Leaving my Comfort Zone

Throughout the past two months, I have had a wide range of experiences here in Morocco, from spending time with my host family to studying Arabic and French to visiting historical sites in a variety of cities. Each experience has shown me a different facet of the country and each time I have learned something new about Morocco. Visiting Zawiya al-Ahnsal, a rural Amazigh area in the mountains, allowed me to see how life is for people living in the countryside and to learn about the distinct challenges facing rural villages. On the other hand, exploring the National Library in Rabat and talking to other people there has given me a sense of how young Moroccans working and studying in the city spend their time.

Me, my roommate, and my host brother and cousin all ready for couscous with the family on Eid.

Me, my roommate, and my host brother and cousin all ready for couscous with the family on Eid.

The sense of Morocco that forms in the mind of a traveler staying for just a few weeks is much different than the sense that you get as a student living in the country for a relatively extended period of time. As a student, I find myself walking an interesting line between tourist and resident. I am constantly learning about new aspects of Moroccan culture, and I often find myself in situations where I feel distinctly out of place. Yet, at the same time, I have lived in Rabat long enough to understand how to navigate the city and how to interact with people. I have my daily routines, my favorite cafes, and an apartment to return to each evening.

Mint tea, sweetened with many sugar cubes of course, is a staple of my diet currently. No day is completely without at least two glasses of this b'nin, delicious, drink.

Mint tea, sweetened with many sugar cubes of course, is a staple of my diet currently. No day is completely without at least two glasses of this b’nin, delicious, drink.

Beyond language, the largest indicator that I am living in a culture that I am not innately familiar with is how carefully I have to pay attention during interactions that I would not give a second thought about back home. Paradoxically, I have found that living with a host family has served, at different times, to make me feel both the most comfortable and the most out of my element. My host parents go above and beyond in looking out for us and making sure we are not only very well fed but also that we understand important aspects of Moroccan culture, as they see it. No matter how generous they are though, it is impossible to get around the fact that there is much I do not know. For example, a few weeks ago I spent Eid el-Kabir, Festival of the Sacrifice, with my host family. For this holiday, we all gathered at the home of my host grandmother where we sacrificed a sheep and then spent the day cooking and eating and enjoying each other’s company.

This holiday has deep religious and cultural significance, but, since this year was the first time I celebrated it, I did not know many of the traditions that the rest of the family did. I felt distinctly like the “outsider”, who did not have the ease of knowing exactly how to act and how the day would go. When I celebrate holidays with my family back in the United States, I am the one who knows exactly where to find the nice china or how my mom likes the green beans to be cooked. With my host family, however, I was the one asking my sister where to find the broom or which glasses to use for juice. I had an amazing day, filled with lots of laughter and pleasant company, but it also made me aware of all I do not know about Morocco.

 Rabat street art is one of the most incredible parts of the city; every time I visit a new street or part of town I find another stunning mural.

Rabat street art is one of the most incredible parts of the city; every time I visit a new street or part of town I find another stunning mural.

However, this experience has allowed me to feel more at ease in the culture and to be more connected to my host family. When I share my stories of Eid with Moroccans, they can relate to my descriptions of relaxing on the roof and they have their own stories to tell. On an even more basic level, my day-to-day life has given me greater knowledge and an ability to better understand Morocco. I know how to pour tea so it foams on top; I can bargain for the best prices in the medina; I spend evenings watching French television shows with my host mom. All of these instances are similar to the daily activities of many people living in Rabat. I have the privilege of being one of the many people living in this vibrant city, and that in itself allows me to feel like more of an insider here.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Mika Chmielewski, Morocco, Rabat

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