I’m in my 6th week here in Morocco. In many ways, I feel like its been a lifetime. But, when I think back over the past 6 weeks, I know in many more ways I’m still a stranger in a strange land.
The biggest and most difficult adjustment comes with the language barrier. Here the native language is an Arabic dialect called Darija. It’s a combination of Arabic, French and a little Spanish… and maybe even a few other languages. Unlike most countries, the second language here isn’t English. Its French… English is third on the list. Fun stuff. Honesty, after the past 2 years of living a high stress life, I think I’m having a hard time being in decompression mode. Try as I might to learn either Darija or French, my brian fog just wont allow it. I can easily regurgitate the information as im taking it in, but put me in a real life situation and my brain just defaults to wanting to speak Spanish to everyone. Not that Spanish is my second language, by any means. I just think it’s the influence of having lived in Costa Rica and being able to communicate in that language. I do have my “go to words”… yep all 5 of them. 3 Arabic, 2 French… La = no, Chokran = thank you, Salam = your basic greeting… and of course Merci = thanks and Bonjour = hello. None of it makes for conversation, but at least I can be polite!
Living in the village of Tamraght is peaceful. We live up towards the top of a hill. It is probably at least a 1/4 mile up a 30-45 degree incline. I know it takes me a solid 10 minutes to walk down to the local shop to buy vegetables, bread and groceries. There is also a butcher, a small bakery and a restaurant on the walk, all at the bottom of the hill. I prefer to go to this store because they speak a little english and everything is accessible. In the other shops everything is behind the counter and you have to ask for what you want. Also, out along the main road there are a few other restaurants, too. Funny thing about Morocco… every restaurant serves the exact same menu. Its strange, no variations. Pizza, tagine, panini, cold sandwiches, a Moroccan salad or a salad nicoise. Your meat choices are beef, chicken, eggs and tuna. To me, everything at each restaurant tastes like the last. Dining out isn’t the change from the same old same old, cooking at home is. LOL
We live across from an open plot of land, which I love because it brings the neighborhood herds of sheep and goats by the apartment multiple times a day. Once in a while the neighborhood donkey will swing by, too. The sheep have become my friends, I hear them baaa outside and I go downstairs with the vegetable and fruit ends from the day before. They have come to know me now. So, when they see me with my stash they come running… they even let me pet and hand feed them. I’m sure the locals think I’m crazy for treating them like pets. I know that to the locals they are food and EID offerings… but I don’t care. The animals here give me joy and I love them for it.
On the days off that Rouchdi has, we usually take the bus to Agadir and go to the souk or what we Americans call the flea/farmers market. Here you can get just about anything you want and on our trips to town we stock up on the things we cant get in the village. Unfortunately, I have a profound fear of taking the bus alone. Unfortunate, because I would have a wider range of things to do with my days. Not having the proper language skills and one bus driver in particular are keeping me from exploring the region alone. One night I got on the bus home without Rouchdi. He has told me before, you must tell the driver where you are going in order to purchase your ticket. Well, with my sub par Arabic skills I said Tamraght. Not good enough. The bus driver asked if I spoke French or Arabic, when I said no he just rolled his eyes and asked in a frustrated tone if I was going to Tamraght or Tamaait. OMG… Seriously? Both words sounded the same to me. I knew that if I gave the wrong pronunciation, I would be told I was on the wrong bus and asked to get off. At this point, the bus was near full and I was frozen. The bus driver got more and more frustrated, until I finally said “I don’t know, this is the bus I’m always on.” He huffed, threw up his hands, rolled his eyes again and took my money. Thank God. Rouchdi was already on the bus and he only let 2 more people on behind me. Belive me I was in full anxiety mode and had to stand for most of the ride home, cursing myself and the throaty, phlegmmy Arabic accent.
A few weeks later, I did brave a bus ride to the next village…alone. At that time, all I knew was called either Banana Beach or as Rouchdi referred to it, “the next village”. I thought the rent was due and had to go to the nearest ATM. So, I made a plan. I looked up how to say Banana Beach in French, and decided I could walk back as not to have to say “Tamraght” to the bus driver. So, repeating “Plage Banane” over and over in my head and 5 dirhams in hand, I made my way down the hill to the bus stop around 11 am. The bus comes, I get on and say “Plage Banane” to the bus driver. At first he looked at me funny… great, here we go… my anxiety level started rising. Then he asked if I spoke French. Obviously not. Then with a light of recognition in his eye he asked if I was going to Aourir. YES! Auorir…thats the name of the next village! I said yes and handed him my 5 dirhams. Little did I know, the fare went up that very day to 5.5 dirhams… all that I had was a 5 dirham coin and 20 dirhams in paper money. He had no change and was kind enough to let me know it was ok to not have to pay. I was surprised at his kindness. Just as I started walking to a seat I remembered I did have some change and went back and gave him 6 dirhams for the ticket. I made it safely to Aourir and the ATM, and decided to have a coffee before walking back.
I went into the coffee shop and did my best to order black coffee and a chocolate croissant in French. I thought I did a good job until the barista asked if I spoke French. OMG, I can’t even anymore. Once again, the answer was an astounding no. Not even a little he was asking. No not even a little. we went back and forth for a minute over the coffee, croissant and my non existent French skills, until he started laughing. Laughing? Really? It turns out he speaks English. Funny, not funny… but I was relived to not have to struggle with conversation any longer. He was nice and complimentary, telling me how lucky my Moroccan boyfriend was to have me. I thanked him for speaking English to me and once I finished my treats, I headed home… camera in hand.
It was a beautiful day for a walk. I was greeted by a local guy who said “Hi”. I was actually surprised. Rouchdi keeps telling me people here speak some English because of the tourists and obviously he was right, but honestly, not enough to bring my comfort level up. The guy who said Hi also asked if I surfed, which I replied no. I’ve tried, even owned my own long boards, but accomplished nothing I would even call close to actual surfing. I’m sure he posed the question because during their winter season this area of Morocco is known for its surf and is visited by surfers of all skill levels. The area is teeming with surf camps. I can think of at least 5 just on the road up the hill to my place. Rouchdi actually works as a surf instructor/tour guide at Surf Taghazout one of the many area camps.
I brought may camera with me hoping to get lucky enough to find a camel on my walk home. I didn’t … but Rouchdi always seems to stumble across them. So far, I have only seen them from the dreaded bus on the way to Agadir. But, like I said it was a great day for a walk, and I did get some nice photos… along with a bit of sun that day. Even with the language barrier, I got off the hill and out of my comfort zone. The walk went by quickly, but probably took closer to 45 minutes and not the 35 the map said it would… not including the time up the hill. I stopped at the store before heading up to the house. My almost daily 3pm ritual of going to the store wasnt broken… (I made it back to the village right around then) even after my big solo bus trip to the next village… aka Banana Beach or Aourir, for those in the know.