Overwhelmed. If you asked me a few days ago when we first arrived in Fez how I was feeling, that would have been my answer. Morocco is unlike anything I have ever experienced, and Fez is a mass whirlpool of activity. In the stream of constant vendors and narrow streets, you can find anything from knock-off converse sneakers to camel heads. But that’s how the city is built-basically like a large market, or medina. This medina happens to be the largest one in the world of its kind. Basically, just imagine the set of Aladdin and multiply it by about a million, and there you go. Also, keep in mind that we live in this medina. Needless to say, Alyssa and I have gotten lost to and from our house on more than one occasion. Although, people here are more than willing to give you directions. Sometimes, they’ll even walk you there. We’ve definitely been shown kindness from strangers a lot and for that I’ve been very thankful.
My host family is amazing; Alyssa and I are one of the lucky ones whose family speaks pretty good English, but unlucky in the fact that we have squat pot, instead of full functioning western toilets. It’s alright…we’re learning techniques and we’ll be pros by the end of this. Plus, it’s all part of the experience, or that’s what I keep telling myself.
Despite all the differences in culture, there have been places where I have been able to find some common ground and small comforts that I have realized I have missed since being here. For example, we went to McDonald’s today after class, and it was awesome! Normally, I don’t really eat at fast food places, but just the fact that they are selling Big Macs here in Morocco, like they do back home in the U.S. feels comfortable and familiar when most other things scarcely ever feel that way here. McDonald’s is the place to go to get taxis when we go home from school, and usually it takes forever to get one to stop. It’s been a bit frustrating but so far we haven’t had to wait for more than half an hour, though, I wouldn’t be too surprised if this “guestimation” increases in the next few weeks.
One of the highlights of my time on cross cultural is just the group bonding I feel we’ve all done. For the last two months, these fellow EMUers have become my family. They cry, I cry type of thing. It’s been great getting to know everyone better, and I can only look forward to how these relationships will be strengthened by the time we fly across the pond (aka the Atlantic Ocean) back to campus.
This week in Morocco has been fun and interesting. My roommate Val Landis and I have been able to get more comfortable in our host house. The language barrier is still a huge damper on conversations but we manage. The younger girls help us with our homework and often try to quiz us on our vocabulary.
A huge learning experience is meal time. The most interesting meal of the week is on Friday. For lunch on Friday we have cous cous. Everyone gathers around the small table, all thirteen of us around a typical American coffee table sized table. The cous cous tagine in the middle, Val and I were given spoons, while most everyone else used their hands. They all reached over one another and packed cous cous together like one would a snowball. These cous cous balls were aimed toward their mouths but for the most part cous cous was being flung every different direction. To Val and I this seemed like total chaos and we were just sitting there almost laughing at the almost savage seeming meal. The meal was a ton of fun though with everyone talking and enjoying being together as a family.
I was startled by the different culture and their idea of manners. I had to take a step back and observe them from a different angle. After all who made the set idea of customs and whose customs are right and wrong? On this trip we have experienced two different cultures, both of them being very different, but neither of them wrong.
This past weekend we traveled to a small Berber village in the Atlas Mountains. Here we went hiking through a gorge and up a peak of the mountain range. The views were breath taking. The people from the place we were housed were sweet. They made us amazing food and helped us to feel comfortable. I learned about the old jobs that the women in the village did when there was no electricity. These consisted of making butter, grinding grain into powders, and weaving. The trip was an enjoyable experience even though most of us were sore from the hike and it was cold and very windy.
Classes at the center have been interesting. Arabic has been harder for me to catch on to but the teachers are great and very helpful. We have had several lectures, which were both interesting and informative. Learning about Islam and what it means to be a good Muslim has been insightful and helpful.
I feel that the most interesting experience for me in Fez, so far, has been the public baths. Our host family does not have a shower, so we go once a week, Sunday, to the baths. This experience was strange at first because all the women are in one room taking a bath out of buckets in a sauna like room all together. The elder women help the young girls with their hair and scrubbing their bodies. This is done as a sign of care, love and affection. The time at the baths is a time to meet with friends and chat about different things, even though I did not understand any of the chatting in Arabic. They all seem to really enjoy going to the baths and I came back feeling cleaner than I ever have in my entire life.
Life in Fez is new and I was culturally shocked at first. After the past week though I have felt a lot more safe and comfortable. I am enjoying being here with my huge Moroccan family. The food is amazing, even though it sometimes makes the tummy horribly upset. The people are nice and the shopping is fun and cheap. All in all I am having a great time in Fez and I think everyone else would agree on that too!