To Spain and Back Again: A Student’s Tale

Madison Sommers
March 19, 2013

As part of our cultural experience in Morocco (and as a way to avoid our visa expiring before we leave in May) we traveled to Spain last weekend. Our focus was the influence of Islamic culture in Spain and we focused on Cordoba and Grenada. Aside from the constant drizzle it was a wonderful experience, not only for the singular mixture of Islamic and Spanish art and architecture, but also because it illuminated how much I’ve adjusted to life in Morocco.

I actually had a bit of culture-shock during our trip. It was amazing to me that there was toilet paper in the public restrooms, and SOAP! I was no longer reliant on my packs of tissues and hand-sanitizer. I actually felt at home when I encountered a public restroom with no toilet paper. Aside from my amazement at bathroom amenities, there was the different food to get used to. As Morocco is a Muslim country, there is no pork here, but in Spain they love it, going so far as to have ham flavored potato chips (which are completely bizarre, they really taste like ham). Having bacon with breakfast wasn’t something I had even noticed I was missing until it was there, since I don’t have it much at home, but the fact that it was available was incredible.

When walking around the streets of Grenada, we were nearly driven mad by the walk signals. Jaywalking is illegal in Spain, and so we actually had to wait for the little green man to pop up on the traffic signal. In Morocco, there is really no such thing as a cross walk–even if it is painted on the street–and there is no concept of yielding, to other cars or pedestrians. We cross in front of traffic, stand in the middle of the road until there’s an opening, then cross the other lane. It’s like playing Frogger. As this has become the norm, we don’t blink about a bus hurtling towards us, but we do go nuts having to wait for the walk signal.

Not only did we have to adapt to this new method of street-crossing, but we also had to get used to the lack of cat-calling. Not a single person made a comment to me or my friends, no one looked twice, and I experienced the feeling of being scandalized by PDA. The Spanish women were all dressed pretty revealingly at night, and it was not uncommon to see one woman walking with a group of men. This just doesn’t happen in Morocco, or at least not that I’ve seen. And not only were the people dressed differently, but there were lots of dogs! on leashes! in coats! Dogs are considered unclean in Morocco and no one really keeps them as pets, or if they do they are of the small variety, and they certainly don’t have them on leashes or in rain coats. It was the strangest thing.

Aside from all the bizarre culture shock experiences, I very much enjoyed the mixture of Spanish and Muslim architecture. In the Muslim artistic tradition representation of people is forbidden, so as a result, calligraphy and architecture developed as a religious art form. Mosques were symbolically  arrayed and crafted, and the very words of the Qur’an became art through calligraphic inscriptions. The evidence of Muslim architecture is still strong in southern Spain, left from the conquest, but what is the most bizarre is personified by the (now) Cathedral of Cordoba. This structure was part of the Reconquista, which, it should be remembered, was not just a military conquest but also a spiritual and cultural one. The Cathedral used to be a mosque, and is still in basic architecture, except for the Cathedral built in the middle of it. Inside you see distinctive red and white arches throughout, which come from the Syrian tradition, and Qur’anic inscriptions still remain. What is strange is when these elements intermingle directly with the Catholic elements: for instance, a crucifix surrounded by mosaic and Qur’anic inscriptions, or the original arches covered with Catholic figures clashing with the older styles.

Even though it was culturally shocking and my system went crazy from so much meat in my diet, I had a wonderful time in Spain. Even with the drizzle and long bus rides. And now I’m back in Morocco, doing my usual thing: dodging cars, getting cat calls, enjoying the wonderful fruit, hanging out with friends, and navigating through classes.


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Madison Sommers

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">I am a third-year student at Saint Michael&#39;s College in Vermont majoring in Gender Studies with a double minor in Philosophy and Political Science. I hope to attend law school after graduation, and want to work with women who are victims of domestic violence. I also have a fascination with neurology and would like to find some way to combine the two. I enjoy traveling and lived abroad in France after graduating early from high school. My current home is in New Hampshire with my parents, sister, dog, and two cats. I love cooking, knitting, reading, and art, and am looking forward to experiencing Moroccan culture. I have always had a passion for gender issues and am excited to study gender from a Moroccan perspective. I hope I can share my experience of Moroccan culture with you.</span></p>

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