Last weekend I went to the beautiful city of Fes. I saw some of the most breathtaking landscapes, met fascinating locals, and even bathed in a natural hot spring. As one could imagine, I was beyond exhausted by the time the trip came to a close. Before making our way back to Rabat, AMIDEAST took all of the students to the town of Volubilis. Volubilis is about an hour or so outside of Fes and was a Roman settlement. I remember visiting the Roman Forum and Pompeii while studying in Italy, and I was captivated by Roman architecture once again in a place I least expected. All in all, I can say the trip was a success; however, there was one issue: freezing cold rain.
We walked around Volubilis in the cold for an hour. As a reminder, I had just left the hot springs of Fes less than three hours before. My body did not appreciate the sudden change in temperature, and I could feel a fever coming on as soon as we made our way back to the bus. After the long ride back to Rabat, I was so tired I almost crawled to my front door. I fell into bed and closed my eyes, but I opened them again after hearing the sound of something hitting my head. Standing in front of me was my one year old host sister, Raadia. She looked at me with that beautiful smile of hers and hammered a balloon against my head. I couldn’t help but smile back, point at the balloon and ask “keef kangaloo?” (How do you say?). My host mother, Meriam, was standing at my bedroom door. “In Moroccan Arabic, we say ‘tubaaha’ for balloon,” she told me with a smile on her face. I smiled back, repeated the word, and immediately fell asleep with the satisfaction of having increased my knowledge of Moroccan dialect.
The next morning, I went to school and saw my Moroccan Arabic professor. I stopped him in the hallway to share this new addition to my limited vocabulary. As I said the word “tubaaha” with confidence to him, I could see his face twist into a confused expression. “What are you trying to say, Shante?” he asked. I explained to him that this was the word for balloon, and was quickly shut down. He went on to give me a completely different word for the same object and swore he had never heard the word “tubaaha” in his life. Embarrassed by the situation, I explained that my host mother told me the word and asked him to repeat his version of balloon in Arabic: nfaaha.
Uncertain of which word, “tubaaha” or “nfaaha”, was the correct one, I asked one of my trusted friends that works for AMIDEAST, Rachid. I simply looked up a picture of a balloon online and showed it to him. “Oh, that word in Moroccan Arabic is ‘buaka,” Rachid told me. At this point, I started to think this whole language was insane. How could each person I stop and ask give me a different word for something as simple as a balloon? This search for the correct word for balloon quickly spread throughout the AMIDEAST center and my question was finally answered: each region seems to have its own word for balloon.
Balloon is not the first time I have seen Moroccans disagree on how to say certain words. This is evidence of the beautiful diversity in the Moroccan dialect. Language acquisition has not been easy. I can hardly carry on a conversation at this point. But at least I know that even Moroccans themselves are learning new words from different regions along with me. It may not be easy to learn Arabic in Morocco, but it sure is fun.
I guess you could say the moral of this blog post is: If you want to get Moroccans into an argument, ask them how to say “balloon.”