Category Archives: Rabat

Hangry in Asilah

Hangry, Definition: the feeling of excessive hungry to the point of anxiety or distress; a portmanteau of “hungry” and “angry.”

Ever since I was a kid, my brother would joke about how terrifying I’d get if I haven’t eaten in a while. Apparently, I become abrasive and lose my temper quickly. He makes these jokes when I am already hangry, exacerbating the hanger (the nounal form of hangry). I’ve generally been able to keep my stomach filled while in Morocco (thanks in no small part to the decadently enormous meals prepared by my host mother), hiding this personality flaw from most of my friends here.

That changed in a dramatic way during my trip to Asilah.

Entry 6 Overview - Hanna, AndrewAsilah is a northern coastal city less than an hour away from Tangier. While not as large, nor as historically significant, Asilah definitely has the edge when it comes to art. Recently, Ishaq and I decided to become international art collectors, so Asilah was the natural choice for a weekend trip. A group rapidly coalesced and tickets were bought. Travel is simple in Morocco, with our destination only a three hour train ride away from Rabat.

The city is filled with galleries, both official and unofficial, showcasing contemporary Moroccan art. Some are a fusion of classical calligraphy with modern designs; others employ bold new styles and approaches from around the world. The Centre de Hassan II Rencontres Internationales offers free admission to see stunning paintings in an exhibit equally as beautiful.

Entry 6 The Boys - Hanna, Andrew

That, coupled with easy access to the beach, would already make Asilah a must-see destination in my book. But you don’t even need to go to a gallery to see incredible pieces. The walls of the city are white-washed, providing the perfect canvas for aspiring street artists to turn their entire city into a work of art. One wall is covered in solid-color geometric shapes, haphazardly stacked on top of one another. Another is a veritable cacophony of multi-colored and sized Arabic letters, sprawling out in waves.

One artist near the city’s bigger courtyards is a woman with no functional use of her feet or hands. Between her big and index toes, she grasps a brush and finely dips it into her paint set. Laid out next to her are dozens pieces of wood (some as small as a wallet, others larger than a laptop) on which are painted detailed depictions of Asilah’s towers, walls and buildings.

Entry 6 Wall Art - Hanna, AndrewOf course, I had no idea that any of these things existed as we disembarked at the Asilah train station. All I knew was that I was hungry, I wanted to check into a hotel and that it was getting dark soon. My travel companions, instead, wanted to walk out onto the beach to see the sunset. Being the only member of our party who regularly travels with a rolling suitcase, I was not particularly inclined to carrying my luggage out onto the beach. This inclination manifested itself in a snide look I gave to J.T. when he asked if I could carry his bag, before slamming shut a cab door. That was pretty rude of me. It wasn’t until I had stuffed my mouth with seafood paella later that evening that I felt human enough to apologize to my friends.

Entry 6 Beach - Hanna, AndrewThe next afternoon I found myself lounged out by the aforementioned beach, eating churros and dates. Clear waves crashed onto a soft layer of sand and a constant ocean breeze brushed our skins. What on earth was there to be hangry about?

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Filed under Andrew Hanna, Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat

Walking on Water

I take a breath, close my eyes and try to walk on water.

Sitting cross-legged on a rocky outcrop over the clear, blue Atlantic, I empty my mind. I focus on the glorious sunlight warming my exposed skin and the simultaneous feeling of chilliness, as my body is buffeted by ocean winds. I focus on the rocky crevasse I’ve chosen as my seat, both rough and comfortable on my rear end. I focus on the salty sea spray peppering my face, as waves crash against the shore twenty feet below.

Oceanspray photo 2 entry 5 - Andrew HannaThe words of my professor run through my mind: “What we are going to do is very simple,” he tells our class. “For the next ten minutes, you are going to try to walk on water.” But he’s wrong. It isn’t simple. I imagine my bare feet standing at the edge of the ocean, water lapping my toes. But before I can ever step forward into the water, intrusive thoughts enter my brain.

I’m trying not to think about that car ride up to Marrakesh, listening to Pink Floyd while my Islamic Reform professor grills me on topics ranging from the Afghanistan War to the Western Sahara. I’m trying not to think about the eleven-page grant contract I’ve been assigned to translate from English into Arabic for my volunteer placement. I’m trying not to think about pulling my friend out from the hazy fog of a Moroccan discotheque, as she suffers an allergic reaction. And I’m certainly trying not to think of Fez.

Maybe an ocean is too much of a challenge. The first time I walked on water, I initially pictured myself at Lake George in New York, where I used to spend summers with my family. But every time I stepped off the dock, I would sink instantly, bobbing below the lake’s choppy swells. The instant my feet touch the water, they pass through the surface. After several minutes of repeated frustration, I realize the key is examining the place where solid and liquid meet. It’s not about floating, it’s about suspension. Later on, Jake describes it as the feeling of when you place your palm on the surface of water.

Boats photo 1 entry 5 - Andrew HannaWalking on water takes total serenity, something difficult to come by here. My days are chaotic, starting at the roundabout in Bab el-Had, imploring taxis to take me to the “MacDo Agdal,” near AMIDEAST. I scurry from class to class, from class to volunteer placement, from l’Ocean to Agdal and back again. I’m navigating traffic, deploying Darija and always, always discussing Middle Eastern politics. I do my best to take an hour in the evening just for myself, whether that be going to the local “Fitness Musculation Gym” (literally “the Association for the Lifting of Weights and the Formation of Mass”) or reading a book at the café by my house.

Meditation has been helpful in situating my thoughts and placing them in a larger context. After over seven weeks here, the dramatic departure from the world I knew has given way to a comfortable, yet busy, routine. I’m still affected by culture shock on a subconscious level (as my friend, Maxine, can testify to following my emotional diatribe regarding menstruation and Islamic divorce law earlier this week), but my concern isn’t really the adjustment anymore. Now, I am trying to figure out how to make the most of the time I have here and how to understand the changes that are happening to me.

Every Sunday, I go for a run by the shore. After an exhausting whole fifteen minutes, I typically give up and find a nice rock to sit on by the water. This is the first time I’ve explicitly tried meditation. I relax and let go. Let go of crowded streets and shouting shopkeepers. Let go of all the people the ocean reminds me of back home. Let go of a tangerine sun dipping beneath the horizon.

Sunset photo 3 entry 5 - Andrew HannaIn my mind’s eye, I place one tentative foot on the water’s surface. It doesn’t pass through.

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Filed under Andrew Hanna, Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat

“Hello.”

I rush through the darkened streets of Fez’s medina in a haze. It’s starting to get late. Not too late that I shouldn’t be out, but late enough that it’s a bad idea to walk alone. Most of the shops have closed up by now, though a few cigarette and chocolate vendors will operate their little hanoots for a few more hours. The narrow streets are cast in a heavy yellow glow emanating from electric lamps hanging from jutted stone protrusions. I’m lost in thoughts whirling through my head. Not watching where I’m going.

 

A crowded Fez street.

A crowded Fez street.

A wiry man sidles up next to me. “Hello. Everything’s okay?”

“Yeah everything’s fine.” I look ahead and see that the coming street is dark and empty, while the road I just walked down has one or two open hanoots.

“You have somewhere to stay? Come with me, my friend.” He motions towards me.

“No, I’m okay. I’m fine. Goodbye.” I turned around and walk back to the closest hanoot, staring at off-brand Oreo cookie without really looking at the cookie. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch him double back and walk behind me. My shoulders tense up.

“Goodbye!” His shouted word turns my head and the heads of other nearby men towards the source. He’s staring right at me as he marches up the street I came. “Goodbye!” he spits again, venomously. I feel like I’ve hurt his feelings, but I don’t go after him. Instead, I call Ishaq and ask if he can wait for me outside our hotel so we can walk outside together tonight.

Another story. Ishaq and I are navigating Fez’s twisted paths during daytime. We’ve spent the afternoon verbally boxing with shopkeepers who’re trying to coax a few extra dirhams out of our pockets. This time, we’re absolute bargaining machines. We just purchased some truly beautiful art for an almost criminally-low price.

A man calls out Ishaq’s name. Ishaq recognizes him and starts to weave his way quickly though the crowded streets. It’s someone who makes their living “guiding” tourists around the city and then demanding money afterwards. I follow him until we’re stopped in the middle of the street by a pot-bellied shopkeeper wearing a yellowish gallaba (robe).

“Hello! Come into my shop! See what we have to offer you!” I refuse, but the man grabs Ishaq’s hand and pulls him in. I’m standing outside as the “guide” reappears and tries to talk to me. Ishaq motions to come into the shop. I enter and the owner whispers to us, “Just wait here for a little while. He’ll leave soon.” I had completely misconstrued his intentions.

A scarf-weaver's lair.

A scarf-weaver’s lair.

Harassment isn’t an issue on which I, as a heterosexual male, can authoritatively speak. I don’t understand what it’s like to be verbally harassed, something that happens to one of my friends at least five times a day. I don’t understand what it’s like to be followed on the tram or the streets but a curious, but creepy, Moroccan. And I don’t understand what it’s like to feel the stares of a row of men as you walk by a male-only café in metropolitan Agdal.

I do know, however, that while harassment might be more personal here, sexualization is not unique to this country or this culture. One of my friends told me about how she was repeatedly catcalled by police officers in the Bronx while working as a Red Bull girl. American reality TV portrays vapid and shallow celebrities known only for their looks. Victoria’s Secret billboards broadcast an unhealthy and damaging perception of women’s beauty over Times Square.

And not all Moroccans harass. Some of my peers have formed close friendships and even respectful relationships with Moroccan men. My own experience with Moroccans has been overwhelmingly positive: from the humble Meknesian man who showed us a gorgeous afternoon view, to the Fezian shopkeeper who kept us out of trouble, to the boys in El-Jadida who clambered up onto a rampart to return the lighter I had dropped while climbing.

The view from El-Jadida's ramparts.

The view from El-Jadida’s ramparts.

People are complex, both here and in America. Differences in cultural identity and norms further complicate the issue. Generally, I’ve learned you can’t trust everyone in your public and private lives. But that doesn’t mean that people can’t surprise you with their helpfulness, or their kindness, or their willingness to understand a place thousands of miles away that you call home.

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The Subtle Art of Negotiation

“That is the price. I can go no lower.” I face my traveling companion, Ishaq, standing in the middle of Meknes’ overly-crowded souq. I try to signal my intentions without giving away our bargaining position, but I can’t say much without tipping off the vendor as to how much I want these skinny sweatpants. Luckily, I’ve been trained in the subtle art of negotiation.

The Souq at Meknes.

The Souq at Meknes.

“But ya basha,” I say, using the honorific term reserved for Ottoman-era Egyptian officials, “We are students. We don’t have a lot of money.”

“No, that is the price.”

“Well what if we buy two? Maybe you can lower the price.”

“No, that is the price.”

“But ya ustaadh,” I’ve called him a professor. Now that he’s buttered up, time to deliver the final blow. “I’m Egyptian. I’m an Arab like you!”

“… yes you are Egyptian. And I am Moroccan. And the price is still 20 dirhams.” I’m disgruntled, slightly peeved even. Meanwhile, Ishaq cannot contain himself from laughing at my abysmal bargaining attempt. We’ve lost the initiative. “So do you want them or not?”

I look Ishaq in the eye one more time. They really are nice pants. And last year my college roommates all had skinny sweatpants. This might be my only chance.

“Well of course we do.” I pay the equivalent of $2.09 and pick out the most comfortable sweatpants I’ve worn in my entire life. By the end of the day, I’ve bought a Moroccan wallet with coin and cash pouches, a (supposedly) Italian flat-cap and a sandwich all for less than $15. In subsequent negotiations, we rely on the skills of Ishaq’s new friend, a local Meknesian man named Aiz ad-Din, who is much better at bargaining than I am.

Playing iSpy with Ishaq at the Madrassa.

Playing iSpy with Ishaq at the Madrassa.

Since settling into my new home-stay, my experience in Morocco has been one of negotiation. I’m negotiating my way through Rabat’s hectic streets, jumping back onto the curb every time a car decides to run a red light. I’m negotiating the amount of free time I have to spend, as my schedule gets more packed with each passing day. I’m negotiating new ways of thinking about religion, about politics, about language and how these things have a tangible impact of the daily lives of the people around me.

There are some things that are non-negotiable. After we leave for school, our home-stay mother cleans our bedroom from top-to-bottom, turning everything inside out. It doesn’t matter if I want to keep certain things on top of my nightstand or on top of my bed; everything gets put away according to Nizha’s wishes. Jacob, my roommate, embarks on a scavenger hunt every evening just to find his Talmudic prayer book.

Modern Standard Arabic class starts promptly at 8:40 AM on Mondays through Fridays. At my university, I’ve never scheduled a class before 10:00 AM and even then, I can’t say I have a perfect attendance record. Strangely enough, I haven’t had any trouble getting up on time to make the 15 minute cab ride to school. Maybe it’s because most Moroccans live like college students. They eat dinner after 8:00 PM and spend most of the afternoon in cafés, drinking tea and coffee.

The hardest thing to negotiate here is Morocco’s complex identity politics. Following Arab Spring protests in 2011, a new constitution was promulgated recognizing the country’s Arab-Islamic, Amazigh and Saharan identity, “enriched” by its African, Andalusian, Hebraic and Mediterranean influences. Judaism had a profound historical influence on Morocco’s Amazigh tribes, while Islam forms the basis for the monarchy’s legitimacy. Each street vendor, café waiter and academic intellectual has their own ideas about how the different groups fit together (or don’t) under one common Moroccan banner. One Amazigh cab driver told me he didn’t think learning the Tamazight script served any practical purpose, while another lectured me on the importance of Morocco’s Judeo-Amazigh heritage. During that particular drive, Jacob and the Amazigh cab driver somehow managed to make me, the Arab, feel out of place.

Amazigh-Style Rugs

Amazigh-Style Rugs

Moroccans have been negotiating these identities for centuries, so I don’t expect to fully understand it during the short time I have here. But perhaps as my skills in negotiating continue to grow, so too will my understanding.

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A Word of Advice

A word of advice: Don’t lose your debit card on first day in Morocco.

While it’s never a good idea to lose your debit card in a foreign country, it’s an especially poor move to make on your first day. It’s okay to lose it one week later. By this point you feel comfortable enough to blast music on your headphones while riding Rabat’s sleek, ultramodern tram system (even though you’ll probably get off at the wrong stop, like I did). It’s fine to lose it five days later, after you successfully hail your first blue petit taxi (even if you spend the rest of the afternoon stomping around muddy Medina water wearing nice dress shoes). It’s not even a terrible idea to lose it just three days later after you take a “shortcut” to class (which inevitably takes ten minutes longer than the normal route). Just don’t lose it on your first day.

Stomping around the Medina

Stomping around the Medina

My first week in Morocco has been a whirlwind of new challenges and adventures. I’m still adjusting to life at my home-stay, where I’m living with the wife of the former Moroccan ambassador to France. I’m slowly acclimating my body to Moroccan food and water, which has yet to make me sick, Alhamdulillah. I’m even noticing my Arabic speaking skills dramatically improve which each conversation or interaction I have. But my first definitive experience was losing my debit card to a hungry ATM machine at Rabat-Salé Airport. In later entries, I’ll talk more about my home-stay and life in the city, but I learned an important lesson during my first few days that warrants this story.

I was unable to retrieve my card before leaving the airport because the bank employee had just left for his lunch break and would not return for a couple of hours. After checking into Hotel Oumlil with the rest of the Amideast students, I told Doha, our Program Manager, about my predicament. Doha was reassuring (as Doha is) and arranged for transport when the bank reopened for business. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to forget about it. Drinking Moroccan tea with my new friends and watching a local cat claim sovereignty over JT’s chair helped take my mind off things.

Katie faces off with the cat

Katie faces off with the cat

Monday morning, I hopped into a cab from Amideast to head to the airport. My driver was named Ibrahim, a local Rabat resident. Ibrahim knew French and Darija, the spoken Moroccan dialect. I speak English, formal Arabic and some Egyptian dialect. My Arabic was a little rusty, but this was my first opportunity to test what I had learned in the field. Through broken formal and colloquial conversation, I learned Ibrahim was a first-year English student at Amideast and drove cabs on the side. He’s a fan of Rabat’s club soccer team and knows all the words to their song: Black Army. I told him I liked rap, mentioning Jay-Z.

“You have Jay-Z,” he said. “We have Dizzy!” Ibrahim promptly put on Dizzy DROS, a Moroccan rapper from Casablanca.

We arrived at the airport and I marched in, expecting to triumphantly return with my debit card in hand. Unfortunately, the bank employee fell sick earlier that day and went home just a few minutes before. I gave my phone number to the information desk and left. Back with the group, I was starting to feel a little peeved. I received a call while touring some Roman ruins that I should return to the airport later that night.

Entry 1 photo 3 - Andrew HannaDuring the drive, Ibrahim and I didn’t talk much. Traffic was miserable and I was too anxious to speak. But as we looped around a bend, I looked out the window and saw Rabat’s cityscape give way to a vibrantly green pasture, studded with brown mounds of dirt and vivisected by a snaking blue river. The sun was setting behind the bridge and shadows stretched out over concrete houses in the distance. I hadn’t noticed this pasture on our first drive because I had been so focused on the task at hand.

I obtained my card with little fanfare, exchanged numbers with Ibrahim and settled back into Hotel Oumlil for the night. What I learned is that it’s okay to lose your debit card your first day in Morocco. You might just see something incredible on the way.

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Introducing Andrew Hanna – Spring 2015 Morocco Blog Abroad Correspondent

Sitting at my desk with the heat turned up to full blast, sensation begins to return to my raw, numb cheeks. It snowed two days ago, but it’s only gotten colder each day since, making each journey outside the comfort of my room an arctic expedition. It’s Reading Period at Princeton University, which means every single student is racing to write all their papers, do their problem sets and squeeze in some studying time before final exams. My desk is surrounded with books I’ve yet to read and assignments I’ve yet to do, but all I can think about is landing in Rabat next week and feeling the (reportedly) 60 degree sun warm my chilled bones.

Snow entry 1 photo 1 - Andrew HannaSo who is this frozen fellow? My name is Andrew Hanna, and I am AMIDEAST’s Blog Correspondent in Morocco for this spring semester. I’ll be updating every two weeks here on Mosaic with stories of my interactions, excursions and thoughts during my time abroad Through my posts, I hope to share my experiences with you and offer a glimpse of what life is like somewhere world apart from what most of us know.

But if you’re going to follow me on my adventures, you should get to know me a little bit better first. I am a junior at Princeton University, majoring in the department of Near Eastern Studies. My focus is on Egyptian politics and Arabic language study. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time in the region already, having lived in Egypt during the summer of 2011 and studied in Jordan in the summer of 2013. The reason I chose to travel to Morocco is because I’ve developed an interest in North African society and would like to broaden my horizons when it comes to my field of study.

Morocco fascinates me because of how culturally diverse it is. I grew up in a diverse household. My father is Egyptian and my mother is Korean. My entire life has been spent navigating between these two halves of my identity, trying to understand where I came from and what that means to me today.

Traveling to Petra in Jordan.

Traveling to Petra in Jordan.

I started language studies when I entered college, and have now completed classes in formal and Egyptian-colloquial Arabic. Despite over two years of classroom time, I’m still apprehensive about my language skills. The biggest challenge I know I’m going to face is forcing myself to speak out in conversation with everyday people. I’ve been told that Moroccans find the Egyptian dialect very funny, so at least that’s something I can comfort myself with when people start laughing at my Arabic.

Outside of my academic interests, I help run Model UN conferences at my school and work on an online food magazine. This year I’ve developed a deep passion for food, both as an art form, as well as a source of comfort in times of stress. I’m an abysmal cook myself, but I know how to chop up a mean salad. That’s why I’m extremely grateful to be living with a family next semester, if only to get the chance to try some real home-cooked Moroccan food. Now of course, I can’t wait to meet my new family and spend time with them, but the food is key.

Looking out my window I can appreciate (from inside) how beautiful the snow looks covering slate rooftops. But the towering pile of books on my desk and the wind whistling through window cracks remind me of how much I can’t wait to get to Morocco. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with all of you. Next time, from Rabat!

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B’Salama, Morocco

Today, I’m writing my final blog post of the semester from my home in Portland, Oregon, back in the U.S. It feels wonderful but also very strange to be home, and I’m still adjusting back to speaking only English, using forks to eat dinner, dressing for winter temperatures, and being thrown into the height of holiday season. Morocco feels very far away (25 hours of travel back home made that clear) and simultaneously quite close (my dream last night took place in the train station in Rabat).

Me with two of my wonderful host siblings

Me with two of my wonderful host siblings

Our last week in Morocco was spent reflecting on our 4-month experience living in Rabat. We talked about what we had expected to miss most about the U.S., and what we had actually missed — independence, being able to express ourselves without language barriers, and efficiency. We also talked about the things we would miss about Morocco — the smells, colors, and sounds, taking our time and having no one rush us, bartering in the markets, meeting friendly strangers who helped us for nothing in return, sharing long sit-down meals, and constantly encountering new things.

Picking oranges at my professor’s farm during reflection week

Picking oranges at my professor’s farm during reflection week

We also had the opportunity to reflect with our Moroccan professors, including my Media Arabic professor who took us to his farm for orange picking, exploring, and couscous eating. I learned a lot in the classroom at AMIDEAST but even more from the experience of living life hands-on in Morocco, so it seemed appropriate to talk about what we’ve learned over the course of the semester while juicing oranges on a farm outside of Rabat.

Our hands tattooed with traditional henna art.

Our hands tattooed with traditional henna art.

Part of what felt particularly sad about leaving was the feeling that I had thrown so much of myself into the place I was living for the last four months — stepping constantly outside of my comfort zone, trying to speak and understand the language, to be culturally appropriate, and to have fun and express myself in a Moroccan context — and would now be leaving that behind. In my last week in Morocco, I was able to feel proud of how far I had come since my first weeks in the country. When I could successfully navigate an issue or when a Moroccan complimented my Darijah, that gave me a sense of accomplishment and validation, particularly because of how huge of an adjustment it was to get to that point. But I tried to frequently remind myself, amidst sad goodbyes to my favorite café owners, friends, and host family in Rabat, that even though it might feel like I was leaving behind everything I had worked so hard to accomplish in Morocco, I would truly be carrying the experience and what I learned from it back with me to the states.

Me with my host mother and host father

Me with my host mother and host father

Memories from my favorite excursions to Zawiyat Ahansal, Chefchaouen, and Fez, my Arabic language skills, my relationships with members of my host family, and a deeper understanding of daily life in a Muslim country and of Moroccan and North African culture are some of the things I hope will stick with me as I return to my life in the U.S. I will continue to study Arabic and build on my knowledge of North Africa and the Middle East, stay in touch with my host siblings, and as per the advice of one of our professors, I will always be planning the return trip — whether for research, vacation, or work at some point in the future.

B’Salama, Morocco (but only until next time)!

B’Salama, Morocco (but only until next time)!

I am so grateful to my family and friends back at home, to my advisors at Brown, to my professors and directors at AMIDEAST, to my host family, and to all my friends with me in Morocco for supporting me and encouraging me in what was undoubtedly one of the most impactful and inspiring experiences of my life. Thank you so much for an unforgettable four months. Until next time, Morocco!

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Katie Lamb, Morocco, Rabat