I’ve been to Morocco and back. It seems weird to think about it—my classes were interrupted for 5 days and now I’m back to normal life and classes again. But being in an Arab country really changed how I think about the Arab World, and how I see the US in the scheme of international perspective.
We started our journey in Gibraltar, which is literally an English territory in between southern Spain and the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. We had to get our passports stamped to even cross the border. The whole country is about 2 miles long, and has an equal amount of tunnels underneath the rock to roads outside. We went in a cave and goggled at stalagmites, played with the famous Gibraltar monkeys, and for dinner we had regular good old English pub fare– stews and beer.
Entering Morocco through a boat to Tanger, we proceeded to the city center. I had never been so aware of my identity as when I stepped off the bus. My blonde hair doesn’t fit in Spain, but it certainly doesn’t fit in Morocco. We instinctually clung together, glancing back at the group to make sure that we wouldn’t be separated.
The trip continued that way, where we were always tourists and never quite fit. Even when we stayed with host families in Rabat we disrupted their lives and they made quite a show of feeding us and making us feel welcome. I knew nothing about Morocco—that it has the second oldest monarchy in the world behind England, that relations with the US have been good since they recognized us at the beginning of the Revolutionary War—and they knew nothing about the US. We talked with some Moroccan students in Rabat, and one of them told me that he wanted to hold my bag…because in his country, recognizing a woman’s daintiness and gentle side is compulsory and good manners.
On our way to a city in the mountains,we stopped to ride camels!
I was also shocked at how tangled the Islamic religion is in the country. Five times a day, loud speakers on the mosques sound and remind people to come to prayer. Played all together, they reminded me of a tornado siren. I also kept reminding myself that although the area looked old, the Islamic religion is relatively new—the spread of the religion started with the death of the prophet Muhammed in 632. It is half a century younger than Catholicism. In the scheme of religious history, Islam hasn’t even reached its climax. We weren’t allowed inside any of the mosques; there are only three that non-Muslims can enter in the entire world.
We returned from our trip election day in the US. The whole time I kept asking Moroccans who they wanted to win. Every single person replied Obama, and some even looked at me puzzled, explaining that they had thought he had already won. It was a shoe in for them—they hadn’t even considered the possibility that Romney was even a contender. That definitely opened my eyes, and in future elections I’m going to consider how candidates appear on a global scale.
Food was also an interesting adventure. In our home stays, we were served one big platter of food—whether it was couscous or some sort of meat—and we could only eat with our right hands (generally Moroccan’s don’t use toilet paper to go to the bathroom, and use their left hands to clean themselves afterwards). A lot of Moroccan food is cooked in a tangine, a clay pot with a bowl bottom and a cone on top. Every house has this circular type bread that they eat with everything, and sometimes use as a utensil. I was mostly shocked at how potent and spicy all the food was. In Spain, food is seasoned conventionally or drizzled with olive oil. Moroccan food is heavy on the spice!
Moroccans are also obsessed with sweet tea. Tea with about a whole bag of sugar in it. They serve tea from a silver teapot, and to make sure that the flavors are mixing they pour it from very high above the cup; the more bubbles the better.
I advise everyone to travel to someplace hard to get to, because you’ll find the most diverse opinions there. You’ll learn more about yourself from strangers than from your closest friends. I left Morocco with a better understanding of my privileges as a woman in the US, and also an appreciation for a religion and culture that’s wildly misunderstood