السلام عليكم My name is Madeline Gambino, and I am a junior studying for a double major in History and Religious Studies. I am from Bethlehem, PA, but this semester I am in Rabat, Morocco, on an SIT program based on Multiculturalism and Human Rights.
I love to write, but I am not sure I can put my first week in Rabat into words. For many Americans, Morocco is a place of mystery and romance and beauty–and there are all of those things in the narrow, twisting alleys and the blue, blue sky and the shockingly ancient walls of the medina where we are studying and living. The smell that I am coming to associate with Rabat come from the stands in the medina that sell some sort of “snail soup”–a large tray of shelled snails in what looks like a broth. And the sounds–the deep, throaty consonants of Arabic, and the constant honking of car horns and motorcycles as drivers and pedestrians try to negotiate the roads. It’s overwhelming, but many of us in the program have agreed that there is simply something about Rabat that just feels right.
Since arriving on Sunday afternoon, I have undergone an orientation week with about 30 other students in my program, as well as another 25 or 30 from other programs studying journalism, transnational identity, and migration at the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning. We have started to learn Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, which is similar to FusHa (Modern Standard) but without the vowels. These are all real words or phrases from my notebook: ns, F, ‘mrk, mafHemtch. Needless to say, my one semester of FusHa last year has not been particularly helpful. Still, I’m learning a lot, and with a host mother, one host sister, and what seems like an endless string of visitors who only speak Arabic and French, I know I’m going to learn a lot.
I will learn more than Arabic, too–after my first night with my host family last night, I am starting to understand the way communities are different here. All afternoon and evening, there was a constant stream of visitors coming and going into the house, cousins and aunts and many others who kissed my cheeks and accepted me into their space without question. Having expected questions and awkward silences, the constant murmur of the Arabic soap operas beneath the family’s animated conversations was a relief, for I was able to spend the afternoon watching and listening to them talk. Occasionally I could tell I was the subject of conversation, but every time I started to look confused, everyone would offer a great big smile to me, and the nearest woman would pat me on the shoulder or hold my arm and then the conversation would sweep forward again.
They have welcomed me into their family despite the language barrier, but I know how to say hello, thank you, and delicious–at this point, those have been the most important words. At least that is familiar. Having come from an Italian-American family where food is love, I understand how to navigate food and eating culture, even if the huge communal bowl of couscous every Friday at lunch is not the same as our family’s sandwich-making hours.
There is so much more I have learned–how to eat with our hands in the traditional way, how to use a Turkish toilet, and how to get properly lost in both the downtown and the twisting, unlabeled streets of the medina. But I want this post to simply be an introduction, though I think I was right to say that these words do not do Rabat any justice, and neither do my poor pictures. Next time I will try to focus more closely on a topic, probably my first impressions of gender relations. But for now, I’ll keep this as an introduction, and until later!