March 13, 2013

Where’s Spain? Morocco Edition

It has been a while since I have posted due to various extended travels and of course mid-terms in between! So I have a lot to catch up on… ahead you will see groupings of photos from Morocco and Toulouse. These were both Lafayette-sponsored trips that promoted our discovery of a few more new cultures and understanding of built systems.

Let me start off with the Morocco trip. It all started on an overnight bus to Tarifa, Spain. Things were already looking good, we were even greeted with a rainbow!

A rainbow above the airport in Tarifa, Spain

The rainbow that greeted us

Here our ferry awaited our arrival to take the short boat journey across the strait of Gibraltar. It was then I went through a peculiar customs process, where we got our passports checked while on the ferry.

Once we arrived in Morocco our trip started moving fast. We arrived by boat, in Tanger, and as we found out from our guide, the city of Tanger used to be much more dangerous than it is today. Currently, Tanger is much more of a “tourist town”. However, despite this label, the differences were immediately noticeable. Morocco is still a developing country and its buildings and infrastructure were far different from that of Spain (only 10 miles away) or that of the United States.

One of the first things that we did in Tanger was change money. The Moroccan Dirham is worth about .1 Euros, or .13 dollars, so I had in my possession about 400 Dirham. And was I rich? Not really, because something as simple as a candy bar could cost you as much as 5 to 8 Dirham. So the purchasing power parity condition (using Economic theory) held relatively true!

After exchanging our monies, the next stop was to buy bottled water. Morocco does not yet have the ability to effectively treat their water to the standards that we enjoy in the Western world. Granted, it is interesting that the local Moroccans can drink the water just fine. From my understanding, there are certain bacteria that exist in the water supply that in Morocco appear with a greater frequency. We proceeded to buy massive 1 liter water bottles to hydrate us for the extended weekend.

After this it was time to head to our first destination, a place called the “darna” or “center for woman” where we spoke with English-speaking Moroccan women about what challenges they face, and their culture in general. Ultimately, I concluded that on the surface we are very different culturally, but my initial suspicion that everyone has somewhat of a “human connection” held true. What I mean by this is that through my travels I have experienced a commonality among all the cultures. That on a general level there is a sense of morality that is shared by the human race. No matter the culture, some things will never change. For instance, teenagers will always try to start little romances, and families will always play a major role in the upbringing of a generation.

One custom that did differ greatly was the inability for women to have independence in society. It became clear that women were not encouraged into non-traditional roles, and only the wealthy families had any kind of ability to send their children to universities for further study. Furthermore, the literacy rate in Morocco is low. This is an issue that is gradually evolving over time, but something that is reiterated by this and other global problems is that change almost always tends to be a slow, tedious process.

Other distinctive cultural aspects surrounded the culture of food. The Moroccan way to host guests and feed them is very similar to Spain in that there will never be a single guest who is left hungry. The major difference from Spain is that Morocco eats communally; there is one large dish in the center of the table from which everyone eats. The portion of the dish that is considered to be your bit is all the food that exists in the triangle in front of you. (see picture and imagine a person sitting in front of each piece of the pie chart).

pie chart divided into red, orange, purple, and blue triangles

The food was absolutely amazing. Kus kus and the classic gunpowder tea that we enjoyed were tasteful and different from anything I have had.

After experiencing these things we got to travel again to Rabat, Morocco’s capital. This was the city where we were to stay with host families for 2 nights. This was probably the most immersing part of the trip, as we got to enjoy the company of an extremely friendly Moroccan family. In this family there were two women, an infant, and two of the uncles. The women stayed mostly in the house. They were responsible for cooking the meals that we enjoyed and cleaning and taking care of things, which is a full-time job in and of itself. This was interesting to witness because these gender roles exist in America as well, but there is far more straying from the norm in the United States.

We went during the day to explore the various palaces and sights to see in Morocco. This was also interesting because we learned quite a bit about the operation of the “monarchical theocracy” that is in power. The king was never to be spoken ill of, and the say of the people was not very strong. The democratic process that much of the Western world enjoys simply does not exist in these countries.

The interesting part about being a theocracy is that religion plays such a heavy role in politics. If the book of Islam says that something should/not happen, then the government enforces this. The king is also considered to be the religious figure head as well, so there is a form of worship around the king. Pictures of him could be seen around the city, on billboards and in shops.

As a part of the country being mostly Muslim, there are many mosques across the country. What struck me about the mosques are two things. One, the mosques did not allow visitors inside because according to religious rules you must practice Islam in order to be in the place of worship. Second, these mosques are starkly different from the towering and gargantuan architecture that you experience in traditional Christian places of worship. Mosques were instead identifiable by their narrow rectangular towers connected to a relatively short building. These buildings are constructed with the same arch style that you see in Christian cathedrals, but much shorter.

As part of practicing this religion there are 5 calls to prayer that ring out across Moroccan cities each day. The calls to prayer are a grouping of signals being spoken through loud speakers at the top of the towers of the mosques. This was striking because it was a loud and public showing of religion. Whereas in the United States or even in Spain, you rarely witness public showing of religion.

One of the last and most impacting experiences for me was visiting a very rural town where we were hosted for lunch by a family. This was interesting because this village had a dirt road created for it only a few years prior, and the nearest school for the children was more than a 45-minute walk!

The father that we asked many questions of and spoke to was quite realistic and thankful for his circumstances. We began our conversation by going around the circle of people introducing names, where we are from, and what our hopes and dreams are. Unsurprisingly, the response of many of us students and me was related to our major and our career goals. This did not faze me until we reached the end of the circle and the father began to introduce himself. As he spoke in Arabic, you could feel the sincerity in his voice. The translator began by saying, “My name is Ahmed, and I am from here.” Then the translator continued, “and my largest dream in life I have already accomplished: I want to be happy, and raise a wonderful family.” It was with this comment I realized that despite our many stresses in life there are things that at the end of the day matter the most, our family and friends.

Morocco concluded with a fun trip to Chefchaouen, where we enjoyed some last-minute shopping of traditional Moroccan goods. Overall, the trip was a fantastic experience, and I highly suggest it for anyone studying in Europe. Okay, this is all for now. More information on Toulouse to come soon!

posted in Matt Schultheiss

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