I’m back in Spain!
This past weekend, IES Granada took a trip to Morocco. And not the touristy, lets-drink-tea-in-resorts Morocco. The real, sweat and grime, backstreet beauty Morocco. All of the following things actually occurred:
1. True to Moroccan style, I ate almost all my meals with my hand. HAND, singular, because you can only use your right hand at the dinner table. Left hand is for “personal hygiene” – as in the bathroom. So right hand. Which was a huge challenge, mostly because the food was so good that I wanted to use both hands to plow food into my mouth. Especially the cous cous. You’re supposed to do this finger magic with your right hand and roll cous cous into a ball, and then pop it into your mouth. I tried really hard – I promise I did – but when I took off my scarf after dinner, a little pile of cous cous fell to the floor.
2. I rode a camel. And I felt like a princess.
3. I took a communal bath in the hammam. Which, if you translate that back, means that there are roughly 40 Moroccan women and 15 American girls that have now seen me topless and covered in green goo-soap.
4. I learned a little Arabic. And by “a little”, I mean hello, how are you, cool, delicious, thank you, hakuna matata, thanks be to God, and no. When I was feeling really brave I tried may God bless your parents. We all said “thank you” more than anything else. Probably 60 times a day. There was a running joke that it was good nothing bad happened on the trip, because if we got into trouble, all we would have been able to say is “Thank you! Thank you!”
5. I was woken up, multiple times, by the 4 AM call to prayer. The mosques in Morocco broadcast this singing-chant over loudspeakers five times a day, and on Friday (the holy day), there is a 45-minute long service.
6. I used (almost exclusively) Turkish toilets. You should google it. No explanation could do it justice.
7. I was offered weed. Three times. Luckily, my 2nd-grade DARE class prepared me well. Just say no, kids. And walk away quickly. If you get put in jail in Morocco, all the American Embassy can do is send you reading material.
8. I stayed with a Moroccan host family. The mom didn’t speak English. One of the American girls in the house, who was studying in Rabat for the semester, taught her that “Shaw-tay” means “Bon Appetit” in English. Shaw-tay like shorty. Like from a rap song. Every time we sat down to eat, our host mom would throw up her hands and say “SHAW-TAY!” And what could we do? We did it back. SHAW-TAY!
9. I tried avocado juice. And my vote is no. Vegetables don’t get better in liquid form.
10. I got henna.
11. Our group threw a hard-boiled egg into a pit of eels. According to ancient pagan tradition, if the eel eats the egg then you gain increased fertility. Our eel ate the egg.
12. I didn’t wear shoes in the house. It was glorious.
13. I slept, with my two roommates for the trip, on wall-to-wall couches. All Moroccans sleep like this. Daytime = unlimited couch space. Nighttime = giant slumber party. Our blankets smelled like mothballs, but you can’t win ‘em all.
14. I learned a lot about Islam and Morocco. It was an overwhelming amount of information, but we were quizzed at the end and I am pretty sure I remember it all. I can now rattle off facts like nobody’s business. I could go on Jeopardy.
15. I bartered for everything that I bought.
16. A cat sat next to us in one of the Moroccan restaurants. Just casually hopped up onto the seat next to me. And I thought it was making noises of satisfaction when I was petting it, because, hey, who doesn’t like a back rub? But then it scratched me. Which only proves the point that dogs are better and that I know nothing about cats.
17. I sang “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for a rural Moroccan family.
18. I didn’t check my email. No wifi, no problem.
This post is getting kinda long so I’m going to stop there for now. Just know that my trip to Morocco was hands-down the craziest and most challenging trip I’ve ever been on. I am so glad I went, and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Maybe with a few more Arabic words in my pocket.
Arancha: “There is a solution to everything in life except death.”
Maribel: *whipping out large bag of truffles* “And most of those solutions involve chocolate.”
(SHE KNOWS ME SO WELL)
Friends don’t let friends walk home alone at night.
(Really good friends find really good-looking American boys to escort you.)
(Because sometimes you have to break out the Ramen and cook for yourself.)
Ingredients: a baguette, a block of semi-cured white cheese, and a jar of pesto.
Directions: First, cut a sandwich-sized hunk of bread off the baguette. Store baguette carefully to avoid staleness. (Yes, staleness is a word, I looked it up.) Cut sandwich bread in half – lengthwise so as to produce a top and bottom. Next, cut semi-cured cheese into 1/4-inch thick slices. Use your nifty knife to spread pesto on your sandwich bread, and then delicately (and with flair!) layer the cheese slices on top of the pesto. Microwave for roughly 30 seconds.
Last week, a girl confessed that during her first week in Spain she’d spent a good hour crying in our director’s office and begging to go home. Everyone who was listening to her sympathized. Some of them shared similar stories.
And so I’d like to take a moment to explain why the transition into a foreign country can be hard (even for people who are usually very flexible and outgoing). My blog (thus far) has highlighted why I love Spain. And I do – I love it. But studying abroad is not without its difficulties, and I promised you an unbiased, almost-complete account of my life in Granada.
So here we go:
1. Your brilliant, liberal-arts-education vocabulary has been reduced to that of a 3rd grader. Or maybe a 1st grader, depending on how advanced you are. The goal is to learn, of course, and bump yourself up to saying complicated phrases like “I heard that they’re going on a date” and “We went out for tapas last night – but the food wasn’t nearly as good as yours”. But until you hit that language level – and even though you may understand everything – you’re stuck saying “How cool” and “Yes, please” and “Delicious”. You feel a little bit like a robot – and a little less like the cool American exchange student you thought you’d be.
Silver lining: Some students are developing really killer charades skills. Just a warning.
2. I’d just like to reiterate that you have to wear shoes all the time.
3. It can be hard to bond with the Americans in your program. You’d think it’d be easy, right? You have so much in common because you’re IN SPAIN together. But at first it’s awkward. It’s a little like college orientation. “What’s your major? Where are you from? How did you choose Granada? What classes are you taking? I’m so sorry, I can’t remember your name but I know we’ve met….” And since you don’t have that dorm-room lifestyle, you have to take the initiative to ask the strange people you’ve only just met to go out for tapas. Like grown-up play dates. See how that’s a little harder?
4. Facebook is mean to you. Imagine: it’s the first week you’re in Spain, you don’t really have any close friends yet (so therefore you don’t have any funny/cool/flattering pictures to put up, and still – STILL – your friends from home are going to America-themed dances together, dressing up like zoo animals, posing for selfies at basketball games, changing their profile pictures to ones that don’t involve you (because you weren’t there) and so on and so on and so on. And you’re awkwardly trying to make grown-up play dates with people who don’t understand the references to your favorite YouTube videos.
5. Your host family in Spain is the bomb.com, but they just don’t get you sometimes. Your host mom is incredulous that you don’t like the meat-paste for the toast, your host sister thinks it’s funny that you can’t pronounce the word for “juice”, and your host brother talks so fast and drops so many letters that he might as well be speaking Chinese. Or you’re in a Spanish dorm. And they’re swearing and making inside jokes and you’re sitting there trying to translate “YOLO” into something equivalent to the Spanish culture. (Don’t actually do that. YOLO doesn’t make sense in Spanish. It’s an American joke.)
And then there are those little, prickly annoyances that rub you the wrong way.
1. You brought folders from the US to hold all of your schoolwork and important forms. You were so prepared. But the Spanish use legal-sized paper, so the tops of your forms stick out and get all crumpled. And you might as well have just not used a folder at all.
2. Spanish people don’t have to (or they just refuse to) pick up after their dogs. So instead of looking up at the beautiful buildings and enjoying the walk to school, you’re watching your feet. Because the only thing worse than having it on the street would be having it on your shoes.
3. You’re trying out night classes for the first time, and your seminar ends at 8PM. Five minutes before class is over, your professor looks around, asks, “Does anyone have a date?” (Silly question. Of course you don’t. You’ve only been here a week and you haven’t had the chance to show the Spanish boys your moves.) You say no. Your friends say no. And your professor smiles, says “Good, then we can stay in class for a little longer”. And runs over 15 minutes. She does it again the next two weeks, too.
4. You started talking to the waiter in Spanish. He answered you in English.
Not because everyone in Spain knows English. Most people in Granada don’t know any at all. But a few restaurants (more popular, tourist ones) boast bi-lingual menus and staff. Avoid them.
5. The illegal purse-sellers, pirated-CD-vendors, street-flower-peddlers, beggars etc are allowed to come into the restaurant, come up to your table, and ask you if you’d like to buy from them/ask for money. It can happen multiple times within a meal, and sometimes they don’t leave unless you tell them “No, thank you” multiple times.
Those are small things. Very small things that don’t bother you once you’ve been in Spain for a bit. But at the beginning? When you’re still carrying around a map and your pocket dictionary? It’s another small pebble in your shoe.
There are times – for everyone – when it is lonely. There are times when it is frustrating. And confusing. And overwhelming. And sometimes, if you’re really unlucky, you can feel all of it at once.
But, dear friends, this is what you have to remember. The silver lining: It gets better. It gets great.
My classmate? The one who spent an hour crying in our director’s office during her first week here?
She was laughing about it. She wouldn’t go home now. Not even if you bought her a ticket.
Bring stationery. All types of stationery – blank, respectable-looking cards being the most important. And don’t forget envelopes.