“An Overwhelming Orientation” by Sofia Deak

My first week in Morocco has been a mixture of many things: surprising, uncomfortable, exciting, confusing and wonderful all at once. I arrived in Casablanca two days before coming to Rabat, and visited my friend Malak from USC, a native Moroccan. This was a wonderful way to ease into life in Morocco, because Malak not only showed me around her city, but also was able to explain many Moroccan customs and practices in an effort to help me avoid making too many cultural blunders. For example, she taught me the typical Moroccan greeting, a handshake that turns into a kiss on each cheek. You can either use the French “Ça va?” or the Arabic Salaamu aleikum; both are understood and used interchangeably.photo1

One thing I was not expecting was to constantly be addressed by Moroccans in French. It seems that they assume all “Western looking” people are tourists visiting from France, and speak French to make us feel more at ease in Morocco. The problem is, while I have studied Arabic for two years at USC, my knowledge of French does not exceed bonjour and oo la la! This was an element of the culture I was not anticipating, and even when I insist on speaking Arabic, the response I get from Moroccans is still sometimes French!

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Casablanca is a visually striking city. Massive ocean waves slam into the rocks lining the beach, where people from all walks of life stroll on their way to the magnificent Hassan II Mosque. At night, the mosque is illuminated, and as the only mosque non-Muslims can enter in the country, is a must-see sight. The intricate art and calligraphy carved into the architecture is breathtaking!

After my initial nervousness to come to Morocco, I felt much better being in Casablanca. As I set out in the taxi for Rabat, I felt confident that I no longer had anything to worry about. However, Morocco seemed to want to prove to me that it would not be so easily mastered. Almost immediately after arriving in my new home city, I became really sick, and with a sinking sensation I remembered a smoothie I had enjoyed a day before, the unfiltered ice upsetting my stomach unaccustomed to the local water. I had to spend the first day of my orientation with AMIDEAST curled up in my bed at the hotel, cursing myself for my overconfidence, but luckily, the next day I was well enough to  join my fellow students in orientation. The excitement and anticipation leading up to meeting our host families was palpable throughout all of the students, and I couldn’t help feeling nervous. What if I could never communicate with my family? What if they thought I was weird if I didn’t understand or respond appropriately to their questions? How would I handle a situation in which I desperately wanted to communicate, but could not get my point across?

On Wednesday afternoon, my host mom Karima arrived at AMIDEAST to take my roommate Nazish and I to our new home. We both felt pretty nervous, which really impeded my ability to remember any Arabic I’ve ever learned. I remember trying to ask Karima what she preferred to be called, and she responded saying “Are you even speaking Arabic??!” I laughed at the mishap but it was definitely a wake up call that I still have so much to learn about this language. All the students at AMIDEAST started studying the Moroccan dialect, or Darija, just two days ago. In time, hopefully communication with Karima will become easier, in shallah.

Despite some initial hardships with communicating, Karima, our host dad Mohamed, and host sister Fatima Zahra made us feel immediately at home. They invited all of their neighbors over to meet us, insisting that we are all one big family in this apartment building. They pointed at us and repeated “You are my daughter now!” over and over, and welcomed us into their own apartments for traditional Moroccan sweets (halawiyat) and the most amazing sweet mint tea. I was so scared at first, but after our family realized we were far from fluent in Arabic, they slowed down their speaking and included much more Standard Arabic instead of just jabbering away in Darija.

Now that I have moved in with my host family, being in Morocco for the next four months is starting to feel real to me. I am so excited to begin classes on Monday and be able to use my improving language skills to speak to my wonderful host family!

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