A student on exchange writes to their loved ones in Montreal
Feb. 25: Dear Katy,
I arrived in Morocco one month ago today. Time seems to go by so quickly sometimes. The weeks I’ve spent here have been so far from the reality I was expecting. I can still see the anxiety in my friends’ and family’s eyes and feel the tension in their embraces as we said goodbye just a few weeks ago. Africa. That single word—the entire continent carries so many misconceptions and prejudices. I was starting to feel so trapped in my own occidental perspective—and in other people’s ideas—that I embarked on this journey for many reasons. But in the end, I really just wanted to see for myself. And dear, the past few weeks have already shown me such an eclectic, extraordinary place.
I flew to Rabat and automatically wandered into the labyrinthine marketplace of the Medina. I’ve found myself in situations where I am literally the only woman present. It’s a man’s world, but one that is fast-changing. I was expecting to feel consistently repressed, but in reality, I feel empowered by witnessing such a sense of solidarity between women. I am not welcomed with judgmental looks, but with warm smiles. I don’t think I’ve ever entirely comprehended the power of my freedom as a western woman or questioned it until now. Here, I walk the streets and I feel privileged. Call me naive, but Rabat has been so good to me.
The Moroccans’ kindness is so special. I’m finding such a strong sense of community—from the way people share their meals, consistently offer their help, laugh together, and greet you with “Salaam Aleikum,” or “peace be upon you.” I know this is just a first impression, but it’s such a contrast from back home, on such a deep level, that I sometimes fear I’ll never want to come back. And while everyone does stare at me, sometimes calling me “la gazelle,” “fromage,” or even “la blanche,” I’ve been responding with an open mind and my boundless sense of humour.
You know, most people think of Marrakech or Casablanca as the capital of Morocco, but it’s actually Rabat that holds the title since the country’s independence in 1912, and it has become so internationally accessible. We are barely one hour away from Casablanca, where I’ve heard life is chaotic and loud—even overwhelming—and yet, it’s so calm here. As I sit on the roof of the house I now call “home,” beautiful Rabat is alive and well before my eyes. I can’t resist glimpsing over my neighbours’ rooftops, where mixed colours of hanging clothes and blooming flowers add to the diversity of the scenery.
In front of me, the Bou Regreg river—which separates the neighbouring city Salé from Rabat—is circling the old, fortified neighbourhood of Kasbah des Oudayas like a thick knife cutting into butter. I have to squint as I write to you, as the reflection of the sun on the water is bouncing onto my white pages. I am in awe as I sit before the imposing, bright blue Atlantic’s work, and deeply wish I could teleport you here to show you. Montreal seems so far from me now. I’ll send you another letter soon. I can’t wait to tell you about my luck finding the gorgeous house I now live in with cats (yes, I am still very allergic, but I like to believe constant sneezing is now part of my charm), as well as the wild feasts and the musical nights I’ve been sharing with locals.
Beslama my dear friend!
Feature graphic by @spooky_soda