Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Global Competence: how to not be a idiot abroad

It’s been a while since my last update. Each day moves to fast here in the Maghreb. I was occupied with a very special visitor for a while, but now have returned to “normal life” in Fes. (whatever THAT means…)
Some things I’ve been up to:

-I did 2 radio interviews from Fes for Wisconsin Public Radio and for NPR. A WPR show called “Inside Islam” interviewed me about my experiences as an American woman living in a Muslim culture. Afterwards, I was contacted about doing a live interview for a show called Here on Earth about Global Competence. I have been interviewed before on this topic, and it is a subject very close to my heart. Essentially, as I see it, Global Competence is adaptability and open-mindedness in the face of our shrinking world. Despite globalization’s best efforts, there is no monoculture, so it is important for one to know how to conduct oneself abroad; to understand how a culture works, why it functions that way, and how my own culture can interface with the unfamiliar. Language acquisition, self-awareness, and a spirit of curiosity and adventure are essential to honing this skill. You can read as many books and Wikipedia articles about international affairs that you want, but Global Competence is gained by going and doing, and the best teacher is always travel itself.
I was interviewed about the ways to gain global competence, and about my own personal history. You can find an mp3 of the interview here:

-I’ve begun tutoring a Moroccan kid in English. He’s a sweet guy whose name is the equivalent of “Pineapple”, no lies. He is in school for business management, but his first and greatest love is Phil Collins (“the most talented of all English singers”…seems to be a general sentiment around here, I’m finding). He wants me to teach him colloquial American English phrases. The other day, he asked me what “to freak out” means. On the other hand, he is SCHOOLING me in Arabic. He teaches me necessary words and phrases, then quizzes me on them later. This punk kid is a tough teacher, so I think it’ll be good for my Arabic study.

-Language classes are going well. I can’t believe I only have 3 weeks left of the semester! I feel like I can’t stuff enough language into my head, and the mental battles between classical and Moroccan Arabic are raging in my brain. When I speak in class, my teacher Sana is constantly winking at me and saying, “That’s Darija, Cath. You’re in Fusha class now”. Today, I answered someone in Wolof (“How is my roommate doing? Munga fa!”) and couldn’t figure out my mistake. Learning languages is one of my dearest loves, I’ve decided. What a blessing to be doing this every day here.

-This past week was a whirlwind because I was graced with a visit from my sahib Dave, fresh off the boat from 7 months in sub-Saharan Africa. Not only was it awesome to just be in each others’ presence again, but we also had a great time traveling a little around Morocco. Dave got to meet my friends here in Fes, and some of the other Fulbrighters, as well as Lalla Fatima Alami, an old Moroccan-Gambian woman who has become like my grandmother here. I have lunch or dinner with her every so often, because she lives alone and likes being able to speak English with someone. We also reminisce about West Africa, and she is the only person I’ve found here with whom I can speak Wolof. She was delighted to meet Dave, and I was glad that he got to meet this part of my Moroccan family.

We spent some quality time in the Medina of Fes, and took a day trip to Ifrane. That city is beautiful this time of year, as it is in the mountains and it is legit autumn there- the leaves are even changing color and sweaters are necessary. We hired a taxi to take us to the Dayat Aoua, a picturesque little lake surrounded by rolling hills, perfect for a stroll/hike in the fall weather. Fulbrighters Rod and Andrew were kind enough to take Dave to a hammam in the medina, and besides being introduced to the dangerous acrobatics which they call “sports”, I think he had a good time.

For the long weekend, we took a 7-hour train ride south to Marrakech, because I wanted Dave to see the cliché, over-the-top morocco (in contrast, I rationalized, to the serenity of Ifrane). Indeed, there were storytellers and monkeys on leashes and belly dancers and gnaoua musicians and potions to buy to cure every ailment and food cooking in stalls and sensory overload galore. Then it was up to Casablanca in time for his flight on Sunday. As I’ve mentioned before, Casa reminds me of a dirty, sad, post-Soviet, industrial port city, and it was no fun trying to find a hotel at night with our baggage. We ended up staying at Hotel Negotiants, where I stayed with Jill and Claire 2 years ago…only I didn’t recall it actually being a brothel. Oh well, what price adventure, right?

One thing I remarked was the way that men left me alone here when I was walking with Dave. I mean, NOBODY said ANYTHING…and that was such a stark change from the way I’ve gotten used to having to put on my “angry woman face”, as Kendra calls it, and stare straight ahead while walking alone. It may sound paradoxical, but I felt so much freer walking beside a man than I have ever felt in the past few months. However, I was rudely awakened to the reality of my situation when I was walking home alone from the train station in Fes upon my return. I guess Angry Face was temporarily on vacation just like me.

These past few weeks have been wonderful and difficult, as life in Morocco always seems to be. I feel as if I’m beginning a new chapter somehow. I have work in front of me, and I have loved (almost) every minute behind me.

I also want to mention a shout-out to a very special lady in my life: Happy birthday, dear Molls. You will always be a ‘pidge wit no coops to me. :)


casam said...

These pictures of Dave look like a strange combination of Mr. Sullivan and Steve XD which isn't a bad thing! Not to mention, you look SO happy to be with him :)

love you and miss you, Cath! <3

Maren said...

Cath, you never cease to amaze me. I relate to the sense of comfort you feel finding some Wolofophones. Following you from FG always. Keep that Jill Speer "Senegalese Game Face" on lady! Lots of Love.

Anonymous said...

What an adventure your life is! I love you more than words can tell.
I am very, very much looking forward to seeing you.
Love forever, Mom

molly rae said...

Your birthday call and shout-outs were the best presents I got all day! I'm so glad that you were able to spend some time with sweet Dave :) Keep on living and keep on learning! Love you infinately.

Sara S said...

Am I totally lame for having tears come to my eyes seeing pictures of you and Dave? So happy to hear that you two got to spend precious time together.

I also second Maren. Let's hurrah for our 3 parts of the world but rocking our link back to Seneland.

loves and jamm.