By Hannah Feder
After a bus ride, plane, another bus, and another plane, I and four other Collegiate students finally arrived at George Washington Academy in Casablanca, Morocco on Sunday, January 14, for a week of cultural and language immersion. During our eventful and enriching trip, we travelled to various sites around Morocco in order to learn about Moroccan culture and history and to practice our French. Although our trip was not part of a Capstone class, we each created our own projects in accordance with our various French classes. My project involved interviews with a wide variety of people on topics such as the role of women and what a typical weekend looks like for a Moroccan family, and other student projects were on topics such as the politics of Morocco or sports and recreational activities in the region.
Our week started off with a day at George Washington Academy, our partner school, and a lunch filled with traditional Moroccan foods provided by our host families. Many of the children at George Washington Academy speak French at home, so they are constantly immersed in the language from childhood, which is extremely different from most American children who learn French. Many of the children I met spoke Arabic, French, and English, and many of the older kids would switch between all three of those languages fluidly in one conversation.
Our lunch that first day was our first taste of the amazing food we had in Morocco. We had one of many varieties of couscous, a traditional North African grain dish, and tried many other dishes, such as tajine, a dish made of chicken, various fruits, and spices and Moroccan crepes. Each day of our trip we were able to taste many different Moroccan specialties, from Moroccan tea (green tea, mint, and sugar), to seafood caught fresh off of the Moroccan coast. My favorite dish of our trip was rfissa, a dish made of chicken, lentils, various spices, and msemen (Moroccan bread).
On day two, we left Casablanca to visit El Jadida, which used to be the location of the old Portugese city in Morocco. The most interesting part of the city was the old cistern, whose water-covered floors display an eerie reflection of the ceiling and skylight above. We then had another lunch of couscous, but because each region of Morocco makes their couscous differently, it had a completely different blend of spices from the one we ate at George Washington Academy.
My favorite part of the trip was visiting Hassan 2, the largest mosque in Morocco. It can be viewed from many streets away, and I could even see the 690-foot minaret from the Morocco Mall, five miles away. Even before entering the mosque, we were all amazed at how intricate the decor and architecture of the mosque were. It is located on the coast of Morocco, so after viewing the enormity of the mosque, we were able to look out directly onto the Atlantic Ocean. After putting on our headscarves and taking off our shoes, we entered the mosque and were immediately in awe. Every inch of the mosque was covered in different carvings and patterns, and it was nearly impossible to take everything in at once.
On Thursday, during our trip to the city of Rabat, we first made a stop at Le Chellah, an ancient Muslim city turned botanical garden. We saw an almost 800-year-old mosque, along with ruins of pools, living spaces, and water routes. Although no humans have lived in the city for hundreds of years, many cats and storks now inhabit the ruins.
Finally it was Friday, our last day in Morocco. We all agreed that the week had passed by quickly, and knew it would be hard to say goodbye our host families the next day. We had some time in the morning to finalize our projects, which we shared with our French classes once we returned home, then visited Morocco’s Jewish Museum and had our last couscous of the week.
For our final night in Casablanca, one of the mothers at George Washington Academy graciously hosted a farewell party for us filled with traditional Moroccan treats and henna, which is traditional temporary tattoo created from a mixture of henna leaf paste and other natural ingredients that vary based on geographic region. I have never had henna done before but was thankful that the Moroccans allowed us to participate in such a fascinating part of their culture. The woman creating the designs was so talented was able to make such intricate patterns using only a syringe filled with henna ink.
On our plane ride out of Morocco the next morning, we were able to reflect on our week while watching the farmlands and cities of Morocco become smaller and smaller in our windows. Overall, the trip provided a look into a place vastly different from our lives in Richmond, and more importantly, allowed us to do so while applying our French language skills. Lauren Brizzolara (‘18) speaks for all of us on the trip when she says she “likes experiencing what I am learning about in class in real life.” Being able to use what we learned in the classroom was probably one of the most valuable parts of the trip, because we were forced to listen to and speak French almost all the time. This was really helpful in building everyone’s French skills and by the end of the week, I was even thinking in French!
Aside from practicing our language skills, being able to experience Moroccan culture is something none of us will take for granted. All of the Moroccans were so inviting and willing to share their culture with us, and welcomed us wherever we went. For example, when wandering the markets of the Habous District in Casablanca, one vendor generously gave us a mixture of golden raisins, walnuts, almonds, and fresh dates to try—all free of charge. He simply wanted us to be able to taste the delicious fresh foods Morocco had to offer us, and I knew I would not have been able to do that when walking into most American grocery stores.
My trip to Morocco has given me more confidence in my French skills and allowed me to experience a culture completely different from my own, and I highly recommend this trip to rising seniors who take French.
All photos except for featured image by Hannah Feder.