Tag Archives: Arabic

Experiences Can No Longer Be Contained In Words…

22 Apr
As I write my second to last entry in my Moroccan epic, that bittersweet feeling that has permeated so many moments in this experience has begun to seep back into my mind. This will, effectively, be the last post I author while sitting in Morocco. (The last post of the experience will be written in NY, before I alter this blog to accommodate my escapades in France as well). I’ve found myself worried about the withdrawal of excitement that may strike me when I return to the States, and have already started to concoct ways in which to avoid it (Mt. Washington ski/hike, a few weekends in Boston, plus what will inevitably grow into yet another summer of too much traveling, yet again fighting to contain copious amounts of wanderlust).

The last few weeks, between Gnawa music, the eventual successful trip to Kenitra (thank god), hiking the second highest mountain in Africa, Jebel Toubkal, (prompting the desire to find my way to Kilimanjaro… someday), I have to say that I tried. Regardless of my continued travels, and attempts to see all of Morocco, I still can’t shake the feeling that someway, somehow, I fell short. I don’t see this as any deep failure on my part, the human mind has a funny way of either thinking it has too much time, or not enough. We all fall into the same pitfalls, wasting time on facebook, email, or even just sleeping, and before we know it the time is up.

I definitely squeezed as much as I could out of the weeks following spring break.

Weekend 1,

Physical and economic recovery from spring break, some work and a few low key evenings relaxing and planning the biggest weekend of the semester.

Weekend 2,

Al-hayt Al-usbooah Kabeeeeeer (the biiiiiiig weekend)

Ready?

Go.

Train leaves at 3am Saturday morning.

Arrive in Marrakesh at roughly 8am. After some confusion and a complete inability to procure a decent breakfast, we settle on some coffee and hit the grand taxi lot. After meeting a crazy San Fransisco native who lives as an ex-pat in Paris, six of people cram into a beat up Mercedes to make the 2 hour ride to Imlil, changing drivers randomly and without warning 20 minutes outside Marrakesh proper (This is Morocco, This is Morocco…).

Make it to Imlil alive and well, grab a quick omelet, haggle over a guide only to realize we can’t, and decide to take the budget tour. Get our crampons (a bed of large metal spikes you attach to a shoe to walk through snow and ice) and start the 5 hour hike to base camp. Our oxygen is slowly disappearing (Base camp is at 10,000 feet. Rabat? Sea Level.), we are getting more and more tired as the day wears on, and the exertion is not ending. But,

Oh. My. God. was it gorgeous. This place was true back country, the wilderness in all its rugged glory and an environment that takes your breath away (in more ways than one).

4 hours in and I’ve given up trying to talk to anyone. Pushing, thinking only about my surroundings and the bed waiting for me not far away. As we approach base camp, snow begins to dominate the landscape and we are engulfed by a a slowly darkening sky (sunset was 2 hours ago due to the sheer rock face rising up on either side of us).

5 hours after our departure, we arrived. Exhaustion now means something wholly different from what it used to. I was on the verge of nausea/body shutdown.

After 30 minutes of slow recuperation and replenishment, I was alive, but exhausted.

8pm bedtime,

Wake up at 4:30am. Let this go on the record as the ONLY time I will ever wake up at that and and feel well rested.

5:30am and we are suited up and ready to go. The sun had yet to make its way above the solid rock that rose on all sides of us, so we started the exhausting hike pre-dawn. After some struggles, we make our way up to the summit (in the process getting lapped by some crazy Spainards…).

Summit at 10:30am. Gorgeous. This is one of those things you have to do yourself, because no amount of pictures will ever allow you to bask in this the way you need to.

“Time to head back down…..wait, crampon is coming undone. Really, again? Whyyyyyyy won’t this thing stay on, and more importantly why is our guide 500 feet ahead of me helping the female of our group who clearly no longer needs help? Does he even know where we are in relation to him? Ahh screw it, I don’t need his help anyway, plus she could use another Berber husband. Forget the crampon, I’ve got one foot that still works. Damn, snow is slippery, boot skiing time, and……go.”

I proceeded to make my way down the last quarter of the mountain on  some skiing skill, a whole lot of slipping, and a whole ton of luck. It was at this point that I determined that my Berber guide was no longer going to keep me any safer than I was going to be alone, so needless to say I stopped listening to him. (But, in retrospect, I would much rather have this story than have had his help…..foolish pride sort of a thing).

After a 4 hour hike back to Imlil, tea and a 2 hour taxi, we arrive in Marrakesh, with the Toubkal Gauntlet clock running at roughly 42 hours.

After a good warm meal, we hit the night train to Rabat.

Sleep?

Not if you don’t have a seat. What was to follow would rank among the most surreal 4 hours of my life. After 30 min stoop sit in the diner car, a booth in the car opens up.

Run.

Seat.

Safe.

I put my head down after shaking off some creepy army guy, wrap my personal belongings tight, and pass out.

1 hour passes.

Awake again.

Creepy army guy is trying to force some strange child’s head into his lap….no….the table? This is too much, back to sleep.

1 hour later… army guy gone, new guy next to me. Good, he speaks Fus’ha and French. We’re in Casa, and that seat bench is open? Great.

Restaurant bed, One more hour. Back in Rabat. Perfect. Sleeeeeeeeeep. (Followed by the most painfully sore 2 days of my life).

Weekend 3? Sick due most likely to the last weekend. Weekend 4? Work and relaxation in Rabat, and a good reminder of why I’m going to miss this place.

Now for a A Tribe Called Quest song, a deep breath, a pensive pose and… scene. Time to try and muse these last 3 and a half months into one thought flow… (and avoid the finals workload a little while longer).

PART II

I came here off of a sigh and a half-hearted acceptance. Oh… Morocco, yeah sure… *mumble* It’s not Niger…

I left behind my ease, my comfort, my stability. I gave up something I had spent the past year and a half building in Boston. I was really finally truly happy in that place, but, I also couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I had to shake so many times before. Comfort was never really the top priority. I left behind a place I was finally happy with when I left Saratoga. I did it again when I left Geneseo, and I did it a third time when I left Boston, and they still to this moment those decisions rank among the most intelligent things I’ve ever done. I now have 4 homes, so many friends, so many experiences and so many memories.

A couch is comfortable. You sink down into it, and never want to leave. You get your friends, your geographical comfort, and you don’t ever want to leave it. I don’t know, maybe something is wrong with me, but I cannot see the time in my future when I’m ever going to be able to fully accept that. I won’t lie, I’ve lost a lot from my wanderlust and movement: money, connections, security, and dare I say, even a tear or two along the way, but at no point in this entire experience have I ever felt that I made a mistake. I look at my future, and more of the same lies in my path. Fullbright? Peace Corps? Am I ever going to spend more than 28 months in any one place? Not likely. I’m not saying that what I set out for myself is something everybody should do, but I think that my underlying motivation runs through everyone:

Never, ever, for the love of god let your mind get the better of you.

Yeah, that was vague, but what I’m trying to say is, people, myself included, tend to get so set in our ways that we lose sight of the truly important things. We stay in the same place for nothing more than fear of moving. We date the same person for a year for shear fear of change. We spend our lives eating the same thing for fear of tasting something bad, and we trod in the same footsteps as everyone else for fear that walking off that path may lead to an injury.


I have, without posting my entire life story on the Internet, been victim to all of the above at some point before, and let me say this : New places are exciting, change is inevitable (and is often a good thing), new things taste damn good, and in my opinion, that less beaten path is 10x times more beautiful.

I write all this to preface my thoughts on Morocco for two reasons. One, I want to explain why I feel the way I do about Morocco in more abstract terms to outline the concrete, and two, maybe, just maybe someone will stumble across this and be inspired to do something daring, something new, and understand the point I’m trying to ramble to death.

A few discussions with old friends, family, weathered colleagues, and new friends have got me to thinking a lot about this experience, and I hope that the cathartic release of these thoughts will give these 4 months a little justice:

I left everything to come to a place that I knew nothing about to learn a language I was half-heartedly interested in and do things that I thought could easily be a boring waste of 4 months. But, on the other hand, somewhere deep down I knew that this was my only shot at study abroad, and I had to either take a leap of faith, or forever spend my life just guessing at what could have been. I held tight, bit my tongue, and sat down to truly prayed for the first time in a long time, hoping that I wasn’t making a mistake.

I got here and my honeymoon period lasted about two weeks. Everything was new and cool, but that ended, and the culture shock set in. I can’t speak these languages, I don’t know whats going on, I wasn’t ready for this, what am I doing here? I just want to go home……give me my old life back. I knew this was bound to happen, but I questioned everything, trying to cling to everything I left behind, praying, hoping, that I was still right.

I was.

I adapted, I began to get comfortable, bond with new people, and I began to really, truly fall in love with this place. The daily battles, the constant frustration was accompanied with the most acute feelings of accomplishment I have had in my entire life. My life was constantly changing, and constantly throwing me for a loop, but I was hitting back, and loving every minute of it. Every day a new challenge, and every day a new reason to shake my head,  look into the clouds/ceiling and think “yeah, this definitely isn’t the US.”

Other people I know here have complained, spent many a weekend bound to the house, wondering why they didn’t feel the same way the students in past semesters had felt. I knew why. For many of us, our heart had never been in this trip, in this place, and we spent more energy thinking about home than we did about trying to enjoy this for what it was and stop thinking about what it wasn’t.

I have a confession. I’m going to have to fight back the emotion when I leave this place like those before me. I put myself into this experience. I spent my time in the Sahara Desert, on the tops of the Rif and Atlas mountains, in the obnoxious city centers of Casablanca and Marrakesh, on the beach, in the medinas, in the souks. I spent my time navigating Rabat at two am, getting yelled at for violating house rules, having dumbed down discussions in Arabic and French. I ate unsanitary street food, stopped using utensils. I spent a week in Spain and Portugal by myself just because. I did what I could, I did what I wanted, and I dealt with the consequences of those actions as they came to me. I regret not a single decision. In fact, I would go so far as to say that every decision has lead me to where I sit right now, and dare I say am very happy with that place.

In my opinion, there are less bad experiences than there are bad mindsets. If my battles here have taught me anything, it’s that people will construct whatever they need to in their minds to keep things out, or let things in. Morocco was not what I wanted in my study abroad……but I made it what I wanted. In the end, it was the experience I wanted, and it was the experience I got. I will never forget, for the rest of my days, the places, the people, and the experiences that stole my heart, that made me think, and that made this semester the best of my entire college career. I give up Morocco, you win…….Ahebuka (I love you), happy?

Morocco may not speak the language you want to learn, may not be your top choice of location, but its environments, its people, its cities and its atmosphere will make you love the place, all you have to do is make sure you are ready for it.

Anyway, that’s my verdict on Morocco. You can agree or disagree with me, but I will forever be sticking with my verdict. Come into this country with an open mind, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

I will leave you with this advice: If you ever get the chance to experience something like this… do it. I could just be the best decision you ever make.


“Bi-saha” (this one gets lost in translation)

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Yes…Oui…Na’am…Mumkin…*Wild Hand Gestures*

28 Jan

This is where I try to summarize the past three weeks of my life though a series of short stories. I have never thought of myself as a bipolar person, but I have felt higher highs and lower lows since I arrived here. It’s a hard experience to explain, but I have had crippling moments where I have wanted nothing more than to find a way to run home. The overwhelming experience of feeling completely lost in Arabic, and literally feeling like throwing my hands up and walking out became commonplace. On the other side however, I have had minor successes, and conversations a 2 year old would have that have made me feel on top of the world. Skiing in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah felt the same way. Fear, hopelessness, and a giant knot in the stomach pervades, until you commit, and decide to jump off that 15 foot cliff. Then, success, a swell of happiness and accomplishment. And eventually, you stand on the top of that cliff enough times that the butterflies disappear (Yes, I understand that I alienated 75% of my audience with that analogy, but it remains valid).

This must be the “some adjustment” phase of the Study Abroad rollercoaster.

I’ll let my guard down for one second here. I miss home. I miss the comforts of the developed world. And I miss the people more than anything. But new homes are never comfortable at first. It took time for me to love Saratoga. It took time for me to love Geneseo. It took time for me to love Boston. It will take me time to love Rabat. BUT, Saratoga will always feel like home, Geneseo will always feel like home, Boston will always feel like home. Rabat too, will feel like home someday. I guess, in my excessive rambling, what I’m trying to say is: Homes are extremely difficult to build, but that feeling is irreplaceable, and near impossible to lose.

Story Time:

When I first stepped off the plane into the tiny Rabat-Sale airport, I was hit with a moist warm air, and the view palm trees. Well, this is new. I have since had to tell myself every morning “it’s January, it’s January, it’s January, why am I complaining about a damp chill in 50° weather?” The bus ride to the hotel affirmed my original thought, 5% English 45% French 50% Arabic signage dominated the landscape. Yes, this was new, but the thought of a bed and sleep dominated any higher mental function that evening.

Orientation week was at best a blur. For the first time in my life, I was out of my comfort zone, and I knew it. I didn’t speak the language, didn’t know where I was going, and, for the first time in my life, I was the one who could not hide the fact that I was out of my element. The first time you truly feel like a foreigner and are unable to hide from it is a humbling experience. You begin to realize the emotions of a person who lives abroad, specifically the foreigners in the US, and you begin to realize what a crippling effect it can have on a person. You stick out like a sore thumb, you can barely communicate with those around you, and you have minimal gauge on cultural nuances, not knowing where to stand, or what to do. Mere acts like buying food, or going to the post office become treks that require a plan and time, and with them lays the fear that you will be unable to communicate your intentions to the people. All of this crashing in upon you is difficult, and in the beginning I got by on English with the few who could understand me, French leaking in when I needed it.

As the blur of orientation faded, the reality of school, and the move from the hotel into the home stay dealt another blow. Cool, now I have to live with people I can barely communicate with. Since my Arabic did not exist, French was the language of choice. It was at this point that I realized something about my language skills. I understand a lot more than I can speak, and I don’t understand that much. But, through broken French and English, we fought through the beginning days.

It was at this point that I went to purchase my cell phone. Kicker, I did it alone, no one in the store speaks English…Yeah. So I went in, and started my dialogue. “J’ai besoin acheter…telephone…” I did well, until he asked me if I needed to use the phone in other countries. I heard “do you need to use this phone to make international calls?”, which I replied “yes I do” to the growing frustration of the clerk. By the grace of god, one of the other customers spoke English, and cleared up the miscommunication before anything got painful. Crisis averted.

As I settled into my room, and started to adapt to the schedule, little things became noticeable differences to me. Breakfast? No longer an option: a requirement, lest my family get worried about me. Lunch? Huge. Dinner? Late, and small. Shower? Showerhead, Toilet, Floor Drain, The End. Heated Water? Request only: Direct heat makes this a process for every shower, Butane Heat baby. Wildlife? How do street cats sound? The winding streets and walled cities of the Medina continue to this day to fascinate me every time I walk outside. The medina is like the goofy looking kid with an incredible personality. Upon first glance, you aren’t sure what to make of it, until you enter its shops, its homes, and realize the sheer beauty and impressiveness that it hides from view. Never in my life have I met a more unassuming city. Every day is filled with interactions: beggars and con men add spice to bustling street markets, and every day has its own story.

One of these stories occurred during my lunch this past week. I found new personal irony in the “le poisson” vs “de poisson” (all of a fish vs. “some fish”) distinction. I was served the former. Yes, I ate a fish, served straight from the sea, bones, head in tact. But me, being someone willing to do anything once, ate it. Verdict: on the bone or off, fish is good. BUT, if offered fish stomach, you can pass.

Sports? Futbol, futbol, futbol. The Africa Cup is intense. I just watched Egypt embarrass Algeria, and I must say, I dont understand how golf and baseball beat this sport of viewers. It is a fun game to watch, especially surrounded by a culture that emits tangible electricity during these games. I’ll put money on me actually watching the World Cup this summer.

Things do not dry here. My shoes got soaked on a Wednesday walk to the jetty on the Atlantic, when the ocean decided that the pathway should be part of the ocean. My shoes were dry…Monday morning.

I could continue on like this for pages, but I feel that this description encompasses a small piece of what living in the Maghreb is like. It’s something that is overwhelming, frustrating, but rewarding. This place may be home of the Berbers (Ahmaziri to be PC), but I challenge anyone to marginalize North Africa as the “Fake Arab World.” 1/3 of the Arabic speaking world lives here, and when you arrive here you realize that this place, despite the reputation Western academia gives it, is no cushy place. This place is……dare I say, real, but a place you can experience firsthand. I’d recommend the trip to anyone with an adventuresome spirit, because Morocco does not disappoint.

In ending, I would just like to make note of the sadness that continues to pile up upon the other side of the Atlantic. My thoughts go out to Hati, and all of its residents. And furthermore: RIP Salinger. RIP in peace Mr. Zinn, it was an honor to see you in person last semester.

Time for some Darija:

Bislaamah (goodbye)

“Change Your Attitude.”

23 Dec

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

-Maya Angelou


As I begin to put into words the events that have transpired over the past few months, I can’t seem to stop thinking: “What am I doing. I have become a *shudder* ‘blogger.'”

I could blame my French Professor for asking me to set one up. I could blame family, friends, but the honest truth is that I really do want to share this experience with anyone who wants to read about it. If the adventure that has led me to this current juncture in time is any indication, the next few months will definitely be worth chronicling here.

9 months ago a series of events led me to set a stubborn personal goal. I was going to spend a semester abroad, and nothing was going to stand in the way of me doing so. Little did I know at the time that fate was going to take that statement as a challenge.

After settling into my third semester at Boston University, and the 5th of my college career, I began immediately to set the gears in motion. I had my heart set on BU’s Program in Niamey, Niger. After a month of procrastination, hmming and hawing, and complaining about how I hate writing “personal essays,” my application was submitted, and the wait began. In the middle of October, I got my acceptance, confirming that I was going to Niamey (or so I thought). I then began the process of attempting to pull myself away from the very school and people who had stolen my heart just a short time before. Needless to say, I didn’t succeed, but then again it was foolish for me to even try. So, instead, I set my sights on the more attainable  goal of getting ready for the longest trip of my short life.

Little did I know that the hardest decision still lay ahead. I got up early on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, ready to make some last minute edits to a paper due that afternoon.  I rolled out of bed, pulled up my email, and read the news I had received. “If there is no change in the (U.S State Department) Travel Alert for Niger, or if the situation worsens at all, we will be forced to take the unprecedented step of suspending the Niger program for next semester.” The edits didn’t get done as quickly as I would have liked that morning. The phrase “knocked senseless” is the only term I feel explains how I felt at that moment. I panicked, threw on the brakes, and spent the next hour trying to reverse everything I had done for the past two months to prepare for Niger. I canceled travel clinic appointments, froze my search for a sublettor, and started looking at classes. It was a knee-jerk reaction, and an ill-advised move looking back., but at the time, it didn’t really matter; I was just groping for something, anything that could be considered a “Plan B.”

Okay, freakout over. Take a step back, look at the situation, and think logically. Nothing was getting in my way; including Al-Qaeda (they were responsible for the Travel Alert). If I didn’t find a plan B overseas, I was going to regret it for the rest of my life, and I knew it. So I looked into the BU Morocco program, but my desires refused to mold around it. Learn Arabic. “But I’m studying French idiot.” Learn about Islam. “I study Sub-Saharan Africa, not the Middle East.” Go to Morocco. “But, everyone calls it the fake Arab world. Am I worth my salt if I go to a cushy ‘European’ country?”

Then, something incredible happened. Islam- There is a large Muslim population in many Sub-Saharan African nations. Arabic- The language of Islam. Morocco- The perfect place to understand the aforementioned. I managed to morph my academic goals to fit the new spring semester I was faced with. Visions of Fulbrights, Independent Work for Distinction, and the Peace Corps began to dance in my head, and I felt the swell that I had first felt when I decided on Niger those many months before. This was going to be a good semester.

The plane hasn’t even left, and already I have found myself struggling with my academic goals, the location of my studies, and coming to terms with the things I knew I had to leave behind. I know this semester will not be easy, but, then again, I can’t recall the last time something worth having was easy.

I will use Arabic phrases to close all of my posts. I’ve only got one at the moment, the extent of my Arabic knowledge:

“As-Salāmu `Alaykum” (Hello, more literally, “Peace be Upon You”)