Jake German ’11 – My program in Granada periodically schedules weekend visits to different cities of cultural interest in Andalusia like Cordoba, Sevilla, and Cadiz. However, the main trip of the semester is the week-long excursion to Morocco by way of Gibraltar.
Gibraltar is still part of the United Kingdom, using both the Queen’s English and the British Pound Sterling. It is a fascinating city, built right up out of the water. It has been part of the United Kingdom since 1713, and it is a strategic point of defense for the British Armed Forces. When we arrived in Gibraltar, the Royal Air Force was doing training exercises all over the Rock during the day. Chinooks and F-14’s were executing aerial maneuvers above the Straight of Gibraltar. We took a bus tour over the territory and saw the tunnels remaining from World War II that the British used to house 39,000 troops – including a full-working hospital – all underground. We then drove to a mosque that overlooks the gap between Gibraltar and North Africa. The mosque was founded by the King of Saudi Arabia. The actual mountain itself is guarded by tribes of wild monkeys. Monkeys are nice creatures until one of them gets angry, and then they all get angry. At the top of the Rock on the clear day that we were there, I could see the coast of Morocco in front of me and all of Spain behind me. What a breathtaking view! Gibraltar is definitely a unique blend of Arabic, Spanish, and English cultures.
We traveled by ferry across the straight and landed in Tangier, Morocco. Morocco was formerly a French colony; therefore, French and dialects of Arabic are the predominant languages. Our first stop in Morocco was the Center for Women which educates them to be seamstresses. The goal of the center is to provide training to make women more economically independent. Morocco is an absolute monarchy; however, my experience there indicated a very progressive Islamic system focused more on women’s rights.
After Tangier, we drove through the countryside to Rabat, the capital and home of King Muhammad VI. We stopped once to ride some camels which were awesome. My program arranged for us to stay with host families for two nights. That was a very interesting experience. Many travelers see Rabat and visit its great landmarks, but very few actually get to experience what it is like to stay with a Moroccan family and eat traditional Moroccan dishes. We visited the sights around Rabat – including the old Roman ruins, Yacoub Al-Mansour (unfinished 12th century mosque), and the Royal tomb of the Muhammad family. The last night we also visited a traditional Arab bath house. It was very intense heat, but my skin never felt cleaner.
Our next visit was to Chechaouene, a city located on the eastern side of Morocco. On the way, we stopped in the Rif Mountains to talk with a rural family to see what life is like outside of the big cities. The conversation we had with this family was one of the most interesting aspects of the visit to Morocco. In Chechaouene there is considerable Spanish influence, and so we were able to speak Spanish again. That night we had a very traditional Moroccan dish called chicken Tajin; it is eaten by dipping bread into the dish with your hands. There were no eating utensils! It is a very sweet dish that contains dates and raisins.
Morocco was a great experience and a true highlight of my study abroad so far. It was my first visit to an Islamic nation and also my first to Africa. This visit has reinforced many of the concepts that I have studied in both my art and architecture class and my Spanish history class in Granada. The Islamic presence in Spain lasted nearly eight centuries, and certainly the Moorish influence is still seen in architecture, language, foods, and many other customs. Moreover, I sense a more openness in my thinking about other cultures and other faiths.