Here’s a link to the youtube video that we created for the Moroccan staff, charting the life experiences and friendships we’ll never forget: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4BQmEUQ9I8
We departed Vietnam sad to be leaving, but excited to see what adventures were ahead of us in Morocco. Our flights were very broken up, but accounted for close to 16 hours of traveling! We had a layover in the Abu Dabi airport, then flew to Casablanca. When we arrived, we were greeted warmly by our Country Coordinator, Jawad, his assistant, Abdo, and the program’s translator, Youssef. We loaded on to two buses and began the short drive to Rabat around 9am.
Our first day in Rabat we stayed in a hotel and laid low because of the rain outside. We ate in the hotel, but some of us ventured out to a café so we could gain a slight glimpse of Rabat. Most of us crashed early though, because we were so beat from the long travel night we had just had and the pretty crazy time difference. But we rested well, then headed the next morning (in the rain, again), to the Center for Cross Cultural Learning, or CCCL. We had a day filled with learning and fascinating general introductions to Morocco. We learned all about safety, health, and received a bit of information about the country we were about to be studying in. Then, that evening, we moved into our homestays within the magical Rabat Medina.
Our group definitely had a wonderful time in Morocco. Many of our expectations had led us to expect Morocco to be a huge lesson in culture shock, but I think the warmth and friendliness that we found surprised us all. From too much khobz (bread) that accompanied our host families encouraging us “kul/kuli!” (eat!), to playing soccer with Youssef and Abdo, we all came to realize that Morocco was a place of love and welcoming to all of us. The challenges seemed insignificant to the kindness and welcoming we felt.
In Morocco, we spent the first chunk of time in Rabat, and then traveled to the more rural village of Bensmin, then we had five days to travel on our vacations (many of us went on camel treks!), then we met up in Marrakech for a few days, traveled to the coastal city of Agadir, spent a few more days in Marrakech (where we got to attend COP22!), and finally we spent a night in Casablanca before departing to Bolivia. As you can tell, we did a lot of travelling! We got to see coast and mountains, cities and countryside. We learned so much, from many guest lectures, site visits, and our amazing country staff. Jawad, Abdo, and Youssef were an incredible team, and saying goodbye to them was difficult. Find out more about our amazing month in Morocco below!
One thing we are certain about our time in Morocco, is that we were fed well! Morocco is full of incredible spices, grains, dried fruit, and some of the best olive oil in the world. The staple food in Morocco Hobbs, or bread. Hobbs is eaten at every meal and is often served hot. For breakfast in our homestays, we often had a variety of delicious homemade breads and pastries. Often, they would be dipped in olive oil, honey, or jam. We were taught to meticulously rip the bread with our right hand and dip it in whatever was served.
There are two main dishes in Morocco: Tajine, and Couscous! They are made in these beautiful ceramic dishes, also called Tajine. Tajine (the meal) consists of a steaming hot stew pot of vegetables, meats, dates, prunes, potatoes, olives, all in boiling olive oil and coated with spices such as turmeric and cumin. Sometimes they would be sweet, cooked with caramelized onions, raisins, and cinnamon, and other times spicy and coated in lots of pepper. It was a melt-in-your-mouth type of dish. Couscous is also presented in the beautiful Tajine dishes. The dish is an impressive mountain of yellow couscous that is decorated with vegetables and meat. It is beautifully displayed and equally delicious!
The most famous drink in Morocco is Moroccan mint tea! It is probably the best tea you will ever taste. The key is to never ask how much sugar they added…Ha! They serve the tea in a special silver tea pot. It comes steaming hot and is made of green tea with a ton of mint tea leaves and some added sugar. They take pride in their strategy of pouring the tea. The teapot is raised high above the glass and they pour the tea from above in order to circulate the air throughout the drink. It is delicious and we never passed it up!
Some of our favorite new meals that we had never had before was sweet spaghetti! It was angel hair pasta, with peanuts, raisins, and dates, and then sprinkled with cinnamon and confectionary sugar. It was delicious! Another was Harira, a famous Moroccan soup. This consisted of brown rice, vegetables, and often beef in a tomato and flour broth! It was delicious and became one of our favorite warm meals.
Finally, Moroccan salads were also popular, especially in restaurants and hotels. They were served before the meal and came out in many small dishes. Each one was filled with a different vegetable and all were very different. There were often carrots, potatoes, olives, tomatoes, and eggplant. Some were hot and others cold, and all of them were dressed in olive oil and amazing spices!
The desserts were also delicious. They were often a type of sugar or shortbread cookie with an almond and or honey. Our favorite snacks were often found in the markets. We took advantage of the huge carts of every variety of dried dates, prunes, apricots, and an incredible selection of almonds, cashews, peanuts and trail mixes. The dried fruits tasted like candy and made the best afternoon snacks!
It was raining when we arrived from Casablanca, our bus dropping us outside the medina in Rabat. We hurriedly unloaded our bags, and filed into the medina under the stone archway, trying to protect our bags from the rain. We had no buffer time upon arriving in Rabat; it was straight from the bus to go meet our homestay families in the intricately tiled common room of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning (CCCL). Morocco is a country of tiles: blanketing the walls of every home, bordering many of the doors, housing water fountains; everywhere you look you find gorgeous patterned tile.
Pair by pair we left the CCCL with our new family that we’d be spending the next two weeks with. My homestay partner and I were met by our host-sister who spoke fluent English, and we were immediately invited to go out with her and her cousins to celebrate a birthday, Moroccan-style. But first, we had to drop off our bags!
We walked through the cobble-stone alleys of the medina, surrounded by high concrete walls that enclosed a network of connected buildings and homes, all hiding behind beautiful doors; the medina is its own mini city inside the larger city of Rabat. We arrived at our door, on a small street off the main market (called souk in Moroccan Arabic). Inside, we found a mini palace lined from floor to ceiling with tile. Every home in the medina has at least one room with a wrap-around couch with decorative cover and matching pillows. Our home was no exception; we actually had three such rooms just on the first floor. We walked up the tile staircase with its unevenly sized stairs (I tripped, without fail, on the same step every time I walked up them because it was about an inch higher than the rest..) which wound around and led up to the kitchen. Mama Rabia was awaiting our arrival, welcoming us with pastries and tea, as it was around 5:30 pm, which is tea time! In Morocco, dinner is served VERY late (like, between 9:30-11:00pm late) so tea time is held to hold you over until dinner. The tea is always mint tea with A LOT of sugar, served out of a silver metal teapot, with a special way of pouring the tea so that there is a little layer of bubbly foam on the top.
After settling in to our new bedroom and having some tea and snacks, we got ready to go out! Sara and Hajar, our host sisters, took us by little blue taxis (which are the taxis that stay within the city of Rabat) to a café along the coast; about 15 minutes away from the medina. Drinking alcohol in Morocco is very rare, as it is a Muslim country and alcohol is strongly discouraged, especially for women. So the celebration consisted of hanging out as a group in a café, drinking coffee, smoothies, and a thick chocolate drink that you could eat with a spoon! We went back home around 10pm for dinner, where Mama Rabia had prepared a DELICIOUS traditional Moroccan Tagine.
Upon coming home from the birthday celebration, Sadie and I finally got to meet our host brother! I had a very unique homestay experience thanks to him. I was told upon meeting our host sister that her brother Ibrahim plays judo, which is a huge part of my life at home in the U.S.! So I had been very eager to meet Ibrahim, hoping that I would have the opportunity to practice judo in Morocco, which is something I NEVER dreamed would happen. Sure enough, after meeting Ibrahim and talking with him for a bit over dinner, he asked me if I wanted to come to his gym with him to his next judo class.
So the following night at 7pm, Ibrahim, Sadie and I walked outside of the medina to the dojo and I took a judo class. In Morocco. In French. It was amazing. ABSOLUTELY SURREAL. (Can you tell I’m excited?!)
I don’t speak French, but the beautiful thing I learned from taking a class in another language was that body movements have their own language; I didn’t need to understand the words to understand the instructions being given. It also took away the ability for me to explain myself or make excuses when I felt unsure about my execution of the movement, which is a huge hindrance to my progress at home. I had no choice; just had to go for it. I feel as though I progressed more in one night by not being able to communicate than I would have in a month at home. Had I not been with a homestay family, I would have never sought out judo classes while abroad, ESPECIALLY knowing that I don’t speak the language. Ibrahim gifted me a life-changing experience by bringing me to judo that night, and I will forever be grateful for that.
Aside from my very unique experience, I would say that homestays were what truly made everyone’s experience in Rabat. Had we stayed in hotels, we would have been entirely separate from the true culture of Morocco; just outsiders looking in, missing out what happens behind the scenes. Of course, we still only got a sneak peek living with families for 2 weeks, but during that short period of immersion so much insight was gained. We got to eat home-cooked traditional Moroccan food, adjust to their daily time schedule of sleeping in and staying up very late (although we couldn’t really do the sleeping-in part since we had class at 8am..), celebrating birthdays (in Morocco you get TWO cakes in one night!), learning popular Moroccan music, practicing Moroccan Arabic, also known as Darija, and eating lots and lots of khobz! (except the gluten free students of course).
The night before we left Rabat, the CCCL held a dance part for all of the students and host families, where traditional Moroccan music was played and we all danced together! Our host families will be forever in our hearts and memories. We cannot thank them enough for the hospitality and insight they provided us with. <3
Content of our studies!
Upon arriving in Rabat, our group began to study the narratives utilized by governments to expand free markets. We began to ask and reflect on a series of questions, such as, “How have development narratives been utilizes by the West to expand neoliberalism?” and, “Who benefits from development?” By pushing the limits on established ideas that development is synonymous with progress, we were able to study Morocco’s relationship with the world through a new lens. As Morocco has attempted to enter into global trade and capitalism in an effort to modernize and develop its lands, have these attempts actually resulted in increased prosperity for Morocco’s most disadvantaged people, or has it simply increased the wealth of those who are already in positions of power?
As we delved deep into 21st century narratives that are often utilized by the West to expand free markets, we visited a water bottling plant — an active result of the increasing privatization of resources that were, prior to economic development, public resources utilized by local communities. We drove high into the Atlas Mountains, the location of the water-bottling company.
We saw a massive operation as tens of thousands of plastic water bottles made their way down a conveyor belt. After observing the production processes, we had a chance to talk with the people running the plant. We began to ask questions, such as, “Where is the water coming from?” “Has climate change affected the amount of water that you can pull from the stream?” The company reassured us not to worry — they were indeed giving free water to the communities that relied on the stream, and the entire community, because of the plant, had benefitted economically, for the plant offered many high-paying jobs to people within surrounding communities. After receiving such a positive image of a plant that was making communities richer while ensuring access to clean water for locals, we still were suspicious.
The next day, community members who had led protests against the installation of the bottling plant came to our classroom. As we began to ask questions, we saw an entirely different picture get painted: The community was in a dire drought, and the bottling company was stealing the little water that was coming from the stream. To make matters worse, the plant had abandoned the local community and had hired people that were from far-away communities. This stark difference between the narratives of activists and plant-managers gave us insight into the competing interests between private companies and communities.
To make matters even more interesting, the Prince of Qatar has recently bought property upstream to the community and water bottling plant, building a massive golf course and resort for the royalty of the region. While the community was powerless when a bottling company began to take their water — highlighting the fact that the government often favors private interests over community needs — the installation of a golf course by royalty highlights a parallel relationship; whereas the community member were powerless in the face of private interests, those same private interests are powerless when royalty demanded water. Thus, we began to see a hierarchy of power within Morocco by studying the water bottling plant: at the top of the pyramid is royalty, underneath royalty are private interests, then, on the bottom, community members.
Our studies and site visits in Morocco gave us a glimpse into how people in Morocco live, and what kinds of relationships people have with the autocracy. By studying varying interests in the context of neoliberalism and climate change, we’ve been given new analytical tools as we set out to learn more about the political economy of climate change in Bolivia!
Energy in Morocco
One of the first site visits our group went on was to a gas power plant in Mohammedia city, ONEE. One of the main engineers, Hassan Ouissa, gave us a tour of the facilities, including the control room, loading dock, generators, and so on. Hassan also gave the group an opportunity to ask him questions about operations, social implications of the power plant, and his own opinions on energy. Later on during our time in Morocco, we also got to visit a company that was previously called the Agence Nationale pour le Développement des Énergies Renouvelables et de l’Efficacité Énergétique (ADEREE), recently renamed Agence Marocain pour l’Efficacité Énergétique (AMEE). The name change occurred due to the government’s desire to focus primarily on energy efficiency, because Morocco and the MENA region are already leaders of the renewable energy sector. During our time at AMEE, we got a tour of the various renewable energy technologies that they have designed, and those that are still being researched. As well, we received in depth explanations of how each of these technologies work. Overall, visiting ONEE and AMEE gave us a more holistic look at the complicated energy sector and the stakeholders involved in Morocco.
Trip to Ben Smim
After having spent some time with our host families, we took a trip out to a town called Ben Smim in the Atlas Mountains. During our time in the Atlas mountains we visited a bottling company, a university, and a Moroccan farm to be able to ground some of our class discussions in tangible experiences and interactions. While at the bottling company we toured the production facility and saw the bottles go from small test tube-like figures to familiar looking water bottles that were filled and had a sticker slapped on. After touring this system, we had a Q&A session where we were again able to ask about the company’s specifics and the social implication of the privatization of water that they are inevitably a part of. Seeing the production line of water bottles captivating and having discussion with the employees afterwards was informative for many.
We also had a blast visiting Al Akhawayn University in the nearby town of Ifrane. Being back on a college campus with fall winds nipping at us, made many of us feel at home. We toured the university’s beautiful library and walked around the general campus before receiving a small lecture on agriculture in Morocco, During this site visit we also had the opportunity to talk with a couple students and former students about their experiences at Al Akhawayn and in Morocco in general. Both the lecture and informal discussions opened up space for us to learn about the environment and share other things we are passionate about.
One of the last site visits we went on while in the Atlas Mountains was to visit Jawad Mamou, a local farmer who owned an orchard. Jawad shared with us his story that started with software engineering studies in the US and ended with him running a family-owned farm. He explained to us how the drought and climate change in general is making weather patterns less predictable, often times reducing farmers’ yields, and how the level of competition among farmers was reducing the sense of community and encouraging use of chemical-filled pesticides/fertilizers. Jawad shared his unique perspective on the world and finished the tour of his farm off on an incredibly positive note acknowledging all the good there is in the world. Students were again able to ask further questions, which Jawad welcomed and kindly encouraged.
Counter COP and COP22
After much anticipation, we all received emails about our accreditation for the twenty second Conference of the Parties (COP22). Meanwhile we also received an invitation from our country coordinator, Jawad NAME, to the optional Safi Conference organized by Attac Morocco, a kind of counter COP22 conference. On one fine Saturday morning, many gathered in the lobby at 7 am to take the bus to Safi to attend the counter conference. As we arrived, we were able to jump into specific group discussions about energy, agriculture, water, or extractivism to hear personal stories and struggles from other attendees about these topics. Following that students observed larger presentations and then a conference wide discussion. Throughout the conference, the various presenters’ passion was clear and so was their message – system change, not climate change. The day finished off with song and moments of solidarity that we were grateful to be a part of. Later that week, COP22 officially started. We were able to get into the green zone, which boasted an innovation tent, various panel discussions, and a civil society tent. Navigating this busy space was eye-opening for many students and provoked some feelings of appreciation for the actions being taken, but also many critiques about the concentration on profitability. Throughout our time at COP22, we all went to a couple panels that discussed anything ranging from indigenous knowledge to electrification. Many students opted to attend both the “counter COP” and COP22 and found that visiting both balanced their understanding of each conference, however, just COP22 itself provided for an exciting couple of days and fascinating insight into the international movement around climate change.
After a wonderful but busy, busy full-on 2 months of classes we had a much anticipated break from academics and embarked on what is one aspect of our IHP program that has been building excitement since the start of the semester– vacation week! Five days during the semester serve as our time to shine and be completely responsible for the planning and arrangements of our vacation, allowing us to create our break time to be whatever we want it to be! From October 29-November 4 we were free to roam Morocco (with at least one other buddy!) in whichever way we chose. The night before the start of vacation we had a lovely farewell dinner at the CCCL where we were joined by our host families for a night of Moroccan music and dancing to celebrate our last night in Rabat! The following morning we said our bittersweet goodbyes to our lovely host families, gave our hugs and kisses, and then packed our bags to head off for our vacation!
Most groups took on a ‘road trip’ style vacation in order to ensure all the beautiful places offered by Morocco could be visited. Other groups remained in one location for a longer period as a time to relax and unwind after months of a hectic travel schedule. The groups ranged in size from around two to six people and each group went to various places across the country.
Some groups started out in Fes, an old traditional city in Morocco where we enjoyed wandering around in the beautiful old medina and strolling through the markets. The tannery is a popular spot to watch the process of the leather making as our noses were stuffed with mint leaves to relieve the potent stench. While some groups traveled to Fes others made their way up to Tangier, a port city on the Strait of Gibraltar. Groups who visited Tangier enjoyed its European feel, running on the beautiful beaches overlooking Spain in the distance, and getting lost in the great medina.
From the chaos of the cities a few groups made the 10 hour bus haul to Merzouga, a tiny village on the edge of the Sahara Desert. This village is often considered the ‘gateway to the desert interior’ and is the part of the desert that offers Erg Chebbi– stunning windswept sand dunes reaching up to 150 meters high. Camel trekking serves as the main attraction of this region which many groups made sure to take advantage of. The trek was usually a 2 or 3 night excursion where after trekking into the desert for a few hours you arrive at the beautiful desert campground! The desert offered some of the most beautiful stargazing ever witnessed as well as sandboarding down the dunes, beautiful sunsets and sunrises, drumming, dancing, and treasured conversation with our wonderful wonderful guides. Dades Valley was another popular vacation spot known for offering some of Morocco’s most spectacular scenery with its incredible gorges and traditional kasbahs. Fun hikes climbing through the gorges provided a great opportunity to get outside and climb around before the last long trek back to Marrakech.
A few groups also spent some time in the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen known for its stunning blue-painted medina in the Rif mountains! Essaouira was visited as a last stop by a few groups as well who really enjoyed the busy port, open medina, and charming beaches. Essaouira is famed as being a filming location for the Game of Thrones TV series and the city was claimed to have looked “just like scenes from the show”. After five days of exploring the country the group met back up in the our next host city of Marrakesh where many of us have fond memories of COP22 and the counter COP conference, the bizarrely nice german resort we called home for a week, hogging the wifi by the pool, cuddling up for nightly hot seats, exploring Marrakech’s medina, and taking part in the COP climate march!
Overall, the vacation period was a very special time on our IHP program. There were countless stories of the wonderful strangers met throughout the vacation period who added so much to the whole experience and the memories made. Whether it was profound conversations with the beloved camel guides by the fire, the hospitality shown by Airbnb hosts, friendly strangers met through the hostels, or even the kindness of a taxi driver; the beauty in the people met along the way added so much warmth to our cherished vacation time. Though I cannot speak for all of us on the program, i’m sure that most will agree that vacation was a very magical time for each of us to explore the Moroccan culture in a more independent way. The experiences of these five days will be something that I personally will take with me for a lifetime.
Morocco has been a fascinating country to spend time in. The governmental set up compared to the US and to Vietnam was so drastically different, but it was incredibly interesting to learn about some of the power dynamics at play and to compare it to what we knew and had come to know. I think our time in Morocco was also made difficult by the election results back home. It was an immense challenge to be away from home as such radical changes were taking place. It was difficult to occupy the space of COP22 with this at the back of our minds. However, our group continued to support each other and grow as we made the most of the rest of our time in Morocco. We still face many challenges within and outside our group, but the strength of our support network continues to grow.
One month never feels like quite enough time, and that is certainly true with Morocco. We saw so much as we jumped from place to place, but it was difficult to fully immerse ourselves in a place at the same time. Many of us acknowledged that our time in Morocco really flew by; which was due to the combination of constant travel, a week of vacation, and wishing we could have had more time. We will certainly miss all of the mint tea, khobz, and general kindness of Morocco, but we are excited to see what awaits us half way around the world again in Bolivia!