Tag Archives: travel

“Defining the Moroccan Experience” by Allison Brady

 

On my first day of our Arabic Fusha class, my wonderful Usteza (teacher) Khadija began the class with a question: What expectations had we brought about Morocco?  Apart from the linguistic difficulty of answering this in Arabic, my classmates and I struggled to list our own concrete expectations.  I could easily think of stereotypes I heard from those around me leading up to my departure; I spent most of my time reacting to others’ expectations of the Maghreb, and neglected to reflect on my own internalized biases. Despite my previous studies of the MENA region within my minor of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, and my carefully developed stock answers for all curious or worried about my choice of study abroad location, I had trouble answering more complex questions on what Morocco would be like.  After only two weeks here, I am learning every day why they are so difficult to answer.  The more time I spend in Morocco, I witness and experience more complications to any generalized answers.

For instance, many asked for a categorical definition of Morocco, geographically or economically.  Is it an African country, a Middle Eastern country, or “Western”?  Is it a “developing” country, or “1st World”?  I use quotations for particularly loaded terms here, but won’t be dissecting them in the short space of a blog post.  Instead, I’ll just try to illustrate a few of many moments of observation into how Morocco resists this kind of reduction.

Regarding the first question of regional affiliation, by language Morocco demonstrates its rich history as a crossroads of the African continent, the Middle East, and Europe.  When asked what languages people speak here, before arriving here I would say that most speak French and Arabic.  This expectation was misleading.  Most people that I have met have diverse degrees of proficiency in many languages.  First, almost everyone speaks Darija, the Moroccan Arabic—except many in or from the rural countryside (a significant portion of the overall population), who often only speak an Amazigh language (of which there are three main ones) local to their region.  Then, proficiency in a second and third language depends on schooling and family origins.  Many speak some Amazigh by function of family roots in a particular region.  Some go to private schools that teach only in French, others to schools that teach in Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic), or even others to more expensive schools that offer English.  In my own host household, everyone speaks Darija.  My mother knows Amazigh and a large amount of French, and both parents know Fusha.  My host siblings do not speak Fusha, but are fluent in French and speak English very well.  My host sister Zubida raps along to Maghrebi hiphop all day long, while Baba Muhamed plays the crooning Arabic melodies of Fairuz when cleaning, and Mama Karima often lounges to classic French music like Charles Aznavour and Joe Dassin.

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One of my favorite places to walk near my home is along the Rabat Marina.  It is always bustling with Moroccans enjoying the same beautiful walk with friends and family.  The marina strip follows the Bou Regreg river that opens into the Atlantic Ocean.  The fortified walls of the historic Kasbah (built in the 12th century and once home to the infamous Barbary pirate republic) rise above the river’s mouth, and it faces the sister city of Sale, which is the fastest growing city in Morocco and whose shoreline is full of construction of brand new buildings.  Right at the end of the marina, at the foot of the Kasbah’s hill, merry-go-rounds and bumper cars and assorted carnival rides run all afternoon.  I like to sit on the edge of the marina and watch the fishermen and ferries work on the old little blue rowboats of Morocco, while an occasional jetski zooms through the otherwise still waters.  These images illustrate common associations of “modernity” and “development,” rich history and constant change, which exist here not as contrasts in tension, but as natural parts of the daily life.

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These observations reveal only a fraction of what makes Moroccan society so rich, complex, and difficult to define.  The list of the common “expectation questions” I heard pre-arrival could go on: What do Moroccans wear? What are the roles of women in Morocco? How do Moroccans practice religion?  Already, I could reflect for many more pages on the many diverse experiences of daily life, identity, gender, clothing/dress, race, and religion which I have so far encountered.  It is widely accepted that the “American experience” depends so greatly on factors of identity, income, family, and location, and I am beginning to discover that the only universal factor to the “Moroccan experience” is layers of complexity.

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“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

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“Just Arrived” by Derek Denton

Well, it has finally happened: I have arrived in Morocco!

I actually arrived in Morocco three days earlier than expected. After three grueling flights, I spent those few days in a comfortable hotel in Casablanca, where I got my first taste of living in Northern Africa. The language barrier is radically different than what I expected: I was under the impression previously that French was a secondary language to accommodate tourists, but I found that it is the primary language among many Moroccans in ‘Casa.’ That being said, I had an interesting time ordering my first meals in the country. While I was expecting to be sampling the food to be an interesting way to taste the culture (pun intended), it did not occur to me until I started clearing my plate of just how different an experience this semester will be than anything I have done before.

After a hot day wandering and photographing Casablanca’s streets, I settled in at a cafe down the block from my hotel for what sounded like the most refreshing thing on the menu: a Moroccan salad. At the time I had no idea what was actually in a Moroccan salad, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I placed my order in the fragments of the French language I recollected from high school: “Je voudrais un Moroccan salad, sil-vous-plait,” and busied myself with calculating the Moroccan Dirham-American Dollar conversion rate, when my meal ended up on my table: a hot bowl of Moroccan soup. My waiter vanished before I could protest. Apparently, my waiter did not understand my request aside from the word “Moroccan.” Anyone traveling would expect some degree of culture shock, but this wasn’t the kind I anticipated! It occurred to me as I ate my “salad” that simple communication is going to be an unprecedented challenge this semester. Learning Moroccan Arabic evolved from an ambitious goal to a necessity in that moment.

The next time the food of Morocco influenced me was just today. This time I had the company of excellent translators including my professors to ensure I ordered the right thing. At a trendy traditional Moroccan restaurant, I had the opportunity to try a local delicacy: Tajine. It’s essentially a sizzling stew that is served using a variety of different meats, but more importantly an arsenal of different spices including turmeric, ginger, onion, pepper, paprika, and cinnamon. Accompanied by my dish that appealed to all five senses I was served a glass of Moroccan tea: a deep brew mixed with spearmint, peppermint, sage, and “tons of sugar.”

The lunch was not only kind to my stomach, but to my education. Indeed, I learned two things at the table today: first of all, I am going to have a lot of fun eating this semester and more importantly tasting Moroccan food is getting a chance to explore the roots of Moroccan history. During the Age of Exploration, European powers sent voyages across the globe to colonize land and by proxy discovered new foods and spices. Trying Moroccan food, with its wide array of seasonings and spices reminded me that the country sits at crossroads of colonial powers. It was an interesting experience to be eating and drinking from recipes that would have been created after risky trips worldwide to acquire their ingredients.

For instance, my dinner I had at the hotel in Casablanca was a prime example of where I could taste different regional influences on Morocco. I enjoyed a bowl of “Habarr wa gambaree,” a spicy bowl of red peppers, shell-in shrimp the size if my fingers, and calamari rings stuffed with smaller shrimps. These ingredients mark different cultural influences. The red peppers are a fruit of the New World, brought over by explorers who discovered it in hopes of selling it as a rare spice. Interestingly, it became a staple of Moroccan cuisine. The calamari, however, is an influence left over from the Spanish. The Spanish had a significant influence over the Maghreb region during the time of the Spanish Empire.

What’s most exciting is that these kind of trips are not going to be ending in the near future. Regardless of where I travel in this country, I plan to be sampling a wide array of Moroccan cuisine.

And of course, some photos!

The Entertaining Way to Serve Tea

This method of pouring is apparently so that air can catch the tea as it falls, creating delicious bubbles when it reaches the cup. I would probably just burn my hand.

 

The Traditional Moroccan Tables.

Certainly the most comfortable I have ever been at a restaurant. More importantly, these seats set the scene for my classmates and I as we tasted the legacy of the ancient spice trade.

Until next time,

-Eli

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“Introduction to Elizabeth” by Elizabeth Beaton

My name is Elizabeth Beaton and I am a student at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. I study International Relations and Arabic and I am so excited to spend my junior year in Morocco. At Mount Holyoke, I have studied Modern Standard Arabic for two years and the Arabic program has become a second home for me. During my year away I will miss my classmates, Arabic professors, and Mount Holyoke’s beautiful campus.

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My hometown is only an hour and half away from Mount Holyoke so living across the ocean in Morocco will be quite a transition. I grew up in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, about an hour outside of Boston. I have always enjoyed exploring both the New England countryside and nearby cities. I really began to love busy city life when visiting relatives in New York City where I became fascinated with subway stations, public parks, and crowded sidewalks. I cannot wait to explore Rabat and to become comfortable navigating a new city.

However, excitement is not the only emotion that I have been experiencing with regard to my year abroad. As this summer has flown by, I have grown more excited and nervous by the week. Despite feelings of apprehension I know that moving out of my comfort zone will help me grow and achieve my goals. In high school I left my New England comfort zone and studied abroad in Spain for a year. I lived with two host families and attended public school completely in Spanish. Being immersed in Spanish culture and language helped to accelerate my language proficiency and allowed me to build lasting connections and friendship. In addition to attending class during the school week in Spain, I was able to travel to different regions across the country on weekends and vacations. On a trip to Granada, Spain I visited the Alhambra palace with other exchange students. I’ve bookmarked this particular memory as a defining moment that changed the trajectory of my language interests. While visiting the palace I was exposed to Moorish architecture for the first time, a continuing legacy of the Moors’ time in the Iberian Peninsula. The beauty of all aspects of the fortress, from tilework to archways to reflection pools, sparked my interest in Arabic and in the connections that link European and Arab cultures.

While studying abroad in Morocco one of my main goals is building upon my Arabic skills. I love languages and have studied many languages in the classroom setting. So far I have had the opportunity to study Spanish, French, German, and Italian, in addition to Arabic. I am particularly excited to be immersed in Moroccan culture and to start learning Darija- the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. I am a complete beginner in Darija and I am pretty nervous about what my first few weeks in Rabat will bring. Yet, at the same time I can’t wait to meet my host family, other students, and the AMIDEAST program staff.

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As my departure date gets closer and closer I have been completing last minute errands and saying my farewells. I have said goodbyes to work colleagues, spent lots of quality time with friends and family, and have gone on many walks with my dog. I cannot wait for my time in Rabat to begin and to share this adventure with you all.

 

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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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“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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“Fun in the Sun” by Dan Fitzgerald

Studying abroad is a lot like going into a new relationship. You start out in that honeymoon phase where everything is new and adventurous, you are excited by every little thing, and you can’t possibly imagine what life was like before it. But then that honeymoon phase ends and you realize that the world is still spinning and suddenly things aren’t as interesting anymore. You finally realize your significant other has little quirks that annoy you and the spark that once arose in you by every little thing is going out. Typically, in a relationship one of two things could happen: you either break it off as there is nothing left to inspire you, or you find that raw spark in all the little things that truly makes you happy. If you haven’t caught on already, I’m talking about my relationship with Morocco.

I am more than half way done with my semester abroad in Morocco and I am certainly out of the honeymoon phase. I soon realized that outside of studying for class, eating, and sleeping, I have a lot of free time on my hand. I don’t know about you, but free time is my worst enemy, as I become bored and restless very easily. Most people abroad, especially those in Europe, would solve this by traveling more, but even extensive travel was starting to wear me down (as well as wear my bank account down). So where do I go when I need to cure my angst? The beach.

 

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I know what you are thinking. “Dan, that is so stereotypical. Of course, everyone loves the beach. This isn’t something unique to Morocco.” You’re right, but cool your jets, because the beach here in Rabat is much more than your average beach back in the States. I frequent the “Plages de Salé” so much that I will most likely go there today once I finish this blog post. It’s a large beach that lies next to the Oued Bou Regreg river and the Atlantic Ocean. The place is magical especially in the evening as the sun sets on the water and bathes the Rabat Kasbah in an orange glow. It’s also the perfect place to let loose with both my American friends and meet some new people, especially when it comes to volleyball.

One Friday in February, a bunch of AMIDEAST students and myself decided to meet at this beach after couscous lunch to play some soccer and volleyball on the beach. We all meet up, draw our volleyball court in the sand, and start the match. In all honesty, we all chose to play volleyball because we knew we would make fools of ourselves in front of Moroccans if we played soccer. But soon all the Moroccans playing soccer matches around us started watching us play volleyball and soon joined in a classic Morocco v. United States volleyball match. This match could have lasted until the sun set, but strangely enough a large cloud of fog blanketed the entire beach. That’s when we had to call the match a draw even though the Moroccans clearly beat us, but that will be our little secret.

 

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Besides the views and activities on this beach, my favorite things about Plages de Salé is that it is only place where I have found Moroccans outside of their comfort zones. I’m talking about real Moroccan couples enjoying time together, Moroccans playing with their dogs in the ocean, parents building sand castles with their children, the list could go on. What I have found is that Moroccans operate their lives very differently between the spheres of public and private, making it hard to see Moroccans as who they really are. But here on this beach, I see their vulnerability more than ever. I see them enjoying life.

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