University of Iowa

Questions

January 19th, 2016

By Claire Jacobson*

Claire Jacobson's family

My family came to visit me in Morocco for Christmas.

If you ask me, “How was Morocco?” or any similar iteration of the question, my scripted response will be something along the lines of, “It was great! I learned a lot, and I loved being there, but I’m glad to be home.” This answer, or whichever variation of it bores me the least, satisfies ninety-eight percent of the frustrating, albeit well-meaning, questioners.

I have nothing against these people. They are my friends, my coworkers, my family. Their inquiries are genuine; they just have no idea what they’re getting into. My experiences and stories dribble out at a rate alternating between that of a pressure washer and that of my mom’s old broken teapot, rather than in neat packages or on cue cards that I can just pull out of my back pocket when the next person says “so what was your favorite thing about Morocco?”

I almost want to turn the question back on them and say, “Well, what was your favorite thing from the last four months of your life? Think really fast!”

What am I supposed to talk about? The family in Casablanca that welcomed me into their home and took care of me during the Eid holiday and again in December? The easy camaraderie with my roommate when we either both went to bed early or else stayed up late discussing poverty, feminism, God, education, and all the world’s problems? Or maybe the countless nights my friends and I spent watching old episodes of Gilmore Girls, and the time we put “Go Navy, Beat Army” filters on our Facebook profiles just to rib our West Point compatriots? Walking by that one spot between streetlights by my dorm where you could see all of the stars?

On one day the first memory that comes to mind might be sitting cross-legged on the carpet in a mosque beside my Muslim friend, watching and listening to the Friday prayers firsthand. On another day I may think of classes with Dr. Azeriah in which we didn’t really accomplish anything we were supposed to do, but spent the whole time discussing the Moroccan elections or global politics or the causes of domestic terrorism. Or maybe awkwardly introducing myself to the U.S. Ambassador when he came to campus to speak, or sitting in a soundproof booth stumbling over my words while practicing simultaneous interpreting from French into English.

Claire's sister
 My sister and I beside the carved lion in Ifrane which is evidently a tourist attraction.

Sometimes I start to self-edit, becoming self-conscious. Who really wants to hear about the time I gave a fifteen-minute presentation in French on censorship in Morocco, or a ten-minute one in Arabic on the country of Sudan, even if they were my crowning achievements of the toughest languages classes I’ve ever taken? Who is going to understand when I describe the adrenaline rush I get when communicating fluidly in a second or third language? The courage it took to give two public informative presentations about my Christian faith on behalf of the Interfaith Alliance club? The constant feeling of isolation and inadequacy in being the only foreigner in a class full of people who seem infinitely more competent than me? These are not light enough subject matter for a thirty-second exchange.

My memories are clawing to get out in the open, but not one of these vignettes captures the whole or even the essence of my experience. When most people ask questions, they don’t want a dissertation. Like I said, the scripted answer satisfies ninety-eight percent of them.

Claire's Casablanca family

My sister and I with some of the family I stayed with in Casablanca.

The two percent are the ones with more questions than the standard ones, and enough patience to listen to me rant and ramble as the days since coming home turn into weeks and the stories just keep coming.

*Claire Jacobson is a 2018 sophomore from Iowa City, Iowa, majoring in French and Arabic with a certificate in writing at the University of Iowa. She is studying abroad this semester on the ISEP Al Akhawayn University program in Ifrane, Morocco. 

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