Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Morocco - Rabat

We arrived to Morocco on the 14th of November and we are still in Rabat. Almost a month already passed since we started our trip, and everyday we experience something new.
We bought our ferry tickets in Algeciras, through a company called FRS (their logo is a red dolphin). The man who sold us the tickets was extremely helpful, and we managed to explain him that our bus was actually small (10m) and it is completely adapted, looking actually as a big caravan. In total, we paid around 750€, for one caravan and fourteen people (return ticket included). It is actually quite a lot of money for our humble budgets but we could not make it cheaper.
The ferry experience is always memorable: seeing the distance from Europe getting bigger, and the distance from Africa smaller - wave by wave, minute by minute.
After a bit more than one hour, we arrived to Algeciras Med and - believe us - it is a very interesting adventure to find a way to get out of the mazy harbour. 
We were ready for everything: our documents were organised, the bus was clean, the people were sited and the girls had dressed up for the new and different country (we have, as a policy to always respect the people from the countries that we travel to. In this case, in order to respect the different culture, women dressing code should be adapted to the Muslim society where women are more respected if their bodies are covered - due to this fact - our students were dressed up with long sleeves, trousers or long skirts, and some of them with a scarf around their heads). Even tough we were prepared for everything and to deal with bureaucracy, our biggest challenge was to find the harbour's exit. We spent about an hour inside the harbour, we drove around it - at least - three times, we talked with more than ten different authorities and after all, we managed to drive through a beautiful gate that led us to our way out.
After a short break, on the top of Tanger Med (it is very mountain-ish) we drove East with the purpose of getting close to the mountains and the most hidden villages.
Our first night was spent in Tetuan - in a gas station just at the entrance of the city. The majority of our students got ready to leave the bus and explore the city, two decided to stay in the bus and cook dinner and we both went to the cafe to drink the famous Moroccan tea - Oh! We missed it. The delicious green tea with mint and sugar!
The guards asked us to pay for parking at their gas station, but after discussing it, we decided that we would not pay this time and we would use our Accommodation money for other occasions.
Next day, early morning, we left towards Chefchauen with the purpose of finding small and traditional villages where we could drop out our students.
It is part of the pedagogy we use to "get closer to what you want to learn" so we think that in order to learn about tradition in Morocco, and family relationships, and women lifestyle, and other interesting topics, our students should get out of their comfort zones, walk inside the villages and ask the locals to live with them for four or five days. And that is what they did.
The group of twelve students was divided in duos, and each duo left the bus in different times, in different areas, in different villages. After hugging, wishing a good investigation, and agreeing upon the time and place where we meet again, Egle and I drove all the way to Rabat.

Once in Rabat, we decided to park the bus nearby Mauritania Embassy since we needed to know how can we get visas to enter in Mauritania. The area is apparently very rich, and properly full of police men - at some point we even felt that all the Europeans visiting Rabat were in that area: making business, drinking coffee, etc. So, after getting the forms to apply for the visas, we decided to leave and park in another place.
The next five days were busy with different activities, such as going to mechanics with our bus, buying mosquito nets, visiting the medina, going to see the ocean and buying malaria pills for us and the students.
On the 20th of November, our students came back - duo by duo - to the bus, and it is impossible to describe how happy we were to see them. They were shining new experiences and new wisdom. Some of them could not stop talking about the villages where they have been passed the last days and nights. It felt like their faith in humanity was never so deep and strong, and they could not stop mentioning how big is the hospitality of the families that they had live with, and the landscape, and the olive oil, and the happy grandmother, and the beautiful mountains, and the bread, and the tea. And they brought so much back with them that we felt that we have been also in the villages with them for the past days. However, we were not. We passed those days in the busy Rabat city, driving on its crazy roads, meeting its smiley people, drinking avocato juice (please, try that one if you have the opportunity!) and passing our nights, sleeping, in different gas stations and parking lots.

All of us were together again, and the weekend came. It was time for the guys to sit down and write their reports. Reports are an important part of our pedagogy since is where the students write academically their experiences, and what they have learnt with a certain event. In this case, their reports were about the villages investigation and what they had learnt with it.

When they finished the reports, we had a session of one day and half where they presented their investigation to each other. Thus, as you can read, our students: First, experience. Second, practice their writing skills (in English). Third, practice their oral skills (in English) and also their public speaking skills.
And, suddenly, almost without notice Monday came! It was the 23rd of November and we decided all to go back to Mauritania Embassy in order to proceed with our visas.
We woke up very early, filled up the forms all together, locked our bus and walked about one kilometre towards the Embassy. We arrived one hour before it opens since we had read that it is recommended to arrive before the opening since, sometimes, there are many people waiting in the line.

So, we were there! Fourteen of us. Waiting. It was raining and cold. We were wet and hungry because we had leave the bus without any breakfast. And, after some time, a man came (the same man that Egle and I had talked few days before). He looked at us and - in French language - told us that we could not get the visas due to technical issues. We felt very disappointed and helpless. I went back to talk with him again and he told me that the Embassy will be close for a week. We did not know what to do. We said to the students that the best would be to leave and go back to the bus. However, some of them wanted to stay and they refused to leave until they get these visas in their hands. Egle and I went for a coffee in the nearest gas station and meanwhile we tried to call to Mauritania Embassies in Europe (in Belgium, and in France). It was quite early so none of them picked up the phone. We decided, then, to call to our colleagues back in our school, in Denmark and ask their advices. Actually, our main worry was that the Embassy decided to close for a week due to the recent conflicts in Mali so we wanted to be sure that the situation in Mauritania is safe for the travel. After some research, our colleagues told us that they could not find out any information about conflicts or issues related with Mali incidents, they send us a map with areas that we should definelity not go to, and they gave us the information that we could proceed with the visas at the border.
We took their advices but we decided - together with our students - that we would go back to Mauritania Embassy in the next morning; just to make sure that we could really not get the visas.

During the night, we parked our bus in Támera. What we knew about Támera before was that it is a place made for tourists. We knew a Támera nearby the ocean, with nice beaches, hotels, restaurants and all sorts of good facilities. However, in this travel we make sure - constantly! - that we are not tourists. We don't want to sleep in hotels, we don't want the best restaurants, we don't want beautiful facilities. What we want is the reality! We prefer to sleep in a dirty place full of garbage and hungry dogs, with children playing on the street, beautiful colourful women walking around, and chicken eating here and there, and men praying on the ground in their pretty carpets. We want to see Morocco! If we would like to see nicely made roads and high quality hotels, we could have stayed in Europe. That was not our goal. However, in that night, we got to know a Támera that we did not know before. A Támera made by and for Moroccans, where it is possible to appreciate the reality, the beautiful reality. And the smells, and colours, and noises, and smiles, and tea, and bread, and the mosquée music, and LIFE!
Next morning, we came back to the Embassy and three of our students went to find out more about the visas. And they did: the embassy will be closed for a week! There was nothing we could do. It was time to move on and we accepted the challenge of applying for those visas at the border.

Few hours later, our students left the bus again, in groups of two and three. Their goal now is to pass a week in Morocco to investigate about different topics:
1) Migration in Morocco;
2) Social and political movements in Morocco - also related with Arab Spring;
3) Modernity and Tradition;
4) Development in Morocco.

We hugged them, wish them a good and productive time, agreed upon time and place to meet and left Rabat, on the 24th of November, at 14h - with two of our students (this time, we are four in the bus, instead of two).

Our next stop: Marrakesh!

Many greetings,
Marina and Egle

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