The University of Iowa

Haggling in Arabic and other summer adventures in Morocco

August 17th, 2012

Recent UI graduate Brandon Jennings participated in the Critical Language Scholarship Program in Morocco this summer. He shares some of the most interesting parts of his journey in this blog entry.

Brandon Jennings
A couple days ago, we hit the mid-point of the CLS program in Morocco. The State Department has kept us pretty busy this past month... from the moment we touched ground in D.C., we've all been hustling and bustling about trying to meet quotas, finish homework, make lectures, etc. And most of this is conducted in Arabic, which is a pretty humbling experience. Arabic is a heavy language. It's kind of overwhelming, but I'm trying to take this in stride. Because being overwhelmed is a symptom of progress... right? I hope so. Thanks to an incredible CLS staff, Moroccan professors, and language partners, we're all making leaps and bounds in speaking, writing, and listening. 

Between homework and lectures we have weekend excursions, all of which have been very enjoyable, although Marrakesh was a little eccentric. And, upon visiting, it becomes quickly apparent why the city is internationally renowned as a tourist trap. The main square of the city is internationally known for the street performers and the souks. The vendors there raise prices three- to four-fold simply for foreigners. In order to buy anything in the souks you need to drive a hard bargain, which can actually be a lot of fun. My limited ability to speak Arabic usually makes the haggling process hilariously theatrical. A lot of arm-waving, dramatic expressions, and shouting simple expressions “Had Ghali Bzzaaaf!” (This is soooo expensive!) I'm pretty sure the shop keepers appreciate my efforts, though. I bought my shirt in Marakesh for a third of the starting price and I still can't tell if it was a reasonable deal.  

Next to the souks in Marrakesh is the main square, where you can find street performers of all varieties. Street performers can be pretty aggressive (in terms of trying to extract money from you). You have to be careful with making eye contact. A couple of my friends had cobras wrapped around their necks and had to pay the snake charmer for a picture (but, actually, they had to pay to get the snakes off their necks). Some guy's monkey jumped on me and urinated, which was kind of unfortunate. I didn't give him any money. He seemed disappointed.

My favorite trip so far has been camping in the Sahara! We went for a short, three-day excursion last weekend and, despite a rough beginning (our train caught on fire... followed by a seven-hour bus ride), the Sahara made for an incredible experience. We rode camels into the desert (had to deal with a small sandstorm, which was uncomfortable) and set up camp behind an enormous dune. At night, the sky in the Sahara filled with stars. It was those pictures you see in fancy astronomy magazines.

Our tour guides prepared an incredible dinner and breakfast for us of a local variety. The town we stayed in was Berber, not Arab, so the food was really unique – a lot of peas, olive oil, beef, and fruit. And in the morning we rode back on our camels. I like to think that I befriended my camel. I named him Rommel (both after the German WWII commander of the African contingent and the Arabic word for sand - "Ruml"). And to top it all off, the entire weekend only cost me slightly more than one hundred dollars. Talk about a bargain. The Sahara is definitely one of my happiest experiences here in Morocco. 

All in all, this trip has been a singular experience. Intensive, frustrating, and rewarding. In one moment I feel like Morocco punches me in the gut and then it kisses me on the forehead. Strange analogy. 


At the end of his program in mid-August, Brandon made the decision to remain in Rabat for a couple of months instead of returning home to the States. He has set goals to become involved in various organizations around Rabat and is excited and nervous to continue this chapter of his life.