In the first week of November, our IES Abroad class took a five-day trip to Morocco. After crossing the straight of Gibraltar on a ferry, we spent a night in Tangier – Morocco’s northernmost major city. The city was beautiful, with stunning Mediterranean architecture and brightly colored buildings overlooking the ocean. The streets were narrow and curving, and they trapped the smell of fresh bread, mint tea and Moroccan soup.
The class was split into four smaller groups that met with English-speaking Moroccan students who served as our guides to the city. We explored the kasbah and walked along a street near the ocean. I was surprised by how good the food tasted and how kind the people were.
The next morning our group met an NGO that worked on women’s rights issues. The same Moroccan students we had met with the day before were willing to talk more in depth with us about their lives and the important topics related to Morocco: religion, politics, history, migration, feminism and modernity. Our guides embraced challenging questions on Islam and issues related to extremism, security, and queer movements. I was thankful for their openness and willingness to answer honestly.
From Tangier, we moved on to Asilah, a sleepy seaside town on the Atlantic caked in white, blues, greens, and artistic murals. There we rode camels on the beach and walked around the old city and ate Moroccan pizza. After just a few hours, we left for Rabat, Morocco’s bustling capital city.
In Rabat, we stayed with local families who made us authentic homemade Moroccan meals, usually chicken tajine with couscous and vegetables. We learned some basic Arabic phrases, but my host family did not speak any English so we were left mainly to communicate with our hands and facial expressions. It was a challenge, but showed me that humans can communicate the basic necessities in a way that makes spoken language less necessary. As in Tangier, our groups were led by local group of students as our guides. We discussed the politics of King Muhammad VI and the hijab. We learned about sub Saharan migration to northern Africa by meeting with migrant workers at a local NGO and discussing what their lives have been like.
After Rabat, we headed west towards the mountains and ate lunch with a local family before arriving in Chefchaouen, a historic city known for its blue buildings and bustling artistic life.
I was surprised by Morocco’s diversity and at how safe I felt. We learned much about tensions in the country between its religion and modernity, and the connections between southern Spain and northern Africa. The only unfortunate part of the trip was that I felt like it was too short.