Thursday, September 2, 2010
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
I don’t know when the thought first came to me. It was early on in the trip. Maybe it was when the whole bus was filled with raucous conversation and laughter, maybe at a particularly loud and boisterous dinner. We were usually a spectacle wherever we went, always the loudest group. But the thought popped into my mind: we are a “conference of birds.” Now “The Conference of Birds is a 12th century Sufi prose poem written by Farid Ud-Din Attar. Maybe the connection between a classic 12th century Sufi poem and our group does not seem the most obvious at first. It is not even written in Arabic but Persian instead. But let me explain. The poem begins with the birds of the world gathered together. They realize that the other creatures have kings but they have none. A Hoopoe (what kind of bird that is I have no idea) steps forward and offers to lead the birds to find the Simorgh, or king of the birds. Each bird has a weakness or fault that impedes him or her on the journey. The nightingale is enamored with roses, outward beauty and passing love. The duck is content with staying in the water and reluctant to go. The partridge has a love for precious stones, and the owl is corrupted by the love of gold. The Humay’s foible is ambition, and the sparrow’s is vanity and pride under a guise of humility. The Hoopoe’s role is to point these weaknesses out and guide them on the journey. On their journey the birds pass though many trials and tribulations, and seven “valleys:” quest, love, understanding, independence and detachment, unity, astonishment and bewilderment, depravation and nothingness. In the end only thirty birds make it. (Ok, so the number is not the same. Should be 14 or 15. ) They finally reach the Simorgh, but it was not what they had expected. When they look at the Simorgh they see themselves reflected back. They find “that they were the Simorgh and that the Simorgh was the thirty birds…and perceiving both at once, themselves and him, they realized that they and the Simorgh were one and the same.”
I’m not sure if I am doing the story justice. My knowledge of Sufism is limited and our “lost in translation” lecture on the topic was not much help. But like the birds, we were all on a search, a journey. We weren’t looking for a king, or God (well, maybe you were!) But we were looking for knowledge, insight, understanding, of both ourselves and the world around us. Like the birds in the poem I think we all passed through levels, or “valleys” in this journey. The valley of understanding was maybe the most relevant to our trip in Morocco. One of the lessons the birds learn in the valley of understanding is that knowledge is temporary but understanding endures. As Luis points out in his blog, we are by no means experts on Morocco, but hopefully we do understand more about Morocco and the Arab world. Travel is a wonderful opportunity to expand one’s understanding, and perhaps even search for enlightenment. In the end, like the birds, what we are searching for is reflected back at us, and we deepen our understanding of our own culture and ourselves as well. I will miss our “conference of birds.”
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
My time in Morocco, North Africa has been an incredible experience. Throughout this entire trip, however, I couldn’t help but feel unsatisfied. You see to me visiting a place and living in a place are almost entirely different; almost polar opposites. I loved that I got to experience Morocco for a whopping 5 weeks! But this is still not enough…for me! I kept fantasizing about what it would be like to speak conversational Darija (which is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic) with the locals. How would locals view me as result of speaking their language?
In Niger I learned to speak Zarma/Djerma which is dialect of Songhai. Zarma was my language for 2 years. I bargained, haggled, greeted, joked, cheered, expressed condolences, excitement, sadness, had intellectual conversations, and in some cases flirted and cursed in Zarma. I was almost, literally fluent. I also began to THINK in Zarma, once you begin to think in another language that is not your original 2 languages, you know you are truly living in this place and adapting and assimilating pretty well. Even Nigeriens would get confused about my origins. On a consistent basis Nigeriens would think I was Arabic, Lebanese, or Taureg, whom are closely related to the Tamazighr people of Morocco. In fact, the biggest compliment I ever received in Niger was being told by Nigeriens that I myself was Nigerien! They said this because of the level I had reached speaking Zarma. What a compliment right? I never knew how to respond to that compliment, it always humbled me, and I would simply respond with… fofo… thank you.
Living abroad has been by far one of the most life changing & powerful experiences of my life, and visiting foreign places provided that desire. This brings me to the next topic:
This has always been my gripe with Americans and Angelinos who say, feel, and believe that America is the only place for them. How would individuals know this to be a fact when they haven’t even gone outside their comfort zone to see and experience other places that they actually might like? Plus many, who do decide to move, move to another state, which is obviously still within the US, so I cannot count that as an abroad experience.
How can we be certain that life in the US is better? I guess it comes down to what you value personally. Personally I do not value the fast pace living where social life is limited to just your immediate family. Seeing your close friends 2 or 3 times a month because of our hectic lifestyles seems like an injustice. We have given our selves-up to the grind or money in order to pay off the bills, make ends meet, and as a result humanity is lost within all these growth industries and the supply and demand side of economics/capitalism.
This is our lifestyle here in America the Beautiful. Go into debt for College (not including Grad school). Purchase various vehicles and pay them off in the incoming years. Get a loan for the ‘dream home’, and further inundate yourself with debt. Maybe, perhaps you get sick, now start paying those bills, and if you didn’t have insurance, sell your home because getting sick in America can be one of the most expensive things you purchase (forget all the hard work throughout your life).
Walk into the grocery store and pick from an abundance of ‘choices,’ various cereals, cheeses, wines, snacks, etc, but yet we as Americans, we can still only ‘choose’ from 2 political party systems; Cheech and Chong… oops! I meant to say Republicans and Democrats. Plus there is all the bureaucracy for the most trivial things, and not to mention a political system that wants us to vote for candidates who will get into office so they can keep raising money for the next campaign! It is always about getting re-elected, and beginning their next campaign (raise-money, campaign, win, and perpetuate this cycle); meanwhile nothing gets done for the common folk (especially minorities).
It is tough to swallow all of this. Still not sure if I want this for my life.
Transitioning back to Morocco, sorry for the rant. It was those moments outside of the group where I felt the need to live in another place again. On a random night when Ben, Joel, and I wanted to go out and see the night life, Joel asked a pretty well dressed looking dude where we could go to just enjoy a drink or 2 (I dared Joel to ask him). His name was Moulay and he responded with, “I’ll take you guys to a great spot.” We got in his car, and it was a great lounge with nothing but Moroccans! On another occasion we visited a small town market which was different from all the medina’s we had visited. There I got lost with Ben and found Abderrahim chillin’ having some meat and tea. He asked us to join him, we did. Just sitting there watching men preparing the meat, tea, wetting the dirt so the dust would not fly up and get on their product, that in itself was very tranquilizing and a great break from the constant moving around with our group. Lastly, our day visit with a host family! Abdul hosted us, he was great, he fed us like Kings, we met his kind and friendly family, and then we walked around his neighborhood and met his friends. I also got to use the Turkish style toilet again, which convinced me to design my own restroom once I have a home; a bidet with a Turkish style toilet! Awesome can only do so much to that experience, but it also stirred memories from living in Niger. Those experiences that were unplanned and spontaneous were perhaps the most memorable for me, and provided glimpses of what it could be like to live in Morocco.
Once again, visiting another place in this beautiful earth has inspired me to strongly consider leaving America again, and live in place where the lifestyle isn’t so fast pace, money is not glorified as much, and hopefully I get to spend the majority of my time with those I love...
Sunday, August 8, 2010
The Kasbah Tombouctou sports two camels kissing by the entrance. Hmmm, suggestive? Once I stepped beyond the lobby though, I felt I had entered a more ethereal place. Something was very different about this place, and it wasn't just the fine sand creeping into every crevice. Maybe, I'm just a sucker for an astoundingly beautiful landscape, but even in the rush to the camels, I felt like I was gliding over the path. The mood at the Tombouctou, however mercurial - because the mood is different depending on the time of day, or night, was energetic at the anticipated sunset camel ride. We would go through several moods before we left Tombouctou, none of them unpleasant, at least for me.
My camel, I think Jimi Hendrix was his name - they were all named either Jimi Hendrix or Bob Marley, was pleasant enough. He lowered himself obediently, and I climbed on and we were off. Paulette was in front of me, and Ben was behind me. The camel saddle has an interesting attribute that I've never noticed on a horse saddle, maybe it's because the camel lowers and raises himself - very different from mounting a horse. My eyes struggled to take in the scenery. It's as if I couldn't physically see everything at once. Too much to possibly take in with mere human eyes. The sun was setting, and we were all glad to be taking the sunset ride rather than the sunrise ride. The weather was perfect, the group was in excellent spirits, it was all quite perfect. We left our camels and climbed a sand dune, and stood around, reduced to few words - unusual for our group. Youssef, Paulette's and my camel handler, buried me in warm sand up to my waist. The sun sank behind the dunes slowly, and photo and video opps presented themselves, and we just stared at where we were, and marveled over what we were doing. Finally, some of us ran down the dunes to the waiting camels, some slid, some walked, we all came down in one way or another.
When we returned, and walked from the camels resting place to Tombouctou, we gathered our things from the lobby and started to our rooms. I had room 11, a single, for the night, and Eddie and Daniel had room 12 right beside me. We couldn't find our rooms at first because they were the only two rooms that were not included on the signs. So we decided to go for the numbers that were at least close to ours. The entrance to the hallways was fanciful and we were fairly enchanted right away. However, when we entered, it was so dark that we couldn't find our way at all. Eddie and I went ahead, feeling the walls to try and find a light switch, but to no avail. We were walking carefully, and climbed a couple of stairs which Daniel couldn't see as he was a distance behind us. He said, "Oh, my god, it's so dark, it looks like you guys are floating above me." We found our dreamy rooms, turned on the air immediately, and started the settling-in process.
Later, we went to dinner - the most succulent, incredibly sweet apricots that have ever passed my lips . . . We were in an incredible setting, the desert beyond us, and great conversations, including a particularly memorable bit of talk about movies with Eddie and Youness, this stands out as one of my favorite dinners of the entire trip. Afterwards, as we all lounged around savoring the atmosphere, company, and drinks, the drummers came. Everyone took turns drumming, but I just wanted to listen and savor, so I lay on one of the benches off to the side and stared at the stars and, okay, sublime may be the right word for those particular moments.
Later, after everyone had gone to bed, I took a walk out to where the camels were resting. The beauty is almost too ephemeral to hang on to, much less describe. Looking up at the milky way, and seeing the desert meet the sky, the camels here and there - I think I'll struggle my entire life to keep that image accessible, and not to let it diminish with passing time. Even now, I can't write about it without getting teary.
Later that evening . . . soon to be sobered up from the intoxicating desert experience, I was lying in bed reading with my door unlocked when Eddie burst into the room dressed for bed. He raised his arms to the air conditioner and said, "Yes! it's cool in here!" Daniel, also dressed for bed, followed and I invited them to climb into the spare bed in my room. (I didn't realize that the beds were two different sizes and poor Eddie and Daniel shared the double, while just I was in the queen.) They tried to have their air conditioner fixed, but to no avail that evening. We spent the first night in Merzouga roomies: Daniel chatting in his sleep, me - restless, going out for a later-night walk, Eddie sleeping without moving a muscle. My restlessness began that night in Merzouga and hasn't quieted since.
Now, watching one of the world cup games the next day in the warm, sultry tv room after an extraordinary experience on the 4 x 4s in the desert was an excellent afternoon as well. Both those things would have been fabulous on their own merits just because we all had so much fun. The singing of "Buffalo Soldier" with Sherri, Eddie, Joel, Youness, and our awesome driver at top volume while jumping over sand dunes was perfection, and watching the match with everyone sprawled around talking smack was so completely comfortable and yummy - and was sort of the icing on the Merzouga cake.
I'm not going to say Merzouga was magical, because that seems too easy. Also, it doesn't quite work - there's so much more. Maybe it's where we all were, physically and emotionally, that made it so incredible. Whatever aligned to make it what it was, memories of Merzouga conjures something in me that I hope never goes away.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
The drive from Merzouga to Dades proved to be another treat. Between the Atlas Mountains is Tineghir; a wonderful oasis. It was difficult to fathom miles and miles of lush, green vegetation blossoming right in the middle of what had seemed to be a barren, God-forsaken desert! Our driver stopped the bus along a steep cliff to allow us to take pictures. Wow, how can I describe this paradox? It looked as if God took Her finger and carved her name into the hard, rocky, earth forming deep, winding canyons (much like we’ve all done on a much smaller scale in the sand at the beach). Except, everywhere Her finger touched, produced a thick blanket of palm trees. If this vision I see before me were in a competition, it would run a close tie with “paradise.”
Shortly after, we met our guide, Said (pronounced Sah-eed), which is Arabic for “happy.” I found his name very appropriate for his disposition. He greeted us alongside the road with his camels. I remembered that one’s name was Jimi Hendrix, and he suspiciously stared at me from the corner of his eye as if to say, “Come a little closer so that I can show you how accurately I can spit on tourist.” I moved in a little closer to take a picture, but quickly recognized the hint for him to maintain his space. As we descended with Said into the canyon, I noticed how the temperature comfortably dropped to provide relief. Among the rich foliage were alfalfa plants used to feed the animals, fresh mint for the tea that has been our staple beverage, rows of cabbage, corn stalks, and peach and pomegranate trees. We walked carefully along the narrow dirt path that was accompanied by the serene sounds of the irrigation stream that nourished the crops. While we walked, Said would occasionally stop to pull fronds from trees in between jokes, songs, and chat to weave the ladies in our group flowers or snakes, which we proudly adorned our heads. I was so impressed to learn that he spoke several languages: Tamazight, Arabic, French, Spanish, as well as a little Italian and Japanese. It made me wonder why I had spent so much time in school, but never bothered to acquire another language. Here he was in the middle of “nowhere” and could communicate easily with people from all over the world, while I have accented my wall at home with college degrees and pray most of the time somebody speaks English. Hell, my own students can linguistically “leave me in the dust.”
The Ice Cream Man
Anyway, I was totally immersed in the sounds, fragrances, and light-hearted conversation. From a distance, I could hear a man cry out on a loud speaker to the surrounding homes embedded in the sides of the cliffs. We asked Said if it was a call for prayer, as is customary in all of the cities we visited. His response was cute. “No, he is asking the women to shop at his store,” he replied. I’m pretty sure he was serious, but it would have been great sarcasm if he wasn’t. I thought to myself, “The Loud-Speaker Man functions like the Ice Cream Man without the annoying muffled Disney show tunes.” It brought back memories of scurrying around the house to find an adult to take me to the ice cream truck. I wonder if that experience was happening in a similar way in one of those cliff side houses. I imagine that it probably does. Perhaps in a small, beautiful village in the middle of a Moroccan oasis, a child is running to meet “The Ice Cream Man.”
Located in the southern region of Morocco nestled inland, is the popular city of Marrakech. Marrakech was at one time one of the four capitals of Morocco. The main streets resemble a combination of Phoenix (because of the reddish earth tones of the original structures), Miami (because of the thick, stalky palms that line the streets), and perhaps Vegas (because of the luxurious nightlife). It seems that someone is aware of the resemblance because many nightclubs have “Miami” somewhere in the name. I even saw a “Café California” in Fes, which is a far-reaching stretch of the imagination.
The most intriguing part of Marrakech is the medina of course. We spent hours weaving through sweltering alleyways shopping and negotiating prices, walking space for scooters (pedestrians beware), and language. It was a true experience of the senses; rows of colorful fabrics, jewelry, leather products, fragrant spices, incense, and soaps. The sound of lively music, and persistent merchants, who can spot a “sucker” a mile away keep you on guard. The rancid smell of mules, fish, urine, trash, and sewage all crashed together in my nose. When you first enter the ancient red gates, you will notice the king’s (presently King Mohammed VI) Kasbah and a mosque (a famous name of which I can’t remember at the moment) with a huge minaret to call out the daily prayers. As you pass a couple of streets lined with horse-drawn carriages, you will enter an enormous square, called Djemaa el Fna that radiates the most excruciating heat known to man.
The day we explored Marrakech, it was about 114 degrees Fahrenheit. During the day, the square, or grand plaza, as it was commonly referred, is wide open. A few vendors (who I think must be nuts) bake in the unrelenting heat peddling henna art, monkey handlers looking for “victims” to swindle a few dirham by setting a monkey on your shoulder, some musicians, storytellers, and snake charmers. Nighttime is another story. The square transforms into a lively beehive of families, entertainers, and of course tourists. Carriages are converted into fresh juice stands; along with fresh nuts, fruit, sweets, and other delectables…Did I mention the snail cart?
Monday, August 2, 2010
Oh, these Moroccan days…
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Our Fulbright program – like all organized programs – is somewhat of a double-edged sword. On one hand, the Fulbright has afforded me the rare opportunity to see things I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime (and for that I will be eternally grateful!). From the arterial veins of humanity and history that are medinas to the gates of the Sahara, snacking on snails in Marrakech’s Djemaa al-Fna to attending a traditional Moroccan wedding in Rabat (until seven in the morning!), I have had incredible access to the country and caught a very special glimpse into its culture and peoples, an access that would never have been possible had I done this trip by myself and on my own dime.
On the other hand, organized trips sometimes leave some things out. Such is the nature of the beast, I suppose. Adhering to timetables and itineraries, rules and regulations, the engaged traveler must make a special effort to not lose out on “the adventure” – those opportunities to become fully consumed by the culture, take the road less traveled, and engage with the people on a person-to-person basis. Over the past few weeks I have attempted to do just that within the bounds of our program. In my following posts I hope to chronicle some of those memorable experiences.
On our second to last night in Fez, a few of the guys ventured off with our language instructor, Professor Abderrahim E. A small man with a big personality, I always found his presence magnetic. Mustachioed and always sporting dress pants, a short sleeved button up, and sandals, his chain smoking self always reminded me of Scrappy Doo, Scooby’s young nephew (interesting trivia tidbit: Scrappy’s middle name is Cornelius. Seriously.). In class he was the stately professor always pushing us to exaggerate the long vowels and correcting our pronunciation (much to his amusement). Outside of the classroom, Professor Abderrahim was simply “profesor” to me. He picked the four of us up in his old Fiat Uno with his good friend, Mohamed in the front seat. Six fully-grown men (some of us of the pudgy variety, mind you) in a tiny Fiat hatchback?! Adventure was imminent.
We drove over to the Hotel Merenid on a bluff overlooking Fez’s famed medina for a few beers and solid conversation. Sitting out on the open air patio overlooking the medieval city just a few meters below was at once exquisite, surreal, and sobering. Here we were drinking beers in a five-star hotel spending with abandon what many Moroccans earn in about a week. As Morocco’s finest flowed (Flag Especial only – made in Fez from Fassi water, as we were taught), so did the conversation. After a few rounds and some laughs we left for our second stop but not before a quick detour to profesor’s home so that he could change.
Sporting a crisp pair of capris and a t-shirt, profesor looked more Santa Monica Beach bum than fashionable Fassi – quite the funny sight. He suggested a spot where locals patronized so we took a dark and isolated back road into the hills on the outskirts of Fez. After a few minutes of driving through the forest with Mohamed leading us in the singing of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” we arrived at this resort-ish-type place that only Moroccans went to. As we approached the doors we could hear and feel the music pulsating from within. We took a seat behind the band playing a Berber variety of music and the (belly?) dancers. The dancers danced beautifully transfixing me with the swaying of their hips. We’d seen belly dancers in Marrakech at a fancy shmancy restaurant, but they were of the Hollywood sort: fair skinned, buxom, showing liberal amounts of skin, and made up. The dancers at this joint couldn’t be more different. With varying shades of browns and creams, they were fully covered ankles to neck in what looked like a loose fitting djellaba. Their blemished faces and pretty smiles conveyed a sense of realness, a far cry from the done-up women in Marrakech. While one of them sang in a high, off-pitch shrill (the microphone and old speakers only further augmenting this quality), the other two shook in a way that was beautiful, hypnotic, and incredibly sensual. They appeared to me as inverted bobble head dolls; their upper and lower torsos looking disconnected and their garish, golden belts making it seem as if the two halves were hinged right at the waistline.
We sat and enjoyed the beautiful night, all our senses piqued. Snacking on a mixture of nuts, olives, and chips, we bonded over successive rounds of cigarettes and beers. We shared stories (profesor’s father had him when he was 90!), laughed raucously (every heard the elbow joke?), talked politics and philosophy (the monarchy, socialism in Morocco, and the state of the Western Sahara, past, present, and future), and just… connected. After a jam packed day (three and a half jam packed weeks, for that matter) we were tired, a feeling exacerbated by the fact that we had to be at the bus bright and early by 8:30 am. Though our hosts appeared as though they could (and would want to) go longer, we were simply drained. We paid the bill, crammed into his Fiat, and headed back into the Ville Nouvelle singing traditional Moroccan music all the way home. If ever there was doubt that an amazing time had been had the night before, peep this: Professor Abderrahim arrived to class an hour late the next morning.
Currently listening to: LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening
During one of our scheduled lectures on Sufism, the professor giving the lecture would communicate in Arabic, then a man would translate in English of course. At one point while the translator was speaking, the professor received a phone call, which interrupted the lecture, and much to our surprise, the professor answered the call and had a quick 30-second conversation (as the translator continued to speak to us, as if nothing had interrupted the lecture) then hung up.
Now this would never occur in the US and probably most other countries I would assume. We in the US have cell phones off in these types of settings (most of the time), and would never imagine such an action to occur at a lecture, especially by the professor. We’ve developed a protocol over the years.
I think I may have been the only one who thought this was hilarious. I’ve seen this plenty of times. A friend of mine did Peace Corps in Ghana, myself, I served in Niger, both countries in West Africa. In both countries, what happened with the professor here at the University in Fes, Morocco, is very common in the 2 countries previously mentioned. It is also very common for professionals and even figureheads to be late at their own scheduled meetings!!!
A part of me appreciates this break from punctuality. I like that things are so relaxed within the culture that we get to enjoy time rather than live for time. Things are so rigid in the US, which I understand, but like I said, I can see and appreciate both sides.
After the lecture some of my fellow Fulbrighters talked about how they felt disrespected that the professor had answered his phone.
This is NOT disrespectful, just a cultural difference. That type of phone protocol has yet to be established in places like Ghana, Niger, and apparently Morocco. If the professor thought he had disrespected someone, he would have apologized. Plus the fact that the translator did not stop and kept going on as if nothing happened, that in itself should be an indicator of the normality of the situation. There are far worse situations of disrespect that deserve attention, and this is not one of them.
Also, I was vindicated a few days later, when THEE University top head was giving his formal thank you and farewell speech, and all of a sudden, his phone rang, and he did not hesitate to answer… it happened again! Hopefully other Fulbrighters saw this and said, “Hey it’s not that big a deal or disrespectful after all.”
Lastly, I hope that are flaws do not hinder our experience or the communication we hope to start up with the rest of you back in the US once we get home. Many of us came to Morocco with very ambitious goals particularly regarding the Arabic language. I really hope none of us go back to the US and come off as experts on Morocco.
The reality is that Morocco is just as complex, complicated, and rich as the rest of the nations of this Earth. There are no black and white answers to many topics, heated and controversial issues are hard to propel to the national level (in terms of bringing them up for debate). Similar to the US right? We have many issues in our country, like the state of education, health care, immigration, etc… that will never be debated and/or resolved. And those are current issues; we have not mentioned the old ones or the history of some of America’s problems.
Well, Morocco is very much the same way…
Imagine taking 13-14 Moroccans, and sending them to the U.S. for 5 weeks (with ZERO English). Now would you expect those Moroccans to know the 300 years of US history? Obviously NO, but at least they were exposed to our country and they learned some things that will hopefully inspire them to maybe research a particular topic that really fascinated them about American culture or politics. Hopefully those Moroccans go back with solid general ideas and a better understanding of that particular region of the world. Guess what people, that is us, right here, right now. Hopefully. we go back to America with a good grasp on Moroccan issues, but by no means are we experts.
Over the past few weeks, one of the most striking aspects of Moroccan culture has been the extent to which people here are multilingual. Arabic, French, Berber dialects, Spanish, and more echoed around us. I knew that there was a long history of interaction with France (and also Spain), but I did not expect to find French still so widely used in Morocco. It was particularly surprising to learn that it is generally the language of higher education.
One day in Fes, we were invited to a middle school in the medina. Our hosts welcomed us with an amazing reception featuring everything from tea and cookies to a camera crew. A group of students and teachers had come to the school during their vacation to meet us and to show us a Moroccan classroom in action.
We all crowded into a math classroom and watched as a lively teacher and his students used a digital projector to work through their material in a combination of Arabic and French. They all flipped fluidly between the two languages, seemingly equally at ease in both. By the time the students reached the university level, most of their classes would be entirely in French (particularly in the sciences).
Afterward, I found myself reflecting on my own language use – both professionally and personally.
At my school, foreign language classes are important but minimally integrated with most of the other subjects. How could I incorporate this aspect of my students’ culture more effectively into my curriculum? Since I don’t speak the language they study, I became determined to consult with my colleagues upon my return to the US. Could I start by adding target-language captions to my SMARTboard presentations? Would that really be a meaningful place to begin? How could truly integrate with the language department?
In terms of personal reflections, it was clear that my own “pretty good for an American from a monolingual household” French was nothing compared to the native-level speech I encountered here. Translating for my colleagues was fun, and I felt inspired to work harder and to continue improving my language skills. I also learned to trust my comprehension more. Each time I thought I couldn’t possibly have understood correctly since a description seemed not to make sense, it turned out I had, in fact, been right. “They’ll carry the bride in on a plate,” for example, was a pretty accurate description of one part of the wedding reception we attended.
As our trip progressed, it was equally clear that speaking French was a huge barrier to my learning Arabic. After all, why muddle through a conversation with my 10 words of Arabic when I could much more easily just flip into a language in which I can communicate clearly? I would definitely need to 1) dramatically increase my vocabulary so that I moved beyond the “playing charades” level of communication, and 2) put myself in a situation where French wasn’t an option. We’ll see how much I am able to continue studying the language when I return home, but I may need to visit a non-francophone Arabic-speaking country in the future.
With that said, Salaam Alikum people of good will…
When thinking about this blog and what to write, I wanted to express my thoughts on specific concepts, and those concepts are elitism, perspective and our environment. The reason for these particular concepts is mainly because of what has transpired throughout this entire trip.
Personally I feel elitism is a class issue. You can be an elitist in one of the poorest countries of the world, like for example Malawi, and it probably means you belong to the upper class of that country. By the way, I’ll leave the term ‘elitist/elitism’ undefined and invite you to define it for yourself. I feel that after you have finished reading this blog, my interpretation of it will be clearer.
During one of our lunches together, a conversation broke out about elitism based on a few generalized comments about a particular Moroccan theme. The details of the conversation are not important, but what is important was this concept of elitism. At some point I remember someone stating that ‘elitism’ tends to be an American or Western characteristic (which got me thinking). When this was said, I felt as though it was said in a way that exempted us Fulbrighters from being elitists. Nobody wants to be an elitists right? A group of progressive peeps like ourselves certainly would not enjoy being tagged as elitists.
I think the majority of us fall under the category of progressives, not elitists.
Sometimes even amongst the most progressive people, letting go of those comforts that the western world (or sometimes class privilege) has provided us with is difficult. Adapting to our environment may not come as easy to us all; after all, we are domesticated human beings (part of that privilege Ben and I have referred to in other blogs). Concepts such as elitism and perspective, can become kind of cloudy and difficult discussions when you put strangers into a foreign place, with intense culture shock and a longing for home.
Within our group we’ve had folks who dread touching the menus at restaurants because of how ‘dirty’ they might be. They consistently use hand sanitizers before every meal. Hand Sanitizer; on a microcosm level, this is the perfect product of what elitism can be; a product which is terrible for the environment, kills good bacteria, which help us Humans build immunities against the bad bacteria. If we want to keep our hands clean, I think water and soap would suffice, after all it is what most of the world uses. (Before I go on, I hope you all don’t see this as a judgment call, just think about the previous paragraph and the surrounding themes that were stated).
Complaints about begging children, “How many times do you have to say no to these kids?” My response, ONCE; once you ignore them they go away, beggars in the 3rd world are very common all over the world. There is no need to get frustrated or mad at them, plain and simple, what does anger solve anyway?
Another incident occurred with one of our waiters at one of the hotels we were staying. Maybe it was a bad day for this person, but when the line between respect and disrespect is crossed, that’s when my tolerance is breached. I’ve never been disrespectful to any waiter in the US, let alone would I do it here in a foreign place. There is no need for disrespect.
We have to remember how we are going about this experience. We are staying at very nice hotels, eating hotel food, staying away from street food, riding around with our own bus, and bus driver, who at the end of this trip will have been away from his family for a total of 5 weeks!
I’m glad that we are all on this trip because the people on this trip represent the America that considers him/herself a global citizen and who want to connect with other cultures of the world in order to build those bridges that divide us sometimes.
However it is important we distinguish and open our eyes to some of these ‘elitists’ characteristics or flaws that hold us back from really letting ourselves go…
After all, Moroccans do not use hand sanitizer, we got beggars in the US, and nobody likes to be disrespected.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
It was our first long daytime bus ride - well really long, because before this trip we had only gone from Fez to Taza. Heading into the desert was a trek.
This was the bus trip that set a tone for future bus trips. Well, maybe that was Taza, with the Five Sleeping Beauties of Taza and all. We fell into a groove for travel. I sat in front of Azeb and Jelani was just behind her. To my right was Ben, and Joel was in front of me. I was feeling a lot of love for my fellow Fulbrighters. What's not to love, they're clever, each and every one has a good sense of humor - not always the case in a group, and the anticipation of heading into the desert was palpable. We assembled our gear: scarves, hats, sunscreen, plastic bags for delicate items, long sleeves, snacks - on the seats around us. The sprawl begins. This was the first day of leaving things around. Before today, we tended to take our stuff with us when we left. One of the most amusing recurring incidents occurred after this day, but I believe this was Day 0 for clutter. Ben amassed several items (let me clarify that he was by no means the only one, we are all guilty) that he couldn't contain in the seat next to him nor in the overhead compartment nor under the seats. He would slink, well no, he was brave about it, maybe even brazen, to the back row to claim a space, but Azeb was reserving that row for the infirm. He would take a seat, and Azeb, inevitably, would say, "Are you serious?" Ben would attempt negotiations, but always ended up with his goodies around him in his regular seat.
Lots of laughing on this trip - this could be the single most important thing to keep me going in most situations - have to laugh, and the group was generating this important daily element. This group is funny, no doubt.
Jelani and I traded southern sayings throughout the trip. Youness, who had rejoined us in Meknes, sat in the back with us for a large part of the trip. We taught him all about camel toe, hoe cakes, and Vaginal Creme Davis. We laughed a lot.
The terrain was incredible. Amazigh tents pitched here and there on the hillsides. The hillsides were red and sandy and rocky with a Moroccan chaparral growing here and there. Donkeys were here and there grazing and standing and staring in fields and by the side of the road. We stopped for teas and coffees, and lingered in chairs scattered around, getting to know one another, trying to read some Arabic - not yet worried about homework for class, that would come next week, closer to Fez.
The thing I remember best though is this incredible happiness. I would listen to music and look at the Moroccan desert, all that fine red sand soon to be trapped in every bodily crevice, and feel ecstatically happy.
"Say its a new sign