Thursday, September 30, 2010


Her breath smelled bad. I was overcome with this smell as she sucked on the lollipop I gave her. After I saw a black tooth rotting in the back of her mouth, I questioned the wisdom of giving it to her.

I came to the Egyam Orphanage that day to bring dozens of shoes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks and toys. The donations from Semester at Sea were even paying for a full year of school expenses for all of the orphans. But, I couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t enough.

Am I really helping here? Am I really making any kind of difference? I don’t really know. There seems to be so much need, but it’s not clear how to even begin to fix it.

She is so young, maybe 10 years old. The owner of the orphanage said that she probably won’t get a good education. She doesn’t even have a chance unless she proves she is smarter than all of her peers. Even then, she probably won’t be prosperous. She won’t be able to academically grow. If you get a master’s degree here, you are lucky if you can use that degree to get a job as a tour guide.

She is smart though. There is no doubt about that. Her English is much better than most of girls her age at the orphanage. She can even tell the time. And, she shows an interest in learning. She is also a great singer. She sings about Jesus and how much she loves Him.

What will happen when the children here run out of shoes and money? Will another organization donate more?
If her shoes fall apart, she isn’t allowed to go to school.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help. I don’t know what to give her.
She will never have a life like mine. I wish she could.

I’m starting to get discouraged. Every donation seems like the lollipop. It only satisfies for a moment. She’s smiling right now, but when she’s finished sucking on the candy, we will be gone. The sweet taste will leave her mouth. And there she will sit hoping that someone else will listen to her songs and provide her needs.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

REWIND: FlipVideo from Spain

Hip Hop in Morocco

Men were screaming at me. They were pulling me and following me around. They were too close. I didn’t want their Morocco magnets, snakes, monkeys or jewelry. I was looking for music. I needed to find a hip-hop shop.

Before I stepped foot inside Morocco, I planned how I would find a story there. I wanted to find something special to the culture and the people — something that wasn’t well known, but was important to Moroccans. Through my Video Journalism class, I learned about a subculture that was using rap music as a medium for freedom of speech. My professor said the music has gained popularity among local youth over the past few years.

In America, hip-hop music is about sex, clubs, bad relationships, bad situations, love and money. My friends play it from their iPods at parties. I dance to it. I sing the lyrics when I’m driving with friends.

But, in Morocco, hip-hop music is serious. It’s underground. It’s powerful. It shakes and moves people not only on the dance floor, but also within themselves — their ethics, beliefs and life views. Hip-hop music speaks. It is the free medium by which Moroccan youth can publicly declare their opinions about politics, government and quality of life.

After watching a documentary on hip-hop in Morocco, I learned that rap music stores are not the most glorified Muslim places. In fact, most Muslims think it is sinful to listen or create rap music. The second day I was in Morocco, I asked my cab driver where to find a rap CD and he told me Morocco doesn’t have hip-hop music. So, I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to stumble upon this music, but I was hopeful.

My hopes became a reality when I spotted a CD vendor on my way out of the market. His stand was full of “Best of Morocco” CDs and other more traditional playlists.

I didn’t want that. I asked him if he had any rap and I named off some of the popular Moroccan artists, like H-Kayne, I had learned about. He threw down a few cases in front of me. He had them. There they were. They were real. Rap music exists in an Islamic Country.

They weren’t the most professional looking CD cases. The cases were cracked and the cover looked like it was created in Microsoft Word. Honestly, I had my doubts that the broken CD cases I was holding were meaningful to Moroccan youth at all, but I bought them anyway. They were cheap and they sounded authentic.

That night, Moroccan hip-hop came alive.

I was meeting my friends at our hotel pool and when I arrived, I saw that they were engaged in a conversation with one of the hotel workers. All of the sudden, I found myself listening to a Moroccan man talk about hip-hop music. Aman, the hotel groundskeeper, had seen one of the CDs that my friends and I had purchased earlier and he was excited. He dove into a serious description of what rap music means to Morocco.

Aman’s thoughts were moving faster than his words because he was passionate about this music. Through this music, he said youth voices were heard. He kept repeating that the music held political opinions. After talking with Aman I realized that while the CDs might not look like much to an American, fans like Aman see them as a way to have a voice in Morocco. Aman told me to translate every word. He said this music is special to him and the youth of Morocco.

Aman wanted me to listen, analyze and appreciate the music. No one has ever told me to closely listen to the words of a rap song.

Pieces of a culture are hard to find. They don’t always come wrapped in neat packages, look particularly colorful or shiny. They can be dirty, ugly and strange.

While the CDs didn’t at first seem like much to me, I soon realized that I had just bought something that is valuable and sacred to the youth of Morocco.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Photos from Morocco

Naked in Casablanca

I am naked. I am standing in Africa naked. I am standing in Morocco naked. I am in a bathhouse on a poor side of Casablanca, naked.

But, I’m not alone. The other women in the hammam are naked too.

Morocco is an Islamic Country. Here, men crowd the streets and fill the cafes. Women are rarely seen. If women are seen, usually their eyes are the only piece of them that is visible underneath all of their clothing. A veil covers their head almost completely and their clothing reaches to their feet. They are modest from head to toe.

After reading Laura Fraser’s article Under the Veils in Casablanca on this summer, I promised myself that I would become more daring when trying to understand a new culture. I would sacrifice my pride, my manners and maybe my clothes if it meant I would learn how a culture operates in an intimate way. After all, I’m not a tourist, I’m a student, and I travel to learn. So, if learning means searching sketchy, poor side streets of Casablanca in order to participate in a ritual cleansing with naked Muslims, I’m all for it.

I had second thoughts about my methods of learning after a stocky Muslim woman ripped off my underwear and laid me naked across a marble slab.

I am in a large marble room lined with low sinks. Marble bleachers are on my right. I have no idea what I am supposed to do. A woman with long brown hair, a pear-shaped figure and a kind smile is in charge of me. She pours water over my body, hands soap to me and I realize that I am involved — involved in a serious, yet awesome cleansing experience.

Naked women walk casually around the hammam. They wash and socialize. Their bodies are much different than what an American woman is used to seeing. Their olive skin is soft. Their stomachs are big like a Crockpot full of soup supported by wide hips. Their breasts fall to their belly, as if they were never propped up quite right. And, these bodies walk with a relaxed stride from the steam room to the sinks.

I am the skinniest woman in the hammam and, for the first time in my life, I am concerned that my stomach is too flat and my shape isn’t curvy enough. Still, I am treated the same as every French-speaking Muslim there. Women lead me from room to room and my body endures treatments, scrubs and massages.

And there is slime involved: hot green goo that is massaged and pasted all over my body. The pear-shaped woman wraps me up like a plastic taco that keeps the green goo inside, with me. As I lay there, covered in green goo and plastic in Morocco with naked Muslim women walking, talking and bathing all around me, I realize that I feel comfortable. If I were in America, this would be the salon and I would be getting my hair cut.

But, this is better. This is bonding. This is strength. These are Muslim women revealed and casual. These are women in the bath. They are not wrapped pieces of cloth walking behind their husbands through the market. They were not keeping their home and praying.

I visit more than three rooms of the hammam, each with it’s own treatment and its own batch of women. I let myself be vulnerable to a cultural experience far out of my comfort zone. And, I take part it a ritual that is sacred and special to the women of Morocco.

Then, I walk back out to the polluted city streets filled with men, lower my head, clutch my purse and pray a taxi will get me back to the my room safely — all the time, smiling because I know the secrets that lay under the Muslim veil.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


This is Rachid. He lives in Morocco. He is about 15 years old. He is an orphan. But, the SOS Children’s Village cares for him.

He doesn’t have much and giving him a jump rope makes his day. We played tennis and I learned that he smiles wider than any child I’ve ever met.

He asked for my phone number. He made me laugh.

He ran after me when I had to leave. He gave me a drawing of a castle. It’s an original print by Rachid himself.

I realized he would never live in a castle.

I want to give him a castle. I think he deserves one.

Rachid was my first taste of Morocco.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Spain talks — all the time. Locals love to talk to each other and they will talk to you too, if you know a little Spanish.

When I first stepped off the ship, I was fearless. There are beaches here, blacktop roads and there are even Burger King fast-food restaurants. The architecture is a little different and people speak a different language, but it seemed very similar to the life I’m used to in America.

After spending a few days in Spain, I found that the culture is more different than I thought.

If Americans eat the most, Spaniards must come in at a close second. People don’t just eat breakfast, lunch and dinner here, they eat tapas— in the end, Spaniards might go out to eat five times in one day. Their portion size is not always modest either. I rarely was able to finish a plate of food, which was typically rich in starches like potatoes.

Food is definitely part of a social experience. Waiters typically do not seat you and hardly stop by your table, unless summoned for la cuenta (the bill). When eating, you don’t shovel your food down your throat, you sit, enjoy and talk to your friends for at least an hour or more.

Socializing with friends and family is not just a dining activity, it is done everywhere. When I visited a beach in Cadiz, I did not see one cell phone, but the conversation was endless. People sit in large groups and enjoy each other’s company.

It is also very rare to see locals walking by themselves. People usually walk in groups. Women, especially in cities, do not walk alone.

When they get tired from talking so much and doing a little work during the day, it is time for an afternoon siesta (nap). It is usually difficult to find a store that is open in the afternoon, because most people close shops to go home to rest. In the evening, work resumes.

True Spanish culture blossoms at night. After a long dinner around 10:30 p.m., the streets are still crowded with bodies bustling and talking. It’s strange, from an American’s view, to see mothers pushing strollers with babies through narrow streets and bars at midnight. The city appears to come alive when the sun sleeps.

My friends and I went out after dinner one night to discover what this nightlife really has to offer. From 1 to 2 a.m. we found hoards of students walking around Cadiz with grocery bags. When we followed them, and walked up a few stairs, we found a huge balcony packed with bodies and drinks. This is where people gather before the fiestas.

Parties start at 3 a.m. and last until at least 7 a.m. Dancing and drinks in a nightclub is the usual scene.

Around 10 a.m., the city starts to wake up again, but they are not in a rush. Work can wait. Here, they do not live to work, they work so that they can live and continue living, socializing, taking a siesta and enjoying the fiesta.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Friday, September 3, 2010

Photo Op

I may have quickly borrowed the Captain's chair...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cruising Cuisine

Despite the fact that the MV Explorer was once a cruise ship, students are constantly reminded that it is no longer a cruise ship today — but rather a campus. A place that once was a casino is now a library and a computer lab is right across the hall. We don’t have amazing cuisine and luxury buffets at our disposal and I’ll be the first to tell you that this voyage is not about entertainment and leisure.

Let’s talk FOOD:

Breakfast is from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., lunch is from 11:30 to 12:30 p.m. and dinner is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Despite the first day on ship (when parents were touring our facilities), we have no gourmet eating options.

BREAKFAST, in my opinion, is the best meal of the day on ship. We have pastries, omelets, cereal, yogurt, potatoes and occasionally a few other options — including a runny version of oatmeal. It is the same every day.

LUNCH and dinner hours are usually when the food quality all goes downhill. Pasta is served at every meal. It is usually flavored with some version of watery ketchup with curry and the same unusual flavor, despite lack of popularity, will be used for several days. Some kind of sauce-smothered meat, potatoes, cauliflower or broccoli is also available. DINNER always consists of a meat and a fish option with eerily similar pasta and vegetables as lunch. These items are consistently repeated in various ways and I imagine will continue to be served the remainder of the voyage. The food has been making me sick for a few days now, but I’m getting used to it and learning what food options are best.

My strategy for surviving:

Breakfast: Yogurt and cereal.

Lunch: Sandwich (which are only served in one of the two dining halls)

Dinner: Mystery food.

While we don’t have chocolate fountains, all-you-can-eat buffets and exotic seafood available on ship, we have all we need. To be honest, I look forward to meals on ship — not because of the food, but because of the workers that always make you smile with their hospitality and energy.

This voyage is not about the food, it’s about people. It’s about people on the ship, whether they are old, young, student, worker, child, professor, cabin steward, chef, or dean. Everyone on this ship is working and working hard. And, we are part of a special community that few have the opportunity to join. We are blessed right now and we haven’t even stopped in a port yet.

This isn’t a cruise. Everywhere you turn, a student is talking about how much reading he or she has for homework, people are scampering through the halls with laptops held high in the air in hopes of catching some form of Wi-Fi, club meetings are being organized and professors are contemplating how to raise their children and teach a class on a ship. This is college under unusual circumstances. It is wonderful and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t living in a level of luxury. But, this isn’t a time to relax. This is a time to learn through different means, in different cultures, with different people.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Around 8 a.m., I saw the first piece of land I’ve seen since the ship left Halifax, Canada. We passed the Azores, a group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Some students woke up extra early just to see the islands and take photographs. It’s funny what people get excited about when they see nothing but blue ocean for a while. I found the Azores on my way to breakfast. I have to admit, it was nice to see the islands — just there in the middle of the ocean… like our ship.