The terrace of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning (CCCL) overlooks the old city giving new students just a glimpse into the beautiful city of Rabat. What you find once you’re in the maze of the old medina is a human interconnectedness and a hospitable community that will always help you find your way (Photo by Mary Mathis).
Five days is how long it took before I cried. Not counting when I watched Black Swan on the plane ride over or the tragic video I saw on FB about refugees trying to gain asylum in the US. Those moments both deserved my tears for sure.
I’ll tell you something kids. I’ve been to London. I’ve been to Germany. I’ve been to France. I’ve lived in a place where I took a shower outside with a bucket of water and a cup. However, something I didn’t prepare myself for this time around was my mental health.
I’m not going to lie. I was hugged too much as a child. I’m the person that will give you a huge genuine hug when I meet you. I may even pat your back and say “wait just a minute longer.” Physical affection is on my top 3 needs right under food and showers.
We were all eating lunch and waiting in line chit chatting. I wasn’t really hungry. To be honest I felt like I was going to throw up a little. My stomach felt like there were butterflies with their wings tied to each other and they were pissed off. Tugging every which way, the tension vibrating through my lungs up to my throat. I refused to open my mouth too wide or speak too loudly for fear of actually crying. Hilarious. I know.
I got up to the counter and said
“Labas Ibraham! Kaefa haluka?” (Hey! How are you?!)
I grabbed the tray of lemon colored chicken and the silver tin tray clamored on the countertop. I made a face as if to apologize but he had not even registered the action. I moved on through the rest of lunch making small talk. Small talk I can do. How is your family? Where are you from? Can I see your scarf- it’s beautiful!
Between words, I shuffled my feet picking at my food slowly, bits and pieces half eaten. When I was talking to my friend, I got tongue tied. I wasn’t sure how to explain my feelings. They sounded small and dumb- irrelevant. It was a mix of lack of physical affection, and self-deprecation.
I’m an advocate for watching out for your mental health. Except, when it was my turn, I told myself what everyone tends to say to themselves when they feel down “It’s not a big deal,” “You’re being selfish,” “You’re being a big baby,” “There’s other people that are worse off.”
I had walked to a nearby coffee shop after lunch and ordered an espresso. The restaurant was built in the 1900’s and it was called the “Transatlantique.” As I looked around I could imagine that every inch of it was delicately carved by craftsman centuries ago. The walls varying shades of Carmel colored wood. The tiles on the floor so delicately detailed I almost didn’t want to walk on them. The dude who took my order even had a suit on- A SUIT.
Anyway, he brought my espresso and I got caught between thoughts and actions. My words ran over themselves and I asked if it was 10 Dinars. Except they don’t take that here. I’m just being a big dumbo! Bahh. That’d be like someone asking at Starbucks in the middle of Iowa “How many Euros will that be?”
He said 15 Dirhams… he stood there as I dug through my bag looking. I pulled out 13 Dirhams and had to call a friend to come bring me the rest. At that moment- in this café- where I was the only person present besides the barista, I couldn’t help but question myself.
Why didn’t I study more of the language? Why am I suddenly comparing myself to people? I haven’t done that since like elementary school! Why am I suddenly feeling like I’m trapped?
I had so many questions for myself and it took me 6 pages of free writing on Word and a good cry on the hotel rooftop to work through it. That night with myself, a big cozy blanket, and a world of stars above me, I figured it out…sort of.
What I’m trying to say is. Traveling somewhere new can make you feel small. Your ability to communicate makes you feel as though you’re a kid again. Making mistakes, uncertain, and getting lost constantly.
Here’s something I’m reminding myself of: it’s okay to not understand or be misunderstood, it doesn’t mean you should stop trying to do both. Continue challenging yourself. Question that which you do not understand. Ask yourself the tough questions, maybe you’ll come up with answers. It’s okay if you don’t.
This past week, it felt as though every little thought and issue I had thought about my whole life came rushing into my mind. Maybe it’s being isolated from your everyday life, maybe it’s meeting new people. It’s definitely not Maybelline.
The fact of the matter is; I’ve had a tsunami of emotions floating around my brain this first week that forced me to confront issues I’ve pushed to the corners of my mind for years because I didn’t want to deal with them.
People often think they can run away from their problems. The more you travel, the more you’ll realize that your woes will show their faces in shore lines and night skies and in the middle of an empty coffee shop in Rabat, Morocco.
*Arlinda Fasliu is a junior at the University of Iowa studying journalism and international studies. She will be spending her semester on the SIT Morocco Field Studies in Journalism and New Media program.
Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.