Tuesday, June 14, 2011

what stands out

When I got home, everybody had many questions for me about my trip. Most of the questions revolved around food, Spanish men, and camels. Everybody always asks "what was your favorite part" or "what was the most memorable part." This question can often be stereotypically answered by saying I loved riding a camel on the African coast. Or the most memorable thing being standing on the walls of the Alcazar looking across at the Cathedral and the Giralda all lit up at night. But after a conversation I had with a member of the Merrimack community yesterday, I want to be able to answer the question "What stands out the most about the trip?" My answer to that comes after a little thought and reflection. At Merrimack I studied Psychology and Sociology and accepted a fellowship position to work with the Greater Lawrence Community Partnership for Children starting in July. So my passion is working with kids.

What stands out for me the most about this trip was the children we were able to meet and spend time with. We spent a day with the program Hope for Sale, and the kids were just so happy to have us around. We spent a solid 45 minutes at one point just taking pictures with all of the kids who were from 5- 16 years old. It was just so awesome to see that we made their day by just hanging out, singing songs with them, and taking a few pictures.

Later on in the week, we went up to a mountain villiage to see how differently their lives were as opposed to city life. And we basically added 13 more people to their family. Immediately, they welcomed us in to their home. A few different families from the villiage were there and there were about 6 or 8 kids around. None of them spoke English, but I got to sit in the living room and play hand- clap games and laugh with them. The kids thought it was so funny to climb on me like a jungle gym and their laughs when we tickled them could absolutely lighten up your day. We spent the day there and then the older 2 girls took us on a hike up more of the mountain side. Of course all of the kids came along, and at least 3 or 4 of us had a child hanging on for a piggy back the entire way. We walked and walked and finally came across the most beautiful view. (below is me, and my piggy back passenger- to the right- with the amazing view of the mountains behind me)

What stands out to me the most about this trip were the kids that we got to touch the lives of. Granted we only spent a view hours with them but it was so humbling for them to be so happy to spend time with us laughing and playing games and running around. Our Moroccan Exchange leader, Katie, said to us as we were driving away from the mountain town that it was so much more important what we did with the kids, rather than bring them gifts and toys. We were able to spend quality time with them and then when we left we were able to collect up some money and donate it to the community program in that village to help the kids learn and stay active. Our presence, instead of presents, is what really counted. At the end of the day, these kids really touched our lives as well. We had traveled thousands of miles and seen the biggest, most intricate sights that Spain and Morocco had to offer us. But what stands out to us the most are these little balls of energy that opened their arms to us and found their way into our hearts.

the places you go, the people you meet

As a class at Merrimack, we were just 10 strangers. We didn't speak much to each other or to answer our professor for that matter. But through this trip we all learned so much about ourselves through getting to know each other that by the time we were on our way home, we were planning reunion dinners at my apartment and laughing and constantly joking with each other. Throughout this trip we met so many people of so many walks of life. We met guys that went to Rabat University and had so much to say about the government and their love (or dislike) for the King. The guys in the picture above spent the morning talking with us about diversity and really got us all to thinking how we can be sheltered even in our college community at Merrimack. We talked a lot about the diversity push on our campus and about how some members of our group would never ever speak to one another if it was not for this trip. It was amazing to talk to these guys and amongst ourselves to address issues with introducing yourself to the other and opening your mind to other cultures.

Another amazingly unique experience we had was to stay with home-stay families in Rabat, Morocco in Africa. The region of Morocco is predominantly Muslim in faith and speak mainly French and Arabic. Our opportunity was to stay with a genuinely Moroccan family who had one English- speaking student around our age. This gave us the chance to live as they do in a day-to-day setting. We ate home- made meals with them and toured the Medina with the kids. It was such a positive experience for all of us. We talked for the rest of the trip how we would never complain about air conditioning, shower water temperature, or clothing ever again. Above, Ana and Yara with their house- mother.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

peas in a pod

Our group spent 2 of the most culturally shocking weeks of our lives together. We rode camels, we got lost almost everyday, we lived in Moroccan homes. We had an opportunity to reflect back on the trip on our last night in Morocco and we got to discussing how far we had come as a group ourselves. We joked that back in the classroom at Merrimack, we all sat seperately and didn't talk to each other at all. We discussed the stereotypes that we developed of each other, say nothing about the cultures we were about to indulge in in Andalucia. But this trip really taught all of us how you cannot judge a book by its cover. So much of my learning about cultures on this trip came from within the group. I learned about different religions, different eating habits, and different country origins. It was an amazing turn around to see how close our group got over the span of 2 days. All of the sudden we were all laughing and joking and really acting like we had known each other for years.


While on our Convivencia trip, one of the things that moved our days along was food being literally shoved in our face. One big difference about the Spanish and Moroccan cultures is that they eat. They eat a lot. They continue to keep eating until all the food is gone. In Spain, we had a lot of "tapas" which are famous Spanish appetizers if you will. Most of our meals in Spain were a course of 4 or 5 different tapas that just kept coming. So then when we thought we were all done and stuffed from our meals, they would bring us out dessert. Silly us- thinking we would lose weight on this trip. While in Spain we got to eat some incredible dishes. We had sardines, shark, croquettas (which are essentially little tatter tots with mashed potato and a meat), octopus, cheeses, mushrooms, and we discovered a love for olive oil. Spain is famous for its olive oil. They use it to cook everything and eat it with everything. Every meal, there were loaves and loaves of bread and by the time we discovered the olive oil, we stopped asking for butter for our bread. The olive oil was delicious.

In Morocco, things work a little differently with food. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day. They do not use plates or forks. Their culture believes that food is a blessing from God and that the last thing it should touch is your hand, not a fork or a plate. Also, you must eat with your right hand. Another amazing thing is their mint tea. Literally, you could not go anywhere with out getting mint tea offered to you. And you better drink it! We ate so many new things in Morocco as well. We had cous cous which is a dish with little pastas and chicken, potato, and various vegetables...

We also had a very unique experience to do something that would turn most people into veggetarians (one member of our group does claim to be a veggetarian now after trying this). One lunch we got to have a camel burger. Yes, I know.. I just wrote about riding camels down the African coast and how mine's name was Suzana. However, this was a cultural experience. And you have to try everything. I will precede this by saying that the camel burger was my least favorite dishes in everything we tried in 2 weeks. But most of us did try it...

This was a Moroccan salad, that was served as a first course. It had a sampling of different little dishes. Many people enjoyed this at a couple different meals. My favorite dish (I think of the whole trip) was something that we got offered most of the meals. This Moroccan soup was a combination of tomato soup and minestrone soup. I thought it was so delicious. We obviously had bread to eat it with (and a spoon, not our right hands) and it was just so authentic and made you really feel the culture. It also made me so full that I barely had room for my meal.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

on the road again

Here we are, crossing borders and making our way back home. We finally arrived back in Sevilla (which we consider our home now) and got back into our hotel Don Pedro (which we consider a palace now). We got to take the ferry back across from Northern Africa to Spain and rode passed the rock of Gibralter which is actually owned by the English. We will be dominated by traveling for the next few days. But we are all starting to miss home (and our mommas.) This has been an amazing experience for all of us and we have learned so much about our own culture by experiencing ¨the other¨ but we are truly blessed to be shipping off to Boston soon. Ohh, Boston you´re my home...

¨Blessing in a blue passport¨

Today we crossed over the Moroccan border into Spanish territory. The city of Ceuta is a Spanish town that is actually still in Northern Africa. So this is where we got out of our little bus and we got to physically walk across the border from Africa to Spain. We see this scene depicted in many movies and documentaries but experiencing it brought the true meaning to a whole new level. We, as Americans, got to just waltz right passed the backed up line of Moroccans who were very restless. We had the right to go freely across the border and leave the country. Many people take for granted our ability as Americans to so freely travel about the world as we please. It became very real for us on our last night in Morocco that we are blessed with the opportunity to leave these conditions of filth and colonialism. But these people simply do not have the right to leave their country. They are stuck in their proverbial grind of 3rd world country living. Just because we are blessed with a blue passport from the United States of America, we have the human right to travel and to experience different cultures for small emersion periods. These people unfortunately don´t have that ability or get that choice.


On our next day, we took a journey into the mountains of Morocco. The city and the mountain people here are so vastly different that it was only right to see how each way of life was. They speak different languages and they have a completely different manner that they go about their days. We went to a humble town and visited a house where we made lunch and sat and ate and talked with the family. They discussed with us how education is a non-factor for so many of these women. There were girls 18, 24, 32 who stayed in the house all day long. One of them had never taken any schooling and another had only 3 years. It was so eye opening for us as an all- female class to see that we take our education for granted so much in America.

We got to come to a 3rd world country, sit in these people´s living room, prepare and eat lunch with them, sing songs from their culture and ours, play with their children, hike through the mountains, and see an incredible view. All of this with such humble people. Going thru this experience in the mountain town really taught us to reflect on the fact that grace and dignity have no boundaries. NO matter how humble a background you have, people will always be graceful in their daily lives and will live with dignity and class. This is a true border crossing for many of us.