Archive for March, 2012

The Dartmouth Greek System and What Should Change

Friday, March 30th, 2012

There is a lot of hubbub at the moment surrounding the Greek Fraternity system at my alma mater, Dartmouth College.  Basically, a student named Andrew Lohse made a series of allegations in an op-ed piece that was published on a variety of blogs, and eventually, at the College’s newspaper, The Dartmouth.  The story then got picked up by Rolling Stone magazine and became widely disseminated.   There are a few things you need to know about this whole story before we get to the actually important stuff:

  1. Lohse has a chip on his shoulder.  He was caught doing cocaine at his fraternity (SAE), then he threatened the guy who turned him in (a war veteran and the House Manager at SAE), then he was involved in the sending of emails to the house asking people to both lie to the police and to ostracize the key witnesses.  Some guy.
  2. People don’t join fraternities at Dartmouth until their sophomore year (sometimes secretly at the end of their freshman year).  It isn’t like many larger schools where people pledge before they’ve even been to class.  At Dartmouth, you know the character of the house you’re going to join.  You know the brothers, you know the culture, it’s your choice.  Now, sometimes you join a house and find that the culture wasn’t what you were expecting–that’s okay too, you can depledge.  Several people depledged from my house over the course of my 3 years as a brother, and there were no hard feelings.  They were always welcome to come back and hang out (and they all did).
  3. Most of his allegations are probably true.  I was in a fraternity at Dartmouth, as were many of my friends, and I can verify that hazing does indeed occur.  Some of it is quite frankly hilarious and clever.  Much of it is gross.  Most of it involves alcohol.  Basically all of it is consensual.  I personally refused some hazings.  As my fraternity brother Gus Lubin wrote in Business Insider, people refused hazing for athletic reasons, academic reasons, or simply because they didn’t like it.  At least at my fraternity (and those of my closest friends), if you really didn’t want to do something, you didn’t have to.
  4. The College administration absolutely knows what is going on.  So, Lohse’s allegation that the College has purposely turned a blind eye to hazing is definitely true.  The College is caught between a rock and a hard place in this one.  Many of their most generous donors are fraternity alumni; alienating large contributors to the Dartmouth Fund compromises the College’s future plans and program budgets.  The College also lacks significant evidence for hazing; there is a lot of hearsay and very little in the way of photographs and videos.  In the rare occasions in which photos, videos, or incriminating emails have shown up, the College has been swift and heavy-handed in punishing offenders (Zeta Psi and Beta instantly come to mind here).  So, the College pleads ignorance because it considers its other options unpalatable (shut down fraternities?  Restrict alcohol?  Somehow increase monitoring inside privately owned fraternity houses?).
  5. The social scene at Dartmouth revolves almost entirely around fraternities.  A majority of eligible students join.  Fraternity brothers provide free alcohol to basically anyone 7 nights per week.  As a result, the social scene tends to reflect the reality:  a lot of freezing, drunk men hanging out in their basement waiting for girls to show up.  This leads to the recurring Dartmouth theme of sexual harassment and strained gender relations.
Here are some things the College can do to make things better:
  • First, host a weekly party for students that features free alcohol.  The College has tried to offer social alternatives, but they’re always either non-alcoholic or pay-per-drink.  College students are trying to drink, so they’ll go where the cheap booze is.  If the College provided it, they’d be providing an equivalent, alternative social space over which they’d retain a modicum of control.  Some of my good friends went to Pomona College in Claremont, CA.  Every week, Pomona hosts “Pub”, a place you can go drink, dance, hang out on the College’s dime.  It’s a great time.  The scene there felt so distinctly healthier and happier than the average basement night at Dartmouth.  This is something that Dartmouth College can recreate.
  • Second, stop pretending like hazing doesn’t happen, like there’s nothing the College can do, like the College and the Fraternities have opposite goals.  Open up your doors with more aggressive advisory programs to help people who might be struggling with the fraternity system.  Acknowledge things like the all-campus Masters Pong Tournament.  The College and the Frats have the same goal– create a space for people to safely have a good time.  Stop acting like you’re living in two different worlds.
  • Last, integrate non-fraternity social groups with frat-based ones.  A lot of my best friends weren’t in fraternities, but they did participate in some really awesome Dartmouth programs (DOC trips, the DMC, athletic teams, etc.).  At Dartmouth, the Frat scene is it’s own animal, distinct from other social groups.  Would it be so hard to have the DMC invite a frat or two for a hike?  Some of these connections happen naturally (guy from DMC happens to be an AXA and makes it happen), but the College can take a more active role in breaking down the social barriers between fraternities and non-frat groups.  Promoting a united social atmosphere should be a priority of the College.
So those are my thoughts.
Oh yeah, and bring back Tubestock.

Morocco Trip Part 3

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Let’s keep it going all the way to the conclusion this time (EDIT:  Didn’t make it there.  We’ll get there next time)

More Fes stuff– We went back and visited my old host-family from my abroad term.  That was fun and a complete trip.  They’re remaking their ancient Moroccan home into a riad (a sort-of bed and breakfast in a traditional Moroccan home.  If you go to Morocco, you MUST stay in one.  There is seriously NO other way).  I went to go look at my old room, and it had been destroyed in the reconstruction.  Lame!  Nonetheless, it was good to see them.  Then, we hiked up to the tomb of the Merinides.  (History cliffnotes– the Merinides ruled Fes 700 or 800 years ago).

So, in the middle of our time in Fes, my brother James and I decided to go seek out my old friend Brahim.  I met Brahim on my first night in Fes about five years ago.  Here’s the story:

The Fes labyrinth is formidable for even the most experienced of travelers, and so, as a complete first-timer, I had no chance.  To make matters worse, the kids on the street consider it a fun game to mess with tourists.  “Excusez-moi monsieur, vous cherchez quelque chose?  You look for something? Excuse me!” Invariably, at your wits end, you will take one of these little bastards up on their offer.  Then, they lead you deep into the medina and triumphantly display their brother’s pottery store.  You say, “I don’t want pottery, I need to go to… *looks down at piece of paper* 16 derb ben salem.  Where is that?”  Of course, then the kid will say, “Just up there and to the right”.  And so you get even further lost in the city.

This was my exact experience on my first night in Fes five years ago, and before long I’d been at it for 3 hours.  The sun was going down quickly and I was running out of time to find my house before dark.  My arabic was meager at the time, and my awkward French only served to further identify me as a tourist (there is no love lost between French and Moroccans).  Anyway, I’m standing there looking confused when yet another kid comes up to me with the same old routine:  “Excusez-moi monsieur!” Suddenly, another guy about my age comes out of a rug store on the side of the street and says, in English no less, “He’s trying to hustle you.  Fuck off kid!”  I was pretty stunned.  Then, to me, “Where are you going?”  “Thank you, I’m going to… *checks paper* Derb Ben Salem.” Without a word, this well-dressed young guy leads me the full 20 minute walk back to my house.  Then, when I offered him some money, he gave me a look of absolute disgust at the thought of payment, and walked away.

Later, once I knew my way around the city, I went back to his rug store and bought some stuff from him.  We talked.  His name was Brahim.  We became facebook friends.  Then, the next time I returned to Morocco it was during Ramadan; Brahim and his family invited my friends and me to break fast with them.  A pretty incredible experience, to say the least.

So, to flash forward to this most recent Moroccan excursion:  James and I met Brahim at his rug shop and he had someone serve us tea.  His English was much improved since the last time I hung out with him.  After tea, he brought us to the area where his family’s business makes rugs.  We looked at some rugs and drank more tea (in Morocco, they drink green tea 5-7 times per day.  It’s fantastic).  Then, he dropped us off at a good dinner place and we had yet another delicious tagine d’kefta.  Brahim returned to the restaurant around the end of our meal and sat with us.  When we went to pay, the bill was 130 dirhams (about 17 dollars).  We only had 100 and 200 dirham bills.  Before we could pay with the 200 and get change, Brahim just said “no no that is fine” and put down our 100.  We looked at him confused, but he seemed so confident that 100 was perfectly fine that we followed him out.  The waiter called down to us as we were almost out of the door and said “This is only 100, the bill was 130!”  Brahim says, “Close enough!’  And we walk out.  This was the first sign that perhaps Brahim is actually a huge baller.

Then, we met up with Brahim’s friends for more tea at a local cafe.  It was at this cafe that my brother’s misconceptions of Arabic/Islamic culture were smashed– these guys were sitting around showing each other pictures of their girlfriends on their iPhones.  I shit you not!  It turns out that these guys were college students at various places, including Seville in Spain (where we had just come from).  After tea they invited us back to one of their apartments (which was empty, just us) and we hung out and swapped stories.  Many of the funniest stories were sexual in nature–just because they live in a Muslim country doesn’t mean they don’t hook up.  And, they’re still guys, so they like joking about it.  It really didn’t feel too different from hanging out with my friends back in the USA.  Oh yeah, and when we left the tea place, we didn’t pay then either.  Brahim told us, “its cool”.

Then, one of the guys who had been educated in Seville, spoke up, in English: “I don’t think Osama Bin Laden was a real person.  I think he was invented by the US Government”.  Oh boy.  We proceeded to have a very cordial conversation in which I politely poked holes in his massive Jewish/USA conspiracy theory to attack Muslims.  Suddenly, some of the concerns many Americans hold about the Islamic world came to life in a very real way.  There are two things to keep in mind here, though– first, the conversation was extremely cordial.  It was a political conversation among amicable people.  Second, some of the people in the group of Moroccan students weren’t buying it either.  As in all things, nothing is black and white.  After a 30 minute conversation (and one in which James desperately wished he spoke Arabic and could participate haha) my conspiracy-theorist friend bid us adieu and we returned home for the night.

The following day was our last morning in Fes– we got breakfast with Brahim (again, we didn’t have to pay).  James said that the previous night he’d seen Brahim slap the cafe-owner with a 100 dirham bill (5 times our actual tab).  In short, Brahim is a boss.  We bought some totally sweet Moroccan blankets, and headed out of town for the 7 hour train ride to Marrakech.

On the train, we had a coach that was a revolving door of interesting people (almost entirely young women).  Conversation began when I offered them some of my water in Arabic, and then we ended up talking about all things–politics, religion, dating, etc.  In all places on earth, the difference between educated and uneducated people is clear.  It was really cool to meet so many people who were educated.

Anyway, this was a TON of text and no pictures!  So, I’m going to leave this up for a part 4 with more pictures and descriptions of our time in Marrakech.  And THEN I’ll be done.

Hope everyone is well!


Spain and Morocco: Part 2

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Let’s pick up where we left off.

To go from Seville (in southern Spain) to Morocco is actually more challenging than one might think, despite the proximity of the Strait of Gibraltar (which only takes about 45 minutes to cross on the fast ferry; and trust me, you want to take the fast ferry).  In fact, it is so time consuming to take a bus from Seville to Algeciras, catch a ferry, spend a night in Tangiers (my least favorite city on Earth), then catch a train the next day to Fes, that James and I decided to take a train back to Madrid for a night and catch a flight the following day.

So, James and I returned to Madrid and had one quite fancy (if not all that delicious) meal in the city.   The restaurant (I don’t even recall its name; wouldn’t go back) gets a 10/10 for presentation but probably only a 6/10 for actual taste.   However, since blogging is ALL about presentation, here are some food-porn photos for you to enjoy:

Some filet thing on a bread with vanilla mousse on top. Tasted pretty good.

Weird spinach + something almost pate like dish with a shrimp on top. Wasn't a big fan.

Then, after a night in Madrid (which was more-or-less uneventful as we were pretty tired), we hopped a flight the next morning to Casablanca and immediately hopped on a train for Fes, which arrived four hours later.

Suddenly, we were back in one of my favorite places on Earth.  If you don’t know anything about Fes, I recommend reading this and getting familiar.  Cliffnotes:  it is a still-functioning medieval city, complete with handmade goods, local farms and butchers, narrow streets too narrow for two donkeys to pass (no cars here), the heart of Moroccan cuisine, a UNESCO world heritage site, and home to the oldest still-running university in the world.  The old Fes Medina, over a thousand years old, is also considered among the most densely populated places on the planet, as well as being a labyrinth of monstrous proportions (read:  I’ve spent months there and I still get lost all the time).

Our first night in Fes involved us eating our first Tagine d’Kefta (there would be many, many more).  In fact, I have so many photos of Tagine d’Kefta’s that I don’t know which is which, so I’ll just post one.

A tagine d'kefta is a spiced meatball stew in a tomato-base with eggs. One of the greatest things ever.

Dinner that first night was at the Kasbah restaurant by Bab Boujloud (fun note:  Bab is the word in Arabic for “door” or “gate”.  So, it kinda makes sense that Ali Baba opened the magic gate–his name means roughly, “Ali the Door Guy”).  Bab Boujloud is a pretty epic gate into the old city:

Bab Boujloud, the southern entrance to the city. I didn't take this photo, hence the quality being somewhat decent.

The Kasbah restaurant has terrace seating overlooking the gate.  It’s a really phenomenal view and experience in general to be sitting up there.  Of course, the food is all incredibly cheap (5 dollars a plate is very common in Morocco, even at relatively touristy places).  As we were finishing our meal at the Kasbah, a big cat started eyeing our table.  James and I did our best to shoo it away, but it was pretty persistent.  Eventually we just figured it would just sit there eyeing us forever, but it didn’t.  Instead, it leapt up onto our table and snagged our remaining chicken.  Welcome to Morocco.  Fortune favors the bold!

The next day, we toured the city, got thoroughly lost, and eventually ended up at our desired location, the most wonderful restaurant in Morocco.  It has two names: Palais de Fez (Palace of Fes, in French) and Dar Tazi (House of Tazi, in Arabic).  Given my preference for Arabic over French, I always just call it Dar Tazi.  Dar Tazi is legitimately high-end and wildly expensive by Moroccan standards (even expensive by US standards at $50 for the full meal).  That said, I cannot stress enough how *worth it* it is.  I ordered my favorite there (I’ve been many times), the prix fixed meal with Moroccan Salad, Pastilla d’Semek (fish pastilla, a rare adaptation of the traditional pigeon-or-chick pastilla), and fruit for dessert.  James assumed that the “Moroccan Salad” has the same meaning as the word “Salad” and was looking forward to seeing his dish.  When they brought 14 different dishes, together comprising the “Salad”, James was pretty excited (even though the food can indeed be overwhelming).  Here’s a great photo showcasing the pastilla and the salad:

Pastilla in the foreground, salad dishes in the background. Again, forgive me for eating most of it before taking photos.

Then, during our meal, one of the more incredible elements of Arabic culture caught us by surprise–the call to prayer began to emanate from the city.  It starts at the Qaraouine mosque, the largest and most centrally located mosque in the city, and spreads outward like water ripples until over 300 unique voices are calling the faithful into prayer.  From the Dar Tazi’s hillside terrace, you can hear them all clearly.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Breathtaking.


View from Dar Tazi

We spent the rest of the day walking off the ~2 lbs of food, checking out the Qaraouine mosque (we can’t enter; non-Muslims cannot enter mosques in Morocco).  Here’s another quick Qaraouine pic:


Qaraouine Minaret

This last photo was taken from the terrace of the Nejjarine Square museum.  Nejjarine Square is a small public space in Fes that, in ancient times, used to receive camel caravans and provide lodging for weary travelers.  It has since been turned into an ancient artifacts museum.  James and I had a great time drinking tea on the terrace in the sunshine, as well as exploring the museum itself.

Nejjarine Museum


Anyway, there are many more stories to tell, including a) the entrance of Brahim; b) the crazy Jewish conspiracy guy; and c) all of Marrakech.  And of course, more food.

Part 3 coming soon!