This week has been the longest and one of the best weeks I have ever had. I have been staying extremely busy with orientation, exploring the city and getting situated in my apartment. With this being my first week here I was bound to encounter some culture shocks, and culture shock I have encountered. I was prepared for some and others were a definite shock.
As soon as I got off the plane I was bombarded with the fact I was no longer in the States. Going to any country one knows that the written language would be written in the native language. So, naturally everything is written in Arab and some also in French. Seeing as I cannot read either language I depend on the pictures to identify what the product is. For the items that have no pictures or the picture is ambiguous, well… I guess and hope it is what I want. For instance, Morocco is known for many things, but one thing is their pastries. So, I went into the bakery to buy a little pastry. After a few minutes of being overwhelmed with their vast selection of pastries I made my decision. I picked out this circular flaky pastry that was stuffed and sprinkled with powered sugar. There was a sign next to it that had Arabic writing, which naturally told what it was, but that was no help to me. There was no one who spoke English who could tell me what I was buying, so I got it. I gave them my 4 dirham’s and said “Shokron” meaning thank you and left. I walked my 2 blocks home and then I took out my pastry and bit into it. I was hoping for some sugary delicious filling maybe a fruit or berry center or something. Instead I bite into a pile of ground beef and nuts. It was very good, but I was disappointed, as I wanted dessert not meat. Just one of many stories and I am sure more to come that makes me wish I knew Arabic.
“Enshala” the word that is very common around here. It translates to “God willing,” but the staff at the school and I refers to it as the ultimate copout for doing something on time or at all. It is used rather than giving a yes, no, or maybe answers. I have encountered this with getting my work computer fixed, and small apartment fixes, such as a broken back door. If someone wants anything done it will get done “Enshala.” This has been a real shock as things in the state are usually very punctual. You ask for something to get done and it will get done. Here, things will get done in weeks or even months down the road. This has been an adjustment for my co-works as well as myself as we expect things to get done on time.
Morocco is a very relationship based country. It is considered rude to immediately ask for something. Rather, one has to say hello, ask how they are, what is new and how their family is prior to asking for a favor. I have been struggling with this one as I am running around like crazy trying to get ready for the start of school. I would go and ask a person a question and have to remember to ask how they are doing and how their day is going before I can even begin to ask what I originally wanted. I usually go to ask a question where the whole conversation should only last a minute. However, almost 5 minutes later I have the answer I came for and was able to leave.
Ramadan is a Muslim holiday that lasts for a month once a year. I will be explaining more about this in later posts, as this holiday affects my daily life. During Ramadan all Muslims are required to fast from food, water, smoking, and many other things. They are able to drink and eat after the sun goes down, and has to stop once the sun rises. Since it is Ramadan Restaurants are closed during the day and many are closed for the whole month. Many stores are also closed during the month too. The other day some of my friends and I wanted to go out for dinner. We waited until about 9 when restaurants were open and then we went. By this time we were all starving. We walked past many cafes and noticed that everyone was drinking coffee and eating pastries. We finally go into one café and started to look at the menu. After talking to a local we realized that restaurants do no serve food during Ramadan just coffee and pastries. As the hunger pains started to grow we settled on gelato for dinner. It may not have been the dinner that we were hoping for, but it was the best gelato I have ever had. And now we know for the next few weeks we wont be able to go out for dinner.
Driving here is crazy! There might be 3 driving lanes of traffic, but there are 5 lanes of cars. The driving system here is interesting. At first glace it seems like there is an insane mess of cars as they are driving between the lines and are always honking. However, sitting back and watching the driving unfold one sees that there is a system to their madness. For example, the signals are placed in a difficult spot for the first car in the row to see, so the car behind the first car honks signaling to the car that it is green. The police do not drive in a car looking for someone to break the law; they are standing on the corner of the intersection. When you have ran a yellow light or are doing something illegal they walk out into the middle of the street blowing their whistle and signaling you to stop.
Crossing the street was scary at first. There are no pedestrian signals, and cars do not stop. When crossing it reminds me of the old video game frogger, or whatever it was called, where you are trying to get the frog across the street without getting hit by a car. I was never very good at that game, but now that I am the “frog” I am quickly learning. The first few days I would run and scream while thinking “I am going to die” as I cross the street. Now after much experience I am by no means an expert, but I am getting better as I am not running or screaming.
Having only spent a week here in Morocco, I know that I will encounter many more culture shocks. However, these were the main ones that I have experienced thus far. I am having a great time here. Keeping very busy with work and getting settled in. I am still trying to make my apartment a home, and I will put pictures up this week I promise. I have tried a lot of firsts throughout this week; however, this weekend I experienced my favorite first. Saturday I spent the day at the beach with some friends, and we had our very first surf lesson. A lot of things are very cheap here including my surf lesson. Where else in the world can you go and have a surging lesson, surf board rental and wetsuit rental all for only $25! I did not do very well on my first lesson, but it was great fun. Next week my goal is to stay on my board longer than I spent underwater yesterday. Today I went mountain biking up around the outskirts of the city though some of the different villages. It was fun to see the different areas of Morocco. Again, I promise pictures will be up soon.