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O Fim duma Viagem

We'll Prove it with Reference to our Last Seminar

MOROCCO | Monday, 23 June 2014 | Views [300]

My host mother seems determined to make sure I learn “hamka,” the Darija word for “crazy.” She uses it nearly as much as she uses “Le bas?” and she asks me that every time I see her. It would be a fair trade, since “crazy” is one of the English words she knows best. She doesn't know blue, but she does know crazy. Maybe this family was a good match for me.

So breakfast went well, until I looked around and realized I didn't have a lunch packed. My host family asked something along the lines of “aren't you eating lunch here? Couscous!” and I did my best to say “Uh... no?”

Then I went to Erika's house, and the exact same conversation happened, only in French. This time, because it was in French not some Darija/English/French/Hand motions mixture (with heavy emphasis on the last part.) Apparently students always came home on Fridays for couscous with their families. IES never mentioned that part, and we had a normal day of classes, which didn't leave time to come home, eat a nice lunch, and leave again.

Once we got that straight with Erika's mother, she told us to wait while she prepared something quick for lunch. So we sat down and I had a chance to do most of the lit reading that I hadn't gotten to the night before. She not only made Erika lunch, she packed one for me too, having seen that I was in the same position. Which was sweet, and I could reassure my host mother that I hadn't starved when I returned home that evening.

It made me sad that I couldn't go home to eat couscous for lunch, because this was my last chance. I know that I just got here, but next week we're in Senegal, and the weeks between that and when we left are Ramadan, so there's no going home for lunch. I was jealous of the students from the spring semester, because they got to spend longer in Rabat, and they also got to explore more than just Rabat, Fez, Meknes, and Dakar. I've only just gotten here, but when you count in couscous lunches, I'm practically gone.

I think I'll count in number of times my host mother calls someone “hamka,” or “crazy.” That makes it seem like I have so much more time here.

At school, I started to feel a little guilty about not worrying about the debate. My “preparation” consisted of a page on which I'd scrawled percentages (“4.6 Fortune 500 CEO. 1/7 Engineers”) and a few relevant words. “Chef de la direction. Leadership.”) Everything else (like complete sentences and coherent arguments) were just vague ideas in my head.

 Everyone else had written paragraphs and added it to the Google doc. In the minutes before we left for the debate, they printed it out and went, still extremely worried. Megan was stressing out the most about it. I started to worry that I would be under-prepared and embarrass us all, but it was too late to prepare any more, so I gathered up my stuff and followed Mahjid out of the center.

I also had the excuse of the politics presentation I'd needed to give. You could tell by looking at my summary that I'd gotten less and less enthused about writing the report as the night had gone on. For the first article (my reading was a section of a newspaper) I'd written three solid paragraphs of over five sentences each. For the last article, I'd written two sentences.

But the instructor said it was good, solid, work, and my questions sounded insightful and important and not like they'd been done in the span of time between me brushing my teeth and changing from the day blanket into the night blanket and me actually going to bed, so I guess it didn't matter too much.

We were going to take a tram to the university (my first time actually being on the tram, not just watching it) have the debate, and then take a tram back to nearish the Medina.

The tram was tramlike. I feel like it should have been an exciting and new means of transportation, but it wasn't really. And if we were going by areas we hadn't seen before, it didn't seem to mater that much. From a distance, all of the buildings looked the same.

We got out at the university, which was gorgeous. There was a small courtyard which probably could have beaten Yale in a direct competition. The plants and mosaics were gorgeous, even if the buildings were somewhat standard. That's the only part of the school I saw, so it's hard to say if the entire university is that pretty.

We walked into the room the debate would be held. It was a debate, but we'd also been told to be “cool, like Americans.” So I was expecting a classroom. We ended up with a classroom, of sorts. There were two parallel lines of tables, connected on one end by even more tables. Every table was equipped with a microphone.

Now I was worrying.

We'd just sat down and settled ourselves when the Moroccan students filed in. There were ten of them. They outnumbered us! Worse, it turned out they were all masters students in law, economics, or a related field.

We were going to lose.

One of the girls had dropped her watch to the ground in the process of sitting down. Natasha asked us if we should tell her she'd dropped it so we could begin the debate on a friendly note. Kifesh ngulu “you dropped your watch” b darija?

The teacher moderating the debate had us introduce ourselves, then she introduced the topics. It turned out we were only supposed to talk about the United States. The sheet had been unclear “What is the status of women in Morocco? In the US? In Sub-Saharan Africa? Etc.” We hadn't prepared that much about Morocco, since none of us had felt comfortable telling Moroccan students “these are the poblems facing your women,” or, worse, “these are the problems that I can tell you face.” However, Cynthia's area of presentation had been on Sub-Saharan women, since we figured someone needed to address that, (That “someone” turned out to be a male from Liberia who showed up late, the lone representative of Sub-Saharan women in that room) and Natasha had spent some time answering the question of how the status of Moroccan women compared to US women, as it had appeared specially on the sheet.

Nisrine suggested we enjoy the drinks and food that she'd brought while we “mingled.” Which meant that Natasha, Cynthia, and two people from the other side regrouped, I walked across to pick up the watch that had fallen on the ground and return it (We're cool, like Americans! Be nice to us) and everyone from both sides got food.

Paprika crisps: really weird sounding, but pretty tasty. Much better than ginger ginger juice.

When we were settled back down, the moderator asked which side wanted to go first. I had to put conscious effort into stopping my hand from going up and tapping my nose. “Nose goes,” is far from universal. If I were in Japan, it would probably be equivalent to saying “me! Me!'

One of the Moroccans suggested that the invitees start, and the moderator immediately turned around and made her side go. So we got to sit back, relax, and listen to a lesson that could have been part of the politics class until the moderator cut her off.

“You're supposed to be talking about the status of Moroccan women. You've so fart just talked about history.”

“Yes, but talking about history is crucial to understanding their present status.”

“You only have 8 minutes. I suggest you get to their present status.”

Unhappily, the girl who was talking deferred to her friend, who talked about that until the moderator cut her off with “I'm sorry, but it's been 8 minutes. United States?”

We never once got cut off, which I count as a significant improvement. We were also well within our allotted 8 minutes when we finished. The moderator smiled approvingly, then opened the floor for questions. Since the Moroccans had presented first, we would ask the first questions. Did any of us have questions to ask?

None of us did.

The reverse was not true. The Moroccan students were full of questions. They asked three, including what the US thought of Moroccan women (our concise answer: we don't, really. We think of women in other Islamic or African countries.) and would have asked more if the moderator let them. Instead, she asked if we were sure we didn't have any questions.

They'd handed us a freebie. I pressed the “talk” button on my microphone and asked what Moroccans thought of US women. (Short answer: We were completely free, though some of that is being taken away more recently. None of us objected to that as a summary.)

Finally, the Liberian student (who had come in during the questions) was given “two minutes” to talk about the status of women in subsaharan Africa. He talked for drastically more. You could see that the girl who had been interrupted earlier noticed, and was not happy about that.

Then the moderator sumarized everything we'd said, and we moved on to the next question, problems. Nathan, Erika, and I had split that up so Nathan talked first, then me, then Erika. This time, we needed to present first, and the Moroccan students would go later.

Nathan gave his spiel. And then Natasha added something. And then Megan added something. And by this point it had been over five minutes, and the moderator had shown no regrets about cutting off people who talked late. So I took advantage of my flexible notes to abridge things a lot and turned to Erika to finish up after only minimal talking.

My concerns about time proved to be ill-founded. The moderator let everyone talk for however long they wanted this time. Any concerns about time and running late were solved by cutting out the third question. The third question was what Megan had prepared. Instead, we jumped ahead to a kind of awkward and pulled-toether conclusion on all sides and concluded the debate.

First of all, it can't have been a real debate, because we weren't talking about the same thing. We were discussing the same questions, but just about how they existed in our native country. It was a slightly-drier-than-normal discussion, not a debate.

Which is good, because it was obvious that the Moroccans in the room liked talking so much more than we did. We'd pause between sentences and talk in a normal-to-academic tone of voice. They would string together the last word, period, and first word like if they did it seamlessly enough, no one could interrupt them.

And they'd all need to qualify questions with at least four sentences of explanation. They wouldn't just ask “what do Americans think of Moroccan women?” They'd need to begin it with a story about their experience with Americans before they could get around to the question.

And it wasn't just the students. The moderator, who was supposed to be paying the most attention to the time, did the exact same thing. Complete with the “can't pause or they'll interrupt me” run-on sentences and the extended buildup to asking the same questions that we had on the sheets in front of us.

So the “debate” dragged on. And on. And this was already after literature and politics/Dakar briefing part 2. We did not reach any grandiose conclusions about the state of women , the US, or Africa. But we'd been told we did a better job than the last people who had come there and debated, so I guess we won.

Then we posed for group pictures against blinding sun (I will be shocked if my eyes are open in any of them) and were able to go. Mahjid walked us back to our homes. By which I mean he walked back with us until the route we wanted to take to get home separated from the route he wanted to use to get to his home, asked if we knew how to get back, and left us.

I'm not sure about anyone else, but Erika and I made it home without incident. And since I'm pretty sure Erika and I are the only people who have found ourselves on Mohammed V Avenue without any idea how to get home, probably everyone else did too. That night, I enjoyed the prospect of a week without needing to read articles for poli sci and relaxed with English literature and my hamka family.

Tags: arabic, couscous, debate, endings, school

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