Tag Archives: Kasbah Des Oudayas

Goodbye Henna


Um, I just packed my bags. Holy crap. I depart my beloved Oudaya at 8:30am tomorrow. I’m pretty sure my 2 bags are overweight. Oh, well. It’s probably the 20,000 hand of Fatima keychains that I’m bringing home to throw at people like free candy from a parade.

As I packed, I had the startling realization that most of my friends from this program are sitting on airplanes right now. Then I finished packing, which took me less than an hour.

Yesterday, to celebrate our last days in Morocco, we gathered at Madiha’s for tea, henna, some last bites of millwi, and some tearful goodbyes. To avoid getting all sentimental, I’m going to show you what traditional Moroccan henna designs look like!



The henna you are looking at is black henna, which is not as scary as google makes it sound. This is natural henna with a dye mixed in it that makes it black, and it’s awesome. It stays on longer, which is SWEET.

Tomorrow, I fly to Washington D.C. Saturday morning, I attend my older brother’s graduation. Talk about a cultural shift!

Now, here’s another thing. Blog. I’m going to keep writing, about Morocco and about other things too, probably, even after my return; I have a feeling that retrospective Morocco stories will surface, as well as interesting tales of transition and What I’ve Missed in America. So, stay tuned, one and all!




Tomi the Drooly Kitty, and Other Stories


Or, Morning Edition

Tomi the Drooly Kitty and Rime the Pregnant Kitty sleep on my bed every night and growl when I move. Really growl. Growl.

Here in Morocco, everyone lives with their family until they’re married, or something else happens and they move out.  Though there’s really not a status quo with cultural stuff in the US, many Moroccans find it bizarre that we moved out of our parents’ houses at 17 or 18 to make our own way in the world, and find it even more bizarre that we don’t plan on coming back; that we might not get married at all.

Including Alexandra and I, there are around 10 people living in a house behind the blue walls, tucked away in a corner of the labyrinthine Kasbah: five middle-aged siblings, 3 kids, and the two of us. THEY ARE AWESOME. You’d never guess that the house was small; from the rooftop terrace, it feels as though you have all of Rabat and Salé and the Ocean to wander to; you’d never guess that money’s scarce, because laughter isn’t.

Oh. So we get up before the sun rises, and this is what we watch out the tiny kitchen window as we eat breakfast. Like, whatever.

The family is very traditionally Moroccan, but not at all religious (that means something very different here than it does in the States; I mean only that they don’t pray each time we hear the calls to prayer rise from the mosques surrounding the Kasbah. Maybe they pray in their heads, who knows? I’ll have plenty of time to tell you about religion, religious language, etc…anyway); they sleep, as I mentioned, on the couches bordering every wall, and share one big closet. They all speak Darija, Fous7a, and French, they eat in the traditional Moroccan fashion, they watch ridiculously fantastic Arabic soaps. The house is always occupied, always lively, always loud, never lonely. Neither of us really have any problem communicating, this family are experts at bouncing between languages, encouraging us to speak and explain things to each other. Abir and Wided are our wonderful, 12-year-old fraternal twin host sisters that we can ask about anything, Jalel is their 14-year-old brother upon whom we are planning a good practical joke to get him back for spraying us with water from the roof yesterday.

That’s another one watching the sun rise. The BOATS. AAAAAH.

Jamila, Farid, Boushra, Abdnmabid, and Huria are the siblings living here. I’m not sure what all their stories are; some widowed, some divorced, but it’s not unusual here for siblings to just keep living in the family house after their parents die. This family has been in l’Oudaya forever, I’m pretty sure.

People are starting to get to know Alexandra and I, which is nice; maybe soon they won’t try to rip us off at the hanout because we’re foreign, which requires us to overcome our paralyzing fear of haggling with a local shopkeeper (yeah, that is exactly what we came here for. Cultural whatnot. I suppose we’ll get there).

Also, people stare. ALL THE TIME. I’ve never been so conscious of being so white. SO WHITE! SOOOOO WHIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTE ALL THE TIME. SO WHITE AND PRIVILEGED. I think about it all the time. Every time I go out and catch 8 people staring. I wonder if I’ll get used to that.

Also, you think Seattle is well-dressed? Come to Rabat. One Thing I did Not Expect from This Experience: Learning about fashion. Moroccans dress SO WELL, it’s a fashion show every time we step in the street! On the other hand, they immediately change into all-sweats inside the house. It’s two completely different realms, the street and the house. The divides between private and public, female and male, h’shuma and proper—all these I promise to enumerate in more detail over the course of my stay here. There’s a lot to talk about.


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.


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.