During the week that we spent with Cross-Cultural Solutions, our mornings were spent volunteering at the children’s hospital (which you can read more about here) and our afternoons were left open to either participate in the cultural activities that CCS offered to its volunteers or to do whatever we wanted to on our own. Given the wealth of things to do and see in Rabat, we opted for a mix of the two.
One afternoon, Abdellah, the Program Coordinator, offered to take our cohort on a walking tour of the Mosque of King Hassan and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V as well as the Kasbah Oudaias, both sites within the city of Rabat. After lunch, we all piled in the CCS van were whisked across the city to the entrance to the mosque.
The building of both the mosque and the minaret (tower) was begun in 1195 commissioned by the Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour. At their completion, the minaret was supposed to be the world’s tallest and the mosque to be the Muslim world’s largest, but in 1755 an earthquake brought all construction to a halt. The buildings were never finished.
At the same location you can also take a look inside the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, which is right next to the mosque. King Hassan II commissioned for the mosque to be built in honor of his father, Sultan Mohammed V. It was completed in 1971 and is the resting place not only for Mohammed V, but also for King Hassan II and his brother, Prince Abdallah. It is one of two mosques in Morocco that non-Muslims are allowed to enter, the other being the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.
Abdellah next took us to the Kasbah des Oudaias in the middle of the city. Kasbahs are common throughout northern Africa and the Middle East and were originally built as walled fortresses for the city’s ruling elite. Today, several of them – including the Kasbah des Oudaias, built in the 12th century – are more similar to a medina and are filled with shops and cafes as well as residential homes.
Later that same afternoon, we decided to head back to the medina to give it another try. Thankfully, it was much less crowded and we were all able to do some shopping.
A popular thing to buy in a Moroccan medina is a hand-woven wool rug from one of the many rug shops. Several of our friends purchased one but we didn’t because we had more traveling to do in Europe following our time in Morocco. The rugs are very beautiful, though, so it was tempting to buy one and ship it home.
Price haggling is quite common in the medina as well. Shop owners always quote a price that is nearly double of what the item is worth. I had read and heard that you should politely refuse that initial price and make an offer back that is less than half of what was originally said. The shop owner will usually respond by telling you that they couldn’t possibly sell it for that low of a price and will then quote you a price just below their original offer. This back and forth haggling can go on for a while so you have to be prepared to stick it out if it is something you really want to buy.
All of this haggling and bargaining took me a while to be comfortable with and confident in doing, but the more I did it, the better at it I became. Knowing some polite pleasantries helped: please & thank you in Arabic or French went a long way in making friends with the shop owners. They seemed genuinely impressed if you greeted them with a friendly “Es salaam alaykum” (peace be with you) and left the shop saying “shukran” (thank you).
It also helped to approach the whole thing with a slight air of indifference to whether you actually bought the item or not. A few times I walked away from a shop (after saying thanks, but no thanks) if I wasn’t getting the price I thought was fair. There were a few times when the shop owners followed me down the street ready to renegotiate.
I also made sure to be respectful of the fact that a lot of what is sold in the medina is handmade by the person selling it to you. Sure, there are those shops with the cheaply made wares imported from some other country, but many of the shops in the medina are full of handcrafted goods. Haggling with the shop owners should never be about trying to rip them off by trying to get something for practically nothing.
On another afternoon, we all decided to forgo the scheduled cultural activities at the CCS house and headed to the beach. The weather was perfect and after a morning in the sweltering heat of the hospital, I was looking forward to the fresh breeze off the Atlantic. As I’ve shared before, modesty for women is very important so running off to the beach in a bikini would be not culturally sensitive and is rarely seen there. In fact, many Moroccan women were there in full-length djellabas and head coverings, wading and splashing in the water with their children.
The beach was not very crowded that day so that unfortunately made us (pale, blond American women and a teenager) more noticeable to the young Moroccan men who insisted on asking us in their best English if we wanted to go back to their apartment with them. Even mentioning that I was married didn’t really deter them. I never felt threatened or scared, though. They were kind of funny about the whole thing. A polite “la shukran” (no, thank you) and walking away usually did the trick. It also helped to have a male friend nearby to go stand next to (thanks, Chris!) in getting the most persistent of guys to leave you alone.
In my next travel-related post, I’ll share about our trip to another kasbah filled with ancient Roman ruins, our cooking lesson with the women of the CCS house, and whether returned to Fez with our friends or went on to Marrakech.
Until then, what are your thoughts or questions? I LOVE hearing from you! (I really do!)