By Kaozara Oyalowo
By Kaozara Oyalowo
London – What about a story detailing a list of things you want to see in Morocco? Before coming to the country, I am sure you may have some expectations, craves, fears and stereotypes like everyone traveling to a new country. If this is a nice idea, you may list 10 things you think are worth mentioning.
As an Arabic and International Business student coming to Morocco to improve my Arabic in all its forms, spending a year abroad in a foreign country sounds exciting yet frightening. The idea is both daunting and thrilling at the same time. Although I have heard that the Moroccan dialect is one of the hardest Arabic dialects in the world, it will be fascinating to see how the language differs from region to region.
Learning the Arabic language hasn’t been an easy journey and people -especially Arabic speakers- often ask me “What are you doing?!” and they also say, “The language is hard.” Nonetheless, I believe it is a beautiful and enriching language to immerse oneself in. As I will be spending one year in the beautiful old town of Fes, I have made a list of things I’d like to see and do in Morocco as well as my one fear of coming to Morocco.
1. I am expecting to see how leather is made! The city of Fes is famous for its tanneries and remains one of the oldest in the world. The process of dying leather mainly in pigeon dung is popular in the city and the intricate quality leather products produced reflect the historic way of dying leather – I will definitely be purchasing a bag or two. People have been known to get lost in the labyrinth of the tanneries but I think it will be a good place to start exploring. However, a mint leaf or two may be in order as the tanneries are quite smelly.
2. One exquisite foundation I want to see is Al Quaraouiyine, the oldest university in the world, built by Fatima Al-Fihri in 859AD and still fully operating right in the city of Fes. My fascination with Al Quaraouiyine isn’t just because it is the oldest learning institute and it was built by a woman –which was unusual for that time– but rather, it is due to the fact that a place of extensive history of Medieval Islam still exist in the world today. Adorned by beautiful Andalusian art, the Quaraouiyine is definitely a must-see sight of wonder. Hopefully, I will be able to take a couple of classes there to sharpen up my knowledge on the doctrine of Islam.
3. As the celebration of Eid is centrally communal based and as a Muslim who has spent most of her life in a predominantly Christian country, I always hear people from Muslim countries say that Eid is best spent there. Eid is an Islamic celebration that happens twice a year: after the month of fasting and a sacrificial feast that honours Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son to God. This will be a memorable prospect to see, as my memories of growing up in Nigeria consisted of big Eid celebrations with family coming over, where you could practically smell the celebration in the air and even your non-Muslim neighbours joined in the celebration. I am excited to see whether the tradition is the same in Morocco and how it differs, if not.
4. One thing that frightened me from my readings on Morocco is the idea that racism still persists in the Arab community, especially against people of darker skin colour. As I am of a Nigerian descent with darker skin, I would pray that this is just a small part of a bigger community. Nonetheless, the people of colour that I know who have been to Morocco, have said that they felt welcomed and they really cherished their time in the beautiful country.
5. Having been to a couple of Moroccan restaurants during my first year of university, I’ll say that learning to cook traditional Moroccan food is definitely on my list of excitements as nothing compares to trying the delicacies of a country’s own made food. Moroccan cuisine is inspired by Middle Eastern, Andalusian, Mediterranean, Turkish and native Berber cuisine. Perhaps, learning first-hand how to cook a traditional tagine and couscous would be a fantastic way to engross myself in the Moroccan way of life. A girl has got to eat!
6. I remember typing ‘Morocco’ into google a couple of weeks after I found out that I would be spending a year there, and one of the searches it brought up was Chefchaouen, also known as Morocco’s blue city and found in the northwest of Morocco. From there, I fell in love and vowed to visit the city, perhaps because blue is my favourite colour and the idea of a whole city painted in just blue sounds magnificent. It will be very interesting to see if the blue of the whole city will prove just a bit too much even for a lover of the blue colour as myself but, I highly doubt this because I have read that the city is coated in all shades of blue along with fascinating architecture, hidden markets, and exquisite designs that look beautiful from every angle of the Moroccan landscape. I am also intrigued by the history of Chefcauoen and why the whole city is painted in blue.
7. From the previous students who have blessed us with their experience of Morocco, an overnight stay in the Moroccan desert has always been a favourite. Watching the sun rise and set whilst staying in a Bedouin tent and the opportunity to ride a camel through the desert seems like a picturesque idea. The visits to Erg Chebbi, Ait Ben Haddou, Dades Gorges and Ziz Valley are all things I am very much looking forward to; most especially Ait Ben Haddou, a place of early Moroccan architecture.
8. Despite the fact that I will be doing a home stay in Morocco, I would love to stay in a Riad; it just looks so beautiful with a fountain piece or mini garden sitting in the middle of the house. Luckily for me, a couple of my friends plan to stay in the traditional Moroccan home and I know for a fact that I will be spending time there soaking up the beauty of a traditional home and sipping mint tea on the terrace.
9. Finally, the markets are also on my list of things to explore and see. The hustle and bustle of each market selling their products; from elaborate Moroccan print to henna dye and fresh delicacies; surrounded by merchandisers trying to get you to buy their products and maybe a couple of snake charmers lingering in the corner. Visions of colourful spice pyramids, jewellery, lanterns, and geometrical tagine pottery (sold in every possible colour); someone giving out samples of Moroccan sweets whilst another plays the santir softly in the background as people converse, are all what I envision a typical day in a Moroccan market to be like.
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