Sunday, July 14, 2013

The End

This is the end of my blog. I've been home a couple months now, and it's pretty safe to say my experience is over by now. Certainly there will be more cultural learning and stuff that results from this, but now I'm going to sign off.

And for all you archive-browsers, here for the first time: have a look around my pictures; Christmas Break was maybe my favorite.

So, الله يسلمكم و يحفظكم all.

Monday, June 17, 2013


So, I'm home.

We left early Sunday morning and arrived in Washington that night. All day Monday was a post-program orientation, which included discussion about community re-entry, reverse culture shock, etc. Tuesday morning we gave a short presentation at the State Department, along with the YES Abroad Bosnia students who had also just returned. That afternoon we all said our tearful goodbyes (sarcasm?) and went our separate ways; I arrived in Salt Lake late that night.

This week, then, has been a lot of seeing people again and of course lots of questions: my very favorite thing about Morocco (I'll go with the linguistic diversity), my favorite food (pastilla, perhaps?), and whether or not it was worth it (I might say "duh," but apparently not everyone has gotten that impression from me.) Seriously though, yes, it was fun, and yes, it was worth it, and yes, I'm glad I went, and yes, I missed my family, and yes, I'm glad to be home, and yes, I want to go back someday. I think those are the easy questions.

And yes, you too should apply!

Now, of course there were challenges. Certainly some of these are good and necessary for a complete foreign exchange experience, and I wouldn't want to have had it too easy, but it's always tempting to think about how much better it could have been. Because in theory, it could have been so different if the program had been better or I had been more motivated or something. And yes, my school was kind of a joke (I have no desire to elaborate), and that's going to be improved for next year's kids, and I probably would have learned more Arabic had I not been stuck with other Americans the whole time, and that's going to be different in the future, and yes, I could have done so much more with my time. But that sort of thinking is clearly not helpful, and even if we kind of were AMIDEAST's guinea pigs this year, I can't begin to complain about the experience I had. I mean, I did get to study in Morocco for a year, totally funded by the government. (Thank you, taxpayers!)

So, what was so great about my experience, anyways? [brought to you by YES Programs and the Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs.]

– Language learning. I vastly improved my French, Arabic, and Spanish, which will certainly be useful to me in the future, and I enjoyed it to boot.

– Cultural exchange: a bit harder to measure, but the essential goal of the program. I learned so much about Morocco, Islam, American society, culture in general, living with a host family, etc.

– Personal development: you know, like becoming more mature and independent and confident and stuff.

And we keep hearing that it's going to be many years before I fully realize the impact this had on me. But I think it's safe to say it pretty much changed my life.

Saturday, June 8, 2013


So it's now Saturday, which means we're going home tomorrow. And that's all surreal and incredible and happy and sad and all of that, but I'm not going to write about it now because, among other excuses, my laptop is completely dead. But when I'm home I'll write more.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Week 39

I'm going to be home in less than three weeks. We're leaving Sunday, June 9th, and flying to DC, where we'll have some sort of debriefing and return orientation, and I'll be back to Utah the night of Tuesday the 11th.

[insert reflections here]

seriously, though, this is where I'm supposed to talk about how much I've learned about Moroccan culture as well as my own, the day I realized I actually do love America, how challenging and rewarding it's been, how much I've learned about myself, etc. Heck, if I tried hard with I bet I could even make it onto the YES website. (I don't plan to.) I ought to say something at least, so I'll post an entry reflecting on my challenges this year as well as one highlighting my successes and what I've gained and whatnot.

ashhadu anna la ilaha ila allah...

Monday, April 29, 2013


L'avril passé j'ai écrit que tout ce blog ne serait forcément pas en anglais. Je ne pensais jamais vraiment que j'allais écrire en français et certainement pas en arabe, mais quand même il y a toujours la possibilité—qu'on se plongera dans la culture étrangère et au retour on aura oublié on anglais, qu'on se trouvera dans un lycée rigoureusement français, etc. Mais bien sûr c'est une partie essentielle de l'échange culturel, adapter ses attitudes, même si cette adaptation s'agit simplement de ne pas attendre trop d'ajustement.
C'est aussi que j'ai remarqué que j'avais fait un blog-post chaque mois depuis mon arrivée ici. Donc le voilà, pour avril. Ce mois j'ai heureusement eu l'opportunité de retourner à Tanger, Assilah, et Chefchaouen ainsi que visiter le souk de Khemisset. On part demain à Marrakech, la dernière des grandes villes (touristiques) marocaines.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Winter Break, part 2

I don't feel like writing much, but I will post some pictures of our trip. We drove up north, to Assilah, Tanger, and Chefchaouen.

Assilah is a small seaside town, originally a Portuguese port. The medina was small and almost entirely empty (it was Friday) except for Spanish tourists. It was really nice.

some statue

Every year there's a mural festival.

We then went to the Cave of Hercules, where the hero slept before performing one of his Labors. (Morocco's Atlas mountains are where, according to the myths, Atlas held up the sky.) The cave has a famous window looking over the sea, which apparently is shaped like Africa.

or something
Spain on the horizon?
Just a few miles past the cave we came to Tanger (Tangier, Tangiers, طنجة, Τιγγίς), one of the country's main ports. For a long time is was an international zone, frequented by the wealthiest Europeans and Americans and known for its lavish parties. Paul Bowles, Allen Ginsberg, and other important American writers spent time here.

We visited the American Legation, a building given to the new United States for their diplomatic presence and used until just a couple of decades ago. It now houses a museum.

From Tanger we drove south, into the Rif mountains and to the town of Chefchaouen. Chaouen is known for two things: its blue buildings, and hashish. In fact, most of Europe's cannabis comes from this mountain range. (I didn't actually get any offers.) But the town was beautiful. It was swarming with tourists, but still much friendlier than Tanger or Rabat.

The whole town is blue and purple.
Ras el-Ma', a spring just outside of town
inside the Casbah

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Winter Break, part 1

February 23 was the beginning of two-week break, officially Winter Break. This one, I think, was more exciting than any we've had so far.

Monday morning I went back to Chellah, the Roman/Islamic ruins just outside of town. It's springtime now, and it was beautiful, with flowers all over and dozens of noisy storks.

On Tuesday we went to Fes again. In the morning we had a guide to show us around, then he left us and we went out in search of lunch. After asking the natives (our Moroccan chaperone did the asking) and then repeatedly asking for directions, we ended up at a small, smoky, family-run place that served the best beef I've ever had. (It's great when an adventure like that turns out well, but there's just no guarantee that such food won't make you sick.) After lunch we went around for the sole purpose of shopping, which went well. I bought, among other things, a nice teapot and a common sort of Moroccan hat. We returned to Rabat that evening; the three-hour drive means that a day trip to Fes is possible if somewhat exhausting.

Nice mounds of spices (cardboard) outside the entrance of a shop selling
Argan oil products, the new craze in America. You can see women
grinding it by hand—what fun for the tourists!

Another old medersa, or Islamic school

Fes is an unmissable and unforgettable Moroccan experience; just the size of the old medina makes it world-famous, and the sounds, smells, crowds, and hustlers are legendary. I've heard its touristy nature compared to the Pyramids of Egypt, only less so. Now that I've been several times I'm glad to have gone, but I don't think I want to go back anytime soon.

On Wednesday we went to the zoo; in a word, meh. I mean, it's a fine zoo, and it was fun to have the Arabic names of the animals (especially the mahas and gamooses), but it was almost completely empty, with only a couple French families and local school classes.


On Thursday we had another class with the master calligrapher Mohammed Qarmad.

He's really good.

Early Friday morning we boarded our AMIDEAST bus and started driving north.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Fondation

Since around the beginning of December I've had the experience of teaching English to Moroccan kids. The place where I'm teaching is called the Fondation Occident-Orient and it mainly educates sub-Saharan African immigrants. It's located in a poorer neighborhood called Manal, about 20 Dh west of here.

The Fondation
It has, as you might expect, been difficult and rewarding, impossible and fun, pointless and educational.
I teach two hour-and-a-half classes each Wednesday afternoon. Both groups consist of anywhere between 3 and 25 kids ranging in age from 4 to 15, but generally there are around 15 of them, roughly 9-10 years old in the first class and 6-8 in the second. In each class there are two or three kids who can already speak English pretty well, and there are also always a few whom I've never seen before and who don't speak a word of English.

Normally I hold class in a room in the library, which is fairly nice but has the downside that we're not allowed to make any noise—that means games, videos, and songs are doable but difficult. Recently, though, I've been moved downstairs, into a room where the dusty chairs are falling apart and there's a dog (that is, either big and scary or highly distracting) on the other side of the glass wall. A few times there hasn't been any room for us at all and I've conducted my class outside, around two or three small tables and with no whiteboard.

Discipline is always an issue; I feel like a substitue teacher and they know it. They really only respond well to authority if it acts like a stern parent and speaks Arabic to them, and, well... Occasionally I've had an assistant, a Moroccan student about my age who either keeps them completely in line or just spends the class chatting with the older students in the back.

But when they are willing to listen, it can be a lot of fun. Many of them are motivated and learn the material pretty well, and of course young Moroccans trying to speak English are awfully cute. There's no set curriculum, and so we (another student teaches them on Saturday) just come up with things to teach them. There was one time a few weeks ago when a bunch of Americans from some NGO walked into the center and came to see what we were doing. The kids in my class did fabulously: every one of them said, in English, their name, age, and "Nice to meet you." It was great.

Two weeks ago we had the most adventurous and fun class yet. I had been told the week before that a group  of Belgian "Scouts" (pronounced "skoots") was coming. What it turned out to be was a group of Belgian students, here for a school project, who brought activities, games, and waffles.

(Only the Moroccan ones are my students.)
They had sports for the boys and a photo shoot for the girls, as well as Musical Chairs, sack races, painting, and masks. 

Playing in the off-limits garden
A bit of music: accordion and African drums 

So that's been an adventure. It's certainly frustrating sometimes, but I'm sure this is a valuable experience for me and all of that. And the kids really are fun.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My World

It's easy to get used to the sights around here, but I realize how different they are than back home. So here are some pictures to give you an idea.

A typical street

A neighborhood park

The local mosque

The sidewalks here are much more interesting.

Yep, just a medieval stone gate there

Bab Rouah and a main road leading into town

Heading towards the center of town


Arabic, French, and Tamazight

A normal street sign in Arabic and French
Another functional street sign, though not quite official.
It's the Arabic in the middle (زنقة آم الربيع).

Whether or not you choose to call it graffiti, there is always something interesting written on the wall.

"No parking." This one is painted ominously all over, and usually disregarded.
No littering. Or else... 
No urinating here. Thank you.
The national motto: God, Country, King.

Things look different in Salé. This is what much of the countryside is like as well.

The new tram system is very useful for getting from Agdal to
the Centre-Ville, the medina, and Salé.