Hannah Pouler - Care & Community in Morocco
The summer after my junior year, I was looking for an adventure, something I could do that would help those in need while allowing me to observe a completely different culture. Finally fluent in French, I wanted to go somewhere where I could put my language skills to use, so I decided on Morocco. My friend suggested traveling with Projects Abroad.
When I touched down in Rabat, I walked quickly through the airport, excited but nervous about the two weeks to come. I was greeted immediately by a Projects Abroad staff member, who helped me exchange my American dollars for Moroccan dirhams. He then drove me to the Rabat Medina, where my host family lived.
The old city was completely walled in and lined with palm trees. Vendors lined the streets, selling everything from spices to baguettes to headphones. Children shelled and ate fresh fruit right in the road, and men prayed outside of a mosque next to them. I was struck by the hustle and bustle, and could barely pry my eyes from the window when the staff member told me we had arrived.
My experience would not have been the same without my incredible host family. In true Moroccan style, the house was arranged around a larger sitting room, with a skylight window that opened onto a roof terrace. My roommate and I slept in a comfortable bedroom off of the main room.
We ate most of our meals with our host family in the big sitting room. We always looked forward to eating: our mom was a great cook! Breakfast usually consisted of fresh bread, jam and a nutella-like spread, with fresh fruit as well. We usually had a late afternoon tea, and our host mom would invite her friends and family to these gatherings. We would munch on pastries and mint tea, a delicious Moroccan specialty. For lunch and dinner, we usually had couscous or tagine, a classic Moroccan dish.
After dinner, we’d often partake in a game of Uno with our host brother, or would walk to local parks and cafes with our host sister. There was never a dull moment at home.
Soon after arrival, the other volunteers and I began our placement work at a care center in Salé, a less wealthy town a quick taxi ride from Rabat. We spent half the day working with the children, who ranged in age from four to sixteen. We played games with them, did arts and crafts, held sports tournaments, and even taught them some English. The children were energetic, positive, and eager to learn: overall a joy to work with.
I had a great time playing basketball with some of the girls. I taught them how to dribble between their legs, and every morning after that I would be greeted with girls proudly showing me their dribbling skills. I also enjoyed making friendship bracelets with the children: they were so proud of their work, and thrilled with their new jewelry.
The other half of the day we spent working on small projects around the facility. We cleaned up the center’s gardens, built some concrete benches, and painted a mural. After we left, the center looked better than ever.
The Projects Abroad staff knew made us feel welcome, and made sure we were never bored during our stay. Almost every day, we went to get tea or juice at a café after our placement. They also offered to take us out at night, so we would go shopping or gather at a fellow volunteer’s house.
On our days off, they organized excursions throughout the city and surrounding areas. One day, we visited the beautiful Exotic Gardens in Salé, and then went to a local potter, where we tried our hand at pottery. Another day, we went to Fez. There, a guide led us through the winding streets and showed us the best shops to buy souvenirs to bring home to our families. My favorite part of the Fez trip was lunch at Café Clock, a beautiful multi-story restaurant hidden in the heart of Fez.
On the last night of our stay, the staff held a henna party. We all got henna done, and then danced the night away to a traditional Moroccan band. Finally, in the wee hours of the night, we all went down to the beach and waded in the moonlit water. By that time, the other volunteers and I had gotten very close, so saying goodbye was a bittersweet experience.
Overall, my trip to Morocco was a life-changing experience. I got to experience a new culture and way of life, while really making a difference in the lives of a few children. I also made friends for life, and I know I’ll never forget my time in Rabat.
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