Walk with Me

On Friday morning, I woke up ecstatic that it was finally the weekend. I breezed through my Arabic quiz and after making plans to meet up with my friends later, went home for couscous. Since my host father and brother go to the mosque from noon until almost 2:30, we don’t ever eat lunch on Fridays until right before I go back to school. The couscous was delicious, and once the meal was over I quickly departed for my afternoon class. By 5, everyone was ready to wrap up our class discussion and go home for the weekend. My friends invited me to go out that evening, but I was exhausted and chose to stay home with my family. Around 7, my sister Hawla and I went on a walk around town while my brother went out to pick up food for dinner. It was an absolutely gorgeous evening- the sun setting below a shroud of mist that hung over the coast. It was so blustery by the ocean that 6 to 10 foot waves were crashing fiercely on the rock jetties that block off a a swimming area below the Kasbah. It was incredibly refreshing to walk around and breathe the cool air. I took loads of pictures of the ocean and the lighthouse towering above the beach, before returning home to warm herira soap and chebackia for dinner.


Friday Couscous 🙂

Pictures from my stroll around town with my sister Hawla.

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Saturday was an abnormally lazy day. My sister and I woke up a little after 9, and we had breakfast around 10. After we ate, I decided to get my Arabic homework over with, and worked straight through until 1 on my drills and vocabulary practice. When I finished I collapsed onto the sofa in the main salon and took a nap for an hour before my family woke me up for lunch. After our meal, I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around the house, listening to music, napping, and surfing the internet. Around 6 I was feeling fairly restless, considering I hadn’t left the house all day, and I went for a brief walk with my friend Helen. We wandered through the Oudaya neighborhood and then walked down to the water, before going home. When I got home I spent some time with my family, including my host father’s aunt who is visiting for a few days, before dinner was served. Everyone seemed tired that evening, so we all went to bed soon after the table was cleared.

Saturday’s lunch involved five side dishes. 

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My walk around town with Helen.



The Kasbah wall.


Helen in front of the Kasbah wall.

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A street in the Oudaya neighborhood.


On Sunday I woke up early, hoping to have breakfast and be able to leave the house early to go out with my friends. However, in traditional Moroccan fashion, breakfast didn’t happen until every member of the family was awake and sitting at the table, almost two hours after I originally woke up. Immediately after breakfast I left to meet up with my friends. We were planning on exploring a national park a bit north of Rabat. Once everyone arrived we walked to the train station with the intent of taking of train to the park. While we were walking over, one of my friends, who had actually bothered to talk about where we were going with her host family, was the voice of reason and reminded us that because the train station was miles from the national park, we would have to take a taxi anyway, so we might as well take one from Rabat. Though it was quite challenging to explain to the various taxi drivers standing around the train station where exactly we wanted to go, one of my friends who speaks practically fluent French stepped up and translated for us. After the drivers negotiated who had both the time and the room to drive us, we haggled prices with the final driver, and piled into the tiny taxi.

Unexpectedly, the drive to the national park was less of a “short jaunt”, and actually roughly an hour of driving through the countryside and past various agricultural villages. It was overcast and rain dripped slowly from the dark sky, which prompted us to discuss our plans for Halloween and whether we thought it was both appropriate and practical to dress up here in Morocco. By the time we arrived, after explaining yet again to the driver where exactly our final destination was, the four of us who had crammed uncomfortably into the backseat were numb and stiff. We practically fell out of the taxi, pleasantly surprised when the taxi driver explained to us that we had in fact rented him and his car for the day, and that he would be waiting for us to finish hiking. The lake and the various poorly marked trails around it that we ventured down were absolutely beautiful. The terrain felt like an odd combination of northern California coastal chaparral and distinctly north African, with both familiar eucalyptus and distinctly foreign scrub brush.

Me and Maddie, lakeside in the national park. 

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Lakeside coastal forest environment in Northern Morocco. 


From wetlands…


…to chapparal.

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Kat meets (and names) a dog, on our hike in the national park. 

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Photos in and near an abandoned guard station on the side of the lake. 

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The girls bond with nature. 

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Just off the trail, at one of the farthest points we walked to, was an old abandoned building that had obviously been carefully deconstructed. We cross over the decrepit wire fence that surrounded the lot the building was on, and ventured cautiously over to the ruins. After determining that there was nothing remotely dangerous about the oddly well preserved white walls, we took a few pictures around the area and continued walking. We persisted trying to find a trail that was marked on a trail map as making a loop on one side of the lake, but on the ground, the trails were not marked and eventually we gave up and turned around. On the walk back we passed cows very casually grazing on the side of the trail. I have no idea why they were there, and since I have been in Morocco for such a brief amount of time, practically no context regarding the practice of keeping farm animals.

Pictures near the abandoned building we explored on our hike. 

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Ellen and Helen, back on the trail!


Bones we saw laying on the side of the trail.

Since we had not yet used up the number of hours we had originally told the driver we wanted to hire him for, we had him drive us to the beach in Kenitra. It was wide and beautiful, and again I was reminded of the beaches of northern California, shrouded in fog with their off-white sand, bitterly cold waves, and body surfers bravely marching into the waves donning just a pair of board shorts. Even the quaint, white and blue surf shops and beach-side restaurants, complete with brightly colored plastic chairs, inappropriately-tropical thatched roofs and cheesy names like Dolphin Cafe evoked strong memories of chilly summer days by the sea in Santa Cruz. After snapping a few pictures with our feet almost in the water, all of us too timid to even dip a toe, and stopping for ice cream to cool down on the humid, cloudy afternoon, we drove back to Rabat, dreaming of warm showers and cozy beds. Even though we had family over when I arrived back to my house, I was generously allowed to bathe, finish my homework and socialize at my own discretion. By the time dinner rolled around I was starving, and I practically shoveled handfuls of cucumbers and potatoes into my mouth as my eyelids fluttered shut with exhaustion. My family shooed my to bed soon after we finished eating.

Photos on the beach in Kenitra- I saw women in jellabas, men in board shorts, and many, many camels. 

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On Monday morning I was pleasantly surprised to discover that our Arabic class was cut in half in order for the students to have a lesson in various styles of calligraphy. When we arrived to the calligraphy lesson, there were about 35 students in attendance, so it was difficult for the instructor to do anything other than write some letters on the whiteboard for us to copy onto paper with our calligraphy pens. I was slightly disappointed because the lesson was taught entirely in Arabic, making it very challenging to understand or engage with the historical background our instructor tried to give us. By the end of the 90 minute period we had learned how to write about half the letters in the alphabet. However, in calligraphy, the shape of the Arabic letters changes depending on the previous letter(s), so each individual letter must be learned in the context of how it may connect to every other letter in the alphabet. My inkwell ran out about half an hour before the end of the lesson, so I just got out a pen and began doodling letter shapes of my own invention, in an attempt to make my name look as cool as possible. Little did I know that our instructor had made all of us cards with our names on them before the lesson, with the intent to hand them out as gifts at the end- this was definitely the coolest part of the entire lesson.


My name in a version of Arabic calligraphy of my own design.


The various types of calligraphy which our instructor wrote on the board.

After a leisurely lunch devouring plates of spaghetti with my friends on the terrace of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning, we had group presentations of various topics of human rights according to Islam. Despite the controversy of the topics, time slowed to the speed of dripping molasses and the combination of air conditioning and fans did nothing to rid the room of the humidity hanging thick and low in the air. When the presentations were finally over, I escaped home as quickly as I could and collapsed on the couch in the main salon to take a long nap. One of the first things I did after rousing from my nap was check on our sheep. My family bought it on Sunday and it is currently tied in the kitchen, waiting for us to kill it. It is a tradition for every family to sacrifice and eat a ram every Eid al-Adha to symbolize their devotion to God, and my family is no exception. Even though I know that we bought our sheep specifically for this purpose and that I am not here to question the cultural practices I take part in, I still feel a strong sense of guilt. I attribute this to the fact that, in America, I am not forced to meet my food while it is still alive.

I am unsure of what the outcome of my partaking in this religious holiday will be. For one, I am not particularly religious- Christian, Muslim, or otherwise- so I don’t know what level of participation on my part is appropriate, considering this is not my religion or my beliefs. I also don’t know whether watching animals die in order for me to eat them is going to make me more pragmatic or emotional about where my food comes from. It is possible that I could emerge from this experience more aware of the effort that goes into providing meat for others to consume, or I could be entirely distraught and lose significant motivation to eat meat, or at least lamb, in the future. A few people on my program have pointed out to me that the methods with which people in Morocco and the Middle East sacrifice individual animals for religious purposes are far more humane than how corporate farms kill their animals to sell. If I have a moral problem with what happens this week during Eid, I should consider thinking more seriously about whether I have a problem with what happens every day in the United States, on a much larger scale. My hope is that I will not become attached to the sheep that my family has at their vacation home in Marrkech, which will be slaughtered shortly after I arrive. The sheep that is currently living in our kitchen is not set to be killed until Monday, at which time I will be on a week-long trip with my school. Even though I would not describe myself as “bonded” to the sheep in my kitchen, he is one of the cuter farm animals, and I have never had livestock residing in my house before.

My family’s sheep. 

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On Tuesday my professor was shocked to discover that almost half of our Arabic class was out sick. It was already a half period because we had a cultural lesson the second half of the morning, so it was a casual class. Around 11 we walked over to one of the other CCCL building to attend the lecture on traditional Moroccan clothes. Despite the fact that the lecturer spoke in Arabic, it was not overly challenging to understand what she was saying because of the frequent changing of costumes and the obvious hand gestures she made toward the various items she was dressing the students up in. Some of the clothes were things I had seen men and women wear on the street, but others, such as clothes from the Berber and Saharan communities were completely foreign to me, and I was shocked that people used to do agricultural work in the desert wearing such heavy garments.

Pictures of my classmates dressing up during our lesson on traditional Moroccan clothing. 

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We had a long lunch, during which our school cooks served my favorite baked apple dish, and after lunch we had an orientation to our excursion next week to various cities in the southern half of the country. We finished class early and my friend Helen and I went to our favorite hanoot to stock up on toiletries, and then I returned home, sweating buckets in my jeans and long-sleeve tunic, intent on taking a shower. However, my family informed me that the cold water was broken, and that though they hoped to have it fixed soon, they could not make any guarantees. Because I had limited time and had soaked through layers of clothes in sweat, I decided to suck it up and take a cold shower. While I don’t regret the decision, because now I am clean, it was the most bitterly freezing shower I have ever taken in my life. Desperate not to make my host family feel like they always have to accommodate me, I simply grinned and referred to it as “bracing” when asked.

That evening our school arranged to have a guest lecturer speak to us about the traditions of Eid al-Adha. I wasn’t convinced that it would be a very exciting lesson, but it turned out to be very helpful. The lecturer taught our class a lot about how the holiday has evolved over time and general events to expect during our celebrations with our host families. I personally would have had no idea that there are five different kinds of sheep that families buy, and that some are purchased for their appearance and others for their taste. The lesson also gave me an idea of what parts of the sheep to expect to be served at the various meals during the four day holiday weekend. Once the lesson was over, my friend Helen brought me over to her house to see her sheep, in order to differentiate between our sheep and figure out what type each of ours were.

Upon returning home, my family had dinner, packed our car and tried to get some rest before the long drive ahead.


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