In November 2009, I arrived in Rabat. I was a little loopy from lack of sleep, but thankful to breathe the balmy and breezy air and anxious to greet my new home. That first day I met the staff and tasted my first authentic Moroccan meal. (Ever since, I have to keep reminding myself that this DELICIOUS cuisine will be standard for two months. No need to continually stuff my face...). The staff spent come time orienting me--lectures on cultural norms, a trip to my volunteer placement, petite and grand taxis.
Everywhere I went, my head is filled with a new sight or sound, smell and sentiment. And sleeping at night was my only chance to decompress from a full day of sensory overload. It seems like every other person spoke a different language--Arabic, Darija (Moroccan Arabic), French, even some English, and I couldn't process fast enough the appropriate response. "Yes, je voudrais un café noir. Shukran." Yikes!! The call to prayer woke me up each morning with the rising sun, and echoed throughout the medina four more times each day. I passed a handful of beggars on my short walk to the taxi stand and the unwanted cat calls from Moroccan men taught me to tune my ears accordingly. The food was heavenly--rice and cooked vegetables, fresh orange juice, couscous every friday afternoon, and sweet sweet mint tea. Though eating with my hands and using bread as a utensil is I needed to adjust to.
At the end of mt first few weeks, I'm was somewhere between worlds and cultures--struggling with language barriers, learning new routes and routines, being comfortable with being uncomfortable. And I couldn't wait for more.
By far, the highlight of my time in Morocco was the trip to the Sahara.
Have you ever been in awe of the world, overwhelmed by the immensity of it? Or felt humbled by its beauty and sense of peace? Perhaps that sounds a bit trite, but that is how I felt during our visit to the Sahara.
A group of us set off on a Thursday afternoon, I could have done without the long and uncomfortable bus ride, but not everything can be easy. We pulled into Er Rachidia as darkness approached. We split up into two groups and rode in 4x4s across increasingly sparser landscape. After arrving at a hotel we grabbed our bags and got ready for a camel ride to our camp ground for the night. It felt as if we were spies feeling under the cover of darkness. The hotel eventually disappeared behind us and more sand stretched out before us. We rounded one bend after another, moving through the waves of sand
After an hour of bumping along on our camels, we reached our campsite. A collection of tents were scattered in the valley, all low to the ground and constructed of nothing by wooden posts and blankets. We trooped past a few and smiled at the other tourists who also got sucked into this novelty experience. Then, one by one, we dismounted from our camels and waddled off with our backpacks. Oh, would we be sore in the morning. Our hosts, came in to greet us and share mint tea. The rest of the evening passed slowly.
The next morning started bright and early with a hike up to dunes to see a beautiful sunrise. The light came first and then the sun, right up from Algeria and spilled shadows across the desert. Not long after, the rest of the group was awake and we packed up camp to head back to the hotel for breakfast. Even at 5:30 our stomachs were rumbling.
Again, we hopped on our camels and went through the old routine. To live out such a talked-about and fantasized event was a little more than my mind could handle, but it was truly an incredible experience. I recommend that everyone get to the Sahara one day!
Finally, as my time had come to say farewell--to Morocco and my wonderful time here, there was no easy way to do it. After two months of living in a new country you build a bond with the culture, the people, and the new lifestyle. I did all I could to soak up the last few hours mostly in the form of buying up Morocco by the handful. But suffice it to say that this was a memorable experience and one that I will have fond memories of. The ridiculous and fantastic adventures have come to a close (at least for the time being), but--in'shallah--more are down the road!!