• Mikaela Boelkins

Beyond Home Base

As many know, my language program is located in Rabat–––the capital of Morocco, the city of King Mohammed VI. And within Rabat, I attend a school where I learn Arabic each Monday-Friday from the morning to early afternoon. Luckily, the school provides plenty of extracurricular opportunities, from cultural-exchange events with Moroccan foster children to learning to cook authentic Moroccan dishes. However, when it comes to getting a full cultural experience in Morocco, you can’t just stay in Rabat. My school agrees; hence, we take weekend excursions to various Moroccan cities. Besides, Morocco is the California of Africa. From Bouznika’s caramel beaches to Chefchaouen’s indigo medina nestled in the mountains, the ever-changing terrain never gets old. Traveling in a bus with approximately 1½ feet of leg room does get old, but it’s merely the arduous shoveling in uncovering a chest of glistening treasures.

During our third weekend in Morocco, aka last weekend (July 6/7), we went to Casablanca and Marrakesh. Chances are one of these cities sounds familiar. Indeed, Casablanca was the classic 1942 American drama about an American expatriate, Rick Blaine, who owns a nightclub in the city of Casablanca, discovers his old love Ilsa is in town with her husband, Victor Laszlo. Moreover, Laszlo is an infamous rebel, and with Nazis on his tail, Ilsa figures Rick can help them get out of the country. Nonetheless, having been shot in Burbank, CA, the classic American film is only related to the city of Casablanca by namesake. On the other hand, Marrakesh is the hottest center for tourism in Morocco in that it is both the most visited city in the country and regularly reaches temperatures upwards of 90°F/40-50°C. But hey, I’m a Floridian, it’s just usual summer weather.

When I visited Casablanca, I wasn’t particularly excited. The sky was grey upon arriving to the city, and the areas we drove past looked somber and depressing given the weather. Nevertheless, I was absolutely blown away by the Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in Africa with the world’s tallest minaret at 689ft. The mosque sits aside the Atlantic Ocean on a promontory, “God’s throne on water,” and can hold 25,000 prayers inside the mosque hall and 80,000 prayers on the mosque’s outside ground. Its beauty is indescribable. Every inch of the mosque is crafted as intricately as the next, with the most beautiful colors and designs, all derived from nature. It’s a must-go for every human. Pictures simply don’t do it justice.

Full of vibrancy from the beginning with its dusty terracotta-colored walls made of clay, Marrakesh was right up my alley. Jemaa al Finaa, Marrakesh’s notable marketplace, was the best American farmer’s market multiplied by fifty. Never was there a dull moment in the famous city square. But shopping in the souks of Jemaa al Finaa and the surrounding medina is an animal of its own. Moroccans are welcoming and full of hospitality, but they’re also always looking to make a quick dirham. It seems as if Moroccans who grow up in the souk are intrinsically gifted salespeople. Even in Rabat, the souk vendors are savants at surcharging foreign tourists, but in Marrakesh, all foreign tourists should know that there is an awfully high chance any deal presented is a complete rip-off. Still, I felt a calling to buy from Morocco’s tourist hub, and nothing held me back from doing just that.

But this past weekend has been my favorite thus far. I don’t know what I expected when I visited Tangier, but wow, what a stunning coastal city it was. As I looked into the deep cyan of the Strait of Gibraltar, I was mesmerized. An entirely different culture and language in Spain was only 20 miles–­–a ferry ride––away. The seamless integration of the walls of Roman Tingis into the rapidly developing Tangier also caught my eye. Although, the Caves of Hercules were my favorite spot, with a significance earlier than the birth of mankind spanning from Greek mythology to the British rock group Def Leppard, who played a concert in the cave (pretty cool if you ask me). Whether the port of a notable empire or the creative playground of eccentric artists and writers, I enjoyed adding my morning experience to Tangier’s extensive and diverse history.

Chefchaouen proved to be even more than just a blue Instagram aesthetic. Not only is it the most gorgeous town in all of Morocco (I’m pretty confident that it outweighs the competitors I haven’t yet been), covered in hundreds of variations of the color blue to ward off mosquitos, but it’s nestled rather high up in the mountains. As a teenage girl who lives in a very altitude-deprived state, I live for being at great elevations. Additionally, my NSLI-Y group stayed in a lovely, quaint hotel entitled Puerta Azul that had the cutest Chefchaouen-themed rooms and objectively the best service ever (especially during breakfast). To put it simply: it’s one of the many Moroccan cities that must be seen. Everything is innately artistic in the Blue City of Chefchaouen.

I enjoyed both of my weekend excursions, but I longed to get back to Rabat after our activities ceased. Strange that a city that was once so unfamiliar to me has become so much more routine and comfortable, even whilst living in the most hectic, culturally-different region of the city. Sunday marked the halfway point of my cultural, language-learning journey in Morocco. Quite frankly, it’s mind-boggling to think that my group and I have been in this gorgeous country for over three weeks. And on that note, there is something special about the friendships I have developed here in Morocco through NSLI-Y. It seems as if I have known these people for months, if not, years. They’re a group of very unique individuals who together share a fresh breath of ideas and perspectives. They’re amazing, and I’m so thankful that NSLI-Y has given me the experience of a lifetime. I will miss Rabat and my friends dearly, but luckily there’s still more time to develop friendships, explore the city, and venture beyond home base.

Thanks for staying with me on this journey.

*My WiFi in Morocco fails to live up to the lightning fast speeds back home, so I apologize that I have not been able to post any pictures. There will be a gallery very soon with the entire mass of pictures taken in Morocco, so please wait for me! I promise it will be awesome.

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