A Little Bit of Gnawa

In my Moroccan history and culture class last week we watched part of this concert. This is an example of what my professor called “fusion music”: Hamid El Kasri (the singer) and his band are playing traditional Gnawa songs with the accompaniment of a Western band. It’s an unexpected combination but in my opinion, a winning one. Enjoy!

8 Days…

As strange as it seems, I will be leaving Meknès in a little more than a week. EEK! Here are 10 things I will miss about this lovely city and life in Morocco in general.

  1. My friends. I’ve made some wonderful friends, both American and Moroccan, in my time here. This is not limited to my peers in my study abroad program and my Moroccan friends at Moulay Ismail: I’m going to miss Said and Fatima, the corner store owners who always have time to listen to me practice Arabic; Hassan and Mohammed, the doormen in my apartment building, and Nora, our cook who is so sweet (and makes excellent couscous). More generally, I’ll miss how friendly and open people are. In America – or at least in New England – people tend to be pretty standoffish. When I first arrived here this was definitely a source of culture shock, but now I appreciate it.
  2. The food. Seeing as my diet consists mainly of tajines, couscous, and of course maqoda, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wonder what I’ll eat when I get back to America.
  3. The weather. two words: DRY HEAT! Believe it or not, the only thing I am dreading when I get home is the jungle heat in Rhode Island in the summer.
  4. Arabic. A lot of people told me I’d have to learn French to get around in Morocco. While it’s true that many Moroccans speak French, I’ve met a ton who don’t, and many, many more who insist on speaking Arabic. I’ve been surprised at how many people speak or at least can understand Fus’ha (formal Arabic); just yesterday, in fact, I was in the medina chatting with a shopkeeper who moved fluently between darija and Fus’ha. This is very common, and it’s helped me so much with my Arabic!
  5. The call to prayer. Every day, five times a day, the call to prayer happens, and it’s absolutely beautiful. There’s a mosque behind my apartment building, so I get to hear it loud and clear. I find myself pausing and reflecting during the call to prayer – something that I certainly don’t do enough back home.
  6. Cheap travelling! Not only is it really easy (and cheap!) to get to Europe, but it’s very simple (and cheap!) to get to other places in Morocco. Fès is only an hour away, Rabat and Casablanca two and a half to three, Tangier four to five.
  7. Mint tea. I’ll miss the conversation and the cookies that usually accompany Moroccan tea. I’m definitely thinking about how I will incorporate tea time into my schedule back in America.
  8. The medina! I like the medina not only because it’s the best (and least expensive) to buy anything one would ever need, but also because I get to practice my Arabic and see firsthand how Moroccans move between the traditional and modern.
  9. So many languages! I’ve written about this before, but Moroccans are so multilingual and multicultural that it bears repeating.
  10. The pace of life. More than anything else, life in Meknès has taught me to slow down and pay attention to that which really matters: family, friends, being compassionate, empathetic and kind. I certainly haven’t lost my Protestant work ethic (I don’t think I’ll ever lose my Protestant work ethic), but I’ve definitely adopted some Moroccan/Mediterranean sensibilities.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for just three months, especially since I remember the first day I arrived in Meknès; I wondered if I would ever be able to adjust to everything – the food, the language, the pace of life – and now, strangely enough, I can’t imagine what it’s  going to be like to leave all of this behind.

Moroccan Wedding Eleganza

Here’s a photo of me wearing a takchita, a traditional Moroccan dress, at a wedding a few weeks ago.
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The bride, my roommate’s cousin (she’s half Moroccan, by the way), was kind enough to invite all the girls in my apartment. The wedding took place in a town called Oued Laou, which is about an hour outside of Tetuoan in the mountains and right on the beach overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

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Honestly, I don’t even know how to begin to describe this experience. I was astounded by the incredible hospitality of my roommate’s family, how much (wonderful) food they fed us, and the gorgeous scenery.

Ibiza

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I spent the second half of my spring break in Ibiza, one of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain. While they are part of Spain, people in Ibiza definitely have a keen sense of their identity as ibicencos. I’ve read a little about the Levante (the east) of Spain and how traditionally it has asserted own cultural identity separate from that of the mainland, so it was cool to see it firsthand. I also really enjoyed seeing (and hearing) Catalán.

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Madrid

OK, I know I’m jumping around a lot, but it’s difficult to blog as things happen.

I spent spring break in Spain with some friends; I posted about Ibiza earlier, but my first stop was Madrid. I’ve been studying Spanish since I was in grade school, so seeing the city – the Real Academia, the Cibeles, Puerta del Sol and of course Plaza Mayor, to name a few places – was unbelievable. One of the highlights was going to the museums and seeing paintings I’ve only looked at in textbooks. Incredible!

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Plaza Mayor!

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While I had great time in Spain, it showed me that I made the right choice to study in Morocco. Why? The best way I can describe it is that for an American Spain is comfortable. It’s gorgeous, and the Spanish people are lovely, but ultimately there was very little there for which I, as a Westerner, didn’t have a cultural frame of reference; in other words, nothing was fundamentally different. I’m not trying to glaze over differences between societies in the West, because they do exist, but of course there are continuities. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from living in Morocco and I’m not sure I would have grown as much as a person had I chosen to spend this semester in Spain.

Spring Break

I’ve been off the radar for a while due to a combination of technical issues (I don’t think this WordPress app and my tablet will ever get along) and just being busy. Anyway, spring break is finally here, and I’ll be spending my vacation in Spain with some friends. It’s so exciting and every time I think about it I have to take a step back. To think that I, an ordinary American girl from a hardworking family, have the opportunity not only to live abroad but to travel – it’s just mindboggling, and it leaves me at a loss for words. Before this semester, I had only dreamt of places that are now within walking distance from where I live; I spent hours upon hours studying languages that I now use every day. This experiece is incredible and I feel so abundantly blessed.

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Back Again

I’ve been off the grid for a while due to technical difficulties (e.g., the WordPress app on my tablet decides it doesn’t want to  upload my posts, I scream and pull my hair out, and my posts don’t get uploaded).

I’ve been doing a lot better recently than when I first arrived here, namely because I learned very quickly a few important details about language in Morocco. Firstly, all the Moroccans I know and have encountered in Meknès are at least (and I emphasize at least) bilingual; just last night, one of my roommates and I shared a taxi with a man who attempted to speak to us in darija. I know a very little bit, which I told him in French, and when it became clear that my French is hardly up to par, he switched to Spanish. This is not at all uncommon and makes being a tongue-tied American a little more bearable. The second point is that Moroccans are very kind, sociable people who seem to appreciate any effort one makes to speak a language other than English. And finally, while people do speak French here, I think it sends a very clear message for an American to speak to a Moroccan in the language of their former colonizer rather than in their own language. Not to insinuate that Moroccans mind – some do and some don’t; but on the whole, the people I’ve encountered really appreciate my attempts to speak darija.

For sure, navigating the issue of language(s) in Morocco is difficult; it’s embarrassing when I have to ask people to repeat themselves and it’s frustrating when I don’t understand. I came to accept, though, that I’m going to learn by putting myself in challenging situations. By going out, struggling and making mistakes, I learn so much, which is what I came here to do and which ultimately makes me happy.