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.