This blog entry will read a little different than my ‘normal’ Specific Destination blogs. I could write about our experiences at the Jemma el Fna, staying at the luxurious villas of the Hotel Es Saadi, visiting the Bahia Palace, our day trip to the Atlas Mountains and Berber villages, playing at the Oasis Waterpark, riding camels and donkeys, being transported through time by the majestic ruins of the Badii Palace and beauty of the Saadian Tombs, but I feel our overall adventure in this city was larger than just the places that we visited. The adventure happened within each of us and we returned to NYC changed global citizens. This transformation even occurred in 6-yr-old Charles, who benefited most with this adventure.
The everyday sights of the city reminded me of the clash between old world and modernity, tradition and an influx of tourism, and religious and secular life. The Arabic prayers from the mosque echo through the narrow streets 5 times a day. Men ride donkeys pulling carts full of fruit, hay or cinderblock while talking on their cell phones. A woman in spaghetti straps and a mini skirt waits for the bus next to a woman whose only visible part are her eyes.
For two weeks, we ate Moroccan food, soaked up the culture, indulged in very touristy activities and had the privilege to get real insight into the native culture.
Traveling to Morocco was a trip Charles will not soon forget. At age 6, Charles’ understanding of the world and “otherness” expanded with our adventure to Marrakesh. Charles was exposed to other children’s lifestyles and for the first time realized that not everyone lived like he did. Socio-economics and cultural diversity plainly played out in front of him. His eyes were glued to the colorful scenes before him, fascinated with passing children, the bustling city, ornate jellabas covering women head-to-toe, and the souks’ artisans dying fabric, making leather, metal lanterns and jewelry.
Experience is powerful learning. The questions about lifestyle, poverty, and necessity for survival began when an 8-year-old boy led our mules up the hillside in the Atlas Mountains. Charles wanted to know if this was his job and why wasn’t he in school. He was intrigued with the outdoor butcher shops and markets set up in a field, which is drastically different from a disconnected Dean and Deluca or Whole Foods experience.
And after our generous driver/tour guide, Brahim, invited us to his home for tea, Charles was surprised to find out that his entire extended family all lived in the same home. Charles was amazed that Brahim’s 3-year-old daughter shared a room with her parents, has only a single small box of toys and one stuffed animal (compared to Charles’ hundreds of beloved stuffies).
Although we live in NYC, where Charles is exposed to various socio-economic groups and cultures on a simple walk home from school through the lower east side and past the Bowery Mission, but the depth of the separation between his lifestyle and others was never so clear until after this remarkable trip to Morocco. I’ve walked away from this trip with an appreciation for those I love, the extraordinary opportunities that I have, and the knowledge that my daily actions can benefit those less fortunate in my own community.
One of my French friends calls Morocco the ‘Disneyland of the Arabic countries.’ If that is the case, this ‘Disneyland’ has blown me away and I have spent the last 2 weeks on my own fantastical magic carpet ride. This city is surreal. Between the labyrinth of souks, hysteria of negotiation, snake charmers and monkey performers, sheep riding motorcycles, donkey parking lots, the hustling and seemingly chaotic streets, hearing 7 different languages on a single street corner and an almost palpable earnestness for survival, this city hands-down is one of the most intriguing locations that I have ever visited.