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Grades 9-12

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The 9th-grade writer of this personal narrative, Emily, uses original word choice to effectively convey a vivid image of the people and environment she encountered on a trip to Africa. The opening paragraphs communicate a sense of excitement that, by the end of the trip, is reduced to disappointment, shock, and guilt.

Take Me to Casablanca

My day in Africa was one I’ll not soon forget. I toured two major cities of Morocco—land of mystery, enticement, and enchantment. I was expecting belly dancers, snake charmers, and many exotic sights filled with color and intricate decoration. While I did see some of what I expected, the majority of what I saw was totally unexpected and will haunt me forever.

As I boarded the ship that was to take me across the Mediterranean Sea to the northern shores of Morocco, I felt an array of mixed emotions. Mainly, I was excited. After all, I was only 13 and about to become “tricontinental.” The previous five days I had spent in sunny Spain, and now I was to travel to Africa for one day. Besides excited, I also felt deeply intrigued and mystified. Moroccans practice the Muslim religion, and Arabic is one of their main languages. This may seem a bit prejudiced, but as I took my seat in the boat, the song “Arabian Nights” was playing over and over in my mind. However, I was dressed very conservatively so as not to offend anybody.

The boat ride took only about 45 minutes. After we had docked and debarked the ship, we were led straight to a bus. My first glimpse of Africa wasn’t too exciting, since it was just pretty much like Andalucia, the southern region of Spain. It was a little warmer here, though, being so close to the equator.

We rode for a while and then stopped to have our passports checked in a city owned by Spain. This is when I had my first “real” glimpse of Morocco. There was trash strewn all over alongside the old, cracked pavement of the road. Natives attending to their business stopped for a moment to stare at the tour bus that held so many foreigners. Of course, they could scarcely see us because of the tinted tour bus windows, but their dark eyes seemed to pierce straight through me.

It was at this point that the Moroccan tour guide joined us. He was very short and wore a long white robe. A small maroon hat adorned his head. He spoke to us in a heavy accent that sounded sort of Spanish, warning us not to talk to any Moroccans on the streets because they would try to steal from us. He also warned us not to buy anything from the peddlers on the street, for the same reasons. He told us that the people would flock around us, harassing and trying to take advantage of us. I didn’t particularly pay attention, however, because I had heard these speeches when we were warned about the gypsies in Spain, and the gypsies had caused little trouble. I assumed the Moroccans would be the same.

After the guide gave his speech, we drove to Tétouan, one of the major cities of Morocco. I can remember thinking we’d never make it there because the narrow dirt road was built a mere two or three feet from a sheer drop-off. When we finally reached Tétouan about an hour later, I looked excitedly out of my window, hoping to see a city in better condition than that of the Spanish town we had just left. But what I saw shocked me. Huge crowds of people stopped everything they were doing to stare at us. Most of them wore dirty, tattered clothing and were startlingly thin. I couldn’t help but stare, despite all our tour guide’s warnings. My mom gave me a gentle nudge. I hugged my camera closer to my body and stepped off the bus.

Almost immediately, the native Moroccans began to step closer to our tour group. Their staring eyes burned straight into my mind. I felt like such an intruder because of the way they stared. My first feeling of guilt came when a woman holding a crying baby accidentally brushed up against me. I somehow managed to apologize, not wanting to offend her in any way. She just looked at me with sad, troubled eyes that seemed to say, “How could you? How could you allow us to live this terrible life in a third-world country?” I instantly felt gratitude for everything I had ever taken for granted.

We were led through the narrow back streets of the main section of town. There were high, white walls of buildings on either side of us. These walls had open doorways that were the entryways to small rooms, which were homes. People appeared in these doorways and stared at us as if we were gods. Emaciated children in dirty scraps of clothing played in the trash and filth in the alleyways. They gazed up at us and smiled. I always smiled back, while I wondered if they knew there were better ways of life in other parts of the world, or whether they learned that as they became older.

Our Moroccan guide led us through small, filthy alleyways that had a distinctive odor that someone said was marijuana. Perhaps these people felt that drugs were their only way of escaping terrible lives.

We were led past a small opening in the walls. We could hear the screaming and crying of a small boy, about three or four years old. His right leg, from the knee down, was gushing blood. My stomach rolled over, and I wished desperately that there were something I could do to help him. A woman wrapped gauze around the wound, but the blood soaked straight through. I felt so rude just walking right past.

A little while later, we were led into a quaint little restaurant. I didn't eat much; walking past all those sights had taken away my appetite. But I will never forget the bathroom in that restaurant. When I paid the woman attendant 100 pesetas (about 70 cents), she led me into a stall. After I had finished, the woman flushed by hand. She then poured some bottled water on my hands and squirted on soap. After I lathered, she rinsed my hands with more bottled water and pointed to the door, signaling that I was to leave.

When everyone had finished eating and had used the bathroom, we got back on the bus for another hour’s drive to Tangiers. I honestly didn’t think I could take any more.

When we reached Tangiers, the peddlers on the street flocked around us. I told all of them, politely but somewhat guiltily, “No, thank you.”

We went straight to an indoor bazaar. There we could bargain all we wanted, but I didn’t really want anything. I felt badly giving money to big businesses that didn’t need it as much as the people on the streets did.

The rest of the time in Tangiers was basically like our time in Tétouan, except that there were a great many more peddlers. After we came out of one shop, a man approached me with Moroccan hats called fezzes, which he sold for 2000 pesetas, or about 10 dollars.

I said, “No, thank you.”

The man replied, “Oh, you buy from in store but don’t buy from the street, eh?”

I honestly didn’t know what to say, so I just said, “I’m sorry.”

His reply was, “I bet.”

I just kept on walking, feeling very guilty. But as it turned out, he gave my mom a 1000 peseta discount, so she bought three of the hats.

As I boarded the bus, I felt relieved to be leaving Morocco behind me. But then I looked back at all the people, some of them children, and thought how difficult it must be to have to go through hardships every single day, hardships worse than anything we modern Americans have ever endured. I was leaving Morocco, but these people had no way out.

Even today, the sights and sounds of its cities still haunt me. I suppose those memories always will.