The following is an excerpt from my summer 2007 study abroad blog, صيفي في المغرب or “My Summer in Morocco.” I spent two months as a student at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco on a National Security Education Boren scholarship. I published this post on June 19, 2007 after a weekend in Erfoud and Merzouga, cities in the western Sahara.
I cannot begin to describe the overwhelming feelings I continually had during our weekend trip to the Sahara. We took to framing every scattered comment as, “I can’t believe I’m doing ______ in the Sahara Desert.” It felt like I was living on a movie set or in the history channel. Progress there is slower, the dunes set against the sky look like a backdrop to a photo
shoot, and the stars are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They fill the sky- to the point that you lose constellations when you spend hours out on the sand and your night vision improves to reveal millions of lights in the sky.
We spent the first night in Erfoud, at an apparently five star hotel, where we enjoyed the pool on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. On Saturday evening, we drove to Merzouga, took Land Rovers into our campsite (watch the video without sound), and spent the night in tents, before being awakened at 4am for a sunrise camel ride. As my friend Jeremy and I were saying, riding the camels felt like something out of Star Wars, except the camels would be 6 times larger, and we would be engaged in the global fight against evil. Later, we realized that our funding from the U.S. Government (him- Air Force, me- NSEP) may be just that- hope that’s not what the State Department thought they would get from me.
I had never felt so dirty as I did on that bus ride home on Sunday afternoon- essentially 3 days without a shower, with too little water, and immersed in sand. I think that what added to the disgust was the fact that we were covered up the whole time, making the girls twice as hot as the boys. The women of the Western Sahara area wear full black abayas, which cover their whole bodies, and in some cases, their faces. But, I should say that I don’t hate wearing a head scarf or long-sleeve shirt in 120 degree weather.
I’m starting to appreciate the cultural necessity of conservative dress, and I feel as if I disrespect the women of rural Morocco when I don’t cover up. The men and their stares are less important to me than not offending the women here, all of whom make a choice to dress conservatively and need not abide by a national dress code.