Friday, February 28, 2014

February Break Bucket List

I just returned from an incredible trip to Marrakesh and Essouira, two cities in the south of Morocco! Non stop adventure filled the past five days, and I want to share it with you all in the form of a February Break Bucket List. Here we go!

1. Eat snails: I always imagined that my first escargot experience would be at a fancy restaurant in Paris, but when I found myself in Jamaa el Fna, a square full of food trucks and performers, I decided to give them a try. The taste was fine, but I didn't love the texture.
Jama el Fna 

Snail cart 

2. Hold monkeys: I was admiring some of the monkeys in the square when suddenly, there were two of them on my shoulders!

photo credit to Kate McDonnelll

3. Shop til you Drop: The Marrakesh Medina had really unique items. I'm used to seeing very similar things in Rabat, and I bought some cool felted wool products in Marrakesh. Here's a picture of the workshop:

I also got some poofy pants, sandals, and two hats along the way. I felt more confident bargaining in Marrakesh because I knew what the prices should be in Rabat. 

Astrid and I modeling our new hats 

4. Ride in a horse drawn carriage: Marrakesh (and other Moroccan cities as well) has these wonderful horse drawn carriages called koochis. One night, some of the other YES students and I took one back to the hotel, singing "C'est La Vie" (if our year had a theme song, I think "C'est La Vie" would be it).

5. Explore a secret garden: The designer Yves St. Laurent had a property in Marrakesh which was donated to the city after his death. The Jardin Majorelle is a beautiful garden that and I found some quiet moments among the bamboo trees to take it all in.

6. Get lost: Losing your way is unavoidable in a new city, but allows you to get off the beaten path and chat with shop keepers when asking for directions. I got lost quite a few times in Marrakesh, especially in the extensive souks!

7.Go swimming: Our hotel had a pool and despite the temperature in the low 60s, Charis and I briefly jumped in.

photo credit to Kate McDonnell

8. Dance the night away: In Essouira, our wonderful group leader arranged a private Gnoua concert for us. Gnaoua music (African Islamic spiritual and religious songs) comes mainly from Moroccan and Western Algeria, though many influences are from sub Saharan Africa. We had the chance to watch a m7lem (a master) perform and then we joined in and danced! If I didn't love gnaoua before this trip, I certainly do now! Here's a video of gnaoua. Typically, gnaoua is performed in an all night festival, called a laila. (I would love to experience a laila at some point in my life!)

10. See the sunrise: On both of our mornings in Essouira, I woke up early to watch the sunrise from the rooftop of our hotel. The hotel was in the Medina, right next to the ocean, and the silence was broken only by sound of waves breaking and seagulls crying. I loved watching the sun's rays illuminate the rooftops of the city.

11. Ride a camel: Before coming to Morocco, I had my heart set on riding a camel. Though camels are not native to Essouira, I had the chance to ride one on the beach. I was pretty terrified when the camel stood up, but I can check that off my Morocco bucket list now! Someday I would love to do a camel trek in the Sahara!

12. Eat some great food: Among lots of good food, the highlights were: orange-grapefruit juice in Marrakesh and the dinner on the rooftop that followed, a grilled fish fest in Essouira, and several warm nutella crepes in between.

juice man in Jama el Fna

dinner in Marrakesh 

fish fest 

13. Fall in Love: ....with Essouira. Essouira is a smaller town, located right on the coast, and the wind blows constantly. It's small enough to be manageable and touristy enough to feel safe without being spoiled (in my opinion). The second we stepped off the bus, I felt the calm vibes of Essouira, in contrast to the fast pace of Marrakesh. I really hope I make it back someday!

on the roof of the hotel 

The trip ended with the news that our return date to the United States is June 11. We'll go to DC for a day or two after that, but I'll be back in my hometown by June 13th, a little over 3 months a way. It's a little weird to think about seeing everyone and doing all the things I used to do again. I'm sure I'll become more excited as it gets closer, but right now I feel a bit of sadness mixed with determination to make these last few months AMAZING! 

Also, a big thank you to our group leader for organizing this trip! I am so grateful for all your hard work and insight! 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Souk vs. Medina

Two of my favorite places in Morocco--the souk and the medina. The souk is an outdoor market. The word medina actually just means city in Arabic, but in this case, I'm referring to the walled area found in many North African cities. Because I have greatly enjoyed spending time in both areas, I wanted to share a description of both.

Medina: The medina is the old part of a town or city, usually surrounded by walls. Because of these walls, most medinas are car free as there is not enough room for them to pass through the narrow alley ways, some of which are only one meter wide.
a narrow street in Fez

Donkeys, carts, bikes and motorcycles are used to transport goods. There are mosques, schools, shops, fountains, hammams, homes--basically all the components of a normal neighborhood. The Fez Medina is the biggest in the world (also making it among the biggest urban car free areas in the world), with over 200,000 people living and working inside.

a door into the Fez medina 

Life in the medina has a rhythm. The mornings are quiet as shop owners begin opening their stalls and setting out merchandise. Whenever I walk through the medina in the morning, I'm surprised by how wide the streets are in comparison to when they are full of stands and people later in the day. The shops generally close up again for lunch time, and reopen between 3-4. As the sun sets, the medina floods with people.

spices in Rabat

The medina is somewhat chaotic--everyone jostled together, trying to move down the street, the scent of street food, the calls of vendors, the fluorescent lights illuminating a huge variety of goods. From traditional crafts to knock off designer bags and clothes, you can find anything and everything in the medina if you know where to look. Though I could still get lost in the the Rabat medina, I have been able to orient myself through hours of exploration in the past six months. I have my favorite chebeckia (a Moroccan sweet) shop and I know where I can stock up on pirated movies. Also, there are various souks throughout the medina--for instance, the carpet souk, selling specific crafts.

an area with traditional goods in the Rabat medina

I enjoyed reading this article about life in a medina. It points out that, after independence, many wealthy and influential families moved out of the medina to the new city, leaving the medina to the poor. Overcrowding in medinas has put stress on water supplies and sewage points. However, the article also states:  "there is cause for optimism. Unesco is working in partnership with the World Bank and the Italian government  to try to keep the medina as a working structure, keeping the medieval craft traditions alive – it is the survival of these trades that contributes to the survival of the medina itself."

A rise in tourism and in the number of expats living in the medina is also a source of optimism. I have so many wonderful memories of exploring medinas across Morocco this year, and I hope that the medina continues to live on. 

 Now for the souk:

Unlike the medina, the souk is a temporary structure--it goes up in the morning and down later in the day, and nobody lives there permanently. A souk is located in an empty field, and just like the medina, sells a variety of things, including carpets, used clothes, livestock, and fresh produce. I love the used clothes section--the clothes are brought on trucks from Europe, and I've found Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, and Old Navy items!

The best time to go souk-ing is in the morning, as it generally closes down for lunch. It's interesting to see the differences in goods between souks in various areas. For instance, the souk in Khemissett specializes in carpets, and the souk in Azrou had some cedar goods, because the area is known for cedar trees. I'm looking forward to visiting a souk in the south this coming week! 

Some souks take place weekly, such as the Souk Al Khmiss in Sale (Thursdays) or the souk in Azrou on Tusedays. In rural areas, this might be the one day of the week that people leave their villages and stock up on what they need for the coming days. They might also brings homemade goods with them to sell. The souk is great place to buy homemade olive oil. People might come on foot, by bus, or even in a horse drawn carriage (of sorts), called a coochi. 

In the souk, there are restaurants, serving up tea and raif (Morcocan crepes). These restaurants are simple tents and benches, and are a great place to relax and watch the chaos of the souk, which can be overwhelming at times. I find I enjoy both the souk and the medina most when it's first thing in the morning, I've had a good night's sleep, and I'm ready to take on the adventure. 

Speaking of adventures, I'm headed off for five days of exploring the south of Morocco (Marrakesh and Essaouira) with my fellow YES Abroaders and our fearless leader Sarah! Inchallah I will ride a camel, stories and pictures to come! 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Language Diversity in Morocco

I still can't wrap my mind around the multilingualism of my host country. One classmate is scolded for thinking in English, another for thinking in Arabic. My host sister speaks all of the languages above, a polygot in her own right. More than one friend here has expressed annoyance for being addressed by waiters in French, instead of Darija. Here's an overview of the languages used in Morocco.

Modern Standard Arabic: MSA or Fus7a (pronounced like fus-haa) is one of Morocco's prestige languages.  Prestige describes the level of respect a language is accorded when compared to other languages in the same community. It is the language of the Qu'ran (Islam's holy book), public school education, administration, and the media. Though most Moroccans understand MSA, not all of them speak MSA fluently and it is rarely used in conversation outside the work place. In public schools, the teacher will often explain Darija, but the textbooks are in MSA.

Moroccan Arabic (Darija): Darija is the lingua-franca--the language of the street, the home, and in my opinion, the heart. It is only spoken and written very informally, using the French alphabet with letters to express sounds that do not exist in French. For instance, 7 is a special h sound which is made in the back of your throat. There are some words borrowed from French, Spanish, and Berber. Darija belongs to the Maghrebi (Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) Arabic dialect area--a group of dialects that very slightly between neighboring communities, but at as you travel in one direction, the differences accumulate and the dialects are no longer mutually intelligible.

A map of Arabic dialects across the Middle East and North Africa. The more similar the color, the more mutually intelligible the language. 

Tamazight: Tamazight, also called Berber or Shliha, is the language of the native people of Morocco (pre-Arab). Tamazight, along with Darija, is spoken in the home and on the street. However, not all types of Tamazight are mutually intelligible. My host family comes from a village in the south of Morocco, and when Tamazight from the Rif region is spoken on television, they don't understand any of it. Because of this, Tamazight speakers learn Darija as a second language. Technically, Tamazight is the second official langauge of Morocco, and recently a writing system for it was introduced. (But from what I've heard, nobody knows how to write it)

French: French is often used in business, diplomacy, and government. Universities are taught in French, which poses significant difficulty for public school graduates, who come from 16+ years of instruction in MSA. My peers, students at a private school where the language of instruction is French, will already be at a great advantage when they enter university. The degree of French depends on the level of education and socio economic background. The higher the level of education or wealth, the more likely it is that the speaker will use French and Darija alternatively. For instance, my classmates are completely bilingual with French and Darija and thus will often switch back and forth in conversation.

Spanish: About 5 million Moroccans speak Spanish, particularly in the North and the Spanish Sahara, regions that used to be controlled by Spain. In these regions, there is Spanish TV. The role of Spanish declined after independence, when French and Arabic became Morocco's main languages.

English: Especially among young people, English is their preferred second language. In a survey during the early 2000s, over 50% of respondents cited English as their favorite foreign language because it is the primary international prestige language. English instruction begins in 7th grade, and it is the language of many movies and music. It seems that everyone is scrambling to learn English.

Is your head spinning? (Mine is). Speaking multiple languages a necessity for survival. Multilingualism can make focusing on a single language difficult, because you are never completely immersed in a single tongue, but it affords you the opportunity to learn several languages at once. I'll leave you with this quote I saw on Tumblr:

"If learning a language hasn’t brought you joy, you’re doing it wrong. And if it hasn’t brought you despair, you’re not far enough along yet."

Truer words were never spoken.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Rain or Shine

Before I came to Morocco, I was warned: be prepared for the winter, you will be cold. Thinking of myself as a hardy Michigander, I laughed off their warnings. I thought: how could 40 degrees feel cold to a girl who has survived sixteen Midwestern winters?

Well, I thought wrong.

I have never been so cold as I have been this winter. Winter in Rabat really isn't that terrible, temperature wise. The coldest it's been is about 40 degrees. But indoor heating is non existent, and my host family often opens all the windows in the apartment during the day. I find myself coldest when I'm sitting at home, so I've learned to bundle up in multiple pairs of pants and the fleece bonnet my host mom gave me (we have matching fleece bonnets). I warm up immediately when I go outside, due to the intensity of the sun.

The sun here is bright. But when it isn't beaming its rays onto everything in its path, the rain is there instead. I can't count the number of days I've showed up at school, soaking wet, after forgetting my umbrella. I do enjoy rainy days when I remember to wear my rain boots/umbrella. It seems that (in general) Moroccans love the rain. Most Moroccans, including those living in cities, have ties the countryside, where rain is life. Whenever we discuss the rain, my host mom thanks Allah for the rain, and tells me how happy she is that it's raining. It didn't rain that much during my first months here, but now it rains frequently.

It's going to start getting warm again before I know it, and instead of shivering under piles of blankets each night, I'll have the windows wide open. I'm looking forward to swimming in the ocean, because I've yet to do so in Morocco. My regular route does not take me by the ocean here, but lately, I've been walking a different way to the Medina, and this new path allows me to see the stunning sea. Though the ocean is only a few blocks from my house, it's easy to forget that it's even there at times. I don't want to neglect the beauty of the ocean, and the time I have to live so close to this huge body of water, so I'm glad that I've been getting more glimpses of it lately.

river to the sea 

One thing I do miss about my home in Michigan-- trees and green space!  There are trees here, but in much smaller numbers. When I return, I will appreciate clean green space in general--whether the trees on my street, the nature preserve, or the smell of a freshly cut lawn. The sky, no matter where I am, inspires me.  I marvel at the sky in Michigan, and I marvel at it in Rabat. It's the same sky, but I'm looking up at it from two very different places, both of which I am lucky to call home.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Exchange Student Identity

As an exchange student, I have opportunity to see a country that is not my own in a deeper way. I am not a tourist, not a local, straddling the sometimes awkward (but mostly awesome) line in between. I did not come here to "Moroccan-ize" myself, I will not leave here as a "Moroccan". While I have adapted certain Moroccan habits--most obviously, a love of cous cous and a weekly hammam trip--at my core, I am U.S. American (whatever that means, I'm still not entirely sure). Sometimes when I look up the exchange rate here, from dollars to dirhams, I wonder how long it would take to "convert" an American to a Moroccan--for an U.S. American to truly not be an U.S. American anymore, but a Moroccan. I don't think that's completely possible. There is always a part of us tied to wear we came from, and there's nothing wrong with that.

It's often easy to fall into the trap of tourist mocking. For instance--I'm walking through the Medina, with my host family or friends, and see some other foreigners in their sneakers and backpacks, using some strange combination of languages to bargain for an overly priced item. At first, I felt a sense of kinship towards these outsiders, and might send them a friendly smile, as if to say 'we're all in this together.' Over time, I became frustrated by tourists--thinking 'how dare they come to my host country and pretend they know it so well in such a short time!' And now, when I see someone who looks tourist-y, I just hope that they will love Morocco as much as I do. Maybe they won't understand it in the same way as I do, but I hope their time here fills them with curiosity. I have been a tourist (and I still sometimes dress up as one here) and I certainly will be in the future. I know that I can't understand a place in a week or two, but that won't stop me from traveling there, and enjoying as much of it as I can.

tourist-ing around Rabat

At our orientations, we discussed how the host culture would at first seem much better than our own (honeymoon phase), then much worse, and eventually, we would enter a phase where our host culture simply seemed different. I had difficulty accepting that individuality and diversity are expressed in a very different (more subtle) way in Morocco. For instance, I don't really need a menu at most restaurants anymore, because I can predict what's going to be on it. (There are some stand outs, such as sushi restaurants, but those are fairly expensive). Most of the clothing being sold looks similar. I have seen very slight variations on the same coat in 15+ stores here. For a while, people watching didn't seem fun anymore, because I had developed the mindset that I wouldn't see anything different. Eventually, my annoyance diminished, and though I still am sometimes frustrated, I feel that I've learned how to work through my frustrations.

I can now easily answer some of the most pressing questions I had before coming here. I remember obsessing over how long my skirts should be, when in reality, the Americans are some of the only people at our school wearing long skirts. I know what I should and shouldn't wear when going out in public, and when in doubt, I throw on a djellaba until I get to my destination. I also recall wondering about what time it was acceptable to come home. I've learned that my host family won't worry until it's 7:30/8:00 P.M., but once that line is crossed and I'm not home, they will be very concerned. However, one of the best parts about being an exchange student is constant learning. From the moment I wake up to the moment my head hits the pillow, whether I am conscious of it or not, I am observing and integrating. The trajectory of cultural competence is not always upwards--some days I feel that I've taken several steps in the wrong direction--but sometimes, I am rewarded with spontaneous successes, and I am shocked by how far I have come.

158 days ago. 

I had so much trouble imagining what the challenges of my exchange year would be. I imagined myself tackling the obvious challenges--making friends and learning the language--with endless enthusiasm. The biggest challenge thus far has been keeping up that enthusiasm. This year has been a lesson in patience, one I am still learning. It's hard to greet the same challenges with a smile and persistence, day after day, but to me, that what's being an exchange student means. It means that I am willing to keep trekking on, through the boring, the exciting, the frustrating, and the beautiful, because I want to feel at home here. This experience is not instantly gratifying, but in the instances when it is gratifying, it is truly incredible.

exchange makes me smile 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Adan

Every day, for the past five months, five times a day, I have heard the Adan, the Call to Prayer. It's strange to think that before I came to Morocco, the Adan had never graced my ears. I do, however, remember writing a short story in 7th grade, during which my mom and I browsed a North African market as the call to prayer sounded in the background...a scenario that might be reality when my family comes to Morocco in April! The first time I heard the Adan in the distance (from my first home, where it was much fainter) I ran out onto the balcony as the unfamiliar sound filled my ears. HERE is a video recording of the Adan.

Hassan 2 in Casablanca

The average Moroccan has heard the call to prayer more times than they have eaten a meal, assuming they eat 3 meals a day. (a point raised in this blog post).The Adan is not chanting, not singing, but somewhere in between. When the Adan sounds, the TV is muted, and on some stations, the shows pause all together. Music is turned down, and many people will say 'allah akbar' meaning 'god is great.' I live right across the street from a mosque--my windows sometimes shake depending on how loud the muezzin (the man who says the Adan) speaks. On early mornings, it serves as my alarm clock, jolting me out of sleep. Though I cannot understand the words, sometimes I find that they are stuck in my head during the day. The sounds of the different mosques across the city overlap, almost as if they are calling and responding to one another.

At first, hearing the Adan was a novelty--something I heard that reminded me of the exotic new land I had come to. Eventually, it just became another part of my life--like cats or crazy traffic or djellabas. However, sometimes when I hear the Adan, I think back to hearing it during those first days.  Because just when I feel that nothing else will surprise me, something spontaneous will shake my day up, and I am reminded to retain my sense of wonder for this land around me.

Women's Traditional Clothing

Because I love clothing and I've had many questions, here we go: a brief overview of women's traditional clothing.

First, we have the djellaba. Essentially, the djelleba is a Jedi robe. Complete with a hood, it's an everyday garment. Most women wear it out over their pajamas, a concept that we've dubbed as 'llaba life' I love living the llaba life and will (inchallah) continue to wear my djellabas with pride upon my return. Every time I go out, I see a new djellaba that I want! They can be as cheap as 150 DH (less than 20 dollars) but can range into the very expensive. A typical pre made one is probably between 300 and 400 DH (40 dollars), while picking out the fabric and getting it made by a tailor is more costly.

Blue djellaba club

The tuck sheeta is a formal garment, worn for weddings or other celebrations.

Here's me in my host sister's tuck sheeta. 

 It's two pieces of fabric with a belt, as opposed to a kaftan, which is only one piece of fabric. I have visions of wearing a kaftan to my senior prom, we'll see if I can find the right kaftan between now and June.

Moroccan caftan 

I'd also like to mention the abaya, even though this garment originates in the Arabian peninsula, not in Morocco. An abaya is like a robe.Some are simply black and others, bejeweled and color. Some women here do wear the abaya--whether on a daily basis, thrown over pajamas, or to a special occasion. One of my friends gave me an abaya, and it's much lighter than the djellaba, I love wearing it.

I often browse fashion magazines with my host family and on Wednesday mornings, my host mom and I watch kaftan fashion shows.  One day, my host mom pulled out all her old dresses and let me try them on, and on another occasion she showed me the family pictures from weddings in the past. I love the discussions fashion has inspired, and I'm excited for the day I walk down the street in Michigan, wearing my djellaba.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Teaching English

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a teacher. I remember countless childhood hours happily spent running my pretend classroom. My pupils consisted of dolls, friends, or my little brother--anyone who would listen and I preferred the Teacher's Center to the toy store. In the past five (!!!) months in Morocco, my dream of teaching has come true--and the process has been frustrating, gratifying, and thought provoking.

I started out as a Teacher's Assistant in a children's class at AMIDEAST. For those who do not know, AMIDEAST is the organization implementing my program in Morocco, and English learning is one of their main programs. I mainly served as a translator (in the occasional instances where all the children were completely lost) and a disciplinarian (using the techniques my dear father taught me), but other than that, I had plenty of time to observe the rhythms of the class. Though I've assisted in classes before in the States, this experience allowed me to see how English was taught as a second language to children aged 8-10.

I had the chance to teach the ACCESS students at AMIDEAST about Thanksgiving. For the first time, I planned a lesson and team taught (with my fellow YES Abroaders). When I was teaching, I felt that I had a sense of purpose, and I was not just a confused foreigner anymore. That day planted a seed in my mind, and I went home and contacted several non profits in the Rabat area, asking if I could volunteer with them. I stumbled upon one (Le Feminin Pluriel) and have been teaching English to students aged 7-10 there every Wednesday since December.

On a typical Wednesday, I have twelve-ish students. They don't have a background in English, so I started at the very beginning (alphabet and numbers) and we are now progressing towards more advanced topics (animals and food). Because the class is only once a week for two hours, retention poses a problem. It's exciting to see such leaps and bounds over the course of a class, but discouraging when the students remember very little next week. I've been trying to find different ways to work with similar vocabulary concepts, so that the words really stay. I love playing games. However, I've gathered that games are not commonly played at Moroccan primary schools, and the class can get a little crazy. They really only settle down when reprimanded by one of coordinators in Arabic.

Despite the frustrations, I walk away each week looking forward to the next. The small improvements my students make are rewarding, their enthusiasm gives me great hope for their future English skills. But I think I am learning more from the students then I will ever teach them.  I've become more aware of the differences in the U.S. education system and the Moroccan one. The respect I have for teachers in general has increased, and I appreciate how difficult it is to be a 'good' teacher. I'm considering a career in education now, something that wasn't on my mind a year ago.  I am thankful for every hour spent stressing about lesson plans and making up activities on the spot, because each moment of achievement has strengthened my self esteem. I really care about teaching, and when I feel successful in the classroom, I also feel happy about my exchange (and life in general).