I have been in Morocco for almost two months now and so I want to share some of my initial and more current thoughts on the country, the people, and how it has become my home.
Excerpt from my thoughts after being here a week and a half:
My time has been split between two cities. I started in Rabat and will return there to start my regular courses. However, I have a host family in Meknes for my orientation and Darija (the local dialect) class. So far they've been absolutely incredible to me and the other girl from my program. I was really nervous the night we got our families; worried that there would be a communication barrier, that they wouldn't like me, or that they would only offer me meat dishes (a true fear as a vegetarian). And while it isn't always easy or simple to cross cultures and live a different lifestyle, so far I've felt welcomed, understood, and included.
There's a lot of places where they say the hospitality is great. But it's definitely true of Morocco. My family--which is the cutest, sweetest ever--welcomes strangers into their home all the time. They showed us gifts from past students and a trunk they keep with notes that the students left when they were going out of the house or wouldn't be home for lunch, etc. There was one instance where our host uncle took us to a village about an hour away. He bartered for the best taxi price, showed us a good restaurant, and then led a hike into the woods along the river. There we met up with his sister in law's family, who proceeded to serve all fifteen or so of us cake, mint tea, and fruit. When they heard that some of the students overpaid for a taxi and then the driver tried to charge them extra after he went to the wrong place, they family did their best to intervene and insisted on talking with the taxi driver over the phone. This is just a small taste of Moroccan hospitality.
The hospitality and the kindness of people has still remained the most striking thing about Morocco a month or so later. What was unexpected was the ability of this country to continually surprise and interest me. Although I have become comfortable here and settled in, there are still situations that I find are strange and details of the culture that I struggle to understand. The beautiful part about study abroad is that all of the social, historical, and political aspects in class I see on the streets and at home. Because of this, I have a deeper understanding of the place I’m living, especially since Morocco has undergone colonialism, Arabization, and other sweeping, dramatic movements.
The beauty of settling into a place is that comfort and knowledge: knowing where to get the best, cheap food; how to use public transportation; recognizing people on the street; having conversations with people on the train. I first knew I had a home here when I returned from traveling for a weekend and felt overwhelming relief to unlock my door, see my host mom, and flop down on my bed.
Making a new home in a place comes with time and a little courage. Still I am trying to make friends with Moroccans in Rabat, as it often takes effort to get out of your comfort zone and grab coffee with the strangers you met on the train. Also, specifically in Morocco, it can be difficult to meet people on the streets as a woman, because very often you are too busy trying to ignore the catcalls and not meet any male eyes who might be creepy. I’ve been working on balancing my defense mechanisms and my instinct to trust of others. Other ways to feel at home can be exploring or just hanging out, doing what the locals do (here it's chilling at a cafe with friends for hours). Getting into a routine also really normalized living in Rabat for me. Saying hello to shopkeepers and neighbors always helps too!
It is a little bittersweet finding a home here, knowing that I will leave in under three months. Still I have a lot of time to enjoy plenty of mint tea on my rooftop, as the call to prayer reverberates eerily around me.