"A (Spring) Break from My New Routine" by Liora Silkes
Somehow, we have already reached the end of March, which means I've been in Rabat for over half a semester! The last two months have been full of excitement and learning, and I am already planning new adventures for the second half of my time here. I feel like Rabat has a very different character than my hometown of Seattle, but about one month into the semester I had the sense that I “got it.” It was more than knowing my way around; it was the comfort of the muezzin and the (crazy!) driving that used to shock me. “Getting it” meant I started to recognize many of the local hanoot (corner store) owners and said hi to them, that I knew where to find good avocado juice and the fastest wi-fi.
The semester’s halfway point also meant it was time for spring break! I left my now-familiar Morocco for a new destination: the British Isles.
Within moments of landing in London, I realized just how different this city was from Rabat: all the signs were in English — and only English — and I could understand most of the conversations around me! After London, I went to Edinburgh and Dublin and found a linguistic landscape more similar to Rabat than the one in London. Although I mostly heard English, many of the official signs were also written in Gaelic, to promote and celebrate Irish and Scottish heritage. This reminded me of the Tamazight labels on many government buildings in Morocco. Like Gaelic, Tamazight is much more commonly spoken in rural villages than major metropolitan areas, but there are growing efforts in Morocco, Britain, and Ireland to incorporate minority languages into cities as well.
This was my first time in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and I took full advantage of my limited time there. According to my friend’s phone, we walked over 47 miles in the first five days! In addition to simply soaking up the sights and sounds of the cities, I visited plenty of museums and sought out food that I knew I couldn’t easily find in Morocco. I really enjoyed my vegan cheeseburger, curries, and burritos.
Traveling to new cities made me realize just how accustomed to Rabat I have become. As exciting as it was to explore new places, I kept comparing it to the life I had gotten used to in Rabat. Sure, the scones were great, but where could I find msmn for breakfast? And the view over the Thames was lovely, but where were the crashing waves of the Atlantic? Although English tea was lovely, I found myself missing the overwhelming amounts of mint and sugar most Moroccans add to their tea.
After a week away, my flight to Rabat was the perfect “welcome back” to Morocco. At first, the flight was just like any other I have taken: I sat silently next to two other travelers, each of us preoccupied with our own thoughts. Then it was time for dinner. I am vegetarian, and the only options were chicken or lamb, so I gave my entrée to the woman sitting next to me. She became very concerned that I wasn’t getting enough to eat, offering me her yogurt and baguette. Then the third person in our row took out a bag of pistachios and poured out over half of the nuts into a dish for the woman and me. At this point, we were all talking (a mix of French and Arabic), thanking each other for the food and sharing stories of our travels. By the time we touched down in Rabat, I was back in the Moroccan mindset of sharing everything from dinner to life stories with strangers.
As a study abroad student, I am a traveler at every moment of these four months. Going abroad has involved a lot of excursions, from spending the day in Casablanca to a week in the British Isles. Yet even at "home" in Rabat, I am still traveling and learning from new, exciting experiences every day.