Hi! My name is Michael Smiley, and I’m studying Modern Standard Arabic for six weeks in Fes, Morocco (Summer 2013). I’ve never studied Arabic before, nor have I ever been to a country that speaks Arabic. I’ve never traveled abroad on my own, and I’ve never been outside of the United States for more than four weeks (I will be in Morocco for a total of nine weeks). This trip is a lot of firsts for me!
I’m actually cheating with these blog entries, since I wasn’t able to get the blog to work for me until a few days ago, and even then I haven’t had the necessary combination of an available power outlet, stable wifi access, and free time. So the introduction, pre-departure, arrival, and first week blog entries are actually all being typed up on Monday, June 24, 2013.
So why did I choose to come to Fes? I should start by saying that I’m a Social Science major, which basically means I can just cobble together all of the classes that interest me into a degree. I really have no ultimate plan with my college career; the only criteria for which classes I’ve chosen to take (apart from required classes) is whether or not they seem interesting. It’s probably fair to say almost all of my time is spent daydreaming (often while doing other things, of course—I can multitask, sort of). Whenever I see, experience, or think about anything, I’m always imagining several other things at the same time. The daydreams are always fueled by what’s being fed into my brain, be it scenery, pictures, or books. In a way, the acquisition of knowledge feeds my imagination. I’m always keen to find the best feasts for the imagination, and I’ve developed particular tastes. The Middle East and North Africa have always had an inexplicable draw for me, though only recently have I consciously recognized it. Much of my free time in the past few years has been spent gathering pictures and lore about Africa and the western reaches of Asia.
One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is whether my interest in other lands, cultures, peoples and histories is benign, or insidious. Seriously thinking about colonialism, Orientalism, the dark side of the romanticization of reality has led me to question my personal daydreamer’s pursuit. Regardless, I do want to learn more about the world, and I don’t think it’s because the rest of the world is “exotic” compared to my usual surroundings. One thing I’ve learned in my anthropology classes is that weird is relative; studying other cultures makes the strange familiar, and the familiar strange. The mundane and the fantastic are one and the same.
Whoops, this is actually probably way too long for an introduction post. I tend to go off on tangents when I write directly from my mind, so I’ll sum it up as succinctly as I can. Why did I choose Morocco? Because Morocco fascinates me.