Not sure what program is right for you? Click Here

© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Study Abroad in

Back to Program Back to Blog Home

8 posts categorized "Viviana Afanador"


On Communication

The ten days I spent with my brother gave me a new perspective on language and communication.

So far, I've spent three months focusing on learning Arabic. I've tried to find the right words and the right phrases to get the right meaning across. I want to be able to speak Arabic so that I can communicate with the locals.

Yet in ten days I watched my brother talk himself out of three traffic tickets, bargain with hotel owners, barter with Berber tradesmen, have full conversations with my host parents (who speak no English or Spanish), talk with mechanics (twice!) to get our car fixed and get deals at the car rental place.

He often asked me to tell someone something, yet my first reaction was often, "I don't know how to say that." He'd say, walk over to them, and in a mix of Spanish, English and gestures, he'd get the point across.

I was thoroughly impressed by his determination to talk about things that were difficult, complex and fun. He didn't care that he could barely say "thank you" in Arabic (though he did learn that one by the end of the trip).

This whole experience simply made me reflect. I've placed such an emphasis on language. And well, to be fair, that's what my program is about. And my long-term goals involved speaking Arabic, not just communicating with Moroccans today. But still, I was able to re-realize that language and communication are not the same thing.

They are definitely not the same thing. Language often facilitates communication, but communication does not depend on language. We can smile or wave and never speak a word. We can say many, many words, yet through our body language convey the exact opposite of what we mean. We can get caught up on focusing on how to say certain things, that we forget that we can say many things without every having a common language.


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 :)


Things I Miss

  • Initiating conversations comfortably
    I wish I could initiate conversations in any situation with any person without having to rehearse my first sentence over and over again.
  • Finishing my own sentences. Moroccans are super friendly and are so helpful when I'm struggling to communicate. However, once they catch the gist of what I'm trying to say, they finish my sentences for me. I'm excited to be able to finish my own sentences, sometimes.
  •  Asking meaningful follow-up questions.
    Sometimes, my host family explains something to me and I can understand the big picture. But I struggle immensely to ask meaningful followup questions in order to understand better or have them expand on certain topics.
  • Asking meaningful questions. Period.
    I miss being able to ask people questions that don't start with "Who," "How," "What," and "Where." I want to be able to get to know people's and their hearts not just all the "whats."
  • Feeling more adventurous in wandering around the city.
    I'd be much more willing to hop on a bus and figure out the public transportation if I was certain I knew how to ask for directions to where I wanted to be and I was confident I could understand their response.
  • Explaining games to children.
    I just want to play games with so many kids, but I can't think of enough games that I know can explain well.
  • Teasing people.
    There have been so many times I could tease my family, but I know that I don't have the necessary vocabulary to do so. So I end up laughing and trying to gesture out some sort of tease, but it never has the same effect. Never.
While this list is in no way exhaustive, these are just a couple of things I miss about being able to proficiently communicate in the same language.



So I was surprised by several things last Sunday:

  1. How much these Moroccan ladies can eat. Oh my goodness! "Viviana, just one banana!" No, I could not eat "just" one more banana after having eaten chicken and beef and (of course!) bread only three hours after I had eaten lunch. One more banana would make me pop. I was certain of it.
  2. How these Moroccan women can shake those hips!! Colombian women can certainly move their hips, flowing perfectly with the music. But Moroccan women? The quick drums and the ultra-fast rhythms made for some incredibly fast hip movements. I was simply amazed. When it was my turn to try, I wasn't even sure how to move in that way. What was I trying to move to? There was no way I could move to the speed of those drums.
  3.  There is always room for one more woman on the couch. Oh, yes there is. I'm not sure how many women fit on the divans, but there always seemed to be room to squeeze one more on. I thought I'd feel less squished when one would stand up to dance, but alas, no, somehow, we were constantly squished on the couches.
  4.  I was told I might be cold. I might be cold... so I should wear leggings and a tank top and two sweaters under my caftan in case I was cold in the house with dozens upon dozens of dancing women in it. Maybe. At one point I was wondering if I should brave the bathroom with the light that didn't work to try and take off one of the sweaters.

So I went to a typical Moroccan subha today, celebrating the birth of a beautiful baby girl. Subha comes from the number seven; the celebration generally is held seven days after the baby's birth. We arrived around 3:30, though the celebration had been going on for at least an hour by then. At least 40 women were in the two living rooms; many sat on the divans lining the walls, a few danced in the open space.

I was pulled into the "dance floor" a couple of times and the Moroccans loved seeing this white girl try to move her hips. "Just move your HIPS," they'd tell me. Yes, I know what my hips are. I just don't have the same kind of control over mine like you do over yours. I can see their confusion, though. I'm positive my hips weren't moving when they told me to move them, so it made sense for them to conclude that I didn't know what my hips were.

After a while they took us downstairs to eat. Oumaima told me to get ready to eat a lot of food. I breathed in sharply; lunch couldn't have been more than four hours ago. I still had plenty of tajine and bread in my stomach. But more bread was brought out and then a huge silver platter of chicken was served. I ate sparingly, but still found myself quite full. She leaned over and told me that more food was coming. The chicken was cleared and a silver platter of beef was brought out. I ate a bit, but didn't think I should out of fear of the food coma. But then an entire platter of fruits was brought out. I was urged to eat more. I had two small slices of pineapple, then scolded for not eating more fruit. I found a small strawberry and ate that. Oumaima's aunt asked my why I didn't eat just one more banana. Ma'am, one more banana would be the death of me.

We returned upstairs for more dancing, more food (yes, cookies and tea, of course) and more laughing.

Wowza. What a way to celebrate new life!



I had my first "culture-shock" moment last week. No, not the kind of culture shock that makes me want to leave Morocco. Not even the kind of culture shock that makes me miss home intensely. It was the kind of situation where no matter how long I was in it, I couldn't quite get used to it. It was that kind of culture shock. I went to a hammam with a sweet Moroccan friend, Oumaima. A hammam, is a public bathhouse. I knew that they were very popular here in Morocco and that it was imperative that I visit one while I was here. But I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I guess it doesn't matter. I don't think any amount of information would have totally prepared me for the nakedness and the beautiful lack of shame displayed in the hammam. Women bathed without any thought of covering themselves, and I kept thinking I'd get used to it, until my eyes shifted from the ceiling or a wall to a person. And then I realized I still wasn't used to it. Oumaima was wonderful and talked me through the elaborate bathing steps. I was shocked by all of the dead skin that came off of me. Spaghetti, she called it. She curiously asked me, "What do you do with your dead skin in America?" Honestly? "I don't do anything with it," I replied. Her mouth dropped and I just laughed. I couldn't imagine how soft my skin would be if I went to the hammam every week, as was customary for many Moroccan women. Afterwards, Oumaima made sure I was fully wrapped up and warm so that the change of temperatures wouldn't mess with me (I guess Colombians would get along just fine here). We headed back to her house, napped on the divans (like couches) a bit and then had a wonderful cous cous lunch. After all, it was Cous Cous Friday.