Now that my amazing semester in Morocco has come to a close, I have to stop and think- what exactly made it so amazing? My initial response is “everything,” but on second thought, of course I didn’t like every single thing about Morocco, and in order to pinpoint why it was such a great semester, I need to really dig through my time here and pick out the best parts. In order to do this, I have made a sort of “Morocco’s Greatest Hits” compilation album. So here we go: the best things I saw, did, learned, and of course ate.
Track 1: Handstands
I guess I knew there were gymnasts all over the world, but I didn’t realize that I would meet a fellow gymnast on the program, Bri, and end up taking handstand photos with her all over Morocco. Even stranger was the fact that my Darija teacher, Achraf, was a former gymnast himself. And the most amazing thing was that he helped us find a gymnastics gym in Rabat, and we were able to practice there alongside the Moroccan national team. Every time Bri and I went to work out, they were always so welcoming and friendly, wanting to show us a skill or take silly photos with us. The sweetest thing was that on our last day, they gave us each a balloon and pin in appreciation of the friendships we had made with them.
Track 2: Scrub
I never knew how much dead skin my body could accumulate until I saw it all come off in the hammam. There I sat, on a hot tile floor in nothing but my underwear as an old woman used a rough glove to scrub every square inch of my body and doused me with a bucket, making the dead skin and dirt roll off like little noodles. My roommate Mary and I, along with two other friends, glowed red from the sandpapery, yet oddly pleasant treatment we were receiving. After we dried off and got dressed, I realized that this was perhaps the softest I had ever felt in my life. In Morocco, since not all homes have showers, the hammam is where people go to bathe, but more importantly, it is a social space, especially for women. All insecurities are forgotten, and everyone feels beautiful. Being able to embrace this and feel so confident in a society removed from the harsh beauty standards of America was a welcome and needed change of pace.
Track 3: Couscous
They say couscous is so good, they had to name it twice. If that’s the case, my host mother’s should be called couscouscous, because it’s honestly that delicious. Almost every Friday afternoon, we would either have couscous with perfectly stewed vegetables and meat or with sweet onions, almonds, and hard boiled eggs. We would always have some extended family members over to share the meal, and afterward, we would fall into what we called the “couscous coma” and take a long afternoon nap. Luckily, a lot of people from the program are going to be in D.C. next school year, so we have already decided that we would all get together to eat couscous on Fridays and keep the spirit of Morocco alive in America.
Track 4: Making trails
Almost every weekend, I would meet up with some friends at the train or bus station and we would head off somewhere. It never really mattered where- just that we were exploring some place new. From Tangier in the north to Agadir in the south, and from Chefchaouen that shone blue in the mountains to dry Berber villages with homes made of red-brown dirt, we have left almost no area unexplored. Some of the most interesting people I talked to were people we met in train compartments or in hotel common rooms. This makes me want to travel around the U.S. more, and now I think I will actively seek out any opportunity to go somewhere new, because from my experience in Morocco, I know it will never be boring.
Track 5: Medina
In Rabat, I went through the old medina at least twice a week because my internship placement was there. After walking through the market so many times, I don’t think anything can weird me out anymore. I saw anything and everything there being sold: all kinds of animal parts including hooves, brains, and stomachs, live turtles, gooey hammam soap, beautifully embroidered clothes, pyramids of spices, carts selling fruit or snail soup, and anything else you could possibly imagine. It was there that I honed my haggling skills and more than once got quite lost down the tiny, winding streets.
Track 6: Salaam, labes?
Hello, how are you? This simple phrase opened up so many doors wherever I went. People might have been a little distant toward me at first because I do not look Moroccan, but as soon as I started to use the Darija I knew, even though it was very limited at first, most of the time they would relax and laugh. The conversation usually turned to a series of questions about why I, as an American, would ever want to study Arabic, and how great it was that I was learning the Moroccan dialect. I have to admit, by the end of my time here, finally being able to have a conversation (however basic) or pick out a lot of the words in the soap operas on TV was one of the most satisfying feelings of being here.
Track 7: Family ties
Living with my host family was one of the best experiences of my semester. I learned so much about how Moroccans live their day to day lives, which really brought full circle what I saw in the streets or what I learned in my classes. Family is one of the most important values to a Moroccan, and I certainly felt like one of the family in my new home. Thanks to my family, I can now brew and properly pour tea for perfect sweetness and maximum bubbles; I know how to be a good host and make anyone feel welcome; I have realized that between the family, the neighbors, the TV and the radio, silence can be a rare gift; and I would only dream that one day I can make a tagine as well as I saw my host mom make it.
Track 8: Juice
As if I needed another place to discuss how much I loved what I ate (and in this case, drank) in Morocco. Who knew you could blend up an avocado and make it into a smoothie? And add some dates or almonds? Heaven. By the end, Mary and I had become regulars at a place in our neighborhood because we got different juices there so often. In addition to that, I loved to get freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice from one little stand in the old medina. I’m definitely going to continue feeding my new juice addiction at home.
Track 9: Friends
I was so lucky to meet so many great friends at AMIDEAST with whom I not only shared classes, but also crazy adventures both in and outside of Rabat. In addition to having someone to have an interesting conversation with, they were always there to share frustrations and bounce ideas off of. They are truly inspiring people, and if any of you are reading this, I want to sincerely thank you for sharing Morocco with me.
Track 10: Are you Moroccan?
When I first got here, it was a secret goal of mine that someone would mistake me as Moroccan. After all, being overtly conscious that you are a foreigner is not the best feeling. It never happened, though, especially if I opened my mouth to speak. But I guess my Darija got pretty good, or my mixing of French and Arabic finally replicated how I had heard people speak for the past four months, because the last cab ride I took to the airport right before I left, I was talking to the driver and he asked me if I was Moroccan. Finally! It felt so good to think that I had inserted myself so much into the culture that I could seem like a natural part of it.
Thinking about everything I experienced in Morocco from just four months and how by the end I wished it was my native culture, I think I need to clarify the title as “Morocco’s Greatest Hits: Volume 1” because I would absolutely love to come back in the future to create a Volume 2 and beyond, Insha’Allah.