Signing Out of Morocco

Spending the summer in Morocco has been one of the best decisions I made this year. it not only afforded me the opportunity to improve my Arabic language skills, but also helped me to experience North Africa and bask in the experience of identifying similarities and differences between West Africa, where I am from, and North Africa.

I arrived in Morocco with a lot of assumptions I thought it would be no different from home (Nigeria) since it is within the same continent. Alas, I was in for a big surprise as it is a remarkably different country, with different culture, history, language, dressing, and food, but nonetheless beautiful. The experience taught me how we can be so similar, yet different, and I left Morocco with a better understanding of the history, culture, politics, and even food of the North African country. While there, I missed having access to food that I am used to, but surprisingly, shortly after my return, I am already missing the Moroccan chicken tagine (tagine bi dajajah).

Morocco is a popular tourist destination, and it is in fact the most visited country in Africa. I utilized the opportunity of my Summer Language Abroad program to also visit some notable tourist sites in cities like Tangier, Chefcheouan (the blue city), the economic capital of Casablanca as well as the Sahara Desert. Traversing the Sahara desert is indeed an unforgettable experience that I will forever cherish. I do have a camel souvenir to serve as a reminder of that beautiful experience, and I look forward to taking my kids there someday. 

Haleemah on a camel ride through the Sahara Desert thanks to the SLA Award

A language immersion program like the SLA gives the opportunity of immersing in a culture and getting to practice the language on a daily basis, thus improving one’s speaking and comprehension skills. As I am obviously black and African, a lot of the locals spoke French to me automatically, which was quite a surprise for me in the beginning. I later understood that because of Morocco’s history with the French, a lot of Moroccans speak French, which makes it a suitable destination for many Africans from Francophone countries. As such, a lot of Black Africans in Morocco are French-speaking, and locals just usually assume that I speak french too, and would therefore try to communicate with me in French. This was however not the same as the experience of my White colleagues from Europe or America. Thus, while I would surely recommend Morocco for white people seeking to learn Arabic, I would rather suggest that Black people seeking to learn Arabic consider other countries in the Middle East in order to achieve better immersion.

For anyone considering applying for the SLA program, I would highly recommend it. While I still have a long way to go in perfecting my Arabic language skills, I do know that I am way better than I used to be. I have also made friends and built connections that I hope would last a lifetime. Thus, for me, it is not goodbye to Morocco, but see you again sometime soon!     



For my summer language abroad program, my Arabic language institute is based in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. Something remarkable about the experience is that it is more than learning Arabic in the classroom, but also learning about the people, the culture, the similarities, the peculiarities, and also the challenges.  Hence, most of my weekends were dedicated to exploring the city of Rabat or traveling to other places in the country. Here are five things I love about the country!

  • Cats: If you love cats, you would love Morocco. My first daughter made me fall in love with cats as she adores them. On a typical evening, when I decide to take a stroll in the neighborhood, I may count up to 20 cats. I asked my teacher about it, and he said there are even fewer cats in Rabat, and I would most likely see more if I went to the villages, as most households have at least 5 cats. It is usually a beautiful sight to watch the furry babies gathered in circles around the neighborhood.
cats around us as we relaxed at cafe des oudayas, Rabat.
  • Family Life: This, I noticed first when I visited the city of Tanger in the northern part of Morocco, and while I later noticed the same in Rabat, it is more prominent in other places, probably because Rabat is a capital city. I noticed that in the evenings, especially from Friday to Sunday, families would gather in nearby parks, having picnics, playing, and just having fun. I found this fascinating as it appears to me to be a very good way of building social cohesion in the communities. Almost everyone in the neighborhood knows one another as they meet in the community park almost weekly – grandparents, fathers, mothers, and children. You would easily see the older ones sitting in groups talking, teenagers and children playing soccer, tennis, or some other kinds of games, mothers chatting happily while keeping an eye on the children, and the fathers also having their own chats. It is usually a beautiful sight to behold.
  • Multicultural: I first caught a glimpse of this while still in the US. Often, when I tell people that I got the SLA grant to study in Morocco, the usual response is ‘French or Arabic?’ Upon getting to Rabat, I realized how prevalent the French language is in the country. A lot of Morrocans are bilingual or multilingual, speaking a combination of Arabic, Darija (Moroccan Native Arabic), Amazigh, French, Spanish, and English amongst other languages. In Rabat, while grocery shopping or interacting with a taxi driver, or dealing with other locals, I noticed that they often start by speaking to me in French. This, I later got to know, is because a lot of Balck people domiciled in Morocco are from Francophone African countries. My colleague at the Arabic institute, who lives with a host family, once remarked that his host family has three children, the youngest who is in elementary school comes home with homework in Arabic, and the child in middle school comes home with homework in French, while the highschooler comes home with homework in the English language. Knowing how beneficial it is to be multilingual, I particularly love the multilingualism of Morocco. The challenge with this for someone who has come to the country specifically to learn Arabic is that you have to be intentional about speaking Arabic with locals, otherwise, you would just continue conversing with locals in English and/or French.
  • Trees: I love nature, and Morocco has it in abundance. Often, my colleagues would arrange for us to go to the beach to go watch the sunset. But something that struck me and which I really love is the abundance of trees and greenery everywhere. I observed for days and could conveniently conclude that every building between my house and my language institute either has a tree in front of it, or flower pots with various small trees, shrubs, and flowers. This is not only beautiful but also very good for the environment.
I love this beautiful view of the entrance to my apartment
  • Eco-consciousness: The issue of climate change and sustainability has been at the forefront of global discourse with many countries committing to making efforts to be more eco-conscious and take steps toward preserving the earth’s resources. I was very impressed when I arrived in Rabat and I did not find a lot of plastic waste around. Back in the US, I am quite used to being given plastic bags when grocery shopping, and a typical trip to the store can leave me with up to a dozen plastic bags that I have to make a conscious effort to recycle or it may end up in the ocean. In Morocco, the first time I went grocery shopping, I was expecting the attendant to pack my things when she asked for my shopping bag. I didn’t have any, so, I had to pay for a reusable shopping bag for my grocery. Where it is provided, it is usually brown paper bags or light recyclable bags So, I learned to always go shopping with my shopping bag, and my tote bags from school came in very handy.  


I am from Nigeria, a country in Western Africa, while Morocco, the site of my summer language abroad program is a country in Northern Africa. Before leaving the US, I naively assumed that Moroccan food would be very similar to what I was used to back home. To my surprise, the food is very different. Going through the grocery stores, the main foodstuff that is common to us are rice, bread, pasta, and noodles. Others are remarkably different!  

Morocco is rich in different cuisines, and one remarkable thing about their meals is the use of lots of spices, which not only adds flavor to meals but is also very nutritional and medicinal. My language institute provides us with breakfast and lunch while we would usually go to restaurants for dinner or prepare something individually. In my experience, the three most popular components of Moroccan meals are bread, shay’ and tagine. The first thing I noticed about meals in Morocco was the presence of bread with virtually every meal – breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  For breakfast, we would usually have bread and other pastries with jam, honey, hard-boiled egg or omelet, cheese, as well as shay’ (tea). For lunch and dinner, we would usually have bread with different kinds of soup, along with other meals. My favorite soups have been meatball soup and lentil soup.

A typical lunch with bread and soup

Moroccan shay’ or tea is another regular accompaniment to meals especially breakfast. No breakfast is complete without shay’! This tea is not made with a tea bag as we do in America. Instead, it consists of several herbs brought to boil. You could have shay’ with or without sugar depending on your preference, and it is often served with na’na (mint) leaves. Moroccan cuisine also has lots of local pastries and deserts ranging from very sweet to sweet-sour to sour taste.

Moroccan shay’ and pastries

Tagine is the Moroccan word that refers to both the name of the cooking pot used in preparing the dish as well as the name of the meal itself.  A tagine is usually cone-shaped and can be made from ceramic or unglazed clay but the latter adds a rustic, earthy flavor and aroma to whatever is being cooked in it. The base of a tagine is wide and shallow while the conical lid helps to return condensed steam back to the food. The tagine is usually placed above the heat source and not directly in contact with the fire or heat.

A clay tagine

With regards to the meal, there are different types of tagine depending on the constituents as it can be prepared with various types of protein or vegetable combinations. Most recipes layer meat, chicken, or vegetable along with spices, oil, and water. As the mixture cooks, a stew-like consistency develops giving a flavourful sauce that is often scooped with bread or sometimes served with couscous which is another common feature in Morrocan cuisine. I am most familiar with tagine bi dajaja (chicken tagine), tagine bi lahm (meat tagine), and tagine bi khudar (vegetarian tagine). Of these, my favorite is tagine bi dajaja (chicken tagine), and the ingredients for this include chicken, olive oil, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, green bell pepper, red bell pepper, carrots, black pepper, garlic, ginger, salt, coriander, cauliflower, and squash.

Ingredients for tagine bi dajaja

To prepare the meal, you first layer the tagine vessel with onions to prevent the chicken from sticking to the bottom and burning. In a separate bowl, you add oil, water, and then the spices ( salt, black pepper, garlic, ginger, coriander, etc). Then you put in your chicken, carrot, potatoes, squash, and cauliflower which must have already been cut into sizeable chunks, and mix it thoroughly. Thereafter, you start to layer these on the onion base in the tagine. Lastly, pour the remaining broth into the bowl on the mixture and add water if necessary. Then, put the tagine above the heat source, wait for about 20 minutes, and your dish is ready!


In Pursuit of a Dream

Learn Arabic for it strengthens the mind and enhances chivalry.” – Umar Al-Khattab

For the past fifteen years, I have been making efforts to learn the Arabic language. It started with learning to read the alphabet letters and then learning to read the Qur’an which I successfully completed in 2006. Every time I have tried to continue in my pursuit of the knowledge of the language, I have been met with obstacles that make me let go. Learning Arabic however continues to remain at the top of my bucket list.

When I gained admission to the University of Notre Dame, I had no idea that it would allow me to further this dream of mine. It was during the orientation week last August that I learned about the Center for the Study of Languages and Culture (CSLC) and the numerous opportunities it offers. Realizing that students have the opportunity to take language courses in more than a dozen languages, I did not hesitate to seize the opportunity to further the study of Arabic. Thus, I registered for an Arabic course in addition to my required and elective courses this semester.

This summer, I would be spending two months in an immersive Arabic study at the Qalam wa Lawh Center in Rabat, Morocco, with the support of CSLC’s Summer Language Abroad grant. While I have learnt a lot from my Arabic class this semester, I believe that the study abroad program would afford me even more opportunities for learning due to its immersive nature.

I am excited not only about the opportunity to attain my age-long goal of being a speaker of Arabic, but I am also looking forward to meeting and having a different vision of life thus agreeing with the quote that “a new language is a different way of life”. Throughout this Spring semester, I had 5 hours of Arabic classes per week, but with my immersion program, I shall have 20 hours of Arabic per week. This means that I would be able to cover up to two semesters of learning in two months. Meanwhile, I believe that learning Arabic in a classroom is quite different from an immersive experience. In the classroom, Arabic is just like a slice of the pie, with the single slice being Arabic and the rest of the whole being English, Hence, I take a slice of Arabic each day and then go about the rest of my day in English. But with an immersive experience, Arabic is the whole, and while I would have a slice in the classroom, I would have many more slices of the same whole in the hallway, and the market, and the streets, and at home, and practically everywhere. Thus, staying in a place where Arabic is the dominant language means that I am able to immerse myself in the language and the culture and learn not just from the classroom from also from interaction with Arabic speakers.

I hope that this trip would be an opportunity for me to learn about the Moroccan and Arab culture, their food, clothing, and general way of life. I look forward to interacting with the locals, and not just learning the Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) in class, but also picking some colloquial Darija Arabic from my interactions with the locals. I am also looking forward to visiting different towns in Morocco – Fez, Marakkech, etc, and learning about their rich history and culture. Similarly, I look forward to traversing the Sahara desert as well, and I hope that this trip contributes to my growth as well as personal and professional development.