Getting immersed in the Arabic culture
Salam Aulakum, labas, and Bonjour are just some of the greetings you will encounter in the country of Morocco. I’ve come to the Qalam wa Lawh (Pen and Tablet) school for Arabic Language Studies in Rabat the capital of Morocco to study Modern Standard Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic is the official language of Morocco. However, it’s not usually spoken as it functions more as a written and media language.
I’ve chosen to study MSA, because it’s important to understand before moving into spoken dialects and it’s understood throughout the Arab world where as the local Moroccan Darija dialect is difficult to understand for even native Arabic speakers from other countries. In Morocco, French is also spoken as a second language and Spanish can be understood in some areas, as well as a Berber language called Tamazight.
I’m enrolled in an Arabic intensive course, which means I spend six hours a day in school working on Arabic. Four hours are in the morning and are spent in class learning vocabulary and the structure of the Arabic language. There is a break at 12:30 p.m. for lunch, which is served at the school and then classes continue at 2 p.m. outside in the schools garden. I’m usually out by 4 p.m., after which I go to a gym up the street and then do homework at an apartment rented by the school.
I share an apartment with five other students of various nationalities and length of time studying Arabic. Two of my roommates are American and both study the Moroccan Darija dialect. Another roommate is from Holland, another from Italy and last one is from Montreal, Canada. Their reasons vary for studying Arabic from linguistic research, obtaining employment in the future or joining the Peace Corps. I myself decided to study Arabic, because I realized its importance to our national interests after serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army. I completed two semesters of Arabic at Bloomsburg University, and unfortunately, that’s all Bloomsburg offers at the moment. Because of this, I decided to continue my studies abroad.
Life in Rabat is not too bad. The city is clean and features most western amenities. You can go to a store called the Marjane, which has everything a Wal-Mart would and is just as nice. The neighborhood, where the school is located, is also where most of the embassies are located and is very upscale for Moroccan standards. I was able to view the more traditional side of Morocco during a weekend trip to the cities of Fez and Meknes.
Both cities featured large Markets that were inaccessible to cars and some parts were too narrow for even bicycles. They were very crowded and featured more exotic things like stingrays and camel meat. An unfortunate side effect of going to Fez is that many students seem to get sick with at a minimum, diarrhea. Even while avoiding the local tap water, it’s difficult to avoid picking something up because food in the "sook", which is Arabic for market, is not approved by anything similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Besides the markets, each city featured Moroccan history. They each had ancient walls and universities. We visited the University of Al-Karaouine, which was founded in the 8th Century. Outside of Fez, we visited the ruins of the ancient Roman settlement called Volubilis. I cannot really pronounce Volubilis, so I call it by its Berber name, Walili, which is also the name used when speaking in Arabic.
So far, I’ve enjoyed my time in Morocco and have learned a lot about the Arabic language. I will soon be going on a three day trip to the Sahara desert, which will take me into Aug. 1, the halfway point in my time here. However, as when I have traveled before I always miss the United States. I do not feel there is a better country and will be happy to stand on U.S. soil again. I will update the blog after my Sahara trip, which is supposed to be one of the best trips you can take while in Morocco.
Until then, “Masalama.”