Tag Archives: surfing

“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.

SD

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.

Surf.jpg

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

Surfing with the King

Friday was already going to be an adventure. I was convinced by a couple of friends to try surfing at one of the surf clubs along the coast of Rabat. Overlooked by Oudaya, the ancient cliff fortifications, the shore provides Rabatis some open space – albeit strewn with discarded bottles and plastic – to play soccer or swim. I have never been surfing before, and the idea of attempting to balance on a board in the tumulus surf seemed ludicrous. Yet, I relented, even at the cost of missing the weekly family couscous lunch. Warm noontime sun bathed the streets of the city as we flagged a cab towards the medina. We wore jeans above our bathing suits to remain modest throughout our journey to the beach.

Oudaya

Oudaya

Large crowds were awaiting us at the medina. As we stepped out of the cab, a festive mood greeted us, and the excitement in the air was palpable. Mobs of onlookers thronged past the main square of Bab al-Had to a smaller, fenced off entrance in the medina’s walls. Men donned in white jalabas – the traditional Moroccan dress – and red caps stood waiting, surrounded by policemen along the periphery of the temporary fence, a protective barrier from the pulsing crowd. All around, young and old Moroccans were holding small red and green Moroccan flags and clutching pictures of the king. A troop of young, rowdy school children briefly halted their horseplay and erupted into a chant in praise of their king. The cheer spread through the crowd, accompanied by a burst of red of the waving flags. Somewhere from within the enclosure a drum was striking a beat.

Suddenly, royal guards donned in white capes and holding large flags streamed out and assembled in formation alongside the path leading to the small gate. Other guards rolled magnificent traditional carpets, covering the sidewalks and tram rails. Traffic stopped. Anticipation filled the air. The whole crowd leaned precariously forward, risking tipping over for a brief glimpse. And then, a motorcade of sleek, back limousines and police motorcycles pulled to a stop in front of the entrance to the medina. The door opened, and to the sound of cheers and trumpets, out stepped a man in a golden jalaba: the king. Smiling and waving, the king passed by the flag bearers, the advisors clad in white, and the stiff policemen, and entered the medina for the Friday afternoon prayer.

As the crowd dissipated, I reflected on what I had just experienced. Seeing the king was a goal I really hoped would be realized, and after just three weeks in Morocco, I saw a figure that looms larger than life for Moroccans, though most have never seen him in flesh-and-blood. As an American, used to a vibrant media and democratic system, it is almost unbelievable to suddenly live in a monarchy, where the ruler is sanctioned not by the will of the people, but by God and history. Yet, as unfamiliar as this is for me, even the pro-democracy activists I have met did not wish to see a Morocco without a monarch, desiring instead a more reserved, ceremonial role for the king. All were wary of what a future without a king would look like. The king, they say, holds Morocco together.

Ocean in Morocco

Ocean in Morocco

We left the square and the king behind, and walked along the ancient reddish walls of the medina towards the glimmering blue of the ocean. Young men were playing soccer on the beach, couples were sipping tea in the seaside cafés, and a few brave souls were surfing in the waves. Such serenity is difficult to find in the intensive pace of life back home, and for a moment, I could understand why many Moroccans would like things to stay just the way they are.

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

Free Time in Morocco

If you asked me to describe what a regular day in Morocco might look like for me, I don’t think I could do it. Each day seems to have an adventure of its own. Of course, I have classes every day, but even those aren’t a reliable basis for a steady schedule as one class meets just once a week, two classes meet twice a week, one class meets three times a week, and so on. Even the way I spend my time in between classes can turn out quite differently. Sometimes it’s homework, other times it’s connecting with friends, and yet other times its going out to grab a snack from a hanute (small corner shop), tea, or if I’m feeling particularly hungry, chawarma.

                Sometimes it seems that simply stepping out the door opens another to an adventure, no matter how small. Of course, part of this feeling may just be that there are so many new things to look at, even in heavily westernized Rabat, that I think everything is new and interesting. Still, it’s not hard to find a new experience, even if it’s only talking to someone on the street. People in Morocco are so open and welcoming it’s not hard to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. So far, my friends and I have discussed religion (and have been told numerous times to consider converting to Islam), the Western Sahara (depending on who you ask, the Moroccan Sahara), language, and have scheduled a pick-up soccer game (yet to be played), just to name a few subjects of conversation. Aside from the daily conversations, there is an endless amount of cafes to explore, and the whole maze-like medina (old city) that I can spend hours exploring without getting bored.

                At first, you may think that there are more cafes than there are people, but you quickly realize during the busiest times that this is not the case. Every café will have most of their tables occupied as people come to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. It didn’t take long for me to also grow accustomed to this amazing custom. I spend a lot of time at cafés as they are useful both for socializing with friends and for a change of scenery when I need to get large amounts of homework done.

                About once a week my schedule will allow me to go surfing, which has quickly become one of my favorite ways to spend my free time. Learning how to surf has always been one of my goals, and thanks to my proximity to the beach, it’s now possible. I’ve started learning at the man-made beach just underneath the city’s Kasbah where the breakwaters yield small waves perfect for complete beginners. However, I hope to move over to the next beach where I can practice on bigger waves as I progress with the basics of surfing.


                One thing I had no idea I would do when I came to Morocco is to teach English, but when I learned about the opportunity I jumped at it. I had no experience teaching English and therefore was slightly apprehensive at first about exactly how I would be able to teach, but the program coordinators quickly reassured us that some of the best English teachers (or teachers of any language) use only English to teach. Furthermore, the students that my friend and I have been teaching already know enough English to be conversational, so the main goal now is to find activities that will challenge them to practice new grammar and vocabulary.

                Café-sitting, surfing, and teaching are three consistent activities I know I’ll continue to do for the rest of my time here. However, who knows what will happen with the rest of my free time-I’m sure that I’ll have many more awesome adventures and experiences.

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