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The Carletonian

Crying over spilled soda, some thoughts on Marrakech

I cried over a bottle of soda today. Not just any soda, but a bubbly, tropical soda called Hawai. If you don’t know what that is, you’re in the majority. Only made in Morocco, Hawai was my go-to hanout (grocery) order while I studied Arabic in Marrakech this summer. 


When I first came to Carleton, a deep onset of homesickness began to infiltrate my thoughts. I was homesick: for North Carolina, for Marrakech and for an infinite amount of things in between. I missed my host sister’s warm smile and how she’d accompany me at late hours just so I could get a bottle of Hawai. I missed the host family that lived below us and our dance parties on the roof. I missed the kids in Azli, our neighborhood, who knew us by name. One time on a late night walk, they watched curiously as my friend Rosa and I sat deep in conversation on the sidewalk and even offered chairs for us. It’s a precious thing, a community like that. 


July 9

Each weekend, our program directors would organize activities for the students and their host families. On this particular Sunday, our activity required a two-hour hike in the Atlas mountain region. 

My host mom didn’t speak much English, and only knew some elementary French sentences. In fact, she mostly spoke a combination of Darija (Arabic) and Tamazight, a dialect of the indigenous peoples of Maghreb, the Amazigh. Although we had limited conversations due to the language barrier, she did everything she could to make me feel welcome.

That morning, my host sister, my roommate and I woke up early to meet with the other students at the Center for Language and Culture, the school we attended in Marrakech. Before heading out, we waved quickly to her and our younger host brother. The school bus drove us across the land, where you could see the curves of the desert, sprinkled with luscious green trees unlike anything I’d ever seen. The rural villages cradled the edge of the mountain crevices with clay homes. I’ve always been afraid of heights, but, while observing, I could only look out into the landscape with awe. 

On the drive, our teachers and some of the Moroccan students would tell us stories about the villages.


 Most of them were Amazigh people who spoke pre-Arab dialects such as Tamazight. Although we had learned a bit about Tamazight in class, we’d never really been exposed to Amazigh culture or history. Tamazight was mostly a spoken language and many Amazigh people hadn’t learned how to read or write. In fact, Darija, the dialect of Arabic we were learning, was the language of citizens in the cities. Just as French colonization filtered into Moroccan culture, so had the Arab conquests. However, there are still very clear cultural, economic and political distinctions between the effects of the French and Arab conquests, for lack of more nuance. Although Arabic language and culture make up a majority, there are still indigenous communities that aren’t receiving the same cultural recognition and legitimacy.

When I got home that night, my host family and I discussed what we’d seen. For the first time, I learned that my host mother’s family was originally from a rural area, and that she’d had to teach herself how to read and write in Arabic to get a job in the city. Then, while in Marrakech, she faced discrimination for her accent and dealt with colorism. It wasn’t just her, though: Tamazight speakers make up around 30% of the population in Morocco, but Amazeigh identity and language weren’t legally recognized until the 2011 constitutional referendum (IWGIA, 2023).


September 9

“Check on your host families,” read a text from one of my friends from Marrakech.


In Marrakech, the Medina, or the old city, had been destroyed. The Koutoubia Mosque stood taller than any other building in the city. Red and regal, the Koutobia represented the heart of the city. Now, a series of cracks distort its side.

When the earthquake came, it was only my host sister and younger host brother in the house, a far cry from the extended family that usually fills the apartment. My host sister recalls that she was making dinner for them when the oven began to shake uncontrollably. That night, like most residents of Marrakech, they slept outside in fear of the aftershocks. 

The people most affected, however, were those who resided in the Atlas mountains, the Amazigh. At the epicenter, their clay house structures, similar to the old city, couldn’t withstand the impact as well and most of their homes collapsed. And, unlike Marrakech, roads in the Atlas are often untraversable, hospitals are far and few and food is more scarce. 



The other day, my Arabic class went on a field trip to watch “Mediterranean Fever,” a thoughtful piece on mental health set within an occupied home. On the way we stopped by Holy Land, a Middle Eastern grocery store. The second I stepped into the store, a stray thought about the search for Hawai overcame me. Giddier than a child in a candy store, I scoured high and low for the soda. It took me a while, but hidden beneath various flavors of Fanta was my missed Hawai. However, when I took the first sip, it was underwhelming; The previously familiar tropical flavor suddenly felt artificial, lackluster. More than that, I realized that the taste of Hawai had fallen flat without my host sister to share it.


My host sister worries not only about the people of her city, but those in the rural areas surrounding it. Many of the Moroccan host families I met while in Marrakech have since worked with local non-profits, distributing food and resources for those within the Atlas region. It is their care and thoughtfulness that reflects the spirit of Marrakech. Marrakech isn’t just beautiful because it’s luxurious or exotic or something else trivial, it’s beautiful because the people care deeply for their communities. I know I’m not the best person to be writing this kind of article, nor am I the only one, but if you are to take away anything from this article, it’s that you should care about Morocco because the people that comprise its soul are truly worth knowing, loving and caring for. That, even if the earthquake’simpact is escaping American news cycles, there are still stories to be shared.

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  • O

    OumaimaOct 20, 2023 at 4:07 pm

    Your experience is a testament to the wonderful connections that can be formed across cultures. Thank you for sharing this touching piece.
    Your article is not just a beautiful portrayal of our country but a touching testament to the deep connections we formed. You’ve left an indelible mark on all of us, and we can’t wait for the day when you return to the place you called home. Marrakech misses you dearly, and your Moroccan host sister misses you even more.

  • O

    OumaimaOct 20, 2023 at 3:33 pm

    Such a wonderful read ! Your positivity shines through every sentence.