First of all, to those that read these, I want to apologize for the delay in posts. My life has been somewhat hectic with the transition from Morocco to the US, finding an internship, and moving to D.C. (more on that in another post). I used those things as an excuse not to write this but all of that has died down now. I have some time and my internet keeps cutting out, so I suppose now is a good time to put my thoughts down on paper.
An interesting fact about the Arabic language is that almost all words are based on three letter roots. These combinations of three letters can be fit into different patterns to get different, often related words and meanings. The title of this post is a reference to one of those combinations. The letters ghain, ra, and ba (I couldn’t describe how ghain sounds in a blog post but you can probably find it online. The other two are hopefully self-explanatory) are the root of the words for both sunset and Morocco. The words with this root generally have a shared meaning related to the direction west. The word for west is made of this combination, the sun sets in the west, and Morocco was about as far west as anyone knew there was, not only in the Arab speaking world but the world at large, when it was given its name.
The name Sunset in Morocco is fitting for many reasons besides the cleverness of the shared root. It has poetic value seeing has ‘the sun has set’ on my time in Morocco, and I followed the sun west back home. This post however is not just about me leaving Morocco but a reflection of my time and experience there. Luckily for me the usefulness of ghain ra ba does not end here. This root has uses with another set of meanings that doesn’t seem to fit with the meaning of west. That is the word for strange.
An article I read for my Arabic classes at Madison might help shed some light on this connection between strange and west (I will link it below). The article suggests that the meaning probably doesn’t come from Arabs thinking Morocco and other western areas are strange, nor from a thinking that people from the west are strange. Rather it probably has to do with the unknown. Back when languages were first becoming a thing, and for a long time after, no one really knew what happened on the horizon. The sun went west and disappeared off the edge of the earth, and if you tried to follow it you hit a body of water as far as the eye can see. What happened where the sun set, and what happened beyond those horizons was unknown and thus it was strange.
I mention this because I was a stranger from those strange lands where the sun sets. And from my perspective I was heading to a strange land full of strangers. Even with our world connected by the internet, cellphones, and 24/7 news, the places just beyond our homes can still be strange and unknown. You can learn a language (and become quite good at it) from the comfort of your own home. You can read books, news, blogs, etc. on a place you’ve never visited and learn a lot. However, you don’t truly understand until you’ve dove into that place, that culture, and that language. When you’re a stranger living in a strange place and you must relearn all the rules of society and culture and your language skills get put to the test every day. When you are face to face with people from that place, learning from them, studying with them, and living with them, that’s when you truly get exposure and understanding of that place.
So that is how I would sum up my time in Morocco. I have a long way to go, and a lot to learn. I spent just a few short weeks in that beautiful country and gained a taste of understanding of what its truly like there. Not just what you hear on the news or read on the internet but what its actually like. This has helped give me a confidence not only in my language skills and my ability to navigate a foreign culture but in general. If you are at all interested in the history, culture, politics, etc. of a foreign country then go there. You won’t regret the experience and you’ll come out with a better understanding and a confidence that will hopefully stick with you and serve you for the rest of your life.
And here is the link for the article I mentioned: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/17/learning-arabic-from-egypts-revolution