Taking Tea in the Kasbah

Even though we were sad to say good-bye to Josephine, Dar El Hana, and Fez, my daughter and I boarded the train to the capital city of Rabat with our sights turned towards our volunteer week with Cross-Cultural Solutions. (For more information about CCS, see this post here.)

Even the train station in Fez is beautiful. Dear local chamber of commerce: please take note.

The first thing we noticed when we arrived in Rabat was how modern it seemed. (More on Rabat in future posts.) The city has preserved the centuries-old walled medina and like Fez’s, it functions much the same as it did when it was first built over a century ago.

Our train was late arriving into Rabat so we hurriedly left the station to grab a taxi. This was my first attempt at procuring one all on my own since Josephine had arranged all transportation for us in Fez. With a little help from a friendly train station attendant (who helped stop the cab driver from ripping us off), we made it to the CCS Home Base easily and quickly.

CCS Home Base in Rabat, our home away from home for a week

I had been told by my friend that the CCS home base in Rabat was very nice, but his descriptions really didn’t do it justice. Warm, welcoming, and wonderful (for you alliteration lovers out there) – that’s how I would describe it.

Backyard gardens and patio

The three-story home is located in a nice neighborhood, close to a grocery store, shopping center, and several parks, and is a quick taxi ride to the medina or the beach. It can house up to 25 volunteers spread out over the three floors with 3-4 people per room.

Upon arrival, you’re given your room assignment and introduced to your roommates. A typical room usually contains two sets of bunk beds and a closet for your belongings that you can secure with your own lock (if you choose). It is basic, but then you’re not there to live in luxury or spend much time in your room. Our room was on the main floor and shared with a woman named Liz, who was also there for the week-long Insight Abroad program.

Can you tell which bed belongs to the teenager?

By the time we arrived, the four other people who were doing the week-long Insight Abroad program with us were already there and settled in. The house was full of activity and introductions and getting-to-know-you conversations. I felt very welcomed by everyone, including the volunteers who had been there for several weeks. I was duly impressed so far.

Our Insight Abroad cohort hanging out in the common room.

The house and the grounds are well-managed by a friendly, helpful staff. Khadija, the house manager, is very approachable and is always willing to chat or give advice or answer any questions. (She also is a wickedly good henna tattoo artist.) She works closely with Aicha, who does all of the cooking (breakfast, lunch, dinner, as well as afternoon tea time) and Fatiha and Leila, who do all of the cleaning of the house.

The common room where meals were eaten and general hanging out occurred. Look familiar?

We were also introduced to the two men who make the program run smoothly. Mohamed is the Country Director and oversees the whole shebang. With an easy-going smile, he is often seen in his study at the house making sure every thing is running smoothly. Abdellah is the Program Coordinator and handles all of the volunteer placements as well as some of the cultural activities in the house and the community. A very knowledgeable, very friendly man. (You can see photos of and read more about the staff at the Morocco Home Base at the CCS website here.)

That evening, a Saturday in late April, we were told that a free Earth Day festival going on in the park nearby. We decided to join the group of volunteers from the house that were walking over to the celebration. Expecting something small-scale, I was surprised to see how big it was. It took up several acres of park space and had a huge stage set up for musical performances. We all made our way over to the stage to listen to a few bands and to dance to the Moroccan version of rap music in Arabic. Not my thing, but interesting nonetheless.

The main stage

What was striking to me was how few women and girls were in the crowd. Rabat is a more modern city where many women can be seen wearing European-styled clothes instead of the traditional djellaba (long robe with long bell-shaped sleeves) and head covering. Even so, conservative Muslim edicts are still followed by all women which includes dressing modestly when not wearing a djellaba and not being seen in public with boys or men who are not your relatives or your spouse.

My daughter modeling her djellaba

A short time later, the rap performers left the stage to great applause from the crowd. Lots of announcements were followed by more applause and then the lead act was announced, though I couldn’t quite understand what was being said because it was all spoken in either Arabic or French.

Then, to my great surprise, I heard a man speaking in English up on the stage. It took me a few moments to realize who it was because we were pretty far from the stage.

Still, I had to confirm it with one of my new friends.

Yep, that’s who it was up on stage.

Seal, giving a free concert that night.

In case you thought I was making it up.

Travel Mojo would definitely get a raise when we got home.

Next time, I’ll write about our week-long volunteer project at the children’s hospital and some of the cultural activities we participated in through CCS.

And now it’s your turn! I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions, and questions you might have about CCS, Rabat, or volunteering abroad.

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22 thoughts on “Volunteer Week in Morocco with Cross-Cultural Solutions, Part 1

  1. How was the train ride? I discovered in Norway that I really like them 🙂

    Great photos. I totally can’t tell which bed belongs to the teenager. Can you give us a little hint? 😉

    • We rode in a second class car from Fez to Rabat. We shared a couchette with a few other random people and overall it was decent. They tend to run a bit late in Morocco, though it wasn’t that big of a deal for us.

      I liked the trains in Germany the best. Super clean, super efficient. The trains in Italy fall somewhere between Germany and Morocco. Depends on where you’re going. I like to travel by train whenever I can when I’m in another country. It can sometimes be the best way to see parts of the country you’ll never get to on your trip.

  2. Fascinating. I’m looking forward to future blogs to learn. You and your daughter are very well-traveled after this week.

    btw, I love trains. We use them all the time in Ireland and Europe. I have a nephew here that only travels by train. Comes for California to Texas once a year via the rails.

    • Thanks, Judythe! Trains are a great way to travel. I would like to do more here in the U.S. by rail, though it can be a bit expensive sometimes.

  3. All pictures look like a postcard because the colors are so saturated. Your posts are making me think again about volunteering.

    • Thanks, Julie! And yes, you should definitely start thinking about volunteering (in my humble opinion). 🙂

  4. Enthralling, Tami. I loved learning about the culture, the camaraderie among the volunteers, and–most importantly–how easily you were accepted by the people in your host country.

    Glad you finally revealed the source for your banner photo. I kept looking at it and wondering where it was taken.

    NO doubt in my mind which bed was the teenagers. Your daughter is a beauty. What an adventure for the two of you. Priceless.

    • Thanks, Gloria! It was a great adventure for us both and I’m immensely grateful we were able to do it together. I can’t say enough positive things about CCS and how they run their programs. One of the people we met in our cohort was on his 4th CCS trip. I hope to catch up to him in the next several years. 🙂

  5. Two questions:
    1. You mentioned Sherlock in one of your comments: Were you and he already in cahoots back then?
    2. How did you feel about being among the few women at the concert? Were you looked at funny or do they expect foreigners to behave differently? Did you feel accepting of this aspect of their culture or agitated by it?

    Okay four questions. I struggle with this stuff so I wonder how others respond (not the Sherlock stuff but questions #2). 🙂

    Looking forward to more of your adventure.

    • Great questions, Sara. I’ll start with #2:

      a) On being among the few women at the concert – I felt very conspicuous given that both my daughter and I really stuck out as foreigners with our blond-ish hair and more westernized style of clothing. As our group moved through the crowd, heads turned and comments (in French and Arabic) were made. Strangely, it was more noticeable there at the festival than when we were in Fez.

      I never felt like we were threatened, though I am sure some of the comments were less than friendly. Unfortunately, the stereotype that American girls and women like unwelcomed advances and stares is very common in Morocco, which is why Josephine cautioned us against wandering in the Fez medina on our own at dusk. I’ll write more about that kind of thing in the next post or 2 since we encountered some pretty bold guys while in Rabat. Thankfully, at least while we were in Rabat, we had a guy friend who we hung out with in our group, so when he was with us we were usually left alone. All of the stares and head nods in our direction followed by sly grins were difficult to get used to at first but I had read that it would most likely occur so I wasn’t surprised by it. Annoying? Yes. But it didn’t seem to detract too much from us enjoying the culture and the sights.

      As for question #1, Sherlock, Benedict and I have all been in cahoots for quite some time. That encounter on the balcony in London was just the beginning. 😉

      • on ,
        winlinwcn said:

        Yes I agree, staring to people especially foreigners is a common bad behavior in Morocco. and “Comments” from some Moroccan guys are no more than flirting not a sarcastic or unwelcome sign,
        I know it is very inappropriate and annoying to foreigners and that happens often in non tourist areas and when there are only foreigners women and girls wandering alone without a man with them.
        but once you know Morocco and Moroccan well, you will get to adapt and by pass that easily.

  6. on ,
    Anonymous said:

    Hi Tami, I’m leaving in June to volunteer in Rabat with CCS for 12 weeks and I’m thoroughly enjoying your posts. Thanks so much for sharing! – hannah

    • Thanks for stopping by, Hannah! I hope you have a great adventure in Rabat and enjoy your time with CCS. 🙂

  7. on ,
    Hannah said:

    Hi Tami, I’m leaving in June to volunteer with CCS in Rabat and I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog! Thanks for all the insight, I’m eating it up. – hannah

    • Thanks, Hannah! I’m glad the posts are helpful. I hope you come to love Morocco as much I do. 🙂

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