Sefrou's Second Generation

Tuesday, September 30, 2008 | Sefrou, Morocco (map)

Sefrou's warm streets were largely deserted on this sleepy morning near the end of Ramadan.
On Sunday, Jacqueline and I joined Elena (another Fulbrighter) on a visit to the little village of Sefrou (صفرو), a 30-minute drive from Fes along a highway flanked by rows of olive trees. There is little to do in Sefrou, we found, particularly during Ramadan, when the town's cafes are closed during the day. We walked a mile or so up the road to a series of small waterfalls, then spent an hour or two exploring the small walled village.

About 8,000 members of Morocco's once sizable Jewish population built and inhabited the town, straddling a small river in the hills south of Fes. Today, however, there are no Jews in the village and the synagogue is shuttered and abandoned. Its small Hebrew plaque was the only indication I saw of the town's original heritage. Sometime in the second half of the last century, Jewish communities from Sefrou and elsewhere in Morocco emigrated en masse to Israel. Whether their

A Walk in the Medina: Bab Bou Jeloud to Bab Jdid

Sunday, September 28, 2008 | Fès, Morocco (map)

An old man sells spices along Tala'a Kebira in the heart of Fes's old city.
Jacqueline and I recently bought Fez from Bab to Bab: Walks in the Medina, a renowned guidebook available for sale locally. The guide offers ten walking tours throughout Fes’ old city, one of which Jacqueline and I walked on Saturday, with some of our own modifications and on our own schedule. Our exploration began at Bab Bou Jeloud (باب بو جلود), among the most ornately decorated of the medina's dozen or so gates, which allow passage through the ancient city walls.

After walking a few hundred meters through a bustling market, we arrived at the Bou Inania madrasa, named for one of Fes's greatest sultans, Abou 'Inan, who led the Merenid dynasty during its glory days in the 14th century. The madrasa, elaborately decorated in fine zellij tiles and intricate cedar wood carvings, remains a sight to see, and a testament to the wealth and power centered in Fes in its greatest era.

Some Tough Love from Our "New" Home

Friday, September 26, 2008 | Fès, Morocco (map)

Bab Bou Jeloud is a central entry point to the old medina of Fes and two of its principal market streets.
The ville nouvelle of Fes, constructed by the French in the early 1900s, was designed with typically French flair. A few blocks from ALIF, where Jacqueline and I are studying, wide, palm-lined boulevards intersect around fountains and flower beds. The French built their city beside the old medina, with a comfortable buffer separating the two starkly contrasting towns, not that they could ever be confused anyway.

Maps of the Fes medina give the impression that the street layout was carefully modeled after a plate of spaghetti. The circuitous zigzags and meandering dead-end lanes that once might have foiled foreign invaders are today equally effective in foiling my attempts to get to class, meet friends, or find groceries. As I continue to explore, I'm finding the look of the place quite different from Damascus in many ways. To me, it resembles the Kasbah of The Battle of Algiers more than it

Let Nothing Surprise You: First Impressions from Fes

Monday, September 22, 2008 | Fès, Morocco (map)

The old city of Fes (seen here from our rooftop) is situated in a bowl-like valley ringed with mountains.
I sat quietly in a second-class compartment on the train ride from the airport at Casablanca to Fes, our home for the next six months. As the train chugged from station to station, a constantly rotating array of Moroccans, mostly men reading local Arabic language newspapers, filled the seats around me. They talked among themselves sometimes, but I caught only a few familiar words in their rapid, guttural speech.

Leaving the flat coastal plain and entering the Middle Atlas mountains, we passed irrigated fields of vegetables, poppies, and row after row of orange trees, sagging with the weight of their fruit. The village mosques along the way carried distinctively boxy North African minarets.

* * *

Outside of class, Jacqueline and I spent much of our first few days in Fes searching for housing in

Thinking Globally, Adventuring Locally: Washington, DC

Sunday, September 7, 2008 | Washington, DC, USA (map)

Fly fishing at Burke Lake, Virginia, a 30-minute drive from Washington, DC. (Photo: J. Powers)
For all my stories on the far-flung destinations I've visited in recent years, I have yet to write about the city that has been my home all this time. But Washington DC bears recognition as a distinct and enjoyable place to live and—though few realize it—as one with great access to worthy adventures all around the city:
  • I just began to get into DC's outdoors scene at the end of my Georgetown days in 2006, when Jacqueline and I spent several weekend afternoons kayaking up the Potomac from Jack's Boathouse. Our favorite destination early on was a rope swing anchored high in a tree on the Virginia side of the river. The rush of that initial plummet, pendulum arc, and final leap into the river below were well worth the long paddle against the current.

Au Maroc!

Friday, September 5, 2008 | Washington, DC, USA (map)

"Don't be afraid to take that big step."
Jacqueline and I are moving to Morocco, the homeland of Ibn Battuta! It's been official for several months already, but is sinking in fast now that I'm back from Denver and have just a few more days to prepare to leave the country.

A few months ago, Jacqueline received a grant from the US Fulbright Commission to spend an academic year studying in Morocco. Her research proposal revolves around some major legal reforms undertaken several years ago in the country, and the impact those reforms have (or haven't) had on Moroccan women.

On top of that, Jacqueline received a Critical Language Enhancement Award to study Arabic for up to six months, prior to the main grant. Altogether, we expect to be in the country about 15 months.

For the first six months, our home will be the northern city of Fes (also known by the alternate

Democratic Convention in Denver

Tuesday, September 2, 2008 | Denver, CO, USA (map)

Delegates and fans waved flags for an evening speaker in Denver's convention center.
Wow, what a week. The Democratic National Convention in Denver was a wild blur of famous people, parties, and events at all times and in all places throughout the city. (And what a city! I was very impressed with Denver—downtown is all murals, funky bars and restaurants, museums, and cultural sites.)

The excitement peaked each evening at the convention, which I was lucky to attend all four nights for work.

My organization's focus is exclusively international, with one exception. Every four years the group invites hundreds of distinguished political leaders from around the globe to the DNC to give them an opportunity to observe the American democratic process firsthand. Thanks to the remarkable worldwide interest in this year's US presidential campaign, turnout was high.