Category Archives: Rabat

“Friends and Bread” by Dan Fitzgerald

I knew making friends abroad would be difficult, but I never imagined how difficult it would be. Think back to your first time in high school or moving to a new city. Were you scared? Did you think everyone was staring at you because they knew that you had no idea what you were doing? Did you ever over-think every conversation and interaction you had with someone and assumed that you said something wrong? Well guess what, being abroad is about the same. I don’t have enough fingers on my hands to count the amount of times I talked to a Moroccan and probably made a fool of myself.  Not the best way to make friends abroad.

I’ve heard of stories of those who go their entire semester abroad without making one friend from their host country. That’s not a bad thing if that isn’t one of your goals, but I’m a social butterfly who needs new relationships. I wanted to have some kind of a connection with Morocco and prove to myself that I can make friends outside of my comfort zone. That’s when Nacera showed up.

I was halfway through the semester when our program gave us the chance to take a field trip to a local bakery and learn how to make Moroccan crêpes and breads. For those of you who don’t know me, I seriously love bread. I am a human dumpster for carbs, so when I found out about the opportunity to go make AND eat bread, I signed up immediately. On the day of the field trip, I walked into our meeting room when this 19-year-old, five-foot-five, spunky Moroccan girl walked up to me and spoke to me in perfect English. “Are you here for the bakery trip?” she said. “Of course,” I responded. Her deep maroon hijab was perfectly matching to her oversized maroon sweater, and I already knew that this girl had style. This was Nacera.

 

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We went to the bakery all the way out in Salé, the sister city of Rabat, and got put right to work preparing the dough, shaping the bread, and cooking it on the stove. Not to show off, but I was told that I’m a pretty great bread baker by the master baker herself, Nacera’s Mom. I spent hours with Nacera and her mom making dozens of savory crêpes only to consume all of them in the span of twenty minutes. What can I say, bread is life. I had so much fun with Nacera that we decided to swap our WhatsApp numbers and message about the next time we could hang out. Blog reader, was this the start of a friendship? It certainly was.

A few weeks later, Nacera messaged me and my friend Galey asking if we wanted to come visit her university and sit-in on her music class. This was my chance to meet and hang out with Moroccans my age and maybe not be a social disaster, so Galey and I said yes. For the next three hours, Galey and I sat in the music class listening to everyone sing some of the most beautiful Arab songs I’ve ever heard while not understanding a single word spoken in the class. At the end of class, we walked out of the classroom and Nacera introduced us to all her friends. Most greeted me in English and didn’t seem interested in us, but the minute I spoke some Darija to them, the entire group erupted in laughter and smiles, excited that I knew some Darija. I spent the rest of the time talking with Nacera and her friends about music, sports, jokes, life, and it felt like I was back at my own university hanging out with my friends.

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It’s hard living in a new place where you don’t know anyone while also learning the culture. But everything becomes easier when you find that one friend to help you along the way. Nacera has been that person for me, which is why I’ve dedicated this blog post to her. Thanks Nacera, you’re the real MVP.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Dan Dan Fitzgerald, Morocco, Rabat

“Making Morocco Home” by Sofia Deak

As Morocco feels more and more like home and my last few weeks here move much too quickly to an end, one thing has been nagging at the back of my mind. I did not become as close with Moroccans my age as I would have liked, and even though my 12-year-old host sister insists “But I am your friend, Sofia! That is all you need!” I still sometimes felt like I was missing out on an important part of my abroad experience.

Others on the program have had more luck in this department, having bonded with language partners or made connections through sports teams. However, just as I was getting accustomed to the idea that maybe I would not have it all, the weather changed: figuratively and literally.

Recently, Rabat has been warming up. The sun is bright and hot all day, and I pine for AC as I climb the four flights of spiral steps to my bedroom each evening. Luckily for us all, Rabat is right on the coast, and while I’ve spent a lot of free time this semester staring in awe at the impressive waves slamming into rocks along the shore, I never really thought about actually going in the water. On a whim, though, some friends from AMIDEAST and I decided to give surfing a try one hot weekend we all stayed in town instead of traveling.

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I grew up with the beach and am comfortable in the ocean, but I was still somewhat scared to try out surfing in Morocco. I had never been before, and the waves in Rabat are definitely intimidating! What if I was not able to understand the instructor? What if I got dragged out to see but my cries for help in Standard Arabic would not only be misunderstood, but would be laughed at? What if there were sharks?

Nevertheless, I put my (potentially absurd) fears aside and decided to give it a go. To my surprise, I was instantly hooked! I do not think I will ever be less amazed at the sight of the glistening, bright blue sea beneath me and the Rabat Oudaya, a 12th century Kasbah right on the water, zooming toward me as I surf in to the shore. Additionally, one of the beautiful things about Morocco is how cheap it is— a surf class here in Rabat is around $10 USD.

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Surfing has been the final piece for me in the puzzle of making Morocco “home.” The instructors recognize me, tease me, and tell me Morocco will miss me when I leave. The other students, from 7-year-old Moroccan girls (who are actually quite good at “shredding the knar”) to middle-aged-men trying out a new hobby (not unlike me), have become familiar faces and— dare I say it— friends to me here.

I try to surf once or twice a week despite my busy schedule of classes, English teaching, and exercising (I am running another 10K this weekend in El Jadida!). I do this because I love it, yes, but also because it just deepens the sense of camaraderie I have begun to experience here in Morocco, and makes me all the more aware of how much I have come to love this place and think of it as my own. I think when I look back on these unfairly quick, mesmerizing months, I will remember it in two ways. At the same time, Morocco has been fast, scary, and full of adrenaline, like trying to balance on a surfboard hurtling toward the sand; it has also been calming, deeply memorable; a moment stuck in time, like floating in the bright sea, laughing with a new friend, waiting for the next wave.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat, Sofia Deak

“Fun in the Sun” by Dan Fitzgerald

Studying abroad is a lot like going into a new relationship. You start out in that honeymoon phase where everything is new and adventurous, you are excited by every little thing, and you can’t possibly imagine what life was like before it. But then that honeymoon phase ends and you realize that the world is still spinning and suddenly things aren’t as interesting anymore. You finally realize your significant other has little quirks that annoy you and the spark that once arose in you by every little thing is going out. Typically, in a relationship one of two things could happen: you either break it off as there is nothing left to inspire you, or you find that raw spark in all the little things that truly makes you happy. If you haven’t caught on already, I’m talking about my relationship with Morocco.

I am more than half way done with my semester abroad in Morocco and I am certainly out of the honeymoon phase. I soon realized that outside of studying for class, eating, and sleeping, I have a lot of free time on my hand. I don’t know about you, but free time is my worst enemy, as I become bored and restless very easily. Most people abroad, especially those in Europe, would solve this by traveling more, but even extensive travel was starting to wear me down (as well as wear my bank account down). So where do I go when I need to cure my angst? The beach.

 

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I know what you are thinking. “Dan, that is so stereotypical. Of course, everyone loves the beach. This isn’t something unique to Morocco.” You’re right, but cool your jets, because the beach here in Rabat is much more than your average beach back in the States. I frequent the “Plages de Salé” so much that I will most likely go there today once I finish this blog post. It’s a large beach that lies next to the Oued Bou Regreg river and the Atlantic Ocean. The place is magical especially in the evening as the sun sets on the water and bathes the Rabat Kasbah in an orange glow. It’s also the perfect place to let loose with both my American friends and meet some new people, especially when it comes to volleyball.

One Friday in February, a bunch of AMIDEAST students and myself decided to meet at this beach after couscous lunch to play some soccer and volleyball on the beach. We all meet up, draw our volleyball court in the sand, and start the match. In all honesty, we all chose to play volleyball because we knew we would make fools of ourselves in front of Moroccans if we played soccer. But soon all the Moroccans playing soccer matches around us started watching us play volleyball and soon joined in a classic Morocco v. United States volleyball match. This match could have lasted until the sun set, but strangely enough a large cloud of fog blanketed the entire beach. That’s when we had to call the match a draw even though the Moroccans clearly beat us, but that will be our little secret.

 

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Besides the views and activities on this beach, my favorite things about Plages de Salé is that it is only place where I have found Moroccans outside of their comfort zones. I’m talking about real Moroccan couples enjoying time together, Moroccans playing with their dogs in the ocean, parents building sand castles with their children, the list could go on. What I have found is that Moroccans operate their lives very differently between the spheres of public and private, making it hard to see Moroccans as who they really are. But here on this beach, I see their vulnerability more than ever. I see them enjoying life.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Dan Dan Fitzgerald, Morocco, Rabat, Uncategorized

“A Weekend in Rabat” by Sofia Deak

Like most students studying abroad for a semester, I usually take advantage of my weekends to travel around my host country. Thus far, my trips to Chefchaouen, Essaouira, Tangier, Fez, Marrakech, and Casablanca have been the highlights of my experience in Morocco. Each city taught me something new about this beautiful and culturally rich country, and each was entirely unique.

However, worn down from my relentless travels and nervous about upcoming midterm exams, I decided to spend this past weekend here in Rabat. Some unfairly accuse Rabat of being boring, but I personally love my day to day routine there and the less “touristy” feel of the city. Nevertheless, I was not expecting this weekend to be one of the very best I’ve had in Morocco.

On Saturday morning, my host mom Zohra invited me to join her at our neighborhood hammam, or public bath house. I love the hammam- the heat of the rooms, the comfort and camaraderie between the women, young and old, large and small… it is a wonderful, relaxing, and authentic experience every time. Going with my host mom was even more special because I was able to share a part of her life with her instead of just being an outsider in the hammam. She introduced me to her friends and scrubbed my back, a common occurrence in Moroccan hammams between friends and strangers alike. One of my favorite things about the hammam is the sense of community and relaxation. Morocco is still a relatively conservative society and modesty is rewarded among women, but there’s none of the shyness or awkwardness that I am used to in the comparatively more “liberal” US surrounding nudity. Women are confident and supportive of one another in this all female space, something I found inviting, refreshing, and modern in an otherwise traditional setting.

After finishing up at the hammam, my host mom and I walked home and practiced some Darija, and I couldn’t help but feel that my willingness to try this foreign public bath with Zohra strengthened our relationship and marked a very special point in my abroad experience.

Sunday was the opposite of the relaxation of the hammam- somehow, fifteen other AMIDEAST students and I found ourselves at the starting line of an 11K race at 8am!

Entry 6 - Photo 2.JPGWhile none of us had trained, we actually had a really fun time running together, cheering each other on and helping each other finish, with some healthy competition thrown in of course. As I huffed through miles four, five, and six, I couldn’t help thinking that, like my study abroad experience, the middle of the race was likely to be mostly forgotten- struggled through, but at a consistent and familiar pace. I was really forced by this realization to acknowledge how quickly my time in Morocco is going by, and how I need to be appreciating all the little moments, like running a race with my friends and visiting the hammam with my host mother. As I was running the race, it seemed to drag on forever, but before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line.

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This weekend reminded me to slow down, to relax, to foster the relationships that make studying abroad so special. And even though I was not out traveling to some incredible new place, I realized what a treasure I have right at my fingertips – at home in Rabat.

 

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Filed under Morocco, Rabat, Sofia Deak

“You Had Me at Mountains” by Dan Fitzgerald

Have you ever been to a wave pool at a water park? It starts out like a normal pool where you stand comfortably with the water around you. But then a machine generates waves and they get bigger and bigger until the next thing you know a wave hit you and you’re under water. That’s what it felt like when culture shock took its effect on me this past week.

I was missing the little conveniences at home like access to a Chipotle and Target, a guarantee that if I walk into a bathroom there would be toilet paper, etc. I felt like I was missing so many important moments in my friends’ lives back home, and I was beginning to tire of bartering in almost every transaction I had in Rabat. My individualistic viewpoint of the world and comfort with convenience I was accustomed too in America was in conflict. I was not alone though in these feelings as my friends also felt stuck in a continuation of annoyance and conflict, and the fast pace stress of the city wasn’t helping. I knew I needed a cure and fast.

“Why don’t we go to Ouzoud?” my friend asked me. “It’s deep in the mountains far from the city and tourists.” I responded, “You had me at mountains.” I packed a backpack worth of clothes, some toiletries, a book, and some snacks for the journey ahead.

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Ouzoud is this small, rural town in central Morocco known for its cascading waterfalls, mountain hiking, and monkeys. The town itself was full of construction sites for new hotels and buildings when I arrived, but it was still secluded and calm with just locals. I must admit, I never really enjoyed or preferred nature or scenic beauty back in the United States just because I thought it was boring. I’m a fast-paced kind of guy that craves constant stimulation and activity, and I always wanted city life. But this time was different.

I stood on the edge of the cascading waterfalls, looking at the mist covered canyon below. The water flowing out from the streams was a soft red as the earth around Ouzoud was mostly clay, and the sunlight hitting the falling water created a brilliant rainbow across the canyon. Monkeys near the cliff climbed on my shoulders and played with my hair and I was happy to let it happen as my stress started to drift away. The world seemed to get bigger as I got smaller. Now here I am, writing this blog post on my iPhone as I sit on top of a rock mountain, watching the last glimpses of light from the setting sun hit the adjacent mountain sides.

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Before I came to Morocco, I was so obsessed with doing as much as possible and constantly over spreading myself as I always did back in the United States. I assumed that since the world moves fast, I too need to move just as fast. But since arriving in Morocco and visiting places like Ouzoud, I’ve realized that life will keep going on no matter how fast or slow you move. It’s okay to slow down sometimes and just enjoy the world around you.

I haven’t read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s works since high school, but a quote from him couldn’t be more fitting. “Have mountains, and waves, and skies, no significance but what we consciously give them?” For me, these mountains and waves and skies of Morocco signify that time may pass and things may come and go, but the world will still stay relatively the same as long as you accept it that way.

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Filed under Dan Dan Fitzgerald, Morocco, Rabat, Uncategorized

How is Morocco different from the US? by Sofia Deak

As my first month in Morocco comes to an end, I am starting to be accustomed to life here. I feel more comfortable with the food, am able to have an entire conversation in Darija with my host mom (albeit with many mistakes, I am sure!), and easily know my way around Rabat. As I talk to my friends and family from home, I am constantly posed with the question of “How is Morocco different from the US?”

Initially, I brushed this question off as way too broad to even begin to tackle. “In many ways they are the same!” I usually reply. Mothers walk their kids to school, taxi drivers honk in the streets, couples stroll together by the beach. I am very accustomed to looking for ways in which I am the same as other people; it is in my nature and part of my personal philosophy to focus on shared values and traits rather than the things that divide people.

However, as I have thought more about this question, the more I have come to realize that it needs to be answered. Many friends and family members expressed their shock and worry when I told them I was planning to study abroad in Morocco — a response that baffled me, as all I felt was excitement and some nerves. A cousin asked me if I would be forced to wear a veil while in Rabat, and my doctor asked me why I was not studying in a “safer” and “more Western” country. These questions, I have realized, come from the lack of an answer to that greater, vaguer, question of how Morocco and the United States differ. Even highly educated Americans might be confused about life in a Muslim-majority country and what that life might look like for a twenty-year-old American college student with a Christian upbringing.

So, with only a few weeks experience to draw on, here are a few special moments that strike me as distinctly Moroccan:

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Each Friday, my host family gathers with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents for a couscous feast, chatting for hours before the meal without the distractions of cell phones or television. This is pretty foreign to me, because my family is spread out all over the US and only gathers like this for major holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. I was amazed and touched by the closeness of Moroccan families. My family loves to dance, and oftentimes my host sister Fatima Ezzahra plays music on the TV so she, her cousins, parents, aunts and uncles can all dance and sing together in the living room . . .

One late Sunday night, I arrived at the train station with friends, returning to Rabat from a weekend trip to Essaouira. It was dark out and pouring rain; a woman sitting in our train compartment insisted on driving us home, making sure we got inside safely, and invited us to share a meal with her family. She even gave us her daughter’s phone number so we could meet some Moroccans our own age (Rim is a university student in Rabat, like us) . . .

Upon seeing my friends and I walking around in the rain, a woman rushed out of her shop selling wood crafts and dragged us indoors. She pulled a large plastic tarp from a back room, cut it into five equal pieces, and made a hole in the middle of each — homemade ponchos for us all! She gave us tea, saying we reminded us of her daughter, and sent us on our way . . .

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These are just three examples of the Moroccan values of hospitality, friendship, and family that the people here seem to really exemplify in their day to day life. I feel very lucky to be studying in such a welcoming, friendly country, and want everyone reading my blog to know that these outward acts of kindness are just one of many things that makes Morocco so special!

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat, Sofia Deak

On the Marrakesh Express by Dan Fitzgerald

I love trains. Actually, I’m obsessed with trains. As a kid, I always played with and watched Thomas the Tank Engine, I read piles of books about different kinds of trains, and when I was three years old I dressed as a train for Halloween. It’s one of the earliest forms of industrialized transportation dating back to the early 19th century, and even now I can still feel a certain magic about riding in one.  If you haven’t guessed already, I’m a nerd for trains. Putting my obsession aside, you would love trains too if you rode one in Moroccan. Many tourists typically don’t use the train system in Morocco and instead use planes, but I am about to tell you a train is the best “off the beaten path” experience.

My goal since I arrived in Morocco has been to meet with real Moroccans and experience Morocco alongside them. Tourists can easily afford to ride première classe in a train, but not many locals ride in that compartment. If I wanted to truly live like a Moroccan and talk to locals, I had to go where the locals would be. Let me tell you, deuxième classe is where the fun is. The best way to describe deuxième classe is like a game of tetras, where you see how many passengers and baggage can fit into a train car since trains are always over-booked and seats are a on first come, first serve basis. Not convinced yet to brave this journey? You will be after I tell you about my trip from Marrakesh to Rabat.

 

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It was a windy afternoon at le Gare de Marrakesh when my friends and I were literally running to catch our train back to Rabat as it is just departing. The train is a rustic style from its design in the 1920s-1930s with vibrant tan and orange patterns along its side. We were the last ones on the train that was clearly overbooked and we knew that we would never get a seat. Carrying our bags in the hot and crowded spaces, we walk through the first car with no luck finding seats. Second car, still no seats. By the fourth car, I gave up. I put my bags down at the end of the car by the train doors and sat on the floor. Best decision I’ve made in Morocco.

A Moroccan man sitting across from me propped the door with his foot while the train was moving and this gust of fresh wind hit my face. “C’est d’accord si la porte est ouverte?” he asks (“Is it okay if the door is open”). I responded with a cheerful yes as I watched the country pass before my very eyes. I saw patches of cactuses and the steep Atlas Mountains, roaming goat and sheep herders who waved to me, children playing soccer on dirt fields, secluded mosque towers in the middle of expansive fields of crops. I sat by this open door with the wind blowing on my face and the smell of the Moroccan man’s cigarette on me.

 

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Soon other passengers joined us as they too realized there were no more seats on this train. For the rest of the train ride I talked to an elderly couple from Casablanca about their life in Morocco and how excited they were that “a foreigner wanted to learn Darija”, and I played peak-a-boo with a small Moroccan girl from Mohammedia who shared her cookies with me. After a weekend in Marrakesh filled with tourists and classic tourist sites like the Jemaa el-Fnaa square, it was amazing to see and learn so much about Morocco just on this train. If you want adventure and to truly see Morocco, take the Marrakesh Express.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Dan Dan Fitzgerald, Morocco, Rabat