Déjà vu

Jada Bullen
September 15, 2015
The Kasbah

Before I dive into the present, I am going to indulge in the past (for a bit, just for bit). Don’t worry, the detour will come full circle in the end. Inshallah.


Three years ago, I traveled without my parents for the very first time to the island of Grenada. My two sisters and I landed in the evening, were greeted by our enthusiastic aunts, and quickly loaded into the car to drive to our grandmother’s house. Although my two aunts in the front chatted cheerfully in the front, and my sister Kiet sat next to me, I remember looking out into the dark hills of Grenada, then into Kiet’s teary eyes, and wanting nothing more than to weep. Like, seriously bawl and cry and cry and cry forever; in that moment, I felt I had made a grave mistake getting on that plane and landing in this place which was too real, too strange, and too far from my home. 

And yet, three years later, I find myself sitting with my new host family, walking through the streets of the Rabat’s old medina, feeling the exact same way as I did that first night in Grenada. I surprised myself; I thought I was ready for this. 

The first ten days in Morocco, were nothing compared to the first 10 hours since we have returned to Rabat.

In the first hour alone, my host mother, Saida, my host brother, Sofiyen, and I were already on the street winding through a throng of people. Saida held my hand so as to not lose me, which was actually so comforting it kept my stricken myself from unraveling under the sensory overload. 

Every two minutes we would stop to talk to another family friend. I just stood there in the back, waiting for the new friend/relative to look at me with big eyes and say really slowly “Ça va?

PSA: I don’t speak French! As if I didn’t stick out already, now I’m that tourist who doesn’t speak French and just nods rapidly. Who am I? In that moment, I didn’t know.

I had been plucked from my own world and planted in a foreign one. I felt alien, like a limp extremity attached onto an already healthy body.

People were living their lives around me, loud yelling, shrill laughing, hugging, kissing, high fives, shaking hands, lights, odors, people! Sofiyen—my last lifeline—refused to talked to me (because twelve-year-olds do that sometimes), and I consequently went numb in order to suppress the tears.

From the street, to the home, to the lack of WiFi in my bedroom, I realized a separation had occurred. A separation from my friends, a separation from my American comforts, a separation from the training wheels of Meknes. Now, I had really arrived. Now it was real, and I sat on my bed and thought, “Wow, this is hard.”

Five days Later . . .

Today, I took (or was given, by the Almighty above) the opportunity to relive the experience again—with the same people, the same eventsbut this time with a different outcome.

Once again, Saida took my hand and led me through the medina, only just beginning to buzz with energy as the sun went down. Instead of feeling drained, down, and dragged along, I kept up with confidence. I had no idea where we were going or what we were doing, but I didn’t feel that panging anxiety that plagued me the first night. We stopped several times, and each time I asked Saida questions about the medina just to stay engaged and feel relevant.

Our destination, I finally learned, was tea time at Aisha’s house.

Aisha, who I think—nothing is for sure when it comes to me deciphering Darija at this point—is the mother of Saida (my host mother) and Hassania (my host aunt), saw me and her face lit up. With a jovial clap and an appreciative “Ayye!,” she shook my hand and introduced herself, then asked for my name. The warm welcome and the expectant eyes had me all flustered, so I stumbled over my own name, but I think she got it, or maybe it doesn’t matter. To her, I am just the American. And hey, that’s enough.

Saida kept me close, just like last time and fussed over me (I loved it). I just sat and listened to Aisha, Hassania, Saida, and Anonymous Cousin/Brother/Nephew talk. It was awesome.

The key, I discovered, is to just acknowledge how bizarre the situation is. I am sitting here drinking tea and everyone is yelling at each other with their mouths full. Wow, what is my life right now? I don’t know, but it’s hilarious! Even though I couldn’t understand why Anonymous Cousin/Brother and Saida were yelling while Hassania laughed, at least I had that personal joke. I just made sure to synchronize my outbursts of laughter with theirs.

However, to be fair, my host mother, Saida, took the time (well, the 10 seconds) to tell me that the she and her sister, were “arguing” about marriage. Anonymous Cousin/Brother (sorry, no one ever introduced me to him!) and Saida wanted Hassania to marry a Moroccan. However, Hassania refused. I decided to interject with my menial MSA and told her that when I returned to America, I could help her out and find her a rich American husband. They all laughed. Aisha also said that I was beautiful. Points for Jada.

On the way out, we stopped to say hi to another one of Saida’s friends. Just my luck, she also had an American student! We spoke broken Arabic to each other, until we simultaneously realized, “Why are we doing this, we are American...we speak English.” Hamdulilah, I love English! His name was Allen (Sorry Allen, you are out here on the blog now. I just wanted to prove that I remember your name. )

On our way back to the house, we stopped for the tenth time to barter with the spices/macaroni/ bread seller.  I waited ever so patiently, rereading the word for Pharmacy in Arabic  صيدلية and pretending it was the most interesting sign I have ever seen. Saida abruptly turned to me, gave me a date, and just said Hak (Take!). I hate dates. I discovered in Oman that they are the worst thing I have ever forced myself to ingest. I took one big bite as a sign of good will, but when she wasn’t looking, I threw it on the ground somewhere...like a real Moroccan. I smiled to myself.

The last and final test: interaction with a Moroccan teen. Today I met Naima, who is our neighbor and sometimes watches Sofiyen and Saed, my host brothers.

Girls are funny. We lounged on opposite sides of the salon, for about an hour, both pretending to be engrossed in our social media—because that is the millennial way—until it got to the point where it just felt ridiculous in any cultural context to ignore her. So, I sucked it up and asked her, “Naima, do you live downstairs...?” Duh, I’m not stupid. I knew she lived downstairs. However, the point was to get her attention. I’m sure my millennials understand what I’m talking about.

Naima was nice, she answered my questions with a smile, and tolerated my tentative Arabic as we talked about basic things. The weather. If I liked Morocco. Where we live and go to school.

She said I could be her English teacher, and she would be my Arabic teacher. Sweet. New friends. More points for Jada.

I don’t know if it was my attitude, luck, or the Grace of God, but today I came full circle and I succeeded. The déjà vu experience lifted me out of the rut I have been in since we returned to Rabat. Tomorrow will surely bring new challenges of course, but for now I am content.

Ready for Level 2: Walking by myself! Ahhhhh! I shall let you know how it goes.

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Jada Bullen

<p>I am Junior studying in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. As a feminist by thought and a hipster at heart, I seek every opportunity to break the barriers, disprove the labels, and blur the lines.</p>

2015 Fall
Home University:
Georgetown University
Cultural Studies
International Studies
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