Systemic Epiphany

It just hit me in the shower.  I know what I’m interested in.  Not all those hobby-interests like dance, or reading, or even the career-interests like international studies, or medicine.  No, now I finally know what holds all of those little things together.  The overall component that piques my curiosity no matter the subject, the driving force behind every search for understanding within my multifarious passions:

Systems.

It sounds so simple doesn’t it?

Forget the details behind each country’s foreign policy or the historical events that led to Bashar Al-Assad’s control over Syria.  Forget languages or the intricate anatomy of the human body and mind.  All of those details, all of those huge undertakings of research and the quest for understanding were just manifestations of one larger interest: systems.  I want to know how each piece fits into the puzzle.   How individual elements come together to create something greater.   How the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and what makes those parts fit into the whole; what makes the whole tick, and how does it operate independent of its components?

This holds true for every major interest I have ever pursued:

I grew up wanting to go into medicine.  I was fascinated by the body, how each organ did it’s part to promote the health of the whole.  How billions of individual cells came together to create a person.  How the brain directed each action, both consciously and unconsciously.  How surgeons could take things apart and put people together again.

This morphed into Cognitive Science.  What is consciousness?  How do cells come together to create a body that has a mind and a personality?  How does the brain/person control all of that?

Linguistics was a big part of that as well.  How does the brain comprehend sounds as meaning?  How do languages form?  How do the individual components of language come together to form words which form sentences which can be rearranged to create different meanings?  How do societies collectively attribute specific meaning to a string of sounds?

This bled further into Anthropology and International Studies.  How do societies form?  What holds them together?  How do individual people form groups that form nation-states and governments that can align with or against each other in greater organizations (such as the UN) and ultimately make up the world?

Lately I’ve been working at an insurance company.  While the work isn’t particularly inspiring, the company does offer several opportunities for education which I am trying to make the most of.  I have no interest at staying with this company forever but I’ve recently realized a budding interest in business.  Particularly in high-level business systems.  I want to understand how the company works.  How individuals form small departments that form big divisions that make up different branches of one over-arching company.  How money from one branch fuels the activities of another and a separate bucket is held in reserve.  How assets differ from cash flow and what business decisions affect one or the other.

Now, I’ve finally realized what my underlying interest has always been.   I want to know how systems work together to create a larger whole.

What are you interested in?  What drives your passions?  Leave a note in the comments.

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Grains of Fire and the Burn of Memory

30 May 2012

Sand.   Grains orange like sunset, bright against the white fabric.  Filling the corners of my pockets and clinging to my skin, as Morocco clings to my mind.

I’ve been home for a week now.  My suitcase is unpacked, most of my gifts and souvenirs have been sorted, but I’m still finding unexpected treasures from my life in Morocco.   Like the pants I’m wearing.   I thought the pockets were bunched up after I put them on, but when I went to straighten the lumps out, my fingers encountered fine sand, as bright as a sunset over the Sahara, which is, in fact, where it came from.

I realize I must have worn these on ISA’s last excursion to Merzouga, where we visited the Sahara desert almost a month ago now.  I can’t believe it’s been so long, and at the same time so short.  Time passes strangely while in transition and re-entry into the States is definitely a big transition to make.

I admit it’s not always fun, but neither is this re-entry as difficult as some others I have faced in the past.  I miss Morocco and have some culture shock, but I’m not completely depressed.   Perhaps, like all things, the transition becomes easier with time and practice.

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I Am in the World

I am six years old and the fairgrounds is my play structure.  The Spice Girls play on repeat as the crowds swarm through excitedly, going from stand to stand, ride to ride, exhibit to exhibit.  So much energy and life in this place!  So many adventures to be had!  I want to do my own exploring and get my parents’ permission to visit the gardens with my friends.  We race away through the crowd, taking a short ride on the tram just because we can.

The hours race by as we wander the fairgrounds.  I know my way around already but still feel like Indiana Jones or one of the Wild Thornberrys exploring new territory as my friends and I hop from one part of the fair to the next.

I return to my parents after dark, tired but fulfilled by the day of adventure.  I don’t understand why my mom calls me by my full name with a clenched jaw and that tone in her voice.  She pulls me behind the stand to yell, out of sight of the customers buying pink cotton candy and sweet red candied apples.  Their day is not crushed when the bewildered tears spring to my eyes.

I had wanted to stay for the fireworks, to finish the perfect day with sparks of light arcing across the sky with a bang, but now my chances don’t look so good.  I ask anyways, though it’s clear they want to send me home immediately.  My dad relents.  I can tell he feels bad for my mom yelling earlier but I take advantage of the chance to see the spectacle.  It would have been the perfect ending to the perfect day but I know the leash has been tightened.

To me this world is exciting and fun, but to my parents it’s a scary place, full of monsters that eat little girls like me.  I try to tell them that I’m alright, I can take care of myself.  But they don’t listen; they don’t believe a little girl.  Instead they teach her that the world is scary, that she can’t go off by herself.

That she can’t be free.

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I am nineteen years old.  I tell my family I want to go to Morocco to study abroad.  I want to stay for a year.  It isn’t a question.  I am not asking for permission; I am letting them know that I have finally decided upon the location of my year abroad.

It is going to be a nation with connections to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.  With cultural complexities I can’t wait to wrap my head around and mountains and deserts and ancient cities I can’t wait to explore.

It is also an Islamic country in North Africa in the year of the Arab Spring, but that’s beside the point.

My grandma tells me I cannot go, she won’t let me.  How could it possibly be safe for a young woman on her own?  Especially a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed young woman from America?  Plus, the culture is so different, surely no one thinks to go there.  “Couldn’t you go to Spain or somewhere in Europe?” she asks me.

I nod along good-naturedly, “Actually my orientation will be in Spain, that’s where the program will start.  I’m thinking about going early to travel around on my own first though, since I haven’t been to Spain yet.”

I try not to laugh at the dismay in her eyes.  She’s genuinely worried for me but I know she can’t do anything to stop me.  My parents, thankfully by now, know better than to try.

They say nothing and sit back to see how it will play out.  I sit through the dinners and family gatherings, laughing and keeping the groan internal when my aunt implores that if there’s one phrase I need to learn before I go it’s “Don’t touch my clitoris!”

Months later, equipped with a fake wedding ring from my mom, antibiotics and anti-diarrheals from my doctor, and one large suitcase from my closet, I board the plane, flying into the unknown to finally greet the world on my own terms.

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I am twenty-one years old.  The education that has been both my refuge and my prison has finally come to an end.  I am free to begin a new life.  The world is so full of possibility I don’t know where to start.

A phone call from a friend presents opportunity and I decide to see where life leads me.  I move to a new city in a new state with no job and no plan, just a car full of belongings and an open heart.

I’ve learned you don’t need set plans to move forward in life, as long as you’re always striving for improvement.  And it’s often the things that take us by surprise that prove most worthwhile.

The world is not a scary place.  The world is my home and I love exploring it.  I don’t know where i’m going but I’ll get there, someday.  Until then all I can do is enjoy the journey.

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The Stairwell

The troops were called in to handle an “incident” late that night.  Gearing up in the locker room, I realized I hadn’t had time to grab an extra belt.  Oh well, in this kind of situation you can only be as prepared as you come, and hope that your skills are sufficient.

None of us knew why we were there – at least not at first.  We’d been told they’d fill us in on the way.  One more experienced officer did know however, and he wanted us mentally prepared for what we were about to face.

“There’s been an 11-45,” he said.  Attempted suicide.

“And it was successful.”

I nodded, keeping my face blank as my mind flew, not to the last suicide I had dealt with, but rather, the first.

A shining light of bubbly personality, my friend Adam was as sharp and as flamboyant as they come.   Always mischievous and always with such Presence – his loss left gaping holes in our lives where something good used to be.

Missing wasn’t unusual; he’d lost his phone so many times I never knew what his number was.  But then, they found him.

Seventy-five feet high.  Hanging from an electrical tower against Merced’s March sky.

Even in death he made his presence known.

And six months later, the ripples could still be felt as I stood halfway around the world.  In Morocco I wrote:

His smile

doesn’t echo here,

His laughter

never filled these rooms,

but his presence is

as strong as the

reverberation

of my heart

against the walls

of loneliness.

A hole that only he could fill

my shrink but remain ever still

upon the tear-stained walls

of my heart.

The walls on this night were stained by something much more visceral.

Red-brown streaks on a closed grey door.

Caution tape and bookshelves serving as improvised barricades.

We weren’t meant to see the scene but not all doors were closed so tightly.

Eight stories of stairwell is a lot to keep contained and to the untrained eye I suppose that lump of pink on the step could have been a rather large wad of gum, but I knew better.

I could tell the Inferior Frontal Gyrus from the Occipital Lobe, and I know when both are staring me in the face – plastered to the wall or sliding down the steps.  Remnants left from a mind long gone.

The job had me standing there for hours.  Wind whipped up by the elevators wafting the subtle smell of raw meat into the hallway.

It was past midnight by the time we were able to leave, as the library closed, students slogging home bleary-eyed, completely unaware of the scene just on the other side of the wall from where they had sat studying for so many hours.

At the end of the night, the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing had other officers asking if there was anything we wanted to say.  But, what can you say in the face of death?

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Home (Collage)

A blue-grey house perched on the hill, filled with the trinkets that make up a life.  Bed, table, kitchen, family, dog, couch.  An attic full of memories and seasonal decorations brought out every year to adorn the gutters, eves, porch, and windows.  covering the door with signs, changing the meaning and colors of Welcome.  But underneath lies the house, blue-grey, perched on the hill, as solid as ever.  Waiting for you to come home.

Pine needles spring beneath my feet, making the ground feel soft and my stride effortless as I walk under the tall pines.  Birds sing soft melodies and the air is fresh from recent rain.  The open air is cool under a blue sky as a soft breeze kisses my cheek, welcoming me back to where I belong.

Home is the warm smile on your mother’s face when you surprise her on her birthday.  The solid feel of her arms around you as she pulls you close, long blonde hair wafting hints of coconut oil into your face.  The comfort of being held, squeezed within an inch of your life by those you love.

Hard asphalt, baked black in the sun and glistening with the residue of oil left from the thousands of cars that have been there before you.  Chain-link fences and gates with guards that bar entry to anyone but you – for this is your domain.  You know all the shortcuts, the secret exits and entrances.  The escape routes leading you to and from home.

Indescribable acknowledgement.  Proof that you know it’s there.  A feeling bone-deep yet airy with acceptance.  There’s nothing left to prove, no effort needs to be made.  It doesn’t matter what you see when you look out the window because right now, in this moment, here, you are home.

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Bird Rock

Written 1 February 2013Bird Rock

The waves lap gently against the rocks, whispering secrets beyond my grasp. The pelicans perch proudly on Bird Rock as the sun sinks slowly behind a cloud on the horizon, scattering sunlight across the still-blue sky into rays of yellow above and hints of burnt gold beneath the purpling clouds.

The smaller birds grow restless as the day drifts closer to its end, smattering over the last scraps of food in the rocks and flying low over the water to head for a place to roost.

The ebbing tide soothes my own restlessness as the salty air fills my lungs. I still haven’t made a decision but the swirling clouds that fan from the day’s descending sun, swirling around like question marks in the pool of my mind, remind me that life is always uncertain.

I’m nearing the end of this day, of this chapter in my life. But the ocean will always be there, waves lapping soothingly or crashing vehemently over the rocks depending on the tide. And as the sun sinks hidden below a cloud, my future remains shrouded in mystery, with just a few golden glimmers of possibility shining through.

I may not know what the future holds but I do know that tomorrow the sun will shine, the waves will continue, and the world will greet another day.

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All Good Things…

5 AM. The morning call to prayer rings out across the city. From minaret to minaret, across the rooftops of Meknes, various muezzins take up the call, echoing and overlapping each other in haunting yet peaceful melodies that call the faithful to prayer, greeting the new day with Allah in mind.

Usually I am sound asleep when this particular call rings out but tonight I can’t sleep. Hearing the morning call to prayer and feeling the peace it brings makes me glad I’m awake to hear it this time. I don’t have many left.

My last days are full of small tasks, meeting with friends for what could be the last time, last-minute shopping in the medina searching for relatives’ gifts and souvenirs, soaking in the smells of meshwi grilled meats and diesel exhaust on the dusty walk from one side of the city to the other. The sounds of the informal local language are by turns shouted and murmured as stall-holders hawk their wares at bartering patrons, consonants pushed together, gurgling around me from all sides in snippets of understanding and as-yet-unknown syllables until I am immersed in a world at once familiar and only half-understood.

I don’t quite belong but I have made a place for myself in this carnival of characters. The scarf vendor down the first alley will accept my trades in place of currency. The jewelrist knows the school I’m studying at and is sure to teach me a new word or two each time I speak with him. At one shop I have a reputation for “bartering like a Berber woman”, but they always invite me for tea when I pass by. The woman across the narrow alleyway always asks after my family and I tell her her scarves are the prettiest in the whole medina.

Even people I haven’t met yet know who I must be as soon as I open my mouth. There is only one small group of Americans studying at the university here, and no common tourist knows the local language. I am known and I am welcomed. Whatever hassle I may receive on the street for being female, it is that open heart that continually redeems Morocco in my eyes. People’s ability to make you feel like an honored guest in a strange land has undoubtedly won many a haggler profit from tourists, but by digging beneath the surface and making an effort at understanding, it has gained me more than a few friends.

The time has come, however, to move on. My year is up, and while I haven’t learned all that I had hoped (I’m still not fluent in Arabic or French or Darija) I did learn just how important personal relationships can be and what a difference even a small gesture can make.

After one last hot yet mintily refreshing cup of sweet Moroccan “atay” at a local café with friends, I head back to the apartment I share with my host family to gather the last of my things and find a way to zip up my overstuffed suitcases. The house is empty, quiet. The cool, tiled floors keep this place insulated from the cacophony of activity in the streets below but I enter this sanctuary with slight trepidation, too worked up over the day’s schedule to fully relax. I keep the last parting gifts I have for the family to myself, hoping I’ll get the chance to give them in person. They haven’t made it home yet and my bus is leaving earlier than I had hoped. My host sister had stayed behind but I don’t see her anywhere either.

I pile my luggage by the entryway, watching the clock anxiously and listening for the sound of a key at the door. But the lock never turns. I can’t wait much longer so I pile my presents on the dining room table, arranging them carefully with a note of heartfelt thanks.

These people opened their home to me and welcomed me into their family. I lived with them for months. How do I ever express the value and appreciation I have for that experience? How do I convey the depth of my gratitude with a note in a language I’m not fully versed in? How do I say goodbye without actually being able to say goodbye?

I do my best, then sling my pack over my shoulder, dragging my suitcase behind me and turn for one last look before I shut the door. No longer home, I know this place has had an impact I probably won’t be able to fully understand or appreciate until I am long gone, once again immersed in my life in the States. Whatever eventually comes of my time here, though, I know I am eternally grateful for the experience.

With the help of some friends, I haul my bags down the street to where the bus awaits and the crowd of teary-eyed classmates and exchange students continually grows. The goodbyes are bittersweet, but somehow we all manage to board the bus headed for what is to me an almost forgotten home. As we drive off into the setting sun of a Moroccan spring, I am compelled to say the final goodbye to this part of my life, and pull out my phone to call my host family.

The call doesn’t go through.

I try again.

The number doesn’t work.

Suddenly I am overcome by loss, the end of this time in my life feels abrupt, cut short even though I knew it was coming. There is no closure; no final words, no ritual to fall back on no matter how contrived. I am simply gone – cut out of Morocco like a scab picked clean. I am cast adrift – for Morocco has been cut out of me too, or rather I have been cut out of me. The part of me that was Moroccan, that fit here, lived here, ran into people on the street here, shopped for vegetables at the Sunday Souk, asked for hot sauce on street food, traded scarves with friends and vendors, and drank mint tea every day – that part of me no longer has a home. And I didn’t even get to say goodbye to the people that gave it one in the first place.

I blindly turn away from my useless phone, not knowing what to do as my eyes overflow with too many memories, too many regrets, and too much uncertainty. My friends are standing in the aisle telling jokes. I hear the group’s laughter and see their smiles but can’t comprehend what’s been said for the ache in my heart. I don’t make eye contact but as I dazedly turn away, David comes over to sit beside me. One of the few other students who stayed in Morocco for an entire year, David and I had become good friends over our extended stay abroad. He sits quietly at my side and puts his head on my shoulder, his wordless support and clear understanding more than I could ask for and exactly what I need.

The evening call to prayer goes out while we’re on the road, sounding mournful and haunting against the setting sun. Entranced by the sound, my sad heart sends an upswell of gratitude to whatever powers may be for the people that are now a part of my life, whether past, present, or future.

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Culture Crossing

It’s amazing the little things you take for granted culturally.   The way you just know how things work in your home culture.  And I do mean home culture, not home country – that’s an important distinction.   There are many different cultures in America and showing this country, or at least the beautiful state of California, to some of my Moroccan friends has helped me to once again see it through new eyes.

The city of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area are totally different from my family’s home up in the Sierra Foothills.  When we first arrived in my rural hometown, our Moroccan guests greeted the area with surprise and some trepidation.  They couldn’t believe my mom would live here alone during the week while my dad works in The City.   The deer in the bushes could have been any sort of monstrous creature until we pointed out otherwise.  And I couldn’t possibly have friends or neighbors here because, where could they possibly be?

This is my backyard – clearly no place for neighbors.

Having lived most of my life in the mountains, I found most of their reactions slightly amusing but made sure to reassure them that, yes, it is perfectly safe, the bears will not eat you, and people really do live here.  They soon came to enjoy what was certainly a new experience for them, and we all learned more about different American and Moroccan cultures.

Then it came time to get ready for bed.

In the weeks leading up to their arrival, I had grown more excited every day, working both at my job and helping my mom prepare the house and plan an itinerary for our guests.  Making the beds up for them, I decided that when they arrived I would sleep outside on the deck.  Though I’ve always loved sleeping outside, it had been a long time since I had been able to do so.  Doubting that I’d have time to go camping this summer, I wanted to jump at whatever chance I could get.

When Zakaryae, my Arabic professor, heard that I would sleep outside alone, he was incredulous.  He would never let his daughter do that, especially alone, and certainly not with all the lights off.

My reassurance that I’ve grown up sleeping outside occasionally during the summer — whether on the trampoline with my (surrogate) siblings from a very young age, or camping with friends or family,  or just for the fun of it — was enough to make his 14-year-old daughter, Marwa, willing to try it.  Zakaryae wasn’t too thrilled about that at first, but sure enough, the next night Marwa slept outside along with me and another friend of mine.  Her bravery and willingness to try new things just emphasized for me the importance and impact that going abroad can have at any age.  The entire exchange was a new experience for everyone involved.  It would never occur to me to be worried about sleeping outside in my own backyard, just as it would never occur to any of my Moroccan friends that it would be safe, let alone enjoyable, to do so.  But no matter how big or small the issue, a little understanding can go a long way towards understanding others’, as well as your own culture.

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Camaraderie and Homemade Pizza

One of the things I love most about travelling is the camaraderie between fellow human beings.  Travelers know that there is a fellowship between all people, that no one is ever truly very different from one another.  There is a basic level across all borders, languages, and cultures, that no matter where you are, people are people.

After my last visit to Granada, I flew to Germany to meet up with another friend.  Arriving in Frankfurt, I planned to take the train into the city to meet my friend at the hauptbahnhof.  New public transportation systems can be slightly tricky at first but I managed to figure out which ticket I needed and get on the train.  My blonde hair and blue eyes fit right in with the mostly German crowd and a group of Asian businessmen asked me if I spoke English and if I could help them with their tickets as well.  We ended up getting on the same car of the train later, only to be boarded by some transit system officials farther down the line who notified us that we were mistakenly in first class.  Thankfully they were very kind about the misunderstanding and since we wanted the next stop, they allowed us to stay until we arrived at our destination.

I disembarked, hauling my stuff to the station’s Starbucks where my friend Katerina and her friend Eva were waiting for me.   We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year but as soon as we saw each other, just like that, it was as if no time had passed at all.  We were on the other side of the world but we might as well have met for a study break on campus back in San Diego.   Another reaffirmation that friendship can be timeless.

Eva, Katerina, and I hauled my stuff back to Eva’s apartment in the city of Frankfurt itself.  We had some time to rest, eat snacks, and talk before we headed out to the grocery store to buy ingredients to make pizza with some of Eva’s and Katerina’s friends.  We all met up at Anja’s apartment: Germans, Austrians, Americans, everyone!  We worked together, making pizza and drinks for everyone, sharing stories, political and cultural insights, dreams, hopes, studies, and interests.  It was a night full of camaraderie, and we didn’t want to leave.  Some of these people had been friends of Katerina during her year of study in Lyon, France while others we had all just met.  In both cases, when it came time for Katerina and I to catch the night train to Berlin, we didn’t know if either of us would see any of these wonderful people ever again.

And therein lies both the beauty and the pain of travelling (and life, really): you have the ability to make great connections with people all over the world, but you never know when you’ll have to say goodbye or if you will ever see them again.  You can only enjoy the moment,  appreciate the people you are with, embrace whatever they can teach or share with you, and look forward to the next adventure, knowing you’re not alone.  Friends can be found in any corner of the world and you never know where you might run into one, new or old.

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Andalusian Adventure–Closing Cycles and Moving Forward

Though leaving Morocco was difficult, I was looking forward to seeing some of my old friends again.  I flew from Casablanca (CMN) to Malaga, Spain (AGP) to catch a bus to Granada to visit my roommate from UCSD.

Granada is one of my favorite cities in Spain and it’s well-known mix of Moorish and European cultures made it the perfect place to ease my way from life in Morocco back into the Western World.  The fact that my orientation for Morocco had occurred in the same city, just nine months before, emphasized the fact that my time abroad had come full circle.  I was back where I had started on this grand adventure, but my perspective was completely different.

P1060824

I now knew so much more about both the Spanish and Islamic cultures that had fused into this beautiful city that I could pick out more of the details and actually see that history reflected in the buildings and people around me.  Having already visited all the touristy parts of town, I worried less about seeing the sights and focused more on enjoying my time, soaking up the atmosphere, and giving myself time to relax and process my experiences a little bit before moving on to the next grand adventure.  I only had a couple of days to spend in Granada before I had to meet another friend in Germany, but I made the most of it.

My roommate Judy met me at the bus station and, after stopping by her place for a quick shower, rest, and dumping of the ridiculous monstrosity of my suitcase, we headed out for some Tapas.

After living so long in Morocco, where the streets are almost deserted by ten o’clock and alcohol is technically illegal, it was a little weird to see so many people out and about, visiting and drinking, going from one tapas bar to another, but the freedom of being out at night in such a relaxed, friendly atmosphere was refreshing and we easily slipped into the crowd at one of Judy’s favorite places and began sampling the tasty snacks Granada is so famous for [In Granada, every drink you buy comes with a free tapa].

After going to a few different places for Tapas, we met some of Judy’s friends and went out dancing.  I hadn’t slept much in the days leading up to my departure from Morocco, the last night of which was spent swatting mosquitos and trying to catch some Z’s on the airport floor in Casablanca, so by the time we left the club around 5:30am (which is decent but still relatively early by Spanish standards), I was more than ready to crash and slept gloriously soundly until 2:30 the next afternoon.

The following days were spent at a more relaxed pace.  My friend and I wandered aimlessly through the town, she showed me some of her favorite places to eat, to run, to view the Alhambra.  We traded stories, hardly believing it had been almost a whole year since we saw each other last.

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On Monday, Judy had class and an internship she had to go to, so I had a few hours to wander on my own.  I headed back up to one of my favorite neighborhoods, the Albaizin, or Arab Quarter.  Within a few minutes of entering the winding streets that set this quarter apart from the rest of the city, I was surrounded by shops that would blend perfectly into any Moroccan medina and could hear Darija spoken around every corner.  I could once again hold a conversation and barter for my purchases in Darija, the language that had surrounded me and become part of “home” for the past nine months.  It was a glorious relief to know that I hadn’t left all of Morocco behind, but it was also sad to know this would probably be the last time I could converse with people in Darija for a long time to come.

I traded some of my left-over Dirhams for some gifts and Euros in change from my newfound friends, and continued up the street.  Everyone was amazed that I spoke Arabic, especially Darija and I was thrilled at the opportunity to practice.  I made another Moroccan friend who spoke FosHa (Modern Standard Arabic) and he showed me around more of the city.  We spoke mostly FosHa, using occasional Spanish for clarification, and he was amazed that I had only studied Arabic for one year.  [Truth be told it was a little bit more than that, as I started learning the alphabet in January and it was now the following May, but it was close enough.]  His incredulousness at my apparent language acquiring skills was a bit hard to shake off, but it did make me realize just how much I had learned.   Usually I spend so much time frustrated by my lack of knowledge and the gaps in my understanding that I forget to appreciate just how much I do know.

Learning another language is a complicated business, one that takes effort and practice but above all, one that takes time and exposure.  Living for nine months in an Arabic-speaking country did wonders for my speaking and comprehension skills (not to mention reading and writing – those letters don’t look like little scribbles and dots to me anymore!) but it was a long road to get to where I am now.  I remember the frustrations of learning a new alphabet, feeling like I had been sent back to pre-school as I laboriously sounded out each word, reading about one sentence every five minutes.  When I first arrived in Morocco I thought talking to people was great as long as they stuck to “hello, how are you?” or talked only about school and the weather.  Past that, all I could do was smile apologetically at my lack of comprehension.  I still have to sound out words I don’t know, but my vocabulary is continuously growing and I am actually able to converse and communicate with people.  In all honesty, I don’t think I realized how much I was able to do so until this Moroccan I met in Granada pointed it out to me.  Because most Moroccans speak Darija, this was the first time in a long while that I spent a long period of time conversing in FosHa outside of an educational context; it was nice to realize just how far I had come.

I left my Moroccan friend to wander the rest of the city, taking pictures and searching out more of El Niño’s work.  “El Niño” is a famous artist, but not the traditional art-gallery type.  He specializes in street art, or graffiti, and Granada is decorated with various masterpieces done by him and many others.

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I met my friend back at Plaza Nueva that evening and we went out for one last round of Tapas, visiting an entirely different part of the city once again.  My time in Granada had come to a close.  I left early the next morning, taking a taxi to the bus station to early enough to make it back to Malaga in time for my flight to Germany.  After some time to relax and reflect, it was time to move forward, on to the next adventure.

Categories: Short Trips | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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