Morocco

Morocco Off the Beaten Path

After day one of our trip to Morocco, we stopped following the provided itinerary.  Each day we would board the bus and drive until we found a farmer working close enough to the road for us to walk to them.  After a short introduction from our faculty advisor, the farmers were more than willing to tell us all about their life in agriculture.

img_0123-copyWe stopped a farmer working a horse drawn plow in a sugar beet field and learned about the irrigation systems, land ownership, and the risks of large scale farming without contracts.  Stopping along the road where a family was harvesting olives not only taught us various methods for olive harvest but also about family dynamics and small farm income diversity.  Each random stop taught us the agricultural practices we had planned on but, the personal connection with small groups of farmers taught us the political, social, and economic factors involved.  We continually traveled off the beaten track to markets and facilities that tourists were clearly a novelty to witness.  We even traveled to a nomad camp and learned about the minimalist life of a travelling, herding community.  These homes were made of sticks and cloth with ovens that were simply holes in the ground with a metal covering.  We were miles from civilization sharing tea and learning about the daily lives of a woman and her mother.IMG_0568 - Copy.JPGThe more we learned, the more I was thankful I had studied abroad instead of traveled independently.  Travelling with an advisor that spoke the language allowed me to understand the challenges and systems that shape life in Morocco.  The tourist days in cities and the desert were great photo opportunities but every story I came back with started along the side of a road with a farmer happy for an excuse to take a well deserved break.  I can always google better pictures of Morocco than I will ever be able to take personally but I have stories and connections like no one else in the world.  The personal connection is the difference between study abroad and personal travel.  The difference between witnessing a culture and letting that culture forever change you.

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Morocco

All in a Hard Day’s Work

Mechanization has not reached much of Morocco but the effects of that didn’t fully sink in until our stop with some farmers that were planting onion sprouts in their field.  We gathered around the family who eagerly welcomed us over and after a short introduction handed each of us bundles of onion sprouts and pointed towards the field.  img_0240-copyWe spread out among a few rows and began planting alongside the farmers.  The laughter didn’t stop from both sides as the farmers enjoyed the novelty of foreigners helping in their field and we enjoyed their kind praise of our sub-par work.  As we neared the end of our row, farmers and students paired up for pictures, each equally excited to capture the rare opportunity.  img_0244We finished our rows and took one more group picture before waving goodbye and piling back onto the bus.  As much fun as we had helping the farmers plant a few rows of onion sprouts, I never found a comfortable position to complete the task.  We only completed a few rows but I took multiple breaks to stretch my back and roll my neck.  As I looked down the field to see hundreds of hand planted sprouts, I couldn’t help but feel dismayed at their living situation.  This was their life for days on end every year of their lives.  Although we all enjoyed their enthusiasm as we “helped” them plant, they still had weeks of work doing the same back breaking work we only had a glimpse of.  Experiences like this strengthened my resolve to work for a worldwide difference.  I have the education to make a difference and there is no one more deserving than those who are struggling to simply survive.

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Morocco

Ships of the Desert

By Jenn

During my time in Morocco, I had the experience of a lifetime. In addition to learning about their agricultural networks, we participated in a variety of activities, such as visiting Roman ruins, exploring the markets of Fez, seeing the snow covered Atlas mountains, and a desert trip. We drove for a day to Er Rissani, with the land getting more and more desolate. Our bus pulled onto a bumpy dirt road that lead to a hotel, with the Sahara sand dunes towering in the background. We left our bags in the hotel, then walked towards our camel caravan, filled with excitement.

My camel was the leader of the entire pack,  as we went off into the desert. Sand stretched everywhere we could see, a beautiful contrast to the clear blue sky. I found the desert incredible, especially coming from the flat farmland of Central Illinois. After half an hour of riding our ships of the desert, we came to a stop in front of a giant sand dune. Everyone scrambled to the top, a feat much harder than it looks! Once on the top of the dune, we could see the camp where we would be spending the night below us, surrounded by the Sahara. We also found some snowboards, and took turns sledding down the mountain while we waited. Finally, our wait paid off, and the sun started to set, giving us an incredible view.

After the sunset, we went down to camp where we ate dinner, and were provided entertainment by Bedouin performers. We stayed for hours by the campfire, enjoying the music, good company, and view of the stars. The lack of sun provided for a chilly night! Most of us were wrapped in blankets and sweatshirts. Our tents were a short walk from the campfire, where we bundled up to sleep for the night. The next morning, we woke up early and again climbed a sand dune, this time to see the sun rise. After a quick breakfast, we climbed back on our desert ships to begin a new day.

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