My Moroccan Summer
One of the most exciting things about living in Morocco was traveling within the country during the weekends. I traveled to Merzouga in the Sahara, Tangiers in the North and to coastal cities within. I benefitted greatly both in practicing my Arabic and in discovering the vast amounts of Islamic and Roman history in the country, making my experience all the more valuable.
Why did you choose this particular country?
Initially, I chose Morocco because of the programs structure, but increasingly, I was excited to travel to Morocco because I had never been to North Africa and had always been interested in its culture and history. Because of North Africa’s strategic importance to almost every European empire, as well as the Islamic Caliphate and succeeding empires, I learned from remnants of traditions and structural ruins that told the stories of Morocco’s past. I visited Volubilis, an excavated Roman city that had been built in the Southwestern border of the Empire, between Meknes and Fez. It was there I saw beautiful mosaics of Hercules and Athena, intricate aqueducts and ancient heating and cooling systems. I was most stricken by their vomitoriums—where decadent Romans would use a feather to empty their stomachs to continue eating. I traveled to Moulay Idriss, the city where Islam was first introduced to Morocco. In my own town of Meknes, I often walked past Bab al-Mansour, a large entryway to the palace built in 1732 by Moulay Ismail. It seemed that everywhere I went in Morocco there was a history lesson to be learned.
What is the best day you had on your trip?
The best day, (days, actually) I had in Morocco was the weekend we spent in Merzouga, a city in Southeastern Morocco, in the Sahara. We set up a desert tour with a local hotel owned by members of a Berber tribe (an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa). Once we arrived we set off on camelback into the Sahara. This was my first time riding a camel, and riding for an hour and a half was not easy. My camel was a little wayward and kept trying to get off course, but I willed it to stay on track—and he did. Kind of. After our arrival to the camp, we drank delicious mint tea and explored the cavernous sand dunes. Our Berber guides showed us how to wrap scarves over our heads and necks to protect us from the harsh desert sun. These covers came in handy when a sneak sandstorm emerged and we all lifted our scarves to protect our faces. The desert was beautiful during the day, but came alive at night. The sky was illuminated with stars so clear I could distinguish many constellations. In fact, I saw two shooting stars! We sat around a huge fire and listened to our Berber guides sing traditional songs and tell Berber tales. The camp was set up such that we slept under the stars, an experience I will never forget. The next morning we woke just before dawn to drink tea and watch the sun rise.
Show us a picture of your favorite meal. What is it?
One of my host mother’s favorite words was “kooly!” or “eat!”, so I was constantly eating delicious Moroccan meals. However, my favorite meal was definitely couscous. Couscous is a traditional meal of semolina or wheat granules cooked by steam. Every Friday, my Moroccan family would sit together and eat couscous for lunch after the Dhuhr or afternoon prayer. The couscous would be served in one large plate, where all the family would gather and eat. Couscous was typically served with chicken and my host mother would add pumpkin, zucchini, carrots and a variety of other vegetables. The preparation of couscous is complex, so my host mother would begin the process before I left for classes early Friday morning, and when I returned it would be ready. “Couscous Fridays” quickly became my favorite day of the week in Morocco.