Around this time last year was when I first heard about this trip to Morocco. The planning was still in the works, but I tried to learn as much as I could about the program. I eagerly read through the entire wordpress website, including the blog posts written by past students.
It’s hard to believe that I am now sitting in my home in Rabat, bloated from the best kefta I’ve ever eaten, tending to my sun burns from an exciting day at the Kasba beach in Bouznika, and adding this blog post to the collection of others from past students that I had enviously read only a year ago.
Initially, I had a few reservations prior to my visit, despite my excitement. Aware that young East Asian women are uncommon sightings in this country, I was afraid of how I would be received by the local people in Morocco. However, my apprehension was immediately met with reassurance and relief when my host family so warmly welcomed me into their home. My host parents insisted that I call them Maman and Baba, instead of Lala and Sidi, which are the terms of respect we had previously learned in class. This immediately broke down many barriers and made me feel more at home, and these strangers soon became my family. Despite my broken French and complete inability to speak Arabic, my host family has tried to get to know me and my culture back at home, which put me at ease. They were the first of many Moroccans that have made me feel welcome in this beautiful country, despite my insecurities stemming from my own acknowledgement of my foreign appearance.
Besides the wonderful staff that I met at Amideast, I was able to meet local Moroccans when my Maman invited Mahisha, Kelly, and me to a fundraising event organized by the Lions Gate Organization. They had planned a Bingo night to raise funds for a school for children with Down Syndrome, where my Maman is the director. When I first entered, I felt very uncomfortable with all the staring and pointing. My friends and I clearly stood out like a sore thumb in the sea of Moroccan students, and I felt extremely awkward. However, as soon as I sat down, a young girl realized that I spoke English and began translating the numbers for me (they were called out in French). With three Bingo Cards in hand, she was incredibly busy, trying to catch all the numbers being called out so that she doesn’t miss anything. Regardless, she still chose to check my card for me after every number had been called out to make sure that I don’t miss anything either. Even though I understood the numbers, I gladly received her help, and our conversations progressed beyond “sept, seven” and “vingt-cinq, twenty-five”. I’ll always remember the simple kindness from this little girl, as it was one of the first encounters that made me realize how warm the Moroccan community really is. When this little girl and I became acquainted, other students came to talk to us too. They tried to practise their English with us, and asked about our lives in Canada. Although I had initially felt uncomfortable with their staring and pointing, I came to understand that they were simply intrigued by Canadians. Just like all the other Moroccans I met thereafter, who would call me “Chine” and assume I’m from China, I know now that they are just curious and want to learn about my culture, just as much as I want to learn about theirs. Both the local Moroccans and I have preconceived ideas of each other’s cultures, but I guess that’s the point of this trip. Plus, I don’t blame them for being curious about the Chinese looking Korean girl whose knowledge of Dirija is limited to, “Ana m’n Canada”, because if I were in their shoes, I would be pretty curious too.