Morocco Travel: 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Trip
I decided to study in Morocco to fulfill my desire to learn Arabic and about Islam from a source other than the media’s cover of international crises like ISIS. I wanted to live in and observe an Islamic state to debunk the claims often made by people living in a different culture. Morocco fulfilled all of these criteria and is a kingdom in Africa. I found all of this extremely intriguing. So here I am, two months into my Morocco travel adventure, eager to share the things that I have learned and what I wish I knew before packing my bag.
1. The dominant language changes depending on the space you’re in
The most important concept I wish I had grasped before landing in Morocco would be how language works here. This is especially true since language was a reason why I chose to go to Morocco. What space and what region of the country are the deciding factors in what language is used. For example, I only speak English fluently, with a small background in Spanish. However, I am studying Fus’ha or Standard Arabic in school here. I am learning darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, at home. I order food in French and have French spoken at me often. I spoke Spanish in the north and Tahmazight, the language of native Berbers in North Africa, in the mountains. I bargain for most of my products in English. This is just an example of the plethora of languages spoken in Morocco. All of these languages are present and active Morocco because of the many multiple cultural interactions that are engrained in its history.
2. Mint tea and bread are integral to the Moroccan diet
If someone had told me that my diet would revolve around mint tea and bread, I would not have really understood what they meant. However, I am now living this as a reality. Mint tea and houbz are served multiple times a day. Houbz is a round loaf of bread that is the Moroccan serving size. It actually replaces utensils for most meals. I have spent multiple dinners scooping potatoes out of tagines with houbz.
Mint tea is source of hydration in Morocco. No, it does not taste anything like the bagged Moroccan Mint tea sold in supermarkets. It’s really sweet and has mint leaf chunks in it. It’s delicious. It’s served for breakfast, in between meals, and whenever there are guests. Mint tea is always served with some carb which can range from an almond cookie, to any french pastry, to houbz and jam. My relationships with eating houbz and drinking shay has progressed through a number of different phases including enjoyment, disgust, to indifference.
3. A different kind of toilet exists
I never really thought about there being a different type of toilet other than nature and the flushing kind. Well, Morocco has exposed me to the Turkish toilets. I spent the first month avoiding any unfamiliar toilet at the expense of my bladder. However, I had to confront my fear of the Turkish toilet and bucket flushing when we stayed with families in a village on the side of a mountain for a week. The Turkish toilet wasn’t really that bad, I just wish I had started mentally preparing for it before I got to Morocco.
4. You may encounter street harassment in public spaces
This is probably the most negative thing I have to say about Morocco, but it’s worth mentioning. Women are fairly new to the public space. Before, anything outside of the house was considered men’s space. Within the house, men would need escorts to travel from room to room and depended fully on their wives and children for their well-being within the house. Recently, women have begun to leave the house on their own, open stores, and sit at cafes. This change has caused some street harassment and the objectification of women in the public space. Street harassment is different in every city (worst in Marrakesh) and is typically not very different from the comments women receive in the streets worldwide. I have gotten very used to walking through the streets ignoring men and boys staring and speaking at me.
5. There is more than one way to dress
Packing three months’ worth of clothing into a traveler’s backpack is difficult. It was even more challenging because I wanted to ensure I would be respectful of Muslims in Morocco. I now know that Islam encourages women to cover their shape to deter men’s eyes. There are also verses about covering their chests. This paired with what I have observed, I would have encouraged my past self to pack cute shirts that have high necklines and pants/skirts that go below the knee. However, fashion is still a large part of Moroccan society. There is a difference between what is appropriate in the old medina, a walled conservative city, and the modern part of the cities. In the modern parts of the city, shirts get a little lower and skirts a little shorter.
6. Couscous Fridays are the best
Couscous Fridays are literally my favorite day of the week. Before coming to Morocco, Friday always had a special place in my heart as it marked the end of the week. Well, Morocco one-ups my normal Friday by starting the weekend at two with the best meal ever. On Friday, everyone gets out of work or school by the sound of the call to prayer around noon. Men go to the mosque to pray, women continue to prepare the elaborate meal and socialize with those who have come to share the meal, and children roam the streets in groups playing soccer and other shenanigans.
When everyone’s home, a handful of spoons is passed out to the family that has gathered and my host Mom brings in a huge clay bowl filled with couscous, pumpkin, squash, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, chickpeas, caramelized onions, and meat. Imaginary boundaries split the bowl into pie slices, indicating where one is allowed to grab from and everyone starts eating. My host mom mixes her couscous by squishing the vegetables and meat into small balls then popping them into her mouth. After all of the couscous is gone, everyone lays out on their respective portion of the couches lining the room and falls asleep. I love Couscous Fridays.
7. Morocco is an overlooked gem
Morocco is a beautiful country with a range of customs, histories, and languages. There are glimmering waters and rocky, shrubby mountains. In Morocco, the old embraces the new. Morocco continues to be a passageway between Africa, Europe, and Islam and therefore merges values and traditions from all three groups making this an amazing society and country. Every experience I have had on this Morocco travel adventure has shaped my love and appreciation for this country and the social changes occurring.
Traveling to Morocco: 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Trip