So after I arrived in Fes, I met my AHA associates: Ahmed and Cody, both 500-level Arabic students from Portland, and Driss Marjane, the program director. I also met Jenna (sorry if I misspell your name), an AHA employee… I’m actually not sure what exactly her job is, but regardless she’s a very kind woman. My first weekend in Morocco was spent hanging out with the motley AHA crew. I can’t quite remember the order of events from week one, as the first two days felt like a whole week just on their own, but I’ll try to recall.
Saturday night (June 15), we ate out at an Italian restaurant. Our whole first weekend was completely covered financially by AHA, which was awesome. Jenna wanted to eat traditional Moroccan food, but Driss told us that since most Moroccans eat “traditional Moroccan food” for everyday meals at home, when they go out to eat, they prefer different national foods. I got a delicious pizza, and to my joy I learned that people in Morocco eat pizza with their hands, not with silverware (the one and only drawback of ordering pizza in Europe, in my opinion).
The next day (June 16), Driss took us on a mini personal tour of the Old Medina. I didn’t take any pictures for most of the first weekend because the last thing on my mind while trying to adapt and soak in my new environment was stopping to pull out my highly steal-able camera (but don’t worry, I got plenty of pictures of the Old Medina the following weekend). Before our journey into the medina, Driss had made arrangements for us to meet our host families (we were to officially move in on Monday). I learned that the neighborhood in which I was to live was called Batha, and I would be sharing my room with a Duke University student from the first summer session (there are multiple waves of students attending ALIF, and I’m in Summer II). Ahmed and Cody would be rooming together with a homestay family just outside of Batha, right next to the fountain where all the taxis congregate.
My host father, Abderahman, met us at a kiosk near the Batha fountain. From there, he led us through the winding streets of the medina to what was to be my house for the next six weeks. There he invited us in for coffee. I’m not a coffee person, but this particular coffee was delicious, almost like hot chocolate. Once in the house we also met my host mother, Najia, and my host brother, Si Mohamed (he is around the same age as me). Si Mohamed wound up accompanying us on our tour of the Old Medina.
Driss basically led Ahmed, Cody, Jenna and myself through the maze of the Old Medina, walking us through the souqs (marketplaces) and showing us a riad (traditional Moroccan house featuring an interior courtyard/garden) that had been converted into a guesthouse. We finished our tour with lunch at Café Clock, a very cool restaurant/café run by a former ALIF student who enjoyed Morocco so much that he decided to stay. Incidentally, his name was also Mike. Ahmed and Cody both ordered a camel burger, which apparently was really good. I ordered some tasty sweet couscous with chicken, raisins, nuts, and apricots.
After lunch, we met Ahmed and Cody’s host family, who seem to be quite posh despite living right on the edge of the Old Medina. We then traveled to the Ville Nouvelle and bought cheap cell phones (roughly $20 American dollars) to use for communication while in Morocco. After that, Driss shoved us in a cab and next thing we knew we were at an extremely fancy hotel overlooking the whole city of Fes. We walked through the lobby and found ourselves on a balcony with a fantastic view of the Old Medina. This is where I took my very first picture in Morocco!
If I remember correctly, the mosque marked by the large, green minaret is near Café Clock, where we ate lunch earlier in the day.
We sat and enjoyed the balcony for quite some time, with some very interesting conversation. Driss talked at length about the absurdity of nationalism and borders, and demonstrated on paper how you could trace the similarities of various letters within different alphabets, as well as the history of how those letters evolved, showing how all of humanity is connected. I have since learned that Driss has a PhD in linguistics and sometimes teaches classes at ALIF, which answers a lot of the questions that were floating around in my head for that first week or so.
After our time on the balcony, Driss left our company, and Ahmed, Cody, Jenna, and myself all decided to have dinner at the Broadway Café, the same café that Ahmed, Cody and I met on Day 1. As we sat there, we remarked how incredible it was that we had only been in Morocco for two days—it seriously felt like it had been ages ago that after first arriving in Fes I had wandered by the same café that Ahmed and Cody happened to be sitting at. As we were eating our food, Driss showed up out of nowhere to inform us that he had taken care of the bill for us behind our backs, which elicited much complaining as he had been taking care of everything for us, it seemed. I must admit, though, it feels pretty good to know we have a guardian angel in Morocco… a guardian angel with a PhD.
The next day (Monday, June 17), I packed all my bags, checked out of the hotel where we were staying for the first weekend, and got ready for my first day of Arabic. Both Driss and Jenna met me at the hotel, and Driss got my textbooks for me (he also showed me where I could buy a notebook for class). I met my amazing teacher, Moustafa, who also happens to be a professor at Dartmouth, as well as my classmates. After the morning class, I met my host father Aberahman in the ALIF garden, and we took a cab to Batha so I could officially move in to my new home.
The first week went by really fast. We’re supposed to have two different Arabic teachers, one for the morning (10:00am—12:00pm) and one for the afternoon (4:00pm—6:00pm), but for the first week our morning teacher, Mohamed, wasn’t available, so Moustafa simply taught both classes. I also met my roommate from Duke, Dylan. He’s in the 500 level Arabic, plus he’s already been here for several weeks, so he showed me the ropes and has been helping me communicate with my host family. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to survive once he leaves on July 5, heh.
At the end of the first week, I went on two excursions provided by ALIF. On Saturday, June 22, we went on an almost all-day guided tour of the Old Medina (basically a more comprehensive version of the previous weekend… only this time, I had my camera at the ready!). Then, on Sunday, June 23, we took a trip to the Roman ruins at Volubilis, then toured the imperial city of Meknes. And the following weekend was the trip to the Sahara. Of course, those trips require blog entries of their own, so I’m gonna have to stop here for now. I’m almost all caught up!