Environmental

Spiritual Connection in the Caves of North Africa

Sarita Hira is a student at Baldwin Wallace University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying and participating in service-learning abroad with ISA in Meknes, Morocco

This weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to explore the deepest caves in North Africa. The Friouato Caves extend 300 meters below the surface of the earth. On our trip, we were only able to travel three kilometers into the caves before the path was so difficult that it was restricted to professionals. That being said, those three kilometers took us over three hours. With narrow spaces and sometimes slippery rocks, at times I felt like a small child using her hands and knees to climb a vast jungle gym. Surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites and glistening crystal “waterfalls”, the caves were a sort of underground paradise. I remember being struck with awe as we proceeded through this hidden but beautiful world.

The Friouato Caves were originally discovered by French adventurer Norbet Casteret in 1969 when he came across the opening featured here.

The Friouato Caves were originally discovered by French adventurer Norbet Casteret in 1969 when he came across the opening featured here.

Spirituality is often associated with religion, and while this is a valid definition for some scenarios in this case I choose to use a slightly different definition. I have always been rooted deeply within the earth, holding within myself a powerful sense of solidarity with nature. The smallest details, from the way the fog drapes itself around mountains to the realization that three centimeters of a stalactite typically takes centuries to develop, fill me with a sense of wonder at the universe. It is this sense of inspiration, of truly being a part of something bigger than myself, that I define as my spirituality.

For me, that something bigger may have a distinct identity such as God or Allah, or it may have multiple distinct identities, such as in the case of the deities in Hinduism. Or, that something bigger may not be a being of any kind at all, but rather a series of mathematical laws mixed with a dash of chance and probability. Rather than scaring me, the uncertainty makes me curious to discover.

I think my experience in the caves serves as a great model for my time in Morocco so far. Being immersed in a culture so different from mine is a truly incredible opportunity. The cultural differences extend far from the surface. While we often think about different foods or dress when we address cultural disparities, my immersion in the amazing Moroccan culture has been of a much greater depth. One day I may be discussing the geometry of the universe as represented in Islamic art, only to find myself debating the romanticization of the past—in order to answer the complicated “If you could live in any time period, which period would you pick?” My fifteen year old host brother is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. He, as nearly every other Moroccan I have met thus far, is completely unafraid to ask what most Americans would consider “personal questions.” His curiosity about the world has filled me with a renewed love of learning that I think we sometimes forget while we are fixed in our routines of class, meetings, and work. More than that, he constantly pushes me to experience as much of Morocco as I can. My roommate and I quickly grew used to his regular questioning, always starting with, “What are you doing next?”

In the midst of our adventure, we discovered and added to some artwork in the caves made by last year's ISA students.

In the midst of our adventure, we discovered and added to some artwork in the caves made by last year’s ISA students.

It is this question that keeps me on my toes, constantly aware of the clock ticking away the time I have left in my adventure. In four weeks, I have discovered so much about myself, but the most important thing I have learned is what my soul yearns for. My spiritual, “ah ha” moments come with adventures through mountains and caves and forests alike. If there is one thing studying abroad will have taught me, it is that J.R.R. Tolkien was absolutely right when he said “Not all those who wander are lost.” In fact, I think that it is only by wandering that you can truly find yourself.

While traveling home to Meknes after our visit to Friouato was over we stopped to enjoy this incredible view just outside of Taza.

While traveling home to Meknes after our visit to Friouato was over we stopped to enjoy this incredible view just outside of Taza.

The world awaits…discover it.

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