We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
This post was written by Jenny Lee near the end of her time volunteering in Morocco.
The calendar must be wrong… it can’t be almost time to get on a plane and leave! Time has flown while I’ve been in Morocco. Conversely, I feel like I’ve been here for months because so much has been crammed into the past few weeks. Every day is packed full of Arabic lessons, followed by working at the national park on gardening and the eco museum, and most nights have ftours with different people we have meet in the community. Each weekend so far our group has traveled to different destinations in Morocco.
Right now the three words that best describe my trip are zweena, chaukren, and inshaallah, because I feel like I use them all the time. Zweena means pretty, but it can be used to describe most things that are generally good. I often find myself saying this when talking about the food and landscapes. Although the school food leaves a lot to be desired, home-cooked Moroccan food is absolutely amazing. I’ve become very fond of ftour (breaking the Ramadan fast) foods such as dates, Harira (a soup containing noodles, meat, chickpeas, veggies, and more), Chebakia (cookies coated with honey and sesame seeds), and it’s always a treat when chicken bastilla (a pastry filled with chicken and nuts and sprinkled with cinnamon) is part of the feast. The best part of the meals though is spending them with people. Ftour is a very social event, and families and friends all gather together.
The other time I use zweena is to describe how gorgeous the environment is. On my drive to work each morning I pass through the most stunning mountain views that overlook fields, valleys, forests, and towns. Every weekend when I have traveled, my breath has been taken away by the cities that I have seen. Each one is different, but has its own charm and beauty. Last weekend I went to Moulay Idriss which is located in the mountains near Meknes and overlooks a rich agricultural landscape, and is minutes away from an ancient Roman ruin called Volubulis. Rabat has lovely beaches. Fez’s attractiveness is less in the natural environment, but the old medina is one of the world heritage sites with its winding streets and rich history. Last weekend I spent in Ben Smim, a small, rather basic village in the mountains, with a homestay family. Most of the family only spoke Arabic, so when they showed me the town my phrase on repeat was ‘zweena’. However, even if I was fluent in Arabic, that would be the best word to describe this town surrounded by mountains. I’ve never seen so many stars. On the second day we went hiking to a waterfall which was also breath-taking.
The next reoccurring word is chaukren meaning ‘thank you’. In Morocco people will go out of their way to be helpful and welcoming. A guard from another organization has been helping me to plant saffron at the national park center. I now realize how little I know about gardening. He has shown me how to use the different tools, how to most efficiently do each task, and how to best ensure that the saffron plants will survive. This process is not as easy as the video tutorials I found on youtube for planting saffron. Without him and the eco-tourism director, I do not know how I would get the 30 kg bag of saffron bulbs planted, and for that they both deserve a chaukren. What makes it all even more impressive during Ramadan Moroccans are working their daily jobs without water or food.
And the final word is inshaallah meaning ‘God willing’. Moroccans use this word very frequently to talk about anything in the future. It can be used as simply as ‘See you tomorrow, inshaallah’ or ‘if I get the job, inshaallah’. Sometimes though, it feels like inshaallah is more used to describe the sometimes frustratingly slow pace that things move in Morocco such as ‘I’ll send you the file this week inshaallah’. There is so much that I want to still accomplish in this short time that I am here. Hopefully I will finish the English guide to the eco-museum and the Junior Rangers activity books, inshaallah. This weekend I am hoping to be able to travel and see the desert, inshaallah. And finally, I am hoping that I will be able to share my experience in Morocco with the people at home and I will be able to show them what a wonderful place I have visited, inshaallah.