Author: Garrett Gilmartin
Location: Rabat, Morocco
So my study abroad program is over and most people are headed back to the United States to see their family and friends and enjoy the summer, however that is not what I am doing. I am kickin’ off my summer by visiting some amazing people I have met throughout my time abroad. First I stopped in Madrid to leave a bag with a friend who teaches english there. Now I’m in the capital of Morocco, Rabat. After this I’ll make a stop in London then make my way home, but my time here in Morocco has been one of the most impactful trips of my life.
The first time I went to Morocco was through my study abroad program. My program group took a ferry, in the beginning of the semester, from the south of Spain to Tangier, a major port in Morocco and a beautiful lively city. We quickly hopped cities to see as many sites as possible, forts, Moorish and Roman ruins, markets, and such. We went from Tangier to Asilah and then Rabat. Rabat is large city but it is not filled with skyscrapers and pushy independent people. Rabat is filled with the usual banks and supermarkets but also street markets and friendly neighbors. We stayed overnight with families for two nights and it was a blast. The last day we had to leave to see Chefchaouen, the blue pearl of Morocco, but I didn’t want to leave my new friends in Rabat. Alas, I had to return for classes but I promised I would visit them soon.
Now, here I am in Morocco in the end of May. Every year around the world Islamic people fast until the sun goes down every day for a month. This year the month of Ramadan was May. I am now staying with the family that I had originally met on my first visit and I couldn’t feel more at home. I am constantly reminded by my host father here that I am family and that I will always have a place within their family. In addition, my Moroccan family is fasting for Ramadan and refuse to let me fast with them. Instead, much like the islamic children, the family still prepares food for me. Many islamic children do not fast until they are older so they do not get sick or impede physical growth and development. The Moroccans I have met all stay up until two or three in the morning on a normal day but when it’s Ramadan they stay up until four or five in the morning. This is because once the sun is down they prepare and eat a meal but this is not dinner. It tends to be dinner like food, however, my Moroccan sister tells me that it is the second meal around midnight or one in the morning that they call dinner. There are two meals because when fasting, Muslims can eat from when the sun goes down to the first of the five daily prayers. So, I eat way too much every night and drink copious amounts of mint tea, the Moroccan special.
Ramadan changes more than the time Muslims and Moroccans eat and sleep. Rabat has a beautiful beach that is usually full all day and clear by the time the sun is down. During Ramadan the beach is full all day and full all night as people gather on the beach to watch the sun set and then to eat, sing, and dance. I got to experience this right thanks to my wonderful Moroccan family who prepared amazing food and showed me how to drum a Moroccan beat on the table. Ramadan also changes people’s moods because it is meant to be a time of giving and generosity. Many stores or stands say something like “Ramadan generosity” but in Arabic, of course. I have truly never seen anything like Rabat.
Now as I prepare to leave I remember all the things people said to me before Morocco. “Isn’t it dangerous?” “If it’s Ramadan you’re going to starve!” “Are you sure that’s a good Idea?”. It’s obviously important to think about food and safety when travelling but it’s important to not jump to conclusions about places that we don’t have experience with or research on. Morocco is super safe and there are so many welcoming people. I highly recommend Rabat for future or current study abroaders, but to be more broad, a take away for students wanting to study abroad is that if you want to go somewhere different, and maybe even shocking culturally, DO IT! You never know what you will find and who you will meet. The more scared or hesitant you are about that kind of trip the more you miss out or don’t enjoy the trip if you end up going. Embrace culture! Embrace life! Go out there and live.