The following photo essay was contributed by Spring 2014 participant Sidney Tolo. A student at Northeastern University, Sidney has just returned from a semester abroad in Morocco on AMIDEAST Education Abroad’s Arabic and Area Studies program. Below, she reflects on some highlights of her time in Morocco.
One of our first AMIDEAST trips was to a local artisan association, where we saw everything from pottery and basket weaving to woodcarving and this tile work. All over Morocco there are grand archways and beautifully tiled communal washbasins, so casually integrated into the community. Seeing things like this every day really made me appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into the things around us. Artisans like this have been around for centuries and I love that in Morocco, people still support local artists.
Marrakech is a wonderfully busy city. The main square, Jema’a Al Fna, is like one big show Morocco puts on for the tourists of what they believe Morocco should look like. There are snake charmers, monkeys, people playing traditional music, spices and dried fruits for sale and cheap, delicious orange juice stands. At night the square fills with food stands and the music grows louder. The surrounding medina sells anything and everything, and bargaining is easier when you use a few key phrases in Darija, the local dialect. But my favorite part of Marrakech was off the main roads, beyond the craziness of the main square. A local boy had shown a friend and me around his neighborhood, the Melah- the Jewish Quarter. We visited the one synagogue and then went to the boy’s uncle’s fish shop for lunch. There was a table that barely fit the two of us, but as other gathered for lunch we managed to squeeze a couple more people at the table. The uncle and the other men openly talked about religion and their outlook on life as the sardines sizzled in the pan. It was this moment that made me realize wandering out of your comfort zone can lead to extraordinary places hidden in plain sight.
Coming from Minnesota, one of the things I was most excited for was ocean. All along the coast in Rabat there is a path, perfect for biking and walking. Winter brings the biggest waves, which are perfect for surfing. As a goal for my semester I wanted to find a new hobby and after seeing how many surf shops lined the beach, I decided on surfing. The cold weather kept the beach relatively empty, but with a wetsuit I was ready to take on my new hobby. Challenging at first, I quickly fell in love with surfing. Every wave is different and the feeling of bobbing on the water as you wait for your next wave is so relaxing. As the weather grew warmer, I talked some of the other AMIDEAST student into joining the club. The beach got busier too, with sand drawn soccer fields and popcorn and coffee vendors. Surf season was slowly ending, and so was my time in Rabat.