Better luck next time
September 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
The lettering of the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning (CCCL) looks inviting enough on paper, but is quickly despised after the first attempt at its Arabic pronunciation mar-kaz tohwasulh a-thaaqafeth. Louis, a Cameroonian, and Nargiss, a Moroccan, sat with me in solidarity throughout our dizzying crash course in al-arabiyah. After an hour and a half of digesting every word, guttural consonant, and intonation, our trio internally evaluated our reasons for attempting an immersion course. Like it or not, Fatima (my professor) will not stop until the three of us can hold a decent conversation without embarrassing the unpronounceable name of the school. With the changing seasons, it was nightfall at the 7:30 stop time. Foreseeing a day away from Aoufiya’s cooking, I paused the briskness in my step to buy some snacks. Since most people buy bulk items buy the kilo, it took a little haggling to describe the amounts that I needed. Somehow I still ended up with enough dates, almonds, and raisins to last until Hilary Clinton becomes president. Eh, that was a pathetic name-drop, but I saw a man in a slum wearing a “Hilary Clinton 2008” campaign t-shirt today, so I had to bring it up somehow. If he only knew he was endorsing a woman leader.
Speaking of male-female dichotomies, my classes at the “women’s” gym are going well. Yoga is still a good-ol-boy’s club, as far as I’m concerned. Mercifully, aerobics is strictly women only. Khadija, my instructor stops doing the exercises at her earliest fatigue, but insists that the rest of us respirez, respirez! and poussez, poussez! our hearts out. Her straining and jerky motions are what I think will be the unnatural cause of death to my agility, yet I keep coming back. The women crack me up. One hogs most of the mats. Another quits a set early to dance (belly dancing and other styles of “oriental” dance) in the mirror. Sometimes Khadija is the first to join in the spontaneous dance party, hooting the lyrics like a star struck teenager. Today she bumped the tunes so loudly we could no longer hear the men cheering for the soccer match on the television outside. The steamy room was our stage and we all danced together, a swaying mélange of young and old, in costumes of sweaty and conservative workout attire.
Still playing the waiting game, and for now I’m on the losing side. For once, I wanted to wake up at 6am by my own intent, not by the screech of the garbage man or the Doppler effect of a motorcycle. I prayed for a restful night on the eve of my first day of school. At 6:30 I blinked open my eyes and felt annoyed, only to discover that my loyal apple-shaped alarm clock had been pestering my subconscious for the past half hour. I had overslept. Not wanting to show up late on the first day, I snatched my makeshift lunch, slapped on some sunscreen and was on my way. I had shoved my French-English dictionary under my arm only for it to tumble out of my grip as I jaywalked to the train station. After my 30-minute ride, I evaded another marriage proposal by standing among other university-bound girls. I arrived, this time at the right side of campus, with two minutes before class started. Relatively acquainted with campus from last week’s visit, I made my way to salle 11. The entire wing was uninhabited. Disoriented (a permanent adjective these days), I cross-referenced what I had written down last week with a posted schedule. Wednesday, check; 8am, check; room 11, check. I felt like the nerdy freshman, lingering in the empty hallway as I decoded the class schedules pinned just a little to high for my gaze. 15 minute later, I called Sanae Ghouati, my professor and liaison with the school. As you probably deduced by now, class was cancelled until next week. In the mix with disappointment, I felt encouraged by my successful commute and a newly opened agenda. Besides, Fatima had already assigned homework.
Upon my return, whoa, who actually uses that phrase? When I made it back home, Aoufiya was surprised to see me. “Ahgee, Leila! you have good time in Morocco? no problem?” Well, no, not really. I had barely shaken my head before she grabbed me by the arm and brought me to the main room to 10 men, about 25-30 years old waiting in the main room. Aoufiya prefaced my introduction, “This the amerrrrrrican girl stay with us for 2 weeks and never problem”, before I managed the customary “asalamalakum”. Struck with the notion that Aoufiya was trying to set me up with a Moroccan man, I edged towards the door, pretending to be late for something, anything. Turns out, they are a group of unemployed college grads from another part of the country who Aoufiya has agreed to host for one night while they seek work. We chatted about the differences between American and Moroccan schools, and they were very interested in knowing what I though of Moroccan men so far. The gang seems pretty harmless and they commute en mass to the mosque at each call to prayer. I still put a ring on my ring finger, just to be safe.