Africa Day.

25 May

Today is my last day in Morocco, in Africa, on this side of the world. Tomorrow I go home to DC.

It’s been an insane journey.

The past week and a half I’ve been traveling throughout Morocco. It’s definitely had its ups and downs, and I will post on all I did during these past 12 days.

But last night, I went to Playing for Change’s Mawazine concert. It was amazing. If you don’t know Playing for Change, look them up. It is an amazing organization and a fantastic band.

I’ll see you all Stateside, with my final days in Morocco detailed.

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Before I dash off…

14 May

Some final adventures of my life in Rabat before I start my week and a half of traveling and then head to DC (and then head home June 1-5! I am so happy I get to go home! My heart feels light as a feather!)

Last Friday (not Friday the 13th, but the Friday before) was the last real day for the two girls who were being taken out early from the program, Leah and Becca. As a sort of good bye and good luck celebration, they decided kayaking would be awesome for all of us (like 20 of us) to go do. Since Macarena and I had been talking about going kayaking on the marina for weeks, we were excited. After class we went home and get ready – she put on a swimsuit top underneath her white shirt and I figured since we’d only be on the marina that I wouldn’t wear a swimsuit, so I just wore my black genie pants and a white shirt. We hope in a cab with Caity…and then proceed to go to Club Nautica, not to the marina. The club is located by the Rabat beach. Which is a place people surf in so…waves. Lots of waves. We get our kayaks from the kayak guys and drag them down the beach. Leah and Becca head out just fine. Macarena and I get in, and 30 seconds later get hit by a wave and tip over. Now we’re completely soaked (white shirts = bad idea now). At this point, Amelia and McKenzie have gotten in their kayaks and headed out. Caity, who was going to kayak with one of the kayak guys, hasn’t even gotten in her kayak. We get back in, head out further, then a big ass wave hits us and we tip over again. The kayak guys tell us the current is making it too dangerous for us to go out now and says we can’t kayak anymore. With that, I tell Macarena and Caity, “Screw it, let’s go swimming.” So we do. And we get boogie boards from the kayak guys and go boogie boarding too. At this point, all the other kids had shown up and were playing soccer on the beach. Leah, Becca, Amelia and McKenzie come back from kayaking and go swimming with us. So it’s a good day, but I’m swimming in my clothes wearing a white t-shirt. In Morocco. Getting out of the water was interesting. Especially when Caity, Macarena and I walked halfway back to Caity’s house then caught a cab because of all the people staring at us. And the cab driver stopped with the biggest smile on his face…pretty sure we made his day. “You know what I did today?” “No, what?” “Picked up three dripping wet American girls!” “You are so lucky.” Welcome to Morocco. Caity changes clothes then we three head back to our place for couscous. Later that night about 10 of us go to sushi and nom nom nom on that, then head to Upstairs, the local bar pub (meaning lots of Americans/Europeans are there) and gets lots and lots of bottles of wine. All in all, a great day.

Next adventure: As mentioned, we now have a host brother. On Wednesday, Macarena, Adrienne and I had hoped to go kayaking after Macarena and I finished with our ridiculous long class. We didn’t get out until five (and this last class was at our professor’s house) so we didn’t get to AMIDEAST until 5:45. At this point, we decided against kayaking (but it was so hot blerrrggghgghghgh) but decided to go to the Oudaias and get ice cream or juice or something and have a breeze on us at least. Now, on Sunday, Macarena had invited Saif, our host brother to go kayaking with us (she’s really nice and just wanted to make him feel at home).

That’s before she knew he had a BIG FAT crush on her. I had seen it at the breakfast table earlier that day, his looking at her when she wasn’t looking….and then his randomly talking to us for about two hours. By us, I mean her. I told her, “Mac, Saif has a crush on you.” “What?” “No, pretty sure.” “Oh my God!” “Yeah, so inviting him on kayaking is a bit awkward. …You get to ride with him then.” “What?! NO.” “Yup.”

Anyway. We meet up with Adrienne with Saif in tow. I had already told Adrienne that Saif has a crush on Macarena, so when we went to get our cabs (petite taxis only take three passengers at most), Adrienne and I immediately said we’d get a cab together. Leaving Macarena and Saif with a long, awkward cab ride. When we get to the Oudaias, Macarena texts me to say Venezia Ice, the place we were going to go to, had been dismantled because of Mawazine and that they were at the cafe next door. We said alright and walked down to the row of cafes on the waterfront. Macarena and Saif were not at any of them. I call Mac. “Hey, where are you? We’re at the cafe and we don’t see you.” “That’s because I’m on a boat!” “…Wait, what?” “I’m on a boat! He took me to the bridge and then we got on this boat and now I’m in the river on the boat with Saif!” “Do you need us to join you?” “I mean, we’ve already left so I don’t think you can.” “Alright, well, we’re gonna go get food. Have fun. Make good choices.” Essentially, Macarena had been kidnapped. Or as Adrienne put it, “It’s their first date!” No. Ew. We get food at Blue Berry and eventually Mac and Saif show up. So that’s fun/awkward.

Thursday night was the farewell dinner with AMIDEAST, which was at this GORGEOUS restaurant, Dinarjat, in a riad (house in the medina) that literally took your breath away. I don’t have pictures, but the restaurant’s photo gallery helps: http://www.dinarjat.com/diaporama.htm. SO PRETTY. Everyone got all emotional at the end, saying goodbyes to staff, teachers and friends. Winner of the emotional contest: Carson. After dinner we head to an awesome lounge were we have the second floor all to ourselves and everyone gets drinks and dances and then we say our goodbyes again and so on.

Friday (yesterday), Macarena and I go to the medina, hoping to meet up with everyone (but most of us have returned out cell phones so we can’t call people), meet up only with Hila and Nate, head in, say our goodbyes, Mac and I get our shopping for our trip done, we run into Carson, Amelia, McKenzie and Anna, walk around with them, meet up with Kate, Michelle and Alaina, say our good byes to all of them, then head home meet with Caity for couscous at our place, watch a movie (No Strings Attached = yeah, no.), do some shopping, I say good bye to Caity and they head off to meet with some of their Moroccan friends.

So I’ve said my good byes. I’m not getting very emotional about it though. I mean, yes, I’ll miss all of my friends and will miss Morocco, but I think I’ve been so emotionally drained over the past few weeks that I can’t get overly emotional right now.

In other news: I AM GOING HOME TO CALIFORNIA JUNE 1-5 AND I AM SO HAPPY I COULD EXPLODE.

With that, I’m outskies – I’m taking my laptop with me though, so you may get some updates from the road!

DONE.

13 May

IS DONE WITH SCHOOL!

WHOO!

What’s next? Tomorrow I leave for Tangier! So exciting!

Family Matters.

10 May

Just a few things to update you on my life in Morocco:

Tomorrow is my last day of school! Technically, anyway. Tomorrow is the last day where I have to turn in something (aka fourteen pages which I need to write tonight eep), so it’s essentially the same. Friday Macarena and I head north to Chefchaouen, then Tetaouen, then Larache, then Tangier, then back south to Moulay Idriss and Marrakech, then back to Rabat for the Mawazine festival, then to Casablanca for a day and then I head home on the 26th! I am SO excited! Whoo!

In other news: So the day I had the best day ever (see previous post), Macarena messaged me and said, “Did you know our host dad has been in the hospital for the past few days?” SAY WHAT. Apparently he’d been in an accident earlier that week and had been in the hospital in Casablanca (where he works)! We rarely see him, so that’s why we didn’t really question his absence…but when Saida (our host mom) told Macarena that he’d been in an accident, we were both thinking, “Why didn’t you think to mention this before?!” In America this would have been mentioned the day it happened, not a few days after.

So, a few days later, we ask Saida, who simply was looking devastated, how Amine (host dad) was doing. She said he’s been in a coma. A COMA. Once again, holy smokes, but then on the other hand, why didn’t she mention it to us?! He’d been in a coma for TEN DAYS before she said anything and then only after we asked! Is that how Moroccan family dynamics work? Some people said yes, some said no.

But thankfully, Amine returned home to Rabat this past Friday. He’s still sick, but he’s doing better.

Which brings us to our next adventure in Moroccan family  life. Aya, our host sister, had been in Italy for all of the past week staying with her uncle (we think in part so she wouldn’t have to really know about her dad being in the hospital…yeah, we don’t know if she knew about that. Crazy!) and returned Saturday night. As I’m sitting eating bastilla with the family in the sitting room (Macarena is “asleep” in our bedroom), I see some usual and not so usual faces: Saida, Aya and Amine, and Nadia, one of Saida’s sisters. Nadia’s husband was there too. So were 4 children. Two very young ones (under 4), one around 8 years old, and another  who looked like he was 17. I hadn’t seen the kids before, but figured they must be Nadia’s kids.

Next day (this past Sunday, Mother’s Day), Macarena and I go out to pick up the ingredients for our American dinner feast for the night. We’d been promising for months to make a dinner, but only got around to it now. On the menu: chili con carne, mac and cheese, and corn on the cob (listen, we don’t have an oven so our options our kinda limited). We couldn’t find any corn, so we only did the chili con carne and mac and cheese.

At breakfast we had asked where the 17 year-old kid (name: Saif) lived. He said Italy and that he was visiting for two weeks. We figured, “Oh, he must be Aya’s cousin, because she was staying her uncle.” Logical conclusion.

As we’re preparing dinner, Aya wanders into the kitchen and we ask her, “Aya, how old is your cousin?”

Her response: “He’s not my cousin, he’s my brother.” 

WHAT?!?! We ask her, “Wait, he’s your brother?” “Yes!” “No, really, your brother?” “Yes!” Then we have an amusing pantomime act between her, Fatimazara and ourselves in which we learn that he is 23 and is the child from (we assuming) a previous marriage of Saida’s. He’s been living in Italy for the past 10 years.

We did some math. Saida is 40 (we know because we celebrated her birthday)…so that means she had him when she was 17. WHAT.

In any case, we now have a host brother we didn’t know about until this past Sunday. Yeah. Here’s a picture from Sunday with our meal. Counterclockwise from Macarena: Fatimazara, Saida, Saif, and Aya.

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Best Day Ever.

10 May

I’m going to tell you a story about the best day ever. I didn’t bring my camera, so all photos are from Carson. (As usual, roll your cursor over the photos for captions!)

For the past few weeks Fatima, our fusHa professor (fusHa = formal Arabic) had been talking about having us over to her place in Kenitra, a beach town a half-hour train ride from Rabat. Finally, two Saturdays ago (so the 30th) we actually had our day. And it was, by unanimous agreement, the best day ever.

Saturday Carson, Wajida, Robin and I meet at the Centre-ville train station. We pick up our tickets and get on the train. Instead of grabbing seats apart, we go stand at the end of one car and I pull out my portable speakers and we listen to Vampire Weekend the entire ride over. Did some people on the train probably think, “What are those crazy Americans doing?” Yes, probably. But they probably think that anyway even when we aren’t dancing/singing along to music in the back of a train.

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We arrive in Kenitra, where Fatima and her sister pick us up. The car only seats 5 and there’s 6 of us, so backseat means fun times. We have a chat as we drive to the Jardins Exotiques that are between Sale and Kenitra (and like down the street from the Peruvian restaurant funnily enough). Fatima tells us how her and her sister the previous weekend had helped organize a beach clean up with 800 school children! With sponsors like Toyota and the Surfrider Foundation, it was a big deal!  Very cool.

The Exotic Gardens were HUGE. It was a bit overcast/raining on and off, so the gardens weren’t too crowded, but even if they were, the place is so large it wouldn’t matter. We spent a few hours there, wandering around. Good times.

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After leaving the gardens around 1, we headed to Mehdia (beach village next to Kenitra) to go eat at Merzouga (yes, like the desert), a pirate-ish themed restaurant. It was a feast. And Fatima footed the whole bill! WHOA (we’re still working on an awesome gift in return). The other main member of the organization also joined us (I’m horrible with names…so his can be Asine) and brought Fatima’s car with him (it had been in the shop). We all pile back into the two cars and head to Sidi Bou Ghaba, a lake/bird sanctuary on the other side of the essentially big foothill that separated it from the beach. And we are treated like royalty! They open up the sanctuary’s grounds just for us and give us a presentation and guided walk through the interactive museum. It was fantastic!

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While we didn’t see many birds (wrong time of the year), we did get to meet Obama.

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But I had more fun with Laura (what can I say I’m a dog person).

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We left the bird sanctuary and headed back to the Mehdia and the Surf Club. We all got suited up in wet suits, which was hilarious. I’ve been in wet suits a number of times (hello chilly Pacific Ocean!) but Carson, Wajida and Robin had never been in one. Everyone felt like penguins/seals/other such marine animals. We grabbed our boards and headed to the beach!

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After a short (read: 5 minute) lesson, we headed into the water and simply had a BLAST for the next few hours. We all were horrible at it (except Carson, and he was only moderately less horrible than the rest of us). But how awesome is it to say that we got to go surfing in Africa? Pretty awesome. Eventually, we headed back to land and the Surf Club. We peeled out of our wet suits and took showers, got dressed and headed to Fatima’s next.

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Fatima lives in a palace. If an apartment could ever be qualified as a palace, it is hers. Holy smokes. So zween. We have coffee and pastries then proceed to have a dance party.

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It got intense. My moves are just to crazy to handle.

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At this point, we all realized we were incredibly tired (it’s around 9pm) and Carson, Wajida, Robin and I get back to the station, grab our train and head home. Was it the best day ever? Yes. Could any number of words or pictures describe it to make you understand how awesome? No. But maybe this post gave you a small hint.

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Up next: Kayaking and how Moroccan family life is absolutely nuts.

Marrakech: “We were in that cafe two days ago.”

9 May

Well, first let me affirm that I’m totally fine, despite a terrorist attack in Marrakesh (more on that later) and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Unfortunately, for some parents in the US, this is all too much, and two girls from my program are leaving this Saturday, a week early from the program ending, and being (forcibly) sent home.

…Thank goodness my parents are cool (although, they’re probably thinking, “After an evacuation from a politically unstable country where tear gas was wafting through your windows at night – yeah, small beans.”)

Anywho, two weekends ago I was in Marrakech! Marrakech is considered the destination for tourists to Morocco. And I can see why: it provides the quintessential “Moroccan” experience…but from a foreigner’s perspective. As I explained in my class the other day, “It provides that nostalgic experience of Moroccan that is imagined in a foreigner’s mind: the Moroccan experience of 60 years ago, not the reality of the rest of the country.” This isn’t to say I didn’t like Marrakech, I did, but it was such a different experience from the rest of Morocco. It was a California Adventures but for Morocco, and while I love California Adventures you would never say that it represents the whole state of California.

We left last Saturday early in the morning as usual, but since I was sick/in the doldrums I was already out of it and after a five hour ride to Marrakech, definitely not in tiptop shape. But the scenery, as always, was beautiful on our way there.

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When we got to our hotel (Hotel El Andalous), we all went, “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaammmnn.” It was swank, let me tell you. I didn’t take pictures of it, and I wish I had. But all of the hotels in Marrakech came off as swank. It’s often been called the Las Vegas of Morocco and I can see why. Not that the hotels were themed, but there was definitely a Strip mentality to it. Also, all of the buildings there are this redish sandstone color, hence its other nickname, the Red City. After dropping off our stuff, checking out the awesome pool (which I never swam in…dang my cold!) we headed to Djemma el Fna.

Which I only realized now I did not even take a picture of. Stealing from Macarena:

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Djemma el Fna is the main attraction in Marrakech. It’s a large square, surrounded  by the medina and souks. During the day, juice stands and people with (ill-treated) monkeys and snakes harass you fill it up, but at night, it turns into a entertainment hub, with outdoor restaurant food stands selling (delicious) kebabs and performers eating fire and juggling and other such shenanigans. Unfortunately, while I got to have some delicious orange juice during the day and ate at one of the outdoor restaurants, I was too sick (plus the weather wasn’t pleasant) to enjoy the square at night. But I’m returning in about two weeks, so inshallah I’ll be well and the weather will be beautiful.

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After eating lunch on the square, Robin, Macarena, Caity and I walked to the Saadian tombs, “rediscovered” (aka oh look white people found them) in the early 20th century.

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It was so odd, not the tombs themselves, which were fine, but the fact that we had to wait in a line to view them. 1) Never, in Morocco, have I encountered something I’ve had to wait in line for…it’s just that Morocco isn’t such a hot spot that lines happen. 2) Moroccans don’t even do the whole “queue” thing anyway, they do the blob group thing where it’s survival of the fittest. So, by standing in a line, I definitely felt like I was in alternate universe Morocco.

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After that, we headed to El Bahia Palace, which was awesome and opulent and all that jazz. And huge. Guy had like 28 wives (as a woman, I wanna know how you could deal with that. 28 wives = hassle).

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We wandered back to Djemma el Fna, had tea in a terrace restaurant overlooking the square and then got ice cream at Argana Cafe (…the place that was bombed), caught a ride home. I at this point was nasty sick with my cold so stayed in the entire night and watched Mamma Mia! Does that still make me awesome? Absolutely.

Next morning we got up and headed up into the Ourika Valley, which is a large valley cutting in the Atlas Mountains known for its beautiful waterfalls/landscapes/such things. However, it was raining/misting the entire time. So we didn’t get to do any hiking, and when we stopped for lunch and were told it would take 45 minutes to make tagines, I and half the kids loaded up on one of the buses and headed back. Everyone else went to the square and I went to my room and took a five hour nap. Being sick really sucks!

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Eventually everyone got back and I went with Macarena and Brittany to square again. We wandered around some of the souks, when it started pouring rain. We eventually caught up with friends, but I was feeling way too weak to walk around a lot, so Brittany and I ate at a food stall (I got yummy kebabs. Nom nom nom.) and then we headed back to the hotel on our own. Later than night everyone went out clubbing (apparently there was something about fire rings?) but I once again stayed in and slept.

Sunday morning/early afternoon we went to the Marjorelle Gardens, which were gorgeous, but VERY crowded. The gardens were originally owned by this artist (Marjorella) but were purchased by Yves Saint Laurent about a decade or so ago. When he died he had his ashes spread there, so I guess I visited the grave site of Yves Saint Laurent? That’s fun.

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We headed back to the square for lunch, where I proceeded to take copious amounts of photos of this adorable kitten.

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We also got ice cream again from Argana Cafe. It was so odd a few days later when we heard about the bombing in Marrakech and turned on the TV and I said to Macarena, “Mac, we were literally just there two days ago. That could have been us.” WELCOME TO MOROCCO!

We then headed home, where I slept the whole time and then slept when I got home then slept most of the day after. And that’s Marrakech! (I’m going back in two weeks)

Up next: The best day ever and the day I swam in my clothes.

Patience, young (old and in-between) grasshoppers.

26 Apr

I am yet again sick. With a cold. Apparently, in my last month (as of today, actually) in Morocco, my immune system has decided to just not do its job. Inconsiderate.

Anyway, later today, inshallah, I’ll post up my pictures from Marrakech, where the AMIDEAST program went this weekend. I don’t have as many pictures as  I could have, due to a number of factors:

1. I was sick for the entire weekend, so wasn’t really up for doing much picture taking (or much of anything, actually).

2. The weather in Marrakech was rather unpleasant. Raining, cold, sometimes windy…yeah.

3. Marakech is the tourist hotspot of Morocco. So, there’s a pretty good chance that when you try to take a picture of something, someone will ask you for money.

But I will post what I have, soon! Until then!

Quick Memory

19 Apr

Random memory from high school: When our psychology teacher ran out of things to teach us/didn’t feel like teaching that day, he’d pop in a DVD and say, “Watch from a psychoanalytical perspective”.

In other words, we’d watch Romeo+Juliet, Forrest Gump, etc. I would have almost believed him about the “analyze it” bit, except for he always gave us popcorn and snacks.

Today we’re watching a film in my gender studies class. Since I feel like this program is a weird version of high school, I’d really like it if we got some popcorn.

Probably won’t happen.

The Wonder of the World

17 Apr

Today was a day we’ll firmly place in “memorable experiences”. Thank you, Macarena, for letting me tag along on this adventure (even though you got cranky at the end haha, calm down you got a date with a hot Dutch guy).

Today Macarena and I went to the consul of Peru’s house and went swimming in her gorgeous infinity pool with her kids and had a delicious lunch. That alone sounds like a nice day, right? Swim in a pool, lounge in the sun, eat a fresh, delicious lunch, play with the cute dog Barto, have people speak in Spanish at me (which I’ve learned I can actually follow pretty well, much like French, but I can’t speak it at all).

We then all loaded up into the consul’s car and headed to the Peruvian embassy to meet up with the Peruvian ambassador and about half of the Peruvians that live in Morocco. We then preceded to drive to Sale (across the river from Rabat) to go to the opening of the first Peruvian restaurant in North Africa. We went from good day to great day, right there. The governor of Sale was there, as well as 70% of all the Peruvians in Morocco (which is about 30). However, they did have a guy dressed up in a chicken costume (it’s a Peruvian chicken place) and I was not okay with this. Macarena got pecked by him and he tried to steal my delicious Peruvian chicken. Oh, he got smacked down on that one.

After staying at the restaurant for a few hours, we loaded up in the car again and drove to the Oudaya (kasbah) in Rabat to go to a party for the daughter of  a friend of the consul’s. Everyone was speaking either French or Spanish, but the French kids were very cool.

Oh, and the view from their house? Amazing.

Today I kissed more people’s cheeks than I care to count. Today I ate real Peruvian chicken in one of the two places in Africa you can get it. Today I chatted with the consul to Peru. Today I watched the sunset from the top of a house built hundreds of years ago, surrounded by people speaking in at least four different languages.

Today I wondered at how I came to be in such a place at such a time and how lucky I am to be living this life. The world, for all its many faults and obstacles, is filled with such amazing moments that everything else can be weathered to simply live in those moments of complete and astonishing awe and joy.

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The Alternate Universe

15 Apr

If life had gone as planned, my parents and brother would have been on their way to Egypt right now to come see me over my spring break at AUC.

Instead, I am in Morocco living with a family and my parents are going to England.

Instead, Egypt has been catapulted into complete unrest, with Mubarak gone, the military in charge, and no one knowing what will happen.

Instead, the entire Middle East and North Africa region are in turmoil and I can only stand on the street corner watching protests go by calling for a complete overhaul of the government and hear news from Libya, Yemen, Syria, and beyond.

Instead of riding a camel through the desert…wait, no, still did that here, so check that one off the list.

Instead of  LIVING in a desert I’m living in basically a North African California. …Yeah, that’s a bit weird (THERE ARE LOQUATS HERE. What?!)

Yet realizing that my parents were in that alternate universe heading to visit me makes me think of what my life could have been like. Obviously I’ll never know, but you have to imagine everything happens for a reason.

I mean, if nothing else, I’ve made some great friends here, seen some amazing things, and have actually figured out my life for the foreseeable future, through my summer, through my last semester of college, through the next few years. And I couldn’t be more excited for all I have planned!

Maybe if I had stayed in Egypt I would be very lost as to what my future would be. Maybe not. Who knows?

I’m glad I’m in Morocco. It may not have been what I wanted, and a lot may have been sacrificed by me being here, but I cannot imagine being anywhere else right now.

So, alternate universe where the revolution didn’t happen: alternate-Egyptian people, I’m sorry you’re still under Mubarak’s regime. Alternate-me, I hope you would one day make it to Morocco. You’d love it.