Sheep. They are one of the first things I noticed after we finally get free of the chaos that is the Casablanca airport parking lot and head along the highway towards Morocco. There are so many sheep, at least that’s what they look like to me, grazing in pastures by the road. Additionally, Morocco is flat; I used to refer to the Midwest when judging exactly how flat a landscape was, but I’m going to have to rethink my scale. The vast and scrubby landscape along the highway definitely bested the Iowa cornfields in terms of being a literal plane.
Speaking of a different type of plane, I had essentially zero troubles getting into the country. Flying alone to a foriegn place was out of my comfort zone enough that I think I was shaking a little when I handed my passport to the man at customs. However, everyone I met was incredibly friendly and helpful. The airplane did take a long time landing in Morocco, long enough to make the two women sitting next to me start to look rather pale, but it was no worse than some other plane rides I’ve had. The slow, though bumpy, descent gave me an even better sense of the flat (sensing a theme yet?) Moroccan landscape.
The drive from Casablanca to Rabat helped to give me a better sense of place, though it looked very different from the city itself, which is loud and bustling and full of traffic. At this point, we are all comfortably settled in a hotel in Rabat, where we will stay until we meet our host families in about three days. We are spending this week learning about both the program and the city, basically covering everything we will need to know to have a successful next four months. I am almost surprised by how natural everything seems to me considering how far I have traveled in just a short period of time.
Okay, let me clarify that last statement. Rabat is like nowhere I have ever visited. For example, we happened upon the king’s palace by chance while walking around today. That is not something that occurs in Minnesota. Also there is constant sidewalk “construction”, and I have already stepped in wet concrete. Traffic waits for no one, jaywalking seems to be the only way to go, and stray cats nap on most corners. However, the adjustments to daily routine, such as slowly learning to drink the tap water, which is completely safe but sometimes gives people stomach aches initially, I have been able to take in stride.
I have not yet used my Arabic when speaking with any Moroccans, but I have made that my goal for the week. I’ve been relying on French, parce que c’est plus facile et tout le monde essaient de parler francais avec moi, but I need to start being bold with jumping in to Arabic. We will be doing a crash course in Moroccan Arabic this week, which should make things easier.
One thing I have found most striking about Rabat is how prevalent French really is. I think this phenomenon, of people defaulting immediately to French when addressing foreigners, is not true in all parts of Morocco. However, is is certainly true in Rabat, and the multiplicity of languages in the city is evident wherever you go. Street signs are written in both Arabic and French, and many signs on buildings include Amazigh as well. This bi- and trilingilism has many complex cultural implications that after just a few days here I have not yet had time to fully grasp. Even after four months I doubt I will understand it, but stay tuned for a later and more in depth post about the subject.
On the plus side, I think my French has improved even in the two days I have been here so far. City life in Rabat is fast paced, and though everyone I have encountered has been extremely friendly, it is still much harder to do even simple things in this new environment. All the people who claim the key to language learning is immersion really aren’t kidding. Just reading street signs and ordering tea has become a daily challenge, but one that I can already feel the positive effects of.