Morocco is a place that has changed both me and many others in a number of ways. It’s an exotic and special place for undoubtedly many who visit. After reading fellow travel blogger Julia’s post about her Life Lessons from Morocco, I was inspired to write about how Morocco had changed me. We had different experiences within the country, her’s more intimate with the people of Morocco than mine, but both of us left as changed people.
Ever since I was in second grade I have always wanted to visit Africa, and in particular, Kenya. I did a report on Africa for the class and everything about the continent fascinated me beyond belief. During my study abroad trip in 2010, the program I studied abroad with, CEA, put together a weekend trip to Morocco for us. Needless to say, I was ecstatic! Finally, all these years after doing that first report on Africa, 14 years later, I would actually be stepping foot in Africa! Even though it was Morocco and not Kenya, I was still thrilled and nothing could bring down my excitement. Although, my roommate who was from Ghana tried in saying that Morocco wasn’t “real Africa” because the “real Africa” was sub-Saharan Africa.
We took the ferry from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier, Morocco, which was pretty quick but also pretty choppy. All my pent up nervous and excitement kept me from thinking about the seasickness that nearly all the others in the group experienced. Once we arrived in Tangier and stepped out of the the international port crossing, I was in shock because all of a sudden I stuck out. Not stuck out like being the only male in your women’s studies class or the only kid in the lunchroom who’s mom didn’t pack a good dessert, but seriously stuck out, like there was no hiding that I was different.
This was the first time I’ve ever truly experienced this feeling. The awkwardness lasted for a little, but eventually wore off. I came to realize that I didn’t look like a Moroccan with my dirty blonde hair and blue eyes, but also that I never would look like a Moroccan. The situation could have made me continue to feel awkward, but I made a conscious decision to recognize that I was different on the outside and that I was going to accept that fact. After I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t blend in without going unnoticed, I enjoyed myself much more. I was being myself while being respectful to another culture and having fun.
I find that many times people try so hard to conform to another country’s norm that they often forget themselves and can lose their own culture. Having a multicultural world where people understand and respect each other can only make it a better place.
When I visited Chefchaouen, a smaller town up in the Rif mountains, I was enjoyed the blue painted walls that twisted throughout the city when I stepped back and took a look at the people of the town. There were many people hard at work in their rug shops, restaurants, and all about town. That isn’t to say that there weren’t less respectable hashish dealers offering me drugs throughout the day. Something that really caught my eye were the kids playing. They weren’t playing Xbox and iPads, but rather with simply what they had around them. However, they were happy and enjoying their time playing.
I’ve worked populations and with children who are far less fortunate than most, but for something reason seeing this all over Chefchaouen and Tangier it really affected me. I now think about it anytime I find myself yearning for the latest gadget or hear a child throwing a temper tantrum at a store. I wish everyone could have the opportunity to see this and interact with those less fortunate because it would make us all appreciate what we have so much more and hopefully, make us want to continue helping those with less.
I had never experienced anything with Islam or the Islamic culture before I went there. I only knew the history and some random facts about the religion from a few college courses. As I was exploring Tangier, the mosque had its call to prayer. The blaring, tone came blowing swiftly over the city winding through every small tight street and quite frankly startled me at first because my first thought was a tornado siren. However, when I saw people go scrambling towards the mosque I remember that they have a call to prayer. Throughout the rest of my days there, the call to prayer was not startling, but rather soothing. It was almost a peaceful calling. A teenage boy who was giving us a tour around Tangier heard the call in the middle of the tour, told us to wait and that he’d be back, and sure enough he showed up about 15 minutes later to continue our tour.
Being immersed in the Islamic culture in a predominately Islamic city and country surrounded by Muslims, was once again far different from anything I had ever experienced up until that point, but being there and experiencing it gave me a great appreciation for for the religion and culture. There are many different people in this world who have different cultures, traditions, languages, and religions, but learning to understand one another and accepting each others differences can only improve the experience we call life for all of us.
Morocco proved to be an exciting, exotic, great place that I would gladly visit again, even though I know I would stick out like a sore thumb. It taught me not only a lot about another culture, but a lot about myself.
When was the first time you truly felt like you stuck out? Where was it? How did you deal with it? Do you have any advice to those traveling to a place that is completely different from anything they’ve ever experienced?