CIEE Spring Semester 2017 Newsletter I
Author: Erin Hayes
Our time in Morocco thus far has been a blur…it is hard to believe that a full month has gone by! Our group has managed to pack a lot of adventure into our first four weeks together. We hit the ground running the first weekend here with a celebration of birth for a member of one of our host families. All of the students came for music, fun, and lots of food. The event lasted most of the day and we saw it as a major happening, so we were pretty surprised when we were told afterwards that the family regarded it as a small lunch party.
The next day, we toured many of the sites of Rabat, our home city. We started off at Chellah, where we explored both ruins from both a Roman city and a medieval Muslim necropolis. A few members of our group study history, so this was especially interesting. The tour also showed us around the picturesque Kasbah of Oudaya and of course, the iconic Hassan Tower and Mausoleum of Muhammed V.
With this brief introduction under our belts, we were ready to dive into our two-week intensive Darija course. Five hours per day was a lot, but we learned a few phrases quickly and had fun with the language, from preparing tajine to bargaining in the medina. We found many Moroccans who were willing to practice with us, from our host families to cab drivers and hanut owners. Throughout our time here, it has been amazing to see how our limited attempts to speak the language are appreciated. For example, on one of our excursions we stopped for a snack, and simply saying “Mashi mushkil” (no problem) brought a smile to the waiter’s face.
When our day trip to Casablanca approached, everyone we told about it in Rabat laughed wryly and told us that we wouldn’t like it. This conflicted so much with the American view of Casablanca (mostly informed by the classic movie) as a romantic, cosmopolitan destination. After the trip, most of our group concurred with the other Rabat residents in that we prefer our home city.
That being said, our excursion was by no means terrible. The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca was an impressive sight and tour, and the city also hosts the largest mall in Africa. But attractions aside, as a city to live in, Rabat is more beautiful and more friendly overall. The classic example that comes to mind is the cabs. Petit taxis in Rabat turn on the meter as soon as you get in the cab, but cabs in Casablanca tried to keep the meter off so they could name an arbitrary price. This was tricky to navigate with limited language skills, and although it was just one small aspect of the city, it felt so good to take the train back to Rabat, get into a cab, and see the meter already on.
A few members of the group travelled to Fez the following weekend, and we liked the city much more than Casablanca. Our trip started out on an especially high note when we reached our Airbnb and realized that we would be staying in a palace…literally. We were so mesmerized by the beautiful architecture of our accommodations that we all facetimed our friends and family to show off our rooms and the courtyard below.
Once we were settled in, we met up with Brooke, a CIEE Rabat alum, in Café Clock, where two of us tried camel burgers. Other highlights of the trip included exploring (and getting lost in) the old medina, visiting a tannery, and going to a point overlooking the old medina at dusk.
This past weekend we took a day trip to Volubilis, Moulay Idriss, and Meknes. Volubilis (or, as I found out, Walili in Arabic) hosts some amazing Roman ruins, including ornate mosaics that were buried until recently due to the Lisbon earthquake. In a miscommunication with my Moroccan host family, my host father asked me repeatedly if we stopped at Walili on the way to Meknes and I responded with an emphatic no, but then went on to describe the major Roman ruins that we saw. We eventually had a laugh when we realized that we were talking about the same site but using different names.
Although the Meknes medina was closed because we visited on a Friday afternoon, we enjoyed the historical tour of the city, including the old granary and stable and a creepy underground prison. Our disappointment over not seeing the medina was further mitigated by the fact that we then had time to stop for tea and pastries on the trip home. With everyone together on the bus, the ride back was also a good opportunity for the group to plan some future excursions, and we are looking forward to adventures to come!