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)

(from food.lizsteinberg.com)

-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 http://lizguerra.wordpress.com/)

- 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!