Category: homestay

The 72 day update

I’m not sure why, as I am not particularly looking forward to leaving Korea, but I installed a countdown app on my phone a few weeks ago, telling me exactly how many days I have left before I fly home to America.  Perhaps it’s because I wanted to be reminded not to waste the precious time that I have left.  Anyway, whatever the reason, it’s there, and since I cannot think of anything clever to call this particular blog entry, it will also have to serve as the inspiration for my title.

No reason for this picture.  It just reminded me of my sister 🙂

According to my little app, I have exactly 72 days left in Korea.  My goodness, how the time flies.  I mentioned that to my host sister yesterday, and she got all teared up.  We then had a very heartfelt conversation about family, in which my host sister started crying as she told about how lonely she was growing up, because her brothers were so much older than her, she was always in school, and her parents were always working.  “I have no memories with them,” she said on more than one occasion.  It about broke my heart….and also made me so incredibly grateful for the love of my own family. (on a side note….I met said brother this morning.  They came down from Seoul late last night to visit.  The sight of them stumbling out of their alcohol induced stupor to come out and give me a deep, solemn bow, and then go back to bed, was amusing to say the least, and it was all I could do to stifle a giggle.  Oh, Korea, there’s always some new charming little cultural oddity about you to discover….)  But anyway, back to In-suk…we’ve been having a lot of conversations like that lately.  I feel like we’ve grown really close, and I’m really going to miss her when I leave :(.

Not too much to report on the school front.  Last week was midterms, so I didn’t have school.  Rather than do more traveling, I elected to stay in town and work on my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification, as well as other sundry things that needed to get done.  Not the most glamorous way to spend a week off, but I got caught up on a lot of stuff, and that feels great, so I am happy.  I also was able to finish an astonishing SIX units in TEFL (my normal pace is 1 a week), so I’m almost done with that!  Only 3 more units and I’ll be finished for life – super psyched about that!!  There were a couple of interesting things at school recently.  Yesterday was the 63rd anniversary of my school.  There was a big presentation that included all of the students and teachers (both high school and middle school), and lots of award giving and clapping.  Apparently the English department received an award, and I was sent up to accept it, although I’m still not quite sure what it was for….welcome to my life in Korea.  Lol…

Yeah….that was me up there.  So awkward, lol…

I was chatting with one of my students from winter camp on Facebook last night.  I told her that I missed teaching her, and she told me this: “We also always talk about you, Lauren :).  Lauren’s class was everything what I remember during vacation!!!  We were very enjoyed about your class :D.”  To which I replied, “Oh that makes me so happy I almost want to cry!”  And then she said, “It’s really what I’m feeling, too!  Lauren is a really good teacher. As we (who Lauren taught English to students) know~~~~”  Needless to say, any residual grumpiness that I may have had about Korea evaporated in that moment :).

Other than that, I don’t have much to report.  I haven’t done any traveling – going on 3 months now in the same city, closing on a record for me! 😉 – although I have been making a big effort to spend time with my friends in Gyeongju.  Check out pictures from some of our escapades below.

Lin and her husband, Pan.  I guess he’s camera-shy, lol… 😉

A student from school, Jeong-min.  She comes to the English service at church, and we often hang out together on Sunday afternoons.  She’s super sweet 🙂

Recently an English teacher from school from school, Mrs. Oh, has taken an interest in befriending me.  I’m not sure why, it kind of happened out of the blue – last semester we hardly ever talked.  I have a suspicion that it’s because she thinks I’m lonely – she was very lonely during her time spent studying English in Canada, and so I imagine that she thinks I’m having a similar experience.  While I am not, I am more than happy to be her friend.  We went to a little ceramics festival and then dinner in Gyeongju a few weeks ago, and then to the Silla Millenium Park last week (a sort of cultural activity theme park), and we have plans to go out together again this weekend.  At the millenium park, she bought me a set of blown glass earrings and necklace, which are really lovely.  We also got to see a wild horseback riding performance (they were doing all sorts of crazy flips and stunts with the horses running full speed!), but my favorite part was when the security guard allowed us behind the restricted area of the set of Queen Seondeok (an epic drama about the famous Queen of Korea who, incidentally, my school is also named after) and took our picture sitting on Queen Seondeok’s throne.  It was awesome :).  And now you know almost everything happening in my life these days! 🙂

Some of my favorite pieces from the ceramics festival 

Dinner with Mrs. Oh – Japanese shabu-shabu.  Yummy!!!! 
Millenium park – love the waterfall!

The set of Queen Seondeok

Behind the scenes!  Look at us being rebels!! 🙂

A concert in Korea

I wish that I could explain to you the humor, the cultural insight, the very Korean-ness that is a community-wide performance in Korea.  Perhaps I would start with describing how my host mother ran from the car to the theater in a sort of strange waddle-run, hiding under her jacket to escape the slight rain that was so light that I wouldn’t even consider it rain – more like a gentle mist.  Or perhaps I would start instead with her insistence that I use both an umbrella and a rain jacket to evade said gentle mist.Perhaps I would start explaining what happened inside the theater, with my host mother on one side of me singing lustily off-key with the performers, while my host sister sat on my other side snoring away.  Or the spontaneous, auditorium-wide clapping that would start with astonishing frequency and coordination.Maybe it would be better to first talk about the Korean propensity to show off their “pet foreigners.”  I would talk about how my host mother used me as an excuse to get permission for her daughter to miss school so that she could come – apparently Insuk was allowed to come only on the condition that she translate for me….since I would be completely lost watching dance and listening to music if I didn’t understand all of the words, lol.  Maybe I would describe how I was paraded in front of all of my host parents’ friends, all of whom, after careful scrutiny, gave the same assessment of me – small face, very pretty!  Or how my host mother bought a bouquet of flowers for me to give to my host father, and then shoved me up on stage and made me give them to him before the performance had actually ended.  Yeah, that was awkward.  Or maybe I would skip that flower story, and just tell the one where my host mother walked up to the big flower arrangements that they had decorating the entryway and just started taking flowers out of them to give to me.  I don’t think she was supposed to do that.  But she wanted to give me flowers, so that was that.

I wish I could truly explain to you the night that I spent with my host family last Friday night.  But I think, in the end, that it’s something that you would have to experience yourself to truly understand.

My host papa.  Isn’t he adorable? 🙂
I truly am one of the family… <3
They’re the cutest 🙂
They gave me all of his flowers and had me put them in my room!  I can literally smell their love now… 🙂

Making memories

So I’ve been with my new host family less than a week, and already I’m dreading the time when I’ll eventually have to move out.  They are such a joy to live with.  I’ve made more memories with them in 5 days than I did in 7 weeks with my old family.  The night I moved in, Insuk (my host sister) and I went on a walk around our neighborhood.  We ran into some of her friends, and after walking around for a while, we decided to go to a coffee shop and play Jenga (that was my idea, actually….it was really cool to be able to show something new to Insuk about the neighborhood that she’s lived in her entire life :]).Then last night, one of her friends came over and we all made Peperos (basically a long straight pretzel dipped in chocolate and decorated with sprinkles and such) together.  Tomorrow – 11/11 – is aptly named Pepero day, so they wanted to make some to give to their teachers and friends.  It was hilarity the entire night.  First of all, Insuk comes in all in a tither, totally flipping out – she had just stepped up to her ankles in wet cement.  I felt bad for her, but at the same time her reaction was absolutely hilarious.  I couldn’t help but laugh…and then I helped her clean up :).  So anyway, after she got all of the cement out of her clothes, we finally got started on the Pepero – step 1, melt the chocolate.  I’m not sure how they did this, but their first attempt at melting it ended up in a gooey, burnt mess.

Around that time host papa came home, and he was all excited because the wireless router that he had bought for me had just come in.  And apparently, it was absolutely imperative that it be installed right now – actually, to be more specific, that I install it right now.  So he helped me a little bit, and we eventually figured it out, but I was left with a newfound appreciation for troubleshooting technology in a foreign language, lol.  All those people in India get a bad rap….    Anyway, right after we finished I had to leave for my Bible study – by the time I came back host momma had come home and taught the girls how to properly melt chocolate, and they had moved onto decorating – with a pile of failed attempts at decorating already on the table.  But I can’t make fun of them too much for that – the failures still tasted just as good!  Made for some yummy snack later on….

Tonight, my host mother brought home fried chicken (I tell you what, Korea sure does know how to do fried chicken, it’s sooo tasty!) along with about 20 pounds of spinach leaves.  So Insuk and I helped her lug it all the way up to our apartment – we live on the fifth floor and there’s no elevator.  I’m still trying to figure out what she’s planning on doing with all of that spinach…

I also had a personal victory today.  I’ve been putting off getting a haircut for months now.  I didn’t want to make a Korean friend come with me, but I was scared to go alone – I had heard too many horror stories of foreigners getting awful haircuts because they can’t communicate well and the Korean hairdresser don’t know what to do with their strange hair texture.  But today I didn’t have class, and so I decided that I also didn’t have an excuse anymore.  I looked  up how to tell them what I wanted, and spent a while memorizing it, and then bit the bullet and went into a hair salon near my house.  I left with an $8 haircut that looks amazing, 2 bottles of hair stuff given as a gift, and a new Korean friend.  I was so happy…. 🙂

Towards the end of my stay with the last family, I was REALLY struggling with my decision to move.  It seemed like such a drastic decision – was it really that bad?  Maybe it was my fault…would the new one be any better?  The epic drama on moving day did nothing to decrease my anxiety – it started with my host sister (Songi) coming into my room in the middle of the night sobbing because she had just found out that I was leaving, was punctuated with my co-teacher crying from stress at school, and ended with even my old host mother tearing up.  And all of that left one confused, emotionally drained, and very unsure little Lauren.

But I have no misgivings anymore.  Aside from the fact that this family actually feeds me (ah!  We already ate dinner and momma just asked me if I was still hungry!  I feel so loved!!!), they also just make me feel welcome.  No more yelling at me or around me.  No more ignoring me, either – I’m not sure which one is worse.  No more letting me fend for myself without ever asking me if I’m ok.  No more drastic mood swings where I am left wondering what the heck just happened.  I don’t think even I realized how much stress I was harboring until I was removed from the situation.  This new family doesn’t just allow me to live in their home – they treat like part of the family.  It’s absolutely incredible the difference that that makes.  And to make things even better, Songi (the only person from my old home that I’m going to miss) and I are still on good terms.  We’re planning on meeting up next week, after her big senior exam is over :).

Aside from the family…I even like where I live.  I really liked the location of where I used to live, and was struggling with leaving that, too.  And during the day and a half that I lived with my friend, I realized that that was a legitimate concern.  She lives on the other side of town, and I just felt so completely lost while I was there.  I didn’t know where anything was – it was like my very first few days in Gyeongju all over again.  But my new homestay is in the same neighborhood as my old one.  They’re about a ten minute walk from each other, but all of my old haunts are still easily accessible.  I feel so blessed that God looks out for even my smallest worries.  Really, where I live is a silly concern – I would have figured out a new neighborhood, too – but God allowed me to stay where I knew, while also giving me a family that welcomed me.  So here’s to making many wonderful new memories in the next 8 months! 🙂

Pepero!!
Insuk is on the right….can’t remember her friend’s name right now :(.  Ji-won?  Something like that….
I finally have a real Korean family <3

Morocco

Wow. What a weekend. I’m not quite sure where to start. I suppose I can begin in the same style as my other entries, describing what I did this weekend. But I can already tell you that this one is going to be different from the rest. I’ll try to fill you in on the things that I did, but I will write far more about what I learned than what I did. And, no matter how much I write (I will try to keep it as concise as possible so as not to bore you :]), I am positive that what I write will have only scratched the surface of what I learned.

Anyway, enough of my blathering, let’s get on to the weekend, shall we? The first day, at least, is rather straightforward. The program I went on, Morocco Exchange, is not directly affiliated with my school, although it does advertise at school. As a result, a large number of my classmates did not go on this trip (most decided that it was not worth the rather steep price tag). Two did, however, Sarah and Alice, so we were able to travel by bus together to Algeciras, a port city on the southern tip of Spain. Our ferry to Morocco left at 8:00 in the morning, so we rode down the night before and stayed in a hostel. After 3 hours in a freezing bus (the bus driver had the AC on! In December!! What is that??), we made it to Algeciras, and then found our hostel soon after. The hostel was less than palatial – the ticking light that sounded like a bomb, stained sheets, and dirty floors were a less than warm welcome to Algeciras. But it was only for 1 night, so we just turned the lights out and went to sleep. Almost anything is survivable for one night :).

Friday morning, bright and early, we got on the ferry and made our way to Tangier, Morocco….Africa!!! Even before we every got to the city, I was struck by how close the two countries are. Of course it looks close on a globe, but it’s not until you stand on one coast and realize that you can clearly see the shore of the other coast that you fully grasp how close these 2 countries are geographically – and it’s not until you live in both of them that you realize how shockingly far apart they are economically, socially, politically, and religiously.

Anyway, our first stop on Friday once in Morocco was at the DARNA women’s center. DARNA means our home in Arabic, and that’s exactly what it is. They offer class of all sorts to Islamic women to help them better their lives – sewing (both modern and traditional), language, computer skills, cooking, and more. We were given a tour of the facilities by Hajar, Hafsa, and Khadija, three really sweet native Moroccans. While we chatted with them over lunch (it was Friday, holy day, so we got Moroccan-style cous-cous…I was in heaven), I was struck mostly by the importance of their religion that seeped out constantly, even when they didn’t directly bring it up. For example, one of them told us that it is quite common to see taxi drivers pull over on the side of the road to pray. Families who are housing people in hard times have been known to secretly sell their valuable while the guests are gone so that they can continue housing them. At the same time, the Moroccans also openly admitted that there are double standards and unfortunate difficulties regarding the treatment of men and women; but how you interpret the Koran, insisted Khadija, the most conservative of the three women, hidden beneath a head scarf, is a personal matter, and they do not force their beliefs on others who interpret the Koran differently. For someone whose experience with Muslims has consisted almost entirely of what I have seen on television, I must admit that I was not expecting to hear such openness and acceptance of differing religious views. It was an unexpected and wonderful start to the weekend.

After lunch we made our way to Asilah, a little Moroccan town a short bus ride from Tangier. On our way there, the bus driver randomly pulled over on the side of the road, right after we has just crossed a bridge. We were all really confused, until we saw the camels lined up on the beach. Apparently part of our 320 euros pays for a Camel ride! How many people can say they’ve ridden a camel on a beach in Morocco?? I can. Oh yeah, it was amazing. Those things are big!! Pictures really don’t do them justice, lol…

We didn’t spend much time in Asilah. Actually, the only thing that I can really remember from Asilah is that Rachel, our group leader, bought us all homemade cookies from a street vendor. But what I do remember are some of the things I heard in the bus in the way to Asilah. Rachel was telling us about how, during WWII, Hitler demanded that the king of Morocco hand over to him all of the Moroccan Jews. The King responded, “We have no Jews here, only Moroccans.” For a religion that is always portrayed as being mortal enemies with Judaism, that was not the response I was expecting. I liked it a lot :). More good food for thought is what the driver said to Rachel while we were enroute to Asilah. He is trying to learn English, and was apparently talking to her about that. He said something that I found quite profound. There’s an old Arabic saying that says, “Making mistakes and learning something well is better than not learning it at all.” As someone who often feels shy to speak in Spanish because she knows she’s going to make mistakes, that was good to hear. Actually, for any of you who may be struggling to think of a Christmas present for me, I’d love a sign with that proverb on it…preferably in Arabic :).

After Asilah, we made our way to Rabat to meet our host families. All of us were living either 2 or 3 students to a home, in a traditional homestay – we slept in their home, ate our meals with them, etc. This one was slightly different from other homestays I’ve had because A) I did not speak a word of their language, and B) we were only there 2 nights. But it was a homestay nonetheless…thank goodness the eldest daughter, Hasnae, spoke a little English :). We got an Arabic lesson at dinner – I quickly learned “eat!”, and almost just as quickly “I’m full”. Other phrases that stuck with me were thank you, thanks be to God (which they say after every meal), and God willing (which they say as a response to pretty much anything). It’s cool to see how worshipping their god permeates every facet of Muslims’ lives, even their language.

Anyway, our first night in Rabat, Hasnae came in and asked us if we wanted to try traditional Moroccan clothes on. So we got dressed up in takchitas, what Moroccans wear to wedding and other special ceremonies. It was pretty cool, although I can’t say that I would enjoy wearing so much fabric all the time :). I was also introduced to Bollywood! If you think that Spanish soap operas are melodramatic, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a super cheesy, over-dramatized Bollywood movie. Moroccans are crazy about them – pretty much every TV I saw turned on, either a soccer game or Bollywood movie was playing. It cracked me up :D.

Saturday we had breakfast with our host family, and then went on a drive to meet with some young Moroccans. They all spoke English, and are members of a group called Ouled al Hay, Brothers of the Neighborhood – this group was formed a couple of years ago when people started worrying that poor areas of Rabat could be breeding grounds for terrorists. These young men, who are all from poor areas in Rabat, wanted to combat these assumptions, and so they started Brothers of the Neighborhood to help the people of their city and beyond – they host youth camps, city cleaning projects, sports camps, and more. We met with them to talk about the differences between the Western and Islamic worlds, and our respective images of each other. We talked most of the morning – about religion, politics, history, stereotypes, everything. It was sad to me to see how much stereotypes about Islam have permeated the American society, often without us even realizing it. I had no idea how many negative assumptions I had made about Muslims until I sat face to face with them and talked with them, and realized how loving they were, and what a heart they had to care for others and be understood by them. One thing that the association leader, Aboubakr, said struck a chord with me – he was talking about Western perceptions about Islam, and he mentioned that a lot of times Americans may feel nervous sitting next to an obviously conservative Muslim on a plane. What surprised me, however, was that he insisted that there was nothing wrong with that. It is normal, he said, for us to feel that way; it is the Muslim’s job to reach out to you and make you feel at home. “We are just as responsible as the government for creating a good image of ourselves,” he said. If only people from every country thought like that – no resentment for the stereotypes that exist, but simply a determination to prove them wrong.

We could have stayed there for hours, but Rachel insisted that we had to move on. After the diversity talk, we visited Chellah (old Roman ruins which also happen to be a huge nesting ground for storks), and the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V. There was an eel pond that we were going to throw boiled eggs into at the site of the Roman ruins – it’s supposed to bring good luck and fertility – but unfortunately a stork nest had fallen into the water a few days before, and all of the eels were in hiding. How often do you hear that combination of words: “It’s terrible when the stork nests fall into the eel pond?” It became kind of a running joke among the 15 students in our program throughout the course of our time in Morocco :).

I ate lunch with my host family on Saturday. After lunch, they taught me how to make the delicious mint tea that Moroccans drink with every meal. I measured the mint, and heated the water, and rinsed the leaves, and added the sugar, and even learned how to pour it properly. We had tea that day on the terrace. The warm sun and friendly atmosphere was very relaxing. After tea Hasnae started playing some music on her phone, and my little sister, Chimsah, started dancing some sort of traditional Moroccan dance. She’s such a little diva! She was really getting into it; it was a lot of fun to watch.

After lunch we met up with more Moroccan students to explore Rabat’s Kabash (old fort) and Medina (market). The conversations I had with them were much more relaxed and less formal than the one that we had had the day before, but still just as fascinating to be able to see into the hearts of people so different from myself. In the evening, we talked to some Fulbright scholars about what their lives are like in the Fulbright program. It was very interesting to talk to them, especially considering that I’ve applied to a Fulbright program. Claro, they were research scholars and I applied for a teaching assistantship, and they were in Morocco and I applied for South Korea, so obviously there were differences, but it was nice to get some sort of a glimpse into what I might be doing next year.

Saturday night we went to a Hamman. A Hamman, for those of you who don’t know, is a public bath. It’s technically an optional experience, but very few people ever opt out of it. I figured since I was already using squat toilets, I might as well get the full cultural experience and use a public bath too, right? 🙂 This Hamman consisted of 2 rooms: the first one you took off everything that you didn’t want to get wet – for most people, this was everything – and then the actual bath room, which was super hot and steamy, and had hot water and soap and scrubbers to wash yourself. If you wanted to get really clean, you could even pay a woman 50 dirhams to scrub for you. It was definitely a cultural experience; and I definitely left it with a newfound appreciation of my shower at home :).

After dinner with my family (noodle soup, turkey, and potatoes…and of course, tonssss of bread), we settled down on the sofa/beds to watch more Bollywood. Moroccan houses do not have beds, and very little furniture – most of the rooms are simply lined with sofas, and people can lounge and relax on them during the day, and sleep on them at night. Chimsah started dancing again, and this time I decided to dance with her. It was a little awkward, I had no idea what I was doing…but it was fun to cut loose with her and her family. She’s really sweet – they all are – and I had a lot of fun.

Sunday morning marked the end of my stay with the family. As we were leaving, Hasnae asked us to give her our contact info, so we could stay in touch. She wrote her information on a piece of paper for me, and underneath signed it, “your sister, I will miss you.” This was such a simple sentence, but it touched me deeply. She has known me for literally 2 days…how could she care about me at all yet?? But yet she seemed to genuinely do so. One thing that Khadija, one of the women at the DARNA center, said was that Muslims try to do everything as a form of worship – this includes simple things like respecting other peoples’ opinions, smiling to people in the street, and caring for strangers who pass through your house. And those really seem to be more than words – I could see these peoples’ faith in action everywhere I went, including in the care shown by Hasnae. I will miss such genuine-ness.

Our main destination on Sunday was a remote farmhouse in the Rif Mountains. The conversation in the bus ride was fascinating. The group of students on this trip was very diverse – there was a Muslim, a Hindi, a Chinese girl, and people from all over the United States. I went from hearing about a traditional Indian wedding – which can last for months! – to population control measures in China, to techniques for using a squat toilet. Rachel also told us a few jokes that Moroccans have made about themselves to help pass the time. One of them poked fun at the rampant police corruption that can be found throughout the country: a man buys a brand new tractor, and is driving it home when he is pulled over. The police spends forever looking for something wrong with the tractor so that he can write the man a ticket (it’s common practice to bribe policemen to not submit tickets so that they won’t go on one’s record), but he can’t find anything. Finally, he pulls out his notepad and starts writing the man a ticket. “What can you possibly be writing me a ticket for?” asks the man. The policeman responds, “The two back tires are bigger than the two front ones!”

We finally made it to the farm around lunchtime, just in time to have dinner with the family. Some of us helped them prepare the food, and others of us played with the little kids. The grandmother took a liking to one of the students in particular, Bridgett. She kind of adopted her – had her sit next to her at lunch, brought her with her to pick olives, danced with her, talked to her – even though Bridgett had no idea what she was saying. Kindness and fun, I have found, have no language barriers. After lunch the family took us to where they were pressing olives to make oil; I got to press a few olives. It was fun.

After that we settled down for another chat, this time with a translator. There was no set topic to this talk, and we talked about a huge range of things. But what most impressed me was how starkly different our views and expectations for life were. The students asked things like whether they hoped to ever go to America, and if they waned to send their kids to the university, and how often they went into town to see people and run errands. Their answers were simple – of course they would like their children to go to college, but it´s so expensive, it´s virtually impossible. Equally impossible is obtaining a visa and money to leave the country, and they work so hard on the farm and live so far away from the town that even frequent visits to the town are not very feasible. But they did not have a trace of malice or jealousy or envy…just a simple acceptance of their lives. Not only acceptance, but contentment – the father, Mohammad, told us how he never got an education, but left home at 14 to see Morocco, but then came back 14 years later because he felt an obligation to take care of his family. “I don´t have much,” he said, “but I´m happy with my life.” It was amazing – they´ve never left the country, and most likely never will, but yet we were the ones in the bubble. I felt such a respect for us and our beliefs, and yet reverence for his faith at the same time. He thanked us – in English – after every question that we asked. I think it was the only English he knew; but he wanted to make sure that his appreciation was not lost in translation. He actually asked our permission to go pray before he left the room. At one point I told them about the note that my host sister had written me, and teared up a little bit from emotion. He noticed, and came up to me later and made a point to thank me for my tender heart. Someone asked him as we were wrapping up what he most wanted from us as Americans. He said without hesitation, that he wanted us to tell people back home the truth about Islam. I recognize that most of what I experienced will probably be lost in communication – in addition to the fact that I can´t really communicate properly exactly what I want to say – but if you get nothing else from this blog, know that you cannot judge a group of people based on a few. No matter their religion – or perhaps because of it – the people of Morocco are beautiful, loving, genuine, incredible people.

No one wanted to leave, but eventually we had to. The family stood on the hill and waved to us as long as they could see us. One of the little boys was waving so hard his entire frame shook. That´s a pretty good picture of what I learned about the people of Morocco – they put everything they have into caring for and loving others. Anyway, after the Rif Mountains we made our way to Chefchaouen. We settled into our hotel, and then had a few hours to shop and see the city. Dinner was in this really cool restaurant called Casa Aladdin – I had a cheese salad, Pastilla (a pastry with a mixture of lamb, cinnamon, African spices, and mint inside), and flan. It was amazing.

After dinner we had a “reflection session”. Rachel asked us all to sum up what we had learned or wanted to do in the future in 1 sentence. Here were some of the sentences: “I want to appreciate my education.” “I want to learn more.” “Most Muslims are not terrorists.” “I want to always be grateful and gracious.” “I will try to learn by stopping – not always be trying to do things, but sometimes just sit and pay attention to people and their experiences and needs.” Mine was this: “Find your pocket.” We can´t save the entire world. But we can save a part of the world. So find what you love, find where you can help, find your pocket – and go for it! There´s a quote from Harold Thurman Whitman that I just love: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Monday morning I walked up to a mosque overlooking the city to give me one last view of this wonderful place. It was lovely – definitely worth the trek in the rain. The rest of the day was spent in a blur traveling on bus, ferry, going through immigration, another bus, and then walking from the bus station to my house. It´s hard to believe that I was only in Morocco for 3 days.

Rachel gave us two gifts as a parting gift – a Moroccan bracelet, to help us remember the people and places of Morocco, and a geode from the south of Morocco, to remind us that things always have more to them than what appears. I hope I never forget. I learned more in 3 days in Morocco than in three months in Spain. It was…beyond words.

Rather anticlimactic, but you can see the rest of my pictures from the trip here. I´ll be home 1 week from today!!