Category Archives: Alex Ennes

Body Positivity in Rabat: Part I

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Disclaimer: I use a lot of gender binary terms in this post, but it applies to everyone! Body positivity is for everyone whether you are male, female, trans, male/female dressing, gender fluid, etc! Everyone should just love their body!

So, what is body positivity? Body positivity is relatively new to me, so I’m going to put it in simple terms. Body positivity is the wild idea that our bodies were made for function and not for displaying (“Your body is an instrument, not an ornament”). Body positive happiness is like that feeling when you were a little kid, running around and playing, not really caring what you looked like, but just having fun. Body positivity has become increasingly important because body standards around the world are widely unattainable. Ideally, everyone would just love their body and not care what it looks like. Ideally, everyone would accept each other’s bodies as well as their own. Ideally, the world would be a body positive place. And before I begin, I want to give a quick thanks to my dear friend Libby Reiner – she taught me everything I know about body positivity, and before I met her, it never occurred to me that my body was something I could love.

Let’s start with the idea of representation. The images you see frequently become (a) the images you expect and (b) the images that society deems acceptable. Side note: Apart from bodies, this is why representation of all races, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, religions, and so on is incredibly important. The more we see representation in media increasing on all fronts, the more accustomed we become to seeing a wider array of the human race and the more support we give to those who don’t always see their identities represented in mainstream media. This being said, the representation of all bodies is just as important. From a young age, we immediately understand body standards because of what we’re fed by media. As adults, imagine a world in which we saw all sorts of bodies in advertisements, TV shows, and movies. Imagine if those roles weren’t reduced to the “fat girl, but she’s funny!” trope. Just like all identities, if we’re going to make different body sizes seen as a good and important thing, we need to have better representation in the media and our everyday lives, and that’s where Morocco comes in.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall – mirror, mirror, not there at all! My body positivity journey in Morocco has begun with mirrors. In my experience thus far, there are very few mirrors in Morocco compared to the United States. In fact, there’s one mirror in my house, and it’s the one above the sink, meaning that you can’t see below chest level. The only time I’ve really seen my entire body reflected back at me is when I cross one specific building on my walk to school every morning. So even though I have gotten a full-body reflection, it’s not even a conventional mirror. The absence of mirrors was completely jarring at first. I immediately made a makeshift mirror by propping my phone against my desk, stepping back a few feet, and squinting to see my reflection. That’s how desperate I was to make sure that I looked okay. How I look had become so implicitly important to me that I couldn’t fathom the idea of leaving my room before I had seen what my whole body looked like in that outfit.

Luckily, I’ve progressed. Body positivity is a journey, and learning to live without mirrors has been part of mine. Now, before leaving the house, I really don’t know exactly how I look. And you know what? It doesn’t matter, because I probably look fine. Living without mirrors has given me a Popeye-ish outlook on my body image: I look how I look and that’s just how I look. I’m way more interested about how my day in MOROCCO is going to be than how I look.

There is definitely more to come about body positivity during my stay in Rabat. Expect a second post about body positivity coming soon to a blog near you! To continue the theme of relaxing my own standards and focusing more on my body’s function than its appearance, please enjoy some pictures of me below where I was having too much fun to care what my body looked like.

 

Morocco: Unplugged

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Morocco: Unplugged

Living in Morocco means living with less technology. At first, this transition was difficult, but I’ve learned that living a simpler life with less technology has been fairly rewarding. For example, I don’t watch a lot of TV while I’m here because all the channels are in Darija (Moroccan Arabic) and I can barely understand them. As someone who is typically glued to Netflix, I can actually say that I haven’t minded being separated from TV this summer.

There’s also not a ton of air conditioning here. The only place I’ve been to that has it is my school. For the most part, houses and cafes don’t have air conditioning. My house definitely doesn’t, but this makes the breeze mean more – I really take a moment to appreciate wind and sounds coming through my window, a window which I wouldn’t even have opened in the United States. Additionally, because air conditioning is limited but staying cool is a priority, the riyads (old houses) here are built with a huge open-air courtyard in the center of the home. This courtyard doesn’t have a roof so that the air can get in. Living in a house like this is a really cool experience, and it’s one that I wouldn’t have had if air conditioning was available!

For laundry, my house doesn’t have a dryer, but we sun-dry our clothes by a clothesline on the roof. Even though it’s a pain when my laundry takes two days instead of two hours, my host mom said that laundering in this way is actually better for your clothes and better for your skin!

The most radical change in unplugging myself and living simpler this summer has been detaching myself from my phone. I don’t have an international data plan and wifi here isn’t great, and it’s not available everywhere, so sometimes my phone doesn’t even function. All the students have Moroccan cell phones in case of emergency or for communicating while we’re not near wifi, but for the most part, cell phones are out of the question while away from our homes or school.

Sometimes unplugging makes my life a little harder than I’d like. It’s sometimes tough to adapt to a lifestyle where so many amenities are limited, and not having constant wifi/data makes communication with my friends and family hard.

Even though there are some hardships that accompany unplugging while abroad, I think they’re definitely worth it. I’ve learned a lot by separating myself from technology. Dinners with my friends are more meaningful because no one is sitting on their phone – we’re all engaged in conversation and our experience becomes more meaningful because of it. I’ve also had time to reflect on non-electronics activities that I love to do like writing and reading.

Unplugging is also nice because I can become more integrated within Moroccan life. Instead of hanging out on my phone or watching Netflix on my laptop, I can just go downstairs and chat with my host mom while she makes dinner or play with my host brother. With the time that I might have spent online, I can also free up time to explore Morocco! We spent the weekend in Fes, and the wifi at the hotel wasn’t great, so we headed into the city to explore the medina! This isn’t to say that we would have just sat there online if the wifi was great, but I think the fact that we didn’t have that option made the decision to explore Fes a little easier.

Overall, transitioning to a life with less technology has been a little tough, but I think it’s a good change to make. By unplugging, I’ve had more opportunities to build relationships, become familiar with my new surroundings, and immerse myself completely in the culture here.

Postscript: If you study abroad and you feel like technology makes your experience better, please use it! Technology is great and if you love it, then embrace it during your experience – it’s just that the absence of technology has enriched mine.

Lost in Translation: Barriers and Breakthroughs

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I’ve mentioned this before, but I pretty much decided to study Arabic because, like any nerd, I love a good academic challenge. And boy, did I get one. I’m sure everyone knows this already, but Arabic is hard. Like, really hard.

At Temple, the Arabic program centers around “FusHa” or “Modern Standard Arabic” (MSA for short). MSA is the best way to learn Arabic because it’s relatively universal (it’s the style used in the Quran and in Arab media like newspapers and broadcasts) but it’s also the hardest version to learn. Although MSA is understood by most Arabic speakers, it sounds a little strange when spoken. My IES professor put it like this: Speaking MSA instead of a dialect is a little like if someone walked up to a modern American speaking like Shakespeare. It’s very formal and rarely spoken in lieu of dialects.

So here I am, in an Arabic-speaking country, knowing MSA and not the Moroccan dialect. I can have conversations with Moroccans, but they are definitely a little strange because I’m not speaking Darija (the Moroccan dialect) yet. I’m taking a class on the dialect while I’m here, but as of right now I can only string together a couple of words and phrases in Darija, which makes day-to-day interactions a little difficult. I’m learning more everyday, though.

Arabic is pretty tough. I encounter a lot of barriers throughout my day, but I can overcome most of them with my knowledge of MSA (side note: if there was a country that only spoke MSA, I think I’d be more than fine right now, but unfortunately this is not the case). Moroccans learn Darija first, then study MSA in school, and then learn French – most of them don’t get around to learning English. Sometimes my struggles are when the 4-year old I live with is rattling off sentence after sentence at the speed of light, and he just ends up yelling “La! La! La!” (“No! No! No!”) at me. Other times, it’s when I realize my vocabulary just isn’t extensive enough to express a particular thought, which can be frustrating because I have such good ones! (:

However, for every difficulty I encounter, there’s some sort of equal reward. They’re often small, but they encourage me to persist in the language. I like playing with the babies in my house because I can speak to them in very simple sentences and not worry about them judging me. Similarly, my host parents speak to the four year old with a lot of commonly-used commands and phrases (“Give me that,” “Bring me…,” “Come here,” etc) that I can now pick up on and use for myself. Today I had maybe the most successful lingual accomplishment yet – I bought water from a vendor and spoke only Darija! It sounds so small, but being able to converse with him and make a little small talk while he counted change really made me feel like I belong here and that all my hard work with Arabic is starting to pay off.

As my mind has been wrapping around Arabic for the past week or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about second languages. This morning, it occurred to me that I will be incredibly relieved to go back home and not worry about how to communicate during my next interaction, or even to just understand every sign I see. At the same exact time, it occurred to me that many people (namely immigrants and refugees) are unable to experience such relief because they are unable to return to their home country. At home, I’m privileged in many ways, but having English as my first language is not a privilege I often thought about, and my study abroad experience is deeply impacting my views on language in the U.S. In Morocco, I can’t describe how relieving it is to see English, whether written on a sign, menu, advertisement, or other (although I don’t see it often). I don’t see why we shouldn’t do the same for lingual minorities in the U.S. It wouldn’t kill us to add Spanish to maps or signs, and it would certainly make life easier for those who are ESL (English Second Language) speakers. When I return to Temple in the fall, I’ll be interning for Nationalities Service Center’s English as a Second Language Team, so hopefully I can make a real impact on this issue by helping immigrants and refugees learn English. I’m glad that, for now, I’m getting a taste of what their language experience will be like.

This weekend, my program is taking us on a field trip to the cities of Fez and Meknes, so hopefully I’ll return with some good stories from my visit! Maa Salaama! (Goodbye!)

My First Days in Rabat: Impressions

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My First Days in Rabat: Impressions

Here I am! After a spring and summer of preparation, I have finally made it to Rabat. My last two days here have been filled with excitement and exhaustion alike, but before I get into the nitty-gritty, here are some of my smaller observations thus far:

  • Cats are everywhere, and 99% of them are sleeping.
  • It’s hot as heck! The dress code for women here is particularly cumbersome when you have sweat running from head to toe.
  • Being here for Ramadan is really special because iftar (literally “break-fast,” when Muslims break their day-long fast) is a HUGE and DELICIOUS meal. A paradise for a food lover such as myself.
  • Can’t understand the 4-year-old you’re living with? No problem, high-fives are a universal language.
  • Apparently two-handed high-fives are also a universal language.

Those are just some little things I’ve noted throughout my two days here. More will surely come, but now for some bigger picture stuff:

We did a Greatest Hits of Rabat-esque tour today and saw some really beautiful sights. We got to see the Moroccan equivalent of the Washington Mall and the White House (except it’s very private here – only tourists and employees are allowed on the grounds). We also visited the Hassan II Mosque, one of Rabat’s most famous landmarks. Apparently during Ramadan, the king visits the Mohammed V Mausoleum across from it every day, but we had to leave before he came. The views were still incredible without royalty. After that, we went to the Kasbah des Oudayas (has someone already made the “Morocck the Kasbah” joke?), which was probably my favorite part of the tour. Although it’s mainly residential, “Kasbah” means “fortress,” so we ended up standing over a powerful view of the ocean and Rabat’s neighboring city, Sale. I’ll definitely be back to the Kasbah soon with my DSLR camera to take some better photos!

After our tour, we all met and were sent off with our host families. I’m with a lovely couple which has a four-year-old son and two one-year-old twins. My host mother and father are both incredibly sweet and their rapport reminds me a lot of my own parents (Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, don’t get jealous!). Their son is an absolute riot – although I don’t understand much of what he’s saying because Moroccan Arabic (Darija) is so different from the Modern Standard (FusHa) I’ve been learning, I do understand how to play with a little kid. We had some fun once his mom explained that he was asking me to pretend to be Godzilla and chase him around! I’m very lucky that both of my host parents know English pretty well because Darija is turning out to be a lot different than I had thought it would be. For now, it’s a little awkward when I don’t know how to ask for simple things or I’m blankly staring at one of my host parents, who has repeated the same word slowly five times, but once Darija classes start I should get the hang of things.

Even though I’m still fighting culture shock jitters, I think this is shaping up to be one of my best summers ever. I can’t wait to share the rest with you all – hopefully by the next time you tune in, I’ll have a couple of good stories! Maa Salaama! (Goodbye!)

 

Ready for Rabat!

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Ready for Rabat!

Marhaban (“Hello”)! My name is Alex Ennes and I’m a rising junior at Temple studying English with minors in Arabic and Criminal Justice – I’m also blogging for Temple during my summer in Morocco! I leave in just a week and I can’t wait to get on my plane. This summer, I’ll be living in a homestay in the city of Rabat and I’m itching to meet my host family. Although I’m excited, I’ve recently felt a little nervous about speaking Arabic on a regular basis. I’ve had great prep (four semesters worth!) but it’s intimidating to commit to living in a country where it’s spoken on the regular. I’m nervous about learning Darija, the colloquial dialect in Morocco, but I’m sure the transition from FusHa (modern standard Arabic) will be easy enough. All of my thinking about using Arabic this summer has led me to remembering why I chose the language in the first place…

If you’re a Liberal Arts student at Temple, you know the three-course language requirement for a liberal arts degree very well. I took Latin in high school and thought about continuing in college, but I figured I would start new. I didn’t really have a reason for choosing Arabic. I thought it looked and sounded pretty, and I figured it would be useful in a professional environment. I knew it would be hard, but I love learning languages and I figured that Arabic would present a good challenge – turns out, I was right!

Even though I didn’t have much of a reason for choosing Arabic, I absolutely fell in love with the language. I’m so grateful that I chose to learn this language, not only because of the incredible professors I’ve had, but also because it has opened my knowledge about Middle Eastern and North African culture. This last semester (Spring 2017), I took a class on the intersection of art and uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly during the Arab Spring. I absolutely loved that class because it taught me so much about the art and culture associated with the region. If you had asked me in high school, I wouldn’t have cared much about Middle Eastern and North African affairs, but now I find myself researching them regularly and consuming as much literature, art, and film I can find on Arab culture!

Culture may be what I’m most excited for this summer. I’m an English major, so it would have been easy for me to study abroad in England, Scotland, or Ireland where I could have learned about British literature or done some work on my poetry concentration, but I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone and explore an entirely new culture. Because of how different American culture is from Moroccan culture, I expect that I’ll learn a lot and grow more as a person by stepping outside of the “Western” world. Even though immersing myself in an entirely different language and society is intimidating, I’m excited to start my journey. Hopefully I’ll return with a brand new understanding of the Arabic language and Moroccan culture.

My next post will be coming to you straight from Rabat, so get ready for a summer full of fun (and lots of hummus)! Until next time!