Tag Archives: Rabat

Culture Shock

20 Jan

I’ve decided over many hours lost in thought that the best way to approach this blog will be to write about my personal experience here, and the wide range of emotions, situations and observations I make while I am here. I want to provide for you a firsthand account of what living in North Africa is like. I could bore you with musings about Gender Theory, and Islamic History, but I think my time would be much better spent describing my journey through the emotional roller coaster of true “culture shock.”

I’m attempting to type this entire monologue out on a computer with a European keyboard, with Arabic characters dominating any extra space on the keys. What I find humorous, is that this is the easy part of the day. I’m not sure, however, what I expected. Throw a white middle class kid from Upstate New York with next to no travel experience into the “third world” with feeble (at best) language skills, and chances are “easy transition” are not the words that are going to come to mind.

Culture shock.

It’s a term many of us have become familiar with at one point in our life. Whether it’s our move to college, our move with our family to a new city, new environment, new school, or even our first apartment, all of us feel this phenomenon at one point or another, and, depending upon how set we are in our ways, it can range from simple to the most challenging ordeal of your life. I myself have felt this emotion now three times in my life. When I first left for SUNY Geneseo, when a transferred to Boston University, and right now, as I struggle with my European keyboard and French prompts. I know the feeling all too well now. The homesickness, the loneliness, the sinking feeling and sheer helplessness that can accompany it, especially when you realize you’ve only just begun. I won’t lie, I loathe the feeling, but like all times past I will emerge from the other side of this struggle stronger, wiser, and confident in my decision. The new friends and the swell of emotion when you make your return home can be the most amazing and rewarding feeling of all.

Again, nothing truly worth having is ever easy.

The challenges of Morocco, however, pale in comparison to any I have experienced before. No longer am I just trying to make new friends and adapt to a new academic environment. In Morocco I am trying to do that, while at the same time learning to use a partial Turkish toilet, showers with direct heat that are only to be used every few days, utilize a printing situation that, yes, is even worse than BU, all while living with a family I can barely communicate with in a city I don’t know. I feel as if I have reverted to the age of 3, gesturing and using the few words I know to convey my points, and only grasping 10% of conversations. My French has come in handy, but I often struggle to find the words, or meanings I need. I understand that I have just painted a picture of a frightening world, a hostile world that one of sound mind would avoid, but this is only half the story. Although life here is far from easy, it is not bad.

I wake up every morning to my 14 year old host brother using the computer, finding it impossible to not just smile when I see his expressions. I eat breakfast lunch and dinner without utensils, and usually from one plate. As I eat, I am surrounded by lively conversation that breaks into French from Darija randomly, as I try to recognize one more word than I did the day before. My right three fingers on my right hand remain perpetually yellow from the saffron in so many of the dishes. The local Berber population may make this “the fake Arab world,” but this is still very much the Muslim world. 5 Times a day the low roar of the call to prayer reminds me of where I am, acting as a constant reminder of my location. Daily interactions with people who cheer on my feeble attempts at Arabic, or roll their eyes at my feeble French make every conversation an interesting one, and the beggars and drug dealers just round out the pack. I never know what to expect on my walks, and being one of 20 white people in a 3 mile radius of my house, it’s always funny to see someone like me on the streets of the Medina. Somewhere between watching Oprah with my host mom and speaking to her in broken French, playing games with my host brother in broken Darija/French/English, and smiling to my host grandmother and not understanding more than 5 words she says, I begin to think that I will one day be at home in this Medina, and will hope to one day return and show others everything I have learned.

As you may be able to tell from this post, the sheer mass of this past week or so was overwhelming, and I have yet to wrap my head around it. I could already write a chapter of a book on all of the events of this past week, and I know I have only scratched the surface of what this country has to offer. I will follow up this post with one on some of the more interesting stories I have experienced so far, but if there is one thing I could say to sum up my experience so far, it’s this: Words only scrape the surface of an experience like this, and only after experiencing it yourself, can you fully grasp the breadth, rewards, and struggles the experience brings. And, if I were to make a prediction, it’ll be worth every second, good and bad.

Maasalama (Goodbye)