Morocco: Reflections from Leaders
It’s hard to choose our favorite things after spending a month in Morocco with our group last summer. It was such a unique experience, full of once-in-a-lifetime moments. But here are some of our favorite memories as a group that we’ll never forget.
Even though there are countless people who made our stay memorable, there are definitely some that stand out. One of them: Simo. He is the oldest son of the Sheik (or community leader) who hosts us in his family’s house. Simo worked with us as our guide during our stay in the High Atlas Mountains and helped us in every way he could. He also volunteered to teach our group Arabic Moroccan after dinner and always made us laugh with his dancing and good humor.
One day, Simo will inherit the title of Sheik from his father and will have the duty of representing and solving problems for his community, which includes the semi-nomadic communities that come in the summer from the Sahara.
Freedom the Donkey
From all the animals we saw and met during our program, Freedom the donkey has a special place in our hearts!
We couldn’t have completed our three-day trek through the High Atlas Mountains without him, as he carried our drinking water and led the way. Always up for pets, scratches, or grass snacks, Freedom is cared for by Ahmed, who met Freedom when he was just a baby donkey.
Even though we saw horses, camels and goats, donkeys are common work animals in Morocco as they are strong, kind, and can tolerate the high temperatures in the summer and the snow in the winter. Freedom, like many donkeys in the HIgh Atlas Mountains, has his own special stable in the last floor of Ahmed’s house.
Our favorite way of understanding some of Morocco’s traditions was through learning about rugs, blankets, and house decorations that are made by women in the communities. When we visited a local women’s cooperative, we learned that young girls start using the loom and learning from their mothers at 10 years old or younger. From getting the wool from the sheep, to washing it in the river, dyeing it with natural colors, threading it, and then weaving it in traditional designs, young girls are right there with their mothers learning how to do it themselves to make sure this tradition carries on from generation to generation. These women are in charge of imprinting the traditional symbols, images, and stories of the Moroccan culture in textiles that last centuries.
Our favorite time of the day was always tea time. And lucky for us, it actually happens twice a day: mid-morning (before lunch) and mid-afternoon (before dinner). It didn’t matter if we were trekking in the mountains or at the Sheik’s house, the set up is always the same. With fine silver tea pots, little cups, cubes of sugar, and mint tea, it was a time we truly enjoyed while eating bread and olive oil. Custom dictates that the higher the tea is poured from, the more the guests are respected and welcomed. A few times during our stay we also enjoyed saffron tea from the area. A delicate flower that can only be harvested during a specific temperature at dusk or dawn proved to be a delicacy in this region that we were lucky to try. We learned that true, high-quality saffron will turn yellow as soon as it touches water.
When asked about our favorite colors in Morocco, everyone had a different answer. Blue skies, pink terracotta buildings, olive green leaves, and teal tiles are a common sight in Marrakech. Unless you are visiting the Majoqrelle Gardens, in which case you’ll be marveling at the bright royal blue, even brighter yellow doors and windows, and green from the cactus gardens that surround it.
A different palette of colors comes up when traveling to Essouaira, where the white buildings come alive with the bright colored doors and the blue fishing boats against the blue sky on the pier. No matter which city you are visiting in Morocco, when you visit the markets or subs, you’ll find little hills of vibrantly colored spices, nuts, rugs, and leather shoes in almost every color. A truly unique experience for the senses!