Various Flotsam on a Quiet Night, or Reflections on the First Week

My room is positioned in such a way that despite only having a small-ish window in the corner, it always has a surfeit of light whether it be from the sun or the moon. I almost never have to turn on the lamp, as the abudant Moroccan sunlight, flooding past the light sheer curtains, reflecting off the mirrored wardrobe, cheerfully illuminates my room well into the late evening. Even better is when the sun goes down and Al – Qamar (the moon) provides its own silvery kind of light; cooler, it drips down through the windowsill to pool at the foot of my bed, where I sit, crouched, probably bent over a laptop or book. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. After this first busy week, this is all a very good thing.

And it has been a busy week. Between classes and adjusting and settling in (culturally), I really haven’t had much time to explore the city. Earlier this week my neighbor’s son, and another student’s host brother took us all to the Muwazine, to see Stromae (which I was so excited about). In many ways, despite the grand size of the concert, it was very different from ones in the U.S. Of course, you have your standard set of drunken frat boys (or the Moroccan equivalent) swaying in an ill-timed waltz conducted by Johnny Walker, but surprisingly there were also people from all steps of life. There were agèd grandmamas, young children, families, congo lines of women on a girl’s night out, secret couples, married couples, and babies, all dancing, singing, and cheering. Rabat’s diversity is further reflected in the variety of backgrounds present, there are foreigners (Spanish, French, German; I think I even caught the tale end of a conversation in Hindi), young Moroccans dressed like they just stepped off a Paris runway, more conservatively dressed women (or hijabis as Mouna, our Darija professor, refers to them), guys in ripped skinny jeans, and men in djellabas. As much as I am always fascinated with Stromae’s crazy dancing, I was blown away by the diversity present and existent at the concert, and more generally in Rabat.

The other place that seems to draw me repeatedly is the Medina. Not the touristy bit, not the main roads that hawk leather goods, and kitschy goods that scream orientalist tropes, but the busier side streets, the ones that are open far later. These streets are for the regular people, for regular goods like daily clothing, soaps, spices, cheap plastic toys, meat, and turtles. Even though I, myself, am a voyeur in these streets, I feel a little more at home, as I watch people going about their daily business.

It’s late now. From the semi-open window, I can hear the violent bustle of car horns (despite the fact it’s approaching midnight), the hum of voices speaking Darija, Arabic, and French, the angry yowl of one of the cats (that seem to own the streets of Rabat) intermingled with the baying of a dog. Closer to home, just beyond my bedroom door, is the compelling chanting of the Qu’ran. Even though I don’t understand what they are saying, I can feel the holiness in the words. After all, the sacred does not need to be translated to be understood.

I think it is time to go to bed.

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