Anotha One

You thought I wouldn’t write another post, didn’t you? It’s okay, I thought that, too.

Welcome to Tangier

I’ve been in Tangier for more than a week now and I’m still not quite sure what’s going on, but that’s actually no different than my life in America so I can’t be too frustrated about that. Allow me to provide a brief summary of my exploits so far.

The program has placed me and another student with a Moroccan host family consisting of a 22-year-old named Neda and her mother, Houria. Sometimes Neda’s older sister will bring her three children to our apartment. I particularly enjoy spending time with the 5-year-old Aymran, whose favorite activities include dancing, spitting, and making up fake Arabic words in order to trick me. He’s a real angel.

I took a placement test to measure my Arabic fluency, and I proved that I do, in fact, possess some competence in this language. Each class consists of 3 hours of Modern Standard Arabic and 1 hour of Moroccan Arabic. We had to take a language pledge vowing not to speak English on our school’s grounds, on group trips, or with our host families. Honestly, I do slip into English sometimes, but I am trying to be better. Additionally, each week we’re supposed to spend 3 hours with a Moroccan student who is our “language partner.” Two other students and I are in a group with a girl name Yusra, who is going to show us around the city and attempt to improve our speaking skills. God knows I need it.

We also had the chance to celebrate Ramadan with our host families for about a week. During Ramadan, Muslims don’t eat or drink water during the day, so my roommate and I would eat breakfast alone in the mornings, and at sundown we would join our family for iftar, the meal where Muslims break their daily fast. Iftar consists of a lot of traditional foods that aren’t really eaten during the rest of the year, so it’s especially cool to be in Tangier during Ramadan. This weekend we experienced the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr—the feast of the breaking of the fastwhich meant that our host family went to the mosque before visiting all their family members. The day consisted of a lot of meeting family, drinking uber-sweet Moroccan mint tea, and eating various traditional sweets. I’ll probably get a thousand cavities, but I did it for the culture.

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Tangier is an interesting city. I’m not sure how much I enjoy it because I haven’t gotten to explore as much as I’d like, but Tangier seems like a decent place so far. It’s a sprawling, metropolitan city, and there are areas that seem exorbitantly wealthy, but that luxury isn’t spread very equally. So far I’ve visited al-medina al-qadima (the old city), which is a walled area that has stood for centuries, and still houses many Tangierians today. We also went to a traditional souk, or market, to buy close for Eid. I’m a big fan of Moroccan markets because you can barter, which is fun, and you can buy pretty much anything. When I was in Rabat two years ago I saw people selling food, clothes, DVDs, passports, falcons, fresh-caught sharks; pretty much everything the average person could possibly want. My experience in this Tangier souk wasn’t bad, except that I spent too long standing in front of what I thought was a mannequin, but was actually a Moroccan woman that shouldn’t have been standing so still. This particular surprise may have taken several years off my life.

The Cave of Hercules, located just outside of Tangier

Later in the week, I joined my friends for a trip to the Cave of Heracles, just outside of Tangier. According to legend, Hercules slept in the cave before completing his 11th labor. I didn’t see him there, but the mouth of the cave is sort of shaped like Africa, which is dope enough for me to include a picture here.

That’s pretty much the gist of my journey in Tangier so far. I’m sorry I can’t provide any truly useful travel tips or introspective commentary on the city, but insha’allah (God willing) I’ll stick to this blog and tell you something worth knowing.

 

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Morocc’ and Roll 2: Electric Boogaloo

To be honest, I don’t think I’m the blogging type. I prefer not to share the goings-on of my life with people, especially with a medium the whole internet can see. But since I’m going abroad this summer and I don’t want my family to think I’m in a constant state of peril, starting a travel blog seems like the right thing to do. So if you want to follow my shenanigans abroad, stick around. I’ll try to keep things interesting.

THE HARD FACTS:

So here’s the deal:  I’ve been awarded a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State, which will allow me spend the next eight weeks in Tangier, Morocco. This scholarship gives American college students the chance to study one of 14 “critical languages” —i.e. non-Western European languages valuable to U.S. security,—in a fully-funded, overseas immersion program. The program includes intensive language classes, home-stay accommodations with a local family, and various excursions around Morocco.

Now, if you know me, you might be aware that my long-term career goal is to work as a foreign correspondent. My majors at Northwestern University are Journalism and International Studies with a focus on Middle Eastern culture and society. For a little over two years, I’ve studied Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). In fact, after graduating high school I received a scholarship to participate in a nearly-identical program to CLS, although that time I stayed in Rabat, Morocco. By studying Arabic in Morocco again, I hope to increase my fluency in MSA and the Moroccan dialect.

Full disclosure: No one actually speaks MSA, also known as al-fusha. You might hear news anchors using it, but spoken colloquial Arabic dialects seem like completely different languages compared to MSA. Speaking MSA to a dialect speaker would be like speaking Old English to a Modern American; they might understand you, but you’ll sound like a lunatic. I’ve studied a little Levantine dialect, and I know some Moroccan darija phrases, but overall I’d put my spoken-Arabic skills in the category of “Actual Garbage.” So that’s pretty neat.

WHAT EVEN IS TANGIER?

I’m so glad you’ve asked!

Tangier is major port city in north Morocco, on the cusp of the Strait of Gibraltar. Nearly a million people live there, so it’s a far cry my hometown of Pueblo, CO, but not quite as monstrous as Chicago, where I spend a lot of my time these days. (I really didn’t even want to mention Evanston, IL because I don’t claim Evanston. That’s right, I said it.)

I actually don’t know a lot about Tangier myself, except that the medieval traveler Ibn Battuta, who ventured across Asia and Africa, was from Tangier. I’ve always thought he was pretty dope, so maybe I can capture some of his adventurer’s spirit during my stay.

I actually visited Tangier on my last trip to Morocco. I was only able to spend a few hours in the city so I don’t have any strong opinions about it, but I do remember being a little disappointed by its strong “European” vibes. Given the history of colonialism in Morocco, I wasn’t at all surprised, but I still preferred Rabat, which I felt more authentic to me.

For reference, here is a picture of me, the last time I was in Tangier. Apparently I’m pointing to Spain, and as always, I am overflowing with joy and excitement.

WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN TO YOU, KALI???

The tragic part about studying abroad is that actual studying is required. I love learning, but as I’m sure many of you are aware, I find going to school abhorrent. My language classes will require me to go to school five days a week for a whole four hours a day. (Feel free to gasp, faint, clutch your pearls, etc. I understand that this fact is quite disturbing.) I don’t even have classes that frequently at Northwestern, and it’s well known that my class attendance is….sufficient, to say the least. But I want to keep my scholarship, and I truly enjoy Arabic, so you can be sure to catch me in class every. single. day.

I’m also living with a host family, as well as another student from my program. I really hope the family doesn’t hate me, and I’ll do my best to suppress my only-child instincts so my roommate doesn’t want to throttle me. My last host family was very kind, but we were never particularly close, and I hope that changes this time around.

If nothing else, my one goal is to improve my Arabic so that my speaking and writing skills reached the esteemed level of “Barely Embarrassing.” Is such a feat possible? Perhaps. Only time will tell.

 

*All content here is my own and does not reflect the views or positions of the U.S. Department of State, the American Councils for International Education, or the Arab American Language Institute in Morocco.