A Month in the Moroccan Mountains

For the month of July, I was extremely lucky, alongside fifteen other students, to take a service trip to the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains. 
My first stop of this life-changing experience was the world-renowned city of Marrakech. The city’s famous night market and stunning ancient palaces were like nothing I had ever seen. My group and I stayed in the middle of Marrakech’s medina (the old city), where we were able to truly immerse ourselves in the Moroccan culture. I was especially surprised to listen to and appreciate the call of prayer five times a day from the nearby mosque. As I have always lived in a majority Catholic country, this was an amazing and fascinating experience. 

One of my favorite memories from this city was the night market in the plaza. My friends and I were able to explore the most remote corners of the market. We bought all types of antiques and clothes. 

A six-hour bus drive from the touristy city of Marrakech took us to Zaouia Ahansal, a beautiful and stunning Berber valley. For fifteen days, the group helped build a new washing station, teach English to elementary students, and plant vegetables in the community gardens. Although this community work was highly rewarding, it was even more special to create friendships with the locals. I became especially close with Ahmed, a ten-year-old kid whose parents owned the guest house where I stayed. Although my Arabic is almost nonexistent and Ahmed could understand very little English, our soccer games and card matches brought us close. It’s very special to see how bonds transcend culture and language. 

Even more interesting was celebrating Eid at Zaouia Ahansal. This Islamic celebration commemorates Abraham and Ishmael’s story. As one of the most important celebrations in the Islamic world, it was an eye-opening experience, and the community truly welcomed us to celebrate this important holiday with them. Besides the delicious Moroccan food, my favorite part was getting henna. Traditional to Berber culture, henna is a tattoo-like drawing in your skin. I loved the pattern that stuck on my hand for a little less than a week. 

Another highlight of my trip to Morocco was a three-night trek around Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains. The scenery and landscapes were unbelievable. With my new friends, the trek brought some of the most bonding experiences of the trip. From playing Capture the Flag on the peak of a mountain to exploring cliffs and caves along the mountainside (and even swimming in a waterfall), the trek was a perfect moment to get to know my fellow travelers, as well as to get to appreciate the mind-boggling Moroccan countryside. It would be an understatement to call this trek physically challenging, but it was also extremely rewarding. I don’t think I have ever felt better than after taking my hiking shoes off and drinking some Moroccan tea after a fifteen-mile hike. 

Famous for its surf and white market, the port city of Essaouira was an amazing place to end the trip. Camel riding, swimming in the freezing ocean, and exploring the markets were fun and exciting. 

This trip was thought-provoking and changed my perspective on both Africa and the Islamic world as a whole. I am lucky to have had this opportunity and really look forward to going back to Morocco.