Salaam wa alaikum safarun! Greetings fellow travelers! As I sit basking in the mild California sun, I want to welcome you to our fast approaching summer journey through “the cold country with the hot sun;” Morocco.
Corn-fed and free-range, I was born on the great plains of South Dakota. I am currently living in the idyllic Santa Barbara, CA where I work for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives as well as doing lots of preparations for our Morocco Program this summer. Here in the States I fill my free time by following world politics, biking, gardening, seeking out live music, searching out possible graduate schools, and reading anything I can get my hands on. While I am enjoying life in this region of the world, I am also eagerly awaiting our return to Morocco-a place that I also call home.
Travel has been the cornerstone of my education over the last eight years. In 2001, I took a huge step out of my comfort zone by setting off for an experiential education trip through South East Asia with 14 other youths; a program much like Dragons. Our semester was spent interacting with people of different cultures, not as tourists, but as fellow human beings. During my time in Asia I learned an intense amount by means of hands-on experience. Moments on seemingly unending Indian trains taught me patience, efforts to pronounce basic words with my Thai host family taught me the importance of language, and a trek through the Himalayas taught me about my own limitations. The experience simultaneously increased my humility and self-confidence, and was without a doubt, the most transforming experience of my late teens. Traveling and exploring the vast array of other cultures has altered the path of my life dramatically.
Since that time, my desire to explore our earth and my place in this world has continuously grown. Throughout my time at University, I traveled as much as possible: doing service work in Ecuador, Honduras, and Guatemala and studying abroad in Northern Ireland and Egypt. Always eager to learn about cultures, I wanted to stay longer and longer in the countries I visited. My forays abroad grew more and more extended: 2 weeks, a month, four months, six months. Each trip seemed to end too soon, and left me wanting more. After I received my degree in Peace Studies, Political Science, and Middle Eastern Studies, I decided to volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps, partially because I would be able to spend two full years living and working in a culture.
The Peace Corps placed me in the southern Moroccan town of Qelaat M’Gouna in the Ouarzazate Province; a place that I called home from 2005-2007. Qelaa is on the south flank of the High Atlas Mountains on the edge of where the Sahara begins. In my Amazigh (the indigenous people of North Africa) town, I worked at the local Youth Center, a Women’s Center, and a Cooperative where men make traditional ceremonial knives. I worked with Moroccan middle school and high schoolers to create a Photography Class, a Theater Club, English-classes, Yoga, Women’s Rights Education program, and a Library. I developed amazing relationships in my community; as Moroccans are some of the most welcoming and generous people I have had the privilege to encounter. My students and neighbors brought joy to me every day by giving me the gift of immediate trust, curiosity, and openness.
Over the course of my time in Morocco, I learned to speak Moroccan Arabic and found there is much joy in being able to communicate with people in their native language, as well as a great deal we can learn about culture through understanding modes of communication. Moroccan Arabic, or Darija, will be something you all will have the opportunity to learn together, In Sha Allah (God willing). Learning a local language is a great way to show your appreciation to a community and to gain insight into their culture. Every day I spend speaking Arabic I feel more comfortable and hopefully you will too!
After finishing my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was given the wonderful privilege of leading the inaugural Morocco Program in the summer of 2007 and also that of 2008. Along with two other amazing Course Instructors, I spent the most remarkable two summer’s of my life working with American students much like you. As travelers, we saw some of the most out-there and unique places Morocco has to offer. And as individuals, both instructors and students, learned and grew deeply as we lived a truly great adventure. The joy and excitement of students’ questions and insights made my love for Morocco only continue to grow. I look forward to another unique journey with you this summer!
The beauty and diversity of Morocco is truly intriguing! You will meet Moroccans from the city and from the mountains, Berbers (Amazigh) and Arabs, conservatives and liberals, women and men, the educated and the illiterate. As you travel our team will explore a whole gamut of issues. I know you and us, as course instructors, will find a variety of ways to explore a land that has a rich and proud history. In preparation for your summer, I encourage you to take a look at your Morocco Reader, prepare yourself for a physically challenging and fun 6 weeks, and start thinking about your own personal goals for your summer in North Africa. Of the books listed as suggested readings, my personal favorite is “No God But God” by Reza Aslan; which is a great introduction to Islam. When you are packing your bag for our journey, remember less is more! You will be surprised how well you can function on relatively little and how freeing it is to live on just a few essential belongings. If you are nervous about the physical aspects of our trip, take time to get your body moving as much as possible- walk up the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a bike ride and enjoy the spring weather, or do whatever physical activity that makes you feel strong and gets your heart racing. Lastly, a prepared mind will make this experience that much more rich and rewarding. Take some time to sit by yourself and think about why you chose to spend this summer with Where There Be Dragons and about how you want to grow as an individual within our remarkable team. As questions, concerns, and hopes arise; I encourage you to share these with your fellow travelers on the Yak-Yak board. We are in this journey together!
In Morocco, everything is done shwiya b shwiya, little by little. Sometimes that means transportation is slow in coming, and other times it means there are no worries about spending hours enjoying tea with a local family. Step by step you will wander through a country that will teach you so much. I look forward to meeting each of you and welcome any questions you have before, during, and after your summer journey through il-maghrib, Morocco.
Salaam wa alaikum safarun! Greetings fellow travelers! As I sit basking in the mild California sun, I want to welcome you to our fast approaching summer journey through “the cold country with the hot sun;” Morocco. Corn-fed and free-range, I was born on the great plains of South Dakota. I am currently living in the […]