Prior to meeting my host family, I was given a sheet describing the family members and their ages, whether or not I would have a room to myself, and the kind of toilet the family had at their house. It seems that about half of my peers were placed in homes with “Western” toilets, and the others with Turkish toilets. I was one of those placed in a home with a Turkish toilet, and it’s only fitting that after my first week using a Turkish toilet, I visited a Turkish bath house. I don’t think that there is any way to truly articulate the experience at a Turkish bath house, or hamam, but I think a description of my experience will suffice for now. Today, my host mother and I went to the hamam very close to our house in the medina. Baring all but bikini bottoms, I went to the three-roomed steam bath. After entering, there was an hour long process of using soap then washing it off with hot water, using a very strong scrubbing glove and washing off all of the dead skin it took off, and then washing myself with a gentle soap and washing it off with colder water. There were women and daughters of every age going through the same process, and there was a very positive energy surrounding these acts. My host mother helped me just like other mothers were helping their daughters, and by the time we left I felt like I had lost ten pounds. This was pretty great after not having access to a shower for a week. I had been able to wash my hair by the Turkish toilet at home, but that was an ordeal in and of itself. I can appreciate the hamam and the quality time it gives women, but it’s definitely different than what I’m used to, and that’s what going abroad is all about…
I have been in Rabat for almost a week now, and the fact that it is my home for the next few months is starting to settle in. I’ve almost completed orientation, recovered from a few days with the flu, and successfully lived out of my massive suitcase. Today I moved in with my home stay family. I was extremely anxious about this experience, but now I feel like I truly do have a home in Rabat. With my broken French I was able to understand my host mother telling me I was her other daughter for the next three months. My host mother has two young daughters and has recently gone through a divorce with the father of their daughters. The little girls are already starting to feel like extra sisters, though I do miss my actual sisters and brothers back home. Living in the medina in Rabat, that is the original city, is certainly different from my privileged life in St. Louis. As with any city there is poverty, but in Morocco’s capital there are clear indicators that I have recently seen-including a very stark contrast between the rich and the poor. While living in Morocco I am staying in the old medina which includes lower-middle to lower class families. I feel that it is important to note that despite the lack of amenities or privileges I have now at my home stay, in comparison to those I have in the United States, I still benefit from my White privilege. I am a young adult visiting a country for a semester in order to learn as much as I can about an area I find to be extremely important and often misunderstood. I am able to go back home and continue my very comfortable life in Webster Groves. I am able to bring a suitcase full of clothes and belongings that cost more than a month’s rent in an apartment. Most importantly, I am bringing my White privilege. A privilege which allows me to do such things I have listed above. For the next few months, I hope to experience the lifestyle of those in the old medina in Rabat, and to appreciate the validity for another way of life that may not be seen by Westerners as desirable. I hope to better understand the complexities of this soft authoritarian government, as well as the important topics I can write about for my semester as a journalist student. Lastly, I hope to study Morocco without objectifying its people. This is of utmost importance to me as I feel that coming to another country to “study” the culture, politics, and people, is often turned into studying the “other.” Instead, I feel that it is important to acknowledge another lifestyle as being as legitimate as my own, but also to be able to communicate with others how our government can be of assistance to Morocco.
You can lose privileges, but not your privilege.
More to come.
Today I went from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle to Rabat-Salé, but getting to my hotel in Paris last night was probably the scariest experience of my life. I took a train ride from Bordeaux to Paris and sat next to a really cool girl from Australia. She said she was going on a shuttle to her airport when we “de-trained,” so since my hotel was Aeroport Le Bourget, I assumed there would be a shuttle to mine as well. There was no shuttle. That was the first sign that my destination was not around the airport. I went to the information desk speaking broken French and was told I needed to take a subway of sorts to “Le Bourget,” which would have been conveniently located right next to the train that I was on, but alas by the time I had dragged about 80 pounds of luggage through the airport, I was on the subway to my hotel. It turned out that I had taken the “express” train, so Le Bourget was skipped, along with three other stations. Knowing I had to take a different track back to Le Bourget, I mentioned that I was frustrated to some loud (possibly drunk) Swedes that had boarded the subway at the station closest to Disney World Paris. Fortunately, seeing that I was having difficulty, one of them told me they would not leave until I was on the right track. So, I was on the way back to Le Bourget, and when I arrived I knew something was not right. The station was not of good quality, and no one was at the information desk. There were no taxis outside–there were buses–but how was I to know I should have gotten on one of them. I proceeded to walk for about a mile or more on a slight incline carrying all of my luggage. It was dark outside and it was obvious from my surroundings that I was in a middle-lower income area. The idea of this was not a problem for me, but as I walked farther and farther in the dark knowing that I was in a “rough” neighborhood, I became very worried. I had followed a sign to the central part of Le Bourget assuming that taxis would be somewhere along the way. After about 30 minutes of walking, I decided to call my hotel. When I asked if the hotel could call a taxi company for me, I was told that getting a taxi to me would be a difficult task, but the woman on the phone who spoke very well in English told me I could take a bus. She gave me a number and I walked to the nearest bus stop. I was not sure if it would have been the right bus, but needless to say, the driver did not see me or the woman next to me hoping to get a ride on the bus. I decided to try and get to another bus stop as quickly as I could, but with the luggage in tow I knew this would not be possible. I walked for about 10 more minutes before I was by a gas station and someone asked me if I needed a ride. I’m sure I looked tempted, but I said “Non.” By random chance, there was a taxi at the gas station, which is why they asked me if I needed a ride initially. They had pointed to the taxi, and I finally felt safer. They tried to give me a ride again, and the official taxi driver argued with them about the illegality and such. Wilson from Haiti had a hard time finding the address to my hotel, but he eventually found it. My total was around 14 Euro, and I told him to keep the change from a 20, as it really was “Bon chance” that I ran into him after searching for a taxi for an hour. Needless to say, I did not mind the 40 Euros I had to pay for a taxi back to the airport in the morning. After my uneasy situation I had finally made it back to the airport and was relieved. After some trouble finding where I was meant to be, I checked my bag after taking some things out–as it was slightly too heavy–and proceeded to security. On the way there, an entire section was cleared off “for our safety,” while policy and a German shepherd patrolled the blocked off area. My passport had been stamped, but I was then told by attendants before security that my carry-on luggage was too big, and I would have to check that luggage as well. Things were eventually working in my favor because the woman who checked my second bag did not charge me the large fee for extra baggage. I went to security again, and right before the scanning I was told I needed to take a tram to my gate, and after a short flight I am finally in Morocco to start my studies in Journalism and New Media.
I am spending my first official day abroad in Bordeaux, France with a family friend. My suit case was put on a plane that departed after mine, so I’ve been without my main luggage for about a day…a little too much of a cliché for a young girl going abroad, I think. I am looking forward to my adventures in Morocco which start on the 25th of January. Until then I’ll be enjoying a mélange of vin avec ma copine Hélène. Salut.