staircase wit (from French, l'esprit de l'escalier. When you have the perfect response, but too late; the person has already passed you on the staircase.)
homesickness (from German, heimweh)
brainwashing (from Chinese, 洗脑)
A mosquito, God’s most annoying alarm clock, bites me on the nose. I refuse to be fussed. Do morning stretches and sit down to write. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, on and off. Rain is falling and the mountains are white with fog.
Oatmeal. I took a taxi to Tangier yesterday to buy it. Useless girls claimed they didn’t know the street and gave me a “huh” look, the specialty of teenagers. I entered the Spanish institute across the street. Donde esta calle Inglaterra? A Moroccan employee happily walked me to my destination. Gracias, y baslama.
The woman in the grocery store didn’t speak French, so I switched to Arabic. Min hinaya ila taksi kabira ila Tetouan, bishahal? Ashara dirham, au sebaa. That was nice.
Hamam. Amina is not as good a masseuse as her sister, but I love that every time is different. Today I was in a private stall, because the big room was too cold, Amina said. She really tried to talk to me. Maybe I’ll switch from classical Arabic to Moroccan dialect. I want to talk.
Mosaic. Alaina is there already. Young Mohamed is, too, and he is playing loud, obnoxious music on tinny speakers. Eventually I stand up and order him to turn it off, if just for an hour. I want to work, I say in classical Arabic, and I am not sure he understands. I finish my mosaic design for a fountain with the help of Ali.
Walk through the medina. It’s still raining, so we dodge umbrellas and soak our feet in puddles. I buy figs, bananas, cabbage, and two carrots. The fig man is funny. Ever since I said that his figs were the greatest and he corrected me—Allah is the greatest (to which I replied that after Allah, his figs really were the greatest)—he has been very warm.
Lunch at La Union. An old man follows me to my seat. He elicits in Spanish that I am Canadian, and says in passable English that he was in Quebec and Ottawa. Why? Muj…something about working in a mosque. He asks what I will be having for lunch. Couscous? No, soup. Ah, harira, he says. He asks if I have something for him. I fish around in my pocket and find a 10 dirham coin. Three more beggars come up to me in the course of my lunch, but I am out of change and annoyed to be hassled.
I eat tomato soup, an omelet, bread, and finish with a café au lait. This is ordered in Spanish and Arabic.
Arabic. I read Fatima my sentences in past tense. This is my favorite tense so far. It makes sense. I can see the three parts of every Arabic word clearly. I can see the shapes as they come out of my mouth. “I went to Ecuador and stayed there for eight months. I taught at a university. I didn’t study Spanish, but after a couple months, I knew some words, and I spoke with people. I listened a lot, and that helped me. I felt happy to speak.” And now I feel happy, because you are speaking! Fatima exclaims. I really like her. Half the reason I go to Arabic is to make her laugh.
We look at pictures and she asks me to make a story in past tense. I have to ask the word for café—maqha. Mecca? I ask. Haha, no. “They went to the café, and then maybe they went to Mecca.” Hahaha. It’s funny in Arabic. Then I make up a story about a woman who was a taxi driver, but then she decided to go to university. She studied French and graduated and got a job at the United Nations. Alumam almutahida. Hahaha.
I show Fatima what I want her to teach me on Tuesday. We’ll do three weeks of Moroccan dialect, because my brother is coming, and we’ll be traveling in the south, and I want to navigate in Arabic. For Fatima to teach me what I want, I have to give it to her in French. I stayed up last night with Babelfish to check my translated phrases.
Run into Ali the Brazilian on the way home. I thought he was still stuck in Spain! Apparently Morocco let him back in. He rubs me with his beard when we kiss cheeks. We can’t decide what language to speak, because he has been speaking French with his friends, and I have just come out of Arabic. We settle for English and Spanish, mixed.
Music conservatory. A really chatty new guy in choir says we won’t start until five. Then he asks if I’m a Muslim. La. He says something about the Koran and how great it is. I smile politely and go upstairs to the Institut des Beaux-Arts.
Coming out is Abderrahim, whom I was supposed to meet earlier. I explain that I got stuck at mosaic in the rain, and show him the text that wouldn’t send—I really need to deal with my phone. He laughs it off and tells me not to worry. I have 20 minutes now, so we go upstairs to his makeshift office to look at the stop-motion animations that he wants me to narrate. Does he have an idea about the content? Nope. Wow. It’s like the drawings he gave me to add writing to—totally open to interpretation. Immediately I think of the Morccan culture guide that I read two weeks ago. The chapter on friendships would be hilarious as a voiceover, to go with the two characters in his animation. All this is in French—crude, but functional, like a wrench. I tell him about my idea to write poetry to go with his other images. I tell him about the BBC “MyWorld” competition, too, that Alaina and I want to enter.
Choir. We don’t sing the song I know, so I read along. As people come in, they give me that warm, good-to-see-you nod. Iman kisses both cheeks and asks if I got her message. No. She says she’ll come over tomorrow to teach me some more of the songs.
Quick dinner of leftover lubia (white beans with a savoury tomato sauce) and rice, and one of those perfectly ripe bananas from the medina.
Advanced One. In the last class, they recorded themselves doing interviews. “Moroccans on the Air” was the title of the mock radio show. The idea was that the Moroccan ministry of tourism had decided to do a publicity campaign to attract tourists and investment. Part of the campaign was having “average Moroccans” on radio shows across North America. So today, we gather around the laptop and write notes as we listen. They give each other written feedback with error correction. I teach them the positive-negative-positive feedback sandwich. They’ll write observations on their own speaking as homework. Then we introduce the new unit, “Family.” I write Marian, Richard, Steven, and Andy on the board and wait for the students to ask questions. We get around to living in Saudi, and Aicha is fascinated. She’s 22 and wants to go live in an English-speaking country to improve her speaking, so that she can work for an American company, but she’s also married, and it’s unlikely her husband will up and move. Later we learn that Aicha has a twin.
Liquor store. The only one in Tetouan that I’m aware of. Masa al-khair. Labes? Bighair? Alhamdulilah. Vino, por favor. Pero no hay grandes de eso? Hmm…dos “Flags” entonces. (This is beer made in Morocco.) Bishahal? Thirty-one. English? Sometime English, sometime Swede…Shukran. La shukr. Bslama. Bye. Ciao.
Dance party of one. I do this most nights. Then I have to lie down on my back, because I’m reeling. So many projects! So many languages! So much…And Tetouan gives. It gives and gives and gives.
“Two a Day” on MTV. Alaina and I stare in horror. The program doesn’t end until the wide receiver and the varsity cheerleader shoot a deer. The discussion turns to anticipated culture shock. Is it going to hurt?