"Salam to the Souqs and the Sand" by Jaycee Miller
This first week in Rabat has both challenged and dazzled me. I’ve certainly felt my French improve tangibly since arriving and meeting my host family last week; communicating is getting easier every day. This is especially so because classes are now in full swing, and with three of mine being taught in French, it’s sink or swim.
Something that has surprised me most is the language dynamic in Morocco. I knew that Arabic is the first language, with French being a secondary or tertiary language for some Moroccans, but I didn’t expect most people to lead with Arabic in daily conversation. Save for my host family, almost everyone greets each other with “salam” rather than “bonjour,” and says “shukran” instead of “merci.”
My two other classes are Arabic courses, one being the Moroccan regional dialect of Darija, and the other being Modern Standard Arabic - and boy are they different! It’s a little confusing to be learning two varieties of Arabic at the same time in addition to French, but dinner conversation with my family is serving as a great time to resolve any confusion. But enough about academics – Morocco is a beautiful, lively country and exploring it has been so much fun!
Last Saturday, my host mom took us to the souq, which is essentially a large, outdoor market with vegetable vendors, butchers, fishmongers, and sellers of knickknacks and other obscurities. Our mom bought us olives, which were carefully selected by the vendor from atop the various olive mountains, placed into a bag, and shaken with oil and spices. De-li-cious. I probably ate 25 olives with lunch the next day. Also at the souq, we found piles of colorful legumes and spices, and several whole lambs hung vertically at the butcher’s. It was a kaleidoscope of sights and smells.
I’ve also visited the Medina, the old city center of Rabat that is an extremely dense, walled neighborhood. It’s a little bit like Chinatown in the sense that one can buy traditional Moroccan items and medicines, as well as bargain-priced knock-off Gucci bags! I’ve been there three times now in two weeks and I love it. My professors have taught us some key phrases for bargaining in Arabic that have been super helpful for scoring good prices. My roommate bought henna and my host mom loved the designs so much that she’s been commissioned!
Over the weekend, we found ourselves in the small town outside of Rabat called Skhirat, which is a beach town. We got there by train, which is so surprisingly fast and affordable! Because we chose to visit the Sunday before local schools started up in Morocco, the beach was packed with young, smiling faces soaking up the final rays of summer sun. Boys – young and old – volleyed soccer balls, while parents sat beneath enormous umbrellas, ordering beignets (donuts) and ice cream from the men cruising along the beach in search of customers. A man walked a camel up and down the shore while young kids pleaded to ride.
My host sister told me there are 99 words in Arabic for “love.” I ought to learn some soon because I’m running out of words in English to describe this magical place.