Rabat, the first days: “Wait, we have no clue what’s going on.”

19 Feb

(I’m working on getting photos into each post, but the internet here is absolutely horrible so uploading is a bit of an issue.)

In continuing with my catch-you-up-on-my-life posts, here thus chronicled be mine first days in the fine country of Morocco:

To step back to a different continent for a moment, here is what happened on February 3, the day Macarena and I left Istanbul for Rabat.

First, we are picked up at 5:30am by a shuttle. In the shuttle, we are relatively sure, was a drug cartel lord from Mexico. Auspicious start to the day. Second, we get to the airport. Macarena and I check in at the airline…except they say they have no record of Macarena being on the flight. We look up her receipt, find out, “HOLY SMOKES. It says March 3, not February 3!” We buy Macarena a new ticket. Once again, auspicious start to the day. Then we go to look for my Kindle, which, okay I may have, in my evacuation-induced stupor, left at the airport two days before. But hey! They actually had it! So all good there.

Plane ride: Pretty boring. Fun flying over Africa. Sorta.

Arrive in Casa. Go through, get our luggage, wonder “Hey wait, aren’t we supposed to have visas? Um. Well. Either we’ve just entered a country illegally or we’re fine. Hope it’s the later.” Then wonder, “Who is picking us up?” We though it’d be someone from AMIDEAST. Nope. Taxi driver holding up an AMIDEAST sign. We get in the cab, wondering, “Oh hey, think we need to pay?” “Hope not. Unless they want some Egyptian pounds. Got lots of those.” So we are in a cab, in a random country, only knowing we are heading to Rabat. Slightly concerning.

But in the meantime, WHOA! Morocco is GORGEOUS! Beautiful, green, pastoral…definitely not what Macarena and I were expecting. Of course, we didn’t know what to expect. At all. In any way, shape or form. Once again, we went from no clue what’s going on to no clue what’s going on. We ask the driver, “Where are we going?” “Rabat.” …Alright then.

After an hour and a half driver of bucolic beauty, we pull up to a hotel. “Ummmmm, hotel?” “Whatever, as long as someone else is footing the bill.” Turns out, yes, we are supposed to be at the hotel, and Doha, the program coordinator, comes to meet us. She gives us cell phones, 300 dirham, and takes us to AMIDEAST, a 10 minute walk down the street. Apparently, we are in the neighborhood of Agdal, which is the nicest neighborhood in Rabat (realization: we know nothing about Rabat).

The AMIDEAST building is like a miniature school, with appoximately 20 classrooms over 6 floors, it’s certainly cozy. There is room on the top floor called the “Semester Abroad Room”, where all the semester abroad kids (all 27 of us) can hang out when we aren’t in class.

As Doha tells us, we are staying two nights at the hotel, and on Saturday we’ll be meeting our host family. Friday, however, we are meeting up with the other Cairo evacuees to go on a “Rabat Challenge” aka very pointless scavenger hunt. Macarena and I spend the rest of the day (considering it’s around 6 at this point) checking our emails at AMIDEAST, then watching the news in our hotel, then falling asleep in comfortable beds for the first time in a few nights.

Next morning, we meet the rest of the Cairo kids. These students were from the AMIDEAST Cairo prorgam, half of which went to Amman, Jordan, the other half here. Nine students in total, plus us, plus three other kids arriving from AUC early Saturday morning. We all go to AMIDEAST and are given our instructions for “Rabat Challenge”. Macarena and I pair up with Kyle and Shama, and head out to the Medina, or the old part of the city. We get thoroughly lost, end up at the ocean (btw, Rabat is on the Atlantic coast), walk along Mohammed V Avenue (big deal street in Rabat), head back to AMIDEAST, eat couscous, meet some of the Rabat kids (ones who actually came to Rabat to be in Rabat), and Mack and I meet Joe, the country director for AMIDEAST and an AU alum. We go meet with him and he gives us the skinny on the Rabat program, questions about Moroccan life, and in general what the heck is actually going on, since we don’t know ourselves.

That night, Macarena and I go eat at a place called Atlas Chicken, which was rotisserie chicken and French fries (for some reason, Moroccans really love French fries. I can’t figure it out, but hey, when in Rome). Here’s the thing: Moroccans eat with their fingers. While people do eat with forks and knives, for Moroccan food, those are really used as more of assitance to pull stuff apart when it isn’t easy to do with your fingers. ANYWAY, so, ate a rather messy dinner of delicious chicken (watching how people in the place were doing it so we wouldn’t look like total, completely conspicuous fools), and then went back to the hotel. Read through our orientation packets, namely the “Tips on Homestays”. Oh, hey, what did we get ourselves into? It says that Moroccans don’t shower everyday, because water is precious (true and true), that we may be in a home that doesn’t have a regular toilet, but a squat toilet (thank goodness that didn’t happen), that we may share a room with host siblings (once again, got lucky), that we might be in a house where no one speaks English (once again, got lucky), that sharing things is considered a part of the culture, including clothes, food, medicine, jewelry, laptops (we’re working on creating boundaries). Basically, we’re going to be tossed into a complete unknown situation (again) and forced almost immediately to adjust. Naturally, we’re a little freaked. Macarena has a breakdown and regrets coming, and I just go into my, “Well, not much we can do about it. Oh well.” apathetic/passive mode. At this point we don’t know that we can room together, we just assume we’ll be on our own.

Next day: the day of reckoning. We go to AMIDEAST, sit around, and await our host family’s arrival. Good news: Macarena and I get to live together! WHOO! We get a packet with information on our family. Saida, the mom, is a nurse, Amine, the dad, is, and this is what is says in the packet, “Employee”, and they have a daughter, Aya, age 8. But! We live only a TEN MINUTE walk away from AMIDEAST, which is great, because we have 8:30 Arabic classes every morning.

We sit in the Semester Abroad Room, waiting our fates…it feels like adoption day at the pound and we’re all mutts waiting to be taken home, hoping we get a loving, caring family that treats us well. People are taken out one by one. Finally, it’s Mack and I’s turn. Deep breathe, no big deal, just our lives for the next three months. We meet Saida, who is very nice and we head to our new home. First off: apartment building. Ok! Second: No elevator. So we lug our 45lbs suitcases up 3 flights up stairs and enter our home until May. Well, let’s just Moroccan decor is…eclectic (ahem: slightly tacky). BUT HEY! Macarena and I get our own room with a balcony! Pretty much awesome.

We spend the rest of Saturday unpacking, slowly learning about our family, etc. …I honestly don’t remember what we did Sunday. Probably stuff at AMIDEAST. Meh.

Monday, classes start. I’m placed in Arabic 301. WRONG CLASS. They’re a whole book ahead of me. I have darija next, or Moroccan Arabic, and it’s fine. Those are the only classes I have on Mondays, so I end at 11. Macarena and I go home for lunch (considered the most important meal in Moroccan culture).

Tuesday, I’m placed in a new Arabic class, 201. It’s all review for me, but that’s what I want. AU’s Arabic program is horrible and I felt I needed it. I was still lost even though it WAS all review for me, that’s how bad AU’s program is. I have a break, then my first content course, Islam, Gender, and Society. It’s…a little off. I’ve never taken a gender studies class before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But who knows, maybe it’ll get better.

Tuesday night I get a headache, think nothing of it, wake up Wednesday with a migraine and the inability to see (I get these auras when I get migraines, so basically I’m bedridden until I can see again). I don’t go to my first three classes Wednesday, which are Arabic, darija, Islam and the West. I make it to my last class, Politics of the Maghreb (not it’s actual title, I have no idea what it’s really called). It’s interesting, and the professor is a hoot.

Friday we don’t go to school, because, duh da daaaaaaaaaahhh, we’re going to FES for the weekend! All 27 of us. And that, my friends, is another post.

So, to summarize/analyze/i’s the b’y that builds the boat: I still, in general, am living in a state of cluelessness, however unintentional, I’m adjusting to living with a life that was completely unexpected, I’m trying to make friends with people, but being a misanthrope, having issues, living with a host family is strange, culture differences are hard, I suck at Arabic.

Photos: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2092890&id=1066620072&l=6ae39de24f
Next up: Fes, or “No, seriously, this looks like it could be California. Except for all the goats.”

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