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. The 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.
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 where 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. Despite 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.