Saturday, October 20, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 14 [Morocco in Bits and Pieces]

You know that information packet that you get during orientation week? Or the lectures that people give you about safety?  Well, they almost always say that you'll get sick, be careful drinking the water, watch out for the raw fruits and veggies until your stomach gets used to the local bacteria.  I probably should have listened, but to be honest, I think I got sick from eating meat in Morocco.  My host family used their home remedies to look after me: lemon slices and vinegar in a towel on my hair to get rid of my temperature, a magic powder pill known by the medical name Doliprane to help with cramps and pains, and peeled apples to settle my stomach.
She pours water into the teapot, a tall, elegant and steely teapot.  Four scoops of black tea, two blocks of sugar.  Sometimes fresh mint leaves.  Boil.  It's some sort of weird, bizarre recipe she knows from touch.  And habit.  The teapot goes inside the wooden counter, the gallon container of sugar under the tiled sink, and the black tea beside the plastic container of tumeric, but on the left of the ground ginger.
The key to lighting the gas stove is to turn on the gas, touch the lighter to the metal ring, and FLICK, right before YANKING your hand away.  She's quick, but sometimes, she'll grimace because her skin's a little too red from being a little too slow.
My host cousin makes good mint tea, but my host mama makes damn good mint tea.
The first time I wake up on the couch/bed/sofa, I want to giggle.  Not because it's a soft, comfortable king bed.  Not because my back isn't sore (yet).  Not because I'm able to completely stretch out, but because it's irrefutable proof that I'm actually doing this crazy study-abroad-in-Morocco. 
Yes, I've been here for a week, and yes, I'm pretty sure that if this were a dream, the time I've spent in this dream would be proof that I'm probably lying in a coma somewhere.  But, point being, I'm accepting that I'm in Morocco, after orientation, and somehow enjoying this weird couch/bed/sofa.
Until a week later, when my back finally cracks in face-grimacing-but-it-feels-so-good-agony once I stand up.
The funny thing the call to prayer is how used I've gotten to it.  At first, I was excited to hear it, because there's almost something... magical? mystical? about religious summons, like church bells or the steady clack of prayer beads. 
And then it became routine.  And it's a little irritating when I wake up around 5am, to the sound of "Allah ahkbar" streaming through my window.  Still, it's comforting in a way.
I finally crack.  Three, nearly four weeks in, I want a grilled cheese.  Or mac and cheese.  Even the words Starbucks and Americano sound like heaven.  I want my crappy TV screen, or at least, high-speed working internet.  I want to go back to my apartment, go back to being a vegetarian and, most importantly, go back to seeing my friends daily.
It's official.  I have no idea what I'm doing.  I'm sitting with the other students in my program, about to pair up with a Moroccan journalism student for our independent study project.  We're sitting in a circle, introducing ourselves and our ideas for projects.  We're halfway through, and I'm grasping at straws, when it's my turn.  I mumble, ramble and somehow finish on "Um, so yeah... That's it."  What has happened to my eloquence? To my ability to at least sound somewhat organized?  Oh, that's right... I kinda left it in the States, along with my ability to stop gawking.
And then, I'm smiling at Imane, who likes my idea, but it's not quite what she wants to do, and I like her idea, but it's not quite what I want to do.  And we start talking about economics, mental health, Halloween masquerades.  Even if we don't end up as partners, I'd love to stay friends with her.
I stare as she wraps once, twice and three times.  It never ceases to amaze me how my host cousin's head scarf can LITERALLY change who she is.  It's not that I look at her with her head scarf and suddenly see 'Muslim Woman' like it's a label across her head.  It's that she somehow becomes something more awe-inspiring.
She's funny and silly and I absolutely adore her.  When she has her short ponytail uncovered, she seems to just...bounce around.  She never stops being in motion, but she never rushes.  She just is in one spot, and then another.
But when she wraps once, twice and three times, she changes.  She steadily pins her scarf, but sometimes, she'll still prick herself with the pins.  She outlines her eyes in kohl without looking at a mirror because she knows how to do it exactly from touch. 
And when she looks at me, she seems so stately, elegant and poised, that I feel like I need to look back. 

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