Hard to believe that my first week is almost up. Today we learned basic survival Arabic – the Moroccan dialect is called Darija. Tomorrow we move into our home stays! Photos of the home stay to follow with subsequent posts, I promise. In the meantime, my post includes some photos of the converted home that will serve as my school for the next four months with a wonderful view from the roof. We also learned exactly where the library was, got dropped off in small groups throughout the city to find our way back to the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning (CCCL), started running early in the morning, learned how to bargain, and were treated to a Moroccan music and dancing.
Apparently, SIT has three different buildings that make up the CCCL in Rabat. There is the main building that we were at on the first day, and then there is Marassa where beginners (that’s me) take Arabic classes and Lograz where the non-beginners have Arabic. The library, which includes every independent study project written since 1992, some of them in handwriting, is located in the basement of the last. I can’t wait to get my hands on them to find out what students in past semesters have researched! Hopefully someone has done a research topic that will aid me when it comes time to do my own independent project. More about that in a future post.
On a different note, I managed to teach the program coordinator something about navigation when it was my turn to hop off the bus in an unfamiliar part of the city. My group was one of the first to return even after we decided to sit and enjoy the sun by a fountain for almost half an hour. My theory was this: Rabat is a coastal city; therefore we couldn’t have gone west unless the bus turned into a boat while I wasn’t paying attention. Since the oldest part of the city would have been right by the water and expanded inland as the city grew, and the CCCL is in the oldest part of the city (the medina), I used the sun to find west and started for the shore line! Lucky for my group and me, it worked and we didn’t get lost. I can indeed find west even when there are no mountains on the horizon to guide me. The program coordinator told me when I shared my strategy that she had never thought of trying that and now she would because she was always getting lost.
Of course, running in the morning has also helped me learn the city. I memorized a couple different routes to the beach and helped put together a group. We meet around 6:30 or 7:00 depending on when the day starts and head out. It’s usually foggy in the mornings this time of year and a little chilly so there’s no temptation to slow down. On the other hand, there is also no one around at that time. The beach is fairly well lit and empty. On the first morning the only people we saw were distant enough we couldn’t make out their gender and they both had dogs on leashes. Hopefully when we move into our home stays we’ll be close enough to one another that it doesn’t become a hassle to meet before heading out!
And while the home stays might be in the medina with wonderful markets all around, bargains are only for those willing to work for them. At least, in my case it’s work! I am not, to my great disappointment, a natural at bargaining. Of course, that might have something to do with not being able to speak any French and not nearly enough Darija. Haggling over prices is easier when you know what prices are being discussed. For orientation, each student in the program was given ten dirhams. One U.S. dollar is about eight dirhams. We were instructed to find something in the market and buy it for ten dirhams (and try to find something that started out as more than ten). I found a table of jewelry and hair things and got quoted something I didn’t understand. And what do you do when you don’t understand? In my case I turned to the other girls I was with and asked one of them to translate. She said he was asking for 30 dirhams and then turned right back and asked if he’d give it to us for ten. Luckily he was more interested in his phone than bargaining and he said yes. I won’t tell you all exactly what I got because I fully intend to give it as a present and I’d hate to ruin the surprise!
As a surprise on the part of SIT, for the final night of orientation we had a traditional Moroccan meal which was followed with music and dancing! We were told that traditionally utensils aren’t used. In previous meals, we were given stiff bread to use to scoop up and soak up the rest of the meal – it tastes a little like sour dough bread. Luckily we did get silverware for this dinner! There were various types of salads with carrots, eggplant, and potatoes. It was so delicious. Then they brought out the main course which was served family style. It was chicken, made with nuts and cinnamon and sugar. It was very sweet but also savory. After dinner, the dancing began and they pulled people into the center. They tried to grab me twice and I “stumbled” behind the people next to me who had to take the plunge. I was a little too self conscious to dance alone. More coming soon!