Buvette Masthead

The Magic of Morocco through the eyes of a Canberran girl

Bernadette Jury

In 2017, I decided to explore this unsettling feeling I’d had for a long time.

After a lot of consideration, soul searching and research, I decided that I wanted to immerse myself in a different culture and learn a little bit more about what life has to offer. The answer was Marrakech.

When I arrived in the City of Red the feeling of shock settled in. It was like nothing I had ever seen before; literally, like walking onto the set of Disney’s Aladdin. I couldn’t believe my eyes and I asked myself more than once “what are you doing?”.

After a few days, the foreign feeling started to disappear and the curiosity began.

#1 سلام – Peace

Each time I was greeted it would be a slight touch of hands; as if you were about to shake hands but before the whole action is complete; your right hand moves over the heart as the other person wishes peace upon you. It was so genuine – when I heard those words, my sense of belonging to the community I had entered became much greater.

‘As-Salam-Alaykum’ (السلام عليكم- Peace be unto you) and ‘Alaykum Al-Salam’ (وعليكم السلام – And unto you, peace) is one of the most beautiful exchanges between two people I have experienced.

#2 ترجمة   – Translation

I tried not to be on my phone too often. What is a necessity to me is a luxury to someone else. However, culture shock can be intense and often I found myself turning to my phone as a safety net.

On the other hand it can assist with communication – thank you Google Translate! (Otherwise known as ‘Tradicsion’ ). It kept a connection to back home and it helped when I had moments of feeling isolated. In saying all of this, I found when the phone use was limited, I was able to absorb my surroundings, engage more, and be a part of the community.

#3 تفاوض – Negotiate

Bartering, whilst uncomfortable in the beginning, turned into an entertaining experience. I was amazed at how quick the mind can work when trying to calculate foreign exchange rates. There is so much to think about during this whole ordeal. As a foreigner the thought process, the moment of internal currency conversion and my favourite part – the cheeky grin when the shopkeeper knew they had me!

#4 موسيقى – Music

When two humans aren’t able to communicate through language; let the music speak. A single song has the ability to evoke many emotions. Use this universal rhythm to create a connection. Another added bonus? Everywhere you go, your ears will be exposed to a whole other world of cultural music. My Spotify playlist became a force to be reckoned with.

#5 الحمام – Moroccan Tea (Atay)

The intricate details are the defining features of Feś ✨ #imperialcity #morocco #tbt

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Less is more. It’s amazing how the simplest things can bring so much joy! There is a lot more to Moroccan Tea (atay) than just a casual beverage. The pouring of the tea is a ritual. Overall, the process of collecting the mint, sitting around the table, separating the stems, sitting the mint in the teapot on the stove top and waiting for the water to boil; adding the sugar cubes and bringing atay to life. The ritual of pouring the tea into two glasses, then back into the teapot to ensure the sugar is mixed evenly becomes hypnotic.

Everyone became a storyteller…the aroma of fresh mint and the warmth of the glass in your hands tends to bring a tale out of even the quietest of the group – refill the cup I say!

While in Morocco I found tea time to be quite significant. When I’d see members of my host family pour the tea, I would listen to their stories and think of my Grandmother back home, reading my cup, telling stories of another time back in her village. Tell your stories, show photos of your family and teach them games from your homeland. Once you feed the curiosity, the chances are the locals will return the favour. Times like these brought on feelings of sentiment and it made the whole experience much more special.

#6 الحمام – The Hamam

I discovered If your host Mother or sisters invite you to go the Hamam – you have officially been embraced and accepted as one of the girls. The Hamam is a communal bathhouse that has been around since the days of the Ottoman Empire. The one that I attended was segregated into two parts. On the left, the men walk through. To the right, the women.

To locate my house, the hamam was known as the local destination. We would always have to tell the taxi driver ‘Sheraff bel hamam‘ (House next to the bathhouse). On the corner, you would see the Mosque, the Hamam and our residential block.

For the first two weeks of our placement, my host sisters would walk across to the hamam with a bucket, a stool and their clothes in hand. An hour later they would return, skin glowing, looking relaxed and smiling. When I witnessed this sort of instant relaxation I couldn’t help but want to experience it myself. By the third week, I was honoured to be invited along.

Walking through the archway I was handed a black soap by the woman behind a glass booth and was excited for what was to come. As you walk in, on the right from the floor to the ceiling all you see are tiles. Walking through the second archway I became flushed from a sudden rush of steam. No inhibitions, no looking around and feeling self-conscious; instead, clothes came off and the black soap, hair products and women’s talk came out.

#7 لغة – Language

Not everyone speaks our language and as I mentioned earlier, sharing a meal or listening to music are some other options for communication; however, if you have never spoken the language, throw yourself in there and the locals will appreciate your efforts.

I will never forget Michelle and her determination to grasp the language. This woman I was on placement with could not speak one word of Arabic.

When trying to communicate, I knew enough to get by and although limited I still wanted to help teach her a basic ‘hi’, ‘bye’ and ‘thank you’.

Shukran (شكرا )’ is the Arabic word for thank you. The amount of variations from Michelle for this one word included but was not limited to: ‘shaku, Shakrin, sharkan, oui (French) and a head-nod’. The list is endless.

Every time she would say it, there would be a massive smile on her face as well as on the persons face she was speaking to. Despite all of her mistakes, she was genuinely trying, the intention was there.

#8 الصلاة – Prayer

✨✨ #morocco #adventures #mosque #inspiration #wander #travel #marrakech #happiness

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I wanted to broaden my horizons and explore different beliefs and ways of living. Prayer is such an intrinsic part of life; it happens so spontaneously that is almost goes unnoticed. My bedroom window faced out onto the street with a panoramic view of the Mosque. As I lay in the room in the early morning, awakening slowly, I would absorb the atmosphere; the morning light streaming through the window, the words of the Quran being sung whilst the little dust particles dance through the light.

Just before sunrise, ‘Salat- Al – Fajr’ (صلاة الفجر) ‘dawn’ prayer happens. A beautiful voice with a powerful meaning; for the locals this is a way of life but for an outsider the hymn of ‘Allah Hu Akbar‘ (God is Greater) in the melodic tone of the Al Muazzin, brought on a feeling of peace. The call to prayer sings out to all believers to come and worship. This happened every day, five times a day. It’s cathartic.

#9 امتنان – Gratitude

Gratitude…it echoes. Something that is spoken about on a regular basis comes into practice when you experience somewhere like Morocco. Be grateful for what you have. When you practice gratitude you will find small blessings everywhere you go.

Sometimes, we are just looking for purpose. When travelling solo, I guarantee you will meet and learn about many interesting people. My experience in Marrakech taught me a lot about a variety of things, most of which I applied to life when I came home.

My mindset before I went to volunteer was “I’m going to go over there, work my ass off and help these people,” but in the end, the people helped me.

I experienced a different culture, its sights, smells, sounds and customs. They were both familiar yet foreign to me. Overall my time in this beautiful city changed me, it helped me to gain confidence and understand the most important thing. Myself.

  • Maddie

    I went to Morocco earlier this year and it is unlike anywhere else I have ever visited. The people, food and history are outstanding. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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