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!


Mission Update:ثالثة) ٣ – three)  12/07/2022

Mission Status: In Progress

Skill: Embracing Cultural Customs

Status: In Progress

One of the first bits of information I learned before coming to Morocco was that I would, luckily, be in the country for عيد الكبير or عيد الأضحى (Eid al-Kabir or Eid al-Adha). Being a first-time traveler to the Arab world and a novice to Islamic and Arab culture, I had no clue what this holiday entailed, but I was very much excited to find out. After a quick Wikipedia search, I learned not only the history/origins of the holiday but also the unique reality of what Eid would actually be like. 

The Origins: 

In a time very long ago (before the birth of Christ), there was a man named Ibrahim who longed for a child and was granted one son, by way of Hagar, who would be called Ismail. Given the wonderful nature of Ismail’s birth, Ibrahim rejoiced and bestowed his son with endless amounts of love. In order to test Ibrahim’s devotion, الله (God) tasked Ibrahim with killing his only son. Ibrahim had no other option but to follow God’s will. Right before Ibrahim was about to kill Ismail, God presented a lamb that should be killed in place of Ismail. Ismail would later go on to head the line that would produce the great prophet of Islam, Muhammad (عليه الصلاة والسلام). 

The Tradition:

In honor of Ibrahim’s devotion and God’s sacrificial offering, Muslims slaughter their own sheep as a reminder of God’s mercy and love. The day begins early with men attending prayer at the مسجد (mosque). Once they finish the prayer, the men return to their homes. In Morocco, it is customary to wait until the King slaughters his sheep first, which is conveniently broadcasted on television throughout the entire day. Once the King kills his sheep, households around the whole country follow suit. Once the sheep are killed and cleaned by the men, the women take over by preparing the parts of the sheep for consumption. This process takes hours and specific practices have to be carried out. The holiday concludes with eating the sheep in large family gatherings that draw visitors from near and far.

Beyond the celebratory aspects of the day, there is a tone of almsgiving and sincerity that encompass the whole day. While sheep are essential for the day’s events, it is known that not all people can afford one of their own. Therefore, Moroccan families with sheep, like my own, donate parts of their sheep to charity. Additionally, while millions of animals are slaughtered worldwide on Eid, no waste is produced. Every part of the sheep is consumed or saved to be used for a specific purpose. 

My Experience:

As someone who feels faint at the sight of blood and strongly dislikes anything remotely medical because of the sight of blood, I was wary about this holiday, but I can gladly say that I appreciate my ability to celebrate with my Moroccan family because I was able to appreciate what this holiday means to them. Although I did not participate in the killing or eating, I did meet the sheep before his slaughter,  witnessed some of the cleaning processes, and spent a wonderful time with my host family and for that, I could not be more grateful. 

Mission Update:اثنين) ٢ – two)  01/07/2022

Mission Status: In Progress

Skill: Acknowledging Cultural Issues 

Status: In Progress

Over the past four weeks, I have grown to fully embrace the culture and country of Morocco as if it were my own, but like the rest of the world, everything can not be viewed through rose-colored glasses. I have been very fortunate because my long-term stay in Morocco and my situation as a student living as a member of a Moroccan family has opened my eyes to the issues that lay underneath the surface of what the average tourist might see.

One of my first lessons about Moroccan culture came with disclaimers from orientations and various online blogs on the importance of money, specifically cash, in the Moroccan economy. The unspoken reality of the money-based culture is that if you have money, you have privilege and influence, which while at first appears promising for an American foreigner, actually turns detrimental when the full reality is understood. My best understanding of the issue cam from a twenty-something American who has lived in Morocco for the past 10+ years in a small farming village: 

Imagine you are a farmer from a rural village in the outskirts of a major Moroccan city. After an accident on the farm, you need medical assistance and decide to go to the hospital because there are no other cheaper options. Once you arrive, you add your name to a list of three people and wait to gain assistance. As you wait, another patient, who lives in the city and has more money than you, arrives and bribes the hospital attendant to move his name to the top of the list. This pattern continues to where you are unable to seek the immediate care you need. 

While this is only one unique example of the disparity surrounding wealth, there are many more examples that cause Moroccan society to prevent class improvement and equality in terms of treatment. This practice is also common in terms of job opportunities where if you do not know the correct people it can be near impossible to find a job, which in turn plays into the issue of homelessness. 

Along with the issue of bribes hurting the poor, Morocco is facing major environmental issues, specifically drought. Over this past weekend, I took a 9-hour bus ride down to the desert, which opened my eyes to the various landscapes of Morocco. The ride showcased the living standards in small mountain villages that rely heavily on rivers as the main source of water. The heartbreaking reality was that most if not all of the rivers that ran through these small villages contained little to no water at all. This visual reminder put a greater perspective on water conservation tactics used in my household, especially in conjunction with showering. One of my first experiences with Moroccan culture was the Moroccan shower, which consists of a large bucket that is filled with water and used as the water source during the shower via a smaller bowl. This method ensures that water is being used intentionally and no water is unnecessarily going to waste. Although this small act is not curing the Moroccan drought the intentions behind the practice were put into perspective after witnessing the severity of the drought in person. 

I would like to preface that these are by no means the only issues that face Morocco nor are they the most severe, but these are some of the issues that I have seen firsthand and have some knowledge on.

Mission Update:واحد) ١ – one) 


Mission Status: In Progress

Skill: Religious and Musical Comprehension

Status: Accquired

When coming to Morocco, I was fully prepared for the presence of the Islamic faith to be prevalent in my daily life. This couldn’t be more true when on my first night I was woken up at 4:30 am after some serious jetlag to the sound of the first prayer call of the day. I can now say I have become accustomed to the prayer calls but I still pause in awe whenever I hear the sound coming from multiples mosques (الجوامع) within a very short distance. 

Although I expected to be surrounded by the Islamic faith, I have been surprised by Morocco’s beautiful blend of ethnicities and religious influences. One of the now many routes to school in the morning sees my roommate and I walk pass a big Jewish cemetery in the heart of the city. Additionally, I was fortunate enough this past weekend to attend the Gnaoua Festival in Casablanca. The Gnaoua music stems from a mixture of Islamic Sufism and sub-Saharan, pre-Islamic African tradition. Legend claims that the Gnaoua music is so potent that it takes over the body and causes spontaneous religious dancing. While I myself did not experience the magic of spontaneous dance, I was enraptured with the beautiful blend of traditional instruments and the call and response verses. 

Skill: Colloquial Daily Greetings

Status: In Progress

The very first thing I learned in Morocco was the importance of greetings. How you address someone, what you say, how you situate your body or gesture with your hands make a very big impression about yourself before you even know a person. When I first met my host mom (امي) and my host sister (عائشة), I have enraptured into a hug and a series of cheek kisses that established my place in the family sturcture and secured my place in the intimate feminine relations of my household. Furthermore, when I met my language partner, a university student who I meet with every week to learn more about Meknes, the colloquial Arabic (Darija), and other Arabic related topics, I was put to the test with my greeting skills when I was forced to navigate a series of cheek kisses and greetings. Now, I can safely say the greeting people has become one of my favorite parts of my day because it allows me to interact with the local people in a warm and welcoming manner. Despite learning the various greetings, there are still many greetings and conversational elements that I am still trying to grasp. The biggest skill I have yet to master is the many ways to response to thank you. Before my travels to and around Morocco, the only you’re welcome I knew was عفوا, but now I have been exposed to more sayings: لا شكرا على واجب (no thanks it’s [my] duty), مرحبا and  اهلا (both common greetings – equivalent to welcome). These are only a few examples of an upcoming study that I will conduct in hopes of developing a master list of the possible responses to thank you for all situations. إن شاء الله! (God willing)

Classified: Mission Moroccan Summer

Mission Status: Accepted

AGENT’S CODE NAME: بريجيد (Brigid)

Background: Over the span of six weeks beginning on June 2, the agent will travel to Meknes, Morocco and complete an intensive Arabic language program at the Arab American Language Institute in Morocco. 

Objective: It is imperative that the agent seek to possess a greater understanding of Moroccan language: grammar, vocabulary, (much improved) conversational skills, and syntax. Moreover, the agent must learn to cope with and immerse herself in Morocco through the exploration of family life, religion, gender roles, food, and history. 

Pre-Mission Agent Log:

26 May 2022

Today, as I prepare for my first mission abroad, I am overwhelmed with the task that has been assigned to me. 

When I was given the opportunity to study abroad this summer, I was hesitant to go through with my plans. I knew eventually I would end up studying abroad while at Notre Dame, but my plans were always a semester program during junior year. My hesitancy led to a very last minute decision, application, and approval.  الحمد الله! (Praise be to God)

As I quickly approach my departure date (June 2), I can still feel the hesitancy, but now the hesitancy and nerves are being overcome with excitement and anticipation. My time abroad will completely change the way I experience Arabic and the study of the language. In an immersive environment, I can use new vocabulary and grammar in a functional and conversational environment, such as with my host family or with my classmates. Beyond that, I will be immersed in a completely new culture where I can witness the traditions, lifestyle, and customs of all Moroccans. My goals include a greater proficiency in conversational Arabic, a better understanding of grammar and syntax, and a general confidence in my Arabic skills. 

My greatest hope for my time abroad actually has nothing to do with the acquisition of language although that is my biggest goal. I want my time in Morocco to teach me the true meaning of being in a situation where I am an outsider. Going to a country where I will not be fluent in the native language, be a member of the majority population, or be familiar with the lifestyle and culture is nothing less than daunting. As an avid overthinker and a constant planner, I feel vulnerable and frantic for my six weeks abroad. Despite my discomfort, I hope that from my insecurity and uncertainty I will gain a greater understanding of myself and become more confident in the obstacles I can handle. إن شاء الله! (God willing)

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.