Saturday, April 16, 2011


Just a few things about Darija: it’s a slang of Arabic that’s spoken only in Morocco. Other Arabic speakers can barely understand it, if at all. Algerians can, but the further east you head in Arabia, fewer and fewer words will be understood. It’s a very informal version of FusHa (tradition written Arabic), and there’s even wide variation in vocabulary and pronunciation within Morocco.

Darija has no written form. All street signs are in French and FusHa, but many Moroccans are illiterate. We’ve been learning it by using a standardized western approximation of Arabic sounds. Many Arabic letters have English equivalents, like b, k , l, and s (among many others). There are some English letters for which there is no equivalent sound in Arabic, like j, p, and v. The tricky part is to understand the Arabic sounds for which there are no English equivalents. I won’t go into too much detail, as they are challenging to pronounce, let alone transcribe. Just think of anytime you’ve heard someone speaking in Arabic and all those crazy sounds you thought were impossible to make with your mouth. Those are the sounds we’re learning. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I think a few sounds in Hebrew are similar to Arabic so y’all should go crash your nearest Bar Mitzvah.

I’m pronouncing the language well and my comprehension of grammar and vocabulary is encouraging for only 4 weeks of study, but sometime I come across a word that baffles me. There are some words that have little to no vowels in them, and others that sound nearly identical but mean very different things (I guess that can be said of all languages- I recall instances in Intro Spanish class in which students were asking each other how many anuses they had.)

It’s certainly not an easy language, and its applications do not reach far outside Morocco, but I’m ecstatic to be learning it and I can’t wait to be fluent. I’ve been studying nonstop: in class, at home, and with fellow trainees. We're all making good progress, but suffice to say I'm very satisfied with my progress.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Salam walekum (peace be upon you)! I write this second entry to my Peace Corps Morocco blog this from the comfortable confines of my windowless bedroom of the home of my host family in the small (and, as per Peace Corps regulations, unnamed) town in the Moroccan countryside outside of Ouazazate. It’s a beautiful village of ~8,000 very pleasant and curious Moroccans, with snow-peaked mountains with the north and west and rolling grassless hills to the south and east. Despite the proximity to the mountains and very low humidity, it is hot here and growing ever warmer: a dry heat permeates every day that makes it hard to stand in the sunlight for more than a few minutes, which is easily avoidable due to the 25’F degree drop in the shade abounding in every alley and awning. There is electricity and running (drinkable!) water here, as well as good cell coverage. However, the walls of the houses are so thick that receiving or making cell phone calls indoors is nearly impossible. The upside is that the houses are incredibly insulated, and the indoors are substantially cooler than the dry heat outside.

My town. You can't see the mountains in the background, but they're there. I swear!

My experience with my host family has been fantastic so far. It’s a large family, as I said before, with varied personalities and understanding of verbal and nonverbal language. Other than pointing at things and asking what they are, I’ve been relying heavily on my charades skills to communicate more abstract thoughts and topics. My comprehension of Darija is growing incredibly fast- faster than I would have expected- due in part to my apparent affinity for language and an incredibly helpful and patient family. I also spend a lot of time playing with the younger children. Mustafa is my favorite; he’s 3 years old and is quite fearless. He’s an avid climber of seated persons, including myself.


The food in Morocco is fantastic; I’ve been eating well and have thoroughly enjoyed every meal I’ve had. Tajine is a popular dish, as is cous cous or rice with boiled chicken or beef. We’re had some more western dishes like fried fish or spaghetti, although they have their own distinctly Moroccan attributes (the spaghetti sauce wasn’t what I’m used to- why were there pickles?!?). They also drink a lot of tea here, but Moroccans prefer it incredibly sweet. Like, 30% sugar. I’m reminded of when I would go to Chinese food restaurants as a kid and in lieu of soda my family would insist on ordering tea, but because of my stubborn nature and fondness of sweet drinks I would attempt to make ends meet by supersaturating the stuff with all the sugar packets available and sometimes even the sugar substitutes as well.

As part of our community integration, we are urged by the Peace Corps to cook a meal or two for our host families. I chose chicken parmesan (as it’s the only dish I know how to cook well back in the states- Doug, Dave and Demakos can attest). The preparation was much more labor intensive than I’ve ever experienced- I deboned two whole chickens (no packaged cutlets to speak of), cooked the sauce from scratch using tomatoes, peppers, an onion, garlic, and oregano (no Newman’s Own, either), and made my own bread crumbs by, well, crumbling bread. The meal turned out delicious, and was consumed wholly by myself and the 18 other members of the household (I’d also never cooked for such a large crowd). The food was tasty and sufficient despite the fact that I had made chicken Parmesan with neither parmesan nor mozzarella (cheese is NOT big here). My host brother Abderrahim helped a lot with the preparation, aided by my own broken Darija and miming.

Chick Parm. Baller.

Every day I’m feeling more and more comfortable here. It used to be the only time I would desire to return home was when I woke in the morning (probably because I would sleep until noon if I could), but even now that’s passed. Life isn’t exactly easy, and there are some aspects with which I’m still uncomfortable; namely the absence of internet and the mandatory use of Turkish toilets. I’m growing accustomed to the changes as the days go by. One major drive keeping me focused is the desire to dominate this language as quickly as possible. At the end of the first two months, before we head to our permanent service sites, Peace Corps Volunteers are given a language proficiency examination. The expectation is that all volunteers will garner a rank of novice high by that time. I want to score an intermediate medium status at least- or an intermediate high if I’m lucky. I think I can do it.

I haven’t had a beer in over two weeks, which is easily the longest I’ve gone since I turned 21. My thoughts are clearer than usual and my energy is high. Who’d a-thunk it? My health is good, with the exception of a minor 3-day cold I had earlier this week (I think it lasted longer than usual because I couldn’t drown myself in Tropicana OJ like back home). No serious GI problems yet, but I fully anticipate that there will be- only a matter of time, really.

That’s it for now. I hope everyone is doing well. Send me some emails or facebook messages if anything interesting is going on; I can respond to each one within a week, at the longest.