Chaima Ait El Mekki called it one of the best summer trips she has ever attended – and that’s saying a lot since she’s been leading programs in Morocco for Rustic Pathways for eight years. She’s also traveled around the world. The 2021 College Moroccan Wanderer program though was different since it came after a year of such international hardship.
“The students were thirsty for travel and so grateful for the experience,” Ait El Mekki said.
The next group of students ages 14-18 had the same experience in Morocco. Like the college program, the high school trip takes students to a place that is very different from what they may experience at home – the Sahara Desert, fortified villages or ksars, the “red city” of Marrakech with its clay structures and more. Students also interact with the indigenous Amazigh villagers and learn about the culture and religion of many Moroccans.
Ait El Mekki said these types of interactions often have the strongest impact on students. She recalled one particular time when a traveler was almost in tears when he learned the names of the local boys he was playing soccer with.
“He said he had been closed-minded since he usually had connected these names to terrorism, but then he saw these kids were exactly like him and having fun and running around,” Ait El Mekki said. “I thought that was great and why we need more people to travel. Mind shifts happen on these kinds of programs.”
An Eye-Opening Experience
The opportunity to understand another culture often occurs during the service portion of the program. Rustic Pathways students have been working on an ongoing project to complete a community center in the village of Douar Sbiti located at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.
The students this summer are working on finishing a gym. Ait El Mekki says the students have been working so hard on the project and when they reflect on highlights of the program, it is often listed as one of the best parts of the journey.
Other highlights include a visit to a 14th century fortified village and a stop to see the red rock formations of the Dades Gorge. The students also take a camel ride among the dunes of the Sahara desert and enjoy time at a desert camp site where they can view the expansive stars on a clear night. Then the next morning they wake up to watch the sunrise, which was an unforgettable moment for Rustic student Annalise Bell.
“I have never seen a sunrise so beautiful or felt so serene,” Bell said. “In the silence with the wind blowing the sand gently against my skin, I was able to reflect on a couple aspects of my life. I remember thinking how grateful I am to have this experience and how I would cherish this trip forever.”
After these moments taking in the breathtaking landscape, they visit a famous historic fortified residence or Kasbah where they can learn about what life was like in 17th century Morocco.
They also travel to a beach town with a historic white-walled village center and a stay in Marrakech where travelers can enjoy the architecture and the 1000-year-old market where they can watch snake charmers and peruse through Moroccan treasures.
Along the way, the students take part in many activities from zip lining to Moroccan cooking class. At the end of the program, they enjoy a ceremony that is a traditional way of saying goodbye. It features a henna lady, Moroccan food and a concert featuring Moroccan Gnawa music, which was the music of formerly enslaved Africans.
Bell says all these experiences added up to being a one-of-a-kind adventure that influenced who she is today.
“My views were forever changed by my experiences during my short time in Morocco,” Bell said. “I wouldn’t trade my chance to go on that trip for anything.”
For more information on the Moroccan Wanderer trip, please visit our program page.