“Immersion Into Arabic and My Unexpected Learning Opportunity.” by Derek Denton

Salam readers!

In the last two weeks, I have been making some great progress with my Arabic studies…
…And by that, I mean I have started realizing just how many mistakes I have made.

While that may sound relatively crude, I consider it to be a nice reflection on the amount of progress I have made thus far. This semester has been vastly different from any other from my college experience (and probably the entirety of my academic career) thus far. In comparison to previous courses I have taken, including my French classes in high school, these Arabic classes have had a more profound impact. This is not because of actual classwork of any kind, but rather because I have been immersed in my study topic at an unprecedented level.

At the beginning of the semester, I came to Morocco with only a handful of Arabic words, largely ones that I had taught myself, and what French vocabulary I could recall from high school. I was excited and ready to learn the language that I find so important. The Arabic language and the Moroccan, “Darija,” dialect would not be easy to learn. When considering I had never studied it formally, nor was I fluent in any language besides English (in fact, I am the only member of my class to not be included in either of those categories), the feat became especially intimidating.  But in the most recent fortnight, I had experienced an unusual turn of events: one that started exceedingly unfortunate, but actually turned out to be an excellent learning experience: I got sick.

At some point during my trip to Zawiya Ahansal last month, I contracted Bronchitis. Coughing up a storm, I talked myself into seeing a doctor who prescribed me a few medications and bed rest. I then spent the next three days in bed, much to my dismay. Because of this affliction, I was not able to attend a highly-anticipated field trip to a women’s rights organization headquarters in Rabat. Needless to say, I was quite distraught that I was ill.

As it turned out, while my chest was healing, my Arabic knowledge was expanding. Spending a few days cooped up in the house did me good. In addition to offering me some quiet time to review my notes, being ill gave me the opportunity to learn some vocabulary that I probably wouldn’t have covered in any Arabic class. If I had not been prescribed my antibiotic, I may not had learned the word for medicine (“Dwa”). If I had not had coughed a fit deep into the night, I probably would not have had my host-brother, Amin, get me out of bed to give me a spoonful of honey to soothe my throat allowing me to learn the word for it (“EsSell”). And if I had not been making frequent trips to the bathroom for more tissues, odds are I would not had learned to say to my host mother “No, I did not vomit.” (“La, anna ma’tQeyet’sh”)

I do not think I have ever had an educational opportunity quite so immersive before coming to Morocco. Trying to learn Arabic is a significant challenge, of course. But it does not feel intimidating anymore. It takes a lot of patience, trial-and-error, and notes, but it’s fun. If I was given the opportunity to stay for another semester in Morocco to further immerse myself in an Arabic-speaking life, I would probably accept it. When I compare my Arabic-learning experience to my French-learning one in high school, I can say with confidence that immersion can be the factor that separates victory and failure in acquiring a language. Everything is an opportunity to become bilingual- from taking a cab, to ordering at McDonald’s, and, yes, getting sick.

Here are some photos from the last night:

After I had finished my antibiotic, I enjoyed a small celebration at dinner with my family. By far my favorite dish here, spicy Moroccan past

After I had finished my antibiotic, I enjoyed a small celebration at dinner with my family. By far my favorite dish here, spicy Moroccan past

I owe a lot to this beautiful city. Without coming here, there's no way my Arabic would be as strong as it is now.

I owe a lot to this beautiful city. Without coming here, there’s no way my Arabic would be as strong as it is now.

Next week my education will be put to the test. I cannot believe it has finally come, but I have my final exams. The moment I hit the “submit” button below, I am jumping into my studies. Once again, I don’t feel intimidated. I think living with my host family and exploring Rabat have strengthened my Arabic vocabulary enough that I will do quite well.
After this, I’ll be off on Fall break. I’m planning on visiting the Vatican.

I look forward to reporting it all to you next time!

-Eli

 

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“Successfully Adapting to Moroccan Life” by Allison Brady

In my time abroad, I have found that the small and seemingly insignificant disappointments add up to make the biggest impact.  Little differences like availability of groceries or products, while expected, can turn into nagging frustrations if I let them.  For instance, I have spent the better part of my grocery-shopping time scouring aisles for pre-prepared lunch or snack items with more protein.  As an almost daily runner and a lazy cook, I am used to my favorite filling groceries back home: Greek yogurt, deli meats, tofu, and any number of soy-packed products marketed to the protein-obsessed American like me.  Here, these items are either virtually nonexistent or sold only at high prices and in tiny quantities.  Another disappointment has been the search for favorite cosmetic and personal care products.   I wasted an embarrassing number of shampoo and conditioner bottles before finally finding an available brand that satisfied my vanity, and numerous visits to nearby supermarches and even pharmacies have still left me empty-handed for a couple items.

Obviously, each of these are silly little “disappointments.”  Still, the overall feeling of never knowing where to find a previously taken-for-granted part of life can become exhausting after a while.  Slowly, however, I am learning to adapt.  I have learned the brand of yogurt with the most protein to snack on, and though it is sold in smaller sizes that I am used to, I admittedly prefer the flavor to even my favorite brands from home.  I’ve learned that my favorite hanoot sells fresh hard-boiled eggs and little laughing cow cheeses individually, which make a great and filling lunch when combined with the always abundant Moroccan Khubz.  I also have new favorite Moroccan snacks, like addicting local chip brands, or fresh fruit and juice available at practically every street corner.  This weekend, I got a little confidence boost from assisting a couple English-speaking tourists to determine the price of some fruit at one of these stands.

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A street corner fruit juice stand in Casablanca

I’ve learned new beauty routines, like going to the hammam for full-body exfoliation in these famous Moroccan public bath houses.  In the old medina, I have learned to bargain for little unique items like $5 “Ray Bans” sunglasses or $1 “Kylie” lipsticks.  They may not be authentic to the brand names on their labels, but they are authentically Moroccan!

These successes in adapting to life here may seem as trivial as the disappointments, but an increasing confidence in the small daily routines that make up life really makes me feel relaxed and at home here.  This weekend, I decided to lean into this feeling by staying in Rabat and relaxing in my favorite places with a friend.  We wandered through the old medina, walked along the ocean, and enjoyed the end of the day at the Kasbah Oudayas.  At this last stop, I pulled out some of my “insider” knowledge to go watch the sunset at the Kasbah terrace overlook.  As I had learned my very first night, technically the overlook closes at seven, but in Moroccan fashion after a chat with the friendly guard he offered us ten minutes to take some pictures.

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Pictures at the Kasbah with my friend, Jessica

As I continue my time here, my goal is to keep in mind that disappointment occurs when I feel frustrated that Morocco is not America, but that my greatest success is to let it become home anyway.

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“Outside Rabat and the Return ‘Home'” by Allison Brady

This past week, we had our first official program excursion spanning Wednesday to Sunday.  As I traveled from Rabat to the tiny town of Zawia Ahansal, to its inverse in the busy city of Marrakech, and finally back “home,” I noticed how different it felt to be a tourist in these new sites versus the familiarity I had unconsciously developed in Rabat.  Back in Rabat, I am definitely not a true “insider.”  I stand out on every street, can communicate in mixed French and Arabic but only with evident effort, and lack the wide network of friends and family that makes me feel like an insider in my United States homes.  However, the contrast of travelling to returning made me realize how quickly I have become an insider at least to the small home that I have found here in Rabat.

Coming back to my host flat every day really does feel like coming home.  I love greeting my family with a “La-bes? B-Khir? Alhumdullilah.”  After our half-week trip, I missed my favorite dishes from my host mother, our favorite nightly television dramas, and the comfortable and loving family dynamic.  I have the automated tramway stops I pass each commute memorized by heart, in both  Arabic and French (one following the other).  I alternate between a couple of my favorite local hanoots, corner stores that offer little lunch or snack items as well as a familiar face and an opportunity to practice Darija small talk.

I am beginning to find my own places and spaces within my Moroccan life.  I have a general routine.  I have a wonderful Moroccan friend in my language partner, Lamyae, who is doubling as a personal trainer since I have joined her gym and we go together to lift for a few hours each week.  She also shows me around her favorite places, and we chat in English and Arabic.  She lives in the neighboring Salae–which is where we go to work out–and afterwards we eat a snack or meal together on the calm Salae side of the Bou Regreg river marina.  This week, I am beginning English-teaching volunteering at a nearby organization that assists refugees and migrants hoping to be resettled through UNHCR.  I will have the opportunity to meet my students and get to know another unique community in the area.

By contrast, my experience in Zawia Ahansal felt more purely as an outsider.  We were so lucky to spend three days in this beautiful village in the High Atlas Mountains, and welcomed with enthusiastic hospitality by the Sheikh (town leader) and his family.  We learned some of the town’s history and religious significance, explored its rocky topography, and met local children when spending a morning volunteering at a nearby school.  Our last night, we were offered traditional dresses and kaftans to try while we danced with a local Amazigh music band.  The experience was incredible, but it always felt like an outsider experience.  We were short-term guests.  Every experience was completely new and unfamiliar, including the language.  Tamizeagh is spoken by the local residents, sometimes in addition to a range of Darija and French.  We learned a few simple words, but I have already forgotten most now that I am back in Fusha and Darija classes.

Zawia Ahansal

Zawia Ahansal

Next, in Marrakech, in some ways I “fit in” even more than in Rabat.  Marrakech is Morocco’s biggest tourism draw, both for foreigners and Moroccans alike.  English (along with practically every language imaginable) was spoken in every space I visited, from the hotel to the famous bustling Jemmaa El-Fna square to the Medinaa.  In Rabat, I am used to wearing jeans and a semi-casual T-Shirt (essentially exactly what I would wear back home, though shorts or spaghetti straps on hot days are not appropriate off the beach or outside the house), which I traded for very flowy pants, a long-sleeved tunic, and scarf-shawl in Zawia Ahansal.  However, in Marrakech, we were advised that given the infamous heat and the swarms of other tourists, we would still fit right in if wearing shorts or less-covering tops.

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Jemmaa El-Fna Square at night

Jemmaa El-Fna Square at night and a friend and I in front of Koutoubia Tower while exploring

My friend and I in front of Koutoubia Tower while exploring Marrakech

I loved the experience of travelling to these fantastic places, so different from Rabat and from each other, and I am already researching what city or region I want to visit next.  However, I feel a deep appreciation for the comfort of my Rabat home and everyone in it.  The possibility of travel comes with every weekend, but I am just as excited to continue to discover a sense of home right here.

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“Our Class Excursion To Zawiya Ahansal” by Derek Denton

Hello again readers!
To call this last week a busy one would be the understatement of the century. My classmates and I just had our first excursion out of Rabat, which has been a whirlwind of adventure. We had the opportunity to visit an Amazigh village in the mountains of Morocco called “Zawiya Ahansal.” A settlement dated over 700 years old, the people of this town offered my friends and I a warm welcome as we were hosted in the guesthouse of the Sheikh (a village elder and governor). When I was on our way, I truthfully did not know what to expect. I have visited villages and settlements before, but I don’t think I have ever been somewhere quite as beautiful as Zawiya Ahansal was.
Our bus ride was brutally exhausting. Eight hours on the road where I was constantly shifting from fatigue to discomfort was absolutely draining. The discomfort is particularly unfortunate because it spoils what is otherwise a great chance to view the Moroccan countryside. I cannot speak for all of them, but I think my classmates share my opinion that the ride was rougher than we expected. However, it was near the end of our journey did it seem to become worthwhile. When we entered the mountains, the landscape became something that drew my attention and purged my anxieties. This is what we saw when we looked out our windows.And then we actually got within view of the village.

We arrived at sundown, and I’m thankful it wasn’t any later. Pulling up at that minute gave us the perfect opportunity to view the sunset over the mountains of Zawiya. Any later and it would have been too dark to realize the beauty of the landscape of where we were residing.


The architecture of this village complimented the environment wonderfully. The next morning we went on our first hike. An interesting note about the environment of Zawiya is that it seems that the village experiences every season in one day. I left the guesthouse at sunrise wearing a heavy jacket (for its useful pockets) and a long sleeve shirt and expected to overheat. Fifteen minutes later, I was… Then fifteen minutes after that, it was chilly enough I was thankful I wore it. Fifteen minutes after that… Etc.

Zawiya is the first vertical village I have ever been to. Built into the side of the mountain, we had to walk up and down to get from building to building. Running through Zawiya, and into other villages, is a river that acts as a lifeblood of the village. At its mouth exists this interesting mythical spring where it is believed that women may drink from its water to earn good luck in finding a husband.  A lot of the people in the village live as subsistence miners. The mountains are rich in resources, including raw clay. The villagers extract this clay and use it to reinforce their homes’ structure.
This picture here is a great opportunity to see the size of the mountainside. Our guides explained to us an interesting development in recent events that involve these mountains: in addition to offering clay, the mountains are rich with metals like lead that mining companies are seeking to harvest. There has actually been some debate over opening the mines, citing environmental concerns.

On the final night of our stay in Zawiya, our hosts surprised my class by inviting us to a traditional Amazigh feast and party. It was an honor to be invited, of course, but being offered this traditional dress made it an unforgettable experience. A party-goer yelled as I walked out in this robe “now you are a Sheikh”. I don’t think I’ve ever received a greater compliment on my attire than that. After the festivities had concluded, I was certain to thank the real Sheikh for hosting us. A kind and informed man, I learned quite a bit about his role in administrating Zawiya Ahansal from him.

thank the Sheikh
I don’t think I’ve ever hiked quite so much in my life. But for all the physical exhaustion we endured, it was made up for by the unforgettable experiences that we had. This included what we had the opportunity to do on our last day in the village: assist in teaching English in a local school.  This was a fun, but challenging experience. My partner and I opted to teach the local children English body parts by a game of Simon Says, but before that, we had to go through a crash-course of the one of the dialects of the Amazigh language called Tamizeagh. Speaking some basic phrases helped our students understand us better, and I hope we were both fun and informative teachers for our short stay.
And so that my readers can share in this adventure, I have included a list of a few phrases we learned!
Hello: Azool.
My name is…: Isminu…
Thank you: Saha.
Where are you from?: Mani zigtigeed?
I am American!:Nkeen Merikan.
Yes = Eeeh.
No = Oho

I didn’t exactly have a strong command over the language, being limited to about seven phrases, but I like to think body language and prolific usage of “Saha” allowed me to convey our lessons.
We departed Zawiya on Saturday, and left for a short, one-night-stay, in the city of tourists: Marrakech. While I am certain my classmates had an excellent time exploring the city, I- regretfully- did not. Somehow during my time in Zawiya, I contracted bronchitis- leaving me bedridden in the hotel. It was nothing to mourn over, however, I was thankful my illness did not come during the stay in the village, and that exhausting week of hikes, dancing, and teaching left me in tremendous need for some R&R.

Saha for reading!

-Eli

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“Building Perceptions and a Home in Morocco” by Elizabeth Beaton

Salaam!

Over the past month I have been confronting the expectations I formed about Morocco pre-departure. Before coming to Morocco I made a conscious effort to try not to fantasize about what my experience would be like. I didn’t want to make conclusions relying solely on other people’s truths and experiences. I wanted to form my own perceptions and conclusions based off of my own lived experience and observations. In the past month, I have begun this process of building my own understanding of what Morocco is like. Yet, at the same time I find myself having to reconcile this new understanding with past subconscious expectations. Despite trying to avoid forming concrete expectations, wonderful stories told to me by family members, friends, and classmates about their experiences in Morocco in turn influenced my own vision of Morocco.

For example, pre-departure I imagined that Morocco would have delicious tagine, palm trees, and a hot climate. These expectations are certainly simplistic and my life here is so much more varied and multi-dimensional. I live in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, and spend most of my time in the city. As a result, a lot of my new observations revolve around city life. I have been surprised by how many little blue taxis race down city streets and how crowded the tram can become. I knew there would be palm trees, but didn’t realize there would be so much cactus along the sidewalk. I was aware of the legacy of French colonialism in Morocco. Yet, it is only after living here that I understand how French is still so intertwined with Moroccan life both in bureaucracy and in social life. Private schools teach some subjects in French and store owners often speak to me in French. A lot of my learning about Morocco follows the similar pattern of, I knew this aspect, but didn’t realize the full implications of the issue. The reality is that Morocco is much more nuanced and is not fully captured by generalizations.

This past week, village mountain life became a part of my understanding of Morocco. I participated in an AMIDEAST organized excursion to Zawiya Ahansal in the central high Atlas Mountains. Zawiya Ahansal is a rural mountainous area made up of four villages situated along a river. It is also one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. There are rocky paths tracing the mountain sides looking down upon lush farm land supported by an irrigation system fed by spring water. 600 year old restored granaries look out on the setting sun and at night the Milky Way paints the sky with light. Now when I envision Morocco, I will remember this special place. I also now know about challenges in Zawiya Ahansal. NGOs like Atlas Cultural Foundation and Association Amezray Smnid tackle community issues like clean water access, public education access, bus stops, and public health knowledge etc. These challenges, along with the beauty of the area are now part of my understanding of Morocco as a whole. The most surprising element of my time in Morocco is how at home I felt in the mountains.

village viewroof view of sun and mountainsOn the last night in Zawiya Ahansal, I sat down on the roof of the house where we were staying and just looked in complete awe at the world around me. In that moment I tried to etch the view, the sun’s colors, and the feeling of peace into my memory. I am hopeful that I will find a similar sense of belonging in Rabat.

Until next time!

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“Family, Couscous, and Learning New Words” by Elizabeth Beaton

Salaam!

The fall semester has truly begun! I have bought new notebooks, classes have started, and the temperature is now a more manageable at 80 °F. In general, life is a bit more manageable and less overwhelming. I am growing more and more comfortable in my homestay and in my new neighborhood. During the week, I bring lunch to AMIDEAST to eat between classes. Since grocery shopping is a part of my weekly routine, I get to explore my neighborhood more. I know the route to the main grocery store in the neighborhood and where to buy the best lettuce.  I’m still deciding which small shop, hanout in Moroccan dialect I like the best. I love stumbling across new potential favorites. Whether I’m headed to class, the park, or to buy groceries – I love walking around. There are so many beautiful flowers!

pink flowers (002)

My time so far in Morocco has been filled with so much learning across every subject imaginable. Out and about, I’ve learned about my neighborhood and started adjusting to crossing the street amidst very different patterns of traffic. Every day, I continue to learn more, from Arabic case ending rules and post-colonial politics to where the plates are kept in my host family’s kitchen. I never realized how many utensils, vegetables, and different types of fruit belong in the kitchen. Even just on the spice rack there is so much vocabulary! After trying to fit so many new words in my brain, I appreciate escaping to the patio area that is shared with the other apartments. The patio corner is filled with so much greenery and fresh air.

patio with plants (002)

I am so grateful to my host family for their generosity, patience, and understanding. I am always asking questions like, how do you say this and what is that called, again? I am especially appreciative of my host family’s understanding and accommodation of my diet. I have a dairy allergy and I am vegetarian which makes my host family’s life more complicated. My host mom, who is a very experienced cook, always makes sure that I eat enough delicious Moroccan food. Before dinner I often find myself in the kitchen, trying to learn how to replicate dishes by watching and trying to remember the long list of spices that all go in the pot.

Last Friday, my host mom started to teach Mariah, my roommate who is also from the US, and I how to make couscous. Friday lunch is the most special meal of the week in Moroccan culture and it takes place after Friday afternoon prayer. While my host mom makes cooking couscous look easy, there are many steps and ingredients involved. We made two different kinds of couscous, one with meat and a smaller vegetarian version filled with squash, potatoes, zucchini, tomatoes, and onions for me. I’m looking forward to more Friday afternoons spent in the kitchen together chatting about topics from class and, hopefully, learning words like fork and cilantro.

I am trying to understand so much and taking in so much information that I end up misunderstanding somethings. For example, the other day I learned I had misunderstood how many children my host parents have. They actually have only have one son, not two, that lives in London. My host parents do, however, have two grandchildren in London. I’m taking my mistakes in stride, owning up to them and learning to laugh at the confusion.

Until next time!

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“Defining the Moroccan Experience” by Allison Brady

 

On my first day of our Arabic Fusha class, my wonderful Usteza (teacher) Khadija began the class with a question: What expectations had we brought about Morocco?  Apart from the linguistic difficulty of answering this in Arabic, my classmates and I struggled to list our own concrete expectations.  I could easily think of stereotypes I heard from those around me leading up to my departure; I spent most of my time reacting to others’ expectations of the Maghreb, and neglected to reflect on my own internalized biases. Despite my previous studies of the MENA region within my minor of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, and my carefully developed stock answers for all curious or worried about my choice of study abroad location, I had trouble answering more complex questions on what Morocco would be like.  After only two weeks here, I am learning every day why they are so difficult to answer.  The more time I spend in Morocco, I witness and experience more complications to any generalized answers.

For instance, many asked for a categorical definition of Morocco, geographically or economically.  Is it an African country, a Middle Eastern country, or “Western”?  Is it a “developing” country, or “1st World”?  I use quotations for particularly loaded terms here, but won’t be dissecting them in the short space of a blog post.  Instead, I’ll just try to illustrate a few of many moments of observation into how Morocco resists this kind of reduction.

Regarding the first question of regional affiliation, by language Morocco demonstrates its rich history as a crossroads of the African continent, the Middle East, and Europe.  When asked what languages people speak here, before arriving here I would say that most speak French and Arabic.  This expectation was misleading.  Most people that I have met have diverse degrees of proficiency in many languages.  First, almost everyone speaks Darija, the Moroccan Arabic—except many in or from the rural countryside (a significant portion of the overall population), who often only speak an Amazigh language (of which there are three main ones) local to their region.  Then, proficiency in a second and third language depends on schooling and family origins.  Many speak some Amazigh by function of family roots in a particular region.  Some go to private schools that teach only in French, others to schools that teach in Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic), or even others to more expensive schools that offer English.  In my own host household, everyone speaks Darija.  My mother knows Amazigh and a large amount of French, and both parents know Fusha.  My host siblings do not speak Fusha, but are fluent in French and speak English very well.  My host sister Zubida raps along to Maghrebi hiphop all day long, while Baba Muhamed plays the crooning Arabic melodies of Fairuz when cleaning, and Mama Karima often lounges to classic French music like Charles Aznavour and Joe Dassin.

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One of my favorite places to walk near my home is along the Rabat Marina.  It is always bustling with Moroccans enjoying the same beautiful walk with friends and family.  The marina strip follows the Bou Regreg river that opens into the Atlantic Ocean.  The fortified walls of the historic Kasbah (built in the 12th century and once home to the infamous Barbary pirate republic) rise above the river’s mouth, and it faces the sister city of Sale, which is the fastest growing city in Morocco and whose shoreline is full of construction of brand new buildings.  Right at the end of the marina, at the foot of the Kasbah’s hill, merry-go-rounds and bumper cars and assorted carnival rides run all afternoon.  I like to sit on the edge of the marina and watch the fishermen and ferries work on the old little blue rowboats of Morocco, while an occasional jetski zooms through the otherwise still waters.  These images illustrate common associations of “modernity” and “development,” rich history and constant change, which exist here not as contrasts in tension, but as natural parts of the daily life.

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These observations reveal only a fraction of what makes Moroccan society so rich, complex, and difficult to define.  The list of the common “expectation questions” I heard pre-arrival could go on: What do Moroccans wear? What are the roles of women in Morocco? How do Moroccans practice religion?  Already, I could reflect for many more pages on the many diverse experiences of daily life, identity, gender, clothing/dress, race, and religion which I have so far encountered.  It is widely accepted that the “American experience” depends so greatly on factors of identity, income, family, and location, and I am beginning to discover that the only universal factor to the “Moroccan experience” is layers of complexity.

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