Sunday, July 28, 2013

Four days and counting

So my OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview - not sure if I mentioned this before) got moved from Friday to tomorrow.  Which has given me more time to prepare.  Only I have another oral presentation tomorrow and I'm leading a class discussion on Wednesday, so frankly I haven't been focusing that much on the OPI.  And we'll be starting a new lesson Tuesday, because that's what most people do after a final exam. 

They're really keeping us busy right to the end, aren't they?

I also need to find out where my luggage got off to.  I think the cleaning ladies may have moved it, but I'm not sure.  With any luck it's still lurking around here somewhere.

I purchased another five books the day before yesterday, bringing my total up to fifteen if you don't count the cookbooks.  Two of them are on philosophy and one of them discusses Quantum Mechanics and the Big Bang Theory.  As of right now, though, I mostly seem to be reading about hashish use in Cairo in the sixties.

Tonight I ate my last meal in the cafeteria - four more futoors and I'll be boarding an airplane home.  I'm mostly ready to come back, but at the same time I feel as though I could make tremendous progress in the language if I stayed another month or two.  I'm also very nervous about losing everything I've learned.

I'm also very nervous about my Spanish.  With any luck my complete incapacity now is due to the intense situation and everything will come rushing back when I'm back in the States.  Or maybe not.  I can only say that you should have heard me trying to communicate with one of my Moroccan friend's Spanish cousin when we went to her house for Futoor on Friday.  I find in particular the connectors and the prepositions are escaping me.  Don't be surprised if, during the first week back, a few Arabic words find their way into a conversation. 

I leave you now for the last of the shebakia and some juice fresh off the street.  I plan on posting at least once more before I leave, but in case that falls through:  America, I look forward to seeing you.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How my Arabic broke my Spanish

So normally I try to give some sort of coherency to my blog, but my thoughts are just as fractured as my language right now, so I suppose you'll have to put up with a rather fragmented post.


In Arabic "the perfect marriage" or "the ideal marriage" (الزواج المثالي ) is one letter away from "gay marriage" (الزواج المثلي).

واحد الجملة

After working my way through a particularly twisty paragraph in one of the novels I bought in Tetouan I looked back and realized the whole thing, approximately a page long, was composed of a single sentence.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Arabic William Faulkner: Ihsan Abd al-Quddus. 
4 root words

I'm surprised to realize I've not spoken of this before, given how central it is, but the Arabic language is built on a root system.  This means that all words, except those of foreign origin, are based on a root made up of consonants and long vowels.  The root can be changed in various ways by the insertion of short vowels, long vowels, certain consonants (notably t, m, n, and st) and shuddas, which double the length of consonants, following certain patterns.  These changes produce related words, similar to the way in which in English, by adding a simple -ly, we can change an adjective (happy) into an adverb (happily).  Only this happens on a much bigger and more thorough scale.  From the root T - l - b comes the verbs Talaba (to ask for, request), Taalaba (to demand, claim), and taTallaba (to require); the nouns Talab (search, quest), Talabaat (claims, demands), and Taalib (student); and the adjectives Tallaab (exacting), maTluub (wanted, required), among others.

The point of that long-winded paragraph is that normally the root consists of three letters.  It is not these everyday roots I want to talk about, though - I want to talk about four-letter roots.  These lovely little things often have one of two characteristics: either they are derived from foreign words (falsafa - to philosophize) or they resemble an onomatopoeia.  Dandana - to hum or buzz.  Rafrafa - to flap or flutter.  Jaljala - to resound, rattle, shake.  TadaHraja (the first t is additive) - to roll or tumble.  I'm not sure I'd count it an onomatopoeia, but I'm including it anyway because it's such a lovely word: daghdagha - to tickle.     

The cursed nature of the Arabic language

I attempted to use a word in class today that I had found in a novel, only to be told by my professor that that particular word is never used in that context, despite the fact that the author does just that at least six or seven times.  Between two people, neither of whom speak FuSHa natively, who do I believe?

Third language acquisition

People like to talk about second language acquisition as though it encompasses all language learning after the first, but the truth of the matter is that for most of is in this program, who are on their third, if not fourth or fifth language, they are very different phenomena.  I have largely found my second language has a positive impact on my third.  I cannot, however, say the reverse is true as well.  Yesterday my friend asked me to speak a few sentences in Spanish because she finds it frankly hilarious that I've adopted the "Spanish lisp" (the letters c and z come out as "th").  I took a minute or two to prepare.  And a few deep breaths.  And then I made it a whole two words into the sentence before I slipped back into Arabic.  And then back into Spanish and then back into Arabic.  The worst part?  I didn't even notice until I'd finished and she was rolling on the floor laughing at me.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013


The above are both views from my hotel window in Tetouan, where we spent Saturday evening and most of Sunday.  It is also the location of the achievement of my second spot-the-globalization goals (the first, of course, being the trip to McDonald's): find a copy of the Twilight series in Arabic.  I succeeded in a tiny bookstore that also had Arabic copies of Cien anos de soledad and La guerra del fin del mundo.  Though somewhat tempted I refrained from buying Twilight and instead walked out with a copy of Naguib Mahfouz's Al Tariq.  Probably the better choice.

This brings my book total to half my intended goal - I foresee the next few days will involve at least one tour of the local bookstores and a last minute gift shopping spree.  If you're desperately in need of something from the Maghreb, this is your last chance to tell me.  

Although this week looks to be relatively relaxed in terms of homework, Friday should see me collapsing into a little ball of exhausted Arabic mush.  The final exam of the program begins at 10:00, after an hour review session, and goes to 1:00, at which point I will leave the class building, walk to the program office, and take my OPI.  Needless to say my excitement is overwhelming.

I shall sign off now to get in some work-out time while I have access to water.  I send windy, slightly sunburnt thoughts your way.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

It was the eighth day of Ramadan . . .

 . . . and four of us went to McDonald's for Futoor.  The best part about it was the fact that when we had almost arrived at the restaurant some random man on the street looked at us, sized up our foreignness, and without any introduction pointed at McDonald's and said "McDo."  It has been some time since I have felt quite that ashamed.

Also, thanks to our lovely round-table class discussions, I found out today that St. Augustine was at least part Amazigh (Berber). Fancy that.

I don't seem to be able to go long, however, without talking about language.  Probably because I'm currently a walking, talking guinea pig for various second (third) language acquisition techniques.  So, with no further ado, welcome to Darija 101:

ah.  iyyeh.  na'am.  aiwa.  yak?  wakha.  ok.

All of the above could be translated as "yes," though they all have slightly different meanings.  The first is the basic, everyday variant, useful for informal conversations.  The second is slightly more emphatic - maybe the difference between "uh-huh" and "yeah."  The third comes straight from FuSHa and is the most emphatic of the straightforward "yes" words - usually used to respond to someone calling your name.  The fourth comes with an attitude: "Yeah, alright, fine . . . ugh."  The fifth is only used as a question and is roughly equivalent to the English "right?"  The sixth and seventh are equivalent, though I don't hear "ok" used that much, maybe because "wakha" is so fun to say (the kh is pronounced liked the j in Spain - something like a cat hissing).

I've also realized that what makes Darija so hard to understand, aside from the different vocabulary, is the stress system.  My linguist friends here in the program have explained it to me in fancy talk, but it basically goes like this: in FuSHa the stress any given syllable has depends upon the presence of long vowels and shuddas (doubled consonants) but follows a predictable pattern.  Darija is far from consistent, but the stress virtually always falls at the end of the word, making even words borrowed straight from FuSHa incomprehensible.  "Aanaa Tawiila" (I am tall) becomes "Anaaa Twiiilaa," which may not look like anything to you, but trust me it makes a difference to the ear.  

Meanwhile in the land of FuSHa we're torturing ourselves with increasingly finicky grammar points and I'm getting somewhat burnt out.  I also feel like I get much more out of outside reading/writing/listening - last week I bought another novel, this one rather shorter and simpler, which I'm able to read without a dictionary.  (I've gotten quite a few lovely words and turns of phrase from it, including "coated with blood," "bombardment," "oars," "despair," and "gall.")  I think once I've finished it I'll hunt for some more - I have plans to bring home a goodly stack of them to help make up for the lack of Arabic classes at school.

It is strange to think we only have two weeks left in the program.  Apart from the sporadic moments of frustration and exhaustion I've become accustomed to the rhythm of life here.  I have a particular person in the souq I go to for eggs, and someone else I go to for bread.  I know how to get to Casa Barata and where to find a grand taxi and what's an acceptable fare out to the lighthouse.  I know the locations of at least eight bookstores and two music stores and a tiny patisserie in a tiny alley off Sharia' Meksik.  I'm familiar with various forms of "gizel" (the Darija word for catcalls) and I've got the walk down well enough even with all the freckles people have to look twice to tell I'm not Moroccan.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

It is the fifth day of Ramadan

 . . . and I have a new charger.  Yes, that means pictures.

The smallest of the doors to the King's Palace in Fez.

Hand-crafted pottery at a workshop in Fez.

Some of the zaleej in the Qoranic school attached to the Karaouine Mosque in Fez.

The famed Cave of Hercules.

Yesterday's sand-castle competition.
I was on the receiving end of the strangest catcall today.  A man on a motorcycle shouted to my friend and I a traditional phrase that roughly translates as "Oh God I am fasting!" and is usually used in contexts such as Ramadan when a person is forbidden a certain thing, such as water, though I'm sure he was thinking of more licentious activities.

A brief rundown on Ramadan for those who aren't familiar with it:  Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is lunar, meaning Ramadan moves from year to year.  Ramadan is also one of the Five Pillars of Islam (Shahadah, Salat, Sawm (Ramadan), Zakat, Hajj) and is incumbent upon all Muslims except the very young, very old, sick, pregnant, traveling, or menstruating.  During Ramadan Muslims fast from dawn (Fajr - the first of the five daily prayers) until sunset (Maghreb - the fourth of the five daily prayers).  To give you a sense, dawn here comes at about 3:20 am, and sunset around 7:40, which makes for a just over sixteen hour fast.  This means I wake up around 2:45 am for suhoor (protein, protein, protein, and at least two liters of water) before going back to bed.  Ramadan doesn't mean abstaining only from food and water, but also from things like smoking, gossip, and sex, as an act of self-discipline.

Once I got past the second day, which was by far the hardest, the fast has been getting easier and easier.  Futoor/Iftar (literally breakfast - the breaking of the fast just after sunset) has been particularly enjoyable.  There's a small group of us from the program who are fasting, ranging from professors to a handful of students to the RD, and Futoor is generally equal parts food and laughter.  The Moroccan specialty for Futoor, aside from the seemingly ubiquitous dates and yogurt, is a thin soup called Harira, made with spaghetti noodles, garbanzo beans, and what tastes like a tomato broth.  Here in Tangier, though I have been informed that this is not the case in most of the other Moroccan cities, the soup also includes strands of egg.  I'm doing my best to get someone to teach me how to make it before we leave.

I leave you with a recommendation for a movie (Five Broken Cameras, which got a nomination for an Academy Award in 2012) and sunny thoughts from the Maghreb. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Oddities: a Play in Six Acts

1. A brief ode to the Moroccan bathroom

Western or Traditional, there will never be toilet paper, and you, resourceful person that you are, will make do with tissues you find crumpled in the bottom of your backpack.  You gauge the possibility of one or the other by the amount of nose-wrinkling the person before you does.  Ah, look at that, a solid 10/10 noses wrinkled - Traditional, then.  You are not yet a master of the dance of the Traditional Hammam, but you know the basic steps, so you hike up your skirt, grasp your tissues firmly, and step gingerly over the lintel.  The ingenious flush system - a spigot protruding from the wall that washes the entire floor with water - gushes welcomingly at your entrance.  You make your way to the narrow foot pedestals in the middle of the porcelain "toilet" and edge back as far as you can.  There is no toilet paper, there is no flush, but there is a contingent of frantic flies.  Welcome to Morocco.

2. Names

I used to think that my name was simple, basic, universally easy to pronounce.  Vowel, consonant, vowel, consonant, vowel - nothing like the consonant-laden "Bridgette."  Every single sound in my name is even present in the Arabic Language.  In Spain I was "Elisa" and to my Language Partner here I am "Eliiza" - all minor variations on the same major tune.  Not until Friday night did I realize the truly difficult nature of my name, when, within the same house and the same family, I was addressed variously as "Elaiz," "Laiz," "Elise" and, my personal favorite, "Elizagh" - that last letter combination is pronounced like the French "r."

3. Cops

If of a late night, flicking absentmindedly through TV channels, you have never stumbled across the show Cops I congratulate you for ignorance.  It is not a show that particularly needs watching.  It is apparently, however, a popular concept, because where did Friday night find me except watching the Moroccan version with my host family.  In Darija, of course. 

4. Evolution

This should not, in hindsight, have been surprising, but I discovered this weekend the lack of Evolution education in the Moroccan school system - or at least in the schools in Meknes.  Twas a strange and wondrous feeling to have my host sister turn to me while watching some Animal Planet-type show and exclaim, "Oh!  Elaiz!  I heard once that some people think that humans used to be like monkeys!  Have you heard that?  Isn't that strange?  I think maybe they mean that humans used to live like that, without houses or electricity or anything, not that they actually used to be like that."  

5. Haystacks and Mosques

Moroccan farmers pile their hay bales into miniature barns complete with sloping roofs and the occasional gable.  These are found scattered all across the fields between Tangier and Meknes, between flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and the occasional Mosque built alongside the road, in the middle of a field, or abutting a seemingly random and isolated tannery.

6.  All that other stuff I didn't get to

My computer charger has finally given up the ghost so while I have plenty of pictures from this weekend's trip to Fes and Meknes I won't be able to upload them for a day or two until I manage to find a new one in Casa Barata.  Today is also the first day of Ramadan, so given I fully expect to be exhausted for the next couple of days, at least until my body acclimates, I probably won't be posting much in the way of anything.

رمضان كريم    

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hijabi for a Day

On Tuesday I went fully covered for the entire day - yes, that includes a hijab.  Aside from a frustrating half an hour trying to get the blessed thing to settle around my shirt collar, the experience was mostly remarkable for how unremarkable it was.

I got a few inquisitive looks from the other participants, and a number of approving looks and compliments from my professors and the Moroccans working in the program, but it had no negative impact on how I myself felt.  I've read other accounts of western women who don the hijab for a day and most of them relate intense feelings of discomfort or, in one reporter's case, loss of sense of self.  Granted, I performed this experiment in a Muslim country - a very different playing field from the US, where I hope to repeat the experiment.  (I have thought of flying back to the country and going through customs wearing a hijab, though I'm sure that's not the smartest idea on the face of the planet.)  All I felt, however, was happy and possibly a little bit proud.  I certainly didn't feel as if I had lost some portion of myself - I might even be able to say I felt somewhat more protected, secure, confident.  Maybe even prettier.

I think this depends heavily on the individual, but my experience with the hijab was, without exception, a positive one.  I don't intend to spend the rest of the program hijabi, mostly because of the heat (never have I been so glad for the air conditioning in my room) and because I don't have enough appropriate clothing.  I do, however, intend to try fasting during Ramadan, which is just around the corner.  Though I can't say I'm thrilled by the prospect of giving up water during the day during one of the hottest parts of the year, I am looking forward to the experience.  In sha' Allah it will be just as positive of an experience as that of donning the hijab.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

حتى في المغرب

Knorr soup trucks.

Miley Cyrus lolly pops.

McDonald's - one of them in the center of the old city.


Laughing Cow Cheese - seriously, that stuff is everywhere.

Birkenstock stores.  I can think of at least three I've seen around the city.

"I LOVE NY" t-shirts.

Cartoon Network.  In FuSHa, no less.


Coca cola, of course.  Who didn't see that coming?


Beats by Dr. Dre.


Schweppes Tonic Water.

Kraft Mayonnaise.

Sunny D.

And a whole host of other things I would not have expected.  Particularly the Birkenstocks. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

ممنوع رمي الازبال

Asilah was chock full of brilliant street art, of which I'll try to give you a taste here:

 And the titular photo, possibly one of my favorites:

(It is forbidden to throw trash.  And thank you.)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Wagon Wheels and Literacy Classes

I woke this morning with Wagon Wheel stuck firmly in my head.  It is still here, wandering idly through my skull and strumming occasional neurons.  For some reason whenever it makes an appearance my Arabic freezes and I end up doing a particularly lovely impression of a goldfish if someone should happen to ask me a question.

Yesterday half of the program attended women's literacy and cooking classes hosted by the American Legation Museum.  I sat next to a very exuberant purple-clad woman who, after I introduced myself as a Spanish major, decided to begin speaking to me in Spanish.  Though I understood every word I could not for the life of me form a syllable, let alone an entire sentence, in Spanish.  What ensued was a rather muddled conversation conducted almost entirely in FuSHa on my part, and in a slapdash mix of Darija and Spanish on hers. 

I find a similar thing happening with other members of the program.  Thoughts are almost always formed in FuSHa, but snippets of English, Spanish, French, and Darija creep in.  Any given sentence might make use of three or four distinct languages and, surprisingly, will almost always be perfectly understood.

Language is such a strange thing.

About a week ago in a fit of insanity I bought a short novel written by an Amazigh Moroccan.  I am nowhere near the level of fluency needed to sit down and just read it, but I made it through the first page today.  It only took me about half an hour.  On the upside, I learned quite a few words, including the delightful "to roll or tumble" (4-letter root - what is this witchcraft?!) and the even more lovely "rebellious or stubborn."

Despite my shortcomings when faced with certain things, I do feel that I have improved enormously.  I had a brief oral presentation today (no notes or reminders of any sort) and managed to discuss the Slow Foods Movement in what I believe was at least a semi-intelligible manner - I even managed to work in the word "to penetrate deeply into." 

I have tickets for a concert here in Tangier this evening - traditional Moroccan music and, for some reason, Iranian as well.  Tomorrow will see us on our way to Asilah, which I am also quite excited about.  I promise pictures this time.  Lots and lots of pictures of white houses and street art and the afternoon sea.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bridal Showers and Couscous

Friday saw me eat more than I think I have eaten over the course of one day, including Thanskgiving.  I had mistakenly thought that I would not be leaving to join the Moroccan family until the evening, so I ate lunch at the school.  Directly afterwards I was informed that, in fact, the family was already here, and I was whisked off to a second, even larger lunch.

Moroccan appetites are large, and good manners as a host dictate that you must feed your guest until they are full to bursting, and then a little more.  The first (and probably second and third) time you refuse food will not be taken as a refusal.  If you are asked if you want two more eggs and you say "no," be prepared to eat two more eggs.  This means that if you would like to be able to stand up after a meal you really should begin trying to refuse food about half an hour before you think you'll be full.  Keep in mind that meals are almost always followed by some form of dessert, and that Moroccans are prone to small snacks between meals as well.

After my second delicious and very filling lunch, our host mother informed us that we would be attending a bridal shower (this isn't really a good term for it - think of it as a pre-wedding party) with her.  She took great pleasure in dressing me up in a traditional Moroccan dress, over which she placed a gold belt which, of course, she cinched down good and tight.  (My camera battery died so I have no pictures, but my host mother is quite the photographer and promised to send me some.)  Barely able to breathe and walking very upright, we made our way to the party.  Where, who would have guessed it, there was more food.  First we picked figs and I was, of course, required to eat one.  After that came a round of tea (read: sugar with a side of hot water) and heaping plates of sweets.  After a short time in the warm, dark hustle-bustle of the party my host mother stood up to leave and gestured for us to follow.  I was relieved.  We followed her outside, and she directed us to another house.  We sat down and another woman brought us more couscous.  I was no longer relieved. 

When we returned to the house she dropped the two of us off and went to pick up two more girls from our program.  They, in their graciousness and thoughtfulness, brought host gifts: strawberries and miniature cakes.  Our host mother, delighted, set about making us strawberry juice (think a thin smoothie with strawberries and bananas), piled the figs we had brought back from the party into a bowl, slid the cakes onto a plate, brought the lot into the living room, and sat us down, saying "Eat!  Eat!"

All joking and stomach pain aside, it was truly a wonderful experience.  Our host mother is a lovely, lively person with three lovely rapscallions for children.  Saturday we got the chance to go the beach and, seduced by the slap of the waves, I decided to go in.  Fully clothed.  There may or may not now be sand and salt strewn around my room at school.  I am, however, entirely glad I did it.

This Sunday it looks like we way be joining the family for a trip to the Caves of Hercules (yes, the same cave Def Leppard held a concert in).  Hopefully we will be able to maintain this relationship for the duration of the program and long after.

I leave you with the smell of jasmine, the whip of the wind in the palm trees, and the chirr of the crickets.

ليلة سعيدة 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The woman

Firstly, I would like to inform you that I have an exam tomorrow.  On the vocabulary, idioms, and grammar from four chapters.  That's just under 300 words, about 20 idioms, and, well, grammar is rather unquantifiable.  All of this, of course, means that the universe has seen fit to grant me the gift of a live concert half a stone's throw from campus.  "Pleased" would not exactly describe my emotional state at the moment.

Secondly, I would like to share with you some small ponderings on gender relations in Morocco.  Our weekly cultural activity was a brief (and basic) talk on women in Morocco, both past, present, and future.  Interestingly, Spanish and Arabic share a way of talking about gender relations.  The issue is frequently framed in terms of "el papel de la mujer en la sociedad" or "دور المراة في المجتمع" both of which could be rendered "the role of (the) woman in (the) society."  I may be reading entirely too much into this, but I find it intriguing that women - a very large grouping of highly diverse individuals - are condensed into a single entity.  This singular usage is not limited to this particular phrase - during the talk today there were frequent references made to "when the Moroccan woman received all of her rights" and "the time when the Moroccan woman had no say in her marriage."  Similar phrasing appears in Spanish when discussing gender dynamics.  Though I draw no conclusions from this, I do wonder if this linguistic quirk has any influence on the treatment and discussion of the issue.    

After class tomorrow, provided I survive the exam (ان شاء الله), I'll head off with my Moroccan family for what I hope to be at least a somewhat relaxing weekend.  Though I know I'll have to fit homework in there somewhere (I promise, I'll stop complaining soon - summer classes are just so odd).  And maybe a trip to the beach.  That would be nice.  We'll see.

Anyway, laila sa'iida, and may your night sky be as beautiful as mine.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Merchant and the Djinn

No language learning experience is complete without a healthy dose of despairing frustration and several rounds of "What am I doing with my life?"  I take some comfort, however, in the fact that two nights ago I successfully read both an introduction to and part of the first story from A Thousand and One Nights.  With Classical word usage and construction, no less. 

After a number of discussions with the Academic Director of the program I got bumped up to the third level (there are four - I had been in the second).  Yesterday was my first day in that class, so naturally I spent Monday night quietly freaking out in my room while trying to complete the homework (two short texts and one 12 minute news clip, at least one page of exercises and writing on each of them, and 76 new vocabulary words).  I had, of course, already done the homework for the second-level class earlier in the day.

Today will see us discussing the possible resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.  Wish me luck.

I may also be spending this weekend with a Moroccan family, provided they get all the details settled in time, which I'm quite excited about.  As pleasant as it is to live in a place designed to cater to American cultural whims, I think the students in the end may suffer from a lack of exposure not only to Moroccan culture but also a lack of full-time immersion in the Arabic language as it is actually employed.  I'm fairly confident in stating that I would learn Darija leaps and bounds better by listening to it daily in a Moroccan home than by sitting through a one hour class four times a week.

I am sorry to admit that I'm not much of a picture taker in foreign countries - I always feel like such a tourist.  I will, however, in addition to the above picture of the King's Palace in Tetouan, attempt to illustrate what I can with my words.

"Ahlan, ahlan, ahlan, habibti" - they follow us down the street and around the corner until we duck into the nearby souq, protected by the grizzled glares of the farmers and the disgruntled wrinkles on the old women's faces as they trundle by with their little wheeled carts laden with tomatoes and carrots.  We are hunting for cucumbers - something to accompany the bread and the last of the cheese stored away in the fridge.  My friend, seduced by the smell, buys a bunch of sage.  "Shufi, isn't it wonderful?  This is what home smells like."  I get talked into half a kilo of onions in addition to two gigantic cucumbers and am rewarded by the four-toothed smile of the vendor and a hearty "Shokran, shokran."  From there to the bakery, just a tiny room opening off the street with a tall glass case in front on the side walk, filled with pastries and the flat, flaky bread that we've come for.  My friend knows the baker now, and they kiss on both cheeks.  I don't have any bills smaller than 20DH so she pays.  She gets a special discount now - 2DH off.

Earlier in the day another friend and I took a petit taxi down to the Place Nacional (less than 8DH) and wandered around until we found the post office.  Inside it was still and quiet and people stood in orderly lines - a first in my experience of Tangier.  My friend conducted his transaction in French - "much easier," he said.  We strolled (hiked, really) back uphill, pausing at a beautiful view of the sea and Spain and stopping in to find another notebook for me at a lovely corner bookstore.  I understand Darija better now - "'Jooj w'ashreen?  Wacha" - so I payed and off we went, back toward the school and all of our lovely homework.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Snails and Darija 101

During orientation in Washington three friends and I made a pact to seek out and consume snails when we got to Tangier.  After several aborted afternoon ttempts some kind soul told us they can only be found in the evening and we set a final make-or-break date.  For some reason everyone we told about it, after making an emphatic yecch noise, decided it would be an interesting experience, so when the four of us marched up Sharia’ Meksik yesterday evening in search of snails there was a group of about twenty trailing us like ducklings.  I’m sure we were the cause of much perplexity, amusement, and some happiness on the part of the vendor.  His cart said “Escargot” on the side, but I much prefer the Darija word: bambush.

Darija, in case you were unaware, is the Morrocan dialect, and it bears about as much resemblance to Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) as Spanish to French.  MSA, otherwise known as
Fuṣḥa (that’s fus-ha, not fusha), plays a role somewhat akin to that of Latin in the Middle Ages.  It is derived from and similar to Classical Arabic, which is the language of the Qor’an, and is typically used in news broadcasts, newspapers, and political speeches.  It is not, however, a language anyone really speaks natively.  Most people grow up speaking some dialect, whether it be Egyptian, Gulf Arabic, or Darija, and learn some haphazard Fuṣḥa in school which quite a number of them, at least here in Morocco, seem to promptly forget.

I have been told several times that everyone understands Fuṣḥa, which I find to be downright misleading.  If I ever try to speak to a vendor in Fuṣḥa we end up spending several minutes hashing out the meaning of certain words, that is if he or she doesn't simply give up and try talking to me in Spanish or French.  Until relatively recently Morocco was a divided region, half (the south) in the hands of the French and half (the north, including Tangier) in those of the Spanish.  As a result, Darija has been heavily influenced by both languages, as well as modern consumer culture.  The word for skirt (“tenura” in Fuṣḥa) became “falda,” borrowed directly from Spanish.  Jam? Confiture.  Week?  "Simana," from the Spanish "semana."  And my favorite, the Darija word for yogurt: danon.  (“Tiid” is the word for laundry detergent.)

Early this morning saw us on route to Tetuan for our first group excursion, which was in many ways a complete train wreck, but I managed to grab some good photos.  I meant to leave you with a few of them, but the internet is being particularly finicky at the moment, so I suppose that can wait another day or two.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

الحياة الرخيصة

A sense of the cost of living in Morocco: yesterday I bought two knives for $1.07.  Now, the knives are far from professional grade, but they're functional.  A loaf of bread?  $0.24.  Vegetable tajine at an excellent restaurant, bread, olives, hummus, and beverage included?  $2.74.

Tonight two friends and I cooked a Moroccan dish (poached eggs in tomato sauce with bread - $0.79 per person) in our tiny little kitchen, listening to the call of muezzin and coaxing our old gas stove along with halting Arabic.  Although some students play it loose, we all signed a language pledge last Friday promising to speak Arabic and only Arabic within the walls of our little compound.  (A wall runs around the whole school and there are guards at the gates - a very strange feeling.)  Anytime I sit down to write in English the first few sentences come out feeling strange and I want desperately to begin one with الان or لانني.

Most of my life, however, outside of cooking and a few short trips to the nearby souq, consists of studying.  My level of Arabic falls somewhere between the second and third classes, so while I attend and complete the homework for the second class, I'm studying some of the material for the third class on my own.  The lesson I just started has a whopping 73 new vocabulary words, ranging from "Christmas" to "industry."  Occasionally I feel like my brain is on the verge of explosion.  (In other news, a few days ago I learned the word for bomb.  I'll be sure not to have that particular flash card with me when I board the plane home.)

In Morocco Arabic is really a secondary and, in many ways, subordinate language.  I met with my language partner (a native of Tangier studying for her masters in geology) for the first time Monday and she informed me that the classes in her university, and most of the universities in the country, are conducted only in French.  Educated people also tend to speak with a strange, twisted French accent.  Never has understanding been harder.

Today we enjoyed the first of our cultural activities: a one and a half hour calligraphy workshop.  I would like to claim the following as my own, but alas it is not.  This is the work of our lovely professor - my name in the Diwani style.
My attempts, I assure you, were not nearly so pretty.

Now, I suppose, to bed.  After a long day of case endings all my brain wants is a solid eight hours of rest.  We'll see if I can afford to give it that.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Cats, cats, everywhere

I have seen exactly two dogs in the three days I've been in Tangier, but I could not count for you the number of cats if I had the stars to use as an abacus.  The few on the American School campus are somewhat tame and are more than happy to come begging for attention, but most are street cats, thin and wary and covered in fleas.  I've seen kittens asleep in flower pots, cats washing themselves on stacks of old tires, and a orange-and-white ball of fur and worms wandering around a restaurant begging for food.

This is a watercolor by Paul Bowles titled "Had a cat and a cat had me."  I thought it appropriate.

The painting is housed in the American Legation Museum - the only building on foreign soil listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.  It was gifted to the US government in 1821 by the Sultan of Morocco.  As any Moroccan will be happy to tell you, there has always been a close tie between the two countries because Morocco was the first country to officially recognize the US.

The impromptu guide who lead us around the Kasbah (who, though he spoke perfect English, Spanish, and French, could barely muster a few words in Modern Standard Arabic) showed us not only Paul Bowle's residence, but also that of Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs, and Henri Matisse, all of whom created significant works while in Tangier, including Burroughs' Naked Lunch.  Our guide recounted the story of finding Burroughs asleep in the alley while he and his father were on their way to morning prayer.  When our guide woke him, Burroughs told him to leave him alone.  The next day he was in the same place, this time awake, and explained that he needed the experience for his book.

This entire tour, aside from a smattering of English here and there, was conducted in Darija (the Moroccan colloquial) in which I am far from fluent.  From this one encounter, after tallying them up in my notebook, it seems I picked up some 52 words.  We'll see how many of them stick.  One of the other participants here is half Palestinian and she has been a fount of knowledge, including imparting to me the words for bacteria  and slaughter.  Hopefully neither will call for frequent use.

There is always more to say, but for now I leave you with a view from the roof of the Legation Museum.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Welcome to Swampy DC

First and foremost: title credit for the blog goes to the lovely Mister Jack Kerouac and his Desolation Angels.

I arrived in DC yesterday morning, stepping straight from the plane into sticky, swampy air and temperatures in the low 90s.  After a bus, a train, and several confused blocks in the wrong direction, I managed to make my way to the hotel and check my bags.  I had several hours to kill before registration (such a strange phrase - yes, mum, today I executed 3 hours, 28 minutes, and 6 seconds, but believe you me they deserved it) which left me wandering around the sticky city with a cell phone, a book, and a handful of dollar bills.  After an over-priced half meal at Starbucks I found a small park on Pennsylvania Ave. with a few appropriately fearless pigeons and settled in for a solid hour's reading.

Later I strolled toward the White House, past the hordes of befuddled tourists in matching t-shirts and the little tent of Concepcion Picciotto, wandering here and there through carefully groomed parks until I arrived, two and a half miles later, at the National Museum of the American Indian.  I highly recommend it to those who have not yet been.  The surrounding area has been carefully sculpted, designed, and maintained to reflect various native habitats and cultivated crops, complete with a miniature northern forest and a small wetland filled with lily-pads and glittering dragonflies.  The interior is equally stunning, if somewhat dizzying when dehydrated and low on energy.

After a very brief pre-orientation at the American Councils headquarters a splinter group of us set off for a tiny Greek cafe called Zorba's which makes, I may attest, excellent felafel.  Today was the actual orientation.  I got up just before 6:00 to work out before the scheduled start time of 7:45.  8:00 am until 5:15 pm saw us sitting in the same room, at the same tables, in the same chairs, while various and sundry people talked at us.  Some were funny, some were cautionary, some were too quiet for us to hear.  Food was brought to us and was promptly consumed.  The water jugs kept mysteriously refilling themselves.  Though my memory of today is already confused and foggy I have retained several important things, such as the fact that yes, someone will be picking us up from the airport in Tangier; yes, we are allowed to travel independently during the program; and no, toilet paper is not commonly available in Moroccan bathrooms.

Oh, and by some lovely miracle I have been placed in the intermediate group.  Imagine my shock.  I am, of course, busy cataloging all the words I do not know.

Tomorrow we have free until a 1:15 bus takes us to Dulles for our 5:15 flight.  A lovely 21 hours of travel should follow.  And though leaving the airport during our layover in Barcelona is discouraged it is not prohibited, so within a few days I may have pictures of la Sagrada Familia or Parc Guell for you all.