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2 posts from February 2012


I'm Learning to READ!!!



Today, class, we’re going to learn how to learn Arabic really fast—or, we’ll learn all about what frustrated me while attempting to learn Arabic really fast. I'm catching you up on what the first two weeks have been like, in Intensive Darija class, before moving on to other stuff, because you'll probably want to know what 4-hour intensive language classes are like. Mezien? Good.

Arabic is a varied and complex language, with (I am so eloquent here) bajillions of different spoken dialects spanning North Africa and the middle east. I’m studying the very particular dialect of Arabic spoken in Morocco, Darija, which is often incomprehensible to Arabic speakers from anywhere else (this incomprehensibility is, interestingly, one-way; since the media is largely in Fous7a and Egyptian Arabic, Darija speakers have no trouble understanding other dialects). Darija is an entirely oral dialect, and so the rules that apply to written Modern Standard Arabic do not apply in our Darija classroom; this makes spelling and (oftentimes) pronunciation sort of whatever-you-want. Cool!

We conduct classes using a mind-bending combination of Arabic script and latin-script phonetics (there is no International Phonetic Alphabet here, we just write what sounds right, which is different from the weird Peace Corps textbook, which is different from the class handouts. BRAIN). So, for example, here are some verbs conjugated in the past tense:

(Pretty, right? I love this script.)

Then we are instructed to write a paragraph about something, using the verbs that we just conjugated. Easy, right? NOPE. We’re not fluent enough in the alphabet to be able to spell out a paragraph using Arabic script, so we’re supposed to do it something like this:

(It looks like jibberish, yes. Yes, that is my nose. Yes, these are my notes. JIBBERISH NOSE NOTES.)

I’m struggling a lot with the brain acrobatics, I just thought I’d share that with you all. Good thing Allie is awesome at fous7a. Good thing we have 12-year-olds to be way better at this than us.

Apart from the regional differences in the dialect from city to city, the language changes according to social class, neighborhood, your mood, whether you have enough saliva in the back of your throat. I really enjoy Darija.

Still, picking up 2 new languages is challenging, and I find myself defaulting to French whenever I’m actually doing something in the city.  Arabic numbers? No way. Especially since I’ve officially renounced the French system and adopted the Belgian (soixante, septante, octante, nonante—none of this quatre-vingt-dix-eew anymore).

Sometimes in class, I get frustrated with myself for not understanding immediately, for messing up sounding out words, for not learning it all perfectly as soon as I open the book. It’s the classic measure-self-worth-against-performance-in-class complex, which is silly, and so I’m working on being patient with myself. This is only week 2 and I can DO this. I AM doing this! I WILL LEARN THESE SKILLS TO PUT TO USE FOR A MORE JUST AND HUMANE WORLD! 

Still, the combination of difficult classwork, new culture, new place, new language, new everything, feeling isolated and starved for news of home—I find myself sometimes becoming overemotional about things like numbers and verb tenses, laundry and showering, eating and sleeping. It’s the little things here that yank the comfortable chair of familiarity out from under me at every turn; sometimes I get tired of falling off the cultural merry-go-round, and every-so-often attempt to steal a meditative moment of solitude in the bathroom. (The bathroom is becoming a very spiritual experience for me. It’s the ONLY time I ever spend alone here.)

It’s just that before I left, 4 months was no big deal. I think of my friends who have left for months and months, years and years, and my heart fills up; 4 months looks pretty scary from here. But I have found a wonderful community here, too, and I know it’s something we can all pull off together (cue high school musical. Yeah, and I know a dance to it, too), as we share our linguistic triumphs and awkward moments. Let’s DO this.




The Art of Walking

Well, hi, everyone. Introductions first?

My name is Katie, and I'm currently studying in Rabat, Morocco. I'm a Philosophy major/French minor from Seattle University, and I enjoy cooking, holding hands, and long walks on the beach.

I'd say just kidding lol if all that weren't actually true; I love watching my host moms cook (we'll cook for them soon, I hope!), Moroccans hold hands a lot with their friends as they walk, and the beach is 30 seconds from where I live. I'm totally compatible with life in Morocco! Hooray!

There's so much to talk about so for now, I'll start with my impressions upon our arrival, two weeks ago:

We first glimpsed the medina as the city slept, the shops closed but for a few DVD vendors.  Scruffy looking cats roamed the empty streets as we dodged piles of garbage and deep puddles, eyes turned upward, trying to see as much as possible. Walking in this town, even in the dead of night, is proving to be a science I have yet to master; crossing the road requires an alertness I do not yet possess.

Rabat is absolutely beautiful; it lies on the Atlantic coast, there are no skyscrapers (or buildings over 5 or 6 stories), and has a rhythm and a vitality of a kind that I haven’t encountered in the US. The larger boulevards are full of honking cars and brave pedestrians (neither pay any attention to traffic signals), mysteriously disappearing lanes, Moroccans calling out words of welcome, and the occasional catcall. Moroccans are, by and large, appreciative of our presence in their country and wish to welcome us at every turn. On the plane from Paris to Casablanca, I met a number of Moroccans who pressed cards and phone numbers on me, imploring me to contact them should I need anything, or visit their city.

I have all semester tell you all about the beauty of this city, so right now, I’m going to talk about its waste. Two days in Morocco, and I have learned a lot from garbage.  One of the first sights that greeted me as we drove from Casablanca to Rabat was a pile of burning garbage in a field, just outside one of the many shantytowns that dot the countryside. Oh. For the first time, I felt acutely aware of the reality of my presence in a developing country, suddenly conscious of all I had left behind, suddenly nervous for all I would encounter. Soon, soon, I will write you beautiful posts about wealth and poverty here in Morocco, once I understand a bit more. Till then, read on.

In the city, as the chaos of the medina settles, the garbage remains; and I suppose there was something authentic and raw about the garbage that tickled my already buzzing fancy, though that may have just been severe sleep deprivation. Compared to the clean Seattle streets I stomp around at home, the garbage seemed like an acknowledgement of the vibrant human presence here, left behind after a day of bargaining, bright colors, bustle, and business.

 Family and Life and Stuff!

Here in Morocco, everyone lives with their family until they’re married, or something else happens and they move out.  Though there’s really not a status quo with cultural stuff in the US, many Moroccans find it bizarre that we moved out of our parents’ houses at 17 or 18 to make our own way in the world, and find it even more bizarre that we don’t plan on coming back; that we might not get married at all.

I live with a wonderful host family and one CIEE roommate, Alexandra, in the Kasbah des Oudayas: one of the oldest parts of Rabat.  Including Alexandra and I, there are around 10 people living in a house behind the blue walls, tucked away in a corner of the labyrinthine Kasbah: five middle-aged siblings, 3 kids, and the two of us. You’d never guess that the house was small; from the rooftop terrace, it feels as though you have all of Rabat and Salé and the Ocean to wander to.  We're a stone's throw from the Medina, which is absolutely incredible. Each morning, as we watch the sun rise, we walk through the blue-walled kasbah and the barely-stirring souk to the bus or tram, which takes us within 10 or 20 minutes of the University, or the Qalem wa Laoheh Arabic Language center in Souissi. Though it's a pretty long commute, I wouldn't trade it for anything. How about pictures? PICTURES IT IS.

This is the Kasbah. Cool.

This is the sunrise. Cool.

That's the view from the kitchen window. You can see everything from the rooftop terrace. It's incredible.

The family is very traditionally Moroccan, but not at all religious (that means something very different here than it does in the States; I mean only that they don’t pray each time we hear the calls to prayer rise from the mosques surrounding the Kasbah. Maybe they pray in their heads, who knows? I’ll have plenty of time to tell you about religion, religious language, etc…anyway); they sleep  on the couches bordering every wall, and share one big closet (we have the only bedroom, which makes me feel really honored to be here). They all speak Darija, Fous7a, and French, they eat in the traditional Moroccan fashion, they watch ridiculously fantastic Arabic soaps. The house is always occupied, always lively, always loud, never lonely. Neither Alexandra nor I really have any problem communicating; she speaks Fous7a and I speak French, and this family are experts at bouncing between languages, encouraging us to speak and explain things to each other. Abir and Wided are our wonderful, 12-year-old fraternal twin host sisters that we can ask about anything, Jalel is their 14-year-old brother upon whom we are planning a good practical joke to get him back for spraying us with water from the roof yesterday.


It's really pretty here.

We've just concluded our intensive 2-week course in Darija, Moroccan Arabic, and are preparing to start classes at l'Université Mohammed V tomorrow morning. I'm excited for my life here to finally fall into some kind of recognizable schedule, because it's been crazy attempting to settle in. There's a lot ot think about as I start out on this study abroad journey: poverty and privilege, gender issues, language barriers, cultural differences, the political situation, how to use public transit, homesickness, the eternal shortage of toilet paper. 

Also, I'm sick. It's not super awful, I'm just really tired, curled in my bed cuddling with a water bottle and my family's pregnant kitty, Rim. So it goes. This blog is about the whole experience, right?! Here I go!

Oh, and a quick postscript: a kilo of delicious oranges here is 5 dirhams at the wee fruit stand Alexandra found, tucked away in an alley in the Medina. One U.S. dollar is about 8dh. Think about that for a second.