I’m sitting on my bed at 6 Zenqat Mediouni, Medina, Rabat. The room is small and the walls are dark purple, with a lighter purple door. I can see the paintbrush strokes on the wall, clearly leftover from when the walls were painted. There are two small beds wedged into each of the corners, and a huge dresser on the opposite wall. One of the beds is weirdly long, and the other is esoecially short. Downstairs I can hear what sounds like a hundred voices shouting excitedly in Moroccan Arabic, and that number probably isn’t too far off since Moroccans, we learned, invite anyone and everyone into their homes. From the windows we can hear all of the noises from the street, which is a lot. Running, screaming, sneezing, bouncing… It all seeps in through the windows. Our room is very modest, and is upstairs up a little stair case. Our little room is across the alley from the main house, where the rest of the family sleeps. We’re lucky to have a western toilet, which sits right inside the shower. This will be our home for the next two weeks!
This morning a woman named Karima came and met us at our hotel and took us down the street to the Thaqafat office. Here, we started our morning with basic Arabic lessons! We learned things like how to say hello, our names, where we’re from, where we live, and what we do, as well as the corresponding questions. I think i’ve forgotten most of it now, but we’ve got it all written down! Darija is the name for Moroccan Arabic, which mixes in a little bit of French.
After our lesson we had a lunch break, but guess what: it’s Ramadan! During Ramadan, Moroccan Muslims only eat and drink when the sun is down, so all the restaurants are closed during the day! Mom and I decided to go out for a walk anyways, and found ourselves in the famous Medina.
The Medina is surrounded by this beautiful red stone wall, and to enter it you go through one of the decorated gates. At first you see a few stalls and some people lazily trying to sell some scarves. Then you turn the corner. All of the sudden the streets are alive and there’s stalls and vendors and kids running around this endless crazy buzzing energy. We wandered our way down the main street in the medina, noticing people selling everything from underwear to jolly jumpers to Moroccan spices to colorful skirts; you know, everything anyone might need. As we walked the buildings started turning into this white colour with blue highlights and that’s when it really started to sink in that we’re in Morocco. From this one corner, there were about six different allies that wound away in different directions. As badly as we wanted to go on, we had to head back to the Thaqafat office for our Host Family orientation. We somehow found our way back to the office, stopping first at a little supermarket to grap some lunch. Restaurants are closed during the day for Ramadan, but supermarkets and things like that are open. We managed with some pita and cheese, and lots of water.
In the afternoon we met Doha who taught us about living with a host family. We learned the polite way to act, and how to shower or use the Hamam once a week. Mainly the talk was about living with a host family during Ramadan, which is significantly different. Because no one eats or drinks during the day, thr mornings start a little bit later, and by mid afternoon people are lazy and exhausted. Around 4 the shops and restaurants start opening up so that people can buy the necessary ingredients for the giant feast, that they call breakfast, that occurs right after sundown around 7:40pm, started by the fourth Call to Prayer of the day.
After our meeting, we met our host family. The Hadri family has two little girls, and lives in the middle of the old medina. Sanae, the mother, met us at the office with her mother. There were some formal introductions, and then we were whisked away to our new home.
We followed the women through the busy streets towards the Medina that we had entered earlier. Sanae speaks French beautifully, so she and I spoke a little bit about Canada and Ramadan and our families and things like that. Since people don’t eat until 7:40, that meal is pretty intense. I can already smell food cooking from my bedroom, and my mouth is watering. They start preparing for “breakfast” at around 4, and it really does take that long to make it! I don’t know about you, but when I cook I usually eat about half of the ingredients before the dish even goes in the oven. Can you imagine cooking an amazing meal full of soups and vegetables and bread and meat and spices, and not being able to eat any of it until it’s done?? And they haven’t eaten for the whole day!
Walking through the medina with our suitcases and our hosts as guides is something that I will never be able to properly describe. Mom calls is censory overload. This time the winding little streets were crazy and busy and alive. It was closer to 4, so people were selling food everywhere, and dear god, I can’t wait to try it all. The aforementioned “sweets” are very much real and very delicious looking. I can’t imagine walking through there everyday and not being able to eat until sundown. I really don’t know how to describe this experience. There’s nothing to compare it to. Picture this: we’re walking down theses crazy narrow streets full of local people doing their day to day activities, only their day to day activities include carpet weaving and sitting in the shade offered by the alleys to cool off and side-stepping stray cats that are everywhere and calling out to convince people that their sweet-looking pastries are better than all the other sweet-looking pastries and selling fruit out of a portable wheelbarrow woven with wood and bargaining for a lower price of toothpaste. The buildings are all light colored, and the doors are really what gives each building it’s own unique character. Laundry is everywhere, hanging from anything that will hold a cord. People are all over the place doing so many different things, and we’re lugging these bags and following these women and taking everything in, or trying to, and trying not to fall to far behind, and side stepping all the cats, and… I’m totally overwhelmed in the best way possible. We’re living in the middle of this. We can hear people running down the alley and smelling things and seeing things, and we’re literally right in the middle of it.
About three hours until “breakfast”. Call to prayer just went off again, which shocked mom a little bit again. It definitely takes some getting used to, especially if you’ve never heard it before.
I just mentioned something about Paris, and mom and I both agree that it already feels like a lifetime ago.
“All of this exists at once,” Mom just said. “Paris, Rabat, Vancouver… When I’m in the forest with the dogs, people are here running around the Medina.”