There’s nothing quite like moving across the world and having every expectation shattered.
The thing is, I’ve lived in Africa before, so I thought I knew what I was getting into. Having lived in the Arabian Gulf and Sub-Saharan Africa I thought that Morocco would be a nice combination of the two. I was wrong. So much for preconceived notions.
I landed in Casablanca on a Sunday morning in early August. I’d spent a fitful night of sleep on the flight from New York and pushing an overloaded trolley I stepped out into the blinding sun. I’d been told that the school would have someone waiting for me, but all I could see were throngs of people completely immersed in their own business. I was found, thankfully, by someone holding a clipboard with my school’s name scribbled in pen on a scrap piece of paper. He spoke no English, and I no Arabic but I followed him to the car and hopped in.
My first impressions of Casablanca were made from the back of a bus where I sat, sweat prickling my scalp and wide-eyed with the adrenaline rush that comes after a sleepless night. The first thing I noticed was that there were trees and lots of them. It’s the dry season, so the ground is very dry – but the traces of vegetation lining the highway made my heart soar. After a year of living in a desert…. the thought of having trees and flowers was exhilarating. The next was that there were highways. Like, with tolls and medians and with people who followed the rules of the road. No one was driving at break-neck speeds and I wasn’t afraid for my life.
We make generalizations and predictions about a foreign place all the time. Before moving here I imagined what it would be and it didn’t matter who I asked of what I read about, I used a lot of my own experience of living in other African countries and the Middle East to form an idea of what living in North Africa would be like. The magic of moving to a new country happens when you arrive and the framework that you’ve built for yourself needs radical restructuring. For me it began when I noticed that the traffic patterns were unlike any I’d ever seen before. Unlike in Cairo or Kuwait City, pedestrians waited for cars to stop and, wonder of wonders, cars stop for pedestrians here!
It’s always the small things.
The language is different – French and Dareja (Moroccan Arabic) are the languages. What little Classical Arabic I’ve learned over the past year is almost useless and I find myself scrambling to remember words and phrases from my high school French classes. I’ve remembered the important things – how to buy bread from the many bakeries that are tucked away in my neighborhood for example.
Each day I make a new discovery and find that my preconceptions about here need to be adjusted, from the taxi system to what is appropriate to wear at the beach.
The best trick in the book? Wait and watch and see what others are doing first. The power of observation is real.