July 4th in Rabat

You know what is a test of endurance and patience? A 3-hour train ride with practically no air conditioning when it’s 95 degrees Fahrenheit outside and the sun happens to shine on your side of the train. I haven’t sweat this much for a while. Opening the window didn’t really do anything since the wind blew elsewhere. I personally like the train in the morning a lot better, even though it was a little bit older than the evening one.

The US Consulate in Casablanca and Embassy in Rabat invited all American citizens living in Morocco to celebrate 4th of July at the Rabat American School. Wanting to see more around Morocco, I RSVP and got on a train at 6:50 am to go to Rabat. Early morning train rides are best for napping, which was exactly what I did. Rabat didn’t feel like that long to get to.

I was with one other student from ALIF when we arrived in Rabat. My first impression was that it wasn’t really a busy city, but it has a lot of big buildings. As the capital of Morocco since 1912, the city doesn’t really live on tourism, and there wasn’t that much to see. But still, we walked towards and through the medina, the roads in which are a lot wider than those in Fez, and soon reached the coast and the Atlantic Ocean. I don’t know what it is, but something about oceans or any large bodies of water just make them never tired to look at. By the coast were beaches, a Muslim cemetery that has thousands of tombs, and the original site of Rabat known as the Kasbah des Oudaias. The last area of the town has the most beautiful door of the medieval Moorish world, according to my travel guide. I quite agree, even though it wasn’t as colorful as Bab Boujeloud in Fez and the gate at Meknes.

We then went on in search for the Hassan Mosque, which has an incomplete minaret that would (in its time) have been the second largest in the Islamic world (the largest would be in Smarra, Iraq). We walked through a different street in the medina, and were exposed to the midday sun when we came out of the medina. The place wasn’t hard to find, and from the outside it does look huge, even though what we saw was probably only half of the would-be size. The mosque also has a really nice garden with lots of shades. We didn’t go inside the mosque, as we were hot, sweaty, and hungry and just really wanted to get to the 4th of July party.

The Rabat American School is located in the south suburb of Rabat called Agdal, which has a separate train station. Thinking that we would take the train back to Fez from the Agdal station, we took a taxi to there first. Well, both I and the other student are beginner Arabic student and both don’t speak French. The taxi driver must somehow only picked up the Agdal part of our attempt to try to say Rabat-Agdal train station in French, as he drove us to that part of the town, and just stopped. It was a good thing that the taxi driver called someone who speaks some English from the side of the road, and we managed to get to the train station and bought our return ticket.

Finding the Rabat American School turned out to be a little harder than we thought. We knew the general direction, but had no idea where we were going. The area consists of a lot of government buildings, and was deserted when we were walking through it. After asking for direction at the Ministry of Economics and the Agdal Culture Centre, we found the place. We passed through a bag check, a passport check, paid for entrance, and found a lot of Americans doing American things. We followed their examples and got hot dogs, hamburgers, and pops (excuse me for being Minnesotan here :P). Even though they didn’t taste as good as in the US (cold buns with overcooked hot dogs and burger), it was still a pretty nice change from the bread we get every single day. There was also a pool in the school. I didn’t bring my swim trunks to Morocco, so I sat in the shade while a group of students in the Minnesota program summer session I arrived and changed. At this point, this old man came around and shook hands with everybody. He turned out to be Samuel Kaplan, the American ambassador to Morocco, and is actually from Minnesota. He talked with us for a little bit before going on to shake other people’s hands. Those of us from Minnesota got a picture with him and his family later. He is a really nice person.

After everyone’s done swimming, we moved to the lawn area, where the Utah 23rd National Guard band performed a live concert for us. It is a full concert band and I, personally playing in band for the past 3 years, have to say they did a really good job. Some members of the band were performing earlier as a rock band, while in the concert the Jazz band within the band also performed a selection of music. We had a wonderful time, and today would have been a wonderful day if it just ends with the concert. We decided to walk to the Agdal station with two other guys studying at ALIF, the distance turned out to be longer than we thought. We got there just before the train got to the station, went on the train and found out that the car with working air conditioning was full. So we went to the next one, which has air passing through the air conditioning holes, but no cooling effect. In addition, since the train was going from west to east, the sun shined on the same side of the train throughout pretty much 2/3 of the trip. I was a very cranky person when we got off the train at Fez. I pretty much yelled at a person trying to get us into his taxi (most likely to rip us off) in Arabic (that intensive Arabic lesson is paying off). I was really glad to be home after finding a taxi 20 minutes later.

Happy 234th Birthday United States of America!

(Fun fact: the Kingdom of Morocco was the first nation to recognize the US as a sovereign nation back on December 20, 1777.)

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