First, let me apologize to my loyal readers for not being a loyal blogger. I will try to do better :) and update more often again.
I heard this past summer from a friend that after living in a new place for about six months, that is when it really begins to feel like home. I have gained a strong sense of familiarity with my city, Fez. I used to hit the pillow every night exhausted from all the new sights, sounds, languages, and people. Now I feel a significantly less amount of daily stress, and I can conduct daily activities with very little anxiety. For example, I know exactly where to go if I want to buy wheat bread (I’m picky about that), my favorite breakfast, a good, cheap cup of coffee, energy-saving light bulbs, a quick quality sandwich for lunch, formal clothing, or fast photocopies. All these items took time and experimentation to locate, work that has taken months. But now I am sitting atop a wealth of knowledge about my city – something I remind myself when I have moments of doubt about how much I am actually learning (research-wise) here in Fez.
I was recently told by my Moroccan friend (who I believe has lived in Fez his entire life) that I know the city center better than he does. I know the best places to pick up taxis, the short cuts from one area to the next, all the marking points that people often use to give directions (the big mosque, the cinema, the McDonald’s), the bus stops, and the different neighborhood names. When I do have to find a new place, I now know the best way to find it is to ask someone on every, yes every, street corner. People love to help you find your way, even when they are not sure themselves. Experience of wandering for over an hour to find a place, due to lousy directions, has taught me this lesson well. Usually, in all this asking, I manage to have someone walk with me all the way to the destination.
I have grown familiar with the language. I’m not saying I am particularly eloquent in Moroccan Arabic but I can explain myself when I need to. A mixture of 1) language familiarity as well as 2) being more at ease with not understanding everything that is happening around me, has reduced my communication stress levels. I used to rehearse in my head over and over the phrases I would need to use in a pharmacy or at the front desk of an agency, but now I can come up with the words on the spot – explain who I am, what I want, my research topic, my time in Morocco, etc.
A steady group of friends and acquaintances in Fez has added to my feeling at home here. I run into them on the streets, drink coffee with them or they regularly drop by the house to say hello. They include the other Fulbrighters, researchers from European universities, young Moroccans, and British students. And of course, I still visit my homestay family on a regular basis, who I also see on the street quite often. It can take awhile to build a good support network, you could say, of people that are dependable, understand me (as a young Westerner), and are living for an extended time here. These people contribute greatly to my sanity and enjoyment here.
A sense of familiarity with my city, Fez, has been a wonderful turning point in my time here. I especially am grateful for it after I’ve been traveling in other parts of the country. In the area around my house, everyone knows I live there (as opposed being a tourist) and few people try to hassle me to stay in their hotel, eat at their restaurant, buy from their store, etc. Instead, I am greeted warmly and asked if I’ve been traveling because they haven’t seen me in a week or two.
And it is for these reasons that I am “nus-mericania, nus-Fessi “ (half American, half from Fez). Even if years down the road, I don’t remember where to find the Titanic Café or the best ice cream shop (my newest find!), I will still regard Fez as once my home.