So do I, so I went there.
For a week I stayed with my new friend Abdo and his family in Tagounite, Morocco. It’s a village at the entrance of the Sahara Desert and a nine-hour bus ride from where my plane landed.
Abdo and I met through Workaway, a work exchange website that gives you a chance to see the real side of a country.
If you’re looking for somewhere where “camel crossing” signs replace that of deer and time is a meaningless concept, then this is the place for you.
Getting from New York to Africa isn’t easy, but luckily I found a flight with only one layover through Royal Air Maroc. The flight was comfortable and I arrived in Marrakech twelve hours later ready to take on the heat.
After landing and spending one night in the busy (and at times overwhelming) city of Marrakech, I took a nine-hour bus ride through the Atlas Mountains to Tagounite.
I took the CTM bus the whole way, with a few stops to grab food and pick up more riders. The beauty of it? It only cost me $14 USD.
I arrived in Marrakech and was immediately greeted by donkey-powered carriages, snake charmers, and a fortress-styled city of alleys that make up nothing more than a maze.
While there, I stayed at the comfortable Earth Hostel.
In Tagounite , I stayed in Abdo’s side of the home. It was split into two portions, one was for his parents, sister, and niece, while the other was more for him. The portion we were working on was a totally separate, but still attached area.
The whole family lives in the same house they grew up in for generations while they keep on improving it with electricity, plumbing, and all sorts of visual improvements.
I arrived in Tagounite and was immediately treated like family. After twelve hours of flying and nine hours on the road, Abdo’s parents, sister, and neice greeted me with a colossal bowl of cous cous, vegetables, chicken, and all the naan you’d ever need.
We ate together, sitting on the ground, and even though Abdo was the only english speaker in his fanily, I was surrounded by smiles, laughter, and a genuine feeling of belonging.
Any notion or fear of entering a muslim country or being in a foreign place left my mind and never returned.
While I lived with Abdo’s family I ate with them, slept outside under the stars, laughed, drank tea, made new friends, and discovered a new take on life in just five days – all in exchange for helping work on the house for a few hours a day.
That’s the beauty of Workaway. You get an authentic, cultural experience, and all you have to do is pay for a plane ticket and be willing to help.
Sure, it’s a free vacation, but if you look at it that way, you won’t get much out of it. It’s a whole lot more than that.
So, what’s it all about?
This is tough to answer. I was only there for a week, it felt like a month, and I learned more than I could have imagined. So, I’ll break it down for you.
In Tagounite, you will learn to appreciate life
Moroccans are very social, family-oriented people. They have to be, because everybody lives so close to each other and are all in the same life situation – one they absolutely love.
They don’t have much, yet they love every aspect of their life, the desert, and the people they are surrounded by. They work hard, building their own homes, taking care of family, and making their own food – all under the desert sun.
They take pride in each thing they do, and showed me to take everything in stride, because life is precious.
You will be reminded of home
Each day is routine. We woke up, ate naan with jam, worked outside, ate lunch, hid from the heat, and then went into town to be with friends.
They had inside jokes, watched movies, had family feuds, and played jokes on his four-year-old neice just to make her laugh.
Sound familiar? That’s because whether you work in Manhattan or live on a one lane road in the desert, each day is similar. The only thing that’s different is your mentality about it.
You will eat good food
And you’ll eat a lot of it. I had cous cous, vegetables, chicken, creamy rice, and the most incredible watermelon I’ve ever laid my eyes on. This was always around the same table, sitting on the ground, eating out of the same bowl.
And each time, as the guest, I was expected to finish nearly half of the entire meal. I learned my lesson the first time I stopped eating early, when everyone started yelling “eat, eat eat!” From then on, I had to mentally prepare for each meal.
You will learn to smile
Some people spoke english, most didn’t. And when you’re surrounded by a family, 24/7, who only speak Arabic, you’re forced to appreciate what’s going on, talk with your hands, and just smile when they’re constantly smiling at you.
You will work hard, but with purpose
Abdo and I worked together in 110 degree heat, turning sand into mud which then built walls, windows, and benches. We talked about life, friends, and the world while caked in mud, dust, and sweat.
One day, I spent three hours with a pickaxe striking through a two-foot thick wall to make a window.
That’s not a very fun situation, but his positive outlook on everything made each day impossibly enjoyable.
You will drink tea
Tea is religion in Morocco, and the way they brew it is baked in tradition.
In the morning, after lunch, with friends, and at cafes they brew fresh tea in stainless steel tea pots, mixing it with a fistful of sugar as they go. This results in a sort of African sweet tea that I found myself craving, mixed with relaxation and good conversation.
You will lose track of time
Time is a foreign concept when you get to play by your own rules, and I loved it. We woke up when the sun rose, worked on our own accord, ate dinner at midnight, and never once did anybody ask the time.
In fact, daylight savings time began the day I arrived. And the night before I left for the bus, I asked multiple people for the time (just to make sure I wouldn’t miss it). Three different people had three different times (hours off from each other) and they all were different than my phone. That says something.
You’ll never know what’s going to happen next
One day, we walked for miles into the desert to go visit his friend at the sand dunes. We then slept there before coming back the next day.
Another day, I met his friend who had just crashed his bike in the desert, ripped open his ear, got stitched up, and proceeded to speak perfect english to me. I then spent three hours rebuilding his motorcycle with him. I’ve never even ridden one.
Other days, we worked and simply relaxed.
You will learn that people a world away will show you nothing but respect
There is a lot of fear nowadays about foreign places, which can be understandable.
But I will tell you first hand, that from the moment I landed in Morocco, I never once was looked at like I don’t belong. When people heard I was from America, they would grab my hand, look me in the eye and say, “You are always welcome here, my friend.”
And when I left Tagounite, Abdo’s father embraced me in a hug, kissed my shoulder several times, and was visibly upset that I was leaving.
The world is a good place, as long as you come at it with an open mind.
I loved every moment I spent in Morocco. It changed my outlook on life and I look forward to going back very, very soon.
If you are interested in having a similar experience, I urge you to check out Workaway and leave me a comment here if you have any questions.