Saturday, August 30, 2014

New Blog

Hi, friends and family!

I'm back at the good old Grand Rapids Airport. As of today, I am student at Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific.

Thank you for following Writings from Rabat. It's exactly a year to the day I left for Morocco. That first step out the door felt significant and scary. Summing up this experience is no easy or possible task and I'll be carrying these wonderful changes and memories onto the next step. To learn more about Pearson and my time there, please follow my new blog:

Thanks for reading--ma'a salaama!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Back in the States!

I'm back in the States! Leaving Morocco was difficult and stressful, but our entire group arrived in D.C. last Wednesday afternoon. We spent a day and a half with our D.C. based coordinator visiting the State Department and AMIDEAST offices. I enjoyed having time to decompress and reflect before saying the last goodbye to my fellow YES Abroad-ers! In the airport, we ran into some returning YES students (who had spent their year in the United States) on their way home. The instant connection we shared, no matter how short our conversation, fueled my excitement and gratitude for the K-L YES program.

Reentry has been one of the most challenging parts of my exchange experience. I miss my host family deeply and because they don't regularly use Facebook or email, snail mail it is! After spending a year in Morocco, the United States can feel very busy and rushed. Interacting with people in stores takes some adjustment--in Morocco I found that shop owners chatted with me easily, after they saw I was open to conversation and interaction. I appreciate the automatic friendliness of store owners here, but it can sometimes feel impersonal. Adjusting will take some time and I'm grateful for everyone's understanding.

I've loved catching up with friends, family, and food that I have dearly missed. My family greeted me with a wonderful sign and flowers in the airport.

I feel very far from Morocco and my life there, which is unnerving because my experience was/is so meaningful to me. Morocco will always be a part of me, and I need to find a place to channel my energy from this year. Thankfully I have several opportunities--the first of which is next week: I'm going to be attending the pre departure orientation in D.C. for this year's YES Abroad students as the group leader for Morocco! (I'M SO EXCITED). I'd also like to do some volunteering with AFS, an organization that brings exchange students to my area. In between catching up with people and places, finding a job (inchallah), and completing an online math class, I have a full summer ahead! Until next time, I'll be dealing with my Morocco withdrawal by making copious amounts of Moroccan food. 

With rafeesa, one of my favorite foods. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Last Post from Rabat

My room is empty and my suitcases are full. In exactly 24 hours, the bus will come and take me to the airport.

It's been a crazy last few days in Rabat: I saw Alicia Keys in concert (THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE), thanks to Mawazine (a music festival sponsored by the Moroccan government). We had a little get together at AMIDEAST for our host families and close friends. I received henna on my hands and feet. (My nails are now dyed redish brown). Goodbyes, gift buying, packing and reflecting have filled my remaining hours.

I know every exchange student says it, but this year went by so fast. It's easy to ask where the time went. But I know where it went. It went to hammam trips, medina wanderings, long afternoons in cafes, chopping vegetables, learning Darija, and countless other adventures. Now that my time in Morocco is almost gone, I am so grateful for everything I have experienced this year. I will miss Morocco wholeheartedly. 

To my friends & family in Morocco--shukran bzaf. Kanbrikum bzaf u williftkum. Hazeena, hate xsni n-mshi. Walakin, fr7na hate jit l mghrib. Mashi ma-salama, ghir n-shoufkum mn bad, inchallah. Bisous mn l ham9a bint amerikania!

Goodbye to the best year of my life (so far)! 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

One Hand

I can count the number of days left in Morocco on one hand.

I've been pretty busy these last few weeks, here's what I've been up to! It's been a bit crazy but I can't imagine a better way to say goodbye to Rabat!

  • Finished my capstone project about the hammam (I wrote a book called "Hands of the Hammam" which will soon be available for download in the Ibooks store) 
  • Had my last day of junior year (I was one of three students in my class to show up on the last day of school) 
  • Went to the beach with my class from the school where I volunteer (No swimming for me, but playing soccer and taking selfies was pretty fun)    
  • Attended my dear friend's wedding (She looked beautiful and happy! The wedding lasted from 7 P.M. to 7 A.M. and we danced the entire night)                                                                                                               
  • Said goodbye to my energetic English class (I miss our crazy Wednesdays already)       
  • Reflected about what I'm going to miss in Morocco. Life in Morocco will never be the same and I will miss it wholeheartedly. (That being said, of course I am also excited to see friends and family in the States) 
See you next Friday, Michigan :) 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ibn Sina's Got Talent

For the past few months, Belinda (fellow YES Abroad student) and I have been collaborating with students at a local middle school to put on a bilingual talent show. Last Friday, the show (called Ibn Sina's Got Talent) took place! As the name of the show would suggest, the students of Ibn Sina are extremely talented. For starters, the emcees spoke in Arabic and English, so that everyone could understand and improve their language skills. There were several hilarious skits, some singing and original rap songs. Many of the students have only studied English for a year, but conveyed emotion and humor in their performances. 

Ibn Sina School

Belinda and I took to the stage to show off our talent: speaking Darija (Moroccan Arabic). We performed two skits, one about the corner store and another about the hammam. I loved seeing the audience members faces light up as we conversed in Darija.

Belinda & I with our fellow performers (Belinda's picture)

 After our skits I gave a speech in Darija, which you can watch here. (Please forgive my accent). In English, my speech translates to: "Hello everyone, peace be upon you. My name is Catherine. I came to Morocco with the program Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad because I wanted to learn about Moroccan culture. I study at a Moroccan school and live with a Moroccan family. I arrived here in September. Everything was new to me but I liked it all. I did not know Darija--nothing. I was like a baby. Today, I've been in Morocco for nine months. I speak a little bit of Darija and French. I have friends from Morocco. I know how to cook cous cous and rafeesa and I drink mint tea every day. I saw Eid l Kabir. I went to a Moroccan wedding and danced all night. I traveled to Marrakesh, Essouira, Fez, Azrou, M'diq, Tetouan, Meknes, Cassablanca and Chefchouen. I like Essouira a lot but all the cities in Morocco are beautiful. Before I came here, I never went to the hammam in my life. But when I came to Morocco, I liked the hammam a lot and now I go there about twice a week. When I go to the United States, I will be sad because I will miss the hammam. In the United States, we don't have the hammam like in Morocco. I feel with the city of Rabat like I feel with my city. I have to go back to the United States in June. Yes, I have an American passport, but my heart is half Moroccan, half American."  

 After the official talent show ended, we had a dance party. I love Moroccan dance parties so much--no soundtrack needed, just voices to sing and hands to drum a rhythm. There's no feeling of self consciousness--everyone just lets loose and has a wonderful time. I'm going to miss Moroccan dancing! Performing in Ibn Sina's Got Talent allowed me to connect with a great group of young people, and I'm so grateful to the show's organizer, Nabila, for coordinating the event and involving Belinda and me. 

The fantastic Nabila, Belinda, and me (Belinda's photo) 

P.S. Sorry for not posting much lately. I'm leaving on June 11 (too soon), so I'm busy soaking up every moment left. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Inevitable Question

Exactly three weeks left in Morocco. My plane tickets await in my inbox, and the hunt for the perfect gifts has begun. The end has loomed for the past few months, but I've mainly been thinking about the "happy to go, sad to leave" paradox that most exchange students are facing this time of year. However, on Monday I had to the privilege of visiting the U.S. embassy with the YES Abroad and NSLI-Y groups, and the end suddenly feels much closer.

At the embassy, we met with some embassy workers, members of a visiting delegation, and the ambassador himself, which was a cool look into the world of diplomacy. We spoke about our years and shared the moments that changed us and those that made us realize how much we have changed. In the next few months, there's a lot of conversations like these ahead. When we return home, we will inevitably be asked "how was Morocco?" 

To everyone who asks "how was Morocco?" thank you. My response will depend on whose asking, but I'm so excited to respond. What a privilege it is to be asked this question--to know that there are people in my life who are curious to hear about what I've been doing for the past year, whether they are former teachers, neighbors, or close family and friends, and to be able to share even a small part of my story with them. 

If I only have a few words, what do I want to tell people about Morocco?

I want to tell them that I feel incredibly lucky to have had an experience so multidimensional, I struggle to summarize it. Morocco was my home for the past 10 months, the backdrop to some great adventures and the most powerful classroom I have ever learned in. There were wonderful days, bad days, and flat out boring days. I awakened to the possibilities of myself and the world around me. And that's just the beginning of a conversation that could last for hours.

I suppose that's the hard part of the "how was Morocco?" question: time isn't infinite and neither are people's abilities to listen. Not every interaction will lead to heart to heart--that would get pretty tiring. I want to remember that, as I find it difficult to compose a response about an experience that changed MY life, I'm not the only one. The question "how was your year?" will slip out of my mouth, and my friends will have a pretty difficult time answering that too. Though my year was very different from that of my peers, they will want to share their trials and joys, just as I do. 

At one point in our lives or another, we're all asked to find the one word that can summarize an event that has rocked our world for better or for worse. Perspective: As I sit here trying to answer the question "how was your year?" after having the opportunity to go on this adventure, someone is searching for the response to "how are you?" after losing a spouse or child. One of my goals is to remember that everyone in the world has a story to tell. I want to be a person who is okay with asking a few word sentence and getting a few hour answer, because we all need someone to sit by our side as we unload our observations on our lives. Through listening, we validate each other's joys and fears. In every day interactions, I'm going to try to be more conscious of the emotional baggage everyone is carrying. It's easy to forget the complexity of our lives until someone gains the courage to open up. I am seeking the type of community that welcomes and encourages these surprising conversations.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Moroccan High School #2

A few months ago I started attending English class at a public high school near my house. Even though I’ve been attending school in Morocco since September, I felt a bit like I was starting in a whole new country when I came in the doors on the first day. I received quite a warm welcome from students and faculty: attending English class (and the connections I have made as a result) is easily one of the highlights of my year.

In the first week, I gave presentations about my life in the United States and my experience in Morocco. My new “classmates” (if you will) had so many great questions, and I had the chance to ask them a few of my own. I met teachers of English, Islamic Education (a subject in Moroccan public schools), and French, all of whom invited me into their classrooms. When my little brother came to visit, I took him to school with me. On a typical day, I sit with the students and try to help them with their assignments, and sometimes I’ll lead listening activities. I’ve been given a few presentations as well—about Ramadan and hammam—both of which I greatly enjoyed.

At times this new school seems quite different from the small private school (taught in French) I have attended all year. Most of the students there have met Americans and traveled to several different countries. In contrast, the school where I attend English class is a large public high school, taught in mainly Arabic, and many of the students have never met Americans before. Class sizes are larger and there’s more diversity (of background, area of study, etc) within the student body. In certain branches, there’s a Translation class. In this class, students translate their school work from Arabic to French, in order to prepare for the transition to university, which is taught in French. Girls also wear a vest like thing over their clothes. There are also similarities—the teachers spend most of the time lecturing (though some teachers do break out of this), being a few minutes late to class isn’t a big deal, and the students are stressed out about their upcoming exam, the Bac, which plays an important role in their future. Teachers don’t have substitutes, so sometimes class is canceled for days on end. There’s no exact end date—whenever the teachers finish the coursework, summer vacation begins. Things are a bit more up in the air than I’m used to in the United States, and I’m thankful I have so many friendly classmates to guide me through it.

I cannot express how much I have enjoyed connecting with my classmates and the adventures we have shared. From Bollywood dancing, to conversations over cous cous and rfissa, to Hung gar kung fu, and simply hanging out around the school and city, I have gained dear friends, as well as the insight on the life of a ‘typical’ Moroccan teenager that I have craved all year. It’s going to be hard to leave in a month, because I really feel like I’m hitting my stride here in Morocco. I am so grateful for the time I have had at Lalla Nezha—to everyone who has made my time there so memorable, thank you, shukran bzaf. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

North Trip

Earlier this week, the YES Abroad group and our leader headed out on our last overnight trip to the North of Morocco. Because this region of Morocco was once a Spanish protectorate, it has a different feeling--there are many signs in Spanish, we were often addressed in Spanish, and European foods were cheaper. On the first day, we stopped for the morning in Tetouan, a city in the mountains a few miles from the sea. We explored the medina and an art museum and ate lunch.

YES group in Tetouan! 

 Then we drove off to M'diq. M'diq is a new city on the Mediterranean, and our hotel was right on the beach. I loved the city. At night, a market bustled with people buying their groceries, I ate delicious calamari and shrimp and got to swim in the Mediterranean for the first time!

After a final morning on the beach, we headed to Akshour, an area nestled deep in the mountains, for a picnic and river swimming. The water was freezing and crystal clear and we climbed around on the rocks and explored a bit.

From Akshour, we made our ways on the twisting mountain roads to Chefchouen, a small of 50,000 people, located in a valley. The beautiful scenery and entirely blue medina make Chefchouen popular among tourists. Fountains (with public cups attached) dot the medina.

(Charis's picture)

 After living in Morocco for several months, it's always interesting to explore a new medina. Another YES Abroad student and I had a great encounter with couple who owned a shop. The wife is French, and she met her Moroccan husband when she visited Chefchouen as a tourist many years ago. Since then, they've traveled the world--to India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, and now they make and sell clothing together. I also loved going to the hammam in Chefchouen--the tiles were blue, reflecting the city around it .

at at waterfall in Chefchouen (photo credits to Charis Ramsing)

We made the last stop on our trip at a farm just outside of Chefchouen, called Auberge Dardara (click here for website). The owner of the farm took us on a nature walk through the fields, and his knowledge of the land amazed me--he would stop and point out flowers and plants, and he also shed light on the nearby Rif region. The Rif region of Morocco is unique in that it is self governing, and Rifi people are (in general) very proud of their homeland. At the Auberge, we had the chance to milk a goat, a first for me, and then we ate one of the most delicious lunches I've had since coming to Morocco. Tourists can stay on Auberge and I highly recommend it to anyone going to the North of Morocco!

milking the goat (again, Charis's picture)

All in all, I loved learning more about the North of Morocco. Our group trips are so much fun--thanks to my wonderful fellow students and leader. I come back each time feeling a rejuvenated love and curiosity for Morocco. I'm now entering my last month here, and I want to take time this May to give thanks for the past 243 days. I'll update again soon!

Moroccan Wedding #1

Last weekend, I had the joy of attending my first Moroccan wedding, with Charis (another YES Abroad-er) and one of our good friends. I've wanted to attend a wedding all year, and I'm so grateful I had the chance to experience one! 

There were lots of preparations leading up to the wedding. I bought my tukshita, bag, and shoes, slept a lot during the pre-wedding week (Moroccan weddings are all night affairs), and went to the hammam. On the day of the wedding, Charis and I set off for Sale, the city right next to Rabat, where the wedding would be held. We spent the next eight hours preparing for the ceremony--it reminded me of pre Homecoming or Prom festivities in the United States. There was lots of trying on clothes, ooh-ing and ahh--ing and only a few makeup disasters. We also went to the hair salon. Three hours, 102 bobby pins, fake flowers, fake hair, and a ton of hair spray later, I emerged with a very elaborate hairstyle. 

the final product 

After taking a ton of pictures, we left for the wedding at 8:30 P.M.

Pre wedding picture! 

 Most Moroccan weddings are held in large rented ballrooms. When we arrived, we ate a date and drank a glass of milk, and then sat down at an open table. 

The first two hours of the wedding were the quietest--only slow music was played and nobody was dancing. The real fun began when the bride arrived around 10:30. Moroccan weddings have camera men who videotape everything and play it live on screens all over the room, so we could see the bride and groom getting out of their car and coming up the stairs to the ballroom. 

the screens that show the couple's every move

 Men and women who are hired to assist in the wedding, called gandora, accompanied the couple as they entered the room and throughout the ceremony. 

The gandora carried the bride into the wedding and everyone surrounded her, clapping and taking pictures. Over the course of the wedding, the bride changes outfits about five times, and she is carried in and out for each outfit change. In the past, Moroccan weddings were three day events--the first day for a trip to the hammam, the second day to apply henna, and the third day for the actual wedding. Today, most weddings are done in a single day, and the bride applies henna in the ballroom. The bride at this wedding had done henna the day before and added some more during the ceremony. She always wears a green dress during the henna application, to match the color of the henna leaves. 

After the bride entered, the real fun began--dancing! Most of the wedding is spent cha3bi dancing. Cha3bi is a type of Moroccan music and I had a great time learning to dance to it. Moroccan weddings are an occasion for anyone who can walk to shake their hips, regardless of age, body type, and gender. Women as old as 80 were out on the floor as well as young children and everyone in between. I don't think anyone felt self conscious, and I love that. 

The bride and groom sat together on this couch in the front of the room for most of the wedding. 

We ate dinner at about midnight--

The first course was chicken, followed by a tajine of beef, prunes, and apricots. Then the dancing continued, until 3 A.M., when it as time for cookies. 

Our friend's mom made the cookies, and they were really delicious. Most people didn't eat the cookies at the wedding, but instead, they took them home to eat later. 

Throughout the whole wedding, I was waiting for the moment when the couple would officially be 'married'-the Moroccan equivalent of 'you can kiss the bride.' However, there really isn't a moment like this in Moroccan weddings, and it's unheard of for the bride and groom to kiss during the wedding. Charis and I also noticed that Moroccan weddings are less focused on the couple's love story. During American weddings, everyone discusses how they know the couple, how the couple met, etc. I don't think most of the people in the room knew how the couple met, and we didn't even know the bride's name until they said it at the wedding. The unofficial separation between genders also marked another difference in Moroccan and American wedding traditions. Though the sexes at this wedding were not officially separated, almost all the young men sat on the second floor of the ballroom, and the women (and a few older men) sat on the first floor. While everyone danced on the same red carpet in front of the couple, females danced with females and men danced with other men. 

One of my favorite moments of the wedding took place when the groom lifted off the bride's veil. 

Despite many differences between Moroccan and American weddings, the couple was clearly in love and everyone around them looked happy and excited. The bride's last dress is white, just like the dress most American brides wear, and the couple cut a wedding cake together and she tossed a bouquet of flowers. We left at 5 A.M.--completely exhausted. I still can't believe I managed not to fall asleep, and the whole thing feels dreamlike. I am so lucky I had the chance to see a Moroccan wedding, thank you to everyone who made it happen, particularly to my lovely partners in cha3bi dance and wedding adventures! Mubrook Ecram u Rachid! (Congratulations, Ecram and Rachid). 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

the Perfect Outfit for a Moroccan Wedding

In February, I wrote a post about traditional Moroccan clothing for women. In the months since then, I've been searching for the perfect tukshita (a dress worn to special events) to wear to the two weddings I'm going to in the coming weeks! There are several ways to find the ideal garment for a wedding or fancy party.

First of all--the buyer must decide if she wants a tukshita or a caftan. A tukshita is two pieces of fabric.

In contrast, the caftan is one piece of fabric. 

From there, the woman can decide whether she want to buy, create, or rent the garment. 

Buy: I bought the tukshita I'll be wearing to the upcoming weddings. Tukshitas can range in price from about $60 all the way to hundreds of dollars. A nice tukshita from a store in the Medina would probably cost between $80 and $100, not including the belt that is worn along with it. Both the tukshita and the caftan are meant to be long on the bottom and on the sleeves, and are often covered in jewels! Bargaining is expected, and I shopped around for a few weeks before finally settling on a royal blue one! 

Create: One of my friends went to a fabric market, picked out fabric and then worked with a tailor. The tailor will ensure a perfect fit, but the process can take awhile. Price depends on how much sfifa (embroidery) the buyer wants, as well as the style of belt. 

Rent: I think this option is pretty ingenious--for women who have a limited income but don't want to wear the same dress to two events, stores will rent out caftans and tukshitas at low prices. I don't know why I haven't heard of stores like this in the U.S. for prom dresses--after all, it's unlikely that you'll wear the outfit more than once or twice. The renter leaves her national identity card at the store as collateral and rents out the outfit for a few days (Moroccan weddings often last several days, and at the very least, overnight). 

After a woman buys her tukshita or caftan, she still has to pick out shoes, jewelry, and handbags. Hair and makeup is also an event in itself--the expression "less is more" doesn't really apply in Morocco! I'm really, really excited for the upcoming weddings and I'll be sure to take lots of pictures to share! 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Enti Maghribia Fakat

"Enti Maghribia Fakat" translates from Darija to English as "you are completely Moroccan." In the past few weeks, my host mom has repeated this phrase to me, usually after I return from the hammam or the souk. "You are completely Moroccan."

While both my host mom and I know that I'm not completely Moroccan (and never will be), I can't deny that the past eight months have left a Morocco shaped imprint on me. I also can't deny that my time here is coming to a close far too soon--on June 11.

Thinking about going back is a funny thing. My family from the United States came to Morocco last week. It was so wonderful to see them again and to introduce them to my favorite places and people. Having them made me ponder just how much I will miss the home I've been creating here. As excited I am to see everyone and do everything I did pre Morocco, I wouldn't mind a few more months in my second home. My journey as an exchange student did not begin on September 1, when I left the United States, and likewise, June 11 is not the end of that adventure. But undoubtedly, the active part of my exchange will be over. Just as simply as I became consumed in my life here, I will be re-consumed by the rhythms life in the U.S. I will never be completely separated from my experience here, but I know that once my plane takes off, I will be distanced from it. No longer will I speak three languages (Darija, French, and English on a daily basis). No more cous cous Fridays and hammam Wednesdays. Like it or not, the era of Medina wandering and cafe sitting and playing with my host neighbors is coming to an end.

Ten months is a long time to do anything. In some ways, as much as I would love to stay in Morocco for a longer time, I'm at peace with going back. The future is exciting, and I came into this experience knowing that it would end. I don't think I knew how quickly it would fly by, but I also couldn't have predicted all the incredible people and places I would encounter along the way. I feel very at home in Morocco, and I have come a long way this year. But, in my opinion, living in a country that is not one's own will always be accompanied by some discomfort or confusion. That's not a bad thing--it is this element of challenge that makes living abroad such a transformative experience. As exchange students, we choose to come abroad--we were not forced to leave our home lands because of war or unrest. Instead we were lucky enough to make the active choice leave in search of something--even if we did/do not exactly know what.

Almost 10 months ago, I wrote this blog post, reflecting on why I wanted to live in Morocco for a year. I wondered: "Will this year fundamentally change me? What will my mindset be like, twelve months from today? Was it worth it?" I don't know this year has "fundamentally" changed me, but I do think I have changed. (I guess I'll find out for sure when I go home) As for what my mindset is like today? I would like to think the way I look at the world has been opened, for the better--that I'm more curious and aware person. And in response to the question "Was it worth it?" the obvious and honest answer is YES. What I have put into this experience (the difficult things--time, persistence, frustration) have given me the most beautiful things (family, friends, language skills, confidence).

In that same blog post, I theorized: "When I can walk down the street in Morocco and feel as at home as I do here, when I can point out my favorite cafe and give directions to a tourist, when the words of Moroccan Arabic roll off my tongue, when I have a family to hug and friends to laugh with, maybe then I will know why I came to Morocco." Well, I feel pretty at home when I walk down the street here--sometimes I get annoyed, sometimes I see something new that excites me, sometimes I'm just plain bored. The words of Moroccan Arabic don't exactly "roll off my tongue," but they make it out of my mouth, and I'm proud of that. I have a wonderful host family and great groups of friends, and I know why I came to Morocco--I came to Morocco to create another place to call home, and to know and love myself in the context of that place.

My journey is not over yet, I have just under two months left. Just as my thoughts two months before this experience began were mainly about Morocco, as my year winds down, I'm starting to think more about going home, about scary things like readjustment and reverse culture shock, and awesome things like eating Thai food and seeing my friends. My head is somewhat in the United States, though I'm definitely trying to keep it in Morocco.

And in terms of "calling Morocco home"--I hope I will call Morocco my home for many, many years to come. I'm trying to find a way to come back here as soon as possible--maybe to study abroad in college or to continue the work I've started in my YES Abroad Capstone project. To adventures to come and adventures gone past, I lift my glass of Hawaii, my favorite Moroccan soda. May these two months be a celebration and a continuation of this wonderful, wonderful year!

P.S. Next year's YES Abroad finalists have been chosen! You all have so much to look forward to, and if I can be part of your year in any way (by answering questions/sharing your excitement), please reach out to me! Congratulations!

on the train to Fez with my Dad and Bro

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dear Future YES Abroad-ers

How long is 10 months? How far does 4,137 miles feel? What does it means to live in a country that is not your own? I have found my answers to these questions this year, my truth. Keep in mind that it is just a single truth. I cannot tell you what will fill every mile between you and your family, or how wide your oceans will feel, or what the YES Abroad experience will be for you. I can only share my own journey.

To me, 4137 miles, the exact distance between my hometown and host town, feels like nothing at all when I am full. When my new friend hands me a bracelet, when I produce conversations in my host languages, and when I cook chocolate chip cookies for my host family, I forget that there is an ocean between me and everything I knew before this experience. My experience fills me with joy, distracting me from the space. However, sometimes the days here are too quiet, the words get stuck somewhere between my brain and my mouth, and everything feels worn out but still doesn’t quite fit. This is when the distance locks me into a staring contest, and distance doesn’t blink until I find something here to fixate on. Some days, I don’t just feel far from ‘home’ but I feel far from myself, the existence I led in the comfort of my first home.

As far as what living in another country means:  for me, it has meant constant evaluation and reflection of myself and my surroundings. It means the extremes—the good things shine and the bad ones glare. I am always wearing metaphorical sunglasses.  At the beginning, I looked through yellow sunglasses, and everyone else wore blue. Now most of the time I feel like I’m wearing green—a mix of both. I can process day to day situations, but I cannot separate my reputation, mindset, or actions, from the land I left over 205 days ago, and I’m okay with that.  Living in Morocco has meant (and continues to mean): a synthesis of multiple viewpoints, learning to be myself, know myself, and most importantly, love myself in the context of my new environment.

My wisdom to you: Be the best you can be, but don’t be afraid of confusion and ‘failure.’ We all feel that way sometimes, even if our social media postings tell another story. Even though a picture is worth one thousand words, no number of words can capture this experience. Write your own story—of your exchange, yourself, and your life. Make it beautiful, but define for yourself what beauty is. I find beauty in the simplest moments of my exchange—the walk to buy groceries with my host sisters, the good morning greetings shared with the store owner next to my house. My exchange overflows with beauty and by that I do not mean it is all good or easy or even possible to process.

My host mom is the kitchen, arguing about something with my host uncle and one of my host sisters is trying to drag the other out of bed. I spent today drinking 50 cent orange juice on plastic stools and wandering amongst the alleys of a medieval city. Tomorrow I’m going to have to sit in math class, but that’s okay because I understand it now. I’m going back soon, and I’m at peace with that too in this moment. My dreams came true—maybe not exactly as I thought they would as I stood in your place last year—but I came to Morocco and I carved out a new home, and  I’m thriving in it. I couldn’t ask or hope for more (for myself and for all of you). 

Catherine in Rabat 

Monday, March 24, 2014

a toast to my technology

I want to dedicate this post to the wonderful technology that has gotten me through this year--namely, my internet stick and Moroccan cell phone.

Meet my Moroccan cell phone.

YES Abroad provides phones for us, and when I first met mine, I couldn't help but feel that it was a bit lacking in comparison to my U.S. phone. Even my new classmates snickered at the American students, with our blast from the past phones.

Well, after over seven wonderful months with this phone, I have been proven wrong. Yes, it does not have a rear facing camera to take selfies or the ability to connect to Wifi, but its simplicity more than makes up for it.

The battery life lasts a week or more. I've thrown it on the ground multiple times, and no harm has been done (much more than I can say for an Iphone). This sturdy Samsung comes complete with fun games (and one that is similar to candy crush), as well as an alarm that can wake me from even the most intense post cous cous nap. It can easily be dissembled during school to prevent it from ringing (the school rule is that if a phone goes off, it's taken away for ten days, but only a few teachers enforce it). It really does everything a phone should...maybe I just buy one before I leave?

 Unfortunately, I cannot toast my internet net stick in the same way I can praise my phone, and anyone who has ever tried to Skype me knows why. I am writing this toast as a desperate plea to my Inwi stick, that it will continue working (it's having a good day). This is an Inwi stick:

What's great: I can connect to the Internet wherever I am. I mostly use it at my apartment because I don't have wifi. What's not so great: I've found the Inwi stick to be a very temperamental little object. I start off every internet session optimistic. I throw out big statements: "upload pictures" and "research summer jobs" as I happily plug in the stick. Sometimes it loads right up, I connect to the internet, and all goes well. But other times, it refuses to work, despite infinite amounts of unplugging and deep breathing. Today it's working really well (knock on good it will continue to do so), so I felt inspired to write this post. 

All joking aside though, technology is a powerful tool. Though I have love/hate relationship with it, I'm very lucky to be able to connect with people across the city and across the world with such ease and at my program's expense. I'm also grateful for the times I have had this year without wifi 24/7 and at times without my computer. I'm learning how to manage my relationship with technology, instead of letting technology control me. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What a Dirham can buy

What can one dirham buy? (8 Moroccan dirhams = 1 U.S. dollar)

the one dirham coin 

-one pack of Momos (undoubtedly the best cookies that one Dirham can buy)

-a stick of gum (sometimes they cost even less than one dirham)

- enough savon bildi and henna for one person (in the hammam, savon bildi or natural soap is used, as well as henna, the spice, is mixed with water. Half a dirham of each is the perfect amount)

savon bildi 

- a piece of bread (because this is Morocco and daily bread has a very literal meaning. Bread can be more expensive, of course)

- one egg (Like bread, eggs vary in price depending on their size, and some are even cheaper than one dirham)

- one sfenj (sfenj is a Moroccan style donut)


-a cigarette (at hanuts, it is possible to purchase a single cigarette)

- 1 DH of... (in Morocco, you can buy things by the weight. This means that you can approach a hanut, a small corner store, and ask for 1 DH of many different things--gummy candies, spices, herbs, nuts, etc.)

a hanut! (from

- two coconut macaroons (one of my favorite Medina snacks)

coconut macaroons 

The variety of things you can buy with one dirham is pretty incredible! Most of it is food, which I guess accurately reflects how much time I spend eating/cooking here in Morocco. Until next time, I'll be spending all my dirhams of coconut macaroons! 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

An Obsession: Secondhand Clothing

Before I came to Morocco, secondhand clothes hardly interested me. I had set foot in Goodwill a few times, only to halfheartedly sift through the shelves and leave empty handed. Flash forward eight months...and I find myself with a passion for secondhand shopping. In the past few weeks, I have been to way to many souks and dug through far too many piles of years old clothing. Even as I emerge with enough shirts, dresses, and sweaters to exceed any airline's weight limit, I find myself answering the question "Can you really ever have too many secondhand clothes?" with a resounding NO. 

Secondhand clothing makes its way from Europe to Morocco and eventually, I'd imagine to other nations. I like to imagine the previous owners of the clothing--where they wore it, why they gave it up. I've run into Zara, Burberry, and Tommy Hilfiger! Most of the clothing is sold on tables in the souk. 

*the tables look like this!

In the morning, huge bundles full of clothes are unrolled, then re rolled and stored during the night. Shopping in the souk is a bit stressful--the vendors (who are almost exclusively men) stand on top of tables and sing songs (complete with LOTS of clapping) to encourage buyers. Typically, all articles of clothing are mixed together, from pants to shirts to skirts. There's also sections for belts, hats scarves, shoes, bags, and even used socks. Because there is usually no dressing room, it's hard to know if something will fit until you bring it home and try it on. Each table has a price--sometimes as low as 10 DH ($1.25) or as much as 25 DH ($4.00). Either way, by US standards, the clothing being sold in these markets is very inexpensive. Many of the clothes mark the fine line between "really cute" and "extremely strange," but I find it impossible to leave the tables without a few additions to my wardrobe. 

I also recently discovered used clothing stores in the Medina, which is much closer to my house than any souk. This time there is no clapping or singing, just the chatter of shoppers coaching each other through the search. I love how there's somewhat of an etiquette. Even though many women surround one large table,  each one seems to know not to reach over into the other one's area. It's similar to the way cous cous (or really any dish in my host family's home) is eaten: we all gather around one plate, but respect our separate spaces, our 'lanes.' 

 I don't think it's a stretch to say that finding secondhand clothes is somewhat of an art, and one that I'm priding myself at becoming quite good at, maybe too good at. However, I've never seen anything like this in the United States, and I only have a few more months here to cram all the clothes I can into my bags! 

*my suitcase in June

*these are not my pictures 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bon Appetit

Food is universal, and learning to cook Moroccan food and sharing some of my favorite foods has been one of the best parts of my year here! Here's a few of my favorite Moroccan dishes! 

This is called Raifa or Msemmen. I eat it for breakfast and sometimes with tea in the late afternoon. It's delicious with jam or amlou, a peanut butter like substance (made with argan nuts instead of peanuts). 

Beghrir is the Moroccan version of a pancake, often served with melted butter and honey. 

I love harira, bright red and very filling soup.

This is just one type of tajine--there are hundreds. I eat tajine almost every night for dinner! The meat and vegetables cook for hours in the clay tajine. 

This is one variety of cous cous, made with chicken, cinammon and almonds.

I eat cous cous that looks almost exactly like this every Friday! The family gathers around and uses spoons or hands to eat from the same plate. 

Pastilla is a pastry made from philo dough--in the past, it contained pigeon meat. Unfortunately I have yet to try that, but I have had it with fish and noodles or chicken and almonds. 

Rafeesa is probably my favorite Moroccan dish. It's made of raifa, the crepe-like tortilla mentioned above, and a sauce of lentils and saffron is poured over it. 

Chebeckia is a sesame sweet that I've become quite addicted to. I get it every time I go to the Medina and I think the store owners have started to recognize me. It's especially delicious served warm. 

And finally, no post on Moroccan food would be complete without a nod to mint tea, or atay b nana! I'm a little horrified that I didn't like this tea at first, because now I can't imagine going a day without drinking at least one cup. It's served steaming hot but the mint flavor is refreshing. 

With all this awesome food and a nation full of mothers who never stop encouraging me to eat "kooli, Catheirne, kooli," I guess it's no surprise that I'm a bit flufflier (as another YES student put it) after this year. But I wouldn't trade the meals I have shared (or the interactions with the people I have shared food with), for anything! I have exactly three more months to eat all the Moroccan food I can handle and to share all the "American" food that I can with my host family and friends! Until next time!