Posted by: alcrabat | 15 June 2011

Zineb, How Do I Clean a Rug ? By Shelley Dewig,

« Zineb, How do I… ? »


Those four words have defined my experience in this wonderful and challenging country. As a first year teacher, traveler to Morocco and Africa at large, speaker of Arabic, etc., I have found my time incredibly exhilarating and the most profoundly difficult. Looking back on the time I spent planning and calculating for this year, I have realized that so much of what I prepared myself for couldn’t have been predicted. Of course, this is typical of any life changing adventure, but I have been more aware of each unforeseen event this past year than in any other. These events have been the catalyst for growth in ways I could have only previously imagined. And each little step forward always started with four little words to my most patient roommate…


When I first arrived in Rabat, I stayed with a host family which definitely eased my transition into this foreign land. For two weeks I thought that having to eat different food, find my way around a new city, adapt to a completely new culture that had different views on everything, and missing my family, friends and fiance in a way that I never thought possible before, would be enough to make me go crazy. Then I had to find an apartment. And teach English. And lesson plan. And learn survival Arabic. And figure out where to get money before my first paycheck. And start the paperwork for my carte de sejour and work papers. And teach English. And learn how to handwash clothes. And learn how to cook. And teach English. And learn how to rent an apartment in a new country. And learn how and where to open an account for our electricity and water bills. And figure out how to talk to my loved ones. And choose which internet company was the best. And purchase a phone. And learn how not to get swindled. And try not to look so American. And find out where to purchase cleaning supplies. And meat. And fruits and vegetables. And learn how to wash and clean them properly. And thus, « Zineb, How do I… ? »


These all sound like trivial problems now that I’ve been here for 8 months and have adapted remarkably well given my « beyond stressed out » state at the beginning. I owe most of that to my wonderful roommate Zineb, who has helped me understand how to work a « buta gaz » propane tank, how to handwash clothes and sheets, how to cook something better than rice and tuna and how to ask Redal employees about a spurious bill calculation. She also helped me to know if I should tip taxi drivers, waiters, hair stylists and how to talk with and understand homeless people’s stories when they ask for money. Zineb, along with others, taught me basic Arabic words for « parsley », « oregano », « half a kilo », « milk », « sugar », etc. to help me in my quests for basic necessities. Without such thorough and helpful answers to my questions, it would have taken me much longer to navigate the train/bus systems. In addition, I might not have pushed myself as much to walk to Bokrone in the medina to buy food and attempt communication in darija. I probably wouldn’t have bought fabric for sheets and had them sown by a friendly tailor or gotten holes in my clothes fixed. I might have succumbed to the depression and stress that accompanied an absolute missing of the most beloved people in my life. I might have stopped trying when I felt that teaching wasn’t as easy as I had expected it to be. Finally, after hitting many low points, without the knowledge that I acquired from those simple questions, my confidence might not have been bolstered up to where I could gain some footing and eventually come around.


Because of Zineb and my wonderful friends and associates at the ALC and in the Rabat community, I have become an utterly different person than the « Shelley » who arrived so many months ago. I no longer stress out (as much) when one little thing goes wrong or when a class doesn’t go as smoothly as I would have hoped. I don’t make (as much of) a fuss when I am falling behind on my cleaning or when I am harrassed on the street. I am able to laugh openly and freely and enjoy a bright, sunny day like someone who has achieved a sense of balance. I cannot adequately describe how much my friends’ and colleagues’ support has meant to me. I think of it often, and I feel very thankful to be able to express a piece of my gratitude in this article. It is my hope that as life takes me and those I’m closest to here in other directions, these words will serve as a reminder of the importance of community solidarity, hope, love and encouragement. Without these, we all fail. Without answers to my « Zineb, How do I…. » questions, I would have failed.


As Gregory David Roberts ends his partly fictional memoir, Shantaram, I want to leave you, dear readers, with some beautifully worded advice :


For this is what we do. Put one foot forward and then the other. Lift our eyes to the snarl and smile of the world once more. Think. Act. Feel. Add our little consequence to the tides of good and evil that flood and drain the world. Drag our shadowed crosses into the hope of another night. Push our brave hearts into the promise of a new day. With love: the passionate search for truth other than our own. With longing: the pure, ineffable yearning to be saved. For so long as fate keeps waiting, we live on. God help us. God forgive us. We live on.


  1. i read what you writed but can you please chow me how to enrisisted in this association

  2. i like sincerely your story

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