10 Days, 10 Gallons of Mint Tea in Morocco
By Sahra Qaxiye
My love for traveling has been a constant since I took my first trip in my mid-20s. As a child, I stocked up on every “National Geographic” magazine I could get my hands on and poured over pages, wishing I could transport myself into the beautiful African savannas. At 12, I promised myself I would travel the world and see those places the minute I graduated from high school. However, the years passed without much adventure.
After my first year of graduate school, I decided there was no better time than the present and booked a flight right after classes ended. Since then, traveling has become a defining characteristic, and I cannot imagine ever stopping. Seeing the world through your own eyes, and getting a chance to see, hear, and feel the stories of other people is a precious experience.
Traveling has helped contextualize the political and social factors that surrounded me growing up in North America as a Black, Muslim woman. As a POC in post-9/11 America, and one who is also visibly Muslim, I was forced to develop a type of armor. I chose to approach the world with a strong and flawless attitude that many Black Muslim women use as way to help us get through unwelcoming spaces. Naively, I initially thought my armor was only useful in the U.S. In other places, I thought I would just step off planes and only worry about the usual tourist problems.
- Did I pack enough Imodium?
- How was I going to get to my hotel?
- Is there WiFi nearby so I can call my parents and let them know I arrived?
Sadly, the armor came right back up minutes after landing when I realized people were staring at me as if I was on display at a lab. These experiences of racism while traveling never stopped me from seeing the world. In fact, they motivated me more. I think POC, especially Black Muslim women, should travel more. Many times the staring I experienced was because I was truly a novelty -- some people have never come into contact with a POC, let alone a Muslim woman wearing a hijab. I used those opportunities to focus on sharing a positive perspective in hopes that the next Muslim Black sister would be met with a different face. My advice to every woman traveling abroad: Be aware of your surroundings, ignore rude comments as much as you can, and check in with friends and family regularly.
I was recently in Morocco for about 10 days and traveled through four cities. I met many different types of people, shared lots of laughter with complete strangers, mastered the art of haggling, got scammed by a few taxi drivers, and drank way too much mint tea. This was my first time in Africa, and in a predominantly Muslim country. I was excited to see what experiences that would bring. The feeling of walking around the streets of Morocco, seeing so many hijab-wearing Muslim women, and not feeling out of place will always stay with me.
- Casablanca was my first stop. The city is a business hub and had left me wondering where the culture was. The visit to Hassan II Mosque was the highlight of my stay there. I spent hours strolling through the massive mosque while hearing the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing against the rocks nearby. I felt wrapped in a feeling of peace as families lounged around the mosque’s many pillars, enjoying the shade on a sunny day as their kids played in its massive courtyard.
- Fez was my next stop, and it literally made my trip. This city was everything I had hoped it to be. It spoke of medieval times, with the past and present dancing to a tune the people of Morocco never forget or abandoned. Walking through Bab Bou Jeloud was like going through a time machine, instantly transported back thousands of years. The oldest part of Fez, called Fes el Bali, is an intricate maze of people and donkeys carrying supplies. As I walked around mud-bricked corridors filled with the hum of languages blurring into an ode to the world, I wondered how many people’s stories this place stood to witness. We spent an entire day twisting and turning through the old city’s narrow corridors, living in the magic that is uniquely Fez.
- After the buzz of Fes el Bali, Chefchaouen was a much-needed break. This city is a photographer’s dream; there is no such thing as a bad angle here. Its slow pace and relaxing atmosphere allowed me to just wander and take in the beauty. The city, nicknamed the “Blue Pearl of Morocco,” is nestled in the Rift Mountains and covered with picturesque blue-washed buildings and alleys. My last morning here was the hardest for me. I was not looking forward to leaving behind the feeling of tranquility. I woke before sunrise and sat on the rooftop of my hotel taking it all in. As the sun slowly overtook the horizon, lighting up the majestic Rift Mountains, I could hear the sounds of birds chirping and roosters crowing mixed with modern noises of construction and traffic. I knew in my heart that I would return to Chefchaouen again and again.
- My trip ended with Marrakech. This city is a perfect blend of the past and the present. Its ancient winding souks let me wander around, enjoying the process of getting lost and finding my way only to purposely get lost all over again. There was also Jemaa el-Fnaa, the city square with a pulse of its own. In the morning it’s mostly empty with a few snake charmers scattered around wooing snakes with their flutes. As dusk nears, the square fills with people, merchants, food vendors, musicians, and acrobats. I have literally never experienced something like Jemaa el-Fnaa. We came across two young Moroccans who enjoying practicing their English with us, chatted with an elderly Ethiopian man from Stockholm on a visit to a local school, were followed by a snake charmer demanding money because he thought we took a picture of him, bought delicious mango juice from a juice truck, and took in the wonderful smells and sounds that are uniquely this square.
Morocco was a beautiful and eye-opening country. I saw things that made me realize how truly vast and different this world can be. It forced me to leave my comfort zone and feel vulnerable all while giving me confidence that I could navigate and thrive in a place vastly different from where I call home. Since coming back, I began planning a three-month long trip through Southeast Asia, something I wouldn’t have done if I didn’t visit this gem in North Africa. Though wiser and with more freedom, I maintain the same curiosity and love for travel as my twelve-year-old self. Follow my visual journey through Morocco and other places on Instagram.