SALEM — Anissa Talantikite is living in an ancient city in Morocco where she is studying women's economic empowerment as a Fulbright Fellow.
Talantikite, 22, graduated from Salem High School in 2005 and attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she earned a degree in political science and international affairs earlier this year.
"She is living with a host family in a 500-year-old home and learning a whole new alphabet," said her mother, Kathy Wholley-Talantikite, a special-education teacher at Salem High School. "We're very proud of her. It's exciting."
Her father, Loucif, is originally from Algeria. Her parents live in Salem.
Sponsored by the Department of State, Fulbright is the largest U.S. international exchange program, according to its Web site.
The Salem News corresponded with Anissa over e-mail to learn about her experience thus far in Morocco.
How did you brainstorm your project?
As a student at UMass Amherst, there is a strong consciousness surrounding women's rights and gender relations, and I'd taken some economics classes that got me thinking about the relationship between women's empowerment and economic freedom. When I read about Argan oil women's cooperatives in Morocco, I really felt excited about the possibilities of this research.
What are you researching?
My research focuses broadly on the topic of women's economic empowerment in Morocco, and in particular, I will be studying a Berber women's cooperative called Targanine that makes and sells Argan oil. The nutrient-rich oil is known to have properties that help preserve healthy skin and diet. ... It's a great mix of promoting sustainable farming, women's rights and economic development.
What is a typical day for you in Fes?
Wake up, four hours of Arabic class, sometimes an additional lecture on culture and walk around a little.¬ It's not very different from life at home, only the language barrier makes for some pretty interesting exchanges.
Getting a taxi back to my house is the most energizing part of my day because taxi drivers here drive with no fear.¬ The whole idea of traffic law doesn't exactly apply ... (It's) much more intense than the (New York City) taxi experience in my opinion.
Are you settling in?
The Moroccan American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange (MACECE) does a wonderful job facilitating our immersion into Moroccan society, which is a bit more challenging to do during the holy month of Ramadan. MACECE organized an orientation in Rabat where we were introduced to U.S. embassy officials and Moroccan professors to give us introductory lectures on Islam, women's rights, Moroccan history and other topics.
Where are you living?
I am living with a host family in the old medina of Fes.¬
What it is like?
The streets are like a big maze, very narrow and windy.¬ I'm not so good with directions as it is, so I feel completely disoriented when I'm walking through the medina.¬ I just have to trust that eventually I'll make it to where I want to go.¬
Pace of your research?
The rhythm of life is very different from that of America, meaning I'll need to learn another approach to conducting research. There's a vibrant community of women's activist groups here that I'm eager to learn more about.
What will you do with your research?
Eventually, I'm hoping to use my case study research to imagine ways to expand global gender equality through greater economic freedom, especially in the so-called Arab/Muslim world.
How is the cuisine?
Delicious. Moroccans know how to eat. All the food is very fresh! I arrived during the holy month of Ramadan, though, so the majority of the population is fasting for the duration of the day, and eating after sundown. I haven't completely experienced the cuisine because there are special traditional dishes eaten this month.
Are you learning Arabic?
Yes, I just started learning Derija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. It's tough, to say the least. Hopefully in time and with practice, I'll be able to make basic conversation with Moroccans.
What's been most surprising?
I'm most surprised and pleased by the lack of any notion of time here.¬ Moroccans are never in a hurry and they really make the most of sitting down to a meal, passing time with friends and family and showing people they care about each other. I find a general sense of camaraderie and warmth among strangers that I've never felt before.
Do you have a favorite activity?
It's fun to travel the country because it's relatively small but still so diverse in terms of population, weather and the general feeling of a city. So far, I've seen Rabat, Fes and Tanger. I hope to travel as much as possible within the country during my time here.
What do you hope to do after the Fulbright?
It's hard to think about the future right now because so much is happening in my life in this moment. I'd like to complete a master's degree in Islamic law and Middle Eastern studies, and eventually I'd like to continue to work with women's organizations in Islamic countries, as well as in America. One day, I might like to join the Foreign Service and work at the State Department. It all depends on where life takes me.