Hikayat: Catherine Cartier
U.S. Fulbright Student Researcher, 2020/2021
Liqah (Vaccine). Kamama (Mask). Al-Taba3d al-ijtam3ia (Social distancing). My Arabic notebooks, which now sit in stacks in my Tetouan apartment, reflect the reality of a pandemic Fulbright. Just as my vocabulary has grown and shifted to meet the challenges of this time, I am learning to adapt to life as a Fulbright researcher during a global pandemic.
When I arrived in Meknes in April, I was the only student at my language school. The 8 pm curfew meant that when Ramadan began shortly after my arrival, restaurants, cafes, and cultural venues were shut down for the whole month. Without the types of activities I had sought out on previous study abroad experiences, I started taking what I came to think of as “wonder walks” in the Medina, tracing a new path each afternoon. These walks helped to sustain my sense of curiosity towards my surroundings. After passing by an ad for a singing group on one such walk, I mustered up the courage to call the number on the sign and ask if I could join. Despite not having the best singing voice, the members of the group welcomed me warmly, and my host mother took great joy in helping me practice songs at home.
In early June, I relocated to Tetouan, where I found myself once again searching for ways to connect. When a fresh wave of covid infections shut down many cultural and entertainment venues yet again, I returned to sketching, which I had picked up during the early days of the pandemic. Every day when the sun starts to set and the streets of Tetouan brim with people of all ages enjoying paseo (an early evening walk), I join in this routine, taking my sketchbook with me and finding a place to draw. Sketching has opened up its own slew of interactions: I befriended a curious group of children in the park next to my house, who looked over my shoulder as I drew, and I learned that my favorite crepe chef in Tetouan is also an avid drawer.
I might not have gravitated towards these rhythms were the circumstances different. In getting outside of my comfort zone, I have gained much: I can sing some of the most popular songs in Morocco and I have a sketchbook full of drawings that remind me of the daily fabric of this experience. Beyond this, I have learned to not take connections with my host community for granted and to appreciate each interaction. In between language classes, interviews, and research tasks, these are the moments that make up my Fulbright and give meaning to my life in Morocco.