When we hear the words Islam or Muslim, we tend to have a very distinct image of what those words mean. The people described above are just some of the many people I met in Morocco, in northern Africa. It's easy to think about Muslims as nothing more than hijabs and djellabas, but in reality, these are humans. They are not a concept or an image, and they are more than just what they wear and what they believe. They are flesh and blood just like us, with aspirations, dreams, and a love for learning.
We only spent a couple days in Morocco, but that was all it took to help us realize that the whole world is watching us. Everywhere we went, whether it was urban or rural Morocco, everyone asked us what we thought about our new president, Donald Trump. As much as us Americans wanted to avoid this subject, we came to realize very quickly that these people really wanted to know what we thought. Did we agree with his policies? Did we think he was capable of being a good president? Did we see Islam and Muslims the same way that he did? What at first felt like a "vacation to Africa" eventually turned into us realizing that we represented the United States as a whole, and that we were possibly even the only American people that these Moroccans would ever meet. Due to this newfound awareness, I think we all gained a new perspective of the world after those couple days and came to understand just how important it is that we understand the world around us, along with just how important it is that we stand up for what we believe in.
Politics aside, we also gained an important lesson in privilege. As an American, I am very aware (or so I thought) of how privileged I am to have the rights that I have. However, being in Morocco brought this cognizance to a whole new level. People drown all the time trying to swim across from Morocco to Spanish land, hoping to seek asylum and start a new life. I crossed a boat from Spain to Morocco. On the way back, our group literally walked across the border from Morocco to the Spanish city, Ceuta. (Picture a group of college-aged students walking past all of the cars From there, we took a boat back across the strait of Gibraltar back to Europe. What so many Africans attempt to do, knowing they are risking their lives, we did simply in an afternoon. The difference? Passports. We have American passports, one of the most coveted passports on Earth. While so many Africans die attempting to get to Europe, we had a booklet of paper that allowed us to cross without a single problem. And that my friends, is privilege.
'Cuz this is (Moroccan) Africa *cue Shakira*
Traveling to Morocco was also an incredibly culturally diverse experience. The first two nights, we stayed in a city called Rabat, with host families. Two other girls and I stayed in a small, lovely home with a couple, a two year old boy, and three older girls. One of them was Kawtar, the seventeen year old who speaks better English than we do, and who aspires to be a translator someday. This family welcomed us into their home warmly, and it wasn't very long before we were chasing the two year old around and teasing the sisters as if they were our own. One memory in particular that I will never forget was the last night we were there. Kawtar decided to teach us a dance she was learning for an event. Next thing we knew, we were all following along, the two year old was dancing with his father, and all of us were laughing and dancing to a song that I couldn't even understand. It was at this moment that I realized how incredible it was that we were all there, this Moroccan family who spoke little English and us, three American girls. We could barely understand each other and we lived completely different lives in completely different worlds; and yet, here we were. All of us were up and dancing, being human and enjoying each other's company. It's so easy to think of Africa being a completely different world. But in reality, we're all humans, and we all enjoy the occasional dance party.
Along with this, we were shown around their city and one of the sisters even gave us henna tattoos. Although we only spent a few days in Rabat, it was incredible how quickly we felt at home. We had discussions with students who went to school in Rabat, and we even had the opportunity to go out for coffee with a whole group of college-aged Moroccans. When it came time to say goodbye, we were all a little teary eyed.
On the third day of our journey, we visited a rural area of Morocco, where we were treated to a very different experience. We arrived at the home of a couple who lived on a farm, where we were fed kushkush and sandwiches. After talking to them for a while (with an urban Moroccan who was studying English as our translator), we came to realize that those in the rural area were very different from those in the cities of Morocco. Not only do they not always have access to clean water and electricity, but they also are a lot more conservative in their beliefs, displayed through their thoughts on arranged marriages and wearing the hijab. It was interesting to see just how different two places in Morocco could be. I can only imagine how diverse the entire continent of Africa is.
On the last night of our journey, we had the freedom to wander around Chefchaouen, a city on a mountain.
Here, we had the chance to explore. I even bought a necklace with the hand of Fatima, which is said to ward away evil. As our trip to Morocco came to an end, we were all very exhausted but also very aware that we were leaving the continent of Africa with very different mindsets than the ones we came with. (I know this was a lot of thoughts to follow, but if you made it this far, thanks for staying with me!) This trip was eye-opening, and it has made me realize just how important it is that we keep fighting for human rights and help in any way we can (VOLUNTEER!). We were very privileged to have been able to travel around Morocco for a couple days and then come back to our normal lives. Never underestimate the power of privilege, and don't forget that in the end, we're all just humans. Even just a smile can go a long way, and it doesn't have to be translated. :)