Category Archives: Culture

Le Métro

Paris, the city of lights, home to a thousand and one monuments, cemeteries, fountains, museums, parks, and cafés. A city that boast two thousand years of history, a who has population that eats more bread than cake and who crisscross the town from morning to night in the most fascinating spectacle of all—Le Métro.

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While visiting Paris, my most preferred moments of sightseeing took place underground. As a tourist I can stomach 3 days (max) of lines and tour groups, of paying ridiculous prices at mediocre restaurants, and posing for that forced awkward picture in front of that historical monument…just in case someone doesn’t believe that I was there. For three days it’s cool, necessary even. But after 3 days, I want to dig a little deeper; I want to get under the skin of the city. I want to know what the people who live there do. I want the underground scoop.

Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

The crowd in front of the Mona Lisa is more exciting than the (tiny) painting itself…

Where do you go for the underground scoop? Well, that’s not always the easiest to find. Lucky for me, my gal pal happens to be a Parisian implant and has got a good handle on the scoop. So that was cool. But if you don’t happen to have a friend with an “in,” I highly recommend you take the metro. Not only will it bring you to places your feet couldn’t imagine walking, but also you will have a brief (yet complete) cultural immersion like none other.

Why do I like the metro so much? Here are some of my observations:

  1. It’s the essential veins that circulate the lifeblood to and from the heart of the city. It keeps the body functioning properly. When there is a problem on or with the metro that keeps it from running, the chaos of changing lines, and reorganizing one’s route is, at the very least, a small pain. Sometimes, the cause of a cardio-vascular breakdown. A healthy functioning metro is a key ingredient in a happy and well-oiled society.
  2. A lonely traveller is never alone on the metro. There are plenty of people to watch, and oh how I love to watch people! All walks of life pass through the metro—businessmen and women, mothers with strollers, thieves, partygoers, lost tourists, musicians. The old the young, the crème de la crème and down and out. You name it and it’s there. I could ride across town and back just observing everyone’s mannerisms, outfits, and eavesdropping on their conversations.
  3. It’s the great equalizer. A place where all different kinds of people stand, for one stop or many, as an equal with those around them. That’s not to say that the metro is a holy place of tolerance and peace…not quite. However, it’s a place that encourages the mingling of age, race, class, and religion. Where nobody is better than the other and the 1.30 Euro ticket of admission serves as a theoretical basis for equality.

A crowded Paris metro platform

One doesn’t have to live in Paris to discover the joys of the underground. The next time you ride a metro, whether your in Paris or New York or London or Tokyo or wherever, take some time to look around you and see the extraordinary mixture of people riding with you, and appreciate that for a short moment in time you are all headed in the same direction.

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Ici, on parle français

Upon leaving Morocco and landing in France, I found myself stumbling to produce the appropriate words to complete my sentences. There were instances when my vocabulary would scramble, for instance, shukran to replace merci or feen? to replace où?  There were also the cultural slip of the tongues, so to speak. Expressions that had become commonplace in my speech, such as the humdillahs and inshallahs, used to express gratitude and uncertainty respectively, which would smuggle their way into my sentences.

For a few days my brain seemed like it was totally scrambled and confused, and to add a degree or two of socio-political unease, the current relationship between Maghreban immigrants in France and the French could be described, from my point of view, as “rather intolerant.” Thus, I was a loaded gun ready to offend not only the French with my shukrans, but also the Maghrebans who would inevitably look at me and assume my mix up was mockery. Awesome.

It raised some rather poignant questions for me, however, about the fluidity of languages across borders, especially concerning the hot topic—immigration. As a third party, neither French nor Arab, how would those around me take my use of the Arabic language? Would it be taken with malice? How would my Caucasian appearance play a role? What is it like for immigrants and their descendants living in France? What languages do they speak? Where? When? And WHY?

A small anecdote so as to not bore you with my linguistic identity obsession:

While riding the metro I witnessed a rather loud disagreement take place in Arabic. Admittedly, it’s rather annoying in any circumstance to listen to people shout at each other in a confined space, but this peaked my interest the moment it became a attack on the two Arab men’s choice of language. From the other side of the train a man shouted aggressively,

“Ey oh, on est en France, ici on parle français!”

“Hey, we’re in France, here we speak French.”

This marks the stereotypical viewpoint of the French towards foreign languages in their country, especially towards immigrants from the developing countries of North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

To be specific, I don’t claim to be a specialist on matters of European immigration. My interest is merely how people identify themselves by their language, and how we (and others) identity our social status within society based on our language. But as our world becomes increasingly more globalized, it is inevitable that we will hear Arabic in France, Wolof in Morocco, and Spanish in the USA… Our borders are porous, and as much as that might dismay some, it’s the future and we better get ready to embrace these cross-cultural/linguistic exchanges as opportunities for learning and growth.

Perhaps the publicity for the Paris Museum of Immigration says it best,

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Our ancestors were not all Gaulois.

We are who we are, and should be allowed to identify freely without fear or hesitation and with respect for all peoples and all languages.

*So much to catch up on! More to come very soon!

Quelle heure est-il au paradis? Musings on time

Pass time. Spend time. Waste time. Kill time. Lunch time. Me time. On time. Find time. Good times. Tea time. Daylight savings time.

Our reality leads us to believe that everything is quantified in terms of time… even the quarter life crisis that prompted this post. But really, how (!?) does time bend and change? Why does it seem to speed up and slow down as you age, as you travel, whilst in love? How do we perceive time, and in what circumstances do we interact with time differently? What are the relatives? The constants?

These are all questions I’m not sure I’m fully capable of answering, perhaps for fear that my head might explode, but I would like to find a way of expressing how I’ve experienced a change in my concept of time during this past year in Morocco.

untitled (126 of 127)Punctuality, a cultural non-constant, can be viewed on two different scales–mono and polychronic. In a monochronic society, such as the U.S., time is rigid and task-oriented. You’re late if your not 5 minutes early. Having been socialized in this type of society, the adaptation process to Morocco’s polychronic concept of time took, well, time… Here, time is more flexible and agendas are far from strict.

The term “Inshallah,” which means God willing, is not just religious, it is also a deeply engrained  concept of cultural time. And to those of us raised in a monchronic community, even the very hint of being made to wait (or worse, being stood up) for a rendez-vous, cuts to the very core of our values and beliefs.

“See you tonight at that really important thing we have been planning.”

“Inshallah.”

*GRIMACE* “No, but seriously. See you tonight?”

I’ve frequently begun to ask myself why such a beautiful phrase can render me so uncomfortable. Don’t I  constantly talk about living in the present moment and trusting in the infinite and great plan of the Universe…shouldn’t God’s willingness to let me partake in social gatherings make me feel elated and grateful? So yeah, I sure do feel like a big ol’ hypocrite when my muscles tense at the sound of a non-committal “Inshallah.” But then again, it’s my upbringing. I am a result of all my previous experiences and growing up in a place where time is directly related to money, and money directly related to happiness, has apparently been imprinted on my psyche more than I’m proud to admit.

The beauty of this cross-cultural experience for me, however, has been that whilst living here, I have  begun to loosen my suffocating concept of time. And I’ve come to realize that  I deeply admire  how much polychronic societies value interpersonal relationships. Because, what is time really worth if it isn’t passed with those whom we love? If everything is fleeting, then we must ask ourselves what we value most of all. To me, family and friends hold their weight in gold, and everything else is but a means to the end.

So, what time is it in paradise? You decide.

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Our Daily Bread

Qubz1 (1 of 1)Bread, the ever-abiding food staple, is a sacred part of the Moroccan diet. The frisbee shaped loaves of bread are consumed thrice daily, and are frequently used in place of utensils. Qubs, the Arabic word for bread, is eaten in the morning while scooping up eggs, olive oil or amalou—a delicious almond butter-like paste that is jazzed up with argan oil and honey. In the afternoon and evenings, bread is used to soak up the tagine juices, flavored by  savory and aromatic spices such as salt, pepper, ginger and turmeric. The juices swirl around at the bottom of a pyramid of hearty vegetables and tender meats.

Bread is communal in nature, and every part of its creation and consumption demonstrates the tight-knit values of family and community, which form the foundation of Moroccan society. Bread is made fresh daily, and often baked in communal ovens. Later, it is distributed around low tables and broken into pieces to be shared at large family-style meals. Qubz2 (1 of 1)

A divine reverence is given to this wheat+yeast concoction, and  it is hshouma bzeff (very shameful) to waste or throw bread away in Moroccan culture. For months I harbored a secret grudge against the stale and slightly moldy bread collecting in plastic bags on the food rack in our kitchen. That is, until I was explained the tradition behind the recycling of bread. Here, the respect for bread goes beyond not throwing it away. According to the Prophet Mohammed, if bread falls on the ground, it should be picked up, kissed, and blessed. Then it should be put up on a wall or a fence so that the even the birds may reap the gifts of its crumbs.

Bread fills the stomachs of the hungry and provides energy for the weak. It gives to the people, so that they may give of themselves. The principle is simple: we should never waste food when someone else is hungry. The way I see it, Moroccan’s may observe this rule piously, not just because the Prophet commanded it, but also because the idea of looking after family, friends, and community permeate their collective identity. This notion, coupled with gratitude for all that sustains me—physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually—are lessons I will  carry with me throughout life.

Give us this day our Daily Bread.

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Twenty-13

Dear Lizzie,

I was about to wish that your every dream come true. That you find yourself surrounded by friends, laughter and good times. I almost wished that your every cup runneth over financially, romantically, spiritually, and creatively. That good health be your faithful companion, peace your guarded ally, and love your perpetual guide. When suddenly, it dawned on me that as an infinite, powerful, fun-loving gladiator of the Universe, with eternity before you and the power of thoughts to shape it….It’s you, Lizzie Guerra, who will be granting wishes this year.

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The Universe

Dear Universe,

Thanks! I appreciate your eternal support and confidence in all of my endeavors. I will continue to place one foot in front of the other with a smile on my heart and swagger in my step. I can’t wait to find out what kind of wishes I will be granting this year!

Always and forever,

Lizzie

Happy New Year to all my friends, family and fellow earthlings. What are your New Years resolutions, reflections, conclusions, new beginnings? This year I am going to take to the kitchen and concur my fear of grocery shopping!

Facelifts all around, starting right here with my blog…I’ve revamped the layout and the title so that they better reflect my current life style. Though don’t be misguided by the photo either. I’m not living in the sandy dunes of the desert. The new cover photograph was taken on a trek through the Sahara last year. My subject was our Berber guide; a fitting picture to go with the title Nomad–emphasis on the OM.  I will continue with my posts, but expect more music and photographs, and (inshallah) some recipes of the new cuisines I will be learning to cook!

P.S. If you liked my note from the Universe sign up to receive them yourselves from tut.com! They’re amazing!

 

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Mi-chemin; at the intersection of tradition and modernity

“Morocco is…,” is a  statement I try to avoid making, because it is cumbersome, stereotypical, and leaves no room for the brilliance of our imagination and the diversity of reality. Frankly, I don’t know what  Morocco is  at all. There are so many different Morocco’s, as each person lives and experiences this country in a different manner.

I live my life on what the French call “mi-chemin,” which literally translates to “mid path.” I love the idea of always being mi-chemin — on a journey — somewhere in the in between. But I also think that this word can translate  to an intersection or the crossing of two paths. In this case, I’m also living at an intersection; one of culture and identity, and more specifically, one of tradition and modernity.

Recently, I’ve begun observing a fascinating juxtaposition between tradition and modernity. The more I think about it, the more aware I am of how these two worlds weave their way through the lives of those who call Morocco home. Tradition versus modernity? Not neccesarily. It’s not completely a versus — not black and white. Rather, it’s more of a mi-chemin. An intersection.

At this point I find myself with the necessity of defining modernity and tradition. This is a feat in itself, and one I do not wish to over simplify. Therefore, instead of defining it, I will give you examples of how I have experienced these these criss-crossing worlds.

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1. A donkey on the tram

A friend recently told me he saw a man trying to bring his donkey onto the tram. The tram, which runs two lines across Rabat, is the very essence of modernity for this city. Not only does it look like a silvery gray spaceship, but for a minimal price you can conveniently commute across town. When he told me about what he saw, I laughed because it was simultaneously ridiculous and exactly the kind of thing that would happen here. The donkey, of course, is a symbol of tradition; it’s the very antithesis of rapid, convenient technology. And yet, these two worlds collided mi-chemin as this brilliant man attempted to coax his ass onto the tram. I don’t blame him for trying.

2. Micky D’s and conterfeits

Commercial colonization has penetrated itself into Morocco. That’s to say, those who can afford Western name brands, which include both fast food chains and clothing stores, are gung-ho. McDonald’s, for example, is one of the most adored restaurants in this city. It’s posh and American and oh-so-fantastically modern. It’s always chock-full of customers dressed to the nines. Right down Avenue Mohammed V, where McDonald’s and big stores flamboyantly boast their presence, there’s the medina — the old city. Where a westerner such as myself feels like they’ve stepped backwards in time. It’s bustling and chaotic and noisy and the informal economy reigns supreme. Vendors sell their goods from stalls or in the streets and anything is possible if your patient and willing to haggle. The informal aspect of the economy  is what I consider to be the keeper of tradition in the medina and throughout Morocco. Though McDonald’s hasn’t stamped its name in the Medina (yet), many other name brands can be informally purchased there. So friends, place your orders for the newest software and technology, because copyrights do not exist in Morocco. You can purchase the most expensive up-to-date products for a fraction of the cost in the Medina. A true (and amazing) intersection of tradition and modernity.

3. A Moroccan wedding

Last weekend I attended a “traditional” Moroccan wedding. I was a guest of the brother of the groom, and he advised that I wear the traditional costume, a takcheta. All the women would be wearing one, and I would stand out  if I wasn’t properly garbed. It was fun, and I felt a bit like my 7 year old self, as I dressed up in my princess gown for the ball. Upon arrival, it was clear that I had made the right decision to wear the takcheta. All the women were decked out. But as I looked around the room, there was one lone man wearing the traditional white jalaba. Every other man was wearing his nicest suit and tie. Again, an intermingling of old and new.  The fashion here in Morocco, is very much a melange of these two narratives. You see both men and women wearing traditional Moroccan clothes, as well as those who wear western name brands. They are not mutually exclusive, however, and many people mix it up depending on the day. I, myself, have been on the hunt for a jalaba and I just purchased my very first pair of babouche slippers. I have a feeling they will soon become a staple in my wardrobe.

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It doesn’t feel abnormal to me. In fact, I actually think that it’s really cool that Moroccans have found  so many ways to retain their heritage while simultaneously transitioning between the stark and contrasting worlds of tradition and modernity.

Need anything from the hanooot, eh? The little Moroccan conveniences.

One of my favorite local conveniences here in Morocco is called a hanut (pronunciation: hanoot). A hanut is the Moroccan equivalent to a quickie mart, and there are multiple on a single city block, which offer a plethora of quick and convenient buys. I love the idea of the hanut for a variety of reasons, including it’s pronunciation, which I believe is best pronounced by Canadians.

More seriously, however, I love the idea of small businesses in Morocco. Everyone here dabbles in a little bit of everything. When asked, many Moroccans will tell you that their occupation is “business,” which to my American ears sounds as Shady as Slim. To their credit, however, I truly believe that Moroccans have an innate ability to network and seize opportunities; the hustlin’ spirit of entrepreneurship runs in their blood. Therefore, the hanuts, were particularly interesting to me because they take the business concept of a superstore and condense it into one small roadside market.

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On our street, we have two juxtaposed hanuts. We began frequenting the larger (super) one due to its relative proximity to our house, though the other one is literally a few steps further. From my doorstep to the entrance I have to walk a grand total of 50 paces. Its exquisite convenience aids my lazy cooking habits and my late night chocolate cravings. Food is not the only thing offered at the hanut, though. If you  so wish you can buy cell phone minutes, cigarettes, cleaning products, bread, toilet paper, shampoo, razors, assorted nuts, milk, propane gas, eggs, vegetables…Everything. Kolshi as they say in Darija.

I love the melange of products, the small local environment, and of course my hanut friends. My interactions in broken beyond repair Moroccan or Berber languages with the hanut boys have become some of my favorites. They try relentlessly to teach me the words for eggs and bread and butter, and then they humor me when I pretend to have understood. They never (openly) judge me when I show up in my pajamas looking for milk or eggs, and they have even gone out of their way to retrieve products from neighboring hanuts if they are lacking. I’ve developed a sense of fierce loyalty to my hanut and would now go out of my way to shop at their store even if it wasn’t convenient, just because I enjoy seeing their smiling faces thrice daily.

Last and least, because I can never resist a good metaphor, I like to think of the country of Morocco as a hanut. Aside from it’s obvious inconvenient distance from home, the country itself if fabulously convenient. Here, I feel like I can have it all with small compromise. Morocco, is a super synthesis of all my interests: Africa, France and the Middle East. Include a big kid job, great roommates, a cheap standard of living, and a unique cultural experience in the equation and I’ve begun to feel like I could stay here as long as the convenience serves my higher learning. How long will that be (surely the question on my parents lips as they read this) ? Time will slowly reveal the Master plan.

Salaam.

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Strangely familiar, yet oh so foreign; on learning English and hanging out with Anglophones

I am two weeks into my new job as an “English Associate” with AMIDEAST here in Rabat, and things are going as well as could be expected. This month has been all about making friendly relationships with my roommates, my new co-workers, my students, and most surprisingly, the English language.

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Until recently, I’ve had a one-sided relationship with the English language. Like in any ones-sided relationship, the notion of power reigns. S(he) who beholds the power, is the baller shot-caller. With English I believed that I was running the show; I thought I was able to manipulate English to my advantage in pretty much any situation. After all, I’m usually able to select the most appropriate situations to implement my words directly or discursively. I can consciously pepper my sentences with humor and sarcasm, and engage mouthfuls of beautiful American slang. Naturally, I thought I was a true master of the English language… Needless to say, my extraterrestrial ego has been shattered, and I have been brought back to planet earth as a humble servant of the English language.

This gracious humbling has come in two forms: 1) English grammar, and 2) mingling with other native English speakers from around the globe.

It wasn’t until I began teaching English that I realized how much I still had to learn. I’ve taken being a native speaker for granted my entire life, and never considered what a complete pain in the ass it would be to learn English as a foreign language. As I stood in front of my Intermediate 4 class last Tuesday, I thought I was ready. However, my concept of being prepared was   a Powerpoint full of grammar I couldn’t explain, which I wrongly assumed would be to sufficient. Not even my background with improv could have prepared me for the ensuing hour and a half class, which I filled with lots of um’s and nervous shifty body language. For some context, on that particular day I was teaching a lesson on the 1st conditional–a concept that I have a strong natural grasp of, but very little theoretical training on. How many of you know what the 1st conditional means? …Exactly. To be VERY brief, we use conditionals when we are making “If” statements. An EXAMPLE of the 3rd conditional: If I had known this grammar point before class, I could have avoided the embarrassment of standing in front of 20 students like a deer in headlights promising to find out for Thursday.

This will surely be the first of many grammar points that I won’t be able to explain off the top of my head, because I never learned them in school. I learned to speak English naturally and correctly through immersion. I understand the frustration of my students, however, because I too have studied a foreign language, and I need the rules as much as the next person. Just ask me about French prepositions or feminine/masculine articles and I’ll launch into a tirade about how absolutely non-sensical they are. If you’re telling me to memorize something just because it SOUNDS right, but can’t give me any sort of structure or rule to apply it to, you will completely lose me.

My second (less distressing) realization that I was not a true Jedi of the English language came to me while mingling in the teachers lounge. Before coming to Rabat to teach English, my sole exposure to British slang was from the Harry Potter movies. However, here, I have been exposed to native English speakers from Australia, the U.K., and Canada, and I have begun to take careful note of their different accents and words. I love these other dialects of English because there is something so familiar about them, yet at the same time they are absolutely foreign. There have been many moments where I wonder if we truly do speak the same language. As a result, I’ve found myself analyzing my own slang, my usage of the word “like,” and my pronunciation of words with double t’s or d’s.

My favorite British colloquialisms thus far are for the word awesome: ace* and brilliant. I’ve promised myself to start using them in my everyday speech. However, I end up saying them with a monstrous British accent and all my co-workers think I’m making fun of them. But I’m not. I actually think they are brilliant.

I love the irony of the English teacher learning her own language, and I am now a firm believer that in order to be a true master of English you must hold an understanding of all the ridiculously complicated grammar rules and the various dialects. So maybe I won’t come home from Morocco with a stronger grasp of French or Spanish or Darija, but I can assure you that I will be well schooled in the many facets of English.

*Ace may be the American equivalent to rad. i.e. outdated. However, like certain fashion styles, I believe words, too, should come back into style. Therefore, I have recently re-added rad, gnarly and dope back into my vocabulary… so I’m pleasantly pleased to have ace.

Out with the bath water

An integral part of Moroccan culture is the hammam.  Also know as: bathhouse, steam room or sadistic torture chamber.

Do I have your attention now? OK, because I want to tell you all the graphic details of my trip to a traditional Moroccan hammam last week. Might I add that this particular hammam I visited was no swanky spa with fluffy bathrobes, private tiled steam rooms or fine overpriced Moroccan argan oil products. Oh no, this place was the real freaking deal. No bells and whistles—just a few dozen pleasantly plump naked Moroccan ladies, 3 steam chambers of different intensities, hundreds of plastic buckets filled with scalding hot water and mountains of sloughed dead skin.

My roommate, Shaakira, and I arrived at the hammam in l’océan midday sporting our newly purchased plastic shoes, (somewhat reminiscent of the Jellies of my youth) and carrying our shampoo, towels and a change of loose fitting clothes for after our scrub down. We paid the nominal charge of 10dh (1.3$) to enter, and I purchased my very own instrument of torture, the exfoliation glove. Though Shaakira is a pro at the hammam, I am still somewhat of a newbie. I’d been once before, and had an idea of what to expect, but on this particular day we decided to be “high maintenance” and pay for a Moroccan lady to scrub us.

We stripped to our skivvies, filled up our buckets with hot water, and entered into the steam room. I could feel the eyes of all the ladies piercing my soul as I awkwardly found a place to set up shop. I chose carefully. I wanted to be right at the top next to the water tanks, because the room is on a slant, and my clean-freak self is perturbed by the thought of everyone else’s hair and/or dead skin running by me in streams of dirty bathwater. At the hammam it is not uncommon to sit directly on the floor, but thankfully Shaakira read the message of horror displayed plainly across my face, and handed me a small plastic step stool to sit on. In enters the Moroccan lady we’d paid for a scrub. She was mean muggin’ me hard core, and I got the impression that what was about to ensure was not going to be the most pleasant of experiences.

The only way to describe the sensation of being scrubbed is that it hurts so good…? (Emphasis on the question mark). Imagine all the dead skins cells on your body being sloughed away by a mitt made of small shards of broken glass. Add to the equation a gruff Moroccan grandmother all up in your business who is throwing you this way and that, and it all equals out to be the least relaxing event of your entire day. In the process I probably swore in obscene English that I would never do this again, but I couldn’t help but be amazed at the beautiful natural glow of my raw skin upon leaving the steam room.

So there I was, Lizzie the lizard, shedding layers of dead skin in a Moroccan hammam—how freaking symbolic. Now is a beautiful opportunity to cleanse and purify as well as to shed the things in my life that aren’t directly benefitting my higher purpose. And though it can sometimes be a painful experience to let go, it can also be incredibly rewarding and uplifting. So here’s to renewal and regeneration!

It is common to hear this blessing:

Besaha w raha (Biss howr ha) — to your health

Followed by the response:

Allah ya 3tek saha (Allah ya tik saHa) — and may God bless yours also.

The Agdal Hillbillies

Class distinctions in Morocco are visible on many levels. I’m incredibly aware of my privilege here, and becoming evermore aware of how I fit into the hierarchy of Moroccan class, which I’ve come to find is divided by race/ethnicity, what part of town you live in, languages spoken, and annual income.

Much like in the U.S., or anywhere, really, different socio-economic classes inhabit different neighborhoods; everything from rent to the price of a tomato varies accordingly. During my last visit to Morocco in December 2011, I spent the majority of my time in the Rabat neighborhood, l’océan, which is a working class community. The streets are loud and bustling with kids playing soccer, mechanics fixing cars and small storefronts. It is not uncommon to see graffiti or feral cats or garbage in the streets. L’océan neighbors the old medina, where you can buy almost anything you could possibly need; cellphones, shower curtains, artisan crafts, fresh figs and clothing are all widely available and relatively cheap depending on your haggling abilities. Inevitably I never get the real Moroccan price for anything, but things are affordable nonetheless. In l’océan I definitely stand out amongst the Moroccans, who are not as used to seeing foreigners in their hood. In neighborhoods like l’océan and the medina a young white woman, such as myself, will get heckled, but I’ve never felt unsafe in my surroundings. My roommates, Kaitlin and Shakira, lived in l’océan last year, and they established a rapport with the locals at the souk (market) and the hanuts (small general stores). They have some serious street cred in that part of town, and their Darija (Moroccan Arabic) skills are impressive. When I landed here in Rabat this time around, I spent a few days in their apartment in l’océan, and it was pretty clear to me, that whilst they had l’océan swag, I sure as heck did not.

In l’océan, French is not the primary language spoken, Darija is. So anytime I open my mouth and to ask for something, it becomes rather clear that I have no idea what I’m doing. I have mostly been keeping my mouth shut, while Shakira and Kaitlin haggle for me in the Medina, catch cabs, and buy our vegetables. Needless to say, I need to work on my Darija so that I can do some of these things on my own. I’ve got a few dozen words and can now count to 50, but my accent is rather comical, and if anyone talks to me in Darija I just stare blankly back at them.

Though I’m pretty useless on the streets, my French speaking skills have come in handy for more formal transactions. We recently made our move from l’océan to our new (BALLER) apartment in Agdal. Agdal is what Kaitlin and Shakira call “cheeky bzaff,” which means super posh.  (Note that cheeky is a derivative of the French word “chic”). So basically I live on the “Upper East Side of Rabat.” For the girls, they are also navigating living in a new part of Rabat. Here their street cred is taken less seriously, and I can move around with much more ease speaking the language of the colonizer. My French has come in handy when we needed to turn on the water and electricity and to set up our internet and phone connections for the apartment. It has also helped to make inquiries at the bank about setting up accounts and to meet a few expats from France. But speaking French here is a politicized act, which connotes privilege. Many upper class Moroccans use French as a way to show their socio-economic status, to identify themselves as more “western” and especially to separate themselves from the working class. I am acutely aware of how I come across to different people when I speak French, and often wish that I could speak both French and Darija so that I could move more fluidly between communities. Thus, I signed up for Spanish classes at the Cervantes Language School… I guess it’s my way of waving a linguistic white flag.

Though I can blend much more easily into my surroundings here in Agdal, my teacher salary (which I will not begin see until after my first month of work) leaves me on relative budget. The cost of living here in Agdal is much more than in l’océan, so we’ve been making trips back to Kaitlin’s old stomping grounds to buy food and random household necessities like light bulbs. We bought all my furniture from the second hand market, and Kaitlin and I rode in the back of open bed truck holding my mattress and night stand down. We got honks and stares and laughs as we rolled up to our new place. I joked that we were the Agdal hillbillies, because nobody on this side of town would EVER consider buying furniture for the second hand souk. Though we might conserve money on such items we are also privy to the flip side of the coin. Labor is so obscenely cheap here that we can afford a house keeper/cook to come clean for us once a week. For literally 150dh a day (approx. 17 $) we can have a lovely Moroccan woman come keep us company. She came last week to help us get the moving grime off all of our furniture and carpets and to clean my bed (which I’m still a little nervous to sleep in). We are all so unaccustomed to the idea of hired help that we had no idea what to do with her when she showed up. Not only did we not have cleaning supplies, but we also didn’t know what was appropriate to ask her to do for us. Kaitlin ended up telling her something along the lines of, “do what you do…you’re the boss.” She was surely laughing at us on the inside.

So where do I fit in here? I would say somewhere between the lower bracket of the upper class and the high bracket of the middle class. As a young teacher with a good salary by Moroccan standards, I will be able to afford a high quality of life here with many luxuries. I am not, however, used to living highbrow life styles like those of the people I am surrounded by in Agdal, though I obviously show my privilege by the color of my skin, the languages I communicate with, and the lovely neighborhood/apartment I live in. I am cognitive, however, of this privilege, and do not take it for granted. Humdillah (thanks be to God), I am extremely grateful for the lifestyle I am able to lead here and for all the interesting cultural exchanges I will have.

Here are some photos of the new abode and my roomies!