Kathleen Wilson is a student at the University of Georgia and an ISA Featured Blogger. Kathleen is currently studying abroad with ISA in Meknes, Morocco.
If I were to spend all of my life in a classroom being taught by the most talented Arabic teacher, I might gain proficiency in Arabic. However, learning a language goes hand in hand with experiencing a culture. This is why I’ve chosen to study abroad in Morocco, to experience Moroccan culture first hand. Here is what I’ve observed so far.
It is impossible to speak of Moroccan culture without mentioning the religious aspect that is so closely intertwined with the language and the daily routine. Examples of commonly used phrases related to religion:
– Alhamdullah (Thanks be to God) – They found my luggage! Alhamdullah!
– MashAllah (Said when seeing something cute.) – MashAllah! What a cute baby!
– Bismillah (Said before eating)
– InshAllah (God willing) – InshAllah I will do well on my test tomorrow.
– Bi-saha (with health; said before meals, at the doctor’s office, in taxis, etc.)
– Allah yatik saha (God give you health and blessings; said in response to bi-saha)
The greetings and the goodbyes
I find it rather abrupt that we just say, “Hi!” in the United States. Here, the common greeting is: as-sallamu alayikum (Peace be with you), and the reply is: wa alayikum as-sallam (and peace with you). In addition, we, as foreigners, are almost always greeted with a “Marhabann bikum” (welcome!) In a similar regard, the goodbye is usually a “ma-sallama” (with peace). In Morocco people are constantly spreading the message of peace through their words and actions.
The welcoming nature of the people
Unfortunately, due to allergies, I had to move out of my host family’s house last week. However, just last night, my host mom called me and asked how I was. She said, “We miss you! You are always welcome in our house! Come, come, come! Let me make you food!” The Moroccan people I’ve met open their hearts and their homes to natives and foreigners alike. They are eager to share their way of life.
The locals who delight in a foreigner’s attempts to speak in Arabic
Today my friend Brooke and I started an internship at the maternity ward of a hospital here in Meknes. Our program director Iman introduced us to the head doctor at the hospital and set us up with some super cute (read: slightly massive) lab coats. Then, she left, and we were on our own to make our way up to the maternity ward on the second floor. When we went upstairs, we didn’t find the midwife we were supposed to be looking for, so we asked a group of women if they knew where Boushra could be found. (Read: We said Boushra? with a questioning tone.) It was not until I started stringing together half-Arabic/half-French sentences that the nurses welcomed us into their group and took us to see the babies. We spent our time there today caring for the newborns and checking in on the new mothers. By the end of our shift, the Moroccan women who had originally greeted us tepidly were laughing with us and having a dance party with us! They delighted in our attempts to practice our Arabic and French and had unending patience with us.
This was really interesting. I’ve always wondered what as-sallamu alayikum actually meant. It’s great to know now!