By: Samantha Weiss
Salaam alaikoum. Hello from Morocco. My name is Samantha Weiss. I am a junior Communications major at Elizabethtown College, but I am spending this semester in Rabat, Morocco through SIT (School for International Training). While here, we are studying at a partner facility, the Center for Cross Cultural Learning. I am studying journalism in North Africa and the Middle East, with hopes of becoming a foreign correspondent after graduation.
Shortly after arriving in Morocco, I grew accustomed to living in Rabat. I became comfortable with my host family, my school situation, and the city. I started to be annoyed by the tourists and felt a solidarity with the people. Despite the language barriers and cultural differences, Rabat quickly became another place to call home. But after a few weeks of classes and one excursion, I was anxious to see more and travel beyond the city I had come to love.
Which brings me to my second excursion: a one week stay in Sbaa Rouadi, a village in northern Morocco. Despite its proximity to one of the largest cities in Morocco, Fes, few people outside of the village know of its existence. This village is similar to most of the small towns in Morocco, relying on agriculture for subsistence. The residents of Sbaa Rouadi speak only Moroccan Arabic and most students drop out of school by fifteen for pragmatic reasons, like working to help their families.
This could easily be a tale of a poor African village where education is hard to sustain and survival is the only goal, but something makes Sbaa Rouadi more than that: the people. Despite the lifestyle they were accoustemed to and the expectations they had, they lived their lives. When children weren’t competing in races down the streets, they were playing soccer or dancing. Women kept homes clean, attended NGO classes specifically for them and cooked amazing food. Men worked in the fields or the shops on the main street. Life was anything but glamorous, but the people were happy. They told us in a discussion that everything was “just normal” there.
In the week that I spent there, I experienced life that I had only read about in books or learned about in classroom environments. I watched my host sisters wash laundry by hand, only to learn later that we had a washing machine made specifically for village life. I tasted homemade cakes and breads and was eventually taught the secrets. I slept in a single room with seven other women and watched American movies, subtitled in Arabic. I spent a morning dancing with village children and entertaining them with cartwheels. As my host family was a farm family, I picked potatoes, rode a donkey, attempted to milk a cow, and fed their pet chickens.
One would think that my limited knowledge of Darija would have made the week awkward or quiet, but that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Sometimes our words weren’t enough, so we pantamimed things to explain, but always reached an understanding. And when all else failed, we all laughed in the same language. Much of our week was spent in roaring laughter as we tried to live like our host family or when we butchered Arabic words or when our game of charades went too far. Between learning the Darija words that our sisters deemed necessary and explaining the English names for things, even our ability to speak was vastly improved by the end of the week. I am sure my pronunciation is far from perfect, but I feel more confident in myself because of the chance my sisters provided me.
The family that I became a part of was a blessing I didn’t know I needed. I was reminded the true value of family as I wastched them interact, how much I missed my biological family, and that the families we are born with are only one of many that we can be a part of during our lifetimes. I plan to visit this family again, on this trip and hopefully later in life. I intend to keep up with them, as much as their rural lifestyle allows. I want to include them in the rest of my life.
I can’t emphasize enough how much I learn each day, but this trip reinfornced a belief that I had lost along the way: ordinary life, the everyday can be just as interesting and significantly more important than events or once-in-a-lifetime moments. Each day should be lived for what it is and acknowledged for what you learned from it, regardless of the grandeur of it.
A week after the trip to Sbaa Rouadi, we headed to Septa (also known as Ceuta) a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco. We first made a top in Chefchaoun, the famous blue city, to learn about the history and culture of this region.
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