I’m going to break this post into nonsequitors and try to paint a clearer picture of my, now comfortable, life here.
1. Love Arabic. Our two professors, Hamid and Abdulhafid often stray into topics unrelated to grammar; we’ve debated obligatory military service, translated Descartes, discussed Morocco’s political parties and higher education…Hamid has an incredible aptitude for memorizing dates. He’s a living textbook of world history and he can remember, for example, the exact date and time, three years ago, that he watched a particular film. Abdulhafid loves illuminating the connection between the Arabic language and Islamic culture. His rants are always enlightening. Speaking about the importance of religion, he says, “In believing in a religion, one can understand that 2 2 can equal 5. There is the ego, the body, the mind, the spirit, the heart, the soul…you enter a world beyond the rational in practicing your faith.” To Abdulhafid, religion makes life worth living.
Beyond its logic, the beauty of this language is the limitless and richness of self-expression. For instance, certain nouns can transform into verbs. From the noun “man” (rajul) I can say “usaafr yurajul,” meaning “travel makes you a man.” Equally cool are the random tidbits of information we discover in class. In Arabic, the name for a “question mark” is directly translated as “a sign seeking to understand” (3laama istfhaam). Kashafa means to uncover. Make it astekshafa, and you’re seeking to uncover. Now you have “to explore”! Or how about “check mate” in English. This expression comes directly from Arabic’s “sheikh maat” translated as “the sheik (leader) died.” “Arrogant” in Arabic is “mutakabr;” “Big” is “kabeer;” thus to be arrogant is to “make oneself bigger.” Another fun one: there are two verbs I could use meaning “to believe;” but only one of them invites another person to share his belief. I could go on…but I’ll spare you more of my nerdy musings. Putting together the jigsaw puzzle that is the Arabic language is going to take years, but every grammatical rule and abstract concept I conquer is one more step toward its completion.
2. Story time! I came home from school a few days ago to an empty house. Alhamdulillah! Home alone for the first time! I headed straight for the kitchen. Granola mixed with a bit of Nutella sounded like the perfect celebratory beginning to my afternoon. I poured the granola. I hunted in the fridge for milk or yogurt, to no avail. Nutella could serve that purpose anyways. As I impatiently unscrewed the top, the glass jar fell to my feet and my excitement was shattered faster than the glass across the kitchen floor. I swear there was way more Nutella on the floor than ever could have fit in that jar. I stood there for a few seconds, imagining the delicious snack that would never come into fruition…imagining using a tiny teaspoon to save the potentially-safe/clean top of the mess of Nutella…imagining glass ripping my throat apart…then imagining all eleven members of my host family walking through the door at that moment. No mop. No paper towels. No oven mitts to protect my hands from the glass. Five minutes of frantic hands-and-knees-style scrubbing with two entire rolls of toilet paper later, and my heart beat had slowed a bit. I jetted across the street and bought a spankin’ new identical jar of Nutella. Before sneakily placing it in its cozy spot next to my granola, I spooned the perfect amount into my mouth to make it look like the previous jar was never touched. Success!
3. Kickboxing. Jesse and my rendition of our first class effectively persuaded about eight more students to come. The hour of crowded squats and jumps and pushups somehow became even more hilarious. Last class, the 35 of us in the class sat in a big circle and intently watched two teenagers box—meaning spin kicks and blows to the face. If only there were English subtitles!
4. I’ve committed myself to exploring two new places from my Morocco guide book every week—whether it be a restaurant or…spa. Last Friday, I dragged two friends to “Le Kasbah” to try their allegedly “expertly interpreted” vegetarian couscous and we sat on the second-floor tables perched over the street next to Bab Boujeloud (see the photo). To check another new endeavor off my list, Kate and I sought out a “grand taxi” (they hold six people, don’t leave until filled with 6 people, and are permitted to travel outside the city limits) to Moulay Yacoub. The fifteen minute drive through rolling countryside with views of the Middle Atlas mountains was such a breath of fresh air. See attached photos (from my disposable camera). The hillside village of Moulay Yacoub is a “medicinal center” famous for its sulfur-rich spa waters. We were dropped off at the top of the village and left to descend countless flights of steps past stalls of bathing goods. Kate and I started with the “swimming pool.” We paid about $1 each and hesitantly followed other women into…a hammam! Imagine a textbook black and white photo of a Roman bath with a steaming hot pool in the middle. Add some color to the photo, and two very white Americans in the corner, and there’s where we spent the next hour. We bought the traditional soap and buckets and started scrubbing away. Thinking back, we should have made our entrance by sprinting and cannon-balling into the pool…it probably would have attracted less attention than did mistakenly using the exfoliating mitt to scrub black soap on myself. Whoops! The soap (which, I was quickly informed, is to be applied with bare hands) got stuck in all the little hairs on my arm. We both spent the remainder of our time scrubbing our arms raw to get rid of the clumps of black mud. I refrained from cannon-balling and instead gently lowered myself into the steaming hot bath under the scrutiny of many foreign women’s eyes. I tried to ignore the massive hairballs getting caught between my toes and focus instead on the supposed medicinal properties of the water. My new favorite Arabic expression (also shared after kickboxing class): “bsaha wa raha” (to health and relaxation)!
5. I enjoyed more raha over three giant mugs of tea while chatting with Simo! The conversation was almost entirely in Arabic! The topics ranged from the extreme generational differences in religious devotion to the overarching priority of familial respect. The conversation ended with the promise of many Arabic-only coffee dates to come!
6. I’m finding it’s the little moments every day that are significant. I’m learning to much more appreciate exchanging “I love you! Do you love me?”s with Myriem, accompanying her to the coiffeur to get her hair curled, or struggling in Arabic to make a very sick (but very drugged) Salma laugh over the phone, or washing dishes with Amina as she rapid fires new darija vocab at me until my pronunciation (though definitely not my understanding) is perfect. Or sitting with mama Hakima as she ties different scarves around my head and declares me “her Moroccan daughter” over and over again… Or trying on that magic green-but-turns-pink lipstick with Salma and kissing each other’s cheeks. Or dodging the group of boisterous men crowded around the soccer game on TV in the street who for once couldn’t care less that an American girl is within five feet of them! Or stopping midway to our destination so our cab driver can chug a glass of milk with his buddies. Sure, I also face the occasional vulgar comment and anti-American sentiment, but all I can do is keep walking and recall, for example, my cab driver earlier that day who stopped in the middle of the souks to get handfuls of free almonds from his friends for us to munch on as he jokingly asked for my hand in marriage.
Salma, my 8 year old host sister, is crouching over my toes right now with a wet cotton ball in one hand and red nail polish in the other as I type away. After painting my nails, she always takes great pleasure in painting her own toenails…then heartbreakingly going back and removing every spot of color lest her school teacher see it. Some exciting upcoming events: Henna and Cinema date with Salma, Berber wedding next weekend with my host family from France (visiting Fes for this wedding), and vacation week to be spent in Talloires, France!