Wednesday, December 25, 2013

And so it is Christmas

Recipe for Christmas Joy

(specifically, when over 4,000 miles away from the traditions of Christmases past)

- last minute shopping trips (to the Medina, instead of the mall) 

- a Christmas tree (not from the Christmas tree farm, but from the wonderful store Yatout. Substitute a Fez for a star/angel) 

- stockings (my lovely mother sent mine with me in August, already filled. I filled big socks for my host sisters to share the tradition with them) 

- Secret Santa (with my YES family, thanks to Jordan for the hammam basket). 

-church on Christmas Eve (one service at Rabat International Church, another at the Cathedral. Both lovely). 

- a delicious Christmas breakfast (at my friends' host family's home) 

-some sort of giving back (I taught English class today) 

- a delicious Christmas dinner (we were invited to the home of an American expat family here in Rabat, whose kindness overflowed. I also skyped into my family's Christmas dinner back home) 

- wonderful people to share the holiday with (my host family, my YES Abroad family, the family who welcomed us into their home, the NSLIY students we met at dinner, my Moroccan friends, my family and friends back home) 

Mix together in a few wonderful, chaotic days. 

I thought that my first Christmas away from all the traditions that have marked this season in the past would be lonely. But in reality, the only thing missing was snow. And Rabat gave us some pouring rain to make up for it. I will never forget this wonderful Christmas and everyone who shared it with me. My Christmas bubbled over with light and joy, and in that sense, it was just like every Christmas I've ever known. Merry Christmas to everyone celebrating all over the world :) 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ana Fr7na

I apologize for my absence in the blogging world. I don't know how to share all I am learning and experiencing, but I want to keep writing. Despite the inevitable bad days, uphill battles with language, in the past few weeks, I have started to feel truly happy in Morocco.

When I read my journals from the beginning, I sound different. It's not just that they're in English, unlike my last two journals in French, but my voice is younger. 

In September, I had the chance to be a child again--to take in the wonder of this new, unfamiliar place with my eyes wide open. I sat on the floor most of the time, still unable to see over the ledge I used to pull myself up, but craving more of the world just beyond my fingertips. 

Then October rolled around. Rhythms set in, but their novelty sheltered me from discouragement. In this time, I started to crawl--slowly at first but then faster. Periodically, I would have to stop and catch my breath, but on the whole, the progress I made felt tangible. Markedly, I moved in the forward direction.

In November, crawling stopped being enough. I wanted (and needed) to start walking, in order to move from the person I was (pre exchange) to the person I want to be at the end of the year. I took my first full-fledged steps, but I fell to the ground more times than not. Most days, I felt that I would stagnate in this state of stumbles. My knees buckled instantly at the objects in my path, and I ended up back on the ground, feeling the same confusion I did during my first weeks, without the wonder. 

In December, I started walking. I can't exactly place where I stopped stumble- stepping and started striding, but I do remember a feeling of contentedness coming over me in the Medina as the sun set. Somehow, what was at first shiny and then dull became a blissful combination of appreciation with a healthy dose of unknown. I want to be clear—though I walk now, I still fall down. But I no longer grasp at thin air or fear that I’ll never get up. I know what to reach for, and I believe now that there is always something wonderful ahead. 

Here are a few of the wonderful things I’ve experienced:  Raja (the team representing Morocco in the FIFA Club Cup) won against Mineiro, of Brazil, on Wednesday. I stood on my balcony with my sisters, hearing the blasting of car horns, and screaming “Dima Raja!” The streets of Rabat were full of celebrating fans. Raja is playing Bayern (Germany) tomorrow night and I can’t wait!  

Some of the celebrations! (not my picture)

Today, I saw the King of Morocco! I was walking home from school when I saw my street, full of people waving Moroccan flags and pictures of the King, and then I heard a cheer and I saw the King in his car. I didn’t even know he was coming to the mosque next to my apartment, but I feel so lucky! 

These types of unexpected joys that accompany my days in Rabat make me say with confidence—I am happy = je suis contente = ana fr7na! 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving in Morocco

Before coming to Morocco, I envisioned that Thanksgiving without my natural family would be quite lonely. Thanks to my wonderful host family and friends, Thanksgiving 2013 was anything but that. The festivities began last Sunday with a presentation in the ACCESS classes at AMIDEAST. ACCESS is a really amazing program that provides English lessons to students who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford them. Along with two other YES Abroad students, I taught a class on the history of Thanksgiving. We were able to go further into the story behind this holiday and wrapped up the lesson with apple pie.

We looked awesome in our Turkey hand hats. 

Apple Pie Morocco Edition 

On Wednesday, we shared our Thanksgiving traditions once again, though this time, with a much younger audience: the beginner's English classes at AMIDEAST. Chaos reigned as we helped the students to make their own turkey hats. I made the mistake of teaching them how to gobble, and they then proceeded to chase each other around the classroom, gobbling all the way, for the rest of the time. Here's a video of a few of our students: click here! 

The next day was Thursday: actual Thanksgiving. School was a bit torturous, but in the afternoon, after presenting at the meeting of a university English club, we (the other YES Abroad students and I) rushed to Thanksgiving dinner at the American club.

Waiting for the tram to take us to our turkey dinner! 

 The meal tasted like home, even if it wasn't all that much like my meal would have been like. That night, I got to skype my natural family and talk to my best friend on the phone. I thought that hearing their voices would make me homesick, but instead I felt comforted by their familiar chatter. Before I went to bed, I went to read the news and saw an article of U.S. soldiers having their Thanksgiving meal while on tour. I am grateful that the distance separating my family is both temporary and by choice, and that even though we are on different sides of the world, we are healthy and safe. 

I'm also grateful for this picture of  my dear friends holding my picture! 

Black Friday was actually just Cous Cous Friday and instead of shopping for clothes I went to Carrefour and gathered ingredients for the Thanksgiving meal I made today for my host family. I now have major respect for anyone who cooked their family's Thanksgiving meal, it was somewhat of a stressful experience. But I'm proud of the dishes I made--chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and almond rocas. After my host family clarified that cranberry sauce is not, in fact, made with wine, they dug right in and especially loved the stuffing. 

All in all, I will remember this wonderful, atypical Thanksgiving for a long time. I am grateful to all my friends, Moroccan and American who wished me 'Happy Thanksgiving.' I have so much to be thankful for and can't possibly list it all here, but please know that I am so grateful to everyone who has been a part of my story and who has helped me along the way. Bisous du Maroc :) 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Trams and Taxis: Finding My Way in Rabat

"If only I lived in a city!" I used to think longingly, staring out the window of my mom's mini van as we drove from school to work to various other arrangements. My short but frequent visits to Chicago and other cities gave me a taste of the perks of city life--and the accessibility and range of options for getting from point A to B appealed to me greatly. Thanks to YES Abroad and a great amount of luck, I ended up here in Rabat, 4,000 miles away from my mom's mini van (though I do miss it!) and in the center of a city with a population of over one million. I've managed to make my way around the city via tram, taxi, train, bus and my own two feet. Though my adventures with transportation have not been without late arrivals and confusing moments, I've come to know (and mainly appreciate) the options available to find my way. They include:

Tram: I used to take the tram every day to school. I'd like to think that I've perfected the art of tram life, but my late arrivals at school would suggest otherwise. I've learned to always keep a spare ticket in my wallet, so I can simply run onto the tram if it's pulling up at the station. In the mornings, everyone is smashed together, counting the number of stops until they can breathe again. There's a mutual understanding that comes from being crushed into random strangers at early morning hours! The tram is clean, cheap, and predictable, and for this reason it's my favorite form of transportation.

Taxi: There are two types of taxis--grand and petit
  • Grand taxi: I've only ridden in a grand taxi a few times, because they wait for five people to come before leaving. They are useful for going to destinations a little farther away--such as Sale, the city across the river from Rabat, but can be expensive. 

  • Petit taxi: I use petit taxis very frequently. These smaller taxis can be hailed by holding one's arm at a ninety degree angle from the body. Because they can hold up to three people, the driver will stop along the way and pick up or drop off other passengers. There's a meter in the front that keeps track of the price, and the minimum fare is 6 dirhams (about 75 cents). In Rabat, petit taxis are blue, but each city has a specific color of petit taxi. In Agadir, they are orange, in Fez they are red, and so on. For the first time last week, I was able to give a taxi driver directions to my destination! Taxis are the quickest way to move about the city, but also one of the most expensive. 

Train: I've actually only been on the train once. During our first week in Rabat, we did a scavenger hunt around the city which included riding back to Amideast on the tram. In our frenzied state of mind, my partner and I ended up getting on the train instead. We quickly realized it and got off at the train station in Agdal, though I did enjoy my five minute ride. I don't know if I'll be riding the train again this year.

Bus: While bus fare doesn't cost more than 50 cents, the bus gives meaning to the saying "time is money." The bus stops aren't entirely fixed and thus a healthy sense of patience is required both when waiting for the bus and when riding it. Because it's a bit unpredictable, the bus isn't my favorite form of transportation, but it's always an adventure and thus far, I've made it to all my destinations (eventually). 

Two feet: I've started walking to school, now that it's light outside in the morning. There are plenty of other people on the street and sometimes I'll meet up with one of my friends along the way. It's a little bit of exercise built into every day, which I definitely need here! 

I've realized that no matter where you live on the planet or how you get there, you spend most of your days going in the same circles--from school, to home, to whatever else occupies your time. My challenge in the past few weeks has been keeping up my enthusiasm for the experiences that have now become 'normal' to me. It's not to say that life in Morocco doesn't stretch my limits, but rather, these challenges are no longer a question mark but a daily reality. On any given day, the reality of life can be overwhelmingly beautiful or stressful and most days, it is a combination of both. During the stressful times, I've learned to remember that there is undoubtedly a wonderful moment ahead--whether that moment is a successful conversation in Darija or the silence on the sidewalks during Friday prayers. 

Until next time, nshoufk mn bad! (see you later!) 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Middle Atlas Adventures

Last Sunday, I left the Rabat area for the first time and set off to Fez and the Middle Atlas with the rest of my group and our wonderful leader Sarah. The city of Fez is home to the biggest medina in the world and we spent a day and a half exploring the city before winding our way through the mountains. We've all heard it said: photos are worth a thousand words. Here's some of my favorites from the trip:

The Royal Palace in Fez on the first day of our trip. 

Artisans gave the tile work on the Royal Palace to the former King to show their appreciation for his support of the arts.

The Mellah or Jewish Quarter of Fez. The balconies found there are one of the differences between the Mellah and the Medina. 

We had the opportunity to visit a synagogue turned museum, where we learned more about the Fezi Jew population. At its peak, 22,000 Jews lived in Fez, but now only about 150 remain. 

Overlooking the beautiful Medina of Fez. There are two sides--the Qaraweeyan and Andalucian. The first university in the world (founded by a woman!) is in Fez.  

One of the many shops in the Medina. We toured the Medina at night and returned the next day on our own. I loved seeing it at its most busy and quietest times. The multilingualism of the shopkeepers impressed me. Because Fez is a huge tourist destination, many of the shopkeepers spoke Darija, French, and English. 

One of the many doors or "baabs" that serve as entrances to the Medina.

Tanneries Chwarma! I visited the tanneries at their most active point--the morning--and bought a leather bag there. The tanneries have a distinct smell, as the leather workers soften the animal skin by soaking it in pigeon poop. 

The winding streets of Fez. Getting lost in the Medina is unavoidable and actually pretty fun! Currently, 150,000 people live within the walls of the Fez Medina. As I walked the streets, I pondered all the changes that the walls have seen since their creation in 789 A.D. It's fascinating to consider that people have tread the same paths for thousands of years and will continue to do so for thousands more.

Because there are no cars in the Medina, donkeys and motorcycles are used to transport goods through the narrow streets. The tall buildings cast shadows in the alley, which keeps the Medina cool in the hot summer months. As our guide said, "It is cool and dark. In the alley there isn't a divison of class."

Place de Seffarine is a square where copper workers shape metal into kitchenware, jewelry, and tools. Throughout the day, their hammers can be heard connecting with metal, creating what is known as the "song of Seffarine." 

I loved the shopping Fez and went a little bit crazy. One of my favorite purchases is lip redden-er from the henna souk inside the Medina. It's a small bowl covered in reddish paint and stays on for a very long time!

After spending a whirlwind day and half in Fez, we headed to the countryside. Our first destination: Moulay Yacoub, a small down nestled on a hillside and known primarily for its sulfur springs. Before bathing in the springs, we hiked to the top of the mountain opposite Moulay Yacoub.

Overlooking Moulay Yacoub. After two months in the bustling city, I welcomed the fresh air and quiet! From the top of the mountain, we could hear the men and women inside the hammam singing call and response. Going to Moulay Yacoub is somewhat of a pilgrimage, as the water is thought to cure skin diseases. 

The entire group post our Moulay Yacoub adventures! We had two options for bathing--private and public. In the private hammam, each person has their own bathtub in a single room for half an hour. I opted for the public hammam. Inside, I found a single chamber with a large pool of HOT sulfur water in the middle. Women crowded the room, all fighting to find their spot to bathe in the mineral rich water. Thanks to the assistance of some kind women, I found a spot on the side of the pool and participated in the rituals of scrubbing, combing, and jumping into the scalding water! 

After our visit to Moulay Yacoub, we continued to Azrou, a small town in the Atlas mountains. We had the fortune of visiting the weekly souk there as well! 

I really enjoyed Azrou. It kind of looked like how I imagine Germany! 

Blue Djellaba Club! Djellabas are traditionally worn by men and women in Morocco over other clothing. I'm in love with mine and can't wait to get another! 

Oddly, monkeys are native to the Cedar forests in the Middle Atlas! Our group had a great time looking for monkeys, chasing monkeys, and taking pictures with monkeys. Monkey see, monkey do. 

From Azrou, we moved onto visit two small villages--Ain Leiu and Oum Er-Rbia. This picture is the view from the restaurant where we ate tajine in Oum Er-Rbia. Oum Er-Rbia means "Mother Source" in Darija and is the source of a river which shares its name. 

We hiked to this beautiful waterfall in Oum Er-Rbia before heading back to Rabat!

I really enjoyed the chance to see more of Morocco. The more I learn of my host country, the more I realize how much more there is to understand. A few days ago, we were asked by a lecturer to sum up Morocco in one word. I chose the word "contrast." Morocco is a country where different ideologies and lifestyles interact, collide, and mix. As the two month mark of my exchange passes, I'm grateful for all that I have experienced and excited for the days ahead. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fall Reflections

Judging by the Facebook statuses popping up in my news feed, it snowed in my hometown.

Weather has a way of reminding me of the passage of time when I start to forget. On the last weekend in September, I finally experienced a rainy day in Rabat. My cheeks felt cold outside and the clouds hung low in the sky. That night, the fifth in my new host family, I cuddled up with my huge fleece blanket. As I warded off the cold, another type of chill set into my bones: that of reality. Throughout my exchange experience, reality has remained elusive. I said "I can't believe it" when I found about my acceptance, when I had one hour left in the United States, when I landed in Morocco. But on my first cold night in Morocco, I believed it: I finally felt and understood how LONG ten months is. In that moment, I understood that I would be Morocco long enough for the nights to become much colder and then warm again. The length of my exchange was tangible, real, and a little bit scary.

Now the cold feels normal, and instead of thinking about how LONG my exchange will be, I am realizing just how quickly it is flying by. Two months of this crazy adventure will have passed me by come October 31. Have I explored enough? Has my French improved enough? Have I taken advantage of this wonderful, challenging experience in as many ways as possible? These are the questions that I wonder as the rhythms of Rabat familiar to a point where they are no longer "rhythms of Rabat" but simply habits of home.

We are given finite time and infinite possibilities. Past exchange students have warned me: exchange flies by. I understand that now and I realize that my time here in Morocco will never be "enough." All I can do is make each day worthwhile, seize it in the most energetic way possible, and fill it with growth. Lately, I've been challenged to continue giving this experience the effort and dedication it merits. It's all to easy to slip into the mindset of "I have all year to do this." But if not now, when? When will I be in this situation again? When will I have chance to earn back the wasted moments? The answer is never--every moment of every day I have ever lived is "once in a lifetime." Even the most mundane, routine activities can never be experienced in the exact same way two times. These activities are infinitely more precious here in Morocco, because come June, they will take place an ocean away. The small moments are the ones I will remember when I look back on this year. I will remember chopping vegetables each night with my host mom, going to the hanut with my host sister, and burning my finger tips and tongue on cous cous. I will remember the English classes I laughed through and the walks home with the sun high in the sky. For now, I am off to create these memories, and reflect on them, keeping in mind that their existence, like my exchange, is temporary yet beautiful. Carpe Diem.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Eid Mubarak!

Last week, I had the joy of spending Eid al Adha for the first time with my wonderful host family! Eid al Adha is a holiday commemorating the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son when God ordered him to. To remember this obedience, Muslim families around the world sacrifice animals--sheep, cows, goats and even chickens--and spend time with family and friends.The celebration takes place annually at the end of the twelfth month in the Islamic calender, after the pilgrimage to Mecca, called the Hajj, comes to a close. You can read more about the story behind Eid al Adha here!

In Morocco, most families sacrifice sheep. This meant that, during the weeks leading up to Eid, the city swelled with sheep-- their cries of "baa-baa" and their stench filling the normally crisp fall air. Trucks wound through the streets, carrying men and their sheep of choice from souk. A few days before Eid, my host mother motioned me over to look out the window of our laundry room. She pointed with a smile on her face to a single sheep in the courtyard below, and gestured so that I understood: this was the sheep that would be sacrificed in our home the following Wednesday. I looked forward to Eid with excitement--the inevitable mutton centered dishes and time spent preparing these dishes with my host family.

The morning of the Eid I awoke to a special call to prayer, called Salat Al Eid. When the prayer ended, people spilled onto the street from the mosque, all headed home to sacrifice their animals. Not fifteen minutes later, my sister motioned me to the balcony. On the sidewalk below us, I saw sheep heads roasting on a charcoal fire. The reality that almost every part of the sheep would be eaten set in. My family and I watched the king sacrifice his sheep on TV, which vaguely reminded me of watching the Macy's Day Thanksgiving parade before digging into a huge meal of turkey and stuffing.

When the time for the sacrifice came, the sheep was brought from the courtyard to the laundry room of the apartment. We gathered around, petting it and taking pictures, before our neighbor came over to perform the sacrifice. Our neighbor, the concierge, and my host uncle held down the sheep, and with the words "bismillah allah akhbar" and two swift cuts to the throat, it began to bleed out. It didn't take long for the sheep to quiver one final time and die. I watched with a mixture of interest and sadness as they cut a small hole in the sheep skin and inflated it, before removing the fur and skin. When I came back to the laundry room a few hours later, I found the sheep carcass hung by the ceiling. The first day, we ate the organ meat on kebabs, which my host family cooked on a charcoal grill. As I watched the apartment fill with smoke, I realized that fire alarms don't exist here.

The next day my host mom butchered the rest of the carcass herself. I helped her to do so, but watched from the side as she cleaned its head. As is customary, we gave some of the meat away to those who could not afford a sheep and some it to friends. I have become very familiar with the taste of mutton over the past few days! The streets have come to a stand still, for once. Many of the stores have remained closed through the weekend, because the owners are spending the holiday with extended family in far away cities. Eid festivities vary across Morocco and around the world. I've enjoyed learning about Eid around the world through the blog posts of my YES Abroad counterparts! You can read about Eid in Ghana hereEid in Oman here, and Eid in Indonesia here. Two common themes seem hold Eid festivities together--food and family. I loved spending Eid with my family and hope that this was just the first of many Eid celebrations to come!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The First Americans

Today I set out on an adventure with my friends Kate (Boston) and Belinda (Maryland) to Temara. Our English teacher invited us to help out at the English classes she coordinates through the ACCESS program, which is sponsored by the US government. I knew today would be a day of firsts for me--my first time on the bus, first time out of Rabat, and first time volunteering in Morocco. However, as I set out from my apartment this morning, I didn't imagine that I'd be the first U.S. American to some of my new friends.

My friends and I met at the bus stop, which was already crowded with people anxiously staring down the street. We weren't sure which direction we wanted, just the bus number, but thanks to some helpful Moroccans, we realized that we needed to move to the other side of the road. Upon arriving at the actual bus stop that we needed, we waited about 10 minutes for Bus Number 4. I boarded the bus, clutching the 4 dirham fare in my hand. I didn't see any place to pay, so I proceeded to make myself comfortable (or as comfortable as possible on such a crowded bus). It wasn't until I saw a man in the middle of the bus attempting to get my attention that I learned that I had walked right past the ticket taker and neglected to pay. After handing over the equivalent of 50 cents, Kate, Belinda, and I communicated our destination to the driver, who agreed to tell us when we reached our destination. The bus transported us out of flashy Agdal, through the villas of Hay Riad, and finally, onto the main street of Temara. Temara felt oddly like small town USA--one main street, filled with stores and restaurants. The street was dotted with "koochees" which are horse drawn carriages.

After exiting the bus, we navigated to the school using the hand drawn map our English teacher had made for us. The students look at us with curiosity but also with kindness. They said "Welcome" as we entered the simple classroom, filled with hard benched desks and closed in by graffiti covered walls. We took our seats next to our Moroccan counterparts. Over the next 4 hours, we helped them with English worksheets, laughed over shared musical likes and dislikes, and of course, exchanged Facebook information. One of my favorite moments took place when our teacher played a video of the Cup Song, a popular tune from Pitch Perfect. All of the students in the class, whether Moroccan or American, joined in and sung along. View a small clip of our singing HERE.

Being surrounded by the students today gave me a breath of fresh air. Their sometimes hilarious, sometimes serious comments and questions made me both laugh and pause to think. When our teacher posed the question "Have you ever met an U.S. American before?" I was surprised to hear that many of the students in the class had not. Being one of the first U.S. Americans (along with Kate and Belinda) for these students is both an honor and responsibility. It's an honor because, out of all the people in United States, I am one of the first. It's a responsibility because to my new friends, I am the United States, I am their point of reference for my entire nation. I lived in the United States, but the United States continues to live on in me--in my view of the world, in my values, and in my mindset.

After class finished, we walked down the street together, quite literally arm in arm. We promised to meet up again soon, and bid each student farewell with kisses on the cheek when they had to turn from the group to walk home. Finally, we reached the bus stop and waved goodbye to our new friends, heading back to the bustling city of Rabat. Tonight, as I sit in my room, I am admiring a new bracelet on my wrist--it is black, with shiny round beads. One of my new friends gave it to me from her wrist. Having a small collection of beaded bracelets myself, I gave her one of mine. We are now carrying a small part of each other, representative of our different lives and cultures. When we sit across from each other in classrooms, when our tongues wrap around the words of each other's languages, when our voices trace the same melody of overplayed pop songs, the 'other' is no longer so foreign.  I feel that the type interactions I had today--friendships that stem from curiosity and bridge cultures--are what the YES Abroad program is all about. Today gave me a renewed sense of purpose of my time in Morocco, and I can't wait to see these amazing students again! 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Learning by Immersion

For the past 38 days, I have been engaged in the process of learning both Darija (Moroccan Arabic) and French. Though I have participated in organized Darija and French classes, most of my language acquisition has taken place outside of the classroom. Before I came here, many people asked me if I spoke Darija, a question to which I cheerfully replied "no!" I envisioned that, through immersion, the words of this unfamiliar language would flow easily from my mouth. While my ideas about immersion were not entirely wrong, I've realized that learning a language in any setting requires dedication and perseverance. Undoubtedly, learning by immersion offers numerous benefits--but (in my opinion) benefits cannot be realized without a conscious decision to focus.

I have studied (and struggled with) French since seventh grade. During my stay in Morocco, I have primarily relied on my French--at school, in my host family, and on street. On the road to fluency, I'm not there yet, but I'm much farther than I was last year, last month, and or even last week. It's easy to become frustrated by not understanding a simple question, a joke, or an entire lesson. But when I step back and realize how much more I comprehend of my classes now than I did at first, I recognize the growth I have made with French. Sometimes I can even answer a question! It's the little milestones that call my attention to overall progress. For instance, the other day I had a small conversation with my host sister--just talking about our days at work and school. When I walked away, I couldn't remember if the conversation was in English or in French, I just knew it felt natural.

Learning Darija is entirely different from French. I wonder if I'll ever be able to pronounce the "gh" or the "kh" sound, but that doesn't stop me from trying (and getting a sore throat in the process). I'm so thankful to our lovely Darija teacher, Khadija, for her patience! Now more than ever, I'm motivated to learn Darija because my new host mother doesn't speak French. (For those of you who don't know, I switched host families recently and I'm very happy with my new living situation!) There's been plenty of translating, thanks to my host sisters, but also miming, pointing, and new acquisition of vocabulary on both of our parts. I can now greet friends in Darija, point out certain objects, and, most importantly, say that I'm full. Ana shabaat and safi baraka mean "I'm full" and they top of list of my most commonly used Darija phrases. My host mom is a wonderful cook and is constantly encouraging me to "koolee, Catherine, koolee!" (Eat, Catherine, eat!)

My Darija has grown through my interactions outside the home as well. I learned the words for right and left by asking for directions in Darija and then realizing that I didn't know any directional terms. Today at the hammam, a women kept asking me "skhoon?" It wasn't until she gestured repeatedly at the faucet that I understood that "skhoon" means hot in Darija. Almost every evening, I help my host mom cook dinner, and through much gesturing and laughing, I have learned the words for basic foods and kitchenware. To help commit my new vocabulary to long term memory, I've been keeping a notebook where I write the new words I learn each day. I try to find time to study the words at some point during my busy days here--whether on the tram or late at night. Hopefully, my Darija will only continue to grow! For now, here's a few pictures from the past week!

Sheep at Marjane, a big super market. Eid al Adha is next week, and my host family, along with many other Moroccan families, will be sacrificing a sheep. 

My host sister let me try on her tuk sheeta! Tuk sheeta is a dress worn for special occasions.

Sifa--a noodle dish with raisins, nuts, and hard boiled eggs topped with cinammon and sugar. It's delicious!

Laundry drying on my balcony! 

Heads up to anyone interested--the YES Abroad application for 2014-2015 is now live at! I remember how excited I was last year to start filling it out! I'd love to proofread essays or answer general question, so please let me know if you have any! Thanks for reading! 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Trip to the Hammam

On a quiet Wednesday afternoon two weeks ago, I finally set off to the hammam. As I walked down the street, bucket in one hand and stool in the other, I felt both normal and out of place. Going to the hammam is a routine for my Moroccan family and I knew that, in going to the hammam, I would gain insight on this ritual and its importance in Moroccan culture. However, lugging my hammam supplies down the street, I also had no idea of what awaited me within.

After meeting up with my fellow hammam goers and consulting a kind local woman for directions, I arrived at the hammam. In Arabic, hammam means "spreador of warmth." Before these steam baths were introduced to Arab societies, men and women used only cold water for bathing. After seeing Roman baths in Syria, the prophet Mohammed recommended "sweat baths" to his followers. As Islam grew, so did the hammam, evolving into the sauna like chambers I have come to know and love. Entering the hammam was intimidating--there are no signs explaining what to do, only unspoken traditions. After paying the entrance fee of treize Dirhams (13 dirhams = $1.60), we followed the movements of the other hammam goers. We handed over our clothes--the hammam is not a place for those unprepared for near public nudity--  in exchange for buckets and gesture towards a closed door.

Once inside, three rooms stretched out before us, each one progressively hotter, and we chose to set up our supplies in the hottest one. My hammam supplies include:
A stool  (for sitting on while bathing)
Kessa (a mitten with a sand paper like texture for scrubbing shown below)
Bucket (typically the hamman provides one bucket/bather)
Flip Flops 
Ladle (for rinsing)
Savon Noire (a black soap pictured below) 

After arranging our various scrubs and tools in front of us, we filled our buckets from the two faucets on the side of the white tiled room. As I walked across the floor (which was surprisingly clean), I could feel the heat from the fire of the hammam beneath my feet. Immediately, sweat began gathering all over my body and the bathing rituals began. I don't have any pictures, but the tiled room of the hamman I visited looks like this, but without the benches on the side and with a flat ceiling.

Savon noire is applied to soften the skin and swell dead skin cells so they are easily removed. The removal of the dead skins cells is made possible by kessa. Hammam goers have two options for scrubbing--doing it themselves or hiring one of the hammam workers to scrub for them. Either way, the goal seems to be to have no skin left, accomplished by vigorous and repeated scrubbing. I chose to scrub myself, but I watched the hamman workers scrub many other women with unmatched ferocity. After the scrubbing myself, I washed my hair repeatedly, using the ladle my host mom had lent me to rinse myself.

As we refilled our buckets with water of various temperatures, ranging from scorching hot to a refreshing cold, the hammam began to swell with women of all ages. Going to the hammam isn't just about lathering and ladling. It's a social event. Women often come with friends or children to enjoy a couple hours of relaxation and conversation. For this reason, the bathing can stretch on for several hours. I finally began to feel sufficiently clean after an hour of hammmam-ing. I don't think any shower will make me feel as clean as I did when I stepped outside the hammam onto a busy street in Rabat. I've already returned to the hammam and I've designated Wednesday afternoons as the time for my weekly trip. I hope to try out as many hammams as possible! 

Until next time! 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Telling Stories through Scent

During the past three weeks in Morocco, my sense of smell has been exposed to a variety of new scents--some of them that have made me want to crinkle up my nose and others that I have wanted to inhale more deeply. When a friend from back home posed the question "What does Morocco smell like?" I felt inspired to reflect on aromas I've experienced--the good, the bad, and the ugly-- and examine how they mirror the lifestyle of my new Moroccan family and friends.

Scent: Spices
Story: The most common spices in Moroccan cooking are cumin, paprika, saffron, fenugreek, and cinnamon. On the street, especially in the Medina or at the souk, the smell of these spices wafts into the air. At home, the aroma of spices signals an upcoming (and undoubtedly delicious) meal. Rfisa is one of my favorite dishes here and is flavored using fenugreek. In December, I'm going to have the opportunity to learn more about these spices through Global Citizen, a class I take at AMIDEAST.
Scent: Trash
Story: I don't want to give a wrong impression and say that the odor of trash is ubiquitous in Morocco, but when walking down the street, it's not uncommon to see piles of garbage laying on the pavement. Often, cats are picking through the garbage, looking for left over scraps. Waste disposal is very different here, and recycling does not seem to exist. However, Moroccans conserve in other ways--my host family saves all their plastic bags and some disposable containers for repeated use. 

Scent: Sea
Story: Rabat is located on the Atlantic ocean. Thus, the smell of sea salt replaces that of car fumes on the streets close to the ocean and at the beach. I love this smell--and the ocean itself. This morning, as I ran next to the ocean with my friend, I thought of my family and friends on the other side of the tide. It comforts me to know that the sea smells the same no matter what side of the ocean I'm on. 

Scent: Bread
Story: Each day, as Moroccan families gather around around tables in homes and restaurants to share any variety of delicious Moroccan cuisine, one thing sits on all of their tables: bread. I can't think of the last meal I ate where bread wasn't involved in some form. In many homes, bread replaces utensils as a way to move food from the communal plate to the mouth. This morning, my host mother made bread in our kitchen, but some neighborhoods have communal ovens as not everyone has an oven here. Every hanoot (corner shop) is stocked with a huge basket of bread and carts heaped with khobz (bread in Darija) traverse the streets in order to ensure that bread is accessible at all times and in all places. It's not uncommon to see a bag of stale bread hung on tree or lamp post, waiting to be eaten by a hungry person or animal. This national infatuation with bread means that it's always baking somewhere and filling the air with its warm aroma. 
Just one type of bread here! 

Scent: Rose Water
Story: Out of perfume? Spritz yourself with rose water. Feeling a little under the weather? A dash of rose water can fix that. Itchy mosquito bite? Rose water will help. Not only does rose water have a subtle (but wonderful scent), it is said to have medicinal properties as well. I love the bottle of rose water my coordinator, Sarah, gave me when I first arrived in Morocco, and I'm going to have to buy some more in the Medina before too long. 

Scent: Cigarette smoke
Story: The smell of cigarette is all too familiar here in Morocco. As I walk through Rabat, I see cafes full of men, drinking coffee and smoking, an indication of a popular past time--cafe sitting. While some cafes serve a majority male clientele, there are plenty of cafes where I feel comfortable going with friends to waste a couple hours away. In the past weeks, we've scoped out the best cafes--based on location, price, and for me, ratio of cigarette smoke to breathable air. 

Scent: Mint tea
Story: Thé (French) or achai (Darija) is served in Morocco homes to welcome guests or to simply relax after a long day. I've often heard Moroccans refer to mint tea as "Moroccan tea." Mint tea is served sweet, with jooj (two) or khremsah (three) sugar cubes. My host family generously showed me the process of making mint tea, using a bundle of mint that can be bought in the Medina for 12.5 cents. I'm a big fan of the tea here, and I'm hoping to bring home a tea set to share it with my friends and family back home. 

The scents of spices, trash, the sea, bread, cigarette smoke, and mint tea combine into the aroma of my new home. It took a good amount of thought to identify each scent, as part of experiencing these scents is taking them in all at once--un mélange, as they say in French. I'm so lucky to be able to take in this mixture each day, and since my readers are not beside me in this journey, I'm trying my best to take it all in and share it with you. If there's anything you're curious about, n'hesitez pas (don't hesitate) to contact me. 

With love from Rabat! 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Classrooms and Cahiers

When my alarm went off at 6:30 A.M. last Wednesday, I felt a magnified version of my usual first day of school emotions-- a mix of dread, nervousness, and excitement. And even though I woke up 4,000 miles from the home where I usually take my first day of school picture, I didn't neglect to ask my host family to snap a photo of me in front of the door before I headed off to start my junior year. Instead of catching the school bus from my quiet corner of suburbia, I held out my arm on a road rushing with traffic and hailed a taxi. After arriving at school, the administrators told us that we did not actually have to be there until 10 A.M. My Moroccan counterparts seemed un-phased by this unexpected change, and so I headed off to a cafe to mourn my lost sleep and channel my flexibility. School did start later that day, and the past few days of learning in French have become a blur in my mind.

Undoubtedly, certain parts of my day are different--I am with the same group of 13 students all day and the teachers come to our classroom. Our teachers didn't spend any time on get to know you games, barely pausing to ask our names. The lessons themselves are very lecture based, but I'm able to understand almost everything that's going on. Here, books are bought instead of borrowed from school. Also, notebook paper is different here:

For some reason, all the little lines on the pages of my cahiers (French word for notebooks) really bothered me at first. I've adjusted to it right now, but I'll never take a college ruled piece of paper for granted again. In addition, our school has three basic rules--no chewing gum, no baboosh (traditional Moroccan slippers), and no cell phones (if cell phones are seen, they are confiscated for a month). 

Despite these differences, many similarities have shone through  Students definitely have their groups and stick with them, and this is no different from school back home. My classmates are eager to succeed and motivated to pass the Bac, an exam that will determine what universities they can attend and what they can study upon arrival. Many of them aim to study in France, Canada, or the United States, and just like students in the States, they're stressed out about standardized tests and college applications. My first impression of my peers is that they are well dressed, confident, and comfortable in their school environment. I look forward to getting to know them better throughout the year!

My school!

I already love my schedule for this year. On certain days, I don't have to come into school until 10 o'clock and on others, I don't have to return after lunch. No matter what, I have a two hour lunch break. Here's a few pictures of what I've been up to in my spare time:

National Library!

Jazz concert at Chellah, a roman ruin!

Marjan (a 3 four Cosco like store with everything you'll ever need. Including a parking garage, 3 restaurants, and an abundance of homegoods, food, and clothing)


I'm adjusting to life here and my daily routine already feels familiar. I'm still confused a good portion of my time because of cultural and lingual differences, but I'm learning how to navigate my life here. I know how much a taxi to school should cost, where I can get a cheap coffee, what time it is when I hear the call to prayer, and how to unlock the door to my host family's apartment. In the grand scheme of this year, these are small successes, but right now, they feel huge. I'm learning to take my life day by day, and I realized that I'm not worrying about my future so much. For now, the present is fulfilling--and challenging--enough. My days thus far have been rewarding in that they haven't all been glamorous adventures across a foreign country, but because they have been meaningful to me because of the small successes. I feel a sense of purpose here, and at this point, I'm loving my exchange.