Reflection on المغربي و العربي

This is my final blog post, serving as a reflection on my adventure in Morocco and in learning Arabic.

My time in Morocco comes to an end on Saturday morning, and I just completed my Arabic final three hours ago.

Studying abroad has been life-altering. My worldview, which just three months ago was limited to North Carolina and the snippets of information I would read online, has greatly expanded.

Back home, I don’t get a rush of adrenaline from crossing the street. Here in Morocco, I’ve been crossing the street only to see oncoming traffic speed up towards me (they brake before they hit me or I make it to the sidewalk first).

Back home, people usually don’t starve to death. Here in Morocco, a stampede of impoverished people rushing to get free food occurred in a village outside of Essaouira just a week after I left that touristy city; 17 people were killed.

Back home, I know homeless people from the soup kitchen I volunteer at, and no where else. Here in Morocco, I see homeless people begging daily. The most heartbreaking image I can recall is one of a thin mother with two small children, a girl no older than 7 and her younger brother, nestled up together on the sidewalk under a small baby-blue blanket one chilly afternoon.

Back home, I rarely witness sexual harassment. Here in Morocco, it is an accepted fact of life that you will witness daily, or in the unfortunate case of some of my female friends, experience (although I’ve heard it doesn’t happen nearly as often in bigger cities like Rabat and Tangier; here in Meknes it’s cancerous).

Back home, people lighting themselves on fire in protest is limited to anecdotal news articles about third-world countries. Here in Morocco, a man set himself on fire right beside my study center (where there is a court house) during my Arabic class.

Despite these flawed aspects of the country, I have still fallen in love with it. The people here are incredibly nice, I’ve been able to haggle over prices, and it is infinitely easier and cheaper to travel across Morocco than it is to travel across America. The beaches are great, the mountains are great, the Sahara is great, and the food is great. Before I die, I will definitely come to Morocco again.

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Case in point re: geography.

 

 

 

 

My Arabic studies have been advancing well. With the completion of my final and impending knowledge of my passable grade, I will have finished a year’s worth of academic Arabic credit in just three months. I’ve accomplished learning the Arabic alphabet, reading and pronouncing Arabic, learning vocabulary, learning basic sentence structure, learning numbers, and learning various grammatical rules including the MasDar, the dual, the fronted predicate, and others.

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The Arabic alphabet is a bit more complicated than that. Depending on where in a word the letter appears, the letter takes a new shape. That’s why learning to read and write is a nice achievement. It’s certainly going to be strange being back in the States, where signs are in English instead of Arabic (or French).

I’ve found I love the challenge of Arabic, and my semester studying it has certainly inspired me to continue my studies until fluency. From my experiences abroad, I have discovered I want to stay abroad, and thus I am hoping to study for an academic year in Jordan. I expect Jordan to be more culturally different than Morocco, where France exerts abundant cultural influence. In addition to the Modern Standard Arabic I’ve been learning, the Jordanian programs I’ve been looking into offer Levantine Arabic, the dialect I most want to learn.

I’m not looking forward to saying goodbye to Morocco. I’ve had some of the best memories of my life here, and it’s almost depressing to go home where life is more predictable and the experiences less exhilarating. I have to say goodbye to my friends and the family I’ve been living with, and of course I have a long flight back to my home city. But all good things come to an end, and thus I’m left waving goodbye to my home for the last three months and looking forward to my home for the next year.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, mountain, sky, cloud, outdoor and natureMa’a Assalama, Morocco.

 

Arabic and the Sahara

I didn’t get that quiz back, instead I got assigned another 15 page quiz. This one looks more manageable, fortunately. Thus, I still don’t know how well I fared on the last quiz, and the current quiz assigned is due Monday.

We’ve gone over plurals, gerunds, the dual and more vocabulary. Technically, we’ve finished beginner Arabic and have finished the first chapter of the intermediate level. However, we’re not getting tested on the current stuff we’re learning. It’s more of a head start into the next level, which unfortunately because my school does not offer Arabic, I will not be taking until I study abroad again.

This next week will be a week for reviewing all of Arabic 102 for a final on Thursday. Inshallah, I will memorize all of it.

Last weekend, I went to a beautiful place. It’s called the Sahara Desert (sidenote: Sahara means desert in Arabic. It’s the Desert Desert). It was my first time in a desert, but I doubt it will be my last. Despite the sand getting everywhere, including in my watch, I would love to go back. It’s beautiful in the day, and at night the stars are abundant.

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That’s a camel. In the desert. Iconic.

The sand dunes are surprisingly difficult to walk up. The sand is smooth, so it is easy to fall down a dune.

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I got a 6 meter long turban. I’ve worn it once because the man I bought it from wrapped it on my head; I have not yet learned how to put it on on my own.

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This is the amazing sunset I witnessed from atop the largest dune in our area. In person, it was breathtakingly beautiful, and the pink sky encompassed everything visible in that landscape. Merzouga was a fitting last excursion with my program and penultimate weekend in Morocco.

I’m coming back home on Saturday. I’m excited, but I’m on the verge of tearing up writing this. Looking back, these three months have gone by so fast. I’ve made friendships that I think could last beyond December 9th, and I’ve experienced a culture most Americans wouldn’t bother to try. I’ve got one more blog update to write, so I’ll write a reflection on my entire adventure then, inshallah.

 

والواجبات المنزلية و فاس

The homework (والواجبات walwajibat) this past week has been kicking my butt.

It’s mostly for my Peace and Conflict and Arab Media class – I’ve got a 3,000 word paper due in each, as well as a simulation AND another presentation for Peace and Conflict that I’ve devoted most of my energy towards (and is why I’m behind a week on these blog posts – I’ll update a few times this week to compensate).

I also had that 15 page quiz for Arabic that I think I knocked out of the park. I get the results back on Thursday, so we’ll see if my optimism is misguided. We’ve been learning about sentence structures, but I feel completely lost trying to understand it. Subject-verb-object is easy to remember, but Arabic has a concept called roots that I believe is absent in English (honestly I never paid attention to grammar). Essentially, the beginning, middle, and end of a verb change based on the tense, the noun, and maybe some other things. I’m lost, remember? Inshallah I’ll have it all figured out before the next update.

To get away from all the stress, I took a day-trip to Fez with a couple of friends. I thought I’d treat myself to a nice camel burger and the oldest library in the world: al-Qarawiyyin library. The burger was nice and tender (I’m really going to miss eating camel) and I had a chocolate-almond milkshake with it. The library was impressive. Here’s me inside:

I didn’t take many pictures. Recently, I’ve been having an issue where my phone dies if I open the camera. But the books were amazing. It was all in Arabic, and some of the books I picked up were dated to the 14th century! Some books even used the old Arabic-Indic numbers, different from the numbers we use today.

Accessing the library was a bit of an ordeal. As in, we technically weren’t allowed inside because the library was reserved for students attending Al-Qarawiyyin University. But as it happens, anyone can use $15… So we got ten minutes in there. It’s a nice feeling to help circulate money into local economies.

Fez was two weekends ago. In my next blog post, I’ll update about my weekend in the Sahara and my next Arabic meeting.

اللغة العربية صعبة

Arabic is hard, guys.

This past week we “learned” about verb forms. There’s ten different forms, and I don’t really understand what the difference between the four we looked at are. I guess for some reason, different verbs have different forms, kind of like er/ir/ar verbs in Spanish. Instead of differentiating based on endings, however, I think they’re based off of syllables.

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We also went over a bit of vocabulary.

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And then we were assigned a take-home quiz that is 15 pages long. I’m enthused that I get to see how much Arabic I’ve learned and how much more I’ve got to study to understand Arabic at a first year level.

I don’t currently have plans to travel this weekend, despite it being a three day weekend. I was thinking of sitting down to update flash cards to help me memorize vocabulary. I’ll just hang out here in Meknes, keeping my new shoes on my feet and perhaps riding bikes with my host-brother.

My study abroad experience is almost over. December 9th is the day I head home, and I have mixed emotions about it. I’ve met so many wonderful people here that I may never see again. For many of the Americans I’ve traveled with, like me, this was their first time being outside the US. We’ve grown together from the new experiences and have surely established lasting friendships. The Moroccans I’ve met are incredibly funny and good-hearted. Some of them have expressed interest in studying abroad in the US, and my hope is I can help them with any of the culture shocks they might experience. Like how I learned how to play soccer (futbol/qurat alqadam), perhaps I can show them the joys of football.

I sincerely hope I’ll get to see my host family again. My brother is amazingly smart (he will become a doctor!), and the rest of the family make me genuinely laugh. We’re able to teach each other words. My aunt just taught me what jawarib meant, and I taught her that in English it is called “sock”. My nephew is a precious four year old learning English. I like to ask him how he’s doing, and he usually responds with “yes”. I’ve also played soccer with him in a narrow hallway. He’s better than me. My mom taught me how to make harira, a Moroccan soup, earlier. It is delicious and I will teach it to my biological mom.

I’m looking into studying abroad in Jordan next summer and fall to further encourage my appreciation towards other cultures and for a more-intensive study of Arabic. I’ll get to meet a whole new roster of people, but it is difficult to imagine they’ll match the people I’ve met here.

Even though Arabic is a difficult language, I have found an appreciation for it. Looking back, at the beginning of this semester I thought there was no way I’d be able to learn it. I was never skilled at art, and that was basically what the Arabic alphabet looked like to me. Now, I am able to pronounce writing, and with further study I will hopefully be able to comprehend it as well. Sometimes when I hear my near-fluent friends speak Arabic, I can even pick up a few words. I used to look at Arabic as a language requirement for achieving my career goals, but now I look at it as a skill I’m determined to master. Despite how difficult “allughat alerabiya” is, I’m confident in my ability to learn it (including verb forms) and to enjoy the journey along the way.

Laysa rindi darsu allugha alearabya

I didn’t have Arabic classes this week. It was actually kind of nice. Of course, the classes are going to be made up and so two Friday mornings will be stripped from me. Nonetheless, the lack of classes were still nice.

I went to Essaouira over the weekend, traveling from 3am Saturday until 2am Tuesday with three friends. Monday being the anniversary of the Green March, I didn’t have classes and thus enjoyed a long weekend.

The traveling included an 8-hour train ride in addition to a 3 hour bus ride – one way. The railroads in Morocco stop at Marrakech, so if you travel south of Marrakech you have to take a taxi or a bus.

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We arrived in Essaouira Saturday afternoon, got settled in our hostel, and scoured the Earth for our first meal of the day (and we just so happened to try vegan food, a commodity seemingly unknown across the rest of Morocco; I got a potato burger without bread or burger). We got a lot of great sights, but I’m pretty terrible at remembering to take pictures, so I didn’t. Instead, I found some amazing marketing ploys:      Image

Despite not having any Arabic courses, I still managed to practice some Arabic. I would say basic greetings often, ask how much when I would buy something, or compliment food to the waiters or cooks. When someone says shukran (thank you), a common response is sahah (with health). I learned that there is a response to sahah: allayateksaha (God grant us all health – I think).

Essaouira was a great city with a lot of memories to be had.

One such memory: One of my shoes got stolen as I was about to put them on after a walk on the beach. I had two shoes; one for each foot. I set both shoes down. I turned to put one shoe on, and then I turned back to get my other shoe, but it was gone. Someone stole my right shoe. Someone had the audacity to steal only one shoe. I wear a size 14 (48.5 in Europe/Morocco), and I can’t find that shoe size anywhere. So I had to hobble into the city avoiding glass and wearing only one shoe. I got some sandals that are a size too small, so now my feet are covered in blisters and I’ll be going out somewhere today in Meknes looking for a new shoe.

I chose to study abroad in Morocco because I wanted an experience, and I guess I’ve got one. Despite the loss of a shoe, I am still happy I chose to venture through Essaouira.

 

Arabic 102

I did it! Arabic 101 is done, and I’ve moved on to Arabic 102. My professor said no one got less than an A- on the final.

My professor is traveling to a conference the rest of this week, so we had class Monday and have no other Arabic courses. On Monday, we learned some vocabulary and about feminine plurals, where you add an alif and a taa. So car, a feminine noun, is sayara. Cars is sayaraat.

The vocabulary we reviewed included family members. Arabic has a word for maternal and paternal aunt/uncle – which translates as “my father’s brother” or “my mother’s sister”.

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From the vocabulary in the textbook, I can say udrusu (I study) aleulwm alsiyasiyatun (political science). Or, I could say ana arrif arabiya qaleelan, which means “I know Arabic a little”.

I didn’t travel outside Meknes this past weekend; I stayed home to celebrate Halloween with other Americans. Halloween is not celebrated in Morocco, but in the nearest “mall” (which is mainly just a food court, a supermarket, and a few clothing stores that are sometimes open) there were plastic Trick or Treat pumpkin baskets and spooky decorations (cobwebs, spiders, etc).

Yes, I dressed up. It was more of a last minute concoction: the “Scooby Doo Shabab” needed a Fred; I was wearing a white shirt; an orange tank top got tied around my neck.

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Next weekend is a long weekend. Next Monday is the anniversary of the Green March, a national demonstration in 1975 when Moroccans marched into the Western Sahara to force Spain to cede what Moroccans saw as “historically Moroccan territory”. I don’t have classes on Tuesdays, so I have a four day weekend. Over the weekend, I’m going to go to Essaouira, a coastal city with an 11 hour train and bus ride away from Meknes.

Midterms, Finals, and Asilah

I got my midterm back. The grade was “Good!”, which I think means an A.

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This week, we have finished up Arabic 101 by going over two patterns of plural nouns. Plurals are strange in Arabic, and my understanding is you have to remember which nouns have which plurals. We’ve gone over two, but I’m told there are many more. Our final is tomorrow, and on Thursday we will begin Arabic 102.

I’m not too worried about the final. Considering our midterm was last week and our final is tomorrow, and my “Good!” grade, I think I’ll do fine. My one concern is vocabulary; I’m worried there will be words I don’t really know. The last page of the midterm had a word bank from which we used the words involved to create 20 sentences, but I only knew about half of them (still did Good!). There’s an oral part to the final too. My professor says we’ll either recite something we memorized or read something he wrote. I’ve found reading Arabic has gotten to be really easy. It’s hard to imagine just last month I was struggling to recall the alphabet.

Over the weekend, I opted to go to Asilah. I had a phenomenal time there with two friends, one of whom had a birthday.

I stayed there for Friday and Saturday night and left at 2:30 Sunday afternoon. Asilah is a small beach city near Tangier famous for its beaches and the art. In the medina, there were art galleries around every corner. Along the main highway, there were beautiful sculptures and impressive graffiti on every building (like the above picture).

I experienced a lot in Asilah. We stayed in a hostel where we met Italians and Brits taking a week to travel across Morocco, and the hostel owners were incredibly friendly. We rented bikes and rode them to the port and a rural area outside Asilah (ascending a steep hill twice for the downhill breeze). I spent more money than I liked, buying Christmas presents for family and trying swordfish for the first time. We checked out some art galleries, feasting our eyes upon some amazing (and Amazigh – the indigenous peoples of North Africa) paintings. And I bought some old coins because I liked the shopkeeper; he lived in Michigan and gave me a battered Roman coin free-of-charge. Oh, and I also chased a camel on the beach.

A-sil-ah later!

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Rabat, Tangier, and Midterms

I dislike the “study” part of study abroad. This past week I had presentations in two of my classes, an Arabic quiz, an Arabic midterm, and an essay on the Clash of Civilizations due. This week I have three presentations, I have to organize travel plans for the upcoming 3-day weekend, and Arabic is of course always stressful.

The Arabic midterm consisted of everything we’ve covered so far:

hamzas Hamzah-individua-cropt.svg, WaSlas http://www.charbase.com/images/glyph/1649,long vowels (alif, waa, and yaa), and different forms of alif. The midterm also had vocabulary and sun and moon letters. I think I’m looking at at least a B, mostly because Arabic vocabulary is difficult. In Spanish, for example, there are a lot of cognates. Almost nothing is the same between English and Arabic.

Over the weekend I traveled to Rabat, the capital of Morocco, and Tangier, a coastal city in the north overlooking Spain. We only spent a few hours in Rabat, going on a bus tour and eating lunch there.

We saw the Hassan II tomb in Rabat

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I saw some books in Arabic, and I felt proud that I was able to read some of their titles. I was able to sound out “Machiavelli”. In Arabic, there is no sound for |v|. Instead, when it needs to it borrows a letter from the Persian alphabet. It looks like a faa with three dots as opposed to one. Interestingly, I also saw a lot of Arabic translations of Mein Kampf in vendors alongside the streets in Rabat. I do want to buy a book in Arabic to practice Arabic when I’m in a non-Arabic speaking country. I saw the Arabic translations of A Song of Ice and Fire and was tempted to buy the series.

Later that day, we traveled to a hotel in Tangier. I’m deciding between Tangier and Marrakech as my favorite city in Morocco (or Al Maghrib, as the locals call it).

We arrived in Tangier at about 8pm, so a group of friends and I started looking for a Lebanese restaurant we’d heard about called Ali Baba. GPS directed us up and down a beach looking for it, so we had to resort to asking locals where it was. Fortunately, I could use my limited Spanish to get the correct location.

We got to Ali Baba at about 10:20pm (to provide a reference of how much we were struggling looking for it). The food was delicious; we ordered a platter for the seven of us.

Afterwards we explored the beach, where the water was incredibly chilly before heading back to the hotel.

The next day, we explored the medina. I found a 17th century musket gun there that I was really tempted to buy, but it wouldn’t have fit in my suitcase and I don’t know how customs or the TSA would feel about me bringing it back to the states. When I asked them the price, they also said 500 euros (we get mistaken for Europeans often), which also explains why I didn’t get it.

Before we left Tangier, I did get to experience cow-liver with a group of lovely people including fellow WCU Catamount Megan, who also has a blog available here: Megan’s Blog

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Next weekend is a three-day weekend, and I get out of class at 1 on Thursday. I’m debating on spending the weekend in Marrakech, Tangiers, or Asilah.

Arabic and Boujeeka

I’m starting to get the hang of Arabic a little bit better now. I can reasonably sound out words, which is good considering I have a (“Surprise!”) midterm on Thursday. It’s quite a frustrating language; each letter can be differentiated to another letter by a dot or two, and I don’t entirely understand shaddas, sukuuns or hamzas.

Today, we learned about sun (shamsi) and moon (qamari) letters. They determine whether or not you pronounce the definite article “al” (English equivalent: the) as an or al. Fourteen of the twenty-eight Arabic letters are shamsi, and the remaining fourteen letters are qamari. Overall, I think it’s vocabulary giving me the most problems.

I spent the weekend in Bouznika, a coastal city located halfway between Rabat and Casablanca. My host family owns a beach house there,  so my roommate and I invited some friends to accompany us and our host-brother there.

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The family picture, minus two people.

Most of my friends arrived on a train straight to Bouznika early on Friday. Unfortunately, I had a presentation in one of my classes at 4pm, when there were no longer any trains going to Bouznika, so I bought a ticket for the train to Rabat with the intention of catching a taxi to Bouznika. I mentioned the train schedule to my professor, and he decided to dismiss class after my presentation and drive me and a friend straight to the train station, where I met up with another friend. It was pretty great; I don’t know if any American professors who would do that.

Trains in Morocco are rarely on time; when I got there the next train expected to arrive had been 40 minutes delayed; mine ended up being 25 minutes late. I sat on the train for about two-three hours before arriving in Rabat. Rabat is the capital of Morocco and really looks like a modern city. The program that I’m traveling with has an excursion set for next weekend to Rabat and Tangier, so I’ll talk more about them then.

We eventually found a taxi willing to take us to Bouznika. At first they were charging 300 dirham (about 30 USD). After haggling, they agreed to 180 dirham. I was told anything higher than 150 was a ripoff, but it was approaching 10pm and Bouznika was an hour drive away, so I didn’t protest to that.

We arrived at the beach house (after meeting a chief of the Royal Guard by getting lost; there wasn’t a road for the taxi to take us straight to the beach house). We were exhausted, but that didn’t stop me from putting a mattress on the flat roof to stargaze.

The next day was spent at the beach (where we played soccer and volleyball), having impromptu dance parties, failing at cooking (burnt fries aren’t that terrible – and burgers have more personality when they’re crunchy), and karaoke. I’ve grown so accustomed to the African sun, I didn’t even have a sunburn at the end.

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The beach, emptier than pictured. Credit to Rentbyowner.com.

All-in-all, the weekend was successful. I left early Sunday because I had some homework I needed to do – only to discover I left my plug adapter at the beach house. I bought a new one yesterday (40 cents in Morocco, compared to ~$10 in NC!).

 

 

Lesson 2

Ahlan,

 

This past week was a blur. I like to think that I’ve got the Arabic alphabet mastered. For the past week I’ve been studying this:

alifun

On Thursday, I had my first Arabic quiz. The instructions were to “write sentences to show we knew some Arabic”. It was also open-book, open-note. I haven’t gotten the results back yet, but I suspect my Arabic was immaculate.

For homework, we generally get some vocabulary or some basic writing exercises. It’s surprisingly easy to write right to left.

I was given individual letters (I like to think of them as infinitives – as the letters are generally altered depending on the letter coming before or after it) to a word and told to connect them (or “conjugate” as I call it).

Away from grammar, on Friday I played a game of kurat alqadam – known as “soccer” in the US. It’s incredibly fun, and I honestly don’t understand why soccer isn’t more popular in America. I played with three other Americans and seven Moroccans. Fortunately it was a mixed team because I still cannot dribble the ball. I think we’ve agreed to have a soccer game every week.

On Saturday, I journeyed with other Americans to Ifrane. There we ventured up a mountain to catch some amazing views

I also found the monkey to my heart. I fed it peanuts. Out of my hand. It was wonderful.

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The hike itself was taxing. It was steep and I had sore legs from the night before. But it was fun, and I now have it on my bucket list to hike Mt. Toubkal – the highest mountain in the Arab world.

I’ve got another soccer game planned Tuesday evening too, with mostly Americans.

My host family owns a beach house in Bouznika, a city about halfway between Rabat and Casablanca. I’ll be spending next weekend there with some friends and my host brother. I’m excited for that; I haven’t been to an African beach yet.

I’ll update again next Sunday.