Bug-eyed in Maroc

Iftar, meaning the breaking of the fast.

Shakrun, meaning thank-you; my first Darija word.

Dbalej, meaning bracelets in Darija

Wandering Rabat’s medina is eerily similar to negotiating Flatbush Avenue: here, like home, the streets are lined with tiny shops and street vendors selling pawned and knock-off wares from cell phones, to pirated DVDs, to piles of shoes, to anything you can imagine, want or need. Suitcases and jerseys hang from awnings; shops boast floor-to-ceiling walls of toiletries. The stench of the fish market, unexpected, may suddenly overwhelm a passerby, but a nearby spice vendor provides a quick burst olfactory relief. As we navigated through the medina on my first afternoon in Rabat, I felt both over stimulated by the new environment and relaxed by the familiarity of it all, as though I was walking through some strange combination of scenes I’ve previously encountered in Italy, Israel and Brooklyn.

After our brief medina walk, a few in our number attempted to take care of some business while the rest of us waited near a pastry shop. To work in such a store, I imagine, is some terrible form of torture during the month of Ramadan: the bakers and shopkeepers must endure not only the heat emanating from the ovens, but also the taunting smell of the delicious treats while their bakers are, presumably, fasting. A summer Ramadan means the days are hotter and longer, and the fast that much more difficult.

The medina was crowded as the shops were closing for the afternoon in preparation for Iftar. Having landed in Morocco only that morning, my body felt the strain of exhaustion and thirst – but to drink water in the streets would have been too rude to risk. Inside the bakery window, bees swarmed the Ramadan sweets sticky with honey. I had been warned about the children – they are small and fast, they are excellent thieves, they’ll charm you out of all your money – while I’m not ready to make any judgment on the subject, I wasn’t surprised that a little boy with a mysterious plastic bag buzzed around our group asking for something, money, perhaps, or maybe trying to make a sale. No, we said, repeatedly.

When I was younger, I acquired a ridiculous plastic bangle. It was the color of fake amber and filled with colorful beetles that I think are real. At first, the bracelet grossed me out so I gave it to my mom. A few years ago, someone gave me a second one in green, and this time it made me laugh. So when I was home in August, I reclaimed my original and wore them on the plane to Morocco:

The little boy was probably seven or eight, and he was the first person to nag us in the medina. Supposedly, the catcalls and solicitations will increase after Ramadan is over, but our afternoon walk had been unhindered. This child, however, persisted with his advances; we continued to say no. Then, his spied my bracelets. He reached for me, and pointed at the bugs as any small child might. His delight made me smile. He said something excitedly in Darija, which I couldn’t understand. In French, I asked him the word for bracelets. He grinned. Dablej, he said in Darija. I told him shakrun for the new vocabulary word, then tried to speak to him a little more. But he became shy and retreated from our group.

There’s more much more to tell from this first week, including an encounter with card-eating ATM machine, the subsequent unsuccessful attempt to best Moroccan bureaucracy in French, cannons signifying the sunset, my first cemetery!, my first riad, walks through Rabat at night. But I’ll let these pictures do that work for me:

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Stay tuned for monkeys and my trip to the Sahara….

Categories: fulbright, Morocco | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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