Small World

“Do you know _______ ?” asked one of my classmates in my Spanish class. “He’s one of your students.” I did, and he was.

“Oh, you’re American?” asked the waiter in a restaurant. “There were two Americans here yesterday. Do you know them?” I did. One of them was my roommate.

I was waiting to board a flight out of the Tangier airport, commiserating with the woman in line in front of me over flight delays and the possibility of missing our connections. She mentioned that she had just bought a house in the city where I live. I mentioned that I lived there.

“Oh, you don’t teach English at the university by any chance, do you?”

I stared at her like she was psychic. “Yes, I do. How did you know?”

“My neighbors have a daughter who just started her first year of college. I asked her how her classes were going and she said she has this professor who’s young and American and friendly.”

I have four hundred students, and I am one of only maybe ten Americans in my whole city. So I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that this happens. I guess I have to be super careful about my reputation!


Working out in Morocco

In Cambridge and Somerville, running is as normal a part of life as iced coffee and the Citgo sign on the skyline. Joggers are everywhere- along the river, along Mass Ave, around Fresh Pond, at every time of day. Here in Morocco, I have rarely if ever seen anyone running for fun. Maybe running along the streets and sidewalks isn’t a thing, but there are other places where it’s more common? Or maybe Moroccans prefer other types of exercise. I do see men and boys playing pick-up soccer in streets and parking lots all the time. Who knows?

Back in Rabat, three of us decided to go running anyway. If people stared, well, whatever, let them stare. It wasn’t bad at all. We got shouted at by a few teenagers on our way out, but we turned toward a neighborhood with wide sidewalks and what looked like embassy buildings, and we were left alone.

We went running together a few more times, but then we scattered to our individual cities. My city is smaller and more conservative and very different from Rabat, and I can’t see myself running here. The college where I teach, however, is in a smaller town a 15-minute grand taxi ride away. It’s a touristy beach town in the summer, but much calmer in the off season. A wide sidewalk runs along the Mediterranean. My department chair and another professor from the English department gave me a tour after our first meeting. They pointed out this beachfront sidewalk and said it was a safe area and they’d seen women running alone there.

Meanwhile, I joined a gym not far from my apartment building! It’s a women’s gym, bright and clean with modern equipment and a swimming pool. Not to mention better showers than the “shower” in my apartment, and if that’s not motivation to go to the gym, I don’t know what is. My new gym feels like my old gym in Boston. It’s a comfort zone.

A young woman about my age saw that I was new and came over to show me how to start the ellipticals without me even asking. “You have to type in your weight,” she said in Spanish. So I did. She looked really confused. Then I got really confused. “Peso” does mean “weight,” right?? Then, suddenly, I remembered. The metric system! I tried explaining in broken Spanish that I’m American and I have no idea how many kilos I am. She laughed and took a guess for me.

Tétouan’s Kasbah

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Yesterday afternoon, a new friend and I climbed a steep hill to the Kasbah and sat down on some brick steps at the top, out of breath. The hillside was littered with broken glass and squashed coke cans, in stark contrast to Tétouan’s centre ville, which is usually quite clean. But the view of the city and Rif mountains was breathtaking, and our spot on the hillside was refreshingly calm and peaceful. Three or four teenage boys were chilling nearby, and just below us, a handful of chickens strutted around on a rooftop among the clotheslines. We saw a man with three sheep walking toward us and started jokingly singing the “last lone survivor” line from “Eye of the Tiger,” what with it being a couple days after Eid and all. When they got closer, we realized they were actually goats. The man nodded at us and he and the goats kept walking and disappeared over the hill.

Just over the peak of the hill, past the Kasbah’s fifteenth-century fortress walls, narrow streets are home to vendors selling clothing and pointy “babouche” slippers, a smelly tannery, and an eye-catching jewelry market.

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The other side of the Kasbah overlooks a cemetery, with Martil and the Mediterranean in the distance.

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A major holiday called “Eid al adha” is coming up this weekend. Families are gathering, schools and shops are closing, and as the holiday involves slaughtering and cooking a sheep, my town is suddenly full of random baaa-ing and whiffs of barnyard smell here and there. Some of that baa-ing is coming from my roof! Three families in my apartment building have purchased their sheep already. The other six will within the next day or two. My next-door neighbors’ toddler has been running around excitedly yelling “Baaaaa!” all afternoon.

A makeshift stable on the roof of my apartment building. There are three sheep back there!
A makeshift stable on the roof of my apartment building. There are three sheep back there!

On my way to do some grocery shopping, I step off the sidewalk into the street to make room for a man pushing and shoving a curly-horned sheep. Another Moroccan pushes me back onto the sidewalk, yelling, “Taxi!” as I narrowly miss getting hit by a cab. Somehow both the sheep and the taxi avoid running me over.

I stop to buy some fruit at one of the stands along the side of my street. “Do you have a sheep?” The fruit seller asks.

Thankfully, I just learned the Arabic word for sheep earlier today. “No, I don’t have a sheep.”

He grins and points under the table. “Do you want a sheep?”

There, a few inches away from me, is a sheep, with dark wool and big curly horns, just chilling under the table piled with fruit.

I am going to Meknès with my roommate and her coworker to spend Eid at her Moroccan friends’ home. I am very excited for this experience, and thankful for how welcoming and hospitable Moroccans are. I’ll also get a chance to visit a friend in Fès for a day or two on my way home from Meknès.

And sometime after that, when all the partying and celebrating and sheep-eating wind down and things go back to normal, my classes at the university will start.

“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!”

Home Sweet Home!

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You know that Tangier rooftop chase scene in The Bourne Ultimatum? Well, I have one of those Moroccan rooftops, in the city where I’ll be living for the next ten months, and this is the view from my roof. I almost feel like those mountains are a photoshopped background! My next trip to Marjane (basically Moroccan Walmart) will hopefully include getting a table and deck chairs for the roof so we can eat dinner up there.

My move from Rabat started with getting ripped off by a taxi driver for the first time since arriving in Morocco. We’ve generally had really positive experiences with taking cabs in Rabat. The drivers don’t pretend the meter is broken like they do in Marrakech, they get a kick out of helping us practice our Darija, and I had a semi-deep conversation in French about Morocco’s unemployment problem with one driver, while another driver told us he’d rather go to the moon than drive taxis. The day before I moved, a friend and I went to the bus station to get our tickets. We took a cab back to the place where we were staying, and when we got there, we realized the meter said 52 dirhams, more than double what it should have been. Most likely the driver had neglected to reset the meter to zero when we got in the cab. I argued with him and scolded him in French, calling him dishonest, to which he acted thoroughly insulted. Fifty-two dirhams is like six or seven dollars, but it’s the principle of the thing! Finally I gave in, paid him 52 dirhams and not a centime more, and told him as passive-aggressively as possible (and French is the best language for passive-aggressiveness) to have a good evening. The next day, our Darija teacher gave us some good advice. If this ever happens again, we will tell the driver to take us to the police station. He said he’s done this himself before, and the driver immediately backed down and charged him the correct fare.

I was so mad at that driver that when my cab driver the next morning charged me the right amount, I paid him double just for not being a crook. I guess that doesn’t make much sense, but it made sense in my head at the time!

My five-hour trip on the CTM bus was very pleasant… more comfortable than some of the Megabus trips I’ve experienced between New York and Boston. I sat in the front row and had a beautiful view of the Moroccan countryside. I was next to a Moroccan woman about my age, with a black and white hijab and henna-painted hands. She spoke no French or English, and it started to really dawn on me that in northern Morocco I will no longer be able to rely on my French! My Spanish is not a whole lot better than my Darija, but we somehow managed to chat in Spanish about our jobs, families, and favorite places in Morocco, and we bonded over both having five siblings and both needing our “cafe con leche” every morning. She asked me if I wanted to become a Muslim, and I said that I liked all the Muslims I’d met in Morocco but I think I’ll stay a Christian, and she was like oh okay that’s cool too. Her town was the stop before mine. She kissed me on both cheeks like we were already old friends and wished me a wonderful year in Morocco.

The director of the American Language Center in my city picked me up at the bus station. He has been incredibly kind, helping me find a roommate and apartment, introducing me to people, showing me around my new neighborhood, and buying me my first couple of meals here while I get settled in. I was happily surprised to find out that my apartment is furnished. One less thing to worry about! Here is my living room. It looks so Moroccan.

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