This may be the longest post I’ve written so far, so please, get comfortable. Go use the bathroom, start loading that extra long youtube video and Mom, go reheat your coffee, because it’s cold.
Morocco so far has been good. Really good. Really, really, really good.
The past week has been orientation, which means many hours of lectures on the same three subjects: street harassment, Moroccan political history and current political identities, and the Turkish toilet. There are forty of us and I think the unanimous opinion is that the last week would have been unbearably boring if the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning, our program headquarters, wasn’t THE MOST beautiful building we have ever been in. “But Julia, haven’t you been to Versailles? St Peters? That mosque in Paris?” Yeah, yeah, okay. It’s not the most beautiful, but it makes the top ten.
It’s the most beautiful building where I’ve also been allowed to touch things.
The building is a traditional riad, a large house in the medina or old city. The characteristic feature of the riad is the central tiled courtyard that nestles snugly surrounded by the first three stories and wrap around balconies, and then opens to a glass ceiling. The building reaches up two more stories and is capped by an iron latticed sloped-roofed terrace, the same green as the ocean that it looks down upon. From the top of the CCCL you can see all of Rabat (it’s one of the tallest buildings at a whooping 5 stories+terrace)- to one side the Atlantic just where it meets the river, to the other side is the Medina and then the rest of the city unrolling to the South and East. My favorite part is inside, the tiles that coat every wall- the mosaics like stained glass or an oriental rug that paint the walls with color and that make even a three our lecture on the history of the national party in Morocco an exotic experience.
Right now I’m at my host family’s house watching a fly bump into what seems to be a thousand floating, tiny, invisible walls. It is the worst miniature miming performance I have ever seen.
About a week ago, (the 4th. It was a Thursday) we met our host families. They gave a preliminary meeting- a preview or a an interview, I’m not sure which- where the students stood around in the center of the CCCL like anxious puppies in a box as our new families scooped us up for several awkward minutes of conversation.
The next day (Friday, the 5th, for those keeping count), they took us home.
And in a brief aside I want to claim ownership to a new phrase that I have created.
“Bag Anorexia” is the belief, despite all evidence to the contrary, that one has packed more than anyone else and the feelings of embarrassment that accompany over-packing.
It is a commonly occurring syndrome when one has to drag one’s worldly possession across the medina.
My host family consist of two parents in their 70-80s and 7 children in their 40s. 4 of whom I am sure I’ve met, and many others who it’s entirely possible I was introduced to and had NO IDEA.
My host father broke his hip the 2nd day I was here, which is, well, awful, but for me it means that there has been a steady stream of well-wishers and family none of whom I’m introduced to besides a “Salam? Labaass?” which is the equivalent of “hey, how you doing?”
Is that guy who keeps showing up a brother? A boyfriend? A cousin?
I that woman who is here everyday, sits with us at meals and with guests but watches tv in the other room a house-keeper? An unmarried aunt? A helpful neighbor?
Who’s child is that!?!
I DON’T KNOW.
And I have a feeling I’m never going to find out. I’ll be here for months and it’s going to be a mystery. I’ll smile, and wonder….
My plan is to have my host sister draw me a family tree- to teach me Arabic vocabulary of course.
My host mother only speaks Arabic, and continually confuses my name with her past students. She pronounces it “Joigny” (think the town in France) or “Joanna,” and shouts it across the house over and over until I appear.
My host sisters, all in the 40s, speak French, and so occasionally they turn to me and give me the topic of whatever is being adamantly discussed.
More later, promise. And maybe even pictures!
I’m not ready to leave yet.
Finals this week.
So obviously, I’m taking pictures of silly faces.
I have lice. LICE. Lice.
So I’ve spent the night soaking my head in olive oil. I even took a picture of my funny plastic bag hat, just for you:
And this morning I had to soak my head in apple cider vinegar. Just in case I didn’t feel like an olive before, now I’m pickled for longevity.
MY WIFI FUCKING WORKS.
The joy is almost overwhelming.
What’s the saying?- I love deadlines. I love the whoosh they make as they pass me by…
That’s my newest way of apologizing for not writing.
There is something you must know though:
There is a boule court across from my house. BOULE. The best sport combining old French men and bowling ever created! You uncouth Americans might know the sport as bocci ball, but really French people in berets and red wine and noses sum up this glorious activity in one word: BOULE!
There’s a park across the street from our apartment building ( it only took me three weeks to discover it) where the local boule club meets. They have a clubhouse. It might be my favorite thing ever.
Blerg blerg blergity blurg. I’m getting sick so I skipped my 8:30am class (let’s return to a previous post for a moment, shall we? We know it takes me an hour by train to get to the university, so mathematics tells us that I was awake at 6:30 this morning. I made it halfway to campus before realized that I was probably going to fall asleep in class and most likely die so I went home and went back to bed) but it turns out that today was one of the few days we actually DID anything in “Langage de Quotidienne”.
Of course it was.
I missed an in-class assignment, the explanation of the midterm AND the lone boy in my abroad program (who takes the class with me) got the phone number of the pretty French girl who’s been sitting next to him! Damn it, I hate being sick!! Miss out on everything fun…
Last night the Bryn Mawr Alumnae of Paris threw a party for all the students in the city this semester. The woman who hosted was elegant in that French scarf-wearing way, and told us stories about fleeing Europe in 1942 and spending her first semester at Bryn Mawr shocked that none of the girls seemed to have any inkling of the events taking place across the Atlantic. She said she was intolerably lonely, homesick and frustrated with the lack of curiosity and hospitality towards a foreign student- which is why she makes a point of welcoming the juniors every year. She’s well into her 80s but still offered to take us all on a walking tour of Paris, because as she explained in her lovely accent “you see nothing if you are not on foot.” I want to become her when I grow up.
I’ve started to have friends! Real friends, not just friends by default, and some of them are even French!
One French girl in particular has adopted me. It seems to me that she must have a strong force of will that is directed very particularly at being friendly, because I can’t imagine I’m great company with my language level. I really often feel that the French people I spend time with think of me a little like a pet, or that 12 year old cousin who you are fond of, but in fact you think is a little stupid. I’m trying to ignore it and just take what I can get, but I still think you should all be very proud of me for having friends.
This weekend I’m going to London, any suggestions of things to do?
Interesting things I’ve seen on the metro (today):
A man eating a baguette from the center out- like biting into an apple
A man carrying a mounted head of a dear and photographing it.
An accordion player
A toddler who decided it would be a good idea to throw a tantrum in the middle of the aisle. For 8 minutes straight. I admired his commitment.
My commute to each college campus is an hour, so I’ve been spending lots of quality time on the metro. However, I decided that I will not try to compute exactly how my time I give to public transportation because the number will probably make me cry. I get the feeling that a native Parisian could spend entire years of their lives sitting on the subway. My new goal is to accomplish something every morning instead of my usual habit of carefully examining someone else’s shoes. I’ve downloaded podcasts so now I can be antisocial and learn.
The antisocial aspect of the metro is interesting for me. The public transportation Code of Silence (it’s unspoken, of course) exists everywhere, but as someone who has never had an extended opportunity to examine this phenomenon, I find it memorizing. On the metro I see thousands more people than I would ever see on a typical day in Berkeley, and every single person tries to pretend that we are alone. No eye contact, no talking, (except to the people you got on the train with) and certainly no touching. That horrifying “pardon” when you accidentally bump into someone is overflowing with embarrassment. How DARE you fall over when the train comes to an abrupt and unexpected stop? What kind of person are you? Here I was, happily imagining I was alone on an impossibly empty metro car and you have destroyed my careful constructed illusion of anonymity… forcing me to interact with humanity…how could you…