Exploring The Unknown
It simultaneously feels like I landed yesterday, and like I’ve been living here my entire life. I guess that’s what happens while living on Moroccan time. But in reality, I’ve been here for a month now, and it has been a really fun challenge learning to navigate a new city on my own. I take the tram to and from school, I’m getting to know my way around the medina, and I’m figuring out all the best places to eat around the center. But with the fun challenge, every single thing I do is hard. Tasks that would be simple at home like ordering food, taking a taxi, even just sitting in the living room, become hard. And sometimes that hardness can be overwhelming.
Two days in, I confidently told my host mom that I knew the route to school and didn’t need her to take me on the tram. I was proven wrong when I arrived at the train station to find that nobody was in the booth and the machines weren’t working. I started to panic, and the only help I could get was from a grumpy old man who came up to me and said “tram stupid” with a thick Moroccan accent, and then walked away. I knew my next step was to find a taxi, but I had no idea how to go about doing that — addresses don’t really exist here, and I didn’t yet know anything significant around school to tell the taxi driver. I was on the verge of tears when I saw somebody else on my program who was smart enough to bring along her host mom for another day — a host mom who then started to treat me as if I was her own daughter, as any Moroccan would. It is safe to say that that challenge was more overwhelming than fun.
But not every day is like that one was. The following weekend, I was in the park playing cards with my 12-year-old host sister when a middle-aged man on a run passed us, stopped about 30 steps forward, turned around and came back to us. My American brain was screaming “stranger danger.” But my host sister didn’t seem worried at all, so I remained calm. We sat, talked (well, they talked while I tried to comprehend) and played cards for over an hour. There was nothing dangerous about the situation whatsoever. They were interacting as if they had known each other for years, so I asked my sister after if they were family friends, to which she said, “Everybody is your friend here.”
Little interactions like that one fill my days, and they make the extra challenge of everything worth it. I studied Arabic for four years in high school in the U.S. and learned a ton about the language, but I’ve learned more about the culture in these three weeks than I ever could have by studying from afar. Living with a Moroccan family, exploring the city on my own, playing soccer with locals, getting lost in the medina, and sitting in a cafe with friends for hours on end has given me insights into the culture that no textbook possibly could.