Week one in Rabat draws to a close. As per usual, the Turkish soap operas are on television and everyone is watching as we digest the evening’s meal. Tonight, it was a filling bowl of pasta with sweet melon. My roommate Pablo and I grow tired of the sitcom antics and seek out our host brother Raschid to talk music. Raschid has quite the melodic palette; he owns a number of Led Zeppelin albums and we find familiarity in making fun of Justin Bieber. Globalization at its finest, indeed.
To say the least, my first days in Morocco cannot be summed up in any amount of words. I will try though: confusing, awkward, patient, delicious, beautiful, bizarre, messy, intriguing, stimulating, and sublime. I can say with confidence that most of my preconceived notions about Rabat and the way Moroccans live life have been shattered beyond repair. Although sometimes humbling, I can tell that this semester will be full of surprises and chances to grow into a (briefly) functioning member of Maghrebi society.
As I mentioned earlier, my roommate for the semester is Mr. Pablo Chovil. He is a Middle East Studies major at George Washington University. Since meeting him at the airport we’ve been nothing but chummy; we have similar language goals and challenge each other to use Arabic or Darija as often as possible. Our host parents, Fatima and Amin, have also facilitated a smooth transition into Moroccan life. They both speak next to no English and are very accommodating of our needs. Conversations between us have been simple and halting, but are improving and diversifying. With each successive day, Pablo and I enjoy the food Fatima cooks more and more while the days and nights gradually become more circadian.
I feel like I have a pretty good lay of the land here thanks to plenty of exploring. We rely on Rabat’s speedy blue taxis to get around for a low price and walk a lot. Since landing over a week ago, I have been to the ruins of Chellah, perused and got lost in the Rabat souq and kasbah (respectively), walked to the Atlantic Ocean from the center of the city, purchased a gym membership at a local gym, and bronzed on the beach at Skhirat. I have fallen in love with a hot cup of nus nus (a half coffee/half milk drink) and rousing conversation at a café. Through it all, Raschid, our host brother, continues to be a wonderful guide to Pablo and I.
Perhaps my favorite host family experience so far happened a few nights ago at the family flat. Pablo is an avid guitarist, and Raschid owns a cheap guitar from a former home-stay student. As Pablo deftly produces some notable John Mayer tunes with the guitar, Raschid comes into our room with his darbuka, an Arab hand drum. He joins in, and in no time we have formed an impromptu jam band.
One of the few things I can say with confidence is that the Moroccan way of life (or any other) cannot be summarized in a pre-departure packet sufficiently. Rabat is full of contradictions. Some women dress conservatively. Some dress like women I know in America. There are the staunchly religious conservatives. There are the vastly liberal atheists. There are Europeans, Africans, Arabs, Amazigh (Berbers), and now a few Americans all going about their day-to-day lives in this administrative hub on the northern tip of Africa. To top it off, Raschid is a better Calvin Harris (Scottish DJ – listen I Need Your Love) fan than I could ever be. You can’t judge a book by its cover, and perhaps after visiting Morocco you should just put down the book and strike up a conversation with the waiter at your favorite café.