On September 20, after taking our level test, we all jumped on a bus and headed off to Tarifa, Spain for one night. Bright and early the next morning, we were off to Tangier, Morocco!!! The ferry ride between Spain and Morocco was only an hour long and consisted of only 9 miles! 9 miles of water was all that separated two very different lifestyles.
View of Africa from the ferry
After we got off the ferry, we hopped on a bus and went to a local market. When we walked into the market we were greeted with the smell of fish, chicken, and other meats. It was not a good smell combination. After getting some snacks and water, we walked to a women's center called DARNA. Here we got a tour of the building and were told what they do there. The center teaches women modern sewing and traditional sewing.
The center also teaches women how to read and write. According to our guide, 40% of Moroccans are illiterate, and the majority of these people are women. After our tour, we had lunch/discussion with 3 Moroccan women. It was really interesting to talk to them and hear their views. One thing we spent a good amount of time talking about was head scarves. I always thought it was a requirement of their religion. From these 3 women, 2 who were wearing head scarves and 1 who was not, that this is not true. It is not a requirement, but a choice. One woman said that it is a way to show their love of god. Another thing was talked about was women independence in Morocco. Now-a-days, women are becoming more independent: they live alone and have jobs. While women can get jobs, it is extremely hard to find one.
After the center we had an hour bus ride to Asilah. Right before we got there, Allen, the leader of our group, stopped the bus so we could ride a camel along the Atlantic Ocean.
Looks cool, right?! Well it was. And it was terrifying! When camels get up and go down they do so in a rocking manner. Yup, almost fell off the camel going up. But I didn't!! So that was really exciting at the time. This was definitely an interesting experience, but I'm glad I can now I say that I rode a camel along the Atlantic Ocean in Africa. If any of you decide to ride a camel one day, here's a little tid bit for you: camels buck. Didn't know that? Neither did we, until my friend got bucked off a camel. Luckily she's okay, but now we all know: camels may look calm, but once they get sassy, they will buck you right off.
After the camel ride, we walked through Asilah. It was beautiful. Instead of describing it, I'll just show you pictures instead.
View from a pier
Beyond beautiful. In Asilah, there are some walls that are painted white each year, then artists come and paint a mural on the newly painted white walls. All of the murals were amazing!
At one point during the walk we got to a pier. While standing on the pier, we saw a group of boys who were jumping off the pier into the water! Did I mention the pier was between 2 and 3 stories high? Yeah. Crazy! But you could tell they were having the time of their lives!!
After Asilah, we drove to Rabat to meet our homestay families. My homestay mom was the sweetest, nicest, most precious lady I have ever met!! She was beyond welcoming and made my friends and I feel right at home. In each homestay, it is a requirement that one person speaks English. We were fortunate enough that our homestay mom actually spoke English. So we were able to talk to her very easily! On our first night in the homestay, our homestay mom taught us how to make Moroccan tea. Alright everybody. This tea. So simple. Yet it is literally the best tea drink I have ever had! (That's why we were all so excited she showed us how to make it.) Let me tell ya, Morocco knows how to do tea. To make Moroccan tea all you need is: really hot water, black tea, mint leaves, and sugar. Simple. Yet soooooo good!!
And that was just day one in Morocco.
The next morning our host mom showed us how to get from our house to the meeting point. We were the farthest away, but I was okay with it because in order to get to the meeting point, we had to take back roads. I loved it because I felt I saw real Morocco. My friends and I would be walking and see kids running around playing tag or football and looking beyond happy!
Anyway, so the next day we went to a GNO in a town across the river from Rabat. Before this, we drove past a slum or shanti town. You know, you can see slums in movies or pictures and read about them, but nothing, and I mean nothing, can prepare you for actually seeing a slum. I was near tears just driving by one. It broke my heart. Our leader, Allen, told us that it is next to impossible for people in slums to get out. Once you're in...you're in. The slums we drove past were extremely unclean and rundown. It was the most heartbreaking thing I have ever seen.
After driving past the slum, we went to the GNO which was very interesting and informative. We had a discussion with two Moroccans who were about our age. It was interesting because the two of them were just going at it. They were discussing the Koran and whether it should be followed 100% or should be looked at in a different light. I know I've used "interesting" so many times, but it was!
After the discussion we saw Roman ruins and gardens. Once again, beautiful!
Later in the day, we got into groups of 3 and walked around Morocco with a Moroccan. It was awesome! The person who we were with was great! We literally talked about everything under the sun. I loved talking to the Moroccans because, in one day, I heard 3 very different view points. Awesome!! Finally, that night we went to a Hammam which is a traditional Arab bath. It was an experience, let me tell ya that. However, they do give you this scrub pad to exfoliate your skin. My skin was so smooth for days! It was great!
And that, was day two.
The next day we left our homestay and drove to the Rif Mountains. Before we left Rabat, we stopped at the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V. This is the current kings grandfather. Also buried at the mausoleum is the current kings father and uncle.
This is the mausoleum.
After this short visit, we drove to the Rif Mountains where we had lunch with a family who live and farm there. The walk through the village and up to his house was unreal. The only real way to describe it is through pictures.
Walking through the village.
This is how they get their water.
Walking through the mountains.
Once we finally got to the house, we all sat in this large room on cushions on the floor and had a short discussion. The owner of the house did not speak any English. For this reason, we had a translator with us. Everybody introduced themselves and then we were able to ask some questions before we had lunch. We ate lunch sitting on the cushions and it was just a free for all, but it was all delicious!! The family has 6 kids, I think. The kids who were there were the most well-mannered children I have ever seen. After lunch, we took a tour of the farm. The view was...unbelievable.
After saying our goodbyes, we headed off to Chefchaouen. This was another beautiful city that's set in a valley of the mountains.
As soon as we got there we headed off to our hostel. Once we got settled we finally had free time! That meant shopping time! Now, people here like to haggle, so that was fun! Finally, it was our last dinner in Morocco. I decided to be adventurous and try something called a pastilla. It's shredded chicken wrapped in a filo dough type thing and sprinkled with powered sugar. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great. But I'm glad I tried it!
After dinner we went to the terrace of our hostel and had a reflection meeting. I'm not gonna lie, I had a hard time listening because I was too busy watching the moon rise above the mountains in Africa. :) Beautiful. Beyond beautiful. After the meeting I stayed up on that terrace for awhile talking and just enjoying the view. It was so peaceful and beautiful up there. The pictures will never do it justice.
So what did I learn in Morocco? I learned and was reminded of a lot. I learned that, if I have to, I can use a Turkish toilet. I was reminded that even people of the same religion and political view disagree. I learned that the Moroccan people are some of the nicest and most welcoming people I've ever met. I was reminded of how fortunate and blessed I am. And I learned that, even though we are on different continents, the people I met and I have a lot more in common then I ever thought. Morocco was the best four days of my life. Four days. That's all it took to give me a new perspective on the world.