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Giving Directions in Morocco
By Sadie Van Vranken, YES Abroad 2014-2015, Morocco
Last Wednesday, I was walking along the streets of Rabat, Morocco after a day of orientation. It was my second time walking the path to my house, so I was still alert but starting to get familiar with my route. When I was about 15 minutes away from my house, a woman who looked Moroccan stopped me to ask, in French, if I could tell her the way to Lysée Malqi. My stomach did a little flip because I did indeed know the way to Lysée Malqi! It’s one of three things I can give directions to in Morocco, because the Lysée is right next to my apartment.
So I smiled and gave her directions. About two minutes later, she asked me if it was very far away. I told her no, and that I could walk her there because I was going in that direction. So we walked together, and she asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Rabat. I told her I was studying here and learning about Moroccan culture. And I, in turn, asked her where she was from. She lived in Fes, a Moroccan city about three hours from Rabat. When we got to the Lysée, she invited me to visit her in Fes and gave me her telephone number. Then we kissed cheeks (a Moroccan greeting) and parted.
The experience was encouraging to me for two reasons. First, I loved that she didn’t assume I was a tourist. I looked comfortable and confident, and so she assumed I knew my way around. In a city where I immediately stick out as a foreigner because of my skin color, and where everyone stares at me and assumes I’m a tourist, I was glad to learn that I could blend in to a greater extent than I had previously imagined. The experience was also exciting because of her kindness. She was very willing to share her culture with me, to invite me to her house, and to hear about why I was in Rabat. It was nice to be reminded of the kindness of Moroccans because normally, on the street, people don’t acknowledge each other. It doesn’t mean they’re not kind, it’s just part of their culture. So it was nice for me to see behind the mask that people put on when they’re walking around Rabat.
I’ve been told that Moroccans asking foreigners for directions is rare, and probably won’t happen to me again. But that makes me cherish the experience even more, because it encouraged me at a time when I’m still adjusting. It’s nice to be able to celebrate my small accomplishment of helping a Moroccan woman.