Morocco has been the most challenging place I’ve ever visited to sum up in a couple of posts. It’s also the place I’ve gotten the most questions about and so I tried to give some inside perspective in a previous post, and I feel like all that did was give the wrong impressions of my trip there.
I didn’t hate Morocco. At all. In fact, I count it among my top three favorite countries (Iceland and Italy rounding out the rest).
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I was recently interviewed by a Pakistani magazine about my travels (and quitting my job to travel), and while it was very exciting, it also makes me feel like such a pretentious and privileged asshole.
Sometimes I don’t really think about what I’ve been afforded in life thanks to my color and nationality. I was lucky enough to win the “white American” lottery when born and lucky to be raised in a family that was never exactly wealthy, but only struggled a fair bit in comparison to others in this country and around the world.
Dubai is an interesting city of contrasts. This young city was built on the backs of hard-working and grossly underpaid expats—Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, and Filipinos—yet it’s almost a futuristic theme park for the wealthy. When looking around, it’s hard to see what is truly authentic and what is just here for show. Though, I suppose that perhaps that’s what makes it truly Emirati—the blurred line between reality and fantasy. There is so much money in Dubai that you can almost create your ultimate fantasy life, one which includes skiing in malls; watching fountains dance twice hourly at night in front of the world’s tallest building; and walking through a tunnel surrounded by stingrays, sharks, and fish.
Before going, I’d heard mixed reviews about Dubai. I was unsure if I’d be turned off by its glittering and ostentatious fakeness, or if instead, I’d be enamored and drawn in by its charm and unique breed of the Middle East meets the hybrid of Disney and Las Vegas on crack.
Travel is one of the best educations I’ve ever received and one thing that I feel like I absolutely get my money’s worth. Over the past eight years, I’ve jetted off to some of the far corners of the earth to see and experience some amazing things, and in the interim, I also managed to learn a thing or two. While the following list certainly isn’t exhaustive, I wanted to highlight five lessons I’ve taken away from travel and hope that some of you can relate (or are inspirational enough to get you out there and see the world!).
One thing I find I have a hard time doing while traveling is writing extensively about my feelings or reactions to a place when I am there. In most of Europe, it’s been easy enough for me to sum up after leaving: this place was amazing; this place was beautiful; I can’t wait to see this again. While I absolutely love Europe beyond the shadow of a doubt and have fantasies of relocating there permanently at some point, most of the countries in which I’ve visited there haven’t particularly moved me. I haven’t felt like I learned a whole lot from them in terms of the world or even myself.
For me, the learning and growth happens when I am pushed completely out of my comfort zone, forced to see things through a new lens, and deal with things that sometimes might be completely out of my control. Generally, the places I’ve traveled have always had some sort of element of “home” or comfort for me. All of that changed when I was in Morocco. And because Morocco was one of the most difficult places I’ve ever visited, I chose to write about my experiences there each and every day. I’ve shared a few Morocco posts thus far, but the following piece is something I wrote in my travel journal just after leaving, and is something that I wouldn’t ordinarily share, but felt as though perhaps I should this time because I’ve been getting a lot of comments and questions about being a woman in Morocco and what my experiences have been like. Morocco was both wonderful and awful at the same time, and despite what you might read below, it’s a place I have a yearning to visit again.
I spent a few weeks in London during the winter several years back and traveled with a friend from Brazil. This friend from Brazil had a strong addiction to hot chocolate, so everywhere we went, we had to stop first so he could get some. Naturally, that also meant that I had to indulge. That particular trip also saw me get hooked on the stuff–liquid, chocolate crack. Now when I travel (in the winter), it’s one of the things I most look forward to trying from various countries.
Before I headed to Prague for the Christmas Markets, I came across a tweet mentioning an entire cafe dedicated to hot chocolate in Prague. So this fairytale city, which captured my heart the previous time I was there, was just adding to the intrigue.
“Ohmigod, Madam, What is the problem?! Three times I ask you [to come smoke hash] and three times you say ‘no thank you!’”
“I said, ‘no thank you!’”
“Ah, okay, I see you tomorrow morning.”
When you think of Moroccan food, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Because for me, prior to my travels there, it was spices. I was thrilled to try dishes packed with flavor and potentially palate-burning spices.
What I found instead, was bland and boring food, sadly. In fact, I can count on two fingers the number of meals that I actually enjoyed in my two weeks there. That’s pretty pathetic, right? Walking through the souqs, you come across one spice peddler after another, but it seems that none of the restaurants are purchasing these spices (or if they are, they’re not using them liberally).
Two of the most typical Moroccan dishes are tajine and couscous.
For as long as I can remember, photography has been a part of my life. Before the age of digital cameras, I routinely carried a film camera with me everywhere I went–snapping photos of everything I could. I can’t even imagine the amount of money my parents spent on developing my endless photos of cats, friends giving each other bunny ears, and flowers in my mom’s garden.
When I was in high school, I got my first digital camera–a 1.3 MP camera that cost probably around $400 and took 4-AA batteries. It’s hard to believe that now, in a world where 15+ MP cameras cost $100 and take just one single rechargeable battery. In college, I shunned digital and went back to my roots: film. I was also knee-deep in photography classes and spending hours upon hours in the dark room, listening to either the Mars Volta or the Beatles depending upon my level of creativity, loading each negative into the enlarger, hopefully creating the image I wanted, and waiting anxiously as I watched it develop before my eyes, each bath revealing a bit more.
A few years ago, I dated a Moroccan man, Ishmael*, for a few months. One morning, early into the short fling, he disappeared to the kitchen for a bit while I rubbed my sleepy eyes, sitting on the couch in the next room, wondering what it was that he was doing.
When he returned, he carried a silver tray with a small teapot, four small glasses, and a plate of cookies. He poured me a glass of mint tea, which he then poured into another cup–back and forth, back and forth, until the tea was cool enough to drink. This particular morning was my first introduction to Moroccan mint tea.