Sacha Czarnuszewicz - Language Courses, French in Morocco
I had an early flight from Paris to Morocco the morning after the all-night arts festival “La nuite blanche”, so of course I stayed up through the night before heading to the airport. I had a quick nap on the plane and woke up just as the sun was rising and I could see Morocco in the distance. After making my way through customs, I was met by a smiling Projects Abroad representative who had organised a taxi to the Rabat medina. As we travelled I was stuck by the transition from the sparsely populated countryside to the modern buildings of the Ville Nouvelle. We stopped outside the gates of the medina and walked to my new home in a quiet side street.
Arriving in Morocco
The streets of the medina were fairly deserted apart from a few kids running around and the occasional fire by the side of the street. My guide explained that it was very unusual for the medina to be so quiet and it was because the country was currently celebrating the Muslim holiday “Eid Al-Adha” or the festival of sacrifice. The shops were shut and everyone was with their families. Those who could afford it would buy a sheep or goat to sacrifice, and once the meat of the animal had been removed, the bones were taken out into the street to be burned.
When I arrived at my new home, my host family were at a relative’s house celebrating so I unpacked and decided to catch up on some sleep. A few hours later my host mother returned and asked if I was ready to come and join the rest of the family. We walked through the winding streets of the medina until we arrived at a large house with a central courtyard. Here the rest of the family was assembled and there was a sheep hung up in the corner, being skinned by one of the relatives! There was fresh lamb cooking on the barbeque and a vast array of salads, rice and bread on the table. I was greeted by the members of my new host family and quickly made to feel at home, even in the rather surreal surroundings!
For the next four weeks I lived with my host parents, their five year old daughter and one other volunteer. My host mother cooked excellent large meals, with lots of the Moroccan staples of meat (mostly lamb!) and bread, as well as lots of sugary mint tea. Family life with a five year old was a little chaotic, but it was fun being so immersed in a new culture. If I ever need peace and quiet, I only had to shut the door to my room and I knew I wouldn't be disturbed.
French Language Course
Since the public holiday continued for a few days after I arrived, I had lots of time to relax and get used to my new home before I began my French lessons a few days later.
My French teacher was a friendly young Moroccan woman, adapted the lessons to focus on the topics I was most interested in. I was a bit daunted about one to one lessons to begin with, but my teacher was very patient and after the first week I was much more confident speaking in French.
Each morning we would walk together to the beautiful gardens of the Kasbah, where our lessons were undisturbed apart from the occasional stray cat! As my speaking progressed, we moved on from basic topics like tenses and began to compare the differences between English and Moroccan culture – it was fascinating to discuss things like politics and education with someone with such a different worldview.
Free time in Morocco
Since I chose only to have French lessons and not to add on a volunteer placement, I had afternoons free to explore Rabat. On a typical day I would come back to my host family's house for a delicious lunch, do some French homework until it was a bit cooler outside and then head out. Some days I would go surfing with the other volunteers or we would just browse the medina for gifts. There are lots of things to see around Rabat – my favourite was the Roman ruins at Chellah.
Getting around by grand taxi was quite an experience, since these taxis are old Mercedes cars which take 6 passengers plus the driver! My first experience was quite daunting but by the end of my trip I grew to really enjoy the convenience of the taxis and the conversations I had with other passengers.
There were lots of opportunities to travel on the weekends with other volunteers, although the weekend trains could often be very crowded so it was best to make a reservation in advance. One trip to Fez was particularly memorable as we missed our train and the next one was so busy we spent the journey sitting in the corridor!
After my placement finished I spent an extra two weeks travelling around Morocco so I could see a bit more of the country. I began in Chefchaouen where I had one of my favourite experiences trekking through the countryside to an enormous waterfall and dipping in the freezing mountain water. I then made my way via grand taxi and train to Marrakech where I booked on to a desert excursion. This involved two days of travelling on bumpy roads in a minibus, and a few more uncomfortable hours on a camel, but gazing up at the full moon from the top of an enormous sand dune made it all worth it, and it was a great final memory to have of Morocco before I headed back to reality.