I write this sprawled out on a giant, colorful, beautifully adorned couch in my new home in Fes drinking qahuwa (coffee) as my 8 year old host sister Salma rapid fires Arabic and French to me. Finally adjusting and able to breathe, I will try to articulate my thoughts and impressions of the past week. I spent a few days in the seaside fishing village of Taghazout, Morocco with a friend on the same program. The Agadir airport— a long, flat pink expanse sprinkled with French, Arabic, and English— marked our official invasion of Africa. Our hostel was filled largely with Europeans, but the opportunities to use Arabic and introduce ourselves to Arab culture were endless. I awoke early on our first morning and hurried outside to take in my first real breath of Moroccan air and coastline. Goats. And Cats. Scrawny, dirty, orphaned, everywhere. Trash. Bottles, plastic, feces, garbage, fish heads, mystery piles, all littering the shore and concealing the colorful, smooth stones beneath. Bright pink homes with inviting blue doors blend with ruins and neglect to create a beautiful, but sad, image of struggle.
Each day, we piled into a van with our exuberant guide, Simo, who winded along the coast to our beach destination. My friend and I were absolutely the worst surfers of the group, but we had a blast exchanging travel sagas and comparing cultures. As we floated on our boards, soaking up the sun, Simo was thrilled that we spoke Arabic…Ah, and our first Arabic conversation ensued. As if our white skin and freckled faces don’t stand out enough, our attempts are Arabic add to the hilarity. Moroccan musicians entertained us by night, and tagine, couscous, fresh bread, and mystery meat filled our stomachs. In this small village, I did experience what I reckon was my first and last run in Morocco. I greeted every fisherman I passed in Arabic and felt perfectly comfortable… but my relaxing beach jog quickly escalated into one long sprint yelling “LA! LA! LA!” (“no”) in all directions at the wildly terrifying dogs chasing me. Nonetheless, refreshing way to start our last day of surfing. Camels and horses peppered the beach, along with vendors from the Saharan who support their family selling clothes, ice cream, and candy.
Pictures really cannot capture the beauty of this gem in Morocco. Our room looks out to the gleaming white-washed stucco homes below where malnourished stray kittens meander, women wrapped in colorful fabrics sweep up goat droppings, and leathery skinned-men repair their doors and rev up their boat engines at 5am. The garbage piling on roofs is truly horrific and is in such contrast to the luxury we are experiencing inside. Authentic Moroccan design is present in every corner, from mosaic-framed mirrors to the copper sink, cactus, stained-glass lanterns and delicately-carved wooden doors.
The second photo taken at Croco’s beach captures my observations pretty accurately. The interesting contrast lies between the far right and left of the photo. You see this Moroccan local in traditional dress, a Muslim, completing his prayer facing Mecca. The opposite sparkling seaside is the destination of the European tourists, who largely pay no mind to their own attire and behavior, seemingly rejecting the culture away from which they face. The littered dirt road fittingly separates these two worlds, a dichotomy present in everyday Taghazout. Locals are very much accustomed to Western Ray-Ban-sporting surfers with expensive cameras slung over their backs, thus while uncomfortable stares come my way often, the comments have been much milder and less frequent than expected. I cover as much skin as is bearable in the 95 degree heat, and largely ignore the French and English comments thrown my way.
Sunburnt and exhausted after four full days of incredibly inexpensive surfing, we began our journey to Fes, where the Arabic program begins, with an early taxi to Agadir. Our Arabic banter incorporated donkey imitations by our driver, train impersonations by Remi, and many shout outs of new Arabic words. We then caught a 3 hour bus to Marrakesh—a very pink, captivating city I cannot wait to further explore— followed by an 8 hour train ride to Fes. The villages and tents we passed painted a picture of poverty and disconnectedness, though the sunset was unbelievable. Many Moroccans assume we are from the UK. And that we love Obama. And that we are married. As I mentioned, we’re always met with smiles when they find out we speak a bit of Arabic. We made it to our hotel ready to explore our new home in the morning!