One thing that I never expected to do this semester was to visit an African country. Guess what I did! That means that this semester, I'll have set foot on three continents: North America (when I left home and when I come home in January), Europe (of course), and Africa. Naturally, I was nervous. A lot of not-good news comes out of the continent of Africa and often, people lump all countries of Africa into one. For example, Ebola. When I told family and friends that I was going to Morocco, in Northern Africa, the thing that was asked about the most was Ebola. I encourage you to read this article from the Washington Post from 3 November. It includes a graphic of where Ebola cases have been found.
We hadn't been in Marrakech for more than a couple hours and I was already enthralled by the blue sky, the amount of color in my surroundings, and by how much was going on in this city. It's a lot to take in at once.
There was also a turtle hanging out on the terrace! I called him Mr. Turtle, but it turns out that the hostel calls him "Big Mama" and that he happens to have a baby turtle (which, I'm not sure how that makes sense, seeing as there was only one adult turtle on the terrace).
|He was a very cuddly turtle...|
|I'd like a turtle of my very own now...|
We didn't spend our entire first day in the hostel though, contrary to the number of turtle pictures I just showed you. Marika and I went out, met up with Abby and Kristin who were staying in a different hostel the first night, and then we went to the big square where tons of people set up stalls and sell their wares. This was quite an experience. Like I said before, there's a lot going on at once in this city. It's busy when there are tons of cars and when there aren't so many cars. Especially when you go into the Medina or the Bazaar or the Giant Square, there are stalls on either side of you, people riding motorcycles everywhere to get around, people with carts pulled by animals trying to get through, and people shouting and calling to you from all directions in the hopes of getting your attention so that you'll buy something. They're calling to you in English, French, Arabic, and I even heard Spanish once.
I bartered quite a bit while in Marrakech. That's just how things work when you're shopping around the Medina. If you see something you like, pick it up and say, "I'll pay 50 dirhams for this" and more often than not, the owner of the stall will say, "Oh come on, this thing you want is worth 250 dirhams" which is absolutely not true, so you say, "That's ridiculous. I'm not going to pay more than 60 dirhams" and you go back and forth for a while negotiating a price and you might even threaten to leave, which is scary for stall owners if you want kind of a high-priced thing, so they'll lower the price and eventually, you settle on a price and hooooo... you can relax. Did that run-on sentence exhaust you? You now have an idea of what it's like to barter in a Moroccan marketplace.
Food was also a big part of this trip. Our first dinner in Morocco, I had vegetable couscous. Really good with the onions on top :)
|Breakfast: bread plate, jam, and coffee. My kind of breakfast!|
|Our first full day in Marrakech, Marika and I woke up and after breakfast, we went to go get Kristin and Abby when we came across these cats. There were a lot of cats in Marrakech...|
Our first full day in Morocco, we decided that we wanted to do a cooking class. So we met up with our chef, Aida, and she taught us how to make vegetable tajine (I've also seen it spelled 'tagine') and lamb meat balls. She brought us to the market and we got the ingredients for what we'd be making. It was fun to be involved with cooking this way.
Food, glorious food!
After getting the ingredients, we all went to another hostel so that we could cook up those ingredients in the tiny kitchen. What I really liked about this cooking class was that we didn't just get to watch, we got to do. So we were all gathered in the tiny kitchen cutting up onions Moroccan-style, peel potatoes and carrots and zucchini and other vegetables I can't necessarily remember. But it was a lot of fun! It didn't take long for the kitchen to smell really good with all of the spices we were using.
|Decorations in the hostel where we were cooking.|
|Tajine, before it was cooked.|
|Completed tajine and lamb meatballs-- smelled amazing and so good to eat!|
After we finished cooking and eating, Aida was nice enough to take us out into the marketplace again because there were certain things that we were looking for. Aida both knew where to go to get those things and also had connections with people who would give us a good price for those things, which we wouldn't have gotten if we had decided to go hunting for those things on our own. It's not very hard to pick out that we're not Moroccans...
|Moe Ahmed, one of the people who worked in our hostel, is a very talented musician. It was fun to sit in the office and listen to him play for a while.|
|Afterwards, we ventured back into the marketplace. People sell things on the ground and at night, things like the lanterns look really pretty.|
Once we returned to the square in the evening, we did a little bit more shopping (window shopping and actual shopping) and hunting for food. We also saw people gathering. There was an international film festival, so at night while we were here, they'd play movies on a giant screen. Some were in English, but more often than not, they were in French or Arabic.
Friday, we booked a day excursion to get out of Marrakech. We went to Ourika falls, which are the second biggest falls on the continent of Africa, after Victoria Falls.
|We went into a typical Berber house and in those houses, there's a sort of barn. This house had a couple of cows.|
|The roof of the Berber house.|
|Mint tea. I guess Moroccans poor their tea way above the cup because they like the bubbles in their tea. The more you know!|
Afterwards, we got to go and see how Argan Oil (known as Moroccan oil outside of Morocco) is made. Abby was cracking the nuts to get to the "almonds" inside and I was crushing up those "almonds" with a giant stone to make a brown paste. Argan oil is good for your nail and hair and if the nuts are roasted before you break and crush them, it's good for cooking.
And then, my dreams came true: I rode a camel. Literally, this has been something that I've been looking forward to for months. Like, since we came up with the idea of going to Morocco this semester.
|My camel, Henrietta, is apparently a mama camel. So that's her baby walking next to her.|
|Baby camel :)|
|Our future band picture :) It's like the Beatles, Moroccan style.|
|One last good-bye to Henrietta!|
After riding a camel and negotiating prices, we hopped in our van again and drove a little further so that we could go and see the actual falls.
After I reached the top (because there was a crap-ton of climbing), I wasn't sure if it was worth it to climb to the top because I was exhausted, and a little angry with the person who brought us to the top (because he's part fearless mountain lion and was bounding up the mountain on unstable boulders that I was incredibly unsure about. I wanted to take my time, but he didn't allow that), and I just wanted to cry in a bad way. But once I got back down, I was calmed down a little bit and I decided that it was worth it to climb that mountain. Although I probably won't be doing it again any time soon.
Afterwards, we drove back down the giant hill to Marrakech.
We went out again that night after resting a little bit and a strange movie was playing... so strange that we stopped to watch for a while. I couldn't understand the English they were speaking, so I was reading the French subtitles, but they were moving really fast, so I only have a small idea of what the film was actually about.
The morning of the day we were to leave, we went to go get henna done from a lady named Layla who worked in the other hostel. Her work is beautiful...
|Left: Marika, Right: me.|
The Palais Bahia was beautiful, but I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had known what each room was for and if I had known a little history about it. Before I create my scrapbook of this entire semester, I'll have to do a little research.
|The mosque where the call to prayer comes from and that is situated in the middle of Marrakech (I think).|
Morocco was more than just a beautiful place to visit. It was kind of an eye-opener for me. Every day when I simply walked outside the door of the hostel, there was someone sitting on the ground holding their hand out asking for money. In the square, if you were standing in line for food, sometimes children would come up to you, point to the stand you were in line for, and in French or Arabic ask if they could have one. I don't remember seeing people give money to people in the street so much, but more than once, I saw kids walk away from a stand with food in their hands. One night, we were waiting by a crepe and ice cream stand when I little girl came up to us, pointing at the crepe stand saying, "Manger? Manger?" which in French means, "Eat? Eat?" I did buy a crepe for her. I felt good about doing that, but I also felt sad. I don't know her situation or the situation of her family, but if she's coming up to strangers asking for food, there's a problem, isn't there? When we were out with Aida, a boy walked up to Aida and asked if he could have some orange juice (I forgot to mention that we were by an orange juice stand). Aida handed him her cup which was half full with orange juice and pulp. He finished it. Aida didn't get another orange juice for herself. Another lady bought a boy some ice cream as she was standing in line for her own ice cream. I mean, where I live, I haven't noticed children going up to people and begging for food. It just doesn't happen that often. There are places for families who have trouble affording the food that their family needs to live. There are places for people to go so that they don't have to sleep on the street at night, especially in the winter. I don't know what services the Moroccan government offers, but it doesn't seem to be as good as what the U.S. offers to people in need. It's definitely not like what the Netherlands offers to people in need (compared to both the U.S. and Morocco).
I think the next time I make a big trip like I'm making this semester, it's going to be a trip that I make in order to help others. Morocco was such a short trip, but it's been an eye-opener nevertheless.
Thanks for Reading!