Section: Features

Notes from Abroad

Notes from Abroad

by Sruthi Rao


I think I may have forgotten how to tell time.

At the very least, I’ve forgotten how to read a watch, and definitely forgotten the more conventional ways of keeping time — perhaps because in Rabat, Morocco, I just don’t need to tell time the way I do at home. The call to prayer is my morning alarm, my signal for lunchtime and my mid-afternoon wake-up call. The fulcrum of the day is evening snack time (kas-krot in Darija, Moroccan Arabic), possibly the most important daily meal and social event, as dinner is at 10 p.m. or sometimes even later.

There is a fluidity to time here — a kind of fluidity that allows old men to lounge on the patios of street cafés for hours a day, watching, reading, thinking. The kind that gives us three-hour breaks for couscous lunch between classes. The kind that lets me stop by my favorite juice stand every day after school so I can simply chat with Hasna the juice lady for almost half an hour. And this fluidity has made it really easy for me to make connections and establish roots in the community that has been my home for the last two months.

I’ve been living in the medina, or old walled city, of Rabat, Morocco’s capital city, with my host family, the Abbadis. Our house is tucked away on a small side street, accessed by what I affectionately call our “hobbit hole.” When I’m not in class, I’m having an ongoing tickle fight with my eight-year-old brother Khalid on the edge of my seat, as we anxiously watch a Real Madrid soccer match with my host dad. And of course, I also spend time exploring the labyrinthine streets of Rabat’s medina, whether by running errands for Fatiha, my host mom, or simply strolling through the souk, or market, with friends. I’ve been around the souk enough times to claim I know my way, though I’m sure there are hundreds of little streets and alleys that I’ve missed.

Through all my explorations, whether just within Rabat or of other cities like Marrakech, Oulmes or the Sahara Desert and Atlas Mountains, I’ve come to the conclusion that a lifetime wouldn’t be enough to absorb all the different cultures and traditions that constitute “Moroccan.” But I have had some extremely memorable experiences in my short time here.

Like Eid, for example. Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, is a holiday in October that honors Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail in submission to God, before God intervened with a sheep for him to sacrifice instead. It is also the second of the two major Islamic holidays during the year. The week leading up to the holiday saw carts of sheep for sacrifice lumbering around in the medina, piles of hay popping up as makeshift shops, manned by boys who acted as their vendors. Our sheep took up residence on the terrace three days prior — my family slaughtered and skinned him Sunday morning.

After the slaughter, as I walked through the medina with my sister Khouloud, we passed crowds of young men around charcoal pits meant for roasting the sheep heads. Because everyone washes the blood down the drain to the streets, the streets were indeed running with blood. Punctuated by the occasional sheep’s “baa” from unseen terraces, the whole setting seemed absolutely biblical. Spending Eid in Morocco was incredible — it was a slice of a life so different to mine yet so similar in spirit to how we would celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Sadly, my time here is coming to a close. I only have a few more weeks left before my program ends. All the Eid sheep have been eaten and Rabat’s colder sea breeze signifies winter. But even though I’ll be returning to Kenyon in the spring, Rabat will always be a home.


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