I have been in America for about three days now, and I am still trying to process my experience and push through the jet lag. If I can say anything about the past three and a half months, it would be that it was a learning experience. So here is a list of lessons I took from Morocco and some representative anecdotes to accompany.
1) How to eat bananas:
I have always been a picky eater, so I knew that studying abroad would push me right out of that comfort zone. There are obviously bananas in America, but I have just chosen not to eat them and opt for the abundance of other fruits. In Morocco, for whatever reason, they became my snack of choice and at times I ended up eating up to three a day.
But bananas are not the only cuisine that expanded my palate. Morocco is famous for it’s couscous, served every Friday. It was my favorite meal by far, and honestly the couscous alone is worth the 8 hour plane ride (remember, I am a picky eater. This is saying a lot).
The final food I fell in love with in Morocco is falafel. Falafel is a Middle Eastern food, but I think the Arabic traditions crossed the sea quite nicely.
2) How to read a simple sentence in Arabic
Before starting beginning Arabic with Professor Driss, I didn’t know that Arabic was read from right to left. I can now read a simple paragraph. I was amazed at my progress throughout the course – from learning the alphabet (all 28 letters and short vowels!) to being able to sound out words, and then being able to read and memorize words. The process was like being in kindergarten again, and it was really the most special kind of learning. By November, I was able to order food and items from vendors, introduce myself and make friends with people on the street!
3) How to haggle (NOT)
So the interesting thing about stores in Morocco is that there is almost never a price tag. This doesn’t mean that the item is free (usually) – it means that the price is at the discretion of the vendor, and is dependent on your ability to bargain. Unfortunately, I never mastered this skill and found myself paying 490 dirhams (equivalent of about $60) for spices.
4) The importance of others
Moroccan culture is very social. It places a lot of importance on greetings and meals. I am by nature an introvert, but during my time studying abroad, I feel as though that tendency was challenged. I had to rely heavily on my roommates and directors just to orient myself in the new environment of Meknes, and to cope with challenges that presented themselves (which were daily. Things I take for granted like finding transportation or taking myself to the doctor were not immediately apparent or available). This extremely social and generous atmosphere, as opposed to the extremely individualistic nature of American society is one of the most immediately striking differences.
5) Insha’alla/ God willing/ إن شاء الله
This is perhaps the first and most important Arabic phrase one learns when studying abroad in Morocco. I talked about it a bit in my last post – the “pace of life” that we were all warned about but didn’t realize until fully immersed. Yes, it is common knowledge that Morocco is an Islamic country. Looking out over Meknes from my roof, there is no view that lacks the towers of mosques, and the daily call to prayer is heard every day, five times a day, and women do wear hijab. But more than that, the theme “insha’alla” or “God willing” is always guiding everyday life. There is no rush, no worry, and little planning and organization. There is always time to stop and greet someone on the street. Daily coffees and meals are social events. Things happen in their own time – as God wills it.
6) Travel, and what it is like to non western countries
I am no stranger to travel. I have traveled alone, internationally, and for long periods of time. However, I have not traveled outside of western countries or what is classified as traditional study abroad locations. Before going to North Africa, I thought I would immediately fit right in, adapt, and have a seamless and joyful transition from American culture to Moroccan culture. In fact, I thought that I would be able to fit in anywhere in the world I desired to travel. Living in Morocco taught me that this idea was naive. I learned that it’s OK to not necessarily feel like I belong in a country. I came to the conclusion that countries are like people – some people become friends, some people become lovers, others I’ll live with, and some people are best in brief encounters.
I love Morocco, and if given the chance, I would return. This semester has been one of the most transformative of my life; my experiences were memorable, exciting, and challenging. I am also now curious if how I would enjoy travel to the Middle East or Asia