Moroccan Culture Shock Part I

October 9, 2014

I am in a desert. The Sahara. I am lying in a tent in the Sahara Desert. I am lying here surrounded by sand and people and camels. I arrived here by camel. I am completely and utterly out of my mind.

The blistering dry heat of Casablanca welcomed me as I walked off the ship yesterday. Morocco is the only country we’ll be visiting in Africa, but it has a middle-eastern culture rather than what we think of as true African culture. After taking the shuttle from the MV to the main strip, I was confronted by a plethora of taxi drivers. They almost refused to take “no” for an answer. They kept hounding me and I noticed the other males of the group couldn’t get away either. It was at that time I realized the first major cultural difference of Morocco. The taxi drivers were practically pleading with the males for a ride, but they were paying absolutely no attention to the females. Gender equality is minuscule here.

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All the meals were served in tagines.

I walked the streets of Casablanca and took in the extreme differences that Morocco had to offer. All of the meals were served in tagines. Everyone dressed extremely conservatively. The women were almost covered from head to toe. The use of Arabic made any Spanish or French we had taken irrelevant. Loud colors, tapestries, carpets, and tassels lined the streets as if I were walking through a scene from Aladdin. As the horn sounded from the mosque, the city stood still for prayer. My most thought-provoking realization was that everyone was staring at me because for the first time in my life… I was the minority.

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This is a restaurant where I was served traditional kouskous.

Our plan was to take a train to Marrakesh, spend the night there, and then camel trek to spend the night in the Sahara. So in Casablanca we had to buy our train tickets. Our group split up because the guys were occupied with something before buying the tickets. I can’t even remember what. Since no group of girls should be walking alone, I volunteered to go with them. It was just me and five girls on the way to the station. Along the way, culture smacked us in the face yet again as I was getting offers from local men to buy the pretty women I was traveling with. Needless to say, the ladies stuck close to me.

We bought our tickets, grabbed some lunch, and packed our bags on the ship. By late that afternoon we were headed for the bustling Marrakech. On the train ride there, we were in a cart with a local schoolteacher. She was amazed that we were living on a ship and traveling to so many countries. She also loved hearing about America. After giving us some advice about the city, she even gave us her phone number in case we ran into any trouble. I love having conversations like that on this trip. One of the best ways to experience a country is actually talking to the people who live there.

We arrived in Marrakech and were emerged in an incredible chaos. There was a festival going on and the streets were roaring. Shops and vendors stood every few feet. Music blared. The streets overflowed with dancers, musicians, snake charmers, celebrators, and the occasional tourist who was completely out of place. It was awesome. We bought souvenirs and ate at one of the fine vendor establishments, which included chicken kabobs, traditional bread, vegetables, and Moroccan tea. Then, we retired to our hotel for the evening which – again – was straight out of Aladdin.

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IMG_3834This morning we awoke to breakfast which was basically the same bread as last night with butter. Afterwards, we hopped in a charter van provided by the company we were trekking with and begin our journey to the desert. Under the impression that we wouldn’t have to travel very far, we were shocked when we stopped at a village for a lunch “break” after hours of driving. Turns out we are a little farther from civilization than we thought, but to our amazement, the area where we stopped has been used to film an impressive list of TV shows and movies (Game of Thrones, Gladiator, The Bible, and Prince of Persia just to name a few). The second half of the journey continued after the break, which led us through the Atlas Mountains.

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We spent hours traveling through the Atlas Mountains, but we didn’t mind because of the views.

Before nightfall, we finally arrived at the edge of the Sahara where we met our transportation. Camels are fun, but surprisingly uncomfortable.

We made our little trek in the dark and arrived at this nomadic camp, which consists of a few large tents, a dining tent, and a bathroom. We were fed kouskous and Moroccan tea. The nomadic hosts serenaded us as we danced under the Saharan stars: a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

And now, here we are. I’m lying in a bed. It’s not uncomfortable, but I don’t sleep well when I’m hot. Tomorrow I will awaken in the dark and we will begin the day with the sunrise over the sand dunes.

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