Morocco, continued: Hassan Tower, Mausoleum of Mohammed V, and Chellah

Hassan Tower was meant to be the tallest minaret in the world.  Began by Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour in 1195, it was intended to be nearly 200 feet tall and wide enough to allow a horse to carry the iman to the top for the call to prayer.  A mosque was to be built around the bottom of the minaret, but construction on both the minaret and the mosque stopped four years after it started due to the Sultan’s death.  It’s still impressively tall, and as a ruddy-brown sandstone tower it stands out against Rabat’s mostly white buildings.  I didn’t think to take more pictures, and this doesn’t truly do it justice.  Go look at Google images to get the full effect.IMG_0196In the shadow of Hassan Tower is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V; the grandfather and the father of the current king are entombed here.  The architecture of intricate carvings and white gleam is a striking contrast to Hussan’s ancient tower and ruined columns.  The Mausoleum was built in the seventies, but happily avoids concrete and shag carpeting.  Inside is entirely covered in breathtaking mosaic patters, and from a balcony tourists can look down on the marble tomb itself.IMG_0195 IMG_0184 IMG_0183 IMG_0182 IMG_0186 IMG_0187

The Chellah is the oldest human settlement on the mouth of the Bou Regreg river, from the time of the Phoenicians.  Romans built a major port city on the same site, and after them, Arabs used the abandoned city as a necropolis.  Later a mosque and a zawiya (Moslem monastery) were built on the site.

On the tally of personal victories, I figured out the panorama feature on my iPhone, so you can get something closer to the full effect.

Chellah overlooking the Bou Regreg river:
IMG_0240 IMG_0241Inside the walls, the ruins of the mosque.  Stork nests were everywhere (you can see one atop the minaret):

IMG_0288 IMG_0283 IMG_0289 IMG_0292 IMG_0290


IMG_0302 IMG_0300By far my favorite picture of the trip; a room of arches under the sky (I wish it could be bigger, but you can click to enlarge):

IMG_0294At the bottom of the ruins, gardens are kept, and wild cats come to make friends:

IMG_0296 IMG_0301 IMG_0305(Sidenote, on my last day, friends from college, Laura and Theresa, came to spend a night at the Stewart Hostel for World-Travelling Women, so we all saw the Chellah together.)


The Roman section of ruins was difficult to comprehend.  I’m on a quest for history and beautiful things, but looking at a Roman tombstone, touching a Roman tombstone… it didn’t click, it felt otherworldly.  The best my brain can do is a theoretical sense of awe.  I saw artifacts two millennia old!

IMG_0318 IMG_0309I’m not nearly as snuggly as the stray cat, but I have just as much affection for my tour guide:


To finish it off, we caught a glimpse of a traditional Moroccan dance on our way out.  Note the pointy slippers; everyone wears them in Morocco, and they’re the most comfortable shoes ever.  More on that another time:






There is far too much from Morocco to fit in one post, so consider this the first installment.  More to come soon.

I visited my dear friends, Muireann and Will.  Will, who grew up in and around the Middle East, works in Rabat overseeing students studying Arabic immersed in Moroccan culture.  Muireann, a true epicurean, Latin scholar, and fellow DC traipser and boxed wine consumer, met her love and moved to a castle in Morocco.  (I hold this makes dubious her claims of not being a princess.)  Their home is in Kasbah Oudaya, built in the 12th century between the Atlantic and the Bou Regreg River.  I’m sorry, let’s review that, shall we: built in the 12th century.  They live in a UNESCO World Heritage site.  That’s what delights me about Morocco: ancient history is used and lived in and trudged upon.  One can pick up milk and walk home on a street that’s seen nine hundred years’ worth of similarly prosaic errands.

I wish I had more substantial history to share on the kasbah, but Wikipedia was less than forthcoming.  In lieu of knowledge, I offer beauty:

Oudaya seen from the river


The walls up close with the somewhat confusing date of 1315; things seem to be built in stages on top of each other:


Inside the walls, the streets of the neighborhood:

IMG_0173 IMG_0170 IMG_0140 IMG_0172

Their home is a charming two-story, with tile floors, wood beam roofs, a and traditional Moroccan atrium.  There’s more natural light than the average Moroccan house; houses in the old quarter have no air conditioning, so sunlight is the enemy in summer heat.

IMG_0259 IMG_0258


The river view from their balcony.  Please note that precipitation still exists in the world, a fact easily forgotten in Kuwait.  Clouds have never before moved me so deeply.


Gardens, a museum, and a selection of lovely doorways are kept at the bottom of the hill:


IMG_0268 IMG_0270 IMG_0266 IMG_0265 IMG_0271

But by far the frenzied, endearing, absolutely maniacal star of the home was Zenga (Arabic slang for crazy).  We cuddled, we scratched, we laughed, we cried.  J’adore tu, fou petit chat. (And you too, Google translate.)


Six Quick Bits

I returned from Morocco yesterday and have abundant pictures and stories to share.  The summary is, I am seduced.  I feel about Morocco how I felt about my first boyfriend: completely, deliriously, irrationally infatuated based purely on good looks and circumstance.  I’m done for; the only way out now is happily ever after or a tearful ice cream binge watching Casablanca on repeat.

While I collect myself, here are a few quick bits on Kuwait I wrote before I left.  While you read, I photo edit and dream of Africa.

1) Cory and I went to the animal section of Friday market.  Once again, we come to a topic that deserves its own post, at which time I’ll lecture about animal rights, empathy, and first world problems, but in the meantime, hey look, birds!  And bunnies!  And snakes!  And a goat!Bird Parrot

Snake Bunny Goat

2) We had “Dress like a Fairy Day” because there is truly nothing on earth loved more by elementary school girls than fairies and princesses.  It almost helped them pay attention… and then their wings got tangled.  Sadly, pixie dust blocks iPhones, so photographic evidence was not obtained so skeptics and believers will go on debating the existence of fairies.

3) Arabian Dress Day: the girls were so proud of themselves, and so, so adorable:

2013-10-10 11.41.28 2013-10-10 11.40.22 2013-10-10 11.40.15

Infinitely less adorable, but just as proud of ourselves:

2013-10-10 06.14.20

4) That. Face.


5) Downton Abbey: is killing me.  Someone, please, start watching….. throw me a bone.  Give me an ear to lament to, or a shoulder to cry on. (Muireann and Dorothy, I’m looking at you.)

6) Zumba classes: I chaperone that now.  High school seniors couldn’t find another teacher so they showed up at my door because someone told them I was “nice” (nice, pronounced “can’t-say-no”).  Nothing has made me feel more white than a room of eighteen-year-old belly dancers and a Russian dance instructor.

But seriously, though... I look just like this

But seriously, though… I look just like this


Morocco pictures will come soon, I promise.  I’m too smitten not to talk about it.

History Lessons

We’re in our last day before Eid holiday, and I’m counting down the minutes until I land in Morocco (3,075).  Distracted or not, I have to stay at school another period, so I sit watching my clock tick; as a fellow teacher put it, “I’ve never been so excited for an Islamic holiday.”  Thinking about it like that, I wondered why we get the week off in the first place.  I present the cliff-notes of my queries.  I promise I’ll write something other than a history lesson next time.

Disclaimer: This is about as accurate as I’ve gleaned from conversations over a week, and whatever research I did in half an hour.  If you take this as gospel truth, I don’t know what to do with you.

In Islamic tradition, Eid al-Adha is a celebration of Abraham’s faith in sacrificing Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael: at God’s command, Abraham nearly killed Isaac in sacrifice until God stopped him; also, Abraham led Hagar and Ishmael into the desert with faith that God would not let them die.  In both cases, God rewarded Abraham’s faith and spared the lives of those he loved.

Eid is the culmination of Hajj, or “the pilgrimage”- the famous pilgrimage to Mecca.  Before Kuwait, I was under the impression the pilgrimage originated with Mohammad, but Hajj comes from the exile of Hagar and Ishmael: Abraham sent them into the desert where they wandered the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwa (now, Mecca).  When Hagar and Ishmael were about to die of thirst, an angel brought water from the rock for them to drink; the spring- the Zamzam Well- is still in Mecca, and historically it’s the reason Mecca actually exists as a city in the desert.

At school, we had a Hajj ceremony.  The girls dressed up as pilgrims and mimicked the path of Mecca, we drank water from the Zamzam Well, and in sacrifice I kid you not- they slaughtered a lamb.  (To be fair, they didn’t slaughter the lamb in front of the whole school, just in front of the soccer team during practice the day before.)  I enjoyed the ceremony and the prayers, even if I couldn’t understand them; it was traditional, it was ancestral, it was a chance to see in what all the students- in what this whole country- is rooted.

Friday Market

I understand now why authors have agents: remebering to write is absurdly easy to forget.  Mea culpa.

This past weekend, a few of us ventured to the Friday Market.  Different from the Souk, Friday Market is a massive outdoor flea market crossed with a 4H fair.  When I say massive, I mean massive on a state fair level; it would take you a day to walk and see everything.  We didn’t even attempt to see the animals, that’ll be a whole afternoon unto itself.

By far the absolute coolest thing found was a Soviet medal awarded to mothers of the USSR who raised 7 or more children: “материнская слава III” translates to “The Order of Maternal Glory”.  Cory snatched it up for a mere 1.5KD.  For anyone reading in New England, we need to pick up a couple of these for Auntie Anne and Auntie Margo.  Keep your eyes peeled.


Next up in the category of despot relics: an authentic postcard from Nazi Germany.

2013-09-27 13.52.16


Moving on to general history, an Arabic newspaper from the day Princess Diana died:

2013-09-27 12.28.10


In modern life, we find herds of incredibly tacky toy cows, slowly treading their way into the pavement, one water bottle rotation at a time:

2013-09-27 12.36.42


A bowling trophy:

2013-09-27 14.05.34Some unique, handmade things:


2013-09-27 12.08.40


And some less unique things:

Tools Irons


And the girl in me loved the clothes:

Arabian Dress


So that’s where your Christmas/wedding/baby presents are all coming from.  I’ll try to avoid the cows, but you never know.


Old and New

Quick history lesson that I gleaned from a cab driver: back in the day (about 300 years’ worth of days) Kuwait used to be called Kur, was only settled around the sea, and was surrounded by a wall with gates that were shut at night.  These gates are the oldest things left in Kuwait, everything else had pretty much been built in the last fifty years or so.

This is me in front of the oldest thing in Kuwait:

Oldest THing in Kuwait


And this is me in one of the newest things in Kuwait:

Newest Thing in Kuwait

Weekly Trivia

Kuwait has an on-again, off-again relationship with banning nutmeg.  True story.  It’s considered an aphrodisiac, an intoxicant, and a constipator, depending on who you ask.  Currently, I think it’s legal, but beats me if I know where to find it.

Doing a bit of research on Arabic specific ESL: Arabic has eight distinct vowel sounds and diphthongs.  English has twenty-three.  Imagine being a six-year-old and having those fifteen extra curve balls thrown at you; my empathy is growing.

Clouds do exist in Kuwait.  After a month of scanning, I’ve finally spotted them.  They were disbursed by 6am, but I’m wholeheartedly committing and celebrating that fall is here!


Following the latest Gulf trend, I’ve become a raging fashionista of harem pants.  Wear ’em to bed!  Wear ’em to work!  You, too, can take back the twenty-four hour comfort style heretofore reserved for college students and pregnant women!  In other news, my model expression closely resembles my de-caffeinated expression.

harem pants

And the best for last: I upgraded soccer for futball.  The Hawalli Honey Badgers kick off their first game tomorrow night.  This is for you, Gang Green, Coaches, and Matadors.



I firmly intend to be more reliable about writing updates.  I blame a first taste of 125 pre-logic-aged girls as my excuse for spending evenings this past week voraciously devouring Big Bang Theory instead of reading or writing.  Until I pull myself together, though, these are the seven most notable points of interest of the past week:

1) The Kuwaiti Towers are a spiring nod to 70’s architecture.  I enjoy them; they’re almost whimsical but still impressive.  Up close, they look as though they were stapled with the blue-shimmering backs of CDs.  We weren’t able to go up because they were closed for renovation, but they’re remarkable even from below.Kuwait Towers Close Up Kuwait Towers

Cooking, though slightly less enjoyable without a bottle of wine, is the most efficient way to make an apartment a home and bring twenty people together.  I successfully instituted Monday Family Dinners amongst teachers.  Action was deemed necessary upon hearing some of the men derived most of their nutrients from pop-tarts.

Kuwait is crawling with stray cats.  It’s heartbreaking, but you can’t get near enough to tame them, nor are we allowed to have pets in the apartment.  Still, though, they are endearing.  My friend, Cory, started a tumbler: Kats in Kuwait.  It’s worth taking a look.

Kats of Kuwait

I booked a ticket to Morocco for a week in October to see my dear Muireann and Will!  On the way back, I’ll be spending twelve hours in Dubai, so it’s basically a twofer.  I’m also planning out two weeks in India for January winter break.

There is no such thing as a bad sunset in Kuwait.  This is possibly because there is no such thing as a cloud in Kuwait. (Again, all photo credit goes to Cory).


Don’t.  Ever.  Drink.  The water.  Ever.

Nothing has made me homesick yet, except for a twinge when I read Willem Lange’s words: “What New England is, is a state of mind, a place where dry humor and perpetual disappointment blend to produce an ironic pessimism that folks from away find most perplexing.”  I crave the bracing crispness of a New England September.  Enjoy the fall for me!