I visited Morocco this past weekend, and it was an amazing experience. We were exposed to both the touristy and non-touristy parts of the country staying with both a homestay family (who generously welcomed us into their homes) and at a local hostel.
Our activities ranged from riding camels and bargaining with the local vendors, to going to the hammam (communal bath), getting henna tattoos from our homestay family, and drinking homemade Moroccan mint tea, to driving past scenes of extreme poverty, squatting over holes in the ground, and receiving somewhat crude Moroccan-style catcalls while walking down the streets.
FUN FACT: When meeting our host families, I learned that, like Spain, they kiss people on both cheeks. However, there is one kiss on one side, and two kisses on the other.
Although we were only there for four days, our myriad meaningful conversations with the local young adults and families, both in the urban and rural parts of the country, piqued my interest in the Islamic way of living and modes of thought. I particularly enjoyed discovering the similarities, despite the distinct differences, between the Moroccan and the American perspective.
We talked to young men and women about their religious beliefs and practices. One young woman explained to us her pride in wearing a hijab as a Muslim woman and her determination to dress stylishly while remaining within the guidelines of her religion’s modesty standards. She walked with us around the medina, encouraging us to sample delicious olives and freshly-baked, hot (not warm) bread.
We talked to a group of young men who sing/rap, play music, and dance as hobbies (and paid jobs) even though the arts are not a collective societal value when compared to education and studying (i.e. work opportunities and sources of income). After having driven past the run-down, makeshift houses, with sheets of metal held down by rocks as roofs, we talked to the young men about poverty, illiteracy, and desperation (i.e. what can lead some of the Moroccan men to join terrorist organizations).
I saw children on the sidewalks. There were two boys who our tour guide had encouraged to stop begging and start selling. Now teenagers, they sell their handmade leather bracelets to the passerby who takes the time to stop for them. One little boy came up to us while we were at a local vendor, and he stayed with us, trying to sell his packs of tissues, until we left. He was a good, persistent salesman.
I also saw the elderly on the sidewalks. One of the young men who had played the guitar and sang for us stopped an elderly woman on the street to bend down (from his 1,97 meter frame) to place a few coins in her hand. I noticed how his entire disposition softened in her presence- with both of his hands on top of hers, his eyes only filled with compassion. I asked him if it was normal for them to give alms to people on the street. And, even though we had not been able to communicate much up until that point (He spoke Arabic, French, and small bits of English, while I had only learned how to say “God-willing,” and “thank you” in the Arabic spoken in Morocco, Darija), he understood what I had asked. He replied, “Yes, I do it often.”
I enjoyed our time walking the streets with him and the other local students from the jam session. I learned about their particular life stories. They helped me increase my Arabic lexicon and pronunciation skills. And, they showed me how people who have just met each other, who are not fluent in any shared languages, can connect and grow in each other’s company.
Our last night in Morocco, we met a local street vendor, who had an impressively wise and gentle soul, with the ability to speak five languages. I left him and Morocco repeating his words in my head: “Peace in your Mind. Love in your Step.”
Paz, Amor y Felicidad,