Taking Tea in the Kasbah

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.

Guards outside the ruins of 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.

Unfinished minaret

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.

Mohammed V Mausoleum

Entrance to the mausoleum

Inside the mausoleum

Intricate zelij (tilework) inside the mausoleum

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.

Gardens in Kasbah Oudaias

Residential street in the kasbah

My daughter and our Insight Abroad peeps, taking tea in the kasbah

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!)

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14 thoughts on “Volunteer Week in Morocco with Cross-Cultural Solutions: Part 3

  1. I can’t imagine having to wear djellabas and head coverings to go out in public, but price haggling with vendors I would probably enjoy. Go figure!

    What do they do to women who won’t conform to the dress code? That would probably have been my fate. 😛

    • I *think* women who don’t conform are looked down upon by friends and family, they are seen as immodest and immoral. In Rabat, which is a more modernized city, you do see young women in skinny jeans and tighter fitting shirts, though they are still covered up from neck to ankle. I found it difficult to be more covered up in the heat of the day. At the beach, I wore capris and a short sleeved shirt as did the other women I was with. Foreigners are given more leeway about this (in my experience), though we still had lots of staring and leering because, even though we dressed modestly by American standards, we still stood out in the crowd.

  2. on ,
    Nin said:

    I like your picture of the residential street in Kasbah, so pretty… how come I missed that when I was there…

  3. on ,
    Heather Wulf said:

    I enjoyed reading your information. I will be traveling to Morocco with CCS this summer. Any helpful tips?

    • Welcome, Heather! I’m glad you stopped by. How exciting that you’re going there this summer! As far as a few helpful tips, I would recommend reading about Morocco as much as you can to learn about cultural norms and customs as well as a bit of history. I would also recommend connecting with CCS alumni who volunteered where you’re going to be volunteering so you can get an idea of how your mornings will be spent. How long will you be there? If you’re there over a few weeks, definitely try to work in some weekend trips to places like Fez, Marrakech, the desert, or a coastal town like Essaouira.I hope that helps. Feel free to stop by with more questions!

  4. on ,
    Brian said:

    I’ll be going there over the holidays this winter. I set up a blog to try to get more info out there about CCS, my past program (Salvador, Brazil), why I want to do this, etc. Because this time around I need to fundraise big time.

    So my first question for you is this; did you fundraise or pay out of pocket for this? Were there any particular restaurants you would suggest? Any good bars?

    Check out my site and please pass it along to whoever you know. I need sponsors who will help.


    • That’s great that you’re going on another CCS volunteer trip. My time in Rabat was wonderful.

      The only restaurant that we ate in (because we mostly ate at the CCS home base) was called Dinarjat. It is near the medina though I don’t remember exactly where. You can probably look it up online.

      Since I had my 13 y.o. daughter with me, I didn’t go to any bars and because drinking alcohol is really frowned upon in Morocco, there aren’t many there anyway.

      We did very little fundraising and saved up for our trip. Since both of my kids have to do lots of school fundraisers I felt awkward about asking the same friends and family to contribute to our CCS trip. But that’s just me. Lots of people do what you’re doing and that’s great. I’ll be sure to pass along your blog site to others. Good luck with your fundraising and thanks for stopping by!

      • on ,
        Brian said:

        Thanks for sharing my link. I’m doing fundraising this time around because my job has changed since my first CCS program. So needless to say the money has changed with it and wasn’t able to save up like I would’ve liked to have. I’ll still try to contribute to it myself, but I’ll be the first to admit when I need help with something.

        I’ll always recommend Salvador, Brazil if you do another program.

        I’m reaching out to a bunch of folks on my end too trying to get more people to donate and trying new things like the blog and getting on twitter more and a facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/254859744624089/). Tomorrow I’ll go to a few more places and cross my fingers I’ll get a donation.

  5. Hi Tami! Great post, love the photos. I’d love to ask you a few questions about your experience on our site. Email me at katie at gooverseas.com if you’re interested 🙂

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