Salaamu alaykum! Welcome to Morocco!

September 15th, 2010

Okay guys, this pretty much the first time where I’ve had readily available, decent wifi service since I’ve arrived in Morocco almost two weeks ago.  Morocco is amazing, incredibly hot and humid, but amazing.  As I was looking back on my entire life I’ve realized that Morocco is the only place I’ve been where giant palm trees grow naturally.  In addition to having a completely different selection of trees, flowers, shrubs, and other vegetation, Morocco has an entirely different array of sounds, smells, tastes, you name it.  When I landed in Rabat I was surprised by how modern the city was, yet how traditional it seemed as well.  I saw both men and women wearing in jallabas, which are long robes with pointed hoods, and pointed leather shoes, and men and women wearing very western styles clothes.  I arrived during Ramadan, the holy month where Muslims fast during the daylight hours, so the streets were not as busy as I had expected.  I was very, very excited about experiencing Ramadan in a Muslim country.   I’ve fasted for Ramadan before in college, so I had some idea of what it felt like to abstain from eating and drinking for a whole day.  Not eating anything all day is actually a lot easier than it seems, but not drinking anything (even water), now that’s the challenging part, especially in Morocco where temperatures hovered around the high 80s and 90s.  After Moroccans break their fast in the evening the city exploded with activity that lasted until 2am or so.  It’s quite a different feeling to go from a quiet, low key day to an explosion of festivities that last the entire night.

My study abroad program has a 10 day orientation period in Fez, so the day after we all arrived in Rabat we drove to Fez to spend a week listening to lectures ranging from the linguistic situation in Morocco, to the Muduwana (a new family code which greatly increases women’s rights) which was passed only a few years ago.  We also spent our mornings taking intensive classes in colloquial Moroccan Arabic (darija).  Each Arabic speaking country has their own unique dialect of Arabic, so Moroccans traveling in Saudi Arabia or Iraq would probably not be able to understand the Saudis or Iraqis they meet on the street.  However, Modern Standard Arabic is the written form of the Arabic language, and is universal.  This means that educated Arabs all over the Arab world can communicate in Modern Standard and understand each other.

In Morocco, basically almost everyone speaks French, which was extremely lucky for me since I didn’t speak a word of Arabic when I arrived.  However, I learned from my experience living with a host family that although French is widely used, it still is better to learn Arabic.  My host mother in Fez spoke some French, but it was clear that she was much more comfortable communicating in Arabic, which was why my Darija lessons were so important and helpful.  In Morocco, it is very important to know how to greet people and ask about their health.  The second most important thing you should know is how to ask about their family.  Finally the third most important thing you should know is how to say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m full” because you might be invited to enjoy some absolutely delicious mint tea and cookies.  My host mothers (both in Fez and Rabat) always tell me to “Kool!” (eat!) so I’ve gotten quite good at saying “I’m full” in darija.  They will nod and say okay, but 10 minutes later they will put another plate of food in front of you and tell you to eat more.  This morning as I was leaving to go to school my host mother led me back to the breakfast table because I had not eaten enough, or so she thought.  Food is a very important part of Moroccan culture.  It is a time to socialize with friends and family and the more you eat, they happier they get because it shows you appreciate their hospitality.  Moroccan food is great, especially during Ramadan, so it’s not really that hard to eat a lot of food.

What else have I done since I’ve been here?  Quite a lot actually now that I think about it.  I’ve toured the medina in Fez (an absolute MUST if you’re ever in the country), went to the ceramics factory in Fez, seen the mausoleum in Rabat, and toured the Roman ruins at Volubilis (super duper cool).  Tomorrow actually, my study abroad group is leaving to go to the Sahara Desert for four days.  I’m really looking forward to this visit because I will get to ride a CAMEL for several hours into the desert!  Once we’re in the desert we will get to spend the night in a Berber tent, eat Berber food, and listen to Berber music.  The next day we’ll get to ride the camels back to and chill out at a really nice hotel for the rest of the day.

Wow, I haven’t written nearly as much as I thought I would.  I haven’t written in a while, so I feel like I should make it up to you by writing an extra long post when I get back from the desert trip.  I’ve also got an amazing amount of homework, and I’ve literally had only two days of real classes since we’ve only been back in Rabat since Sunday.  So I will transition from the blog writing to the walk home (approximately 30 minutes) to the Arabic learning and backpack packing.  I bit the adieu and look forward to recounting my four day visit to the desert in full detail! 🙂

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