Monday, January 31, 2011

Ninety-Four: Part Twenty-Five: Wherein Present Day Me Continues Reading An Old Letter And Gets To The Part About The Sheep's Eyeball.

Everyone has one year in their life that has a greater impact on them than any other year. Mine was 1994. From time to time, I'll recap that year. This is part 25. Click here for a table of contents.

As you may remember, from the last time I posted an entry in this ongoing kind-of-a-memoir, I found some old letters I'd written home from Morocco, and it's almost like time-traveling, and almost a lot more like a time capsule, in that I get to see, first-hand, what 1994 Me was like and also see a lot of things that 1994 Me was very excited about talking about, things that 2011 Me has completely forgotten.

That last post -- three months ago, now -- had reprinted the beginning of my first letter home, written on May 31, 1994 -- or, as I wrote it in a totally nonpretentious way, 31 May 94; Tues.

Here's where I left off. Having detailed my flight to Morocco -- my first time on an airplane ever, I wrote to my Mom and sister (the recipients of all the letters home) this:

The JFK-to-Casablanca trip was really rough; we had to keep our seatbelts on most of the time because of turbulence. Then, Casablanca was fogged in, but he pilot still tried to land twice. It was sort of like being on a roller coaster with 500 other people. I had to have other students explain to me what was going on, because all the flight announcements were in French & Arabic.

So let's dive in to the continuation of that letter! As before, I'll be throwing in comments from 2011 Me.


We got into Casablanca about 8:30 a.m.; it's only a 5-hour time difference, but I'd been awake 23 hours or so by then (we all had). The organizers brought us up to Rabat right away. (It's about a 1 hr. trip.) The 1st day, we were shown our school ("Cite Universitaire -- City of Knowledge")

[NOTE: that's not at all accurate. Babel Fish says Cite Universitaire means "university residence."]

And met our host students; mine is Nadia Acherki. She's 23, majoring in English lit. We slept in our dorm rooms that night.

[NOTE: I hadn't known, when I was signing up for the trip, that I'd stay with a host family, let alone that the host student would be a girl. This is shaping up to be a pretty hot story, right? Like "Road Trip 3: Road To Rabat!"]

The next day, we moved in with our host families for a week.

[NOTE: See?]

[NOTE: These teasers aren't in any way accurate. Sorry.]

Mine live on Rue Dakar, right near "downtown" Rabat.

[NOTE: I'm pretty sure those quotation marks, present in the original, were meant to convey a smug sense of superiority. Because, you know, I was so cosmopolitan at the time. Way above those Moroccan rubes who only thought they knew what a 'downtown' was.]

There are 7 of them: Nadia, her Mom, her grandma, her 2 sisters: Sanna & Rasheeda, her Aunt (I don't know her name), and her uncle, Hamid. Their apartment is about the size of Bill's [NOTE: that's my older brother], a 4th floor walk-up. I don't know if they're rich or poor; the whole city looks poor to me.
that's the end of page 1 of the letter. Remember, I put quotations from songs at the top of each page of my letters back then. The quotation at the top of page 2 is a suitably inspirational-sounding quote that's a perfect fit for a wanting-to-seem-important college student

"And do the things you should have done."
-- Jethro Tull, "Skating Away"

[NOTE: Get it? Because it's about traveling. Kind of]
Back to the letter, page 2:


Of them, only Nadia speaks good English.

[NOTE: Unlike your letter writer.]

Rasheeda speaks a little, and Hamid speaks some. (Except they all know the 3rd-World-slogan: "No problem.")

[NOTE: I really think I should've been punched a lot more than I was, back then. I wonder if 17 years from now, I'll look back at 2011 Me and think what a jerk I was back then/now. If so, maybe I need to rethink how I live my life.]

They say it all the time, sometimes for no apparent reason. It's a nice family, but tiring. They all keep watching me, (see what the crazy American does!) and trying to talk. It's something all the Moroccans do when they find out you're American.

[NOTE: I have been in Morocco, as I wrote that, exactly one week. I had probably met about 10 Moroccans... which I obviously felt to be a representative sample.]

They love to talk politics & religion and if we all really own guns. Everyone was excited to learn I'm studying "politics" (they don't know "political science") Among the most common questions I've been asked:

1. Anyone can own as many guns as they want, right?
2. What do I know about the CIA? (They're really afraid of the CIA.)
3. What do I think about the Gulf War? (Kind of a tricky question, here.)
4. What's it like, being Christian?

[NOTE: Those really were very common questions that first week. I remember that.]

And, 5. Do I like Whitney Houston? (She's really big, here.)

[NOTE: That, too, was a very common question.]

The family thing gets on my nerves because (1) they're always hanging around waiting to see what I'll do, and (2) They eat all the time.

[NOTE: Everyone reading this blog by now knows that I'm really not crazy about people and tend to like to spend my time alone or at least in small groups of people. Notwithstanding that, it's entirely possible I mis-read the situation back then -- in fact, it's completely likely -- and Nadia's family wasn't "waiting to see what I'll do" but, rather, being very polite and attempting to make sure that I was comfortable and taken care of, being in a strange country where I didn't speak the language. MY GOD, I was a jerk.]

The Arabic word for "eat" is pronounced "cool" and it's all the mom says to me. You can't explain easily that you're (a) full, or (b) not that hungry for goat. And they eat a lot. They have breakfast (bread, cakes, tea, coffee); tea (cakes & tea); lunch; tea; and dinner. Then, sometimes, more tea. Breag, big huge loaves, is served with every meal. The "cakes" are mostly almond pastries. You all sit around a low table, and it's served in 1 big dish (no plates, but they'll give you a fork or spoon if you want, even though they think it's weird.) Most of the food has rice, chickpeas, raisins, cucumbers, squash, carrots and/or potatoes, mixed in randomly. They usually can't explain what I'm eating, and I've learned not to ask (more on that in a bit.) They don't drink with their meals, and when they drink something, it's tea, coffee, Ikuka (Coke, warm), milk (gross) or yogurt (like warm, soupy Dannon without fruit.) I drink water, or, sometimes, coffee, because I want caffeine and they don't have diet Coke here.

[NOTE: One reason I was so focused on food... and diet soda... was that at the same time as I'd begun going to D.C. and Morocco, and doing things like that, remember, I'd also decided to lose weight, resulting in my losing just over 100 pounds in six months, and also developing what would more or less be an obsessive fixation on exercise and food that would last several years, and would see me get down to 162 pounds and run 15-17 miles at a shot before, one day, abruptly stopping that kind of thing. Now, while I don't want to necessarily re-start that whole thing again, I wish I had a little of the madness that I could maybe use about 3-4 times a week to make me go exercise.]

(There's no "diet" anything; I had trouble explaining it.)

[NOTE: Imagine that! A poor country where many people don't get enough to eat can't understand the concept of deliberately starving oneself to look good.]

Mostly, the family eats chicken, but, as atreat for me, they've cooked 2 special dishes: "Real Italian Spaghetti" (noodles & fish, no tomato sauce); and, of course, couscous.

Couscous is the national dish; they make it on Friday (their holy day.)

[NOTE: I have no way of knowing if that's true, then or now.]

There's 3 kinds: (1) Sweet couscous (not bad), (2) "Couscous of the 7 vegetables" (no meat, real salty), and just 1 time per year, (3) "Couscous with the HEAD OF A SHEEP."

I'm not joking. We got here just after the big festival when everyone had a sheep slaughtered. (It's related to the story of Abraham.)

[NOTE: I'm pretty sure that in that part of the letter I'm relating what Nadia and her family told me, as opposed to "just making things up."]

So they saved the sheep head (in the 'fridge) to cook for me. So here I am, excited about getting to try couscous

[NOTE: Really? I don't think I was being sarcastic there, so when I'm not a jerk, I'm kind of a nerd?]

which is rice with a zillion veggies in a bowl the size of a small table, and they're handing me bits of meat, which all tasted weird, but, hey, I didn't know. Then they told me what I was eating. I didn't really believe at first, so they pushed aside all the other stuff, and there was this boiled sheep's head. All in all, they said, I had cheek, tongue, ear, and eye. (The eye is special; they gave me one.) We then had a fairly complicated talk about just which parts of an animal Americans eat, and how it's served. I was about to learn the Arabic word for puke.

[NOTE: On that, I'll end this entry. That actually happened, though, and I actually did not barf, but only because I reminded myself...this is true... of that scene in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom where Indy ate all that weird stuff, and decided that if he could do it, I could do it.]

Click here to go on to part twenty-six

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