Sunday, March 2, 2014

What I Wish You Knew about Morocco (Peace Corps Week special)

In honor of Peace Corps Week, current and returned volunteers worldwide have been asked to share messages on the theme of "What I wish Americans knew about my host country." It's been over half a year since I returned to the US (cannot believe how quickly the time has flown!) and hardly a day goes by where I don't reflect about my life in Morocco, compare cultural differences, or think about some of the lessons that I gained over my two years. So in honor of Peace Corps Week, I thought I might share some of the key things I learned.

Let's start with some basic ones:

1. Morocco was the FIRST (yes, first!) country to recognize American independence, and has signed the longest unbroken peace treaty with the United States in American history. Moroccans are very proud of this relationship; it's something that I heard from friends and strangers almost every day.

Moroccan children hanging with Mrs. Clinton at the Embassy.

2. It's not just deserts! From rolling hills to snow-covered mountains, massive forests covered in cork trees to oceanside resorts, rocky plains to yes, the Sahara desert, the country has some of the most diverse landscapes that I have ever seen.

From Tangier, to the Sahara desert, to the snow-capped Atlas mountains.

A few that dig a bit deeper:

3. Moroccans are literally the most hospitable people that I have ever met. There's a reason that Moroccans all call each other "brother" and "sister" within just a few minutes of meeting. It is so common to meet someone on the street, ask for directions, and all of the sudden a few minutes later you find yourself on the way to their house for tea and then dinner and you are meeting the full extended family. During my Peace Corps training, I was warned not to compliment someone too heavily on an item, because they would surely try to give it to me - this happened several times when I forgot! This isn't to say that people don't have arguments or issues amongst each other, but there is something deeply inherent in the culture and religion to be open, generous, and hospitable towards others.

Justin and I with our Moroccan family.

4. As the US is an incredibly diverse country, so is Morocco. Morocco is primarily a Muslim country (about 99% identify as Muslim) but I observed an incredible diversity in people's perspectives and views - some are what we might call more conservative, some more progressive. I saw many women dressing in a western style, many others fully covered, and pretty much everything in between. The Moroccan Arabic language is most commonly spoken but the accents and vocabulary change between every community and region in the country. And that's not to mention the parts of the country heavily influenced by the Spanish and French, and an incredibly rich history - Morocco has some of the most beautiful Roman ruins in the African continent.

Roman ruins in Volubilis.

5. The word "inshallah" is a defining aspect of Moroccan life. It means "If Allah wills it" and comes into play when thinking about everything from plans for a meal, to an upcoming trip, to meeting a future husband or wife, even about death. It means accepting that God works in mysterious ways and is in control of plans. But interestingly enough, there is a line in the Koran that says that while God is in control of plans, people must still put in a strong effort and work hard and will be rewarded. 

A group of students in our job skills training class.

And one last one that's kind of fun:

6. Maybe you have heard of argan oil? It has now become famous in the US and is included in all sorts of cosmetics, and pure argan oil is extremely expensive. You might not know about the traditional method of extracting argan oil, and here's where it gets fun. Goats in Morocco climb the argan trees. The goats then eat the argan nut. The nut passes through the goats, the waste matter is gathered and the argan oil is then extracted from it. So this expensive, famous, extravagant cosmetic... is derived from goat poo. I can't make this up.

Goats in trees! Where argan oil begins :)


1 comment:

  1. you are wrong about the goats thing, it's argan oil, the nuts are roasted and directly smashed to extract oil

    a Moroccan from Casablanca

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