As I closed my eyes on the train to Algeciras soft black blobs molded into each other leaving me with a blank mental slate behind my eyelids as if I was mentally preparing myself for the colorful chaos that was going to be Morocco. As we crossed the Strait of Gibraltar the rolling faded green hills stretched out like fingers into the royal blue waters as if reaching out to its neighbor in a regretful goodbye, as I said goodbye to Europe and began to prepare myself for what would honestly be, a whole new world. Literally two days earlier I had been furiously scribbling away at my Arab and Islamic class’s final, so it was only fitting for me to travel to Morocco shortly there after. The most profound opportunity to solidify all of my newly learned facts about the lesser know third of the world was meeting and greeting it face-to-face. Names, dates, theories crackled in my mind like a dull orange embers in a dying fire as we crossed the strait of Gibraltar. Never have I had a better example of my favorite part of my year studying aboard– you learn, you see, you experience a new way of life, a new way of thinking by being completely immersed in it. These opportunities are few and far between in America where there is a lack of history and our geographical isolation.
We all wear blindfolds to some degree– some wear them willingly, not wanting to know or understand and instead prefer to live out the phrase that “ignorance is bliss”. Other are left in the dark by circumstance, schools not offering the subject, friends and family concerned with more pressing subjects and topics. A mixture of both might be said for my mother’s reaction to the Arab and Islamic world, as she really had no clue in what she was getting herself into. As for me, I had just spent four months in a History and Culture class that covered the Arab and Islamic world from prehistoric times until today– in short: I knew where I was going and who I was going to be surrounded by, and my mother did not.
As we got off the bus from the port flocks of strange men tried to hustle my mom the moment her jet-lagged feet touched the curb. Her reaction was utter shock as she followed the first man wearing a tie to a taxi. Once in the hotel fear flooded her ice blue eyes as she told me, “This is not what I had expected– there’s a different element here.” She was trying to play it cool in front of me, and failing to hide her fear and unease about the situation. I’ve been told before that when it comes to traveling that I have a false sense of security, but I told her my best piece of travel advice: have a little faith in others humanity, but have more faith in your ability to change the situation that you are in. I could see her shrinking into a shell as she refused to go out again, a thousand horrible ‘what-if’ scenarios running through her head, yet with some coaxing we where back out on the streets of Tangier.
Tangier is indeed another world just minutes away from Europe as the brochures boast, it is the door to Africa no doubt. Personally, for me, Tangier was a new type of instant gratification and reinforcement for what I had just learned, solidifying facts, names, and dates in my memory that where previously swarming in my head as I frantically studied for my final. To see history in the stone walls of important landmarks, to see it in locals stories and voices, to see it on a plate in front of you is the best way to learn about another culture: first-hand.