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.

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