By Jack Stanovsek
By Jack Stanovsek
Rabat – My eyes open with the softness of my phone’s alarm, gently trying to pull me out of my slumber. I ignore it for around three minutes, trying to catch just a few more precious moments of sleep. Built up body heat escapes as I pull off my blanket cacoon of warmth and Rabat’s winter air engulfs my body: I am forced awake.
After showering I shift from spheres of private to public, walking through my host family’s living room to eat breakfast. Blue and orange stained glass lanterns hang from the ceiling gleaming with the morning sunrise onto the lavender and lime green walls adorned with tapestries and a golden unloaded Arab musket. Intricate patterns of golden thread adorn bright red couch cushions with small colourful round pillows scattered on top for extra comfort.
In the centre of the cold tiled floor about three inches above the ground is a round gold metallic table, atop which sits a tarnished silver teapot and two small glass cups: everything unmistakably Moroccan. I sit down and my host mother pours tea in the traditional method, carefully pouring the steaming hot liquid from around half a meter above the cup. I eat some khubz wa bayadh, eggs and bread, converse a little with the family and head outside.
Walking through the markets is always a delight. A small cobblestone laneway is jam packed with stalls of eager Moroccan vendors selling bread, sweets, olives, fruits, herbs, spice racks, oils, meats and other delicatessens. Every step’s a new smell, every turn of the head a new anxious vendor trying to keep up with customers’ demands. I squeeze myself through the crowd and stop by my usual stall, throw down three dirhams and pick up a small bag of chebakia, honey sesame cookies, from my favourite vendor. The honey adheres to my thumb as I scarf them down and enter a distinctly French architectural office building, climb eighty steps and knock on the middle door on the third level.
Ali Bensaaba, director and founder of the Moroccan Centre for Arabic Studies (MCAS), invites me in with his usual massive grin and infectious personality. The new office is bright and gives a fantastic view of medinat qadeemah, or Rabat’s old city. He asks how everything is going with the host family, with work and with my Arabic lessons, always keenly observant of all his interns’ needs and aspirations for their duration in Rabat. I tell him everything had been going excellently and I continue into the classroom to see my instructor.
Around August of this year, I was in a panic: an Arabic major who was on exchange in Australia instead of an Arabic speaking country, putting myself at a hopeless disadvantage to my colleagues in Amman, Beirut or Tunis. Searching online for internships, there weren’t many options that would work with my strict timeline. And then there was MCAS.
I applied on a Sunday and received a message from Ali the following Tuesday. He had me send over my résumé and set up a Skype interview with me that week. During the interview, he laid out my internship options in Rabat explaining that he had contacts for literally any field I was interested in and that he would create an itinerary based on the dates that I could come. After accepting the position, he was in constant communication with me making sure I knew everything that I needed to, from plane tickets to cultural assimilation to work schedule to Arabic lessons. Upon arrival, Ali was personally there to greet me and introduce me to my host family, where I’d be living for the next month. The next day, I met my Arabic teacher and owner of the organisation he set me up at, with everything aspect a superb learning experience fronted by a confident leader.
MCAS’s biggest appeal by far is its origins: an initiative started by Moroccans in Morocco to provide opportunities for outside influence to benefit the greater Moroccan community. While I’ve worked with different international organisations with offices headed in San Francisco and New York City, MCAS refreshingly offers world-class experience with the intimacy of a locally connected grassroots organisation.
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