Riad Kasbah Oliver (8/17/2011)

Three years ago, Carolyn (pictured below with son Oliver) started building her riad kasbah into a hill in the Tighza Valley. (I feel like I’m hiking up a mountain of red dirt and sand every time I return here after a day out in the village. That was strategic on Carolyn’s part so that the kasbah wouldn’t have unwanted visitors.)

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Designing the building herself, she used local contractors, carpenters, and stone crafters to build the energy-efficient kasbah, fit for the “adventurous type,” according to the Talbot family, a British family that stayed at the kasbah for five days. The riad kasbah is energy efficient because of the strategically-placed windows to allow for the optimum amount of natural light and for a cross draft in each room, and the design materials allow the kasbah to keep retain heat in the winter.

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The building is designed as a combination of a riad and a kasbah with interior and exterior windows and square turrets. A riad is a type of Moroccan hotel or home with a central courtyard that allows entrance to each room. A kasbah is a fortified North African home, that resembles a castle, with a square turret on top of each corner of the building.

As soon as you climb the stone staircase to the double wooden doors, you see the reception desk immediately inside. On the right is a W.C., and to the left is the kitchen (pictured below). Behind the reception desk is another set of double doors, although these doors together are about the size of a large single door. Through these doors rests the open garden, which is surrounded by tile floors. (We eat at small round tables around the garden.)

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On either side of the garden, there are two 7×15 salons, one for dining Berber style and the other for watching TV. Neither room is completely finished, although the dining room is decorated like a traditional Moroccan dining/living room, with seating around each wall that’s covered in decorative tapestry and matching pillows. The other salon, which doesn’t have decorations yet, has a few single-sized camping mattresses with a small TV, cable box and DVD player. (It’s been a good spot for chick flick movie nights with Carolyn and Mina.)

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Beside the garden is a wide-set stone staircase (pictured above) leading to the second floor. Tile floors lead to each of the seven bedrooms, which can accommodate up to 21 people at a time. The kasbah also functions as a home for Carolyn, her husband Mohamed, and their son Oliver, who is two and a half. One room is Carolyn and Mohamed’s, another is Oliver’s. There’s also a large W.C. for the rooms without toilets. Because we are here for the long haul, we snatched the room with two single beds and a private shower and western-style toilet (no squatty potties for us in the kasbah!). And I’m really glad Carolyn gave us this room because of how often the two of us were sick over the course of our 35 days here. A private bathroom and a western toilet turned out to be quite convenient.

Ma Vie (3/31/2010)

I realize that I have not written for a few days, and I sincerely apologize. The adjustment has been a tad bit rough on my body. I’m constantly tired, and I think I’m sick. I can’t seem to kick the exhaustion either. Even though I’m tired, and slightly homesick already, everything is going well. There is so much I need to tell you. So I’ll begin with my family here.

My mère d’accueil (host mom) is an older woman, probably in her 60s. She works as a nurse at the clinic once per week, which happened to be yesterday. The day changes each week. She has two daughters, who are 33 and 32, and they don’t live in the house. Both daughters have two little enfants (children). Monday, before our little luncheon at the university with our host families, I was reading my Bible in the sun on the terrace (which was wonderful, I recommend it), when her older daughter arrived with her 3-year-old son William. He is quite adorable, with little ears that stick out and golden-blond hair. And the best part, he probably speaks better French than I do, which is humbling.

My host mom also has a boyfriend, Serge, who is about her age. I think the best way to describe him is “a stereotypical older French man.” With that image, you’re probably thinking he’s thin, smokes, has a deep chortle/voice, loves to joke, is hard to understand, and wears a hat. We’ll you’d be correct. Well, except I’ve never seen him wear a hat. It’s funny because Sammi (another OU student staying in the same house) and I cannot understand him, even though we try incredibly hard. Sammi thinks it’s because he mumbles (loudly), and I think she’s right. He doesn’t really move his mouth when he talks, yet somehow he has a loud voice. Although we can’t really understand him, he’s very patient and listens closely when we attempt our French. I enjoy being around him. Il m’amuse.

There are quite a few differences between this home and the one in the U.S. First, in France, all of the houses are small. Although it’s small, our chambres (bedrooms) are large. (In another post, I’ll give you a complete tour of the house with pictures.) It also seems like all the appliances in the house are smaller.

They conserve water here, unlike all of us wasteful Americans. To shower, you must turn on the water for 30 seconds and rinse. Then, you turn off the water and soap up your entire body, including your hair. Then, you turn the water back on and rinse. And that’s your shower. Me, I cheat a bit. And by cheating, I mean turning on the water about 4 times. The first thing I will do whenever I get to a hotel is take a complete shower, as in not turning off the water, even though now I’ll feel guilty for using so much water. Showering here has made me realize that water is a luxury that Americans use way too much of. The French are correct when they stereotype us as wasteful. Also, they turn off all lights, all the time. And much of the time we use nature lighting here. Let’s just say that 8:00 p.m. dinners are a tad dark.

To flush the toilet, we have to pull up the button, then when the water flushes the toilet contents away, we push down on the button to stop the water. It’s a little odd.

Also, everyone eats little breakfasts, lunch around 12 and then dinner around 8. I don’t know how people make it that long without eating. I’m starving by dinner. I’m also eating tons of bread, which doesn’t keep me full very long at all, and it makes me thirsty. (There are no water fountains, I keep refilling a water bottle in the sinks I can find.) I think the diet here is also taking a toll of my body. The food is excellent, but it includes a lot of bread and cheese. I never thought it was possible to crave vegetables, but I actually started to today.

Those are the main differences for now. If I think of any more, I’ll let you know. Just so I don’t bog you down with a ton of writing, I’ll split up my stories into days. I’ll be telling you first about my shopping experiences and then about the university and my classes. Stay tuned!

P.S. It’s getting harder and harder to write in English. I’m actually thinking in French and having to translate it into English. C’est bizarre.

Les Familles (3/27/2010)

Although I didn’t get much sleep again, today was better than I anticipated. After packing up our belongings for the last time, we spent the majority of the day touring the inner-city streets, or the streets inside the ramparts.

I suppose I wasn’t paying close enough attention to Christophe when he was pointing out different buildings, because if I were randomly dropped in the middle of the city, I wouldn’t know the way back. So, my plan to become an expert of the city is to get lost in it, during daylight hours of course. That was my dad’s advice for getting to know Pittsburgh, and that’s exactly what Leah and I did, though not on purpose. But now I know my way around.

As a group, we explored the little boutiques and marchés. In one of the chocolate stores I visited, I purchased a hollow, chocolate petit canard, or little duck. Most chocolate stores are preparing for Pâques, or Easter, by selling eggs and even chicks, ducks and bunnies.

For lunch, I enjoyed my first French crêpe avec Nutella, in which the Nutella melted inside the gooey, perfect crêpe.

Within the hour break we had, I purchased minutes for my cell phone and bought all of the books I need for classes, which start this week. I sent my first international text to my mom, giving her my number. As it turns out, every text I send to America costs 50 Euro cents, or about $0.70, but it doesn’t cost me anything to receive texts.

After the break, we took a tour of the Palais des Papes, Palace of the Popes, which was where the Popes lived until the French Revolution, when the papacy moved to Italy. The most interesting part of the palace is the large, golden statue of Mary at the top. There is also a small statue of the crucifix near the bottom of the palace, directly below the statue of Mary. I find it quite interesting that Mary is much more prominent than Jesus. Jesus should be most important. Period. The thought of it still makes me angry.

Anyway…

We visited the Pont d’Avignon after the tour. While taking pictures with the famous bridge, I sang the French song Sur le Pont d’Avignon and danced on it. I regret not videotaping that.

As the day continued, the time became closer and closer to me meeting my host mom. Thankfully Sammy and I were placed together, which helped calm my nerves, at least a little.

Madame Nicole Goyet retrieved us from the hotel around 6:00 and drove us to her house, which is about 10 minutes from the university on foot. That’s incredibly convenient for me. Though my French is still pretty broken (because I’m tired and nervous, and my brain simply hasn’t been functioning normally), Madame Goyet is quite patient, cheerful and genuinely happy to have us here. I’m really hoping to push myself to not be afraid to speak and make mistakes. Honestly, this experience is slightly intimidating, especially being a perfectionist and getting embarrassed when I make mistakes. I’m just learning today to not kick myself for every mistake. And talking to my parents tonight made me feel much better.

The kindness of my host mother has definitely made me feel more relaxed with speaking. It’s difficult because I can easily add to conversations with my host mom, but I don’t know the majority of the words, and the connection from my brain to my mouth seems to be frayed. My brain is constantly trying to think of new things to say or add, but my mouth won’t cooperate, resulting in a stutter or incoherent sentence. I know it’ll get easier really soon, I think I just need sleep, which is what I’m about to do.