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Monday, 05 May 2008

An American in Morocco

Written by Kristin Cantu
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It’s human nature to want to explore and discover as much as possible about the world around us. Some of us use vacations to exotic destinations to get our fix. Others take part in community service projects abroad, whether it is for one week in the Dominican Republic or a couple of years in the Peace Corps.

Sometimes we discover a place so memorable, we yearn to go back. This is exactly what happened to Maura Ewing, an American who spent a semester studying in Morocco. When the opportunity arose for her to go back to this place that held such good memories for her, she jumped at the opportunity.An American in Morocco, Maura Ewing, studying in Morocco, study abroad program in Rabat, Rabat Medina, teaching at an international primary school, Marrakech, Moroccan lifestyle

inTravel had the opportunity to interview Maura about her time in Morocco before she moves back to the states.

INTRAVEL: What made you decide to travel to Morocco the first time around?

ME: I was a junior in college, 21-years old. I was doing a study abroad program in Rabat, the capital of Morocco.  At the time I was interested in learning about Islamic culture first hand - I guess for academic and political reasons.  Also, I had seen pictures of the country which were totally beautiful... And I found a really appealing program here in Morocco.

INTRAVEL: What ideas did you have about what the country would be like before you visited?

ME: I really had few expectations when I came.

INTRAVEL: Did you find that your notions of Moroccan life were what you had in mind or were they different from what you expected?

ME: Well, one thing that surprised me was the warmness with which I was received.  I guess I had expected that it would be difficult to come here as an American at the time, and was surprised at how nice everyone was even when they knew where I was from.  Generally people were really good at separating Americans from their government, which I hadn't expected.  They would say things like, 'I love Americans.  You poor thing, you have such a crazy president.'

INTRAVEL: What were your living accommodations during your first stay for your study abroad program?

ME: I was living with a wonderful host family in the Rabat Medina, or the 'old city' in Rabat.  I had four younger host siblings and two parents. Their home was quite traditional (as are most homes in the Medina). For example, they only had a Turkish toilet (a flushable hole in the ground) and a barely functional shower -instead we made regular trips to the public bathhouse, which I grew to love!  My host mother was sort of the epitome of a loving Moroccan mother; I got at least three or four kisses on the cheek whenever I came home.  And she was such a wonderful cook!  I still think her food is the best I've had here.

INTRAVEL: What made you decide to return to Morocco?

ME: I had recently graduated college, was relatively tie-free, and was looking to do something before I got a serious job.  A couple of my friends from studying abroad had gotten grants to come back to Morocco and knew someone in Marrakech who was looking for a roommate.  I was really excited at the idea of coming back to Morocco since I had loved my time here so much the first time around.  I came with some savings and a three-month plan of tutoring English lessons and traveling.  But, things worked out much better than I could have expected and now I've been here about a year and a half.

INTRAVEL: What sort of work do you do in Morocco?

ME: I am an elementary school teacher at an international primary school.

INTRAVEL: What are your living accommodations now?

ME: Well, I've had several.  First I lived in the Medina here in Marrakech in a traditional house, which had been converted into apartments.  I really loved it there. I had an amazing neighborhood where I could buy almost everything I could need - there were a plethora of vegetable and fruit sellers and bodega type shops literally right outside my door.

Now I live in the ville nouvelle in an apartment that the school I work for owns.  I'm living with another teacher from the school.  The apartment is totally modern, with an air conditioner, washing machine etc. and there are lots of nice restaurants in the neighborhood, but I miss the Medina neighborhood.

INTRAVEL: What are the challenges of being an American who lives and works in Morocco?

An American in Morocco, Maura Ewing, studying in Morocco, study abroad program in Rabat, Rabat Medina, teaching at an international primary school, Marrakech, Moroccan lifestyleME: I think the hardest part is to feel like an observer instead of a participant in so many situations.  Even though people are generally warm and welcoming, you always feel a bit outside of what is happening. Even in everyday situations like going to the market or sitting in a cafe.  I always feel like there is a lot going on that I don't understand, and it's impossible not to stick out like a sore thumb.

INTRAVEL: What cultural differences did you find the most challenging to accommodate to?

ME: What I call the "Insha'Allah" attitude.  Insha'Allah means, "If God wills it" but I think translates more to "maybe yes, maybe no, I won't commit,” and it's the response you get for most yes or no questions.  Like, "So, we'll have lunch on Saturday?" "Insha'Allah." So, probably yes, but maybe no.  Or, "Will the printer be fixed tomorrow?"  "Insha'Allah."  It's culturally ok to be totally flaky.

INTRAVEL: How well do you speak the language?

ME: I speak some French and have been learning the Moroccan Arabic dialect, Derija.  I'm by no means fluent in either, but if I combine the two I can get by just fine.

INTRAVEL: Do you have Moroccan friends or are your friends mostly non-Moroccan?

ME: My closest friends here are non-Moroccan.  I have a pretty great group of American and British ex-pat friends, and I guess enough Moroccan acquaintances that I don't feel too much in a bubble. An American in Morocco, Maura Ewing, studying in Morocco, study abroad program in Rabat, Rabat Medina, teaching at an international primary school, Marrakech, Moroccan lifestyle

INTRAVEL: What do you miss the most about the United States when you're in Morocco?

ME: My family and friends of course.  And oh, random things... I get cravings for silly stuff like peanut butter, or bagels with cream cheese.  And I miss going to the movie theater.

INTRAVEL: Are there any traditions or pieces of the Moroccan lifestyle that you will always keep with you no matter where you live?

ME: I have some items, like my beautiful Moroccan carpet and a mirror that my wood working neighbor in the medina made for me.  And I have a few favorite Moroccan recipes I'll definitely keep on making.

©Kristin Cantu

Maura Ewing currently lives in Morocco and has plans to move back to the States this summer.

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012