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“Defining the Moroccan Experience” by Allison Brady

 

On my first day of our Arabic Fusha class, my wonderful Usteza (teacher) Khadija began the class with a question: What expectations had we brought about Morocco?  Apart from the linguistic difficulty of answering this in Arabic, my classmates and I struggled to list our own concrete expectations.  I could easily think of stereotypes I heard from those around me leading up to my departure; I spent most of my time reacting to others’ expectations of the Maghreb, and neglected to reflect on my own internalized biases. Despite my previous studies of the MENA region within my minor of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, and my carefully developed stock answers for all curious or worried about my choice of study abroad location, I had trouble answering more complex questions on what Morocco would be like.  After only two weeks here, I am learning every day why they are so difficult to answer.  The more time I spend in Morocco, I witness and experience more complications to any generalized answers.

For instance, many asked for a categorical definition of Morocco, geographically or economically.  Is it an African country, a Middle Eastern country, or “Western”?  Is it a “developing” country, or “1st World”?  I use quotations for particularly loaded terms here, but won’t be dissecting them in the short space of a blog post.  Instead, I’ll just try to illustrate a few of many moments of observation into how Morocco resists this kind of reduction.

Regarding the first question of regional affiliation, by language Morocco demonstrates its rich history as a crossroads of the African continent, the Middle East, and Europe.  When asked what languages people speak here, before arriving here I would say that most speak French and Arabic.  This expectation was misleading.  Most people that I have met have diverse degrees of proficiency in many languages.  First, almost everyone speaks Darija, the Moroccan Arabic—except many in or from the rural countryside (a significant portion of the overall population), who often only speak an Amazigh language (of which there are three main ones) local to their region.  Then, proficiency in a second and third language depends on schooling and family origins.  Many speak some Amazigh by function of family roots in a particular region.  Some go to private schools that teach only in French, others to schools that teach in Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic), or even others to more expensive schools that offer English.  In my own host household, everyone speaks Darija.  My mother knows Amazigh and a large amount of French, and both parents know Fusha.  My host siblings do not speak Fusha, but are fluent in French and speak English very well.  My host sister Zubida raps along to Maghrebi hiphop all day long, while Baba Muhamed plays the crooning Arabic melodies of Fairuz when cleaning, and Mama Karima often lounges to classic French music like Charles Aznavour and Joe Dassin.

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One of my favorite places to walk near my home is along the Rabat Marina.  It is always bustling with Moroccans enjoying the same beautiful walk with friends and family.  The marina strip follows the Bou Regreg river that opens into the Atlantic Ocean.  The fortified walls of the historic Kasbah (built in the 12th century and once home to the infamous Barbary pirate republic) rise above the river’s mouth, and it faces the sister city of Sale, which is the fastest growing city in Morocco and whose shoreline is full of construction of brand new buildings.  Right at the end of the marina, at the foot of the Kasbah’s hill, merry-go-rounds and bumper cars and assorted carnival rides run all afternoon.  I like to sit on the edge of the marina and watch the fishermen and ferries work on the old little blue rowboats of Morocco, while an occasional jetski zooms through the otherwise still waters.  These images illustrate common associations of “modernity” and “development,” rich history and constant change, which exist here not as contrasts in tension, but as natural parts of the daily life.

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These observations reveal only a fraction of what makes Moroccan society so rich, complex, and difficult to define.  The list of the common “expectation questions” I heard pre-arrival could go on: What do Moroccans wear? What are the roles of women in Morocco? How do Moroccans practice religion?  Already, I could reflect for many more pages on the many diverse experiences of daily life, identity, gender, clothing/dress, race, and religion which I have so far encountered.  It is widely accepted that the “American experience” depends so greatly on factors of identity, income, family, and location, and I am beginning to discover that the only universal factor to the “Moroccan experience” is layers of complexity.

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“Arriving to Rabat: Relief and Excitement” by Elizabeth Beaton

Salaam from Rabat, Morocco!

I have traveled across the ocean-with two flights and a layover and have arrived safely in my host country! These past few days have been a true whirlwind. This is my first time on the African continent and my first time in an Arabic speaking country. I have said goodbye to my natural family and friends in the United States. In turn, I have already started to build my community here in Rabat. I have met the other AMIDEAST students and moved in with my host family. I am so happy to receive messages and encouragement from home and also excited to connect with people here in Rabat. I am feeling such much relief and excitement and I am so happy with my decision to study abroad in Morocco.

My experience here has already started expanding my comfort zone and allowed me to be more independent. After leaving my family and my hometown I traveled to Boston, Massachusetts where I flew alone to Lisbon, Portugal for a long layover. I am happy to say that I am now comfortable navigating the airport in Lisbon and I enjoyed having the opportunity to explore a new place by myself. From Portugal, I continued onto the airport in Casablanca, Morocco and then by car to Rabat.

While I was so excited in my newfound independence traveling across the world, I felt so much better to arrive and meet people from AMIDEAST. So, far, I have pushed through the jet lag to try my best at communicating in Arabic with my family. I am a complete beginner in Moroccan dialect so gesturing and acting out vocabulary has helped in communicating with my host family. I live with another AMIDEAST student and a host mother and father within walking distance of the program center. My host parents have two adult children who both live in London and are so kind! I am looking forward to when I can communicate myself to them more clearly, and that I will grow lots in the language learning process. Here is a photo from my daily walk to the AMIDEAST center.

walking to AMIDEAST

Even though I have been here for only two days, I find it useful to remind myself of why I decided to come to study abroad in Rabat. Why have I decided to leave my home and move across the world? What are the benefits of leaving home and going to Morocco to study abroad? I respond to myself and to concerned family back home with three points. First, I am here to become part of a new community. To connect and bond with my host family, become friends with Moroccans my age, and to meet like-minded students from the U.S. Second, to become more independent and comfortable exploring and traveling. Third, to adapt and grow to understand a new culture and dialect of Arabic. Morocco is an incredible setting to build community, grow and adapt, and to become more independent. Also, Rabat is beautiful! This is the view from the top floor of the program center.

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Until next time!

Elizabeth

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“Marhaba Morocco” by Allison Brady

In the past forty-eight hours, I have said goodbye to my friends and family back in the U.S., and said hello to my new home for four months here in Rabat.  I am sitting in my new bed in my new house after an evening of meeting my new family and seeing my new neighborhood.  I am exhausted and happy; I can’t wait to fall asleep, and I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow morning.  I am living in the Hassan neighborhood of Rabat that is not far from the Rabat Marina and Medina.  I know this only because my host sister, Zubida, showed my roommate Claire and I a beautiful tour of the town.  We saw the tomb of King Mohammed V just a minute’s walk away and a festival atmosphere along the marina with children riding merry-go-rounds and rolling around in toy cars.  We took in a stunning view at sunset from the Kasbah as Zubida gave us exclusive access to a terrace closed to most tourists (but open to friends of the guard, apparently).  Next, we dodged our way back by way of the medina around families, shopkeepers, and sheep being carted in preparation for Friday’s Eid-Al-Adha.  Unfortunately, I brought nothing with me along the walk, and so I still have yet to take any pictures here of my own. However, Claire shared some of hers from the walk!

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Rabat Medina

We also have a host mother, father, and brother.  Our mother, Karima, welcomed us with a plate of cookies and traditional Moroccan mint tea for a snack, and then a wonderful array of dishes for dinner, of which my favorite was a lentil soup with lots of vegetables. The family speaks mostly Arabic (Darija, Moroccan dialect) around the home, but engaged us with French and Fusha (MSA Arabic) to help us communicate better on the first night.  I definitely leaned into my French more than I hope to by the end of my stay, but was so grateful that everyone was eager to help with translating words from French to Fusha to Darija.

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Claire, Me, Zubida, and our welcome plate of cookies.  Our host parents not pictured as they were taking the photo!]

The home itself is beautiful.  Claire and I share a room decorated with bright accent colors that opens into a salon lit by a windowed roof and tiled artistically.  The dining/living space has wonderful embroidered cushions that are both beautiful and comfy, and Karima invited us to treat the home as our own after dinner by following her example and stretching out to lounge on the cushions while we watched a Moroccan drama on T.V.  I am so happy to start settling in, and I cannot imagine a better place to do it.  My time so far has been exhausting and overwhelming, though in the best ways possible.  I am looking forward to finding a rhythm and becoming comfortable in all the new relationships.

So far, Morocco is a million different things, and I feel a million different things.  Of those, the predominating feeling is fatigue: Bonne nuit and ila liqaa!

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“Just Arrived” by Derek Denton

Well, it has finally happened: I have arrived in Morocco!

I actually arrived in Morocco three days earlier than expected. After three grueling flights, I spent those few days in a comfortable hotel in Casablanca, where I got my first taste of living in Northern Africa. The language barrier is radically different than what I expected: I was under the impression previously that French was a secondary language to accommodate tourists, but I found that it is the primary language among many Moroccans in ‘Casa.’ That being said, I had an interesting time ordering my first meals in the country. While I was expecting to be sampling the food to be an interesting way to taste the culture (pun intended), it did not occur to me until I started clearing my plate of just how different an experience this semester will be than anything I have done before.

After a hot day wandering and photographing Casablanca’s streets, I settled in at a cafe down the block from my hotel for what sounded like the most refreshing thing on the menu: a Moroccan salad. At the time I had no idea what was actually in a Moroccan salad, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I placed my order in the fragments of the French language I recollected from high school: “Je voudrais un Moroccan salad, sil-vous-plait,” and busied myself with calculating the Moroccan Dirham-American Dollar conversion rate, when my meal ended up on my table: a hot bowl of Moroccan soup. My waiter vanished before I could protest. Apparently, my waiter did not understand my request aside from the word “Moroccan.” Anyone traveling would expect some degree of culture shock, but this wasn’t the kind I anticipated! It occurred to me as I ate my “salad” that simple communication is going to be an unprecedented challenge this semester. Learning Moroccan Arabic evolved from an ambitious goal to a necessity in that moment.

The next time the food of Morocco influenced me was just today. This time I had the company of excellent translators including my professors to ensure I ordered the right thing. At a trendy traditional Moroccan restaurant, I had the opportunity to try a local delicacy: Tajine. It’s essentially a sizzling stew that is served using a variety of different meats, but more importantly an arsenal of different spices including turmeric, ginger, onion, pepper, paprika, and cinnamon. Accompanied by my dish that appealed to all five senses I was served a glass of Moroccan tea: a deep brew mixed with spearmint, peppermint, sage, and “tons of sugar.”

The lunch was not only kind to my stomach, but to my education. Indeed, I learned two things at the table today: first of all, I am going to have a lot of fun eating this semester and more importantly tasting Moroccan food is getting a chance to explore the roots of Moroccan history. During the Age of Exploration, European powers sent voyages across the globe to colonize land and by proxy discovered new foods and spices. Trying Moroccan food, with its wide array of seasonings and spices reminded me that the country sits at crossroads of colonial powers. It was an interesting experience to be eating and drinking from recipes that would have been created after risky trips worldwide to acquire their ingredients.

For instance, my dinner I had at the hotel in Casablanca was a prime example of where I could taste different regional influences on Morocco. I enjoyed a bowl of “Habarr wa gambaree,” a spicy bowl of red peppers, shell-in shrimp the size if my fingers, and calamari rings stuffed with smaller shrimps. These ingredients mark different cultural influences. The red peppers are a fruit of the New World, brought over by explorers who discovered it in hopes of selling it as a rare spice. Interestingly, it became a staple of Moroccan cuisine. The calamari, however, is an influence left over from the Spanish. The Spanish had a significant influence over the Maghreb region during the time of the Spanish Empire.

What’s most exciting is that these kind of trips are not going to be ending in the near future. Regardless of where I travel in this country, I plan to be sampling a wide array of Moroccan cuisine.

And of course, some photos!

The Entertaining Way to Serve Tea

This method of pouring is apparently so that air can catch the tea as it falls, creating delicious bubbles when it reaches the cup. I would probably just burn my hand.

 

The Traditional Moroccan Tables.

Certainly the most comfortable I have ever been at a restaurant. More importantly, these seats set the scene for my classmates and I as we tasted the legacy of the ancient spice trade.

Until next time,

-Eli

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“From the Midwest to the Mid(dle) East” by Allison Brady

It’s a cold spell in my Minnesota summer right now- 60s and rainy.  It feels great to me, though.  It has been a hot and humid season up until now, and I have had a recent craving for a bone-chilling cold and the feeling of frost in the air.  It’s hardly to that degree, but it will do.  I’m already missing the winter weather that I won’t experience again for another four months.  It is hard to believe I won’t be around to watch the leaves turn yellow, red, orange, and fall to the ground, soon to be covered in piles of snow.  I’ve made my friends and family promise to snapchat me reminders of seasonal change while I miss it from what most would consider a much friendlier climate in Rabat, Morocco.

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Fall in the Midwest: last year’s hiking trip with friends in Upper Peninsula, Michigan

I am a true Midwest girl at heart.  I lived most of my life in Cincinnati, Ohio, until I moved to college in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I am now a junior at Macalester College, though I won’t be on campus again for a while.  I am an International Studies major, focusing in Environmental Policy and Middle Eastern Studies.  I have studied Arabic in the classroom for the past two years, and will be studying it in the Arabic-speaking world for my next two semesters; beginning with the AMIDEAST Morocco Area and Arabic Studies program for Fall 2017.

Besides leaving behind Midwest seasons, I will miss my family, my friends and teammates, and my typical yearly hobbies.  My parents still live in Ohio, with one dog who I am used to missing during the school year (he is not as good at Skype as my parents are).  I also have one older sister who lives in Seattle, and we are lucky enough to visit with each other a few times a year.  My Minnesota life consists of playing hockey for Macalester’s club team, and running/biking/hiking around with my friends in our spare time.  Despite the certainty of occasional homesickness for all this, I am more than happy to be giving it up for adventures in Morocco.

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Macalester Club Hockey Team

I love to travel, and I chose the Morocco program because I already speak French– not fluently, but at least to the degree that I can “get by” in conversations and communication.  I am hoping that this skill will help me explore and make a temporary home in my new community, though I do worry that it could make it more difficult to really immerse myself in my Arabic studies.  Still, it will be nice to have at least one more tool to acclimating into what is sure to be a huge change.  I have traveled before; Summer 2016 I traveled solo around France for a month through the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms program (WOOF) which pairs student travelers with local hosts in a volunteer work/cultural exchange. Then this past summer, I spent my first two weeks traveling to various diplomatic sites around Europe with the Macalester French-Language “La Langue de la Diplomatie” class.

Despite these wonderful travel opportunities, I am certain that this will be a whole new kind of experience.  Between differences in language, culture, and length of stay, over the next few months I expect to find myself in new and unexpected places; not just physically, but emotionally.  However, I am eager and grateful to begin this journey.

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My family on a summer hiking trip.

Shukran/Merci beaucoup to all my friends and family for your love and support.

 

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“Introduction to Elizabeth” by Elizabeth Beaton

My name is Elizabeth Beaton and I am a student at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. I study International Relations and Arabic and I am so excited to spend my junior year in Morocco. At Mount Holyoke, I have studied Modern Standard Arabic for two years and the Arabic program has become a second home for me. During my year away I will miss my classmates, Arabic professors, and Mount Holyoke’s beautiful campus.

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My hometown is only an hour and half away from Mount Holyoke so living across the ocean in Morocco will be quite a transition. I grew up in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, about an hour outside of Boston. I have always enjoyed exploring both the New England countryside and nearby cities. I really began to love busy city life when visiting relatives in New York City where I became fascinated with subway stations, public parks, and crowded sidewalks. I cannot wait to explore Rabat and to become comfortable navigating a new city.

However, excitement is not the only emotion that I have been experiencing with regard to my year abroad. As this summer has flown by, I have grown more excited and nervous by the week. Despite feelings of apprehension I know that moving out of my comfort zone will help me grow and achieve my goals. In high school I left my New England comfort zone and studied abroad in Spain for a year. I lived with two host families and attended public school completely in Spanish. Being immersed in Spanish culture and language helped to accelerate my language proficiency and allowed me to build lasting connections and friendship. In addition to attending class during the school week in Spain, I was able to travel to different regions across the country on weekends and vacations. On a trip to Granada, Spain I visited the Alhambra palace with other exchange students. I’ve bookmarked this particular memory as a defining moment that changed the trajectory of my language interests. While visiting the palace I was exposed to Moorish architecture for the first time, a continuing legacy of the Moors’ time in the Iberian Peninsula. The beauty of all aspects of the fortress, from tilework to archways to reflection pools, sparked my interest in Arabic and in the connections that link European and Arab cultures.

While studying abroad in Morocco one of my main goals is building upon my Arabic skills. I love languages and have studied many languages in the classroom setting. So far I have had the opportunity to study Spanish, French, German, and Italian, in addition to Arabic. I am particularly excited to be immersed in Moroccan culture and to start learning Darija- the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. I am a complete beginner in Darija and I am pretty nervous about what my first few weeks in Rabat will bring. Yet, at the same time I can’t wait to meet my host family, other students, and the AMIDEAST program staff.

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As my departure date gets closer and closer I have been completing last minute errands and saying my farewells. I have said goodbyes to work colleagues, spent lots of quality time with friends and family, and have gone on many walks with my dog. I cannot wait for my time in Rabat to begin and to share this adventure with you all.

 

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“Introduction to Eli” by Derek Denton

Hello there, Marhaban, and Bonjour!

My name is Derek, although I go by “Eli,” and as such I will be signing all these blog entries by this name. It probably goes without saying, but I am excited to be writing about my travels for everyone reading this. I am hoping that through these regularly written entries, I can make those reading this feel like they’re experiencing the same adventure that I’ll be seeing. So for the next four months, I’m looking forward to sharing my excitement with everyone out there.

That being said, I should introduce myself. This upcoming autumn I will be a Junior-year student at the tiny, little, middle of the cornfields of Illinois, liberal arts school Monmouth College. I am currently studying International Affairs, and my ideal career is to work with the United States Federal government in the Middle East (although to what degree, I have yet to decide). To go about achieving that ambitious goal, I have prescribed myself a handful of accomplishments that I will need to achieve. Perhaps the most challenging of my self-given criteria is to learn a language that I believe to be critical to the missions of the United States: Arabic.

Accompanying that goal of mine is an enthusiastic interest in affairs of the Middle East and Northern Africa. The culture fascinates me and I find the current events captivating. To date, I estimate that I have written over a dozen essays on the political affairs in one of the world’s most dynamic regions. If want to take my studies further, the best way would be to introduce myself to the experience of living and studying in the region. After a short stint of researching study abroad opportunities, I found my best option for crafting a unique and awesome study experience would be with AMIDEAST Education Abroad Area and Arabic Studies in Morocco program.

After months of preparation, essay writing, researching customs, interviewing professors who knew about living in the region, and asking friends from the Middle East about what to expect- I found myself with an acceptance letter to study in Rabat. To say I was enthusiastic when I learned I would finally have the opportunity to live in the Arab world while studying the language that would help me achieve my career goals, would be a severe understatement. It will be an influential experience I will never forget. In all honesty however, my upcoming trip is also a cause for apprehension. Learning Arabic is a goal I have committed myself to, but it might very well be the most challenging feat I will be experiencing in my life thus far. It will take considerable determination and focus if I am to leave Morocco this December as a competent speaker of the language. It is a challenge I am excited to accept.

I am expecting that a lot of the stories that I blog about will primarily be about two things: traveling and local cuisine. I suppose my intention for the first of these is pretty obvious: I like to travel, see new places, and meet new people. It’s something I wish everyone could do, and hopefully, my blog will allow others to feel like they are traveling with me.

On the second point, trying new food is probably my favorite thing to do while traveling to a new locality. You see, foreign cultures interest me. I like to think I’m a multicultural person. But I don’t think it is possible for the average traveler to truly and completely immerse oneself entirely in another’s culture. So in my case, what I do to find the best way to put myself into the culture of someone else is to try their local delicacies. Local diets can take centuries to develop, and so I am essentially taking bites into the history of a people.

Lastly, since this is a travel blog, I think it would be wise for me to post some “examples” of what I may be looking for while in Northern Africa, using some photos from a trip I had this summer:

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On my most recent trip, my mother and I visited Buffalo, NY, and saw the Niagara Falls. In spite of what the general consensus may be, I am of firm belief that the American side is the most beautiful.

 

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Also on that trip to Niagara Falls, I fulfilled my criteria of trying the local cuisine in a way I did not quite expect. Being only twenty years old, my first-ever casino buffet was a unique experience.

I look forward to writing for everyone out there. I hope my stories are enjoyable and informative, as I detail the ups and downs of the semester. This should be an unforgettable trip, and I’m glad I’m here to share my experiences with all of you as a correspondent.

-Eli

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