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From Westerner to West African-er

Many of the European and French students that I have talked to think I am absolutely crazy when I tell them how much traveling that I plan on doing. To me, it doesn’t seem like that much since I’m only here for one semester. To them, “oh yeah, Spain, I’ve been there before.” Like it’s nothing. I just had the most exciting week of travel I have ever had in my life. I went to 3 cities, 2 countries, 2 continents in 10 days and yes, one of those countries was Spain.

While in Spain, I truly felt like I was on vacation. It was sunny every day that we were there, the sky a beautiful blue that Hollywood uses filters to create, and the cities of Seville and Barcelona are filled with beautifully architected streets.

However fairytale the week in Spain felt, my heart now belongs to Morocco. Before venturing to Spain, I spent the first three days of spring break in Casablanca. Despite the cloudy skies and rain that happened on and off, it was an absolutely wonderful weekend. Sure, the streets weren’t washed daily as they were in Seville. Honestly, you couldn’t even count on the sidewalks being complete. Chunks were often missing from the concrete where it just turned into packed-down dirt. But I didn’t care. I would much rather enjoy the people and food of a city rather than the sidewalks.

The people. They were easily the most welcoming group of people I have ever encountered. Even strangers that I passed on the street seemed excited that I decided to come to their city and learn about their customs and everyday life. Walking through any market warranted getting shouted at in at least four different languages. Bonjour! Hi! Hola! Buongiorno!

Something I noticed in these situations was that I naturally reverted to French when I was in a place that didn’t speak my native language. This was very helpful in Morocco, since most people there have studied French (not as much the case in Spain, there was lots of confused pointing there). Nonetheless, this was a pretty neat discovery for me! At this point in my educational career, this definitely counts as a milestone in my French speaking abilities!

The markets in general were probably the part of Casablanca that I will miss the most. I spent most of my money in the Old Medina which is just a few blocks off the coast in Casablanca. This market was made up of a network of narrow, winding streets. The more central part of Old Medina was made up of all shops where you could barter for beautiful pashmina scarves in all colors and designs, unique Moroccan-style jewelry, tajine pottery, artfully crafted wooden boxes, and sometimes a wall of sharp, pointy metal objects. No big deal.

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The food. Couscous has always been one of my favorites and the entire time leading up to my time in Casablanca, I was ready to eat couscous every day. For example, me: I’m going to be in Morocco! Couscous for daaaaays! Oh, what silliness, quelle naïveté. After arriving at our Airbnb, my first question was, “Where can I find the best couscous in Morocco?” Our host’s first answer was, “Couscous is only served on Fridays, the holy day for Islam.” NOOOOOOO! Of course, I planned the time in Morocco so that we arrive Friday night and leave Monday morning. I knew that another typical Moroccan dish was tajine, something that I had never eaten but wanted to try! And oh. Oh my. Let me tell you about tajine. It is delicious. I ate it at any chance that I had and tried as many different types as I could. The first was tajine de kefta avec oeufs (Tajine with kefta and eggs). The lighting was best during this meal, so be very, very jealous of this hot piece of tajine.

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Our second night there only continued to affirm the hospitality of Moroccans and my love for tajine. We went to a nearby restaurant recommended by our Airbnb host which was easily the best recommendation I have ever received. We walked into the restaurant where we had our pick of tables, but gravitated to the back of the room, where there were more traditional Moroccan chairs and tables. We had barely sat down when a waiter approached us and told us to follow him upstairs instead. The first thing you see once you get upstairs is a giant tent lined with colorful pillows. Here, in our freaking tent, I ate tajine de viande aux pruneaux (tajine with meat and prunes). I will be thinking about that meal for a long time. We also each ordered a pot of tea, because Moroccan mint tea is something I can and will drink pot after pot. Our waiter recognized how incredible we thought everything was and offered to take pictures of us in our tent! He didn’t slack either, this picture was from only one of 4 angles he used to commemorate the night for us. To top everything off, we ended up staying for so long simply because we were so relaxed and comfortable in our pillows, he brought us another pot of tea on the house! Like I said, pots on pots of tea in Morocco.

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For those that are concerned about my lack of couscous in Morocco, you can breathe. Upon walking past a sign for couscous our last day in Casablanca, we got extremely excited and feasted on couscous for our finale dinner, even though it was on the wrong holy day. Hopefully the next time I'm in Morocco I can make it there for Friday night couscous.