Morocco Memories

From the AIFS blog…

If you had told me a year ago that in the future I would ride a camel in Morocco, I wouldn’t have believed you. Last spring, when I saw that my AIFS program offers an optional trip to Morocco, I signed up in a heartbeat. If I am honest, the trip seemed like a mark on my bucket list until I got to Granada and began to learn how much Arab influence there is here. My history of Spain professor made it clear when we were discussing the topic of Al-Andalus (the territories under Muslim rule from 700 A.D to 1492 A.D) that yes, Granada was the last part of the Iberian Peninsula to be under Arab rule but before that, Al-Andalus consisted of a vast majority of what today is Portugal and Spain. The fact that Spain is the closest European country to Africa is, and long has been, an important one in the formation of Spain´s history, policy and culture, especially in Andalucia. After I laerned this, I became even more excited to visit Morocco. I was eager to see the similarities and diffiences between Morocco and my adoptive home.

Friday morning, we boarded the bus at 7:45 am and drove to Tarifa, which is 3 hours southwest of Granada. When we got there, we boarded the ferry and crossed to Morocco in 45 seasick filled minutes.Over the next three days we visited Tangier, Tetouan, Chefchaouen and Asilah. Each city held a different pull: Tangier, a bustling city; Tetouan, the home of carpets; Chefchaouen, the city of blue; Asilah, a seaside paridse. Although my time in Morocco was short, I really enjoyed experiencing some of its culture.


The Food

Part of studying abroad for me has been learning to eat new foods and I was not disappointed by the food in Morocco. My absolute favorite thing I had to eat was at breakfast. It is called msemen and is thin, square shaped fried bread. In our hotel, a woman made them fresh each morning and we were able to eat them while they were still hot, with honey and goat cheese. I also loved the mint tea we were served at the first restaurant we went to in Tangier. Like the tea served in the teahouses in Granada in the Albacin, it was served with the tea leaves floating in the small plastic cup. Morocco mint tea is sweeter than any other type of mint tea I have had before and is quite refreshing after a large meal.  IMG_3668
We also had couscous, which I was really excited to try. Since I don´t eat meat, mine was alway vegatable, consisting normally of grilled carrots and cucumbers. The spices that were used mixed with the grain and vegatables perfectly. The best part of eating at restaurants was the way the couscous was brought to you: in a tagine. A tagine is a clay bowl with a bottom and lid often painted on the outside with bright colors traditionally used to cook over coals.



The People

Although we didn´t have to opportunity to talk to many Moroccans outside of shops and resteraunts, one of the characteristics of the Moroccan people that I did talk with that amazed me was their ability to speak different langauges. Morocco has been occupied by numerous countries throughout its history and this is evident in the tongues of its people. Most people I met spoke at least 3, if not more langauges. Our tourist guide told us that most people in Morocco speak Arabic, English and either French or Spanish, if not both. I found watching the people from the bus was we drove by gave me the opportunity to see the varying type of dress worn in Morocco. I was very struck by, despite having been warned, the lack of women I saw. Those who I did see wore varying types of headscarves. Many wore the hijab, which covers the head, while others wore the niqab, which leaves only the area around the eyes clear. Some men wore traditional clothing as well, which in itself varied from the djellaba, which is a long, loose garment with sleeves, and the qob, which has a pointed hood. Many men wore balgha, which are leather slippers with no heals. Balgha come in all different colors and designs and seeing them all spread out in the store was always an incredible experience.


The Landscape/Cities

We drove through mountains and farm land, past black olive farms and by the Atlantic ocean. Morocco didn’t look like what I thought it would. For some reason, I expected it to be more dry but the part of Morocco we were in was very green.
Our tour guide said they were hurting for rain so I can only imagine how green Morocco can get sometimes. The mountains reached high into the skies and rocks of all shapes and sizes were shattered across the fields. In the cities we visited, the part of the atmosphere that struck me the most was how many Moroccan flag were flying.
In the bigger cities of Tangier and Tetouan, the buildings reminded me of those of Granada, reaching high and built in similar style. In Chefchaouen, I was fasinated by the varying shades of blue painted all over the city. Literally whole streets and the walls surrounding them were painted blue.

Asilah was a maze inside of the walls of an old Portuguese fort. The walls of the buildings were painted with bright street art and the salty smell of the ocean hung in the air.


From my phone, the first night there…

There are no women here.

But of course, that’s not true and a perception of my Westernized eyes. But what a strange observation to have to make in a world I view as being progressive, if not far enough for me. So how is the world for women here? What do they feel about their place in it?

These are the thoughts that are running through my mind as we’ve walked through the streets of Tangier today. After a three hour bus ride, a seasick inducing help get me off this boat as soon as possible 45 minute ferry ride, we arrived in Morocco…



The things that struck me that day were the refusal of the men in the market to bargain even though we had been told before we came to that everyone expected you to bargain, how many men there was everywhere, just sitting in cafes, all their chairs pointed towards the street, watching the people [us] who walked by. We went to a restaurant that day for lunch that had a band that played and a five course meal (soup, salad, couscous, dessert and mint tea) and then went to a weaving shop and a natural medicine store. We had some free time to shop then and that night we had dinner at the hotel. As we walked back to the bus, I honestly really began to feel uncomfortable. It was like as soon as the sunlight disappeared, I felt the stares of the men and lack of women more than I had before. People followed us trying to sell goods (one man with a rainbow scarf followed us for almost the whole afternoon). It was an interesting, although not liked, feeling since I have always felt safe in the cities I’ve visited before, even at night.

The next day we took a two hour bus ride to Chefchaouen. We walked around and everyone who passed us felt the need to shout things out in English, which I could not understand and am still unsure if whether or not they were trying to be friendly. Chefchaouen was beautiful and our lunch was amazing. We did more shopping before heading back through the twisting roads to Tetouan. Once there, we walked through an insanely busy market before going to a carpet store. The carpets were super pretty but so expensive and they didn’t stop trying to sell them to us once we said no. One that was probably two by 5 feet costs $500! That night we had dinner and a show, which was a guy balancing a tray of burning candles on his head and then a belly dancer. The next day we went to Asilah. On the way we got to ride camels for a short bit and then once there we walked around some and had free time. I ended up by the water with a friend since we were both done with the merchants attacking us to buy things and simply wanted to enjoy the beauty of the ocean.

My attitude towards the trip may sound tinted by negativity and I will admit, there were many aspects of what I saw and experienced that I didn’t like. There were parts I could have changed, linked to what the program I went with did–I wish we hadn’t rode the bus so much, I wish we had had more opportunities to speak with people from the country, but there were aspects of my experience that I can’t and couldn’t ever have changed because they are aspects of the culture I was observing and visiting. I think, although in the moment I didn’t like it, now, two weeks removed, that negative feeling I got often while in Morocco was the best part of the trip. I got that feeling because I was seeing things I had never seen before, parts of a culture very different than my own, and although different, not any better or worse, just different and I needed to see that, to feel all of that. I always do. It’s how I realize what I have.


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