It has been awhile since my last update– since then I have successfully survived: the Mayan apocalypse, my first semester of graduate school, 100 pages worth of research papers, 3 international flights, and innumerable hours of intensive Arabic studies.
I will spare you (most of) the prerequisite self-indulgent complaining about finals, but suffice it to say they were brutal. In the span of two weeks, I wrote 100 pages of research papers (and, subsequently, grew a few grey hairs). It was tough times, but also very productive times, and I came out with straight A’s from my first semester of graduate school. I learned so much over the course of the semester– about Egypt, about refugees in the Middle East, about Islamic law, about Middle Eastern politics, about conducting research, about the process of building a democracy in a country with no genuine democratic history, about being a graduate student, about adulthood, and – perhaps most importantly, about myself. It was a challenging semester for me, both academically and personally, but the intense satisfaction I felt struggling through these challenges confirmed time and time again that I am exactly where I need to be. I may not always be three steps ahead, but I am learning so much everyday.
After two days of catch-up sleep after finishing my final papers, I left for Morocco to meet my habiba Renda for Christmas. Renda and I were besties in college, and we studied together in Morocco two years ago, so when we found out that we would both be in North Africa this semester, we promised to visit one another. (She’ll be visiting me in Cairo in March!) It was wonderful to reconnect with someone so familiar after four months of new people and new places, and it felt great to be back in Morocco, speaking Moroccan Arabic, soaking up the shems (sunshine), and of course consuming copious amounts of Moroccan mint tea. On Christmas Eve, we hosted an amazzzzing Christmas party. It was about 20 people– a good mix of Moroccans and American expats– and it involved a lots of tasty home-cooked food, good wine, presents, Christmas carols, and friendly people. Everyone was exceptionally warm and happy to be there, which was a perfect, since it was many people’s first Christmases away from home.
On Christmas Day, Renda and I – accompanied by 3 other beautiful humans from various corners of the world – rented a car, and road-tripped down the Southern Moroccan coast to Tiznit. Tiznit is famous for its naqara souq (silver market), so there we stocked up on beautiful silver gifts, and enjoyed the slow pace of a quiet southern town. From Tiznit, we wiggled our way over to Sidi Ifni, a tiny surfing village known for its beautiful art deco architecture. Sidi Ifni was BREATHTAKING, so much so that I am still speechless and will have to let the pictures speak for themselves.
After a wonderful week in Agadir, I headed north to spend New Years in Rome with some friends from Portland. It was a short trip – only a couple of days – but well worth it. Rome never called to me in the way it has called to generations of romantics, so I didn’t have many expectations. So of course I was pleasantly surprised to discovered that Rome is at least as romantic and enchanting and historical as it looks in the movies. (Exhibit A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIm8g4IA_1Y) Instead of taking an official tour, we just decided to explore the city, which ended up being even better. Around every corner, there was another gorgeous basilica or ancient Roman ruin, and it was fun to just be left to discover it for ourselves. Naturally, we also went on an extensive (and also self-directed) food and wine tour, which was delicious in the close-your-eyes-and-savour-every-bite sort of way. My taste buds may never recover.
Still stupefied from all of the pasta and vino and romantic cobblestone streets, I returned to Morocco to begin intensive Arabic studies at a language center called Qalam wa Lawh in Rabat, the Moroccan capital. I had gotten a scholarship to study Arabic here free for the winter term (which you can do too! Check it out here: http://www.qalamcenter.com/Enrollment/IbnBattutaScholarships/tabid/260/Default.aspx), so I decided to spend my vacation in the classroom. It has been a bit exhausting to study Arabic 4-8 hours a day, but I have been learning so much, and I feel newly inspired to invest time in my Arabic studies. [Side note: Learning Arabic can take over a decade. In fact, most native Arabic-speakers do not speak fluent Standard Arabic. So I occasionally hit a plateau where it feels like I am not making any progress and/or I will never be fluent.] Arabic struggles aside, I am really happy to be back in Morocco. I like it here. I like the people, the hospitality, the language, the sunshine, the crowded medina streets, the colorful styles and intricate Arabesque designs… It’s hard to pin-point exactly what it is, but I feel content here in a way that I don’t other places.
After four months in Cairo, I still feel like a new-comer, in the best possible way. The more I learn about where I am living, the more I realize the depth of Egyptian history and the many places I have left to explore. In August, when I boarded my plane in Portland on my way to Egypt, I felt like 2 years was a lifetime. Now, 2 years feels like a whirlwind. Though I am really happy to be back in Morocco this month, I am looking forward to returning to Egypt in a couple weeks, getting back into the routine of graduate classes, adventuring in Cairo, and – of course – sleeping in my own bed.