An Introspective Weekend in Morocco

You know when you have a big assignment due or a project to be done, and all you have to do is start it but you put it off and put it off because you know how long it’s going to take? Well, that’s what I’ve been doing for this post. I feel like for this post, especially, I have so much to say and this time I’m not even sure if my words will do my feelings justice. But here it goes!

As I mentioned in my last post, last weekend I went to Gibraltar and Morocco with a tour group. I didn’t know what to expect, really. Not only that, but I was so preoccupied with other things that I just did my pre-trip robotic packing, went to bed somewhat early, and met at the meeting point the next day without giving anything too much thought. It wasn’t until we arrived in Gibraltar after our 3-hour bus ride that it hit me that I was actually stopping in the British-owned Gibraltar before heading to Africa.

Gibraltar was a very quick visit. We all piled into a tour van upon our arrival and were delayed slightly by a plane taking off. Gibraltar Fun Fact: it is the only place in the world where traffic has to stop for planes to take off! I mean, what do you expect from a place that’s only 7 sq. kilometers! We stood on Europa Point, where, looking from the observation deck, we could see Spain on one side and Africa on the other. It was spectacular.

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We then proceeded to go up the Rock of Gibraltar, with tunnels and streets so small we were all sure that our van was going to get stuck. But alas, we were fine =). We then briefly visited St. Michael’s Cave, which strongly resembled the cave that I went to in Aracena a while ago. Even though we visited a cave with stalagmites and stalactites that took eons to create, the real spectacle was actually the monkeys. They look cute and innocent, but they’re quite the contrary. They bite and steal food! Kelsey had a massive bag of mixed nuts get stolen out of her hands by one of the older monkeys! Needless to say I was turned off to the monkeying around after that. xP

Rock of Gibraltar:
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Scheming little monkey:
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A 45-minute ferry ride later, we reached Ceuta, which is the beautiful Spain-owned city that we crossed to get into Morocco. Border patrol was backed up, but after a “mystery half-hour” nap, as I like to call it, we were in Morocco and headed to our hotel, located in a city called M’Diq—I apologize, but I admit that my friends and I did have an immature moment of weakness and had some fun with this name…

Day 1 of our trip allowed us some free time. We settled in to our hotel rooms, then decided to walk around a bit. That’s when the culture shock really hit hard. I had on Sperrys, long jeans, and a zipped up long-sleeve jacket, and I felt naked. On the other hand, my girlfriends that I was with were in spaghetti-strap tank tops, capris, and sandals. The stares we got were unnerving. The women’s stares looked curious, amused, astonished, confused even. Upon crossing us on the street, they’d stare and whisper to each other in Arabic. The men’s stares were even more disconcerting. I’m currently in an Intercultural Communication class, and what we always talk about is how we must be respectful of all cultures. But that aspect of the culture I just cannot bring myself to respect. While walking through a local market, a man standing at a kiosk hissed in my ear while I was walking by (I find this a little bit ironic, to be honest, considering I was the most dressed out of all the girls in our group; not to say I’d wish that on anyone else, but you know what I mean). I was in a weird funk for the rest of the night after that.

Day 2’s atmosphere was much lighter and beautiful. We spent several hours in the city of Chefchauen, where our tour guide Achmed (Habibi, as he told us to call him, which is apparently an Arabic word of endearment) walked us through his town. He was such a character. So much so that our tour kept having to stop so that all of the sorority girls in our group could get pictures with him flashing their beloved hand symbols…

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We stopped in a place that sold authentic Moroccan rugs, throws, tapestries, and scarves. I considered buying one, but I purposely didn’t bring a lot of money with me that day, nor was I in need of a Moroccan scarf or tapestry because my best friend Sarah who studied abroad in Morocco last summer brought me back one of each. ;D

Our next step was Tetuan for lunch. We ate at this cool place that had live music. We were served this warm yummy soup, some skewers of meat, and this thing called a pastela, which was a sweet and salty meat-filled pastry of sorts. So. Delicious. We then with our weekend tour guide got a tour of the winding streets of Tetuan. My memorable moment was haggling with a Moroccan elder for my new real-leather backpack. He was asking 38 euro and I got him down to 25, so I’d consider that an overall success! We stopped at a place that sold spices and Moroccan remedies, but I chose to drop 3 euro (or 30 Durham, the Moroccan currency) on a fantastic shoulder massage. Best thing ever. We were then back on the bus and headed to Tangier where we had some unexpected visitors greet us into the city…

Four or five young Moroccan boys, banging on the bus with empty 2-liter Coke bottles and causing a scene. They ran alongside the tour bus, then one of them even ducked under the bus. Again, none of us had experienced anything like this before. Our first reaction was that they were trying to steal our luggage from the bottom of the bus, but we were informed once we got off of the bus that they were trying to escape Morocco. They saw our tour bus and assumed that we were about to cross the Moroccan border into the Spanish Ceuta. Apparently, when young people under 18 make it across the border, they’re given free education and potentially Spanish citizenship down the road. The fact that they were willing to latch on to the underbelly of our bus for Lord knows how long in order to attempt to cross the border definitely struck me. That’s a level of desperate that I will probably never be in my life. More thoughts on this later in this post.

Our soon-after “Moroccan Fantasy Dinner” was a good pick-me-up. The food was delicious: a massive salad, lemon chicken, couscous, and sweet tea, of course. We had a show put on for us while we ate, with musicians, a candle-balancer dude, a pair of acrobatic siblings, a belly dancer who recruited Trevor to belly dance with her (he was better than she was in my honest opinion), and then to finish a magician whose tricks were slightly predictable. It was on the agenda to go to “The Club” located right next to the hotel after dinner, but my friends and I were too tired, so we settled on lying on my full-size bed and belting out random songs.

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The next morning, Day 3, after a much-appreciated giant breakfast, we stopped at the Cave of Hercules, where we saw the awesome cave cut-out that overlooks the ocean. The cave opening is admired because it’s in the shape of the African continent. Pretty sweet! And, on that typical Monday morning, WE RODE CAMELS. I don’t have a life bucket list, but if I had one, I definitely would be able to cross off “ride a camel in Africa” after that experience. No big deal. It was just a quick circle around the little field thing, but it was so much fun. I felt like I was going to fall off when the camel stood up and then collapsed to the ground without warning, but hey, not a bad problem to have, am I right? 😉

Cave of Hercules:
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CAMEL FACE!
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We then made it back to Ceuta where we painlessly crossed the border and had a 45-minute bus tour of the Ceuta area. It was beautiful, but my pictures all turned out pretty bad because I was taking them from the aisle seat of the bus. This picture, though, from a fantastic lookout point overlooking the Rock of Gibraltar and the city of Ceuta, is pretty cool:

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We ferried once again back to Spain, drove back to Sevilla, and went our separate ways. But, like anything else, I came back with some take-home messages and a few deep observations.

I knew going into this trip that it wasn’t going to be all rainbows and smiles. I’ve heard plenty about Morocco, especially since my best friend studied there not so long ago. But I realized very quickly that the culture that I experienced was something that can only be truly understood though first-hand experience. The stories and the depictions don’t suffice. You have to live it. The vulnerability that I felt was more substantial than just an “I have a feeling we’re in Kansas anymore.” It was a feeling helplessness at first. Not knowing what I could have possibly done to fit in—and knowing deep-down that I couldn’t do anything to fit in.

The stares and the discomfort instantly made me miss America. And then, more than I think I’ve ever felt before in my life, I felt so lucky to be American. I had no idea how many things I take for granted, such as the ability to walk down the street in short-sleeves and sandals, or, dare I say, wear a bathing suit to the beach. These are all things that seem as natural as breathing, but for the Moroccans, it’s quite different. I may have already said this before in a previous post, but the quote that comes to mind as I think and write all of this is the quote from my Intercultural Communication class: “Las cosas no son como son. Son como las vemos.” Things aren’t how they are. They’re how we see them. Well, I was even a bit surprised with myself by how I saw things. I found myself pitying the women there, getting angry on their behalf, even. That they had to walk in the beating sun completely covered up. Then I got mad at myself for getting mad; I had to make a conscious effort to remind myself that that is their culture, and that in their minds it’s just everyday life. I just wish it weren’t like that. Those who know me know that I’d rather count every hair on my head than be labeled “subservient” to a man.

Even being allowed to go to Morocco in the first place was a privilege; I found out after I left that a friend of a friend who is a citizen of Honduras was not even allowed to go to Morocco (even for a visit) without a Visa. I mentioned earlier how we crossed the border without any complications. I simply had to fill out a form with my passport number and some menial details, and our entire tour bus crossed through as if it were a tollbooth on the Florida turnpike. Meanwhile, young Moroccan kids are willing to leave their families and lives behind for even a shot at a new life in Spain.

Another eye-opening observation was the overall almost-primitive way of life that the Moroccans live. You want goat for dinner? You go to the market at 5 am on your donkey and pick which one you’d like to slaughter and cook. We passed by said market in our bus, and I thought about the Publix Greenwise section, how you can get “fresh” organic meat packaged and ready to be prepared. I felt guilty just thinking about how easy my life is, never realizing it to that extent before. I should add as well that we were not allowed to drink the water, either; we had to purchase water bottles everywhere we went. Because our bodies wouldn’t be able to handle what the Moroccans’ bodies have learned to accept with ease. Down the streets there were venders begging us to buy their craft, people tucked into corners selling worn shoes and used television remotes. Meanwhile the night before, my biggest concern was that I needed an iPod charger.

Probably one of my most astounding observations was the language there. This semester is really showing me how in love I am with language. With the exception of my henna tattoo artist, almost every single Moroccan that I encountered spoke not one, not two, not three, but FOUR languages. At minimum, 2. Arabic, English, French (the language of business), and Spanish (which makes sense, due to Northern Morocco’s proximity to Spain). I greeted the Moroccan elder with whom I bartered in Arabic, started the conversation in Spanish, then, when the negotiating got intense, I did what I always end up doing and reverted to English. The guy didn’t skip a beat; he was actually always one step ahead. He even told me in perfect English when I employed my psychological “Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic,” offering him 10 euro as an anchor for a bag I knew he wanted much more money for, “This is real leather, not plastic!” I was really impressed by that guy, and my impression grew substantially after later on conversing in perfect Spanglish with the gift shop owner in our hotel in Tangier. He spoke seven—SEVEN—languages: Arabic, a derivative of Arabic native to his hometown, English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. And to think I’m about ¾ of the way there with my second language… Incredible.

Well, as usual, I’ve said my fair share. If you’ve made it this far, I thank you, and I hope that I was able to convey my insights fairly well. This trip’s observations really taught me, well, to observe. To pay attention to detail and to take in as much as possible. And, above all, to be thankful for what I have. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have my health, happiness, freedom, and, above all, the luxury to be abroad right now to realize all of this.

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