Disclaimer: This post is lightly sprinkled with video game references, but don't fret! I promise not to stray too far. We have important things to discuss, after all.
Now, let us begin.
It was my first time out of the country.
It was my first time away from America's east coast, actually.
It was my first time on a plane . . . and my first time going through TSA.
It was my first time crossing an ocean, my first time seeing the sunrise over the ocean, and my first time eating airplane food.
Some of those experiences were better than others, but I had to start somewhere, and it was by far one of the best decisions of my life (maybe even better than my decision to ditch the main quest in Skyrim . . . that's a video game, you guys, don't panic).
Abandoning the main quest was basically what I did when I decided to drop everything and go to Morocco. Imagine: There I was, content and on my way to slay yet another dragon (the dragon being yet another 20 page paper), when suddenly a new quest pops up on my mini map.
A new quest. A new opportunity. A chance to leave my slightly monotonous way of life if only for a short while.
So, what do I do? I crank out those papers, endure the studio critiques, and spend the semester scavenging for 2,700 gold coins so I can go on a new adventure.
To be honest, though, going on a big adventure like this was out of my character. It wasn't part of my "college plan" and it gave me at least one solid panic attack. The thing is, though, the kind of person who embarks on this kind of adventure was exactly the kind of person I wanted to be. You might even say I channeled the energy of my badass, sword wielding, dragon-slaying, video game heroine.
If the digital avatar I created could be that adventurous, why couldn't I?
So now let's answer some basic questions.
When did I go?
Late May of 2017. This meant that the weather was creeping into summer heat and Ramadan was just around the corner.
How long was I there?
10 extremely busy days.
Where did I go?
Rabat, Fes, Meknes, Sefrou, and Marrakesh.
How did I get there?
It took me three planes to get to Rabat: I flew from Virginia to New York to France to Rabat (RIC ->JFK -> CDG ->RBA). After all of that, I hopped on a van with limited AC to make it to the host university. That same sauna on wheels carried me over the long stretches of desert highway as I made my way to Fes, Sefrou, Meknes, Marrakesh, and back to Rabat.
Who was I with?
I traveled with my university (VCU) shortly after finishing my second year. There were 11 people in our group, a mix of students and faculty from the design departments, meaning they studied fashion design, graphic design, and interior design. We also had students and faculty from VCU's Qatar campus join us.
I was the youngest in the group, the shortest in the group, and the only fine artist (as in to say, someone who wasn't studying design). I was also 1 of only 3 black people. I was a cute, 5-foot, chocolate unicorn with a paintbrush.
Why was I there?
This answer is going to be a bit long.
The trip itself was considered a "field study", an abbreviated version of what would hopefully become a month long course worth academic credit. It was a chance for the department to see what worked, what didn't, and whether it would be popular.
It was basically a demo.
The trip was hosted by the design department, but any student enrolled in a studio class was welcome to apply. Yet, it seemed as though I was the only person in my department who noticed the array of patterned Mo-ro-cco posters taped to our otherwise visually stagnant cork board.
So why was I there? In theory I was there to learn about Moroccan design and culture. This meant design history, design methods, design craftsmen, and a healthy dose of North African culture. It was meant to inspire us.
So did I learn about Moroccan design? Did I get inspired? I'm sure you noticed that "in theory" I tossed in there. Well, the answer is technically 'yes', but what I learned from the trip wasn't exactly what they wanted us to learn. In terms of design, I saw the meticulous way craftsmen measure tiles and furniture, I learned how they make copper teapots, I saw the incredible architecture, and I learned how to make a Moroccan thread button.
However, one of the teachers pointed out that what they wanted us to experience was more along the lines of that expensive fashion boutique we stumbled upon in a market (and by "stumbled" I mean we made an impromptu decision to visit the store, which was owned by a handsome young woodworker).
So, did I learn about Moroccan design? Sort of.
But did I get inspired? Hell yes.
I had never been so creatively inspired in my life. It was like that moment when you get your XP high enough to pull off a combo move and the game replays it for you in high definition slow motion.
What I mean to say is that the way I was inspired was beautiful. It was striking. It was exhilarating.
The inspiration was so potent that it led to me creating a fictional narrative with bits and pieces of Morocco serving as the glue that binds it all together. The land, the people, the history, the food, the architecture, the markets, the colors, the atmosphere, the experience became intertwined with a story I am all too passionate to tell. If you're curious, here's some more information about it.
Did you like the trip?
Short answer: Yes.
The trip ended up placing a wonderful emphasis on experiencing Moroccan culture without the oppressive and uncomfortable air of feeling like an intrusive, problematic tourist.
Instead of the focus on design bearing down on me nonstop for ten days, it functioned more as a framing device, encouraging me to find the art in everything the country had to offer. It was a unique way of experiencing the country, a way that was perfectly tailored for an artist like myself, someone who finds immense interest in not only the visuals, but the people and the culture who create it.
Morocco was the beginning of a lot of things for me.
You could say it spurred a list of side quests that led me to more opportunities and experiences than I could have ever imagined. It sounds dramatic, but the Morocco trip changed my life.
There is something specific I'd like to end with, though, for all you new travelers out there:
At the end of it all, a teacher on the trip told me that I was now infected with the "travel bug". No, not the send-you-to-the-hospital-in-digestive-agony kind of bug, but that insatiable urge to experience as much of the world as you can manage in one lifetime. Even though at the time I just nodded my head in polite agreement, that teacher was just as right as she could be, akin to that 5,000 year-old dragon shouting prophecies at my puny, unknowing avatar.
An enthusiastic selfie of me with my first ever passport stamp, wearing a surprisingly appropriate (but unsurprisingly nerdy) t-shirt.