Rabat was easy. We were all together. We helped each other with French and Arabic, commiserated over laundry fiascoes and the lack of wifi, and laughed at inside jokes. Our schedules were planned out every day, from eight in the morning till six in the evening. Breakfast and lunch magically appeared and we didn’t even have to make our own beds. Late Friday night, we waved goodbye to the first one of us to leave the “Centre,” sent her off to catch a nine-hour bus down south, and it started to hit home that we were about to scatter to different cities throughout Morocco. So here I am in a brand new city, miles and miles north of Rabat, where most people don’t speak French, and I’m on my own now. Eeek!
The day after arriving, I was hungry and decided to go get lunch.
But wait! As a woman in a fairly conservative Moroccan city, I can’t just walk into any cafe alone, and I’m not sure yet which cafes I can go to unaccompanied.
Okay then, well, I have a kitchen. I’ll just cook myself some food.
But wait! There’s no Stop & Shop. Grocery shopping means going from one little vegetable stall to another, then into a hanoot or two. It means speaking Darija and I know like ten words of Darija. And THEN I’ll have to light my butane gas stove. I’ve heard conflicting things about butagas, from “be very careful or you could die” to “meh, nothing too bad will happen,” but the idea of lighting it scared me.
So I had a meltdown in front of my roommate’s cat. Everything smells kinda weird and my stomach always feels kinda weird and the people here think I’m kinda weird! I just want to snuggle on K.’s couch with his yummy pancakes and an iced coffee from Flour! Bwahhhh!
The cat was unsympathetic. Maybe it only speaks Arabic. I don’t know. It’s a Moroccan cat.
But then my phone rang, and it was the ALC director. “Hey, I’m at this restaurant with these two Spanish couchsurfers and a couple of our English teachers. You should come join us!” I went, and it turned my day around! We hung out at the restaurant for almost three hours, alternating between English and French, the two languages we all had in common.
The next day, I was ready to take on this city. First step: Signing my lease. It was all in Arabic so I’m not 100% sure what I signed, but my roommate reads Arabic and I trust her.
Step two: Grocery shopping! Bring it on. With some Darija and some pointing, I bought half a kilo of potatoes for about ten cents. (I am very fluent in the language of pointing. “THAT ONE!”) I bought tomatoes, onions, and other veggies, becoming more and more confident with each purchase. When I bought parsley, the woman who wrapped it up for me picked out another bunch of an herb I didn’t recognize and insisted that I needed it. While I was trying to figure out whether it was basil or mint (smelled like basil, looked like mint), she wrapped it up for me as if it were already a deal! I shrugged and took it- hey, why not, sure, mystery herb, yay. My roommate told me later that it might be anise. Some spaghetti and pepper from a hanoot and my grocery shopping was done! I felt great.
Step three… Da da da da… Conquering my butagas fears! Youtube was useless. I only managed to find videos of gas stoves that looked nothing like mine and videos of butane gas tanks exploding. So I took a deep breath and I just did it. I turned the knob on the gas tank and turned the dial on the side of the stove and broke out a lighter. I jumped at the burst of flame and… guess what?! Nothing blew up!
So I ate my victory dinner: Spaghetti and fresh sauce made with onions, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, olive oil, and a little bit of the mystery herb. Al-hamdullah!