By Alexandra Kolker*
In Morocco, they take it easy.
As soon as my plane lands in Rabat, I can feel the change. The other passengers do not push against each other to stand in the aisle. They take their time gathering backpacks and briefcases from the overhead compartments.
My flight is late, but that’s no problem. IES Abroad’s driver is just arriving to take me to the Center, where the other students are. I don’t know much Darija (the local dialect) yet, and he doesn’t know English. We smile at each other. It’s not uncomfortable.
“Meshee Mushkila,” he says, which I find out later means “It’s not a problem.”
I meet the other students in a tiled room where we eat couscous until we all slouch into the couch and almost fall asleep, we are so full. We should be on the bus to Méknes by now, where we will meet our host families for the next two weeks, but there is no hurry. We will go when we are ready.
A scenic view of the city of Rabat.
In Méknes, we settle into life easily. We go to class, explore the suq (the market), wrap ourselves in blankets when we get home, sit on the couch and drink mint tea.
My host father, Ali, wakes up at 11:00 AM Monday morning and leaves for work around noon. His wife, Hakima, wakes up early to squeeze oranges into juice and knead bread, but naps after I leave for classes.
In the streets, the people walk slowly and carelessly. The men wander into cafes to drink mint tea and waste a few hours behind the front windows, watching the people stroll by. If they don’t go to work today, the can go tomorrow or the next day - maybe next week.
In the evenings, I sit in the living room with my host family and American roommates and speak fragmented Arabic and French about nothing at all – the Cote d’ivoire soccer game, tourist prices, my five-year-old host brother’s HotWheels collection.
Moroccans’ lack of urgency in everyday life is a welcome change for us Americans.
My host father tells me that this country will never thrive the way America does because Moroccans will never feel the need to constantly occupy themselves with work the way we do. He says this ashamedly, as if he is apologizing for the laziness of his countrymen, but I assure him that his explanation is beautiful.
In America, we constantly worry that we are falling behind. We are not as qualified as our peers. We haven’t applied to as many internships as that kid on our floor who is hyper-involved and basically a robot. If we would have done more readings for that politics class, we’d be able to impress our classmates with fun facts about ISIS and Al-Shabaab and maybe finally receive a 90% in participation.
Our Moroccan families teach us how to sit on the beach and think about nothing but warmth and sun and waves and sand. They show us the pleasure in mint tea breaks and hours-long walks through the old city.
At the study abroad center, I learn Arabic, Darija, the history of Islam and North Africa – but from my family, I am learning that happiness is not synonymous with achievement, that simple pleasures are the best kind, and that appreciating life – rather than being the best at it – is the most satisfying way to live.
*Alexandra Kolker is a senior from Mt. Vernon, IA., majoring in international studies and English at the University of Iowa. She is currently studying abroad on the IES Program in Rabat, Morocco.