It has been 4 days in Ghana, 6 days total since I left NY, and it has been nothing but amazing. Not only is it great to be back, but the experience has been totally different…in a good way. I am taking it all in and loving every minute. My internet access has been very limited so I haven’t been able to post much, sorry! However, I have been writing my blog entries off-line, so lookout for a few posts in the next upcoming week for sure. Below is the first, which I wrote last Wednesday night/Thurs am…I didn’t change it all so, to make it feel more real and in the moment. Here ya go!
My first 48 hours
I am in Accra after a long journey…what a whirlwind these past 48 hours have been. My flight over from NY was great, and surprisingly the time went by quickly. I only slept one of the 7 anda half hours; probably because I was so excited to arrive. As most of you know, I had an 18 hour layover in Morocco. I had never been there before, so all at once I was very excited to visit, but yet nervous at the thought of traveling around by myself- but, more on that later. My flight landed in Casablanca, Morocco at 7:30 bright and early in the morning. I shuffled on to the shuttle bus with the rest of the crowd, where I met two other woman who were heading to Accra, Ghana as their final destination as well. In typical me fashion, by the time I was in customs I had already made a friend (who little did I yet know would be my buddy for the next 24 hours straight). After getting my passport stamped, we were off to find out where to go next. When passenger flying with Royal Air Maroc to Morocco have a layover more than 8 hours, the airline has a private hotel in which they can stay until their flight takes off. Needless to say, I was qualified 🙂 Eleanor, my new friend, and I, waited for our hotel tickets, then went outside to wait for our shuttle…walking around the airport in itself was really cool….Two of my favorite things at airports are when you hear a mix of languages from all over the world, and when you see family members reuniting at arrivals. In this airport, I saw it all, and was already loving every minute of the journey. It was great hearing all the different languages, in particular Arabic and French. I was always really bad at languages, but it’s funny how it always works that when you hear a different language than your own spoken, especially to you directly, you suddenly can think of random words from all the different languages you know-but, more on that later. Here we were in Morocco, and I couldn’t wait to see what our day would unfold.
When we stepped outside, the air was heavy and wow was it hot…I had heard that it was supposed to be 110 degrees in Morocco upon my arrival, but didn’t quite know how it would feel. It was scorching..definitely put NY’s little heat wave a few weeks ago to shame! I had been to Eilat, Israel, and always thought that was the hottest place I’ve been, but this was even hotter. We hopped a shuttle to the hotel, and then we arrived, to what was the start of a chaotic next few hours. Though I was feeling really grateful that I had a place to stay in the interum of waiting for my next flight, the hotel was a bit of a mess. When we arrived, they didn’t have any rooms for us, and told us to wait an hour. They told us to enjoy breakfast in the meantime..though we were pretty sleepy (It was about 9:30 their time, so 4:30 am NY time), our hunger trumped our tiredness and we excitedly sat down to our first African meal….unfortunately when we walked in, we were told there was no more food. Wamp wampppp…it felt like the day was making a turn for the worse, but…in my usual positive manner I made the best of it and settled for whatever there was- cucumbers, jam, and a piece of bread. Eager for sleep, we went back to the front desk, where a room was finally available. Eleanor and I said goodnight, and took a nap for a few hours. The beds were a bit skeevy, and pillows lumpy and stained…but that didn’t stop me from passing out- I took my sweatshirt and neck pillow, made it my blanket and pillow and was out for 2 hours.
When we woke, it was time to eat again, but this time our expectations were a bit lower…and for a good reason- more cucumbers and bread! This time, there was a little rice and other vegetables well…it definitely wasn’t the meal of the year, but I was thankful at least we had somewhere to stay. (Seema, tripadvisor reviews weren’t kidding!!) At this point, I was still a bit out of it but I knew staying in this hotel all day was not an option. I was looking forward to visiting the city, and was a woman on a mission. I was going to find a way to make this bad day into a good one. Though Eleanor wasn’t on the bandwagon at first, I (the one who was anxious and unsure about traveling through the city by myself for weeks before this trip!)- shared with Eleanor my eagerness to go and explore, and explained it would be totally fine and safe. “We have to go see what’s out there!” Though I didn’t have a plan as to how we’d get there, and was ready to go by myself if she did not want to go, we asked the receptionist what the best and most affordable way would be to go if we went together; Eleanor wasn’t planning to travel beyond the hotel so she had a limited amount of cash…but we made it work. Now, a lot of you know I was looking forward to trying to brave and go around Morocco by myself. I was even thinking about meeting a Chabad Rabbi who my stepfather connected with via email (only my family!)…but, the roaming services on my phone were just not connecting, and I was too tired and unsure to go solo. I felt a little bad that I wasn’t able to try and beat my fear of trying something new and going alone…but I thought about it and realized-I am still trying something new and going with a friend I JUST met, and that’s definitely still something different in itself. So, off we went to the city!
The taxi ride brought on a new calamity….I felt like there was a candid camera, somewhere. We got in the car, and realized the driver speaks not one word of English. He only spoke French. I took French when I was in high school, but suddenly I started throwing a mix of all the languages I had known…french, spanish, I think I may have even threw in a hebrew word in there…. clearly that got me nowhere. The driver was getting frustrated with us, Eleanor was hot and flustered, and we were stil sitting there in a un-airconditioned taxi in 110 degree weather, all speaking over each other….needless to say we weren’t making much progress. As I tend to do when there is nothing else to do, I started laughing. I swear, all that was missing was Chevy Chase. Eventually, miraculously, we were able to understand that the driver was trying to make us an offer to go to the city, show us around, and take us back for $70.00. A cab one way is usually $40.00, so this was definitely a deal, but Eleanor was short on cash, so she quickly declined the offer. I had my heart set on visiting this one mosque, so I quickly threw out the name to the driver, and told him just to take us there. “To the mosque”, I said, and off we went. (Pause for a sec- the driver wanted to take us on a tour. A tour. The guy speaks no english. Could you imagine what the scene would look like? Ha. Again, Chevy Chase, where are you?) Somewhere along the ride Eleanor broke out her N Y bargaining skills, and got the driver to take us to the mosque, wait for us for an hour, and then return back to the hotel, all for $50. He agreed, and all were happy. I would have liked to see more of the city,but it was probably too hot to walk around for much more than an hour anyway. Though it was incredibly hot, and humid, I rode the 45 minute ride to the city with a smile on my face, because the day just kept getting more interesting.
The Hassan II Mosque
They say some things are worth waiting for; this definitely was. This mosque was by far one of the most beautiful landmarks I have ever seen. It’s huge from far, but as you drive closer, you see it is really so vast, and breathtaking in person. This mosque, the Hassan II Mosque, is the largest mosque in the country of Morocco, and the 7th largest mosque in the world. I was completely mesmerized. I have always loved Moroccan inspired designs, so I was that much more excited to see the original! I remember when I studied abroad in Spain, I was always so into the Morrocan/Middle Eastern inspired doorways, gates, buildings and patterns. The architecture, detail, design, space of this mosque was incredible. There was SO much detail in every building and wall. The patterns were SO beautiful; I couldn’t stop looking at them. I was in complete picture heaven! Every building had such a unique design, different from the next. I have a feeling pictures don’t do it justice, but here are some:
I only knew some information about this mosque before arriving, but unfortunately didn’t learn much while there, as they didn’t have tours. When I got home I researched more about it. The mosque was built after the former Moroccan King, Hassan II. It was built in 1986 as a gift to the king, who said,
“I want to build this mosque on the water, because God’s throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the Creator on firm soil, can contemplate God’s sky and ocean.” There were 10,000 artists involved in making this building. You can certainly tell a lot of time was put into every detail of it. It was cool to find out later, that the building had a Moorish influence, from those who inhabited in Spain. I read on Wikipedia that it is very similar to one of my favorite buildings in Spain, The Alhambra. I definitely see the resemblance. I also could tell that the mosque was able to hold a lot of people, but wasn’t sure if people still did pray there, and quite how large it really was. I learned that the mosque can hold 105,000 worshippers at once, with 25,000 inside and 80,000 in the ground surrounding it. Crazy! I also learned that the mosque’s minaret is the world’s tallest, at 689 feet.
The area itself felt so clean and peaceful. Being that it was right off the ocean, it had a very serene atmosphere. There were people sitting at different spots, some with their eyes closed, some simply sitting in silence; You can tell the mosque was a special and mystical place for some. I could very much see myself sitting there for hours with my journal or my thoughts, and enjoying it much. In ways, it reminded me of some of the spots I saw in Israel that held the same sacred value to people from all over the world. It was such a beautiful place of worship, right in the middle of a busy city. I loved also how it was right on the ocean. I didn’t realize that there was such value of the ocean being so near. I learned later almost half of the surface lies above the Atlantic. I also learned that this is one of the only 2 mosques that are open to non-Muslim in all of Morocco. I felt really privileged to have visited such a special place. It had such a calm, relaxing feel to it, which was perfect for the type of day we had already. I loved it, and didn’t want to leave when our hour was up!
The different patterns/textures:
After our walk around the mosque, we headed back to the hotel where we freshened up, rested for a bit and headed to the airport. Our next flight was at 1:30 so we ate dinner and were all ready to sleep on the flight. I was so excited to finally sleep! Just as I started to fall asleep after takeoff, the lights when on and they started to serve food. I couldn’t get a break ha. Funny enough, I got a kosher meal served (unsure why), Allison my director may have thought I was kosher. Either way, I got a large meal that even came with a mini bottle of wine! Not bad.. I threw that in my bag for later. I wasn’t able to sleep after that, but when I finally arrived in Accra, I had a good 6 hour nap! I was then taken on a small plane like last year, to a village called Tacoradi, where I then had a 2 hour ride to the place I was going to be staying in Nkroful (same place as last year). I was so happy to finally be back!! It felt good to see so many familiar signs, street names, smells of food, sights of kids and women selling things on the street…it felt so comforting to be back.
I am about to go to bed now, but am really looking forward to the next few days of camp planning, visiting the school sites, and meeting everyone. Tomorrow morning, I get to meet the chief of one of the towns we’ll be working in. Can’t wait! This is a new and exciting responsibility and after months of prep in NY I can’t wait to do some of the hands on prep here in the village. Looking forward to what the next few days have in store for me!