Thursday, 14 November 2013

I'm feeling better

I'm feeling much better about things at the moment. Firstly, I've been teaching myself Geography and History which is very time consuming but has improved my performance in classes and resulted in positive feedback. Secondly, I've finally unlocked my phone and am using a Spanish number, which is making my life much easier. Thirdly, because I'm now using a Spanish number I was able to open my online banking for my BBVA (Spanish) account to see that I have finally been paid! Fourthly, I've booked my flights home for Christmas. Fifthly, I've had a few more people interested in private English classes and next week I will start teaching adult classes in the evenings. Finally, I have now completed my to do list after arrival which took much longer than I expected. 

Adult school poster: I think my
name is a bit difficult for some
people to understand

Therefore, I have few worries at the moment, although as I'm only working Monday-Wednesday I find that I don't have much to do. I'm looking to find a gym which is close to me to use my time productively and get fit, but due to my previous experience of bullying regarding my image I'm a bit self conscious to do so. I'm also hoping to do some research about immigration between Morocco and Melilla for my dissertation and through a friend I have heard of an organisation called CETI (Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes, Centre for the Temporary Stay of Immigrants) where it is possible to volunteer, so hopefully she will put me in contact with them.

This is the longest time I've been away from England, and as much as I like it here I am looking forward to returning home at Christmas to my family and some home comforts that I take for granted when I'm there. Here its still 20 degrees more or less although its gradually getting colder. Its hard to believe that its only a few weeks until Christmas. Here it still feels like summer, or at least the end of summer. Even if it is freezing cold in England, I'm looking forward to cuddling up with a good brew of tea and a mince pie with my family next month.

I had my first visit from Maria for the last 2 weeks and we had a lot of laughs. We cooked together (or Maria cooked and I messed about), explored the city and went to shops, cafes and restaurants.

This is Donatello aka Bicho. He's 
Laura's friend's pet and we're looking 
after him whilst she's away. 
He's very shy!

Me and Maria

Melilla port

Anthony's pizzeria is a lovely 
place to eat

A Spanish tradition: churros with 
thick hot chocolate

Last weekend we went to Fes because Maria wanted to go to Morocco. I realised that the first time I went to Fes we had probably been a bit ripped off, as many Moroccans don't use price tags which I think is so they can increase their prices if they see you aren't local, especially if you're European and white. Therefore, you need to learn to haggle the price if you think you're being overcharged, which I am useless at but Maria is very good. The first time in Fes I think we paid something like 50 dirhams (5 euros) between us for a short taxi ride, which is normal in Europe but not in Morocco. This time I realised some of the more modern taxis (meaning those didn't look like they were 20 years old or had been in a traffic accident) had meters like the black cabs in the UK and we paid between 5 and 15 dirhams (50 cents and 1.50 euros) for similar journeys. In Fes 'petit taxis' are basically really small red cars and I was told that lots of people in Morocco prefer not to use small red cars otherwise they may be stolen and used as taxis. 

Theft is also a problem in Melilla. I bought a second hand bike for 50 euros which I was hoping to use for conveniently travelling to school and going shopping, as I don't often cycle for leisure. I've had problems walking since I've gained some weight, especially after my summer spent working in a Wetherspoons kitchen to save money for this year, during which I worked ridiculously long shifts to the point where I could barely walk and I think this has had some kind of long term effect on my feet so I thought a bike would help. Shortly after I bought the bike I got a puncture (there's lots of litter and broken glass on the streets). I was worried this would cost a lot to repair but it only cost me 5 euros for a new inner tyre. Most people in Melilla drive a car or moped because the streets are long and there are quite a few hills.  

However, I was warned not to chain the bike up in public (despite buying the biggest chain I could find) because Moroccan people will find a way of cutting the chain to steal from the city centre, outside your own house and even schools and sell it. The case is the same for cars, although they are more difficult to transport across the border, so Moroccans tend to steal them for the valuables inside or damage them out of spite. I'm lucky enough to have never had anything stolen from me directly but I have learnt to be much more cautious here, for example to not use bags that can be opened easily. Yesterday I was struggling to carry heavy shopping home and a Moroccan man forcefully offered to help, which I refused, as I guessed he would probably run off with it. It sounds horrible, but its the reality here. Instead, he decided to take advantage of my no hands free situation by touching my backside and following me home. For these reasons, my poor bike is chained to the railings inside our apartment and rarely sees the light of day. 

Anyway, back to the subject of our weekend away in Morocco. Morocco is really big. It took us 6 hours to get from Melilla to Fes (with a few long stops) and we didn't even get halfway down the country. I want to visit the desert but by train or bus this will probably take around 12 hours, which seems a bit silly for a 4 day trip (my days off are Thursday to Sunday) so maybe I could go when I have more time during Easter. As I'd already been to Fes we stayed in a hotel at the opposite side of the medina (old city) to my previous visit and spent one day in Meknes, which is a 40 minute train ride away costing 20 dirhams (2 euros) for a return. The medina is really big and has over 9,000 streets and its incredibly easy to get lost, so we kept to the main streets. The markets selling fruit, vegetables and meat smell really, really bad and are often covered in flies, so they sometimes make me feel quite ill. 

The breakfast room in our hotel. 
The breakfast was much nicer 
than the previous hotel I stayed in 
and the people were much 
friendlier, although there weren't 
any plugs in our room.

Meknes seemed to be more developed than Fes and there were a lot more tourists, so I felt much more comfortable, although it didn't seem as realistically Moroccan as Fes. One funny memory from Fes was when Maria and I were sitting in a local cafe waiting for our train home. Neither of us can speak French or Arabic, which sometimes made it difficult to buy tickets, take taxis or order at restaurants and we often had to resort to communication similar to that of charades in areas that didn't have many tourists. A man casually walked in to the cafe trying to sell underwear and another came in with a dead chicken and asked us if we wanted to buy it, which I thought was hilarious because it seemed so ridiculous. People are a lot more forward in Morocco and will approach your offering tour guides, trying to sell you something or showing you a menu for their restaurant. Maybe that's just the Moroccan way of getting customers, but sometimes it feels like they are desperate to make money. Its easy to feel pressured so you need to learn when to say no and of course as a tourist you need to make sure you don't get ripped off or go anywhere that seems dodgy and isn't in a public or busy area.

I am ashamed to admit that as there are a 
limited number of fast food restaurants in 
Melilla and I get bored of couscous and tagine
 in Morocco, we went to Pizza Hut. 
Can't really complain about a 2 course meal 
with a drink for 50 dirhams (5 euros).

A reminder that not all of
 Morocco is developed 
and beautiful

The view from the hotel terrace. I'm wearing a 
jumper because it was a bit chilly and windy 
in the mornings!

I feel I haven't painted a very positive picture about Morocco so I want to stress that not all Moroccans are selfish, thieving and horrible people. On the contrary many of them can speak very good English and are very kind, especially the Berber people (the ethnic group indigenous to North Africa west of the Nile Valley). Whether this is part of their culture or they want to obtain as much money from tourists as possible, I don't know. The first time I went to Fes the tour guide told us that he had simply used tapes to learn many languages, which made me feel very humbled and challenged. I think because many Moroccans haven't received an education (when we were in Meknes on Friday we saw a lot of children out of school and playing on the streets) they are unable to comprehend complex cultural and political issues. Every public place is obliged to display a photo of the King and many people actually respect the King because they haven't been educated to challenge the corrupt system they are living in with very limited freedom of speech. 

Due to this and the influence of Islam, their behaviour is obviously much different to us Europeans. To us their behaviour can seem unacceptable but to them our behaviour seems just as unacceptable. One question that studying International Development and visiting Morocco has raised for me is: Are there really unacceptable forms of behaviour and lifestyle or are they all structured by man? Those of us living in developed countries are quick to criticise and sympathise with the lifestyles of those in developing countries, but are they really unhappy? Do they really need developing? Their culture doesn't fit into our way of doing things, but they don't always necessarily want to be westernised and sometimes even sympathise with our busy, consumerist and wasteful lifestyles as much as we sympathise with theirs.

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