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Notes from Abroad: Morocco

Notes from Abroad: Morocco

By Madeleine Thompson

The memory of completing my first reporting assignment for my journalism study-abroad program in Rabat, Morocco will stick with me forever. Simply put, it was a challenge that I overcame, but the lesson I learned in perseverance and paying attention was valuable.

My class got the assignment soon after our arrival in early September, and it seemed easy at first: write about food. I had a wealth of options, from couscous to fish to the traditional tajine, and I decided to interview the guy who sells snail soup on one of the city’s main avenues. After class one day ラ two days before the piece was due ラ I approached the snail soup vendor, armed with an introduction in Moroccan Arabic that I had memorized and also written out just in case. I thought in the event of an emergency I’d be able to fall back on my decent French. But the snail soup vendor did not understand my Arabic, was illiterate (along with 50 percent of Morocco’s population) and did not speak French.

I attracted a large crowd of market-goers who were curious about what I was doing but were unable to help ラ occasionally they would shout things at the vendor and he would shout back and they would all laugh. Eventually I gave up and walked away, frustrated and embarrassed.

I had no story, no new ideas and a fast-approaching deadline. I went back to the building where I have classes and sulked in a corner of the library, trying to figure out my next step. After a while I was the only person there except for the receptionist, Brahim, who suddenly spoke to me.

“Are you having a bad day?” he asked.

I told Brahim of my plight and we got to talking. He told me ラ in excellent English ラ that he is an event planner and caterer when not manning the desk at the center’s small library. I nodded along for a while, still feeling blue, when at last I realized the obvious. A caterer! I had a new story and no need for a translator. I interviewed Brahim right then and the next day he took me to meet some of his caterer friends. They told me tales of imported fruits and elaborate tents and invited me to their next event.

The story I turned in was not my best, but I was proud of what I’d done. Sure, maybe I skirted the rules a little bit and didn’t do any “investigative” reporting, but for my first foray into foreign correspondence it wasn’t bad. Since then, journalism has proved to be an amazing way to get to know this country and its people. Through interviews and networking I’ve learned things I definitely would’ve missed in a more conventional program.

In fact, the most accurate part of the phrase “study abroad” is that all I’ve been doing since I got here on Sept. 1 is learning. Not in the classroom, necessarily, but certainly every time I step outside of my host house, nestled deep in the winding alleyways of the medina. I’ve learned things both about myself and about other people; things that I’ve had to teach myself and things that I’ve learned the hard way. But this, I think, is a pretty good representation of everyone who leaves their country and their comfort zone. I highly recommend giving it a try. You might end up dressed in a djellaba, dancing and chanting at a Moroccan wedding.

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