A Variety of Cultural Experiences

Last Saturday my class went to visit the ruins of Volubilis. It used to be a part of the Roman Empire, although the Romans never imposed one of their own to rule the people there. The ruins were beautiful, and it was amazing to see all of the structures that are still intact several thousand years after they were originally built. It was fascinating to see how the structures actually varied depending on where they were located in the town. Archaeologists have identified that the houses closer to the water source and political and religious buildings belonged to wealthier people of higher class considering they needed easier access to all of the important parts of town. After Volubilis we went to Moulay Idriss Zerhoun to eat lunch, and it was amazing. We were provided with loaves of fresh bread, a “mixed salad” that was actually just chopped up tomatoes and onions, grilled eggplant, fried potato pieces, and, of course, grilled meat that was very delicious. Moulay Idriss Zerhoun was built on a mountainside during the 8th century when Moulay Idriss I came to Morocco and brought the Islamic religion. Because of this, most of their economy is predicated upon visitors who come to see the shrine and tomb of Moulay Idriss I. The village was vibrant and relatively calm, and I really enjoyed visiting all of the shops among the winding streets and the expansive town square. Afterwards, we went to Sidi ‘Ali Hamdush, which is a small village where Moroccans come from all over for the therapeutic services offered by the Sufis there. We saw the outside of the shrine for Sidi ‘Ali Hamdush, the saint who founded the Hamadshah Sufi brotherhood, and the spring that is supposed to have therapeutic properties. The day was rather long, but definitely worth it.

Classes have been going pretty well. I think a small part of me was hoping that just being in Morocco would help me learn the language more quickly, but I’m finding that I do still have to work at studying the vocabulary and grammar. We have about seven hours of class most days, two of which are a cultural class and the rest are language. I really enjoy my teachers and classmates, so although I’m doing a lot of work, it’s usually quite fun. Additionally, it’s pretty helpful that I only have to focus on one subject so that I can really master the material although we’re going through a lot of it in a short period of time.

Yesterday we had our first day of service learning, and it was kind of great. I was working a center where young boys are placed if their home and family situations are bad enough. The goal of this center is to provide the boys with an education and structure until they can hopefully go back to living with their families. The morning was pretty boring as I just watched the boys during their classes, and I actually felt like I detracted from their learning because they were distracted. Nonetheless, it was amazing hearing them recite the Qur’an. They knew Every. Single. Word. They knew it by heart, and I think that’s how a lot of these children, and adults too, view the Qur’an, that if they can memorize it then it’ll be in their heart and God will be too. It’s kind of an amazing way of thinking about religion, one that had not occurred to me before, and it was somewhat inspirational to me in terms of reading the Bible more, which I can start doing when I get back. As boring as the morning was, the afternoon was great. Just sitting with them and seeing them interact with each other, and seeing them interact with the men who run the center and how obvious their affection is towards them was amazing. I don’t know what exactly I expected the adults to be like, but I actually thought they would all be women, perhaps because women are more nurturing and caring than men, generally speaking. This was not the case at the center I was assigned to. The men obviously care a lot for these boys, but they’re also great at disciplining them when necessary and keeping them in line. I think their culture has a lot to do with why men take care of these boys instead of women, and that maybe it would be improper for boys to be raised completely by women. I’ve worked on and off in a homeless shelter for families back home, and although that facility has a very different purpose than this one, I found a few similarities between the two, such as the physical layout of the facility. However, I found several differences between the two, the most prominent one being there are less physical toys at the center here but more activities to do that involve the children in interacting with each other. Also, the ever-present generosity in hospitality that seems to be a part of Moroccan culture was there, with myself and my group members being served mint tea and cookies in the afternoon. The language barrier was the most frustrating part of the experience. Although the children are young, they still speak to quickly for me to understand most of the time, so they would usually end up repeating a single word a few times or using hand motions before I understood what they were getting at. They loved to ask me about President Obama, which I found humorous, and whether or not I know who their King is (Mohammed VI). The boys are rather bright, happy, and excitable, and I’m excited to return to the center next Wednesday so that I can continue to encourage these children and provide them with affection and care.

Until next time, in sha’ allah!