Unwinding and winding down

In seven days, I’ll be on a 747 zooming across the Atlantic Ocean. Its crazy to think that eight weeks have already passed and I’m about to say goodbye to Tangier, Morocco, and everything I’ve come to love about them. This morning our resident director conducted what was called a “re-entry” workshop. We talked for almost three hours about strategies to combat culture shock and re-entry difficulties as we head towards home. The journey home after an intense program like CLS isn’t just about making my connecting flights on time–its also about figuring out how to share stories, keep up with my Arabic, and re-adjust to life in the US. During our workshop, we brainstormed things that we miss about the US, and anticipated things that we will miss about Morocco. Here’s the list I came up with:

Note: Friends and Family go without saying–I can’t wait for hugs and kisses from them all! 

1. I miss cooking. Not just the food (mashed potatoes, hamballs, macaroni salad, and chocolate brownies) but the feeling of the kitchen(s) I’m familiar with. What I miss is the fact that I know where everything is in my apartment at school, the way my Grandma organizes her cupboards, and the fact that my mom never runs out of flour, butter, or sugar.  

2. I miss time. 8 weeks in Morocco made me realize just how important time is in American culture–and how unimportant it is elsewhere. I miss knowing just how long everything is going to take–it takes 6 minutes to drive from my house to the grocery store. It takes 9 minutes to walk from the Pentacrest to my apartment. Morocco is “ala al-aks” (just the opposite) in that it could take 6 minutes to get to the souq–and an hour to find everything you need. Finding food, buying gifts for family back home, and even taking a taxi somewhere is unpredictable to me because I don’t know the system. I don’t speak the language fluently, and I haven’t acquired enough experience with Moroccan culture to anticipate the way that things fit together in a city of 700,000 occupants. I’ve definitely come a long way in understanding Morocco–but its a vast culture that would take years to integrate myself into. 

3. I miss Henry–he’s my family’s energetic black lab and my favorite running buddy. Speaking of–I miss exercise. Specifically, I miss running down long stretches of dirt road with him. 

4. I miss the radio. I really miss knowing what the popular hits are right now–I’d appreciate some KDWB or K102! Even further, I miss reading the headlines of the Des Moines Register and the Daily Iowan–I read the newspaper here, but I genuinely miss easily accessible media. 

5. I miss phone conversations. I have a Moroccan cell phone, but I rarely use it to communicate with people–most of my friends live at the American School and they’re a shout away. Texting is really popular with my Moroccan friends–and its cheaper–so its my preferred method of communication with them as well. 

My last week is going to be bittersweet. Its going to be busy with exams and final group activities. I’m going to say goodbye (and thank you) to some phenomenal professors and teaching assistants. I’m going to plan for one more semester of Arabic class, purchase gifts for friends, and photograph everything I don’t want to forget. I’m looking forward to hugging and kissing friends and family I haven’t seen in eight weeks. At the same time, I’m sad to leave behind the beauty and hospitality of Morocco. She and all of her people have been incredible hosts, teachers, and influences on my summer. 

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Thought 10: What do you mean, “There will be a test tomorrow if God wills it?!”

Whenever my professor announces the schedule for tomorrow’s class, she says “Inshallah,” even if that schedule involves an exam.  On the first day of class, she asked me where my name came from, and I explained that I’m named for my Grandmother (my father’s mother) who passed away many years ago. She replied with “Allah-ya-HamuHa.” When any of my classmates sneeze, the whole class says, “Hamdulillah” before turning our attention back to the teacher. I discussed my graduation plans with our resident director the other day, and he commented “MaShah-Allah” to my plan to graduate in December.

In just two short weeks in Morocco, I can see that the Arabic language is intertwined with both the geography of place and the anthropology of religion in the Arab world. At the vary least, its important to keep in mind the importance of respect for culture, language, and religion. I’ve found that its easiest to understand a culture if you first understand the language. In understanding the language, colloquial phrases are as important as verb conjugations, especially when both religion and language are tied together. The Arabic language and the religion of Islam have a long history both together and apart, and this is reflected by the way Arabic speakers use phrases like “Inshallah,” in everyday speech.

If you talk with an Arabic-speaker long enough, you’ll start to notice patterns with the use of common expressions. In general, Muslim and non-Muslim speakers of Arabic use all of these phrases. There are some phrases that exist specifically within certain religions–there are Arabic-speaking Christians, Muslims, and Jews all living in the same cities in Morocco. For non-native speakers of Arabic (like myself), it can be helpful to have a short tutorial on the meaning and usage of common expressions–for example:

  • “In-shah-Allah”: It means “If God wills it.” Use this when talking about the future–making plans, scheduling things, or hoping that things turn out all right. Example: Inshallah my sister comes to visit me. Inshallah we will get coffee at three pm. Inshallah she feels better because she has been sick.
  • “Al-Hamdulillah”: It means “Praise be to God.” Use this literally–Hamdulillah I did well on the test. Hamdullilah the train was on time.
  • “Allah-ya-Haneek”/”Tareq Salaama”: It literally means something along the lines of “God guide you and keep you safe;” or “Through peace,” it would be best translated to “Godspeed” in English. Use it when someone is going to be traveling.
  • “Salamu-Alay-kuum,” (Response: “Waa alay-kuu-mu-Salaam”: This means, “Gods peace onto you” and doesn’t really have a direct translation to English.  I think the only time I’ve encountered it is in Sunday School–there’s a passage somewhere where Jesus sends out his disciples and tells them to go into a house and if they are welcomed, to say, “Peace onto this House”. In my Arabic translation of the Bible, it literally says, “Salamu-Alay-Kuum,” which I imagine reflects that a similar phrase exists in Hebrew. People nowadays use this greeting to say hello and goodbye, and to express well wishes to friends and family. It is formal and can be used with elders or professors, and also among friends and family.
  • “Ma-shah-Allah”: Means something along the lines of, “Praise God that you have been blessed but I’m not jealous of your blessing and I wish you the best.” There is no direct translation to English–maybe something like “Congratulations,” but that doesn’t quite cover it. You use it when a baby is born, you use it when someone achieves something special (like graduation), or when someone exhibits a talent.
  • “Allah-ya-HamuHa”: means “May she rest in peace.” Its appropriate to use this when someone mentions that a family member or friend has passed away.  Some people will begin stories or memories by saying, “My Grandmother, Allah-ya-HamuHa.” It is sometimes applied to things that have been broken beyond repair (like a car, a bike, or a refrigerator), but that’s less frequent.
  • “Maa-Salaama!”: This one’s easy–it means goodbye. Literally translated, it means, “With Peace.” Its used the same way we use “goodbye” in English.

And with that, I say, Maa Salama and Inshallah you have enjoyed my post today!

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