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4 posts from March 2013


Bartering Goods

"Do you have a souvenir for me? A hat? An English book?"

I racked my brain for what I could possibly have to exchange with this Amazigh trader.

I was trying to buy a carpet. But it was a little too expensive. So he was offering an exchange of goods. My brother had just purchased some things and paid using dirhams, a used pink t-shirt and some sunglasses.

I did have a copy of Catcher in the Rye in my book bag. Byron had lent it to me to read and I wasn't quite done with it yet. I asked him what he would do with a book.

"Read it, of course!" Duh. Of course. I should assume that this Amazigh man would read classic English novels.

Eh, why not? I'd get Byron another copy of Catcher in the Rye.

"Deal." His face broke into a huge smile and we shook hands. Did we just barter goods with a Saharan trader? Yup. Yes, we did.

Today we're heading out into the desert with his family. He seemed disgusted that we were headed to Merzouga, the tourism destination for those seeking desert treks. He instead urged us to go with his family. So we'll be joining his nomadic family on a three-hour camel ride into the desert where we'll see the sun set, sleep in Berber tens and share in their meals and enjoy their music. Then we'll head to sleep under the inky blackness of the the Sahara desert and awake to the majestic sunrise. A wonderful breakfast and then another camel ride back. Well, here goes :)



Last Friday we went to the International University of Rabat, which is actually in Sale. But whatever. Its an upscale university here, where students pay about $7,000 USD a year to be there. As a Moroccan you can attend a public university for all for years and pay less than $100 USD. We went as part of our Gender Issues class and we came prepared with interview questions. Our teacher encouraged us to ask "inappropriate" questions and to really ask about things that were "taboo." So we jumped in with both feet. We found ourselves asking questions related to virginity, sexual education, homosexuality, religion and stereotypes. We all had a fabulous time getting to know these Moroccan students and then just getting a glimpse into their minds and how they think. Afterwards, they gave us a tour of their campus and we were all pretty stunned by how nice their facilities were. Their dorm rooms reminded me of dorms back in the US... except that we didn't have bathrooms and sinks in our rooms. As we walked around, I ended up talking with Kenza. She's a freshman from Tangier (in Northern Morocco). She was educated in a Spanish school throughout high school, so soon we were chatting away in Spanish. She was clearly more comfortable in Spanish than in English and it was so wonderful to be able to communicate with ease in a language that actually felt like a common language. Usually, when I converse with Moroccans, one of us is exerting a lot of effort to keep up in a conversation that is carried out in a language that isn't our own. Not in this conversation. Several times I had to remind myself that I wasn't in Colombia, as I heard her flawless Spanish and looked at her physical features. She could easily fit in Bogota... no one would look at her twice if she were walking down the streets in Colombia. I was hit with a really strong sense of nostalgia and homesickness. I miss home. I miss communicating easily. I loved being in Morocco, speaking to a Morocco, in Spanish. And there was nothing strange about it.


Lil' Kiddies

I've been volunteering at on organization called Dar Shebeb for three weeks now. Most of the other students in the program teach English or French classes. But Uchenna, Byron and I have a completely different role.

We get to play games for two hours.

Yup. That's our job description.

I get to laugh and play and have fun with 7-13 year olds every week.

The first two weeks there was a Moroccan helping us with translating game instructions, if need be. But Byron and I enjoyed plunging ahead and trying to get the game across in our Arabic. This last week, there was no such safety-net to fall back on when it was obvious that instructions weren't being conveyed correctly.

We have a couple of staple games that include Ninja, musical chairs and Red Light, Green Light. We play these every week and I love trying to come up with new games every week as well.

This last week I was struck by how funny we must sound. First of all, we speak using mostly Fus-ha, when the kids speak mostly Derija. Secondly, I speak and then think. And third, the words we know are pretty formal for playground kinds of settings.

So, we try to explain that in musical chairs you can't touch the chairs before the "music" (us clapping and shouting) stops. Byron comes up with the exact term for "touch" and I can't think of anything but, "It is prohibited." Yeah, that's right. They better not touch the chairs.

Through volunteering I've realized that there are some words I really need to learn:

  • Stop
  • Rules
  • You win
  • You lose
  • You're out
  • Can't...
  • No pushing!
  • Time out

I love the little kiddies and it might be the highlight of my week. We explain games and then they run up to us and go off in full-speed Derija, expecting us to understand. I usually shrug my shoulders and say, "Mafahimtsh."

Oh, story of my life.

I don't understand.


To Spain and Back

A couple of weekends ago, CIEE took us on a trip to northern Morocco. However, we wanted to see Tangier some for ourselves before all of the CIEE scheduling and program set in, so we set out a day early. We found a great hostel in the old medina and did some shopping around. We were able to explore some and then the next day got picked up by CIEE to see various cities in northern Morocco.

One of our stops that weekend, interestingly enough, was Spain. As American citizens we didn't need to get a visa to come to Morocco. We automatically can come and stay for three months. However, our program is four months long. So, to get around this, we simply took a (very) short trip to Spain. No, we didn't cross the Strait.

We stayed on the African continent.

You see, Ceuta is an interesting Spanish city.


We simply drove to the border, got out of the bus, handed over our passports, got them stamped, walked across and suddenly, we were in Spain. We hoped into taxis and I loved that I could communicated with ease. I tried to not to snicker at the unfamiliar accent. We walked around the downtown area and European architecture surrounded us.

We spent less than four hours in this Spanish city, yet we ate pork, spoke Spanish and felt like we were very much inside of Europe. They were even celebrating Carnaval while we were there, so we were able to enjoy a very festive city.

It was an odd sensation. We had just finished reading a book called Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits for one of our classes. It tells the story of four Moroccans who are desperate to cross the border into Spain.

It is the promise of a better life-- a new life. Though we were able to simply walk into Spain, many Moroccans will never see the city of Ceuta. They can't get the visa necessary to reach Spain. As we walked across the border, you could see armed guards stationed on the hills surrounding the city; they were definitely there to keep people out.

Yet our privilege, our blue passports, allowed us to walk into Spain and back... for three and a half hours. We spent the evening in Spain so that we wouldn't need to get visas, and so many can't ever visit because they can't get visas.

All in all, it was a cool experience. I enjoyed Ceuta. I loved speaking Spanish and I really enjoyed the city :)