I've had just about a month now to reflect over my few days spent in Morocco. Numerous coffee dates have offered me the chance to re-visit my travels and share what I have learned with friends. Aside from questions about the food, one of the most asked things is what the people are like in Morocco.
There seems to be a lot of grey area on the internet (and in real life) about what the people living in Morocco are really like. I totally bought into some of the fear before my trip there, but can completely dismiss those doubtful feelings after spending time with them myself.
I will say this: Morocco is not for the faint of heart. I saw some things I don't think everyone would be comfortable with -- or desire to see on vacation. I'm not trying to sell the country as the perfect place for your next cool vacation. My aim is to instead give an honest perspective about what I observed in the streets of the Kasbah and markets of the Medina, how it impacted my thinking and what it taught me that has stuck.
It's so amazing how much you can learn from a country in the short period of time. I can't imagine what I would have learned if I stayed my original course of the trip and spent the entire week there, but I feel like I made the most of my time there. Sometimes a place has such a profound pull on your heartstrings that you can't help but be influenced.
People are inherently good.
Sure, staring across the Strait of Gibraltar with no idea what awaited us in Tangier was a bit frightening. I'm not one to take huge risks, and as I stared out from the shoreline of Tarifa the lies about the dangers of Morocco seemed to be clouding more of my vision. Upon our arrival the next morning, I could sense my travel partner was tense too. we had no idea where we were going, how to get there or how to communicate with people effectively. When a man approached us after we exchanged our currency and offered to show us the way to our hostel, I decided to take a chance on him and allow his help since we were clearly not confident in what we were doing. His name was Miloud, and we ended up spending the entire day with him. We walked the streets of the kasbah and medina, learning about his family and hearing about why the city meant so much to him. Of course there were a handful of people peddling things and trying to offer us something we had no intention of buying, but if you keep to yourself and are respectful about the culture you are surrounded in, most people won't give you any trouble (other than the "Oh look... an American..." stare.)
You never know if you don't try.
I ate a pastry with chicken on the inside and a mix of powder sugar on the outside. And you know what? It. Was. Awesome. Probably one of the tastiest things I had while I was there, and I've looked up a few recipes to cook at home. Moral of that story: try things. Try everything! You can't keep saying "no" to opportunities and expecting the world to give you a "yes!" moment. If you aren't going to put yourself out there, you aren't going to get any bait back. Everything in Morocco was new to me, and I'm beyond thankful I was so out of my comfort zone! It wasn't glamorous while I was there (queue me sitting in a "fast food" restaurant with no makeup on and sand in my damp swimsuit, trying to eat a tuna pizza that I THOUGHT was going to be vegetable) but it made me grow so much more as a person. The one reason I consistently hold back from trying new things is because of my anxiety of the unknown, but in Morocco I had no choice. Sometimes, the most uncomfortable things are the most rewarding and fond memories we have. Because in uncomfortable moments we look to three things for support: camaraderie, Jesus, or the beauty of the world around us.
Communication is a feeling.
One of the most humbling moments for me was during my time in the medina with Miloud. We were standing outside of a bakery, which I wouldn't have even seen had it not been for him abruptly pointing inside a skinny little door carved out of the cement. As we listened to our guide talk about bakeries and their daily routine, I noticed a sweet woman just barely pulling back a curtain near the doorway to peek out at us. Our eyes locked and I smiled at her; she returned a sweet smile, the motion so slight that no one else would have seen it had they not been focusing solely on her. Communication isn't always speaking clearly to with people who understand your own language. Sometimes communication is in the look of someone's eye as you say something they agree with, other times it's in the gesture of a taxi cab driver who is trying to explain you are passing by a gold course by swinging an invisible club as he drives. Communication can be a laugh shared between people who maybe have everything in common, or maybe have nothing in common except that feeling in the pit of their stomachs that they are on a marvelous adventure.
Appreciation for the lifestyles of others is essential.
Appreciate the culture and ways other people live, but not only while you are in a foreign country. The appreciation of culture is essential to your daily life as well. It is essential to understanding how people behave, knowing how to communicate appropriately with one another and most importantly being happy with the world around you. It's much easier to dismiss a relationship with someone based on cultural differences, but if you take a path toward understanding and try to pursue a friendship, you can become open to a whole new world around you. Too often do we throw out other cultures and deep our own culture the norm. I found that tolerance grows as you spend time with people who live a life so different from your own.
While the trip was short, the memories are stronger as ever. All I have to do is flip through my camera roll, shuffle my Morocco playlist on Spotify or remember a smile I shared with someone while I was there, and I am transported back to a brief time of unrelenting doubt and sweet freedom.