for that sir.

 Now, I've only attended archaeology conferences up to this point so I wasn't sure how educators 'hang with each other' in a conference setting.  I've decided we are not so different, educators and archaeologists.  I believe more drinking goes on at archaeology conference though- at least in my part of the world… Archaeologists also tend to talk about morbid things, which don't seem morbid to us I suppose. What is similar is politics.  Politics of education. Politics of archaeology.  That is eventually what burnt me out with archaeology.  It will likely burn me out with education as well.  Shit, there is even politics in yoga, which turned me off a bit from the yoga scene years ago.  Not enough to stop me though. Same same with archaeology and education- I suppose.  I enjoy what I do.  I'm not alone.  Sometimes I hate what I do.  I'm not alone. Alas…

I had an early departure on the last day and had to catch a flight back to Casablanca before heading on to Dubai and Bahrain.  I snuck out in wee hours of the morning, as Tangier still slept.  I decided I could live in Tangier.  It is a cool, urban city with a lot of history to share.  It is close to Europe and thus an easy escape when needed.  I do, after all, become world weary from time to time.  It happens when Hawaii is home, and an easy-going, tranquil life full of peace and serenity in a backdrop of splendid beauty with lots of empty spaces where you can find yourself connecting to a spiritual realm that is difficult to seek in this part of the world at times. The peaceful cacophony of rainforest sounds I miss.  When I return to this peace, though, I long for "the other." The sounds, smells, sights of the Near East and its environs.  So there it is.  The yin/yang of my existence.  What makes me most happy also makes me most crazed.  It is a parallel universe I feel I occupy, this duality of what I feel at home in.

Every place I travel to, I purchase a book.  Usually it is a book about an epic poem of the region, or a historical account of the area- either told by a local, or another intrepid traveler.  As I had 5 hours to spend at the airport in Casablanca, I started reading my book I bought in Tangier: The Travels of Ibn Battutah, edited by Tim Mackintosh-Smith. Shams al-Din Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim Ibn Battutah al-Lawati al-Tanji was a kooky character I have decided.  What I mean to say is that he was a wanderer, an educator, a philosopher, a politician, a human.  He was a wanderer who visited many different flags and heard many different tongues. I'm digging on his travelogues. That's all.

It's time to get out of bed.  It's 10:20 am and I have drunk all the coffee I'm going to drink today, my one day off this week. Upon returning to Bahrain early Sunday morning, came back to an unfamiliar phenomenon in these here parts- rain!  Yes, loads of rain to make my return brighter!  I headed home, only to shower, change my clothes and head out to work.  Final exams started and so another show begins!  It's been a non-stop 5 days of proctoring (they say 'invigilating') exams and putting together my course folder for the class I taught this past semester.  An end is in sight though. One more week and then I fly off again.  This time to Turkey.  I always return to Istanbul. A city that cannot be erased from my mind- ever.  This city fascinates me.  It captivated me long ago and I still don't know enough of its secrets to let it go. Nuff said.

Did I mention that back at BaseCamp I have 2 kittens now?  Yes, Shaika Spot (Nohealani) now has a younger brother, Sami Bey (Kaipo i ke kaulana- "Keoki the famous"). He's the poetic, thoughtful feline.  Shaika Spot is the reckless charger feline. Together they balance themselves out. I get to sit back and, at times, just enjoy the show rather than participate.  When I participate, I end up bloody… Ahhh kittens that know not the power of their feline claws and erratic behavior…

Oh, here are some pictures of my most recent shenanigans. Enjoy the show.

myself and a Stranger on a Train

Marrakesh morning


Djema el Fna

another day, another museum and gardens

mirror mirror

watching the circus from high above
early morning arrival to Tangier

sunrise in Tangier

access allowed

Tangier harbor

somewhere inside the Kasbah

catching some morning sunshine

shiny, happy people

it's always teatime when Moroccan Mint tea is involved


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ELF walkabout