University of Iowa

Southern excursion

March 12th, 2018

Hey! It’s me! Looking over a river, very glad to be out of the bus for a few minutes and soaking in that stunning view.
Hey! It’s me! Looking over a river, very glad to be out of the bus for a few minutes and soaking in that stunning view.
 

As soon as we’d settled into our school routine, it was time to shake things up with a seven-day tour of central Morocco. Rabat is fairly far north, so “south” encompasses most of the country. It was our first excursion, and first time leaving the home-base of the Rabat Medina neighborhood. I have two major takeaways from the Southern Excursion: 1. Rabat is wonderful and should be appreciated. As fun as it was to visit other cities, I’m so glad the program isn’t based in Marrakech, Fes, or Meknes. 2. A twist on the old adage: if you don’t like the scenery, drive five minutes; the Morocco that Americans see in movies and social media is an incredibly simplified version of Morocco.

The SIT Morocco programs emphasize ethnography and that we are students, not simply tourists. The excursion was both an outlet for that tourist spirit and an opportunity to assess and analyze the implications of tourism, particularly in Morocco. I was grateful that we were not only encouraged, but required, to do more than gape at the “exotic” culture.

Loving Rabat
Before the excursion, I knew that Rabat was different. I even mentioned in my first blog that it’s really not a tourist city, although at that point I hadn’t been to the most popular tourist cities in Morocco. Marrakech has a reputation as Tourist Central, and its bustling, Westernized streets, multi-level shopping malls, Starbucks, and relatively high prices attested to it. We saw museums, gardens, and rooftop cafes. We saw the Jemaa el-Fna square, full of snake charmers, buskers, and trinket sellers. The spectacle was fun and entertaining for a while, but Marrakech and Rabat are two sides of the same coin: they’re part of the same country, but they show very different faces. I’m the first to admit that I’m not really a big-city kind of person, so it was wonderful to return to Rabat and realize how comfortable I’d become there. Even though I’d hardly been in Morocco a month by the end of the excursion, returning to Rabat felt like returning home. It’s beautiful but not so polished and perfect; it’s bustling, but with purpose.

A Little World of Its Own
While I knew coming that Golden Age of Hollywood films and Instagram stars show a very selective view of Morocco, I had no idea what to expect instead, and I must say, I was amazed and delighted. What doesn’t Morocco have? There are lush river valleys, sandy ocean beaches, the Sahara, snowy mountains, canyonlands , miles and miles of farmland that felt just like home: it’s like someone took the entire geography of the United States and just condensed it in an area a little larger than California. Since I can’t do justice with words, here’s some photo evidence.

Hello Rabat
Hello, Rabat! I missed you!

Fes old medina: while it looks like Rabat, it feels so much more performative.
Fes old medina: while it looks like Rabat, it feels so much more performative.

Marrakech is wonderful for Instagram, but it’s not representative of most of Morocco.
Marrakech is wonderful for Instagram, but it’s not representative of most of Morocco.

These ruins of the royal stables at Meknes used to hold 12,000 Arabian horses. Because why not.
These ruins of the royal stables at Meknes used to hold 12,000 Arabian horses. Because why not.

Roman ruins at Volubilis, largely intact and still occupied by locals until an earthquake in 1755. Now occupied largely by tourists and archaeologists.  
Roman ruins at Volubilis, largely intact and still occupied by locals until an earthquake in 1755. Now occupied largely by tourists and archaeologists.  

What my mother thinks all of Morocco looks like.
 What my mother thinks all of Morocco looks like.

What a lot of Morocco actually looks like.
 What a lot of Morocco actually looks like...

What a lot of Morocco actually looks like.

What a lot of Morocco actually looks like.

What a lot of Morocco actually looks like.

What a lot of Morocco actually looks like.

What a lot of Morocco actually looks like.

You made it all the way through this blog, congratulations! For your time, here’s the most stereotypical photo I have of Morocco. And we’re almost not even in Morocco anymore here, just 30 miles from the Algerian border.
 You made it all the way through this blog, congratulations! For your time, here’s the most stereotypical photo I have of Morocco. And we’re almost not even in Morocco anymore here, just 30 miles from the Algerian border.

 

jillian

Jillian Swanson is an English and anthropology major at the University of Iowa. She will be spending her semester in Rabat, Morocco, as part of the SIT Morocco Multiculturalism and Human Rights program.

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