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I Was A Little American Girl in Morocco.

When I was growing up, even though I was American, I didn’t grow up all in America. I went to elementary school in England and Morocco.  My dad was in the military.  There was no military base in Morocco, so he worked out of the embassy.  I had to attend an embassy school because I didn’t speak Arabic which was the national language of Morocco.  I grew up very differently than most American kids.  I see things on Facebook about what the kids were watching on TV in America or what music was popular, and I can’t relate.  When we were in Morocco, we didn’t even have a TV because my parents thought, “What’s the use? No one will understand it anyway.”  However, my dad learned to speak Arabic and told me stories in Arabic. I thought that perhaps I would give you a description of the way things were.

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We lived in a town called Tamara, outside of Rabat, the capital city, in a villa.  In Korea, a villa is just a small apartment building with larger rooms than the regular apartment buildings, but in Morocco, a villa was a very large house.  The rooms were very large, and it was 2 story.  The outside was completely white washed. There was a balcony all along the front of the house on the second floor. There was also a balcony off my parent’s bedroom upstairs.  Our yard was an orange and lemon orchard in the front.  In the back, there was a big vegetable garden where Yagoop, our Arab gardener spent his days.  On one side in the back of the yard, there was a fatima house.  A fatima is a maid.  My mother had a maid, Fatna, our fatima, but she didn’t live in the house. Yagoop and Fatna were married and lived in their own house that Yagoop built. The fatima house was nice and bigger than the apartments that we have lived in here in Korea.  It was also painted with white wash on the outside.  All around the property, there was a tall white washed wall as a fence.

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If you went inside the villa, the bottom floor consisted of an extremely large garage on one side with a red concrete floor.  My parents converted this into a living room and a gymnasium.  My dad was a boxer, so one end of the room was filled with exercise equipment. He was not the only one to use it.  The kids used it too, including me. On the other side of the downstairs, there was another very large room. It was the kitchen. It had a beautiful ceramic mosaic tiled floor.  It was a modern kitchen that had cupboards and cabinets lining the walls.  At the front of the house downstairs, there was an foyer when you entered, and from the foyer, you could go right to the kitchen, straight up stairs, or down a hallway to a bathroom. The toilet was one of those kind that had a chain above it to pull to flush it.

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If you went upstairs, right at the top of the stairs, there was a landing, and immediately straight in front of the stairs, there was a room.  If you go to the left off the landing, you go to the long balcony at the front.  When we first went into the house, the previous tenants were using that room in front of the stairs as a living room. They were Arabs, and all the furniture was very low leather couches, leather hassocks, and a brass table in the middle.  We also had leather hassocks and a brass table.  If you go to the right at the landing, you go to my parents’ bedroom. It was a very large room too.  The room in front of the landing wasn’t as big as the other rooms in the house.

If you walk in the smaller room from the landing and turn right, there was another door leading into a large bedroom.  My brothers used the smaller room as their bedroom, and my older sister and I slept in the larger room.  If you kept walking through the larger room to the other side, there was a large bathroom.  We had a bidet, and I was so puzzled by it.  I almost gassed myself to death accidentally in that bathroom. If we went in to use the water, we were supposed to open the window, but I forgot to open the window and began washing my hair, and the next thing you know, they were walking me back and forth outside trying to keep me awake and had called the medic to see what to do.  I also helped my mother do laundry in one of those washing machines with the rollers on the top in that big bathroom.

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When I went to school, initially, we were the only American kids in Tamara, so the embassy sent a chauffeur driven limousine to take us to school. Our school was called Rabat American School. It was an embassy school where all the kids whose parents who worked at the embassies in Rabat went to school there. There were kids from lots of different countries.  I hung out with a little boy from England and a little girl from Korea.  There was a large wall all the way around the school except for one part in the back, and there was just a fence. We weren’t allowed to play back there because the Arab kids didn’t like us, and I didn’t know why.  The Arab kids lined up along that fence and threw rocks at us, so we had to stay in the other parts of the school.  I really enjoyed school because I liked books. I looked forward to the times we were supposed to read alone or listen to the teacher read to us.  I also enjoyed the French lessons.

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After a while, more American kids moved to Tamara, and the embassy exchanged the limo for what they called a micro bus. It was one of the first of its kind. It was a big van with lots of seats.  On the way home, we often went up over a hill, and we could see the beach when we went on the hill. Often, we could see whales spouting in the ocean from that hill too.  When we weren’t in school, often my parents took us swimming at that beach. My mother couldn’t swim, but my dad was a fabulous swimmer, and all of us kids learned to swim.

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When we got home from school, my sister, my younger brother, and I played in the yard. My dad set up a place to play badminton on one side of the house and made a tepee with an old parachute on the other side of the house for us to use like a play house. We also had a swing set in the back yard. We also climbed trees that were in the yard.  Sometimes, we played with the Arab girl who lived next door. We liked to play jump rope with her. I jumped a lot of rope back then, at school and at home.  The Arab girl next door couldn’t speak English, and we couldn’t speak Arabic. However, we were taking French lessons at school because we were living in French Morocco, so we spoke a little French, and the neighbor spoke a little French too, so that is how we communicated.  She even spoke a little Spanish and tried using that on us, but I didn’t speak Spanish back then.  Her uncle used to come and watch us play. He sat on the ground.  He wore a long robe and a turban that didn’t cover the top of his bald head.  I think he probably wasn’t watching her very well because he must have been blind because I was freaked out when I saw him let flies crawl on his eye balls.  All the kids liked him, though, and when he came, all the Arab kids who were out playing came and sat around him and listened to him speak.

Sometimes, we walked down to a local place at the end of the street where there was water. Cactus was growing close, and there was fruit growing on the cactus.  If we played in the water, leaches grabbed a hold of our skin and wouldn’t let go.  When we pulled them off, they left big red rings where they had sucked our blood.

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After a while, we were no longer allowed to leave the yard without a parent because there were kidnappings, and one happened in our village. There was an Arab girl walking to school with some other kids.  A car stopped, someone threw some dust in her face, and they grabbed her, put her in the car, and sped away.  The police figured out that they were kidnapping kids and taking them to Ephraim up in the mountains.  There, the old people thought that if they drank the blood of children, they would remain young.  The Arabs in Ephraim were different from the others. Most Arabs had dark hair, dark eyes, and tanned skin, but in Ephraim, the Arabs had blonde hair and blue eyes. We were told they especially thought the blood of American kids worked well, so from then on, we had less freedom and had to be with an adult at all times.  We also heard that there were human body parts that showed up at the meat market for sale.

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My younger brother spent all his time with Yagoop. They were great buddies!  They spoke in Arabic together.  Yagoop was always taking him on the back of his bike with him to the store.  Everyone in the village knew they hung out together.  At one point, my brother was out playing and sitting on the wall in the front of the house.  An Arab came by and tried to talk him into going with him saying he would take him to Yagoop.  My mother happened to year and intervened. Yagoop just happened to be in the backyard.  The man was trying to kidnap my brother.

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At night, we were often kept from our sleep by a loud noise. The neighbors in back of us  had a laughing hyena tied up in their yard. It laughed all night long!

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Since I described my neighbor’s uncle, maybe I should tell you more about Yagoop, our gardener, and Fatna, our maid who were married.  They lived in a house that Yagoop built.  When we went to visit them, it was a small shack made with tin and cardboard.  The kitchen was all along the front of the shack. It was just an awning on the front of the shack with a stove, cupboards, and cabinets and a dirt floor.  If you went inside, There was no where to walk. You went directly to a round couch that was around a round table. Behind that round couch, you could climb from the couch to the bed. There was no floor between them.  Yagoop made $1.00 a day working for us, and that was a good salary. He was very happy with it.  He didn’t wear the robes like our neighbor’s uncle.  He just wore regular pants and shirts.  Fatna wore a long dress and a veil that she kept over her head, but didn’t particularly pull over her face.  She was always singing in Arabic, and I wanted to understand what she was singing, but she wouldn’t explain it except that it was a love song, and that I wouldn’t understand.  Fatna wore red henna on her hands and feet because she thought it was pretty.

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Fatna wore lots of bangles up and down her arms.

 

At one point, there were a lot of break ins in our village.  They broke into every American’s house, and Fatna cleaned house for all of them.  The police decided that Fatna must be the connection and know something, so they took her to jail and beat her with a whip everyday trying to get information out of her, but she knew nothing.  We all knew Fatna was innocent, but there was nothing anyone could do. We worried about Fatna everyday until they released her.

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When the burglars came to our house, my dad was prepared.  Americans weren’t allowed to have guns.  He practiced with a bow and arrows.  He put wet mats outside all our outside doors and wired the door nobs to electrical outlets before we went to bed.  He also kept a butcher’s knife and a baseball bat under his bed.  One night, we heard someone shaking the back door nob.  He tried to get in, but the electricity was keeping him attached to the door nob.  He finally got off the door nob. My dad went out on his balcony with his bow and arrow and was shooting it at him yelling in Arabic, “Leave! Never come back!”  The guy yelled back, “Don’t worry! I won’t!”

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The burglar was finally caught at some other American’s house from his own stupidity.  The American teenage son had come in the house late after everyone in the house had gone to bed and forgotten and left the back door unlocked.  The Arab burglar tried their back door as they had tried ours, and found it unlocked, so let himself in.  He found a pair of shoes and some beer and mayonnaise in the fridge. He put the shoes on and took the beer and mayonnaise and went outside and sat on the lawn.  He sat there eating a whole jar of mayonnaise straight and drinking a six pack of beer. He got drunk and passed out. The police found him like passed out with empty beer cans all around him and a large sized jar of empty mayonnaise next to him. After he was arrested, there were no more burglaries, so they were sure they got the right man.

This is not everything that happened when we lived in Morocco, but this gives you a little bit of a taste of what my childhood was like.

 

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2 thoughts on “I Was A Little American Girl in Morocco.”

  1. You are so lucky to remember so much of your time in Morocco! I cannot remember much of mine at all! I was younger than you as I never went to school in Morocco–but my sister did. I did learn to speak Arabic, French and Spanish while there but soon forgot it after returning to the US and never speaking it again with anyone here. However, when I took Spanish again in High School, I learned it quickly and easily; and my Spanish teacher, who was a Cuban exile, told me my accent was excellent. So, I guess it is in my subconscious somewhere!

    I, too, had a Fatima who cared for me–which is probably where I learned my Arabic. She tied me to her back while she did her chores and went to market, as I was just a toddler. Since I had white blonde hair and blue eyes, I had to be covered at all times for fear of being kidnapped. Mother rarely took me to market because if anyone saw me, they would be swarmed by people wanting to touch me to “ward off the evil eye.”

    After reading your story, I realized that perhaps I named my daughter Tamara because of the city near Rabat! I thought had never heard the name before. I had heard of Tamar, of course; but did not want to name her that. So, I thought I had made up “Tamara”; but perhaps it was buried in my subconscious, too!!!

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    1. My little brother was 2 years old in Morocco, and he learned Arabic because he hung out with the gardener all the time. They were best friends. When we came back to America, he refused to speak Arabic and was grumpy if he heard anyone speak it, but after he had kids, he began barking out commands to them in Arabic and speaking to them in Arabic. As for me, I always consider that I don’t speak Arabic, but sometimes I surprise myself. If I hear people speaking in Arabic, I was surprised, because I usually understand. The French I studied became the base for all the other languages I learned to speak. It gave me a basis to understand better. I think when we learn another language when we are young, it expands our minds to be able to learn other languages easier because we understand the concepts better. When I was in Romania, people were trying to communicate with me before I learned to speak Romanian, and I understood, but didn’t know why, and it finally dawned on me they were speaking to me in French. Now, I have a Friend who is studying French, and she keeps trying to speak to me in French. I may feel like I don’t know much French, but I am always correcting her pronunciation because I know how it should be said. Learning language while we are small, it is always with us. It changes us.

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