Fun fact: I love writing letters. Email and Facebook are fantastic tools for keeping in touch with people who are far away, but I’m a total sucker for the feel of a pen gliding across paper. I love the weight of the oversized ballpoints I use, and the way the letters look as they spill out onto fresh notebook paper. I love the rituals I attach to the process: purple ink. Cursive, mainly, with a few loopy print words thrown in here and there. A cutesy sign-off, if I’m in the right mood (yours til the the kitchen sinks, anyone?). And there’s nothing more special than finding an actual, physical envelope with a friend’s handwriting on it. Seeing their words in a format that isn’t normalized type is a great way of feeling connected to them again.
So you can imagine the happy dancing that ensued when I received a letter from the brilliant Roomie (whom you’ll remember from my Moroccan chronicles) this afternoon. She takes this pen pal thing seriously: nearly three pages, all of which made me sincerely miss having her around. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since that adventure, but I don’t doubt the power of reconnecting through the mail, and her letter did prompt more than high-pitched squealing. I think it’s about time for a shout out to my Rabat family, the Americans who studied and lived with me for a scintillating six weeks.
There were twelve of us total. I’ll save the bridging-personal-differences rubbish, because while that did kind of happen, it wasn’t a major theme of our interactions. The fact that we all came from different places (well, except for our two Washingtonians, who were almost neighbors) and backgrounds didn’t impact the way our relationships developed, so I don’t see it as a a situation in which we overcame diversity in service to a common goal. What I did experience was the power that lies in being an outsider amongst other outsiders.
Immersion is tough. You can get overwhelmed with the influx of cultural information, new vocabulary, and social expectations. Because of the difference between Darija and Fusha, being in Morocco was particularly difficult. Even those of us with prior Arabic experience were a little helpless in our new city. Roommates are important here, because they act as a mutual support system for dealing with these difficulties. One of my fondest memories is a conversation in which Roomie and I tried to distinguish between ‘alluring’ and ‘gorgeous,’ only to realize how much harder it was to explain those nuances to our host sister in a clumsy amalgam of our various languages. This sort of instantaneous bonding–helped along by our common love of literature and candid slumber-party-style girl talk that lasted way past our bedtime–gave me (and I hope Roomie, as well) more sure footing.
The next little while gave me immense faith in the unifying power of long bus rides and minor adversity. We’d all begun to get comfortable in our homestays, consorting with both our American roommates and our Moroccan family members with much more ease and depth. This is when we started going on trips, like the one to Chefchaouen, on which there’d be plenty of drive time in which to play silly games, have debates, and take hilariously dramatic videos of one another. We had our djinn scare, which was probably the strongest catalyst in creating our overall dynamic, honestly. After that, we started looking at one another as family, and hanging around together after school (we sang along to terrible American music as well as Disney soundtracks, and did a really bad job of watching Inception). Looking back, I see a few times in which it was probably less beneficial to faff around with each other than it would’ve been to spend time with our host families, but I also know how much it meant to me to build relationships with people who understood what it was like to miss alone time and Mexican food and black coffee.
Which brings me to the reason we were able to get so close: when you’re in a completely new situation, largely unprepared for it (as Roomie said, “Three days of boring orientation, and not a lick of useful information!”), you can’t help but glom onto those in the same boat. We formed intense relationships quickly because we were all rising to near-identical challenges, and we were tremendously lucky to have the group that we did. The size was exactly right for this purpose, and all of the people in it complement each other to form one big, weird, convivial family.
Thanks, all of you, for being your amazing selves (cliche, but you know it’s true). I remember all of this warmly. Look out for a letter one of these days.