A lesson in language is the key to opening doors to other worlds. In the case of our Illinois Wesleyan group, it was also the key to a morning filled with laughter and learning. AUI provided a two-hour seminar with Linguistics Professor Naceur Amakhmakh to give us a quick lesson in the Moroccan dialect. Each country tends to have its own version of spoken Arabic. And just like in the United States, each region has its own accent.
Our professor jumped into the lesson, offering his hand with a greeting of “Labas?” (How are you?). Startled, we caught on that he wanted us to imitate his words. Back and forth he went around our semi-circle, increasing phrases with grand pantomime, and no English allowed. The more we learned, the more he encouraged us to become part of the stories. Running out the door, he knocked in order to make us call in unison:
Group: “Shkūn?” (Who is it?)
Professor: “Ana,” (It’s me!)
Group: “Shkūn hada?” (Who are you?)
Professor: “Ana Naceur!” (It’s me, Naceur!)
When he discovered two of our group were married, the stories became more intricate:
Abby: Labas? (How are you?)
Me: Labas barak llāhū fik. Nti? (Fine, thank you. And you?)
Abby: Bekhīr lhāmdū llāh. (Fine, praise God.)
Me: Lynda masī ferhanna (Lynda is sad.)
Abby: ’Lesh? (Why?)
Me: Diego ma Fatima fi discoteque! (Diego is with Fatima at the dance club!)
Abby: Meskīn Lynda! (Poor Lynda!)
With laughter and the imaginary Fatima, doors were opened.
There may be many things to overcome when traveling – language is just one of them. People say to travel is to learn about more than the surroundings – it is to learn something about yourself and to confront preconceived notions.
What did I learn on this trip? I learned that Morocco is more than ancient buildings, it is the people who live here. From the sellers in the marketplace to university officials, all carry a pride of their country they honor with a friendly nature that welcomes others.
I learned that sometimes the best way to discover something is to become lost in it. Sadly for me, this usually meant literally getting lost. But if I had not been lost, I would not have seen a centuries-old manuscript being preserved in microfiche at the National Library with the help of a concerned security guard. Nor would I have stumbled across a quiet amphitheatre at AUI where a gardener kindly bushed off a seat so I could rest and study my map.
Lessons come in many forms – from sitting at a table with students boisterously telling stories and teasing about getting the last prune in a tajine, to trying to figure out how to do something as simple as laundry, and realizing your high school French class never covered “How much detergent do I need?”
I admit my education included gaining a new devotion for every member of our group. Through Abby I learned determination. It was she who rescued me our first day in Casablanca when jet lag hit me full force. Pulling me through a crowded medina, she grabbed a “petit taxi” and guided the driver through the maze of traffic back to our hotel. From Zahia I learned the wisdom of true communication. She not only translated our words into Arabic, but engaged each person in conversation about family, the city or the wares they sold.
Through Stacey I learned patience, as she answered a question for the fourth (or fifth?) time from our group.
From Ilaria, I learned a love of language, and was always inspired by her constant desire to learn more.
From Diego I learned to enjoy the moment – sharing a piece of flat bread in the Cite de la Portuguese, leaning on the wall of a fortress and watching boys play a pick-up game of soccer.
Through Robyn, I learned a calm talent of listening and placing myself in the shoes of others.
From Lynda, I learned that the search for knowledge transcends country, language and culture.
From Carolyn, I learned a contagious kind of wonder and appreciation for my surroundings, from the mosque to the marketplace.
I found myself hit with a pang of envy for all their students. And had the wonderful realization that I work in a place that gives me the opportunity to be inspired every day.
Soon we will say goodbye to Morocco – the ancient medinas and the modern cities, the oud music and the cuisine filled with spices and history. Now, however, the doors are open. And I hope I will be easier for others to follow us through them.
So, perhaps, instead of goodbye, we should say instead, “Shukran lmaghrib.” (Thank you, Morocco.)