16 November 2011

The Coffee Cup

So many things happening at Penn, so many Arab encounters.  A couple of weeks ago, I met this man.  Because I saw him in a panel discussion, he at first simply struck me as a impressively well-spoken English-Arabic bilingual Syrian immigrant, hip-hop artist.  I spoke to him, collected some advice to give any aspiring young artists I meet, and went on my way.  I doubt he would remember the polite, quiet white girl, or would know the ghorba she feels in her own country.  But he did give me a CD that day, and I can't stop listening to it.  It's been years since I've listened to a CD on repeat, but this one is sticking with me.  I think it's the combination of English and Arabic, and because I'm studying foosha now I understand more dialects of Arabic.  It's also the poetry.  Poetry in any language, read aloud, especially to mournful music, is always soothing to me.  

This one I'm posting here is based on a famous poem by Nizar Qabbani.  I'll post it here in English and Arabic, and when you read it, you have to imagine Omar reciting the whole thing, in Arabic.

قارئـــة الفنجـــان
نزار قباني - قصائد متوحشة

جلست .. والخوف بعينيها
تتأمل فنجاني المقلوب
قالت : يا ولدي . لا تحزن
فالحب عليك هو المكتوب
.. يا ولدي . قد مات شهيدا
.. من مات على دين المحبوب

فنجانك .. دنيا مرعبة
وحياتك أسفار .. وحروب
ستحب كثيرا وكثيرا
وتموت كثيرا وكثيرا
.. وستعشق كل نساء الأرض
..وترجع .. كالملك المغلوب

بحياتك ، يا ولدي ، امراة
عيناها .. سبحان المعبود
فمها .. مرسوم كالعنقود
ضحكتها .. موسيقى وورود
لكن سماءك ممطرة
وطريقك .. مسدود .. مسدود

فحبيبة قلبك .. يا ولدي
نائمة .. في قصر مرصود
والقصر كبير .. يا ولدي
وكلاب تحرسه وجنود
وأميرة قلبك .. نائمة
من يدخل حجرتها مفقود
من يطلب يدها .. من يدنو
من سور حديقتها مفقود
من حاول فك ضفائرها
يا ولدي .. مفقود .. مفقود

.. بصرت .. ونجمت كثيرا
.. لكني .. لم أقرا أبدا
فنجانا يشبه فنجانك
لم أعرف أبدا .. يا ولدي
أحزانا .. تشبه أحزانك
مقدورك أن تمشي أبدا
.. في الحب .. على حد الخنجر
وتضل وحيدا كالأصداف
وتظل حزينا كالصفصاف
مقدورك أن تمضي أبدا
في بحر الحب بغير قلوع
.. وتحب ملايين المرات
.. وترجع .. كالملك المخلوع

The Fortune Teller
Nizar Qabbani

She sat with fear in her eyes
Contemplating the upturned cup
She said "Do not be sad, my son
You are destined to fall in love"
My son, Who sacrifices himself for his beloved,
Is a martyr

For long have I studied fortune-telling
But never have I read a cup similar to yours
For long have I studied fortune-telling
But never have I seen sorrows similar to yours
You are predestined to sail forever
Sail-less, on the sea of love
Your life is forever destined
To be a book of tears
And be imprisoned
Between water and fire

But despite all its pains,
Despite the sadness
That is with us day and night
Despite the wind
The rainy weather
And the cyclone
It is love, my son
That will be forever the best of fates

There is a woman in your life, my son
Her eyes are so beautiful
Glory to God
Her mouth and her laughter
Are full of roses and melodies
And her gypsy and crazy love of life
Travels the world
The woman you love
May be your whole world
But your sky will be rain-filled
Your road blocked, blocked, my son
Your beloved, my son, is sleeping
In a guarded palace
He who approaches her garden wall
Who enters her room
And who proposes to her
Or tries to unite her plaits
Will cause her to be lost, my son...lost

You will seek her everywhere, my son
You will ask the waves of the sea about her
You will ask the shores of the seas
You will travel the oceans
And your tears will flow like a river
And at the close of your life
You will find that since your beloved
Has no land, no home, no address
You have been pursuing only a trace of smoke
How difficult it is, my son
To love a woman
Who has neither land, nor home

26 September 2011

Bloggy McBloggerson

 So recently I was giving one my students advice about ways to learn about people's experiences abroad, and I told her to read blogs! Because I don't really have much to say right now about Morocco - as I'm living in Philly - here are some of my favorite blogs I follow(ed).

My friend Becky, a 40-something ex-journalist. She was in the southern part of Morocco, and now lives in Nebraska. A really good writer!

Another friend of mine, Erin, who lived in a really small town in the south of Morocco as well, and did a great project of building a women's center in her town... We all wish we could be like her: http://almaghrebalaqsa.blogspot.com/

A friend of my sister's from our high school. She is currently at the end of her two years, in a small town in Paraguay.

A friend of mine, Duncan, who was in the north of Morocco, near Fez. A very smart guy.

My current roommate's friend just went to Senegal. He is a horrible writer, but he's funny and tells the WHOLE truth - poop and bugs and everything. He still updates, usually once a week.

A gay friend of mine who was in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, she is now getting married to a divinity student in San Francisco. She has one of my favorite blogs from Morocco.

A girl, Lauren, I played flute with in college. She is in her first 6 months in Panama. She has no electricity, and barely any cell phone service in her town, but she seems to be really happy so far.

My friend Donniell from Morocco, her site is only 50 km from my old town in Morocco. She's really funny, and writes well because she went to college in Scotland.

A friend of a friend who is serving in Mali right now. If you go back to her entries from this summer, and earlier, you will get a very grim look of the worst parts of being a volunteer, but if you follow her entries until this week, you can see that she is SO strong and gets happier as the weeks pass. An amazing and inspiring woman!

18 August 2011

In West Philadelphia...

I've lived in Philly for a week now, and I've had a lot of minutes where I've wanted to post, but because I hoped to concentrate this blog on Morocco/Islam/etc., I didn't really have anything to post until now.

The Masjid Al Jamia is 2-3 blocks north of my house. I first noticed it, kind of, the first day I was in the house, last Wednesday. I was sitting on the front porch, talking to my dad on the phone, when I noticed a tall black man wearing a white fooqiya (that's Moroccan Arabic, in English, most Muslims call them "thoobe" which in Moroccan Arabic "tube" means simply cloth) and a woman wearing a black abaya and black headscarf walking north. I was confused about the time, so I thought they were walking back from the post-break-fast prayers called Tarawih. I thought about saying "Happy Ramadan" to them, told my dad they passed by, and forgot about the whole thing 10 minutes later.

The next couple of days, however, I noticed that West Philadelphia is full of Muslims. For America anyway. Maybe it's my hijab-dar (think ray-dar) from living so long in Morocco, but I am noticing more Muslims than I've ever noticed in a US city. And especially black American Muslims.

My defining experience happened when I went to my nearby grocery store, Supreme Shop 'n' Bag. The pinnacle of urban grocery stories with surprisingly good produce... Anyway, I was wandering around, trying to pick foods I knew I couldn't find at the farmer's market the next day, when I hear a lady mumbling to herself. Turning around, I saw a very covered hijabi woman (we're talking extra shawls and socks here), older, searching the pasta aisle for something easy to cook. I smile and say hi to her, like the nice Midwesterner I am, and she and I start talking about what she needs to buy. Her skin was white with red undertones, but when she spoke to me, I could tell that she was either ethnically black American or was raised in the same linguistic environment. I could also tell that she's a little bit lonely and a little bit slow. We discuss pasta options for a while, and then, just to check my suspicions, I ask when she has to break fast. Maybe 7:45? She tells me, no, it's 7:12, check the mosque outside. We part ways, mostly because I have to get to the dairy aisle before I leave, and sure enough, after I leave Shop 'n' Bag, I see the 5 prayer times posted on the side of a building I would not think to be a mosque.

Of course - because this is America - there is no minaret. Of course, I have not heard the adhan (call to prayer) - probably also because this is America and people don't like their sleep disturbed by anything except maybe church bells. But also, it's a very non-descript, white brick building. With green doors. I should have seen those green doors (color of Islam) and I should have noticed the prayer times. But when I walked by the mosque, the doors were closed. As I left the Shop 'n' Bag, there were lines of men outside. Mostly thobe-clothed men. I don't know what they're doing, because it's not time for break-fast yet, but I guess they are maybe either gathering after the afternoon prayer (a little late in my opinion) or coming to collect free iftar (break-fast) food from the mosque. But I don't know how good mosques are with community service around here so...

I'm very happy and almost comforted to know there is a mosque in my neighborhood. Everyone who knows me knows that I'm obsessed with Morocco, but less people know that I spent about six months reading every book relating Islam I could get my hands on. Including Salman Rushdie. And there is something about the spirituality of Islam that comforts me in a way Christianity doesn't/didn't. It's so contrary, and it's probably related to my experience with Moroccan PEOPLE as opposed to Islam itself. Either way, I have been told by more than one Muslim from more than one culture that I (a) have either already converted to Islam in my heart and just need to accept God's will or (b) I will convert to Islam someday. I'm not denying that this is a possibility, but no such conversion has happened yet.

Side note: I have been tempted, however, the last few days, to fast and then wear a hijab and go to the mosque during break-fast time and see what happens. But that seems slightly sacrilege to me still...

For now, I am just content to know that there is a connection that love and joy I knew in Morocco nearby. Next stop: find me some Moroccan friends!

27 June 2011


I'm back in the U.S. Coming here yesterday... and leaving on Saturday ...that was really hard. I can't really talk about what happened yet, it's too fresh. But it's really strange being back. I feel like I went to sleep last August, and just woke up today, 15 pounds heavier, after a really long and really strange dream. I guess that's good, that I feel comfortable here, but I want to make sure I remember everything I learned this year, everything that happened.

So I figured, what's the best way to keep Morocco "alive" for me than watch this new show called "Expedition: Impossible" These teams of Americans do an "extreme" race through the "wild" nature of Morocco. It's a wonderful show full of tens of thousands of eye-rolling moments. And nice little side comments by the Moroccans who are staring at these funny looking Americans. "Why is the gay team wearing knee high socks?" "I would never marry a woman like that!" Such good commentary, I kind of wish they would have hired a Marrakech guy to just follow them around and give the Moroccan perspective of what they are saying, doing, and wearing.

I'm not sure how I feel, in this episode, with the "snake charmers" as part of the race. Since I didn't live in the Sahara, I don't know for sure, but I doubt that that activity is authentic to that area. Then again, there are a lot of snakes in the desert.

We'll see if there is anything worth writing about next week....

14 June 2011

A Quiet Monday Night Thought

Over a year ago, I started this blog, thinking I would post maybe 2 or 3 times a week about Morocco. I was back from Morocco the first time, and ready to head back to my second home for another year. I wanted to post about Moroccan culture, traditions, and people, because I felt like I was having to explain a lot to people back at home about Morocco, and it was just easier to post about it, and then email everyone I cared about once a month or so. It was a "Third Goal" effort: teach Americans about the country in which you serve. It was also a catharsis effort, so that I would be able to attempt to show people why I was (and still am) so fascinated by this country.

For the first few months, I kept up the effort, but after a while, I got caught up in my life here. I didn't write much anymore, I didn't post anything longer than a few paragraphs. And that's okay. I felt like I did a good job of continuing to post many (too many?) articles on Facebook, so that anyone who cared could read a little bit more about what was going on here. I failed, really, to continue my goal here though. Can't do anything about that now, but looking back, I wish I could have chronicled my reactions and thoughts about the historical changes that were happening in the Arab world, and how theses changes manifested themselves in Morocco.

For example, I will always remember that I was sitting at the Grande Terrasse cafe near the Royal Theater in Rabat, downloading on their fast internet connection, when I looked up and saw the speech Hosni Mubarak made to announce he was leaving. I wish I had written about that then.

But it's okay. Now I am days away from leaving Morocco. I say to most people I'm leaving "for good," but anyone who knows me well knows that this place and these people - as I mentioned in my last post - will always pull me back. I don't know when, and I am grateful that this time I am not scheming to return... yet. I am grateful that I know what kind of emotions I will experience when I go back. Even though it won't make them any easier, I am trying to console myself with the fact that they are normal.

This year hasn't been my greatest. I did some things that I regret, and some things that maybe I should regret, but don't. I was really on my own for the first time in my life, no school or parents or university or international agency to hold me responsible, and I learned a lot of hard but valuable lessons about myself.

I learned that I am not as strong as I want to be, but a lot stronger than I was. I learned that my moral compass doesn't always point north, and that I should consider and/or care about the consequences of my actions more. I learned that speaking your own opinions can bring out the best and the worst in people. I learned that sometimes, no matter how much I work towards something, I could fail, spectacularly, but I also learned that I am not a bad person because I failed at something at which I desperately thought I needed to succeed. I was reminded that living abroad is hard, and that I don't deal with change as well as I would like to think. I was reminded how blessed I am to have the life that I have. I was reminded that time heals wounds, whether you want it to or not. I was reminded that I can cook, but most of the time, I choose convenience over healthy food. I was reminded that I am beautiful, smart, and a good person at heart, despite what societies may tell me.

Morocco will be part of my life and my soul forever. After all, I've been here a total of 37 months over the past 4 years:

September 2007 - November 2009: 26 months
June 2010 - July 2010: 2 months
September 2010 - June 2011: 9 months

Hopefully, I'll be able to carry those months with me while still moving on and continuing to grow up. I'm scared, being 26 years old, at what comes next, but many movies have told me that real courage is going forward despite being terrified out of your mind. So I'm going to try.

08 June 2011

On Loving Morocco, Moroccans

This is from Kathleen Dean Moore's book The Pine Island Paradox.

In one chapter she reflects on these questions, What does it mean to love a person? What does it mean to love a place? And she answers the questions thus: "it means at least this: 1. to want to be near it, physically. 2. to want to know everything about it - its story, its mood, what it looks like by moonlight. 3. to rejoice in the fact of it. 4. to fear its loss, and grieve for its injuries. 5. to protect it - fiercely, mindlessly, futilely, and maybe even tragically, but to be helpless to do otherwise. 6. to be transformed in its presence - lifted, lighter on your feet, transparent, open to everything beautiful and new. 7. to want to be joined with it, taken in by it, lost in it. 8. to want the best for it. 9. desperately, and 10. to take responsibility for its well-being."


In this excerpt lies the proof for me, for myself, that I love Morocco, truly love it, and wasn't just infatuated with it. There is also the proof that I have loved people here, and I wasn't just in lust or infatuated with them.

I know I haven't updated in a long time. I haven't been doing much... I haven't been working, I haven't been traveling. I've been visiting people, enjoying all that Rabat has to offer, flying back and forth to America for my sister's graduation, and watching the sparrows go crazy in my neighborhood around sunset. I've been trying to write my book - the subject of another entry, maybe even another blog entirely - but (a) I am lazy and (b) I'm daunted by the enormity of my idea and thus I really don't know where to begin.

I've also been following the news ravenously. I am a romantic, and so all this revolution stuff, at first, was really sparking my imagination, reminding me of French novels and stories of 1967 revolutions. But then I saw a policeman backhand a man across the face, and club him hard in the balls, and I realized how unfair and how unromantic this whole thing really is, and really will be for quite sometime. I pray for all those who are bold enough to speak out, because I am not too sure I would be. Torture, but more so the threat of torture, is scary shit.

I don't know what will happen to this blog once I go back to the States, on June 26th, but I hope to continue to write about Morocco for a while. Inshallah.

02 May 2011

Nostalgic for Something We Never Knew

"Rome is burning," he said, as he poured himself another drink. "Yet here I am, knee-deep in a river of pussy."

"Here it comes," she thought. "Another self-indulgent, whiskey-soaked diatribe about how fucking great everything was in the past... And how all us poor souls born to late to see the Stones at wherever or to snort the good coke like they had at Studio 54, well, we'd all just missed out on practically everything worth living for."

And the worst part was, she agreed with him.

24 April 2011

T'en va pas

I’m scared to leave Morocco

I became a grown-up here

I was and am truly happy here

I found love here

I doubt my ability to be happy in the US

I’m scared of being too old

I’m scared of being alone

I’m tired of starting over

I’m scared of not being special anymore

I’m scared of becoming fat

I doubt my ability to go back to school

I have a hard time letting go

17 April 2011

Casablanca Part II

...And we're back!

The next few times I went to Casa was with my boyfriend of that era to stay with his cousin Rachid while we were traveling or doing “errands” in the city. This was when I began to forget about the cityscape and focus on what it would be like to live in Casa as a middle-class Moroccan. I saw the city for the first time by private car, when Rachid drove us around. I got to visit the Hassan II Mosque, the third biggest mosque in the world. I made his family cheesecake and walked around with his wife to buy the ingredients we needed. I got to see the cheap shopping I had heard so much about and big street markets where I could buy anything for half the price or less that you could find in Marrakech.

Most importantly for me, however, I got to celebrate Ramadan with Rachid’s family. Which meant that, after some heated conversation with my boyfriend, I got to visit their family in the shantytowns and break the fast with them. In Morocco, there is a tendency to want to hide from guests anything that is “undesirable.” Many people I know hate to talk about the poverty and drug use and other bad things in their country. They won’t talk about the problems they’re having at home. And since shantytowns are “bad places” where “bad boys” hang out, my boyfriend thought he was trying to protect me, the blindingly white girl who stands out wherever she goes, from whatever could happen to me there. But I needed to go, and I’m so thankful that he relented to take me with him there.

Shantytowns, especially in Casa, were just fields before people from the countryside came to work in the city. Because they had no money when they came, and couldn’t afford to pay rent, they acquired cheap building materials like concrete, tin, and rocks, and built what houses they could. And thus they grew and grew. Most Americans will have pictures of shantytowns in Sub-Saharan Africa in their minds, but, through my experience, these are a little less…end-of-the-world looking. There is trash everywhere yes, but that’s ubiquitous throughout Morocco. The houses look sturdy enough to stand a few rainstorms. And, it many houses, there are cement floors, and enough furniture for no one to sleep on the floor. Still, you could have anywhere from 6 to 10 people sleeping in one room, and most likely 6 or 7 families will share one toilet.

What really struck me when going to “break-fast” in the shantytown was how normally Moroccan, in my mind, anyways, these people were. They sat me down in the nice salon, fed me the guest food, talked about me in Arabic with my boyfriend in front of me, laughed and joked, and walked around outside after the meal. Much later, I saw a movie about these shantytowns that summed it up very well. “What is a poor person?” the young man in the movie asked. “He’s just a person that doesn’t have any money. He still has hopes, dreams, he still has dignity.” That Ramadan night really helped me appreciate what lessons Casa could teach me, and reminded me never to dismiss a place or a person based on first impressions.

From that last visit to Rachid’s family, I have tried hard to see the beauty behind the glaring ugly that is Casa. I thought I had completed my picture of the city, but recently I had to go down for the day to apply for a new passport. I got of the train in the pleasantly hot Moroccan sun, had the great fortune to have a friendly talkative taxi driver who didn’t hit on me, and arrived on the palm-lined Boulevard Moulay Youssef relatively unscathed. I got there late, and a guard at the consulate told me, no I’m sorry, you can’t go in anymore, because American Citizen Services closes at 3, and look, it’s 3:10. When he saw my face, and my dejected walk away, he called over the door guard, and asked if he could get me in, and they decided that it wouldn’t hurt to try. This is a normal thing to happen in Morocco, but based on my experience at the impregnable French consulate, I didn’t expect them to be so nice and so Moroccan about it.

After my appointment, my lunch of seafood in a sunny, breezy café led me to look around and realize that I could actually picture myself living in this city. If I had a job. If I had friends. If I had a family. That was a such a surprise that I almost dropped my fork. Maybe it was because I had gone back to the States this time, maybe it was because I am living in Rabat now, a grimy crowded city itself, maybe it was the breeze or the summer feel in early April. Whatever it was, I mulled over the thought for the rest of the day to make sure it was true. But yes, in the end I decided that Casa has grown on me, and I could actually see myself liking the place. Who knew!

16 April 2011


Before Americans come to Morocco, there are a few things they may already know about it: “The Marrakech Express” song, they may think it’s Monaco, or they may have heard of Casablanca. The city made famous by a movie about a love story in Vichy France. They have these images of low lounge tables in smoky rooms with Uncle-Tom-like piano men creating the soundtrack behind the stilted 40’s dialogue and overly dramatic close-ups.

Moroccans, however, have very different stereotypes about Casablanca. They usually call it Casa, pronounced more like “Caza” or Dar Bida (white house) in Arabic. They know it to be a busy places filled with a lot of rich people and a lot of poor people. Most Moroccans from the countryside that I’ve talked to say that they hate the place because it’s filled with busy people and high buildings and that no one knows their neighbors. Moroccans from all over Morocco also have this stereotype about the shantytowns in Casa overflowing with “bad boys” who like to cause trouble, light things on fire, and who are so poor that they’ve turned to terrorism.

Learning about Casa, for my part, has taken my whole 3 years in Morocco. My first experience there was a train “changement” on my way from Marrakech in the south to Oujda in the East to visit my best volunteer friend. It’s a 12-hour trip. After the four-hour train from Marrakech in the July heat, I got of the train at Casa Voyegeurs for a five hour layover to wait for the overnight train to Oujda… In the first 20 minutes, I ventured outside the train station, and 5 minutes later, I hurried back. In Marrakech, there are no buildings higher than the mosques, and when I stepped out in the Casa streets with mostly 20- or higher story buildings, I felt claustrophobic. The smog-laced weight of the ocean air was even more suffocating, and cab drivers in little red taxis beat any crazy driving record I had seen in other Moroccan cities.

After that, I wasn’t keen on going back to Casa anytime soon, but in November, my Moroccan Couchsurfer friend invited me to come down for couple of nights. Since she had come to stay at my place twice on her way up into the High Atlas Mountains, I thought it would be nice to see where she came from. I had a good time over all, being welcomed into her 6-person family’s two-bedroom apartment warmly as their first Arabic-speaking foreign Couchsurfer, going out in Ain Diab – a line of clubs along the beach – and getting an understanding of the layout of the city.

My impression changed slightly then, learning for the first time the dichotomy between city Moroccans and countryside Moroccans. Since most of the people I met spoke excellent English, I learned that there were a lot more educated, working, computer-using, quote unquote normal people in Morocco.

I also was able to articulate exactly why I couldn’t feel comfortable in the city. The architecture was what was so oppressive to me that first time, not the rest of the atmosphere. In my letter home, I called it a “50’s art deco nightmare.” It wasn’t the art deco itself that was depressing, but the decay, and the sickly grey color all the previously white houses had. The ocean hair had corroded all the concrete buildings, eating away at what could have been their former majesty, and leaving a city on the verge of crumbling. But still, there was a life, a pulse, that any city of 6 million people will have, that kept me interested in discovering what the attraction was to this place.

To be continued…

15 April 2011

Overheard in Rabat

Many times, I feel like my life here in Rabat is as far removed from my life in the blad (countryside) as life in New York is removed from life in small-town Midwestern America. And in honor of that, I would like to post a conversation I over heard on the train coming back from Casablanca to Rabat. My passport is almost full, and so I took a day trip to this fabled city to apply for a new one… I’ll try to write more about Casa and Moroccan Border Police in other entries, inchallah.

It’s a simple conversation, but really reveals a typical 20-something Moroccan girl and her relationships with boys and how that affects her and her family.


Scene: The commuter train from Casa Port to Rabat Ville. I was facing forward, and behind me to the left were sitting four girls, two across from two.

These were Rich Girls. With heels… and not just ANY heels, but 4” or 5” studded pumps. They wore tank tops, and had the right (real?) brands of purses, jeans, sunglasses, etc. One was wearing animal print, another a trucker hat.

The girl in the far left corner answered the phone, and had the following conversation. I’ve put the original language in quotes, with my translations to the side.

[phone rings – Turkish music ring tone]

“’Allo?” (Hello?)

“3likom salam” (And peace be upon you - second half of a common Muslim greeting)

“Kifash? Ma-kan-sm3akch” (Sorry? I can’t hear you.)


[phone rings again]


“Labas.” (I’m fine)

“La nta li ma3ndkch rizo.” (No, your phone doesn’t have service)

“La, sm7li, masm3atkch mzyan.” (No, sorry, I can’t hear you)

“Shno???” (What???)

“La” (No)


“Wa sd3tini, why do you keep calling?” (You’ve bothered me - literally, "you’ve 'noise-ed' me")

“Blatti, dar kay-3iyto liya” (Wait a sec, my parents are calling me)


“Oui Baba” (Yes Daddy)


“Ana f Agdal” (I’m in Agdal – a region of Rabat. The train had barely left of Casa)

“La ma-msayliach daba.” (No, I’m not free now.)

“La ma-9drch nji.” (No, I can’t come.)

“Safi, ntlaqaw f la gare.” (Ok, we’ll meet at the train station.)


“Oui Baba, bien sur. D’accord. Safi.” (Yes Daddy, of course, okay, alright.)


[phone rings again]


“Labas.” (I’m fine.)

“Naharach? La, gadi nkon f Turkey simana jaya.” (What day? No, I’m going to be in Turkey next week.)

“Yes, Turkey.”

“I’m going with my girlfriends.”

“Private school.”

“Me too.”

“I told you, khams ayam.” (five days)

“La machi Istanbul. Antalya Beach Resort.” (No, not Istanbul.)

“Ah, zwin.” (Yes, it’s beautiful.)

“By plane. Jat chi khamsa ou 3arbaiyin minute b tiyara mn Istanbul.” (It’s about 45 min from Istanbul by plane.)

“Oui, free time.”

[Here she goes into some long drawn-out discussion in a Darija-French mix about her degree in English literature and how she wants to work and not study anymore. I kind of space out. Her father calls again. The the boy calls back. But I pay attention again when I hear her go, “What did you say??” in English.]


[phone rings]


“3awd shnu galti liya.” (Say again what you said before.)

“Matkonch 3ndk tiqa z3ida f nfs.” (You don’t have a lot of self-confidence.)

“I’m not selfish.”

“La.” (No.)

[long pause – I thought the phone went out again, but not so.]

“Na’am? La.” (What? No.)

“La. Ou duk l message li sifti liya, kunti wld nnas, mat-sift liya-ch dukchi.” (No. And that message you sent me, if you were a good guy – literally “son of the people” – you wouldn’t have sent that.)

[Long pause]

“DHktini.” (You make me laugh.)

“Zid.” (Go on.)

“Ah, meskin.” (Yes, poor you.)

“Deja.” (Already.)

“Walou bin ana ou yah.” (There’s nothing between me and him.)

“No, I promise, walou.” (Nothing.)

[Long pause]

“Kat-3iyit ou nqt3ak ou kat3yit ou nqt3ak ou… safi. Ma-fhmtich ach bghit ngolik?” (You call and I hang up on you and you call and I hang up on you and… enough. Don’t you understand what I’m trying to say to you.)

“Kont kan-t3asha.” (I was having dinner.)

“Sd3atini.” (You bothered me.)

“Bzaf.” (A lot.)

“Safi. Ok. I’ll call you later. Bye bye.” (Alright.)

14 April 2011

Little Blue Book

April 7, 2011

“It is virtually impossible for Moroccans to enter Europe or the U.S.” This is a statement that after so many years traveling, living abroad, and even studying immigration, seems self-evident to me, but it’s something we have to explicitly tell our students.

My whole life I’ve been fortunate enough to have the money to travel abroad. More importantly, I was born in a place that gave me this little blue book at the age of 8. This little blue book could allow me entry into more countries that most people could name. To date, I have visited Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Spain, England, Italy, Scotland, Germany, Ireland, France, Turkey, Peru, Mexico, Jamaica, and of course, Morocco. But this little blue book isn’t available for everyone. Sure, everyone with enough cash in their pocket can get their own book: burgundy, green, red, etc. But that doesn’t get you out of your country, into other countries, and really knowing other people and other cultures.

So I feel really lucky now, sitting uncomfortably on this plane. I’m probably developing life-threatening blood clots in my legs from being squished in this corner without moving for 5 hours, and yet, I know the chair I’m in and the blue book in my backpack below my feet are two things that a lot of people in the world would sacrifice much more than I have sacrificed for it.

Ever since I wrote my undergraduate thesis on immigration, I’ve been rather appalled at borders and how racist and unfair the idea of nation state can be. I just want to make it fairer… how can we do this?

An Unexpected Visit Home

April 4, 2011

My brain is fuddled with French cold medicine, which I took to try to help me sleep on the plane. I want to write well, but I’ve started this entry 5 times already, and a combination of not knowing what to say and this Humex or whatever it’s called are thwarting my writing efforts. And, because I’m tired, the business asshole surrounding me are annoying me, and thus my writing is even worse. I’m too tired even to cry to relieve the frustration.

I know it’s whining, but I am trapped here. The Spanish man in front of me is leaning his airplane chair way too far back in my face, which pushes my computer off the tray table, and thus when I’m typing, my left elbow is jammed into the wall, and my right elbow is jammed into the left elbow of the asshole who won’t move his compuer to the other side to give me a little bit of space. He has spent the whole flight shifting around, either elbowing me in the side while turning the pages of his newspaper that he took an hour and a half to read, or kneeing me in my left knee that I just injured by falling down some stairs on Friday. Plus, he takes up more space now that he’s typing because he never learned how to type and has to type with his two pointer fingers.

Okay, vent over. I’m going home for my grandfather’s funeral. I’ve been to funerals before, and people in my family have died before, but this one is so different. We’ve been expecting him to die for the past month or two at least, and he’s been sick for 7 years from a spinal cord injury and lymphoma. Although he lived a long healthy life before that, it takes a lot of work for me to remember the times when he was all there, especially because I have been away from the Midwest for most of that time.

Scenes from movies about funerals and death keep poppoing into my head, instead of images of previous funerals I’ve actually atteneded. Movies like Elizabethtown and P.S. I Love You and the Big Chill flash scenes in my imagination, and I wonder how much what I will see and experience will resemble these images.

Walking through the airport in Madrid this morning (I spent the night in Madrid with my boss in order to get a good flight out), the soundtrack on my iPod was accompanying the part of the movie where everyone - well, just my sister and I - who are little dots on a map, come together at the center dot, which in this case in Minneapolis. I would look at my reflection in the windows, and see myself as the camera might see me. I wondered what my sister would look like in her walk through the airport.

Now on the plane they are showing an episode from the first season of Mad Men. It’s a reminder of that generation, but yet, none of these characters remind me of my grandparents. Well, they remind me of my paternal grandparents, even though they are younger and the same age as my maternal grandparents. I know both of them smoked, but I don’t picture them as smokers like on Mad Men because they quit before I was born. And maybe they drank, but because their parents were alcoholics, they never drank as hard as people did on this show. Living in the suburbs of New York in the early 60s was just not the same life that they lived in a house they built with their own hands on a small lake on the outskirts of Minneapolis. So I wonder what my grandfather would have said about Mad Men, and about the way the characters lived their rich, soap opratic lives.

Going to this funeral, I think, will give me a glimpse into their lives, as much as I can get from hearing stories about someone who is already dead. I’m excited to see my family, because, as I’ve mentioned, living in Morocco where family is everything makes you realize how important it is to keep those relationships strong. On the other hand, I don’t know how I’ll be able to look my grandmother in the eye. I want to do what I can to support her, but what does a 26-year-old girl with a handful of failed relationships say to a woman who has just lost her high school sweetheart and husband of 61 years. I would feel lucky if I could make her smile.

We shall see, we shall see.

03 April 2011

Too Much News for Facebook Posts

The head of Egypt's agency for Islamic jurisprudence talks about moderate state Islam in a new Egypt.

Nobody knows for sure why those politicians and journalists did not apologize to the movement’s leaders and supporters for the baseless accusations they leveled against them, but everyone knows that those politicians and journalists are among the lobbies whose interests will be in jeopardy if Morocco becomes a real place of democracy, human rights, and equality before the law.
What's been happening since February 20 in Morocco?

31 March 2011

Another Week, Another Trip

I've been working a lot lately, having 3 trips almost back to back. But I'm still managing to do a good job, touch some hearts, and (hopefully) change some lives. Here is an email from a student on my most recent trip:

Hi Zineb!

Here's some of the pics that I took when we were in the RIF mountains, as well as the picture of us all at "Hope for Sale". Let me know if you need me to send them in another format!

Thanks again for being such a great leader. It was such an amazing trip, I already want to come back. I am also glad you shared your experiences as a volunteer, I have been thinking a lot since then about whether i'd like to do a program like that after graduation!

Keep in touch!

Hope for Salé, an organization on the "wrong side of the river"
that helps youth, ages 7 to 30.

Discussing village life and politics over lunch.

Going in for the couscous!

My students bought jellabas!

Antonio, the Spanish teacher, and Anas, the son!

Double tea pouring!

Anas with his frisbee... kid is actually pretty good.

30 March 2011

Morocco: Not Libya

Recently, I have been getting many emails from people back in The States about Morocco. I do appreciate that people hear about Libya and Egypt and Tunisia (and, if they’re paying attention, Yemen, Syria, Algeria, and Bahrain), and then think of me and hope that I am okay. Nevertheless, really, in the end, it is very frustrating that some of my friends and family cannot take 5 minutes to Google a map of the Arab/Muslim world. I don’t blame anyone for their ignorance, especially if they are busy working, raising a family, or going to school. Nevertheless, if someone is going to take the time to email me to ask me if there is any danger to me from missiles being dropped on Libya, they have the time to look at a map.

Morocco is a country about the size of California, and to the east is Algeria, a HUGE country (in comparison with the countries in Europe, anyway) that would take at least 2, if not 3, days to drive across. Then, much smaller, but still between us and Libya, is Tunisia. So we are really really safe here, at least from Libya.

Politically, also, there is not much going on here compared to the rest of the region. Morocco has been a parliamentary monarchy since 1956, though most of the power is in the hands of the king. Mohammed VI is a new king, relative to the other leaders or ex-leaders in the region who have recently fallen, and is known as the king of the poor, and much more of a reformer than his predecessors were. I personally do not see an overwhelming amount of concern in his actions for the poor and the working class, but he has tried through multiple reforms and development projects throughout the past 11 years.

Protests really began in Morocco in February. The educated youth of the country (of which there are much less than the other countries - Morocco is the poorest country in the region by far) started a movement they call 20 February Movement. At first, its aims were not clear - and some would say they are still not clear - but as the weeks passed, the theme of responsible governance and anti-corruption really came to the forefront. Morocco, considering how developed it is in some places, has some of the highest rates of corruption in the world. (It is somewhat ridiculous to watch how blatant it is in some places…).

There are also various organizations that are taking advantage of this time of reform and pushing harder for the reforms they have always wanted and, in many cases, desperately needed. Teachers, handicapped people, various unions, but most of all, students. Students who have MAs and Ph.Ds and who are, apparently, guaranteed by the constitution, to have first pick at government jobs.

Personally, I support these people in their protests, because I am always in support of people working for change. It feels like this opportunity to protest is the most political hope these people have had in a long time. Yet, at the same time, it feels a lot like people are expecting the government to fix everything for them, that there are unlimited jobs and the government is supposed to just hand them out. I know that many of them are being filled through favoritism and bribery, but I also wish there was some other way. The protests so far don’t seem to be doing much - then again, what do I know, I don’t read Arabic - and from what I’ve read and seen of the Moroccan government, I really don’t expect them to change all that much. They all like the power they have too much, and there is very little accountability. In the end, I try mostly to ask people questions and listen to their opinions in order to get a general sense of the problem, because it is much more complicated than I had originally thought.

In the end, there was one week where protests were followed by violence - burning cars, breaking windows, etc. - but most people were saying that these were just “young hooligans” and not legitimate protestors. After that week, police and auxiliary forces were sent out to every major city, and, as a glorified tour guide, I took the opportunity to point out these guys to my students and their teachers (mostly so that they could go home and tell everyone how safe and normal Morocco is). I am in a bind because I wish that more radical change could happen in Morocco, but at the same time I know that that would mean much more upheaval than my friends and “family” here are ready for, or really want at all in their lives. Plus, selfishly, it means I would probably have to leave.

So, don’t worry about me, really. Morocco is changing, for sure, but very much more politically stable than other countries in the region. On a cynical note, tourists and foreigners are much to valuable to the country’s economy for the government to let anything happen to us.

29 March 2011

Driving to Ouezzane

I’m riding in the front of the van. It’s spring in Morocco, which so far has meant mostly that the sun’s warmth has gone from “wow, nice, I’m glad the sun has come out to keep me warm” to “ouch, that’s hot! where’s the nearest shade.” We’re on my favorite part of a trip right now, the morning ride into the countryside.

We leave Rabat and head north on the autoroute. It’s fascinating to me every time we’re on this autoroute that this is the ONE highway in Morocco. A country the size of California has just one north-south highway that goes up from Marrakech, and then splits off somewhere north of Rabat, one branch going up to Tangier, and the other branch going East to Oujda. That’s it. There are not interchanges, no interstate 794 and 494 that merge into being just 94. Just one long road that runs along the coast. But I digress.

Now we’ve left the highway and are on what they call here “the national route” meaning the free road, the normal road that you don’t have to pay to use. And we come back to the Morocco that I knew as a volunteer. But greener, because we are in the North, where it actually rains more than once a season.

There are long stretches of flat, bright green fields, where I see a mix of yellow flowers and what I think could be lettuce, soy, or some low growing plant. Women walking on the side of the road wear brightly colored baseball caps and full hijabs that they pull over their face to keep the pesticides out of their mouth, nose, and even their eyes. Men and women leading small herds of sheep and cows walk with, against, and in front of the traffic. My students “awww” over the lambs that really do frolic.

We drive past high fields of sugar cane irrigated by raised concrete irrigation “canals” that also serve the purpose of providing shade for the occasional stray dog. There is a place where the road is lined on one side by a row of fat squat palm trees that always surprises me, especially after we have just driven through a small eucalyptus tree forest. And there are always the ubiquitous rows of cactus and blackberry bushes separating one farmer’s land from another.

The smell is different too. Gone is the vague smell of cigarette smoke and smog and ocean that saturates Rabat. Through the cracked window, I can smell slightly damp earth, fresh plants, dust from the wagon paths, and the diesel of tractors. We pass vegetable stands that if we drive by slowly enough, you can catch the smell of tomatoes or even oranges.

I try to point these things out to my students, I try to capture the feel of the Moroccan countryside in writing, but I often feel like I fail to explain why a scene you could find in much of the rest of the world’s countysides, captures me so much. Maybe it’s because it is so different than the world in which I grew up; maybe it’s because I realize more and more everyday that this world turned me into an adult; maybe it’s because I truly fell in love with humanity and specific people in this kind of place; maybe it’s because of the famous Moroccan hospitality. I don’t know. All I know is that in the 3arobiya, the countryside, I’m content.

27 March 2011

The Princess and the Pauper (a Moroccan folktale)

adapted by Amy Friedman and illustrated by Jillian Gilliland

Long ago in Morocco there lived a princess who was driving in her carriage from the palace into the city when suddenly the sky opened, and a dragon swooped down out of the heavens and picked her up.

It was the work of the Jinns, evil spirits who had sent the dragon to capture the princess. They put her under a spell and hid her away.

When word spread of the capture, many princes attempted to rescue the princess, but no one returned to the king with good news. Rather, each prince came and said, "Alas, I could not find her."

Time passed.

One day a poor orphan who was all alone in the world decided to go to the city to find work. Abbas was the young man's name, and he began the wearisome trek from the countryside.

After he had walked all day, he came upon a tall, crumbling structure. It began to rain lightly outside, so Abbas decided to stop at this place.

He knocked on what was left of the door.

When no one answered, Abbas cautiously walked inside, calling into the darkness, "Is anyone home?"

Suddenly, out of the dark shadows, a hand carrying a lighted candle floated toward Abbas. A finger beckoned to him.

Abbas was a fearless young man, so he walked toward the hand. Soon he discovered he was walking down a dark flight of stairs.

At the bottom of the stairwell, Abbas saw an alluring palace. He followed the hand into an extravagant room rich with tapestries and tile. In the room was a table laden with food.

Abbas was starving, and without stopping to think, he began to eat until he was full. Then he turned and saw the hand beside him. Once again the finger beckoned.

Again he followed, this time down a hallway into another room. In this room was a big bed, and on the coverlet laid a silk dressing gown.

Abbas dressed in the gown and climbed into the bed. He slept deeply through that night, until the hand tapped him on the shoulder at dawn.

Abbas woke feeling rested and strong, and from somewhere in the distance he heard a voice. "You are a brave man," said the voice. "You are the first who dared follow me. Promise to wait patiently for the next three nights without running away or calling for help, and you will break the spell of the Jinns."

Naturally Abbas agreed to wait. "I promise to break the spell," he said, though he had no idea what that spell was.

That night he feasted again, and again he slept in the big, warm bed.

At midnight he heard a creaking sound and the doors to the room opened. In marched an army of men carrying clubs. They began to beat Abbas most viciously. Still, true to his word, he did not run or cry out. At dawn the army departed and the hand reappeared.

This time the hand carried salves and balms and liquid medicines and it treated his wounds and bruises. Within minutes he was cured.

The second night the same thing happened. Again Abbas did not run away or cry out. Once again at dawn the hand healed him.

On the third night, the army beat Abbas even more cruelly, but he did not complain or run away, and all night he whispered his mantra, "I will break the spell of the Jinns."

In the morning of the fourth day, Abbas waited, but this time the hand did not appear at dawn. He waited another hour, and then another, and at last a beautiful woman appeared. It was she who treated his wounds with magical ointments. Once again he was instantly healed.

Abbas could not take his eyes from this young woman's face she was so exquisite. "Who are you?" he asked.

The young woman told Abbas the story of the day the dragons stole her away and the Jinns' enchantment. "I am a princess," she said, and the moment she finished her tale, she disappeared.

Once again Abbas was in his own tattered clothes, standing above the ruins of the palace. But this time he wanted to find the princess. Alas, he had no money, no horses, no friends to help. Still, he vowed he would travel the world until he found her. And he set off on his quest.

Meanwhile, the princess's spell had been broken and the dragon carried her back to the palace. There, the princess waited and waited. She remembered the young man who vowed to love her, but at last she gave up hope that Abbas would return.

To her father's delight, the princess agreed to marry one of the princes who wished to marry her.

On their wedding day, as the princess was riding in her coach, she noticed a young man standing at the gates of the palace — a young man dressed in rags.

At once she recognized his face. It was Abbas, and she understood that he had tried to reach her. In his eyes she saw tears, and she knew he was sad because he loved her.

"Stop at once!" she called to the coachman, and she turned to the prince. "Some time ago I lost the key to my box of jewels, and I had a new one made," she said. "Then I found the old one. Which key should I use?"

"The old one, of course," the prince said. "The original is always best."

"I agree," said the princess. And with those words she stepped out of the coach and ran to Abbas. She took his hand in hers and led him back to the coach."When I spoke of an old key," she said to the prince, "this is what I meant. When no prince was brave enough to rescue me, this man did, and he won my heart."

And so the princess married the pauper, and they lived happily ever after.

© 2011 San Angelo Standard Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

08 March 2011

Positive Feedback

Back to work! Back to the blog!

Ok, so I am very very late on keeping this blog updated, but I haven't forgotten it. I keep seeing things, or doing things, and saying, oh! I should write about this in my blog. So, since I have less than a year left in Morocco - this time for "good" - I thought I should work on updating this more, and going back to my original goal of using this space as a Third Goal platform. Educate Americans about the people you served as a volunteer.

But first, I would like to share some really positive feedback I got from my past trip. I was surprised to get this feedback because I was sick with the worst cold I've had in years, and for the first two days, I couldn't think straight. I'm sure my thoughts were coming out in jumbles. And I did get some bad feedback about not providing enough historical information at the touristy sites, and someone did say I lacked enthusiasm. But I can take that and work with it, because of these two letters I received.


Hi Zineb,

I never got a chance to personally thank you for our trip. I know a major reason I got so much out of it in such little time was because of your organization and preparedness. I also really appreciated that you repeatedly provided us with unique insight and perspective about Morocco and its amazing people. From a logistics standpoint, the trip was nearly perfect. I remember doubting you when you said on the first bus ride that the trip was “like clockwork”, but it truly was.
It’s hard for me to describe the impact the trip had on me. Today in class, many of my friends asked me about the trip and I found it really difficult and overwhelming to verbalize the experience. I told them the only way they would truly understand is to visit Morocco themselves.

The brief time I spent in Morocco genuinely did make me rethink my future and question my real goals in life. I know the trip will influence my life for years to come and I have you to thank for facilitating that transformation. A and I are already trying to make plans to return. I think we both realized that there is much more to see in Morocco and it is almost not fair to spend only 3 days there.

Thanks again for everything. I (and others on the trip) truly appreciate your passion and organization.
***Handshake/heart touch thing***



Dear A (my boss),

My husband and I jreceived a very long email from our daughter, J, who just attended the Morocco Exchange trip this past weekend. She's a student at Syracuse Madrid. I just wanted to tell you that she had a fantastic experience. She had high regard for your guide, the 25 yr old former volunteer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (my home town!). Please thank this young woman for her hard work and enthusiasm in spreading the mission of your program, ie, the cultural exchange to foster peace and awareness of different cultures.. J said it was absolutely eye-opening for her. She was impressed with the Moroccan people, particularly the young people she met her age. J is a bio chemistry student at the U. of Colorado and has been thinking very hard about what she will do with this major in the future. Your Moroccan Exchange Program has caused her to clearly look at what she could do to help with world health (and other issues) by furthering her studies in bio chemistry and eventually "giving back" to others.

Thank you so much for easing my fears as a parent. Your program is very organized, insightful, interesting and thought-provoking for the students who attend.


E and S

19 January 2011

A Dull Knife

Last night I finished the book, A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar. I know, in my rational brain, that my emotional reaction to the book was stronger than it would have been because I was reading it at midnight after only sleeping 5 hours the night before. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend this book to anyone. Especially anyone who has lived in a Muslim country, and wants a deeper insight into the lives of Muslim (religious or "heritage") women.

I first heard about this book in October, while reading one of my favorite blogs, Muslimah Media Watch. They had good things to say about it, so I put it on my Amazon Wishlist so I would remember to buy it when I got home. Serendipitously, however, my mother was generous, and sent it to me for Christmas (along with Pepto Bismol! What else could a former volunteer want?!). And during this long break I have from work, I definitely needed it.

I started reading A Map of Home out of nothing more than sheer desperation, or sheer boredom perhaps, and quickly realized that this was the best book I had read in a long time. It has been months since I was able to completely loose myself in a story, since I had found a story that affected me physically. The story pulled me in for two main reasons. First of all, Jarrar's choice of language was verging on sublime. Descriptive, varied, yet accessible and appropriate for the age of the main character (8 to 18) and the time (1990s). Secondly, I found in the story a girl with whom I could relate, despite the fact that she grew up in Kuwait, lived in Egypt, and then moved to Texas - none of them places I had ever lived or ever dream of living.

This book also did something completely unexpected: it woke me up. Not literally, but intellectually. I realized that my mind has been feeling muddy for quite sometime. Too many hours spent wasted on Facebook or watching mindless movies. Living in Morocco is hard like that, and I've spent too long trying to escape it, so that I wouldn't dwell on the negative. Plus there is a deplorable lack of intellectual company in my life, even in Rabat because I don't speak French. I didn't realize how sluggish I was feeling intellectually until yesterday. I'm smart. I like being smart, I like it when my mind is sharp, and when my vocabulary is witty. Reading this book made me realize I have to work to get back to that, especially if I want to go to grad school in the fall.

02 January 2011

Half and Half

There's a kind of coffee in Morocco that I have yet to see anywhere else in the world: The ns-ns. For those of you who don't speak Moroccan Arabic, that means "half-half." It has been explained to me that it means that in this tiny cup (shot glass?), there is half milk and half espresso. Great, that's what I like, because a café creme aka 9hwa hlib aka café au lait aka coffee with milk is too milky for me, and my stomach can't handle 9hwa k7la aka a-straight-shot-of-espresso. This is right in the middle, mmmmm.

The big mystery, however, is how do they always make it layered like that? Is espresso lighter than milk? I mean, do they have some kind of magical ns-ns layering machine in the back of every Moroccan coffee shop. How do they do it? I have, on occasion, been in a café long enough to mix a ns-ns and then wait, to see if it separates back to it's natural state. Definitely doesn't happen, and I will never get those precious hours of my life back.

Can anyone answer the mystery of the ns-ns?

01 January 2011

9/11 Happened to All of Us

Being Muslim.... Two CAIR (Council for American-Islamic Relations) PSAs about American Muslims. Good stuff.