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“Cramming for Midterms and Seeing the Holy See: Unexpected Ways to Learn an Important Skill” by Derek Denton

Salam readers,

The last two weeks has offered me extensively different experiences. If you recall, I signed off my last blog by mentioning that I needed to begin studying for midterms, which I was able to complete on Friday. Thankfully, right after exams were over my fall break began. I decided to enjoy the first weekend with a short visit to the world’s smallest country: Vatican City. These two radically different experiences- one of ardent studying and, the other of luxurious traveling- have both taught me an important skill: patience, especially while residing in a foreign land.

It is no exaggeration to say that learning Arabic is the most difficult challenge of my life thus far. I have minimal experience in studying foreign language, and unlike the French there is no significant overlap between English and Arabic. Furthermore, the non-language classes I am taking here on the history and politics on the Kingdom of Morocco were something I had little experience studying. So, when midterms encroached on me last week, it was a real challenge to ensure I was prepared. During this period, I had rehearsed short Arabic speeches and wrote several practice essays to study for the unprecedented academic challenge of the exams. And, needless to say, there were times when it felt too difficult. Every time I forgot a word critical to an Arabic sentence or left out an important historical figure’s name from a practice essay the challenge felt even more daunting.

Nonetheless, I responded to this by reminding myself that I should not expect the coursework to be easy. Studying abroad in Morocco was a new experience for me- a first for my college, in fact. I had to remember that I needed to be patient and persist at a steady pace. Going too quickly would get me done with the challenge faster, but would leave me with a half-hearted exam. Going too slowly would mean giving up, which was absolutely not an option. I had to remember that this was a new experience, in a new country, and that required the skill of patience.

The other experience from this last night, and the far more exciting one in my opinion, would be the short trip I had to Rome. I have wanted to visit Italy for quite some time (being a history buff and whatnot), and studying in a country relatively close to the boot-peninsula seemed to grant me the best opportunity to visit I would have for a long time. However, while my fall break spans a whopping week-and-a-half, the airline company that I found only flew to Rome on Saturdays and back to Rabat on Tuesdays- leaving me a very short window to see such a profoundly historical country. For this reason, I opted to spend my vacation in one of the two countries within Italy’s borders, the far smaller, but no less awe-inspiring, the Vatican City. I had charted my plan carefully, picking out a hotel literally next door to the Vatican’s walls and arranged for transportation to get there. If all would go according to plan, I would enjoy a majestic weekend in the home to the Holy See.

But, of course, things did not go as planned.
The weekend started off to an extremely rough start when my hotel, apparently, forgot that I was checking in. Due to the airline’s extremely narrow schedule, I would expected to arrive at my hotel at around midnight. I had previously informed the hotel this, and they agreed to keep a receptionist in late to accommodate me… And then I arrived to locked gates. I was without a place to sleep that night.

At first, I was (naturally) upset about this setback but, being angry would have not gotten me anywhere. Instead, I used this traumatic unfortunate event as a time to practice being patient. Similar to when I was preparing for my midterms, I observed the challenges before me: I needed a place to stay, and how that is affected by being in a country I had never been to before. I considered what I knew: The Vatican is a highly popular tourist destination, so finding a hotel on short-notice should be no problem. And so, I walked around the Vatican walls and made phone calls until I found a hotel. The crisis was averted and I was able to find a place to stay available for last-minute bookings..
From there, the vacation was fantastic. It also allowed me the opportunity to bring back an excellent assortment of photographs to share!
1. The Vatican Museum's Entrance is Notably Ominous at Midnight The Vatican Museum’s Entrance is Notably Ominous at Midnight.

2. My first view of the Saint Peter's Basilica, also known as the Pope's Church.My first view of the Saint Peter’s Basilica, also known as the Pope’s Church.

3. Rome is particularly famous for its assortment of fountains! There are about 1,500 of these marvellously-sculpted drinking water springs thRome is particularly famous for its assortment of fountains! There are about 1,500 of these marvelously-sculpted drinking water springs throughout the Eternal City.

4. If its interior is anything like its exterior, Saint Antonio's Castle is a landmark I will regret not exploring.If its interior is anything like its exterior, Saint Angelo’s Castle is a landmark I will regret not exploring.

5. Behold- the 'forboding' border between Italy and the Vatican.Behold- the ‘foreboding’ border between Italy and the Vatican.

6. On Saturday, I visited the National Roman Museum, dedicating to preserving relics of the Roman Empire. Here is a statue of a depiction of tOn Saturday, I visited the National Roman Museum, dedicating to preserving relics of the Roman Empire. Here is a statue of a depiction of the Greek terror, Medusa.

7. On a funny note- I don't drink alcohol, so the next-best option to tasting Italian wine was this fine Italian grape juice. Aged to perfectiOn a funny note- I don’t drink alcohol, so the next-best option to tasting Italian wine was this fine Italian grape juice. Aged to perfection.

8. And finally, we have here the Holy See of Saint Peter's Church. The figurative throne of the Pope above one of the many altars. For size sAnd finally, we have here the Holy See of Saint Peter’s Church. The figurative throne of the Pope above one of the many altars. For size scale- each of those letters above are eight feet tall.

When I considered what I would learn in Morocco and the Vatican, I had expected to bring back home a knowledge of a new language and an expanded understanding of foreign culture, but I would not have thought that these travels and trials would have help me build these oft-forgotten skills like patience. It’s just another reason why this trip is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity, I suppose!

See you in another fortnight, readers!
-Eli

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Filed under Derek Denton, Morocco, Rabat, Uncategorized

“Successfully Adapting to Moroccan Life” by Allison Brady

In my time abroad, I have found that the small and seemingly insignificant disappointments add up to make the biggest impact.  Little differences like availability of groceries or products, while expected, can turn into nagging frustrations if I let them.  For instance, I have spent the better part of my grocery-shopping time scouring aisles for pre-prepared lunch or snack items with more protein.  As an almost daily runner and a lazy cook, I am used to my favorite filling groceries back home: Greek yogurt, deli meats, tofu, and any number of soy-packed products marketed to the protein-obsessed American like me.  Here, these items are either virtually nonexistent or sold only at high prices and in tiny quantities.  Another disappointment has been the search for favorite cosmetic and personal care products.   I wasted an embarrassing number of shampoo and conditioner bottles before finally finding an available brand that satisfied my vanity, and numerous visits to nearby supermarches and even pharmacies have still left me empty-handed for a couple items.

Obviously, each of these are silly little “disappointments.”  Still, the overall feeling of never knowing where to find a previously taken-for-granted part of life can become exhausting after a while.  Slowly, however, I am learning to adapt.  I have learned the brand of yogurt with the most protein to snack on, and though it is sold in smaller sizes that I am used to, I admittedly prefer the flavor to even my favorite brands from home.  I’ve learned that my favorite hanoot sells fresh hard-boiled eggs and little laughing cow cheeses individually, which make a great and filling lunch when combined with the always abundant Moroccan Khubz.  I also have new favorite Moroccan snacks, like addicting local chip brands, or fresh fruit and juice available at practically every street corner.  This weekend, I got a little confidence boost from assisting a couple English-speaking tourists to determine the price of some fruit at one of these stands.

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A street corner fruit juice stand in Casablanca

I’ve learned new beauty routines, like going to the hammam for full-body exfoliation in these famous Moroccan public bath houses.  In the old medina, I have learned to bargain for little unique items like $5 “Ray Bans” sunglasses or $1 “Kylie” lipsticks.  They may not be authentic to the brand names on their labels, but they are authentically Moroccan!

These successes in adapting to life here may seem as trivial as the disappointments, but an increasing confidence in the small daily routines that make up life really makes me feel relaxed and at home here.  This weekend, I decided to lean into this feeling by staying in Rabat and relaxing in my favorite places with a friend.  We wandered through the old medina, walked along the ocean, and enjoyed the end of the day at the Kasbah Oudayas.  At this last stop, I pulled out some of my “insider” knowledge to go watch the sunset at the Kasbah terrace overlook.  As I had learned my very first night, technically the overlook closes at seven, but in Moroccan fashion after a chat with the friendly guard he offered us ten minutes to take some pictures.

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Pictures at the Kasbah with my friend, Jessica

As I continue my time here, my goal is to keep in mind that disappointment occurs when I feel frustrated that Morocco is not America, but that my greatest success is to let it become home anyway.

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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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“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

“A Weekend in Rabat” by Sofia Deak

Like most students studying abroad for a semester, I usually take advantage of my weekends to travel around my host country. Thus far, my trips to Chefchaouen, Essaouira, Tangier, Fez, Marrakech, and Casablanca have been the highlights of my experience in Morocco. Each city taught me something new about this beautiful and culturally rich country, and each was entirely unique.

However, worn down from my relentless travels and nervous about upcoming midterm exams, I decided to spend this past weekend here in Rabat. Some unfairly accuse Rabat of being boring, but I personally love my day to day routine there and the less “touristy” feel of the city. Nevertheless, I was not expecting this weekend to be one of the very best I’ve had in Morocco.

On Saturday morning, my host mom Zohra invited me to join her at our neighborhood hammam, or public bath house. I love the hammam- the heat of the rooms, the comfort and camaraderie between the women, young and old, large and small… it is a wonderful, relaxing, and authentic experience every time. Going with my host mom was even more special because I was able to share a part of her life with her instead of just being an outsider in the hammam. She introduced me to her friends and scrubbed my back, a common occurrence in Moroccan hammams between friends and strangers alike. One of my favorite things about the hammam is the sense of community and relaxation. Morocco is still a relatively conservative society and modesty is rewarded among women, but there’s none of the shyness or awkwardness that I am used to in the comparatively more “liberal” US surrounding nudity. Women are confident and supportive of one another in this all female space, something I found inviting, refreshing, and modern in an otherwise traditional setting.

After finishing up at the hammam, my host mom and I walked home and practiced some Darija, and I couldn’t help but feel that my willingness to try this foreign public bath with Zohra strengthened our relationship and marked a very special point in my abroad experience.

Sunday was the opposite of the relaxation of the hammam- somehow, fifteen other AMIDEAST students and I found ourselves at the starting line of an 11K race at 8am!

Entry 6 - Photo 2.JPGWhile none of us had trained, we actually had a really fun time running together, cheering each other on and helping each other finish, with some healthy competition thrown in of course. As I huffed through miles four, five, and six, I couldn’t help thinking that, like my study abroad experience, the middle of the race was likely to be mostly forgotten- struggled through, but at a consistent and familiar pace. I was really forced by this realization to acknowledge how quickly my time in Morocco is going by, and how I need to be appreciating all the little moments, like running a race with my friends and visiting the hammam with my host mother. As I was running the race, it seemed to drag on forever, but before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line.

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This weekend reminded me to slow down, to relax, to foster the relationships that make studying abroad so special. And even though I was not out traveling to some incredible new place, I realized what a treasure I have right at my fingertips – at home in Rabat.

 

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Filed under Morocco, Rabat, Sofia Deak

“Rabat: City of…” by Elyse Desrochers

They say that every city has a personality. New York is loud, crass, the city that never sleeps. Paris is romantic, nostalgic, the city of lights and love. Humans breathe life into a city and the city emanates the life its people have given to it. So what’s the personality of Rabat, my city? This question doesn’t have one clear answer. From what I observed in Rabat, there are at least four different personalities that have evolved and molded together to form the city as I know today.

There’s Chellah, an ancient roman city. This sight is the first remnant of civilization in Rabat. While today Chellah lies in ruins and the government has converted it into a historical site, its history is that which marks the debut of permanent settlement in the Rabat area. Walking around Chellah in present day, it’s hard not to imagine that a woman, or a child, or a Roman soldier has also walked along the same path centuries ago.

Blog 5 Chellah - Deroschers, Elyse

What I think of next when I think of Rabat is the Kasbah of the Udayas and the old medina. The Kasbah is a walled city that sits along the Atlantic Ocean. It was built during one of the first dynasties of Morocco. Walking through the Kasbah, with its pristine white and sea blue houses and the sound of waves crashing in the distance, it’s impossible not to think of the place as a sort of refuge to the people living during the dynasty’s reign. Walled to protect its people from war, pirates, and conflict, the Kasbah represents a tumultuous period of Rabat’s history. Like the Kasbah, the old medina of Rabat is a walled city. Upon entry, every product imaginable is at your fingertips, as long as you’re willing to haggle for it. Soaps, perfumes, clothes, carpets, lighting fixtures, leather products, and artisan goods are available at the shops of the medina. Street food is always beings sold, and the smell of roasting chick peas and chestnuts fills the air. The old medina is the heart of every city in Morocco- the point from which the rest of the city grows. It represents the evolution of this century old city and Morocco’s uncanny ability to safeguard its culture and tradition as it evolves over time.

Blog 5 Kasbah of the Udayas - Elyse Deroschers

The Ville Nouvelle, or the new city is yet another part of Rabat that forms its personality. The Ville Nouvelle was built as a separate entity to the city by the French during colonization. It’s wide streets and terraces mark a change from the winding streets of the old medina, but it nevertheless has become a part of the city itself. The Ville Nouvelle reflects the values of a European city- shops with mannequins displayed in the windows and clothes being sold at fixed prices from European and American brands, cafes with large terraces ripe for people-watching. French is the language of menus and billboards. Walking around the Ville Nouvelle, it’s hard not to think about the impact of colonization on the country and the way in which it continues to impact the city during the postcolonial era.

The Ville Nouvelle was built as a separate entity from the medina of Rabat, destined to be a place exclusively for French citizens that came to live in Morocco during colonialization. However, since independence, Moroccans have reclaimed this neighborhood as their own and continue to expand the city around it. This reclamation of a place once built to exclude them is a huge part of how I see the personality of Rabat and other Moroccan cities. Morocco is place where cultures collide- African, Arab, Mediterranean, European. These identities express themselves in different parts of Rabat- Chellah, the Kasbah, the Old Medina, the Ville Nouvelle, and the growth of the city since independence. It’s the ability of Rabat to claim each of these identities as its own, to mold them and form them in its own way, that culminates in a multi-faceted Rabat personality.

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Filed under Elyse Desrochers, Morocco, Rabat, Regional Studies in French