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A blogger I am not. If you were subscribed to my blog last year when I was in Morocco and Tunisia in June/July 2011, you noticed that my last entry was only two weeks into the trip. Why is that? Some of you had thought that I was crazy to try to keep up with a blog while on a whirlwind trip to North Africa. And you were right. I ran up against a number of elements that prevented me from writing and posting entries to the blog. Not that I am making excuses. Well, I am, but these are good reasons. The trip was densely scheduled, and we hardly had downtime. When we did have downtime, I either called (or tried to call/Skype) Ed or went out with my fellow Fulbright-Haysers to have a bit of fun. The internet connection was also hit and miss, so trying to do anything that required a strong connection was difficult. Not impossible but difficult. And once I was back to the US, the last year itself was a whirlwind of activity that I didn’t even think to post my last blog entry. Until now. Why now? I will explain later.

The remaining four weeks of the trip that I didn’t post about were still amazing- two weeks in Morocco and two in Tunisia. The almost week in Fes, Morocco was the most rich for me art wise. Fes is the Craft Capital of Morocco, and I was not disappointed. Well, I was a little disappointed in that art and traditional handcrafts weren’t a focus of this leg of the trip and very few artistic processes were explained to us, though most of the FH participants didn’t seem to care about the art anyway. One of the most important trips we took for me personally was to the Crafts School in Fes. ImageThe participants were on their own, and most seemed interested in looking at the studios for zellig, plaster, textiles, wood painting and carving for about 10 minutes. The other art professor and I in the group were completely entranced and wanted to stay for hours to hang out, observe, and try to communicate with the instructors and students of the school. The short time we had there was among the most important to me and my curriculum project, and unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to revisit the school before we left. But we did get to visit the tannery, stunning medrasas, another pottery/zellig location, and some awesome shops in the souk. The riad we stayed at in Fes was also visually rich, though the common area of the hotel was so so hot that prevented me from enjoying it to its fullest (air conditioning in the individual rooms only). One of the best lectures/presentations we had that week was when Gnawa musicians came and performed for us. Image

We spent two weeks in Tunisia- a total of six days in the capital of Tunis, then a day each in Mahdia and Sousse, two on the island of Kerkennah, and three on the island of Djerba, home to the Lotus Eaters. Visually, Tunisia was much more breezy Mediterranean than Morocco. Ancient Roman influences were more prominent in Tunisia, and some areas were peppered with an Italian or French flavor. One of the best places to see ancient Roman mosaics is in the interior of Tunisia at El Jem. One of my favorite afternoons was spent in the beautiful Mediterranean city of Sidi Bou Said Imagewhere the homes were whitewashed and punctuated by blue doors. Despite the civil unrest of Tunisia, where the Arab Spring originated, and the tumultuous conflict of neighboring Libya, I personally did not feel unsafe while there. There were a couple of tense moments, but nothing too severe. Maybe part of the reason was because we were sheltered to a certain extent. For the trip along the coastline south of Tunis, we stayed in touristique hotels where we saw more eastern Europeans stretching their holiday money then we did native Tunisians.

For the remaining week we had on the trip, we went back to Morocco. We stayed in the Atlas Mountains for a few days, and it was a very welcome retreat-like respite from the hectic schedule in Tunisia.  Then onto Marrakech for our last hurrah. Marrakech was absolutely fantastic, and we did not spend nearly enough time there (only two nights). The souk in Marrakech is the most aesthetic and artistically designed area we visited by far. ImageDespite the bombing that had occurred there in April 2011, the city was friendly and open. The bombing hurt the city financially, scaring tourists away and leaving vendors scrambling for the tourist dollar (or Dirham).

Am I glad I went on this trip? Absolutely. How could I not be? It was a life changing trip. I got to see and experience a culture very different from my own for six weeks with the stimulation of being lectured to by experts in their fields with some very wonderful like-minded educators. I remain close with many of the members of the trip, staying in contact with them through Facebook and email, and even visiting some in person. These will be friends I have for life. There is even a rough plan in the works for a few of us to go back to Marrakech for culture, hammams, and shopping.

I took over 6,000 photos on my trip, and it took months for me to edit and pare down the number to 1,000. You can access my photos at my Flickr account.

My curriculum unit that was a requirement for Fulbright-Hays took months for me to research and write. In fact, I submitted it the very day it was due with just an hour to spare. I could have worked on it for months more if there was no deadline. It is 50 pages of ideas, information, and basically my reflection of the trip. I knew the project would get out of hand, but that is how I process information. Too much. Excess. Everything is connected. If you have a few moments, you are welcome to read it. I have a number of links to a Powerpoint and visual handouts in my public Dropbox account. If you can’t access the links, let me know and I can resend it to you.

So why write this blog post now? I’ve been meaning to follow up with the project for the last year, but time got away from me. This last year was jam packed for me. After I finished the curriculum unit, I had to turn around and immediately start applying for doctoral program in art education, which also included studying for and taking the GRE. I also taught a new class in the spring semester, which meant I taught four different classes my last semester at Purdue in addition to my other responsibilities at Purdue and with AEAI. Ed and I sold our house in Lafayette and moved to State College, Pennsylvania where I have just started the doctoral program in art education at Penn State. One of the classes I am taking is Research Methods in Art Education, and I am required to start a blog about my research journey here. I thought before I begin a new blog, I should wrap up the old one.

And here we are. I write this sitting in the sun room of my new home, using a leather pouf purchased in Fes as an ottoman, propped up with a pillow that is stuffed in a turquoise case bought in Rabat, with a view of a glass painting obtained in the medina of Tunis.

My new journey and adventure awaits, and this time I don’t have to travel far at all.

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Homestays in Rabat (or how I learned how to make a couscous ball)

From Sunday, June 19 to Saturday, June 25, the Fulbright Hays group moved from the cushy comforts of the Fondak Farah to individual homestays in and around the Rabat area.   I was stationed with a family of four in Hay Riad about 5 kilometers from Qalam wa Lawh, the Arabic language school introduced in the last post.

Monday through Friday, we continued to take lora Arabiya classes at the school in the morning and then broke into smaller groups in the afternoon for further exploration and study in Rabat.  I went to Sale, the city across the Bou Regreg river from Rabat, to explore the medersa in the medina, then afterward went to the potter’s area where I saw large ceramic vessels being thrown and the zellij tile made.  I also went back to the Oudaia Kasbah, explored the public beach, shopped a bit more, went to a bank museum (not only did it have money on display, but it also had some wonderful contemporary Moroccan art), and went to a hammam (a Turkish bath where I was scrubbed clean by an attendant).

 

In the evening, we each went back to our host families for dinner, sleeping and breakfast, like a Moroccan bed and breakfast of sorts.  Since there was no air conditioning, I had the window open at night for airflow, and it was the first time I heard the 4:30 a.m. call to prayer at the mosque in Hay Riad.   The twenty-something year old daughter spoke English, but the mom and dad did not.  They spoke Arabic, French, and Berber so as you can imagine, our conversations were quite interesting.

 

The first night I was there, I had quite an adventure.  The host dad and mom took me for a car ride.  Since it was just the three of us without the daughter as translator, I had no idea where we were going or when we’d be home.  They first took me to a royal Fantasia horse show, but it was over by the time we made it in the gate.  Apparently, the king’s brother was there, and the event was quite a spectacle.  Naturally, they seemed very disappointed that we missed it.  Then we got back in the car and drove to a rest area/restaurant/playground area where we had mint tea.  We drove again for a while until I started smelling salty ocean air, and I realized the beach was our destination.  We stayed at the beach for a bit, walked on the sand strewn with garbage, then left.  Were we going back home?  Not yet, I found out. We went to a shopping mall to pick up some necessities.  Our little drive lasted about 5 hours, the whole time barely communicating with my new hosts.

 

The rest of the week was not as adventurous.  Most nights, I ate at 8:30 by myself in front of the tv where Law and Order SVU, Criminal Minds and Charlie’s Angels (the movie) was blaring in dubbed French.  (It’s not just Americans who eat in front of the television set- oh memories of home!)  The husband didn’t get home until 10 so I appreciated that Soultana (the wife) was able to accommodate my request of eating earlier.  Soultana would often sit with me while I ate and checked my Arabic homework almost daily from Qalam.  One night I also showed her photos of my family on my laptop while applying newly learned Arabic vocabulary.  I enjoyed trying home cooked Moroccan food every night, such as chicken tajine and harira soup.

 

One of the other participants, Michael, stayed at Soultana’s sister’s apartment.  Friday, the last night of the homestay, was also Michael’s birthday. I spoke with the daughter about getting the families together so we can celebrate his birthday and our last night together.  And so we did.  Birthday couscous was on the menu.  We sang Happy Birthday while the couscous was brought out, and we learned how to form the couscous into balls with our hands. Michael even got a birthday gift from my host family.  Not your typical birthday party, but in Morocco, it worked.

My host family was warm and thoughtful and overall, it was a good experience for me.

 

Next entry will be about the beautiful riad and the incredible heat in Fes.

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A Huge Learning Curve (A whirlwind of activity in week one)

I have been in Morocco for over a week now and have not posted a single thing for this blog. Why not? I’m going to blame the learning curve since so much is new to me.

I’m still learning how to use both my Macbook and DSLR camera as well as the software for both, which slows me down considerably in trying to accomplish relatively simple tasks like uploading photos to Flickr. But that part is boring and you don’t want to read about that.

I’m learning all about my fellow Fulbright-Hays participants. The other 15 are a most impressive yet down to earth bunch. Since we have been spending virtually 24 hours a day together, we have gotten to know each other quite well. We were able to celebrate two birthdays last week on the rooftop of the Hotel Golden Tulip Farah, and another will be celebrated this Saturday when we are at the riad in Fes.

I’m learning Arabic, a crash course on speaking and writing “lora Arabiya” at Qalam wa Lawh. For the two weeks spent in Rabat, we are spending Monday through Friday from 9-12:30 learning (or trying to learn) standard Arabic letters and words. Talk about a HUGE learning curve! There are twenty eight characters in the Arabic alphabet. Over the past six days, we’ve learned 15. Not sure we’ll be able to squeeze the other 13 in during the four days we have left, especially since half of one class will be a lecture on architecture (yay!) and another class will have a demonstration on calligraphy (another yay!). I have been learning some very useful words and phrases like shokran (thank you), salamo alaykom (hello or peace), dajaaj (chicken- something I’ve been eating a lot of), and Ana ohibo fondok farah (I love the Hotel Farah- the hotel with the rooftop bar we stayed in last week). Of course those were the transliterations of those phrases. We are also learning the Arabic spelling of them as well. Two weeks will obviously not make me fluent in Arabic, but it’ll make me feel less awkward in this cultural immersion.

I am learning about our seminar’s topic of ‘Religious Diversity in the Maghreb’ through lectures given by Moroccan scholars. There have been momtaz (excellent) talks, such as a performance and lecture by Dr. Vanessa Paloma “Judeo-Spanish in Morocco: Moroccan Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish forming intertwining identities” and lecture/discussion by Dr. Fatema Mernissi “Why Arabs have 50 words for love.” Most of these talks have been at MACECE, the Moroccan-American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange. 

I am learning that time is precious. Our days are spent together as a group, going to language class, then attending lectures, followed by an excursion in and around Rabat, and finally dinner. Days are long and exhausting but completely enriching. Some group members have been able to attend to work items from home, but I have no idea how they are able to make that happen. Internet access has been limited to the language school, MACECE and the spotty network connection in the lobby of the hotel. Now that we’re no longer in the hotel and the lectures at MACECE have stopped, the only coverage will be at QWL for a brief time. Hopefully our riad in Fes will have wi-fi throughout…

I am learning about Moroccan food. Really less learning and more enjoying. Or learning how not to eat too much. It is delicious. We have been eating so much, I’m afraid I’m gaining weight. Lunch when at QWL is usually a chicken tajine. Dinner for the past week of hotel stay was at a variety of wonderful restaurants in Rabat, including this one across from the Bab el-Had.

  One of my favorite meals was at the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning after a lecture there last Tuesday. The squash and eggplant salads were delightful. Our dinner at the marina was one in adventure.

I am learning I am not invincible. That is of course a recurring lesson in my life. Last Friday, I missed a great meal at La Bamba not because I tried to avoid eating. I did make it to the restaurant and even sat down. But when I pulled my chair closer to the table, I pinched my finger that set off a chain reaction that ultimately led to me fainting. When I came to (about 30 seconds later so I’ve been told), I really didn’t feel like eating, so no delicious B’stilla for me that night.

I am learning about the history and culture of Morocco. In our afternoon excursions, we’ve been able to see some of the sights of Rabat. I took dozens and dozens of photos at Chellah, containing a Merinid necropolis, the ruins of a mosque and a religious institution, as well as the remains of the ancient Roman town Sala Colonia. Storks now make their home in Chellah.

A five day jazz festival was also held here, and a few of us saw a trio from and Finland who color coordinated their outfits (one person described it as a Saturday live skit with Lorraine Newman as the singer). The other trio from Denmark was excellent, though, as was the Moroccan saxophone player who later joined them. We have also been to the medina a few times, which is the walled part of the city containing the souks. I was able to see the southern 17th century Andalusian wall from my hotel. Near to the medina is the Oudaia Kasbah, with parts that date back to the 12th century. Also close to where our hotel was located is the Hassan Tower, the unfinished minaret of the Hassan mosque built in the late 12th century, and the mausoleum of Mohammed V. 

Last, so I can finish and perhaps even post this entry today, I have been learning about Islam, being immersed in the 99% Muslim culture, hearing the call to prayer from the multitude of minarets that punctuate the city.

I was hoping to make more frequent entries, but I’ll have to post when I can.

Currently, I am at a home stay which will be part of next post’s topic.

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Pre-departure Orientation in Michigan

The pre-departure orientation at the Emrich Retreat Center in Brighton, Michigan has come to a close. The sixteen participants in the trip all arrived at the center on Wednesday from all over the US- California, New Mexico, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Maryland, and New York and teach in disciplines such as English, Religion, French and Art (among others). We have already started to get to know each other in the cozy quarters of Bonhoeffer Hall, and this is only the beginning of the adventure.

We had two full days of lectures by the program director Dr. Jim Miller, program coordinator Paul Love, and guest scholars Dr. Ken Perkins and Dr. Susan Schaeffer-Davis on topics like Islam in the Maghrib, Christianity and Judaism in Tunisia, and Religious Lives of Moroccan Women.

We are leaving now for Morocco; first from Detriot to JFK, then JFK to Casablanca, then on a bus to Rabat, the capital of Morocco that we will call home for the first two weeks of our trip.

I am writing this relatively short post on the plane in Detroit from my iPhone. I have the WordPress app and wanted to see what I could do with it. I’ll try to post some photos later.

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Why “Patterns of Complexity?”

Patterns of Complexity is the title of my curriculum unit for the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program. Every participant in the program needs to produce a curriculum unit that will be available to all teachers. One of the places to find curriculum units is on Outreach World: A resource for teaching kids about the world. http://www.outreachworld.org/. (About five years ago, I wrote a unit on Italy for the West European Studies program at IU as part of a grant I received to help fund my first trip to Italy, and that unit is also on this website.)

When I decided I wanted to apply for the Morocco/Tunisia program, I thought about what topic I wanted to focus on for my curriculum unit that I could incorporate into my art education and elementary education classes. What is the first thing, first image that pops into your mind when you think about Morocco? Visually, I think of the intricate, beautiful patterning found in the architecture and in Moroccan culture in general. Once I decided pattern was a good place to start, I then did some preliminary research about the highly patterned tilework, called zellij. What a perfect topic to include with art education classes! The patterns are based upon the overlapping and repetition of circles, so this is a natural integration with math.

The complexity part is the multi-layered nature of pattern. Pattern can be aesthetically beautiful on its own, a visceral treat, but it often contains layers of meaning, religious symbolism, and a great history.  Complexity can also relate to how difficult I make my own topic out to be.

A stack of my books on Islamic art and architecture, Islamic patterns, Moroccan art and culture, guidebooks on Morocco and Tunisia, and Moroccan and Tunisian history, most of which came from Amazon.

With all of these great books, I have some really fantastic resources to consult in producing the curriculum unit. However, I have only cracked each of the books open, mostly to look at the pictures. The research has begun more in terms of trying to narrow down what I want to pursue while I’m in Morocco and Tunisia. I can’t bring these books with me (no room and too heavy), so they will have to wait until I get back!

There are a number of great on-line resources, though, that I can bring with me on my computer. (See the sites listed on the sidebar.) I downloaded pdf educator resource guides from the Met and from the National Gallery of Art, which will be of great help in differentiating patterns that I’ll see in Morocco. I am also bringing graph paper, a compass, a ruler, watercolors, pens, and a variety of pencils so I can do some drawing, documentation, and experimentation besides photographing these patterns.

I also want to be flexible in my topic. As I am researching Tunisia and Morocco further, I am finding that ancient Rome left a large mark on North Africa. For example, Tunisia has the best preserved Roman coliseum at El Jem and the best collection of Roman mosaics in the world at the Bardo museum in Tunis. Textiles and crafts are also of interest to me, so the idea of pattern may be expanded beyond tilework to include pattern seen in art and culture. BUT I do need to make sure my topic doesn’t get out of hand. For example, when I wrote the unit on the Artistic Influence of Italy, the unit kept expanding until it was over 60 pages long. I have to remember it’s not a book- it’s just a unit of study.

Tomorrow I leave for the pre-departure orientation at the Emrich Conference Center in Brighton, Michigan, where I’ll get to meet the other 15 program participants and our program leaders.  We will have lectures on the histories of Morocco and Tunisia, Islam in the Maghreb, Christianity and Judaism in Tunisia, and Religious Lives of Moroccan Women.

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Planning and Packing

When I found out I was going to Morocco and Tunisia for six weeks in June and July, I immediately did two things- ordered my saved books on Amazon (more on that in the next post) and started making my packing list.  Yes, I started making a packing list back in March for a trip that was just about 3 months later.

I needed a new laptop for the trip. The only computer in our house was a 17″ Dell, something very impractical for traveling.  I’ve been wanting a Mac for awhile, so this was a perfect excuse to get one.  I finally decided on a 13″ Macbook Pro. Perfect size for traveling and it is relatively lightweight with lots of room for storage of photos.  I’m still in the transition phase from PC to Mac.  It can get a bit frustrating at times, and I still need to transfer files. But I am loving it otherwise.  I also needed (well, wanted, but it was a deep want) a DSLR camera so I can take awesome photos in Morocco and Tunisia to post for you in this blog. (I’m sure with just two posts, you’re wanting some photos already.  I assure you they will be coming.)  I decided on a Canon EOS T2i. It had gotten good reviews for the price point I wanted to spend.  Thank goodness for deferred billing on both items!

Clothes also topped the packing list, trying to figure out what clothes to bring. Or buy. Recently, I lost enough weight that I’ve given just about all of my clothes away because they are too large on me.   (Yay!)  Goodwill has been the lucky recipient of bags and bags of clothing.  My closest was bare, especially for summer clothes, so any new clothes shopping I did, I thought of what I could pack for my trip.  Obsessive? Yes, but normal for me. 

Morocco and Tunisia will be hot in June and July, with averages in Rabat and most cities in Tunisia similar to what they’ll be in Indiana. But Marrakech will be hotter than blazes when we’re there (average high is 97!)  Even though it’ll be summer weather, wearing tanks, shorts, and short skirts aren’t a good idea for the Muslim countries of Morocco and Tunisia. Choosing my clothing carefully, I want to buy fairly modest clothing that is light, packs well, and can be washed in a sink.  I want to pack enough clothing that I have a variety of clothes so I can have different outfits and that I don’t need to wash clothes every other day, but I also don’t want to pack too much (which I am on the verge of doing).  Four skirts, four pants/capris, seven short sleeved shirts, three tanks (worn at appropriate times or underneath other shirts), three long sleeved, and two dresses. Mostly cotton, some linen (yes, I know they’ll wrinkle), and some nylon that is supposed to wick away the moisture. And also five pairs of sandals and shoes (I like to change out shoes often to make my feet happy).  Is that enough or too much?  I will find out soon enough.

The clothes are taking up the least amount of room in my suitcases, though. Six weeks in North Africa. I know there will be stores where I can buy toiletries, but will it be convenient to do so? Will they have what I need?  I am figuring that the toiletries  (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, sunscreen, etc) and other items I am using as consumables (washcloths and underwear) that are taking up room in the suitcases now will make room for souvenirs later.  More shoes, jewelry, and ceramics for everyone!

I’m also taking things such as Bandaids, bug spray, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, Handy Wipes, hangers, Woolite, and Pepto (hoping I really don’t need that).  It was also recommended to me to bring a bunch of Ziploc bags, which may come in handy when packing dirty shoes.  (Lots of product placement here.)

In total, I am taking smallish two suitcases- a 21″ and 22″- as well as a large Baggilinni bagg with my camera, laptop and normal sized purse that I’ll use as my “purse” on the plane.  Ideally, I would just take one suitcase to ease the burden of carrying luggage since we’ll be moving around so much. At least the suitcases can be hooked together, acting as one large and heavy bit of luggage.  I still need to put the clothes in the suitcases, but otherwise I am finished with packing.  A week early to boot! 

Now I need to read three books and compile research for my curriculum unit for trip preparation, besides getting other things in order before I leave (house cleaning, garden tending, AEAI membership items, letters of recommendation to write, etc).  Research will be the topic of my next post.

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A Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad experience

The journey begins back in August 2010 when I received an email from Leah Morgan, the technology chair for AEAI (The Art Education Association of Indiana) about the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program for 2011. The Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program is designed for K-16 educators and administrators who teach in the humanities areas to travel to non-Western countries. Excited to see if I qualified, I scoured the DOE website for more information, and happily I did! I found two options for the post-secondary study abroad experience- to Brazil or to Morocco and Tunisia. Brazil sounded wonderful, but I would be more apt to go to Brazil on my own. Morocco and Tunisia? I would be much too intimidated to do it on my own. Plus, the seminar title, Religious Diversity in the Maghreb, sounded like I would be able to learn more about Islam (a religion I know relatively little about) in its context.

The application process seemed simple enough- write four three-page essays on my traveling experience, perceived need, curriculum project, and a cv. No problem! That’s only 12 pages, and I could whip that out in a weekend, right? Well, it proved to be far more time consuming to write thoughtful and in-depth responses than I thought. I had to do research on Morocco and Tunisia and think of an interesting topic for the curriculum project that tied in with my classes and the seminar title. Then came the revisions. I wrote and rewrote the three main essays over and over again, fine-tuning it, and having colleagues help me with the language and focus. It took me up to the deadline of October 6 to submit those essays and to be sure that I had everything in order for the application process.

Then I waited. And waited. And waited.

I was super excited about the prospect of going to Morocco. I started seeing Moroccan items everywhere-a Moroccan Arts and Crafts book at the IMA educator night, Moroccan air fresheners, Groupons for Moroccan restaurants and cooking classes. The signs (albeit strange signs) were there. But I just waited.

Finally, in early March, a large brown envelope from the US Department of Education arrived in my mailbox. Nervously, I opened the envelope to discover that I was selected to participate in the Fulbright-Hays seminar program for Morocco and Tunisia! The months of waiting were over!

Then came the weeks of preparation.

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