As we walked down the tiny alleyway soaking in the first few moments of being in Morocco and realizing that we stick out like sore thumbs, a shopkeeper to my right shouted, “Welcome to Morocco, Spice Girls!” Morocco meaning, “land of the sunset,” has been one of my favorite experiences of studying abroad. The culture was so extremely different that what I am used to, and the people were all so incredibly friendly and funny.
Being in a predominately Islamic country during Ramadan was the best cultural experience I have had. This year Ramadan was from June 6 to July 5, so we came right at the tail end of the cultural fasting. For those who haven’t heard of Ramadan, it is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and the month that the Quran was revealed. To honor this special time, Muslims don’t eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset. Since everyone was observing Ramadan, it was like a different world in Morocco.
Our guide told us that we were visiting during a time that was opposite to what it was regularly like in Morocco. During the day, the streets were bare and the restaurants were closed. People often sleep during the day and wake during the night to socialize and eat. It was amazing to see how the city lit up at night, overflowing with people. When we passed the gelato shop around 12:30 a.m., the line was wrapped around the outside of the shop. I think one of the coolest parts was waking up to them praying in unison before the sun rose. The sound of prayer was so powerful to wake up to.
Our AIFS leader told us to be prepared to barter with the storekeepers about every price. They are expecting to compromise on a lower price. This was such a fun experience for my friends and me. The first day we got there, we went inside a Moroccan rug store where I fell in love. I was the first person to raise my hand when asked who wanted to buy a rug and the second person to buy a rug in the store. I got a nice rug for 70 euro after bartering the price all the way down from 350. It took me a minute to wrap my head around the process and that this was normal for them. I probably heard the phrase, “I give student good price,” around 100 times that weekend.
I had to be careful though, because if you look at something, they are expecting you to buy it. Vendors will immediately come over and start bartering with you. A couple of students made the mistake of looking at the knock off Ray-Ban sunglasses for sale, and the man followed us around everywhere we went for the rest of the day trying to get one of us to buy them. THEY DON’T GIVE UP!
Blue City, Chefchaouen
Before studying abroad, when I was booking the excursion to Morocco, I found the blue city, Chefchaouen online and it became one of the things I was looking forward to the most. It was breathtaking and incredibly beautiful to see the blue city. There are several theories as to why the walls were painted blue. One popular theory is that the blue keeps mosquitos away; another is that the Jews introduced the blue when they took refuge from Hitler in the 1930s. The blue is said to symbolize the sky and heaven and serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life.
Morocco was so much fun and such a cool thing for me to experience. One night we even got to listen to a man sing awesome Arabic pop-styled songs, while we all danced to the music. We tried the signature Moroccan dish, Tajeen that is made up of roast and figs. Another of my favorite things I tried was their mint tea. We got mint tea with every meal, and it was like no other tea I’ve had. It was served hot at the end of the meal, with a light sweetened taste.
My favorite part of all though was getting to ride a camel! It was scary and hilarious. If you ever get the chance, I highly encourage you to do so. It was only 2 euros!
I think Morocco will always hold a special place for me, because it was the last weekend I got to spend with a lot of my friends that chose to do the four-week program. I have always been fascinated by the Islamic culture, and it makes me even more passionate about welcoming immigrants into the States. It helped me to realize how even though the culture is so extremely different, people are still people. I still laughed with the locals, smiled at the little children and got to experience one of the coolest times of my life.
This post was contributed by Marley Vawter, who studied abroad with AIFS in Granada, Spain during the summer of 2016.