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From Myrtle to Marrakech: Week 1 in Morocco

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bySpencer Opatrny
onJune 14, 2024

I arrived in Marrakesh, Morocco for the first time on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 14. My travels began at 5:30AM on Monday from Myrtle Beach, SC. Before arriving, I had to wrestle with the choice of spending a day and a half in Myrtle with some of my best friends to celebrate the end of the semester or to stay home, rest, and have a reasonable and comfortable day of travel. I chose the first because I’ve been wanting to experiment with saying yes more and exploring what happens when I do so. To be honest, Myrtle is pretty gross, there’s a chain or tacky beach shop at every glance and it seems built to drive as much consumption as possible. Nonetheless, I was in great company and the weekend was wonderful. I made some great memories, and I’m glad I chose to go. I intend on continuing the trend of saying yes to opportunities for my time in Morocco.

On my same flight from Dulles were Keya, Molly, Fefe, and Naima. It was great building up the excitement for the trip together and getting to meet some of my new travel partners. A couple of us made a pact to write a journal entry when we got on the plane. Only I followed through :(, but when I sat on the plane I took the time to reflect on the past year and sketch some goals for my time in Morocco. I can’t believe how much has changed and how much I’ve grown in the past year. I quite literally could not have imagined my life today compared to a year ago.

When I arrived in Morocco, I was in awe at the turnaround and contrast between Myrtle and Marrakesh. I looked around and took in the dry heat, the landscape, and the beautiful architecture. I knew where I was but it didn’t feel real, a feeling familiar to me when traveling. I’m always so amazed that travel can transport you to a new culture, with new language and new norms, and can quite literally change the way you see the world in a matter of hours. I’m not quite sure what I expected but one of my first impressions was how clean the city was. I also had this idea that the airport would have hundreds of taxi drivers crammed by the entrance shouting at us to take a ride with them, something I experienced in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Instead, we were met warmly as Kaoutar waited patiently outside.

Life has been so full since we’ve gotten here. Here’s a list of some things I’ve done so far: wandered aimlessly around the Medina, bargained with shopkeepers, messed around with the restaurant hosts in the center, saw a camel for the first time, visited a Jewish saint’s burial site and tree nursery, sat and ate with an inspirational women’s co-op thriving because of the nursery, taken Darija classes, learned and laughed with Yossef, visited the tombs of ancient kings and queens, enjoyed new tastes, smelled new smells, saw new landscapes, sat in on a post-trauma women’s empowerment workshop, planted cacti in the desert, listened to incredible stories, met incredible people, and made new friends and memories.

My eyes have opened to a new perspective on the world and a new way of life. I’ve appreciated the calm I’ve sensed from the Moroccan people. Compared to the US, things here seem to be done with less urgency and greater ease. People generally seem happy to be interrupted from their task at hand to engage in conversation and enjoy life. I wish we could adopt more of this attitude back home.

The most meaningful experience to me since getting here was witnessing the impact that the psychosocial workshop had on the women’s co-op. I can’t believe four days can make such deep changes to a community and set them up for success beyond their years. It motivated and encouraged me to look more deeply into exploring work like this for my own career, something I’ve pondered for a while but feel even more strongly about after this experience. I have also appreciated the focus, translated into action, on putting the community needs above all else. I look forward to the next couple weeks and saying yes to many new experiences.