Kirsten Read was a Content Intern for Lydali this past summer. She is a fourth year student at the University of California, Berkeley studying Peace and Conflict Studies with a concentration in Human Security and she studied Political Science at l'Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Lyon, France last semester. She snatched up every opportunity to travel while abroad, and this post is about her five-day trip to Morocco and her experiences and beautiful things she found there.
I knew I wanted to study abroad even before my first day of classes at the University of California, Berkeley. As most people who grow up in a small town can understand, I have a strong connection to my one-stoplight hometown and my family in the foothills of Northern California, but from the moment I graduated high school I had a sense that it was time to leave the things that were comfortable and familiar to me because there was a lot of the world that I hadn't seen or experienced, and that went far beyond my university. Since my flight to Lyon, France, I have had the privilege to discover that almost everything I do and experience while I am abroad and traveling has taught me something new or made me see things in a way I would have never considered otherwise. Drinking mint tea from a traditional Moroccan tea set in an open-air tent in the middle of the Sahara or having the opportunity to enter a mosque on the coastline of Casablanca are experiences that are far outside my everyday life, and have opened my eyes to things I would have never seen.
When our plane touched down in Marrakesh I was equal parts nervous and excited. It's kind of a universal feeling; everyone has experienced the anticipation when they are about to jump into something new. I knew I had never seen anything like the things I was about to see. After my friend and I got settled with the people we were staying with in the new medina (city center), we took a rickety taxi to the old medina to meet up at the hostel our other friends were staying at.
The first thing I noticed when we stepped out of the taxi was the color. Even though night had fallen, the souks (open-air markets) were burning with color. Vendors lined the dirt road we strolled down, calling things out to the people walking by as buyers haggled for the best prices. Blankets were spread out everywhere offering detailed lanterns blazing with candles, and steam billowed from the nearby food vendors. It was a kind of energy I had never been part of before.
This same kind of color and energy is present in everything I was able to get my hands on in Morocco. The restaurants and street vendors we found wandering through dirt paths winding through the souks offered food with spices that added so much flavor and color. I ate Tajine (a historically Berber dish from North Africa that is named after the special earthenware pot in which it is cooked) for literally every meal that I ate in Marrakesh because it had the hearty feeling of a stew I would eat at home, with spices that made it very traditionally Moroccan. I also had the great pleasure of drinking Moroccan tea for every meal, which is a traditional blend of gunpowder green tea and fresh mint leaves. One thing that Morocco taught me was the importance of taking great pride in simple traditions; there is a very specific way of preparing and pouring the tea that is fundamental, and many social and business interactions take place over a pot of tea. A friend I was with drank tea with one of the vendors in the back of his shop after closing a deal with him. Sometimes it is the most basic things that add the most color to a culture.
At first, I had to get used to vendors who were selling everything from lanterns to tea sets to leather goods to spices calling out to our group in the streets, and haggling in French with the five different taxi drivers that inevitably approached my friend and I every time we needed a ride between the old and new medinas, but I allowed myself to adapt to this new kind of energy and learned to navigate it successfully. Needless to say my friend and I always paid good prices for taxis, and I left Morocco with a beautiful camel-leather weekender bag and bracelets for all of my friends laid with stone and with a charm of the hand of Mohamed's daughter, a popular feature in the jewelry we found.
While enthusiasm and energy were a big part of my social interactions in Marrakesh, I got the sense that Moroccan culture is never too rushed or worried. We decided to take a camel tour during our stay in Marrakesh, and the car ride from the city to the start of the desert where we could ride the camels was a long one. I spent a lot of the time during the ride in the van our group was in staring out of the window at all of the tiny towns we passed. I saw so many people walking along the street or just sitting in groups watching the world go by or drinking tea. There was a point where I asked myself "What are all of these people doing with their time?" Then I took a moment to wonder why I had asked that question. As someone who grew up in a society where we feel like we have to constantly be productive, it struck me as odd that that people could do seemingly nothing with their time and be happy with that. One of the most important things that experiencing a piece of Moroccan culture taught me is take a few minutes to do "nothing". It's interesting the way different cultures view the way they use their time, and I have taken note since being in Morocco to sit quietly and enjoy my tea a little more often.
There is a multiplicity to each experience, each picture, and each object, and that is what makes the world beautiful. It has been important to me, during my time abroad, to explore everything from all angles, learning the good and the bad, the similarities and the differences. That is one thing that attracted me to Lydali. Each product you wear or decorate your home with has a story, and buying products from vendors you can know on a better level creates a connection between you and the maker that you would not have otherwise felt.
Similarly, by exploring the cities that I have visited in a manner that is a little different, a little less obvious, has allowed me to see each aspect of the city, and get to know the people who live, travel, and work there on a deeper level. I have been to six countries thus far during my time abroad, and each one is distinctly different in culture, but I have never failed to shock myself with how much commonality there is in the world as well. By being curious about both the similarities and differences, I have learned and experienced things I never would have been able to dream of before, and I feel a profound respect for each person that has touched my life during my journey thus far.