Land as Presence

Special Contributor(s): Razaan Abnowf

I cannot count how many times I caught myself staring at the ceiling above me during my semester in Morocco. In the presence of something that possesses cultural and historical significance, I often think to myself, how many people have also looked at this? How many people have stood in my position and gazed up at the intricate details of Moroccan interior design and architectures? How many people have walked the same land that I explore?

Above all, I wonder what path they took which led them to that moment of curiosity, the moment that I currently occupy — where I am present. Like many, I struggle with being present or as some may say ‘in the moment’. This is especially the case when I am witnessing something I believe is significant. When I am existing in a space with history, with culture, with stories.

Now that my semester abroad in Morocco has ended, I try to reflect on the times when I felt the most present. I look back on the various cities I visited such as Tangier, Marrakech, Chefchaouen, and Rabat, recalling my feeling of presence in each. I look back on the information I learned through studying the complexities of North African and Middle Eastern geopolitics, languages, and societies. In my nostalgia of physical and mental presence, I find myself inadvertently categorizing my experiences based on their significance. However, in reality, the significance of my semester abroad can be derived from the perceived insignificant and/or habitual experiences — the mundane.

The various Moroccan architectural designers may have never considered their work to be out of the ordinary, yet I stood in its presence and grappled with the story it told. Whether that be my walk to classes, the meals I shared, or the exchanges I had, I would have never considered my daily routine to be significant while in the moment. Yet, I believe these are truly when I have learned the most and broadened my worldview. All in all, I am grateful for all of the experiences I gained through my education abroad program regardless of how mundane or extraordinary it was. Below I have highlighted some of my favorite ‘mundane’ experiences from my semester abroad.

  1. Slowly incorporating various darija words/phrases into my Arabic like Zwina (beautiful), Bghit (I want), Shno smiytek? (What is your name?).
  2. Getting lost in the old medina. I mean this metaphorically but also literally.
  3. Haggling for goods at the souk. After many attempts, I can now say that I am a certified haggler.
  4. Pouring Moroccan tea from as high as possible without spilling it.
  5. Waiting for the iftar/breakfast cannon to go off at sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.