Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Exploring Melilla and Morocco

On the Sunday before last I went to church feeling nervous about my ability to understand and communicate. I arrived early, leaving myself plenty of time in case I got lost. This time I didn't get lost though and I arrived at church a few minutes before 11am just in time for the service. I was actually the first to arrive except the pastor and his wife, who reminded me that the Spanish idea of punctuality is very different to that of the English (the Spanish are always late). People gradually arrived and I probably kissed half of the congregation (a kiss on each cheek is the normal Spanish greeting for women) and everyone was friendly and patient with my Spanish. I managed to understand a little bit, but listening to most people speak here is usually too fast to comprehend. I hope by the end of these 8 months I will be able to understand and speak a lot better.

The church has a meal on the first Sunday of every month, which I wasn't expecting and hadn't brought anything. I investigated the food and realised that as a vegetarian, there wasn't really anything I could eat. I felt bad didn't want to seem rude or make a fuss, but someone kindly took me to a nearby shop and help me find a vegetarian option. I don't think people here really understand vegetarianism and people seemed to think I was a vegan, which would be even more of a nightmare. The Spanish certainly like their meat, especially in this part of the world, and even at restaurants when I order food which I expect to be vegetarian, it usually includes some kind of meat of fish. Its very frustrating and I'm learning to live on eggs, cheese (which, after eating British cheddar, isn't the best in the world) and salad. Hopefully this will help me to lose some weight!

After church I decided I wanted to explore the area, as the church was located uphill on the other side of town, quite close to Melilla la Vieja (Old Melilla, the fortress north of the port). I got a bit lost and had to climb up and down the hill to get there, but it was definitely worth it. I couldn't find the entrance to get into the fortress, so I'm hoping to visit again on another day and look inside.

Church of the sacred heart 
(this isn't the one I went to)

A view across Melilla with Moroccan 
mountains in the distance

Melilla la Vieja

On Monday I went into school to attend the English department meeting and received my timetable. I'm only working 12 hours a week and the school kindly scheduled my hours for Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Jack's for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday so we could both have 4 day weekends, which I hope to spend travelling, exercising and improving my Spanish.

What I do each class really depends on the teacher. On Monday I was reading aloud to the class so they could hear native English pronunciation. On Wednesday I was asking the class questions about the book they were reading and helping them to prepare their group speaking activities. One of my Wednesday classes has asked me to prepare the whole class for next week, which I'm excited and nervous about! I think Spanish schools are quite laid back and don't always use thorough lesson plans, so I should be fine. I've been put into some History and Geography classes which are taught in Spanish but have English textbooks (the school is multilingual), which should be interesting as I am a student of International Development. At the moment I haven't been working my full hours because I think the school are still trying to schedule my classes and my timetable has been changed, but hopefully soon I'll get into the routine of things and start knowing where classes are and start learning students' names.

4 day weekends!

Many people have approached me asking for private English lessons, mostly conversational, which I am doing to earn some extra money, as for some reason or other I won't get paid until December, which might cause some difficulties. I currently have 3 hours of private lessons per week, two with the head of the English department's 7 year old twins (who are very sweet) and one with an English teacher. I think I will be starting an extra hour next week with another teacher and I'm trying to charge around 10 euros for me to meet people somewhere that is easily accessible to me and 15 euros for places that aren't so accessible, such as people's houses. With so many people approaching me about private classes, not having a Spanish number that works is making them difficult to organise. My provider in the UK is Vodafone and I assumed that my phone would be compatible with the Spanish Vodafone. After buying a Spanish SIM card, I found out that it isn't. I've also damaged my phone, so it is no longer fully functional (but usable) and for this reason I'm thinking twice about paying £20 to unlock it so I can use my Spanish SIM. Whilst organising insurance I thought I would need to obtain the proof of purchase for my phone from the store I bought it from, which was in Chester. As you can imagine, I'm probably not going to get the proof of purchase any time soon. However, the insurance company has accepted my claim and I think its best to wait until I return to the UK to buy a new one.

My flatmate Laura came back on Friday and it's nice not to be living alone any more. We seem to be getting on really well. I didn't get to spend much time with her because at the weekend I went to a city called Fes Morocco with 2 other English Language Assistants and a girl who works in the British centre here. We met at 7am on Saturday and walked to the border, which is only about 10 minutes from my flat. I haven't been outside Europe since I went to America when I was 11 and I certainly haven't walked across a border (except the border between England and Wales) and so walking through the border and having my passport stamped was quite an exciting experience for me.

My first stamp in my passport

It felt a bit strange walking across a border to another country with different languages, culture and food. We got a taxi to Nador station and had a Moroccan breakfast, which consisted of bread, jam and cream cheese which was simple but nice. A return from Nador to Fes only cost 200 dirhams (20 euros!) per person. I have never been on a train like the Moroccan ones before because it doesn't have rows of seats, but compartments with seats inside. This is bad because there isn't much space to sit, but good if you want some privacy. However, we were sharing with some Moroccan women and their small children, who were sweet at first but incredibly irritating later when I kept being woken up by screaming. Some of the windows were also broken and the toilet was incredibly close to overflowing, so it wasn't the best journey but I'm sure there's worse in the world. Although the train journey was 5 hours, it was amazing to look out the window at the dry landscape and Moroccan architecture. Once we arrived we took a taxi to Bab Bou Jeloud. There weren't many traffic lights, the driver went quite fast and there weren't any seat belts in the car so it didn't feel particularly safe! We found 2 rooms for the 4 of us in a hotel for 125 dirhams (12.50 euros!) each. Things are incredibly cheap in Morocco and although the standard of living isn't particularly high, most people seem to manage to get by without many difficulties. After leaving our stuff at the hotel, we had Moroccan couscous at a cafe for dinner and went to explore the ruins of the Merenid tomb. I didn't sleep particularly well that night because there are approximately 360 mosques in Fes and they all have loudspeakers outside them for some kind of Muslim prayer announcement, one of which was in the early hours of the morning!

Moroccan dirhams (only a third are mine!)

Bab Bou Jeloud (The Blue Gate) of Fes

Moroccan vegetable couscous

Ruins of the Merenid tombs

Ruins of the Merenid tombs

Goats and sheep suddenly emerged

The next day we had another Moroccan breakfast of bread, honey and jam on the hotel terrace where we could see amazing views of the whole city. We checked out of the hotel and found a tour guide in the city who was of Berber origin: the ethnic group indigenous to North Africa west of the Nile Valley. He had moved to Fes and taught himself many languages and spoke very good English. We went into the medina (old city) and saw all the markets selling many different things, especially shoes and scarves. There seemed to be more scarves than Moroccans! Cars can't go in the medina so people were using donkeys, horses, carts and sometimes mopeds or motorbikes. The guide seemed to know lots of the locals, so we were able to go inside some houses, hotels and restaurants with really beautiful Moroccan architecture, many of which were much prettier on the inside than the outside. We were also able to see some of the local businesses, including some leather tanneries, a bakery, carpentry, art and wedding decorations workshops and dressmaking. The guide then took us to a restaurant afterwards where I had my second (and best) Moroccan couscous. Finally we saw a Berber rug making shop where rugs were woven by hand. The tour only cost 200 dirhams (20 euros) between the 4 of us for 4 hours!

The view from the hotel terrace

A mosque

Inside the mosque

A really beautiful house

Intricate Moroccan artwork in the making

The best couscous!

Moroccan green tea with mint

Wedding decorations

More mosques

Rug weaving

We continued to explore the medina until dinner time and we had something to eat. I had a 3 course meal, which included a Moroccan salad, fried aubergines and courgettes and for dessert kaab el ghzal (gazelle's horns), a pastry stuffed with almond paste and topped with sugar and halwa shebakia, which is pretzel-shaped dough deep-fried, dipped into a hot pot of honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. For the whole meal it cost me just 50 dirhams (5 euros)! We then took a taxi to the station and at 12am we had our 5 train hour journey back to Beni Ensar, the closest city to the border with Melilla. The journey was relatively quiet and I managed to get some sleep on the floor! I got back to the flat at about 8am (Northern Morocco is 1 hour behind Melilla and so is in the same time zone as the UK) and slept for 1 hour before getting up and going to work!

My second stamp!

Before I went to Morocco, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I was expecting poverty to be more prominent than it was. Of course there seemed to be poor areas and beggars but I guess you can find those most places in the world. I don't think my photos accurately reflect the standard of living in Morocco, because we mostly only saw the tourist areas. As with many places, there are developed areas within underdeveloped areas. I'm sure if I travelled to other cities it would be different, but for the most part, it wasn't that bad.

Yesterday was a public holiday in Melilla because it is Eid al-Adha, an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims to honour the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his young first-born son Ismail (Ishmael) during which they sacrifice a sheep. Sadly, due to this festival I saw many sheep in Morocco being carted to their deaths. I seem to have a lot of holidays because Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism are all prominent in Melilla, which makes it very interesting culturally. As I couldn't go to work, I went to the beach with Laura and her friends, swam in the sea and got thoroughly burnt.

Today I did my first lesson alone (with supervision from the teacher) and I felt like it went better than expected. I used the newspapers and magazines that I had brought with me and taught the children about English culture. I've been asked to prepare a lesson about English literature for next week and I'm hoping that will go well. Today is the end of my working week and I now have my 4 day weekend!

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