Kimani Isaac: Adventures Abroad and At Home

I'm a NYC native, but I've been exiled to NJ for the past 11 years (not literally exiled...just, you know, bored in the suburbs). I'm currently a theatre major at Northwestern, and the thing I love most about this school is the faculty and staff support. I'm also a Questbridge scholar, so NU has been the ride of a lifetime thus far. Mostly, though, I'm just very excited and grateful to have found a way to be productive and resume build during the summer while staying at home with my mom and cat.   If you're wondering whether or not to do a URG, I hope this blog will give you some insight and (hopefully??) wisdom into why or why not you should apply for a URG.*   *(Pssst: Personally, I think you should go for it! Even if you're undecided, at what other time in your life will you get paid to design your own project and research something you deeply care about? Hopefully, tons of times, but this is such a unique and awesome chance!)

We approach the end

Lankey, my host program, gave me the opportunity to do a week-long internship where I teach students about the SAT.

I decided to take it.

While I’m here in Morocco practicing and studying French, I wanted to give back to the community I’m a part of. Plus, while I’m here I can speak French as a way to clarify to students a concept they don’t understand.

So, on the way to Casa this afternoon, while I was watching the Moroccan countryside fly by my window, I felt content, at peace, and ready to take on the world in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.

I have almost 5 days left in Morocco, and for the past two months, I’ve been recovering from the stressful academic year and getting ready to face my junior year. I needed this time to recuperate. While I’ve been here, I’ve realized that traveling is integral to how I function as a person. Northwestern is 800 miles away from where I was born and where I grew up. When I was in high school in New Jersey, I spent every Tuesday commuting an hour each way to New York City for a theater internship. Even when I was in middle school and had nowhere in particular to go, I would walk for miles out of my neighborhood, trying to find something new to see, something to do. No matter what I do in life, I need to keep myself interested in the world around me. Even if I end up at a job where everything is the same day after day, I need to take time to take a different route to work, or spend time trying new things. Adventure is only impossible if you give up on finding it.

Just to recap a little, I went to Tangiers this past weekend. It’s a city built on the cliffs. I think I fell in love a little with it. There are caves where legend has it that Hercules rested after the completion of one of his labors. They’re called Les Grottes D’Hercules and it’s one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever encountered. I promise I’ll do a long post soon with photos and things to tie up loose ends soon.

I also witnessed where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean at an overlook called Cap Spartel.

I also revisited Chefchaouen. Here’s me, in the midst of a truly blue city.

I finished my French course this morning. When I left my class today, I left knowing that it would be the last time I was there as a student. My certificate says I’m at a B2 level, which is exactly where I need to be language-wise to do the Paris study abroad at Sciences Po that I want.

Tomorrow is my flight out of Rabat, on one of the biggest holidays of the year, Eid Mubarak. The agenda is: have breakfast, watch a sheep get slaughtered, have lunch, fly home. (I might rethink breakfast, but we’ll see).

I just got off a video call with my mom who just pulled off one of the best surprises of my life. She called me, said, “Wait a minute,” turned the phone around, and there was my Grandma, who, after watching my face stick into a smile for a minute because I was unable to speak, naturally starts cracking jokes about how I, who always has something to say, am completely quiet. There was a time during this summer that my mom told me my Grandma was yelling that I needed to come home finally and see my mother. Now, on the video call, when I was expecting my Grandma to yell at me for traveling so far and not coming home to see my family for longer than a couple weeks, starts a speech about how proud she is of me, how blessed she feels to be my Grandma, and how lucky she feels that I am an example of someone she helped raise.

To the random forces of the universe that routinely make life awful, hectic, demanding, and provide the coincidences and chances of fate: thank you for this gift. On a random night at the end of one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever taken, I happened to catch my mom’s random video call, and was treated to a spectacular surprise rendezvous with my family.

I’ve been sitting here smiling like an idiot as I write this. To all the lonely travelers of the world, here’s to you. I hope you get to feel as good as I do going home.

I’ll post more soon, since I still have to tie up loose ends from other posts, but here I am, at the end of two months in North Africa, still alive, maybe marginally less healthy due to traveler’s diarrhea, wholly satisfied.

So How is the French Going?

It is now the middle of Week 6, so it’s time for a recap.

I’ve intentionally made this blog much more about my experiences in Morocco than exactly about my experiences here learning French, but that’s because language progress is slow. Plus, as riveting as it might be on my end to practice my conjugations and learn new grammar, I thought it probably wouldn’t make for a riveting read.

I’m just joking. This was just a good gif for the post, you know?

But I do want to recount how my language skills are growing here. When I first came to Morocco, my French was definitely worse. I stuttered more, and it took longer for me to be able to say what I wanted. My French is still not perfect, but after five weeks it’s become easier to speak, listen, and understand French both when it’s spoken and when I read it. I’ve also finally felt like French has become less of a barrier to my understanding and more of just another way of achieving it. I hope that makes sense. It’s also been really nice to hear my progress echoed back from those around me. I’ve really cherished moments where people say that I don’t have an accent, or where people haven’t spoken to me for a couple weeks and they can tell I’ve improved.

At the very least I definitely feel more confident in my French. It’s more a part of me now, and I don’t want to let go of it. It’s become as much mine as anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter that it’s a language I didn’t grow up with. It’s a language I’m choosing to live with, and weave into my life. That’s what matters.  I also feel more ownership of my progress. I’ve technically been learning French words since I was really little. I’ve been trying to learn with games and things since I was maybe in the second grade. But now, after two years of intensive grammar study at Northwestern, I’ve moved to regarding the language as a tool rather than a bauble. I learned more at school than I’d realized. I even feel like a stronger writer because of French. It’s a more formal language. Every word is specific and precise. That sort of necessary utility has been reverberating into my blog posts, because I can workshop here, in a new context, what I have been using and learning everyday.

One final thing before I move on to a small recap:

The truly important thing about learning a language is that you get to decide for yourself how big you want your world to be. English covers a wide range. That is my privilege. But French has allowed me to explore other contexts in a way that just isn’t possible if I’d only ever studied English. I get to even learn more about English as I study French, because I learn weird English grammar rules that don’t exist in French. I also get to hear others’ opinions about the language I’ve been speaking my whole life. I get to know where my language stands in terms of difficulty to learn, in what contexts that holds true, and why. You don’t need to learn a language just cause. But even if you learn a language and it’s just something that you and a friend speak when you get to be together, it’s another layer of closeness and amusement that isn’t always possible in our day to day. For each day I am here in Morocco where there is a moment that I speak French, I get to turn an imaginary dial and see my life in another light.  That’s the true wonder and amazement of learning another language. It’s a chance to escape the humdrum.

That last paragraph is for all the kids who made fun of me choosing to learn French growing up, or who said that learning another language was pointless.

Finally, to recap a little:  I went to the desert last week, and honestly I didn’t enjoy it. I mainly wanted to go into the desert to see the stars. When I got there, it was after two days of hard traveling in a bus. It was beautiful, but the moon was nearly full, and so bright that everything else in the night sky was blotted out. Then, it got cloudy.

It was just not my time to be wowed by stars.

We also rode into the desert on camels, which is not that fun because you get sore after 2 hours of riding. Then you wake up at 5 in the morning to leave the desert, after staying up until midnight.

I really didn’t enjoy it, and I wouldn’t even necessarily recommend it to anyone unless they were sure they could see a night sky full of stars. I don’t regret the experience. I’m glad I did it, but I’m not going to do it again anytime soon.

Negative things aside, I did find the desert beautiful. I am also really happy to be back in Rabat, back near the ocean and a temperate climate. I recommenced my classes this week, and am going to Tangiers this weekend. I’m going to get led around by a student in Tangiers, but I’ll get to plan the itinerary!

Wish me luck.


I went clubbing. I took an L.

A ton happened last week.

Okay, to catch everyone up: I went on a trip to Chefchaouen last weekend. On Wednesday, I changed my host families, and then just last night was the clubbing experience.

This post is about the clubbing experience. I’m going to make another post later on about the Blue City and the host family change.

First, clubbing was an L.

I went with some friends to a club because it’s legal at age 18 here to drink. However, the music at the club wasn’t good and the crowd that was there fluctuated between forty somethings and teenagers???Seriously, I never wanted to know what a middle school dance looked like on adults, and yet I do. However, before I even got to the club, the night began on a downhill spiral.

I got harassed on the street.

The plan was to all meet up at the Pizza Hut near Myriam’s apartment. I live really close to the Pizza Hut.  I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna get dressed up, I’m gonna look really cute for the club, and I’ll walk to the Pizza Hut to wait for my friends.”

So I get dressed up, and as soon as I walk out of the door, I am harassed by almost every car, man, and group of men that walks by. About 7/10 men I passed harassed me.

Walking from my apartment to the Pizza Hut, I round a corner, and some guy on his balcony catcalls me from directly above. I walk down the street, and as I’m walking, guys in their car are driving slowly next to me to call out from the window. Even taxis honk as I pass. Guys that I pass in the street whistle. Someone walks next to me and he tries to make conversation in French. I don’t respond and eventually he stops. I cross the street to get away from the cars, and some random dude who happened to be across the street asks me if I crossed the street for him. He then starts trying to walk with me, saying that he sees that I’ve been getting harassed a lot, but then he propositions me for sex. At this point, I was near the Pizza Hut, but I could see that waiting there wasn’t going to be an option. I needed to go Myriam’s apartment, and I didn’t want this guy to follow me there. I tell this man to stop. I yell at him in French, cross the street, and go into Myriam’s building, shutting the door really fast with the hopes that no one tries to follow me in. Across the street, someone loiters, watching me. I call the elevator to go up.

I want to say something for the record: I wasn’t scared until I was near Myriam’s apartment. It was all the same old annoying BS and street harassment I’ve experienced in the States, until I realized that I was trying to enter a building where someone could try to follow me inside.

Beyond making me a public spectacle in a way I had never been before, street harassment is an example of how male-identifying people feel entitled to access women’s lives.

For what? Some lipstick? Some heeled sandals? A skirt two inches above my knees?

After I finally made it to Myriam’s apartment, I had a safe haven and some friends to wait with me for Rita and her friend who was driving all of us to the club. When I finally got in the car, there were hugs for me. I’m lucky I have that here. I took the next day to recover. The only thing worse than experiencing harassment is to let it break you. I was intentional the next day and am still trying to be intentional now to heal from this incident.

This experience hasn’t ruined my experience here in Morocco. Not even close, but it does remind me that the sexism I’ve faced back in the States is global.

Still alive, still safe.


(CW) Helpful Advice About Pooping Abroad: The Greatest Adventure of All (CW)

That’s right. This blog is about to get really real.


In favor of being completely transparent with everyone out there who wants to travel, and who reads our blogs dreaming that someday they’ll be helping to write them, I am making a post about my bowel movements.

I find it important to make this post because when I read about people traveling, I always feel like I’m missing out on the nitty gritty details.

So here’s my nitty gritty.

I have not had a satisfying poop since coming to Morocco. I did a ton of reading and research before I got here. I have a water bottle that can purify water from anywhere in the world.

But I got cocky my first night. I ate some salad and I think it did me in. All the articles you read say that you shouldn’t eat anything that isn’t hot. Don’t eat anything that someone prepared that wasn’t clean. It’s just that my first night here, I felt really confident. For spring break earlier this year, I traveled to Rio, Brazil with NUHillel, and the water there was fine for my system. It made me think, “Morocco? Psh. I can take it.”

Moroccan bacteria are kicking my ass.

And now I’ve been here, had diarrhea consistently, went to the hospital a couple weeks ago probably because of some bacteria in the water that the tomatoes in my salad were washed with or something. And now I am voluntarily undergoing the very public and hilarious embarrassment of documenting my poop online for the masses, where it will remain to most likely haunt me forever and forever.

Don’t be like me, please.

I need you to be better than I was. Okay? Okay. So here’s what you’re gonna do.

STEP ONE: You’re going to get yourself a water purifying bottle.  Mine is called Grayl. It looks like this:

There’s other ones out there. But what’s important is that you’re going to search for a water PURIFYING bottle. And you’re going to make sure it says that it removes 99.999% of protozoa, viruses, and bacteria. If you buy the Grayl, pay attention to make sure you buy the orange purifying filter for the bottom.

Okay, step two: Pay attention to what you eat. Eat only hot foods if you can, and drink hot liquids. If you drink bottled water, that’s okay. Brush your teeth with bottled water.

Step Three: Make sure all your vaccinations and shots are up to date for the country you’re traveling to and that you will meet the proper vaccination requirements upon entry. Schedule an appointment with your doctor before you go. See if the country you are visiting has malaria or yellow fever requirements for visitors.

And while you’re at that appointment with your doctor, make sure that you stock up on any medications you regularly take everyday so that you will have them for your trip.

And ask for the thing that I’m hoping will save me here in Morocco: an antibiotic for traveler’s diarrhea.

That’s right.

I may have gotten cocky but thankfully I didn’t get stupid. I brought some antibiotics with me.

They can give you an antibiotic in case you catch a digestive bug. Pack immodium. At the first sign of diarrhea, take the immodium for a couple days. If it doesn’t work, start the antibiotics and also take some probiotics so that you can keep reintroducing good flora and fauna to your gut. Eat yogurt without added sugar. You can add honey if you want, but don’t buy the yogurt unless it’s unsweetened because processed sugars feed the bad bacteria in your gut. This includes the bacteria that are probably giving you diarrhea.


Don’t get there and think you’re invincible because you’re fucking not and you’ll be praying to the porcelain throne before you even hear your first call to prayer.

Don’t be like me. I was that guy. I thought I was invincible and I’m fucking not so I need you to do better, okay? Okay.

Finally, I know this post was probably either really funny or really gross for you to read (or both). So I just wanna say:

This post is really hard to put out there. But I’m doing it because I care that you have safe, happy, and healthy travels. Now, keep your fingers crossed and send me good vibes to stop having watery poops.



Cultural Appropriation and Continuity at Home: I have questions

It’s the end of a new day.

Here I am again, World.

I went to the Old Medina today and went into just about every jewelry shop there, but I didn’t find anything I wanted. I realized that I may have gone in wanting to get something modern in maybe silver or gold, but I kept getting drawn to the antiques and the beaded necklaces and bracelets that weren’t exactly valuable in a “precious metal” sense of the word.

And I guess today, not even I appreciated my own tastes.

Today is kind of a tiring, mellow kinda day. I’m thinking about history and continuity.

I feel a sense of conflict because I’m in a really modern, liberal country and city, but I’m getting drawn to these really old, historically and culturally relevant pieces. This is cultural appropriation, no?

But here in Morocco, I’m in context. Anything I buy here helps support the income of a local artisan, and I’m actually in a place where, if I wear it, I’m not infringing on the local culture because I’m in the place where it came from, where it makes sense to dress this way.

But it’s not my culture. So while I’m here, it’s assimilation. But I am still a tourist, so no matter what, when I leave, it’s still appropriation, right? And there’s also a whole other question of respect. If I know exactly which Amazigh tribe I’d be buying from, and I am aware that the jewelry isn’t ceremonial or anything that would infringe on someone’s religion or something like that, is it still cultural appropriation?

And to somebody reading this, they may have the following reactions if I buy traditional Amazigh jewelry:

And you would totally within your right to do that and I support you in your decision.

This is an awkward conversation for me, too!!


I am a fallible human who likes shiny, pretty things.

And I would like to retain my right to like shiny, pretty jewelry that is purely cosmetic and not traditionally necessary for ceremonies or taboo for me to wear. So I see a way going forward in which it is okay for me to buy and own such things. But I want to make sure that I am responsible about it. I don’t want to just buy anything because it’s pretty if it’s coming from a specific milieu.

You know what this means?


I’m gonna look up some info about Amazigh jewelry and get back to this.

So, in the meantime, there’s another side to this, which is continuity at home.

Why am I drawn to the old antique jewelry here and not at home in the States? It’s amazing the things we don’t realize that we take for granted.

Why did I never want old things from back home before?

Morocco has a rich history, and it’s reminding me that when I’m back in the US, I never even think about continuity. I never really think about the material history of things like jewelry. I think about the history of lots of other things, but not the things I wear everyday.

When I go back home I want to change that.

Rabat: A Capital in Repose

Rabat grows more beautiful to me by the day. Maybe I’m just sentimental, but the lush palms are open to the sun and line every major boulevard. The manicured lawns are a healthy green. My logical side says that it’s because there’s tons of embassies around and just about everything important is a government building. Any self-respecting city based around governmental structures will want to look beautiful, but I hope that the rest of the country has this same beauty. There’s also something nice in knowing that I am in a small city that doesn’t receive as many tourists, comparatively, as the rest of Morocco. It feels like I get to actually know the city, rather than speed date it and simply add more mementos to my photo collection.

My host family is lovely, but I forgot what it was like to be a teenager and a preteen. It’s full of yelling, parental guidance, and moods that are only ever punctuated with a door slam. It’s weird to be an outsider in this framework, where I am both part of their lives and yet still a guest. How do I make them and myself feel comfortable when they have loud disagreements? Or when I get caught in the middle? Take this example: My host brother is moody with me. He was so sweet before yesterday, but last night he was incredibly rude, kicking a ball around the house even when I asked him not to. It was loud and I was tired. He just kept doing it, though, so I closed my door. I have a key in my door so I can lock it, and I did because he was making so much noise. I didn’t want to be bothered. I went to the bathroom, and when I came back, the key wasn’t in the door. I asked him about it, and he said he didn’t have it, but then he started to crack a smile and tried to stop his impulse. I was tired, upset, and I just closed the door right then and there with him on the other side.

It reminds me why I don’t want to have kids.

We went to Chellah today as part of our activity. It was lovely to go back. I had my camera this time, so watch out for the photos I will try to post later. I’m also deciding whether or not to make a Wix or a Tumblr for my photos. It would be SO much easier.

I don’t like rereading books, but it turns out I do kinda like revisiting places. There’s always something new that you notice. Plus, Chellah has these verdant garden walkways with hibiscuses and all sorts of plants. One of the guides told us there’s more than 20 different varieties. It’s beautiful.

Tomorrow is my last day of classes for the week and then I’m off to Chefchaouen for the weekend. It feels like I’ve been here longer than two weeks. The U.S. feels like a lifetime away. Different, and yet the same.

More things to come soon!

I’m Tired

Quick Rundown of Events Today:

Class in the Morning, then lunch, then our planned activity was to go to the Old Medina, but we were tired. We decided to rest instead.

So I went to get my nails done (it’s only $20 to get your nails done with gel polish here. Crazy. It’s 30 or $40 back home) and then I came home and finished my laundry.

It’s common for people to use clotheslines to dry their things here, so that’s what I did. The clotheslines are on the roof, and the view is beautiful. While I took down my clothes, the breeze blew in from the direction of the ocean and I took in all of Salé and Rabat. The sun was setting, and I could hear boys in the next lot over playing football.

I didn’t get enough sleep last night, and I don’t think I’ll get enough sleep tonight. My host brother is being kinda grumpy. By grumpy, I mean that he’s being a normal, mildly annoying eleven year old.

Yesterday he tried to teach me some grammar. It was really cute how he took charge and made sure I did a bunch of work. It’s weird to think that in just a couple of weeks I’ll be with another host family. I still have to decide if I want that. Part of me says yes, I do. It will be a new experience, a new place, maybe more convenient for me. The other part of me says no in favor of strengthening the bonds and rapport that I have here.

I think I will end up changing anyway, though. Just for the sake of something different.

I think I’m starting to get the hang of things, though. The routine is making more sense. When I first got here, there was so much excitement, so much to do and see. Even for Rabat, it was one of the busiest times of the year. Now that things are calmer, I’m trying to get that peace into my system, too. I’m honestly just glad to be feeling better.

Black/Brown Girls Travel, Lamentations of a Mixed Chick

It feels like a cliché to complain again about my own racial ambiguity, but that’s honestly because I always live in the same soup.

I’m feeling a little disappointed. My friends who are international students told me that it’s really only in the US that they talk about race. The obvious problems of not having a vocabulary or conversations about systemic racial inequality aside, I was hoping that maybe this would translate to questions about my own origins desisting once I went abroad. Unfortunately this hasn’t been true. It’s about once a day now that I’m asked some version of, “Where are you from?” and of course they’re never satisfied with “New York.”

It’s just tiring.

Take this example:

We all live our lives having the same conversations over and over. We introduce ourselves a million times, meet new people, and repeat the same scripted introductory conversations over and over. Except that when I was taught about the, “Where are you from?” conversation, it wasn’t something that someone prepared me to be harassed over and over again for. No one explained that it would be something I would be asked more than anyone else I know, at all hours of the day from strangers who barely even know my name.

And I know why it matters that I’m even asked.

But remember when I said that it was just tiring? I live my existence as everyone’s familiar stranger. When they ask me where I’m from, or where I’m REALLY from, or what my nationality is (Which is not the question they think they’re asking), or what my origins are, or where my parents are from, or if I’m Brazilian, Guyanese, Indian, Hindu, Muslim, Venezuelan, Colombian, Dominican, or Puerto Rican, they see both the familiar and the strange in me. It’s like when you approach someone from behind, thinking it’s your friend, but when they turn around, it’s just some random person in the street you don’t know, who is wondering why you’ve interrupted their day.

I am refusing to embrace the noise. If I were cleverer, or more relaxed, I would have better evasions for these questions. I would ask them to guess, or ask them the same question. If I weren’t so bothered, maybe I would. The truth is that an ideal situation doesn’t exist. Even if people don’t ask, I’m left wondering what assumptions they’ve made. Most often, they’re wrong anyway, and need to be corrected.

I once wrote that race has given me the burden to redeem it as a concept, but fuck that. I’m not the one who invented it. I’m not the one responsible for others’ assumptions, but having to deal with the consequences is the shit I don’t like.

So, if you’re reading this, and you’re a person of color, I want you to know that this is some of what you might experience as a traveler. My struggle may not be yours, but I hope that being aware of it will help you in your journey.

If you’re not a person of color, please don’t let your guilt get in the way of you actually doing something to assist others in their struggle. It’s okay if you feel disconnected from this struggle. If you have a friend going through this, be there for them. Don’t make assumptions. Just ask what they need.

Feeling Contemplative

I think that today it really hit me that I’m somewhere different from every other place I’ve ever been before. Casablanca isn’t like any other place. The call to prayer sounds five times a day. The architecture is completely different from everywhere else.

I think that my first impressions when I’m abroad are usually how similar the world is everywhere. Weird, right? But people here live in apartments and drive cars. There’s electricity, wifi, and TVs. I have all of the trappings of the modern world still available to me. I think that when people travel they usually have a highly outdated idea of what the place they’ll be traveling to is like. People back home in the States think that when I say I’m in Morocco, I’m in the Morocco of the 1800s or something. They expect me to say that I take a camel to my next destination and that I’m living without running water or something. But it’s not that at all. The challenge of traveling is reckoning with the subtlety of differences between what is familiar and what’s strange. The challenge is to acknowledge that difference isn’t necessarily measurable through a lack of things that are common back home, but rather a society’s choice to value other things and make them common in the place you’ve decided to travel to.

Before I Got Sick…Again: Oliveri’s and Tajine

So, before I got sick I drafted this post to document my first evening in Casablanca. I can happily tell you that I’m sitting in my host family’s home feeling much better. The medicine the hospital gave me is working really well. So below, you can find what happened my first night of Rabat.

  • ***

Okay, no lie, I think I just had the best ice cream of my life.

It’s called Oliveri’s, and we drove for twenty minutes to get there (and we were still in Casablanca. This city is huge) and the ice cream shop was so cute, decorated like the inside of a gift box. It had a line just out the door and when we got inside, our host brother, Abdou, explained all 20 flavors to us. We got 2 scoops of different flavors and they came with whipped cream and a caramel drizzle.

Moroccans eat dinner super late, like 8:30 and beyond, so we went for ice cream before going back to Abdou’s home for dinner.

We walked around the neighborhood around Oliveri’s, and Jes had to go to the bathroom. We found a Starbucks and in response to Jes’ question of whether or not she would be able to use their bathroom, Abdou said, “Just start speaking English. Be an American and they’ll let you use the bathroom.”

As we were driving back, for some reason we had a discussion about pineapple pizza, and it led to a discussion about fruit on pizza in general. Which led to a friendly disagreement about whether or not you could have strawberries on pizza and make it work.

Abdou’s sister made tajine for us with lemon, potatoes and chicken. It was better than what we ate today at the restaurant, in my opinion. The chicken was really tender and delicious. We cleared the plate.


That’s the end of the post I wrote. For the record, I don’t think the food made me sick. The doctor said that I’m not used to the microbes in Morocco, and it’s what’s making me sick.

Any advice for a traveler? I tried taking Immodium the first time my stomach got upset here in Morocco.