The Morocco Exchange was the most amazing trip that I could’ve asked for. I have never been somewhere even similar to the country, and I am so glad I decided to go with Morocco Exchange, my experience would not have been nearly as amazing if I had gone alone. Morocco tested my comfort zones, and I have never experienced true culture shock the way I did when we first arrived, I’m really happy I was able to experience it the way I did. It is so eye opening and humbling to be somewhere so different, with such a different background and way of life than my own.
When we arrived on Friday night, we were picked up by our group leaders from the airport and taken to meet our host families. On the bus ride over to the neighborhood, our leader told us all of the things we could expect to see – a Turkish style toilet, having to carry around our own toilet paper, a family that didn’t speak English, and to absolutely not drink the water under any circumstance. It really scared me and I was quite nervous to meet these people I would be living with for two days. We were dropped off and walked down an alleyway to the door of our home stay. And once they introduced that that is where we would be staying, our sweet host mom -who told us her name was ‘Mama Fatima’ – excitedly gave me a huge and two kisses on my cheeks. Then, her daughter showed us around the home; and she was speaking English, so I already felt a lot better. She showed us the home, which was like a tall concrete building with a mostly open roof. For dinner, she gave us each a piece of this round pita bread, which we were supposed to use to pick up our food out of this huge bowl in the center of the table. The food was really good. It was a spicy meal of chicken and potatoes and other vegetables. The family kept telling us to “eat! eat!” and by the end of the meal I was seriously so full I didn’t think I was going be able to walk up the stair. Then, after the meal, Mama Fatima brought out a giant plate of mandarin oranges, bananas, and apples. The mandarins were so sweet and tiny, I couldn’t stop eating them. After the huge meal, my 2 roommates and I went to our room and went to bed. The bed was really warm and I slept really well, I definitely consider this a successful first day in Rabat.
On Saturday morning, Mama Fatima had prepared these flat crepe-like things for us. She served them with honey and applesauce and an orange spread. The Moroccan green tea was so good. It was really sweet. After breakfast, we met the group and went to the mausoleum of King Muhammad V. It was a gorgeous site, the mausoleum is really intricately decorated both inside and out. And the walls are covered in mosaic tile patterns that were put together one by one. And outside of it there are guards at every door! After this, we went to an NGO location to talk with locals about their lives in Morocco and the education system. We drove passed the Shantytown that has recently developed in Salé. The shantytown is a place where people live in makeshift homes, they tap into water and electricity from the city and don’t have to pay for it. Apparently, the government tries constantly to shut these down, but many people choose to stay living in the shantytown because they don’t have to pay for anything and can continue to save their money. After our conversation, we went to walk through some preserved roman ruins. It was beautiful. There was a really big difference between them and the ruins I have seen in Europe. It was so green and the weather was lovely, and then we went to this area called the infertile woman with a pool full of eels, the story says that if you throw eggs into the pond and the eels eat your egg, then you will have children! The eels ate a few of the eggs, so I guess that means I will have kids! Next, we went back to our host families to eat lunch, Mama Fatima served us couscous that was really good, and I started to get used to eating the way they do. Mama Fatima’s sister had come over to eat lunch with us, and after we were finished she started showing me photos on her phone and explaining them all to me, in Arabic. It was so cool that she wanted to show me her life, and that even though I didn’t know what she was saying, I still understood exactly what she was showing me. It was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. After lunch we met up with a group of Moroccan college students for a walk. We walked down by the ocean and then through a market and to a cafe. They were all really friendly and we actually had a lot in common. I made a really good connection with a beautiful girl who was my age. She was really great and it was cool to see how different our lives were, yet how much we still had in common. The walk back was kind of scary through the streets with the market. I walked with a new friend from Barcelona that I had met on the plane, and we talked about our experiences and how eye opening and happy we were that we had come. Then, once we returned to our neighborhood, we got ready to go to the Hammam. The Hammam is like a public bath house that is very common to use in Morocco. Showering at home isn’t as common and instead they use the Hammam about once a week. It was such a neat and new experience that most tourists would never get to have. Afterwards, we went back to our home stay where Mama Fatima made us some Moroccan soup, and then we went to bed to prep for the next day!
Sunday morning, we woke up at had to pack up our room because we were leaving the city of Rabat. Mama Fatima fed us our last meal together, which was the same breakfast as the day before, and then her and her daughter walked us to the meeting point so we could get on our bus. Both of them gave me the biggest hug, it made me sad to be leaving Mama Fatima. For someone who didn’t speak the same language as me, I felt like I had a real connection to her, it’s crazy how much words don’t matter, and how you can really connect with someone even if there is a language barrier. It was such a special thing for me, my favorite part of traveling has definitely become the people I’ve met along the way. We had a lot of driving ahead of us. Chefchaouen was 4 hours away from Rabat, but the driving went quickly because we had many stops in between. Our first stop was this little town where we had coffee and sandwiches. After we ate, we walked to a market to buy vegetables and cookies to take to the family we were meeting later that afternoon. The market was really overwhelming honestly, there were lots of fish and live chickens being butchered right in front of our eyes and stuff like that, and the smells were all so strong it was a lot to handle. But it was part of the experience! It’s crazy that people actually buy their groceries like that every day. We then got back into our bus to head up to a little village and have lunch with a local family. We got to their tiny village in the mountains and walked to their home. Once we got into their tiny house, we cut up the vegetables and arranged a tray, and the mother of the home made a huge couscous dish. We all sat and ate and it was a really nice afternoon. After we ate, we had tea and cookies and talked with the family about their lifestyles. One of our guides was the translator between us and the family. They told us about their arranged marriage and the schooling system and how they live their lives, it was really interesting to hear their perspective and see how happy people could be with so little. Then we took a hike up to the top of the mountain and saw the most amazing view of the fields and the river and the mountainside. As we made our way back to the bus to keep going, we walked past a group of women baking bread. They stopped us and offered us the fresh bread they were baking. It was so nice of them; it was hard to eat because I was SO full, but it was so sweet that they literally gave us the homemade bread they were making for their families. We got back in the bus and kept on going up the mountain until we got to Chefchaouen. Chefchaouen is called the “blue pearl” because all of the buildings there are painted shades of blue. We were let loose to do some shopping and explore, and then we met back up for dinner. After we ate, we all met downstairs in our hostel and Mehdi (our guide) asked as about our experience and what our favorite part had been. I talked about the woman who showed me all the pictures on her cell phone and how neat it was to see her life. He then gave each of us a leather bracelet and a bag of potpourri from a shop one of his friends owns. Then, we went on the roof and looked at the view of the city at night.
The next morning we got up really early and hiked up to one of the mosques on the hill to get a good view of the city. It was cool to be in the city so early because we could take our time and see it, and take pictures, without it being too crowded. The view from the mosque was beautiful! Not only could we see the city, but the mountains and the sun coming up behind it. It was really lovely. We then ate a little restaurant, it was the same meal that Mama Fatima had made us for breakfast. The owner of the restaurant was really sweet, he gave us all little keychains and wrote the name of the restaurant on the back of it. We then had a little more free time, so my friends and went and enjoyed the views on the roof for a little while longer. Then we met up and started the long bus ride back to the airport of Rabat.
Needless to say, the few days that I spent in Morocco were fantastic! It was such a good experience and I’m so glad that I took the opportunity to go. Morocco changed my point of view and challenged my opinions, it made me step outside of the Westernized culture I have grown so accustomed to, and I really feel like I grew from the short weekend I spent there. I loved the host family experience, I loved learning from our tour guide Mehdi, I loved meeting locals and learning about what it’s really like to live in Morocco, I love the views, I loved the landscape and the architecture. Overall, I loved Morocco.