These posts are way over due but better late than never!
Marruecos Day 1

After 3 hours on a roomy Spanish bus, WHICH INCLUDED a partial game of going on a picnic, bocadillos from our host families, sharing authentic Spanish grab bag candy, and trying to find comfy ways to “sleep” to no significant avail, a 20 minute rest stop at a gas station for more snacks for some, a bathroom break for most, and Mahou for some of the boys, and listening to the rain sing a pitter pater on the roof, we made it to Algeciras!

It was dark, luminous, and wet when we arrived. We were all a little out of our element. The area didn’t seem to be the greatest, especially in comparison to Granada, even with its huge amounts of construction everywhere. We figured we weren’t going to be staying at a 5 star hotel comparable to the comfort of our pleasant homestays. It seems Algeciras would maybe be just a quick stop for tourists. The rooms were cozy, although cold and engulfed with smells of smoke and must, and my roommate and I, Fatima, couldn’t figure out how to turn on our television. At this particular hotel there were no remotes because you had to pay a 8 euro fee to retrieve it from the reception desk. When you turn on any of the TVs the channel that happens to be on is what you get. Nick, Griff, Fatima and I and others spent some time watching Salvame, a tv show discussing plastic surgery, after some of us had spent some time lounging in a bar listening to music (and videos) that portrayed a little of the Arabic culture we were about to encounter. I got a splinter when letting Fatima into our room and we spent 5-10 minutes getting it out…and that’s how the night began. After a late night and early morning, we awoke at 6:30am to get engorge in the luxury of a 10 minute shower with amenities! As you can probably recall I’m limited to 5 minutes back in Granada. The water was scorching hot but as you can probably imagine, still very nice.

We had 7am breakfast and enjoyed a more typical light Spanish breakfast of a buffet of assorted ham, cheese, bread, juice, and wonderful/much needed coffee. At 730 we traveled on a “quick” bus ride where we rode into the morning sunshine. Our view was a majestic mix of clouds, skyline, and greenery. 

What we didn’t realize at first was that off in the distance the welcoming horizon was really water! From Algeciras to Tarifa, Spain we held ferry tickets. Next Stop: Tangier, Marruecos across the Mediterranean Sea. The ferry was incredible, it had a luxurious cruise feel. The wavy ride was calmed by the comfort of a much needed snooze. We set foot on African soil ecstatic, refreshed, and eager for what lie ahead! After walking through the port we found our van for the weekend for the 14 of us in Group 3, 16 including our driver and Justin our Morocco Exchange leader (and former Peace Corps Volunteer, originally from Iowa).This is the core group that we would be with for the next few days to multiple cities and multiple sites (additional group shots to be added later).

In a “world” of Islam, Muslims, Arabs, Morrocans, and Africans, most of us didn’t exactly know what to expect. Immediately after arriving in Tangier we drove to DARNA (“our house”), a women’s center that operates to help educate women, provide them a location to practice trades and essentially become small business owners, and give these women and girls’ refuge and solace. We were able to see a handful of women and girls at work working on projects in the looms in our tour of the center. We had lunch scheduled here after and enjoyed it with two new friends who had given us the brief tour of DARNA. They would be the first people to introduce what it means to be a Muslim in Morocco in Africa, discussing everything from family matters, food, traditional garb, religion, U.S. Foreign policy, Moroccan politics, the current king, international issues, cultural diversity, women’s rights, startling history, and PDA in the country.These new friends were a young girl, only 19 and a guy, 25 years old. It was an interesting conversation although we were all very tired, namely because the two had varying opinions on certain situations in Morocco, that made it much more intriguing! We each were given tea with a huge dish of chicken, vegetables, and cous cous and ate until we couldn’t anymore.

Afterwards we drove to a city called Asilah, located along the Atlantic coast in preparation for the long drive to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Upon arrival in Asilah we left everything but our necessities and cameras.

Morocco Exchange also provided each of us with a binded book on what to expect, history, what to do, what not to do, etc. so on any extended travels in our van we had the chance to take a look if we wanted to learn something new.

Just some brief notes: Four times a day there is a call to prayer that can literally be heard from every location in the city. Children my age already know 5+ languages: standard Arabic to communicate with all Moroccans, their Arabic dialects depending on where they live/where they’re from, French which is considered the business language, English that they all learn in high school and WELL I might add. In most houses toilet paper is generally scarce and hot water in the sinks etc. not typical either. Some feel that the government is too much in the people’s business. Many do not support U.S. foreign policy activity, namely with wars and foreign relations with other Islamic nations. There are stray cats everywhere and anywhere! The term passing lane does not seem to exist, but thankfully for us our driver seemed like a professional. Eat only with your left hand!

Before Rabat, we each rode camels! Enough said. 

The everyday markets are massive where everything can be sold from fruits to entire animals and fresh fish. Depending on where you go in the city some parts are definitely cleaner than others. Even in the central parts of the city, for example, the capital there is a lot of trash on the floor and uncleanliness. The shanti towns, that exist in many third world countries, literally were large zones of what appeared to be boxed, very enclosed and close housing for the extremely poor. It was definitely  hard to grasp how large some of these zone areas are. It help put into perspective the discrepancy not only between how we live in the first world but also the drastic difference between lives of many Africans and Moroccans. The uncleanliness had no effect on the people that we had the pleasure to spend time with; all of the Moroccans were extremely agradable! They were more than welcoming, wanting to share all of their culture with us.

When we first met our host family we know that it was going to be very difficult to communicate. The only person that had a pleathera of knowledge in the English language was “Fati(ma) Souza”, a 22 year old student and the niece of our new host mom. She would not be staying with our for the duration of our visit, this made our cultural experience with a new family a little more challenging when she was not around to translate for us. “Auntie” (I have no idea how to spell her real name) and “Yu-sula” were overly accommodating and their generosity shined through in every gesture –nods, smiles, hand movements. 

Courtney, Malissa, and I were welcomed home with a beautifully decoated room to share. The design is very common to find in Morocco. The rooms are basically equivalent to large living rooms that we have in the states. What became our beds is really one continuous seat that borders the entire room so the middle is open. No shoes allowed on the carpet and shoes are required on the tile floor. Our first night for dinner we were welcomed with a fresh salad, chicken, bread, orange juice, and olives. Morocco was the first place in my experience abroad thus far where I was given juice to drink with my meals. I absolutely loveeee juice.

We were more than grateful and very satisfied. One thing that pleased us the most was that upon arrival we found toilet paper in the family bathroom! 

Morocco Day 2
For breakfast, amazing "flatbread" with cream cheese that we recognize from the states and warm tea. My roommates Courtney, Malissa, and I had to walk through the market daily to get to our Exchange meeting points and activities. We were guided by a familiar Spotted Cow sign and a street sign that we could actually read RUE DADDA. Our walk was a lot more relaxed because we were seeing Rabat in a new light, literally, because we hadn’t seen it in the day yet.

We made our way through Rabat by way of van to visit an NGO in Sale. It was called “Hope for Salé”. Unfortunately for the day the center was empty and we were not able to meet any of the students and children that attend their center. Instead we had another long group discuss with 3 Moroccans that work and volunteer time in this center. One was very conservative and a devout practicing Muslim and the second was very much more liberal on the political and religious spectrums, the third didn’t speak as much. This made for some very interesting and comical discussion! At the center of the front of the room there was a framed picture of the current king, King Mohammed VI.

Later we would also visit the Roman Ruins, Chellah and the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V. Experiencing this part of the culture was great for us because we had the  chance to run around in the nice weather (at the ruins) and climb things and have photo sessions. At the Mausoleum the same happened with less climbing but there were many guards for us to take pictures with!

We returned to have lunch with our families before we would go explore Rabat's Kabash (old fort), street life, and the Medina market. For lunch, we met many more nieces of Auntie, majority of whom spoke English! We watched the American movie, Aquamarine while we ate. A fresh pasta salad with more bread, beef and potatoes in the large dish in the middle, and to the left the orange plate is sweet potatoes which we fell in love with. After asking many questions and tasting ingredients, we found out the secret ingredient and how to make it. We also had freshly made fruit smoothies!!

On one of our walks back to the central meeting point with Fatima we stopped at a local merchant, selling and making Sugar cane juice! It reminded me of my very own family and our culture. When I was younger and we would visit Florida on family vacations and to visit family, I remember us bringing back sugar cane with us and Dad making the juice in the blender. This experience brought back great memories! Since the man was Fatima's neighbor, he gave it to us for free. The best things in life are truly free:) The picture also gives a brief idea of the close proximity on the streets of local vendors etc.

It was nice to be able to do this before we went on our cultural exploration with Moroccan students that volunteer their time with Morocco Exchange. We literally walked around for hours around Rabat, as aforementioned to see the Kabash, old fort, street life, and Medina. We did some shopping at the local markets, negotiating prices for the perfect buys.  From the very top of the city where we could overlook Rabat and Salé all the way down to the water and coastline, back up again. A little exhausting but very worth it and enjoyable with our new friends Mehdi and Soufiane. To finish our get together we sat at a little local café to talk some more. Some of us had coffee, others of us decided to go with milkshakes, all on Morocco Exchange!

Before being able to turn in for the night after a very active day, we met 2 more Peace Corps volunteers working in Africa, and also a Fulbright Scholar as well. They shared with us about living and working in Morocco and answered any and all of the questions that we had. Next stop was the Hammam (the public baths!), optional for everyone. Men and women have their separate Hammams. Generally women go with underwear on and that's it. As a group we decided to go in swimsuits/sports bras and shorts and although we felt comfortable in this manner, by how everyone else was dressed (or not dressed...) we did feel a little out of place. Everyone was really friendly and helped show us the ways of how to get the most use of out the Hammam. In this one there were three rooms, the walk in, the second, significantly warmer and humid, and the last, very hot and humid. There were people sitting in there with a greenish henna substance all over them in the "sauna". The entire experience was very liberating, cultural, and fun. The necessary 'tools' were provided for all of us: something to 'scoop' the water, packages of brown soap, an individual rag to scrub all of our dead skin cells off, and buckets of hot water to pour and wash with. After we changed it was back home to have our last dinner with our new family! It was very light but the very typical Moroccan soup was very tasty, with bread, hard-boiled eggs, and dates.
Morocco Day 3

Our final breakfast was no let down of course. The warm coffee was fantastic and the substance in the orange die for. It reminded us slightly of something similar to peanut butter although we know that it clearly wasn't. It's still a mystery to us but soon hopefully after some research we can figure out how to make it! We had more of the "flatbread" with various oils and cake :) Another first for me in my experience in homestays thus far; I haven't been given any cake/dessert like that with my meals. And I absolutely love desserts so I was more than happy. Today Courtney, Malissa, and I faced two of our most difficult challenges: First, we accidentally set our alarm for an hour earlier than we needed to wake up (because Morocco is an hour behind Spain), and that was very difficult to grasp! We didn't know how to apologize in Arabic, or in French that we had accidentally made them rush to prepare breakfast. This did give us more adequate time to spend with them in the dining room that was always chilly, especially in the mornings, when we could see our breath when we breathed. The second biggest challenge, we would have to say goodbye to our new family! 

Yusula and Auntie walked us to our group's central meeting point for our last goodbyes and it was the sweetest thing. When Yusula (only 17) hugged us all she told us that she loved us! It was a magical and emotional goodbye for all of us. Many "Shukrans" and hugs were exchanged, especially at this time. The cutest thing about Yusula was that she had a few pages of English-Arabic translated sheets with basic words on it, i.e. about family members, body parts, some foods, and when she would try to talk to us she would take it out. We were able to communicate mostly through hand gestures and my basic knowledge of French. The cutest thing about Auntie was how she smiled at us and would do everything for us and provide us with whatever we needed. She always made sure that we ate until we were full and that we drank until we were satisfied.

For our last day in Morocco we would spend a lot of time on the road traveling! We drove to the Rif Mountains (which the scenery reminded me a lot of my time traveling in Colorado). We spent time with a family living in a mountain village. We talked about everything from education, simplicity of life, and economic challenges of rural areas in Morocco. We prepared lunch together as a group with fresh fruit and vegetables so we could enjoy a pleasant picnic meal outside with nuts, dates, tuna, and spotted cow cream cheese --all of the perfect ingredients to make amazing sandwiches. All week long water bottled water was provided for us so we would not have to chance drinking the Moroccan water. The sun was comforting, as was our time talking with our new friends: a young student who was our translator named Mohammed, and a family, who were gracious enough to open up their home to us.

To wrap up our final adventures in Morocco, after hiking to the top of a mountain with the husband and his son, we said our goodbyes and thank-you's for a drive to Chefchaouen, a city located in the mountains. First as a group we walked around the Medina to learn some background information about its Moorish and Jewish inhabitants as well as its historical link to Al Andalus. We had our own time to shop, which meant more negotiation of prices and talking with local vendors, with whom we could use our Spanish! For the evening I stayed with Anna Marie, Fatima, and Katie in what we dubbed the 'pent house suite' since we were on the very top/roof terrance. As a group we had a very special celebration dinner in the Medina of Chefchaouen followed by sharing reflections of our thoughts on our journey. Mainly we discussed how rewarding we felt this trip was for all of us, how we would want to do it again and revisit Africa, and how there's a lot we want to take back from this trip and share with others. 

Morocco Day 4

At 7 am the majority of the group participated in a hike up a nearby mountain during the sunrise to look down at the city of Chefchaouen below us from outside of the city gate. It was beautiful to say the least. We had breakfast in the local plaza after making our trek back down the mountain and were allowed to do more shopping if we desired. To conclude our journey we drove through the mountains, fields, and cities, to Ceuta before crossing the Moroccan-Spanish border, where we would regain the hour time difference we often forgot existed and would take our final boat journey across the Strait of Gibraltar. We arrived in Algeciras, Spain an hour later, where we would have to embark on another 3 hour journey back to our real home, Granada, Spain.

To Courtney, Malissa, and I it's still a mystery where our host family showers on a regular basis. (We never really asked).
To the group, it's still a mystery why in America we are so close-minded, unintelligent, and unaware compared to Moroccans.
& To me it's still up in the air when I'll be returning to Africa again to have another great experience, but maybe someday!

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