I am in Africa. I am in Africa. I am in Africa? Every time I say it to myself it seems surreal. My location doesn’t seem to have registered in my mind yet.
I’m sharing my room with the other UVA student, Sarah Elizabeth, who is staying with my host family. There are no screens on the windows in that apartment where we’re staying, and there don’t seem to be fans either, which means the room is quite warm. It’s familiar to me though, as having the bedroom over the garage at home means poor circulation and extreme temperatures (hot in the summer and freezing the winter). Needless to say, after a trip that combined two days into one, I slept very soundly the first night…except for the call to prayer at 4 a.m. (the mosque is a few blocks away form our apartment).
My family doesn’t seem to be particularly religious because one of the five daily calls to prayer has occurred during diner and they have not stopped to pray. It’s a family of four: the parents, and their 14-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter. I haven’t met the daughter yet because she goes to college in London and is still taking exams at the moment. However, from what I understand, she’ll be returning within a couple weeks. I’m looking forward to meeting her though because she’s just about my age and is fluent in English obviously, since she goes to school in England. However, speaking in French with the family has not been nearly as difficult as I anticipated. We are able to carry out extensive conversations during meals. It’s true that I sometimes have to turn to Sarah Elizabeth to ask the translation of a certain word, but I’ve never run into a situation where a fully have no idea how to express what I want to say.
One thing I was particularly excited about was the prospect of plenty of fresh fruit. The good news: according to my host parents produce in Morocco is considerably cheaper than manufactured goods, the opposite of the U.S. The bad news: the first warning we received during orientation advised us—to avoid sickness from foreign bacteria—to not eat most produce for the first three weeks (i.e. half the time we’re here). Fortunately, I found ways to make exceptions without problem: primarily fruit juices, but cooked vegetables at tonight’s dinner as well. We were also instructed to avoid drinking the tap water at all costs. Our host families were supposed to provide bottled water to us—my host parents have a carafe of good-looking water on the table at each meal, but its origin is questionable. I’ve had a few sips of water at most meals because I figure consuming the local cuisine is something that requires a gradual tolerance to the differences. This is mostly for the purpose of being able to eat the fruit. I don’t have any intention of really switching to drinking the tap water. This hasn’t been much of a problem though especially because I had the lovely option of pineapple juice to drink at lunch today—OM NOM!
Bottled water is fairly easy to find in Rabat and not too expensive. This morning I bought two large bottles because I wanted to have one to leave at home. “What are you? A camel?” the program director from UVA asked me this afternoon as I picked up my backpack, one liter-sized bottle of water in each side-pocket. I admit I felt a little ridiculous walking around like that for the rest of the afternoon. But I am HYDRATED!
The primary brand, Sidi Ali, seems to be the one and only. “Sidi,” I learned is the Arabic equivalent of “sir” in English, but perhaps a little more endearing because that term is what we were told to use for addressing our host fathers. There was Nutella at the supermarket—fear not!—but it’s very expensive in Morocco, following the principle of pricier manufactured goods. It’s nice to know it’s there though in case I have an emergency that can only be remedied by chocolately-hazelnut goodness (these happen from time to time).
Remember how I said I might regret deciding to take Arabic? Well, that may already be happening…and I’ve only had one class so far. I never fully appreciated how easy it really was to learn French until I started to learn the Arabic alphabet. I was excited to start to be able to read Arabic signs around Morocco, but that, unfortunately, seems to be a long way off. I have the feeling this is something that is going to be painful to endure, but I will be glad later that I decided to do it.