Category Archives: Rabat

“A Weekend in the Sahara” by Allison Brady

This weekend, I had the opportunity to check a life-long dream off my bucket list: to go to the great Sahara Desert.  Reaching the Sahara from Rabat was no easy feat.  To reach the most popular town to access the dunes, Merzouga, I first had to head to Meknes (near Fes) to take an overnight bus South and East over the Atlas Mountains and to the edge of the Algerian border.  The total travel time was about twelve hours each way.  My excitement was significantly dwindling by my 5 a.m. arrival, and I groggily made my way to the hotel from which my “Sahara camel tour” would be based.  Thankfully, the tour would not begin until the early evening, so I slept late into the morning.

After I woke up, my energy and excitement were renewed.  My tour guide, Mohammed, I gave me a tour of the local village.  I was staying in a village next to the larger and more touristy Merzouga, but it was clear that almost every business was still specifically geared to cater to tourism.  Every building boasted some advertisement for souvenirs like the iconic scarf-turban worn to protect the face from the sand and wind, or for desert activities like ATV tours over the dunes. 

I also got my first peak at the dunes. The Village lies in an oasis dotted with palm tree and sits some miles in front of the Atlas Mountains, which form an impressive distant skyline. The line of the trees and shrubs ends and after a number of yards, and there the dunes begin. The effect is difficult to explain or capture in pictures, but it is mind-boggling to see the mountains of sand begin so abruptly and extend far beyond human sight. For the rest of the day, I waited out the peak heat of the sun next to the hotel pool. At five, I went with my group to meet our rides into the desert: the “desert taxis” as Mohammed called them.

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DSC05673.JPG Atlas Mountains in distance with Oasis

Riding a camel is not particularly comfortable or fast, but the views as we crested tall dunes further and further from “civilization” were incredible.  We arrived pretty soon at the camp, which was a sturdy group of decorative tents equipped even with electricity and a porta-potty type toilet.  Though we were surrounded by dunes, we were clearly never that far into the desert, as was made apparent by my working cell reception on top of the adjacent dune.  Additionally, the abundance of usual comforts in the camps (even some benches set on top of the dune) and the many clusters of neighboring camps dotting the desert landscape made for a funny feeling of being simultaneously in a cushy resort and in the middle of nowhere.  The reminders of the tourism industry in no way spoiled my time, however.  Though it was not the exoticized and wild Sahara experience of the Western imagination, the landscape and the people were authentically incredible in their own right.

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DSC05648.JPGDunes/camp

My tour guide and the rest of the local townspeople are Tamazight/Berber, but different from the Tamazight people I met in the Atlas Mountains.  Although I told Mohammed that I was studying Arabic, he preferred to speak to me in English because Arabic was not a first language for him either.  In fact, he spoke just about every language imaginable to communicate with any potential tourist.  It surprised me how much he emphasized his identity as “African.”  In Rabat, the identity of Morocco as an “African” country or of Moroccans as Africans is contested.  Some people prefer to identify as “Arab” based on their family lineage, or more broadly as “Moroccans,” and some recognize a Tamazight family history.  It depends on the person.  However, the refrain in the desert was always: “This is Africa,” “Welcome to Africa,” “How do you like Africa?”  Of course, some of this refrain could be influenced by a desire to capitalize on the exotic image tourists look for when they visit the desert.  Still, there was an unmistakable distinction in the difference between language, dress, and affiliation of the people I met there from the Morocco that I am used to in Rabat.  Mohammed himself mentioned his frustration with some of the influences of the urban centers on his town and way of life, including the cell tower that now gives reception to the desert camps, or the DJ that an adjacent camp brought along for a desert party at night.

My trip to the Sahara was a highlight of my time here, and honestly of my life.  Despite the exhausting overnight trip, and even though the experience may not align with my childhood imagination of a wild place removed from civilization, the astounding beauty of the landscape and the warm hospitality of my hosts will stay with me forever.

 

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Filed under Allison Brady, Fall 2017, Morocco, Rabat, Uncategorized

“Belonging in Morocco and Managing my Insider/Outsider Status” by Elizabeth Beaton

 

Salaam!

In the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to travel to Spain twice on two separate trips. During fall break, I traveled to Madrid to stay with friends from when I studied abroad in high school. Then, this past weekend I went by ferry with three friends from AMIDEAST to Seville and Granada. Below are photos from the ferry in Tangier. It has been so wonderful to return to Spain and reconnect with people I knew from four years ago and to also explore new places with new friends. These two trips have helped me to reflect on my time here in Morocco and on my identity here as both an insider and an outsider.

I am clearly an outsider in Morocco in terms of both culture and linguistics. When people see me on the street they know based on my appearance that I am not from here. When I open my mouth and speak a combination of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Moroccan dialect (Darija) with a heavy foreign accent, they know for sure that I am not Moroccan. There are always things that I do not know, that everyone around me does know. I am the odd one out. Since I am certainly not from here, when I meet a new person the first question is always, where are you from? My response is along the lines of, I am from the United States, but I study in Rabat. With this statement I am explaining my foreign-ness, but also trying to explain that I do belong here. I am a student here, I live here, and I am a part of Morocco.

I strive to be more of an insider while at the same time trying to manage my identity as an outsider. Learning Arabic, both MSA and Darija, is that main way that I try to better fit in; but language is not the only aspect of Moroccan life that distinguishes me as foreign. Culturally, the learning process is never ending. My strategy to become less confused about Moroccan culture is to ask lots of questions. I am able to speak with my host family and professors about certain aspects of culture. During cultural dialogues organized by AMIDEAST, I get the chance to talk about other topics like marriage, dating, and identity. By first understanding the differences, I can better adapt how I act to present less as an outsider.

To me, the differences between insider and outsider are prominent. Traveling in Spain reminded me what being an insider feels like: understanding people on the metro, ordering foods that I know and love, and being asked where in the city do you live? Instead of where are you from? To be an outsider is the constant reminder that I am not from here. I have come back from my visits in Spain excited to struggle against this reminder as I continue to construct my identity here. Aspects of Morocco are already so entrenched in my every day routine. In Spain, Arabic words like mumkin (maybe) and Insha’Allah (God willing) slipped in alongside my Spanish words. Despite frequent cultural confusion and lots of conjugation mistakes, I am making progress. While I do not sound like I am from Morocco, saying certain phrases is now completely second nature. I am very thankful for the moments that prove to me that I am slowly becoming more and more a part of Morocco.

 

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“Sand, Souvenirs, and Camels Galore: Merzouga, the Sahara’s Hidden Gem” by Derek Denton

Salam again, readers!

Before I departed the United States for this semester in Morocco, one of the many praises I heard about the country I would be visiting is that it has been dubbed the “California of the Middle East.” The title is not totally apt, as Morocco is several thousand miles from the geographical Middle East, but it is still a mostly relevant description. The reason for this is because Morocco (like California) hosts an abundance of differing environments: a lengthy coastline of beautiful beaches, tall and freezing mountains, immense woodlands, and- as I saw this weekend- the majestic Sahara Desert.

Recently, I had earned the privilege to visit a village in the middle of the Sahara Desert and about 15 miles from the Algerian border, “Merzouga.” A relatively small settlement, Merzouga is predominately inhabited by the Amazigh people, a native population of Morocco that predated Arab migration to the region (and the Roman Empire’s expansion into northwestern Africa, in fact). They utilize their own language, which has since been an active influence on the local Arabic dialect, “Darija.”

Getting to the village was an absolute pain: a three-hour train ride accompanied by a ten-hour bus ride all the way to the eastern border. But, while it was not immediately clear when I arrived late in the night, the grueling trip definitely paid off. It was in Merzouga that I had experienced more than a few once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I had spent the day exploring the village, acquiring souvenirs, and- of course- sampling the local cuisine (On that last note, I feel that it is important to inform my readers that raw camel milk actually tastes very similar to that of a cow, albeit warmer and thicker). The night of my trip, however, was when the experience became truly awe-inspiring. About two hours away from the village was a small campsite where I had decided to spend the night. After all, an opportunity to live in a tent out in the middle of the world’s largest desert is an opportunity I had to see. But two hours is a long way on foot, so instead, I had to travel the traditional way of desert-trekking: on camel back.

The road we took to our campsite was clearly well-traveled, in that there was a physical path present in the sands that led to and from Merzouga. But rather than a roadway of gravel or asphalt, this one was made entirely of accumulated camel droppings from many desert tours.  I don’t remember a moment of my life where I was quite as sore as I was when I stepped off the hump of my camel. Throughout the history of the region, camel-back travel was the mainstream mode of transportation, so it was an interesting experience to share the soreness in my legs that I am sure the region’s ancient settlers had felt after their travels.  That night, my fellow tourists and I had the opportunity to join our guides in a dinner of Camel Tajik (no, it was not the camel I rode) and dancing in the largest tent. We were not the only ones having such fun: the depths of the desert, I could hear more music being played from other campgrounds. The night seemed to go by quickly, and before I knew it I was waking up at sunrise for a trip back to Merzouga.

If anyone ever considers visiting Morocco, Merzouga is a hidden gem, I cannot stress enough, should absolutely be visited. There are many things to love about this country, but there is nothing quite as memorable as a day in the desert where you can ride a camel, eat a camel, drink camel milk, and dance like a camel. I would like to go back someday with some friends. In fact, prior to writing this blog entry, I have encouraged several of my classmates to visit the city as soon as possible, or at least before winter sets in. The Sahara is something too important to be missed!

And, as usual, I have some marvelous photos to share this experience.

1. Technically, 'Dromedaries' the fact that separates these majestic beasts from camels is that they have a single hump.Technically, ‘Dromedaries’ the fact that separates these majestic beasts from camels is that they have a single hump

2. The turban I'm wearing here was a neat souvenir I chose to pick up. Very useful to keep gusts of sand out of my mouth while I rode.The turban I’m wearing here was a neat souvenir I chose to pick up. Very useful to keep gusts of sand out of my mouth while I rode

3. My group's caravan through the sands.My group’s caravan through the sands

4. That brown area in the background is Algeria. We were so close to the border that I actually saw into next country!That brown area in the background is Algeria. We were so close to the border that I actually saw into next country!

5. The first thing I had a chance to do at the campsite was try out a sport I did not know existed- SandboardingThe first thing I had a chance to do at the campsite was try out a sport I did not know existed- Sand boarding

6. Tiny little antique lamp- This will be remembered as one of my favorite souvenirsTiny little antique lamp- This will be remembered as one of my favorite souvenirs

And the travels have not yet ceased. This week my classmates and I are visiting the city of Fez, “the City of Science.” I look forward to bringing back stories in next fortnight’s blog entry for you all!

-Eli

 

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Filed under Derek Denton, Fall 2017, Morocco, Rabat, Uncategorized

“Cramming for Midterms and Seeing the Holy See: Unexpected Ways to Learn an Important Skill” by Derek Denton

Salam readers,

The last two weeks has offered me extensively different experiences. If you recall, I signed off my last blog by mentioning that I needed to begin studying for midterms, which I was able to complete on Friday. Thankfully, right after exams were over my fall break began. I decided to enjoy the first weekend with a short visit to the world’s smallest country: Vatican City. These two radically different experiences- one of ardent studying and, the other of luxurious traveling- have both taught me an important skill: patience, especially while residing in a foreign land.

It is no exaggeration to say that learning Arabic is the most difficult challenge of my life thus far. I have minimal experience in studying foreign language, and unlike the French there is no significant overlap between English and Arabic. Furthermore, the non-language classes I am taking here on the history and politics on the Kingdom of Morocco were something I had little experience studying. So, when midterms encroached on me last week, it was a real challenge to ensure I was prepared. During this period, I had rehearsed short Arabic speeches and wrote several practice essays to study for the unprecedented academic challenge of the exams. And, needless to say, there were times when it felt too difficult. Every time I forgot a word critical to an Arabic sentence or left out an important historical figure’s name from a practice essay the challenge felt even more daunting.

Nonetheless, I responded to this by reminding myself that I should not expect the coursework to be easy. Studying abroad in Morocco was a new experience for me- a first for my college, in fact. I had to remember that I needed to be patient and persist at a steady pace. Going too quickly would get me done with the challenge faster, but would leave me with a half-hearted exam. Going too slowly would mean giving up, which was absolutely not an option. I had to remember that this was a new experience, in a new country, and that required the skill of patience.

The other experience from this last night, and the far more exciting one in my opinion, would be the short trip I had to Rome. I have wanted to visit Italy for quite some time (being a history buff and whatnot), and studying in a country relatively close to the boot-peninsula seemed to grant me the best opportunity to visit I would have for a long time. However, while my fall break spans a whopping week-and-a-half, the airline company that I found only flew to Rome on Saturdays and back to Rabat on Tuesdays- leaving me a very short window to see such a profoundly historical country. For this reason, I opted to spend my vacation in one of the two countries within Italy’s borders, the far smaller, but no less awe-inspiring, the Vatican City. I had charted my plan carefully, picking out a hotel literally next door to the Vatican’s walls and arranged for transportation to get there. If all would go according to plan, I would enjoy a majestic weekend in the home to the Holy See.

But, of course, things did not go as planned.
The weekend started off to an extremely rough start when my hotel, apparently, forgot that I was checking in. Due to the airline’s extremely narrow schedule, I would expected to arrive at my hotel at around midnight. I had previously informed the hotel this, and they agreed to keep a receptionist in late to accommodate me… And then I arrived to locked gates. I was without a place to sleep that night.

At first, I was (naturally) upset about this setback but, being angry would have not gotten me anywhere. Instead, I used this traumatic unfortunate event as a time to practice being patient. Similar to when I was preparing for my midterms, I observed the challenges before me: I needed a place to stay, and how that is affected by being in a country I had never been to before. I considered what I knew: The Vatican is a highly popular tourist destination, so finding a hotel on short-notice should be no problem. And so, I walked around the Vatican walls and made phone calls until I found a hotel. The crisis was averted and I was able to find a place to stay available for last-minute bookings..
From there, the vacation was fantastic. It also allowed me the opportunity to bring back an excellent assortment of photographs to share!
1. The Vatican Museum's Entrance is Notably Ominous at Midnight The Vatican Museum’s Entrance is Notably Ominous at Midnight.

2. My first view of the Saint Peter's Basilica, also known as the Pope's Church.My first view of the Saint Peter’s Basilica, also known as the Pope’s Church.

3. Rome is particularly famous for its assortment of fountains! There are about 1,500 of these marvellously-sculpted drinking water springs thRome is particularly famous for its assortment of fountains! There are about 1,500 of these marvelously-sculpted drinking water springs throughout the Eternal City.

4. If its interior is anything like its exterior, Saint Antonio's Castle is a landmark I will regret not exploring.If its interior is anything like its exterior, Saint Angelo’s Castle is a landmark I will regret not exploring.

5. Behold- the 'forboding' border between Italy and the Vatican.Behold- the ‘foreboding’ border between Italy and the Vatican.

6. On Saturday, I visited the National Roman Museum, dedicating to preserving relics of the Roman Empire. Here is a statue of a depiction of tOn Saturday, I visited the National Roman Museum, dedicating to preserving relics of the Roman Empire. Here is a statue of a depiction of the Greek terror, Medusa.

7. On a funny note- I don't drink alcohol, so the next-best option to tasting Italian wine was this fine Italian grape juice. Aged to perfectiOn a funny note- I don’t drink alcohol, so the next-best option to tasting Italian wine was this fine Italian grape juice. Aged to perfection.

8. And finally, we have here the Holy See of Saint Peter's Church. The figurative throne of the Pope above one of the many altars. For size sAnd finally, we have here the Holy See of Saint Peter’s Church. The figurative throne of the Pope above one of the many altars. For size scale- each of those letters above are eight feet tall.

When I considered what I would learn in Morocco and the Vatican, I had expected to bring back home a knowledge of a new language and an expanded understanding of foreign culture, but I would not have thought that these travels and trials would have help me build these oft-forgotten skills like patience. It’s just another reason why this trip is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity, I suppose!

See you in another fortnight, readers!
-Eli

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Filed under Derek Denton, Morocco, Rabat, Uncategorized

“Friends and Bread” by Dan Fitzgerald

I knew making friends abroad would be difficult, but I never imagined how difficult it would be. Think back to your first time in high school or moving to a new city. Were you scared? Did you think everyone was staring at you because they knew that you had no idea what you were doing? Did you ever over-think every conversation and interaction you had with someone and assumed that you said something wrong? Well guess what, being abroad is about the same. I don’t have enough fingers on my hands to count the amount of times I talked to a Moroccan and probably made a fool of myself.  Not the best way to make friends abroad.

I’ve heard of stories of those who go their entire semester abroad without making one friend from their host country. That’s not a bad thing if that isn’t one of your goals, but I’m a social butterfly who needs new relationships. I wanted to have some kind of a connection with Morocco and prove to myself that I can make friends outside of my comfort zone. That’s when Nacera showed up.

I was halfway through the semester when our program gave us the chance to take a field trip to a local bakery and learn how to make Moroccan crêpes and breads. For those of you who don’t know me, I seriously love bread. I am a human dumpster for carbs, so when I found out about the opportunity to go make AND eat bread, I signed up immediately. On the day of the field trip, I walked into our meeting room when this 19-year-old, five-foot-five, spunky Moroccan girl walked up to me and spoke to me in perfect English. “Are you here for the bakery trip?” she said. “Of course,” I responded. Her deep maroon hijab was perfectly matching to her oversized maroon sweater, and I already knew that this girl had style. This was Nacera.

 

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We went to the bakery all the way out in Salé, the sister city of Rabat, and got put right to work preparing the dough, shaping the bread, and cooking it on the stove. Not to show off, but I was told that I’m a pretty great bread baker by the master baker herself, Nacera’s Mom. I spent hours with Nacera and her mom making dozens of savory crêpes only to consume all of them in the span of twenty minutes. What can I say, bread is life. I had so much fun with Nacera that we decided to swap our WhatsApp numbers and message about the next time we could hang out. Blog reader, was this the start of a friendship? It certainly was.

A few weeks later, Nacera messaged me and my friend Galey asking if we wanted to come visit her university and sit-in on her music class. This was my chance to meet and hang out with Moroccans my age and maybe not be a social disaster, so Galey and I said yes. For the next three hours, Galey and I sat in the music class listening to everyone sing some of the most beautiful Arab songs I’ve ever heard while not understanding a single word spoken in the class. At the end of class, we walked out of the classroom and Nacera introduced us to all her friends. Most greeted me in English and didn’t seem interested in us, but the minute I spoke some Darija to them, the entire group erupted in laughter and smiles, excited that I knew some Darija. I spent the rest of the time talking with Nacera and her friends about music, sports, jokes, life, and it felt like I was back at my own university hanging out with my friends.

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It’s hard living in a new place where you don’t know anyone while also learning the culture. But everything becomes easier when you find that one friend to help you along the way. Nacera has been that person for me, which is why I’ve dedicated this blog post to her. Thanks Nacera, you’re the real MVP.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Dan Dan Fitzgerald, Morocco, Rabat

“Making Morocco Home” by Sofia Deak

As Morocco feels more and more like home and my last few weeks here move much too quickly to an end, one thing has been nagging at the back of my mind. I did not become as close with Moroccans my age as I would have liked, and even though my 12-year-old host sister insists “But I am your friend, Sofia! That is all you need!” I still sometimes felt like I was missing out on an important part of my abroad experience.

Others on the program have had more luck in this department, having bonded with language partners or made connections through sports teams. However, just as I was getting accustomed to the idea that maybe I would not have it all, the weather changed: figuratively and literally.

Recently, Rabat has been warming up. The sun is bright and hot all day, and I pine for AC as I climb the four flights of spiral steps to my bedroom each evening. Luckily for us all, Rabat is right on the coast, and while I’ve spent a lot of free time this semester staring in awe at the impressive waves slamming into rocks along the shore, I never really thought about actually going in the water. On a whim, though, some friends from AMIDEAST and I decided to give surfing a try one hot weekend we all stayed in town instead of traveling.

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I grew up with the beach and am comfortable in the ocean, but I was still somewhat scared to try out surfing in Morocco. I had never been before, and the waves in Rabat are definitely intimidating! What if I was not able to understand the instructor? What if I got dragged out to see but my cries for help in Standard Arabic would not only be misunderstood, but would be laughed at? What if there were sharks?

Nevertheless, I put my (potentially absurd) fears aside and decided to give it a go. To my surprise, I was instantly hooked! I do not think I will ever be less amazed at the sight of the glistening, bright blue sea beneath me and the Rabat Oudaya, a 12th century Kasbah right on the water, zooming toward me as I surf in to the shore. Additionally, one of the beautiful things about Morocco is how cheap it is— a surf class here in Rabat is around $10 USD.

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Surfing has been the final piece for me in the puzzle of making Morocco “home.” The instructors recognize me, tease me, and tell me Morocco will miss me when I leave. The other students, from 7-year-old Moroccan girls (who are actually quite good at “shredding the knar”) to middle-aged-men trying out a new hobby (not unlike me), have become familiar faces and— dare I say it— friends to me here.

I try to surf once or twice a week despite my busy schedule of classes, English teaching, and exercising (I am running another 10K this weekend in El Jadida!). I do this because I love it, yes, but also because it just deepens the sense of camaraderie I have begun to experience here in Morocco, and makes me all the more aware of how much I have come to love this place and think of it as my own. I think when I look back on these unfairly quick, mesmerizing months, I will remember it in two ways. At the same time, Morocco has been fast, scary, and full of adrenaline, like trying to balance on a surfboard hurtling toward the sand; it has also been calming, deeply memorable; a moment stuck in time, like floating in the bright sea, laughing with a new friend, waiting for the next wave.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat, Sofia Deak

“Fun in the Sun” by Dan Fitzgerald

Studying abroad is a lot like going into a new relationship. You start out in that honeymoon phase where everything is new and adventurous, you are excited by every little thing, and you can’t possibly imagine what life was like before it. But then that honeymoon phase ends and you realize that the world is still spinning and suddenly things aren’t as interesting anymore. You finally realize your significant other has little quirks that annoy you and the spark that once arose in you by every little thing is going out. Typically, in a relationship one of two things could happen: you either break it off as there is nothing left to inspire you, or you find that raw spark in all the little things that truly makes you happy. If you haven’t caught on already, I’m talking about my relationship with Morocco.

I am more than half way done with my semester abroad in Morocco and I am certainly out of the honeymoon phase. I soon realized that outside of studying for class, eating, and sleeping, I have a lot of free time on my hand. I don’t know about you, but free time is my worst enemy, as I become bored and restless very easily. Most people abroad, especially those in Europe, would solve this by traveling more, but even extensive travel was starting to wear me down (as well as wear my bank account down). So where do I go when I need to cure my angst? The beach.

 

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I know what you are thinking. “Dan, that is so stereotypical. Of course, everyone loves the beach. This isn’t something unique to Morocco.” You’re right, but cool your jets, because the beach here in Rabat is much more than your average beach back in the States. I frequent the “Plages de Salé” so much that I will most likely go there today once I finish this blog post. It’s a large beach that lies next to the Oued Bou Regreg river and the Atlantic Ocean. The place is magical especially in the evening as the sun sets on the water and bathes the Rabat Kasbah in an orange glow. It’s also the perfect place to let loose with both my American friends and meet some new people, especially when it comes to volleyball.

One Friday in February, a bunch of AMIDEAST students and myself decided to meet at this beach after couscous lunch to play some soccer and volleyball on the beach. We all meet up, draw our volleyball court in the sand, and start the match. In all honesty, we all chose to play volleyball because we knew we would make fools of ourselves in front of Moroccans if we played soccer. But soon all the Moroccans playing soccer matches around us started watching us play volleyball and soon joined in a classic Morocco v. United States volleyball match. This match could have lasted until the sun set, but strangely enough a large cloud of fog blanketed the entire beach. That’s when we had to call the match a draw even though the Moroccans clearly beat us, but that will be our little secret.

 

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Besides the views and activities on this beach, my favorite things about Plages de Salé is that it is only place where I have found Moroccans outside of their comfort zones. I’m talking about real Moroccan couples enjoying time together, Moroccans playing with their dogs in the ocean, parents building sand castles with their children, the list could go on. What I have found is that Moroccans operate their lives very differently between the spheres of public and private, making it hard to see Moroccans as who they really are. But here on this beach, I see their vulnerability more than ever. I see them enjoying life.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Dan Dan Fitzgerald, Morocco, Rabat, Uncategorized