by Janelle Commerford
Traveling to Marrakech, Morocco during my time abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The trip opened my eyes to a completely different culture, religion, and way of life. Marrakech is like no other place I’ve ever been before. It was the very first time I ever experienced culture shock, but I made lifelong friends, and I scored some awesome souvenirs in the souk.
Throughout my adventures abroad I have gained so much knowledge of the world itself, but Morocco was like no other country I have ever visited. Marrakech is by far the most adventurous and different city I’ve ever been to.
Instead of coffee shops there are fresh squeezed orange juice huts. Instead of people trying to sell you selfie-sticks, people are encouraging you to henna your hands. Instead of people wrapped up like mummies on sidewalks, people are charming python snakes. Everywhere I went I was in amazement.
I traveled to Marrakech with a student travel company, so all of the other individuals on my trip were study abroad students. My schedule was jam packed with activities. I rode a camel into the Sahara Desert, hiked the Atlas Mountains, enjoyed tea in a Berber House, haggled in the Souk, and tasted some of the most amazing food ever.
Before my trip to Marrakech my parents were hoping that I would cancel, and I can see why. I was traveling to Africa during one of the deadliest epidemics in history. However, I am so happy that I did not obey their requests. But truthfully, I was a little bit nervous about traveling to a third world country.
So many aspects of the city pleasantly surprised me. The people were so incredibly kind and helpful, and shopping in the souk is an experience all on its own. The souk is Marrakech’s market and it is pretty much an Anthropologie, but everything is handmade and 80% off. You can bargain all you want and roam around until you find exactly what you want. After negotiating a price you and a shop owner agree upon, the shop owner invites you to have mint tea with him/her.
When I made my first purchase (Moroccan pashminas) in the souk, the clerk invited me to have tea with him in the room above his shop. I automatically thought, “No way am I going to have tea with this man in a secluded room in his shop.” Scenes from the film Taken were running through my head as I politely declined. Later that night while eating chicken pastilla (a traditional Moroccan dish) in Jemma el-Fnaa, which is Marrakech’s main square, I told the group about how the man had invited me for tea. Our leader, a local, told me that the gesture was normal and a custom that all locals accepted while shopping in the souk.
One time I was haggling with a clerk over a Moroccan Wedding Blanket, which is a beautiful white blanket with rose water-dyed fringe, mirror sequins, and embroidered with silver thread. It is traditional for a woman to wear one of these blankets over her shoulders in Morocco during her wedding. Anyway, the shop owner and I were bargaining with each other for about 10 minutes before agreeing on 900 dirhams, which is about 90 US dollars, and a total steal. The clerk said that I bargained harder than his grandma and that I was a Berber woman! (Berber is a tribe that still exists in Northern Africa whose women apparently come into the city and bargain very well).
My trip to Marrakech was by far my favorite during my time abroad. It opened my eyes to so many different aspects of life and ways of living. I know that Morocco isn’t exactly a very popular journey that study abroad students embark on, but I would totally recommend it to students abroad and anyone that has the itch to travel to an amazing destination.