As of this past Friday, I’ve officially been in Morocco for six weeks. In every way, it seems like it’s been ages but also, like it’s only been a few days.
I came to Morocco to have an adventure, and I can safely say, I am a month and a half into the greatest adventure of my life. Along the way, I’ve encountered crazy taxi drivers, persist carpet salesmen, eccentric Arabic professors, and enough stray cats to last me a lifetime. I’ve jumped off of cliffs into waterfalls, ridden horse-drawn carts to secluded beaches (sounds way more romantic than it actually is), and eaten delicious food that later turned out to be questionable parts of animals’ anatomy.
Lately I’ve been answering a lot of questions from the second summer session students about what they should pack (they arrive in a week and I can’t wait to meet them), and it has made me think about what items are essential to have here. Here are three important things to bring to Morocco, even though you can’t quite pack them in your suitcase:
Item #1: A Deep and Unwavering Love For, Or At Least Tolerance Of, Olive OilOlives, and products made from them, are used in absolutely every aspect of daily life here. Food is fried in olive oil, olives are used in salads and as decorations, and nearly every restaurant serves them as an appetizer. Olive soap, shampoo, face cream, and the ever-present argan oil (either ingested or used topically for clear skin and shiny hair, among other things) are sold on every street corner. To get to school, we tell the taxi driver “Zeitoun!” It means “olives” in Arabic and is the name of the neighborhood where our school is located.
Item #2: Nerves of Steel When It Comes to Public Transportation
The three main ways to get around town are petit taxis (for up to three people), grand taxis (six people), and the bus (lots and lots of people). It is not uncommon for drivers here to get within mere centimeters of other vehicles, usually at high speed. Also, there are no seatbelts; in the grand taxis, the seatbelts are used to keep the front row of seats from falling down. As for the bus, get ready to sacrifice your personal space and quite possibly your toes; the buses get so packed sometimes that losing your shoes trying to get off at your stop is a legitimate concern.
Item #3: First-Rate Charades Skills
Morocco’s “official” languages are French and Arabic, but on any given day in Meknes, I hear at least three or four different languages being spoken. Most Moroccans speak French and Dariija, the local dialect of Arabic. Additionally, English is commonly seen on advertisements and on television, although not always understood. Some of the more northern areas also speak Spanish, and the guy at the pastry shop near Tangier spoke German. This linguistic melting pot makes for some interesting language barriers; the other night in Asilah, I think we ordered our dinner using a combination of four different languages and plenty of gesturing. Although initially very daunting, it makes things exciting; the other day in Rabat, a fellow ISA-er ordered what he thought was shrimp…. It turned out to be brains.
I hope this gives you a little insight into the wonderfully overwhelming experience that Morocco is!
Araka fi ma baad! (See you later!)