Before I left for Morocco, it seemed like everyone had a piece of advice to give me. Friends, family members, professors, and random people in department store dressing rooms gave me their advice on food, culture, and clothing even when I didn’t ask for it. Some of it turned out to be pretty applicable to my trip–and some advice turned out to be useless. Here’s a list of things people told me and how I took it into consideration (or, if I didn’t, what my reasoning was).
1. Don’t drink the water. Along with this, don’t eat the melon, and don’t use ice cubes.
I heard this piece of advice over and over; many people started their story with, “When I was abroad…” and ended it with a graphic description of how sick they got from some food/water-borne illness. During the first few days I arrived in Tangier, I only drank water from bottles and I didn’t eat a single piece of the delicious-looking watermelon I saw at the Souq. But, after a few days, I eased into tap water by drinking it half the time. Its been a week and a half, and I’m now drinking tap water whenever I want to. I haven’t experienced any stomach problems so far–although after writing this I may eat my words. As far as the melon, I think its helpful to remember quantity. I don’t eat any more watermelon, peaches, or apricots than I would if I was eating them at home, even though they taste delicious!
2. Pack Light.
This is advice that proved difficult (see previous post about packing being a nightmare). Somehow, I fit everything I needed into an REI camping bag and a Timbuk2 Messenger Bag. The camping bag totaled to about 25 pounds–not too heavy to lug around the airport. Many of my classmates came with gigantic suitcases–which was difficult and expensive if they were overweight. Advice I received about clothes included the idea to bring clothes I wouldn’t mind leaving in Morocco, especially if I found gifts to bring home for friends or family. I also opted to buy a lot of things when I arrived in Tangier–things like shampoo and notebooks for class.
3. Speak Arabic whenever you can.
This advice came from professors, TAs, and all of my Arabic-Speaking friends. They admonished me to practice my language while I had the chance. In our orientation, we were warned that people would ask us to speak French or Spanish in Tangier. This was a really good warning–most of the people I interact with at the Souq or in Taxis ask me to speak Spanish (which I could), but I turn down their request and explain that I’ve made a pledge to speak only Arabic all summer. This is the hardest when I’m tired and I just want to buy a sandwich without struggling, but I hope this commitment pays off by the end of the summer.
4. Blend in. Dress like the locals.
I took this advice with a grain of salt, mostly because even if I put on a Hijab, I’d still be a white girl from America underneath. There’s definitely something to be said about respecting traditions and customs when it comes to clothes–I don’t wear tank tops or shorts here–but its not necessary for me to cover my hair. The stares and the comments men yell come from the color of my skin, the fact that I’m clearly not from the house down the street, and the fact that I’m walking with three or four other white women. As much as I would love to blend in, to be a fly on the wall of Moroccan culture, I can’t. Instead, what I can do is engage respectfully in aspects of culture, even if it requires me to act or think differently than I would in Iowa City.
5. Try all the new things you can.
During orientation, our trip coordinators told us this. Try all the new things you can–within reason. Explore, but don’t be stupid. Think before you do–you’re not in a city where your language is always understood or where your actions are interpreted the way you meant them to be. I’m constantly reminding myself not to be a boisterous American!
Traveling is just one small adventure after another–and it really comes down to trying new things and taking risks and coming out okay at the end of it. It seems like no matter how much advice I received, I couldn’t plan for everything. The fun of travel is the unanticipated problems that turn into excellent adventures. At the end of the trip, its not about the size of your suitcase or what you yelled back to the guy on the street corner who commented on your body. At the end of my trip, it will be about the friendships I have with my classmates, the memories I made in Tetuan, Rabat, and Fez, and of course, all of the Arabic that I learned.