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Studying Arabic

   My teacher's name is Gladys and she is an American Citizen - but was born in Lebanon. Currently I am working on reading written Arabic. Arabic is a phonetic language, so once you learn the sounds of the letters you can put them together in words. Each week I travel for about an hour to work with Gladys. Each week I learn more grammar and sentence structure. Right now I know the alphabet, my numbers up to about 100 ; and the days of the week. I also know simple greetings in Arabic and of course, my vocabulary grows each week. Many of the vocabulary words that I have learned center around the home and family. For example, I know the words for the rooms in the house. I also know how to say simple requests such as 'I am hungry' and to ask where the bathroom is. As I have written before in this blog, Arabic is an incredibly difficult language to learn.
   Gladys teaches me so much more than just the language. She counsels me on how to act when I travel to North Africa. Although Gladys is a Christian and dresses in western attire, she does own several of the "dresses" worn by Muslim women. She has counseled me to purchase clothing once I get to Morocco, and not before. My Muslim family is in a better position to give me advice as to what is acceptable and what is not.
  Gladys also teaches me about food, music and other customs. For example,this past week her husband, who is just as charming and affable as Gladys is, made a garlic dip. Naturally he shared it with us. We spent the first 40 minutes of our class just eating that dip and chatting about events.
Sometimes we watch a bit of Arabic television. The cable tv provider thatFrancis and Gladis subscribe to providesthem with several arabic language television stations to watch. Sometimes we watch bits and peices of news programs and sometimes cultural programs. My Arabic is not sufficient to understand much. I need Gladys to translate - and probably will for a long time.

More Fund Raising! Arghhh

     Well I just wasted 2 months of my life. I have been working with a particular restaurant here in the Lehigh Valley trying to talk them into giving me permission to hold a fund raiser at their restaurant. Many restaurants do this, however you must be a 501c3 non profit organization. It took two months for one restaurant to deny my request. I work at this particular restaurant so I don’t want to burn bridges. They did one nice thing: they gave me several gift certificates that I may auction off. Thing is – I still need a venue to do this. Arghh....!

     On a bright note I heard from the folks at NSLI-Y. They want to interview me. That is huge news. As it stands right now I will go to Morocco and pay heaping gobs of money for a 3 week course of study OR...if I get the State Department Grant...and pay nothing for a (6 week?) course of study. It is hard for me to imagine getting the State Department Grant so I am still...preparing for Morocco.

Fundraising and other stuff

   I have not written so much in my Journal this month because I have been applying for college scholarships. Yes, I am in my junior year but have already begun “the search”.

     One scholarship that I will write about here is the   NSLI Y Scholarship - this is a State Department Initiative designed to give high school students who study a critical need language, a study abroad experience. My understanding is, if I win this thing, the State Department will pay for my trip abroad.

      This particular application was very long and very comprehensive. In addition to filling out personal information about myself, I had to write several essays, attach   about 10 or so photos, secure my high school transcript, get recommendations from teachers and have my parents write a detailed essay. I even had to get a physical and a TB test. The process took me about two weeks. I am both excited and reserved about all this. According to their web site the NSLI-Y only awards 500 students. I have no idea how many apply, but my guess is that the competition will be fierce. Wish me luck.

    The other thing I have been working on is a fundraising project in the event that I do NOT get this scholarship (very possible). This has been more difficult that I imagined. I will let everyone know about my next fundraiser as soon as I hammer out the details.

I am famous!

 I am famous! I have had three newspapers write articles about me! The first was our local Home News in Bath, PA. It was a short article that they wrote from a press release that my Mom sent to them. Basically it stated that I was accepted into the Amerispan program and that I will be traveling to Morocco in June. It came out in December and a handful of people mentioned it to me. A longer article in the Republic Herald came out in late December just before Christmas. This article highlighted that I travel an hour to take Arabic lessons. It had a photo of my teacher, Gladys Wehbe and I. I looked a bit spaced out in the photo. Oh, well. Two days ago a very nice article about my studying Arabic came out in The Northampton Press. This, too, had a photo of me. Cool, Huh?

I recommend reading....

     I got many things for Christmas, but one of my favorite gifts was the book, In a Time of War by Bill Murphy, Jr. This is the story of West Point’s class of 2002. They came to West Point in peace time but 9/11 happened in the beginning of their senior year. They spent most of their senior year preparing to be deployed on the front lines of military battle – either in Afghanistan or Iraq. This book is the account of their lives just before graduation and for 5 years thereafter. Although I have not yet finished the book (I got it yesterday for crying out loud!) it is very interesting and a fast read, too. I have a feeling it is going to be very sad...

   What does this have to do with studying Arabic and traveling to Morocco? Well, at this point, not much. I am curious what the author has to say about the military’s language preparedness. Everything else I have read has indicated that US Intelligence is greatly lacking in Arabic translators. I am not at a point in the book where the author would discuss this issue so I will keep you posted.

City of Rabat

    Rabat is Morocco’s administrative and political capital and the official home of the King.   The city is located on the Atlantic ocean on the mouth of the river  Bour Regreg. Facing Rabat on the other side of the mouth of the river is the city of Sale . Together the two cities have a population of about 2 million people.

    At one time Rabat was a major port but silting problems have diminished that industry. Aside from being an administrative center of Morocco Rabat also is an industrial city. Rabat’s industries include textiles, building materials and processing food. Rabat is also a major tourist destination.

   Things to see in Rabat:

    Hassan Tower:  is the minaret (tower or lighthouse) of an incomplete mosque.

Begun in 1199, was intended to be the tallest in the world. Instead of stairs the tower is ascended by ramps so that the sultan could climb the tower in a horse and issue the call to prayer.
    Kasbah of the Udayas: a Kasbah is a type of Islamic fortress. It was a place for the local leader to live and as a defense when the city was under attack. A kasbah has high walls which usually have no windows. Sometimes, they were built on the top of hill to make them easier to defend. Some of them were also placed near the entrance of harbors Having a kasbah built was a sign of wealth of some families in the city. Almost all cities had their kasbah, this building being something necessary for the city to survive.

   Chellah Necropolis: a necropolis is a large cemetary or burial place. The Chellah necropolis is a complex group of ruins on the outskirts of Rabat.

   Everything I read about Rabat tells me that it is a colorful (mostly blue and white !) clean, safe, city. I hope to see some of the famous outdoor markets, the American Embassy and possibly tour one of the major universities that are located there.

What to Wear in Morocco

       Morocco is 98% Muslim, and although I will be staying in the capital city, I have been advised to “dress conservatively”. The terms “dress conservatively” to a 16 year old means, basically, “no cleavage”.  I don’t think that is what they mean, so I have done some research.

   According to the web sites I have checked out, many Moroccans expect women to wear loose fitting clothes that cover as much of the body as possible. This means long pants, or skirts and shirts with long sleeves.  Wearing make-up or dying your hair is also frowned upon. Tourists are warned that flaunting the local dress codes may result in anything from innocent sniggering by Moroccans to seriously offending people.


   One web site warned not try wearing traditional Moroccan clothing in an attempt to look like a local. “A western tourist wearing a Kaftan or djellabas will be spotted immediately. Apart from that, you'll look a bit silly!” The djellaba is a long, loosely fitting hooded outer robe with full sleeves, much like what they wear in STAR WARS! I am not sure about this but it seems that djellabas are indiginous to Morocco. A kaftan is a man's cotton or silk cloak buttoned down the front, with full sleeves, reaching to the ankles and worn with a sash. People from all over the Arab wold wear Kaftans.

   Many other web site recommended purchasing a djellabas while in Morocco and wearing it. Covering up cuts down on harassment. Absolutely no shorts, tank tops or tight fitting outfits. Many western women who have traveled to Morocco recommend wearing Djellabas. They can be quite cool in the heat and beautiful as well, in a wide array of colors. I think I will follow that advice  

The Kingdom of Morocco

The Kingdom of Morocco is located in North Africa bordering the Mediterranean to the North; Algeria to the East and Western Sahara to the South. The Atlas Mountains run through the South Eastern part of the country. Toubkal, with an elevation of 13,665 ft is the highest known peak and is located in Southern Morocco. Most people live west of the Atlas Mountains, a range that insulates the country from the Sahara Desert.

     Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The King of Morocco, with vast executive powers, can dissolve government and deploy the military, among other prerogatives. Opposition political parties are legal, and several have been formed in recent years. Casablanca is the center of commerce and industry and the leading port; Rabat is the seat of government; Tangier is the gateway to Spain and also a major port.

   Morocco is a moderate Arab state which maintains close relations with Europe and the United States. Morocco remains involved in African diplomacy and contributes consistently to UN peacekeeping efforts on the continent. Morocco is a non-Nato Ally to the United States.

     Morocco's largest industry is the mining of phosphates. Its second largest source of income is from nationals living abroad who transfer money to relatives living in Morocco. The country's third largest source of revenue is tourism; 7.45 million tourists visited the country in 2007.

   More on Morocco and Rabat tomorrow!

The Language School In Rabat

   The program I am signed up with is with a company called AmeriSpan Study Abroad (www.Amerispan.com) . This is an organization that offers study abroad and language programs for teens; older students and adults in fields such as education, business and health care.  Neither my Mom or I can remember how we came across their web site – it is possible that we saw an advertisement for them somewhere. What attracted us to them is that they offer teen programs all over the world including Rabat, Morocco. Arabic is not a language offered in my school and we got pretty excited about learning Arabic in an immersion program.  Mom did the research on these people and spoke to a woman named Sharon from AmeriSpan. We signed up with them in September.

   AmeriSpan gives you lots of choices. I will stay in Rabat for three weeks of intensive four-hours-per-day study. This works out to be about 60 hours of study, or the equivalent of a college semester. I should point out that the progress I will make in all skill areas (reading, writing, speaking and comprehension) will go significantly beyond that as a result of being fully immersed in an Arabic-speaking country. I will have the exceptional opportunity to live and share meals with my Moroccan host family.

The language school in Rabat will host, activities and excursions conducted in both Arabic and English. These activities will most likely include lectures on Moroccan and Arab culture, video showings of Arabic films, barbecue in the school garden, bowling, visits to Ma’amore forest, the Oudaya, Hasaan Tower, the Royal Palace, Museum of Art, Medina, souks (traditional marketplace) and perhaps a boat trip on the Bou regreg (river). In addition, there will be one half-day and one full-day excursion each week within Rabat and other popular destinations such as the historic city of Fez, Meknes (a UNESCO world heritage site), Kenitra, the famous city of Volubilis with its Roman ruins and Casablanca, to name a few.

  The Language school is Located in the capital of Rabat, specifically in the residential area of Souissi. The neighborhood streets around the school are wide, with large private gardens. There is shopping, restaurants, teahouses, many foreign embassies and a gym within a 5-10 minute walk of the school. Most of the students are from Europe, Canada and the US. It is possible that I might be placed with a family

That lives within walking distance of the school. Or... I may have to take a bus to school. I just hope I get placed with a family that has children.

FUNDING my Morocco trip

My Moroccan trip will cost, at a bare minimum, about $4,000`. The tuition is about $2,500 and airfare to and from the capital city of Rabat is about $1500. Add to that spending money and an international cell phone and this will be an expensive 3 weeks. Good news is that I already have my passport and luggage. I doubt I will need many new clothes for Morocco.

    My parents will contribute a significant amount to this trip because it is so important to what I want to do with the rest of my life. I have a part time job working at a local restaurant and I hope to contribute at least 25% - maybe more. We have also done some fund raising – which included having an ice cream social at a local ice creamery. I expect to do at least two more of these.

   My Mom and I have looked into scholarships and grants. Arabic is considered a “critical need language” by the US State department, so we thought that there might be some grant or scholarship money to encourage students to learn Arabic. At the time of this writing we have not found any. There is scholarship money but most of that is on the undergraduate and graduate level. Very little money exists for HS students. Mom and I went to our local congressman’s office to look into getting some funding for Arabic instruction on the HS level. Our timing couldn’t be worse:

We went just as the major banks and investment houses were going under and applying for billions in bailout money. The auto industry followed and I think Arabic for HS school students is at the bottom of the food chain. The guy that we spoke to at Congressman Dent’s office told us to hold a bake sale. HA! I say, let GM have a bake sale. Let the Federal government fund Homeland Security. Oh, well.

   Another thing about scholarships that we learned - - most of them are very narrowly defined. Grant and scholarship money are usually offered for a specific program at a specific time. It is rare to find an open ended scholarship that says: “Here’s heaping gobs of money to do with whatever you want as long as you are studying something.” More typically a scholarship will have narrow definitions: You must use the money for a specific program, offered by a specific university on specific dates. Bummer.

   I should also say some very wonderful people in my church have contributed money. This unexpected generosity has really touched my heart.

   We haven’t hammered out the details yet, but we expect to have another fund raiser in January. Some of the local restaurants in the Lehigh Valley have programs where they give 10% of their receipts to a charitable organization (school, etc) if they bring their students, friends, etc to that restaurant on a particular evening. We haven’t picked the restaurant we want to do this yet AND we are a bit nervous about the weather... But we plan on moving ahead on this.

   I feel confident that we will have the money necessary for my trip.