Hi! My name is Daya, and I am a high school student studying abroad in Mohammedia, Morocco. After a fantastic "homestay family weekend" going to the beach, learning to make authentic Moroccan tea, and playing card games with our host brothers, we spent the day visiting Rabat. We toured the historically-rich city, exploring the unfinished Hassan Tower, the Old Medina and its amazing view of the Atlantic, and wandering around markets, discovering unique items to bring back home. Here’s one of the most important facts of the day: we ate at a Lebanese-Syrian restaurant, and it’s likely to say that I gained a few pounds after some delicious falafel! I could go on and on about all of our adventures or the cute street kittens or even just the mint tea; however, the true importance of our exploration lies in the subject of community.
Every day in our Youth Mentorship and Raising Social Awareness program, Ashlyn, our program leader, guides us in reflective journaling. Today, our daily questions included, “What does community mean to you? What have you noticed or connected between these Moroccan communities and your home community?” These are not easy questions to answer, but with time and strength everyone can determine their own answer. To me, community is a sense of safety and belonging. I believe community can be any place, thing, person(s) that gives one closure or provides one with a safety net to fall back on when all else fails. Community is anything to anyone.
While spending time in both Rabat and Mohammedia, I have noticed differences in their displays of community. A tiny yet culturally dense city, Mohammedia utilizes its size to exemplify friendliness and connectivity. Here, everyone knows everyone! The other day, my roommate and I were taking a taxi back to our homestay. Since we are not able to speak Darija, our host sister gave us a sheet of paper with the address, but our taxi driver did not know where it was! Seeing my struggle to explain in French and the confusion on our driver’s face, another taxi pulled up beside us. He simultaneously navigated the chaotic traffic while also giving our driver directions. It is this act of kindness – the generosity and willingness to go out of one’s way to help another – that best describes the community in Mohammedia.
Rabat displays its sense of community in the communal habit – religiously and mentally. As I mentioned, we visited the unfinished Mosque/Le Tour Hassan area. Early in the day, our tour guide mentioned that during busy religious prayer Muslims overflow out of the Mosque itself, and they pray together in the outdoor courtyard. Later in the day, our group went on a Fluka boat tour. In the middle of our trip on the water, the rower stopped both his music and his paddles to respect the Muslim call to prayer. These are just two examples of how the common goals and practices of Islam unite the people of Rabat. While Mohammedia definitely has mosques and a strong Islamic presence, I noticed Rabat’s extreme spiritual connection after spending just one day there.
Together, my idea of community and the strong communal relationships within Morocco can help others to develop their own definitions of community. Ask yourself, what does community mean to you? What can you do to strengthen your impact on your community? But beware – don’t get caught up in the external beauty of the places you travel! Instead, consider these vital questions to discover the hidden gems of any place, big or small.