Waš femtini? – Darija question meaning, do you understand?
Every morning I wake up hoping today will be the day that I understand full sentences in Darija or French. My chambre is cavelike when the external blinds are drawn, so for a few minutes I lie in my bed trying to construct a full sentence out of the darkness. Outside, on the streets of El Jadida, I have maybe five minutes before I stumble over a word or phrase I already know, and the rapid tongue of the Jadidiyat continues to elude me. But, every day it gets a little easier. This week I laughed at a joke. Everyone in the room, including myself, was surprised I understood. And, I met a couple of really great children this week – two little boys, 4 and 8, at the culinary institute where my friend teaches and where I had been invited for lunch — and the children of my new friend Meriem, who are 3 and 5. I love talking to children in any language, but in Arabic, it’s so much easier than talking to adults. Because I can almost have a conversation with the three year old. Still, over tea the 5 year old wanted to know why I said mezian so much. Mezian means good, or well, or sometimes great. I told him it’s one of the only words I knew how to say.
Moroccans are very polite and pleased – I think – that I’m trying to speak their language. Yesterday, at the Moroccan equivalent of a thrift store, a woman put her purple Adidas stretch pants in my bag. I told her in Arabic that I thought she had the wrong bag and she spent the next few minutes complimenting my on my admittedly bad Darija. Positive reinforcement is a great way to learn anything.
But talking can be equally frustrating. I understand Arabic numbers very slowly, and I’ve got no French numbers over 10. In fact, I don’t understand that much French at all. So when I decided I wanted to play tennis at the beautiful courts I found in the center of town, I thought it would be an easy, safe environment where I could maybe make some friends and work on my language skills. Because I already know how to play tennis. However, what I didn’t realize was that I’d made a appointment for a tennis lesson. And I hadn’t understood the annual membership fee, partially because I can’t understand numbers, and partially because the coach can’t write them down. So, when I showed up to play, I was shocked to find out that I’d sent myself back to high school, freshman year: Coach McCoy’s tennis drills. And though I quite enjoyed the work out, everything was laborious. I couldn’t understand the simplest directions in French – sit up, slide, backhand, forehand. And at the end of a vigorous hour, when this coach lined up tennis balls for this sprinting drill I’ve always hated – I started laughing. I realized that if I had understood what he was telling me to do, I would never have agreed to do it. And then, we spent another hour trying to figure out the price of a membership and haggling over the cost of a tennis racket. It was the hardest work out I’ve ever done, because it wore me out not only physically, but mentally too.
Anyway, here’s a walking tour. First, you’ll see a few shots from my neighborhood, then my school, then the old Portuguese City of El Jadida. The medina was built in the mid-1500s. I haven’t gone into the cistern yet – El Jadida’s pièce de résistance — I’m saving that for my first visitors next week.Vodpod videos no longer available.