The Gem of North Africa

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Since returning from my two week volunteering project and holiday in Morocco with friend and fellow Lancaster student Laura Dempster, I’ve found I have a complete inability to accurately describe to others my experience. So I’m not going to try and tell you, I’m going to show you. I’m going to start by walking you down the bustling street of a food market in the medina- the old quarter of Marrakech. The first thing to hit you is the heat. There’s a heat wave and the temperature is nearing 40 degrees. (The kind of temperature that makes your eyelids sweat). The next thing to hit you is a motorbike. Well, nearly. Successful manoeuvring around motorbikes, donkeys pulling carts and stray cats soon becomes second nature. It’s like someone has adjusted the colour settings on a TV screen because everything here is brighter: the fresh fruit and veg, the clothes of the passers-by, even the severed chicken’s leg, just chilling there on the street, is a most vivid shade of yellow. Then, as your nostrils fill with the heavenly scent of freshly baked bread, you hear the prayer call recited from the local mosque; this particular Muezzin, unlike many other talented prayer callers, sounds akin to a strangled camel. It’s at this point that you realise Marrakech might not be spotlessly clean, the locals might not believe in the importance of free-range chickens, and they most certainly don’t abide to The Highway Code- but Marrakech and its people are beautiful and they’ve captured your heart.

The souk in Marrakech is a labyrinthine marketplace filled with treasures. You wonder to yourself whether some people enter never to return, weaving their way endlessly around hand crafted leather satchels, women offering henna and rows of hanging lanterns. Somewhere in this maze is a guy called Mohammed who owns a stall lined with shelves of spices, minerals and powdered dyes, all kept in glass jars. There’s also a jar containing a dead, pickled snake; you never do find out why. When bartering for some argon oil, Mohammed invites you to drink mint tea with him, a polite gesture often made by vendors. It’s the drink of choice for most Moroccans made with fresh mint, green tea and enough sugar to give your dentist a nervous breakdown. Unsurprisingly, it tastes wonderful. Well, one thing leads to another and you end up dancing to ‘Twist n’ Shout’ by The Beatles in the middle of the stall. It’s these little, unexpected things which make travelling to a country like Morocco so special.

After 22 hours in a mini bus with a driver who has a penchant for listening to Dido tracks, you arrive with the volunteering team at the outskirts of the Sahara for the weekend excursion. There are very few things more peaceful than camel riding in the cool evening surrounded by nothing but miles of orange sand. In fact, it’s such a unique, uplifting experience that the inevitable bruised bum and inability to sit properly for several days won’t even faze you.

Volunteering with Original Volunteers in Morocco has been the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s a great way to make a positive difference to people’s lives, meet inspiring local people and volunteers, and get to know the real Marrakech. Learn more about the project at www.originalvolunteers.co.uk

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