Arrival and First Impressions (Read:Freakouts) (Don’t worry Mom, I’m perfectly fine)

So I started to write this post while I was waiting for the second out of my three flights in Seattle and I was going on and on about how the sheer size of my backpack and how far it stuck out behind me should classify it as a blunt weapon but now that I’m in Rabat and settled in (as much as you can be within 12 hours of arriving) there are other things to talk about.

The TL;DR version of this is that I am exhausted, overwhelmed, slightly homesick for the first time in my college years, and a little unsure; but for all those seemingly bad feelings (which really I think are totally normal considering I just moved halfway across the world to live in a country I’ve never been to before and speaking a language still fairly new to me for the next 4 months,) I’m still excited for what’s to come. I know that once I get into the groove of things and classes start, I will feel much better and Rabat will start to feel like my second home, in the same way Wellesley feels to me.

I had a looong day and a half of travel and when I finally got to Rabat I was completely spent. I have been awake for over 36 hours now, save for the couple of half hour naps I got on the plane. So when I got here and met all these new people and was introduced to a new environment, I just kind of wanted to step back for a moment, maybe enter a personal cone of silence, maybe call my parents and tell them I’ve made a huge mistake, all of which I could not do (really what I wanted to do was send an email to my parents that I had made it but I just got wifi about an hour ago.) So getting here was a little hectic. But I am unpacked, I have showered, and was taken on a quick walk through the city, so I feel a little more settled than before. My host family’s apartment is in the  حي المحيط (Ocean neighborhood) in Rabat, near the old medina. This neighborhood seems really central to everything, with the beach in one direction, the سوق (market) in another direction, and the tram that will take me to the university is down the street.

My hosts do not speak much English nor much formal Arabic (which is what I sort-of speak) so I’m doing a lot of sign language, google translating, and/or just smiling and nodding when I just can’t figure out what someone is trying to say to me. I definitely feel a little bit like the idiot American abroad. I can tell my hosts are speaking about me in front of me because they keep nodding at me and saying something, but they know I’ll never be able to figure out what it is. At one point, my host mom/sister, Ilham, just turned to me and made a gesture that communicated “Don’t worry, it’ll all be okay,” which I suspect she did because the panic I was feeling was probably evident on my face. Moroccan Arabic has a lot of French in it so I can occasionally decipher words if they are similar to Spanish. So far, I’ve done a lot of sitting on the couch in silence while everyone converses around me and just hope I’m not making things too awkward. Later in the evening, I started speaking to Ilham’s sister and actually conversing, and then to her other sister and I felt it was starting to get easier and easier. Hopefully the rust will come off in a few weeks as I start classes and begin studying Moroccan Arabic and conversations will come easier. Earlier today, I had tried to communicate to Ilham that I wanted to help her in the kitchen, but I couldn’t tell if she thought I was an annoyance in her kitchen or a good guest because everything she said to me I returned with a blank stare. Either way, I now know how to properly pour tea (it’s with a flourish) and the key ingredient (bricks of sugar from a bucket they keep underneath the sink.) At one point, Ilham kept asking me شاي مع سكر أو بدون سكر؟ (tea with sugar or without sugar?) and I was so out of it I thought she was asking me something about the market (al-sooq — rather than sookr, or sugar).

And on that note – which I think is pretty funny – my host family keeps giving me more food. Since I was flying for two days I had several meals on the planes, plus snacks, so by the time I got here I wasn’t all that hungry. But being good hosts, I was immediately served with mint tea, salad, grapes, bread, potatoes, and meat. At a certain point, I had to say I just couldn’t eat anymore because I was so full; I had taken about 5 bites of the giant bowl of pasta and sauce placed in front of me after Ilham and I returned from a walk around the old medina (which I was surprised to see considering we had more tea and bread right before we left, which I just assumed was our dinner.) I was worried about insulting them since they kept asking me in Arabic “You don’t like it??” when I wasn’t eating so I kept saying “!الأكل ممتاز! شكرا!” (The food is excellent! Thank you!) and I asked them to keep it for tomorrow so they took away the giant bowl of pasta but came back with a banana and a yogurt. (At around 11 PM, Coke and cookies were put in my lap.) So no worries about not eating well.

Anyway, these are just some of the thoughts I’ve had in the last 48 hours. I think it is time for some sleep now.


2 thoughts on “Arrival and First Impressions (Read:Freakouts) (Don’t worry Mom, I’m perfectly fine)

  1. It seems that your host mom has lots of practice in the common gestures of universal motherhood. Love the main-page photograph.


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