Semester at Sea: Final Port – Morocco
I traveled with a friend who had studied abroad in Morocco just last semester, so we had fun spending time in Rabat with her friends and host family. Along with the majority of families in Morocco, they have a big couscous dinner for the family every Friday, and Ada and I were happy to share in the festivities.
The family embraced us as soon as they saw us, kiss-kissed us on either side of our cheeks and was all aflutter at seeing Ada again, who was a student in the study abroad program they ran. After dinner, one man brought out a guitar and sang traditional Moroccan songs, and then all the women sang and danced together in the middle of the room (and made us join, of course).
Ada told me that she guessed that 90 percent of Moroccan families get together for couscous every Friday. That degree of devotion to family and tradition is something you’d never find in America, she said, and it’s a huge part of what she loves about Morocco. “Moroccans have a very different sense of time and priorities, in which 4pm tea and Friday couscous are normally at the top,” she joked.
It’s a country where 98 percent of people are Muslim – the first we’d visited on SAS – and everything from our greetings to the way we handled business was carried out through that lens. “Islam makes everything calmer and more comfortable,” Ada said. In her exchanges with taxi drivers and vendors, the conversation (in either French or Arabic) would include phrases like ‘Bismallah’ (in God’s name) and “Insha’Allah’ (God willing). “When we’ve established a mutual belief in God, it establishes trust,” she said. “We raise the conversation to a whole new plane by acknowledging that we both believe in the same God, and that he ultimately controls our conversation.”
Though it’s a country of 33 million people, the use of faith as part of identity creates a tight-knit community vibe amongst Moroccans. But that doesn’t mean it’s closed – with the current tumult in eastern Africa, Morocco is becoming the new Egypt for foreign visitors to the continent. It’s one of the few predominantly Muslim countries that U.S. citizens, and citizens from anywhere in the world, can, easily and safely, visit.
Later in the week, Ada and I caught a train to Marrakech, the cultural capital of Morocco. Today the town is largely a mecca for tourists, but that’s because it really is a cultural hub with its tanneries, carpet stores, snake charmers, food and street entertainment that lasts late into the night. Visitors can take a camel trek to the Sahara desert nearby, or go hiking though the Atlas Mountains just on the horizon. But my favorite part of the city was navigating through the winding medina of the old city. Built with towering walls, skinny passageways, dead ends, and majestic doors concealing all sorts of secrets, it’s the kind of maze you read about in books.
At the center of the medina was a town square where the activity happens – markets, restaurants and street entertainment open at all hours. Ada and I spent an hour one night watching a man who had placed a rooster, with a dove sitting on its back, on top of his head, and was singing and dancing around in a circle as musicians with tambourines and guitars cheered him on. It was even more of a ridiculous scene when he invited us to come up and dance too – and we broke out moves we had learned in Ghana!
Heading back on the train that next morning, I thought about how Morocco was our last port, our last stop in Africa, and how boarding the ship today would mark the final time we would return to sea. Once again, it had been unlike any country I’d visited so far, and I’d learned more than I ever thought I’d know about Morocco, or even an Arabic-speaking country. And with that, we had only four more days to London.