From the uneven cobblestone to the bartering butchers and the vast selection of goat heads, the chaos was overwhelming. I’d never seen so much raw meat, and I’d never smelled anything quite so pungent. Men with brooms swept a thick brown slush of mysterious ingredients into buckets. Moving through the market with my classmates, I entered the “Marché de Poisson”—a building full of fish. I thought back to the nutrition class I had taken the previous semester. I remember my professor saying that when you buy fish, you are supposed to make sure the eyes are still bulging, and that’s how you know it’s fresh. I looked around and couldn’t tell which was bulging more, the eyes of the dead fish or the eyes of my fellow UNE students!
When I arrived in Tangier, I was staggered by the city. I expected an arid and blisteringly hot town, but to my surprise, I was greeted by a cool wind and luscious vegetation. Palm trees rose up to meet the sky, and bright flowers colored the ground. It was a refreshing change from the snow and dead trees I left back home.
I continued my walk through the Medina meat and fish market, and eventually I reached the end. As soon as I stepped out of the building, the warm sun and a cool breeze lured me in the direction of the port. The bright blue of the sea was shining brighter than a jewel. Soon I found myself peering down at the water and across the Straits to the Spanish coastal city of Tarifa. The view, so calming, so vast, so beautiful, was a jarring contrast to the yelling, the meat, the smell, and the madness of the Medina. It’s funny how chaos can be surrounded by such an immense calm. But those who don’t dare venture into the chaos will never find the tranquility on the other side.
Staring off at Spain, I reflected on my journey. Before arriving to Morocco, family and friends warned of the dangers I may face: strange catcalling men trying to lure me into their dens, people taking advantage of my naivete as a tourist, the language barrier, getting mugged, and being sold for a hundred camels. No one could have suspected that what I would find in Tangier instead was big-hearted kindness, openness, and a sense of humanity. I promised myself that when I return to the United States I would have a better understanding of Islam as a religion, and that I would be able to help my family and friends overcome the misconceptions and stereotypes they have about Muslims.