Two weeks ago, CIEE Rabat hosted what we’ve dubbed amongst ourselves “the worldwide conference”—a gathering for CIEE directors around the globe, over a hundred in total. It goes without saying that myself, the other students, my Moroccan friends, and the staff were so excited to meet so many open-minded people hailing from different countries and cultures. That being said, hosting such a large group called for an almost unimaginable amount of work. As a student, the days before the conference were a whirlwind of making posters, running to the print shop, talking logistics with staff, and making sure the adults around me are getting adequate support as they frenzy about the city checking out venues, setting up workshops, and everything in between.
Walking groups from the entrance of the medina to their riads (traditional Moroccan accommodations) nestled deep in the old city of Rabat, I was able to meet incredible people from the US, Botswana, China, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Germany, Russia, Thailand and South Africa. Our conversations expanded my world view and filled me with hope that young people like myself are given such ample opportunity to explore the world, break stereotypes, and make connections with others. Not only did I make many new friendships through volunteering for the conference, I strengthened bonds I had already made with my Moroccan friends. Spending hours tying and delivering gift bags to various riads, amongst other tasks, gave us ample time to establish new inside jokes and grow closer in our relationships to each other. We learned to manage each other’s humor and frustration, and it was through that week that I truly felt that I had found a second family in the wonderful Moroccans that surround me.
Upon further reflection, I learned that that was also the week I learned to call Morocco home. At the end of the first semester, I left Morocco with the overwhelming feeling that my story with Morocco wasn’t yet finished. In each country I’ve spent time in before this gap year, it took mere weeks for me to feel the country was home. However, even after four months, I still didn’t feel that sense of love and belonging in Morocco that I did in my other homes around the world. I texted my best friend a couple of days before the end of the semester, “Morocco doesn’t really feel like home for me. Leaving now would feel incomplete because I never let myself leave a place until it feels like home. So even though I still don’t like Morocco, I’m glad I’m coming back.” To this day, I don’t know how exactly that feeling develops. All I know is that, as I spoke about this country to our visitors during the conference, as I poured them her signature mint tea, and as I entered her ever infamous hammam (bathhouse) with them, I felt nothing but pride. Perhaps it was the discovery of my new family that sparked it all, for I have found that it is the people that I love most about any place.
Through all of the joy, frustrations, and arguments of that week, I learned that despite the sexual harassment in her streets, her Darija which I still struggle to speak every day, and the dirt that seeps into my shoes on my walk to and from school every day, I’ve finally been able to tie a piece of my heart to al-Maghreb. Little events afterwards confirmed this feeling. I finally felt comfortable enough to venture out to a new neighborhood in Rabat. I spent the weekend having the most conversations in Darija I’ve ever had, impressed for the first time by the amount of language I’ve picked up. Strangely enough, I feel that all of this gives me permission to now return to my home in the US, like I expressed in my text.
The thought of leaving brings me immense pain. That pain is an indication of the amount of love I’ve given to and received from this country and her people. I plan to savor every drop of my last two months in Morocco and to forever guard this country as a piece of me. I am confident that the friends that I’ve made here, despite all of the bumps and obstacles in our relationships, will be my friends for life. Here’s to two more months of inshallahs, mint tea, “wakha fik”’s, and many more Moroccan-isms that I’ve come to love!