“Our Class Excursion To Zawiya Ahansal” by Derek Denton

Hello again readers!
To call this last week a busy one would be the understatement of the century. My classmates and I just had our first excursion out of Rabat, which has been a whirlwind of adventure. We had the opportunity to visit an Amazigh village in the mountains of Morocco called “Zawiya Ahansal.” A settlement dated over 700 years old, the people of this town offered my friends and I a warm welcome as we were hosted in the guesthouse of the Sheikh (a village elder and governor). When I was on our way, I truthfully did not know what to expect. I have visited villages and settlements before, but I don’t think I have ever been somewhere quite as beautiful as Zawiya Ahansal was.
Our bus ride was brutally exhausting. Eight hours on the road where I was constantly shifting from fatigue to discomfort was absolutely draining. The discomfort is particularly unfortunate because it spoils what is otherwise a great chance to view the Moroccan countryside. I cannot speak for all of them, but I think my classmates share my opinion that the ride was rougher than we expected. However, it was near the end of our journey did it seem to become worthwhile. When we entered the mountains, the landscape became something that drew my attention and purged my anxieties. This is what we saw when we looked out our windows.And then we actually got within view of the village.

We arrived at sundown, and I’m thankful it wasn’t any later. Pulling up at that minute gave us the perfect opportunity to view the sunset over the mountains of Zawiya. Any later and it would have been too dark to realize the beauty of the landscape of where we were residing.


The architecture of this village complimented the environment wonderfully. The next morning we went on our first hike. An interesting note about the environment of Zawiya is that it seems that the village experiences every season in one day. I left the guesthouse at sunrise wearing a heavy jacket (for its useful pockets) and a long sleeve shirt and expected to overheat. Fifteen minutes later, I was… Then fifteen minutes after that, it was chilly enough I was thankful I wore it. Fifteen minutes after that… Etc.

Zawiya is the first vertical village I have ever been to. Built into the side of the mountain, we had to walk up and down to get from building to building. Running through Zawiya, and into other villages, is a river that acts as a lifeblood of the village. At its mouth exists this interesting mythical spring where it is believed that women may drink from its water to earn good luck in finding a husband.  A lot of the people in the village live as subsistence miners. The mountains are rich in resources, including raw clay. The villagers extract this clay and use it to reinforce their homes’ structure.
This picture here is a great opportunity to see the size of the mountainside. Our guides explained to us an interesting development in recent events that involve these mountains: in addition to offering clay, the mountains are rich with metals like lead that mining companies are seeking to harvest. There has actually been some debate over opening the mines, citing environmental concerns.

On the final night of our stay in Zawiya, our hosts surprised my class by inviting us to a traditional Amazigh feast and party. It was an honor to be invited, of course, but being offered this traditional dress made it an unforgettable experience. A party-goer yelled as I walked out in this robe “now you are a Sheikh”. I don’t think I’ve ever received a greater compliment on my attire than that. After the festivities had concluded, I was certain to thank the real Sheikh for hosting us. A kind and informed man, I learned quite a bit about his role in administrating Zawiya Ahansal from him.

thank the Sheikh
I don’t think I’ve ever hiked quite so much in my life. But for all the physical exhaustion we endured, it was made up for by the unforgettable experiences that we had. This included what we had the opportunity to do on our last day in the village: assist in teaching English in a local school.  This was a fun, but challenging experience. My partner and I opted to teach the local children English body parts by a game of Simon Says, but before that, we had to go through a crash-course of the one of the dialects of the Amazigh language called Tamizeagh. Speaking some basic phrases helped our students understand us better, and I hope we were both fun and informative teachers for our short stay.
And so that my readers can share in this adventure, I have included a list of a few phrases we learned!
Hello: Azool.
My name is…: Isminu…
Thank you: Saha.
Where are you from?: Mani zigtigeed?
I am American!:Nkeen Merikan.
Yes = Eeeh.
No = Oho

I didn’t exactly have a strong command over the language, being limited to about seven phrases, but I like to think body language and prolific usage of “Saha” allowed me to convey our lessons.
We departed Zawiya on Saturday, and left for a short, one-night-stay, in the city of tourists: Marrakech. While I am certain my classmates had an excellent time exploring the city, I- regretfully- did not. Somehow during my time in Zawiya, I contracted bronchitis- leaving me bedridden in the hotel. It was nothing to mourn over, however, I was thankful my illness did not come during the stay in the village, and that exhausting week of hikes, dancing, and teaching left me in tremendous need for some R&R.

Saha for reading!

-Eli

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“Building Perceptions and a Home in Morocco” by Elizabeth Beaton

Salaam!

Over the past month I have been confronting the expectations I formed about Morocco pre-departure. Before coming to Morocco I made a conscious effort to try not to fantasize about what my experience would be like. I didn’t want to make conclusions relying solely on other people’s truths and experiences. I wanted to form my own perceptions and conclusions based off of my own lived experience and observations. In the past month, I have begun this process of building my own understanding of what Morocco is like. Yet, at the same time I find myself having to reconcile this new understanding with past subconscious expectations. Despite trying to avoid forming concrete expectations, wonderful stories told to me by family members, friends, and classmates about their experiences in Morocco in turn influenced my own vision of Morocco.

For example, pre-departure I imagined that Morocco would have delicious tagine, palm trees, and a hot climate. These expectations are certainly simplistic and my life here is so much more varied and multi-dimensional. I live in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, and spend most of my time in the city. As a result, a lot of my new observations revolve around city life. I have been surprised by how many little blue taxis race down city streets and how crowded the tram can become. I knew there would be palm trees, but didn’t realize there would be so much cactus along the sidewalk. I was aware of the legacy of French colonialism in Morocco. Yet, it is only after living here that I understand how French is still so intertwined with Moroccan life both in bureaucracy and in social life. Private schools teach some subjects in French and store owners often speak to me in French. A lot of my learning about Morocco follows the similar pattern of, I knew this aspect, but didn’t realize the full implications of the issue. The reality is that Morocco is much more nuanced and is not fully captured by generalizations.

This past week, village mountain life became a part of my understanding of Morocco. I participated in an AMIDEAST organized excursion to Zawiya Ahansal in the central high Atlas Mountains. Zawiya Ahansal is a rural mountainous area made up of four villages situated along a river. It is also one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. There are rocky paths tracing the mountain sides looking down upon lush farm land supported by an irrigation system fed by spring water. 600 year old restored granaries look out on the setting sun and at night the Milky Way paints the sky with light. Now when I envision Morocco, I will remember this special place. I also now know about challenges in Zawiya Ahansal. NGOs like Atlas Cultural Foundation and Association Amezray Smnid tackle community issues like clean water access, public education access, bus stops, and public health knowledge etc. These challenges, along with the beauty of the area are now part of my understanding of Morocco as a whole. The most surprising element of my time in Morocco is how at home I felt in the mountains.

village viewroof view of sun and mountainsOn the last night in Zawiya Ahansal, I sat down on the roof of the house where we were staying and just looked in complete awe at the world around me. In that moment I tried to etch the view, the sun’s colors, and the feeling of peace into my memory. I am hopeful that I will find a similar sense of belonging in Rabat.

Until next time!

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“Family, Couscous, and Learning New Words” by Elizabeth Beaton

Salaam!

The fall semester has truly begun! I have bought new notebooks, classes have started, and the temperature is now a more manageable at 80 °F. In general, life is a bit more manageable and less overwhelming. I am growing more and more comfortable in my homestay and in my new neighborhood. During the week, I bring lunch to AMIDEAST to eat between classes. Since grocery shopping is a part of my weekly routine, I get to explore my neighborhood more. I know the route to the main grocery store in the neighborhood and where to buy the best lettuce.  I’m still deciding which small shop, hanout in Moroccan dialect I like the best. I love stumbling across new potential favorites. Whether I’m headed to class, the park, or to buy groceries – I love walking around. There are so many beautiful flowers!

pink flowers (002)

My time so far in Morocco has been filled with so much learning across every subject imaginable. Out and about, I’ve learned about my neighborhood and started adjusting to crossing the street amidst very different patterns of traffic. Every day, I continue to learn more, from Arabic case ending rules and post-colonial politics to where the plates are kept in my host family’s kitchen. I never realized how many utensils, vegetables, and different types of fruit belong in the kitchen. Even just on the spice rack there is so much vocabulary! After trying to fit so many new words in my brain, I appreciate escaping to the patio area that is shared with the other apartments. The patio corner is filled with so much greenery and fresh air.

patio with plants (002)

I am so grateful to my host family for their generosity, patience, and understanding. I am always asking questions like, how do you say this and what is that called, again? I am especially appreciative of my host family’s understanding and accommodation of my diet. I have a dairy allergy and I am vegetarian which makes my host family’s life more complicated. My host mom, who is a very experienced cook, always makes sure that I eat enough delicious Moroccan food. Before dinner I often find myself in the kitchen, trying to learn how to replicate dishes by watching and trying to remember the long list of spices that all go in the pot.

Last Friday, my host mom started to teach Mariah, my roommate who is also from the US, and I how to make couscous. Friday lunch is the most special meal of the week in Moroccan culture and it takes place after Friday afternoon prayer. While my host mom makes cooking couscous look easy, there are many steps and ingredients involved. We made two different kinds of couscous, one with meat and a smaller vegetarian version filled with squash, potatoes, zucchini, tomatoes, and onions for me. I’m looking forward to more Friday afternoons spent in the kitchen together chatting about topics from class and, hopefully, learning words like fork and cilantro.

I am trying to understand so much and taking in so much information that I end up misunderstanding somethings. For example, the other day I learned I had misunderstood how many children my host parents have. They actually have only have one son, not two, that lives in London. My host parents do, however, have two grandchildren in London. I’m taking my mistakes in stride, owning up to them and learning to laugh at the confusion.

Until next time!

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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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“Getting to know the family, seeing the town, and Eid!” by Derek Denton

Salam , readers!

The last fortnight here in Morocco has been more eventful than I anticipated. I expected two weeks ago to be here to have some stories to tell about getting used to my accommodations. But fate decided that this blog entry cover so much more. Along with an update on what it is like in a Rabat homestay (something I believe I will be covering at least slightly in every entry), I have had some astounding experiences exploring the city, from beautiful architecture, to ancient ruins, to the breathtaking nature of Morocco. In addition to that, I also had the opportunity to partake in the Islamic holiday of Eid , the anniversary of Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God. As my host brother, Amin, put it: “it’s like Christmas for Muslims!” I have seen and done so much that I- truthfully- do not believe I could capture the essence of my experiences in written text. For this reason, this week’s blog entry will be predominately photos taken from the last two weeks. It was a struggle to pick out the best of them, it is remarkable how many I have taken (For reference: I had to make room in my iPhone’s camera roll twice).

First and foremost, the people I am living with here in Rabat could not be more accommodating. I owe an unpayable debt to my roommate, Harry, who has been my interpreter for the last two weeks here. I can understand French well enough, even if my lack of practice prevents me from responding to it, but he has been a valuable asset in reminding me of vocabulary. With his help, I already feel like part of the family. On that note: My host mother, “Mamaoun” likes to remind me that while I am here, I am her son. And that really has meant quite a lot to me. I’ve appreciated her patience as I struggle to remember Arabic or French vocabulary to make some attempt at communication. Her catchphrase, “Shwia, shwia,” (“Little by little”) has been reassuring as I push myself to learn the language. Furthermore, my host brother, Amin, and I have gotten along swimmingly. It seems him and I never run out of things to talk about- which is surprising, granted he and I both rely on languages neither of us perfectly speak (his English and my French). He’s a big fan of American culture- particularly movies- so I always have something to talk to him about home. He’d like to visit the USA at some point, and I recommended he come around Christmas. Which seems only fair, given he introduced me to Eid.

Speaking of Eid: I feel unbelievably fortunate to have been invited to take part in the holiday. I have known about the importance of the day for quite some time, but I had no idea that I would be experiencing it so soon here in Morocco. Relying on the old Islamic calendar, it arrives eleven days earlier every year, this time falling on September 1st.  There are two primary components to the holiday, as I understand it: the first is a recommendation that all Muslims should try to make Hajj , or a spiritual pilgrimage, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for one Eid in their life. This was the practice of the holiday I knew of before arriving here. The next is something that all Muslims in the world celebrate: the sacrifice of sheep. Reminiscent of the attempted sacrifice of Isaac at the hands of Abraham, the sheep symbolizes Muslims giving up something important to them. The meat from the sheep is then divided into thirds: one for the family, one for the family’s neighbors, and the last to feed the impoverished. It is also customary to invite guests for Eid. I was invited to witness the holiday this year, which was a great opportunity to meet my extended host-family. We gathered around the table many times throughout the weekend following the Friday Eid, and had many feasts of fresh sheep meat. Between that, we relaxed around the house and mingled. As a guest in the house, I felt honored that my host-family went to such lengths to involve me.

This was our Eid dinner of fresh sheep. Sitting here is my host family, happy to share their holiday with me.

After all of this, there was the tour of Rabat! Here I have some great photos of various landmarks around this marvelous city.

11-We were, however, permitted to enter the mausoleum of King Mohammed V

Mausoleum of King Mohammed V

1- My classmates and I (I'm on the far right)

My classmates and I (I’m on the far right)

In the weeks to come, I’ll have more photos of the treasures that Morocco has to offer. For now, I can say that I am truly fortunate for living in a grand city with such a great host family.

Until next time,

-Eli

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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.

view from roof

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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