Malaga’s Ambition: “Creating a Pluralistic Society: Negotiating Diversity”





Personally, the Malaga experience is the crowning point of my trip to the Mediterranean. Despite the fact that I do not speak Spanish at all, for me this part of the trip is where the most amount of cultural exchange happened and the most complete cultural immersion took place. What I derived from this whole experience is the conclusion that Spain is an intercultural society which respects difference and values diversity. The cultural experience started as soon as I arrived in Malaga, Spain. All of us got excited about the abundant nice restaurants and bars within arms’ reach, and soon we were out among the people sitting leisurely in the warm afternoon, enjoying rich hot chocolate, a glass of Sangria or delicious Tapas. To me, sitting in one of those places is in itself a unique Spanish experience, when good-looking Spanish young men and women were lightly passing by, when people around me were uttering the beautiful sounds unique to Spanish language, when street-performers were singing, playing guitars or an accordion around me, and when the aroma of calamari and paella was filling my nostrils… Without the many afternoons or late evenings sitting in those little outdoor restaurants with local Spaniards, my Malaga experiences wouldn’t have been as full and enriching. I felt I was included in those local people’s life in such a special way – by being in one of their sunlit afternoons. Perhaps I, a Chinese girl sitting among mostly Caucasian people, was also a subject of observation by some people around me? I do not know.


Hot Chocolate

Besides the implicit cultural exchange on the streets or in the little restaurants, my communication with my host mom, Stella, was also a wonderful experience. She spoke a lot about the Spanish economic crisis and the predicaments of many Spanish people. She used to work in a bar and later as an administrator, but during the crisis she lost her job and now she cleans houses. Therefore she hosted students in order to make some extra money. However, despite the fact that she was not wealthy, she did her best to make our stay as comfortable as possible. The best part of my interaction with her started after our program ended on March 22, when almost all of my friends and professors had left Malaga and I was left by myself to communicate with the few Spanish words I know. However I did not feel lonely at all. With the help of GoogleTranslate and body language, Stella and I had a great time together. We taught each other languages and told each other about our own lives. Her openness and graciousness made my few days there unforgettable. When I left on 4:00 am in the morning of March 26th, Stella accompanied me to the taxi and told the driver to take good care of her “little baby.” It is truly wonderful to establish friendship across cultural and language barriers.


My Host Mom Stella (Left) and me (right)

Furthermore, the academic and social interactions we had with professors at the University of Malaga and with social activists in various NGOs only confirmed the sense of inclusiveness and welcome I have felt by living in Malaga. From Professor Rafael Durán Mufioz’s lecture on migration and diversity policies, we learned a lot about Spain’s approach to cultural diversity. According to Prof. Rafael, Interculturalism as an approach is favored above Multiculturalism and Assimilationism, and Spanish society is developing towards mutual respect by setting the objectives to promote welcoming policies and full-integration of immigrants. Another relevant event is the seminar we attended that was held by the NGO: The Moroccan Association for the Integration of Immigrants. Another professor from the University of Malaga: Victor Solbes condemned the existence of borders upon which racism, xenophobia, and neo-Nazism develop. He pointed out that the current education in Spain was accentuating the differentiation between “us” and “them”, and unless intercultural education for the whole society is established in Spain, people’s mind-set could hardly be changed. At the end Prof. Solbes said that intercultural education sounds hard and utopian, but it is something the society should aim for. His call for the creation of a society “from an ethnic point of view” speaks for many Spaniards who are working hard to achieve an ethnically harmonious society, an effort we felt and witnessed in our 10 days in Malaga.

Malaga, Spain as a whole gave me a different feeling. For me it was an environment of openness and inclusiveness and a sense of dynamic energy: the sense that some positive changes are actively taking place. Although each society has its own problems related to the integration of immigrants, after staying in Malaga, I believe that the barriers Spain is facing are not insurmountable. Granting enough time and with the efforts of some members of the society, Spain could eventually overcome various barriers and achieve the goal of an intercultural society.


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March 6 – A Beautiful Day

We were in Azrou on March 6, and it was one of the most beautiful days we spent in Morocco. It was literally “beautiful” because we visited some of the most wonderful natural environments in our trip.

In the morning we gathered in a café with some Moroccan NGO members and the people who did translation for us. Among the NGO members, two of the men worked for the public health of the region. We learnt about many problems of this region and the NGO’s efforts to improve the situations. A few major points that came out to me in the conversation were that in Morocco, there is a health-care system which is good in the sense that people only pay a little to see a doctor, and the qualification for becoming a doctor is very high.  However, although there are a cheap health system and good doctors, the infrastructure is very poor. There is not enough funding for ambulances and helicopters, and local hospitals are so lacking that many sick people died on their way to the big cities. An important reason is that the corruption on the administrative levels made the funding reaching the general public very scarce. In order to develop local infrastructures, the region has been encouraging investment from Moroccan Diaspora abroad, but the immigrants rarely come back – they prefer investing in the big cities. Learning about the healthcare system of Azrou and about the local development as a whole, we are able use the small city of Azrou as a lens to look at the development of the entire Morocco and its correlation with immigration.2013-03-06 12.09.55

The highlight of our day was actually in a small village at the outskirt of Azrou, a very poor village situated in the most magnificent landscape we have ever seen in Morocco. On the way our bus stopped on a small mountain where we were greeted by a group of very cute wild monkeys. They have learned the way of human-beings so well that they would jump by you, dragging your pants and asking for more peanuts.

When we reached the village the rain was pouring, and a group of NGO volunteers were standing in the mud waiting for us. This town looks exactly like the town depicted in the Moroccan film: the Sleeping Child, in which townspeople would walk out of the low earth houses and look hopelessly at the endless plain and mountains, which block their view of the cities and of the civilization. However this place is incredibly beautiful. On the boundless earth the rolling mountains were crowned by heavy grey cloud. The branches of river were flowing wildly, shimmering and reflecting the silver color of the rainy sky. The busy presence of the volunteers added a lively touch to the picturesque beauty of the entire landscape.


We went into the houses and saw the works the volunteers were doing – there are packs and packs of donations. Food, clothes, and blankets were collected from main Moroccan cities like Nador. We started talking to the volunteers, who came from mainly the Nador city and from universities. For some reasons we were not able to have a formal interview with them, but many of us who speak French or Spanish did get to communicate with them individually. These volunteers were representative of five organizations that work together to provide humanitarian aid to the poor villagers. Besides distributing donations, they also came once in two weeks to give free medical services to the villagers. It is wonderful to know that there are a number of social workers taking care of the villagers who, in many cases, are women, children, and elders left behind by migrants. Also, it is important for us not only to learn the situations of poor villages in Morocco from readings and films, but also to witness the situations by ourselves.



IMG_0549After more than an hour of talking, a wonderful meal was served to us, and we were not able to eat it up: first a Tajine with beef and vegetables, then a big plate of CousCous with more beef and milk, and at last a full plate of fruits. Once again we experienced the Moroccan hospitality which reveals so much about the Moroccan culture. When I first arrived in Rabat, eating with fingers and from a common plate of food made me uncomfortable, as I have got used to having my own share of food in my own plate. However, as I got more immersed in the culture by staying in local families and eating everyday with warmhearted Moroccans, I learned to appreciate the communal sense of Moroccans. When people graciously offer you a sip from their own glass or moving more food from their “zone” of the Tajine (the special container where everyone eats from) to yours, it shows that they love you, trust you and receive you as one of them. Learning to respect and appreciate the communal culture of Morocco is one of the best harvests of my trip.

When we were leaving, the weather became nicer, and under the sun the village and its surroundings looked magnificent. The golden sunlight spraying out of the cloud went through the moist air and illuminated the grassland and the rivers. At this moment, someone in our car shouted: “rainbow!!” We all turned to see, and on the golden grassland there stood a huge and resplendent rainbow. We stopped the bus and rushed out to take photos – for many of us it is the first time in life seeing such a perfect rainbow.

In the evening we all went back to our host families to enjoy the dinner. I had a wonderful roasted chicken with bread, one of the best meals I have had in Morocco. March 6 was an eventful and beautiful day!


The Rainbow

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Catherine’s Thoughts in Tetuoan

Diza after the rain

Diza after the rain



By Catherine Turvey

We spent our last couple of days in Morocco in the city of Tetuoan. Karima Ouald and Amhed spoke with us about their NGO, the Asociación Marroquí para la Integración de los Inmigrantes, located in Diza, the poorest neighborhood in the city. Migrants constantly flow in and out of the neighborhood with just a backpack or bag by their side. According to our hosts, Diza has many challenges to face, including waterway pollution, female illiteracy, and poverty. We saw how the city struggles with flooded streets after rain storms. At the association, Karima and Amhed explained the many services their organization provides and shared their own migration stories with us.

I especially appreciated how they allow the community to identify which needs should be addressed. In Diza, for instance, community members requested opportunities for woman to both socialize and learn new skills. Additionally, they provide language classes for children, which is especially important because the town lacks resources like a library. Though Spain has a better educational system, Moroccan children seem to excel at learning languages. Perhaps it is because learning English and Spanish are linked with social and economic mobility. Other important services the NGO provides are family planning and drug prevention workshops.

After meeting with Amhed and Karima, we had some free time to explore and reflect. I took the time to write an email to home.


     So I like the backpack that we picked out together but I wanted to reach out to you because there is a little problem. There is never a backpack big enough. You know me. I’m not a diva. I’d be willing to leave some clothes at home and make room for you and Dad in the inner pocket. John and Georgia like adventure, so they could just hang on to the outer bungee cords. But still, I find there is never a backpack big enough. What happens when I come home and try to squeeze in new friends, Moroccan tea, the gorgeous countryside, the tiled floors? Too many things I’d have to leave and people I’d have to say goodbye to. And I know you. You like to sprawl out and wiggle your toes. Nope. Its decided. There is never a backpack big enough. But I really wish there were.




In the midst of our last days in Morocco, I wondered what this letter would look like if a migrant from Diza were writing home. Who would they wish they could squeeze in their bags? What would they miss from Morocco? What would they wish they could bring back to share? I imagine for them, there is never a backpack big enough.


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Reflections on Morocco

By Annabelle Gould

“Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.” – Mark Twain

            During our time in Morocco we found ourselves spending plenty of time reflecting on our long bus rides to all of the places we were visiting during our travels. The bus acted as our maternal hub that would take us to all of these new and beautiful places as we reflected on what we had seen, past experiences, our music, etc. In a way, our time on the bus was cherished because it acted as our place of safe reflection — both away and together with the group as one drifted in and out of sleep, music listening, etc. To me, time in the bus was one that I found myself getting excited about. It acted as a portal for me to reflect, prepare, and then jump into the next activity on our next stop. As we sat on the bus in our own little worlds, we would pass beautiful landscapes of rolling hills, mountains, and rivers with the occasional fruit stand and the lonely tender. During these bus rides, I never slept. I was always listening to my music and looking out the window at all of the passing scenes, acting as my own personal movie show. I found it to be fascinating that I, a young American, was looking in on these external scenes so far removed from my own world. At times, I felt invasive with the confused and baffled glances we received from people in our passing. Other times, I felt welcomed with the waves and smiles of young children following our bus out of the small villages we visited. Our time on the bus meant something more than a journey for me. The bus acted as a safe hub, where we observed and the actors external to our bus (whether they were landscapes, people, animals, etc.) acted as our entertainment. It was hard for us to connect when we were in the bus — that was our domestic hub. We were able to be our own American selves without the fear of not being able to connect with those whom we met during our time in Morocco. We were never completely immersed on the bus, no matter how many pictures we took nor how many landscapes we saw. Only until we stepped off the bus and into those villages, homes, city streets did we completely feel that we could connect with those whom we met. To the people looking in on our bus, we probably acted as the same factor within their lives — disconnected foreigners looking at them, while they looked back. This acted as a similar act of voyeurism – they look at us, while we look at them relationship. Acting as nothing deeper until we stepped out of our comfort zone and into their lives.


Upon stepping off the bus, we found ourselves in cities, rural villages and mountainside towns that we had only seen within our travel booklets and National Geographic. As disconnected as it sounds, I had thought of all of the individuals whom we saw in passing as one-dimensional characters acting in a global play. I had never thought about their lives, struggles, ways of life – nor had I bothered to know a little bit more – until I stepped off that bus. My own metaphorical bus was applying for this Mosaic – I stepped on my “bus” when I submitted my application to the Center for Global Study, not thinking about the individuals but rather about the promise of the landscapes, cities, and towns I would traverse through — ones of which I had seen in National Geographic and similar magazines. It wasn’t until this trip gave me a little bit of a kick in the rear off the bus and into the landscapes, cities, and villages that I was completely aware of the multi-faceted angles of all of these individuals. Stepping into their homes, their ways of life, asking about their mothers, families, and values painted a broader picture for me. They all have different and interesting customs, family values, viewpoints than we do, and yet we find ways to put them into a hierarchical viewpoint of being looked at. With our journeys on the bus, we could see that this relationship would work both ways – they were just as fascinated by us just like we were with them. Understanding that we could work in conjunction by allowing them to probe our lives as much as theirs was an interesting and invaluable lesson we have taken away with our time not only in Morocco but on this complete journey through three different cultures. And for that, we have the “bus” to thank.

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Spanish Classes at Asociación Marroqui

On our last day in Spain, while Claire and Orli talked with Mariam, Fallon and I sat in on a Spanish class at the Asociación Marroqui, which helps to integrate immigrants into the Málaga community. The class consisted three Moroccan women, one Ukranian man, and one teacher, who was a Spanish man. He told us that he lives in Málaga and volunteers at the center. Classes meet twice a week for an hour and a half and three different levels of Spanish are offered. The class we were sitting in on was the most basic level. These individuals had very little Spanish, if really any at all.

They were working on very basic worksheets which reminded me of those that I would be assigned when I began learning Spanish. This week, they were practicing naming themselves, stating their age, and learning the words for different household objects. Even with such simple tasks, I could see that they were struggling. Fallon and I tried to help them with the Spanish we have, but had trouble portraying concepts to them and communicating effectively, for Spanish is neither our or their first language.

Karima, President of Asociación Marroqui, speaking about the organization

Karima, President of Asociación Marroqui, speaking about the organization

The teacher explained to us that many of these people have little or no formal education, which makes it very difficult even for him to teach them a second language. He also only speaks Spanish and a little bit of French, which can still provide a communication barrier, as most of their first languages were Arabic or Berber. He kept repeating how hard this volunteer work is. While the children who come to the center for homework help seem to come back regularly, he said that the adults “come and go.” These individuals have a lot on their plates, and even though they are living in Spanish society and trying to learn the language, it doesn’t always appear to be their first priority or an easy task. There is a lot they need to balance.

Even as the last cite visit of the trip, this experience was eye opening to me. We have learned how disruptive, disorienting, and disappointing immigration north can be. We have learned about, and witnessed, many of the hardships of this movement. Somehow, the significance of the language barrier and how disorienting it must be to move somewhere where you don’t understand the local tongue, had yet to fully hit me. Watching adults struggle to fill out simple worksheets like those I did with relative ease in middle school, clarified the severity of their situation for me. Even if you make it across, even if your family joins you, even if you find work and a home, it is still so incredibly hard. The obstacles are multiple and inevitable.

Because I will be returning to Málaga to study there in the upcoming fall semester, I was especially influenced by this final experience. While I too will be a foreigner in Spain, my situation cannot be compared to theirs. Watching the center at work, full of people looking for a little help to make their lives just a bit easier, I could see myself returning there to volunteer and do what I can to help with such a good cause.

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Incorporating Religion into a Secular Life

On our very last Thursday in Spain, Claire and I had a chance to interview Mariam Idhammou Lassiane at the Asociacion Marroqui. Other than hearing about her work as an intern, Mariam had a surprisingly liberal perspective towards religion, which I personally related to as well. I do not think Mariam’s perspective was surprising based on her personality; rather, it was different from most other perspectives we had previously heard on the trip.

Mariam, a daughter of two Moroccan immigrants, grew up in Paris, France. Her family identifies as observant Muslims. As a child, she went to Catholic school, because the education was better than the public schools in the region. Mariam, who has been living in Spain for the past year, finds it harder to identify religiously in Spain than in France. She believes that this stems from Spain’s homogeneous population and lack of diversity. Although ambivalent at first and unsure how much we were allowed to pry, Claire and I inquired about Mariam’s decision to wear a headscarf, a hijab, and its effect her religious life in European Untitledcountries. Our curiosity was heightened because we were informed numerous times that religion is kept in the private sphere in Spain and France. With a smile, Mariam was pleased that we asked our questions. Honestly, she replied, as human beings living in a community, we need to observe both the religious and secular law. She stated that if the secular law does not permit her to wear a hijab in public, then she will only wear her hijab in spaces where it is allowed and accepted. Mariam believes that there is no point in causing uproar and people should abide by the law. On a deeper level, she wholeheartedly believes in religious practice, but does not think that it should dictate one’s life and govern one’s actions. For example, Mariam stated that women are not allowed to wear hijabs in ID photos. In fact, you cannot receive an ID if you are wearing a hijab. Thus, Mariam does not wear her hijab for all ID photos. She then referenced other women who quietly protest by not getting IDs at all because they cannot wear their hijabs in the picture. In this instance, Mariam asserted that it is pointless to exclude yourself in society and limit your opportunities because of religious reasons.

Interestingly, Mariam stated that her older sister chooses not to wear a hijab and her family is accepting of the decision. Yet, Mariam confirmed that she would only marry a Muslim, and doubts her parents’ acceptance of any other form of marriage. Mariam would like to one day raise her kids in the same, liberal and open-minded environment, in which she was brought up.

In conclusion, Mariam stressed that everyone needs to be respectful and observant of all roles. We will not be able to function as a unified society if people cannot comply with laws. She did recognize that perhaps the laws need to be more accommodating towards Muslim women, but as a whole, if you are a citizen of a society, you must follow the rules. Simply put, Mariam thinks one needs to make religion work and fit into his or her life, rather than force one’s lifestyle to fit into religion. Striking the balance between a religiously observant and secular life in order to be content and comfortable is challenging but a task that can be accomplished. It is a matter of patience and trial and error. Mariam’s outlook is progressive and more people should begin to think in a similar manner if they would like to see change.

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Multiculturalism and the Mediterranean

A Spanish Guitar Player

A Spanish Guitar Player

I have always thought of multiculturalism as a positive word, but Spain is challenging my notion of how to address inequality. University of Malaga lecturer, Rafael Durán Munoz, explained the nuances of a multiculturalist, assimilationist and inter-culturalist approach. Though both France and Spain strive to address inequality amongst their diverse populations, their approaches vary greatly across these three.

In France, for instance, we observed an assimilationist approach. Munoz explained that though Sarcozy claimed multiculturalism failed in France, it actually never existed. According to Munoz, before you are a Muslim, you are French. This explains why in public spaces like a school, people cannot wear religious symbols like a headscarf. Schools are considered secular places that should be free from religion.

Movement Against Intolerance

Movement Against Intolerance

Spain takes a more intercultural approach. According to an interculturalist, you are free to express things like your religion or culture as long as you do not violate any human rights. This means that unlike in France, a Muslim girl would be allowed to wear a veil to school. Munoz explains that ‘people are not part of us because they act like us. They are part of us because we respect them’. People should not simply co-exist, separated by ethnic ghettos, but should instead live together.

MediterraneoLike Munoz, lecturer Victor Manuel Martin Solbes, condoned an inter-culturalist approach to diversity and specifically focused on inter-culturalism within the classroom. This approach must be part of education as a whole, and not just included in one activity or one heritage day. Within the classroom, he believes diversity should be visible and celebrated.

I have also always appreciated how in the US, we have free expressions of religion and culture. That being said, I never considered what would be the French criticism. Our so called “melting pot” is actually marked by ethnic ghettos and inequality. Do we co-exist in relatively segregated communities and schools, or are all people truly integrated into one society?

Catherine Turvey

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Interview with Madame Redon in Moissac, France

IMG_4925By Annabelle Gould

Upon meeting Madame Redon, the mother of the farmer we met in Moissac, we could tell that she was unlike the other interviewees whom we had a privilege to meet. During our first encounter, she would quip between the snippets of information we got from her son, Bernard. She always seemed to have an opinion or silly little tidbit to add to anything he said, showing her attentive nature to conversation and visitors to her home. When asked if she would mind doing a separate interview with Fallon, Amy and I, she was very excited but also very concerned that her hair would not have been done before she would be able to do the interview — a clear indication of the amount of spunk this woman had. Little did we know how interesting our dialogue would be as we spoke to her about various topics such as motherhood and her workmanship as a rural woman.

Sitting down with Irene, as she affectionately insisted we call her when we began the interview, was an experience. She would talk and answer our questions, paying special attention to her feelings and opinions, and then would work off tangent by prompting a conversation about a picture that she spotted on her walls. At one point in the interview, she even gave us a complete tour of her home, pointing out the pictures of her extended family members with a sassy story of them for us to grasp an understanding that this woman was not only very intelligent and strong-willed, but also had a wicked sense of humor to back it all up.

One of the focuses of our interview was talking about the value of family and her role as a mother with the balance of being a worker on her farm. She began by talking about her early life saying that she had been born in 1931 and raised on a farm. From the time she was very young, had learned how to drive a tractor and began to run her own portion of the farm. Interestingly enough, she talked at length about her frustration about tractors and how she prefers to drive them over cars because she could use two feet to push the pedals, and how difficult that was to maneuver when she drove cars. At age 21 in 1952, she was married after having met her husband a few short months prior. She had a daughter and a son (Bernard, whom we met prior to the interview) between 1952 and 1961. When prompted about her newfound caretaker role as a mother during this time, she responded by adding onto the importance of family to help alleviate the stresses a new mother would face. For example, she said that during the time she was breast-feeding and nursing both of her children, she was still working in the fields of her farm. During the times where she would be in the field, her children would be in the house with her mother and then she would periodically check in to feed them, promptly leaving to get back to the fields on her motorcycle. With this, I asked her if she believed this helped to alleviate the stresses of marriage, which she responded with an excited head nod.


On the topic of marriage, Irene was clearly very much a fan of an equal and balanced marriage to her husband of 59 years. When discussing her husband, we could see how much she really cared for the man whom she had shared 2 children, a farm, and memories with for so long. Talking about his death on November 16th, 2011 prompted our discussion of her connection with immigration. This was because Momo, a Moroccan man whose family has worked for the Redons for years, helped when Irene’s husband was dying and on the afternoon that he passed away. For two generations, Irene’s family has hosted Momo’s Moroccan family — one where the men primarily come to France and work, while the women and the rest of the family stays in Morocco. Momo is a primary member of the family during the seasonal time he is at their farm. Unfortunately, he was not on the farm when we talked to Irene and Bernard but we were able to grasp and understanding by how much respect they have for Momo by the way Irene talked about her gratitude towards him. Not only does he work in the fields tirelessly during the hot summers, but he also helps to make sure Irene is happy and content in her home by checking in on her and keeping her company to combat the loneliness she sometimes feels especially after her husband’s death. Irene became especially emotional when talking about the way people receive Momo in their French society and her frustrations with how immigrants are perceived by people. One story that Irene told us about Momo put these ignorances into perspective: Irene had been chatting with her girlfriends about Momo and his closeness to the family, which was received with perplexed stares and complicated smiles. When Irene asked why her friends were looked so confused, her friends simply responded with one question: “Does he even use a fork?”

This story was saddening both to Irene but also to ourselves because of how positive we were that French society had been progressive about immigrants, particularly from Morocco and other parts of Africa. However, it was reassuring to see how much Irene really respected and loved Momo like one of her children. The way she talked about Momo with a twinkle in her eyes about how she adored him and how he had contributed during the hard time of losing her husband, whom she loved so dearly, was inspiring. All in all, Irene provided us with a good grasp of the hard exterior of French mothering (particularly with rural areas where working seems to drive families) as well as a bunch of laughs as she told silly stories about herself and her family. The interview was both lighthearted and emotional and certainly one of the most memorable meeting memories I will have of an individual for a long time.

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Hamam: Moroccan Bath House

Before traveling to Morocco, we were told that our shower accessibility would be limited. As someone who is not particularly adamant about showering regularly, in all honesty, I was excited to hear this news. On the first night with our host family in Rabat, we asked the daughter, Meryam, about the showering situation. She told us that there is indeed a shower in their house’s bathroom. When I refer to the house’s bathroom, I am describing a 4×4 room with a Turkish toilet and two water spigots. Meryam proceeded to tell us that Fatima, her mother, and she go to the Hamam, the Bath House, every Friday. Instantly, Amber and I accepted our invitation to join Meryam and Fatima at the Hamam the following day.

Before going to the Hamam, Meryam told us to bring a change of clean clothing, showering toiletries, and a towel. Neither Amber nor myself had a towel, so Meryam graciously lent one towel for both of us to share. Right before leaving the house for the Hamam, Fatima handed us stools, mats, and a bucket. Truly, I had no expectations for the Hamam as I had no basis or insight regarding the entire process. On our walk over, I questioned if families had a specific Hamam they attended each week. My inquiry was quickly answered when we were forced to go to a different Hamam because the first one was full. Apparently, Friday is a popular day to shower in Morocco.

In a generous manner, Meryam paid for us to get into the Hamam and guided us through the whole procedure to the best of her ability. Upon arrival, Amber and I agreed to follow suite. After climbing a slippery flight of stairs, we entered a room, similar to a locker room but much smaller and more crowded, full of Moroccan women changing into or out of clothing. Awkward at first and unsure of the protocol, we followed Meryam’s lead and undressed. With broad smiles and a liberating surge of emotion, we entered the Hamam. The room, a U-shaped classroom-sized space, was warm and steamy, occupied with women of all ages. There were six water spigots, three with hot water and three with cold water. Women waiting in line to fill up their buckets surrounded the spigots. Meryam instructed Amber and I to place our stools in a certain area and to sit on them. Little to our knowledge, we would be sitting on these stools for the next two hours. Next, Meryam brought over two buckets of incredibly soothing hot water. The first step is to wash one’s body. This was not the typical body-washing method. Fatima handed us a brown gooey gel. We were signaled to rub the gel all over our bodies, creating an oily friction between our skin and hands. After rubbing on the first layer of gel, we were given a scrubber that wrapped around our hands like a sock. Once we completed applying the gel, we began to scrub our bodies. The scrubber was rough and irritated our bodies when rubbing against the skin. Fatima, sitting next to me on the floor, laughed, and communicated with me via hand motions, as we do not speak the same languages, that I was not scrubbing properly. Before I knew it, Fatima was physically scrubbing me down. I could not help but chuckle while my Moroccan host mother was literally bathing me, as if I was a young child. Within seconds, I immediately understood why Fatima saw the need to assist me. The combination of the gel and the scrubber should have been rubbing off the dead skin on my body, and I had not been scrubbing hard enough. Slightly appalled by the amount of dead skin I have been storing up, Fatima passed off the scrubber to me and I continued to cleanse my body. Following about an hour of scrubbing and spattering water everywhere, it was time to wash our hair. This was a rather normal process. In the middle, we almost had our jackets stolen, but luckily the custodian put them in a closet for us – that was a rendezvous in itself.

Later on, a group of American girls, walked into the Hamam. They were confused how to go about the entire situation, and as expert Hamam-goers of one hour, Amber and I guided them through the process. They came and left quickly. Another notable moment was watching a little girl, who was around three years old, jump into a bucket and splash around excitingly. In fact, I mentioned to Amber that the mixture of pruning fingers and pouring buckets of water on our heads, reminded me of the of being a child playing water. Following approximately two hours in the Hamam, we went back to the changing room and dressed ourselves in our clean clothing. Meryam wrapped scarves around our heads in order to keep our heads warm while we walking home.

Altogether, I had multiple thoughts running through my head while at the Hamam, but many of them were solidified afterwards when I had time to digest what had occurred, rather than while I was going through the physical motions. On a light note, I have never before felt as clean and practically glowing than I had post Hamam. Though most Moroccans only fully shower once a week, it seems as though it is truly a cleansing and purifying ritual. The culture of the Hamam undoubtedly embodies the immense communal aspect of the Medina. The women at the Hamam exhibited friendly sister-like, relationships.  Moreover, the Hamam exemplified how and why the strong connection is created and fostered between Moroccan mothers and daughters. Fatima bathed Meryam, even as a 23 year-old. Additionally, after the first five minutes of standing undressed, there is a rush of comfort and liberation, rapidly vanishing the ambiguous awkward emotions. In comparison to America, the Hamam even rids the increasing issue of body image. All of the women were completely at ease and it was a non-judgmental environment. Jokingly, but perhaps in slight seriousness, many of the girls on the Mosaic would like to bring back a Hamam to Dickinson’s campus!

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Crossing the Border

Approaching the Border to Ceuta

Approaching the Border to Ceuta

On March 11th, it was time for our next transition on the trip – from Morocco to Spain. This journey, however, was much different from our prior transition from France to Morocco. This time, rather than hopping on a plane, we took taxicabs and our own feet to cross the border. After our last event in Morocco, a roundtable discussion about immigration from different cultural perspectives, we set off in four cabs for the Spanish/Moroccan border at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. After about a 30-minute ride, the cabs dropped us off right outside the Moroccan side of the border. Because it was night time and rainy, we all knew we were in for an adventure. Within instants of stepping out of the cabs, we were flocked by Moroccans hollering at us in every language they could think to try. We pushed our way past, and started toward the Moroccan gates, where we had to fill out customs forms. This post will have to be picture-less as we learned, from a screaming guard, that pictures are strictly forbidden at the border. Once crossing through the Moroccan side, we continued walking, through the rain, to the Spanish side. As our passports were being checked and stamped there, a group of us witnessed two figures crawling across the gates. The Spanish guards must have seen this just as we did, because within seconds almost a dozen of them were running after these two figures. As they went off to catch these two people trying to illegally cross, we finished getting our passports stamped, and easily made our way across.

I think this experience really marked all of us. We had read, and heard, a lot about the Spanish enclaves and tensions there with crossing the border. We knew that every day, many Moroccans and Sub-Saharan Africans try to smuggle themselves, others, and goods across in search of a better life. However, there was something about actually witnessing this tension, that changes one’s perspective. While it seemed overwhelming at the time, crossing the border was really very easy for us with our Western passports. For us, mobility is easy. This is not the case for those two dark figures we saw. I don’t think any of us can fully understand what it is like to give up your whole life, to put everything at stake, and to hold just the hope that maybe you will successfully make it across and find things easier on the other side.

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