sound spot: remembering whitney houston, remix style

It is two years to the day Whitney Houston, a great musical talent, left this world. But we certainly have a lot to remember her by: namely, a catalog of jammin’ tunes. In today’s technologically-fused world, things don’t always stay in the same state for very long. The same goes for music; covers and remixes are available all over the web, and though the original sounds should always be respected, it’s kind of fun seeing how others interpret the classics.

So, I present to you some of Whitney’s greatest … with a couple twists.

WHEN THE NIGHT KNOWS (Chromeo x Whitney Houston), The Hood Internet 

HOW WILL I KNOW, Oliver Nelson remix

MILLION DOLLAR BILL, Stereowaves remix 

I LEARNED FROM THE BEST, Stereowaves remix 

These last two aren’t remixes… just Whitney in all her glory.

SAVING ALL MY LOVE FOR YOU

travel spot, morocco: a countryside visit

travel spot, morocco: a countryside visit

Morocco’s landscape diversity is simply incredible. In many ways it reminds me of my home state, California: there can’t be too many places in the world where palm trees, desert, snow, heavy rain, and forest can coincide in the same territory. Naturally, Morocco facilitates this odd mix with ease.

Alright now who thinks Morocco is a desert?? DO YOU SEE HOW MUCH GREEN THIS IS
Alright now who thinks Morocco is a desert?? DO YOU SEE HOW MUCH GREEN THIS IS

In the spirit of trying to explore Morocco as best I can, yesterday my roommate and I accompanied my host mom to her friend’s house in Khedrache, a countryside area about 30 minutes outside Meknes. Lydia (the roommate) likes to make fun of me because I’m very much a city slicker; the moment we stepped in the front yard of the country home, I noticed some wandering roosters and exclaimed, “now that’s free range!”

Look at them!!! Happy as can be!

For all of my city living, I often forget how peaceful it is to live simply. The home was old-fashioned yet utterly charming. I was introduced to farm animals: a chicken coop, and a cool hole with a rabbit hanging out. The bathroom was outdoors, and there was a “John Deere” tractor for planting assistance. Toto and I were definitely not in Los Angeles any longer.

 

Hay rides. Is that even hay? No idea.
Hay rides. Is that even hay? No idea.

I’ve come to the conclusion that individuals abroad are generally more hospitable and kind than those I’ve met in America. No offense, America, but Moroccans have you beat in terms of making you feel at home (though I must admit my roommate has been showing me the ways of Southern hospitality, which is a definite competitor). We were immediately sat in front of a gorgeous feast of tea and melwi (ملوي), a thick, crepe-like bread. Lydia and I ate and vocalized our gratitude with murmurs of appreciation (such is the way when you can’t speak much Darija), and stopped after a few melwi. Now, Moroccans love to eat. It’s a fact. So when Lydia and I didn’t continue eating, we were immediately asked if we were on a diet. Oh, Morocco.

Our feast. Guess how much of the food was homemade? A: All of it.
Our feast. Guess how much of the food was homemade? A: All of it. Down to the olive oil (from the olive trees!) And guess what: all that’s pictured wasn’t even all of it!!

My host mom’s friends were so kind and genuine- I couldn’t understand much of anything, but I was able to pick up fragments of someone telling me I was welcome to come by whenever I wanted, which was very sweet. Another fun part of the trip was meeting a little girl named Malikah,  who was a bundle of sass and joy. It had been quite a while since I’d been around children; in contrast, my roommate works at a preschool. I turned to her and muttered “I don’t remember what the protocol is for this!” when Malikah wanted to sit on my lap.

Isn't she adorable??? A: Absolutely.
Isn’t she adorable??? A: Absolutely.

After eating, we got a tour of the grounds and walked around. The highlight was definitely walking to the top of the house and finding a beautiful rooftop view. What do you hear when you climb to the rooftop of a building in Los Angeles? Traffic. Horns. Chatter.

Oh, sunsets.
Oh, sunsets.

Do you want to know what you hear when you climb to a rooftop in the countryside in Morocco? Silence. The chirping of birds. The laughter of a child playing next to you. It’s a scene that makes you pause, close your eyes, breathe in the fresh air, and quietly count your blessings for knowing what it means to experience a moment of serenity.

thought spot: language acquisition in a new country

I’m going to take a moment and level with you all about something: languages. Specifically, language acquisition, and how the rest of the world is putting America to shame. A 2006 survey by the European Commission revealed that while 56% of Europeans considered themselves bilingual, only 15-20% of Americans can say the same. [1] Studies have also shown that the earlier someone becomes bilingual, the easier it is to learn additional languages, because the brain creates a language processing network from having learned the first two. [2]

And in Morocco, knowing English is nice, but knowing French and Arabic is much more useful. Unfortunately, I can only claim 2/3 (English + French), but I’m working on the third (Arabic). And what a time it has been!

At Moulay Ismail, I take Arabic four times a week for two hours, in addition to two hours of the Moroccan dialect, Darija. According to my program directors, by the end of the semester, I’ll have had enough “contact hours” for a year’s worth of credit. Imagine that! Arabic is in the Afro-asiatic group of languages (specifically, Semitic), so it presents a stark contrast to the languages I already have a working knowledge of: English, French, and Spanish.

"Alif Baa," my textbook for learning the alphabet. We're almost done with it!
“Alif Baa,” my textbook for learning the alphabet. We’re almost done with it!

There’s so much to learn about this new language: a new way of writing (right-to-left), new sounds (emphatic consonants, anyone?), and built-in cultural phrases. For example, it’s very common to hear the phrases “hamdulillah” (blessings to God) and “inshaAllah” (God willing) in greetings or everyday conversations, something that was very different from what I’m used to. And I have to admit, sometimes I feel like a child again repeating the alphabet and doing dictation, but you have to start somewhere, right? Even if it means practicing sounds over and over again while your roommate (in her second year of Arabic) giggles at your rudimentary skills, not to mention embarrassing yourself by saying shukran (thank you) instead of salaam (a shortened version of hello).

The "copy books" our professor gave us. Yes, they are for children.
The “copy books” our professor gave us. Yes, they are for children.

What I’ve noticed, however, is how much easier it is to pick up this fourth language. It is my fourth week of school and already I can start to piece together the sounds for street signs and a word here and there during the news. And as my knowledge of vocabulary improves, so will my ability to speak Arabic. So far, I can introduce myself and tell people where I live, but I can already feel the world opening up many a باب (“bab” = door).

So, to all of my multi-lingual friends: keep rockin’ on! And to all of my monolingual pals: why not start learning a new language and possibly change your life, or at least your perspective of it?

travel spot, morocco: entering an unknown world

travel spot, morocco: entering an unknown world

Morocco. Al-mahgrib. the West.

This strange and fascinating land has been my home for the last 25 days. I’m going to attempt to describe what it’s been like- words might fail me at times, so I ask that you bear with me for the next two months and twenty five days as I work through it.

Prior to age seventeen, I’d never been on a plane. Though it seems that ever since my first flight, I’ve been taking full advantage of any opportunity to fly. Every semester I make the trip from California to Vermont for school (and have seen much of the Midwest from 35,000 ft. as a result).

View on the flight from Madrid to Casablanca. Amazing, isn’t it?

And now, here I am, in Meknès, Morocco. I’ve been a U.S. passport bearer for about five months now, and I have to admit, getting that first stamp was unforgettable.

Just to make things easier, here’s a quick stat report of what I’m doing/answers to FAQs I received before departing for Morocco:

  • I am a student at Moulay Ismail University, which, at 23,000+ students, is the largest school I’ve ever attended.
  • My course load consists of the following: Beginning Arabic (and the Moroccan dialect, Darija), Islamic Society and Politics, Three Religions/Three Peoples and The Representation of Geopolitical Conflict in Western and Arab Media.
  • No, I did not study a lick of Arabic before I left. I could maybe recognize two or three letters. (Proud to say, however, that I now know 25 out of 28 letters!) I do, however, have a working knowledge of French, which has proved extremely useful.
  • I do not have to cover my head here.

Orientation week was ridiculously cool: in a week, I visited Casablanca, Ouzoud/Beni Mellal and Marrakesh. I took pictures and realized that Morocco is extremely photogenic. Also, that I still really love birds.

Birds in a Casablanca square. Pretty sure every place in the world has pigeons.
Birds in a Casablanca square. Pretty sure every place in the world has pigeons.

Perhaps it’s just the way I am, but I’m starting to feel adjusted. My official motto of the year is “going for it 2014,” so I’ve tried to take as many risks and opportunities as I can while here. I think it’s a sort of mindset/attitude one acquires out of necessity while traveling: if you’re only in a certain place for a short amount of time, why not experience it to the fullest?

I will admit though, it’s an odd feeling realizing that I’m not in America anymore. If it doesn’t hit me while I’m walking down the street or around the city, the Internet is quick to remind me. Take, for example, when I was trying to watch the Superbowl, only to be met with this message:

:(
😦

It’s the subtle differences that make me realize I’m a long ways from home. Just yesterday I was watching the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony with my roommate… in French. On France 3. Because of course, our television doesn’t have English channels.

Regardless, I love being in Morocco. Like any experience, it has its ups and downs. Most importantly, every day I wake up and remember how grateful I am to be part of the privileged few who get to study abroad. Did you know that in the 2012-13 school year, ~283,000 students studied abroad? When you think about how many schools and students there are in the United States, that number seems absurdly small.

In summary: Morocco is wildly different from anywhere I’ve ever been, but it’s fun and exciting, and I have a lot of thoughts/feelings about it. So to all my friends, family, and whoever else may wander to this blog- I hope you’ll enjoy my travel spots and thoughts. There’s plenty more where this came from!

thought spot: the joys of learning and a new year

Thinking about how amazing it is to learn.

When we are born, we have nothing. We are blank- tabula rasa. Without cultivation, only primal instinct drives us forward. It is pure luck that determines what world we are born into- the life you know could just as easily have been someone else’s, whether better or worse.

All my life, I’ve loved to read, and for most of that time I’ve also loved learning- yet there is so much about this world I do not know. It troubles me, but then I remember that there is room to learn, grow, and explore. Life, in my humble opinion, is meant to be a time where we indulge in our pleasures and joys, but also take the time to be genuine students of the world in which we live. That means making space for learning about culture, history, language, art, music, literature, geography, etc. And yes, sometimes it is hard. We don’t always have the time we think we need. But it is there.

I’m almost always overwhelmed by the amount of things I want to know more about. I never quite know where to begin. So I think up a question, a line of inquiry, a topic of interest. To find answers, I grab a book, read articles or wiki pages, watch videos, talk to friends, pick the brains of online gurus. I aim to see issues from as many angles as possible. Sometimes it ends, but oftentimes I find it’s a working body of facts, figures, and opinions.

Anyways, the conclusion I’ve come to is this: don’t die the same way you were born. Die with something. With purpose, with feeling, with conviction, with knowledge.

I wish all of you well in this upcoming year.

black book: thinking about ned vizzini

I met Ned Vizzini sometime in February 2011. I had been a fan long before then- perhaps sometime around 2007-8, after someone had recommended I read one of his books (shout-out to that book club forum on Gaia!).

Describing the YA novel It’s Kind of a Funny Story is as strange as one would expect from its idiosyncratic title. There’s a young boy named Craig Gilner who, when overwhelmed with the pressures of his academic and social lives, contemplates suicide. He then ends up in the adult psychiatric ward of a local hospital, and from there, the rest is a tale about finding personal redemption in the minute yet charming, rejuvenating aspects of life. At the end of the book read a short message about how Ned had spent some time in a psychiatric ward prior to writing IKOAFS.

I was an instant fan. I followed Ned’s blog, his Youtube channel, and of course, read all his books. For the first time in my life I had not simply read a book, adored it, and moved on. I felt something behind Ned’s words- what it was I had not quite figured out yet- but it was something worth connecting to. When the opportunity rose a couple years later to meet him, I took it. It took three hours, three buses, and a great deal of wandering on the UCLA campus until my friend and I found the building where he would be speaking.

Post-event, the line to meet Ned/get books signed stretched on, so I took time to get to know Sabra, his beautiful wife, whom I recognized from Ned’s blog. She told me the story of how she’d met him, and described the opportunity of dating him as something similar to snatching up a good piece of real estate in New York. She also made sure I got my books signed and had a couple photos (by the time we’d finished talking, the line had disappeared), which I’ll always be grateful for.

Ned signed my copy of IKOAFS that night at UCLA, and invited me to his writing workshops in Glendale. I always enjoy retelling the story of, when I sat in front of a blank page, he looked at me and recited a Hemingway quote he thought of sometimes when he couldn’t write:

“Write the truest sentence you know.”

I have never forgotten it. Hemingway said something else I’ve committed to memory:

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

Ned’s passing hurts in more ways than I can express, particularly because I had the honor of knowing someone I admired not just as an author whose books I bought, but as someone who took the time to understand everything we fans threw at him- the parts of ourselves that his books made us feel- and he wrote back to us all, trying his hardest to relate. But you know what? He didn’t have to try very hard at all, because he could figure out where we were coming from. The true sincerity behind that renders me speechless.

I’m going to miss that.

The hardest thing to accept about Ned’s passing was the manner in which it occurred. If you or anyone you know is dealing with suicidal ideations, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or even consider reading this message from metanoia.org.

Ned, this project’s for you. I’d always wanted to make a “real” blog, but I never knew how to start. I’m ready now. Rock on, be strong, wherever you are.