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I’m A West Indian Student Living In Morocco, Here’s What Surprised Me
Leeryk de Lima is a St. Lucian student in the final year of a Bachelor’s degree in Economics in the Kingdom of Morocco.
The 22-year-old is also the president of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean Students in Morocco. De Lima is one of several students from the West Indies pursuing studies in the North African country as part of an agreement between the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and the Kingdom of Morocco to promote development and economic cooperation.
The scholarship was an opportunity for De Lima to pursue her interests in diplomacy and the student movement. And since the curriculum is presented in French — a second language for a primarily Arabic-speaking population — she jumped at the chance to improve her skills and push herself out of her comfort zone. She admits that the initial transition from a Caribbean island to a culture reflecting a mélange of Berber, Arab, African, Mediterranean, and Jewish influences was challenging. Especially as a foodie with limited cooking ability. But now that she can find her way around a kitchen, De Lima can appreciate Morocco’s culinary scene.
“What I love about it is the convenience,” she shared with Travel Noire. “You can get fresh vegetable markets close to anywhere that you live. Each quartier or neighborhood has its own market, its own supermarkets. So it wasn’t hard for me to get the ingredients for what I needed. . Also, basic items were easy to source and quite inexpensive, which was perfect for a student budget.”
But what has really helped make her three-year stay more comfortable is the tight-knit community she and her fellow West Indians have created and nurtured.
“What has actually been a big help is the Caribbean community here. We’ve created a system for ourselves, for our student council as well, where we became that form of student support.”
From loaded salads to clandestine drinks, De Lima shared some of the things that have surprised her as a student in Morocco.
1. Our idea of a balanced meal is different
In the Caribbean, you would expect to have your meals packed with starches, mac & cheese, and ground provisions like green bananas that I particularly missed, and that’s our “idea” of a balanced meal. Here I arrived expecting something similar, and it would be quite different.
The people like a lot of salads and bread, but the Moroccan salad is different. You will have the basic things — the lettuce, the carrots, the cucumbers — but then you will have some pasta, rice, and grated salami all added in.
The closest alternative I like— we call it a quatre poulet: a quarter chicken meal — you get the chicken, fries, rice, and peas, and then a loaf of bread with it. Not to mention my favorites like tajine and the traditional Moroccan couscous.
It just takes a little while to adapt.
2. It can get extremely cold
There are parts of Morocco that get snow. During winter, the students normally take a quick trip to Ifrane to see the snow and take pictures. But we do experience the seasons.
You will have a time in the year when it’s a little rainy and cold. You will have the winter weather where you will need your bubble jackets. It starts from around October to April, I believe, and then you’re going to have the very hot summers.
Where I’m studying right now in Rabat, we don’t experience any of the extremities. If you go somewhere like Marrakech for example, which is a little closer to the desert, the summers will be a lot hotter and drier and the winters tend to be a little colder. Whereas Rabat kind of meets you in between, where it’s moderately hot, and it’s moderately cold.
3. Some people are very friendly...
There are very helpful, friendly, and talkative people. Almost every taxi I take, especially when they realize that I’m a foreigner, they would have a whole conversation with me about where I’m from, and most of them wouldn’t be very familiar with the Caribbean. So the conversation always starts off with, ‘Where are you from? St. Lucia. Where is St. Lucia? In the Caribbean. The Caribbean? Jamaica. Ahhh.’ So they are quite open to understanding the country and having those conversations.
4. But some people can be discriminatory
In all honesty, I don’t experience it as badly since I am often told that I resemble the average person here. In fact, the first assumption is normally that I am Moroccan until I fail to use the local Arabic language, Darija. But I know for some darker-skinned friends, the experience has been a bit different at times and they do have to look out for a little discrimination when it relates to how some people will refer to them. However, it is not everyone and comes more in the form of certain micro-aggressions.
5. Haggling is very common
There is a strong bargaining culture. The first price that is given is often not the correct or true price. You constantly have to negotiate. Since the cost of living here is a lot lower than back home in the Caribbean, this was not as easy to detect and can still be challenging but after a while, learning from local friends, older students, and personal experiences, I have a better idea of what is or isn’t reasonable.
My personal challenge is in the case where the bargaining culture channels through to very minor things like my past experiences with the intercity bus ticketing system. It can become stressful when sellers remain very adamant.
6. Taxi fare is very cheap
Compared to back home, transportation is quite cheap. There are about three forms of transportation. There’s the petit taxi, which is a blue taxi in Rabat, that takes about three persons per ride. It brings you directly where you have to go. It works on the meter scale, so it’s according to the distance that you’d be going. On average, most places don’t really exceed 30 dirham which is about $3 USD.
Then there are the grand taxis, which take about six people. So it operates like the minibus back home. It has a specific route, and you can stop on the way. And then there are the very big buses that also have their own routes.
For the grand taxis, according to their routes, you just pay six dirham; that’s 60 cents. And it doesn’t matter where as long as it’s along that taxi’s route. For the bus in Rabat, it is five dirham. In some other cities, it’s three dirham. It just takes a little longer because the routes are longer. It’s quite affordable in all honesty.
7. People dress more conservatively
It’s not as extreme as I had expected. On arrival here, I came with a bunch of long clothes, long sleeves, and that kind of thing. But it’s really not necessary. We just dress more conservatively, but you still have some freedoms depending on where you’re going.
So for example, if you go to the beach here, as compared to the Caribbean, you will see people in bikinis, so it’s not bad. But because it’s a majority Muslim community, you will notice a lot of people plunging into the water fully clothed, understandably as a result of most of the population’s religious inclination. It would be inappropriate to remove a hijab in public to go into the water.
But if you go to a bar or to a restaurant, people would be dressed the same way that you would see people dressed back home, depending on the type of place it is. For school, I wouldn’t say it is any different because you would not wear shorts, and we were not allowed to wear spaghetti straps. You dress appropriately for the setting that you’re in.
8. The Muslim influence is quite strong
Personally, I wouldn’t say that there is any direct influence that makes it uncomfortable for non-Muslims. But it is very present, especially when it comes to certain holidays.
Ramadan is their month of fasting, and what you would notice is that classes would be moved a little later in the day. Restaurants, or practically everywhere, would be closed during the day but as soon as it is time to break the fast you would notice that everywhere is opening up and very lively. The canons and call for prayer are also quite beautiful.
There are also Christian churches and cathedrals in Morocco.
9. Alcohol is frowned upon
Some supermarkets sell it, but it would be in a separate section from the supermarket itself. It has its own separate times that it can open and close. It’s allowed at certain restaurants as well, and nightclubs.
It can be a little difficult to find. We had to ask around to know where to purchase it. It’s just that you cannot have it openly in public. So if you purchase a bottle of alcohol, you have to cover it up. Before you leave the store, you have to put it in your bag. You can’t have it openly. For example, you can’t sit near the road and casually sip on a Heineken.
10. The people are patriotic
It is a kingdom, so what you would notice is that people are very supportive of the king and the king’s family. So most stores or any business place would normally have a picture of the king posted up. I would say that people are very patriotic. I’ve even had a teacher that made us recite the national anthem after speaking to her class about national pride and representation.
11. It's tough to connect with a professor
I do believe that at university, most of our studies and most of our learning are driven by our own efforts. I would say that it’s more difficult to get students supported.
Whereas back home, you would be able to go to a staff room and contact your teachers, here the system kind of makes you more dependent on other students, which is something that I’ve had difficulty with. They put a lot of responsibility on the class prefect or “le responsable”. That’s a student that’s in charge of the group and to communicate with teachers, you have to communicate through that student. It is difficult to get that direct contact at least at the bigger faculties. However, the biggest challenge has been a result of the language barrier which again took time to adapt to.