A Huge Learning Curve (A whirlwind of activity in week one)

I have been in Morocco for over a week now and have not posted a single thing for this blog. Why not? I’m going to blame the learning curve since so much is new to me.

I’m still learning how to use both my Macbook and DSLR camera as well as the software for both, which slows me down considerably in trying to accomplish relatively simple tasks like uploading photos to Flickr. But that part is boring and you don’t want to read about that.

I’m learning all about my fellow Fulbright-Hays participants. The other 15 are a most impressive yet down to earth bunch. Since we have been spending virtually 24 hours a day together, we have gotten to know each other quite well. We were able to celebrate two birthdays last week on the rooftop of the Hotel Golden Tulip Farah, and another will be celebrated this Saturday when we are at the riad in Fes.

I’m learning Arabic, a crash course on speaking and writing “lora Arabiya” at Qalam wa Lawh. For the two weeks spent in Rabat, we are spending Monday through Friday from 9-12:30 learning (or trying to learn) standard Arabic letters and words. Talk about a HUGE learning curve! There are twenty eight characters in the Arabic alphabet. Over the past six days, we’ve learned 15. Not sure we’ll be able to squeeze the other 13 in during the four days we have left, especially since half of one class will be a lecture on architecture (yay!) and another class will have a demonstration on calligraphy (another yay!). I have been learning some very useful words and phrases like shokran (thank you), salamo alaykom (hello or peace), dajaaj (chicken- something I’ve been eating a lot of), and Ana ohibo fondok farah (I love the Hotel Farah- the hotel with the rooftop bar we stayed in last week). Of course those were the transliterations of those phrases. We are also learning the Arabic spelling of them as well. Two weeks will obviously not make me fluent in Arabic, but it’ll make me feel less awkward in this cultural immersion.

I am learning about our seminar’s topic of ‘Religious Diversity in the Maghreb’ through lectures given by Moroccan scholars. There have been momtaz (excellent) talks, such as a performance and lecture by Dr. Vanessa Paloma “Judeo-Spanish in Morocco: Moroccan Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish forming intertwining identities” and lecture/discussion by Dr. Fatema Mernissi “Why Arabs have 50 words for love.” Most of these talks have been at MACECE, the Moroccan-American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange. 

I am learning that time is precious. Our days are spent together as a group, going to language class, then attending lectures, followed by an excursion in and around Rabat, and finally dinner. Days are long and exhausting but completely enriching. Some group members have been able to attend to work items from home, but I have no idea how they are able to make that happen. Internet access has been limited to the language school, MACECE and the spotty network connection in the lobby of the hotel. Now that we’re no longer in the hotel and the lectures at MACECE have stopped, the only coverage will be at QWL for a brief time. Hopefully our riad in Fes will have wi-fi throughout…

I am learning about Moroccan food. Really less learning and more enjoying. Or learning how not to eat too much. It is delicious. We have been eating so much, I’m afraid I’m gaining weight. Lunch when at QWL is usually a chicken tajine. Dinner for the past week of hotel stay was at a variety of wonderful restaurants in Rabat, including this one across from the Bab el-Had.

  One of my favorite meals was at the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning after a lecture there last Tuesday. The squash and eggplant salads were delightful. Our dinner at the marina was one in adventure.

I am learning I am not invincible. That is of course a recurring lesson in my life. Last Friday, I missed a great meal at La Bamba not because I tried to avoid eating. I did make it to the restaurant and even sat down. But when I pulled my chair closer to the table, I pinched my finger that set off a chain reaction that ultimately led to me fainting. When I came to (about 30 seconds later so I’ve been told), I really didn’t feel like eating, so no delicious B’stilla for me that night.

I am learning about the history and culture of Morocco. In our afternoon excursions, we’ve been able to see some of the sights of Rabat. I took dozens and dozens of photos at Chellah, containing a Merinid necropolis, the ruins of a mosque and a religious institution, as well as the remains of the ancient Roman town Sala Colonia. Storks now make their home in Chellah.

A five day jazz festival was also held here, and a few of us saw a trio from and Finland who color coordinated their outfits (one person described it as a Saturday live skit with Lorraine Newman as the singer). The other trio from Denmark was excellent, though, as was the Moroccan saxophone player who later joined them. We have also been to the medina a few times, which is the walled part of the city containing the souks. I was able to see the southern 17th century Andalusian wall from my hotel. Near to the medina is the Oudaia Kasbah, with parts that date back to the 12th century. Also close to where our hotel was located is the Hassan Tower, the unfinished minaret of the Hassan mosque built in the late 12th century, and the mausoleum of Mohammed V. 

Last, so I can finish and perhaps even post this entry today, I have been learning about Islam, being immersed in the 99% Muslim culture, hearing the call to prayer from the multitude of minarets that punctuate the city.

I was hoping to make more frequent entries, but I’ll have to post when I can.

Currently, I am at a home stay which will be part of next post’s topic.


About Sue Uhlig

I am a doctoral student in art education at Penn State University. My research interests include collecting as pedagogy, public pedagogy, sensory ethnography, material culture, and arts-based research practices. Traveling excites me, and I like to visit places both near and far where I can explore the cultural complexities, layered histories, and geographic wonders of place. I enjoy behaving as a local in a faraway place or acting as a tourist in my hometown. I used to frequent state parks and tent camp, but lately my travels have moved me from natural settings to more urban ones where a nice hotel or the hospitality of friends is appreciated. I pick up things along the way, adding to my building collections of place-based objects that fill boxes, drawers, walls, and shelves. Prior to relocating to Pennsylvania for graduate work, I lived in the Midwest, first in suburban Chicago for my formative years then to Lafayette, Indiana. I received a MA in art education at Purdue and subsequently taught there as a continuing lecturer in art appreciation and art education.
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2 Responses to A Huge Learning Curve (A whirlwind of activity in week one)

  1. The Schukat's says:

    Loved reading all that you’ve been doing, and especially loved the seeing the pictures! Doing a blog was a great idea so that we could all share in your adventure!

  2. Caroline Uhlig says:

    Sue – Love your pix! New camera + Sue = Great Shots! Food beautifully presented & looks fresh & yummy & out of doors @ restaurant & definitely making me hungry!! Believe we need more people to be open to learning about really different countries. Don’t apologize for lack of entries – ANY entry is special gift & exciting! Packing my bags for trip & getting excited for experience! Hugs & Kisses – CU

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