Predeparture: Enjoying the Snow and learning Malagasy

It’s finally starting to sink in: in two weeks time I’ll be in the air, on my way to Madagascar! My program only starts on the 30th of January, so I’m fortunate to have an extra 3 weeks of vacation to spend with my family. My sister Melinda attends the University of Stellenbosh in South Africa, and conveniently her semester starts around the same time as mine, so we’ll be able to fly as far as South Africa together. This flight plan also means I’ll be able to visit her in SA on my way back to the USA in May 🙂

Can you tell I love snow?!

Meanwhile, while I’m still here in Michigan, I’ve been relishing the wonder of winter and spending as much time as I can enjoying the marvelous amount of snow that fell to earth last weekend – by building “bobsled” runs down the porch stairs, sliding down the banks of frozen waterfalls, constructing igloos, blowing bubbles outside and watching them freeze, and playing broomball 🙂

Frozen waterfalls are pretty cool, eh? Last week I explored Hungarian falls, located near Houghton in the UP. There are some great things to see even without leaving the state!

Now I feel like I can go to Madagascar in a couple weeks without feeling like I missed out on this beautiful season. In fact, the prospect of bare feet and not having to bundle up every time I leave the house is starting to sound quite appealing!

When I’m not playing in the snow, I’ve been trying to learn Malagasy, the native language of Madagascar. It’s been fascinating – the language has Malay origins, but has a definite African feel; the grammar and sentence structure is totally different to any other language I’m familiar with, and although words contains many vowels you rarely pronounce half of them! I’m excited to get to Madagascar and see what the ideal of “picking up” a language that’s around you actually looks like. I’m guessing it involves a lot of frustration! Oh the other hand, I’m feeling more optimistic about French, the other language spoken in Madagascar. I’ve being listening to French radio stations from Madagascar and other French African countries – and so far I’ve been finding the African-French accent easier to understand than the Parisian accent I’ve been taught in French classes! I’m hoping that’s the case when I’m actually in Madagascar too.


Morocco – a Country in Transition

Three weeks ago, I traveled with a great trip organized by my study –abroad program to Morocco. I have waited to write about it for this long so I could process the trip a bit more before sharing it with y’all. The reason it was so great was because they were very focused on us getting to know the reality of life and culture of Morocco. And that they did.
It is, by far, the furthest removed cultural experience I have had in my life. As Morocco is a developing country still ruled by a king, I knew that going in. However, in Morocco there is also a great interest in values not usually attributed to Muslim countries, such as women’s rights and general freedoms, and they seem to be transitioning in that direction quite rapidly. The many conversations we had with Moroccan students during our time that spoke that loud and clear. In Rabat, many had or have had boyfriends and girlfriends, even though one or both parents frowned upon it in most families. (And of course that come up a lot in conversations between college students :P). That was very telling for the huge generational gap that exists there.
It is also an Islamic and Islamist country. While having some of the most liberal interpretations of Islamic law to be found, it still affects daily life. In the country area we visited, one of the women explained to us that women being able to request divorce is an improvement implemented in the last ten years and that even now it still can take up to six or seven years for the divorce to get through the courts as opposed to a rich man can take almost no time at all.
The religious conservatism also led to clear conservatism in dress as well. One of the benefits of that conservatism that I had not thought about before, I experienced first had. We had the opportunity to ride camels while we were there, hosted by a camel herder that seemed to speak no English. Of course I had decided to wear my long skirt that day, so I had to kind of arrange it as I hiked up on the camel. During my very awkward dismount, he happened to grab my bare knee to steady me as the camel lowered himself. As soon as possible, he readjusted his hand so he could put cloth between my knee and his hand. That respect struck me a very agreeable, especially to someone of a culture he probably knew doesn’t value that respect as much. However, when that conservatism changes from being a form of respect to a reason for judging if someone is not following that rule (as it usually does), I find a huge issue with that. That was also quite evident there. Extremely explicit cat calling is common and as soon as I would make a simple change such as taking my hair down from a bun, I would get it even more.
It will be interesting to see that state at which Morocco ends up in the future, but in my opinion it seems to be moving in the right direction. I am still overwhelmed with the cultural beauty as well as economic disparities we saw and I’m confident I will remember the experience forever.Baby Camel!