The Year of the Tiger

For all of you that know me (even though none of you are actually reading this right now), you know that I LOVE animals- often more than humans.  Besides the fact that they are adorable, it tugs at my heart strings to know that they are essentially defenseless against human cruelty, aggression, expansion, and and even inadvertent ignorance.

This past weekend, in the Week in Review section of the New York Times (March 7), I came across this article:

Fretting About the Last of the World’s Biggest Cats

For those who don’t have time to read it, although I encourage you to, as I’ll never be able to capture the essence of the article here, wild tigers are severely endangered.  There are less than 3,000 left globally- in fact, there are more tigers in captivity in the state of Texas than there are wild globally.  Tigers are captured to be used as exhibits, entertainment, pets, and livestock, or killed throughout Asia so that various body parts can be used for “medicinal and protective” purposes.

While I respect cultural tradition immensely, these majestic animals run the risk of extension as these practices continue.  Imagine how difficult it is for them to escape the hunting or capturing power of men, when they can only live in small groups now due to the dwindling numbers.

As the article notes that some countries are doing, let’s TRULY make this the year of the tiger, by calling attention to this tragedy and urging political leaders throughout the world to crackdown on those who capture or kill tigers.  Perhaps by the next year of the tiger, we can have added to the 3,000 tigers left.

The Real Avatar

I don’t often urge action…but after watching this video, it’s hard to to just move on like nothing is happening.  These people are being called the “real life” version of Avatar, the movie.  If that connection makes you realize the tragedy of this situation, great.  This video teaches us about a village in the mountains of India, who feel a strong connection to their beautiful lands spiritually, economically, and for survival.  What right does a mining company from the UK have to take this away from them, by force if necessary?  We should be fighting on their behalf to preserve not only the beautiful landscape, but this precious relationship to the land that is so rare now.

Please contact Vedanta Aluminium Limited, who is the company responsible for mining this region for bauxite, the mineral used to make aluminum, and express your concern about the danger to Niyamgiri mountain and the people of Orissa, India:

Vedanta Aluminium Ltd.

Corporate Communications Department

First Floor, City Mart Complex,

Bubaneshwar, Orissa, India

Email: Communications@vedanta.co.in

And spread the word!

Persecution of the Rohingya

Talk about beating people when they’re down…this is disgraceful on the part of the Bangladeshi government.  I have no words.  An article in the New York Times today documented the beatings, rape, and extremely poor living conditions that the Rohingya minority group, a group of 250,000 refugees from Myanmar living in Bangladesh (the worst off live in Kutupalong camp), experience increasingly.  This group of people fled Myanmar due to their treatment there, which includes a lack of citizenship, abuse, and forced labor, and where they cannot travel, marry or practice their religion freely.

Burmese Refugees Persecuted in Bangladesh

It seems that people will always find other people to stomp on.

We Are the World

I wouldn’t be using this blog for it’s new intended purpose if I didn’t write about something that has been on my mind for the past month…the earthquake in Haiti that took place on January 12, claiming the lives of over 200,000 people and displacing hundreds of thousands more.  I was shocked and devastated to initially hear the news, and then immediately concerned for my friends (who are more like family) and their loved ones.  (Luckily, all have been accounted for).

My next thought- what can I do?  I was so proud and humbled when most people I knew appeared to have the same, unselfish thought, all informing each other about different charities to which we could donate to have the best impact in that moment.

But today, as I put on the first day of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and was greeted with a video made by musicians reprising Michael Jackson’s We Are the World to benefit Haiti, I wondered- now what?  Here in DC, our headlines for the past two weeks have been consumed with snow storms- meanwhile the rest of the world was still going on, and Haiti still exists.  This song’s words reminded me of the capacity of humans to care about others…so now what?

Haiti has been devastated for much longer than this past month, even if not from a natural disaster.  The majority of the population lives in poverty under a government that is ill-equipped to provide basic services to its citizens- imagine how crippling this earthquake will be to an already undeveloped infrastructure.   But now, the eyes of the world are on Haiti- so don’t forget!  Haitians need help.  I leave it to the experts to determine how, but please don’t forget that Haiti is there.  Devastating events tend to dominate the news briefly and then the issues goes away- please don’t let this happen.  Learn about Haiti, and learn from Haitians about their needs, ambitions, and desires- we have an opportunity to help a country that has been going down a terrible path for a long time- let’s not leave them in the dark again.

Villa Gesell

This past New Year’s Eve, I spent two days and nights along the Atlantic coast in Argentina, in a beach town called Villa Gesell.  Many visit the nearby city of Mar del Plata, but after doing research we were attracted to the supposed quieter, more nature-like Villa Gesell as opposed to the built-up glam of Mar del Plata.

After taking the 5 hour surprisingly comfortable (and of course cheap) bus trip via Plusmar, we arrived at our hostel, Residencial Viya.  A cute array of guest rooms with a beautiful courtyard of gardens in the middle, the rooms are small but clean and the owners are extremely kind and accommodating with several adorable dogs running around.

The main area of town is along Ave. 3, which is where all of the shops, many arcades for kids, and restaurants can be found (or on side streets off of Ave. 3).  Notably, there are very few non-Argentinian tourists, which is really nice.

Ave. 1 is there the main entrance to the beach is.  The best part of the beach day is directly midday at this time of year, after about 2 pm it gets cloudy and windy.  Otherwise, we looked out with weather around 80 for that midday window which is perfect beach weather.

the windy part of day- note the grey ocean

and the sunny time of day!

and just an hour later it is windy again! my travel buddies from left Taylor, Meghan our host, and me

Beach activities include surfing lessons, although it didn’t seem like many people were partaking…many people play soccer on the beach.  In our area I didn’t see boat rentals or anything like that.  Also, according to Lonely Planet there are horseback riding expeditions or jeep treks, both of which I would be interested in but didn’t see.  This makes me wonder if there are other areas of Villa Gesell, where more of the hotels and starting to be built up areas are…but I don’t think so.

New Year’s Eve was an interesting experience, teaching us about how Argentinians spend the holiday.  The city was extremely quiet until about 10:30, around which some of the restaurants were filled, though all were serving a prix fixe special menu and many required reservations.  However, Meghan explained that most people would be spending the evening at home with their families, until maybe 12:30 or 1.  We had heard that at 12 there would be fireworks on the beach, so we went there.  What a surprise we had when we discovered that fireworks is not the way we generally imagine it, with professionals putting it on, but actually a free for all with everyone bringing their own fireworks and setting them off.  Really cool, but also kind of scary as they were going off at all directions around us, including directly into utility wires.  But it was so fun to know how freezing cold we would be if we were celebrating at home, but instead we were on the beach in summer!

the scene on the beach

a moment to remember

All in all, Villa Gesell is a great escape from Buenos Aires, and I imagine even better as summer proceeds and it gets even warmer.  If you are looking for a lot to do and pristine beaches, this is not for you.  But if you are looking to see how many Argentinians spend their holidays, and for a a laid back and friendly atmosphere, definitely visit this beach town!

Desculpe?

I just recently returned from a whirlwind 9 days in Argentina with my friend, thanks to an invitation from our host Meghan.  What a country! I can’t wait to return one day to see more of it.  (Desculpe means excuse me, which Meghan so graciously used on a regular basis while serving as our translator :))

Our trip consisted mostly of Buenos Aires, with a two trip to the beach city of Villa Gesell and one day on the outskirts of BA in Tigre.  Buenos Aires is a huge, cosmopolitan city characterized by its neighborhoods, each with their own attractions and unique feelings.  Highlights are Palermo, Recoleta, and San Telmo, where you can find restaurants, markets, sights, and a sense of how those in Buenos Aires live. Highlights for me were Recoleta and Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo, as well as Parque Tres de Febrero.  Here’s a little taste:

Recoleta cemetary

Recoleta market

Stopping to smell the roses in Parque Tres de Febrero

San Telmo market

Tango in Plaza Dorrego

San Telmo at dusk

coming across some interesting artwork during a walk through Palermo

The greatest thing about BA is the slow and liesurely pace of life.  I’ll admit, I was nervous about how late the evening starts before I went down there, but from the relaxing atmosphere, its easy to just pass the day going with the flow, until before you know it it’s 10 pma and you should probably get ready for dinner!  If only we Americans could take a few lessons from this pace of life- I’m sure we would learn a thing or two in de-stressing and being healthier.

Which brings me to…the food.  Argentinian food is AMAZING.  Of course everyone knows about the steak- but I tell you grass-fed fresh meat really does taste different!  I’m usually so picky about my steak, but I would have eaten every single one put in front of me even if 5 times a day.  Another staple of parillas (grill restaurants where you get steak) is provoleta- grilled provolone cheese.  A dream meal- grilled melty cheese and perfect steak.   I would be happy eating that forever!

La Cabrera: One of the most popular- albeit touristy- parillas

Another highlight: cazuelas, or what Meghan calls heaven in a bowl.  Basically a melty cheese casserole of meat, potatoes, maybe squash, maybe rice, maybe vegetables- no matter what, it’s good.

I also discovered that Argentina is a gluten-free heaven.  Not only is most of the food I described above naturally gluten-free, but a law has just been passed that mandates restaurants in BA to serve gluten free options!  Furthermore, their package labeling is amazing.  They have a national symbol that will be found on any packaged food that is safe, even yogurt.  There are also many shops that cater to celiacs, like Celigourmet, where I obviously spent a lot of time (it’s located in Palermo Soho, a short walk from Meghan’s apartment.)  

I can see why BA is an amazing place to live, and why so many expats choose to spend a few years there soaking in the Argentinian culture.  I can’t wait to go back (especially since I had to pay a $131 entrance fee that is good for ten years) and experience more of Argentina, the people, the culture, and of course the food 🙂

An Evolution of Sorts

I know it’s been a while, and I’m not even sure I still have any readers anymore!  But I’ve been thinking for a while about a way that I can reinvigorate this blog, now that I’m no longer in Morocco.

I’d like to maintain the “travel” essence of the blog- but unfortunately, I don’t travel as frequently as I would like 🙂  But, I do have some impending trips- Argentina next week and Israeli in May/June…so during those times, this will definitely remain a blog for my travels.

But in the meantime, I would also like to make this blog about the things that loom large in my life- 1) conflict resolution, and international affairs in general; and 2) living the gluten-free life.

I  am decidedly most educated on conflict resolution, especially regarding the Middle East- and so always have a lot to say on this.  But I don’t want this blog to be a soapbox- rather, I intend to use when I come across something that really makes me think, and is really intriguing to me, regarding anything going on in the world- from politics to social affairs to pop culture.

Secondly, the gluten-free (g-f) life, by health necessity, not choice, is a constant thought on my mind, as I struggle to adjust to this at home and in public, maintain a social life consumed with eating out in restaurants, and learn how to cook new things.  I think this is a great space to share some of the funnier, or more interesting stories that I encounter during this journey- and perhaps provide some insight for others.

So there you have it- the evolution of MoroccanRoll.  But I love the name (thanks Mallory)- and I think it’s gonna have to stay.  So stay tuned!  Even I don’t know exactly where this will go but I’m excited to find out.

Some reflections

So, now that I’ve been back in the U.S. for a little over a week, I thought I might make some comments on my experience and Morocco.  I’ve been thinking about a few things, both since I’ve been back and while I was there that stand out the most to me.

1.  Moroccans are the most hospitable people I’ve been around.  No one hesitates to share a cup of tea and some chatting with you, and in fact it would be rude if you didn’t partake.  The same goes for sharing a meal- and people who barely have enough for their family will gladly invite a guest, even a stranger, to share a meal.  This is so special to me.

2.  Morocco needs a trash removal system!  Apparently, I heard there is not national trash system, and of course no recycling system.  Please institute one!  Places that are so beautiful, or natural resources, or people’s homes are being ruined by litter.  This is detrimental to the environment, health, and the economy (for a country that is so focused on agricultural, the surroundings should be healthier!)

3.  Education!  This could not be stressed enough in many of our classes- education and raising literacy is the path towards economic development.  That must be a focus of any development related initiatives in Morocco.

Those are my main observations and what stands out to me the most from my trip.  It’s an adjustment, coming back after being there, and I miss a lot about Morocco!  I’m so thankful for the experience of a new culture and region of the world, and it whets my appetite for travel even more!

The Windy City

First and foremost, props to Tamar for dubbing this the new title of Essaouira- although the wind certainly died down by the end, our first 2.5 days here can certainly be characterized that way!

From Marrakech, we drove 2.5 hours to the Atlantic Coast of Morocco, to an extremely popular vacation destination for both Moroccans and Europeans called Essaouira.  It’s easy to see why- the temperature dropped almost 20 degrees Celsius!  I was even cold at night here.  We stayed at Hotel Les Matins Bleus, a really cute hotel right in the heart of the medina.  They also rent out an apartment next door, and that’s where we were lucky enough to stay- a lofted apartment with two  bedrooms and a huge living room, perfect for spreading out, both our bodies and our clothes and gifts!  And the owners/managers, two brothers and their cousin, are so kind.  They will give you advice about anything, set up any excursion you would want, let us use their fridge for wine and yogurt, and serve a delicious breakfast during which they offer to get you anything else you would want that’s not already there.  They also speak about 5 languages- pretty impressive!

It was really hard for us to leave Essaouira, where we were able to relax so much.  Not only did we walk around the port and see all of the fish stalls, where you pick our your fish fresh and grill it for you (some things I’ve never even seen, like bright pink eels…), but we ate delicious food, and got in some excellent sun J.  We spent several hours on the beach in town, which though extremely crowded and windy, is still really nice.  For 25 dirhams, you can rent a lounge chair and lie in peace.  The water is also a bit warmer and definitely calmer than Asilah.

Now for two of the major highlights of our four and a half days here: a hammam and Jardins de Villa Maroc.

On Sunday evening, we booked a  “Moroccan beauty package’ at the hammam/spa at  Hotel Lalla Mirra, which is partially solar panel heated.  This truly was one of the more interesting experiences in my life.

Jardins de Villa Maroc is a beautiful villa about 15 minutes outside of Essaouira.  It is owned by a Swiss woman, who is married to a Moroccan man, and the combination of the two styles makes this place really beautiful.  You can rent the whole villa or one of the 4 bedrooms, which are designed in earth tones with Moroccan décor such as doors, lanterns, and so forth.  Or you can do what we did, which is pay 180 dirhams to spend the day at the villa by their beautiful pool, and they also provide you with a delicious lunch.

The hammam was truly interesting.  A hammam is a traditional bathhouse, which in the past was usually attached to a mosque.  Public hammams are still used for people to clean themselves, with separate times for women and men.  The hammam we went to was used as a public hammam as well as a private hammam with spa treatments.  When we go there, we were told to just strip down to our bathing suit, and then entered.  The hammam feels like a sauna.  Two ladies (one was EXTREMELY large) then threw water on us- not kidding.  And then left.  Shortly after they returned, directed us to lie on mats on the floor (in the middle of a public sauna…sort of a strange feeling), and then they doused us in argan oil, exfoliated us, slathered us in mud, washed us off, and then gave us a massage.  Our skin was like silk after, and it lasted for a few days.  Certainly an experience!

From there we went on to Oalidia, a small fishing village with a popular beach, followed by an afternoon/night at Villa Blanca (beautiful new hotel) in Casablanca, and home to the U.S.!  I will share some overall reflections on Morocco shortly.

Asilah to Marrakech (again)

From Chefchaouen, Omar drove us the few hours to Asilah, driving through Tangier on the way.  Asilah is a small beach city just below Tangier.  We stayed in the Asilah Guesthouse (now called Christina’s Guesthouse).  It is a beautifully designed home, especially the exquisite roof terrace, not far from the ocean.  Asilah is known for its beaches, art, and delicious seafood- and it did not disappoint!  We spent one full day on Paradise Beach, not far from town, and is locally called Las Cuevas due to its caves.  It’s beautiful!  A big beach surrounded by cliffs and rocks, also with a few camels walking around.  The water was a little rough, but the weather was wonderful.  For 20 dirhams you can rent a comfortable lounge with an umbrella and spend a wonderful day! Another pleasant surprise was the medina of Asilah.  By far the most beautiful of any we have been to, with its beautiful homes reminiscent of a Greek Island.  One home that we walked past also served as an art gallery to a lovely French couple- it was so beautiful and they were so welcoming.  The walls of the medina are also filled with murals, either completed or being painted…Asilah hosts a mural painting festival in August

The seafood of course did not disappoint either, and we spent two wonderful dinners at Casa Garcia eating manchego cheese, ham, and fresh seafood like shrimp and sole.  The sole in Asilah is so delicious.

After that it was off to Marrakech on the overnight train.   That was actually really fun and not scary at all!  We had a “couchette,” a sleeper car all to ourselves with bunkbeds.  And honestly we slept almost the whole way there!  Pretty cool, I’ve never been on an overnight train.

In Marrakech we stayed at Riad Julia.  It was so beautiful, and right in the middle of the medina, which is pretty special.  Unfortunately, the management was a little absent, but the rooms are so pretty and they served a wonderful breakfast and had a beautiful courtyard.  It was so peaceful compared to the chaos of the medina outside!  Since we had been to Marrakech before, we didn’t to do anything “touristy,” so mostly shopped and ate J  Of course we went back to Kif Kif, and also to a cooperative that employs handicapped women to make embroidered clothes, pillow covers, and so forth called Al-Kawtar.  It also provides daycare for these women while they’re employed, and all proceeds from the store benefit the non-profit.  It’s a really special place.  We also made our way through the medina, picking up pieces of Morocco throughout.  There is so much to buy, but it’s also so frustrating and exhausting sometimes, because of the process of bargaining that is the norm in Morocco.  The shopkeeper gives you a price, you counter with your lowest price, and you go back and forth until you settle on something.   After a long day of doing this, you barely want to bargain by the end!  One the other hand, going early is to your benefit because you’re not tired but also because you can be the first purchase of the day for the shopkeeper and he is often more willing to meet your price.

Some gems that we discovered this time around: Café des Epices. It’s in the spice market in the medina, and is a café that overlooks all the goings on, and features the yummiest spiced espresso ever!  Also, Café du Livre.  In Gueliz, the hipper newer part of Marrakech, it has such good food- cheeseburgers (wow it had been a while since we had one of those!), sandwiches, a delicious goat cheese salad, lattes, and wireless internet!  We spent hours there each day, and the staff and owner are so nice.

But we were ready to leave the heat of Marrakech (48 celsius- that almost 120 fahrenheit!)- on to the beach!