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Yeosu Expo 2012-Turkey Cultural Performance

There were any number of great cultural performances during the Yeosu Expo 2012, including the high-energy African and traditional Korean percussion groups. Probably the most beautiful and sublime performance I watched, however, was the Turkish Dance performance, the famous “Whirling Dervishes” of the Mevlevi Order of the Sufi sect of Islam.

From the Whirling Dervishes website is this description of the dance:

In the symbolism of the Sema ritual, the semazen’s camel’s hair hat (sikke) represents the tombstone of the ego; his wide, white skirt represents the ego’s shroud. By removing his black cloak, he is spiritually reborn to the truth. At the beginning of the Sema, by holding his arms crosswise, the semazen appears to represent the number one, thus testifying to God’s unity. While whirling, his arms are open: his right arm is directed to the sky, ready to receive God’s beneficence; his left hand, upon which his eyes are fastened, is turned toward the earth. The semazen conveys God’s spiritual gift to those who are witnessing the Sema. Revolving from right to left around the heart, the semazen embraces all humanity with love. The human being has been created with love in order to love. Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi says, “All loves are a bridge to Divine love. Yet, those who have not had a taste of it do not know!”

 

There’s a lot more information on that site about the dance and on Wikipedia about the Mevlevi Order. As you can see in the first photo, this particular group is the Konya Turkish Tasawwuf Music Ensemble, whose website is here. Of course, if you do a search, you’ll find much more information about this beautiful dance.

Following are a caravan’s worth of photos; I loved this performance so much that I just have to post all of these (18) shots. After the photos is a short (about one minute) video that I took of the dance. Enjoy!

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

At the Start of the Dance

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

The Start of the Dance

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

The Start of the Dance

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

Turkish Dancers

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

Turkish Dancers

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

Dancer and Musicians

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

Turkish Dancers

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

Turkish Dancer

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

Turkish Ensemble

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

Turkish Dancer

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

Turkish Dancer

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

The Sheikh

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

Turkish Dancers

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

Turkish Dancers

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

Turkish Dancers

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

Turkish Dancers

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

The Dancers and the Sheikh

Turkey "Whirling Dervish" Dance

The End-Reflection

Feast Day . . . Friday

The day of the Feast of Sacrifice, Wednesday, was beautiful. I sat with Saif and his family on the roof of their apartment in the bright sun, waiting for the butcher to arrive. I even got a bit of sunburn. The fellow was an hour or so late, so we sat around talking–Saif, his younger brother, sister, mother, Saif’s friend, his brother’s friend and me. We ate oranges and a dish that tasted a lot like macaroni and cheese, only it was made of bread and milk and baked in the oven. Really quite tasty, as was all of the food I ate the past few days. Try some of the Moroccan recipes here; you won’t be disappointed.

Finally the butcher arrived. He had already had 10 appointments that day. The sheep was well taken care of before, as it was given water to drink and salt to eat. After wrestling the reluctant animal to the ground, it was hogtied and the butcher then sliced its throat, the blood flowing out on the rooftop, though not as much as I expected. It was all very quick, and I don’t think the animal suffered much, thankfully. Muslims feel a lot of respect and gratitude for the sheep, though there was no religious ritual involved. After it was decided that the sheep was truly dead, Saif used a bicycle pump to inflate air into the carcass through a cut made in the leg. It started to puff up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon; this was necessary to make the separation of the skin from the meat easier. I watched the whole process, from taking the skin off, to the removal of the “innards” and their subsequent cleaning, to the burning of the head in order to remove the horns and to cook the brain. It was quite a long and tiring procedure, taking the most part of two hours, with the entire family and friends involved. I took photos, but I’m only posting a few here (none of the bloodier ones, though). In the photo below, the butcher finishes off the “balloon.” Clockwise from left are Nouaman (Saif’s younger brother), Saif, his mother, and the butcher.

Below, Saif’s brother and sister are roasting the head of the sheep over an open flame. (I cropped out the head, but if you want to see the full photo, it’s in the gallery.) They roast, then scrape off the fuzz or beard, roast some more, scrape off more, roast, scrape, etc. Takes quite a while. Then the horns are chopped off with a hatchet that, to me, resembled a small medieval battle axe. Eventually, the skull is split open and the brain is removed and cooked. I didn’t have any brains, I don’t think. (No derogatory comments, please.) 😆

Afterwards, we ate sheep-liver kabobs cooked over a charcoal grill, stuffed in bread and sprinkled with salt, cumin and mildly hot red pepper. You can’t dine on meat any fresher. . .

The sun began to lower in the west, the afternoon becoming chilly, so we went downstairs to the apartment. More conversation followed, and eventually I mentioned that I’d better leave, since I was riding my bike and I didn’t want to ride in the dark, but I was entreated to stay for the evening meal. This consisted of warm bread fresh out of the oven, a stew of various parts of the sheep and oranges. Again, pretty tasty. Finally, I took my leave. I was invited back, though, on Friday for lunch. Because of all the work involved with the sheep, Saif’s mother did not have time to cook a proper meal, so I returned today.

Two of Saif’s uncles and an aunt were there, visiting from Casablanca, Tangiers and from a small village just outside of Meknes. Today we ate, guess what? . . . yes, sheep! This was a roast, smothered in prunes and apricots. We tore off chunks of fresh-baked bread and used it to scoop out the fruit and meat, which was so tender it virtually fell from the bone, no knives or forks needed. We also had more sheep kabobs and oranges. I was fairly stuffed. The meal was preceded by tea and followed by coffee. Basically, I’ve eaten more sheep these two days than I’ve eaten in the totality of my life before. It’s pretty good. I think the whole of Morocco and, indeed, most of the Muslim world have been eating sheep for the last three days. I suppose a sharpster could invest in sheep futures and make a small fortune. Of course, my heart goes out to the families of all those lost in the tragedy of the Hajj in Mecca.

At any rate, I was very happy and honored to be invited by Saif to his house. This is not unusual in Morocco. The country is reknowned for its hospitality, where the “guest is king,” according to one of my guide books. More later.

Feast Tomorrow

Saif, one of my students who lives in Meknes, invited me to his home tomorrow for the Feast of Sacrifice. He said that if I got there early enough, I could take photos of the actual sacrifice. Well, I don’t know . . . but, maybe. I promise I won’t post anything here that might offend delicate eyes. I went to his apartment earlier tonight so that I can find my way there tomorrow on my bicycle. We took a taxi, since he lives on the outskirts of the main city, a bit of a way out there. I asked where they would kill the sheep, and, apparently, they will do it on the roof of the apartment building. Anyway, it should be an interesting day. I ate the evening meal there, dining on Berber bread (his family’s ethnic origin is Berber), dates, olives, and harira (Morocco’s bean soup). He lives with his mother, father (a retiree from the Moroccan army), a 17-year old brother and a sister, who is leaving in a few weeks to join her husband in Montreal. By all accounts, there are quite a large number of Moroccans living and working in other countries, especially in Europe, due to its proximity, but also in Canada.

It rained for a few hours while I was there, but it’s supposed to clear up by tomorrow. Walking back from the taxi stand, I was quite cold–almost felt like Montana on a warm winter’s day. Ok, maybe not THAT cold. 😉

I read an article on BBC News today about National Voodoo Day in Benin, Africa, a small country I had the pleasure to work in during my brief Peace Corps experience back in 2000. Read it here. I spent many a hot, sunny day on the beach in Ouidah, along with Karen, Chris, Erin, Craig, Tuve and other PC friends. Brings back a tear or two, doesn’t it, gang. More later.

Alcohol and New Year’s Eve, Feast of Sacrifice

Technically, alcohol is illegal in Morocco. Technically . . . However, I just returned from shopping at LaBel Vie, which has a somewhat small but well-stocked liquor store separate from the main grocery section. The usual selection of beer and wine can be found on the shelves, but the “hardcore” drinker can also pick up a bottle of whiskey, scotch, gin or other liquor from the U.S., England and elsewhere. If you’re so inclined and well-heeled, you can splurge on a bottle of French wine for $300 or a bottle of champagne for $250. As I pushed my cart past that section today, I saw that it was packed with people, almost all of whom were Moroccans, presumably stocking up for New Year’s celebrations tonight. There had to be nearly 50 people in the small store and you’d have needed a shoehorn to cram anyone else in. It was really unexpected. Most of the people who will imbibe tonight probably do not “trip the light fantastic” that often, so I hope they are careful. I’m told most drinking takes place in private, but I’m sure there will be many out driving tonight. I expect to hear the ambulance and police sirens wailing far into the wee hours of the morning. It appears that New Year’s Eve is a big event here, too. There were many more people walking around in the main plaza than is usual for this time of day on Saturday, so I think there may also be outdoor celebrations, perhaps even fireworks, later tonight, though a few showers are in the forecast. If I’m still up, I may wander around . . . carefully.

I went with Mohammed a few days ago to Rabat. He had to turn in paperwork and some money leftover from a recent conference he attended in Algeria, paid for partly by the State Department. We visited John while we were there and were given a Christmas gift by the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy–a pen, a key chain and a very nice box of chocolates! I think I had mine eaten by the time we returned to Meknes. My original reason for going was to catch the train in Rabat for Casablanca. I have a box of books there which I ordered from Amazon, but they’re being held up by customs until I can claim them. Unfortunately, I still haven’t received my Moroccan identity card and I was afraid the customs officials would want to see my passport, with my expired visa. The police are supposed to issue a receipt when you apply for the i.d. card, but they told me I didn’t need one. I don’t even want to think of the hassle involved trying to explain my “overstay.” Anyway, it was a pleasant trip. Mohammed took one of the back roads on the return journey and I saw some very beautiful countryside. With all the rain we’ve had lately, everything is greening up very nicely. I might take a day-long bike trip to the area to get some photos.

The teacher trainees, my students, are finished with their recent practicum, so it’s back to work next week. Briefly. The week after that is another Muslim holiday, the Eid ul Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice). I believe the actual day is January 11th this year, but it is a week-long celebration, thus no school. What have I been doing this past week? I made the mistake of loading Civilization III, my most addicting game, onto my computer, so I’ve been wasting a LOT of time playing it. Civ IV is now out and I’ve read reviews that say it is the best of the series so far. I’m sure I could find it here somewhere . . . but do I dare?

Lest you think I’m a real slacker (a case COULD be made), I’ll also be giving some workshops to Peace Corps volunteers at the end of Jan/first of Feb. John said he might need me to go to Fez and to Er-Rachidia (Mohammed’s home town), not far from Merzouga and Erg Chebbi, home of some of the biggest sand dunes in Morocco, if not in the world. Those I gotta see!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!! If you’re out drinking tonight, please be careful. Don’t drive, ok? More later.

Don’t You Know We’re Riding on the Marrakech Express

My journey to Marrakech was all too short. The city itself is very beautiful, its copper- and salmon-colored walls and buildings, especially in the light of the setting sun, providing a beautiful contrast to the green trees and vibrant gardens that abound on the broad avenues. Though I didn’t see much of the city, I have fallen in love with it. Meknes is a tightly condensed city, much like a clenched fist, whereas Marrakech is much more open, more soothing to the senses.

The legendary Mamounia Hotel, inside the walls of the medinah.

As the train gains distance from Casablanca, the countryside becomes much more sere and barren as you approach Marrakech. The red, rocky soil is broken here and there by gleaming white mosques rising from the occasional village. The land doesn’t appear to be able to sustain crops, but flocks of sheep, their tan coloring matching the fields, roam in the treeless fields outside the villages.

The conference itself kept me fairly busy, so I didn’t really have that many opportunities to roam around outside the main tourist area–the fabled square of Djemaa-el-Fna, where acrobats, snake charmers, story tellers and musicians compete with the aromas of dozens of open-air food vendors, sizzling kebabs beckoning the hungry masses. I was there only during the day, which was unfortunate because I was told that nighttime is when the place really starts to dazzle.

Nearby is the Koutoubia Mosque, one of the most famous of Islam.

Surrounding the square are the labyrinthine alleyways of the medinah and the souqs, or shopping stalls. Nabila and I spent a few hours in the square the first night there, and Hakim, she and I went shopping in the souqs the next day. On Monday, John, Kathy Nyikos (an English Language Specialist and the main speaker at the conference) and I tried to lose ourselves in the medinah. Luckily, because I had to catch the train, we didn’t.

Mouth-Watering Spices For Sale in the Souq

Sunday evening, the ALC folks, who put on a marvelous conference, invited the presenters and other involved people, out to dinner at one of the local restaurants in the medinah. I don’t remember its name, but we reached its rather discreet front door after walking for about 20 minutes through the winding alleyways. You wouldn’t think that anything special lay beyond that door, but when we walked inside, we were transported into a magical world, a throwback to “1001 Nights.” What a beautiful setting to dine. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera, so I have no photos of this charming restaurant. There are many like this scattered throughout the medinah, apparently most of them bought and refurbished by foreigners. We were treated to a six-course feast that included numerous appetizers, a lamb-and-quinze dish, chicken baked in a crepe-like covering and a scrumptious, flaky, sweet dessert. During the meal we were serenaded by a Moroccan trio of musicians, which included an oud, a doumbec (Moroccan drum), and a young lady with a beautiful singing voice. All in all, a once-in-a-lifetime treat for a Montana steak-and-potatoes guy.

I stayed on for an extra day because Mohammed, Hakim and a few other Moroccans told me about the horrors of taking the train on the last day of Eid, when EVERYONE is trying to make their way back home. I went to the station and was able to change my ticket to Monday. The ride back was uneventful; I read, dozed off, read some more and wandered around the train car talking to Mohammed and some new teacher friends. It was a memorable trip. I plan to return to Marrakech on my own in the spring when I can take more time to explore this beautiful location.

New photos posted to the gallery. Check ’em out. More later.

Marrakech Bound

I’m off to Marrakech tomorrow morning, catching the 7:55 train. It’s also the first day of Eid in Morocco. Since believers are supposed to go to early morning prayers at the beginning of the festival, I’m hoping the noise will settle down early tonight so I can catch some sleep before getting up at 6 a.m. I’ll probably be out of touch with the blog for the next three days, but I should have a lot to report about the trip and Marrakech, hopefully with some photos to put in the gallery.

It looks like Friday and Saturday will be devoted to sightseeing and whatnot, with a welcome dinner to the conference on Saturday evening. Nabila and I give our workshop at 9 a.m. on Sunday, then I’m supposed to catch a 2 p.m. train that afternoon. I might, though, see if I can change my ticket, maybe coming back on Monday instead. More later.

Here’s another mosque photo.

Train Ticket and Small Pleasures

John (my RELO) advised me to buy my train ticket to Marrakech as soon as possible, since next weekend is Eid, the end of Ramadan, when there is a lot of celebrating and visiting, so the trains might fill up early. I think Eid is on the 4th of November this year, but it could be on the 5th; I’ve heard conflicting dates from different people. I bought the ticket today, round trip, leaving Meknes Friday morning at 7:55 and returning from Marrakech on Sunday at 1 p.m. Here is a FAQ about train travel in Morocco if you’re interested. The Friday morning time might be a hardship because I am so used to staying up until around 2 a.m. in the morning and getting up about 10 a.m. Of course, I have to change my sleep schedule before school begins, but once Ramadan concludes and things are back to normal, that shouldn’t be a problem. I suppose I can sleep on the train, but I also want to see the countryside and take photos through the windows.

The last few days here have been almost like summer, with plenty of sunshine and very warm, almost hot, temperatures. I walked to La Bel Vie supermarket yesterday, about 15 minutes, and was sweating by the time I got there. I went specifically looking for a breakfast cereal. I bought a small bag of German oatmeal when I first got here, but the oats were of the instant or quick kind and I found a bug in the first batch I made, so into the garbage they went. Next, I tried a box of All Bran Flakes. They were sealed in an inner plastic bag, so no bugs, but there is an incredible amount of sugar for it being a “health” cereal. Then I noticed a box of something called Jordan’s Porridge Oats, so I looked the company up on the Internet and it sounded ok. (Can you guess that my focus is on fiber?) I was worried whether or not the oats were sealed in a bag and if they were instant. So I bought a box, determined to eat them no matter what, since they cost around $5.50 a box. I got home and opened them, and lo and behold they were sealed and they are the whole oats that I like, similar to the Quaker Old Fashioned Oats that take 5 minutes or so to cook. Lucky me. Sometimes, or most of the times, the simplest pleasures are the best. More later.

Volubilis, Peace Corps Training

First off, I noticed just a moment ago that my home page was reflecting only entries through the month of September. Hmmmmm. So, I had to change, temporarily, back to the old page. I’ll try to set it up later so that the blog works ok as the “front door.”

Last Sunday, John, Evelyn and I went to Volubilis, site of the ancient Roman provincial capital. The ruins are located somewhat above a fertile valley, offering sweeping views of the surrounding farmland. It was an overcast day, lending a colorless sameness to the ruins and the surrounding area, especially now during the dry season. In spring, when everything around here greens up, the site is supposed to be very beautiful. I can imagine that during Roman times, with a few more trees than there are now, the city must have been lovely. There is actually a lot to see–the remains of bakeries and wine and olive presses, the baths, the capitol building, the marketplace, the sacrificial altar in front of the basilica and many houses with their tiled, mosaic floors still relatively intact. Some of the houses have been given quaint or evocative names, like The House of the Labors of Hercules, House of the Athlete, House of the Dog, House of the Golden Coins, House of the Bathing Nymphs, House of the Columns and House of Dionysus and the Four Seasons. All in all, it’s an interesting site.

There weren’t a multitude of other tourists here, though there were a couple of tour buses that left shortly after we arrived. Volubilis is only about 30 km (18 miles) from Meknes and could be a nice day trip by bicycle. Except that it is 1/2 downhill and 1/2 very much uphill! Maybe in the spring I will give it a try.

For larger photos, just click on the image.

In the mountains to the south clings the small town of Moulay Idriss, one of Morocco’s holiest sites. John tells me that it was only recently that it was opened to non-Muslims. According to one of my guide books, Idriss I fled the caliph in Baghdad in the 8th Century and came here. He founded the first Arab-Muslim dynasty in Baghdad and is buried in the town that took his name.

Last Friday, the 14th, John, Nabila Moussamin (the other Fellow in Morocco, based in Tangiers) and I went to the Peace Corps training site at Imouzzer, an hour and a half drive south-east of Meknes. There we trained the volunteers in the use of “Books in a Box,” literally boxes that come with 32 English Language-Teaching books packed inside them. It was great fun working with the PCVs, since I’m a former volunteer myself. They were very enthusiastic about having the books and the workshop was very well received. Imouzzer, over 4,000 feet up in the Middle Atlas mountains, is a smaller version of the nearby resort town of Ifrane. We started the workshop around 12:30 p.m., and as the afternoon progressed, it started to get a bit chilly. Being from Montana, I wore only a short-sleeved shirt, but it wasn’t too bad. I also met a fellow Montanan there, a volunteer named Brian (sorry, Brian, I forgot your last name) from Denton. He also attended the U of M, so we had a lot in common to talk about. It wasn’t all that surprising to meet another Montanan, since the U of M always ranks high nationally in the number of PCVs it recruits.

Let’s see. What else is happening . . .?
Continue reading Volubilis, Peace Corps Training

Time Shift

Everything has been moved back a couple of hours, due to Ramadan. So, for example, the patisserie, normally closed at 10 pm, now stays open until midnight or 12:30. It’s the same for most of the other shops also. Most of them don’t open until noon, instead of the normal 10 am. Around sundown, say 5:30 or so, the sidewalks clear out–the whole city seems deserted, with a few cars buzzing around. It’s a good time to go bike riding or walking, since everyone heads home to break their fasts, as I posted previously. Interesting and kind of eerie, but in a good way, I suppose.

Sunday, John, the RELO, and Evelyn Early, (I think that’s her name), the Public Affairs Officer of the Public Affairs Section (PAS) of the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, are coming to Meknes. The PAS used to be known as the U.S. Information Service. Neither are coming up on an official visit; Ms. Early is fairly new to the country and John is taking her to visit the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis, about 20 miles from Meknes, and I have been invited to join them. So, it should be a very interesting, and photographic, journey.

I rode my new bike to Marjane today, a 35-minute trip to the Wal-Mart of Morocco. Bought some odds and ends for the bike, but also bought a new bath towel to replace the “Blue Demon” lint producer, that, after several cycles through the washer, shows no sign of ceasing its shedding. I’ll have to find another use for it. Any suggestions? Wall hanging? Substitute cat?

My permanent internet connection is supposed to be hooked up on Monday. I had to get a regular phone installed in order to get the 512K ADSL connection–the number is 212-55402717 (or 055402717 if you call from inside Morocco). Might as well put my address here also, in case anyone wants to send me some goodies (though I can get everthing here that I need or want, for the most part.) It is Immeuble LAKHSSASS, Apt. #3, Avenue Hassan II, Meknes, Morocco, 50000.

If you notice the time of the posting dating for this entry, be assured that it is correct. Yes, I’m listening to the late-starting (in Morocco) Yankees-Angels playoff game, hoping that the rain holds off in New York. HAH! The Red Sox got swept by the Chisox. Awesome! More later.

Ramadan, Bicycle, Eclipse

Today is the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and prayer. The small street running along my apartment was much more subdued this morning, quieter and less bustle. Many of the shops stayed shut for most of the day, opening a little later than usual. Most of them are shut down now, but only, seemingly, so that the employees can go break their fast (it is now after sunset). The patisserie is closed, but they haven’t pulled down their security shutters on the shop windows, so I assume they will open later on this evening. The normally packed streets are unusually empty, almost strangely so, though there is the usual assortment of vehicular traffic. Mohammed told me that most people stay at home in the evening, eating and drinking (non-alcoholic, of course) with their families. A few days ago, all of the restaurants that serve alcohol shut down, as well as liquor stores and the areas in grocery stores that sell alcohol. So, if you’re an expat looking for something stronger than mint tea, you’re out of luck until November.

I finally broke down and bought a bicycle the other day, a Bacini mountain bike (made in Taiwan) for about $110. I took it for a long ride in the country, which you can get to with just a short trek outside of Meknes. The surrounding farm land reminds me a lot of Montana, as I’ve stated before, with rolling hills leading into the mountains and strip-farmed land checkerboarding the landscape. It was a pleasant ride, though I have to do some adjusting to the gear shifters and derailleurs, which are a bit cranky, so to speak. Needless to say, after my 20-km (estimated) ride, my rear end was sore the next day. Here’s a look at Meknes from the southern edge of town.

Of course, I’ll put this image and most of the others that you see on the blog into the photo gallery in a larger size, so check there for these photos, and others, in the new section “Morocco.”

Monday I was tempted to get up early and watch the eclipse, but I decided not to bother since I had no way of observing it without going blind. By all accounts, it was fantastic. There is another one in this area on March 29th, 2006. Unfortunately, Morocco will be just outside the zone of totality.

Hah, Yanks win first game 4-2. I didn’t stay up to listen to it last night, even though it was an “early” game. With a 7pm Eastern time start, that meant it didn’t come on until 11pm our time. Tonight it’s even worse, starting at 2am (10pm ET). Of course, if the people upstairs are still up making noise because of the late Ramadan hours and keeping me awake, maybe I’ll try to watch or listen to it. More later.