Experiencing Real Culture Shock

Dani Langevin grew up Summit County, Colorado. Currently she is a junior at Colorado State University. Now it’s time for her to embark on my study abroad adventure with Semester at Sea for a four month journey around the world.

[Originally posted on November 13, 2013. To see more from Dani, check out her blog directly here.]

What a life changing experience! There was a whole new world at my fingertips, one I had not expected. All of the freedoms that I had ever known were taken away from me. I no longer had all of the freedoms that I do in America.

As soon as I stepped foot off the ship I had a different feeling and could sense that we were definitely in Africa. The streets were dirty with rubble everywhere. Stray cats and dogs run rampant through the alleys. Homeless people are begging on every corner. Being in Casablanca was a sad reality. Another one of my first observations were the gender inequalities. I felt as if the women in Morocco were incredibly suppressed. I understand that their culture is very different, which I respect, but on the other hand I find it hard to believe that they chose to live that way. Did I feel uncomfortable wearing clothes that were different than theirs? Yes. Did I adjust what I wore to fit in more? Of course.

The first day was by far the most uncomfortable day of my life thus far. People followed us. People yelled at us. People tried to take advantage of us as Americans. And most of all – people stared. One of our goals for the day was to see the Hassan II Mosque. I had no expectations for it, but was completely in awe once I had sized up the enormity of it. It is the 7th largest mosque and has THE largest minaret in the world. I look like an ant in a picture with it. Now trying to go inside turned into quite the adventure and is what I mean when I say we were yelled at. We first tried to follow some other people into an entrance and were yelled at in Arabic, so we backed away. Then someone pointed us towards another entrance which we were also yelled at for trying to enter (come to find out this was the men’s washroom). Then we tried to go in another entrance and finally encountered an English-speaking Moroccan who told us that visiting hours had been temporarily suspended for Adhan (call to prayer). Once we were able to go inside the mosque it was surreal. It is just one giant room with very high vaulted ceilings and rugs to pray on. To add on to the point I made earlier about the suppression of women, the women have to prayer in a closed off balcony of the mosque as to not distract the men while they are praying.

Another memorable experience of this day was a conversation I had with a Moroccan man at the medina (similar to a flea market, but much larger and secluded). I had looked around the corner into a little restaurant, although it wasn’t much of a restaurant, to see what they were selling and a man immediately invited me (and the two guys I was with) in. We were hesitant at first, but decided to see what they wanted and I’m glad we did. I talked to this man the entire time we ate our meal. What we ate was called crepes, but it was more like a thick, flavorless pancake with cheese on it. The Moroccan mint tea is to die for and the crepes weren’t all that bad either. But the point of this is the conversation with this man. The first thing he said to me when I sat down was – “here in Morocco we are not racist.” That’s an interesting way to start a conversation. We continued to talk about his country and he told us so many things to do/see/try while we were there. This just goes to show that you have to put a little trust in people because most people really do have good intentions.

I spent the rest of my trip on a camel trek through the Merzouga Desert. What I thought was going to be a nice drive to the desert turned out to be rather long. And what I mean by rather long is 12 hours. We (10 girls and our driver, Ebraheim) basically got to see the entire country by van on our way to the desert. As miserable as the drive was, the night in the desert was so worth it!

We met up with our “camel drivers” before Ebraheim left us to them for the night. Ebraheim was also the name of our camel driver. He’s from a Burbur nomad family, but left his family to work as a camel trek guide. As the van drove away I got my first glimpse of a camel – and I was going to ride it! I wish I could explain to you how nervous I was to even get close to it. I guess it’s kind of like the first time you ride a horse, except for the fact that it’s an “exotic” animal that most Americans have never seen.

Getting on the camel was thrilling! The way they stand up is like nothing I had ever experienced. You have to be very ready for a lot of forward and backward jolting as they stand up on their knobby-kneed legs. We walked about halfway into the desert before stopping to watch the sunset. Desert sunsets totally trump mountain and beach sunsets! The colors were incredible! After the sunset we rode our camels through dusk until we found the Burbur nomad camp that had been set up for us for the night. That night was dreamlike! Ebraheim and another guide cooked us a traditional Moroccan dinner of bread, soup, a tajine of veggies/chicken, fruit, and of course Moroccan mint tea (aka Moroccan rum). We danced the night away to their drumming. The stars in the middle of the desert are brighter than any other stars I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of shooting stars I had seen. Unreal. That night we had very rustic sleeping arrangements. We slept on the blankets that had been on our camels backs in these little tents at the nomad camp. In the morning we woke up bright-and-early for breakfast and a desert sunrise. Jimi Hendrix (my camel) so graciously took me back out of the desert to where our van driver was waiting for us. The whole experience was amazing! I’m not sure I would ride a camel again (it’s very uncomfortable), but it’s a bucket list item. Check. The dancing and night sky in the Burbur village will be a night to remember.

Another painfully long day of driving awaited us and 10 hours later we arrived in Fes. Sadly we got there too late to do anything, but a shower and a nice bed in a hostel was very welcome.

As for the first country of real adventure, I’d say it was a success.

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