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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Buitenlander









Welcome!  I’m once again sending a transmission to any person interested in my experiences and impressions abroad.  This summer, my studies have taken me to Tangier, Morocco where I’m engaged in a two-month Arabic/cultural immersion program operated and funded by the U.S. Department of State.  The Critical Language Scholarship, as it’s called, aims to increase the number of Americans who have mastered languages deemed critical to American interests.  As someone striving to become an expert in international relations, politics, and development, with particular emphasis on the Middle East, studying here will continue the eternal process of honing my formal Arabic language skills, expose me to a new dialect, and acquaint me with North African culture and issues.   I hope to eventually do some good in the world with this kind of knowledge.  Besides all of that, I get to see some beautiful country and make new friends both Moroccan and American.

And let me tell you, Tangier is beautiful.  Perched nine miles away from southern Spain on the Strait of Gibraltar, Tangier is a Mediterranean paradise.  Tangier is complete with swaying palm trees and a mild climate that has attracted explorers and conquerors for millennia.  Its inner medina (Arabic for “city” connoting a traditional Middle Eastern layout) is bemazed with twisting alleys, colorful souqs, and those smells that spark immediate recall of the Arab world and its cuisine.  The romantic/mystical atmosphere of the city is probably what attracted a load of beatnik writers and artists in the 1950s, several of which stayed until their deaths.

The culture of Morocco is equally as nuanced and fascinating as its urban and natural landscape.  Morocco is termed an Arab country (even though its population is a mix of Berber and Arab ethnic components), yet the culture in Tangier differs markedly from that of Jordan.  The atmosphere here is much more European.  The legacy of both the French and Spanish colonists in Morocco has left a more potent legacy here than the legacy left by colonists in other parts of the region.  Most people in the cities speak French or even Spanish in addition to the local dialect of Arabic.  Although a larger portion of the population is Muslim (99%), fewer people are as conservative as those from the traditional Middle East.   When compared with Jordan, fewer women where the hijab (hair covering) in Morocco, and the weekend is N*Sync with the Western Saturday/Sunday weekend.  The most noticeable cultural difference is the nearly Western level of interaction that exists between the sexes.  Generally speaking, Moroccan youth interact openly one with another, a phenomenon usually restricted to wealthy, cosmopolitan Jordanian families.  Arranged and consanguineous marriages appear to be much less common in Morocco, and dating before marriage is more acceptable.

I really enjoy getting deep into the atmosphere of the places I visit.  Befriending locals is the most rewarding and enjoyable way of viewing the reality of a new environment.  As I’ve noted in the past, friendship possesses its own eternal significance, but it also gives a foreigner a glimpse of social problems, traditions, virtues, and stereotypes.  My first night in Tangier (June 23), I had the opportunity to chat with Hudeifa, one of the twenty Moroccan speaking-partners that live on the campus of our school with us.  I discovered that his father was the conductor of a traditional Arab music ensemble and told him that, as an amateur musician, I’d be interested in listening to the group.  Three days later, he arranged for my roommates and I to watch the group practice for an upcoming annual music festival.  We made friends with the family who then invited us over for a tradition-style dinner that lasted until midnight.  Later last week, we attended two nights of the festival to support their group.  I already feel as if we’ve established a fantastic relationship with this welcoming family.  This kind of interaction and friendship is what I relish.  


-REB

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Robert. What amazing adventures you are having! I read your posts from last November and September as well and especially enjoyed your thoughts at the end of September's post. I hope you continue to have a blast, learn a lot, and enjoy every minute!!

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