Morocco‘s landscape diversity is simply incredible. In many ways it reminds me of my home state, California. There can’t be too many places in the world where palm trees, desert, snow, heavy rain, and forest can coexist in the same territory. Naturally, Morocco facilitates this odd mix with ease.
Posts from the ‘Morocco’ Category
It took 30 minutes and a little help from Google Translate for my roommates and I to realize that Khadija, our apartment’s caretaker who doesn’t speak a lick of English, was inviting us over to meet her family. Only Khadija could get our butts off the couch on this rainy day. That woman’s perpetual smile doesn’t allow you to say no to such an invitation.
The six of us followed Khadija out of Hamria (our neighborhood) and toward the old Medina, stopping only when Khadija insisted on buying all of us a treat (seriously, this woman is too nice, so nice that you don’t actually know how to react). We wiggled our way through a crowded street single-file behind Khadija. She would occasionally look back to make sure all her little ducklings (us) were still in a row. Once out of the market we crossed a busy street and Khadija hailed a grand taxi. Usually you fit 6 people in these taxis, 7 with the driver. We fit seven, eight with our animated and very talkative driver. Read more
It feels great to be in Morocco! Traveling to a place where everything is different is startling yet refreshing. Having lived in the same place for most of my life, I’m enjoying the change in my scenery and ways of living. One of the more fascinating experiences I’ve had that has shown me such differences is exploring and understanding the presence of Islam within the country.
When traveling around Morocco in my free time, I find myself having similar conversations with new friends and explaining to them that I’m living in the city of Meknes for the summer, where I study Arabic at Moulay Ismail University. And then, as usually goes with travelers, they become interested in whether or not they should check out my city: “Wow, Meknes! Do you think it would be worth it for me to go there? What’s interesting or cool in that city?”
If I were to spend all of my life in a classroom being taught by the most talented Arabic teacher, I might gain proficiency in Arabic. However, learning a language goes hand in hand with experiencing a culture. This is why I’ve chosen to study abroad in Morocco, to experience Moroccan culture first hand. Here is what I’ve observed so far.
I have arrived in Morocco. My summer in this beautiful, fascinating country has already begun, and I can hardly believe it. I have gone from the bustling port city of Casablanca to the beautiful imperial city of Meknes, situated in the hills and straddling a river, where I have begun my Arabic classes at the local university.
Since I arrived in the country three weeks ago, I have formed many first impressions of Morocco. Among other things I noticed the passion for food, the reverence for religion, the blazing hot temperatures, the slower pace of life, the amazingly detailed architecture, and the beautiful fabrics. Yet most of all, I noticed the natural hospitality which Moroccans share not only with other members of their country, but with foreigners as well. Where better to experience Moroccan hospitality than at a baby shower?
The other night when I went to go visit some other students in my program at their apartment, we heard ridiculously loud music coming from downstairs. After debating for a while on whether or not to check it out, two of my friends finally went to see where the music was coming from. They ran back upstairs to let us know that there was a fancy party in the apartment below and that a traditional Moroccan band was playing music while a lot of people danced. As soon as we heard this information, one of the women from the party came upstairs and invited us to join them. We didn’t realize that we’d be joining a family’s celebration of a new baby, born just a week ago. The family didn’t realize how many students were in our group, a total of eleven extra people cramped into their apartment.
The party had already been going for two hours, and there were at least forty family members already there, filling the apartment to its brim. Despite this, the family insisted on inviting us to dance, eat, and then dance some more with them! The sister of the baby’s mother even kept in touch with us after the party and has offered to help us learn Darija, the colloquial dialect of Morocco, in her spare time. While the American news is currently blasting us with stories of rage in the Arab world, what I have personally experienced in Morocco is heart-warming hospitality.
In my previous blog posting I mentioned how I like to use video to document my experiences while being abroad in Morocco. After beginning my second summer program four weeks ago I had a mountain of unedited footage from different excursions I have taken around Morocco. So, after four days, copious amounts of coffee, and numerous late-night visits to Moroccan cafes I have successfully managed to piece together four videos from my favorite excursions around the country. My aim is to make up for my mediocre photography talents by doing videos. Besides this, I truthfully don’t know of a better way to express my time and my experiences in these magnificent places if not through video. There are many moments and memories that I have had that no amount of words or pictures would sufficiently be able to do them justice. You know those moments we all have had when attempting to retell second hand information. Sometimes the best response is “you just had to have been there.” However, through videos and music I feel like I get to take the people that watch them along for the amazing journey that I went on. With these short clips, my hope is that you get to laugh at the same ridiculous moments and see the same breathtaking sites that I have. The videos that I am posting are from the cities: Fes, Azrou, Asilah, and Volubilis. Before each video, I will do my best to give some background about each place.
The best conceivable way to describe the city of Fes is to compare it to the busy and chaotic vibe of a major metropolitan city during rush hour. Fes is the places where you feel like you are in the center of something vibrant and exciting. The “medina” is filled with artisans, restaurants, cafes, and tanneries. Moreover, I could also make the comparison between the medina (old part of the city) in Fes and a Russian nesting doll. Every high walled maze of streets holds new opportunities to stumble upon something interesting and unique. Also the winding streets that house a quaint cafe and shops full of leather goods and Moroccan clothes provides the perfect way to spend a long afternoon of shopping.
To the south of Fes is a small city called Azrou. The most memorable part about this city was the sprawling wide open spaces and the beautiful views from the hike that I went on. Moreover, the group that I went with made the experience extremely memorable, because nothings says group bonding like a 2 1/2 hour hike up steep mountainous terrain. Oh, and feeding monkeys was also a significant highlight of the trip.
After, weeks of three hours in accelerated classes one of the best excursions you could be presented with is a well deserved escape to the beach city of Asilah. This city by the sea is possibly one of the most scenic cities I have visited during my stay. Clear ocean water, seafood, and beautiful painted murals scattered along the walls throughout Asilah contribute to the easy and relaxed feel of this city.
Lastly, the Roman ruins of Volubilis is usually not the most popular excursion that I have been on, but the history behind the site still resonates with me. The one component that really makes the trip is the company that you are in when you visit the ruins. The past two times I have seen Volubilis, I have had the good fortune of having an amazing group to share the experience with.
So, I have told you some of my favorite sites and memories from my time in these four amazing places. I hope that you enjoy the videos as much as I enjoyed the fun and hilarious moments that went into making them…
Africa is not your ‘typical’ study abroad destination. Most students I know tend to favor programs in Europe or South America. However, studying in Morocco has so much to offer! Let me share with you the top five reasons why everyone should want to at least visit, if not study in, Morocco:
Morocco is not beautiful in a traditional sense; it is dusty, often smoggy, and it rarely rains during the summer months. Especially when traveling in larger cities such as Tangier or Casablanca, it is easy to categorize Morocco’s scenery as crowded, dirty, and uninspiring.
If you doubt Morocco’s real beauty, though, there is only one solution: go up. The view from a Moroccan rooftop at any time of day is a special thing, but especially so at sunset.
Meknes is nicknamed “City of the Hundred Minarets,” and it certainly lives up to its name. The beautiful towers reach up to the sky all over Meknes, marking the location of the city’s many mosques, but also giving a spiritual feel to the Meknes skyline. In Casablanca, you can visit the world’s tallest minaret, at Hassan II Mosque. This mosque in the largest in the country and the 7th largest in the world; 105,000 believers can worship at the same time!
Moroccan Mint Tea
You have not truly experienced Morocco until you have drank the traditional mint tea. Served in a small silver teapot, the tea is made with green tea, mint leaves, and a heaping of sugar. Drinking tea together is a social experience, and this tea is often served when you are a guest in someone’s home.
When served, the tea is often poured into the traditional glasses (no tea cups in this country) from two or three feet above the glass, allowing the tea to be cooled by the air. One of my fellow ISA-ers, a physics major, argue that this practice really has no palpable cooling effect; regardless of its true effectiveness, seeing the tea being poured from a pot several feet above without spilling a drop is an amazing sight.
Even if you aren’t a feline fan, the thousands of street cats found throughout Morocco are still a sight to see. Morocco is home to a virtual army of street cats; dogs are rarely seen in comparison. Many of these cats are flea-infested, maimed, or otherwise not as cute and cuddly as the ones you can buy at a pet store back home. Still, seeing kittens cuddled up behind a street vendor’s cart or taking a nap in a potted plant is a comforting sight; these predators keep the rats and other creepy creatures at bay.
The Story of Moulay Ismail
Known as the Warrior King, this former ruler of Morocco was known for his cruelty as well as his economic success. Under Moulay Ismail’s reign, Meknes was known as the “Versailles of Morocco.” Moulay Ismail built beautiful palaces, including one that houses the university we ISA students study at. His influence and legacy is seen throughout Morocco, not just in Meknes. Plenty of stories, ranging from historical to the bizarre, are told about him. Among other accomplishments, he is said to have fathered nearly 1,000 children!
Regardless if you are interested in the cats, the crazy dictator, or the culinary aspects, Morocco is a country worth visiting. If you’re lucky, maybe you can even spend some time in Meknes!