I am beginning to have a rhythm in my life here in Morocco. I have finished my week long orientation with my peers, and now I am settled quite happily in with my host family. I have three sisters and two brothers, with their ages ranging from eleven to the mid thirties. The life in this household is lively and active; people come and go at regular intervals, and always there is tea and hchobs, the local homemade bread.
My mornings start with the before-dawn call to prayer, which echoes through the nearly silent early morning streets. My host mother will at this time climb the stairs to the kitchen (next to which is my bedroom, which doubles (or quadruples?) as the family wardrobe, prayer room, and computer room) where she starts preparing the very sweet breakfast coffee. It is strange to say for anyone who knows me, but I have really become fond of this milky beverage, and look forward to second or third cups while my host siblings emerge from their blankets and beds.
The crash-course Arabic classes are going beautifully well, but I think this is mostly due to the home-stay experience, and trying to navigate the conversations and intentions of my family. In class we have learned basic phrases so that we are better equipped to speak with our families. More excitingly, however, we have been learning the alphabet, which is helping with pronunciation immensely. There are a few sounds (such as S or H) in rather interchangeably or unremarkably in English that make a world of difference here. I found out (to my families’ great amusement) that “Come along with me” and “to sunbathe” are extremely similar sounding words to an English speaker. Further, the word for “cough” is almost indistinguishable to a very nasty word for a woman. But I am learning. Too slowly I feel, but perhaps I shouldn’t be so impatient. I have not even been with my home-stay family for a week.
And now for a completely different story. I have classes in two different buildings which are about a ten minute walk from one-another. I walk through some lovely narrow and winding passageways (read: roads) to get to the two different buildings. For the sake of sanity, I will refer to them as the CCCL (Center for Cross Cultural Learning, the primary building and center of offices and academics) and the Library (I hope this one is obvious, though it too contains offices and classrooms).
At 8:30 I have a two hour lesson in Darija Arabic. After a short break, we have a seminar session with our academic director or guest professors. In the case of today, we met with fellow students from the university here in Rabat and held a forum discussion on migration in Morocco (which went beautifully. It was interesting to hear the perspectives of individuals from Morocco my own age with a similar academic background). We then have lunch, and wander over to the Library for our afternoon classes.
It was on my lunch break yesterday that I quite accidentally stumbled upon a local artist. I was photographing the sights I pass by each day on my way to and from classes (a mother cat with a litter of kittens, a corner shop dedicated exclusively to embroidery thread, thick ten foot doors with iron handles half the size of my head…etc). While I was photographing a passage painted in violently blue and red colors, I noticed a man not ten feet from me crouched similarly to myself waiting to capture a photo of a man inside one of the small local Mosques. However, while I was clearly an American student, he appeared to be in all ways a native Moroccan. Both of us were waiting patiently and silently for our respective perfect shots, framing our pictures and eyeing out subjects. And we both noticed each other as individuals who were looking into their lenses with a bit more intent than local tourists. So we struck up a conversation.
As I said earlier, he is a local artist by the name of Habib. While I showed him my own sketches of life here in Morocco from my sketchbook, he showed me photographs of his paintings, which were beautiful and sometimes tearful impressions of the daily life surrounding us. He had apparently studied art in Paris, and spent several years working in London before deciding he wished only to return to Morocco. He told me of how he had missed the texture of Moroccan life. While I am only a student who has stayed in Morocco for only a few days, I feel I have glimpsed some small part of what he was saying. There is certain air of living in this city that I have not felt from other urban centers in the US.
Unfortunately, I only had a few moments to spare for our conversation. I had class to return to in the library. So he gave me his card and an open invitation to call on him for a tour of his studio and other local artists any time I liked. I told him that I would indeed call, and that I hoped to see him again soon.
I am increasingly grateful for the open and easy conversation I can find here on the streets of Morocco. The streets are the place of socializing and meeting people, and everyone is eager to strike up a conversation. Though French and Darija are the prevailing languages, I have been able to stumble upon English speakers everywhere. I am in awe of the multi-lingual capacities of this country, and wish more and more that I could share in this simple (and yet challenging) personal bridge.
Again. I feel as though my Arabic is coming far too slowly! Ha ha!