2019 Spring Amideast External Programs Gwen Jensen Morocco

Falling Back in Love With Rabat

The first time I left the United States was on a ten day spring break trip during senior year of high school. Along with 30 of my classmates, a handful of our teachers, and an enthusiastic Danish woman named Anika, we spent the days hurrying through an ambitious itinerary of historical sites, before being ushered onto the mammoth tour bus that shuttled us down the coast. The trip was magnificent in many ways: a final hurrah with my high school friends before we scattered across the country to our respective universities and a taste of freedom in a new country. However, between the tapas nights and bottles of wine on the beach that brought me closer to people I had known since third grade, the most magnificent parts of the trip were the stuffy and, admittedly boring, scheduled tours through sites in France and Spain. The tour guides droned on, divulging information I despise my younger self for not retaining. However I was left in absolute awe and wonder at the antiquity of the spaces I was occupying. The way the histories were folded into every inch of the cities we visited.

My first few weeks in Morocco, my first time out of the states since that trip to Europe, were packed with similar scheduled tours of the “must sees” in Rabat. These were very different than the tours of my senior year. Instead of being surrounded with teachers who I had known since I was in braces and friends that had known me since the days of playing kickball at elementary school recess, I was surrounded by strangers. Additionally, as I had grown, I had developed an actual interest in the information being divulged to us groups of foreigners, huddled together to hear the history spouting from our guide at the head of the pack. But in each space we entered, I was overcome with the same feeling of connectedness to a larger past, as well as to humanity as a whole.

Standing the the ancient Muslim ruins of the Chellah, which predate even the Roman ruins I had seen in Europe, I was overcome with an awareness of the longevity of the human experience. As I stared into the chipping ancient hammam, I was overcome with awe for the community that gathered in these communal baths together and thrived on the soil beneath me.

As the weeks went on and the familiarity of Rabat sunk in, so did the jadedness that comes in the wake of any vacation. The ancient crevices of the Medina began to lose their sacredness as they became a regular sight during weekly shopping routine. The enormous walled Kasbah, which had enchanted me during my first Moroccan sunset, drifted almost entirely from my memory as an out-of-the-way tourist destination. Rabat’s antiquity had lost its mystique and become a comfortable place for me to follow my daily routine.

A few weeks ago, I excitedly occupied the tour guide role, as my friends from Temple Rome spent three days enamored with the sites of Rabat that have become so familiar to me. Their fawning over the streets that lead me through my daily life reminded me of the feelings I had two months ago, standing under the ruins of the Chellah or watching the sunset drift from the Kasbah. The mediocracies of my life such as several cups of steaming sweet mint tea ushered questions not unlike the ones I had my first few weeks here. To most of them, the only answer I could fathom was “that’s just the way it is.”

Today, two spring breaks after my first extended time abroad, I boarded a flight to the furthest place east in the world I have ever been. Running on one hour of sleep over a period of 48 hours, this morning I kicked off my spring break at the foot of the Great Pyramids of Giza. The towering sand-dusted pyramids towered over myself and my now friends, who had been strangers only a few months ago. Inside of some of the smaller pyramids, my fingers traced the outlines of hieroglyphics, engraved by humans whose legacy made the palaces I toured in Europe pale in comparison; once again I was engulfed in emotion and awe at the longevity of humanity and the way it twists and turns, bringing me to this exact moment.

This morning, as I waited in line to enter the Sphinx, I wondered if the local Egyptians checking my ticket or the school children on field trips, dressed in matching blue polos, had become as jaded with the pyramids towering ahead of us as I was with the beauty that envelopes my life in Rabat. I found it hard to believe that anyone could grow tired of the striking human labors that manifested in front of us,.

To conclude, I would like to share a quote from my roommate: as we wandering yet another medina in Fes a few weeks ago, she remarked “when I’m, traveling I like to make sure I’m actually seeing everything.” This quote has resonated with me since that day, but I would like to challenge myself, and whoever else is dealing with jadedness, to extend this to beyond traveling. When I’m living, I like to make sure I’m really seeing everything.

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