Lessons of the Garden

While sitting in the garden outside my school the other day, I noticed a butterfly sitting on one of the plants. I kicked myself mentally for forgetting my camera upstairs in the classroom, as we had just taken a brief tea break, but proceeded to get a closer look. It was then that I noticed the huge yellow wasp that sat only two leaves behind the butterfly.

I tell this story because as I continued to observe the butterfly, a gorgeous white and brown winged specimen, I thought it was rather fitting for my current experience. When I announced 8-months ago that I wanted to go to Morocco, my entire family about hit the roof. “It’s a third world country,” they’d say. They’d cite the gender inequality or the country’s struggling economy as reasons to stay home. The cultural and religious differences were highlighted each time I brought it up, the constant negativity bogging down my excited outlook.

The thing is, Morocco is a beautiful country. The people here are kind and helpful. The country thus far has been an amazing time, with each day offering a new promise of something entirely unprecedented in my short twenty years. That’s not to say, however, that it’s without it’s problems—catcalling on the street happens, several students in our program have gotten sick due to the different levels of food sanitation, etc. In the end though, the good outweighs the bad ten-fold.

For example, thieves are a reality here, especially in the crowded Medina where all of us are staying. My host mom has encouraged (and by that I mean chastised me if I didn’t) me to put my phone in my backpack and keep my pockets empty when walking to school. A girl in my class was walking yesterday and had her phone in her skirt and a man yanked it out and began walking away with it—a shopkeeper on the street, however, noticed and stopped him. Berating him and returning the phone to my classmate. This ugly side of the country exists, it’s present and demands attention, however the good is there and allows a level of protection and deserves recognition. The threat of the wasp shouldn’t take away from enjoying the butterfly.

I’ve been here for under a week but thus far it’s been incredibly fun as well as informative. We spend each day in class going over observations and questions, focusing on different aspects of the world we are just now getting to see. Then, during our free time, our group ventures out on our own to explore Rabat and see as much as possible. A month may sound like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not.

Thus far we’ve spent a lot of time getting to know the medina, in which we live with our host families. It offers a plethora of sights and sounds, always awash with activity and excitement. The markets provide interesting wares including (but not limited to) fresh fruit, beautiful rugs, goat heads, pigs’ feet, and hand made paintings and vases. The alleyways that lead to our respective houses wind and twist in mind baffling ways, each turn seemingly making less sense than the last. Yesterday I wasn’t paying attention and took a turn out of instinct, leading myself back to the front door, the first evidence that I’m actually managing to learn my way around.

The medina lets out into a marina where the river flows between Rabat and Sale. It’s a busy place with people milling down the edge of the river and boats ferrying passengers between the two cities. We stayed down there for a bit after class while we waited for another half of our group to meet back up with us. It was relaxing to watch the water and take in the people, sometimes it’s nice to just take a moment and sit while we’re here. Too often I think we get caught up in moving around and seeing all there is to see, but actually sitting and taking in the surroundings is a terribly underrated experience.

I could sit here and list all of the incredible things I’ve seen the last few days, but frankly I think it might bore those reading to bullet point down the list. Exploring the city has been fun though, and I will say that the juice here is incredible (and cheap). Thus far I’ve had an assortment of fruit called panache, lemon ginger, and avocado almond. All were awesome. Tomorrow we embark on our first in-country trip to Meknes, Fes, and the Roman ruins Velubilis. I’m excited to get underway and see what else this wonderful country has to offer.

Bringing it back to the point, the last few days have taught me that you shouldn’t allow fear to hold you back in your endeavors. If I had solely focused on the presence of the wasp, I wouldn’t have been able to observe the butterfly. That being said, if I had blundered around like an idiot and disregarded my surroundings, I definitely would have gotten stung. The balance isn’t necessarily a simple one, but it’s vital. I’ve cherished my time thus far and I am glad I chose Morocco to spend my time, however, I remain aware of the fact that I’m not in an environment I’m used to and there are new hazards to be wary of. Regardless, I still have over two weeks of excitement left, and I can’t wait.

 

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A leap of faith

There’s a moment, when you’re on a plane, just before you take off, where the world seems to pause. It happens just as the wheels leave the tarmac, when you’re pressed against your seat, moving at an unfathomable speed and that pit forms in the bottom of your stomach. The plane leaps into the air and just for that moment it seems as though the world reconsiders itself—it reconsiders this massive object, with hundreds of souls aboard, its displacement in the universe and how to respond. The plane is suspended in the air, willing itself forward and praying that the air around it catches it and propels it toward its destination. That pause, it happens every time.

But just for a moment.

Sitting in the Frankfurt Airport, staring down an 8-hour layover, that moment of uncertainty in the air seemed more poignant than usual. This flight was hard on me I must confess, having a cold on an 8-hour flight is an experience I truly wish upon nobody. I exited the flight on another continent, unable to hear aside from an atrocious ringing in my ears and the growling of my stomach (the in-flight meal was a choice between chicken and pasta, God help me I couldn’t tell the difference).

Having been awake for more than 27 hours, I stretched out across a few seats in the terminal, a few rows away from my group, looped the straps of my bags into my arms, and fell asleep.

I awoke an hour later to a very lively Chinese couple laughing and taking a photo of me (I’m pretty sure I caught the phrase ‘American’ thrown around a few times).

Not exactly the glamorous start I was anticipating.

The thing about that moment on the plane, however, is that every time I’ve been aboard (knock on wood), that plane has caught itself and continued pushing forward. Even thought the odds seem insurmountable, a giant metal beast that has no business defying the laws of gravity taking to the air with ease, it happens.

So despite these low moments, where I do confess some malaise crept into my excited demeanor, I found a grin firmly affixed to my face as we were given a brief tour of the city this morning. A 5-hour jaunt in a hotel gave me some much needed and well-used rest time and so I set out with a much more positive outlook and a sprig in my step.

The city was beautiful, with paintings and carvings painstakingly done by hand shown on the most prominent of buildings. The weather was warm but not too hot, with a nice sea breeze kicking up from the coast. With blue skies and such beautiful sights, the place felt a bit like paradise.

Paradise, however, can be overwhelming and certainly the medina qualifies as that. People swarm in and out of makeshift stalls and the crowd is a constantly moving, thickly populated mess. Its easy to become carried away or cut off, which is intimidating.

With this though comes an air of excitement at the constant activity. Fortunately for my group, another trip consisting of 28 other Americans from all around the country have been here for the last semester, and one of them happens to share a residence with me and another girl in our group. Thus, I found myself on an unofficial tour of Rabat with tips and tricks to help us grow more accustomed. We met 5 other students who are studying with the same organization as us and we caught up with them after to grab juice at a local place.

The juice was incredible and the company enjoyable, it’s nice to have some friendly (English-speaking) faces around. The language barrier is proving to be a challenge as the Moroccan dialect varies immensely from the Arabic I have spent the last two years learning. French and a combination of French and dialect seem to be the languages of choice and unfortunately for me I find myself lacking knowledge of either.

I’m confident it’s something that can be overcome, however, and I have been informed my Arabic skills are to be put to the test by an adviser at the center we study at. The challenges presented by this trip honestly just make me more excited. Communicating with my host family is the current objective, but thus far we’ve been able to get by. The food here is exquisite and the mint tea is everything that was promised. Tomorrow we start our first lesson and I can’t wait to actually learn some of the history of this incredible place. In the meantime, it’s about 9:30 p.m. here and I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to try some of that aforementioned food for dinnertime, as dinner is later here to accommodate evening prayer. If it’s anything like lunch, I’m in for a treat just as if the rest of this trip is anything like today, I’m incredibly fortunate. This leap of faith has proven true thus far and the world has un-paused for what I hope will be an awesome experience.