Sunday, February 27, 2011

Crossing borders. Widening horizons. Building bridges across cultures.

Well my Morocco Trip was a lot to take it – we did a lot and I believe it is going to take some time for me to understand what all happened and how it has changed the way I look at life. I want to start by telling your all what I did everyday and things like that – along the way I will probably talk about my feelings and reaction to the various situations.  I hope you enjoy this blog.

The group met at school at 10:30 at night to take an overnight bus to Algeciras, Spain – on the coast.  The bus ride was a little rough; there was not much sleeping going on.  I was sitting next to my friend Martina and we talked for about three hours and then decided it would be a good idea to try and get some sleep.  That was easier said than done.  In total I probably got about 3 hours or sleep.  We arrived at the port in Algeciras at about 730 in the morning.  We had to breakfast and waited for our ferry to arrive.  After breakfast our leaders, from Morocco Exchanged, arrived and spilt us up into different groups.  I was in a group of most Layfette (there is a huge group of them that are engineering majors and they all were required to come on the trip) and a few other non STL SLU kids.  I was a little nervous at first because I only slightly knew one other person in my group – Zack is in my EAS class.  Well Rachel, our leader, gave a brief overview of the trip and told us we were going to Spain customs here and then on the ferry would be the Moroccan customs – they just stamped our passports.  The ferry ride was pretty uneventful, but I did learn one culture difference about Morocco.  When someone sees you eating you always offer some of your food to them.  The cleaning lady was watching the group eat the muffins Rachel brought us and Rachel offered her a muffin.  Later Rachel explained that in Morocco it was normal to give food to anyone around you when eating – giving alms – one of the five pillars of Islam.  

Picture taken of the Mediterranean Sea on the way to Morocco.

I thought I saw Morocco :)

The security at the port in Tangier was nothing what I expected.  First we had to show that we got stamped on the ferry; however, basically they say I was holding a USA passport and didn’t care to see more.  Throughout the trip I realized how much a simple passport can do. With this passport I was not questioned as much as the boy in my group who had a Chinese passport.  It seemed like they saw the USA passport and that was all they needed to see.  US citizens need to understand how lucky they are to live where they live – I will expand more on this as the blog continues.  Anyways we placed our bags on the x-ray machine, but it really meant nohthing.  There was no one really checking the machine and it didn’t matter if we had food or water or anything – nothing like the USA customs or other places I have been to.  Once we finished “customs” we meant out driver for the trip, Sale (not sure about the spelling). Then we went to exchange money.  The Moroccan currency is the dirham.  One euro is about 11 dirham or one dirham is about .123 US dollars.

The first place we went was Tangier.  At Tangier we visited DARNA – a women’s center.  We were given a tour and had lunch with Moroccan students about cultural diversity, education, government, and a little about women’s rights.  At the women’s center they provide classes anything from traditional sewing to how to use a computer to order to improve the skills of the women living in the area to better their jobs and in the long run have better careers.  During the lunch at DARNA was our first chance to talk to the Moroccans who were roughly the same age as we were.  Overall the conversation we had gave me a lot of insight to the life of a teenage or university student living in Morocco.  However, the one thing that amazed me the most was their knowledge about the government and all the opinions they had on the various situations in Morocco.  If someone asked me half of the questions that we asked about the government in the USA I could have maybe answered one or two.  It was amazing to see how involved the young people in Morocco are – 60% of the population is under 25.  

Center in Tangier 

Me in Tangier 

First group picture.

At DARNA was the first time I experienced Moroccan tea - it was amazing.  It was similar to the tea my mom makes from home, but just add about 5 spoonfuls of sugar! Also we had various pastries throughout the trip, all of which were wonderful :)

My first taste of real Moroccan food - it is called tangine after the special pot which it is cooked in.  Normally tangine is served in a large communal plate where everyone will use their fingers and dip their bread into the bowl and eat of the the plate.  Tangine is slow cooked at a low temperature and contains a type of meat (chicken, lamb, or beef) that is literally falling off the bone.  There will also be a mixture of species and veggies.

After the women’s center we walked through a Moroccan market – there as a lot of meat hanging everywhere and fish and olives.  On our way to the van I asked Rachel when we would be riding a camel and she told me Morocco Exchange never does that because they are trying to get away from the tourist things and give a culture experience.  I was a little bummed at this point to be honest.  However, on our drive from Tangier to Asilah we stopped on the beach and road some camels

Hello camel :)

One of the best things ever!!

Mediterranean Sea :)

We drove about 30 minutes to a small town of Asilah were we walked around for about 45 minutes to see the medina (city) and to see the Atlantic coast!! Walking off the ferry I fell in love with Morocco and every little thing we did made me fall more and more in love with Morocco.  The beauty in Asilah was breath taking.

Me with the Atlantic Ocean.

The previous three pictures are from Asilah - I might just move there.

After Asilah we had a three hour bus ride to Rabat where we would be staying with our host families.  I would be rooming with one of the few none Layfette students – we got along really well and I am glad I met her on the trip!  My host family was extremely nice and very welcoming.  The daughter and the sons of the family spoke English.  It was very interesting to see the family dynamics.  I roomed with Ebony and we lived upstairs of the house/apartment it is kind of hard to explain and three guys in our group lived downstairs for the home stay.  We also had a study abroad study, Jess, living upstairs with us.  The meals we had with our host stay family were wonderful – I fell in love with Moroccan food!! The place where we ate dinner was around a table on couches – this is also were my host mom and her daughter slept.  I am not sure if Ebony and I took the room where they normally sleep or not.  However, there were no western beds the beds were basically like a couch – see picture below.  The shower was also very interesting.  You had to pour water into the toilet to flush it – at least my family had a western toilet instead of the squat toilets.  The shower was the in the same place – you can see the hose in the picture below – there was no actually shower everything was in the same small place – a culture shock for sure.

Jess, Ebony, and me on the boardwalk in the Medina of Rabat on the first night.  My host brother took us around the medina.
This is my bed/couch.
The bathroom in my host families house.

Day two of the trip – very busy.  I started off the day by having breakfast at my host family’s house.  It ‘was weird because the daughter we speaks English was still asleep and she was sleeping on one of the couches that we eat breakfast.  We had something similar to a crepe and with orange jam and Moroccan tea.  It was very good and it was a traditional Moroccan breakfast.  After breakfast we  went downstairs of our host family’s house (it was the meeting house) to have a discussion with Moroccan students our age.  The discussion was suppose to be focused on the stereotypes we think of each other.  The conversation started with this; however it progressed into other types of questions – like what is your favorite food and what do you do on the weekend.  It was fun just to talk to them like they were one of our friends – which they did become our friends.  After the discussion we visited Roman ruins Chellah and the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V – this is one of the few touristy things we did the whole trip.  When we visited the places we were given background and historical information; however, I don’t remember a lot of it so sorry about that, but you can still look at the amazing pictures.  

The leaders of the Islamic religion would be facing the other way in the to have their voice be projected farther during the religious ceremonies.

I was giving a speech, telling people to vote for me because I will protect the environment :)

These pictures were all taking at the Roman Ruins.

The previous two pictures were taken at the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V.  While we were there one of the five calls of pray happened.  Over the entire course of the trip I honestly could not wrap my head around how everything Muslims do is for their religion and I mean everything - from planting crops to the education of the kids to the hospiltality I was shown.  I truly believe that Catholic is the correct religion for me, but it was difficult to believe that when I saw so many devoted people to their religion in Morocco.  Catholics are suppose to be as devoted to their religion as the Muslim people I saw, however, I honestly have never met someone that was that devoted.  They treat prayer differently then Catholics.  Meeting people and talking to them about religion was a great thing for me because it has made me think about all my daily actions - am I doing it for God or with God in mind - I don't even think the answer is "yes" half of the time.  It is a struggle we all go through - no matter what religion you are. People always tell me to pray about it or let God handle it - he knows best - but its hard.  It is hard to just pray about it and not really take action.  I am a planner and I want to know what I am doing and everything - I want to work on doing more things for God - I think it would be a tremendous help in my life.

After the touristy part of the day we came back and had lunch with our host families.  We had about an hour after our next scheduled event so my host brother took Ebony (my roommate) and the three boys from the trip around the Medina.  We were all talking at lunch and my host brother said he was a driver – like a scuba diver – his job sounded so neat to just explore the bottom of the ocean.  Anyways people at lunch were talking about how they wanted to find an internet café to check their facebook so my host brother said he would take us.  Honestly I was a little upset – could you really not go one day without checking your facebook or email or using an electronic advice – apparently not.  Ebony Skyped her boyfriend and checked her facebook everyday on the trip.  Personally I loved not checking my facebook, email, or being about to text anyone – I just wanted to experience the Moroccan culture – and they don’t check their facebook or email ten times a day like most Americans do.  Americans have become way to dependant on the internet – including me.  I check my email and spend way too much time of facebook, but to be honest that is the society we have.  I have to work hard at not being dependent on the internet and I really want to limit my time – it is not healthy to spend that much time on the internet – there is so much more to life.  Anyways, the two internet cafés we tried to go two were full or not open – I think it was a sign from God.  After the people couldn’t get the internet they wanted to go back and take a nap, but I convinced them to explore Rabat and our host brother agreed.  He took us to the beach.  It was amazing, and along the way I had a nice conversation with our host brother.   He told me what he likes to do on the weekends, more about his job, and how is goes surfing – sounded like a wonderful life to me! Again the hospitality of the Moroccan people is amazing - to just take time to show Americans around your city and be completely happy to do it was wonderful :) 

Pictures from the walk with my host brother - I love the Ocean.

Next we were meeting up with the Moroccan students we talked to earlier in the day to walk around the Medina and just hang out.  It was a great time! We went to the beach again and just talked and laughed like we were all good friends.  At the end we went to a café and went around and asked questions – some were serious and some were funny.  One of the funny questions was Mehdi asked if we were dating someone and what is the best pick up line.  I don’t remember all of the answers, but I remember a view.  Yassine (Moroccan friend) just said he tells the girl she is beautiful.  Zack said he would go to the girl’s house and cook dinner for her whole family.  And I said I just smile and use my blonde hair – they all laughed. LOL.  It is really cool that I got to meet Moroccans and still be friends with them – facebook allows us to keep in contact – a little ironic since I just vented and said I wanted to have less time on facebook.

My small group - Yessine is the second from the left and Mehdi is the last one of the right.

The Atlantic Ocean again.

I had to.

Market in Rabat.

Picture with my small group on the boardwalk

The boardwalk.

When I had to say bye to Yassine and Mehdi it was sad – we formed a friendship so quick and we were saying bye too quickly.  Yassine and Mehdi are part of the organization called Boys in the Hood that was started in 2004 I believe.  It is an organization that is trying to help end poverty in Morocco – it was just started by a group of boys around the same age as me.  Instead of playing video games or creeping on facebook these boys decided to start an organization to make a change in their country – I admire them so much.  I hope to have the drive and ambition to do something great like these boys.  After saying goodbye we all went back to our host family’s house to get whatever we needed for the hammam – traditional Moroccan bath.  After we all got what we needed we met back up at the meeting house to have a discussion with a former Peace Corp volunteer and our leader Rachel who was a FullBright scholar.  Both gave a lot of insight to what each organization is about.  FullBright is not something that interests me that much – it is more researched based, but you are mainly working alone – I really like to work with groups of people.  For a long time I thought I wanted to do Peace Corps; however, now I am not sure if that is the right organization for me.  I knew I would be practically living alone for about 27 months, however what I didn’t realize is a lot of the volunteer work is alone as well.  The girl we talked to, Katie, had the main job of health education.  For about 1.5 years she “simply” education women on basic health practices – ranging from child birth to why you should keep flies away from your children’s face.  Most the projects Katie tried to do failed because the community she lived in was not very willing to help out.  I don’t know if I am a strong enough person to live alone for 27 months and to be self-motivated to try different projects and have the majority of them fail.  I think I need to look into some other volunteer options and see what one sounds like a good fit for me!! :)  After this discussion it was time to go the hammam – tradition Moroccan bath – or as I like to call it the best bath ever.  I was a little nervous along with the other girls because when you are at the Hammam you only wear underwear – nothing on top, which is different from my normal customs.  However, I wanted to get the full experience so I decided to just go with it and just wear my swimsuit bottoms.  The hammam is similar to a big spa – we all went into one room where we filled our buckets with water and began to clean ourselves.  We were given traditional Moroccan soup – it made my skin so clean and a scrubber thing.  At first people were a little awkward about being naked on top but then we just all got over it and had a good time.  At the hammam you can pay about 5 Euros for a lady to scrub you down – I didn’t know if I wanted to do this, but then I thought about it and I wanted the full experience – I am so glad I did it – I never knew I was so dirty.  As the lady was scrubbing me I could see and feel all the dead skin coming off of me – it was so gross but I felt so good afterwards.  We were supposed to be done with the hammam at ten, but since a lot of people wanted to get scrubbed down and I was one of the last to go it took a little longer.  Ebony and I left at about 10:15 and got a little lost on the way home and got hit on a lot, but we found our way home and our host mom was waiting in the road for us, because she was worried about us – again the hospitality was amazing.  Our host mom didn’t speak any English and still she cared a lot for us!  We ate dinner and went to bed shortly after that because we had to get up early to go to the country side in the Rif Mountains.    

Driving up into the mountains I thought I would get car sick, but thankfully I think I have out grown that!! We went to the Rif Mountains to talk with a family in the mountain village – the discussion was focused on education, simplicity of life, and the economic challenges of rural areas in Morocco.  Some key points of the talk were the older women of the village could not read or write, but this was not the life they wanted for their kids.  One of the main goals of the family we visited was to have their children an education they did not have – they want their children to read and write.  The mother/wife of the house we visited was 17 years old when she got married.  How the marry worked was her now husband saw her at some kind of gathering and thought she was cute and decided he wanted to marry her – and it all worked out – they are in love.  To be honest I love the simplicity of the life – it would be hard to get use to, but they were all so happy.  I had a chance to play with a lot of the kids in the village.  First we went on a little walk about the mountains and I carried one of the little girls all the way – she didn’t know any English and obviously I didn’t know any Arabic but it worked out wonderful.  When I wasn’t holding her she was holding my hand.  She also picked flowers for me – it was one of the best moments of the trip.  My favorite tennis shoes were full of mud, but I didn’t even care because of the great time I was having.  After we got back from the walk I had a chance to play with the kids more – they brushed and played with my hair a lot and we played catch – again we didn’t know each other’s language but it didn’t matter we were having a great time.

The little girl! :)

The view from the Rif Mountain village we visited.

Next we went to Chefchaouen where we were tourist – we had the night to go shopping and explore the city.  Zack and I had walked around together and went shopping – we had a good time bargaining with people – it is a custom to bargain with people in Morocco.  After we finished shopping we all met up for our last dinner at a restaurant what was called Aladdin – the food was all delicious.  We all shared because people got different things but wanted to try the other dishes.  After dinner we had our final reflections, which I will talk more about in a blog later this week.  Monday morning we got up early to take a little walk up the mountain to see the view of the city – it was gorgeous. 

The view!!

Finally we were about to leave Morocco – we drive to the Spanish territory in Morocco – we were about to cross the border of foot.  It is important to know about 85 percent of all Moroccans will never leave Morocco so you can try to imagine what the border is like to try to get into Spain.  If we did not have our guide, Rachel, with us it would have been one of the most frightening experiences.  However, something I noticed while crosses the border on foot was the ease of having the US passport again.  The police and various securities basically just glanced at the passport and said we were good to go.  Our final part of the trip was taking the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to the main part of Spain where we had our 8 hour bus ride back to Madrid – it was a long day and an exhausting trip especially since I had a midterm the following day we and didn’t get home until 1:30am – but it all worked out fine.

Rock of Gibraltar

Just some beautiful water.

Well that was my Morocco trip in a nutshell.  I will probably be bringing up various points from the trip over the next couple of weeks.  Thanks for being patient with me as I tried to get the blog done.  I thought I would just put a check next to "Go to Africa" on my bucket list and be done with it, but that is not the case at all.  Traveling to Morocco has changed my life forever.

Tomorrow I will hopefully be writing some post cards and sending those out soon! This past week I finished applying for two internships - that is all I am doing this summer, now the next step is to look up summer classes.  This weekend I traveled to Granada, Spain it is about a 5 hour bus ride and I hope to be blogging about that tomorrow and catching everyone up on my last week.  Thanks again for being patient!! I hope you enjoy the blog!!

Paz y Amor. God Bless.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think it's fair that this entry has no comments because I think this was an awesome one!!! I can tell you put a lot of work into it and also a lot of love! Sending you love in return! Keep up the great blogging and keep having fun! :)