“Aren’t you afraid to go by yourself?”
Before I went on my volunteer trip to Rabat, that was the question I heard most frequently. I left for Morocco in April 2016, a month after airport bombings in Brussels had left 32 dead and 300 injured, and my flight had a day-long layover in Paris, where 130 people had died just five months earlier in a terrorist attack.
It never occurred to me to stay home. While my “job” on this volunteer trip was to teach English classes at a women’s center on behalf of Cross-Cultural Solutions, the bigger purpose for these excursions is cultural exchange. The only way to do that is to show up and get to know people on the other side of the world.
The Cross-Cultural Solutions volunteer experiences take place in a variety of international locations, including Morocco, India, Guatemala, Thailand, Tanzania, and Peru. Travelers spend half of each weekday working with women’s centers, children’s hospitals, and other community organizations that serve people in need. The other half of the day is devoted to learning about local culture. My afternoons in Rabat included cooking classes, Arabic lessons, visits to the medina, and fascinating discussions about Islam.
Weekends are open for excursions to nearby cities. I took a train to Casablanca to visit the largest mosque in Morocco, the Grande Mosquée Hassan II, which can accommodate 105,000 worshippers on a promontory over the Atlantic Ocean. The next weekend, I traveled 10 hours each way by car to Merzouga, where I rode a camel into the Sahara Desert to camp under the stars.
As spectacular as these experiences were, the students in my English classes were the highlight of my trip. Yes, we studied vocabulary and practiced phrases, but we also talked about family and travel and life and food. We talked about food a lot. And we made guacamole, which they’d never heard of but liked so much that they scraped the huge serving bowl clean.
And when I got back to the States, people still asked me if I’d been afraid. I can honestly say that I never was, and never will be, afraid to travel wherever I can to learn more about this world and the wonderful people in it. In a Facebook post about my trip, Mike said it best: “Yes, risk is a part of travel, but it’s also a part of my daily commute. Never once did we ever consider her not going on this adventure because of the threat of terror. Never once will we ever succumb to fear and shrink from experiencing the wonder that this world has to offer.
“That may seem like we are spitting in the eye of fate and courting danger. Tragedy, even. In fact, I feel that the more we travel, the greater chance we have of actually reducing the risk. Not just for ourselves but for everyone.
“You see, open-minded travel leads to unexpected friendships. And friendships lead to tolerance. And tolerance leads to greater understanding. And greater understanding is the only real way to defeat terrorism in the long run.
“So, travel, my friends. Meet locals. Share a meal. Tell a story. Exchange email addresses. The friendships you make could possibly make a difference for us all.”
The friendships I made are with some of my favorite people in the world, and I can’t wait to see them again in person. In the meantime, we keep in touch online and share glimpses of our lives from the other side of the world.
This was my second visit to Morocco, which is high on our list of possibilities for our next home. We’ll share details from our trip to Tangier and Marrakech in future posts, and my next two posts will detail my day trip to Casablanca and my desert camel trek in Merzouga. I’ll also share a recipe for kefta, one of my favorite Moroccan meals.
Expat evaluation: +1 for ancient cities surrounded by modern conveniences; +1 for friendly, open-minded people; +1 for variety of terrain, including beaches, mountains, deserts, and cities; +1 for a gardening-friendly climate; +1 for public art, gardens, and parks; +1 for ease of travel by plane, train, car, foot, and camel