Student Experiences in Granada, Spain
with Fordham University
Spring 2013 Student Blog
Spring 2011- The Morocco Exchange Trip
I knew that all of us were in for something different when we stepped into Morocco and the African continent for the first time in our lives, but we had no clue how deep of an impact it would leave. One by one, mental barriers fastened by age-old stereotypes were dismantled as the Moroccans opened their arms to welcome us into their lives and culture. Their passion for life, friendship and family, community, activism, and change was inspiring and stood in sharp contrast to the way Muslims are portrayed in the American media. What we experienced was something pure, and hard to translate into words; a difficulty we all traversed when trying to reflecting on our journey. Perhaps this difficulty arises from the sheer amount of good times we shared. Or maybe it comes from the inability of words to give justice to something that can only be understood through experience. Whatever the cause, we must try. Because as Tim Gallagher (FCRH ’12) told me, “I only wish more people could see the side of Morocco and Islam that we saw.”
I think you can always get a glimpse of the future by looking at the youth of the present. In Tangier we were greeted by three university students at DARNA, a center that taught women marketable skills like weaving, sewing, computer skills, English and French with the hopes of making them competitive in the job market. Fadoua, one of our guides, explained its function pretty well: “We don’t want to be given fish, we want to learn to fish.” It seems the old proverb discriminates against no one. We discussed the realities of Moroccan life over glasses of Morocco’s favorite drink: green tea. We sat in awe while the three girls covered everything from being a woman in Morocco to the current king and political oppression while speaking in nearly impeccable English (their third language). The truth is that oppression does exist, but Moroccan women still have a voice, they wear jeans, they may choose to not wear the veil, they can hold the same jobs as men but may get paid less (an issue American women can relate to). They welcome the new King Mohammed VI and his reforms after nearly four decades of harsh rule under King Hassan II, but realize that their elections are farcical and the Parliament is corrupt. Yet they strive to change the status quo, to progress, to exact true equality and freedom. They are the people you may never hear about, yet who do so much to turn the pages of history.
And then there were the young men at Oulad L’Hay, an afterschool program for the impoverished youth of Salé. With volunteer workers, the center works to keep kids busy and off the streets where there is propensity towards drugs, alcohol and violence. “Talking to the young men of Oulad L’Hay made me feel like I was right back at home,” said Maureen Sweet (FCLC ’12). This deep sense of community seemed to permeate the atmosphere of the room (as well as the aroma of that infamous green tea) as we gathered to break apart stereotypes we held about each other. A stranger could easily mistake the young men we met for brothers as they threw playful jokes at each other and laughed at nonsense. We had all thought we were so different from each other, but we were wrong. We had seen the same movies, listened to the same music, laughed at the same jokes, and (perhaps most importantly) understood the universal importance of the conversation we were having. They expressed to us their frustration with the portrayal of a uniform Arab World in the American media and the consequences it has on hateful stereotypical thinking. “It’s not until you see that hurt in the flesh that you are able to fully grasp the harm that our stereotypes have brought upon the Arabic world,” said Sarah Rosati (FCRH ’12). It’s now our responsibility to mend the wounds. After we left, a group of the schoolchildren swarmed around us to take pictures. Their smiles spoke volumes.
The trip would not have been complete without our final trip to the la Keella village where we ate and talked through a translator to a farmer with crops as far as the eye could see. His name was Mohamid and he had the sage-like wisdom that only comes through age and experience. He told us that his life has been the farm; he had lived in the cities, but didn’t need them. Without any machinery, he and his family harvested what seemed like hundreds of different crops. Some would probably say he had the bare minimum; a small house, a phone, and a satellite dish. He would disagree. You could feel the profound love and connection he had with his family and land. Those were his riches.
Despite his distance from the city, social matters were still a deep concern of his; everything from health care, to the poor, to the question of social repression. He had some interesting views on the Uprising in Egypt and their relation to Morocco: “As long as there is oppression, there will be resistance to it,” he said. I thought of the vast knowledge of the young girls we met and the work that the young men were doing at Oulad L’Hay and political apathy seemed far away. It’s true, they understand there vote is meaningless, but resignation was not an option for anyone we met. If the government won’t do the work that needs to be done, they will; it’s their own form of resistance. That’s why the young men were helping at the afterschool center, that’s why the girls were lending DARNA a hand. Mohammed, one of the young men, told me, “We faced the same treatment as the Egyptian people back in the 80’s, we understand it.” Though the king is vastly popular (“We don’t call him king of the poor for no reason,” Mohammed continued to tell me), the movement for constitutional monarchical reform and implementation of real democracy is authentic and gaining momentum. As I write this, the opposition group “Freedom and Democracy Now” is organizing and gaining momentum for a February 20th protest. A wave of inspiration, confidence, and hope is sweeping the Arab World and it won’t stop until age-old grievances are answered.
As with any meaningful experience, there are lessons to take away and memories to be cherished. I asked Mohammed (who we’ve all reunited with through Facebook) to tell me something he took away from the whole exchange; I think it speaks for us all:
“I learned that every person is different, but we are all the same in some way.”
The Moroccan Exchange Program showed us that the world outside our familiar borders is not as different or distant as the oceans between us. Indeed, the inward affinities we shared were much more profound than any of the superficial differences we like to focus on as civilizations; things like skin color, dress, language, or rituals. Unfortunately, we find it easier to dismiss the much moreprofound internal similarities of cultures and peoples across the world; the natural innocence of a child, the inspiring idealism of young men and women, the hope of parents to provide for a happy and healthy family, the longing for freedom and equality under the law. The Moroccan Exchange Program served to show that these internal parallels do not need to be qualified with “Christian,” “Muslim,” “White,” “Black,” or “Arab” because they are universal and exist within.
As we watched the African continent fade into the distance from our boat, we all understood the significance of what we had just experienced. When we return home in May, we leave Europe with Spain in our hearts, but Morocco and its people as well.
Photos collected by Clare Marsullo FCRH '12 Reflection written by Gabe Agostini FCRH '12