Sitting here on deck five, watching the sun go down and seeing nothing but ocean around me, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be sailing around the world…and how much I never want to leave the MV Explorer. To have left Europe, gone to Africa, and now be heading back to Italy…it’s insane! The spring voyage is looking better and better (mom and dad, I see why you stayed on the ships as long as you did).
This post will likely be a lot longer than my usual ones; we squeezed in more than I thought possible in our four days in port. To put it in the most clichéd of terms, Morocco was an eye-opening experience. Until this port, we had been in lots of cool places, many of which I hadn’t envisioned traveling to before, but they all had many of the comforts of home. Almost every previous port was filled with English speakers, and while we encountered poverty, it was nowhere near the level in Morocco. The first day, on the bus to a field lab for my Education and Economic Systems class, I was struck by how quickly our surroundings changed as we went from the port terminal, with a newly built train station just outside it, to the, for lack of a better word, sketchy area the university we were going to was located in. Police escorted our bus in, just to be safe. Once inside the university though, I felt like I was in any Florida indoor/outdoor school. It reminded me of Sawgrass Springs Middle actually. (That is, until I went into the bathrooms and was transported right back to China, squat toilets and all. Not ideal.)
Despite the somewhat unnerving drive to the school, our time at the university offered the first of many great interactions with locals. After presentations from three Moroccan educators, who talked candidly about the shortcomings of their education system and how they’re working to reform it, we ate lunch and had tea with university students. I sat with a 19-year-old named Muhammad, who asked me and my classmate questions about what kind of classes we can take, how big they are, what our political views are, whether boy-and-girl interactions are really like what he sees in American movies. He in turn told us all about his school and customs. One of the most interesting things he said came up when we asked how often foreigners come to visit his school; he said he meets foreigners fairly often, and they are so kind, gentle, and respectful that he can’t believe they are not Muslims. It was really interesting to hear, especially in contrast to how Islam is often portrayed or viewed in the west. My other favorite takeaway from Muhammad was his laughter when I said my ex-boyfriend was allowed to come over and hang out at my house…he said in order to date a girl, he would have to tell her father he intended to marry her!
As we were visiting an Islamic country, we were advised to dress conservatively. This sometimes meant cardigans in 80+ degree weather, and pants on the last day when my maxi dress supply ran out. Even still, we (especially the females) got lots of stares. In Marrakesh’s old city, the stares were often accompanied by compliments and catcalls; however, I learned quickly to just take it with a grain of salt.
That first day In Marrakesh, I was definitely on edge. Scooters constantly whizzed past as I weaved through the old city’s market, a maze of winding alleys and puddles of who-knows-what on the dusty ground. Shopkeepers at every stall tried to make sales, all promising a “good deal for you.” It was chaotic to say the least, and not the place to get lost, so I was focused mainly on staying near my group of friends. At some point in the day, I started to relax and embrace the difference in scenery and lifestyle. After all my friends and I said just the other day in Europe that we were ready for something new.
During our two days in Marrakesh we made it to the obligatory camel ride, which was a little less exotic than some of the other SASers—ours went through what was essentially a parking lot minus the cars, and occasional grassy patches. It was a fun experience nonetheless! I hope Fatima/George is treated well (we named the camels ourselves and then learned their actual names, whoops)…I felt a little guilty riding her.
We also had reason to celebrate in Marrakesh…it was Victoria’s 21st birthday!! After drinks and some yummy Moroccan food we went out into the main square, which is definitely a sight to see at night. There were games going on, circles of people surrounding musicians and singers, kids running around everywhere, people eating. We got into a long conversation with a university student from Marrakech, talking about politics and religion…for supposedly taboo topics, most of the people we encountered were eager to talk about the matters and hear our opinions.
Though I swore off hostels after France, we found ourselves at Waka Waka hostel. It ended up being a lot of fun…there was a rooftop area with beds and my friend and I decided to sleep up there. We were woken up early by the call to prayer; definitely a first for me! At breakfast I talked to a really awesome guy named Thomas who has traveled to 62 countries. He gave us a lot of insight on travel and the ways he goes about soaking up as much as possible in short periods of time. I was definitely envious of his life!
We experienced firsthand the unreliability of trains we had been warned about when trying to get back to Casablanca, but luckily we made it back in time for the “Dinner with a Moroccan Family” field program, which I think is now my favorite memory of the trip so far. Myself, my friend Zac, and two other SAS girls were put in a taxi that took us to the house of a local resident named Soufiane, his brother and his mother. The family had hosted SAS kids once before and Soufiane gave a presentation on board the ship last year. We spent about four hours at their home, talking and eating an outstanding home-cooked meal (our first in quite a while!). The mother did not speak English, but she sat with us the whole time and always had a welcoming smile on her face. It was really nice to just sit and relax with new people and learn how they live their lives. We started talking about music at one point, and Soufiane played us some of his favorite songs on YouTube, and we played songs for him. It’s so cool how universal music is and that we can have favorite musicians in common with people living a world away. Though it was very sad to leave Soufiane and his family, thanks to Facebook we can stay in touch. And after seeing the presentation he had made for SAS, there are so many more places I want to visit in Morocco. To use one of the few phrases I picked up while there, I’ll be back in Morocco one day, inshallah.
The first day or two in Morocco were hard, I admit. I definitely had my first dose of culture shock, and found mysel
f really missing home for the first time. But through all my experiences talking to and spending time with locals, my fears and nervousness completely slipped away.