Ana Oheb Al-Maghreb!

Every day that I’m in Morocco is like a blur! So much is packed into every single day that I feel like it’s been weeks already.
Last night Alexa, Julia, Lauren and I were bored- women can’t really go out after dark without being harassed incessantly by the swarms of Moroccan men out on the streets- until we found a bottle of wine in the fridge. We have a huge picture window in our living room that overlooks the main street, so we opened it wide, drank wine, and people watched while hanging out the window for a few hours. It was so interesting, trying to figure out the way the culture works here. There are so many paradoxes in the way people behave that it’s absolutely fascinating, but I’ll get into that more later. So we drank our Moroccan wine and bonded and had fun while the boys were out at the bars [women in bars here are almost always hookers].
This morning I woke up at 5am to a rooster crowing outside my window. So we woke up, ate some bread, and went on a bus tour of Meknes at 8:30. Meknes is beautiful- much nicer than Casablanca, which was surprising to me. There are four different parts of town and each of them is different and beautiful in its own way. I live in an apartment in the Hamriya, or ville nouvelle, which has a lot of French architecture and influence. We went to the older part of the city and saw ancient aqueducts, hanging gardens, the casbah, and an alley-way asooq that was breathtaking. The hustle and bustle of the city is chaos. Everyone is always doing something different; darting in front of a car, fighting, haggling, eating…it’s the law of entropy at work. The asooq was partially covered by awnings hanging over the alleyways, so it was cool and very crowded. There’s every kind of vendor: caftans and jibalas, spices, knockoff designer clothes, shoes, handicrafts. The smells of the city permeate everything. One second you’re breathing in saffron and the next you smell sewage, rotting food, or horse/donkey/sheep/goat dung. It’s a schmorgesborde for your senses. There are donkey carts, and every type of person milling about.
We also went to the mosque where the sultan Moulay Ismail [my university here is named after him] is buried. One thing I have noticed about the mosques here- there are very few that you can go in as a tourist, but when you can, the people are very welcoming and warm even though they know you aren’t a Muslim. I was somewhat surprised by that fact because of the stereotypical Muslim most Americans envision. They want you to learn about their religion and they’re happy to share it with you. It’s very much the opposite of everything we think in the US.
Travelling around the city in the 115 degree Fahrenheit weather started to take its toll on us [it’s actually not as bad as you think; thank God for dry heat with no humidity..but don’t get me wrong, I still complain constantly. Plus, air conditioning is hard to find here- none in our apartment! We keep the windows and the doors to the balconies open all the time and when we’re lucky we catch a cool breeze], and we were so grateful for huge jugs of water waiting on us when we arrived at Jahmiya Moulay Ismail, the university where we will be taking classes, for the welcoming ceremony. They also served traditional hot Moroccan mint tea. I didn’t expect to like it, but it was absolutely delicious and I am already addicted to it; it’s my new Starbucks. I’m going to buy a ton of it to bring home with me! After we met our professors we had the placement test for Arabic class. The written portion was actually pretty difficult and I freaked out a bit because the required score for Intermediate Arabic 1 [Arabic 201 at UA] was an 80% or higher. The oral exam was awkward. There were other people in the room, so the professor whispered and I could barely hear him enough to answer his questions. Plus, he only asked two questions in Arabic before he started chatting away in English. Sidenote: the code-switching here is incredible! I cannot tell you how amazing it is to be surrounded by such linguistically gifted people. Even within our group of 14 people, at any given time you are liable to hear Spanish, English, French, Swahili, Italian, or of course, some meager Arabic. Our resident director will sometimes start speaking Spanish and not realize it. The professors at school will start a speech and realize a few minutes into it [from the confused looks on our faces, I’m sure] that he is actually speaking French or Arabic instead of English. Morocco is truly a melting pot of cultures! It’s incredible!
But I digress. After the tests, we went back the apartment for a two hour break for lunch. Two Arabic women come in and prepare three meals a day for us in the apartment, and it is always delicious. Today we had the tenderest lamb I’ve ever tasted, marinated in a green sauce with dates and figs, lots of bread, and potatoes. It was mouthwatering! Afterwards I caught a quick siesta, then the program directors showed up to teach us how to use the grand-taxis. They are actually Mercedes Benzes [not the kind you’re probably thinking, they’re not very nice] that function like a bus. They run on a fixed route and you can get on and off anywhere along that route. Six people can fit into one car, although not comfortably or safely, but Moroccans are not very concerned about traffic safety. No one stays in any lanes [in fact, lanes aren’t really marked on the roads]; sometimes cars are on the left and right, sometimes they drive right in the middle, plus tons of people squish into one car, or people drive with their doors open. It’s completely possible in a grand-taxi to end up practically on the lap of a complete stranger who climbed in as another person climbed out. Personal space is nearly nonexistent here! We got back to the university without incident, and suffered through a three hour long orientation on health, safety, and housing. The Arabic professors also came in and gave us our placement test results. I didn’t make an 80% on the test but they bumped me up to Intermediate 1 anyway, so I was relieved.
Trying to find a taxi home from the University was difficult as it usually closes around 6 and no more taxis wait outside afterwards. We waited for nearly half an hour before Daniel, our resident director, drove up and offered us a ride. Four of us rode with him, three girls walked the 40 minutes home, five others took a city bus, and two boys hitchhiked. Dinner was waiting on us at home, an egg and meatball ziti-type dish which was, of course, scrumptious. Afterwards, four of us girls went out to find a cheap Moroccan cell phone and experienced more of the infamous Moroccan hospitality. Several times already, people have pitied us in our complete ignorance and helped us out in difficult situations, without us asking. We were being harassed our first night in Casablanca by a man begging for cigarettes [everyone smokes everywhere here…and I mean everywhere], and a businessman waiting in line behind us at the ATM [we were moving very slowly too, so I was surprised he wasn’t irritated with us] chased him off to save us. Another time at Marjane, the Moroccan version of Wal-Mart, we were walking around looking for contact solution, and a man who overheard us, stopped and said, “What you need is someone who speaks English like me,” then pointed us in the right direction. Tonight in the Meditel cell phone store, a man who was listening to us struggle to convey what we needed to the clerk in muddled French apologized for his bad English [he actually spoke it very well, and with the best accent I’ve heard thus far!] and spent nearly fifteen minutes helping us. It was heartening to find the people so concerned for us and willing to help whenever possible.
After leaving, we decided to try and find some ice cream even though it was getting dark. That was a mistake! Suddenly, there were no women around and hundreds of men making cat calls, following us, and giving us lines in French, Arabic, and English. It’s a little scary, so we headed home as fast as possible.

On a side note, I’ve been taking cold showers here, and I couldn’t be happier. When it’s 115 degrees outside, it feels wonderful!

Class starts tomorrow at 4pm and goes until 7pm, so I’m sure I’ll be exhausted. But hopefully my internal clock will start adjusting and I won’t wake up at 5am for the third day in a row. I’m taking lots and lots of pictures, and hopefully I will be able to post this using the university’s wireless internet tomorrow! I miss you all! Goodnight!

“Shit as much as possible.”-Daniel Ostad

Salaam wa hubb,

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