Bon Voyage

Hey everybody!

I’m sitting at my computer typing this post on my last night here in Morocco.  The last couple of days have been really awesome for a few reasons that I will detail for you below.

Last night, a bunch of us decided to go and check out the old medina one last time.  So we went downtown and walked into the heart of the medina.  We wandered down the main street and then headed into the souk.  It was a nice, cool night and the medina was really crowded.  It was a cool experience to hear all of the sounds, smell all of the smells and see all of the sights.  I felt like I was getting one last dose of the real Morocco; the Morocco where people live their lives every day.  As we made our way out the the medina, we went up to Kasbah Oudaya.  This was my second time there and it was just as beautiful.  Just a refresher: this is the old walled city where the houses are painted blue and white (kind of like Greece).  We went to the café there and when it closed we went to the high part of the Kasbah, near the mosque, and watched the sun set over the Atlantic.  It was a perfect way to end the trip with the new friends that I’ve made here.

Then today was our last day of class.  Yesterday we took our final written test.  I finished pretty quickly and my teacher graded with me so that he could help me understand any mistakes that I had made.  I did really well and only missed a couple of questions!  : )  Today we had our final oral exam in which we had to describe our experience here in Morocco.  So I talked about why I traveled to Morocco, what I did everyday here and the excursions that I took.  I wrapped it up saying that I’ve enjoyed my time here and that I would love to return someday.  Then, late this afternoon, we had a graduation party.  I got my certificate and this awesome plaque (called a لوح, pronounced ‘loH’) with my name in on it in Arabic calligraphy.  It was a really special experience.

Overall I have loved my trip here.  I’ve learned so much Arabic compared to when I arrived.  I’ve met so many amazing people from all over the world and from all walks of life.  I’ve explored so much of this wonderful country and had contact with it’s wonderful people.  I’ve tasted the food, listened to the music, read the street signs, talked with the locals and gotten lost a couple of times.  I’ve learned a lot about appreciating what I have, appreciating others for who they are, and appreciating the beautiful detail that surrounds me all of the time.

So tomorrow, when I fly back to the States, I carry more with me than a couple souvenirs and a larger Arabic vocabulary.  I carry an experience that has shaped my view of the world and my place in it.  I carry friendships from which I have learned so, so much.  I carry memories that will be branded on my mind and heart forever.

It’s sad to leave, but I can’t wait to be home.  It’s been quite a ride.  Thank you for sharing it with me.

As always,

سلام اليكم Brad

*I would like to give a shout out to my mom’s College Prayer group.  By God’s grace I’ve come out of this trip safely with knowledge that transcends academia. : )


Until Tomorrow

Hey everybody,

A few of us went out to eat and just got back so I need to be getting to bed.  I’ll be sure to post tomorrow! : D

In Morocco There Are Still Exams

Hey everybody!!

So my last two days of class are coming up…and boy are they packed.  I have a final written exam tomorrow covering all of the vocabulary and grammar that we’ve learned during the past four weeks.  Then on Friday I have a final oral exam and a send-off party at the school for all of the people that will have completed a four-week course by Friday.  So it’s going to be crazy busy, but I’m sure it will be really fun. : )

Today I gave a presentation in Arabic…and it went really well!!  My professor was really pleased with what I wrote and the actual reading of the presentation was well received.  The topic of my presentation is also the lead-in to my deep thoughts of the day.  I’m going to have to get on my soapbox for a minute because I’m very passionate about the topic that I spoke about.  I talked about language education in the United States and how poorly our system is set up for success in language learning.  Essentially, we learn languages most easily before puberty.  This time span is what many linguists call the critical period.  In the United States, language learning most often begins during High School…after most students have begun or even finished going through puberty.  So, my first point was about how we should begin instruction in other languages during elementary school, kindergarten or even preschool.  In my opinion, this point is obvious and needs no further discussion.

Where I really get frustrated is the attitude that many Americans take towards language learning.  Many of us dismiss the idea of learning a foreign language because in the Sates we rarely, if ever, find ourselves in situations where another language is necessary.  Also, English is becoming more and more prevalent in foreign countries which also allows Americans to travel without needing to know another language.  What most people don’t realize, is that the need to learn a language isn’t the most important reason to know another language.  In the school that I’m studying at, there are people from all over the world.  Languages fly around like crazy: German, French, Arabic, Spanish, Catalán, Italian, Russian, and English.  Throughout my four weeks here, I’ve noticed that people clump together with people who know similar languages.  This makes sense, because we’re most comfortable conversing in our native languages.  When we’re with people who know the same language as us we’re able to communicate more easily…but more importantly, we’re able to share in a common culture that grows from our linguistic similarities.  Learning other languages isn’t about padding a resumé, or fulfilling an academic requirement.  It’s not even about making everyday communication easier.  It’s about sharing in a common identity with someone else.  It’s about letting others know that you respect them enough to communicate in a way that they understand.  It’s about connecting with someone who knows so much about other ways of life: other religions, political views, economic concerns, health issues, leisure activities etc.  Learning languages allows us to break free of what we’re familiar with.  We’re able to grow and experience other parts of the world that we may never have known otherwise.  So, take a course, buy a book, learn a language…learn about our world.

And now I’m off my soapbox.  Thanks for listening. : )  I can’t believe I’m going to be home in two days.  For those of you in Waco, I can’t wait to see you.  For those of you elsewhere, I can’t wait to be within texting/calling distance. As always, I love and miss you all!

سلام اليكم Brad

T-minus Three Days

Hey everybody!

I can’t believe that my time here in Morocco is almost up.  This month has gone by faster than I ever thought it could.  I don’t really have any profound thoughts for today, but I’ll catch you up on what we’re doing in school (since I think it’s really interesting).

So, today we learned about the Root and Pattern system of Arabic.  Essentially, every word in Arabic is composed of a root containing three (occasionally four) consonants (and occasionally vowels).  From this root, using a combination of prefixes and suffixes, you can derive many words that are related in form and in meaning.  It’s a really elegant system for word generation.  So we discussed and learned about this system for about two hours this afternoon and I was so excited that I had to tell my friends about it…and then they judged me for thinking grammar is cool lol.

Tomorrow I have to give a presentation in the main room (the cafeteria) of the school.  The idea is that a lot of students come and here what other students have to say about various topics in Arabic.  However, the presentations don’t take place until four o’clock in the afternoon so a lot of students have already left…which is great for me because I’d rather not speak in front of a ton of people at my level of language production.  Anyways, I’m going to be talking about (or attempting to talk about) the importance of learning languages at a young age and how language is one of the most useful tools in bridging gaps between cultures.  Now I only know about half of the words I need so tomorrow when I’m writing this it’s going to get interesting.  Hopefully I won’t make a complete fool of myself.

Then, on Thursday we have our final written exam and on Friday we have our final or exam.  Also on Friday there is an end-of-term party.  So, needless to say, the rest of my time here is going to be quite busy but it’s going to be great!

I hope this post finds all of you well, and as always I love and miss you all!

سلام اليكم Brad

Arabian Nights

Hey everyone,

So here goes…this past weekend we went on a trip to the desert of Morocco.  Just to give you a general idea of where we were geographically, we weren’t actually in the Sahara desert.  We went to the Merzouga desert in the southeast of Morocco.  This is actually a small desert amongst the Atlas mountains.  But it was still a desert, and there were still camels.

So, the trip began on Friday afternoon.  We left, as expected, about an hour late and drove…and drove…and drove and drove and drove.  Honestly, most of this trip was spent in transit, but the parts that weren’t were so amazing.  We arrived at our hotel on Friday night at about 8:30PM (an hour and half behind schedule) and this hotel was seriously one of the best I have ever stayed at.  It was built in traditional “Arabian” style and decor.  We were greeted by “authentic” Berber performers.  I use quotation marks because these were clearly displays designed to appease tourists…and the worked.  I was appeased.  I was on a mission to have a good time; to observe and enjoy every single bus ride, every single grain of sand in my eyes and every drop of sweat on my forehead.  We were treated to an amazing dinner (I had couscous with chicken and vegetables), then we went to bed for the night.

The next morning we woke up and (surprise) got back on the bus.  We stopped along the way to see some wild monkeys.  They were really cute.  It was kinda funny because in some parts of the world you take stale bread down to the river to feed ducks or geese…in this town you take stale bread down to the forest to feed the wild monkeys.  Go figure.  After that we (everybody now) got back on the bus.  We drove some more and stopped at one of the last large(ish) towns before the desert.  Here we had lunch and bought (you guessed it) turbans!!  Let me just explain turbans to you.  I had this idea in my mind that turbans were some pre-constructed, hat-like apparatus that you placed on your head to make you look awesome while wandering in the desert.  This is not the case.  Turbans are actually long swatches of fabric that you must wrap on your own head in some arrangement that both covers you from the sun, protects you from blowing sand, all the while ventilating your head.  Needless to say this is an art that needs to be practiced and so, naturally, I just had someone do it for me every time it needed to be redone.  So, now that I’m not in the desert anymore, I’ll have to find a Youtube video or something to show me how to wrap my own turban.

Then, we got back on the bus, drove some more and ended up in one of the last small(ish) towns before the desert.  Here we got OFF the bus (just to shake things up) and switched into 4×4 vehicles.  Our driver’s name was Yousef and he drove some knock-off brand 4×4.  Most of the others were in Land Cruisers…we had a make who’s logo I didn’t even recognize.  Also, Yousef wasn’t to be bothered with speedometers…oh no…ours fluttered around 0 km/h the whole time.  So we took off down the road and then we took off…off the road.  The 4x4s split into some kind of synchronized, high-speed, motorized desert dance winding and weaving around each other at speeds that were probably not appropriate for the amount of obstacles in our paths.  I had the distinct honor of sitting in the very back seat (which was not firmly attached to chassis of the car) and bounced my way to our final outpost where it was…camel time.

So we arrived at the last outpost and got out of our 4-wheeled (awesome) death machines.  We went in and were given two bottles of luke-warm water and were escorted to our camels.  Keep in your mind for the rest of this narration that the entire (obnoxious) group of American high-schoolers was on this trip…so we had a caravan of 55 camels.  Yes, 55 camels.  Here’s how riding a camel works.  The camels are saddled with this cushion that goes around their hump.  When you mount the camel, you straddle the cushion just behind the hump.  Then you lean back and the camel guru coaxes the camel from its seated position.  Now, camels stand up one half at a time, back first.  This is why you lean back; suddenly the camel’s rump is in the air and your thrust forward until the other half catches up.  Once the camel is standing you’re pretty much home free.  My first camel was super nice.  I named her Leila (which means ‘night’ in Arabic) until I found out that Leila was a boy and already had a name (which I never found out).  So, our 55-camel group was split into about 8 groups each led by a guide on foot.  Riding a camel is pretty comfortable, except that they’re so wide that your legs are pulled pretty far apart.  And after an hour it feels like you’ve been doing the splits for days.  But the experience of riding over beautiful sand dunes on a camel completely overrides any discomfort.

After a camel-packed our in the sand, we arrived at our campsite.  It was a group of tents arranged in a rectangle around a courtyard of sorts covered by blankets.  We were greeted with dinner (tagine with chicken) followed by dessert (the best honeydew melons you’ve ever had).  Then were instructed to go to bed since we would be getting up at 5:00AM.  I opted (along with most everyone else) to sleep outside.  Sleep on the sand is pretty much as uncomfortable outside as it is in a tent but outside you have the benefit of a cooling breeze.  And…you get stars.  Oh my gosh it was the most beautiful array of celestial beauty that I’ve ever seen.  I woke up at around 3:30 (I think) and looked up and I felt like I could see every star in the sky.  The Milky Way was visible as a faint band and it was glorious.  I wish I had a camera that let me lengthen the exposure so that I could have gotten a picture.  It was so beautiful.

Then 5:00 rolled around and we mounted our camels again.  My second camel was not as friendly as my first one and I felt like he just wanted to get back to the outpost.  I bonded with my first camel…but not the grumpy morning camel.  As it turns out we left at 5:00AM more to ensure that we got back to Rabat at a reasonable hour than to watch the sunrise.  So we saw the sunrise from our camels (who were facing the opposite way from the sun).  But it was still beautiful to be out in the desert in the early morning on a camel.  Once we got back to the outpost, we brushed our teeth, had breakfast and took our 4x4s back to the bus.  Then we were on the bus for about 1o hours.  Groovy.

And in case you thought I forgot, I have a personal life lesson from this trip as well.  This one I learned from the (obnoxious) American high school kids.  On the bus on the way back I was listening to some of the conversations around me.  Most of the students seemed to be pretty privileged kids who had been able to travel a lot and experience a lot.  And all I heard was them complaining…a lot.  “Oh, our bus on our last trip didn’t have air conditioning…it was miserable.” “Riding camels hurt so bad.” “Sleeping outside was the worst.” It went on like this for a long time and included other complaints about the lack of showers, the heat, having warm water to drink etc.  As I was listening, I was looking out the window.  Some of the towns we passed through had houses without windows or doors.  Some towns had garbage littering every corner.  Some towns weren’t even towns.  Then we drove past several tents in the middle of nowhere with a pasture for sheep and an outhouse covered by makeshift walls and a tarp.  Some of these families easily would have to walk a couple miles to get water, and who knows if it would be clean.  So I began to think…yeah, we spent a night “roughing it” in the desert.  One night…and we were treated to dinner and given bottled water for the journey.  But the key was that we got to leave.  We experienced “inconveniences” for 10 hours and then were back in our air-conditioned bus on the way back to our host families and apartments.  Some people live in conditions like that (without the pre-made food and bottled water) all of the time.  They never walk over the hill to their tents to find an air-conditioned bus waiting to whisk them off to a comfortable apartment with clean sheets and hot water.  And yet, they make it somehow.  Obviously, their lives are different than ours.  They have to work incredibly hard to have a hot meal and some water.  They live with no luxuries all of the time.  And then I thought…they may live without luxuries, but they still live.  They have spouses, they have children.  I’m sure they experience joy and love and fun.  Their means of existence may be different from ours, but they still exist.  It’s a beautiful testament to the variety of humanity and a call to all of us to remember our humanity.  Too easily we get caught up in things like making money, having things and being comfortable.  As humans we’ve built these things to be important, but they’re not what make us human.  The ability to love each other, to find beauty in our world and to appreciate and care for others who are different from us…that’s what makes us.

The stars in the sky, a sunrise over a sand dune, a warm breeze blowing your turban…these are things that we can all appreciate.  Inconvenience, tiredness, heat, dust…they all fade and we’re just….us.

As always, I love and miss you all!

سلام اليكم Brad

Week 3

So, it’s the end of my third week here.  Time really has flown by!  Each day, I get more and more comfortable speaking in Arabic, writing in Arabic, and reading Arabic and today in class I had an experience that proved it.  We were learning new vocabulary and one of the words had something to do with politics.  And so our professor left the room and, naturally, we all started talking about the politics/politicians in our respective countries.  There were conversations flying around the room in Spanish, French, Italian and English and everybody was bouncing in and out of each others’ languages.  But then our professor came back and when he asked what we had been doing (since we clearly hadn’t been studying the vocab) we admitted to discussing politics.  So instead of chastising us for our discussion, he simply made us relive it…in Arabic. : )  So I explained my opinion on American politics to a room full of Europeans in Arabic…and it made sense.  So, I was pretty stoked about that.

Tomorrow we have our first test over seven units of material.  It’s a lot of vocab, but I think I have a handle on most of it and the grammar is pretty straightforward.  So, I’m a little nervous, but not concerned.

Today we went on an excursion to the Archaeological Museum here in Rabat.  If you’re imagining a typical Western museum that’s huge and has exhibits of all types, then you’re imagining the wrong kind of place. : )  This museum was very small and limited to artifacts found at sites in Morocco.  There was a lot of pottery and some skeletal remains along with a few sculptures and some old jewelry.  It was pretty interesting, but mostly because we had to spend a majority of the time trying to figure out what our professors were saying in Arabic as they explained all of the exhibits.

Tomorrow we leave for the Sahara and I’m so excited!  We’ll be leaving around 1:30PM here (7:30AM there) and driving about 4 hours where we’ll stop and stay at a hotel for the night.  Then on Saturday we go to an old town on the edge of the desert to buy supplies (a TURBAN!) for the desert.  Then we take 4x4s to the place where we’ll meet our camels.  Then we’ll ride camels to the campsite and be treated to a traditional Berber dinner.  On Sunday morning we’ll wake up at 5:00AM (11:00PM on Saturday your time) and watch the sun rise over the sand dunes.  Then we’ll shower, tour around a bit more and be back in Rabat by about 8:00PM.  It should be a really fun trip and all of my friends here are going. : )

So that’s what’s going on here.  Because of the trip this weekend, I won’t have internet access so I won’t be able to post anything until Sunday evening.  As always, I love and miss you all!!  : )

سلام اليكم Brad


Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Or in my mom’s case…more worried. : )  Sorry for not posting the last couple of days.  Nothing happened on Monday.  I literally went to school came home, chilled and went to bed.  I just didn’t feel like there was anything pressing to report.  Then, yesterday I woke up with a pretty bad sinus headache and some congestion.  So, when I got home, I sat in our air conditioning for a few minutes to cool down from my walk home then I went to take a “nap”.  I went to sleep at about 8:00PM thinking that I would wake up at around 9:30, do some homework and go back to bed.  I didn’t wake up until 7:00 this morning.  Needless to say, I couldn’t blog in my sleep.  But, the 11 hours of sleep really helped and I feel much better today الحمدلله (praise God).

Today we had an awesome lecture about Moroccan architecture and it’s intense connection the the society and culture of the cities.  Let me give you a brief synopsis.  So, the concept of the city or Medina (مدينة) comes from the Arabic word ‘دين’ (pronounced ‘deen’) which means religion.  To be a proper city, the majority of the inhabitants had to be Muslim or converted to Islam.  Now, when you walk around a Medina, the streets zig-zag and wind in no discernible order.  That’s because they’re not built around typical Western notions of practicality.  Our lecturer explained this to us using the distinction between public and private space.  At the center of every medina is the mosque.  This is considered the public space and the center for all of the culture and society.  All of the main roads into the medina lead to the mosque at the center with other roads coming off of the main roads.  As you move into the residential areas the spaces become more and more private and the emphasis is on respecting others’ right to privacy.  For example, there would sometimes be multiple families living in one house and as you might expect they would close the doors to their part of the house.  However, this was not to protect their own privacy, but to respect the rights of others to not have to be privy to their business.  Essentially, the focus in the medinas used to be integrating everyone into the community, not just coexisting with others in the same place.  It’s a really beautiful concept that was unfortunately lost in Morocco upon its colonization by the French.  That’s not the whole lecture, but you get the idea. : )

So, I booked my place for the school’s trip to the Sahara.  On the agenda it says “Buy turban and water”.  I am going to buy a turban.  Fact.  I don’t care what you think, but this is the part of the trip I’m most excited about (and the camels).  People here keep trying to be Debbie Downers about how hot it’s going to be…but I just say, who cares?!?  I get to ride a camel while wearing a turban!!! : D

Also, I have a test on Friday.  I think it’s going to be pretty hard, as it covers 6 units of vocabulary and grammar.  But it’s all good.  I’ll have plenty of time tonight and tomorrow night to review, so I’m not worried.

Again, I’m sorry for not posting the last few days and I hope this post finds you well.  I love and miss you all!! : )

سلام اليكم Brad