Looking Back at Rabat, Morocco
“We had so much fun, we barely got out the door the next morning,” said one of my fellow remotes during dinner last night.
She was referring to our last night in Rabat, Morocco.
Today, we’re in Sofia, Bulgaria, and we’ve been here for nearly five weeks. Funny, you might think, that we’re reminiscing on an event that happened a few short weeks ago. But in Remote Year - where we consider a day to be a week, a week to be a month, and a month to be a year – it feels like a LONG time ago.
As I walked back to my apartment, I continued to think about my time in the city that made me feel frustration, confusion, happiness and warmth, that ended up finding itself a special place in my heart.
This is a recap of my September.
Living in Morocco.
This month the remote year crew was spread out in apartments across Rabat. My apartment incldued:
· 2 girls, 2 guys
· 4 bedrooms
· 2 showers, 2 toilets, 1 bidet
· 4 cockroaches
· 1 kitchen
· 1 living room with seating for 20
· 15 couch pillows
· 1 AC unit
· And a few angry neighbors
Aside for not having reliable internet, life wasn’t bad.
Dressing in Morocco.
Despite the 95-degree average temperature, my average daily outfit in Morocco consisted of long pants like jeans, leggings or silky “Moroccan” pants, a tank top and sandals. While many people dress similarly to you and me, Morocco is much more modest than western culture, so we adjusted accordingly to have at least knees and/or shoulders covered.
Eating in Morocco.
Tagine, tagine and more tagine, followed by a glass of warm sugary mint tea.
A typical tagine, which is named after the dish it’s cooked in, consists of meat such as chicken, fish or beef, vegetables like zucchini, tomatoes, onions and carrots, and a mix of spices, carefully prepared over heat in an earthenware pot.
In addition to LOTS of tagine, we consumed heaps of couscous, veggies and bread.
The downside: the different bacteria we were exposed to had me and the rest of Remote Year sprinting to the bathroom for 5 weeks straight.
Drinking in Morocco.
No bars and liquor stores in sight, after 48 hours we were convinced that alcohol didn’t exist in Morocco.
It’s against Islam to consume alcohol, so those who wish to do so respect others in their community by drinking behind closed doors either at home or in specific bars and restaurants. Generally, cafes and restaurants don’t serve alcohol and drinking outside is absolutely forbidden.
Ask my dad how easy it is to buy alcohol in Morocco, and after attempting three different grocery stores over the span of two hours, he’ll tell you it’s impossible. It’s not. You just need to know about that one store with the dark stairwell leading to the basement, eventually leading to a liquor store that's only open for a few hours each day.
Exploring in Morocco.
While I spent the majority of my month knuckling down on work and immersing deeper into the Remote Year world, I found some time to experience Morocco’s beauty.
Chefchaoeun – a peaceful city painted all blue located in the mountains of Northwest Morocco. During a weekend side trip with seven of my remote year friends I...
· Took hundreds of pictures while wandering through the blue medina.
· Hiked to "God's Bridge", swam in freezing cold water and experienced delicious smells while walking through a field of Moroccan plants in Cascade d’Akchour.
· Paid the hotel staff $100 to get us six bottle of wine in the dry city.
· Drank the six bottles of wine and talked for hours next to our hotel pool while listening to a children’s film festival taking place in the town square.
· Laughed hysterically when we found out that what we thought was the film festival was actually an intense protest.
Casablanca – Referred to as the financial capital of Morocco, this seaside city is packed with tall buildings, businesses, retail and restaurants. During a quick day trip, My parents and I (yeah, they visited for 10 days) explored the city by...
· Eating pizza and drinking beers at a beach club off the water.
· Walking along the coast, listening to gigantic waves crash against the shore.
· Gawking at fisherman who were sitting on top of the seawall lining the shore.
· Touring Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in Morocco and the 13th largest in the world.
· Getting haggled in the medina.
· Nearly hitchhiking back to Rabat… because I left my phone in our driver’s car. Thankfully he found us.
Marrakesh – a large city in western Morocco known for mosques, palaces, gardens and one huge medina. After traveling to Marrakesh from Rabat on the “Marrakesh Express,” my parents and I spent two days…
· Enjoying some down time at the Four Seasons.
· Buying $3 sunglasses and watching snake charmers in the medina.
· Riding camels and ATVs through Berber villages.
Essaouira – A low-key port city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast that radiates a calming vibe. After seven days of city life in Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakesh, a weekend is Essaouira was the perfect way for my parents and I to conclude their African visit. In Essaouira we...
· Wandered the medina (are you noticing a trend?) looking for Thursday Club gifts, birthday presents and a souvenir tagine.
· Held our breath through the smelliest fish market in existence.
· Examined Moroccan fishing boats.
· Walked through a sandy windstorm to get to the beach.
· Enjoyed the hotel golf course and spa.
Getting around in Morocco.
Let me set the scene by explaining that very few people, especially taxi drivers, speak a lick of English. And, believe it or not, I don’t speak any Arabic.
One day I tried to take a taxi and the first driver who picked me up already had a passenger inside. What? No. But the driver waved me in, so I took my chances. After being in the car for a few minutes, he rolled down his window at a stoplight and spoke to another taxi driver. He then looked at me and pointed to get into the other vehicle. This driver also had another passenger, but i hopped in. After dropping off the other passenger, I showed him the address of my destination. Confused, he stopped the car, spoke loudly to me in Arabic and waited for my direction. Since taxi drivers don’t understand the concept of Google maps, I spent one hour directing my taxi driver only a few miles to my destination using hand gesture. That day I was one of 10 remotes who had such an experience.
After that, I faithfully used Careem, the ride service made available to us through Remote Year. Careem is basically the Uber of Rabat. And getting to know some of the drivers turned out to make a big impact on my experience in Morocco (read on).
Celebrating in Morocco.
The transition from Portugal to Morocco was dramatic for the Remote Year community. Getting used to the unfamiliar culture, new climate, new food, different housing and different group dynamic was not easy. After two weeks of living in Morocco I was ok, but still feeling out of my element. I was spending the majority of my time at the workspace and felt a bit intimidated by the world surrounding me. That changed on Monday, September 12.
A few days prior, Laura, one of my Remote Year friends, asked me if I wanted to attend Eid al-Adha with Salah and his family. Salah was one of the Careem drivers who Laura had befriended, but I hadn’t gotten to know very well. I debated my decision. The holiday fell on a work day, but would there ever be another time in my life where I’d be invited to spend the biggest Islamic holiday of the year with a family in Morocco? Hesitantly, I agreed.
You’re probably thinking, “Hold up. What is Eid al-Adha?” It’s an Islamic holiday celebrated to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael at Allah’s command. Comparable to Christmas in America, this holiday is celebrated by nearly everyone in Morocco and Muslims around the world. After weeks of holiday hype and preparation, celebrations last for days and involves family gatherings, feasts and gift giving.
On this day, each family also sacrifices a sheep, or several sheep, as a way to remember Abraham’s brave actions. Often misunderstood by those outside the religion, this act symbolizes a family's willingness to give up something close to their heart in order to honor Allah. It’s a reminder that life is sacred. [Read more about it here.]
My day began with a sacrifice of two sheep on the back porch of Salah’s sister’s apartment, where the family had gathered for the day. Professional butchers were present to assist. After the sacrifice, we enjoyed a traditional Moroccan breakfast spread, complete with pastries, fruit and mint tea. After breakfast we chatted with Salah and his family members about the meaning of Eid traditions, life in Morocco and our experiences in the country so far. While lunch was prepared, we went for a walk on the beach near the house and watched the waves foam after crashing into the rocks. Soon after, we enjoyed salad, bread, eggplant dip, fruit and sheep’s meat skewers. Hours passed as we sat in the living room playing with the kids and conversing with Salah, his brother and sister-in-law. Eventually, we decided that we should get some work done (it was a Monday, after all). On our way out, the family convinced us that we absolutely needed to come back for dinner to fully experience Eid. We agreed, and a few hours later we were back with the family enjoying a delicious holiday dinner.
When I was invited to participate in Salah’s family’s holiday celebration, I was worried that I was overstepping boundaries. Was it ok for me to be present during such an important religious event? It was more than ok, and being part of such a special experience changed my outlook on Moroccan culture and the Islamic religion. For the first time in Morocco, that day I felt welcomed and happy.
After Eid, I became better friends with Salah. He showed me what it was like to live in Rabat. He showed me the neighborhood where he grew up, his favorite coffee shops and where he liked to go to watch the waves. He helped me open up my heart to the culture, and made me realize that although Morocco was a very different place than what I was used to, so many Moroccan people are kind and have other's best interest at heart. I have him to thank for showing me the real Rabat, Morocco, where the people are loving, tagine is steaming, hash is plentiful and drivers are crazy.