Stepping off the bus on to the old, brick streets of Meknes, surrounded by adobe buildings with chipped off paint, I was not sure what to expect. The air smelled of cooking bread and shouts of unfamiliar Arabic words echoed in the distance. Judging by first look, the city seemed bland and timeworn, but as we followed our leader deeper into the city, we began to discover the charisma and inspiration that would soon influence all of us.
The trip was designed to teach us Arabic at an advanced pace while learning about and experiencing the culture of the Arab people. I have been taking Arabic for 4 years, but Meknes deepened my love for Arabic and design. II was able to experience the calming yet vivacious culture, study Arabic and the Moroccan dialect, Daraja, and most importantly, was inspired by the beautiful designs that make up the city.
We woke every morning at around 7 (1 a.m. Dallas time) in our beautiful Riad, to a traditional breakfast of mint tea, coffee, pastries and fruit before walking down the windy streets to our school, “ALIM Center.” At ALIM we were split into intermediate (Arabic I & II classes) and advanced (Arabic III & IV classes) groups where we learned Arabic for an hour before breaking for mint tea, Oreos, and watermelon.
After our break, we took culture classes and ended with Darja class. During culture class, we engaged in exciting activities, such as baking traditional lemon cookies and singing Moroccan hits.
Throughout the trip, the culture classes helped us better understand the ways and traditions Muslim people share in. As we sat in class, the smells of chicken and rice whirled through the classrooms and by the end of culture class, our stomachs were growling for lunch. Lunch usually consisted of a grain base such as couscous or rice with meat, vegetables, salad and fruit.
With a full stomach, we would continue emerging into the culture each day by exploring the city in various ways. We visited a local museum called “Dar Jamali” filled with ancient architecture and pottery linked with the history of the city, went on a carriage ride around Meknes, and put our language to use by bargaining in the local market.
The markets were loud with music and laughter, filled with everything from handmade clothes and jewelry, to olives and Moroccan pastries. Physically, we stood out among the locals, but we did our best to blend by putting our skills to use and speaking in Arabic.
My favorite part of the trip was our weekend visit to Chefchauen, the beautiful and famous blue city. While walking up and down the stone roads, back by different shades of beautiful blues, a calming feeling rushed through me. The colorful rugs and clothes that hung from the walls stood out, catching our eyes and pulling us into the market where we shopped for hours. We bought jewelry, local argan, Moroccan oil and pillows until our feet cried for a rest and the sinking sun summoned us to dinner.
Dinner was located on the roof of a restaurant with a breathtaking view of the city, the blue buildings contrasted perfectly against the orange and pink sky. We enjoyed delicious chicken kabobs and French fries while watching the sun disappear behind luminous, soothing blue buildings.
Our trip to Morocco ended with a final exam which every girl passed and therefore celebrated with a goodbye ceremony. Although many of us were beginning to grow homesick, the goodbyes to our crying, loving teachers and new friends made us want to stay another week. On our last night, we packed our bags and all gathered outside on our colorful tiled balcony, reflecting on the memories of the trip.
In the morning, we waved goodbye to the ALIM center out the windows of our bus and as the engine roared and their waving hands grew out of focus, we were off, leaving Meknes behind, but taking our memories with us.