• Nia Alexander

Around the World and Back Again


What You’ll Find in This Post:

  • Reflections about my second time in Morocco vs. my first time

  • Reflections on how I felt throughout this trip

  • Thoughts about how this trip is part of a "bigger picture"


The first time I was in Marrakech and the second time


Here we have made it to not only the last post in my most recent blog collection, but also the last post for Black Girls Abroad until summer/fall 2021! If you all recall, my first international adventure was to Morocco, so writing a conclusion post about my second time has more weight to it. It feels like I am commenting on a larger chapter of my life that in a lot of ways I am still experiencing.


So, how about I start this post off with a chart comparing my first time in Morocco to my second time?



Alright, so let me break some of this down:


Where I stayed:



The entrance to the hotel


I remember staying in a hotel in Marrakech – the first 5-star Western-style hotel I had ever been in – and being very confused and deeply impressed by the lights activated by keycards. I also remember being startled, confused, and made uncomfortable by the bathroom attendants, a job that doesn’t really exist in the U.S. (or, at least, not the parts of town I had traversed in my two decades on the east coast). However, while I was caught off guard, the student I roomed with – who had grown up in Qatar – was very nonchalant about it all because they were accustomed to it.


This time around I stayed in another 5-star, Western-style hotel and I found that I was neither phased by the “fancy” things that affected me last time, nor the not-so-fancy things (like that one dead roach or the stairway pole that fell off).


Why I was there:



Camels near a construction site


I was in Marrakech for the lamp workshop, but there was also time built in to explore the city. Half of the places I visited I had been to before, but my experience with them was completely different the second time. One of the biggest reasons for that is because the nature of the trip was entirely different; it was slower with a less packed schedule. As a result, I found myself able to enjoy the little observations like those 20 camels chilling on a construction site, or a palm tree bent over nearly horizontal, or that one group of tourists speaking Spanish.


Who I was with:



Three of my classmates at the workshop


During my first trip to Morocco, I was the youngest, shortest, and only fine artist in a group of people I had never met prior to the trip. This time around I was with faculty and students that I had spent nearly every day with for two and a half months. All of us had different artistic backgrounds – and I guess you could still say I was the only “fine artist” – but what we all had in common was that we identified as designers. Getting to know my classmates was truly the best part of the trip.


And, while I was still the youngest in the group, I was only the second shortest.


How my body felt throughout the trip:


Posing awkwardly at Bahia Palace


I was simultaneously overprepared and ill-prepared for my first trip abroad. The most physically draining moment was the night my sinuses drained after being in the Fes souq. My second trip to Morocco was significantly less snotty, but every day I woke up tired. Some reasons for the fatigue were clearly physical, but I also assumed that the way I felt mentally and emotionally contributed to how I felt physically.


How I felt throughout the trip:



Packing to return to Doha


On the first day of the trip, I wrote this in my notebook: “After sitting in the hotel for two hours, I didn’t want to be there at all; I hated it. I was in a mood. I wished I hadn’t gone.” And on the last day of the trip, I wrote, “It's about 9am on Friday, last day, and I'm so ready for this to be over. So ready.”


I had written many comments like this throughout the trip, the evidence of me often feeling overwhelmed and alone. I was affected by things that were out of my control and tasks that were in my control but felt like monumental undertakings. My money wasn’t right, I had projects due, a trip was cancelled, the trip I was on had moments of poor communication, and my roommate was unintentionally causing me harm through their attempts of comfort.


Pause. Let me briefly vent through this PSA: Phrases like “you should have known better” and expressions of how one’s pain makes you feel guilty about your own joy is not how you comfort anyone, but especially not those clearly overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, and/or depression.


Unpause.


Throughout the trip I often felt alone, isolated. As an artist, I wasn’t able to communicate with the artisans as I would’ve liked because of language barriers and I wasn’t sure how to play a part in the lamp making process itself. So, in addition to feeling kind of meh about my lamp design, I also often felt as though I had nothing to do. There was the option to hang out with the other students who had nothing to do, but much of their downtime consisted of smoke breaks, something I don’t do and prefer not to inhale. This was also part of a larger feeling of loneliness that I had been experiencing in the MFA program and Qatar in general during the weeks leading up to the trip. I had just started a new school – a new program entirely – while experiencing culture shock and realizing that I could count the number of African Americans in my environment on one hand.


I remember having my first breakdown in the morning of Day #2. I remember bawling and snotting all over the pillowcase on the patio of my hotel room. I remember feeling a deep frustration at the idea of meeting the group for lunch. I remember wanting to cry in the middle of the lamp making studio on Day #4 because I just didn’t have anything left in my emotional reserves to deal with the noise and disorganization.


But I also remember finding time to take breaks. Sometimes it would just be me retiring early, leaving the group to go take a shower and watch the German version of Four Weddings on my hotel television. There was one day where I didn’t leave the hotel at all, days where I was more than okay with not exploring the city. That day off was the best decision I made on the trip.


How I felt before the trip:



A blurry photo of me pointing finger guns at the camera in front of Kutubiyya Mosque


What I felt during the trip wasn’t unexpected because I knew I wasn’t in the right head space for an international adventure; I was mentally, emotionally, financially, and academically stressed. I wasn’t looking forward to this trip and I considered not attending, especially when an Exit Permit issue seemed like it was going to leave me stuck in Qatar anyway. I felt like the trip was terribly timed, not because the MFA did anything wrong, but because of where I was in life at that point in time; this trip felt like an imposition. I notably didn’t do any of my usual travel prep work; I didn’t Google things to do, I didn’t research the hotel, and I didn’t pack ‘til the day of the flight (though, the predeparture meeting had been only 10 hours before the flight, so maybe I wouldn’t have packed ‘til that day anyway).


It felt like the only thing I did do was show up for the flight extra early, and that decision is ultimately what allotted me – and possibly two other students – enough time to solve the Exit Permit situation we found ourselves it.


Conclusion


A collection of my experiences during my most recent visit to Marrakech, Morocco


Now, I know I have described my experience in Marrakech in a generally negative light, but I promise that’s not how I feel about my second time in Morocco. The way I often felt during this week doesn’t detract from or overrule the good experiences the trip also provided me with. I grew closer to some of my classmates, I ate some good food, I saw performances, I got to watch lamp-making up close, I had a fun time shopping, and so much more. Remember, I devoted entire blog posts to some of these topics because of the positive impressions they left on me.

While I acknowledge that I probably would have been okay not attending, I don’t regret the fact that I went; clearly that was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to do, and feeling what I was supposed to feel.


And while writing this I realized that I could describe my first trip to Morocco in a similar way. Attending that first trip was like knocking over the first domino in a line up. It was my first time on an airplane, and now I’ve been on eighteen. It was my first international trip, and now I’ve had seven of them. It was where I learned about the exchange program between VCU Richmond and VCU Qatar, an experience that led me to apply to the MFA program in Qatar, the program that ultimately brought me back to Morocco.


Morocco changed my life the first time I visited, and I am willing to believe that maybe it changed my life this time too. In some ways it already has; some kinds of change and growth is immediate and inevitable. But in other ways I am still waiting to see the full effect it will have on my life, the way it is going to echo and reverberate as I keep on soaking up all the experiences I have been lucky enough to have thus far.