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Morocco: A Small Taste of Culture with Big Memories

Morocco: A Small Taste of Culture with Big Memories

By Julia Puppolo ‘20

Five students and one faculty member from Wilbraham & Monson Academy had the opportunity to travel to Morocco in June. I was fortunate enough to be one of the students to experience the sights, sounds and smells of a country forged throughout history by European, African and Arab cultures. Although we might seem like a small group, we actually met up with 15 other students and five additional chaperones from schools in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Georgia. What started out as a nerve-wracking experience with complete strangers turned into an unforgettable trip with new friends.

Our trip to Morocco was structured around the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with particular focus on four of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2030: The students were divided equally among these four goals and were told to focus on their goal throughout the trip. I was a part of the gender equality group; so throughout our workshops, sightseeing and visit to the UNDP,  I kept a special eye on the ways the country and people of Morocco were both falling short and succeeding in terms of gender equality. At the end of our trip, the four SDG groups took part  in a policy/diplomacy simulation in which each group advocated for a grant (within a $1 billion budget) from the UNDP in order to implement new strategies and policies in Morocco to help achieve the goals of their SDG. While working with the SDGs provided a unique aspect to our experience in Morocco, our trip was also shaped by the sights, tastes and people we met along the way.

When we landed in Casablanca we began  our day by touring the Hassan II Mosque, 

the only mosque in Morocco that allows non-Muslims to enter. It was a beautiful experience to see Muslims and non-Muslims admiring the mosque for all of its beauty and history. We visited several Roman ruins, the most memorable for me being Volubilis. At Volubilis, unlike the many ruins preserved throughout Europe behind glass and ropes, we got to walk through, touch and see ruins dating back to 3rd Century B.C. 

up close and personal. We spent many beautiful days exploring the medinas of Rabat, Fes and Marrakech. This is where most of our souvenir shopping was done, and where many people got to experience haggling for the first time. It was in these medinas (city sections) that we traveled down narrow secret passageways, visited the famous Moroccan tanneries, saw snake charmers and listened to live music. Perhaps the most memorable time at the medina was when my classmate Moonsu “Jackson” Kang ’20 ate an entire goat head one night in the Jemaa El-Fna, the Marrakech Medina.

Although the sites were beautiful on their own, the food that we enjoyed in these places blew all of us away. When I first arrived in Morocco, I couldn’t wait to try some of my favorites from back home: hummus, tabbouleh, olives and couscous; and I was not disappointed. However, little did we know, our first dinner in Morocco would set the tone for every other meal we would have on the trip as we all experienced for the first time the deliciousness of the tagine. For those not familiar with the dish, it is a savory slow-cooked stew with spices and vegetables named after the pot it is cooked in. There are chicken tagines, beef tagines, fish tagines, and vegetable tagines and all are equally tasty. We had the option of tagine at almost every meal, and we even made our own tagines at a women-run nonprofit Amal. Our group ended up loving tagines so much that we made it our official trip mascot.

While the scenery and food were spectacular, for me it was the people we met along the way that made the trip one I will never forget. Some of the most inspirational people we met include:

•          Youbay: The polite shopkeeper who showed us one-of-a-kind hand-painted crafts and a collection of Moroccan poufs that his father made

•          Tarik: The farmer who welcomed us into his home, provided us a delicious lunch, showed us his organic farm and taught us about sustainable living practices

•          Yossef: A former member of the Peace Corps and the current president of the High Atlas Foundation, an organization dedicated to developing disenfranchised communities throughout Morocco

•          The little girls from the Atlas Mountains, who followed me around during our entire visit to a village and decorated my hair with flowers. I could not verbally communicate with these girls (aside from the basic “hello, how are you” that I learned from our Intro to Arabic workshop) but when our time had ended in the village I was held back by one little girl who would not let me go. I hugged her time and time again, and each time I would let go of her hand to get on the bus, she would run up and hug me again. This was the hardest goodbye. I never got her name but I have a picture of her and me so that I will always remember her.

Not only did the people of Morocco make a lasting impact on me, but also the people that I traveled with. I became closer to my WMA  peers, and I honestly believe that I have made some true friends with the students from other schools that we traveled with.

The first couple of days were a little bit awkward as the school groups were a little bit hesitant to branch out and tended to stick to themselves. However, after a couple of games of Heads Up! and icebreaker activities, we all began to get to know each other and form friendships. We often discussed the differences and, more often than not, the similarities between our schools. I became particularly close to a couple of students from Chicago and Philadelphia, and I still talk to them daily. In fact, I even have plans with one of them to see a Broadway show sometime this year (after we found out that we are both theater fanatics). It was with these people that I made some of the best memories, and I am so glad I had the chance to experience a new country and culture with old and new friends alike.