Welcome to Old Medina, Assalamu Alaikum
After meeting with everyone from my group at the Casablanca airport, we all packed on to our bus and headed to Meknes. On the way, I noticed many palm trees and other green vegetation that contrasted brilliantly against the tan and brown earth and buildings. The first animals that I saw on the bus ride to Meknes, believe it or not, were cows, goats, and sheep, which play a huge part in Morocco’s economy.
Our bus driver drove us as close to the AALIM center in Meknes as he could, and then my group and I walked the rest of the way. Immediately, you could see the difference in culture once you were within the city walls.
The city of Meknes is divided into two parts: the Old Medina and the New Medina or hamria. The AALIM institute is centered in the Old Medina, which appears to look very much like the environment in the video game series Assassin’s Creed. That is no joke, because Old Medina was built around the year 1400 during the medieval times.
Old Medina is more impoverished than hamria, and one quick look at the next picture below will enlighten you as to why this is. I took this picture of hamria from the roof of the AALIM institute. You can instantly distinguish the more modern style of buildings that hamria has to offer. Often throughout the Old Medina, the extremely narrow streets, alleyways, and cobblestone paths are littered with trash and other debris. Everywhere you look, there are also cats! I have never seen so many cats in one area. It is safe to say that the populace of Old Medina live an underprivileged lifestyle compared to those living in hamria and cannot afford taken-for-granted amenities, such as sayaraat (cars) and what we think of as handy places to have nearby like McDonald’s, Morocco Meditel (Morocco’s cellular phone service), and general convenience stores.
There are small street stands that seem to sell a lot of basic needs in the Old Medina, but they are not exactly equivalent to a Weiss market. Despite these differences, the people of Old Medina are very humble, easily approachable and always happily respond when I greet them with the common greeting, Assalamu Alaikum, which literally translates to “Peace be unto you.”
Note: Most Moroccans assume that Caucasians are European and can most likely speak French.
I came to Morocco knowing this, but it is still interesting to see how many times I have been approached by Moroccans greeting me, “Bonjour monsieur.” The Moroccan dialect, darija, is a combination of fusHa, Berber, French, and Spanish, thus the reason why French is also widely spoken with Arabic among Moroccans.
A chapter every two days
My first week of Arabic classes has gone well so far, as I am learning a lot because of the accelerated classes. My professor, Ustadth Hassan, has us covering a chapter in our textbook every two days, and at that rate, I am sure that my Arabic skills will only continue to skyrocket. The amount of homework and studying can be arduous at times, but that is the only way to learn!
I have already spoken to a few locals using fusHa and darija in a sentence or two, especially in the souq (market), and when they understand what I am saying it is very self-reassuring and absolutely a confidence booster!
Fresh, delicious ... food
I want to shed some light about the delicious food I’ve had so far. First of all, the fruit is amazingly fresh. I have never eaten such fresh and luscious fruit in my entire life. The sweet honeydew literally melts in your mouth, and the mouth-watering peaches and apricots we have been served with almost every meal at my guest house are perfectly ripe.
For an appetizer, we have been served freshly cooked eggplant; a tomato, cucumber, and onion salad (very similar to Italian bruschetta); always fresh olives (the best I have ever had); and always delicious khubz (bread) and butter. Our entrées have all been exceptionally appetizing. They have consisted of lamb kabobs and kidney beans, fish tajine (almost like a stew, which can vary from beer and chicken) served with freshly cooked vegetables and peppers, a potato and lamb meatball dish, and a dejaaj (chicken) and couscous dish supplemented with cooked squash, potatoes, carrots, and zucchini.
It has been an utterly beautiful first week for me here in Meknes, Morocco. Being immersed among the Moroccan people is such an amazing cultural experience I am already beginning to wish that this program would last all summer!
I’m going to say goodbye in darija when I say until next week... bislaama!
— Michael Curry, junior digital forensics major, Middle East studies and criminal justice minor