It’s surreal that I have three full days left. It’s Monday morning, and we’re leaving Wednesday night. Today and tomorrow will be two full days of return orientation at AMIDEAST. We have our farewell dinner tonight at a nice restaurant in the old medina.
We presented our capstones last Thursday. Finishing that was a relief because it meant that I’d checked something else off my list. Now I have to think about packing, about how I’m going to wrap the argan oil my host mom gave me so that it won’t leak into all of my clothes—and that the bag I bought from the medina might be too large for a carry on after all. Over the last few months, I’ve just accumulated a lot of stuff. I still remember that day in the fall when I went to the souk and bought, like, five sweaters, all for the winter. I just tried to pack all of them back into a suitcase along with my other stuff. Now I don’t think I’ll have space for everything so I’ll have to start deciding what I don’t want and what I don’t want. The last time I packed like this was August 31st, the day before I left for Morocco.
I’ve been saying my final goodbyes to all the people I’ve come to know over the past eight and a half months. The afternoon of capstone presentations, the six of us YES Abroad students visited Madaris Assalam (our school). We’re going back there on Tuesday, inchallah, for the last time. And for the rest of the time, I’ve been visiting my friends and saying my goodbyes that way. I’ve been busy, like usual, but it’s a nice kind of busy.
I often find myself thinking back on all of my seemingly small decisions through the year and how those have impacted my life in certain ways. For example, I met a good friend because we ended up at a free Arabic class one day. I met some other friends because we were put into the same work group at my internship. And so, so many friends that I met through friends of friends. Smaller things, too—a spontaneous decision one day that led me wandering about the medina also led me to run into some people I knew and then ending up spending the rest of the day with them.
There’s also other decisions, like choosing Science Maths over Science PC (physique-chimie), and there’s the decisions that I couldn’t control, like how I got placed in my host family. I can see how having a completely different host family would have completely changed my year.
I also think about what I could have done better. I stayed in my host family from the beginning of the year. They’re the perfect family for me, but I didn’t have a close host family relationship, and part of it is just because I never spent that much time with them. Fatiha was always out of the house, and so was I, and once we were back at night, the both of us were always too tired to talk much during dinner. I absolutely love my host family, though. They’re great.
I wish I had more time here. I’ve felt for forever that I have to leave just as things are getting started, and I’ve met people in the last month or so who I wish I’d met sooner. As a foreigner, and especially as an Asian American girl here, I can never say that I’ll become fully “integrated” into society, because I’ll always be treated in certain ways due to my appearance… but I can come close, and even if I’ll never reach true integration, I can feel at home here. In many ways, Moroccan culture, like Chinese culture, fits my personality better than the fast-paced, individualistic life that many Americans follow. I like it when things are implied and unsaid (especially means of transportation), I love how there’s no specific “rule” with the way you speak, I like how everything is shared, I love how people treat each other, and I like how plans are made on the spot. I will be back, inchallah!
There are a million things that will remind me of Morocco. There’s Top Batido, the juice place in Centre Ville that has a bunch of cool juices like beet juice, wheat juice, and celery juice, and also has the fastest wifi I’ve ever experienced in Rabat. In music terms, there’s the song Zina by Babylone, and the song Aïcha by Cheb Khaled, which both remind me of guitarists in the streets and other people just picking up a guitar and singing these two songs (even if they’re both Algerian). There’s Hit Radio, which plays Moroccan, French, annnd Top 40 music, and which I’ve really enjoyed listening to because of the diversity. There’s also Ed Sheeran’s new album, especially the song “Shape of You” because I first heard it during exchange and since then I’ve heard it every day. There’s the large amount of time I spent curating my go-to Spotify playlist and how I really think I started to appreciate music (without necessarily understanding the words) and to feel emotions during this year—don’t know if that’s a natural part of growing up, or if being here has had something to do with it. There are the concerts at the Renaissance Café that sometimes are kind of bad but are really fun at the same time because you meet a lot of cool people there.
I also remember trying to get to Top Batido for a college interview in November and severely underestimating the amount of time it would take for the tram to get from Agdal to Centre Ville, and then getting to Top Batido in the rain and logging on to Skype with a minute to spare (but my interviewer was late anyway, so all was good). I remember how during the winter it rained all the time and how it had seemed that the pair of rain boots I ordered online a week before departure saved my life. I remember that day I decided to walk home from Centre Ville in the rain and how I stopped at a msemen (a type of bread) stand in Agdal and got nice, hot, fresh msemen on that cold, rainy day. I remember going to Decathlon for the first time in my life and being amazed, juuuust amazed. I remember how I went with Kate to our first language café in either late December or early January and how meeting those few people who were there that day really introduced me to a lot of people in the long run because of friends of friends. I remember late-night Zumba runs and how it became my personal Waffle House of Morocco. I remember meeting people at my internship, and my first sleepover, and all the people’s houses I’ve been to, and how they’ve welcomed me like a member of their own family.
Time started passing so quickly once the new year rolled by. What was in the beginning so different had just become my daily life. When it comes to January, February, March, and April, I have a hard time separating in my head what happened in each month.
December to February were cold. Rabat doesn’t usually drop under fifty during the daytime, but sitting still makes you cold, and sitting still for two-hour blocks at school were the worst. I’d wear three or four layers of sweaters to school and I’d still be cold. Those secondhand sweaters from the souk saved my life, but now they’ve become a pain to pack as I prepare for departure.
The day of torrential downpour was a pretty shitty day, and I think I still remember the whole day, haha. In the morning I went to school without knowing it would rain, and then got soaked as I walked to an outside street to catch a taxi but then got to see a part of Rabat I’d never been to before because the taxi driver took a detour to drop someone else off. Then I told myself I wouldn’t walk around in the rain, because back then I didn’t have a functional rain jacket, and I was too naive to take my host mom’s broken umbrella with me. I was slightly sick, but I set aside the rest of the day to run errands: get my passport pictures taken, get to Centre Ville for my tram pass, and then hopefully stay in Centre Ville for a concert. It started raining cats and dogs as I was waiting for the tram, and it was also cold af. The tram never came but everyone thought it would come. I waited at the station for forty-five minutes. Then I went to the pharmacy to buy some cold medicine, took it, walked back home while being completely soaked in the process, changed into warm pajamas, and then slept for the rest of the day. Turned out that the tram was out of service because of this on the other side of the city:
That day, some of my friends who had to cross the bridge between Rabat and Salé to get back to Salé didn’t end up getting back to their homes until past midnight and some at 3 AM.
Yesterday after the Wiz Khalifa concert, my friends and I made an impromptu drive to the corniche and just stood there in the middle of the night, surrounded on three sides by water and night fishermen (and a group of people cooking a tagine in the dark), overlooking the cities of Rabat and Salé, and seeing the lights of the Bouregreg stage for the Mawazine music festival. Someone told me that sometimes he just likes to go there at night and just sleep there around all the waves and sea foam until morning comes.
At the same time, there is one major aspect that I won’t miss. I won’t miss how many men treat me here. I won’t miss the constant racial and sexual harassment that happens every day, multiple times a day. I won’t miss being groped and harassed and I won’t miss not being able to walk around at night unless I have a guy friend with me. Of course, this isn’t representative of all of Morocco at all, and there are good and bad people in every country, but I think what I’ve experienced this year in terms of harassment has severely decreased my ability to trust people. This could happen anywhere. For me it happened here, in Morocco.
I was talking to a friend yesterday, and we ended up getting to the topic of departure. He asked me how I felt about leaving. I said that I was sad, and I am sad. But I’m sad about leaving, but as a whole, I’m pretty happy. In general, sometimes I’m a lot more happy than sad and sometimes I’m a little bit more happy than sad. There are things to be sad about, like the fact that I’m leaving Morocco in three days, but there are a lot more things to be happy about. I’m optimistic for what the future holds, and I understand that things have to move on.
I was at my friend Fatima Zahra’s house two days ago, and when it was time for me to leave her brother came with his guitar and we all sang together (well—they sang, and I listened) to Moroccan songs. I was sad to leave them. There’s two sides of feeling accepted here: there’s the side of always sticking out in the streets and all of the racial harassment, but there’s also the fact that when I’m spending time with people and when they introduce me to other people, they almost never question my presence, and treat me like a real human. Last week I went to an 39i9a (a baby-naming party seven days after the baby’s birth) with my friend, surrounded by almost nobody that I knew, and nobody questioned my presence at all. I was just there. With them, celebrating with them, eating a ton of food with them.
I have an urge to write down everything I know about this past year, because I’m scared of forgetting things that were at once so important to me. I hope that I won’t forget about this year about about the people I met once I return to the US and once I reintegrate. I don’t know if reintegration will be easy or hard, but we’ll see, and again, I’m excited for what the future has in store. 🙂