Blog 5: Unorganized musings

One of the scariest things is the general anxiety over whether or not I’m communicating effectively. I think I know what they’re saying to me and I think I’m saying the right thing back, but I’m never actually sure and I’m hyper-aware of tiny behaviours that I then blow out of proportion, and read into too much. For example, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pack and bring my lunch, or return home. I don’t have my full class schedule yet, and they didn’t tell me what time they usually serve lunch at home, so I was hesitant to answer and I felt like the dad was getting angry at me. I’m sure he actually wasn’t but I can’t be sure…

My classes are pretty easy, but then again we haven’t had any assignments or assessments yet so I can’t be too confident. My little brother is truly starting to get annoying, as any 4 year old boy probably is, but at least it provides some comic relief. Like yesterday he poured his water bottle on my textbook on purpose to get my attention because he was mad I was studying instead of playing. It wasn’t a big deal, but I’m just learning to deal with little things like that.
Last weekend we went to Chefchaouen, the blue city, and it was a ton of fun! It was a trip we organized by ourselves and about ten people went, but I stayed in a hostel room with three other girls and the rest of our group was in a hostel right next door. It was such a beautiful city, but it was also super touristy. Surprisingly I didn’t mind the tourists because it meant we could be loud Americans and not really worry about appearing touristy, since in fact we were tourists. We could do things like wander aimlessly or take a billion pictures or peruse the crappy trinket souvenir stalls. Whereas I would be usually vehemently opposed and embarrassed to do these things in Rabat, as well as suffer a great deal of anxiety from it. But so it was a relaxing weekend!
We went for a 12 mile hike up a mountain which was like super intense, especially since I expected to be gone for about half that time and half the distance. But it was so beautiful, and a family of dogs went nearly the whole way with us. That was actually kind of sad because I was worried they were expending an inordinate amount of energy, but I tried to remind myself they probably summit like every day with a group of hikers. On our way back down they didn’t stop at what we thought was their home, and came almost all the way back into the city. I actually had to yell and pretend to be scary so they would stop following us, and I still feel super guilty about that.
Also like a weekend ago I met up with a girl that I had only contacted through facebook in a group for runners in Rabat. My friend and I met her at a park just on the edge of the city, and went for a run (approximately 5-6 miles I think). It was awkward and scary for me at first and we had trouble finding her at first, but now I feel cool that I can brag to my peers in the IES program about having a local friend. After the run, we were planning on going to the zoo, so she asked her dad if they could give us a ride because they lived in the same direction. So we may have ridden in a car with strangers (sorry Mom) but it ended up perfectly fine! In fact the next Wednesday we met up again at a cafe that’s in between the Medina (aka my neighborhood) and the IES Center and is close to her work. We had lunch together and got to talking a bit more so I count this ongoing interaction as a virtual check mark on my theoretical list of necessary abroad experiences.
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Blog #4: Food!

The most remarkable thing, I would say, is the fact that virtually every household in the whole country eats couscous (kusksu) on Fridays. No one eats it any other day of the week, and everyone eats it for lunch at Friday. It’s served in a huge bowl, topped with seven different vegetables, along with meat, which can be chicken or lamb. Each person has a spoon to scoop with, and eats from their section (think pizza slices). It is polite to wait until one of the parents finds the meat cooked in the middle and then divides it in pieces among the family. To accompany this meal, everyone has a glass of buttermilk. It’s just a fact of life- there is no couscous without buttermilk. Although I would have never imagined drinking it in the States (we just use it to cook) I actually finished my whole glass last Friday, although I wouldn’t quite say I enjoyed it.

On other days, we usually eat tagine, although there can be great variety. Tagine is the national dish of Morocco, and consists of vegetables and meat cooked in a traditional ceramic ‘tagine’ that is heated on the stove top. Usual suspects include chicken, lamb, beef, potatoes, carrots, zucchini, hummus (chick peas), peppers, tomatoes, and even French fries on several occasions. To eat this, everyone uses bread (sometimes pita-like or sometimes French baguettes) as a scooper directly from the large shared plate.

We’ve also had spaghetti, pizza, sandwiches, soup (harira), fava beans (ful), and maybe Loubia beans (not sure of their name). Salad here does not exist as I know it. “Salata” means different things every time. At home we’ve had fruit salad, and a “salad” consisting of rice and tomatoes. At restaurants, “salad” is served as a large plate with lettuce, vegetables, fruits, fish, and infinite unknown sauces, which is then also eaten with bread.

One of my favorites so far was kofta (not sure about spelling since just transliterating). This is meat, usually lamb or mutton, made into meatballs or sausages with peppers and olives. Once we had it cooked on a grill over a coal fire inside the house in Meknes. We also had it in a way similar to how German wursts are, like meat stuffed into a wrapping. With some investigation we found out that it’s actually a spleen stuffed with meat, olives, and spices.

In Meknes, dinner was usually served around 10 pm, which is considered normal for most families. However, in Rabat, we usually eat dinner around 7:30 which is pretty early, but probably has to do with the fact that they have three small children that go to bed earlier than most people even start thinking about dinner.

Also for school in Rabat, my host mother will pack my lunch most days so I don’t have to walk back for lunch. I usually get a loaf of french bread, a few pieces of fruit, and a Thermos container with some type of meat dish that I eat with the bread, and a type of salad (ie rice and potatoes).

Sometimes I will get a snack with my friends after school, and we usually go to one of the many cafes and order a fruit juice, which actually means a smoothie. You can get it with milk or with juice, and all the fruit are freshly blended. This costs about 15 dirham ($1.50) and is delicious!

Although I eat ten times as much bread here, the only thing that I’ve eaten that has come out of a package is cheese. My vegetable intake has increased tenfold, and even dessert never anything more than delicious pieces of fresh fruit.

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Blog #3: Fitting in

One thing I did not mention earlier when describing my house was how cold it is. At any given time, it is guaranteed to be 10 degrees (F) colder inside than outside. The highs during the day are usually around 65, but it can be around 40 at night. Luckily we have thick fuzzy blankets, and were given slippers to wear around the house. It’s a custom here, like other places, to take off your shoes when you enter a house, or especially before entering a carpeted room. Everyone has a pair of house shoes, which our host mom gave us our own pair the first day. My feet, being a size 11 in the States, only fit about halfway into the fuzzy pink slippers.

Continuing on about Moroccan customs and clothing, it quickly comes to mind how anxious I was before arriving on what types of clothes to pack and if I had forgotten anything or if these would even be the right type of clothes. On a typical day in Meknes, I wear jeans with a tunic or leggings with a dress, along with my jacket. Style wise, definitely fit right in. I would say about 50% of women here have their hair covered, and I guess it’s hard to tell yet, being winter, whether women always have arms and legs covered or if this is more lenient as it gets warmer.

Never-the-less, blonde hair definitely sticks out, and especially since I’m nearly always walking with at least one other American, stares and comments can’t be avoided. But I’ve never felt unsafe, even when walking alone through the city. If anything, when I’m alone, I can be a bit more inconspicuous among the pedestrians.

I would say jeers and comments aimed at me are quite infrequent compared to what I’ve heard said to some of the African and Asian American students in my program- stuff like “Obama!” and “Beyonce!” or racial slurs aimed at Chinese. But the IES staff at the center in Rabat did a really great job of warning us all about what we may hear, how to react in a culturally appropriate way that doesn’t compromise our own beliefs, and explaining potential motives behind why some people might say what they do on the street. She put it something along these words: “Moroccans don’t know the real meaning of the N word. They say these things to try and be cool, to connect to you, to say the listen to the same music, to make it seem like ‘yeah, I know’ about things around the world when actually, they don’t really know anything.”

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I went for my very first Moroccan run the other day. In my defense, not only have we been super busy with orientation- as well as limits to when and where and with who I can run, we also make the 1 mile walk to and from school around 4 times a day. Plus, this week, on Monday and Thursday, we went to a local athletics club and played soccer with the whole program. The students and staff who wanted to play divided into three times of about 7, and when one team on the field scored, the losing team would switch places with the third team waiting on the sideline. I think it ended up being a lot of fun for everyone, and it was cool to get to hang out with the IES staff.

As for my run, I went with one other girl to a park that we walk by every day and always see lots of people- men, women, and children- walking, exercising, and playing. It was a short run, around 30 minutes, but it was nice to finally get the chance. Again, I felt totally safe but was definitely probably better that we went as a pair. I’m not sure if I’ll get another chance to run in Meknes before we return to Rabat, so I’ll have to figure out all over again the logistics of running there.

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Blog #2: First full week in Morocco!

The first few days seemed to drag on and on to the point where in the afternoon we would recount activities from the morning as if they had occurred several days ago. But now, I look back and see that over a whole week is gone and that means I have around only 12 left!
After arriving in Casablanca, I luckily found my aunt’s friend very quickly and rode with them for the hour and a half trip to Rabat. The first couple days in Rabat flew by, as we were heavily scheduled with meals, tours, and orientation sessions. On Thursday, we drove in vans for 3 hours to Meknes where we had our orientation for 9 days.
Here in Meknes, two other girls and I were in a homestay together with a gracious host family consisting of a father, mother, and three boys, ages 20, 16, and 6. Over the past week I’ve gotten so much closer to everyone in the program, especially the two girls I lived with. It’s a bit intimidating to know that in just two days we will be back in Rabat and will have to readjust to a whole new family and get the hang of things, but all by myself this time.
Some of the most shocking/interesting things I’ve noticed since arriving:
-the amazing dichotomy between the inside and outside of houses in the medina. These are the traditional riads on little tiny streets called a dirab, that are the width of two donkeys. Winding through the medina it seems as if concrete walls loom above you, but as soon as you enter into one of the iconic wooden doors you enter a hidden paradise. Three rooms open into the courtyard complete with a eucalyptus tree, fountain, and several doves. Upstairs there is a small bathroom, as well as two living rooms, a kitchen, and a bedroom that us three girls are staying in. These rooms are arranged in a square overlooking the courtyard below. And although there is only one window that actually opens to the street outside, the entire house always seems airy and bright. Climbing the third staircase brings you to a beautiful rooftop terrace where all of Meknes, Medina Qadima and the Ville Nouvelle, and the Rif mountains to the east.
-there is an amazing number of cats! Although it’s a bit sad for me to think about the virtual nonexistence of spay/neuter programs, all the cats seem to be well fed from meat scraps or friendly neighbors. In contrast to the hundred or so cats I’ve probably seen, there’s been less than 5 or so stray dogs, which I guess is a good thing

I’m about to return home from the school, so this post will be relatively short since we have no wifi at home. But hopefully I’ll remember to compose posts on word and then can upload them when I get to school and can use the limited internet.

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Blog 1

Hi! I’m going to start off my first blog with some boring basic info to give you some context for the experience that I will soon be having! I am a Junior at Wofford, and I am majoring in French and am a part of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Studies Program. I am also planning on getting a Chemistry minor, because my actual career goals are to go to veterinary school after Wofford and become a large/exotic animal veterinarian. Yes, I realize that French/Arabic doesn’t have much to do with being a veterinarian but those are subjects I really enjoy studying, in addition to the courses I take for pre-vet (essentially the same as pre-med track).

I am going to Rabat, Morocco on January 30th! (T minus twelve days!) My program is through IES Abroad, and my courses will consist of mostly French (around 12 credit hours) and Arabic (one 6 hour course). We do not take classes at a Moroccan university, but rather study at the program’s center in Rabat which has a small library, classrooms, offices, and meeting areas. I think this is one of the main differences between my program and the programs of other Wofford students, and specifically other French majors, who are abroad.

I am also doing a homestay, so I will be staying with a local family. Although we were supposed to know our placements by at least 3 weeks prior to departure, we still haven’t received them yet. Apparently there are a few small details to iron out between the IES offices in Rabat and Chicago. I’m not worried (although my mom definitely is) because I’m pretty sure everything will work out just fine!

Also, luckily for me, my aunt has a close childhood friend who has lived in Rabat for the past 30 or so years. She has been so kind in answering any and all questions that I have, and she is even going to be picking me up at the airport in Casablanca to drive to Rabat. The cities are about 1.5 hours away, but it saved me $800 of airfare by flying into Casablanca rather than Rabat.

Some of the major pointers that she has given me are to beware of pickpockets and beggars! This is also something that Wofford’s Office of International  Programs has emphasized to us as well during our pre-departure orientations in the fall. She also warned me not to bring a Bible, which as she said, could get you quietly removed from the country. This was a bit alarming, but also good to know, as apparently Moroccan customs do not take evangelizing lightly. She has nieces and nephews who are around my age and go to university in Rabat, and they have offered to show me around the city, so hopefully once I am there I can meet up with them!

So what have I been doing with my last few weeks at home? My program started at a really fortunate date, the end of January, so I was exempt from Interim but I also got a whole extra month of being home! Some of my friends going abroad other places had program start dates ranging from January 3rd to February 20th, so I am a nice happy medium.

I was able to drive up to Wofford (I  am from Jacksonville, Florida) a couple weekends ago for the first weekend of Interim. I was glad to get to say goodbye to my teammates, roommates, and other friends for one last time before I leave. It was a fun last weekend; as a lot of my friends are seniors, I will not get to see them until who-knows-when because I don’t return until after graduation. And it snowed like 4 inches in Spartanburg which was an awesome surprise! I also was able to bring home some of the stuff from my apartment that didn’t fit in my car when I went home after finals in December.

I also got to spend a weekend visiting a friend from home who goes to Baylor in Texas, as this was the first time in the past 3 years I have been able to do so because of the way our academic calendars lined up. Being at Baylor made me realize two things, how much I love Wofford with its tiny but tightknit community, and how difficult it is going to be to be away from anyone I know for not just a week, but 4 whole months!

I have one more trip planned, to visit my sister at FSU in Tallahassee, before I leave. Other than that, I need to start spending my time preparing and packing, and saying goodbye to my family and (most of all) pets! I anticipate blogging once more before I depart, but we’ll see… Thanks for reading!

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