From Sunday, June 19 to Saturday, June 25, the Fulbright Hays group moved from the cushy comforts of the Fondak Farah to individual homestays in and around the Rabat area. I was stationed with a family of four in Hay Riad about 5 kilometers from Qalam wa Lawh, the Arabic language school introduced in the last post.
Monday through Friday, we continued to take lora Arabiya classes at the school in the morning and then broke into smaller groups in the afternoon for further exploration and study in Rabat. I went to Sale, the city across the Bou Regreg river from Rabat, to explore the medersa in the medina, then afterward went to the potter’s area where I saw large ceramic vessels being thrown and the zellij tile made. I also went back to the Oudaia Kasbah, explored the public beach, shopped a bit more, went to a bank museum (not only did it have money on display, but it also had some wonderful contemporary Moroccan art), and went to a hammam (a Turkish bath where I was scrubbed clean by an attendant).
In the evening, we each went back to our host families for dinner, sleeping and breakfast, like a Moroccan bed and breakfast of sorts. Since there was no air conditioning, I had the window open at night for airflow, and it was the first time I heard the 4:30 a.m. call to prayer at the mosque in Hay Riad. The twenty-something year old daughter spoke English, but the mom and dad did not. They spoke Arabic, French, and Berber so as you can imagine, our conversations were quite interesting.
The first night I was there, I had quite an adventure. The host dad and mom took me for a car ride. Since it was just the three of us without the daughter as translator, I had no idea where we were going or when we’d be home. They first took me to a royal Fantasia horse show, but it was over by the time we made it in the gate. Apparently, the king’s brother was there, and the event was quite a spectacle. Naturally, they seemed very disappointed that we missed it. Then we got back in the car and drove to a rest area/restaurant/playground area where we had mint tea. We drove again for a while until I started smelling salty ocean air, and I realized the beach was our destination. We stayed at the beach for a bit, walked on the sand strewn with garbage, then left. Were we going back home? Not yet, I found out. We went to a shopping mall to pick up some necessities. Our little drive lasted about 5 hours, the whole time barely communicating with my new hosts.
The rest of the week was not as adventurous. Most nights, I ate at 8:30 by myself in front of the tv where Law and Order SVU, Criminal Minds and Charlie’s Angels (the movie) was blaring in dubbed French. (It’s not just Americans who eat in front of the television set- oh memories of home!) The husband didn’t get home until 10 so I appreciated that Soultana (the wife) was able to accommodate my request of eating earlier. Soultana would often sit with me while I ate and checked my Arabic homework almost daily from Qalam. One night I also showed her photos of my family on my laptop while applying newly learned Arabic vocabulary. I enjoyed trying home cooked Moroccan food every night, such as chicken tajine and harira soup.
One of the other participants, Michael, stayed at Soultana’s sister’s apartment. Friday, the last night of the homestay, was also Michael’s birthday. I spoke with the daughter about getting the families together so we can celebrate his birthday and our last night together. And so we did. Birthday couscous was on the menu. We sang Happy Birthday while the couscous was brought out, and we learned how to form the couscous into balls with our hands. Michael even got a birthday gift from my host family. Not your typical birthday party, but in Morocco, it worked.
My host family was warm and thoughtful and overall, it was a good experience for me.
Next entry will be about the beautiful riad and the incredible heat in Fes.