In other words, hey there! And welcome to my little blog. It has officially been over a month since I left Lafayette to study abroad in the city of Rabat for spring semester. Until now, I had never traveled across an ocean, let alone lived in another country for such a long time.
Even after a month of living in Morocco, I still find myself amazed by the audacity of it all. What could have possessed me to move so far from home to a country so different from everything I’ve ever known? How will this experience challenge me, and how will it help me grow? Did I really just use the term ‘Nshah Allah’ (Arabic for ‘God willing’) in daily conversation? I still have three more months in Morocco to find some answers, explore this incredible country, and maybe get a major credit or two. Nshah Allah.
We spent our first ten days for orientation in Fez, then moved to Rabat where we will be staying for the rest of my time here. I am living with a host family in the old medina, the historical neighborhood and an essential part of every Moroccan city.
Following tradition, the medina is surrounded by and comprised of high stone walls which provide both protection and housing for the residents. The colors of the walls in the medina vary by city; for example, Fez’s walls are brown to represent the mountains the city is located in while the city of Tangiers, which lies along the ocean, has blue walls. No cars are allowed in the medina–only pedestrians and the odd motorbike. Despite this fact, medina streets are usually humming with the melange of sights, sounds, and smells in the souks.
Oh, the souk! It’s impossible to adequately describe the utter and delightful chaos of a Moroccan souk, but we’re already here so I might as well try. Close your eyes and imagine every scent you have ever encountered (both good and bad) mixing together in a cacophony of odors: the musk of freshly tanned leather here, a dash of cumin and argan oil there, a waft of freshly steamed snails from the food stall, and the not-so-slight perfume of barn animal underlying it all. Now add the music of sizzling crepes on the grill, the crackling of burning wood from the local baker’s oven, the occasional rooster’s crow, and a constant stream of chatter as shoppers haggle and shopkeepers cry:
“Leather bags! Hand-made! Only 200 dirham!”
“Mademoiselle, vous voudriez d’henna?!”
“Marhaban! Welcome to Morocco!”
Finally, open your eyes and drink in the vibrant rainbow of hand-woven silks hanging from shop stalls, mountains of fragrant spices and herbs, swarms of women sporting brightly-covered hijaabs, and crates of fresh produce lining the medina walls. But watch out! Here comes a donkey hauling a load of fresh sugarcane to his owner’s stall, and its hooves are probably a little unsteady on these cobblestone streets.
Simply walking through a medina is a surreal experience, especially in Fez, fondly known as the cultural capital of Morocco. Built around the year 800, it is also the oldest city around, making it a true haven of the rich Moroccan traditional culture which has recently faced the ongoing threat of globalization.
Today, the influence of foreign pop culture and the pervasive effects of European colonization are evident in Moroccan daily life; families eat baguettes dipped in olive oil for breakfast, shopkeepers blast Miley Cyrus while working in the souk, and more young people choose to wear hoodies and gelled hair rather than the jalaba, or the traditional robes.
Although I certainly believe in the benefits of cross-cultural exchange, I also support the medina as a symbol of Morocco’s cultural resilience. The medina asserts Morocco’s ability to be an active participant in this global village we all call home while continuing the rich traditions that have already endured for centuries. While walking in the medina, I am not only able to purchase a kilo of fresh tangerines for 50 cents and witness three people and a baby crowd onto one motorbike (definitely a record); I can participate in an overt homage to tradition, to history, and to the love of one’s country.
This is the medina–this is Morocco. Marhaban!