Ain Sokhna, Egypt: Beach Thursday video and naughty Arab lesson

It is Beach Thursday and I have a video that will teach you something naughty 😉 I didn’t even dare to post it on my Travel the Middle East site! See it until the end, as the lesson is on the last half of the Ain Sokhna video:

Beach time! Naughty Arab lesson found at 1:55

Yes, I just taught you the middle finger or Arab sign language for “f**k you.” You know, travel brings many things with it. I can’t just paint a pink picture on my blog every single time. Keepin’ it real! 😉

About Ain Sokhna, Egypt

Literally meaning “hot spring” in Arabic, Ain Sokhna is located in the Eastern Desert and happens to be the highest peak there (Wikipedia). It is a popular beach spot, but mostly to Egyptians. In fact, I didn’t even see one other foreigner during my visit, except for the fellow Couchsurfers that were with us. As I was told by my host Moussa, the resort we stayed at is of mostly middle-class Egyptians.

Photo time!

For your entertainment, photos of the grounds. Enjoy! (Note: Yes, I know I blatantly ignored all rules in regard to how to dress in Egypt or any conservative country, but I was told by Moussa this was a safe spot to wear my tank top. And, as a Latina, feeling ubber liberated, I so did…!)

Ain Sokhna beach, Egypt

Me at Ain Sokhna beach. The sandy part

Ain Sokhna sandy beach, Egypt

Ain Sokhna sandy beach teni (again)

Sokhna mountains

Barren mountains, too! This is from the rooftop of Moussa’s apartment, with his cousin and fellow traveler Jaimie (Aussie)

Sokhna resort view

Ain Sokhna resort view from our friend’s flat

Sokhna hookah

Hookah time! We went to a café/resort on the road from Ain Sokhna to Cairo

Have you been to any off-the-beaten-path spots in Egypt?

Eating iguana in Curacao: My culinary adventure

For Cultural Tidbits this week, I will finally start telling you about my Curacao travel without a plan experience. First off? Traveling through their food. And the most unique culinary experience of all? Eating iguana in Curacao!

eating iguana in Curacao

Eating iguana in Curacao? Jaanchie’s Restaurant is the spot!

Eating iguana in Curacao is definitely within my Top 2 culinary adventures, only behind my adventure at the Essaouira fish market and eating fresh manta ray in Morocco. Not only was eating such a reptile was unique in itself, but the amazing friendly service and surreal surroundings of Jaanchie’s Restaurant added to the whole experience.

eating iguana at Jaanchies, Curacao

Miniature model of Jaanchie’s Restaurant, displayed by the entrance

Jaanchie’s Restaurant, located in Westpunt, was the lunch stop of the 6 hour+ All West beach-hopping tour I booked with Irie Tours. I reserved directly by using the phone number on a brochure I picked up in Punda. I must emphasize that I called the night before and offered to go with a friend, and when they told me their price, I said that was too expensive and bargained down a good $20/person when I stated we “couldn’t afford” their standard rate. Key here? Never book a tour through a hotel, but rather pick up one of many brochures at the tourist kiosk right across the bridge in Punda (by the clock!) and call the agencies directly – and always bargain! 😉 ps – no, they did not pay me to talk about them. I just had such a great experience that I had to mention them! 🙂

eating iguana at Jaanchie's, Curacao

beautiful dining area of Jaanchie’s Restaurant

eating iguana at Jaanchie's, Curacao

the walls in the inside dining area had wonderful quotes in different languages

Inside Jaanchie’s restaurant

Upon entering the restaurant, I loved the atmosphere. Open, full of bird houses by the sides, which in turn invites many birds to sing, but still stay away from your food 😉 then, the lively owner, Jaanchie, greets you with the biggest smile and best dishes of the house. He can speak like 5-6 languages (maybe more!?). What was so nice of him is that about 3 different languages were spoken by the 6-7 people on our tour, so he sat down besides the Latinas (Spanish), the Brazilian (Portuguese) and the Dutch girls to explain the run down of his menu and daily specials. And while the great atmosphere and hospitality surpassed expectations, the highlight, of course, was eating iguana!

eating iguana at Jaanchie's

Jaanchie (the owner) and me!

Personable service by the owner himself

What I loved the most about Jaanchie, the owner, is that he explained that he understood eating iguana was not for everyone and many people would fear asking for a dish and then risk not liking it. Thus, he always gives a decent plate per the table so everyone gets to experience eating iguana, but enjoy a different dish for lunch. Great Caribbean hospitality right there!

eating iguana AND seafood at Jaanchie's

seafood platter I ordered as main course at Jaanchie’s. Yum!

The food: Seafood and iguana for me!

To be safe, I ordered the seafood mix, which included shrimp and I believe grouper as main entrees. The iguana however, arrived swiftly! I found it interesting that I liked eating iguana more than my actual dish. Iguana tastes like chicken, in my opinion! Maybe a few extra bones, but they simply made me feel like I was eating wings. Most of the table found it downright weird or simply didn’t like eating iguana, so I got to enjoy a good 3/4 of the plate. It was deliciously seasoned, with that characteristic Caribbean kick and full flavor. Needless to say, Jaanchie was quite happy with my appetite! :p

Read: Travel without a plan: My Curacao experiment report

eating iguana process

jou know what I mean…

Is eating iguana in your travel bucket list ? 😉 Or have you had it before?

La parranda puertorriqueña: my favorite Puerto Rican Christmas tradition!

As many of you know, I was born, grew up and lived in the Enchanted Island of Puerto Rico until I was 18 years old. Thus, I know Puerto Rican Christmas very well. When thinking about our traditions, it was hard to choose which one to write about: How about explaining why the Puerto Rican Christmas goes from Thanksgiving Day all the way ’til the end of January? What about a photo essay of the delicious traditional food we eat during this season? How about listing and describing some of the many free festivals and concerts happening all over the island every single weekend? Or…tell them about the popular parranda puertorriqueña?! Well, there was the answer!

What is a parranda puertorriqueña?

In simple terms, the parranda puertorriqueña is the spiced-up, drunken cousin of the American Christmas carols. People gather with instruments and sing traditional Christmas songs as they go house by house until the “victims” open the door. Wait…why did I just say victims? Ahhh, there lies one of the big differences between the soso Christmas carols and the parranda puertorriqueña! 😉

parranda puertorriqueña, instruments

Some of the traditional instruments used in a parranda puertorriqueña: Cuatro (looks like a guitar, but has 5 sets of double strings; a plenero (looks like a drum in the photo); maracas (bottom left set); and a gĂŒiro (looks like wooden banana).

Assault!?

There is a reason why we Puerto Ricans also call the parranda puertorriqueña an ASALTO (literally meaning “assault”). Any time during the Christmas season (ahem, between Thanksgiving Day ’til the last week of January), an unsuspecting group of your friends could show up at your house in the middle of the night, usually the wee hours of 2-3 AM, and a particular night when they know you are asleep btw, screaming…

ASALTO!! (ASSAULT!) and start playing the pleneros, guiro, Spanish guitar and sometimes even trumpets and the cuatro puertorriqueño as loudly as possible, along with some off-sync singing of traditional songs, until you wake the heck up.

Heart attack to follow? Only if you are not used to the tradition! Puerto Ricans simply jump off the bed so excited (yet still with the heart beating at 475634785 mph) and dash to the front door to receive the friends that are delighting them with a parranda puertorriqueña! What about your neighbors!? you may ask. Well, typically they get so excited as well and come out to their balconies so they in order to enjoy it, too! 😀

parranda puertorriqueña instrument: The gĂŒiro

GĂŒiro: Looks like a wooden banana, is hollow inside, has two holes behind it to hold it (similar to the holes in a bowling ball) and its front is full of horizontal dents throughout. For sound, a little piece of wood, with metal “fingers” attached, is used. It makes a rasping sound that perfectly complements any parranda puertorriqueña!

Once the people that perpetuated the “assault” walk into the “victims” house, they keep singing, playing their instruments, and even dancing while the “victims” (aka the hosts) start bringing out all the food and alcohol they got. Some of us Puerto Ricans call this “la comprita:” A set of groceries, finger food, rum, and other types of alcohol we always got stock up on the side of our pantry throughout the Christmas season in case we receive a parranda puertorriqueña. So if we are surprised and “assaulted” by our friends, we are ready! 😉

parranda puertorriqueña, congas

Other typical instruments found in a good parranda puertorriqueña are the congas (duo on the right)–and any piece of wood that can make a similar, complementing sound (left)! This photo was taken at a Christmas party back in my neighborhood in Gurabo, Puerto Rico!

Eat, drink, party — and repeat

But, what happens after all the food and alcohol runs out!? Ahh, everyone goes home? Umm, NOPE!! This is just the beginning! Typically, the “victims” aka “hosts” that were awoken join the parranda puertorriqueña as someone suggests the name and address of the next victim of the asalto. Then, off in a caravan once more!

Same parranda puertorriqueña from first video on this post (Christmas 2007), but after some other people joined! We were “assaulting” one of my neighbors 😀

And yes, it comes full circle again: Gather at the front door in silence, once everyone’s ready with the instruments they start off as loudly as possible again, singing and playing all those traditional instruments until Victim No.2 wakes up and gives the “assailants” some food and rum. This cycle continues as long as the group wishes, but it usually lasts well into the next morning, when around 10 AM someone knew of a party up in the mountains at the grandma’s house of someone else and the huge group of like 60+ people simply crash the party. When this happens during the holiday season, the people hosting the party are actually delighted to receive the party crashers aka assailants: So long you are singing and playing an instrument (you know, just give any sign that you were part of a parranda puertorriqueña all night long), you will be received warmly with, you guessed it, even more food and alcohol!! 😀

Ahh, just remembering the many parrandas puertorriqueñas I have been part of throughout the years makes me so homesick. Fortunately though, this tradition is migrating to several parts of the world, particularly the U.S., as we Puerto Ricans attempt to make Christmas our own no matter where we are. In fact, I just heard of a group called A Son De Plena based in Tampa, FL. Above, you can see them gathering for a parranda puertorriqueña to surprise their fellow Puerto Rican friends in town–or any other foreign friends that still know about the peculiar Christmas tradition. I’m so excited to join them on the weekend of DĂ­a de los Reyes Magos (January 6th) and introduce my gringo boyfriend to this lively Puerto Rican tradition!


A HILARIOUS short film summarizing this entire post perfectly – ENJOY! 😀

Ever been part of a parranda puertorriqueña? Comment below!

Christmas traditions around the world PT 2!

CLICK HERE for pt 1 of Christmas traditions around the world! learn about the FESTIVE customs and traditions of even more countries.

Christmas in Italy

Christmas traditions around the world, nativity scene

Presepe: Nativity scene in Italy (Photo: Davide Papalini)

Thought Christmas were longer only in Latin America? Think again! In Italy, Christmas officially starts on December 8th with the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception and then, families typically start to decorate their homes with lights. Gift giving, however, does not happen until January 6th or Epiphany, a tradition shared with many Latin American countries. That 12th day of Christmas is when it is believed that the Three Wise Men (aka Three Kings) visited Baby Jesus and showered him with gifts. As such, just like in Latin America, the main Christmas decoration is the Nativity scene, or as it is called in Italian: The presepe.

Christmas in Jordan

Christmas traditions around the world, beef and bulgur

Minced beef and bulgur, a traditional Christmas dish in Jordan (Photo:Wearenotmartha.com)

Christmas in Jordan is celebrated with great fervor by the Christian minority there. What surprised me the most, however, is the tradition of soaking dry fruits in rum, brandy, and cognac by women in early December! I can’t wait to go back to the Middle East an try those! 😉 Then on Christmas Eve, a cake is baked, while Christmas Day dinner consists of grilled eggplant, vine leaves in tomato sauce, stuffed turkey, and minced beef with bulgur

Christmas in Martinique

Christmas traditions around the world, shrubb

Clément Créole Shrubb, a popular one in Martinique (Photo:Scotlandstephenson.com)

Christmas in this creole tropical island is a mix of Caribbean and French flavors. Their most distinct Christmas tradition, however, is the making and drinking of shrubb, a fine liquor made of white rum, sugarcane syrup and dried peels of tangerines and oranges, which are abundant at this time of the year.

Christmas in Mexico

Christmas traditions around the world, posada

Posada procession in Oaxaca, Mexico (Photo: GoMexico.about.com)

Mexican Christmas (or “Navidades”) officially start on December 16th with a tradition called “Las Posadas,” which last all the way until Noche Buena or Christmas Eve. This tradition involves the recreation of Mary and Joseph’s hard journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, trying to find shelter to give birth. A different part of the journey is recreated every night, culminating with a party at a neighborhood. Children dress as angels, shepherds, and also as Mary and Joseph in such processions, with their parents following with lit candles.

Christmas in Morocco

Jemaa el Fnaa

Jemaa el Fnaa Square. Marrakech, Morocco

As a Muslim country, Christmas is rarely celebrated in Morocco. Yet, due to the strong French/European influence in the country, along with a growing expat community, you will find Christmas lights and decorations sprinkled throughout the big cities. Days vary, however, depending on the faith and background of that minority. For instance, members of the Orthodox Christian Church celebrate Christmas on January 6th; while the Coptic and Armenian Churches celebrate the holy day on January 7th. Last, but not least, the Catholics typically attend a special evening mass on December 24th to start Christmas.

Christmas in Panama

Christmas traditions around the world, Panama

Left: A traditional pollera dress; Right: Light show during Panama City’s Christmas Boat Show (Photos: Family-christmas-traditions.com)

Christmas in Panama is quite lively and several great events are held, specially in the capital Panama City. Festivities kick off the 2nd weekend of December with a big Christmas Parade. Gorgeous floats pass by and women dress in very bright, traditional dresses called polleras. Also, at night, an amazing boat parade showcase a light show that is truly spectacular!

Christmas in Puerto Rico

It is tough to decide what’s your favorite tradition of a Puerto Rican Christmas. Is it the fact that they begin on Thanksgiving Day in November and don’t end until the end of January? Is it the party after party throughout the whole season and how virtually everyone decorates their homes with hundreds of lights? Or is it the food and plena music?

Coming from the Island of Enchantment, I can tell you that the most unique and fun Christmas tradition in Puerto Rico is the parrandas! In essence, they are drunken Christmas carols! Learn more about Puerto Rican parrandas here.

Christmas in Spain

Christmas traditions around the world, Pavo trufado

Pavo trufado: A traditional Christmas dish in Spain (Photo: Cocina.org)

Naturally, Christmas traditions in Spain are very similar to those in Latn America. Thus, I have decided to switch it up a bit on this entry and leave ya with a recipe of a traditional Christmas dish in Spain: Pavo Trufado de Navidad (Christmas Turkey with Truffles)!

1 turkey of 4 kg.
œ kg. minced lean pork
1 kg. minced veal
Salt and ground black pepper
1 glass of brandy
1 large glass of dry oloroso sherry
3 tins (of 90g) truffles (mushrooms)
150 g “jamon serrano”
200 g belly of pork in rashers
6 eggs [click here for the rest!]

Christmas in Switzerland

Christmas traditions around the world, Swiss ringli

Ringli: Typical Christmas treat in Switzerland

A special Swiss Christmas tradition is to await the arrival of Christkindli: A white angel wearing a crown full of jewels, which holds a face veil over its face. This angel is the one that brings the presents. These, by the way, come in a basket, which is carried by Christkindli‘s child helpers. Also, another Swiss Christmas tradition is  to eat ringli (homemade doughnuts) with hot chocolate.

Christmas in St Thomas (US Virgin Islands)

Christmas traditions around the world, St Thomas sweet bread

Photo recipe: VirginIslandsThisWeek.com (click to enlarge)

One event to look forward to when spending Christmas in St. Thomas is the Challenge of the Carols outdoor concert. It is infamously glorious! While at it, grab some Johnny cakes (traditional holiday sweet bread). Click on the image above for a traditional recipe to bake at home!

Christmas in Vatican City

Christmas traditions around the world, Vatican

Vatican Christmas Tree (Photo: Sunshine city, Flikr)

Naturally, the Pope delivers his traditional Christmas speech and directs mass to thousands of fervent believers. This service, called “midnight papal mass,” actually begins at 10 PM on Christmas Eve in St. Peter’s Basilica. The papal speech, however, is delivered around noon on Christmas Day.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions around the world? Why?

Christmas traditions around the world + photos!

In the Western & Christian worlds, we celebrate Christmas this weekend. In celebration, I decided to compile some unique Christmas traditions around the world! Since our globe has more than 200 countries, the list below includes only the ones I have personally visited and/or lived in. This way, we keep the number close to 30 😉 Hope you enjoy it!

Aruba

Christmas traditions around the world, ajaca

Ajaca: Traditional food eaten during Christmas in Aruba, it is made of plantains and stuffed with pork, chicken or beef (Photo:Mourinhospenis.tumblr.com)

In this beautiful Caribbean island, it is commonplace for families to go to church together on Christmas Eve. Then, families gather again for Christmas dinner the next day and sing Aruban songs as they eat ajaca (also eaten in Puerto Rico, but known as “pastel”), salted ham and salmon.

Austria

Christmas traditions around the world, Austria markets

Christmas market in Vienna, Austria (Photo: Manfred Werner)

While Christmas markets are very popular in several cities across Europe, they are particularly important in Austria. The most popular in this quaint country are found in Vienna (in front of the City Hall), Innsbruck (in square by the Golden Roof), and Salzburg (by Residenzplatz/the big Cathedral).

Barbados

Christmas traditions around the world, Barbados

Christmas Pantomime by St Winifred School, Barbados (Photo:Bajanchristmas.wordpress.com)

In the Barbados, a curious tradition is that children put on a pantomime show (instead of a traditional Christmas play) for school. This is also common Christmas tradition in Jamaica.

Curacao

Christmas traditions around the world, Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa Claus) and his helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). Photo: Looi at nl.wikipedia

In the Dutch Caribbean (including the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao) they celebrate what it’s called Saint Nicholas Day. What’s really special in this region, however, is Sinterklaas: The Dutch Santa Claus! He makes an appearance on December 5th and gives out the gifts then! Oh, it is also feast day 😉

Dominican Republic

Christmas traditions around the world, Three Kings

"Los Tres Reyes Magos," meaning "The Three Magic Kings" (Photo: Studioporto.com)

While many Latin American countries celebrate both December 25th (Santa Claus/Christmas) and January 6th (Three Kings Day), only the latter is celebrated in Dominican Republic. There might be some exceptions to the rule, such as wealthy families exchanging gifts on both days. This, however, is rare. What, then, happens on January 6th? Children leave grass for the “camels” of the Three Kings to eat under their beds (not tree!) and then see their gifts there the next morning.

Egypt

Christmas traditions around the world, fattah

Egyptian fattah (Photo: Mylifeinapyramid.com)

Christmas in EGYPT? That’s right! While more than 90% of the population in Egypt are Muslims, there is still a Christian minority, called the Coptic Church. Also, as an Orthodox Church, so they actually celebrate Christmas on January 7th, a day after Three Kings Day in Latin America (Epiphany). Then, on Christmas Eve, everyone goes to church midnight service wearing a brand-new outfit, then goes home afterward to eat delicious fata (pictured above).

England

Christmas traditions around the world, Boxing Day

Keswick Boxing Day Hunt, Market Square, Cumbria, Lakes District, England in 1962 (Photo: Phillip Capper, Wiki)

Some peculiar Christmas traditions in England are the Queen of England’s speech (radio and televised) on Christmas Day and the celebration of Boxing Day on Dec. 26th, which nowadays involves giving small amounts of money as gifts to those who have helped you throughout the year (i.e. the mailman, the newspaper boy, etc.). When it comes to food, Christmas lunch includes a chestnut-stuffed turkey, Yorkshire pudding and roast beef or roast goose.

Germany

Christmas traditions around the world, suckling pig

Suckling pig: Traditional German dish eaten on “Dickbauch” feast day (Photo:Whydyoueatthat.wordpress.com)

As in several European countries, the day that German kids actually receive gifts is December 7th. Thus, on the night of December 6th, children place a boot or shoe by the fireplace (similar to the mistletoe tradition!) and wait for St. Nicholas to fill it with gifts! Another funny fact? Christmas Eve is called “Dickbauch” (which means “fat stomach”) and if you do not eat well on that day, you will be haunted by DEMONS! Say wha!? Interesting Christmas superstition indeed!

Iceland

Christmas traditions around the world, Yule Lads

Two of the Yule Lads on a billboard in Iceland (Photo:WikiCommons)

Icelandic Christmas is great, as it lasts 26 days and brings about 13 different “Santa Clauses” (also called “Yule Lads”) and they start bringing gifts 13 days before December 25th! The story behind them is that their parents are mean mother GrĂœla (who takes away the naughty kids in town!) and father LeppalĂșĂ°i, who is not that bad. Their children then are the infamous Yuletid, and each day of the Icelandic Christmas a different one comes to town, either bringing gifts or a prank, or both! 😉 on December 12th, children place a shoe by the window and expect one of the many “Santa Clauses” to leave gifts – but if you have been naughty, you get a potato instead! The major gift exchange and Christmas celebration, however, happens on Christmas Eve, when many Icelanders also go to midnight mass.

Israel & Palestine

While Jews celebrate Chanukkah around the same time, a minority of Christian Arabs do celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, on December 25th. Celebrations are particularly evident in Bethlehem and the Church of Nativity, where it is believed to be the location of the manger where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago. See the video above to get a taste of Christmas in the West Bank/Palestine!

For part 2, and many more traditions from other countries, CLICK HERE!!

What are your favorite Christmas traditions around the world? Why?

The Tannery in Fez Morocco: Photo essay

So before I head to a gorgeous Puerto Rican beach today (bahaha! =P), I wanted to switch it up on cultural tidbit Monday! Today we are taking a break from The World’s Superstitions series and traveling to the Arab world in order to learn more about their culture. Chosen topic this week: The leather tannery in Fez!

leather tannery

When the tannery is colorful! Photo: Bernard Gagnon, Wiki Commons

I had never visited a tannery until I lived in north Africa back in 2009. In fact, I didn’t even know that tannery is the process of making leather, which does not decompose easily, from the fast-decomposing skin of animals. Interesting huh?

While the old medina of Marrakech also has one, I only visited the leather tannery in Fez Morocco (as it was only a 1.5-hour ride from the AUI campus). Oh well, yet another reason to come back to this beautiful North African country! Below, some pictures, history and overview of the process of tanning leather! =D

tannery in Morocco

Entrance of the tannery in Fez - yes, it is FREE! Photo: Matt Cherry

tannery in Morocco

Me on a balcony overlooking the workshop at the tannery

tannery in Fez Morocco

Me at a leather shop nearby the tannery

[click here to learn more about the leather tannery process and history]

Have you visited the tannery in Fez Morocco?

How I offended a hijabi in Egypt

Hijabi in Cairo Egypt

Hijabi in Islamic Cairo by Nick Leonard (Jungle Boy, Flickr)

So today is all about cultural misunderstandings! Ahhhh, who doesn’t love those blushing, awkward, unforgettable moments by which we learn about a place the hard way? Indeed.

It was in Egypt, when I thought I was in fact “culturally safe.” You know, several months later, after you think you have learned all the tricks and chuckle or shake your head when newbies aka tourists commit “the [cultural] atrocities.” Yeah, that! It was toward the end of my second semester studying in Egypt, around the 8-month mark. I was taking the school bus to the American University in Cairo’s new campus in Katameya as usual. This morning however, I forgot to do a little plucking to the eyebrows as I was running late. So, when the bus arrived, I sat on the most discreet, dark corner of the mini bus. I then kind of hid behind the front seat, and started the beauty ritual.

I was almost done at this point, around 5 minutes later, when I just felt a pair of eyes piercing me. You know what I’m talking about: When you just feel a glare, when someone is downright staring at you.As I finished brushing my eyebrows a bit with my fingers, my eyes met an evidently-angry hijabi. This, my friends, is a woman that is veiled. Well, she looked like she could be my grandmother, but meaner and a bit younger, which made her even scarier. Literally, I feared for my life. I was so embarrassed, as if I would have been stopped dead in the middle of the red carpet by a famous ET commentator saying “omg honey, no offense, but that’s like a hideous dress!” yeah, right there in front of the spotlight, when you thought you were the last Coca Cola of the desert, when you think you are “It”

After the hijabi thought she had punished me enough with her eternal, one-to-two-minute stare, she said to me, in a very firm, offended tone: “You should not be doing that here. That’s private and intimate and it’s offending.” Then, after punishing me with another good 30-second mean glare, she slowly, painstakingly turned over to the front again.

And so I learned my lesson: Plucking your eyebrows or doing anything you normally do in your house is considered offensive and too intimate to do outside of it to a hijabi (or at least that Egyptian lady). Basically, it is almost like the American equivalent of changing your shirt in public: No woman, it is not ok to show your bra and change your top in public, even though it does look like a bikini top. Still, it isn’t the beach (although I recognize some guys might defer). Remember buddies: We never know it all!

What’s been your most embarrassing cultural mishap?

How I was welcomed to Morocco: A travel tale

My first Morocco tales, dated on my travel journal Aug.28th.09

Al Akhawayn University Morocco

Destination: Al Akhawayn University. But not so fast!

I did a crazy trip en-route to Il Maghreb: San Juan (Puerto Rico)-NYC (2-night stay); NYC-London (3 nights); London-Madrid (6 days); aaand in just one day: Madrid-Casablanca, Casablanca-Fes, Fes-Ifrane. See, the means of transportation I had to use in the last “legs” of my trip were…interesting…

First off: I met a Moroccan lady on the plane (Madrid-Casablanca) that lives in Spain and visits family in Morocco often. We spoke about cultural differences, as I tried to use most of the Arabic I knew. She tried to respond in Egyptian Arabic so I could understand, which was AWESOME. My Arabic should be better than it is given to the program I completed in Egypt, but because of circumstances, well…still, it was better than I thought it was after I felt I failed an oral test miserably last month! And we will get into that…

So this sweet Moroccan lady actually went all the way from the airport to the train station with me and bought my tickets all the way to Fes, which I greatly appreciated. Then I got off at Voyageurs (?), one stop BEFORE my Moroccan lady. So we said goodbye and there I was, off on my own. First REAL (by that I mean for need to survive) attempt at using my Arabic was “I want water and food. Where can I get them?” I of course used the only spoken Arabic I can survive on (Egyptian), in addition to a funny kind of wording (Ana ayza ashtarii mia wa ta3m. Mahal feen?). Workers just laughed and looked at me both funny and cute. Or maybe just funny. I don’t know. All I remember was repeating myself until they finally understood. There I found Fayrouz pineapple (the best drink in the world) and my water. Then I remembered it’s Ramadan, so I was discretely hiding my stuff and taking on weird positions to be able to drink my ice-cold Fayrouz (again, best drink in the world). After my refreshment, I began to ask “where is my train?” There was a clear board that said my train should have been in the platform I was in…it was 3 o’clock and my train was leaving in 15 mins…I was like where where, trying to explain to people how I only speak Spanish, English, and very limited Egyptian Arabic. They just giggled and tried to explain to me (which you know it means sending me to different places EXCEPT the right one). AT ANY RATE, I finally made it to the train, which happened to be AWAY from the ACTUAL station, a bit of a walk in a random rail that seems to be out of order (?).

Now I was off to Fes. Yay. I met the sweetest Moroccan lady with her cute, SUPER hyper kid. After about half hour of a very broken, yet kind of cute, conversation in Arabic, she told me she actually spoke a bit of English. Ok. She must have been entertained. Her English was good enough to hold another conversation. But I insisted in using Arabic. So we just tried to speak in Arabic with her using English if I absolutely did not get it (meaning, MANY times. Haha). The most hilarious part must have been when her little kid yelled “You’re crazy!” to her mother in Moroccan Arabic (because she was speaking English and the kid thought it was gibberish). Or maybe when I left my purse in the bathroom and the lady reminded me of it. *coughs* My mind is way out there. Then I passed out and woke up RIGHT before my stop in Fes. Whoa, that was close. And there is where the REAL fun began. I got off with all my luggage, struggling to make it into the main “meeting place” (Latina + a semester abroad. You do the math).

Theeeeen…guess what happens? Yup, my “arranged transport” from Al Akhawayn University was not there. Beautiful. I thought maybe I didn’t look well enough, so I ignored the ragul (man) by a shared taxi yelling “Atlas!” (Where Ifrane is located). So, the ragul left and I end up completely stranded, I figured after 15 mins. Thankfully there was a hotel nearby. I checked the Internet. An email sent last minute by the university telling me to confirm my arrival. Dude, if I send you my flight info shortly before my arrival, it means in fact I WILL arrive. But, NO. MOREOVER, there was NO emergency phone number listed in the email. It was 7 o’clock by then. University offices were closed. GREAT. Mind you, here I am starting to freak out. A little. But then the ragul at the maktab al-istakbal (reception, and if I typed it right. Ha) told me there is a grand taxi coming out right in front of the hotel that takes people to Ifrane (Atlas. I KNEW THIS!! Grrr…). I was like, yay, solved! But not quite…

Fez Morocco train station

Fez train station by Davide Cesare Veniani

I went outside and what happened? It was time for iftar, or breaking of the fast. During Ramadan, the holiest month of Islam, Muslims do not eat or drink ANYTHING from sunrise to sunset every day. Then, as soon as the sun is down and the call of prayer hits, poom, BUFFET TIME!! Meaning: NO ONE is on the street…NO ONE. So, I was stranded for another hour. Then 8 o’clock hits. Nothing, except for a man trying to charge me 300 dirhams or $30 to take me to Ifrane “direct.” Ermm NO THANKS. Half an hour later, a family walked by, the people looked “reliable.” Again, in my broken EGYPTIAN Arabic I asked when and where could I catch a grand taxi (shared cab) to Ifrane. No answer. Just a bunch of Moroccan Arabic I didn’t quite get. But by their faces of indifference, I figured they didn’t know anything (Thank Lord for body language). However, someone “eavesdropped” my discrete conversation…so when I least expected it, a horde of ten men or so approached me like hungry tigers. Oh no, oh no…

They all tried to tell me that I was pretty much screwed and wouldn’t find any shared taxis at that hour, that they were all “done for the day.” So, basically, “I had no choice” but to pay anything between 300-500 dirhams for the ride (depending on the driver, of course). At this point I was just so tired, so frustrated because they were trying to explain to me other methods of transport (which were too complicated for me to understand and too expensive ANYWAY). I understood nobody, as everybody is spoke to me at 483564837 mph. Then I just broke out. I started to cry and sob. I heard several “aww!”s and such, then I say, or yelled, very frustrated: Mafish feluus! Wa laken ana laazim aruj ilgamia3! (I have no money! But I must go to the university!) over and over again. I honestly had NO money at that point. I forgot to mention to you I had (well, STILL HAVE) Egyptian pounds worth up to $200 USD…just to find out they are not exchanged in Morocco, khaaalas! (like AT ALL, done, finsihed!). Sooo, I only had like 135 dirhams left because I could not even see the balance of my Puerto Rican card and didn’t want to overdraft at the airport. Anywayyyyyyyy…

In what possible way could this mess turn into something…productive? A random man just stood up in front of the pack of wolves, Obama-style, calmed the crowd and delivered a speech. It was lovely to hear him speak. His rate of speech was lovely. His basic (VERY, very basic) selection of words was almost musical. I was understanding word by word, meia meia (100%). It was absolutely wonderful. “You need to get from here to Ifrane, right? And you have no money for small taxi, right? Ok, just come with me.” Yes, I did go, along with random driver, or sajbak as he said (his friend). Am I out of my mind? Probably. But guess what happened? I was taken all the way to a random spot in town, about 10 mins away from where I was, then they found me a big lime-coloured Mercedes Benz which served as grand (or shared) taxi, paid that driver, the petit taxi driver (or sajbak), then gave me 100 dirhams back. So? The whole deal ended up being 35 dirhams or $3.50 I was mabsuuta awi awi (very very happy)!! However, I had to wait for the Mercedes to get full, meaning I had to be in this part of town, full of only men, for like an hour more. I took the opportunity to buy a yummy sandwich since I only had a Fayrouz and bottle of water in my system. I read the menu: French and Arabic only. Meats…meats I had never heard off. I looked at them. Hmmm. “Steek” looked pretty legit (yes, it was spelled that way, both in French and Arabic. Hilarious). Paid the whopping amount of 20 dirhams (about $2. HA!). Delicious DELIIIIICIOUS, hearty, thick whole-wheat pita with the best seasoned steak. Ahhhh. Maybe I was too hungry. But it’s been 2 days and haven’t had ANY tummy problems. God is GOOD.

Soooooooo then I was in the lime-green Mercedes. After an hour I finally got to the university. It was 10 o’clock. PM. I was exhausted. The guards just looked at me like “EH!?” I mean, imagine a 5’4, 103-pound girl that looks 16 tops, arriving at 10 PM to a college campus in a car with a bunch of men, looking like crap. Umm YAH. Afterwards, the guards looked me up in the system. I showed up. Thank you Lord. But theeeen I had to wait like 20 mins. for an “official university car” to take me from the entrance to my dorm. While I waited, I explained to the guards, a young lady and a man, my odyssey. Entirely in Egyptian Arabic. I’ve never seen an Arab laugh so hard in my entire life. They kept asking me what did I say. I would repeat it, act it all out as desperate/frustrated as I was while stranded in Fes. They almost fell from their chairs. I made their night. I’m a bawler like that.

Al Akhawayn University Morocco

*phew* that's the next day btw...lol...

And that was my first day in Morocco!! *hears weird noises in background* I know, I know. You all must be SO proud… lol…

Have you been to Morocco? Got any crazy stories for me!? Comment!