Tag Archives: food

“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

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Derek Denton, Morocco, Rabat, Uncategorized

“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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Elizabeth Beaton

“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

Leave a comment

Filed under Derek Denton

“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.

 

food.jpg

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.

friends

 

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.

Leave a comment

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

“Food for Thought” by Dan Fitzgerald

Guess what? It’s the food post. Prepare your appetites because this blog post is about to be delicious. I have been thinking about Moroccan food more than usual as I vacation across Europe for Spring Break. France is known for their breads, cheeses, and wines; Germany is known for their beers and meats; but what’s the food Morocco is known for? Could it be tajins, full of vegetables and meat in small clay pots? Or could it simply be the large, bountiful fruit with every meal? These are all great contenders, however there is one food that means more to me than just taste satisfaction: couscous.

Let me start by saying: all couscous I’ve tried in the United States pales in comparison to the couscous I have in Morocco. Friends who previously studied in Morocco told me to prepare myself and my stomach for the weekly “Couscous Friday” lunches, but I never really understood the hype until I experienced it for myself.

It was a Friday like any other: my roommate Conner and I did our usual morning routine of showering, breakfast, and going to class. Our host mom Hajja reminded us to be home for lunch as she would be making couscous, but I didn’t think too much into it. Lunchtime rolled around- as we entered our home, a mysterious aroma of spices, meats, and vegetables hit our noses. We sat at the table and Hajja appeared with a giant clay plate the size of the table itself filled to the brim with couscous, various vegetables, and chicken. Hajja told us that it takes her over two hours to prepare this meal. She only makes it when they have host students, as this meal could seriously feed an army. Conner and I gave it the old college try to finish all the couscous, but it was just too much and too filling. Like all our Couscous Friday lunches, we ended by gathering some blankets, laying down to digest everything, and watching some Turkish soap operas that Hajja translated to French for me.

Entry 6 - Photo 1.JPG

While I adore couscous because it’s delicious and super filling, it’s now taken on a deeper meaning: not only does it represent my relationship with my host parents and roommate, but also Moroccan culture as a whole. An important part about the couscous dish is that it’s served and eaten all on one, shared clay plate between everyone. There aren’t any separate plates for yourself or silverware to use (unless Conner and I are making a mess and Hajja gives us silverware). It’s a community dish that brings everyone together to share this meal and, metaphorically, allows you to have a shared experience with others. That’s not something many Americans, including myself, experience back in the United States.

Now a lot of travelers to Morocco aren’t as fortunate enough as I am to stay with a host family, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t experience a Couscous Friday like this. One of the best types of restaurants Morocco offers are the living room restaurants. These places are as hole-in-the-wall as they come and can mainly be found in any city’s medina. They are small, one room places where the kitchen and the sitting area are joined together, and it is typically owned and operated by one or two women (typically a mother-daughter duo). These women will make you feel like you are a part of the family and cook you one of the most best meals you can find in Morocco. Again, it’s this shared sense of community and family around food that really brings you closer to Moroccan people. If food is for the soul, then Moroccan food is for the company.

Entry 6 - Photo 2.JPG

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Dan Dan Fitzgerald, Morocco

How is Morocco different from the US? by Sofia Deak

As my first month in Morocco comes to an end, I am starting to be accustomed to life here. I feel more comfortable with the food, am able to have an entire conversation in Darija with my host mom (albeit with many mistakes, I am sure!), and easily know my way around Rabat. As I talk to my friends and family from home, I am constantly posed with the question of “How is Morocco different from the US?”

Initially, I brushed this question off as way too broad to even begin to tackle. “In many ways they are the same!” I usually reply. Mothers walk their kids to school, taxi drivers honk in the streets, couples stroll together by the beach. I am very accustomed to looking for ways in which I am the same as other people; it is in my nature and part of my personal philosophy to focus on shared values and traits rather than the things that divide people.

However, as I have thought more about this question, the more I have come to realize that it needs to be answered. Many friends and family members expressed their shock and worry when I told them I was planning to study abroad in Morocco — a response that baffled me, as all I felt was excitement and some nerves. A cousin asked me if I would be forced to wear a veil while in Rabat, and my doctor asked me why I was not studying in a “safer” and “more Western” country. These questions, I have realized, come from the lack of an answer to that greater, vaguer, question of how Morocco and the United States differ. Even highly educated Americans might be confused about life in a Muslim-majority country and what that life might look like for a twenty-year-old American college student with a Christian upbringing.

So, with only a few weeks experience to draw on, here are a few special moments that strike me as distinctly Moroccan:

Photo 2.JPG

 

Each Friday, my host family gathers with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents for a couscous feast, chatting for hours before the meal without the distractions of cell phones or television. This is pretty foreign to me, because my family is spread out all over the US and only gathers like this for major holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. I was amazed and touched by the closeness of Moroccan families. My family loves to dance, and oftentimes my host sister Fatima Ezzahra plays music on the TV so she, her cousins, parents, aunts and uncles can all dance and sing together in the living room . . .

One late Sunday night, I arrived at the train station with friends, returning to Rabat from a weekend trip to Essaouira. It was dark out and pouring rain; a woman sitting in our train compartment insisted on driving us home, making sure we got inside safely, and invited us to share a meal with her family. She even gave us her daughter’s phone number so we could meet some Moroccans our own age (Rim is a university student in Rabat, like us) . . .

Upon seeing my friends and I walking around in the rain, a woman rushed out of her shop selling wood crafts and dragged us indoors. She pulled a large plastic tarp from a back room, cut it into five equal pieces, and made a hole in the middle of each — homemade ponchos for us all! She gave us tea, saying we reminded us of her daughter, and sent us on our way . . .

Photo 1.JPG

 

These are just three examples of the Moroccan values of hospitality, friendship, and family that the people here seem to really exemplify in their day to day life. I feel very lucky to be studying in such a welcoming, friendly country, and want everyone reading my blog to know that these outward acts of kindness are just one of many things that makes Morocco so special!

Leave a comment

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