Yesterday I washed my clothes, dirty from a weekend trip to the Sahara, on the rooftop under a blissfully overcast sky. After letting it soak in a large bucket with some Tide knock-off detergent and scrubbing the dirtier bits with a hard-bristled brush, the afternoon call to prayer was my soundtrack as I hung each item on the line. Though I have no qualms about giving my laundry to my host mom in a pinch, I’ve found that hand washing my own dirty laundry provides an excellent time for introspection.
Scrubbing my laundry, I let myself think that I am slowly, but relatively painlessly, adjusting to life here in Fez. Every day my language becomes less Modern Standard Arabic, and more Darija (though the ratio is still about 85% : 15%). I am getting to know my family and other people in my neighborhood. I am establishing a routine and finding ways to become involved in the community. In the beginning, it seemed as though I felt confounded at least a few times a day: buying a shirt at a reasonable price, finding my way home through the medina, shoving my way onto a packed bus, passing a decaying donkey on the path home from school, navigating the mechanics of a squat toilet. I’ve totally got those down, and this city was really starting to making sense.
Then today it is back to me completely puzzled:
I went to an women-only aerobics class and tried to pay for a month’s membership (equivalent to $12) but have to give them two small pictures of myself first.
A woman stopped by to say “hi” to my host mom, Nadia, when she wasn’t home and stayed to chat with me for a bit. “You speak Arabic very well”, she said. I’ve been told that before, sometimes after I’ve hardly spoken a sentence, but always encouragingly, or in surprise. Her tone, though, was curt and suspicious, and asked me the question I’ve never really been able to answer: “Why are you studying Arabic?” It was my first clear-cut opportunity to try to follow the Fulbright mission statement: to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of Morocco, and was floored by that one question.
I noticed that Mustapha’s (my 17-year-old host brother) cell phone display is of his (male) friend kissing a kitten in a grassy field.
And we had brain for lunch.