Tuesday, July 9, 2013

No Going Back Now...

"No going back now" seemed to be the phrase that defined a four day stint in Morocco during my semester in Spain, and this has been on my mind quite a bit for the past few days. 

My group's trip with Crossing Borders was only a few weeks into the semester and everyone was new, unsure of themselves, and not quite comfortable with each other. However, after a number of truly weird and wonderful, as well as some not so great, experiences, it was impossible to not bond with the group. Because it's been on my mind, and because I'm in the mood to experiment with picture formatting, here are some of my most memorable Moroccan experiences:

Notice the brown spot on the floor by my chair? Well, this was my first experience with a hostel cockroach. We weren't even in Morocco yet! As you can see from my victorious stance, I bravely murdered him. 

The boat ride across the Straight of Gibraltar between Algeciras and Tangier was amazing. It was crazy how you could be in Europe one minute and then not even an hour later in Africa!

This is Arndt, our lovely German tour guide and the founder of Crossing Borders. Oh my gosh, he was amazing. However, we were stopped at the border and almost not let into the country! During the boat ride, Arndt gave us little booklets that had some information about Morocco and the culture, including a map of Africa and of Morocco. Unfortunately, there was some conflict going on about whether or not the Sahara Desert was considered a part of Morocco, and our booklets had it listed as not. We had to give them up before being allowed into the country! Talk about censorship!

A lot of my pictures have gotten mixed up, but during the trip we visited Tangier, Rabat, and Chefchaoen. In Tangier, we visited a women's shelter, one of the few places where the money made from the crafts sold actually went directly to the women who made them. The shelter gave women from troubled backgrounds an education and the skills they needed to create a place for themselves in society. It was amazing, and I'm happy to say I bought a beautiful piece of fabric, thinking it was a blanket. Much to small to be a blanket, yet too big to be a scarf... right now it's draped over the back of a chair and will probably stay there!

During our bus ride between cities, we stopped at a beach to ride camels! It was a lot different than riding a horse. The camels lay down for you to mount, and the saddles are much higher. To stand up, the put their back end up first, and it feels like you're about to slip over their heads! The way they walk is like a horse but exaggerated- each step dips you down farther. So much fun!

This is where it hit me that I was in Africa. I'd been to the ocean in New Jersey and in Florida before (and can now add Portugal, Morocco, and California to the list!), but I was in absolute awe over the fact that I was standing on the coast of Morocco, on the opposite side of the ocean from where I'd been before. It was an extremely powerful and beautiful moment. 

The murals in the street were amazing... This one depicted children from all around the world.

One of my favorite things in walking through the different streets was all of the color. I love the turquoise doors against white walls, and I love that woman, sitting outside her front door selling vegetables!

In groups of three, we stayed with host families in each city. This was pretty fun! The girl in blue was actually an exchange student living with the family. She was a great translator :) 

I had heard about Crossing Borders during a presentation and documentary viewing at Alfred. In the documentary, a few American and a few Moroccan college students met up to live and explore the country together, facing and exploring their perceptions of each other and their countries. Our group met up with a class of students from Casablanca, watched the documentary, and then talked about our own perceptions. Honestly, it was very emotional and I found myself getting very defensive of America. I remember one girl saying she thought all Americans were stupid and tried to force their help on others, stating that, "We're not helpless, and we don't need you." Most of us acknowledged that we'd been wrong about each other, but this particular girl never did. While their perceptions of Americans were, in my opinion, wrong, I was pretty ashamed of the fact that they knew so much about our country while we didn't know much at all about theirs. Afterwards, we explored the medina with the group, shopping, talking, and laughing. We had everything and nothing in common, if that makes any sense!

Usually, I'm really cautious about food, especially meat! I don't even eat meat usually if I'm unfamiliar with the restaurant. Yet somehow, eating a snail from a street vendor with the group above sounded like a fabulous idea... I'm not sure if it was the snail, but I was so so so sick for the rest of the trip! I threw up more than I ever have in my life, and for days! Looking on the bright side though, the heavy food gave others in my group other ...digestive issues... and because I didn't really eat because I was too busy throwing up, I didn't have those problems!

One of the girls in my program took this picture and said I could use it for the cover of a CD if I ever become a musician (hehe). I don't have any pictures of this particular event, but one of the very memorable activities of Morocco was getting naked in public. Before you go judging, it was at a hammam, one of the public bathhouses. When the other girls from the program and I walked in, we were treated to the sight of about 100 naked women between 2 months and probably 85, lounging around, pouring buckets of water on themselves and each other. Of the girls I was with, and taking into consideration that I am almost never even in a bathing suit in public, I was somehow one of the least modest. The 12 or so of us sat down in a circle with our buckets in our bikinis, and began timidly shampooing ourselves. Suddenly, three butt naked, middle aged Moroccan women appeared behind a few of our group and began untying bikini tops. After a minute of resistance, most of us realized how little our efforts were doing and gave in to the women, who after undressing us handed us a pouch of soap. I'll never forget the shyest of the girls, desperately clinging to her bathing suit, refusing to let it be taken from her as if all of her modesty and dignity were about to be taken with the top. Needless to say, she kept hers on.

The soap we were given was the weirdest soap in the world. This is going to sound so gross, but the more you scrubbed, skin or dirt or maybe both started coming off almost in ropes. Different jets around the hammam had hot, cold, or warm water, and you filled your bucket with whatever you wanted. Afterwards, one by one we were grabbed by women who spoke no English and they dragged us over to different spots around the room, dumped a bucket of hot water on the ground, and motioned for us to lay down. Alright, sure... They used these harsh textured gloves and more of the soap to scrub every single bit of our bodies. It was technically a massage, but so painful! It felt like 10 layers of skin were being rubbed off. And when I say the scrubbed everywhere, I mean everywhere.  

In the end, we all left feeling the cleanest we'd ever felt in our lives. My skin has never felt so good! The last big issue was that apparently, walking through the streets with wet hair was advertising yourself as a prostitute. So, with my clan of 12 or so other streetwalkers, we called it a night. Definitely an evening to remember!

I don't know what it is about this picture, but I love it. We hiked through the hills to picnic with a family who Arndt knew well, which would have been much more fun had I been able to move, eat, or speak without getting sick. That really put a damper on the trip :(

We visited some truly beautiful ruins. Weirdly, most were infested with stray cats...

On our last mornings, we went hiking up a mountain in Chefchaouen. It was gorgeous! The picnic breakfast, where Arndt thoughtfully provided some bland options for those of who weren't up for more Moroccan delicacies, took place overlooking a mountain and the town. 

Again, I don't have more pictures, but the last interesting thing that happened was that the boat from Africa back to Spain LEFT WITHOUT MY GROUP! We were all banging on the windows trying to signal the others from our Spain program and they thought we were just waving... it took a few minutes before they realized that as they were waving, the boat was moving and we weren't on it. Ugh. There were about 30 seconds of all of us standing there silently, and then we figured it out and moved into action mode. After receiving our phone call, Arndt came running back to the port, bought us lunch, and hung out until the next ferry came (hours later).  

Anyway, to us "No going back now" meant that between throwing up in front of 12 people, getting naked in a public bathhouse, and confronting our assumptions about ourselves and others together, you really form a bond. It's pretty impossible not to. 

The whole thing has been on my mind a lot lately.

Going to Italy is going to be another one of these experiences. I hope I'm never that sick again, but I have to remember that everything new is an adventure. I am such a scaredy cat and such a homebody, but I hope I always take chances when they come up, including discussing tough issues with new friends, assessing and reassessing my assumptions, hiking mountains, having sunrise breakfasts in the hills, riding camels, and eating street vendor snails. 

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