In November of 2015, I took an amazing 2-week trip to Morocco. It started with my good friend Kelly, who made the journey all the way from Tampa, to explore Marrakesh for only 4 days with me. I then spent a couple days alone in the city. Solo travel is one of my favorite ways to see a destination and Morocco was no different. Finally, for the last 4 days, my husband joined me. We spent a day in the city and then went on a 3-day excursion to the Sahara organized through our hostel.
The tour consisted of about 15 people total, 8 different nationalities including our two Moroccan guides. We stopped at various sights as we made our way through the Atlas mountains. An ancient Kasbah that is now a popular filming location, a farm that is run by locals delivering fresh produce to the region. The last day, we reached our star destination, an overnight trek via camel back into the Sahara.
As we reached the Sahara drop-off point, we were told we would have zero cell service, and to let our friends and families back home know. We would regain service the next day, only being without service for about 20 hours total. We all sent a couple texts, turned our phones on airplane mode, and mounted our camels.
The ride was fantastic. It took about 2 hours to reach our campsite. We stopped often for pictures and our guide explained the history of this desert and camels role as well. When we got to the campsite, a couple of tents with sleeping pads inside, we wasted no time climbing the steep sand dunes and then using a board to surf down. We watched the sunset from our dune and the group ate dinner together. I was amazed at how truly present we all were. No one was instagraming or snapchatting or texting friends back home. With no cell service, we were all there, sharing the experience, and talking about past and future travels.
After dinner, we gathered around a fire, and our guides passed out small drums. We sang and took turns playing, one of the travelers on the trip, a girl from Paris, took out her violin and played an impromptu show alongside our guides on the drums. It was magical, to say the least, and one of my favorite travel memories to this day.
The next day, we were woken up for sunrise, a truly unique experience to watch atop a sand dune. A moment stood out in my mind where we were all speaking different languages but saying generally the same thing. This is awesome. Wow, how cool is this?! I can't believe I'm living this. I don't want to go back. Personally, I couldn't wait to go home and write about this. I've had a lot of cool travel experiences but I don't know if it was Morocco or the lack of cell service, this one felt special and unique.
Finally, our tour guides told us we had to get back. All magical moments have to end sometime. We mounted up and rode our camels back to civilization. The tour van drove us to a local cafe in a small - nontouristy - village, so we could grab a coffee and some breakfast food before the 14-hour ride back to Marrakesh. We all walked into the cafe together and saw simultaneously the breaking news on TV. A terrorist attack on Paris, one of the worst and deadliest since WW2.
It was unreal how quickly the mood changed. Just yesterday, we had sat in the desert, ignorant and unaware, of what was happening in the real world. Just yesterday, we had visited an ancient Kasbah where our guide had told us that Islam is a religion of peace. Just yesterday, that guide had said: "terrorists are not the face of Islam, terrorists are the face of crazy."
And as the mood shifted, everyone's phones - finally getting service - started buzzing.
We were in a Muslim country and unfortunately, that was the only fact that mattered to all of our friends and family. It was interesting how in our large group, no matter what country we were from, this fact is what mattered, Morocco = Muslims. Not, that we were 1500 miles away from the attack. And not, that we had experienced nothing but kindness and generosity from all the Moroccans we had met along the way.
Unfortunately, it's this narrative you hear more and more often today.
Anytime I post a picture from certain countries the first question that is asked is: is it safe? It's a scary time to travel and I understand the hesitancy, but my experiences have consistently shown the same thing in these countries. No matter the country, religion, or region you are from you are welcome and they are happy to have you visit.
But, we now live in a world where the US president is fighting the courts to enact a Muslim ban. We live in a world where it isn't uncommon to hear someone refer to all, or most, Muslims as possible terrorists. We live in a world, where Muslims are fleeing horrible situations and we are turning them away.
This attack was one of the first in this time period we now find ourselves in. In 2015, this was a rarity. Now unfortunately, not so much. At the time, it was the deadliest in France since WW2. Since the attacks on Nov. 13, there have been literally hundreds of terrorist attacks around the world. Even if you take out the attacks that happened in places with ongoing conflicts like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, you still have dozens of major attacks.
Experiencing the Paris attacks, the way that I did, changed the way I saw the world. Morocco, a 99% Muslim country, had some of the most beautiful and kind people I have ever met in my life. So has India and Bosnia, and other predominately Muslim countries I have visited. I never thought that terrorist and normal practicers of Islam were the same, but now I speak up when others say otherwise.