Tag Archives: Arabic

“Friends and Bread” by Dan Fitzgerald

I knew making friends abroad would be difficult, but I never imagined how difficult it would be. Think back to your first time in high school or moving to a new city. Were you scared? Did you think everyone was staring at you because they knew that you had no idea what you were doing? Did you ever over-think every conversation and interaction you had with someone and assumed that you said something wrong? Well guess what, being abroad is about the same. I don’t have enough fingers on my hands to count the amount of times I talked to a Moroccan and probably made a fool of myself.  Not the best way to make friends abroad.

I’ve heard of stories of those who go their entire semester abroad without making one friend from their host country. That’s not a bad thing if that isn’t one of your goals, but I’m a social butterfly who needs new relationships. I wanted to have some kind of a connection with Morocco and prove to myself that I can make friends outside of my comfort zone. That’s when Nacera showed up.

I was halfway through the semester when our program gave us the chance to take a field trip to a local bakery and learn how to make Moroccan crêpes and breads. For those of you who don’t know me, I seriously love bread. I am a human dumpster for carbs, so when I found out about the opportunity to go make AND eat bread, I signed up immediately. On the day of the field trip, I walked into our meeting room when this 19-year-old, five-foot-five, spunky Moroccan girl walked up to me and spoke to me in perfect English. “Are you here for the bakery trip?” she said. “Of course,” I responded. Her deep maroon hijab was perfectly matching to her oversized maroon sweater, and I already knew that this girl had style. This was Nacera.

 

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We went to the bakery all the way out in Salé, the sister city of Rabat, and got put right to work preparing the dough, shaping the bread, and cooking it on the stove. Not to show off, but I was told that I’m a pretty great bread baker by the master baker herself, Nacera’s Mom. I spent hours with Nacera and her mom making dozens of savory crêpes only to consume all of them in the span of twenty minutes. What can I say, bread is life. I had so much fun with Nacera that we decided to swap our WhatsApp numbers and message about the next time we could hang out. Blog reader, was this the start of a friendship? It certainly was.

A few weeks later, Nacera messaged me and my friend Galey asking if we wanted to come visit her university and sit-in on her music class. This was my chance to meet and hang out with Moroccans my age and maybe not be a social disaster, so Galey and I said yes. For the next three hours, Galey and I sat in the music class listening to everyone sing some of the most beautiful Arab songs I’ve ever heard while not understanding a single word spoken in the class. At the end of class, we walked out of the classroom and Nacera introduced us to all her friends. Most greeted me in English and didn’t seem interested in us, but the minute I spoke some Darija to them, the entire group erupted in laughter and smiles, excited that I knew some Darija. I spent the rest of the time talking with Nacera and her friends about music, sports, jokes, life, and it felt like I was back at my own university hanging out with my friends.

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It’s hard living in a new place where you don’t know anyone while also learning the culture. But everything becomes easier when you find that one friend to help you along the way. Nacera has been that person for me, which is why I’ve dedicated this blog post to her. Thanks Nacera, you’re the real MVP.

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

“Making Morocco Home” by Sofia Deak

As Morocco feels more and more like home and my last few weeks here move much too quickly to an end, one thing has been nagging at the back of my mind. I did not become as close with Moroccans my age as I would have liked, and even though my 12-year-old host sister insists “But I am your friend, Sofia! That is all you need!” I still sometimes felt like I was missing out on an important part of my abroad experience.

Others on the program have had more luck in this department, having bonded with language partners or made connections through sports teams. However, just as I was getting accustomed to the idea that maybe I would not have it all, the weather changed: figuratively and literally.

Recently, Rabat has been warming up. The sun is bright and hot all day, and I pine for AC as I climb the four flights of spiral steps to my bedroom each evening. Luckily for us all, Rabat is right on the coast, and while I’ve spent a lot of free time this semester staring in awe at the impressive waves slamming into rocks along the shore, I never really thought about actually going in the water. On a whim, though, some friends from AMIDEAST and I decided to give surfing a try one hot weekend we all stayed in town instead of traveling.

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I grew up with the beach and am comfortable in the ocean, but I was still somewhat scared to try out surfing in Morocco. I had never been before, and the waves in Rabat are definitely intimidating! What if I was not able to understand the instructor? What if I got dragged out to see but my cries for help in Standard Arabic would not only be misunderstood, but would be laughed at? What if there were sharks?

Nevertheless, I put my (potentially absurd) fears aside and decided to give it a go. To my surprise, I was instantly hooked! I do not think I will ever be less amazed at the sight of the glistening, bright blue sea beneath me and the Rabat Oudaya, a 12th century Kasbah right on the water, zooming toward me as I surf in to the shore. Additionally, one of the beautiful things about Morocco is how cheap it is— a surf class here in Rabat is around $10 USD.

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Surfing has been the final piece for me in the puzzle of making Morocco “home.” The instructors recognize me, tease me, and tell me Morocco will miss me when I leave. The other students, from 7-year-old Moroccan girls (who are actually quite good at “shredding the knar”) to middle-aged-men trying out a new hobby (not unlike me), have become familiar faces and— dare I say it— friends to me here.

I try to surf once or twice a week despite my busy schedule of classes, English teaching, and exercising (I am running another 10K this weekend in El Jadida!). I do this because I love it, yes, but also because it just deepens the sense of camaraderie I have begun to experience here in Morocco, and makes me all the more aware of how much I have come to love this place and think of it as my own. I think when I look back on these unfairly quick, mesmerizing months, I will remember it in two ways. At the same time, Morocco has been fast, scary, and full of adrenaline, like trying to balance on a surfboard hurtling toward the sand; it has also been calming, deeply memorable; a moment stuck in time, like floating in the bright sea, laughing with a new friend, waiting for the next wave.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat, Sofia Deak

“Learning and Teaching Language” by Sofia Deak

Before I came to Morocco, I knew that “improving my Arabic” was one of my major objectives, but I didn’t imagine what that would actually look like. Through the extreme patience of my host mom and our daily discussions in Arabic after dinner, I have become confident enough to have conversations in Arabic without relying on English. Using a combination of Standard Arabic and Moroccan Darija (as well as a fair amount of pantomiming) I am improving beyond my previous expectations.

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While I am really proud of the progress I am making, that does not negate the fact that I am realizing how incredibly diverse the Arabic language is, and how truly difficult it is to master. I get discouraged when I spend two hours poring over my vocabulary homework, only to forget the majority of the words the next day. Also, I always knew there were different dialects that were significantly different— however, I did not realize how much the language might differ WITHIN a dialect. In Morocco, diversity is one of the only constants. For example, a Moroccan from Tangier in the north might have a difficult time understanding a Moroccan from Ouarzazate, in the south. Tajine, the famous Moroccan staple food, is pronounced “tajouane” in the north, and this is just one of countless examples of dialectic differences that exist within the Moroccan dialect, completely ignoring how foreign Darija is from Standard Arabic and all other Arabic dialects!

It is easy to get frustrated in trying to learn Arabic, and sometimes I feel discouraged that I will never be able to be as comfortable with the language as I would like. (This happens especially when an earnest Moroccan is trying to explain something to me in Darija, whether at a restaurant or in a taxi or on a train— and all I can offer them is a confused look and a sorry smile.) However, there are shining moments that remind me to keep trying, and that the experience of learning the language is just as amazing as being able to use it. Last night, I learned the word for “tickle” in Arabic and Darija, thanks to my host mom starting some impromptu tickle fights — during dinner!! Lots of spilled water, fits of laughter, and sprinting away from the table later, I don’t think I will ever forget the word, or this moment.

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Another thing that encourages me is the weekly English teaching that I have been engaged in since my arrival in Rabat. My students are beginners, so really new to English. They have so much to learn, but they are so eager and dedicated. Most are adult learners, which itself is a challenge, but being able to say simple sentences excites them so much. This project really reinvigorates me with the understanding that learning a language takes time, and that is sometimes boring and full of flashcards, but also can be really memorable and full of laughs (and not only when learning the word for “ticklish”). Ultimately, I know that I am making huge improvements thanks to being in Morocco, and I cannot wait to learn more!

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, 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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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

“Can I get you something?” by Elyse Desrochers

“Can I get you something?”

I wake to the sun filtering in through the window pane above the spot of my friend’s couch where I had fallen asleep the night before. The bright sunlight and the snores of my other friends piled around me are alarming. Where am I?

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AMIDEAST threw students a farewell dinner where we dressed up in Moroccan clothes.

Only having returned to America two days prior, I was particularly prone to confusion of my whereabouts upon waking in addition to jumbling up the trois languages that were running through my head. Where was the bright pink walls of my bedroom in Morocco? The sound of my host mom in the kitchen preparing tea? Arabic soap operas playing on the television? I may no longer have been in Morocco, but my mind certainly was.

I roll over and check the time- 5 in the morning and I show no indication of being able to fall back asleep. So one hour passes. Then two. Then four. Finally, one of my friends emerges from beneath her covers. Eager to be somewhere we can speak without disturbing those still sleeping and famished after waiting four hours for my friends to wake up, I convince my friend to make a coffee run with me. We head towards the closest coffee and donut shop, thankfully just a short drive away.

I walk in and go up to the counter, confident in my ability to successfully order a coffee and donuts. I make eye contact with the lady as she says “Can I get you something?”. It was harsh. Direct. To the point. And for a girl that just got back from Morocco, completely astonishing.

I freeze. My mind goes blank. This was not part of the dialogue I had created in my head. How rude, she didn’t even say hello, I thought. “Ummmmm, hi,” I mutter. The next words tumble out slowly and disconnected as my mind rushes to readjust. “Can I get…. a regular coffee? Medium… oh and hot.” Success. The woman may be looking at me as if I have never before ordered coffee before in my life, but at least she understands the order.

“Anything else?” she asks.

“Can I get some munchkins?”

“How many?” she asks.

Confused, I pause. I don’t remember ordering being this difficult. Can’t you only get one order of munchkins- an assorted box? “How many can I get”.

“Anything. You can get up to 1000 if you want.”

Annoyed because it was quite clear I didn’t want 1000, I answer “Well, thanks, but I don’t want that many.”

“Well you can get a cup of 5.”

I’m exasperated at this point, and so is the lady. I just want a box of munchkins to share with my still sleeping friends. I finally ask, “What about for a group?”

She answers, “How does 25 in a box sound?”

Finally, a box is mentioned. I quickly agree and pay, eager to get of there and flustered at the situation. What just happened in there? Why was ordering so difficult? Why was she so rude?

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My family came to visit Morocco and met my host mom and host sibling. The whole time, I had to navigate the two cultural situations successfully while translating. It may have been harder than my coffee order.

Up until that point, my time since coming back to America had been simple and all together easy. Things were different, but not dramatically so. It was that experience, my inability to order a coffee and donuts in a shop I had visited regularly throughout my lifetime, that brought me back into the reality of reverse culture shock.

My mind no longer operates as it once did. I am an American, but an American that has adopted cultural practices, behavior, and viewpoints from two other cultures. Three different cultural modes “American Elyse”, “American Elyse in France”, and “American Elyse in Morocco” battle it out and understand interactions through their own lens in my head as I try to respond appropriately. American Elyse is craving a coffee and donut because of nostalgia from my childhood, American Elyse in France is alarmed that I’m considering ordering coffee TO GO, and American Elyse in Morocco is astonished that the server did not greet me and ask me how I was doing. To have this all going through my head while ordering is confusing and hard, but I wouldn’t change it. I know that it will allow me to see the world in ways that would not be possible had I decided to stay in the US for my junior year of college. And I know that it will allow me to see myself more clearly as I navigate new situations in the coming months. Let’s just hope that in the meantime, ordering coffee will become easier.

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Filed under Elyse Desrochers, Morocco, Regional Studies in French

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Sam, Alae, and I on our camels!

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