(with, of course, all due respect to mr. e e cummings)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

There's no place like [insert place here]

     So, yes, I'm off on a voyage again!  This time, I'm in Tangier, Morocco, studying standard and Moroccan Arabic with the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program of the State Department.  We're finally here and settled after a long and eventful journey that included an unexpected day and night spent in Casablanca, which someone told me is the largest and most quickly-growing city in Morocco.
    In our orientation, we were told that Tangier is known as "CLS Club Med," and with good reason: we are housed on the campus of the American School in Tangier, a green and grassy space complete with cafeteria, air conditioned dorms, computer room, palm trees, and, yes, chlorinated swimming pool.  A cool Mediterranean breeze whisks through campus all day.  It reminds me of southern France, with good reason-- we are located just on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea from Spain.
     But this is one of my blog posts, and so it can't contain too much information before I turn to introspection.  One of my major challenges right now is to get past bringing Syria into everything.  As obnoxious as I felt in school mentioning "But when I was studying in Syria...," it feels even worse but even more natural here.  My semester in Syria is really my only reference point for comparison to my time here in Tangier.  So as I wrestled my suitcases around the Casablanca public train system, I thought to myself that people in Syria would have helped me more.  As I try to get my bearings on how to navigate Tangier, I think that Aleppo was more pedestrian-friendly and laid out in more comprehensible neighborhoods.  On the other hand, as I amble into the cafeteria for my piping-hot nutritious lunch, I think about the many spaghetti-or-Ramen-meals I made in Syria with the malfunctioning stove and one dented pot.
     Because I am neither hungry nor grumpy at the moment, I think many of these differences can be traced to Aleppo and Tangier's different experiences with tourism and international exchange.  The University of Aleppo's housing was less luxurious because we were the first group of Americans, or indeed Westerners, to stay there en masse with our different standards.  It was easier to practice Arabic in Aleppo because, among other reasons, there was no major language intrusion upon the Arabic spoken-- no French, Spanish, or English.  I was an exotic source of excitement and welcome in Aleppo because there were very few Westerners there indeed and even fewer Americans, as opposed to Tangier, which is as close to Europe as I mentioned before and played host to swathes of bohemian Americans and Europeans in the past.
    So, resolved:  Tangier is not Aleppo.  I will try not to expect it to be Aleppo, and to temper my fond memories of Aleppo with a dose of realism.