A Semester in Morocco
From January to May 2015, I lived in Rabat, Morocco's capital city, studying Arabic and journalism at the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning.
From Fez down to Merzouga, through the High Atlas Mountains and back to the coastal city of Essaouira, we had an exhausting week of bus rides, sight seeing, shopping and lectures, but the trip into the Sahara - although touristy in itself - offered a bit of a respite from all of that. Dance parties broke up long bus rides, with Badrdine at the front playing songs from his top 10 -- everything from Call Me Maybe to Hot in Here made the list. I'm fairly sure I'll never get the sound out of my head of Badrdine singing certain lyrics into the microphone, or stop wondering if he really knew exactly what he was singing to a bus full of 20-somethings. Was it a case of lost-in-translation, or was he fully embodying the role of embarrassing dad/crazy uncle? Either way, what's a road trip without some good, old fashioned sing-alongs? Even if it is to LMFAO's Sexy and I Know It ("Girl, look at that Badr, I work out").
The truth is, it was a memorable week, in which every city had something different to offer us or an experience for us to remember it by. In Fes, it was the medina's narrow alleyways – different from the medina we’d grown so accustomed to at “home” in Rabat; it was the tannery and the weaving place, the spice store where we all took a hit of an herb that temporarily shocked our senses; it was the beautiful architecture and artwork of the ancient medrasa, the world’s oldest university. In Azrou, it was the snow covered hills that reminded a few students of their home in Colorado. In Tinghir, it was the immense gorges and in Marrakech, it was the night Marguerite, Paris, Evan and I spent dancing for a crowd with the self-proclaimed "Moroccan Michael Jackson.” In Ouerzazate, it was meeting, dancing and singing at the top of my lungs with dozens of young women pursuing an education; it was introducing myself and the SIT journalism program in Arabic to a room full of strangers. In Essaouria, it was eating shrimp for the first time and playing soccer on the beach, where Badrdine’s “mean side” shone through and my competitive nature became all too apparent. In El-Jadida, it was the pizza I didn’t even know I’d been craving.
Disclaimer: this was meant to be published a week ago. Internet issues posed a small problem, but at long last...
"You're Moroccan now."
My host brother, Oussama, has said this to me on several occasions. The first time he said it, I had just helped to clear the dinner table and wipe it down the same way I'd watched my host mother do several times - using a wet sponge to push the crumbs into a small plate at the edge of the table. More recently, he said it in the context of eating. As I scraped chicken off of the bone with a fork so that I could grab it easier it with my pieces of bread, I heard my host father say my name. I looked over to him, a little caught off guard by the sound of my name coming from his mouth. We've spoken a handful of times, always in brief, and we occasionally exchange smiles when one of my sisters does something laughable or ridiculous, but hearing him say my name is a rarity. In general, he's a quiet man that keeps to himself. I looked over at him and watched as he took the chicken wing in his hands and peeled the skin off with his fingers. He said something to me that I couldn't understand, but the family chuckled around me and Oussama stepped in to explain.
"Eat with your hands,' he said, still smiling. "You're Moroccan now."
I immediately obeyed , too embarrassed not to.
Simply put, a hammam is a steam room and communal bathing area where Moroccans go to bathe once a week, sometimes more.
"You want to go to the hammam with my mum today?"
It was a simple question with an obvious answer. Because what I heard was, 'would you like to take a shower in a room larger than a walk-in closet that doesn't involve a small bucket and a hole in the wall?'
So I said yes. After a week of trying to figure out how to efficiently use a Turkish bath at home in a way that doesn't create a sopping mess of the bathroom floor (which I still haven't quite figured out), nothing sounded more appealing than a trip to the hammam.
It's been exactly one week since 60+ students and I moved into Hotel Darna, but I swear to you it feels like it's been one month. With a few exceptions, the majority of every day has had some sort of activity planned to prepare us for our semester in Rabat, both in terms of academics and culture. In other words, orientation for American college students in Morocco meant learning to bargain, navigating through the streets of Rabat and taking a crash course in Arabic. It also meant a brief potty training lesson, as many homes that students would be staying in might not be equipped with the western style toilet they are accustomed to.