One of the reasons I chose the IES Granada program was because, due to its close proximity to the African border, the director of the program carries out a five-day excursion to Morocco for the students! This trip is great for several reasons – it gives students an opportunity to travel to another country with their program (everything is planned out for us), and we are able to learn about a completely new culture. At IES this semester, I have been taking a course titled “Islamic Civilization in Spain and North Africa” – and the trip to Morocco was a perfect opportunity to see and compare the Islamic communities of Spain and Morocco.
Unfortunately, on the way to Morocco, I started becoming very sick and almost didn’t make it on the ferry to Morocco. However, friends helped and I made it. The first few days I wasn’t able to do much. I was bummed that I was bed-ridden in my Moroccan homestay and couldn’t go to the excursions planned out for us – like a discussion about immigration and migration, and a visit to the hammam – the communal Arabic baths that local Moroccans use for maintaining hygiene. On the fourth day, I felt so much better – and was so glad that I had at least one full day to explore the culture!
We boarded the bus and headed to the Rif Mountains, a mainly mountainous stretch in Northern Morocco. When we arrived, we took a short walk to a rural home.There, we were greeted by a family – a husband and his wife, and two small children. They welcomed us into their quaint home and served us an abundance of food – all that was grown, cultivated, and cooked by the father and mother. We learned that the father grows everything that they eat – barley, chic peas, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes – the list goes on. I was extremely impressed that the father sustains his family solely through his own agriculture. We also learned the mother is an amazing cook – she creates all of her breads and pastries by herself using the stove that’s outside their home.
They served us tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, and a huge platter of couscous – which is a wheat topped with vegetables. After lunch was served, the husband and wife sat down. Our group was able to have a conversation with them about what rural life in Morocco is like. Our translator, Nada, was able to allow a perfect question-and-answer forum for each side. Our discussion ranged from health care accessibility, technology, education, and a typical day in the Rif Mountains. We learned that the closest hospital is 45 minutes away in Chefchaouen, so rural families must plan several days ahead transportation to the city if they need more intense care. The local school is about a kilometer away from their home. They explained that just like how we have carpooling in the U.S., they do too. One family will walk the children to school, and the neighboring family will walk the children home.
We got to ask them many questions, but my favorite questions that one of my classmates asked was how they met. The husband laughed when the question was asked. The story went like this: He and his friends went wedding crashing. At the wedding, he saw a woman that he though was absolutely beautiful. He thought that day, “She will be my wife.” That evening, he learned what village she was from. The next day, he went to the supermarket that her father owned and where she worked. He picked up a Coke, took it to her cash register, and bought it. He then asked her for two glasses. He poured the Coke into two glasses and he insisted that they must have a date right there in the grocery store. At first she resisted, but finally she gave in. That day, he asked her to marry him. They have now been married 11 years!
I loved hearing this story because it reminded me that despite the differences I think of when comparing my American life to their Moroccan life, there is a sense of humanness that persists no matter where you go. Their love story is not too different from others that I’ve heard. Their daily struggles are not that different from stories I’ve heard in the U.S. And I think that once we see that there are many things that “aren’t that different” from people who we think are so different from us, we will be able to see how much humanity has in common and how that commonness can work for the better good.