Studying Modern Standard Arabic in Fes, Morocco
At the school, I was placed in a small class with three other students for six hours a day, five days a week. I had studied Arabic briefly before and wanted to enhance my language skills. Studying MSA in Morocco proved challenging as my uncle and all of his acquaintances only spoke French, Hebrew and Darija--all of which I have limited knowledge of. Communication became a constant game of charades! I found my Darija quickly improving along with my MSA, but it was often difficult to separate the two.
What is an interesting thing about Morocco that the average person doesn't know?
My father’s side of the family is Moroccan Jewish. The Jewish population in Morocco used to surpass 250,000, but has dwindled to less than 2,500 today. In Fes, there are only approximately 40 Jewish Moroccans remaining, and my uncle is the Director of the city’s synagogue. On one of my most interesting days, my uncle hosted an Israeli mayor, Yehiel Lasri, and politicians in Fes. Fes’s entire Jewish community, along with a delegation from Israel celebrated Shabbat together at my uncle’s house. It was fascinating to learn the Jewish population’s average age is over 60 years old. Young Moroccan Jews emigrate in search of more educational and business opportunities. For example, my uncle has five children, and none live in Morocco. Instead, they chose to move to the U.S., France and even China. I talked with many people who postulated that the Jewish population in Fes would be gone in fifty years or even sooner.
Tell us about a unique project you are working on and impact it will have?
I worked closely with the Tamkine program throughout the duration of my studies. In Morocco, “التمكين” or “Tamkine” refers to empowerment, specifically to the fight against gender-based violence through autonomy-building for females. In Fes, I worked at one of the program-supported centers for female survivors of violence. The center provides not only short-term care, but also aims to prevent the recurrence of violence by promoting gender quality and offering improved access to services in terms of economic, social and political empowerment for women.
At the center, I helped teach yoga classes to recent female victims of abuse—ranging in age from pre-teens to senior citizens. The classes’ goals were to help participants obtain relief and serenity through yoga, develop greater resistance to stress, and act as a source of empowerment. Each class overflowed with excited students, yet teaching in a different language was certainly a new experience! Many of the students only spoke French or Darija, so I always had to find new, innovative ways to communicate. There was a lot of laughter when I attempted to teach the down dog position!
Additionally, outside of the center, I met a wonderful woman who is an amazing cook and am working on helping her create a cookbook with her recipes. Female empowerment comes in all forms!
Did anything surprise you? What?
The vast number of Sub-Saharan migrants present in Fes surprised me. The streets were filled with migrants who had unsuccessfully tried to reach the Spanish enclave of Melilla. I expected to see a large number of migrants in Tangier because of its location and tradition of being a gateway between Europe and Africa, yet did not expect to see migrants while traveling around the country to even the smallest and more isolated Moroccan cities. As Europe has worked to improve its border security and thus restricted access, Morocco has become a de facto residence for these migrants. Yet whether they’re living in the country legally or illegally, they seem to remain a noticeable, but marginalized part of Moroccan society.
At my school, a fellow classmate and I started a fitness club for all its students (both Moroccans studying English and foreigners studying Arabic), teachers, and administrative staff. We held free activities/classes in yoga, soccer, running, and other sports based on voluntary donations. We then planned to take these donations (primarily clothing and food) to Sub-Saharan migrants living in Fes. The club is still going strong at the school now!