Monthly Archives: January 2012

Schwiya, schwiya…


Or, this is what it feels like to miss you. Whoa.

Or, Hakuna Matata!

Yeah, right.

Little by little, petit à petit, schwiya schwiya, I’m becoming accustomed to life here. Can I even say that after less than a week? It seems as though it’s been years since Thursday afternoon, when we caught our first glimpses of the sun sinking into the ocean beyond Rabat; it’s been a whirlwind of second languages, early mornings and late nights, intensive Darija class, figuring out the laid-back but lively Moroccan lifestyle, American bars and the same set of stars.

We got lost walking from the tram stop this evening; without Qaiss to guide us (he walked us yesterday), we were halfway to Souissi (another cartier in Rabat) before realizing our mistake and hailing un pétit taxi to take us home to l’Oudaya. Quel adventure! My fleecy pants finally dried, so I’m a contented panda curled on the couch with Alexandra, Sarah, Wided, and Abir.

Still, as the excitement of arrival fades and I settle into life here, quiet moments after a long day catch me checking facebook and e-mail, trying to identify this strange feeling that only surfaces when I sit still long enough. I feel starved for news of my friends, at home or abroad, though that feels silly because it’s only been a few days.  Besides, everything is great—I have nothing to complain about, my family is wonderful, I’m happy and never lonely, there are plenty of things to do…but this, I realize, is what it feels like to really miss you.

I guess how much time has passed doesn’t matter. I guess being comfortable and happy doesn’t matter either. Sometimes, there are moments I miss you, and sometimes four months looks really scary. Always, though, despite sketchy internet, I’m grateful that you’re only a mouse click away!

Ça vient, schwiya, schwiya, bit by bit, and lonely moments always dissolve into rambunctious, loud, hilarious conversations over steaming tagines at the center of our crowded table.

Schwiya, schwiya, I tell myself in lonely moments. It’s like Hakuna Matata. Schwiya, schwiya, et tout va bien!


Mouth Sounds

Salamu a’lekum! There I am, the arrow is pointing at me. Just me. Specifically. MOI. TU VOIS?


I live in Rabat, the capital of Morocco: a city where opposites attract. Western meets Arab-Muslim, modernity meets antiquity, tradition meets the times, they are a-changing. All around me, the city dances on the off beats, and I’m only beginning to orient myself here.

Orient with me! Wikipedia it if you don’t know a thing about Morocco. The currency is the dirham; 4dh = 50 cents, approximately. The official language of Morocco is Arabic; the spoken dialect is called Darija, which is quite different from Fous7a, classical Arabic. Pretty much everyone speaks French; it’s widely used in an administrative capacity, all the signs are in French as well as Arabic. which rocks. It’s easy to get around and do stuff.

If you like, you can read this article about political shit happening here. There are protests at least weekly in front of Parliament, fueled by the growing population of educated, unemployed Moroccan youth. More about that later, probably.

Official Schooly Stuff Update: I’m beginning my studies in both Modern Standard Arabic (MSA, the written form of Arabic that remains the same throughout all Arabic-speaking countries) and Darija; you should know that any Arabic/Darija words I put in here will be spelled phonetically, according to me. So no IPA, just my subjective opinion of how they would be spelled if they were written down.  Oh, and the numbers distinguish sounds that don’t have their own symbol in the Roman alphabet.

Darija isn’t a written dialect. Yeah, it makes learning the language pretty interesting.

We awoke at 6:30 this morning, ate a breakfast of 9ahwa, robz avec le zebdah et la confiture, et baïd – coffee, bread with zebdah (sort of like super rich butter with the consistency of cream cheese, ish) and jam, and eggs.

We walk about 20 minutes through the Kasbah and the Medina to a bus stop (any bus stop, really), hop on the #8, drop 4dh into the palm of the conductor, and stare out the window into the early-morning bustle as the fog from the sea evaporates into the cacophony of brakes and beeps. The bus takes about 30, 45ish minutes, followed by another half-hour walk to the Qalam wa Lawh center, Rabat’s school of Arabic. It took us way longer than expected, we were a half-hour late to class; looks like we’ll be leaving around 7:15 to get to our 8:30 class. WOO!

So, that’s a morning for you.

Oh, yeah.

In Morocco, there are Mouth Sounds. A sort of click in the cheek means sort of yes, of course, I get it, and pretty much all the rest of them are pickup lines.


I’m becoming very familiar with mouth sounds; I stand out in my whitey mcwhiteyness here. Bonjour, Mme. McWhiteyness!



Salaamu a’lekum! Bienvenue, let me show you where I live. We went for a walk along the river this evening, and I took this photo of the kasbah…


I took the above photo from next to the boat. WooOOOoooOOOooOO

This is the beautiful room that greets you when you enter. We've spent absolutely no time there because we're always up on the terrace, car il fait beau ici. There is just this floor and the terrace on the roof; this house is quite small, but that fact would never occur to you here. It's so full of family and happiness that it seems huge.

The tiniest kitchen with a glorious view, where the most incredible food is cooked.

The view from the small window/balcony in our little bedroom (there are no other bedrooms here; traditionally, the family sleeps on the couches inside or out on the terrace, as does our family.) AAH.

Bonjour Rabat, I am standing on the rooftop terrace.

What it looks like behind the blue walls of the kasbah.






Since arriving in Morocco so long long ago (Thursday), I’ve given a lot of thought to the word home. There is no equivalent word in nearly any of the Indo-European languages (there are a lot of those), nor Arabic, nor Japanese, that conveys the full range of sentiment that accompanies our concept of home: feeling at home, making a home, home is where the heart is, home is wherever I’m with you.

For many of us, home isn’t where we live, and that seems obvious. Yet in other languages, there are plenty of words for house, my house, where I live, but nothing quite like home—and I wonder if, perhaps, it’s because the cultures in which these languages blossomed didn’t need a word like that.

I’m no linguist (and I’m sure that someone’s already figured this out), but I would like to humbly propose that home is a word that self-actualizes the individual to create her own future, without reference to piles of culture to build upon.

Think about home, about how much more it means to you than my house or my place. It’s a large part of our self-image and the way we construct our lives, a specific and highly sought-after feeling.  What we want is to conquer this deep-seated shiftlessness, to find a home, to be at rest and content and comforted.  In the United States, nothing is tried and true; we are young, we are not tied to our land (our forerunners displaced those Native Americans who were), we are a country built by the exiled, the emigrants, the unwelcome, hoping for a better future—or at least for escape from a shitty past. Dreamy oversimplification or not (yeah, back off), we are drifters turned loose upon the land, chasing the echoes of an immigrant’s dream.

It’s as though we of the United States are searching for some way to validate our own existence, a validation once upon a time provided by hundreds of years of cultural blossoming, of deep roots in a land and a language, and of confidence in one’s existence by virtue of those who lived before.

All of this I can see in myself, and all of it contrasts sharply with the world surrounding me.

I was going to write more, but it is very late. Here we are, then, make yourself at home!

Behind the High Blue Walls


So check out that photo of the narrow alley winding between those blue-and-white buildings in the previous post. That place is called the Kasbah des Oudayas, a labyrinthine kasbah just across the river from Salé (the city across the Bou Regreg River from Rabat), built a really, really, really long time ago. The Wikipedia article really doesn’t do it justice, and I mention it only because I’ve decided to do some real research on this place and expand the article by the end of my stay here. That photo of the ocean and the lighthouse? Also from a large courtyard in the Kasbah, with stairs down to the beach where Moroccans and visitors alike fish, play sports, and walk, admiring the breathtaking view of the river flowing into the Atlantic Ocean.

I took those photos when we visited l’Oudayas yesterday, wandered the narrow, mazelike alleys, marveled at its beauty. We hadn’t yet met our host families, and I wondered for a moment what it might be like if I lived here, behind the high blue walls, atop the many-leveled roofs with laundry fluttering in the sun—but no way. That would just be too good to be true. History spanning millennia on my way to school? Home just beyond one of the colorful doors dotting the endless, winding, beautiful alleys? Nope. But it would be cool, I thought wistfully.

My friends, wist not prematurely in Morocco!  I live in the Kasbah l’Oudaya, in a lively and bustling house with the river, Rabat, and Salé spread before us. We can see the mausoleum and mosque honoring King Mohammed V and the Hassan Tower from the terrace and our small bedroom window, and if we look to the left, the ocean.  I am here with Alexandra, my new friend and roommate, also from Seattle! She speaks Fus7a (Classical Arabic, and the 7 is a back-of-the-throat ha sound), and I speak French; our conversations with the family flow between the two languages and into Derija (Moroccan Arabic), both of us learning as we speak.

The courtyard from which I took the photo of the ocean is just around the corner. Each morning, we will walk through the winding blue alleys and the bustling Medina to our bus stop, just outside the walls of the kasbah. I am overwhelmed and grateful for the welcome we’ve received, still reeling from standing on the terrace and realizing that I will be making a home here, somehow.

Alexandra and I both squealed a lot upon our arrival. I still can’t really believe I’m here; I keep expecting someone to appear and tell me hope you enjoyed your stay in Rabat, time to head back to the US. Though I have been here three days, it feels as though I’ve been here for decades; the mornings are so far removed from the evenings that reflections on my days seem to span years. But here I am, making a home behind the blue walls, unsure of everything except that Rim the kitty, curled in my lap, prefers head scratches to belly rubs.

Shokran bzef bzef bzef, I keep thinking. Merci beaucoup beaucoup. Thank you so, so, so much, I don’t even know what to say.



Okay, it’s only four photos, which is practically criminal considering the sheer number of amazing things we saw today, but I’m going to dinner now, so whatevs. WOO! I SAW THESE THINGS!!! That couscous is the first Real Moroccan food I had, at Madiha’s house. It was…incredible. Going to go have more. Peace out.

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The Art of Walking


Or, the Best Part So Far is the Garbage

We first glimpsed the medina as the city slept, the shops closed but for a few DVD vendors.  Scruffy looking cats roamed the empty streets as we dodged piles of garbage and deep puddles, eyes turned upward, trying to see as much as possible (I stepped into a really impressive puddle, but a soaked pant leg is, thus far, the greatest of my woes, so no complaints here). Walking in this town, even in the dead of night, is proving to be a science I have yet to master; crossing the road requires an alertness I do not yet possess.

Rabat is absolutely beautiful; it lies on the Atlantic coast, there are no skyscrapers (or buildings over 5 or 6 stories), and has a rhythm and a vitality of a kind that I haven’t encountered in the US. The larger boulevards are full of honking cars and brave pedestrians (neither pay any attention to traffic signals), mysteriously disappearing lanes, Moroccans calling out words of welcome, and the occasional catcall. Moroccans are, by and large, appreciative of our presence in their country and wish to welcome us at every turn. On the plane from Paris to Casablanca, I met a number of Moroccans who pressed cards and phone numbers on me, imploring me to contact them should I need anything, or visit their city.

I have four months to tell you all about the beauty of this city, so right now, I’m going to talk about its waste. Two days in Morocco, and I have learned a lot from garbage (I think this might be a learning experience?).  One of the first sights that greeted me as we drove from Casablanca to Rabat was a pile of burning garbage in a field, just outside one of the many shantytowns that dot the countryside. Oh. For the first time, I felt acutely aware of the reality of my presence in a developing country, suddenly conscious of all I had left behind, suddenly nervous for all I would encounter. Soon, soon, I will write you beautiful posts about wealth and poverty here in Morocco, once I understand a bit more. Till then, read on.

In the city, as the chaos of the medina settles, the garbage remains; and I suppose there was something authentic and raw about the garbage that tickled my already buzzing fancy, though that may have just been severe sleep deprivation. Compared to the clean Seattle streets I stomp around at home, the garbage seemed like an acknowledgement of the vibrant human presence here, left behind after a day of bargaining, bright colors, bustle, and business.

The medina’s awesome. Morocco is awesome. I’m going to post something with pictures now.