Tag Archives: Darija

“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.

Photo 1 - Deak, Sofia.JPG

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.

Photo 2 - Deak, Sofia.JPG

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!


Leave a comment

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

“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.

M_Casablanca_Sp16_Shante Fencl

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.

M_Three Amigos_Sp16_Shante Fencl

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.

M_reunited_Sp16_Shante Fencl

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!

Leave a comment

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

New Shoes: Bargaining in Fes

This past weekend we were walking through the Fes medina on an AMIDEAST excursion to the city, when I caught my foot on the cobbled street and tore the sole of my shoe. The process of purchasing new shoes, or any item for that matter, in the medina is a different process than buying them at an American mall. Medina shopping requires stamina, persistence, and preferably some knowledge of Darija. Bargaining is an expected part of buying anything in the medina, except in very select stores where prices are fixed in advance.

Every medina has its own character. For example the Rabat medina is extremely chaotic and navigating it requires holding firmly to your bag and joining the crush of people. The Fes medina is one of the oldest and most famous in the country, and is also more confusing than many others. While the majority of the shopping in Essaouira, a southern seaside town, is concentrated along one main street and the medina of Rabat more or less follows a grid, the narrow streets in Fes twist back on themselves and the rows of shops extend for miles.

Post 8 Photo 1 - Mika Chmielewski

The square in Fes where many of the copper workers can be found both making and selling their products.


The souk, where the main shops in the medina are concentrated, has different sections each centered around one certain type of product. The copper products in Fes are found in their own square while the food shops – with piles of dates, fresh pomegranates, and live chickens – are mainly found along a section of covered streets on one side of the medina. The shops selling boots, which is what I was looking for after my unfortunate shoe accident, tend to be found near other clothing and shops selling leather products. I stepped into one store and began the long process necessary for buying any goods from the medina. I exchanged greetings with the shopkeeper in Darija; unsurprisingly, I have discovered that beginning with the customary pleasant greetings starts out the process of buying something on the right foot.

Post 8 Photo 2 - Mika Chmielewski

This artisan works in copper etching and allowed one of my friends to give it a try.

Addressing shopkeepers in Darija also often leads to conversations about if I really know Arabic and where and why I am learning it. These conversations have gotten longer, as both my ability to use the language and my confidence increase. Additionally, I have found that using Darija and explaining that I am only a student helps to get me a better deal. Shopkeepers always give an initial price that is much higher than the item really costs. The key is then knowing, or guessing, what a reasonable price is and demanding a number a little less than that. In the case of buying shoes the seller and I went back and forth about four times before reaching an agreement. “Oof that’s way too much?” “What will you pay…..no no impossible….last price” “give me a better price” “okay okay fine, here you go” ”thank you” “no thanks needed, for your health and comfort, enjoy”.

Having to argue over prices is extremely intimidating, but I have honestly found that has helped me to get bolder at speaking and also has led to some genuinely engaging conversations with people. On the Fes excursion, after purchasing a beautiful piece of pottery, one of my friends proceeded to ask the store owner what the best place to get food would be. This question led us to a delicious small restaurant filled with mainly Moroccans and a lunch of some of the best beef tagine I have ever tasted.

Post 8 Photo 3 - Mika Chmielewski

Modeling scarves in the Fes medina. This shop also had agave silk and other fabrics.

By this point, I generally only venture into souks when I need something, such as a functional pair of shoes, but I still do enjoy the experience. It can be a low stakes way to ask questions about symbols in Moroccan culture or about the names of different fruits, learning details I wouldn’t otherwise find out. While my first forays into the Rabat medina made me nervous about having to fight for a good deal, I now believe this exchange is a part of Moroccan culture I will very much miss when I leave. American malls come with the guarantee of knowing what you are getting up front, but they are missing a lot of the human element that I enjoy when shopping in Moroccan medinas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Mika Chmielewski, Morocco, Rabat