I must first acknowledge the support of the Fulbright Regional Travel Grant, which funds Fulbrights to visit other countries in the region for research, teaching, seminar, etc. When I first heard about this opportunity, the wheels started turning! I first contacted Professor Laila Rhazi in Morocco, whose research I have enjoyed for years but never met. She was open and excited for the visit, we applied, and voila as they say in France or Morocco. Second, I want acknowledge the tremendous generosity and hospitality by both Laila and her graduate student, Mohammed El Madihi. Really, the greatest hosts anyone can have, making me feel so at home and welcome...and sending me home with so many gifts! Before I go on, I want to point out that the picture galleries to the right are in 3 groups: temporary pond field pictures, wildlife pictures, and cultural pictures.
This trip was one of the greatest for me, frosting on the cake of this whole adventure. Everything was perfect, and I enjoyed all the people, culture, food, and natural areas there. I need to go back there to continue this great collaboration. As here in Israel, I struggled with language. I still have a toddler's level of Hebrew and there, I was struggling with French and Arabic...I'm so confused now!
I had taken a red eye flight there and so my arrival in this new country had the 2-hour-sleep hallucinogenic quality, meeting these new people, new customs, languages, etc...After our initial meeting, I quickly concluded Laila, Mohammed and I were going to get along just fine. In fact, we got along great over the course of the 8 days. They were incredibly accommodating to my English-speaking ways. They were great people to get to know...we even ended up with many inside jokes after the week ended.
The first day started with visits to the university, the medina, and some sites of Rabat. The city is the capital of Morocco and is where the river Bou Regreg meets the Atlantic Ocean. Outside the hotel was a lively area of Rabat with street musicians, shops, restaurants, the cinema, etc. I was familiar with Moroccan food (and love it) and definitely with eating with my hands. Nonetheless, every restaurant would bring me (the gringo) the fork and knife for eating, and I defiantly set them aside. By evening, I could barely keep my eyes open and I went to sleep early feeling comfortable and excited about getting to know new people and a new country. The hotel, however, was across the street from a mosque, which had calls to prayer at 530 and 600 each morning. Hearing the calls to prayer is pleasant, but not that early...never got used to it.
We spent the next couple of days out in the field sampling temporary ponds. Luckily they had received a fair amount of rain and most ponds were filled and with fairy shrimp, tadpole shrimp, and many other critters. The landscape in some parts were similar to California with rolling hills, farms, livestock, and ponds. Unlike CA, we would go onto private property with no problem and sample. Sure enough, each sample brought out similar species we sample in CA. I was introduced to the BBQ restaurants during this time, which would never fly in the US (see pictures to the right). Meat of all sorts are hanging out in the open for you to choose what you want to be grilled or ground for your meal. I pointed out how Americans want their meat served with mystery about its origins from actual animals. One thing I loved about my time in Morocco were the daily tea and cookie breaks with Laila. It really set a relaxed and social tone to each day.
The next couple of days were spent in the Middle Atlas mountains of Morocco. We were joined by Er-Riyahi Saber and Mouhssine Rhazi (Laila's brother), both temporary pond ecologists also. In fact, they were all in graduate school together in France. My joke was that they made up the Temporary Pond Familial Dynasty of Morocco. They really are though!
Well, the big surprise they were keeping was the visit to a Barbary macaque population in the mountains. We pulled over on this snowy mountainous road, I had no idea why: maybe a pond here, maybe a bathroom break? Here I got out and there are these monkeys all around!!! I was so surprised...in fact I almost wanted to cry it was so beautiful watching these monkeys that I've read about hanging out in these trees up in the mountains of Morocco. Wow, what an experience I will never forget.
The feel of the towns in the mountains was very different, very mellow. The temporary ponds were beautiful, many with frozen edges and fairy shrimp swimming around. There were areas where if you weren't careful, you could fall through the ice into the water. It wasn't a big deal, but at one point Laila fell through rather deep (picture above), we all had a great laugh about it. It was great to get to know the other researchers as well. Their english and my french made it difficult to communicate, but the shared interests in ecology secured a bond among us.
The last few days consisted of collaborating on projects with Laila and Mohammed on campus. They are doing really exciting research in Morocco and I really learned a lot from them. I hope my feedback on projects was useful to them. The second to the last day, I started getting a cold (in fact, I am still battling the cold as I write this). Reflecting on this experience, I see how our love of science and nature created a bridge across language and culture differences. I learned a great deal about this country and people and left with a great appreciation and love of both. I hope I also conveyed a similar appreciation of the US and Israel. I hope to return soon!
This blog will follow my experiences as a Fulbright Scholar in Israel (University of Haifa) during the 2017-18 academic year. Also check out the family blog for another perspective.