My dad called me in Morocco and said “Can you believe you’re the only one in the family that’s touched Africa??”
I quickly reminded him that my Grandmother’s been to Egypt, but conceded that yes, I am incredibly lucky and had to pinch myself constantly.
Morocco is the most different place I’ve ever been to. The language, culture, and religion all made me feel like I had stepped out of my own life.
And it was wonderful. I had the pleasure of doing a field program that had only professors, staff, and lifelong learners. I loved being the only student.
We left bright and early toward the blue city of Chefchaouen. You’ve seen pictures of it, I promise. Even when we arrived at night there was something magical about the various shades of blue. Our tour the next morning was quiet. Only a few shop owners were out, selling bread. In Morocco, bread is subsidized by the government so that any family can afford a basic loaf for only 1 Dirham. It’s a wonderful measure against poverty. The Hammans, or public baths, are also very cheap because it is imperative for Muslims to cleanse their bodies. We did a bit of shopping and then drove to Fez.
(Also, the vegeterian option at every single meal was veggie couscous. I became a bit of an expert. I drank gallons of sweet mint tea and bought some to bring home so if you live with me you can look forward to that.)
Fez was pretty large and had beautiful big gates opening to the medina, which is the city center. Inside there are no cars allowed, only donkeys and wheelbarrows! The sights and scents were overwhelming. Piles of aromatic spices spilled out onto the alleys and hunks of meat hung from the ceilings. There were merchants pulling you and calling you to their shop. Once you looked like you liked somethingthey would push you to settle on a “democratic price.” I got better at haggling as the trip went on… it’s like the national sport.
We visited the old Jewish neighborhood as well and went inside a quaint temple that had a museum attached.
I became obsessed with the intricately decorated buildings throughout the country. In Islam, depictions of humans or animals are forbidden, so the art work consists of geometric shapes and calligraphic phrases from the Qur’an.
My favorite experience was visiting a mosaic and pottery workshop. The craftspeople were expertly cutting, painting, and carving. The thousands of beautiful fountains and pottery gained a new meaning after seeing how painstaking the process is. One day, when I have a home to put it in, I will get a tiny moroccan fountain.
Can I just say that there is an astoundingly high cat:human ratio here? It’s great.
On the third night I went to a Moroccan variety show with some friends and got pulled on stage to dance with a traditional Berber band! It was super cool and the music was incredible. This super athletic group of five men would throw their drums around and spin them while playing super-intricate rhythms.
Luckily, three-ish years ago, the Moroccan government began to allow women to enter the mosques. I got to visit several beautiful mosques that were alive with prayer. It was nice to step into a peaceful oasis in the hectic medina.
On the way back to Casablanca we stopped in Volobulis, a terrific old Roman city. It was as well-preserved as Pompeii, and they also had great mosaic floors.
The morning before we left I caved in and ate at Rick’s Restaurant, named after the famous one from the movie. It’s kind of a tourist attraction but we still had to go and say we did.
Morocco is beautiful. Some would say it is more culturally similar to the middle east than to West Africa, and in a way showed me a glimpse into a part of the world that I am unlikely to visit anytime soon. It truly made me forget myself and helped me begin to understand many issues in our world today.