Ma’a Salama, Morocco

OK so this is really cool – I’m on the plane to NY at the moment and I’m using the wifi on the plane FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER!

This is so cool, even though it’s slow as sheeeeet – I’ve never really experienced this but this is simply friggin radtastic! And what’s even better is that I am watching Deadpool, while cuddling Jamie the orangutan. Seriously, life’s pretty sweeeeeet atm.

However, I have spent the past 15 or so hours traveling from Casablanca to Rome to Milan and it has been a rollercoaster of emotions! I’ve had a lot of time to reflect back on my experience of living in this strange yet wonderful land of Morocco for the past 3 weeks.

There is a mix of feelings as I think of my time here and am feeling bittersweet having to leave.
On the one hand, I am looking forward to my adventures in Jamaica, being a *real* traveler who catches a bunch of flights to get to their destination, communicating with people in English without the mental strain of not being understood, having a change of cuisine that doesn’t start with T and end with agine 😉 , working with kids who I can help more than ever, and getting one step closer to returning back to Australia, where I’ll be finishing up my studies AND BE REUNITED WITH MY RADELAIDE FAMBAM! ❤
But, on the other hand, there’s the beauty of the friendships that I have created here and how difficult it was to say goodbye, and the beauty of this country as a whole – not having had the time to visit Marrakech or Casablanca or experience the Sahara Desert on a camel, and the super comfy bed that I have been sleeping on, for the past 3 weeks (man, I could really go to sleep right now!!) and taking on the daily challenge of getting through my placement by working hard despite the language barriers. Also, the obvious adrenalin rush that a seasoned traveler gets from traveling to new and unknown areas, from jumping between flights and airports to get to a final destination…to opening your eyes to see the world from a whole, new perspective.

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Do you see the predicament I am facing? I guess a traveler doesn’t really have a proper place that they can call “home” – they are always yearning to be on the move, always on the prowl for adventure, always looking for different and unique things to do. So, while I am happy to be moving on to a new family, I’m going to miss the one I called family back in Morocco.

One thing that I am definitely happy to leave behind in Morocco is the daily ordeal of catcalls that I faced every single day as I walked down the Medina, down the street, into a cafe, to school, when fetching cabs, when buying a ticket to a tram…when being out in the open.

If it weren’t for my gazelles, I don’t think I would’ve dared to explore Morocco solo. It was disgusting, uncomfortable, unnerving, and so distressful – and probably one of the major reasons why my anxiety levels were off the charts throughout my 3-week expedition here in the North African country.

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In summary (#sorrynotsorry it’s long and not even remotely close to the concept of a summary):

  • Morocco is a truly beautiful country, with a vibrant culture, an appealing cuisine, and a gorgeous people – it is best enjoyed when traveling with someone/anyone (preferably someone with a knowledge in the French and/or Arabic language)
  • It is super easy to make friends here, if you can pick them right and aren’t shy to approach them with a positive and bubbly personality.
  • The speech therapy project I participated in can prove even more beneficial if you know Arabic and have a sound knowledge in topics around the speech pathology field, particularly speech and language intervention in kids with autism, intellectual disability, and cerebral palsy
  • Volunteer nights hosted by Projects Abroad is the perfect ice-breaking session that you can use to build new friendships and improve on your self-confidence, in terms of being a people’s person and being approachable (as well as approaching those from a different culture/country)
  • Cherish all the moments you have in Morocco – whether good or bad – because you will learn from them and end up a stronger person than you know
  • Never underestimate yourself – I thought I was completely useless at my project for the past 3 weeks, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the teachers and assistants in the classroom recognized my work and appreciated my suggestions for improving upon the children’s performance (despite the language barrier)
  • If you are overwhelmed by the culture or the project or the people, it is totally acceptable to coop up in your room and devour a jar of Nutella. Seriously, just do it. Or journal your thoughts. Or write a blog (it doesn’t have to be great – case in point 😉 ). Or talk to your friends and hang out with them and collectively bitch about everything that’s going wrong. We all need an outlet of some kind so that we can feel better afterwords. These are just some options I used, but you may be more creative and turn to art or music to do the same.
  • Be aware of the necessities that are more like luxuries here (toilet paper, anyone?!) and accordingly stock up on all that you need, especially when you go traveling
  • Get a travel money card because OMG is it a convenient little thing and saves you heaps of time (and money, funnily enough).
    Also, let your bank know you’re heading overseas. Always use ‘credit’or the ATM might eat up your card (as what happened to one of my friends in Morocco), in which case you’ll need a proof of ID to claim it back from the bank! NOT WORTH THE HASSLE, GUIIIZE.

You’ve pushed me to the limits of adapting and adjusting to new, unknown, and difficult situations and have in return, made me a much stronger person than I was 3 weeks ago!

Ma’a salama, Morocco! xxx

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Chefchaouen & my last weekend in Morocco

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OK so remember how I was raving about Fez the other weekend?
WELL – I think I have now fallen in love with another part of Morocco – Chefchaouen!
Granted that it’s one cracker of a name, so lemme break it down for you ❤ :
CHEF + SHA + O + UN (like ‘1’ in French) – not so hard now, is it! 😉 The wonders of syllable segmentation!

ANYWHO – a little tidbit that I didn’t know about Chefchaouen till I got there is that it is practically the Amsterdam of Morocco IF YOU KNOW WHAT IMMA SAYIN’ 😛 I mean, you could practically smell it in the air. It was revolting but also added to the unique character of this little town. Despite that, however, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Chefchaouen with my French Canadian ‘gazelles’ (as they like to call themselves). The company was great, the views were spectacular, and the whole city was painted in numerous (and absolutely stunning) shades of blue!

Famously referred to as The Blue Pearl, Chefchaouen is certainly a diamond in the mountains, where there are so many beautiful and nature-filled spots that would counterbalance the stench of 420 and make the trip / ride there worth it.

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We caught a bus from Rabat to Chefchaouen, which was 200 dirhams (~$20 return). While I was not looking forward to the bus ride due to potential motion sickness, I was pleasantly surprised at how well I fared during the 5 hour journey. Accompanied by some seriously breathtaking views on the way, listening to Panic! At the Disco on my iPod, surrounding myself with some excellent company, and catching up on some much-needed sleep, I found this bus ride to be super relaxing!

Upon arriving in Che-town, we caught a cab to our hostel – Aline Hostel – where we were greeted by a rather stoned guy and his friend, who checked our passports…

OH YEAH – CARRY YOUR PASSPORT AT ALL TIMES WHEN TRAVELING INTERSTATE IN MOROCCO BECAUSE THEY WILL NEED YOUR VISA STAMP DETAILS

and then took us to our 8-bed dorm room. OK so before I forget – I refuse to carry my passport anywhere in Morocco, especially being a young woman who is traveling solo (for the most part), so I just took my Proof of Age card from Australia as an ID and I would make a note of the following (for future reference, as I couldn’t remember the stamp number but had all other details memorized):

  • passport number
  • visa stamp number
  • photo of the Moroccan visa with the stamp
  • date of issue / date of expiry

ANYWHO, after we checked in, we were famished, so we decided to freshen up and head to a pizzeria down the road from our hostel. Now, don’t get me wrong – we appreciate Moroccan culture and cuisine to the max, but every now and then, it’s nice to #treatyoself with some good ol’ greasy, finger-lickin’ junk food, like pasta and pizza 😉 which is exactly what we did!

After we filled up our bellies and had a restful first night, we were greeted the next day with a fantastic view of the mountains and the buildings in this city that are painted in shades of blue. For breakfast, we were offered tea and coffee, followed by khubz (okay, so “khubz” or bread is had at EVERY SINGLE MEAL here in Morocco – ALL THE CARBS!) with apricot jam and butter. While the brekkie was simple, it was enough and plentiful for us to take on exploring this beautiful city.

(PS please excuse the awkward af pose HAHA – I don’t do well with solo shots, thnx) 😛

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We decided to explore the Blue Pearl and even did a mini-hike up to a famous mosque on a hill, from where the view of Chefchaouen is absolutely priceless.Throughout our walk through the medina, I couldn’t help but notice that we were attracting a lot of attention. Being foreign, white and/or heavily tattooed (who decided to be silly and not wear a cardigan), this is going to be an issue, so be forewarned about this, should you decide to visit literally *any place* in Morocco.

Almost the entire city is caked in varieties of blue. You walk into a lane – any lane – and you will be welcomed by the cool and calming color. And if you’re carrying a camera or using your phone, make sure you bring all the spare batteries and SD cards, because you will want to photograph every single part of this lovely city!

13239119_10153534079346806_7613316624804938165_nI love how beautifully structured this city is. It has the perfect balance of chaos and order and that’s what made this city so enjoyable to explore with my gazelles. Saturday night, we were invited to enjoy the sunset from Hotel Parador – a top quality and fancy restaurant and bar that provides picturesque views of the mountains and offers fantastic options of fine dining and drinking. Seeing how alcohol isn’t much of a thing here in Morocco, we decided to share a drink together with each other and loosen up a bit, while we’ve been working hard through the weeks with our placements and getting used to the Moroccan lifestyle.We got dolled up (while still maintaining a level of modesty) and enjoyed some brilliant food and sweet poison in the form of beer, G&Ts and good ol’ red wine. It was a fantastic night with my lovely girls and I couldn’t have asked for a better final weekend in Morocco.

Sunday was hiking day, where we walked 5 hours up and down a mountain to see a waterfall. This was one of the most challenging experiences of my life, but I’m glad that I pushed myself and with a bit of assistance and motivation provided by the girls, I was able to accomplish the seemingly impossible and make it to the top (and back to the bottom). There were several moments of “I wanna die” and “Feeeeck this” and “what even if life rn” but I’m glad I made it to the top (with a LOT of water and electrolytes and Oreos and apples). But, nothing is going to change the fact that I’m a Tema Tato. SO 😀 here are some tips for beginner hikers (like myself who scoff at the idea of exercise) HAHAHA :

  • Bring a 2L bottle of water. It doesn’t matter if it’s heavy – you’ll be surprised at how quickly you go through it, especially on long hikes
  • Make sure you wear some A grade quality shoes, especially if you’re gonna be hiking up a hill or a mountain. It’s amazing how spending $$$ on good shoes will take you a long way (literally)!
  • Carry a range of snacks if you’re the kind who skips brekkie or doesn’t have enough – you need all the sources of energy you can get. Almonds, apples, berries, and / or chocolate should do the trick
  • Go hiking with people – it’s so much more fun and motivating, especially if you’re like me and tend to quit within 5 metres 😛
  • Wear something that’s comfy but also hike-appropriate. Shorts and a tank top should do.
  • SUNSCREEN ❤
  • A mini first aid kit, for minor scrapes and bruises that you may/probably will encounter along the way

Btw, this was the view that we were welcomed with after our strenuous 2.5 hour walk (so I guess all that turmoil and emotional stress was worth it in the end HAHA):

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Despite a challenging end to our weekend, it was the perfect way to celebrate new friendships, new cultures, and the beauty of a truly exotic land!

A special thank you to my gazelles for making my final weekend an unforgettable one! xxx

When frustration turns to hope

Remember that episode of Community (what’s that, you ask? How about GET OUTTA HERE bc dat sh** ain’t gon fly here *_*) where Troy has a candy cigarette because he’s sick of being treated like a kid?

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That is pretty much how I felt these past two days at my placement. But not for the same reasons. No, not even remotely close. Although, I could really go for a candy cigarette or 5. PLUS, I really wanted to use this gif in my blog post because I still vividly remember cracking up to this scene when I first watched it, for a good 5 minutes 😀 HOW GOOD IS IT!

OK, back to the issue at hand. So, I’ve been feeling super frustrated at how intense and overwhelming the language barrier is out here. Don’t get me wrong, I am increasingly learning to appreciate my trip as each day passes. There are lots of cultural differences that I am thankful for, for it has made me realize that people tend to live differently but oh so beautifully, despite the background differences.

When I decided on embarking upon this challenging, once-in-a-lifetime adventure, I was aware that language, culture, style of living (among other things) would bear vast distinctions. Little did I know that they would be so drastic!

If you have been following my blog, you’ll know that I spent my weekend in Fez with 7 very lovely French Canadian girls. While we spoke French and English, I felt like my brain was going through a language overload. Speaking in English and trying to grasp French in conversational mode AND trying my hardest to speak in Arabic for the group when neither of the previous two languages worked, when negotiating with cabbies or shop keepers, my brain was ready to explode just a teeny tiny little bit.

I think it was relieving to have a bit of a cry about how difficult this journey has been, because it’s been just that – difficult – and it pains me that I have come all the way to Morocco to a part of this amazing project, only to be placed at a disadvantage because we don’t speak the same language.

A sweet sense of relief has come in the form of a lovely lady from Canada called Anna – she has been my pathway to communicate with more people and/or get around the medina more. She speaks English and French and you have no idea how fantastic it feels to be able to function in society again, thanks to her English speaking background!

I have to say, though – I am one lucky girl to have had the opportunity to work with 6 very special children and their lovely assistants, so luckily, we work together in unison, despite the language barrier. It may not be easy, but I guess it helps to know that the assistants are recognizing the hard work I’ve been putting into this project, making sure I can assist and bring in the knowledge that I have obtained via my uni studies into this project.

There are times when I’m not sure if they understand the strategies I suggest or the techniques I model, and whether it’s disrespectful or discouraging to incorporate myself into their classroom activities, but I guess you won’t know unless you try and see a difference in the child’s performance in those activities, right?

 

 

C’est partie – Fez weekend!

It is 9.30pm here in Rabat and just under an hour ago, I walked into my house, fairly drenched but oh so happy to be back in the comfort of a real home with a super comfy bed and a warm, loving family! However, having said that, I think I had one of the most memorable weekends with some new (and very good) friends from Quebec!

We may have only met a couple of days ago, but it didn’t take long for me to mix with 7 friendly and very lovely girls! Having officially met at the volunteer outing on Thursday, I soon learned that almost all of them spoke little (but fantastic basic) English. I also realized that you don’t need to be speaking the same language to build a beautiful friendship and a sense of camaraderie.

I will admit that I have had a foreign language overload in the past week, where I often try to communicate my thoughts via a combination of Arabic, French, and English words. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but most times it does….or most times, I find someone who can translate for me 😉 Be as it may, the job gets done, the message is conveyed and understood by all in the end.

Anyway, back to my magical weekend at Fez! From the moment we arrived in Fez, I knew that I’d be photographing as much of this city as possible. And oh boy, did I take ALL THE PHOTOS – probably close to 900.

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More importantly, I was able to get to know each of the 7 lovely ladies that I was spending my weekend with, and we have now developed a bond over little things. They have taught me a great deal of adventure, risk-taking, and maintaining a happy-go-lucky attitude throughout our trip! They also taught me a great deal of French and (I hope) I have imparted a similar knowledge of the English language to them! I’m sure we will find out more when we head to the city of Chefchaouen together next weekend!

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Now, if you have been regularly following my blog, I’m sure you’ll be aware of the intense loathing towards the public transport here (particularly the cabs) in Rabat. Well, Fez was a whole different experience – it is so handy to have companions who speak the language of the land and are able to find some means of transport to get us from Point A to Point B – no matter how crazy the way to Point B may be!

CASE IN POINT: we were starving, but didn’t want to walk through a (very) crowded Medina. So, we decided to go to the local supermarket – Carrefour – which was 10 minutes away by car, or 40 minutes by walking. Having had a huge day, we decided to cab it.

2 issues:

  • cabs only take 3 people at a time and we were 8
  • the ones that were willing to take us in their cab wanted to charge us 3x the regular fare

So, what do you do when *no one* wants to take you down the road for a bit of moolah? Why, you stop a scooter truck thingi named Batman and be some fantastically excited (and scared as bat shit) backpackers. We totally got a ride in the Batmobile, because we went at 100 km/hr (without a friggin doubt)! It was so spontaneous and so out of character for me to be involved in this adventure, but my god! It was the best adrenalin rush e.v.e.r. We ended up treating ourselves to some good ol’ food from Pizza Hut and even had dessert – yoghurt and crepes. How very un-Moroccan, but so well-deserved after our long and crazy day of exploring this new and unique little city!

Another thing I found with my 2-day trip to Fez – you can never have too much money on you, because you *will* want to buy ALL THE THINGS. Whether you *need* them or not, however – that’s up to debate. Regardless, the medina is -the- place to go and get your traveler’s fix for souvenirs.

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There will need to be a lot of haggling, but it’ll be so good and so worth it if you succeed. Bonus points if:

  • you’re a group of backpackers – massive discounts $$$
  • you speak French/Arabic – fit in like a true local
  • you’re friendly and stern/firm as appropriate – so that people know that you’re easy going, but also that you’re one heck of a badass mofo who has a strong personality

I took with me about $1000 and yes, most of it has been spent! Imma break it down for you, so you get some perspective on how friggin amazing (and economical) this trip was:

  • 127 dirham (x2) for a train ticket in 1st class – I’d recommend the extra $$ if you have a trip that’s more than an hour long and/or if you have a heavy backpack/suitcase, otherwise you’d be standing in a very cramped up cabin and it wouldn’t be comfortable
  • 100 dirham for a tourist ride, where the driver takes you to 5-6 popular tourist spots, stops wherever and whenever you need to take a photo, use the restroom, have lunch and/or snacks, etc. We were lucky enough to have a very lovable old man who drove us to a number of different locations and even provided us with the historical/cultural background of each of these locations
  • 120-150 dirham on food, drink, snacks – depending on how fancy you wanna go with dining, whether you want traditional Moroccan food or Western food. Water, on average can cost between 6-10 dirham, so I would highly recommend bringing your own water bottle and drinking the tap water (it’s safe to do so, unless you have a super sensitive stomach)
  • 200-400 dirham on shopping – again, depending on how much you’re willing to spend, whether you’re buying stuff for yourself or for friends and family. I bought 2x pashmina, 1x Moroccan pattern box, 1x Moroccan rug (small), and 2x wristbands. I’m probably forgetting things, but it’s 10:15pm and I’m half-asleep 😛
  • 50-100 dirham for public transport – the more passengers, the better. Plus, you can negotiate on the price per person before or during the ride. Just sweet talk the cab drivers a bit, and if that doesn’t work – haggle!
  • 200 dirham on accommodation, but if you’re clever enough to book in advance, then you’ll pay a bit of it when you book online or through an agent. We stayed at a hostel in a 12-bed dorm room. It was…interesting, to say the least.

Essentials that you’ll need for a weekend getaway (this is more for my knowledge, because there was SO MUCH that I forgot to pack and ended up needing to borrow/compromise/adapt accordingly):

  • 1x set of night clothes/PJs
  • 1x pair of thongs to wear around the room and/or out if it’s summer
  • 2x sets of underwear
  • 2x sets of clothes – 2x tops + 2x pants/leggings
  • 1x jacket (it got so cold at night and when it rained, I was reaching the hypothermia stage – 0/10, would not recommend being this underprepared)
  • 1x dry shampoo, because FUCK having to wash your hair when there’s only 1 bathroom to share among 12 people
  • 1x facial cleaning wipes
  • 1x towel (can you believe I forgot to pack this?! One of the main reasons why last minute packing and I aren’t a good combo!)
  • 1x water bottle
  • 1x compact kit of makeup and/or toiletries (tooth brush, tooth paste, shampoo, body wash)
  • 1x plastic bag for the clothes that need washing)
  • Chargers – ALL THE CHARGERS – for your phone/mp3 device
  • Battery pack for your iPhones because their battery is the absolute worst (not to mention unreliable beyond belief!)
  • 1x small purse / fanny pack to securely carry your wallet/credit card/money/phone – I wouldn’t recommend taking a backpack only because the medina is infamous for pickpockets getting into your bags when they’re on your back
  • A fantastic sense of adventure and humour 🙂

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A word of caution to all female travelers – whether you’re traveling solo or in a group of other women, be aware that you will be subject to catcalling. Don’t let it get to you (I know this is a lot harder to do than say, but believe in yo’self, girl(s)!) and remember to travel with someone, preferably another woman, or anyone who’s a local or can speak fluent English / Arabic. If you’re a backpacker, make friends with the other backpackers at your accommodation and plan trips to the super market or medina (for example), so that you have someone to explore this foreign (but gorgeous) city of Fez!

I honestly don’t think I would have even thought of going to Fez or any other city here in Morocco if it wasn’t for the group! They helped me in so many ways – communicated with the shopkeepers for me, helped me get to places by making deals with the cab drivers, helped me get a train ticket (because most instructions are in French or Arabic), allowed me to score a discount when we bulk-bought stuff from one shop (rugs, pashminas), helped me overcome my homesickness by inviting me to their group with open arms, and generally provided for one of the best weekends I’ve had away from home! 🙂

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Navigationally challenged and a silver lining

So, ALL THE NOPE when it comes to using the cab service here in Morocco. I’m sorry, but NOPE – it ain’t for me. The trams, however, have won my heart! Imma be using the trams to get ERRWHERE from now on, because as much as I’d like to immerse myself in a different culture, transportation via a crammed up cab ride with absolute strangers will be the exception to this rule.

Ok, so to help you understand – there’s two types of cab services:

  • The blue cabs – pay by meter, picks up passengers enroute to your destination, better choice but doesn’t guarantee you’ll get to your destination on time (if you’re tight on time)
  • The white cabs – pay 5 MAD (flat rate), share cab with 6 (yes, you read that correct) other people / strangers, let the driver know when you’re getting off so that you’re seated accordingly, uncomfortable af

Doesn’t sound too bad (actually, the white one does, unless you’re a 6-people group heading out together and know each other), but it’s absolutely crazy and intense to get from point A to B when they don’t speak English and you only speak English and do not understand their instructions / queries.

Yesterday felt like a quest to get to placement, which is less than 15 minutes away from my accommodation and about 15 minutes from the local Projects Abroad office. Here’s a tip to all current and future volunteers – use the tram! PLS. It’s so much more worth it. There’s a system, an order, no sight for chaos. It’s comfortable, easily accessible, oh so pretty to look at and commute in. Yes, it’s 1 MAD extra to use the tram, but my GOD is it worth it? YES. BLOODY HELL YES, IT IS. You don’t have to deal with drivers who are rude to you or who don’t necessarily understand where you want to go, and if you get lost, there’s always someone at the station who can direct you.

If you are hella used to Google Maps, you’re in for a baaaad time, son. Just like I was :’) Goes to show how much you rely on the Interwebs in today’s world. I have always poked fun at myself for being navigationally challenged, but this was no funny matter yesterday, when I had a minor breakdown, a major panic attack, and a migraine later in the day, balancing the need to survive crossing the roads and getting to my destination by asking people who spoke zero English. Yesterday was certainly an experience every one should (not have to go through but) have, to realize what it’s like to be on the other end of the spectrum, when people can’t understand you and where English is a foreign language to most.

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The plus side to yesterday was that I got to spend my first day of internship with some of the most beautiful children ever. Seriously, these kids have won my heart. I’m already feeling the pain of saying goodbye to them in 3 weeks.

So, a quick debrief on my Project – I will be volunteering at a school here in Morocco, where I work Monday-Friday from 830am-430pm (except Wednesdays, which is a half-day), with children who have language / learning difficulties. Most kids are in the age-range of 4-8 years and predominantly speak Arabic or French.

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When I initially learnt of this, I thought to myself, “SHIT. I’m not that good at either language! And almost no one here speaks English. SHEEEEET”. But after yesterday, I think I can pick up on the languages (mainly Arabic) a lot quicker, once I see the teacher model the activity with the words for naming pictures and objects. Plus, the teachers are really accommodating and lovely, so I think I’m gonna sink into this Project very well 🙂 This makes me so happy that I’m finally going back to what I have been hoping to achieve as a degree for the past 3 years. I can feel my passion for speech pathology coming back to life again. This is what I have wanted to do with my life all this time. Yes, I have faced innumerable hurdles to get there, but it’s all about the hard work that’s gonna get you there, right?

Another fantastic event to have happened yesterday – I met more volunteers!!! 😀 ALL THE EXPLORATIONS OF MOROCCO! I met a group of French Canadians who are here on a teaching project. They mostly speak French, but three-four of them know basic-intermediate English. I’m so okay with this, because no matter where we’re from or what language we speak, I have people to hang with and learn about their cultures, their lifestyle, and themselves. I have also gone ahead and planned a getaway this weekend with 3 of them, where we’ll be sharing accommodation and discovering the beauty that is Fez! 😀 I have been wanting to go there…oh only since the first day I got here! 😉

It’s day two and I’m ready to face the day. I am mostly excited about working with those beautiful kids today. They are ever so adorable and despite the challenges they face with their communication, they do not fail in letting me know that they are happy and getting the hang of what I teach them via materials provided in the classroom. 🙂

(reverse) culture shock

As part of the Projects Abroad program, I have been offered accommodation with a lovely and humble host family who lives the lifestyle in true Moroccan fashion. Personally, I think this is such a fantastic way of immersing yourself in a new culture and learn more about this unknown land and its ways. I have been interacting with my host mum the most, where we speak in a combination of languages – Arabic, French, and English. There is also the inclusion of sign language and gestures, which further aids the conversation to keep going.

I feel like arriving in Morocco just before the weekend has been a great way to interact with my host family and get to know them a bit better, in addition to settling in and feeling refreshed to face the internship with a relatively relaxed state of mind.

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I have been quite humbled by the nature of my host family! The dad is very friendly and full of happy vibes, the mother is undyingly caring and makes sure that I’m comfortable at all times, and the brother works long hours but still manages to say “hello” to me as we pass each other’s paths at different points during the day / evening.

The past 4 days have made me realize that I am currently going through a reverse culture shock. It’s where I’ve adapted to a Western culture for the past 6 years so well, that coming back to a culture close to my origins has thrown me into a spiral of adaptation to a more simple lifestyle. There are so many things that I have (very quickly) learned to have taken for granted all this time. The transition to a space where most things are available in limited quantities is giving me all the feels!

Internet

Oh boy, I cannot even begin to explain how much I’ve become reliant on the Internet – for banking, networking with potential employees and employers, keeping in touch with friends and family, entertainment, media, and much much more. I have so many social media accounts at the moment, that I struggle to update them and keep them in check as is. So, upon arriving in Morocco, I’ve had to accept the fact that not all these tasks will be able to be achieved in the time frame that I’m stationed here. One of the major tasks includes being able to chat with friends and family over Skype – it ain’t happening. All VoIP-based apps here have either been banned or disabled, so it’s become quite frustrating to have to go days on end without seeing the faces of those I love and keep close to my heart. But that is the reality of life. Don’t get me wrong – the internet here is fantastic (I wasn’t expecting great internet in a developing country), but it just does the job. The WIFI is free and fast, but it can’t withstand much and often drops out at the worst of times. I feel so disconnected from the world the moment I leave the house, because the internet doesn’t tend to work on my phone. However, there are obvious pros and cons to this. I find myself being more social and observant – I look around more, instead of having my face glued to a tiny LCD screen (as usual). I notice people who walk around / past me and am able to find my bearings a lot easier – I mean, I have to. There’s no GPS that can save me in case I lose my way. I listen to my iPod only to have the courage to walk through the many crowded streets, because I’m not overly self-conscious of any and all people around me, while still maintaining a subtle vigilance about my surroundings. I’m also thankful for apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat – all of which work in a country where one would think it’d be banned – as all these apps help me engage with my friends and family and allow me to share my travel experiences via visual and audio media.

Traveling solo

This one’s pretty big for me as well. I often commute to and from locations back in Adelaide alone – I mean, I have lived there for 6 years, so I’m very comfortable with doin’ my own thing and going to places known and unknown to me. It’s a small enough town and I feel like I mix well with the people there. But, it took a while to get to this level of a sense of security and safety. Similarly, I am finding myself growing in confidence as every day passes, walking through the busy medina to head to the meeting point with my Projects Abroad advisors. The real challenge starts tomorrow, when I’ll have to make my way to my placement by myself, without anyone guiding me, getting me a cab, or escorting me to the placement. I have three options – walking, tramming + walking, walking + cabbing. All of these are giving me a great deal of anxiety, but also an adventurous streak. I’m hoping to trial all options during the week and see how I go.

Hot Water

Unsurprising to most, hot water is one of the most essential necessities that we all in the Western world take for granted. More than you can imagine! The deal here is to use the gas system, where you turn on the gas that’s connected to the stove, followed by using a match and lighting the heating system up, which takes the water about 2-3 minutes to absorb and produce hot water that can be used to have a shower. It sounds complicated, but it’s literally a 30-second task. However, being a vertically challenged person, I have to ask my host mum to do this task, and honestly – it breaks my heart to have to ask to do something like this, especially when it’s pretty early in the morning and she’s asleep. Tomorrow will be my first time trying to do this myself using a chair, so wish me luck and here’s hoping that I don’t burn down the house in the process!

Communicating in 2 languages – neither of which you’re fluent in!

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So, I grossly underestimated the need to brush up on my Arabic and French language skills! Just when you think that a basic level of English can be understood by the folk here, you are met with a blank stare, followed by a jargon-like speech (which is only jargon to me because I’m extremely rusty in both languages and can barely catch the keywords enough to make sense of the conversation). My host mum and I have shared a number of brekkie and lunch meals, where she mainly speaks in French; sometimes in Arabic, and I try to make the best sense of what she says by substituting Arabic and English words, accompanied with gestures, sign language, and Google images (yup)! Having just had my first day of placement today, I had a minor panic attack when I found out that less than 2 people speak *broken* English and all the kids with language / learning disabilities can only understand Arabic. BUT luckily, there are two teachers there who speak basic English, so hopefully that’ll make the placement a bit more manageable. Plus, everyone seemed so lovely and friendly! The director was so cute and said that if nothing else, we could talk about how much she loves Shahrukh Khan!! ^_^ BLESS!

Eating traditional food

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This is actually something that I’m thoroughly enjoying to the max! I’ve realized that there’s a routine at my host family, where there’s brekkie, lunch, tea, and dinner. For brekkie, I often spend at least 30 minutes with my host mum, sipping on 2-3 cups of coffee and having khubz (bread) with apricot / fig jam. I learn more and more about her family, the lifestyle here, personal details about her beautiful family – her husband, daughter, son, and nephew – and it’s our time to bond and talk about each other’s lives. For lunch, there’s normally rice, lentil-based curry, pulled meat, and salad. The similar type of cuisine applies for dinner as well. It often feels like a feast, because I never leave hungry and always have a happy tummy! 🙂 Tea is literally tea – mint tea that is oh so sweet but oh so refreshing!

So yeah, this is all that I’ve been experiencing the past 4-5 days so far! More to follow 🙂

3 Days In – A Different World

So, Morocco is *so* much more beautiful than I could possibly imagine! As an amateur photographer, this place is like a wet dream! 😛 If I had a proper camera, I’d be out all day photographing every single crevice in this city ^_^

Jamie  (to find out his story and follow his travel adventures, head over to Jamie The Orangutan) and I have had our formal induction with Projects Abroad – the organization that we’ll be interning with for the next three weeks. This was a really good way to get to know a bit about the cultural background and history of Morocco, particularly Rabat – the city that I am stationed in for my project.

The people here are so lovely and there are a LOT of hidden gems in every corner of the Medina (where my host family lives) and in the city centre. As part of the induction, a fellow Projects Abroad staff member took me out to lunch, where I was informed of the traditional feasting of a couscous dish every Friday. To keep up with the tradition (and to satisfy my ever so hungry belly), I decided to go for a chicken couscous. For 65 Dirhams ($8.90), I was presented with a meal that could last me three days! Served in a beautiful, rustic-looking bowl was a bed of couscous, topped with meat, roasted veggies (pumpkin, carrot, potatoes), chickpeas, and a side of gravy. For drinks, I ordered the tropical juice, which was super pulpy and full of natural goodness – strawberries, pineapples, orange, and milk.

This was a rather refreshing and delicious meal, but I felt so guilty at how little I was able to eat. Granted I was starving, but the portion of this dish was just too big. Instead of letting the rest go to waste, however, I decided to have the dish packed in a doggy bag and donate it to someone who was homeless – I thought this would be a great way to make sure that the food did not go to waste. I don’t think it’s much of a concept here to give leftovers to the homeless, but that’s something that I learnt doing in Saudi Arabia and it’s stuck true and firm with me since. 🙂

I was then taken to the city centre by tram – which is so pretty and modern and offers a beautiful contrast with the old village-like look that brings Rabat it’s appealing character and charm.

I don’t think I’ve ever been comfortable being a typical tourist who takes photos of everyone and everything…at least with an audience, so bear with me as I muster the courage to go with the “aw heck, I’m on a vacay!” mentality and proceed with documenting everything on film 🙂

The city centre is mainly a massive market space, with lots of street vendors that have set up camp throughout the streets of the Medina. There are shops for literally everything you can imagine – clothes, pottery, souvenirs, lanterns, furniture – you name it, you’ll find it! I haven’t gone on a shopping spree just yet, but I’m hoping that once I meet some more volunteers, I’ll be able to go on a group adventure around the city. It’s a bit hard when you’re alone, a girl, and subject to catcalling every 200m, but for the most part, I think I’ve done well with exploring a bit of this city on my own! 🙂

Ok, here’s something that is kinda weird yet awesome – sharing cabs with strangers! So, there’s this system where you look for a cab that’s going in the direction of your destination. There are up to 6 passengers who can be taken in the cab, and there are no seat belts for any of the passengers – living on the edge, literally! And if there are 6 passengers, you only pay 5 Dirhams (which is about 68 Australian cents)! Honestly, I like this system, even though safety isn’t really a thing when being driven around the crazy streets of Rabat! 😀 Oh yeah, this brings me to the ever-concerning topic of crossing.the.roads. If you know me well enough, then you know that I absolutely detest crossing the roads because I’m so terrible at it! I need constant supervision and someone to hold on to, because if I don’t, I will die :’) I don’t really get how it works here, but there’s no such thing as a pedestrian crossing or waiting at the signal. You just need to walk on to the road and hope the car stops for you / doesn’t kill you in the process.

Yup! Aaand I’m expected to be independently traveling to placement (and other cities) – challenge accepted! 😉