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Significance of a Book Fair

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By Lucien and Sadie, YES Abroad 2014-15, Morocco 

As February comes to an end, we as exchange students are starting to have to come to terms with the fact that this year will not last forever. We have 3 months, some of us less than that even, left in our host countries. It’s scary to think that every moment I’ve invested in Morocco making friends, connecting with my host family, or exploring the city will eventually fade into the haze of my long term memory. As we reach this post-halfway stage of exchange, conversations about memory have come up– what we remember, what deserves a special spot in our long-term file. For me, last weekend was one of those special moments for YES Abroad Morocco as we journeyed to Casablanca for an international book fair with the AMIDEAST ACCESS students.

Lucien: Since the beginning of our time in Morocco, the YES Abroad team has been tied to another group of scholarship recipients in country: The Rabat ACCESS Program. ACCESS is a series of micro-scholarships given to students around the world who are eager to learn English in an extracurricular setting while also learning about American culture. While in Morocco, we’ve participated in group presentations with ACCESS students, as well a Thanksgiving dinner, and just recently, this trip to Casablanca.

Over the course of the hour and a half long bus ride, necks were craned across aisles as everyone busily chatted, eager for a chance to catch up and get to know one another, bonding over the excitement of the approaching event. On arrival, we piled out of the bus in front of the Hassan II Mosque, a towering monolith that begs to have pictures taken in front of it. After a seemingly endless stream of smartphone photos, YES Abroad Morocco and ACCESS Rabat were ready to take on the Book Fair. As I walked up to a stand selling used books about Morocco with one of my friends, I marveled at the significance of this moment. Two students brought together from countries separated by an ocean, by the power of books. This international book fair celebrated the diversity of the written word and its ability to act as a tie between nations, a bond of friendship between students of the Rabat ACCESS program and YES Abroad Morocco.

Sadie: As a lifetime lover of books, I looked forward to the Casablanca book fair as a chance to explore a hobby I’ve always loved, in a new cultural setting. When I stepped into the tent that housed the fair, I was engulfed by tides of book-lovers and swept past stands piled high with books as diverse as linguistic patterns in Morocco. The book fair was a celebration of reading, of print, and of words, be they in Arabic, Berber, French, Spanish, or English. Walking past a stand of books purely in Berber, followed by a store selling French textbooks, I saw how so many different languages can merge together to represent a country and a culture. Books carry the stories, traditions, recipes, and histories of a people, and at the fair, they gave me new windows through which to observe Moroccan culture.

At my home in Rabat, I partake in a lot of newer media; in the evenings I can be found watching television with my family rather than reading a book. But although I like unwinding by watching TV shows with my family, it was nice to be reminded that the medium of books is still alive and well in Morocco. Stories are being told in every language I might hear in the street, for me to pick up and learn from. That day, I left the fair carrying a large book on female Moroccan artisans, written in both French and English. But I also left with the conviction that book loving is universal and that no matter where I am in the world, I can find communities that share my passion.

With such limited time left in our exchange, every day is a precious chance to form new memories. The Casablanca trip will remain a crystal clear memory for us for years to come, both because it allowed us to bond with the ACCESS students with which we shared the experience, and because it allowed us to view Moroccan culture through the international lens of books.