The Study of Language: A Crash Course in Frustration

26 Feb

Alright, I’m really horrible at keeping up with posts. But since I’m really behind in terms of weeks, as soon as I catch everyone up IN THIS ONE MEGA POST, then hey, I’ll be better about posting. Really. Still working on the integrated pictures though. The internet is certainly a hassle here, but I cannot live without it. It’s like a second set of sinuses: it gets all bogged down and I start feeling horrible and just get cranky with people.

Anywho. A roadmap of this post:
1. Arabic Saga, or: How I Learned to Hate Bureaucracy and Embrace Buddhism.
2. Yakout: “They really like Shakira.” “Who doesn’t?”
3. Prophet’s Birthday: Not Christmas.
4. Chellah: The Best Combo Ever
5. Hamam: Self-Image Issues Abroad (alternate title: I’m a Lizard)
6. Protests: Not Worried in the Least in this Country of the Middle East

Without further adieu,

Arabic Saga:
How I Learned to Hate Bureaucracy and Embrace Buddhism

I’ve taken Arabic for 2.5 years, starting with my first semester freshman year. Almost all universities, around the world, use the Al-Kitaab series of Arabic textbooks to teach English speakers Arabic. Al-Kitaab has a lot of pros and a lot of cons…but that’s not really the point. The point is, coming to the Middle East, I was in Al-Kitaab Book 2, Chapter 4.

In Egypt, my plan was to take exclusively aamiya, or colloquial, Arabic. I should mention that there are many different types of Arabic, but the main disctinction is between fus’ha (formal) Arabic and then all the many different dialects of the language there are. Each country, even each region, has its own way of speaking Arabic. Fus’ha, however, while not spoken by native speakers, is the language of the Q’uran, and is understood by everyone. Imagine it as if you were speaking absolutely perfect English, with no slang terms whatsoever. In other words, you would sound obviously-not-from-around-here. Getting off track!

The AMIDEAST programs all require that you take two Arabic courses: one in the colloquial dialect (here in Morocco it is called darija) and one in fus’ha. And here is where the epic saga comes in. I get to Morocco and they say based on how many years of Arabic I have, I belong in Arabic 302. I tell them to put me in 301, since I feel like I need review.

First day of classes rolls around. I go to Arabic (which we have at 8:30am. Every day.) and when our professor asks us (there are two others in this level) what chapter we stopped in last semester, I respond “Four.” She then pulls out Al-Kitaab, Book 3, and gets ready to teach us from there. HOLD UP. Book 3? Definitely not right – this class is an entire book ahead of me! Whoa.

Immediately after class I speak to Doha, our program director and say, “Look, obviously that was the wrong class.” “I agree, let’s put you in Arabic 202 then, since you say you left in Al-Kitaab Book 2 Chapter 4.” “Okay…but can I be in Arabic 201? My school’s language program is not that great and I honestly feel that I need to have a serious semester of review before I can even consider trying to move forward. I was given a very slapshod education the first time around in grammar. Vocabulary I can learn on the street, but grammar is something I must understand in order to properly speak the language.” “Alright, we’ll put you in 201.” Next day, I go to Arabic 201. I should mention the Arabic professors speak only Arabic to us in class, so I’m usually lost no matter what. However, in Arabic 201 I was understanding what we were talking about, and I was actually learning, really learning, the things that were just glossed over at AU.

For American University, we have to have the courses we take abroad equivalated to courses back in DC. I hadn’t gotten around to doing this yet for AMIDEAST (but had it taken care of for Egypt, obviously). I email my academic advisor, Justina, and give her my classes. She says all my content courses are fine, but I need to talk to Kristen and Gail, my study abroad advisor and the head of the Arabic language department, respectively, to see what is what for Arabic. I contact them and tell them what class I am in here, Arabic 201, and my darija class.

They contact me back. Darija is fine. But because, theoretically, I’ve already taken “Arabic 201”, I must be in Arabic 202. I explain to them that I personally feel that it makes no sense to push forward in my language learning merely for the sake of progress – I am thoroughly lost in the language and need an intensive review so that I actually know what I’m doing to begin with. They respond that if I take Arabic 201, I will not receive credit hours for it.

I got to AU on a scholarship that requires I take 30 credit hours per year. If Arabic 201 didn’t count, then I’d only be taking 13 credits this semester…and with my 16 last semester, that would put me at 29. No dice.

I do some figuring, and realize it doesn’t even matter necessarily about the Arabic (Arabic is now an elective for me) or darija – if I take both of those courses, then I would not be able to graduate one semester early, as is my plan. I freak out, telling Kristen, Gail, Justina and Jennifer (one of the AMIDEAST people in DC) that I cannot take either darija or fus’ha, and of the two, I would rather drop darija. This was on Wednesday, February 16, which is the Prophet’s Birthday and is a holiday here in the Middle East (so no school). I basically spent the entire day (read, afternoon, since there is a 5 hour time different between here and DC) in oh-my-gosh-my-life-is-insane-this-one-class-determines-my-future-wtf mode. At 10pm here, 5pm in DC, Justina contacts me and says, “Let’s Skype. I know you must be seriously freaking out.”

Justina is my new hero. She stays after work and Skypes me, and together we figure out my life. We make darija count as an area specialization course for my major, and my political science class count for one of my non-western studies requirements. And it turns out I have no gen-eds left, which I totally thought I did. As for Arabic, Justina is honest and says I just have to buck up and go to 202. After all, I survived a revolution, didn’t I? What’s an Arabic class in comparison to revolution?

So now I am in Arabic 202. I have no clue what’s going on in the class, and I have to meet with my professor after class twice a week to go over all the chapters I would have gone over in Arabic 201…once again, learning things on a crash course basis in order for me to get caught up with the rest of the class. Which is exactly what I didn’t want to happen.

However, I’ve decided to be Buddhist about all this, about realize that it is those who think they are able are those who are able. Mind over matter (although I did kinda break down on Thursday after my review session, but then went into Buddhist meditation mode and felt loads better).

And that’s my Arabic saga. I have a separate insurance bureaucracy saga that’s still going on and just makes my head hurt to think about, so we’ll ignore it.

“They really like Shakira.” “Who doesn’t?”

Last Friday a few friends (Caity, Anna, Macarena) and I went to the West African restaurant/lounge/dance club Yakout. Rabat, and Morocco, being predominantly Muslim, have very limited club venues that serve alcohol, not to mention Moroccan culture just is not the type to go out and boogie down. But Yakout is one of the place in Rabat where it is hopping. We went with two of Anna and Caity’s Moroccan friends. Yakout was very different from American clubs – a small dance floor, no DJ, but the best part is it had a LIVE band. They were fantastic! They played African music, reggae, and some American stuff too – but they also played a lot of Shakira. Random, but everyone loves Shakira.

Us girls were the first people to start dancing there, and then all of the sudden there are TONS of people and it’s packed and there are a lot of foreigners (read: white people) there. Haha, I guess we know how to start the party.

Prophet’s Birthday:
Not Christmas

Last Wednesday (same day as Arabic Saga) was the Prophet Muhammed’s birthday. Translating that into Christian terms, you’d think Christmas, right? …Technically, yes, but in practice, no. It was essentially a day everyone had off…and that’s about it. Very exciting! Whomp whomp.

The Best Combo Ever

On Saturday (maybe Sunday? days moosh together), our friends Caity and Alaina called us up and asked if we’d like to go to Chellah, a Roman-Arab necropolis in Rabat near the medina.

Understand, I love old stuff. And I love cemeteries. This was the ultimate combo. So off we went to Chellah…and it was beautiful. Absolutely stunning. There were all of these ruins and crumbling walls, fallen arches, lots of cats, some chickens…it was great. Just great.

PICTURES HERE (and hopefully eventually on WordPress):

I’m a Lizard

One of the Moroccan traditions here is going to the hamam, or bathhouse. Women do it in groups, whole families go, it’s just a part of life. Today Leah and Caity took us (me and Mack) to our first ever hamam. We weren’t really sure what to expect, but we knew one thing: there would be lots of nudity. Which made us uncomfortable, Macarena moreso than myself. We meet the girls at Bab el-Had, one of the main meetings areas in Rabat.

We walk to the hamam, which is a non-descript door. We pay our entry fees and walk in – oh hey, mostly naked women everywhere. The first room is like the changing room, where everyone strips down to their undies (no bra) and hands their belongings over the attendents. Then there are three other rooms. The first room after the changing room is like a cool-down/last rinse room, and the other two are the scrub-ba-dub-dub rooms. The four of us (who now have a very intimate understanding of each other’s bodies) go to the last room. Attendants, also only in their underroos, come and give Macarena, Caity and I massages/scrub downs.

Let me tell you, they scrub you EVERYWHERE. Yes, whatever you’re imagining is probably what happened. And not only do they soap you up then scrub you down, they scrub you with what is called a “kis” (pronounced kees), or a very abrasive, not-soft-at-all loofah. And boy, does your skin COME OFF. All of the dead skin cells you have on your body are definitely done for once that kis starts going over your skin. Rolls of dead skin were sloughing off of me, just like I was a reptile shedding my skin but in much more graphic/nude detail. Yup, it was an experience.

Then they gave us massages. Now, I hate massages. Can’t stand them, won’t get them in the US. But I decided to do it here because, “Hey, in Morocco, got to try the hamam massage experience once.” Conclusion: Still not a fan of massages. Especially when you are in a room of mostly (or even completely) naked women and the woman giving you a massage is herself naked. Modesty, which is concerned an important aspect of Islam, kinda goes out the window in the hamam.

It was, however, not a bad experience. It was incredibly different and a little shocking for an American whose home culture, while apparently promoting promiscuity, doesn’t really promote the acceptance of the human form in its natural state. The hamam is a completed 180 to that philosophy and is not something you immediately adjust to. But I do feel ridiculously clean and very relaxed, so hey, not all bad (although they touched my feet and that freaked me out – cannot handle people touching my feet.)

Protests (Calm Down Everyone):

As I’m sure some of you have heard/read about in the news, the Middle East continues to be in an uproar. Mubarak is out in Egypt (alhamdulliah), but no one knows where that country is headed. But Qaddafi is still in Libya and he is a complete psycho. My heart goes out to the Libyan people and I pray that Qaddafi will swiftly be disposed of and his reign of terror will end.

Here in Morocco, there were protests last Sunday against the government. However, unlike in Egypt, peaceful protests and the right to assemble are completely legal. There’s a protest every week in front of the Parliament. The protests on Sunday were a nationwide call for reforms to the government – people want a constitutional monarchy, where the king merely reigns, not rules. Macarena and other friends went to the protests downtown, and they were completely peaceful. People were passing around water bottles, families were there having picnics (the national pastime of Moroco)…it was like a day at the state fair.

So I’m not worried in the least. Moroccans are not looking for a revolution, but an evolution, inshallah.

And with that incredibly long post, you are now completely caught up in my life in Rabat, Morocco.
Be prepared for more frequent, but less lengthy, posts from now on!


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