“Soy americana, de Boston”

I live one block from a Spanish language institute, and today, I signed up for a Spanish class and excitedly showed up for the first class session. There were twelve students in the class: eleven Moroccans and one random American. So when the teacher went over introductions and asked us, “De dónde eres?” it went something like this:

Soy marroquí, de Tetuán. Soy marroquí, de Tetuán. Soy marroquí, de Tetuán. Soy marroquí, de Tetuán. Soy marroquí, de Tetuán. Soy marroqui, de Tetuán. Soy marroquí, de Tetuán. Soy marroquí, de Tetuán…..

Soy americana, de Boston.

I was impressed by the teacher’s ability to teach a clear, effective lesson entirely in Spanish, to students who spoke very little Spanish. The way she used visuals, acted out words, and had us help each other worked perfectly, and I know all that is harder than it looks.

I couldn’t help thinking of my old job in the States, teaching classes of English Language Learners, usually all Spanish-speaking except for one or two who spoke Haitian creole or Pashtu or some other language. I always felt bad for that student who was the odd one out. Some of the Spanish-speaking students were kind and welcoming to the non-Spanish speakers, but some excluded them.

But one of the girls sitting next to me spoke a little bit of English, and she helped translate a few Spanish words for me when I wasn’t sure what they meant. I told her I was trying to learn Darija. She said, “Oh, I’ll teach you Darija! And you can help me practice my English.”

As soon as class was over, three girls approached me to introduce themselves and chat. I asked them how they’d learned English and they said, “in high school,” and seemed surprised that I would ask. I explained that we Americans are lazy and think we don’t need to learn other languages because the whole world speaks English, so I am continually impressed by the Moroccans I meet. They all speak at least three or four languages! It’s awesome.

My new Moroccan friends walked me to my door, asking about my program and my job here and what I think of Tétouan, and told me I was welcome in Morocco. I thanked them for being so sweet. They laughed. “We love foreigners!”

The Great Wifi Quest of 2014

My roommate burst out laughing. Someone had posted on Facebook, “Before you marry anyone, watch them use a slow internet connection and see how they deal with it.” Too real. Way too real. For the past three weeks, my internet connection has come from this tiny device called a dongle. It’s better than nothing, and it works well enough when it decides to. But more often than not, it is slow enough to test the patience of a turtle, if it even works at all.

Buy your dongle now and  Maroc Telecom will even throw in a free cat! Just kidding.
Buy your dongle now and Maroc Telecom will even throw in a free cat! Just kidding.

I patiently put up with the dongle for three weeks. But this is 2014, and I am not a prisoner of war. So I set off in search of a better solution: wifi, or as they call it here, “wee-fee.”

At the “Centre,” there was one spot on the property with wifi, a small square of patio just outside one window. Any time we were not in Darija class, we could all be found there- the ten Americans, huddled together next to what we came to call “le wee-fee wall.” I’m sure the guards thought we were nuts.

To get a wifi router in Morocco, you need either a carte de séjour (green card) or a copy of your lease. I found a French-speaking employee at the nearest Maroc Telecom store, signed a twelve-month contract, and walked home with an ADSL router and modem and no idea how to set it up. But it couldn’t be that hard… right?

Wrong. My apartment has no phone jack.

So it was back to Maroc Telecom the next day. I spoke to the same employee in French, but he did not seem concerned. No worries. They’d send a technician over to my apartment later that day to set everything up.

My phone rang a few hours later. A man’s voice speaking Arabic.

“Quién es?” I asked.

Someone from Maroc Telecom to set up my router. Which floor was I on?

“El piso… cinco? Habla francés o inglés?”

No, he said, he only spoke Spanish and Arabic.

Okey-dokey. This is gonna be interesting.

Thankfully, Moroccans are incredibly kind and understanding when it comes to language barriers. I’ve never had a Moroccan respond rudely to my pitiful attempts at speaking Darija and Spanish. People always patiently try to understand me, they don’t laugh at me when I mix multiple languages in the same sentence, which I do on a regular basis, and they are always happy to teach me a new Darija word or two.

I had looked up the Spanish word for phone jack and I told the Maroc Telecom guys that there wasn’t one. The next thing I knew, they were up on the roof with wires and cables. One of them came back into the apartment, pointed at the wall and said what sounded to me like, “Something something something aqui?”

“Si,” I said. I figured they knew what they were doing.

He produced the biggest drill I’d ever seen and immediately began drilling a hole through my wall. Oh no no no, don’t let the neighbors tell my landlord about this!

Then he was passing a cable through the hole in the wall from the roof.

“Are you from London?” he asked me in Spanish.

“No, I’m from America.”

“Oh. Me gustan las canciones de Bob Marley. Rasta Man! …Do you want to learn Arabic?”

“Si, quiero aprender arabe.”

“Arabic is easy.”

“No, it’s difficult. It’s very different from English.”

“I want to learn to read English, Elizabeth Taylor.”

“Elizabeth Taylor?”

He pointed to my name on the Maroc Telecom contract. “Your second name is Elizabeth. So I’m calling you Elizabeth Taylor.”

“Oh, ok.”

I have wifi at last. Wonderful, glorious, beautiful wifi. Skype calls that actually work. Windows that open in a second or two instead of giving me the pinwheel of death. “Only know you love it when you let it go!”