Monthly Archives: April 2012

Please don’t hurt me!

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I’ve hesitated for a long time before finally deciding to write about what I wrote today. I guess the reason behind why it took me so long to finally talk about it is that I never thought I would ever be in this position. I grew up in a country governed by tolerance. Of course, I cannot talk on behalf of every Moroccan citizen, but in general, discrimination (except against women, and that I think is unfortunately a world problem) has never been an obstacle that anybody had to face. We are an African country where Black and White people live together, where Berbers and Arabs work together, where Muslims and Jews eat together. Millions of tourists every year come to Morocco. We welcome them in our country, sometimes in our homes… We smile at them. We cook for them and we learn from them, just as much as they learn from us. We are used to having this diversity and grew up right in the middle of it. Actually, I am proud to say that diversity is what makes Morocco what it is today, what defines it.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to make Morocco sound like heaven on earth. We for sure have dozens of problems, if not hundreds of them. Some can easily be fixed. Others may never get fixed. However, not once have I heard somebody be a victim of racism in Morocco.

“Why would they let a terrorist come back here?” That is the sentence that a sixty year old woman said to what appeared to be her daughter, as she was looking at me, while we were all visiting the 9/11 memorial in New York. I could see horror in her eyes. Even worse, I could see fear in her daughter’s facial expression. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream as I could feel this unusual pain in my chest. I was the one horrified. I was the one terrified. How could somebody ever think of me as being a terrorist? How could anybody look at me, look at the joyful nineteen year-old that I am and feel this need inside their heart of being scared? Do I look like a terrorist? Do I really look like someone who is at all harmful? And then it all started hitting me. The times when people would squeeze as far as they could away from me in the elevators, the times when they would either hasten their steps or slacken them as much as possible in order to get as far away as humanly possible from me and as quickly as their feet allowed them to. I thought it was all in my head. I thought it was nothing worth mentioning or even thinking about. But right there, in the middle of the 9/11 memorial, right between the two huge pools that were constructed there, it was all clear. Suddenly, everything became crystal clear.

I never thought I would ever have to feel like this. I honestly thought racism is a problem of the past millennium. I would hear about it on TV or read about it in the newspapers and think: “Thank God this is over now”. Well, let me tell you it is not! I was living in a bubble, a bubble that burst right in the middle of my face. It hurts, you know. It really deeply hurts. I bet I wouldn’t even have had this problem if I was not covering my hair or even better, if I was a man. In both of these cases, nobody would even think of being racist towards me because I am just another white girl who walks the streets of the United States of America. But no! Things cannot be that easy. Hijab cannot simply be a sign that a woman really believes in her God. It must mean that she wants to blow up the entire planet! People, please wake up. Open your eyes! Just because I wear the veil does not mean I am a terrorist. Just because my friend has a beard does not mean he is an extremist. Just because we are Muslims and proud of showing it to the world does not mean we should be feared.

I am nineteen years old. I am a student from Morocco who is currently on my study abroad semester in George Washington University. I am young and ambitious. I love life and enjoy every single bit of it. There is nothing better than this feeling of “being alive” when doing things we love. In my case, I feel “complete” when I am singing or writing. These two hobbies are my soul mates. I am not different. I am not any more different than any of you guys. We all have different religions. This doesn’t make us different. It just makes us normal human beings with different beliefs. Do not hurt your brother: this is what every single religion in the world believes in. This is even what atheists believe in. So please, don’t hurt me with your words. Don’t hurt me with your actions. Don’t hurt Muslims. Don’t hurt Arabs. Don’t hurt Black people and don’t hurt and don’t hurt and don’t hurt… After all, we are all the same: we are all human beings…

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“Good Job!”… Really?

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I was talking with another girl from France studying at GW this year and I realized one thing about GW, everybody is very positive about … well, pretty much everything.

Let me give you an example. I made the terrible mistake of taking a marathon class (and I am really not an athlete). Every week, since I run much slower than the rest of the class, I lose my group (literally, I lose them). Usually when I am finally back at the gym after running 45 minutes everybody has left for about ten minutes. During the fourth class I tried to run faster and most people from my group were waiting in front of the gym when I arrived. Strangely when I joined them, one boy high-fived me saying “Good job!”.

Two things about that:

1) First, he was not the instructor so I did not understand why I felt he had to encourage me.

2) I arrived 10 minutes after everybody else and I did not run as far as them (I had turned around after 20 minutes not to be too late). Not really what I would call a good job.

I realized that everybody is always very encouraging in all of my classes. Professors always say “good question” or “this is a very interesting comment”. Even when I bake, the few people that are courageous enough to eat the mixture I cook seem to feel forced to say “this is absolutely delicious” when, really,  “this is edible” would be enough considering how bad a cook I am.

In France, and particularly at my school, things are very different. Even when you are attending a lecture of several hundred people and the professor encourages people to ask questions, if you dare doing so to ask a question not very original, the professor might humiliate you in front of everybody answering that your question is stupid (which often leads to nobody ever daring asking a question).

Since I am used to having very tough teachers, I did not know people at GW expect as many positive remarks as negative remarks when they ask for a critique. For instance, I had to write a one-page critique for every short-story the students from my “Fiction Writing” class had written. I started writing very negative critiques until I received the critiques from the other students in my class about my own story. All were very positive with only a few criticisms. Besides, my teacher mentioned “critiques should not be all negative or mean.” Oops.

Is one technique better than the other? We have a saying in France, “qui aime bien chattie bien”, which basically means that you are tough with people you appreciate. I tend to be in favor of harsh criticisms because I think they made me progress more. Yet, my friend was arguing that being that negative about everything encourages self-censorship and goes against creativity. I’ll let you take sides while I start packing to go back to the country with the highest percentage of people thinking the future will be worse than the present. Negativity, you said?

What is Morocco like?

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Being able to put my emotions into clear explicit words sometimes is a real challenge. Actually, it is a constant battle that I know I have to fight if I want people to somehow understand what is happening in my head or heart. But sometimes, I have this terrible impression that words are not enough. You would think that by knowing three different languages, one of them would have that one special word that can describe what is felt or thought. However, there is only one question that, no matter how many times I’ve been asked, I just can’t figure out a simple answer to: What is Morocco like?

This question is just a nightmare for me. I am always scared my answer would be “too much” or “not enough”. I am terrified at the idea of failing to fairly represent my country in the United States of America. It only takes one person to start making a change. One person and the whole world might become something completely different. So what if I make a mistake and end up destroying my country’s reputation? I would like people then to judge me instead of my country as a whole. But then again, what if I do something really good? Don’t I want people to think that all Moroccans are just as good as I am?

I’ve always been one of the first ones to be against stereotypes and generalizations. But after careful thinking, I realize that stereotypes have to be based on something. Someone, someday, somewhere must have done something that made the rest of the world think what they are thinking. As the French saying goes, “Il n’y a jamais de fumée sans feu”, which basically means there is no smoke without fire. Stereotypes can easily be made by generalizing one person’s behavior. And even if they are hard to get rid of, it is indeed worth trying. It only takes one person to make a change, remember?

So, what is Morocco like? Morocco is a beautiful country. It is one of these places where you can experience meeting different people from various cultures but with the same nationality (obviously the Moroccan one). We love our king and Islam is our religion. We do have cars and do NOT ride camels to go to school. The weather is perfect; not too cold during winter and not too hot during summer (but the sun is usually shining, during the four seasons). But I guess Morocco can be best described by its people. Actually, there is this one specificity of Moroccan’s nature that I never managed to find in any other country I have been to (and I did go to a lot of places): hospitality. People there are welcoming and generous. Everybody is ready to help and with a warm smile as the icing on the cake. Moroccans are tolerant and racism is honestly something that I have never heard of in my country. Yet, Morocco is still a bit behind, generally speaking. However, change is happening. May be not as fast as we would want to but that’s our generation’s role to speak up and speed up the process. As you might have guessed by now, I am completely, passionately and irrevocably in love with my country.

I am sure that by now you have an idea about what Morocco is like. However, I feel like I haven’t told you half of what I wanted to tell you. The words I used were too weak to make you really grasp the beauty of Morocco. But those words are the best I could come up with. It is ironic how I’ve always wanted to become a writer but can’t manage to accurately express what I feel towards my country.  I would love to think that it is not due to my lack of English vocabulary, even though I am sure it is partly due to that. I prefer thinking that I can’t answer that question because the love I feel for my country is simply too strong to be put into words. I believe that the power of words is infinite. Well, in this case, the love I have for Morocco is just as immeasurable. So please, come to Morocco. Visit it. Visit the only place in the world that makes me speechless. Maybe you would be able to put what I feel into words. Or, maybe you would be just as speechless as I am before the beauty of Morocco…

The world is Beautiful…

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I could talk about how spending more than 16 hours in a bus in less than 72 hours is both exhausting and painful. I could talk about how we spent the night in a hostel where there were no toilets and probably mice living in the heater. I could talk about how spending a whole afternoon shopping in New York made me become happy (and broke!) and I could talk about how I’ve been for the first time to Wal-Mart this weekend. However, today, I want to make you travel with me. I want you to imagine what I saw and try to feel what I felt. Today, I am taking you somewhere far away from troubles and stress. So, let the journey begin…

One second… It only took me one second to look up and stare at the most breathtaking view I’ve ever seen in my life. The word breathtaking here was not used as a simple metaphor. I literally stopped breathing for about 3 seconds, completely subjugated by the beauty of what I was facing. The staring part though lasted for hours, long hours that seemed to be unnoticeable short minutes. What I felt at that moment, the transition between looking at my feet and lifting up my head to face the landscape, it is something that can hardly be put into words. You might be wondering by now what is this thing that had such an intense effect on me. Well, how about letting you seeing it with your own eyes as:

For those of you who haven’t guessed it yet, the beautiful landscape you just saw represents the legendary Niagara Falls. There is only so much you can tell about how gorgeous they are. To be completely fair, even though the picture gives you an idea about the beauty of the place, it is absolutely nothing compared to actually standing there, right in front of them. The sound of the water falling off from up high, bursting as it hits the rocks, fiercely making its way into the flow of the river, smoothly mixing with the river and running to discover the rest of the world…I just closed my eyes and let myself be mesmerized by the grace of what I was hearing. For a second there, I couldn’t hear my friends laughing anymore. I couldn’t hear the tour guide making bad jokes about how we should carefully choose the right fall if we wanted to commit suicide. I couldn’t even hear people’s footsteps around me. Somehow (I wish I knew how so that I could do it again), I simply tuned everything out and just enjoyed the wind gently caressing my face while hearing nature’s best symphony and feeling the intensity of my heart beat. Suddenly, just like someone would wake you up from a magical dream, I opened up my eyes. You might think I would be scared after waking up from such an intense dream. Well, the view was just as mesmerizing as the sound of the water.

I took a deep breath. Then I realized: “I’m alive”. Being there, standing where I was… this is what life is all about. I was facing the immensity of the universe and you might think I was scared. But I just felt alive. I could feel life running through my veins. I wanted to scream. I wanted to let the whole world know that I was there, that I was alive. By going to the Niagara Falls, I realized my father’s dream; a dream I know he might never be able to make come true. By going there, I made my mother’s dream come true: seeing her little girl getting closer and closer every day to fulfilling her dreams. By going there, I realized how lucky I am to be who I am and where I am today.

We spent two days there. You never get tired of the landscape, and the night view is just as impressive. The only difference is that the sun gets replaced by beautiful multicolor projectors which make the falls look like huge pots of natural paint falling off a mountain. I also had the opportunity to look closely at a whirlpool (doesn’t really look like a toilet flushing but still quite spectacular). I also got to stand halfway down the falls which basically means that the water was hitting rocks and jumping on top of my head.  But then, I got to see another phenomenon that is quite stunning itself. With the water all around and the sun brightly shining on top of our heads, a proud rainbow made its appearance right in the middle of the falls. It was neither in the sky nor on the rocks. It felt like it was suspended in a vacuum, almost lost, but desperate to reveal its magical beauty to the whole world.

The intricacies of language

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English is, in my opinion, a rather beautiful language. It has this endearing quality of being simultaneously rhythmically poetic and pliable. With relatively little effort, even text in the most mundane of contexts can seem to be intricate prose. In the hands of an adept speaker, this same mundane topic can come alive with eloquence.

This innate beauty to the language, however, often goes unnoticed to those who speak it proficiently. It seems to me that English often assumes the role of merely a means to an end rather than a medium worth noting in and of itself. This is an attribute confined to major languages, even those who serve as lingua francas to mass extent. For an Icelander it provides stark contrast to the linguistic purism of my native tongue. Icelandic is regarded by its speakers as a cultural treasure, and to this day it is fiercely guarded. Where others have succumbed to the constant and overwhelming need for neologisms (the Danish word for “overhead projector” is, rather anticlimactically, “overhead projector” with a Danish accent), Icelanders have held ground (we call it “myndvarpi”). Incidentally there are a few English words that originate from Icelandic (glove has an ancestor in the Icelandic glófi).

As much as I love Icelandic, I think the radically different approach of English, in freely accepting changes to the language and influences from a wide array of sources, is indeed its greatest strength. It is a vast language with a plethora of linguistic roots, reaching far and wide, and one that freely adapts to convey tone and meaning.

A wonderful example of this is a fantastic book I recently read, called “We need to talk about Kevin”, by Lionel Shriver. With her stunning use of language she paints a vivid picture of the sharp, bleak intelligence of the protagonist. The consistently cold, orotund and hopeless tone makes the book mentally exhausting to read. Shriver’s mastery of language is evident.

One trademark of her writing is the ease with which she uses the outskirts of English vocabulary and literary references, freely intertwining phrases and words like; “raison d’être”, naïveté or “I have crossed my Rubicon.” It made me think of what is ultimately the whole point of this blog post; the mystic oddities of the English language.

Are all Americans really so well versed in ancient Roman history that one can throw around a phrase like the one above without being faced with a few puzzled looks? Have all the people that say “a rose by any other name…”, with a knowing smile, actually read Romeo and Juliet? Is such proficiency in the French language to be generally expected that the intricate, almost philosophical meaning of raison d’être is widely understood?

Why is it that many words and phrases are left largely unchanged (naïve, kindergarten, ad infinatum, pro bono, …et cedera) while others are in the process of being anglicized (envelope to provide just one example)? Why on earth is “flaccid” almost invariably pronounced as [ˈfla-səd] (flassid) when virtually all other words with a double -c have a distinctive -ks sound?

Speaking of letters; why is -w pronounced double-you? To quote the linguistic genius and poet Christian Bök, from his poem about the letter:

It is the V you double, not the U, as if to use

two valleys in a valise is to savvy the vacuum

of a vowel at a powwow in between sawteeth.

For a foreigner and eternal student of the English language, it often seems rather mystifying indeed. I might not get my questions answered this time, but in any case I highly recommend We need to talk about Kevin and the recent film adaptation, which is truly a phenomenal film. Christian Bök’s ingenious study of language (each of the five chapters contain only one vowel) in his book of poesy titled Eunoia is certainly worth noting as well. In case the title leaves you puzzling, “eunoia” is the shortest word in the English language that contains all five vowels. Rather fittingly, the word means “beautiful thinking”.

Orlando…Part II

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Next day, back to Universal!  The sun was shining and a beautiful day full of screaming was ahead of us (no matter how old you are, a roller coaster always forces you to scream).  But first things first! A picture in front of the legendary globe was the only thing each one of us was thinking about. I don’t know how I could explain what I felt nor even why I did feel what I felt when standing next to that globe and staring at it, but it was an odd fulfilling feeling of joy and accomplishment. I had finally made it there and even though I wish I could have shared those precious moments with my friends and family from Morocco, I am still glad to know that my dreams are slowly coming true one by one.

We could hear people screaming from miles away (I exaggerate but you get my point). The screams were getting louder and louder as we were fearfully approaching the huge red structure of the scariest roller coaster in Universal Studios. I do have a video of me while riding it but I am pretty sure revealing it will destroy any ounce of social life that I may have. Even though you know people can’t possibly die on a roller coaster, you’re never quite sure. You may be the first one!

The rest of the day was full of chilling! Spending a few minutes with legendary characters such as Homer Simpson was also an enjoyable experience. As for watching people eat worms (yes! That was an attraction there), I think it was more fun for us then for those who actually had to eat them. But anyway, we headed back to the hotel after the closing of the park, impatiently waiting for the next. We reserved our last day visiting theme parks for the legendary Magic Kingdom of Disney World.

I may sound like an eight year old right now, but I got to see Cinderella, the Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and each and every character that I spent my childhood dreaming of resembling. The Castle was absolutely fantastic and seeing it light up during the night with the fireworks right behind it is exactly my definition of “magical”. So, I came back to sleep that day and in my head, hundreds of new memories were created that I could not wait to share with all the people that are important to me back home.

Our last day in Orlando was devoted to every girl’s favorite sport: Shopping (Guys, don’t you dare say shopping is not a sport). One of the biggest premium outlets in the United States of America was less than a mile away from our hotel and there was no way we would have left without paying it a long visit. Of course, we were all broke at the end of the day but the bright side was that we all had huge smiles drawn on our faces (even the boys!), proud of every single thing that we bought during that day. Unfortunately, as we came back to the hotel completely exhausted, I felt sad when I realized that this was actually our last night in Florida. The next day, the vacation would be over and we would have to come back to DC and study.

So, we did come back to DC. And we really are studying (or at least trying to). But to be completely honest, my head is not in DC right now. Next week, we are going to see the Niagara Falls. There is where my thoughts are. And after I come back from Buffalo, my head and thoughts will be all over the west coast. We are going to the west coast at the end of the semester and after I come back from that final trip, I will physically and mentally be with the people I love the most in the whole world. I will finally come back to my dear country: Morocco.

Living in DC and keeping control over your credit card

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The thing I understood after one day spent in D.C. was that living in the capital would not be cheap. I arrived on a Saturday at 4PM and when I got into my room, I realized I had two things to do: forget about the fact that it was 10PM in France and buy bed sheets and everything that could clean the sticky furniture and the disgusting toilets. I had $200 and I soon had to open a bank account with no money in it. After eating only turkey for five days, my bank account was refilled and I thought naively that those trouble were over.

After a month spent in D.C. it was worse. Yet, I am leaving in about a month and I have now drawn several conclusions that may be useful to future GW students.

1) Tell yourself cupcakes are disgusting: Believe it or not, you will have friends suggesting to go get cupcakes at least once a week, especially if you are a girl. You will have to be strong. And since cupcakes are so tempting, you will have to be even stronger. Tell yourself cupcakes are disgusting and will get you sick. It will help your diet too (yes, another problem with coming to the US: you will not get thinner). I found a very useful trick though: eat an awful cupcake, one you never ever wanted to eat. Then, convince yourself that all cupcakes taste the same. It works ! For about a month.

2) Do not listen to GW student saying “Let’s take a taxi”: Back in France, I lived one hour away from Paris and I had never taken a taxi in 20 years. At GW it seems that everybody is ready to waste $40 dollar to go somewhere that is either close or accessible by the metro. They always find an excuse: we would have to walk 10 minutes, it is not a safe place (which generally means it is not Foggy Bottom) or I have a bag to carry. Well, once again, be strong and convincing. I admit it is hard when you have a French accent but introduce yourself as a communist and briefly mention the Gulag and they’ll be much easier to convince.

3) Walk fast: Streets are tempting in Washington D.C. And if, like me, you are very vulnerable when you see a nice skirt or lovely boots, you will have no choice other than walking fast while looking at the ground. It may be difficult in Georgetown and this may cause you to bump into people but it is still the most efficient option I have found so far.

4) Don’t buy books in advance: No matter what people tell you, don’t buy your books too soon. There are several reasons why and I can list several scenarios that happened to me:

– There may be an error on the list (Let me tell you will not be glad when you learn that the second week of classes).

– The professor may decide that he won’t use the book (and he may decide that two weeks before the end of the semester. The bookstore may refuse to buy that book back from you. And you may have to throw it away because your suitcase is full in May when you have to come back home).

– You may find the book cheaper on Amazon (it’s always good to check).

– The book may be unnecessary (like a math textbook for journalist explaining how to add and divide numbers). I know I should not say that but if you have a small budget it is better not to waste money.

5) Do not plan trips at the last minute: I am unable to plan any trip in advance (which means more than a week before I actually leave). It may be possible in France but, really, don’t do this in the US. First, all your friends will have other plans by that time. It will be really hard to find a cheap hotel and your Megabus options will be significantly reduced. Yet, I am not saying that you should make an effort and force yourself to plan your trips in advance. On the contrary, invite one of your friends to join you in this trip, preferably someone very organized, and let this person organize everything. Of course, the necessary requirement is that you are both lazy and mean, which is not given to everybody.

7) Do not listen to professors, editors or anybody saying: “it is absolutely necessary”: One of the sentences I have heard the most since I arrived at GW is: “You will really need it”. Generally this is a lie. You will not need it and when you realize it, you will be absolutely furious. For instance, my photo teacher told us: “It is necessary to buy a tripod”. I used it once. In my head this equals: “I could have borrowed it from somebody else”. He also told us: “You need to sign up for an account on this website, it is about $20 a month.” We never used it. My personal experience leads me to give you one piece of advice: wait a couple of weeks before you decide whether it is actually necessary.

If you follow all these advice, life will still be expensive but at least you will not tell yourself that it is your fault, which is always good.