Sunday, December 23, 2012

Morocco



Ahmed and I went to Morocco for our honeymoon after our fairytale wedding. Our first stop was Casablanca. We only spent a few hours here because it is an urban city and we wanted more of a cultural feel for our trip. The main reason for our stop was the Hassan II Mosque, a beautiful house of worship right on the Atlantic Ocean and to my delight right by a lighthouse.  We took a train into the city from the international airport and then a cab to the mosque. You can easily spend over a hour exploring the 22 acre space. The best part of our excursion was seeing the mosaic was used on our wedding invitation! Christina and I found it off of a google search and had no idea where it was from. It was a great way to start our trip.


Marrakech was completely different from Casablanca. It was full of history and life and you could instantly tell it was the most important of the imperial cities. We stayed in a local riad within the medina so we could walk to the markets and the sights. The souks were unlike any other I have ever seen, filled with spices, leather, glass and pottery. Medersa Ben Youssef was our favorite sight because of its tranquility. It was simply beautiful and calming in a way that was very spiritual. There are a lot of old palaces in Marrekech and after a while they lose their appeal but the Medersa was unlike any other place. The Djemma el-Fna should be visited once during the day and once in the evening to understand the stark transformation. During the day, it is a mostly empty square that connects with all the souks but in the evening it is a market of its own with hundreds of food stalls and street performers. Other highlights were the Maison De La Photographie and Majorelle Gardens. Both provide a modern take on Moroccan history. 

Fez was very similar to Marrakech but much slower and had more of an artsy feel.We saw an Oud for the first time and Ahmed got some lessons and fell in love so much so that he bought one for himself. We visited the tanneries and they are quite an experience mainly because the stench is so strong. We couldn't believe the workers become accustomed to it. It was amazing to see nonetheless! We also probably had one our favorite meals in Fez. We arrived starving and tired and ventured into the souks and one of the shopkeepers tried to sell us some carpets and we told him we need food first. So what did he do? Just happened to know the owner of a local restaurant that was closed for the afternoon. He told the owner we are his dear friends and translated the menu for us and left. We ended up eating in a palace, just the two of us! And the meal was amazing! And very affordable. We did go back and buy a small carpet to show our gratitude. 

Our last and favorite city was Chefchaouen. Its walls were painted blue by the Jewish refugees in the 1930s and the tradition was kept alive even after the Jews left. It is a very small town about four hours north from Fez. We spent a day here just walking around and enjoying the sights and sounds by the main square. At night, we went the roof of our hotel and gazed at a sky full of stars. It was perfect. 



The food in Morocco is exquisite. No matter where you go, you will get some olives and bread as starters and the olives were pretty much amazing everywhere. Tagines are famous all over the country and these are stews made with vegetables and either lamb, chicken, seafood or beef. We tried them all and loved them all. Moroccans themselves are very sincere and helpful and made our trip better than it would have been without their help. 

Next up Costa Rica in 2 days!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Catch Up

I can't believe my last post was in April. So much has happened since then and I just haven't had time to sit and share it with you all until now. 

April was a month of packing and unpacking boxes because Ahmed moved in after the Nikkah. This process was interesting because it tested boundaries and challenged opinions since this was the first time either of us  have lived with a partner. Both of us have learned to let go a little and genuinely listening instead of instantly dismissing an idea. I am happy that he is as involved as he is because it helped with setting up our home and planning our wedding.

All I remember about May is pain, discomfort and disgust because of two wisdom tooth extractions. Luckily, my parents came to visit that weekend and kept me company and were wonderful like we all know parents to be :)

June was a month of reflection and bracing for change. I decided to resign from my position at the Girl Scouts because of various reasons, but most importantly I just wasn't happy or challenged there and with my director leaving the decision became very clear. Luckily this month also involved a trip to New York and celebrating our 1 year anniversary, both of which provided a much needed cleanse and realignment. It was great to be reunited with my dearest friends in New York and sharing my ups and downs with them over laughter, I have missed them so much! St. Simons provided a great scene for our anniversary. Ahmed and I were able to unwind with the ocean at our doorsteps while enjoying a weekend with no presence of time. 

July feels like it came and went in a heartbeat. I started my new position at PACE and have absolutely loved it thus far. My team is wonderful and the staff really does believe in the mission which makes it all the more worthwhile. I am excited to see what transpires in this new role. We also took a trip to Miami to spend some time with a few of Ahmed's law school friends and one of them taught us how to ride motorcycles!! I am happy to report that no person or bike was injured. It was great to experience Miami like the locals do and that made me appreciate the city so much more. I can't wait to go back in Dec! Because of my restless nature I also started volunteering for Jhatkaa, a really amazing startup in India, and am helping put on a TEDx event in Jacksonville in October- both of which have been a great learning experience because everyone involved has accomplished so many amazing things and are such a delight to be around.

August just began but it feels like it will be over before I know it. I head to Seattle tomorrow for a week for a workshop and then have a staff retreat in Amelia Island the week after for a few days. That only leaves one more week before I head to New York for the festivities. It still feels surreal that it is all finally happening. We began planning back on Aug 20, 2011 and a year has already gone by. I have no idea how! All I know is that I am elated, happy beyond my wildest imagination, lucky and feel extremely privileged to have experienced all that i have as well as that is about to come. 

Next post will be after the honeymoon in Morocco!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Our Nikkah

A few of you have reached out and asked for nikkah details and I'm sorry that it has taken me this long to get this out to you.

Our Nikkah was held on March 31st, 2012. I want to take a second to tell you what a nikkah is and what it means to Ahmed and I.  The word nikkah means  "Islamic marriage." But there's more to it.  As we are both a product of two very different cultures, Western and Islamic, and because we value our identity as well as our roots, we have separated two very important aspects of our marriage.

As simply as I can put it, the nikkah represents our commitment to each other and our wedding in the fall represents a celebration of that commitment along with our civil marriage.  Because we intended for the nikkah to be a very simple and solemn affair, we invited only a handful of our closest friends and relatives. 


The ceremony was held at Club Continental which is an old Spanish home that has been converted into a reception site. It overlooks the St. Johns river and has Spanish moss trees in the back that create the perfect ambiance. We lucked out with the weather because it was suppose to rain all day but the rain started at 9:40, 10 minutes after the ceremony had ended.


We had a brunch afterwards and then a dinner reception in the evening. The food was pretty amazing and really we haven't stopped eating since that day because of one reason or another. In fact, if you have a sweet tooth, you really need to come over because we have a ton of sweets.

Can't wait for round two in September!


Monday, February 20, 2012

St. Petersburg, Florida


I was recently whisked to St. Petersburg for an early birthday present. The sunshine city was a great host and exactly what we needed. It had the perfect balance of food, parks and sights required by any weekend getaway.

We started our Saturday by visiting the Saturday Morning Market in downtown. The market hosts a variety of craft vendors along with local and foreign food stalls. We opted for empanadas and some handicrafts from Thailand. Next up was the Dalí museum, really the main reason for our visit. The new building opened in January ’12 and is a beautiful home for the 98 pieces of art. The collection featured some of his more famous works along with some styles of art that most people would not associate with Dalí. My favorite piece was the Sugar Sphinx.


St. Pete is a very walkable city which is why we decided to leave our car in one of the many $5/day garages. From the museum we decide to walk along the water and make our way to Coney Island for lunch. This little hole in the wall opened in 1926 and still serves the exact same menu at unheard of prices like a $2 chilli dog and $3 hamburgers. During our walk, we came across many vintage shops that contained a lot of interesting items. I would recommend Misred Outfitters for women and Trendsetters Men’s Exchange for men. 


The city is filled with lots of beautiful parks with views of Tampa Bay, including the Vinoy. Once you have had enough lazy time in park, you can make your way over to the Pier and enjoy views of the city as well as the bay. In the evening we headed to Jannus Landing, where you will find live shows as well as the nightlife.  We had dinner at Ceviche after a friend’s recommendation and it was a fantastic meal. The setup reminded me of restaurants in Seville and so did the food! 




Our Sunday was spent at Fort De Soto Park, about 20 minutes away from downtown. It is a really isolated park that has everything you want for an outdoors day. Options include hikes, bike paths, the beach, camping and bird watching. Mazzaro's Italian Market is another great thing to check out but it is closed on Sundays. I loved my birthday present and can not wait to go back!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Savannah, GA

Z came to visit over Martin Luther King weekend and we decided to head down to Savannah for a day. I had been there once before but it was the weekend I met Ahmed so it didn't really count because my attention was elsewhere. 

Historic Savannah is surprisingly small and could be walked in a few hours. Most people start at the visitor center because of the free parking and make their  way to the river. We started by Colonial Park Cemetery and walked in a rectangle. The cemeteries in Savannah are beautiful!! The Spanish Moss trees and beautiful arch entrances gave it a wonderland like feel even though you are in a graveyard. 



Because we were in the South, we were craving delicious fried chicken and wanted to go to Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room but everything seemed to be closed for MLK day so instead we opted for a yummy healthy lunch at Matthews on Bay St. Bay St is right by the water and from there you can access stairs that go down to river st which is on the water. River street is filled with tacky souvenir shops but it also has AMAZING candy that you can only find in Savannah, pecans covered with chocolate or caramel. I got some for my mom because she loved them last time.


City Market pops up as one of the top things to do and is basically another large square with souvenir shops. Sometimes you can find local musicians here but one great thing about the square is the art galleries. They are all connected and have everything from landscapes to abstract to modern art. Next we made our way through SCAD's campus and onto Forsyth Park. The park is a great picnic area and of course there is beautiful Spanish Moss everywhere. 




Then there is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and you can basically see its spires from anywhere in the historic district. We didn't explore the museums but there are at least 3 including the Telfair Academy and you can also visit galleries that house works of SCAD students. Z is a fan of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and so we also visited Bonaventure Cemetery. Savannah is a great weekend destination because there are just the right amount of things to do without feeling overwhelmed.




Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year!

2011 was the year filled many changes and new beginnings. I moved back from England, I moved to DC, and I moved to Jacksonville to be with the man I am going to marry. I thought moving to Jacksonville was going to be a lot tougher than it has been but the city caught me by surprise. Having been here only a month, I am actually looking forward to writing a post on all that it has to offer.
2011 was also a year filled with uncertainties because finding a job was arduous and debilitating. But persistence paid off and I found the most amazing internship in DC working with a prominent women’s ngo. That position taught me so much and reaffirmed my passion for development work. Soon after, I was lucky enough to get an interview with the Girl Scouts in Jacksonville (the only job I applied for in Florida) and here I am. It’s funny how things have a way of working out. Even though it doesn’t involve the international community, the work is rewarding and allows me to make a difference in the lives of young girls.
I have nothing but high hopes for 2012 because it has so many great things lined up- a new home, our wedding and of course travel!