As I closed my eyes on the train to Algeciras, Spain to Morocco: postal to Africa from Granada soft black blobs molded into each other as if wiping a blank slate behind my eyelids, almost as if I was subconsciously preparing myself for the colorful chaos that was going to be Morocco. Two days earlier I had been furiously scribbling away at my Arab and Islamic final so the fresh names, dates, and theories crackled feverishly in my mind as we boarded the ferry and began to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to arrive at the Tangier Port MED. After taking the free bus from the port into the city a new scene began to sprawl out before me. Tangier is indeed another world just minutes away from Europe as the brochures boast, yet Tangier being a port town with lots of influence from the nearby European continent, I wasn’t as impressive– especially in comparison to Fez– just four hours away using the most common type of ground travel in Morocco: the train.
Fez, the cultural and handicraft capital, is as authentic as you can get while being in Morocco. After walking around for two seconds I came to the realization that the messy and chaotic beauty of Morocco is held tightly within each moment as nothing ever stands still. The scene is constantly changing: one moment you are lost and the next you are sitting down with a new friend drinking the typical “Moroccan whiskey” or mint tea as warm conservation begins to flow between strangers. Momentarily you have become family, “You will be my sister now and until the end, my friend.” Walking outside into the crazy buzz that is the Medina, a multitude of languages, recognizable and not, hang in the air among the highlighted dust particles wafting in and out of the rays of the Saharan sun. Locals run effortlessly through the labyrinths, everyone hustling, everyone active, everyone chatting. It’s honestly something out of an action movie as I half expected to run into Indiana Jones under the streaks of sun that managed to filter through the over hangings.
As our trip came to its last destination, Marrakech, I saw an extreme change in how Moroccans here presented themselves differently to the outside and Western world. One step into the busy train station and a
The huge neon McDonald’s sign showed us a hint as to what Marrakech would be: what happens when an underdeveloped Islamic country meets the glitter of Western marketing. How will Islamic principles and morals withstand the commercial demand for European homogenous culture, allowing for vacationers to feel at ease with the false veneer of what is Morocco? I kept asking myself about the transition. Ironically, and much to my delight our tour guide the next morning had similar thoughts. A tanned, wrinkled face hidden by the bill of a baseball hat greeted us in a harsh Germanic form of English. After ten minutes of the usual factoid that guides always spout off, I began to ask him about his life, about his opinion and insight, which was met by surprise and then the beginning of what some might call, ‘old man rants’. In his seventy years he has seen his city morph from the desert into a town, then a city, and then a global tourist destination. By the end of the tour, my mind was spinning, and hours later as I was riding a scrawny camel through an abandoned lot across from a freeway with the hazy Atlas Mountains in the background, the tour guide’s words kept running through my mind, “Our country is like a pregnant woman– one who is pregnant, but we don’t know with what.”
The next day we flew back to Spain using Ryanair (from Marrakech into Seville– normally around 45 Euros, both ways) and now that I’m back in my home away from home I can comfortably say that never have I had a better example of why I love my year studying aboard: you learn, you see, you experience a new way of life, and a new way of thinking by exploring and having amazing adventures.