Rabat – I am writing from a cafe in downtown Rabat. I have spent many afternoons and evenings here; working on essays, studying Arabic. The waiter here is friendly and speaks fluent English. We chat about the American election, the Moroccan election, and our plans for the future. I don’t know when I will be back.
I still haven’t come to terms with the fact that I will be leaving the country on Monday (allegedly). I feel as though I really have made a home here. I walk down the streets and see familiar faces. Cab drivers wave from their windows, they remember me from brief and broken conversations that we have had.
“Attakallam Arabia?” “Shweeya, ana adros fee al-medina al-qadeema. Ana talib.”
The man who owns a soccer shop stops me for a final cup of tea. The walls in his store are adorned with jerseys, many of the names misspelled. My host-sister hugs me when I run into her in the souk. I haven’t learned how to say “I will miss you”, so we settle on “nice to meet you” (metcherfeen).
Lisbon – I am writing from the living room in my rented apartment in Portugal. I have spent the last few days exploring the city with my parents. The streets are covered with cobblestone, the buses run on time, alcohol is served and everyone speaks English.
I miss Morocco more than I thought I would. Everything that I see here I compare to my time in Morocco. The butcher here pails in comparison. Sure, they have fresh meat, but are there goat heads on the counter and cow legs with skin on hanging from the awning?
I keep almost running in front of traffic, old habits from a country where crosswalks don’t exist. I now cut in line, used to a country where those sorts of rules don’t even qualify as advice. I balk at the bill every time I order a coffee. What do you mean 40 Dhs for an espresso?
Pedralva – Writing from the only source of internet in the tiny village of Pedralva. We are staying in Southern Portugal in the countryside. This area is a huge tourist attraction during the hot Summer months when the beaches crawl with tourists like ants, but during December, we have the place to ourselves.
We eat codfish pie and read our books. There isn’t much to do but watch the waves crash and sit in the sand. One day we went to the beach with a picnic. I smelled the brisk salty air with a Belgian beer in one hand and a prosciutto sandwich in the other.
I have been running through my Arabic vocabulary on Quizlet. I don’t want to forget. Every time I stumble through a “thank you” (Obgrigado) in Portuguese, or a “good morning” (Bom Dia) I get a kind of condescending look. I think back to my conversations in broken Darija. Whomever I was talking with always got such a kick out of my efforts.
Evora – I am writing from a cafe in the historic city of Evora, located in central Portugal. The walls of a huge castle tower over the city skyline. As you drive from the south you see a collection of houses at the base of a towering mass of grey. Evora is also home to one of Portugals Universities.
I spent one afternoon wandering through the University library. It was around sunset, and the golden light streaming through the ancient windows illuminated the thousand tiny dust particles floating in the air.
They didn’t have any books in English, but I still enjoyed myself. I found Emmanuel Kant, Adam Smith, and John Locke, all in Portuguese.
Coimbra – It is Christmas Eve day. I just got back from a long stroll along the river that divides this city in half. My parents are at the public market, buying ingredients for our annual crab and caesar salad Christmas dinner. We don’t have many traditions, but this is one of our favorites. My mom has a caesar salad dressing recipe better than any I have ever tried.
This is the last stop on our tour. In two days my parents will return to Seattle, and I will continue North. First to Porto, then across the Spanish border to Madrid, Barcelona, Lyon in France, and finally a flight home from Paris on January 12th.
Part of me just wants to go home. It has been an amazing, but an exhausting, four month adventure.
But a bigger part of me wants to make the most of the time I have here. The thought of returning home is a scary one. It feels like I blinked and the semester ended. I still can’t believe that I wrestled with a ram as a butcher cut its throat and it bled out at my feet.
I can’t believe I got to eat rich couscous covered in steamed carrots and potatoes, with hunks of Howlie (Lamb). My host mother scooped the golden grains with her bare hands, popping the balls of couscous into her mouth.
I think back on my host sister/niece. She was just a year old when I arrived, and because I stayed for two months I really felt like I got to see her grow and change. I remember so vividly the first time she successfully dunked a piece of Khobz (bread) into the Tagine. Everyone stopped eating and cheered.
I think back to a packed train ride from Rabat to Fes. In Morocco, if you purchase a second class ticket, there is no guarantee that you get a seat. Four friends and I fought our way onto the train, and stood packed like sardines for most of the 4-hour ride.
I remember swimming in the Mediterranean on the beach in Tangier. Other tourists paid exorbitant fees to ride camels across the beach, and we splashed in the waves with local kids.
I remember hiking through the mountains in Akchour, near the blue city of Chefchaouen. We chartered a taxi all day for a few hundred Dirham and our driver pointed out huge fields of Marijuana, one of the regions biggest exports.
I remember running through the pouring rain in the Northern city of Al-Hoceima. We waded through a literal river of human feces to get back to our hotel. I left my shoes and socks in a trashcan.
I remember riding out of the Sahara Desert on a camel, watching the biggest moon in the last 30 years dip below the dunes as the pink light of the morning warmed the golden sand. I remember spending the next 18 hours of that day on foot, bus, train, and taxi, before finally returning home to our apartment in Roche Noire, Casablanca.
I remember the conversations that I had with members of Morocco’s free press, the bravery that I saw, and the sadness that lurked just below the surface.
This has been by all accounts and incredible semester abroad. At times I was miserable, at times I was frustrated, but I wouldn’t change anything. To all of the people that made this experience what it was, thank you.