life lessons from morocco

This time last year I was traveling around northern Morocco, hopping from Tangier to Rabat to a tiny village in the Rif Mountains and finally up to Chefchaouen.

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photo credit: {my talented travel companion} Ashley Portal

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My days in Morocco included some of the most uncomfortable and alienating moments I’ve ever experienced. The social norms I’d accepted for years were deeply challenged, my beliefs were shaken, and my eyes were opened. By interacting closely and observing a people whose culture is like oil to the water of a New Yorker, I learned powerful lessons in a very short time. I can truly say I am a different person for having experienced what I did there.

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by Ashley Portal

I learned that my problems are trivial.

In Rabat and Tangier the children played with sticks in the streets, if they were able to play at all. In nearly all the markets little children were working to help their parents make a living.

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In the mountains we were invited to dine with a family in their home, where the man in the picture below recounted the story of his life to us. He explained that the woman at his side was his second wife.

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by Ashley Portal


His first wife had been pregnant with their second child together and went into early labor. There was no road connecting their hilltop home to the highway 5 km away, so he and his wife had to hike the distance as she was contracting. By the time they got to the highway, they had to try  hitch-hike to the hospital 20 km away. She died of complications before they made it there.

Their house high up in the mountains

 Anytime I start to get overwhelmed by something, I reflect on the things I saw and the stories I heard in northern Africa. I’ve found that me and my problems are so small in the grand scheme of things. It’s reminds me to be thankful for all I have and all of the opportunities available to me, instead of getting wrapped up in trivial frustrations and worries.

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I learned to let go of my need to control everything.

Or at least to try.

If you spend any time with a Moroccan, or anyone of the Muslim faith, you will hear them say “inshallah” throughout conversation. This roughly translates to “God willing.” The people I met in northern Africa taught me to do what I can with my own hands and understand  and accept that there are outside factors in which I have no say. We are only human, we don’t have the ability to change the things we do not control. By accepting this, I found myself at peace after years of trying to micromanage every aspect of my life and those around me in order to get what I want.
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I learned that beauty has nothing to do with looks.
I was the kind of girl that wore make up every day; I even wore mascara to the gym. If I wasn’t looking my best when I went out, I didn’t feel confident. In Morocco, I wore no make up and bathing was a luxury every few days. I wore dirty, loose-fitting clothes that hid my body. The first day or two, I was horrified. I refused to be in pictures. A vain city girl at her worst.
Our second afternoon in Rabat though, I found myself in a rousing discussion with a couple of university students about dating, sex, politics and religion. For the first time in maybe my whole life, I was completely unaware of what I looked like. I was unable to control my appearance with make up and fashion, so I just kind of let it go. I was letting my soul show, sharing my beliefs and opening myself up to others’ without insecurity. I wasn’t dolled up, wasn’t trying to impress anyone; I was letting my true self show. I realized I’d never felt more confident than I did in that moment.
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In a culture where women cover themselves from head to toe in loose clothing, their value is placed on who they are inside as opposed to how perfect their figure and features are. I realized that I had spent years being hard on myself for not being thin enough, not having perfect skin, and ignoring everyone who told me “beauty is only skin deep.” It wasn’t until I was immersed in a culture that truly embraces that idea that I finally got it: there are few things more beautiful than cultivating your soul, being confident in who you are and what you believe in, and being open and kind to others.
Friends reflecting at sunrise.Chefchaouen.

Friends reflecting at sunrise.
Chefchaouen.

I went to Morocco a 20 year old girl, full of insecurities and largely shaped by the materialism and vanity that surrounded me at home. There is no better education than seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, and that’s what I did during my time there. I came out a more confident, humble, and empowered woman.
I left with a new outlook on life.

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8 Comments on “life lessons from morocco

  1. Morocco is such a beautiful and inspiring place. I came back from there feeling very introspective as well. Great post!

    • Absolutely life changing. It’s the number 1 place I recommend people visit.

      Thanks, Christine, as a long time follower of your blog, I really appreciate it!

  2. This is such a beautiful article. I was only in Tangier for a day trip, while I am living outside Malaga, but it was definitely eye-opening. The most overwhelming trip I’ve ever taken. I’m not sure if I want to visit Morrocco again, but this post definitely inspired me.

    • Thank you! We started off in Tangier as well, and I have to say I was pretty uncomfortable there. I think because it’s so touristy it’s become a little seedy over the years. I would 100% recommend trying it again, but venturing further south, into the more untouched areas.
      If you’d like some info on tours etc, feel free to email me. I have friends there who are passionate about showing people the real Morocco, and go out of their way to give visitors a welcoming yet authentic visit.

  3. Morocco is a wonderful country, and your experiences there and what you took away from them are similar to mine. I was in Tangier and Chefchaouen. Chefchaouen was incredibly welcoming. Tangier wasn’t as much so, but I actually enjoyed the sensation of feeling uneasy and way out of my comfort zone. I know it made me grow as a person and global citizen. Morocco is also a place I recommend for everyone to visit.

    • Very well put. The places that take you out of your comfort zone are often the ones that teach you the most about yourself and stay with you forever.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Mike!

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  5. Pingback: Mystified in Marrakech | Nowhere To Go But Everywhere

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