Classes, Cooking, and Cafes

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At last my mind and body are adjusting to life here in Fes! To begin, the following are all ramblings and observations that I’ve jotted down erratically the past few days, so stick with me.

1. The sedentary lifestyle. It’s a bit torturous compared to the constant movement I’m used to in the U.S! Amina (chef de cuisine and my host mom’s sister) sleeps on a giant cushion on the floor and pops up to fix breakfast when I walk by in the morning. From there, she spends all day either in the kitchen, praying, or laying on said cushion sleeping or engrossed in a TV drama. Little Salma pours over French and Arabic textbooks all day, reading aloud to herself and creating endless drills for me in Arabic. My other host siblings and cousins work or study by day, and watch TV from about 7-12 each night. Simo, mama Hakima’s son who just graduated from university, is quite a character. He brings life to every room, usually donning shiny leather shoes, a tucked-in polo and slicked back hair. His English is nearly perfect and he’s eager to help me study.

2.  The heat. Since I’m miles away from a body of water (though so tempted to jump in the fountain with the 5 year old boys outside), one of my favorite activities is locking my door, stripping down, pouring my precious bottled water all over my back, and collapsing on my bed face down with the fan on high.

3.  Sleep. I fall asleep and wake to the music of clanging heavy metal garage doors closing or opening shops just outside my bedroom. It’s like that awful sound of a metal fork scraping a ceramic plate. I often wake at 5am to the morning call to prayer, and I usually think it’s part of my dream.

4.   The stare down. Whenever I walk through the living room, I am inescapably and uncomfortably stared down by my host sister and Amina. I am getting used to these stares outside the house as well, from men of all ages. I am, as are all the Western women, gawked at like an alien. Consequently, I have been dressing very modesty to fit in—with long skirts and conservative loose tops.

5.  To finish on a more positive note: Yes, it’s bizarre to just sit. And do…nothing. I’m having trouble appreciating and embracing my unproductivity level, but I keep reminding myself that America is one of the only places on earth that encourages a life of constant movement. It’s really nice to rest from 12-3 when all the shops are closed for lunch… simply listen to music sprawled on my giant bed as Salma draws on my back and, you know, whispers sweet Arabic nothings in my ear.

Immersion. The TV may always be on, but whether it’s an Egyptian drama, Spongebob Square Pants, The Biggest Loser, the news (when an image of America appears the whole family gets wide-eyed and yells at me “AMERICA AMERICA SHOOF,” or look!), or a Marwan Khoury performance, it’s in Arabic. Another opportunity to learn, to absorb, to understand.

Dinner is always an experience, and my appetite is back, baby! Alhamdulillah! My stomach is now invincible, I’m convinced. We had delicious “moroccan paninis” the other night made with cheese, baguette, spiced chicken, and tomatoes. At every meal, one of my 9 family members will impersonate me returning to America obese, my mother not recognizing me at the airport. Ugh. Last night, I wanted to help make dinner. Must be more careful about what I wish for! Of all tasks I could have been assigned, I got down and dirty with raw lumps of bloody chicken, rolling them in flour then handing them to Amina to cook. As a vegetarian, it was pretty scarring.

Two fellow Americans and I headed to Café Clock on one evening—a beautiful, three story café catering largely to foreigners but with traditional Moroccan food (and waiters) and cultural events like calligraphy and cooking classes. I sat mesmerized by the woman effortlessly flicking her magic henna wand all over my feet, turning my toes into leaves and drawing intricate Arabian patterns all over my heels. Back at home, my host family erupted into laughter when I admitted the price I paid for the henna. In the future, I was told, a woman will come to the house and give me twice as much henna for half the price. Salma inspected the work and Amina blotted the designs with mint tea, supposedly to prolong the color.

Classes have commenced for Salma and I! I have four hours of Arabic per day in a class of 5, split into two hours with different professors—both Moroccans teaching us Modern Standard Arabic. Hamid, prof number 1, smiles a lot and speaks super slowly. He’s dedicated to teaching and insistent that we understand everything. I have also set up a private tutor for 2 hours a week to practice speaking and reading, as well as the Moroccan dialect. It’s going to be very self-directed learning here and, inshallah, my improvement will reflect the effort I put in. Today, class was 2-6. Amina gave me “mahlawi” for breakfast—this incredible (allegedly healthy) doughy pancake/crepe/bread. With jam. And nutella. And cheese. And honey. I can’t even describe to you the bliss that was ripping off piece after piece after piece. I headed outside to take on the medina solo, and stumbled across a gym! I peeked inside and watched the men boxing until enough baffled stares prompted my exit. Onwards to the avocado stand! My bartering didn’t go too well, so I instead purchased a small handful of almonds and raisons then asked nearby men for the best Arabic newspaper. I explored a bit, trying to internalize my tracks, then climbed to the top of Café Clock for lunch. One waiter named Anwaar— a charismatic Moroccan soccer player — sat down with me to practice Arabic. I peacefully enjoyed veggie-stuffed (YEAH VEGETABLES!!!!!!) peppers with rice, salad, and an elaborately decorated and sweetened iced mint tea on the rooftop. I spent about two hours here flipping through the newspaper, trying to grasp some main ideas with the help of Anwaar.

I love getting to know all these mid-Westerners studying at ALIF. Our group dynamic is fluid and entertaining, and I really appreciate that there are only 8 of us.  Still, it’s tough to find time to be alone. The kind of alone I’m so used to back home as an only child! But then I remember I have the rest of my life to return to the routine I’m so familiar with, yet a limited amount of time to soak up every moment in this magical city!

Lunch on the terrace overlooking the medina

Dinner: kafta meatballs, homemade yogurt, homemade bread!

Salma and I on our first day of school

Henna

Musicians at Cafe Clock