Category Archives: Rabat

“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.

Entry 6 - Photo 1.JPG

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.

 

Leave a comment

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.

Entry 5 - Photo 1.jpg

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.

Entry 5 - Photo 2.jpg

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.

Entry 5 - Photo 3.jpg

 

Leave a comment

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:

Photo 2.JPG

 

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 . . .

Photo 1.JPG

 

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!

Leave a comment

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.

 

Train Marrakesh.jpg

 

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.

 

Man outside of train.png

 

 

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.

Leave a comment

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

“That’s a Wrap!” by Shante Fencl

Five days have passed since I left my life in Morocco behind. This is exactly how I feel, as if a part of my life decided to stay there wandering the streets of Rabat while the rest of me got on a plane. After I said my goodbyes (that are actually just “see you laters”) and shed more than a few tears with my friends, I got on a train to the Fez airport to board my flight. As I made my way through the train cars with my luggage, I continued to think of all the people I met over the past four months. Every face that entered my mind was accompanied by a memory and it made me want to burst into tears. I sat down in my seat and immediately pulled out my headphones to block out my thoughts with music, but as I searched my purse I realized I left my headphones at AMIDEAST! I did not care much about the headphones (that were already broken) but without music I had to face my fear of being alone with the thought of leaving Morocco.

M_Casablanca_Sp16_Shante Fencl

Rooftop overlooking Casablanca.

At that moment, a woman next to me asked me why I was going to Fez. In Arabic I responded with the word for “airport,” trying hard not to show interest because I did not feel like talking to anyone at the moment. The woman continued to talk to me and eventually her husband entered the cabin. They could obviously see that I was travelling alone and wanted to know my story, so I had to build up the strength not only to force conversation, but to do it in Arabic! The couple spoke no English and I knew within a few minutes I would exhaust all the Arabic I know and they would stop talking to me; but, to my surprise, almost an hour had gone by and I was still conversing without issue! My spirit had been lifted by the realization that I had accomplished one of my most important goals: I can carry on a conversation in Arabic! We talked about culture, food, politics, religion, and family. Each minute that passed made me feel as though I had done something great with my time abroad. This was the ending I needed to wrap up my experience in Morocco. I left the country proud of what I accomplished.

M_Three Amigos_Sp16_Shante Fencl

Me with two of my closest friends Alae and Sam.

I did not return to the US after leaving Morocco. Instead, I am in Italy with my Italian host family from when I went abroad in high school. Every year or so I come back to spend a month with them. I always planned to come to Italy after leaving Morocco and then return to the U.S. from here, but one of my best Moroccan friends invited me to celebrate the end of Ramadan with his family. Yes, this mean I will return to Morocco in less than two months!!! Now that I know I will be back in Morocco so soon, I have something to look forward to. But I am afraid to see what happens after I leave the second time. I don’t know where my life will take me after graduation next year, but now I know I have a place in Morocco if I choose to return. These four months have given me so much. I am so grateful for the opportunity.

M_reunited_Sp16_Shante Fencl

My little Italian cousin Beatrice and I finally reunited

Now that I have completed the program, and therefore this blog, I want to thank you all for following along. It has been an honor to share my experience, and I hope I have inspired those reading to do the same! Until next time!

Leave a comment

Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat, Shante Fencl

“Oh Yeah: It’s the Desert Post!” by Shante Fencl

I can remember back to a day in middle school when it was time for our science lesson. The topic of the day “Ecosystems,” and we learned just how diverse the world was outside of the plains of Ohio. We talked about the rainforest, the mountains, the swamplands, and even the desert. This hot and dry stretch of land with massive sand dunes was always the most fascinating to me. The idea of one day travelling to a desert never entered my mind. It was always mythical to me from the start. I would watch the old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby classic Road to Morocco and see the two make their way over sand dunes in the Sahara. I never thought that, one day, I too would ride off into the sunset on a camel!

In the months before coming to Morocco, I knew I had to visit the Sahara, but I had no clue who I would make these magical memories with. I was lucky enough to go with Sam, one of my best friends that I have met on the program from North Carolina, and Alae, one of the most amazing Moroccans I have met thus far. These two gentlemen and I took a 12 hour trip from Rabat to the desert town of Merzouga in the South East of Morocco. After arriving, we made our way to the town center to buy our desert attire. One of the most important things we needed was the blue Saharan scarf. This not only made us look fabulous, but protect us from the sand rays and the sand.

M_Shante on Camel_Sp16_Shante Fencl

Me on a camel!

Towards the late afternoon, we prepared to embark on our journey to our campsite two hours into the desert by camel. Our guide, Brahim, helped us each onto our camels. I was nervous at first, but after getting on the camel, the only thing I could feel was pain! As a public service announcement, when riding a camel, bring cushion! After reaching out campsite, we were able to sand board down the dunes, watch the sunset, and play the drums under the stars. We even woke up early enough to watch the sunrise over the mountain boarder between Morocco and Algeria.

M_Sand in Hair_Sp16_Shante Fencl

Sand in my hair in the desert.

The ride back home to Rabat after our stay in Merzouga gave me time to reflect on how many different things this beautiful and unique country has to offer. I have spent most of my semester in the capital city surrounded by concrete and taxis. The fast paced life of Rabat made me appreciate the simplicity of the Sahara that much more. Now, as I am writing my final blog post in country, I have come upon the realization that even if I lived in Morocco for the rest of my life, I could never fully embrace the diversity and complexity of this wondrous and enchanting land. In the coming weeks, as I take my final exams and come to grips with the fact I must soon return home,  I hope to hold on to these memories for the rest of my life!

M_Three on Camels_Sp16_Shante Fencl

Sam, Alae, and I on our camels!

Leave a comment

Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat, Shante Fencl

“Community Based Learning in Morocco” by Elyse Desrochers

On Tuesday, I walked into the human rights NGO I have been volunteering with for the past semester for the last time. In the conference room where I so often simultaneously translated documents from French to English while trying to understand the Darija that the employees were using to discuss the projects that they were implementing with local associations all over the country, the table was lined with Moroccan pastries, Bastilla, a delicious Moroccan dish made specifically without nuts just for me, and orange and mango juice. While loading my plate with Bastilla, I listened as people went around the table thanking me for volunteering and I reflected on all the ways that this volunteering experience opened up my eyes to essential aspects of Moroccan culture. This volunteering placement, which is part of a Community-Based Learning class, allowed me to see Morocco in a way that would not have been possible had I not decided to participate in it.

There’s one obvious thing that volunteering helped me learn about, and that is civil society and the movement to build democracy in Morocco. While Morocco is a country where political participation is often low and the expression of dissenting voices is not always heard, civil society is vibrant and strong in Morocco. It is constantly pressuring for the adoption democratic reforms. There are civil society associations with diverse goals all over Morocco. It was fascinating to work in one of those associations, but it also taught me how much is still left to accomplish and what can be done to improve NGO’s in the country. I enjoyed working in my particular association because they focused specifically on training local NGO’s to give them the capacities necessary to be more effective.

I also was able to learn more about Moroccan communication styles, which is often an area of Moroccan culture that leaves Americans scratching their head. Morocco communication style is vey different from American communication style in that it tends to be less direct. It is necessary not only to figure out what the person is saying, but also what their silence is saying. For example, if a person only responds with “inshallah” which means “God willing”, and not a definitive yes, it most likely means that whatever you just suggested is never going to happen. Being exposed to this kind of communication style on a regular basis allowed me to understand how to communicate more effectively in all aspects of my life in Morocco. And it gave me an effective response to all the shopkeepers asked me if I would come back later to by the souvenirs I was looking at.

“You’ll come back for this leather purse later, yes?”

“Inshallah”

The volunteering experience also gave me the opportunity to ask questions about things I wasn’t sure about or I was interested in. I often asked my director about migration in Morocco and women’s rights. I also asked more basic cultural questions, like whether it was more common to do two bises (cheek kisses we use to greet here) or three. It was great to have people who could answer my questions and be willing to explain different aspects of the culture to me.

Photo 9 - Elyse Deroschers

Finally, it allowed me to meet friends. I became friendly with the secretary at the association by helping to give her English lessons every week with some other girls I study with. Now, we do things in Rabat together and she has invited me and some girls over to teach us how to make Moroccan food.

Leave a comment

Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Elyse Desrochers, Morocco, Rabat