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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Writing from Morocco

Rachel in front of a mosaic at the Hassan II mosque in Casablance, the 3rd largest mosque in the world.

I can't believe it's already been a week here in Rabat! There are so many things to say, I don't know where to start. Let's see, here are some of the most different things about being here:

1) The call to prayer: five times a day, every day, men all over the city (and the country, and the Islamic world, in fact) call out to summont eh faithful to remember their duty to God and to pray. They all sing out at the same time and it sounds both beautiful and strange at the same time.

2) Cold water: We have to turn on the gas if we want warm water, and then only do it for showers. And showers don't come often. Usually people don't shower at their homes, they go to the hamman, which is a communal showering place. I went with my host sister and some friends the other day, and let's just say it was an experience. Very naked and very hot. I'm sure I'll return on occasion, but for now am more please with the hose we have upstairs in a tiled room meant for the rare cleaning moments.

3) Languages: and I definitely mean the plural in this case. People here speak Arabic, but not usually Fus'ha or classical arabic, it's called Dharija. This is a dialect that is unique to Morocco and is the only language the everyone speaks. Otherwise, some know Fus'ha Arabic from school and many know French, as this is a French colony after all. My host family is fairly well educated, so they all understand French (though I don't speak it very well yet). There are also several people from farther north that speak Spanish ... so pretty much, I'm just confused all the time so far. But it works somehow!

I guess that leaves me to my family: My dad works nights as a police dispatcher and my mom stays home most of the time, as women tend to do. She doesn't wear the hijab, or veil, and it's totally normal here to either cover your head or not, it's up to you. I have a 20 year old sister, Meryam, who speaks pretty decent English because she had an American sister last semester, too. She's the only girl and is very happy to have another female to stay with her when it's not safe for us to go out. I would hate being a Moroccan woman! As an American, it's acceptable for me to go out on my own, but Meryam has to ask permission from her father or brothers, and most of the time the answer is no...unless it's during the day and she's going to school or meeting up with her best friend, Asmaa, who also speaks English.

Brothers are great, though! I have Dreess, who is 24, Omar-22, and Issam-17. They are all super nice to me, even though I can barely communicate with them in French and Dharija, and they keep reinforcing to me that they are my brothers and want to protect me. Dreess is especially great, and we are constantly laughing.

Parties: Friday night, my siblings threw a party here for me and my American friends and it was so much fun! The older boys work in electronics and have built tons of lights, etc to make the living room, or salon, look like a discotheque! Dreess DJs and the rest of us danced, and it was a load of fun. The best part was that evidently my host father doesn't want them to have parties, but my mom says it's ok, so they all wait until the dad leaves for work and then scramble to move furniture and put the equipment together. It's hilarious, really.

Then last night, my brothers took me and 3 female friends to a discotheque, which was also an experience. Male female realtions here are totally different than in the states, but I'm not at all intimidated. The streets are strange because it's actually cultural for men to stalk women in the streets and we all know people here who met their spouses in this manner. They just make sounds and try to get us to say hello mostly, but sometimes it's borderline harassment, so we've all learned to ignore most of the stalking but then also we have useful phrases up our sleeves to get the point across. I usually wear my fake engagement ring, too, which can scare many a suitor from my path.

Anyway, I digress. Classes are going fine and so far consist of beginning Dharija/Fus'ha and a seminar on Gender and Religion as well as prepartion for the big research project I'll work on in April. My teachers are wonderful and supportive and the school is incredibly beautiful. I love living and studying in the Medina, or old center, of Rabat and can't wait to be able to navigate the winding streets without being totally confused. Markets, or souqs, are everywhere, and there is just too much hitting my senses to be able to relate at this point.

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