Elena was in Sahara just a few days from the time I was. Love this blog and want to share it with my readers!
I’ve never been good at learning words in the native language of the countries I visit while I’m there. I might learn ‘good morning’ or ‘thank you’ but that’s the extent. Others I’ve traveled with go through great pains to learn words to communicate but for some reason I don’t do that – until I go home.
When I last visited Vietnam about 5 years ago, I had already purchased the Rosetta Stone system for learning Vietnamese and did quite well at it, but had a hard time detecting the words I knew in casual everyday conversation because Vietnamese is just so different from any language I’ve been exposed to. I liked Rosetta Stone’s format but just didn’t take the extensive time required to complete the entire system and consequently didn’t learn Vietnamese except for a few phrases that I like to say to impress people who have no clue what I’m saying. Because of how the words sound together I often show off to others by saying in Vietnamese, “the black cat is near the car,” a phrase that will not help me anytime in Vietnam or anywhere else. My drive to learn the language was mostly due to my wanting to move to Vietnam so badly. I hoped that if I learned the language it would make it easier to gain employment there. But all those plans changed for a variety of reasons. And my Vietnamese-learning ended.
And then along came Morocco.
French and Arabic are spoken in Morocco and to me it all sounds so familiar. I can rely upon my weak French learned in middle and high school to at least understand the gist of things. And I think some Moroccan Arabic words even sound French, like ‘mezian’ (good) and ‘nichen’ (straight) to just name two. I can actually detect Arabic words I know in conversation and in writing and know quite a few words that already come in handy in conversation with Moroccan friends. Plus I’ve bought some language and culture books that also help. There is a great resource online that helps one learn Moroccan Arabic: MoroccanLanguage.com. So I downloaded the program to my iPad and listen to it and practice a little each day. It’s rewarding and fun to impress my Moroccan friends with what I’m learning.
I have a long way to go with this but when I return in September I hope to have the phrase in Arabic for ‘the black cat is near the car’ down pat to impress my friends there!
It’s Memorial Day weekend coming up and I’m already packing my car for the long weekend – – and for the opening of my cabin. This year it’s different since I’m bringing a tajine along with all of my spices suitable for Moroccan cooking, including my recipe books and my Moroccan Arabic books. Usually I make tuna salad or broil steaks but this year the focus is on tajine and further perfecting my Moroccan cooking skills. And since it’s predicted to rain pretty much non-stop (and I’m not dreading that), I have plenty of time to read the recipe books and do some cooking in the tajine. I might even try my hand at baking some bread and making a Moroccan salad. Can’t wait. When I return to Morocco in September, I want to be proficient with my cooking skills to at least help make dinner at Mokhtar’s family’s home when we visit M’Hamid. We shall see…
My friends and I have been invited to have tea at the Moroccan residence of the US Ambassador to Morocco! I just heard from Mrs. Ambassador Kaplan. She says they are scheduled to be in Rabat at the embassy during my visit in September and that I should let her know specific dates I will be in the city so we can firm up the plan for our visit. Things change on a dime for them, though, so there’s a chance that it might not work. But still! I’m thrilled. According to her brief email, they love Morocco and view it as an adventure every day they are there. She is looking forward to discussing the upcoming election, as am I. But my travel companions are Republican so they might rather to discuss something else. I’m walking on air now!
…for everyone who has told me that I live near the US Ambassador to Morocco, Ambassador Kaplan, in the last few days, I’d be a very rich girl! Now you all tell me? You mean I could’ve been in contact with him well before this?! Still no word from the I’m assuming very-busy-Ambassador, but I’m not giving up hope. After all of the great things I’ve now heard about him from every tom, dick, and harry in NE Minneapolis, I can’t imagine not meeting him to at least say ‘hello.’ I just hope I don’t go crazy like a friend of mine did when she met Arnold Schwartzeneger and yelled out, “We looooooovvve you, Arnold!”
So I called the Embassy in Rabat, Morocco this morning and was quickly put through to Ambassador Kaplan’s office. If you read my previous post you know that I recently found out that the US Ambassador to Morocco is a neighbor! So not only does everything remind me of Morocco, I now learn I live near the Ambassador! Naturally, I had to make contact with him. I talked to a really nice operator who quickly put me through to the Ambassador’s office. And there a really nice person talked to me and provided email contact information for the Ambassador. When I told her I live in Minneapolis and very near the Ambassador, she said, “How cool!” It was a fun conversation and even if nothing further happens, I’ve had fun. It reminds me of when I contacted Katharine Hepburn in Connecticut when I lived there in the late-1990’s. I wanted to meet her so sent a letter to her home in Essex. Her niece and personal assistant replied with a nice note declining my request but it was handwritten and so kindly put that I felt honored to just have received that much!
So I emailed Ambassador Kaplan and provided a bit of information about myself and tried not to use too many exclamation points.
You know how it is when you get something new and suddenly you see it everywhere? That’s how Morocco is for me. Everywhere I go I see or hear something about Morocco. From hair products to food to a movie set to music, it’s all related to Morocco. To top it off I found out that the US Ambassador to Morocco under President Obama is Samuel L. Kaplan, my neighbor! He lives about 1/2 mile from me and I’m on a hunt to find him. I am planning to go back to Morocco and wouldn’t it be cool to have made contact with the guy? It’s worth a try.
I can’t get Morocco out of my mind. I’m entirely focused on the place and the people I met. This place, above all others ever, has really affected me. It opened up my view on this culture and to this place I’ve never known that much about. I always thought Morocco was a dangerous place for some reason. I don’t know why. And based on the comments I received before my departure it seems I wasn’t alone. Nearly everyone who knew I was going (if they weren’t confusing it with ‘Monaco’), warned me about my visit there. I remember the morning I left I said good-bye to my friend Debbie and commented, “This is probably the most dangerous place I’ve visited.” She agreed. We hugged each other extra hard.
Why did I feel that way? In hindsight it’s probably because it’s a Muslim country. I can’t think of any other reason because I really knew very little about the place except that. So what else could it be? Whatever the reason, I was wrong. Not once did I feel afraid. And the fact that the place is Muslim had no bearing on anything for me. I was just surprised in general how friendly and kind everyone was, but not because it’s a Muslim country. I was surprised just because it was so notable.
I’m not naive enough to think there’s no bad that befalls tourists or others, but I just never felt anything unnerving. The closest I came perhaps is when I was walking on our street to the car with Mokhtar. He was carrying my luggage and a guy I had seen many times before approached him and started talking to him and grabbing for my luggage, ignoring me the whole time. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but could tell by body language that Mokhtar wasn’t keen on the guy. Finally, appearing to be under some pressure to do so, Mokhtar handed my bag to the guy and we walked to the car. There was a split second that I wondered what was going to happen and debated about what I should do. Then the guy started dusting off the car, helping me in, wiping off the windshield, all for money. Mokhtar gave him a few dirham and we took off. “Remember his face,” Mokhtar told me. Turns out the guy is the gang leader for that area and as Mokhtar said, it’s better to just go along with him so that in the future he will help you out vs fighting him. So while we most likely weren’t in any danger, I was right on my interpretation of the situation just by reading the body language and was on the lookout for him later.