April 18, 2013
As a math major with zero foreign language skills, it’s sometimes hard to justify exactly why I’m spending a semester abroad in Morocco. “So you want to start focusing on human rights?” Nope. “Do you want to get involved in developmental economics?” Not really. “Are you thinking about working for an NGO or something?” Don’t think so. “So why are you here?” Well, my original reasons, that camels are awesome and Casablanca is a darn good movie, now seem laughably insufficient. In fact, Casablanca is probably my least favorite city that I’ve been to, and my time riding a camel totaled about 40 minutes. But luckily my shaky reasoning hasn’t stopped me from fully embracing the mysteries and delights of living a Moroccan lifestyle.
Of course, like all study abroad experiences, there were times of utter culture shock early on. The ‘call to prayer’ is an unmistakable aspect of living in a Muslim country. Five times a day, loudspeakers attached to every mosque in the city blasts the familiar ‘Allah Akbar’ prayer for everyone to hear. The first time you’re woken by this at four in the morning is definitely a jarring and memorable experience. Eating most meals with your hands out of a giant communal bowl also takes some getting used to, but as with everything else, one gets acclimated fairly quickly.
In the 11 weeks I’ve been in Morocco, I’ve not only gotten used to the culture but have thrived upon it. Drinking mint tea is no longer a custom, it’s a necessity, and public bathhouses or Hamams, couldn’t live without ’em. The most surprising thing I’ve adapted to is the fact that not just one but three languages are spoken fluently in Morocco. Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, is a Moroccan’s first language, but Standard Arabic and French are necessities for official documents and publications. The task of communicating in English, broken French, and broken Arabic is one of the most challenging but rewarding aspects of being here. Though without a doubt the greatest part of my study abroad experience has to be my living situation.
My host parents, Fouzia and Hosni, have been extraordinarily kind in accepting me into their family. I’ve learned more about Moroccan culture and traditions from having lived under their auspices then from any other single experience. I share couscous with them on al jumu’ah and help care for their two-year-old son Habeeb. On occasions, I even dance with them in the streets for local weddings.
One of the most fun things I’ve done here was help prepare for a party celebrating Habeeb’s recent circumcision. The “penis party”, as I sometimes call it, had over 20 baked chickens and literally buckets of cinnamon rosewater pasta, huge big fat tubs of it. It was only half way through the party that I realized I was the only male there. Apparently it was like a baby shower kind of thing, women only. But they didn’t seem to mind and I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to eat that delicious dessert pasta.
Sharing in the good times and happy occasions is definitely fun, but part of the homestay experience is undoubtedly sharing in the bad times, too. Not everything been hunky dory in the Fouzia family. Recently, Habeeb was jumping on the couch and ended up falling off and breaking his leg. He now has a cast on and can’t really move anywhere. Because of this, I’ve spent many sleepless nights listening to my host brother crying, and many days sitting by his side playing with him and his toys. Although this has been truly heartbreaking, it has led to a better and more caring relationship between my family and me.
Now that I’m starting an independent study project, I’ve moved out of my host family’s home and into my own apartment. I’m living with four other guys from my program in the center of the old medina part of town. The place is a five-minute walk from the beach and right on the main souk road. We even have a beautiful rooftop terrace to sit and watch kids play soccer and hijab clad housewives stroll by. I’m sad to leave my host parents, but honestly I couldn’t be happier as I smoke hookah on the roof, drink a Stork and watch the sunset fall across the city jungle of clothes lines, palm trees and satellite dishes.
Morocco is a wonderful and fascinating country. Clearly what makes this study abroad experience so remarkable is the people I get to interact with every day. My academic advisors, my hamam buddy Omar, even Hassan the omelet sandwich guy are a joy to talk to and learn from. This is the real reason I’m abroad. Although I’m not gonna lie, the 40-minute camel ride was ridiculously cool.