Tag Archives: darija

Happy Birthday, Tom!


Tom’s my little brother. I don’t think he reads my blog, and his birthday was actually four days ago, but I did start writing this post on his actual birthday, so happy birthday anyway, Tomo! WOOHOO! PARTAY!

Here’s where I was four days ago:

Well, I’m all packed, my bedroom is – gasp – tidied up, and I’m enjoying my last real day of absolutely-nothing-to-do. Tomorrow, I hop on an airplane to Seattle, will hopefully paint my bedroom up there (the colors are ghastly), find myself a wardrobe, learn a metric crapton of music in time for Tuesday, and SCHOOL. Wait, what’s school?

In short, this nine-month break from my university is giving way to one more year of undergraduate classes, and then I’ll have to start Real Life. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. Right now, I’m concerned with the ending of my nine-month break from class, during which I saw a whole lot of the world…

And that’s all I had to say about that. I got distracted, probably by Tom’s birthday cake. School starts tomorrow. Anyway, got choir stuff today. Room painted, wardrobe built, music (sort of) learned – I mean, I’ve even bought my books. I don’t think I’ve ever been more and less prepared for school to such extremes before.

So there’s that, for what it’s worth. Hello!

And THIS is your last update before I turn to Nicaragua and possibly more Morocco stuff. I swear. Not sure what else I’m going to write about. Maybe I’ll take up quasi-Moroccan-cooking again. Zip! OH HEY! Tip (haha preemptive pun AND RHYME WHOA): Never say zip, or zipper, in Morocco, because it sounds like Arabic slang for the male anatomy.  We thoroughly embarrassed our intensive Darija teacher with that one in our very first week. We were an illustrious bunch, you can be sure.

Stay classy, world. Kiss kiss.


La Vie en Couscous


I’d totally forgotten that today was Friday, until Boushra called me to lunch and the huge earthenware dish made for serving couscous sat, piled high, on the low round table in the room on the terrace. We didn’t talk much as we ate, though the dialogue from the familiar Darija-dubbed soaps on satellite TV provided the ever-present background noise I’ve grown so accustomed to.

Family life here in Oudaiya is wonderful, though not without its quirks and challenges. My current awkward and silent battle is with the leaky septic tank in the downstairs toilet; after one incidence of desperately attempting to flush it by hand (which, I’ll have you know, takes forever when you don’t have good water pressure. By no-good water pressure, I mean a shower head with uneven water flow), I’ve resigned myself to pooping in the upstairs bathroom. It’s totally fine, I just never know if it’ll flush or not. It makes pooping rather stressful, but also a sort of forbidden adventure. HaHA! I mentally cackle evilly when everything flushes properly. I have defeated you, septic tank.

Other than that, living with Moroccans is fascinating. They are a kind, generous, raucous bunch, with their own traditions and habits that I’ve grown accustomed to and learned to love. Eggs with salt and cumin, salad dressing of vinegar and dijon mustard, flan (FLAAAAAAN!!!!!!). We’re allowed nowhere near helping with the laundry, though I do help with dishes every so often. Someone is always in the house, and so whenever I return I need only ring the birdsong doorbell to be let in, amidst bisous and salaams, to the whitewashed house in the Kasbah that I’ve learned to call home.

The ebb and flow of their conversation (as I begin to understand more and more) doesn’t sound anything like English conversation: their words are more forceful, their speech more intense, and everything is a level louder than it is in English. Oftentimes, normal conversation is conducted at a volume that might indicate a fight in the States, and I’m never sure if it’s because Moroccans just talk louder, or if it’s because the TV’s always on as well.

TV is different here too. Even in the poorest of poor families, there is a TV with a satellite dish; I believe satellite TV is either free or very, very, very cheap, and many researchers (such as Fatema Mernissi, who you’ve probably heard me rave about before) are looking into the effect that satellite TV is having on the creation of a pan-Arab identity, and on North-African and Middle-Eastern society in general. Driving past slums and cities is so strange: thousands of brown clay buildings, thousands of satellite dishes. Satellite dishes are how one can tell if a shantytown’s abandoned or not.

Slowly but surely, the number of programs in Darija is rising; most, but not all, Moroccans understand fousha; fewer actually speak it. The news and most programs are still conducted in either Fousha or Maasri (Egyptian). My favorite soap is “N’Oubliez Pas,” which is a Darija-dubbed Turkish show in which one of the main characters bears a striking resemblance to my friend Kenzie back home. Her character just gave enough money so that her would-be fiancé (-but-isn’t-because-she-married-somebody-else-for-his-money-and-that-guy-died)’s family could afford a lawyer for him so that he wouldn’t get hanged. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Most Moroccans love Shakira with every fiber of their beings, as well as – to a slightly lesser extent – Adele. I’m getting to know their popular artists, too, but I couldn’t tell you their names. The girl with the weird eyebrows sucks, the middle-aged dude’s really good. It’s a science.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the slow days and hazy sunshine, the distant sound of the ocean, the sea breezes and the long walks by the beach that I’ve been taking as the sun sets. I sit on my windowsill and look out at the river, watch the boats go by, and imagine what I must look like to the tourists below: a white girl in harem pants reading a book in one of the windows set high in the imposing wall of the kasbah like some modern-day Jasmine or reclusive weirdo. I spend the slow days folding socks and walking around, and now that I have five slow days ahead of me (most of my cohort is out traveling, but I’m hanging around to enjoy some peace, beach, and whatever else strikes my fancy), I’m really looking forward to all the books I’m going to finish and all the papers (yes, I have papers, but that’s all right) that I’m going to write. My time here in Morocco is truly winding down, and as I reflect a little bit on everything that’s happened, I feel pretty awesome about it. It was a lot harder than I expected it to be, but also a thousand times more rewarding, enriching, and fulfilling.

BUT MORE ABOUT THAT LATER, I’m sure. This sort of rambly type of post is probably going to come back as I wander through my last few weeks here, breathing the ocean air and smiling serenely to myself. It’s hard to believe that this place ever felt strange to me, as crazy as that sounds. Aw, MAN, we say when the topic of conversation turns to our looming departure, I was just getting USED to this place!

But you know what? I’m also excited to get home, so I can hear the inevitable question: “KATIE! Oh my gosh, how was MoROCco?”

I already have my reply ready.

Peace out, kitty cats!

(back to watching Harry Potter!)




The Heather Post

This is probably a crime against poetry:

My Bodhi tree has garbage leaves, and I’m in love with soup;

Siddhartha is my nose, and I’ve been meditating as I poop.


The I’m No Good at Spirituality but I’d Sure Like to Figure it Out Sometime Post


This is sort of stupid, but whatever. It’s my Heather post. It all got started when, in our intensive Darija class, we were instructed to write a paragraph about a friend. Heather! I thought, I’ll write a beautiful, eloquent paragraph about Heather’s awesomeness in Malawi and stuff!

This is great. If you don’t speak Darija, this looks really cool. If you do, you’re lolling because it’s kindergarten talk:

Roughly translated, it says: “My friend’s name is Heather. She is working in Malawi, where she is helping women. She is good and kind. She lives in Seattle with me, and I LOVE HER!”

Then, I remembered how Heather and I eat pho all the time in Seattle and started really craving pho, which I don’t think they have here.

So, Heather, I thought of you today. You are in Malawi. You are great. Let’s get pho.

Also, spirituality. This is an idea that sparks in my brain every so often, as it did today. Late-night brain sparkler:

I remember writing somewhere that I hoped this trip would help me to restore a little faith in the world. Whose, though? Mine? Other people?  Who needs faith right now? In what? Do I?

I can tell a lot of funny and weird stories from growing up Catholic, like this one. I think they’d call me a baggaged Catholic; I’d call me (I dunno) an atheist? A humanist? A whateverist? I like that. I’m a whateverist. Still, though, as I passed one of my host mothers praying as we left for school this morning, my thoughts turned to the dry and silent riverbed of my own faith journey.

No matter how cornered the once-Catholic or how cynical the once-pious, I don’t think that faith is quite useless; but I’m not sure what to do with it, either. It would just curl in the palms of the unbeliever, to be dropped unnoticed on a sidewalk or (more likely) slipped into a pocket to be never quite forgotten. So here I go, clutching bits of pocket-lint faith, heading toward the sound of running water. Faith? Spirituality? YOU GOT ME JESUITS. I’M POKING IT WITH A STICK CALLED STUDY ABROAD IN A VERY RELIGIOUS COUNTRY.

There’s just something about people that have figured out their spirituality ishs that invites calm and confidence. I have a lot of ish where stuff like that is concerned, and generally steer clear; that’s probably a sign that I should explore the ish a bit more. Just a thought.


Oh, yeah. I was going to talk about enlightenment. Derp. Whatever. WOO!






Today, class, we’re going to learn how to learn Arabic hellza fast—or, we’ll learn all about what frustrates me while attempting to learn Arabic hellza fast. Mezien? Good.

Arabic is a varied and complex language, with (I am so eloquent here) bajillions of different spoken dialects spanning North Africa and the middle east. I’m studying the very particular dialect of Arabic spoken in Morocco, Darija, which is often incomprehensible to Arabic speakers from anywhere else (this incomprehensibility is, interestingly, one-way; since the media is largely in Fous7a and Egyptian Arabic, Darija speakers have no trouble understanding other dialects). Darija is an entirely oral dialect, and so the rules that apply to written Modern Standard Arabic do not apply in our Darija classroom; this makes spelling and pronunciation sort of whatever-you-want. Cool!

We conduct classes using a mind-bending combination of Arabic script and latin-script phonetics (there is no International Phonetic Alphabet here, we just write what sounds right, which is different from the weird Peace Corps textbook, which is different from the class handouts. BRAIN). So, for example, here are some verbs conjugated in the past tense:

(Pretty, right? I friggin love this script.)

AND THEN we are instructed to write a paragraph about something, using the verbs that we just conjugated. Easy, right? NOPE. We’re not fluent enough in the alphabet to be able to spell out a paragraph using Arabic script, so we’re supposed to do it something like this:

(It looks like jibberish, yes. Yes, that is my nose. Yes, these are my notes. JIBBERISH NOSE NOTES.)

I’m struggling a lot with the brain acrobatics, I just thought I’d share that with you all. Good thing Allie is a fous7a goddess. Good thing we have 12-year-olds to be way better at this than us. WOOOOO!!

Sometimes in class, I get frustrated with myself for not understanding immediately, for messing up sounding out words, for not learning it all perfectly as soon as I open the book. It’s the classic measure-self-worth-against-performance-in-class complex, which is silly, and so I’m working on being patient with myself. This is only week 2 and I can DO this. I AM doing this! I WILL LEARN THESE SKILLS TO PUT TO USE FOR A MORE JUST AND HUMANE WORLD! RAAAAAAAWR!!!

Still, the combination of difficult classwork, new culture, new place, new language, new everything, feeling isolated and starved for news of you—I find myself sometimes becoming overemotional about things like numbers and verb tenses, laundry and showering, eating and sleeping. It’s the little things here that yank the comfy chair of familiarity out from under me at every turn; sometimes I get tired of falling off the cultural merry-go-round, and every-so-often attempt to steal a meditative moment of solitude in the bathroom.

(Pooping is becoming a very spiritual experience for me. It’s the ONLY time I ever spend alone here.)

It’s just that before I left, 4 months was no big deal. I think of my friends who have left for months and months, years and years, and my heart fills up; 4 months looks pretty scary from here.  But I have found a wonderful community here, too, and I know it’s something we can all pull off together (cue high school musical. Yeah, and I know a dance to it, too. NO SHAME! WOOO), as we share our linguistic triumphs and awkward moments. Let’s DO this.




Schnou ça?!


My French is going to be awful by the time I get back. No, I don’t mean that—I’ll be speaking much more fluently, but I’m also developing a habit for mixing it up with Darija.  Schnou ça? Bonjour, le bes? Hemdullah! Bon journée, bslema! It’s a wonderful language. It’s my kind of language. Darijais? Françija?

Darija is, as I’ve mentioned, completely oral, and a strange enough dialect of Arabic that they are studied as completely different languages. Etudiez-vous l’Fous7a ou l’Darija? Mais les deux, bien sûr!

Apart from the regional differences in the dialect from city to city, the language changes according to social class, neighborhood, your mood, whether you have enough saliva in the back of your throat. Honestly, for much of it, you make it up as you go—yeah, it’s my kind of language. I love it. I LOVE IT.

Still, picking up 2 new languages is going to be challenging, despite our 4-hour intensive Darija classes this and next week. I find myself defaulting to French whenever I’m actually doing something in the city, because everyone speaks French here, though I know that I’ll get better prices in the medina if I speak Darija.

Arabic numbers though? NO. Especially since I’ve officially renounced the French system and adopted the Belgian (soixante, septante, octante, nonante—none of this quatre-vingt-dix-merde anymore. No way. Get real. I’m in love with the seahorses).

Also, this.

I live here.

u jelly?

jk. e-mail me bros. tell me how yous doing.

You are my tea! PLEASE!!!!!


Or, You Don’t Have to Yell so Loud

Or, Katie Pokes it Again.

If you spoke Arabic, you would love wandering the halls of the Qalam Center while classes are in session. You are my tea, we say confidently. You are my tea lawyer!!!

My experiences thus far in Morocco have forced me to once again poke at the machine in my head that relentlessly pronounces judgment upon everything I do and say, searching for the off button. Meeting new people, becoming part of a new family, four hours a day of intensive Darija—all of this takes trust in your instincts, confidence in yourself (whatever that means, lulz), and the ability to trust that you are loved, and that’s all you need. In other words, you need to be, like, mature (uuuhhhhhh) (or whatever). You can see it in me, in how I try so hard and laugh so loud. So.



You are my tea lawyer, PLEASE!!!  I yelled excitedly, convinced I’d written a beautiful sentence in a beautiful language look at me I am so good at this after so little time I rock so much go me I’m so awesome—oh.






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!