University of Wisconsin–Madison

An American’s Observations

This fascinating life is becoming less of a mystery and more of a reality. I just want to share some thoughts and observations about everyday Moroccan life.

Thoughts on careers:

In case anyone is wondering, I found out where the trash goes! My guess was definitely wrong: there are men that come through early, early in the mornings and pick it up by hand and throw it into a cart that they push to one of the Medina exits and load into a truck by hand.  No, they don’t have those awesome, handy trucks that use their claw to pick up our specially made trash bins and empty them into a truck that compresses the garbage and drives it to a dump.  They do it all by hand.  I kind of admire them for the work that they put up with:  they have an unpleasant and smelly job every day of their lives, but they are doing it anyways.  They do it to feed their families and to survive.  On top of that, they are very nice people!  Many of them have said hello to me, and I welcome this because I know that they are genuinely saying hi.  They don’t have anything to sell me, so they really are being friendly, I think!

When we went to the tanneries, I felt the same way about the workers there.  It’s all kind of interesting and saddening:  like the trash workers, the tannery workers have terrible, unenjoyably, smelly jobs.    They work all day in the terrible stench of the dyes and the mixture of pigeon poo and cow pee that is used to clean the leather, but we only had to suffer for a few minutes from the smell and we received mint leaves to smell when the “cleaning” smell got too strong.  The workers don’t get that luxury!  They can’t leave whenever they want.  They have to come back day after day and suffer from the smell.  I wonder if they get used to it.  I wonder if it poisons them in some way.  I wonder if they enjoy their jobs.  I wish that I had gotten the chance to talk to one of them and ask why they work there.  Does it run in their family?  Did their parents pick their career?  Or do they truly enjoy dying and cleaning leather all day?

As we walk through the medina every day and see all these people working in their jobs: whether they are shopkeepers who spend their days trying to sell their goods, or artisans who spend the days sewing or weaving or dying silk or pounding metal into dishes and tea pots, or trash men or leather dyers, I can’t help but think to myself as I peek into these peoples’ workplaces that it is like one of these people coming to America and touring an office, a laboratory, a factory, or a chain store in the mall.  What would they think?  Would they wonder the same things that I do?  Would they not understand how people can sit at a desk all day answering phones and emails, like I can’t imagine how somebody could sit there sewing or dying leather all day?  Or would they wish that their work was the same way?  I can only imagine that they are happy with their lives because it IS, after all, their way of life and how they’ve known life forever.

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Thoughts about school life:

So far, my school has been going very well and I enjoy it very much.  I have friends who I like a lot and I can’t wait to spend more time with them!  Learning Darija is very interesting and easy, but I can’t wait to become better at it.  It’s just a matter of being able to conjugate verbs, figuring out which words are different from Standard Arabic (MSA), and being able to replace the MSA words, grammar, and conjugations with Darija and still retaining MSA . . . so far, it’s fairly easy.  I try and think of things in terms of similarities and differences to MSA.  Also, I have class every day from eight in the morning to noon!  There will be a few more classes added to my schedule, but the way thing are going right now, I’ve had a lot of time to myself to write and think.  So I’m fairly happy with that.

But what I wanted to talk about isn’t my school life, it’s my host sister’s.  I have few observations about the Moroccan school system, and so far, if it works as well as it sounds like it does, I might prefer it to what I had in America.  I have a little cousin who says he’s ten but looks younger who is starting French this year.  He can already speak fluent Darija and MSA.  My sister, Khowla, who is probably 14 or 15, started English last year, and she is already fluent in Darija, MSA, and French.  She is going to quad-lingual by the time she turns 18.  My host brother, Muhammad, age 12, speaks Darija, MSA, some French, a little Spanish, and a little English that he’s picked up from other students my family has hosted.  I wish that I had been able to speak FOUR languages pretty well by the time I was 18!  I knew little French and not confident at all about speaking it, I definitely did not know Arabic, and my Spanish skills were, and still are, minimal.  I think that it’s sad that many people in America don’t know another language and either have no desire or no way to take classes.  I learned that at one point, the King of Morocco had said that, basically, if you know one language (MSA and Darija) you are illiterate.  And after that, everyone had to learn French.  More recently, the new king said that that if you only speak 2 languages, you are illiterate.  Now everyone is learning English!  How wonderful would America be if the president initiated a program to teach all the English-speaking children Spanish in elementary school and all the Spanish-speaking children English?  By the time these students go to high school, they could study Arabic, Chinese, Russian, or Japanese!  Politicians and teachers everywhere worry that the future generations are unprepared for a globalized world, but if we were able to follow the Moroccan school system’s plan, all of our American children would be able to communicate all over the world.  And in our globalized world, this is necessary.

Below, by the way, is a picture of the ceiling in my classroom.  It’s hand carved.  Whoever did that also has a tedious job, but it’s probably pretty enjoyable and rewarding too!

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A little about life:

 

I really do like my family after a week of living with them.  Everyone is very nice and welcoming. I am friends with my brother and sister.  I let my mom and siblings Skype with far-away family members, and they seem so happy.  I’m glad I could help them out like that.   We eat good food and I am getting used to the spices!  Of course, I miss American food and cooking for myself, but I know for sure that when I get back to America, I’ll miss Moroccan food a lot!  We had the best omlette I’ve ever had the other day!  I would have never imagined that this would be good, but it had potato and onions in it.  For all you back home, definitely have this for dinner one night!  You will be surprised, happy, and STUFFED!!! When I make it at home, though, I want to add cheese, of course!

 

I’m starting to love my neighborhood too.  I know two ways to get from my home to Hotel Batha, where my friends and I meet every day to go to school.  Believe me, this was not as simple as walking down University Avenue to get to class instead of down Lakeshore Path!  The streets here are very narrow and winding.  If you ask someone for directions, they usually point in a direction and wave their hand in a snake pattern to represent, “Go that way, then follow the winding streets this way and that way, and then after about five or fifteen minutes, you’ll be there.”  But the only way to figure out new ways is to get lost!

 

Speaking of learning new things by making mistakes, on one of our first days here, we had a quick lesson on Moroccan hand signals, like how Moroccans motion “goodbye” or “crazy.”  I thought I had it down after my brother motioned to me that his mom was crazy and I understood and we laughed together.  But then, the other day, my mom stood and the doorway and waved good-bye to me.  I smiled and waved bye back, but then she yelled to me in French to “COME HERE!!” And I realized that I had made a hand signal mistake!  In Moroccan hand gestures, the American wave for “goodbye” is “come here,” and the American signal for “come here” is offensive.   At least I made the mistake in responding and I didn’t offend anybody.

 

I think that’s all for my stories and thoughts about Moroccan culture for today!  There will be more stories in the weeks to come! And everyone . . . be thankful for your showers today 🙂 I shower with a bucket here in Morocco!