I woke up at 4 in the morning to catch my flight to Marrakech, went to the airport, passed the security, got on the plane, arrived in Marrakech, and then took a bus to go to Agadir. I arrived there at around 3 pm after spending twelve hours on the road. I was starving and grouchy, it was hot, the street was full of people, and everyone was running around. My phone was dead, I was trying to reach my buddy Mohamed. I found a small shop and tried to explain my situation, the young man couldn’t speak English. He left and came back in a minute with someone else. I was nervous:
-“Hello, I am here visiting a friend but my phone died. I need to reach him because he will come to pick me up. I am lost without my navigation. I need to charge my phone to call him and use my navigation.” -“Hellooo!” he greeted me with a nice smile on his face, “You can use my phone to call your friend. You’re not lost. Welcome to Morocco!”
He didn’t only make me smile, but also made me realize that I, too, do stereotype. I always considered myself a person who is aware of prejudices, judgements and stereotypes, but whenever I was surprised and shocked at something during my buddy exchange, I realized I needed to bring my own prejudices, judgements and stereotypes out of the depths and up to the surface so that I could change or avoid them. To work on them, I know I have to acknowledge first and I also know IT IS NOT AN EASY JOURNEY. They live in the deep down in my mind, a part of me which I used to prefer not to reveal to others. But I choose to fight them rather than pretend they don’t exist.
This trip was a turning point in my life with regards to knowing and questioning myself. Why do I engage in stereotypic thinking? Are stereotypes inevitable? Do stereotypes emerge in response to frustration, or do they stem from a need to go beyond the information given? Are stereotypes a product of our particular culture? Although I am still in the process of finding answers for these questions, my buddy exchange helped me quite a lot recognize and acknowledge my weak spots. And my progress has started when I met this man in a small shop in Agadir who helped me reach my buddy Mohamed. Five magical days… Imagine a country where everyone is dancing on the streets, there is music everywhere, delicious food, sunshine, people who are ready anytime to help you, talk to you, ask you questions, learn from you but also teach you. And imagine a family that takes care of you and treats you like their own. Baba LaHousain, Mama Zahra, my buddy Mohamed, sisi Ikram, brother Outman… They have become my second family. I enjoyed spending time with them, eating Mama Zahra´s food, dancing to Moroccan music, going to concerts, watching the Moroccan and Turkish TV series together. I also met Mohamed´s friends, Hajar, Mounir, Hadia who made this journey truly unforgettable. It was a fascinating experience with which I felt the beauty of diversity to the fullest extent.
I understood once again: we have to embrace the idea that the world is a dynamic place. It should not be defined by a list of rules, it should be considered as a huge spectrum of light which involves people of different cultures, opinions, backgrounds, genders, religions, nationality, ethnicity, race, size, height, age and many more, our beautiful environment and non-human animals as well. We cannot define the world as black and white, west and east, south and north. It is multi-layered with no end or beginning. In this sense, as human beings we should respect every layer, communicate, learn and teach, assume good intentions and spread our love. Shutting off even a small part of this whole existence will harm the harmony. During my exchange, I also participated in Mohamed´s “Kid´s Journey” project he is implementing in a local organization in Agadir with homeless kids. We have arranged a small storytelling workshop about ‘future’. I was amazed and inspired by their creativity and intelligence. At the end of the workshop, they wanted us to stay more, so we did and played games altogether. They taught me some Arabic and Amazigh which is their local language. Another thing they also taught me is to face the reality, even though we tend to resist facing it most of the times instead of changing it. And I believe volunteering is the key to this change. We still have a long way to go, but if we try even a bit and inspire even a single soul, the world will become a better place to live in.
At the end of my fascinating journey, on my way back to the airport, I caught myself thinking about the day before I arrived in Morocco, my friends and family saying “be careful”, “call us if something happens”, “I heard it’s a dangerous place” and so on. It is very hard to avoid being caught up by the negative comments of people around us, friends and family, media, governments. They enter into our whole system, we internalize them, and they start to grow unless we take a moment to reflect on what we really think and what we really experience, what is important and what is necessary. This process of reflecting will free our minds and teach us how to remove these comments from our system or alter them entirely. I also advise you to get out of your comfort zone, don’t be afraid, travel to places, talk to local people, eat in small street cafes, experience it yourself, and don’t let people fill your mind with negative statements. Believe me you will enjoy more! And lastly, on this process of changing myself and becoming a better person, I would like to thank Mohamed and my Moroccan family as well as my Moroccan friends for this wonderful experience and their contribution to my personal growth. And of course many thanks to NOW-Journey for making such an amazing journey possible.
Tuğçe Ataci is a NOW Journey participant from Turkey. She is currently doing her PhD in Barcelona, Spain.