Prior to landing in Morocco on March 24, I was very nervous. Never before had I traveled outside of Europe. I was scared that I'd stick out like a sore thumb — that I'd seem disrespectful to those around me.
All of those fears were put to rest with each bit of information that our guide, Mohammad, taught us. He explained certain cultural norms and taught us necessary phrases in Arabic. As a traveler, I wanted to make sure that I adapted and immersed myself into the part of the world that I was visiting.
We learned countless things and my mind felt like a sponge soaking up every lesson. I learned that in Morocco many restrooms (or W.C.'s) are free of charge, but have an attandant who collects tips. Even restaurants have attendants who clean the rest room and restock the paper. It's appropriate to hand over small coins with your right hand as a tip.
Using the right hand over the left is very important due to the nature of the Islam-oriented culture. In sum, using the right hand is crucial since the left hand is considered "dirty" because of the process of ablution. Ablution, the ritual washing process completed prior to praying, is completed by washing different parts of the body a certain number of times. During this process, the individual washes their sexual organs with their left hand, therefore giving context for why tipping with the left hand is considered offensive.
Another important lesson we learned was about bartering. In Morocco, it is a part of the culture to barter for large-cost items. This basically includes everything except market produce or items with a fixed price in a mall or grocery store. This was very intimidating since I was hesistant to negotiate a cheaper price in fear of insulting the vendor. While looking at pottery in Fes I was told, "Barter with me! It's our culture! What's your price?"
I ended up talking the vendor down to nearly 50% of the price he initially offered! Although I got the hang of it, I think I'd rather find my deals through nonconfrontational clearance rack shopping.
By far the most interesting lesson was about Islam. Mohammad taught us about the call to prayer, ablution, Ramadan, and other details about the religion. We even got to visit the third-largest mosque in the world! Hasan II was built as both an operating mosque and as a model for non-Muslims to visit. In Morocco, only Muslims can enter into mosques due to a deadly incident that happened during the time of French rule. This massive mosque is the only exception in all of Morocco. Hasan II holds 25,000 people inside and 80,000 people outside. It is also the only mosque next to the ocean! Mohammad said that Hasan II is filled to capacity during Ramadan. The sheer size and beauty of the gorgeous mosque was truly overwhelming.
In Casablanca, Fes, and Marrakech, the minaret of the mosque is the tallest point in the city. Buildings are not allowed to be higher than the tower of the mosque. At five different times of the day, the call to prayer echoes through the city from the very top of the minaret. Everyone can look out over the buildings to find the mosque peeking out from other city structures. The time of the call to prayer differs slightly each day since it follows the sunrise. Even at 5:45 a.m. in Fes, the call to prayer was a beautiful alarm clock. There is nothing more stunning than looking out at a sleepy city with the call resonating through the streets and palm trees.
Despite my initial hesitation, I fell head over heels in love with Morocco. Every stereotype that I had ever heard about Africa was proven wrong. This country, rich with culture, had me completely mesmorized.