Language is Water

I’ve found the adolescence I always wanted in my adulthood. Growing up, the idea of going wherever I want, whenever I want, with my friends has finally come true. In my adulthood I’ve found a community thicker than the thieves who stole my childhood, who bullied it out from under me. This trip to Morocco has been a continuation of the most valuable gifts that Northwestern has given me: love, acceptance, community, and a bright future. It’s like breathing fresh air after nearly drowning.

And speaking of water, learning a new language is like learning to swim in the ocean. You dip your toes in at first, nouns and articles easy to understand lap over you in the mélange of everything else, but these words you understand. Next, you wade in, knee deep. Things are a mess the first time you actually get in up to your neck. Salt gets in your nose, the water tastes of brine and liquefies your insides so that later, when you go to the bathroom, it can remind you again how incompetent you were. The water overcame you. Language, when you just start out, is a mother of an uncomfortable experience. But next time you get in the water, you set your brow, and you try to flow with the current and pray that the waves of information don’t overwhelm you.

Learning a new language is also like brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand. It’s an extra layer of humiliation because you know you would be dexterous if you could only change one factor in the situation. If you could just change your hand, you could get the back corners of your teeth, the sides, the parts that you know are hard to reach and need a little more proficiency. But it takes time, and thankfully, time is what I’ve got. I just have to trust that I will progress at a snail’s pace, and then one day I’ll look back and see I’ll have climbed a mountain or something. But in the meantime, it’s an uphill climb at a snail’s pace.

And I live my days on striated levels of understanding. The US, for all of its diversity, is linguistically homogeneous. I don’t mean that we don’t have more than one language spoken there, but when I say that English is dominant, it is King of the land. It is so strong that even Spanish, for all of its profusion, cannot erase the sheer dominance of English in the US. But here, in Morocco, language is like a river with lots of different dyes poured into it. Arabic is most dominant here, and after that, French, Berber, and English. However, the multilingual nature of the country means that when a Moroccan speaks, they might start in one language, and end in another. Trying to keep all these languages separate is like trying to stop all the dyes from mixing with water, and mixing with each other.

Thinking back, I don’t know that I fully realized the complexity of what my situation would be in Morocco. I look like someone who comes from the region geographically in some sense. I am learning and speaking the language of the colonizer, however. Add to this the realization that now, English is a private language for me. It’s hard not to lean on it. Today, I took a taxi via a technically illegal but ubiquitous Uber app called Careem, and the driver didn’t speak French. I ended up at the main station for leaving Rabat entirely to go to another Moroccan city. I had to take another taxi to the tramway. It was a funny experience, but it does make me go like

Because honestly I have to laugh at myself coming to Morocco to learn French. In some ways it’s honestly bizarre or brilliant and it’s become both and neither at the same time. It was the best option, and I’m proud of it. It’s just weird to experience, no matter how much I rationalize it.

That’s all for tonight. I have more to say, but I also have class tomorrow and I’m tired.

Good night!