May 15, 2014

It’s All Frarabic to Me

Two weeks: that is all the time I have left in Morocco. And after all the time that I have spent here, I still feel there is so much I don’t know about this country. For one, I still can’t comprehend how Moroccan girls manage to stay so slim on a diet that consists primarily of sugar, bread, and more sugar. Most of all, I have yet to master French, Arabic (although any progress is progress here; I came to this country knowing absolutely zippo Arabic), or the uniquely Moroccan art of speaking both at the same time, a bizarre mélange I fondly call ‘Frarabic’.

Morocco truly has a Frankensteinian identity, the result of centuries of conquest, oppression, and borrowed traditions. Colonized countless times throughout history by Christians, Arabs, Persians, Andalusians, and the French (to name a few), Morocco finally gained full independence in the 1950’s. Since then, multiple movements in both the state and the public sphere have helped the national language reflect more of Morocco’s rich and diverse backdrop. Today, schools teach Classical Arabic, Moroccan Colloquial Arabic (aka ‘Darija’), Amazigh, French, Spanish, and English. As a result, many Moroccans (particularly educated ones) are able to flow smoothly from one language to the other, often mixing French and Arabic words within the same sentence.

Do you see what I mean about Morocco’s Frankenstein identity? I went to a beach party this weekend, a fundraiser for children with diabetes. There was music, volleyball, soccer, and of course surfing; a DJ blasted Stromae while the MC danced about wearing nothing but a bikini, shouting encouraging French words into her microphone every now and then. I would have forgotten where I was if it weren’t for the throngs of little old ladies wearing full-length djellabas and floppy straw hats wedged over their hijabs, or the faint call to prayer sounding in the distance.

There is much I don’t understand about this country, and there are some things I understand all too well. I suppose this is all a part of the experience; while I find some aspects of Morooccan culture incredibly beautiful, I can’t get behind the culture of littering here, or the nationwide fear of indoor climate control (central heating will NOT kill you in the winter, despite what my host parents might tell you), or especially the blatant chauvinism I see daily in the streets.

Morocco seems to be at a crossroads, torn between embracing the effects of western influence on their society and the desire to retract and preserve their old traditions and culture. But in my experience, ‘Frarabic’ is one of the most beautiful things I’ve witnessed here, and a uniquely Moroccan skill. And if language is any indication of a society, maybe it wouldn’t be out of the question to have the best of both worlds?

posted in Susanna Kim

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