The Second Tuesday

Considering we’re here to study, we did relatively little today. Finding out this morning that our morning teacher was ill, we then had all morning until 2pm off! Of course, we should have been terribly studious and borne in mind that we will have extra hours to catch up over the next few days. But, being students, we went shopping.

There is a mall up the road from the school, which a few of us decided to mooch around. After an obscenely sweet hot chocolate and a fruit smoothie, the likes of which will never be found in England, the three of us went shopping. We’ve had a few conversations about the women here and how they cover up so much, but there was none of this to be seen around the mall earlier. In fact, there were one or two girls wearing an outfit that I wouldn’t wear in Brighton let alone Rabat! Apart from a few stores that we don’t have, we could have been anywhere in the world. Weird compared to the souq which could only be North Africa, and to the trained eye, could be nowhere but Morocco. But if one of the points was to find out about the country, then seeing the highly developed, well-heeled neighbourhood is just as important as seeing thr traditional unfettered culture of the Old City. All part of life’s rich tapestry I suppose, though often I find it so sad seeing a million-pound development in a city where most homes don’t have carpets. All too often, I want to weep at the tourist industry!

This afternoon, we had our 4-hour class, and if we had been in any doubt that there was any more for us to learn of the Arabic language, today those doubts were driven far into the wide blue yomder. Today, we learned about a slightly painful thing called the Masdar. Basically, it changes a verb to a noun, like “I like to swim” becomes “I like swimming”. This is fine, but there are ten different forms of verbs which take different rules, and the rule for the fist form is that there isn’t a rule at all. Stoked for tomorrow’s class! It’s hard, but it feels so good to be learning so much, and we’re so happy.

Today was our housemate’s birthday, so we ate Japanese tonight – a delightful change from fries again! Chatting again with some fascinating people was so good, if anything just for learning people skills! We’re back to the West tonight though, with CSI:Las Vegas on the telly 🙂

Settling down to dream about art club tomorrow… Eek! Can’t wait.

Happy Tuesday all!


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Monday Again

After the roaringly successful weekend, full of colour and excitement, and full of memories ans stories, today arrived with little fanfare, with the alarm going off at 6am, and all of us nodding off during breakfast (which was excellent again, especially being free after a weekend of paying for every meal!).
Rebecca and I, having looked through the day’s vocab which included ‘she died’ and ‘may God rest her soul’ (maybe rather apt), had major lesson-envy of Alice and Charlotte, who had managed to swing doing henna for half of their morning class, and calligraphy for an hour in the afternoon. Getting to read in the tent looked a lot more exciting than reading paragraphs in Al Kitaab textbook! But to give the lessons their due, they did what they were meant to – we were getting some good, solid revision done before moving on tomorrow, and all the time we can feel ourselves getting better. It’s so worth the trip – it’s going great!
Nevertheless, after the first two hours of the afternoon’s long lesson, the boys couldn’t stand it any more. Every one of us was falling asleep in our verbs, and even after a cup of almost foolishly sweet shay, we could easily have napped instead of discussed the fictional Mahmoud’s hobbies in a weekend. So instead of napping behind their sunglasses like James had done for 20 minutes already (if you are still in school and reading this, don’t follow his example. It’s very very bad.), they skived off to see the Shella – ruins of something old, a 25 dirham taxi ride away from the school. You can’t say I don’t give you only the best information.
After surviving our revision class, we retired to a cafe for crepes. Again. And they were delightful after a day of toil! But more about food later…
We went shopping to a shop on that street called Etam with the boys, just to be girly. I’m rather like my dad when it comes to shopping, especially spur-of-the-moment – not usually interested. So I was standing around and mocking with Billy and James about smalls and white lace skirts, whilst the girls found pretty things all over the place. Alice bought a lovely little playsuit, which will look very nice in the bag until we get back to England. The blonde is enough without being that beautiful, thank you very much 😛
I can top off the day with one word – watermelon. On the walk home, we passed a little corner shop, with seven or eight enormous watermelons piled haphazardly outside. Getting excited, Alice and Charlotte went inside to buy one. Choosing the smallest, for one practical moment thinking about having to carry it, we paid (£2 by the way), and Alice heaved it into her arms, and off we pranced. Yes, we got many stares. Well guessed. But this time it wasn’t because we were different. It was just because it was funny. It managed to act as a round green talisman that pushed through the usual judgement and made everyone look at the little odd-but-happy group with affectionate smiles. Once home, we all tucked in, and between about 5 of us, managed to almost get through a sixth of this beast. I’m sticky and worn out, but we have had another great day in a list of many – a total of eight now. The time is going so fast, and I’m determined to squeeze every last drop from the experience. And from the watermelon.
Sweet dreams!


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“Natural Beauty and the Wonder of Adventure”

So our Sunday, yet again, was so so good. I started out majorly impressed with myself by finding that I could still talk to a taxi driver and order a crepe in French, as well as Arabic. Happy days. But in the queue for our breakfast crepes, we called the boys. They were meant to meet us at the downtown train station, but managed to get to the little one further south. Regrouping, we hopped into second class for the trip to Casablanca! The whole trip took just over an hour, and it took 50 minutes for us to sit together. And yet, the journey was smooth and there were no problems. Once we stepped off the train, we were immediately met with one of the main differences between Rabat and Casablanca – the smell! As we alighted we were smacked in the face with wafts of salt and fish (it got less pleasant later on), and wandered out through the ring of taxi drivers trying to rip us off, to find some genuine ones. Casablanca is a fascinating city, in the sense that the touristy bits are absolutely stunning, and the rest is like a shanty town. It feels a lot more like Africa – crazier road systems, more smell and dust and, well, poverty in a sense. We caught a Petit Taxi (red instead of Rabat’s blue) to the Morocco Mall – one of the two things to see in Casablanca. When we got there, we were greeted by an enormous IMAX theatre, and a vast air-conditioned designer shopping centre… with a floor-to-ceiling aquarium in it, with scuba-divers feeding the fish. Yes, really. What is that about?! Anyway, we wandered up to the food court (of course), and eventually settled on Pizza Hut, after many other outlets had turned our heads. We chatted about pizza (naturally), and how Alice and I are completely un-New York in that we don’t fold our slices, and I was derided for sometimes rolling my pizza to eat it. Anyway, the tour of The Other Thing To See was at 2pm, so we got into two taxis to Hassan the Second Mosque. Or, at least tried to. James and Alice got one, and Billy and I got in another. But before we could drive off, our door was opened by an angry Arabic-torrent-spouting man and (I think) told us to get out. Confused, we stood on the pavement and watched what turned out to be a gaggle of taxi drivers argue with each other about (we find out later) how much to charge us. On these journeys, the meter means nothing. In fact, it was turned off. After a while we were taken to the mosque, and once we got there, instead of being charged around 20 dirhams, we were charged 50. That’s the most we’ve been charged here yet, and one of the shortest journeys. The same thing happened to Alice and James. Billy was not impressed.
The main word I can use to describe the mosque was impressive. It was enormous, intricate, and just, well, big! We wandered around for a bit (and nearly went into the men’s section during prayer. Awkward.) and settled down for an hour to wait for the tour. Even though he’s allergic, James developed a slight obsession with the stray cats that were slinking from one group with food to another. Every one of them rejected him, because they had no food. Cats are terribly practical.
The tour of the mosque was really well done. Our tour guide was really friendly and kind, and we learned a lot about the weight of the door that is used only for the King and the President, and the amount of money that they spent on the washing pool that nobody has ever used or ever will. It was very impressive, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that, however beautiful, all it was was stones and trees. However good, all of it will one day crumble away. When we came back today, the girls had arrived back from the Sahara. And the things they told us about lying in the sand, under the stars, watching the long shadows and talking about life, it struck me that that can’t melt away like wood and stone. Charlotte described their discussions as being about “Natural Beauty and the Wonder of Adventure”, and genuinely, I think that that, for me, will always be more beautiful.

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A Truly Moroccan Day

Bear with me for a long entry guys. You’ll want to sit down with a cup of tea and a custard cream before you start. But trust me, today was well worth writing about.
I’m currently lounging on our sofa (pardon me, one of our sofas), drying out after a long shower in my Sussex Uni t-shirt, and I can reflect on the day from the other side of a locked door. Probably best really…
This morning began (rather later than most) with crepes so good that Billy downed his in under 6 minutes, despite already having eaten breakfast that morning. Actually no, I tell a lie. The day began with walking to breakfast, all treading in something black and semi-liquid, and all carrying on as normal, except Billy who, well, freaked out. His request to Alice: “can I have a wipe?” for the total of 2 drips that had ended up on his foot nicely established a norm of, well, mocking. Don’t worry, we made full use of the opportunity.
After breakfast, which was ordered half in Arabic and half in French (not muddled enough to be Darija (local dialect), but still enough to befuddle the poor waitress), we rushed out to take a taxi to the Old City souqs. Deciding to go boy-girl for the safety, Alice and Billy leapt into the first taxi calling “see you there!” Fortunately James had the presence of mind to ask them where “there” was, since the Old City souqs, as you might imagine, are vast and enormously confusing, and walking to find each other in there could take anything from an hour to a week. After a taxi ride with James obediently asking for “Bab Habeeba” (which he confided he didn’t think was actually a real place) and listening to his conversation with the taxi driver (who said he only spoke a little Fusah; pffffff), we arrived safely and entered the souq. Immediately, when you enter, you get, well, not swept along, but you certainly can’t stop without a greater-than-usual amount of planning. I can’t begin to tell you the bustle and craziness of that place. It is truly nuts. But we managed to develop a system. We would all stop together. Then the buyer would peruse and choose the one he or she wanted. Once they’d decided, we’d hand it over to Alice, the Power Shopper, to flick her blonde hair and drive her super-hard bargains for us. A fool-proof system if ever there was one. One of the many highlights of the souq visit, though, was the shop that Billy went in to buy a kaftan-ish robe. He got one, but that wasn’t the best thing we came away from that shop with. Alice got distracted by looking at the tunics and trousers for little boys. Deciding to buy one for her godson, she began poking around and asking prices and feeling materials. The stall owner brought out a piece for a slightly older girl that Alice declined, and she continued perusing the 3-year-old outfits (which, by the way, were cute enough to melt a heart of steel). In another part of the shop, minding his own busniess, James was trying on a tunic-top. Alice was then interrupted by the vendor to come and look at James’ top. It was then that we made the pant-wettingly brilliant discovery that the vendor thought that these two were married, with a 12-year old daughter and a 3-year old son. As we left, the vendor thought us all very jolly.
James continued to live up to his husband-ly duties of carrying the outfit for their son in his backpack, and sitting bored in all the handbag stalls we visited (if you’re reading, Mrs Hardy, Alice is after nothing but the best for you! All four of us are on the handbag hunt!).
When it came time for lunch (which ended up being at 3pm; you can easily lose 3 or 4 hours in those souqs), Alice was super brave and went and asked a corner shop manager what his favourite restaurant was in the near area. Following his directions, we came across a little burgundy-awning-ed cafe that looked, well, passable if you wanted kebabs. As we wandered around the corner, James and Billy spotted their old Arabic teacher, who they knew was in Morocco at the time. Seriously, their faces were worthy of exhibition at the Guggenheim. After a super shocked and happy greeting, she suggested a restaurant about 4 blocks away that did excellent Moroccan food. We went out on a limb, and gave it a try. Oh, my goodness, the FOOD! You know how usually, when you eat something good, after the first mouthful of yumminess you just get used to it and eat the rest normally. Not so with B’nin’s r’fisa! A dish of fried flat bread with chicken and lentils all slow-cooked in a tagine, every bite was a thing of beauty. I wanted to sing. James just wanted to eat.
The final event of the day was, well, let’s just say it was a mix of hilarious and overwhelming. We left in both laughter and disbelief, and with a healthy sense of what boundaries are ok in Morocco. We went, my friends, to Rabat beach. Having rented an umbrella and met a policeman under the neighbouring parasol who told us to keep our stuff very close and very safe, James heroically opted to stand guard whilst Billy, Alice and I went for a wade in the sea. Before we left, Alice and I had had a lengthy discussion about the amount of clothes we should put on. We felt we had chosen clothes that wouldn’t get us too noticed… until we got in the sea. To begin with it was lovely! We went into a significant depth to enjoy the water, and we felt safe enough, though people were staring. After a week, we were used to that. Nothing new there. The problem began with 3 young boys who decided to befriend the Westerners. They followed us from knee- to waist-depth, and one in particular was very friendly and asked our names. He was, and presumably still is, called Mohamed. The three of us were laughing and talking to each other, and then looked behind us. The little group of three cheeky boys had grown to more like ten children and two or three broad-shouldered young men with, well, a look in their eyes that I’d be happy never to see again. We started getting splashed by the kids, just as a game. But as the men joined in the splashing and shouting and people started touching places they shouldn’t on Alice and I, we fairly turned and fled! Just as an aside, Billy was completely brilliant. The moment he realised it had morphed into something other than a game, he was right in defence-mode. Between Billy and James, the world need never say that gentlemen don’t exist any more. If you guys are reading this, you’re both absolutely marvellous. Thank you. 🙂
The attention didn’t stop when we left the water. A group asked Alice and I if we were married, another if we were English, and there were too many glances that made us want to yank on a heavy cloak and never show an inch of skin again. Over on our right was another group of white people sunbathing in bikinis. We wondered why they weren’t being stared at or spoken to or harassed seemingly at all. We couldn’t understand it, until we saw their Alsatian. That settled it. If you’re white and coming to the beach, especially if you’re a woman, come with an attack dog. Of the non-metaphorical kind. Finally, to top off the beach fiasco, as we were packing up, we noticed that Billy had lost one of his sandals. After a search revealed nothing, we had to surmise that one of his shoes had been stolen. One shoe. One. What is that about? Anyway, as we made our way back up the beach, talking about the kind of person who would take one sandal, and the fact that there was someone in Morocco with one shoe displayed on his mantelpiece at home, a little group approached us with his sandal! This was amazingly kind of them… until we learned that they had stolen it as a joke, and James had to pay 2 dirhams’ ransom for it. Seriously, only in Morocco!
Anyway, after a proper packed day, with many observations to be made about women and poverty and the economy and society and and and, I’m going to bed after our late-night excursion to our nearest fast food place, Faceburger. Yes, that was Faceburger, written like Facebook. Who would have thought that a comparatively empty street after dark would feel safer than the beach in the middle of the afternoon. What a Moroccan day.


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The First Weekend

Ahhhh sweet freedom! After another six hours today, the last two being of grammar, it’s so nice to just sit and chill, even if all the early mornings are making me fall asleep in my Pinterest. But today has been great for many reasons.
Probably the most significant of these is that it’s Friday! Over here, their Friday is like our Sunday, where people go to prayers and have the day off and eat special food. Yes, their equivalent of a Sunday roast is couscous. We had it in the school today, and oh my goodness, it was a thing of delight. Billy and James are living with a host family too, and if this couscous was anything to go by, they will be loving their food coma tonight. It was so different being out tonight as well – everyone was out enjoying themselves, so watching Morocco go by was even more enjoyable than usual, as we partook in the holiday spirit and another helping of Fanta and fries. But really, it was gorgeous.

Lessons today were lovely as well. It’s so great to be able to have a giggle with my classmates – it really takes the pressure off and makes us comfortable to try as hard as we can. Today we were talking about our hobbies. In the heat of the moment, I could only remember that I liked to read. So I said that. So far, so good. But then I confirmed that that was my only hobby. I could have talked about the fact that I sing and play piano and guitar, or that I can draw or make jewellery or do embroidery. But no. As far as the world is concerned, I just read. How accomplished of me.
On the other hand, there’s an older man in our class called Ken who is Japanese, and he’s such a sweetheart. He loves to push himself to answer the question exactly the same as if it had been asked in English, with the same detail and everything. And quite often this results in some hilarious blunders (like him accidentally calling our young female teacher ‘delicious’). Today, he told us that one of his hobbies was having a pet. All fine and good. Except that we discovered later that this meant he had bought a chamaeleon in Morocco ten years ago and had called it Fatma. She didn’t really last that long, but she must have been special to still have a place in Ken’s hobby list. RIP Fatma.

Speaking of dead things brings me to the World Cup. Oh England… But at least I get to regale you with a mighty fine account. So, in a flash of splendid patriotism, we decided to try and watch the game last night. After flicking through most of the 600 channels on our TV, we decided it was a case of ask someone or give up. Being in our stubbornly patriotic mood, we decided to storm the nearest cafe and demand to know how to watch the game or we would just die. By that, I mean that Alice suggested that she go down and ask, and got a response about as enthuisiastic as striking a match in a rainstorm. However, she managed to stir us enough to work out how to say “which channel for the English football?” in French and Arabic, which Alice then took to the men in the fake Subway (really just a cafe). Somewhere between these two languages, hand gestures, and a detailed study of different kinds of remote controls, she came back with a list. It turns out that all this did was provide a story, because we had none of the channels on the list. So our patriotism couldn’t even be rewarded with a glimpse of the England players attaining a fierce victory to storm through to the finals and win the World Cup. Wait, what?

Anyway, moving on to better things, it’s the weekend!! What with Charlotte and Rebecca in the Sahara until Sunday night, we had to do some thinking about what to do. But on the schedule is time to just be in Morocco. Not in a school in Morocco, but actually in Morocco. So we’re buzzing for a visit to the old souq – yes, the whole crowded, spicy, loud and colourful experience – and a trip to the beach, as well as Casablanca and just some general down time. Bring it on! Can’t wait to tell you all more about the country and less about verbal nouns. Be excited for the news!


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Yawm al Khamees (Thursday)

So today was the first meal (except breakfast) where we didn’t have fries! Oh be joyful, I might only leave 3 stone heavier than when I arrived! One of my classmates commented this morning, on sampling yet another cup of famous Moroccan mint tea, or “shay”, “how is diabetes not an issue here?!” Yesterday we made traditional shay at cooking club, and I genuinely think the amount of sugar in it would be enough to dissolve 3-inch steel. Nevertheless, at least it perks us up a bit for class!
Speaking of paying attention in class, in the lunch queue we asked one of the girls in Advanced 2 (speaking to her was quite a feat in itself!) had been talking about in her lessons that day. She told us that they had been discussing the Moroccan economy during Ramadan and government implementation of boundaries to prevent speculation on food prices, as calmly as if she’s been discussing the weather. Feeling quite sheepish, we had to tell her that we actually had been discussing the weather in our class, which, by the way, is currently colder than in Brighton with cloud cover all day, except in the evenings, when you shouldn’t be out of the house. Gutted.
Anyway, onto the exciting events on the other side of the school walls… (gosh I sound like I’m in a Narnia story!)
So we get picked up to go to the school in the mornings, but after school at six we get taxis home. Sounds extravagant right? Except when you find out that the whole ride back costs less that £1GBP… only in Morocco! Anyway, like with many countries, the taxi drivers need nothing but a drivers’ license to be qualified, so even the ride home provides a great cross-section of ordinary Moroccans. And obviously, every driver has his individual, uh, style. And unfortunately for Charlotte and Alice, this afternoon’s driver’s style was the fast-and-furious-lad-on-phone type. Brilliant. I think they’ve blanked much of the experience from their minds, except that their friendship has deepened by facing death together. And they will never be able to listen to ‘It Wasn’t Me’ by Shaggy without flinching ever again…
I won’t lie, if you’re trying to attract attention in Rabat, dye your hair blonde. You’ll get responses from open staring to offers of a life partner who, dressed in his imitation Ralph Lauren polo shirt, will call you a princess and persuade you that he is not like other Moroccan men because he asks Google what to wear and that that alone qualifies him as a suitable husband. Alice has experienced both of these extremes. Yes, really.
Speaking of meeting lifetime lovers in Morocco… At the weekend a few of us are going to visit Casablanca! Mainly just to see the mosque and the harbours, but maybe I’ll be the Ingrid Bergman to my long-awaited Humphrey Bogart this weekend. I’ll let you know.


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Find a Friend

Finally, we’re settling into a busy but predictable routine in the school – arrive, eat, study, drink tea, have class, eat, have class, go home. And yet, I can say with all assurance and conviction, it is so much fun! It’s infinitely better than sitting in my house when there’s no class and watching YouTube all day (if you’re going to do that after reading this, I highly recommend a book. Or a walk. Or, well, almost anything else) and trying to convince my friends that “the rest is doing me good; I’m really enjoying myself”. And the thing that makes this so good and that so not, at least for me, is being surrounded by friends. And the best bit? Almost every one of them I have known for about 72 hours.

I suppose the main reason we make friends so quickly in this kind of circumstance is that we have no choice but to accept the people around us. Think about it – a friend is someone we know and accept despite all of their flaws. At quarters this close, we quickly know quite a bit about them, and see a lot of their flaws! Yet we decide to stick with them, because we’ve come to value them. Weird. I guess that’s partly what makes an enjoyable life – not just being passive about the people around us, but choosing to value them. In my experience, the best and most satisfied people are the ones that let themselves love and be loved by the people in their lives.

Anyway, emerging from the deeply philosophical, existential, mushy exploration of Friendship and Successful Living, a word about speaking Arabic is maybe in order. So, probably the best bit of today for me (except Moroccan Food Club (calm down, I’ll come back to this)), was going to the corner shop on the way home. Yes, really. Let me explain. So most of the time, in a foreign country, especially a non-Western country (that’s very Imperialist of me. I apologise.), you are often looked at by the locals as being, well, very different. Often as being suspiciously different. Between the locals and us often exists a barrier that is erected by difference in culture or beliefs or lifestyle or fortune. And yes, language is part of breaking that down. But most of the time, we will try to speak Arabic to the Moroccans, and so ingrained is their impression of ‘Westerners’ that they will regularly reply in French. And they’re stubborn about it. And yet today, in the little corner shop on Michliefen Street, I experienced the most, what’s the word, I suppose mature Moroccans I’ve met yet. We were squeezing through the tightly-packed shelves (and when I say ‘tightly’…) in this tiny little shop, and were getting in everybody’s way. Naturally, we apologised. And instead of a stony silence that was heavy with the word “Westerners”, these lovely people replied “sorry” and “thank you”, and smiled, and didn’t treat us differently but both ignored us and welcomed us as part of Business As Usual. And that was the freest I’ve felt just out in the city since we arrived. That feels weird, and almost wrong, to say in a culture of pursuing freedom and attaining “equality”. Yet for the first time, as a white Western foreigner, today in a little corner shop, I finally felt like an equal.

So anyway, Morocco is amazing. And the whole flat is buzzing with the excitement of three of our new home going on a weekend trip to the Sahara on Friday! Tasting the high life!

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page” -Saint Augustine (I believe)

Maa al Salaama!


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Unto the Breach

Hello readers!

This will appear whenever our internet at the flat works. Which could be a little while. This is Tuesday as I’m writing, just so you can get your bearings if this doesn’t publish until 2015. Not totally out of the question.

I won’t lie, I’ve never been enormously good at waiting. So today, for example, when we were stressing about it bring our first ever lesson etc etc and how apallingly we were going to do (it isn’t just me that’s had jittery first-day-of-term conversations right?), the teacher rocking up 10 minutes late and cool as a cucumber took a little getting used to. And the fact that this is what everybody does. Having grown up in a world of Give It To Me Fast Or I Leave And Take My Business With Me, living in a world that is more like We’re Academic But Only If I Can Take My Own Sweet Time So Chill Out is quite odd. Nevertheless, it makes it pretty fun! And, of course, it’s all part of the learning curve.

By some admin error, this morning I was in the Intermediate 1 class (and although I was meant to be 2 levels down, I survived pretty well! I am reliably informed that it got a lot worse mind you), we had to talk about whether or not travel is important. Naturally, it was a little beyond me to say “it’s absolutely necessary because otherwise we remain in a little bubble all the days of our lives and never experience the richness of sweet variety”, but I did manage “it is good because we study the world”. If, in semi-darkness, you close one eye and squint, I feel that sentence could almost pass as profound. Well done me.

Speaking of what I can say in Arabic…

Coming here is rather a shock after the super-sheltered tuition of one lovely teacher in a little class of 14 people that you all know. The main thing that is cramping my Intermediate 1 style is not having learned some things that other people think are very important. After 2 years of study, I find myself in Beginners Two (bearing in mind Beginners One learns the alphabet). And yet, after the initial surprise, I can see why. The thing is, you see, I could conjugate 27 verbs for you into every different tense, but I couldn’t tell you what the weather is like if it isn’t “sunny and hot”. Genuinely, our homework for tomorrow is 2 pages of the textbook about the weather, and I am so worried that I’ll make a complete hash of it. It’s really odd what people thing is and isn’t necessary to learn when starting a language. Having to pick and choose which bits of someone else’s mother tongue don’t matter and which are probably useful. And when you arrive in the country, it always feels like you learned the wrong bits. However, today we were all able to say to the waiters that their chicken skewers were better than Atlas Chicken (high praise indeed, considering Atlas is meant to be the best rotisserie chicken in the world. It’s not. Go to Tesco.) entirely successfully. But only because they spoke Fasah (classical Arabic). Heaven forbid any real people actually speak any dialects! It’s not like the English speak anything other than pure Windsor-esque anyway. Right?

Anyway, I need my beauty sleep to tackle the ultimate mission that is Beginners Two Homework in the morning.

“Stay tuned for more profoundly witty insights from the middle-England blogging wonder that is

Hannah McCallum”

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Into the Fray

Phew! We’ll sleep well tonight!
So today has been a weird mix of hard work and doing nothing. Yet even doing nothing in warm weather is effort!

The hard work was embodied in a test so difficult that we didn’t even understand most of the questions let alone the answers. To make it worse, the questions were written in English. Awkward. We had two hours, sitting in the garden, surrounded by our new friends, all chewing our lips and our pens over things like “change these sentences from nominal to verbal”. Most of the following sentences just looked like someone had fallen asleep on the keyboard. Nevertheless, despite the difficulty of the written test, at least it wasn’t humiliating. Which brings me to the oral component… It’s really not that great when, seated across from a prospective tutor, you end up in mortal danger of swallowing your own foot. The conversation, translated of course, went something like this:

Tutor: what do you do in your free time?

Me: oh, uh… uh… um, could you repeat that?

Tutor: What do you do in your free time?

Me: (interpreting “free time” as “at the moment”) well, I’m studying. In this school.

Tutor: what do you do in your FREE TIME?

Me: oh. Sorry.

Yeah. Hello Beginners One.

No, we mock, but really it’s been absolutely brilliant. This was embodied not in hard tests or embarassing Arabic conversations, but in the several hours spent chatting under the parasols in the school garden (yes, that was ‘school garden’. Brilliant.), spending time with people you’d never seen before, enjoying the beautiful sunshine and the free-flowing conversation (and sun-tan oil) of  people with mutual interests. Get thrown into a completely bizarre situation with people, and it’s amazing how quickly you bond!

Later in the day, we went on a tour of Rabat in the minibus. It was only for an hour or so, but even so, Rabat is such a beautiful city. As Billy from New York described it, “it’s beautiful in a different way to most cities. Kind of like a rustic beauty”. And, by the way, he’s completely right. You know, it might be nice to see fascinating cities like this from the safety of a sofa and a TV screen or a glossy magazine, but the “rusticness” can only be experienced when you’ve got the wind in your hair and the sea air in your lungs and yes, even the dust in your hair. The whole city has the air of the kind of old man everyone has met at least once – that old man that doesn’t have to say a word, but you just know has dozens of stories he could dredge up at a moment’s notice about any time in history you could care to mention, telling each story with words the colour and richness of any oil painting. And then he opens his mouth to invite you to get lost in his world…

…and you realise that he does ‘t speak English. It seems funny that if people can’t speak Arabic or French here you’re really rather lost. We were wondering yesterday why the second language wasn’t English. But why in the world should it be? We are so awful at getting humbly into other people’s worlds and seeing through their eyes. And their eyes in Morocco are Arabic eyes. The entire tour today was in Arabic. I didn’t understand more that one word in three, but I was so glad that for once we had to be the ones trying to adapt to someone else’s normality. I think one of the things that makes me so disappointed is seeing that family – the ones dressed entirely in khaki with sunburnt skin except for where their shades have been, sitting in a local restaurant, with a poor waiter at their tablem looking hopelessly befuddled as the father yells “DO YOU HAVE FISH AND CHIPS?” Sometimes I think we need to learn the art of empathy and crawl into someone else’s world. They may laugh at us when we get it wrong (which they certainly do), but I think that secretly they like it a lot better than me yelling in their face, totally unfazed, “DO YOU HAVE FISH AND CHIPS?”

Anyway, onwards we plod my friends. Anticipating the start of class tomorrow, and above all, the discovery of our class allocations!

Goodnight for now. I have to say, by the way, you guys are such good company, putting up with all my language rants! It’s lovely to have you 🙂 Night!


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Freshmen’s Nerves

I think the worst part of doing something absolutely crazy and new is the lull before all the activity begins. Since yesterday morning at 2am we’ve been running on adrenaline, trying to find our flight gate or our taxi or our passports or our friends. But once you’re back from the business of setting up, just sitting can be a bit glum.

But we win’t have that problem for long! With the daily bus to the school leaving at 7:30am (well, nominally at least), the 2 hour long placement exam tomorrow, orientation day, around 6 hours of lessons per day and group outings at the weekends, tonight is probably the only calm for a while.

Taking advantage of that, tonight we went for a walk to find a supermarket. Since we hadn’t a clue where to begin, we asked 5 separate people for directions. One of these groups didn’t even speak Arabic, but even if they had it wouldn’t have been much use, since we didn’t know the word for ‘supermarket’. The moment you step into a language you’ve only ever learned in a classroom, you get humbled very quickly. And, in our case, land with rather a bump.

Just from this simple little walk today, we’ve already learned rather a lot about the people in Rabat. Most of the women disapprove of our bare arms. Most if the men honk their horns, or try to be our best friend. “I like the way you eat your pizza” was probably the best comment of the day. Most of the shopkeepers just find you really funny. But maybe that’s just when you’re saying “where is the big market for food?” in funny broken English-accented Arabic.

One thing about an international language school is meeting all the other people that are pursuing the same language. And if getting tongue-tied in front of Spanish restaurant-owners didn’t humble you enough, this simple experience certainly would! There are people who are absolutely phenomenal at this language, feigning worry about the entry exam, when inside little Arabic-Elective-Pathway-Hannah is going “hello again Beginners One…”. Nevertheless, the company is literally brilliant, the flat is enormous, and has a very Rabat atmosphere (mainly due to the broken window in the room off the kitchen), and thank the good Lord for the breeze!

Anyway, I have to join the summit for Get Up Time and Blanket Order On Beds with my flat chums. All of the fun!

Lots of love!


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