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.